Labour must adopt real social reforms

LAST WEEK’S elections were a widely seen as a litmus test for the national Tory-led coalition government. Many in the Labour camp hoped that the polls in Scotland, Wales and local authorities in England, coupled with the referendum on the Alternative Vote proposal, would reflect the widespread anger at the Coalition Government’s sweeping cuts and attacks on public services in the year that they’ve been in power.

Well it did but not in the way most pundits imagined, as it largely turned out to be a referendum on the performance of the Liberal Democrats in the Cameron coalition. Lib Dem voters deserted Nick Clegg’s party in droves. The Lib Dems lost 695 town hall seats and most of their representation in the Scottish Parliament and the Alternative Vote proposal that Clegg had pinned his hopes on went down the pan as well. But not necessarily to the benefit of the labour movement.

Labour strengthened its hold in the Welsh Assembly and won a credible 800 council seats in England. But the Tory vote held and Labour’s gains were largely at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. This fell short of the 1,000 odd seats they had hoped to take and it was easily overshadowed by the nationalist victory in Scotland.

North of the border the Scottish National Party took huge numbers of votes from the Lib-Dems and swept up the protest vote to return to office with a first-time overall majority in the Scottish Parliament. This time last year the SNP was on the defensive after a poor showing in the general election. But the SNP government’s decision to maintain free university education and abolish prescription charges — something Labour and the Coalition partners would not deliver — was a major factor in swinging votes to their favour. The Scottish Labour vote dipped and they lost a fifth of their MSPs in the poll, which will now pave the way for a SNP-drafted referendum on independence within the next four years.

The Liberal Democrats are now in deep trouble and the rumblings of discontent amongst their activists are being heard up and down the country.

Some are openly calling for Nick Clegg to resign. Others are arguing for an open break with the Tories to restore their credibility with their own rank-and-file. Neither will happen this side of their conference this year but we can be sure that Clegg will adopt a more aggressive stand on issues like NHS reform to maintain the fiction that his party remains a radical alternative to Labour and the Conservatives.

It is still only a pretence. The Liberal Democrats are just another bourgeois party always opposed to the labour movement and a liberal conscience on immigration and human rights that distinguishes them from most of their Tory colleagues. Yet it is still a pretence Miliband & Co seek to maintain. The Labour leader has repeated his call for the Lib-Dems to dump the Conservatives and realign themselves with Labour in a renewed attempt to build an anti-Tory election platform that can give Labour victory without having to rely on the mass support of organised labour.

If last week’s results tell us anything it’s that Labour can only rely on the unions to maintain its funds and that it can only depend on its traditional working class constituency when it comes to election time. If Labour has any hope of winning the next general election it must adopt a programme of genuine social reform that includes the complete restoration of the public sector and the state welfare system we once enjoyed; a free and revitalised NHS; a decent pension system and the restoration of free collective bargaining to allow the unions to raise wages out of the doldrums.

Communists must campaign to ensure that the demands of the unions that originally established the party intended to represent their interests are reflected in the next Labour manifesto.