Local elections and national worries

THE BOURGEOIS media have concentrated on the spectacular surge in the fortunes of the maverick Tory United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in last week’s local elections in England and Wales, largely because UKIP’s gains were at the expense of the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat allies. Not so much has been said about Labour’s stolid advance despite the Tory frenzy around the funeral of Margaret Thatcher and the inept leadership of Ed Miliband.

Labour topped the national vote with 29 per cent, four points above the Tories. Labour comfortably held the South Shields parliamentary seat in the by-election on the same day. And they beat the Tories in the local council elections, retaking two county councils lost in 2009 and narrowly missing control of two others. Labour defeated two rightwing elected mayors in Doncaster and North Tyneside and made 291 council seat gains across the board. Labour now has 6,850 councillors, the most since 2003.

But the limelight has focused on UKIP and its flamboyant leader, Nigel Farage, a former Tory businessman whose loathing of the European Union led him to help found the party he now leads in 1993. UKIP bagged 23 per cent of the popular vote winning 147 council seats, of which 139 were gains.

Farage’s movement was started to get Britain out of the EU and that remains the central plank in its platform, which is little more than a hodge-podge of the reactionary “libertarian” nonsense we get from the American “Tea Party” movement.

The New Communist Party and most other British communists are opposed to the EU and the Treaty of Rome but there is nothing at all progressive in the UKIP programme. UKIP is a maverick Tory movement financed by some rightwing business interests determined to get Britain out of the EU — and if that is unattainable to ensure that the country takes no further steps, like adopting the euro, in the near future. They want another Eurosceptic Tory to replace David Cameron, before or when he loses the next election, and they clearly believe that a Eurosceptic Tory opposition will be enough to block further European integration.

Though UKIP officially refuses to open its doors to former members of fascist movements, its propaganda contains a less than coded appeal to racist and xenophobic nationalism in its opposition to immigration and multiculturalism. Its environmental policy comes close to climate change denial while the sentiment of many of its prominent supporters towards unions and women’s rights are more akin to the Victorian employers who believed in “master and servant” industrial relations and their “right to manage” as they saw fit.

While UKIP remains largely a problem for the Conservative Campaign Headquarters, the labour movement needs to look seriously at Labour’s performance as well. The local government gains were solid but they could have been much greater if the Miliband leadership had thrown itself into the campaign with same determination Farage showed to capture the attention of the voting public. Labour could have pushed the turn-out above the mediocre 30-odd per cent if it had adopted a fighting programme to defend the welfare state and appealed to its traditional working class core vote.

Miliband & Co may well think that Labour will be swept back into power simply on the back of the collapse of the Liberal-Democrats and the widening split in the Tory ranks. But there is no such thing as a foregone general election. The unions whose funds keep Labour going, and the membership who are the life-blood of the entire labour movement, will have to redouble their efforts to force the Miliband leadership adopt a working class agenda to ensure Labour’s victory in 2015.