Tories sing the blues

THERE CAN be no doubt about the depth of the crisis of confidence within the Conservative Party following the results of the Eastleigh by-election last week. Lib- Dem leader Nick Clegg said his man, Mike Thornton, had pulled off a “stunning victory,” which had been secured “against the odds”. On this occasion Clegg was undoubtedly telling the truth. The Liberal Democrats held the seat despite the stigma of a disgraced MP and a simmering sex-pest scandal involving one of their leaders in the House of Lords.

The Tories made an immense effort to take the seat made vacant by the resignation of Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne after he finally admitted to perverting the course of justice over a 2003 speeding offence.

The Tory camp mobilised an army of MPs and followers in the campaign to win one of their target electoral seats. They clearly expected to pull one over the Liberal Democrats with a victory that would establish their hegemony over their junior Coalition partners and pave the way towards the next general election in 2015. But in the end the Tories came a miserable third, beaten back by an upsurge of support for the maverick Tory United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

UKIP is essentially a maverick Tory protest movement that embraces the rabid anti-immigrant and crime hysteria fostered by some sections of the Tory media to drum up support for leaving the Common Market. Or as former Labour MEP Glyn Ford put it at the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) conference last weekend: “UKIP are not a fascist party, but they are xenophobic, ultra-nationalistic, many of their members are racists, and they act, in my view as a recruiting ground for people who may later on veer even further to the right.”

UKIP came within an ace of taking their first Westminster seat last week and some believe they would have done if their leader had thrown his hat into the ring. Nigel Farage, who already sits in the phantom European Parliament, had been expected to stand because of his national standing and also because he led UKIP’s first parliamentary contest in a by-election in the same seat back in 1994.

But Farage was playing a longer game. There’s no doubt that he would like to see David Cameron out and for the Tories to return to their old Eurosceptic platform. But he did not want to split the Tory vote to the extent of letting the Lib-Dems back. Farage clearly miscalculated because that’s exactly what happened.

Labour equally clearly chose to run a light-weight candidate to avoid giving the Tories the seat by splitting the Lib-Dem vote. The Labour vote held at 10 per cent. Labour has never come close to winning this seat in the bourgeois heartland of southern England. But Labour missed a golden opportunity to use the media spotlight to highlight their own platform in the run-up to the next general election.

Unfortunately Labour doesn’t have a platform apart from some mealy-mouthed platitudes borrowed from the last Labour Government. Labour’s leaders believe the anti-Tory back-lash, coupled with the national fall in support for the Liberal Democrats, will sweep them back into power without making any firm commitment to the unions, which provide Labour with over 90 per cent of its funds, or to the millions of working people who vote Labour in the hope that it will reflect at least some of their hopes and dreams for the future.

While the rich carry on living in the lap of luxury, workers are losing their jobs and their homes. Young people are told to accept breadline wages or forced to work for nothing for lower than breadline benefits while the sick, the frail and the elderly face cuts in their benefits and rapidly deteriorating health and social services.

Miliband & Co are wrong and risk throwing away the next election as the sinister right-wing of the Tories rises on the basis of anti-immigration scaremongering.