A vote against austerity

LAST WEEK’S local elections were a slap in the face for David Cameron and his Liberal-Democrat collaborators. The Liberal-Democrats collapsed. Though Boris Johnson managed to cling on to the London mayoralty by a whisker, the Conservative vote plummeted across the country. The maverick Tory UK Independence Party (UKIP), which has 12 MEPs, failed to win any council seats but bagged 14 per cent of the vote, almost entirely from disaffected Tories. The fascist parties lost their last remaining councillors while nonsensical plans for more directly elected mayors were rejected in nine of the 10 cities balloted on the same day.

There’s no doubt that the Cameron government is now on the rocks. The Tories may not be bothered about the flagging fortunes of their coalition partners but the upsurge of support for UKIP has triggered the alarm bells in the Conservative camp. They now want to shore up their core vote by appealing to their traditional “values” of Eurosceptism, “law and order” and a crack-down on immigration. This will put them at loggerheads with the Liberal-Democrats who are now trying to mark out their independent role in the Coalition in a desperate move to salvage their political future in the run-up to the next general election.

Overall Labour won 824 seats, halting the nationalist advance in Scotland and regaining control of 32 councils in England, Scotland and Wales.

Though the poll was for largely powerless local authorities the campaign inevitably revolved around national issues. The Tories and their Liberal-Democrat partners tried to justify their Coalition Government’s onslaught against what’s left of the health service and social benefits in the name of an austerity programme that leaves the rich untouched while forcing workers to pay the price for the capitalist crisis. Labour, on the other hand, projected the “caring” neo-Keynesian alternative that was adopted in the last days of the Brown government and continues in the guise of Shadow Chancellor Ed Ball’s “plan” for the economy.

While that was enough the sink the Tories and their allies at a local level it plainly wasn’t enough to mobilise mass working class support for Labour’s platform. The turn-out was low even by local election standards. Despite the media-hype only 32 per cent of the electorate bothered to vote one way or another.

This may not bother the Labour leaders who think that last week’s results vindicate their belief that they will be swept back to power on the back of the collapse of the Liberal-Democrats.

But it’s a wake-up call for the left, which must build on the results to ensure that the demands of the union movement become part of Labour’s future manifesto.

That’s the last thing Miliband & Co want. They want the unions’ money and pretend to heed the words of the leaders of the giant affiliated unions, which fund over 90 per cent of Labour’s efforts. But their real agenda is, as always, class collaboration à la Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and they seek to court the dominant section of the ruling class by arguing that they are best placed to head off social unrest during the current slump.

These people claim that Ken Livingstone’s centre-left politics were to blame for the defeat in the contest for the London mayoralty. Former premier Tony Blair, a man so discredited by the disastrous war in Iraq and his grovelling to US imperialism that he could barely show his face in public a few years ago, is now being quietly rehabilitated by the very same people who claimed they had turned a new leaf under the Miliband leadership.

Labour Representation Committee leader John McDonnell MP says that “every Labour council has vital role to play as centre for mobilising their community’s resistance against Coalition austerity policies”. That’s certainly true and communists must work to build this resistance throughout the labour movement to bring the Coalition down and pave the way for Labour’s return based on a programme of social justice and union rights.