Monday, 7 May 2012

People reject austerity across Europe - time for UK Left to get its act together

As I write this, the victory of Francois Hollande has just been announced in France.  This follows a drubbing for the Coalition in Britain in the local government elections last Thursday.  But most significant of all is the performance of the far-left SYRIZA coalition in the Greek parliamentary elections. They are poised to be the second party in the parliament.
In Britain, the chief beneficiaries of the collapse in support for the Coalition was of course Labour.  But Labour's "slow cuts" position does not seem to inspire on a mass scale.  Turnout was barely more than 30%, compared to, for example, the 80% turnout in the French Presidential election.  For the second year running the Lib Dems were hammered.  They lost 3rd place to the Greens in London and were beaten by UKIP in some places.

Whatever some right-wing Tories try to claim - this was a rejection of austerity.  People are fed up with wage cuts, benefit attacks, soaring prices, unemployment, cuts in services, and the whole process of government for the rich, typified by Osborne's class war budget.

Also in tatters is Cameron's cynical "localism" agenda - with nearly every city which held a referendum on whether to have a directly elected mayor voting the proposal down.

What about the Left?
What could loosely be termed the "anti-austerity" parties had some creditable results where they stood.  Respect took five seats in Bradford in the wake of Galloway's by-election triumph. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) averaged 5.5 to 6%, and Michael Lavalette was elected in Preston with 49% of the poll.  Lavalette was previously a Respect Councillor and although he is the SWP (which is part of TUSC), he stood as an independent.  Peter Smith of the Walsall Democratic Labour Party won in Walsall with 46%. Dave Nellist of the SP only just missed out in his ward. Thirteen TUSC candidates scored better than 10%, and 48 scored more than 5%.  In the London Assembly elections, however, TUSC did poorly.

So it is a patchy picture with what is still a small number of candidates.  The need for the anti-austerity left to come together and discuss where we go from here becomes all the more urgent.  We are still far away from what is needed - a broad left party based on democracy and inclusivity. The results also demonstrate that what brings votes is a long-term presence on the ground.  This what Lavalette, Nellist and Smith all have - they are all identified as part of, and fighters for, their communities. Just popping up at election time with what you believe to be the "correct politics" is not good enough.  We need a party with roots in communities and a genuine record of struggle.

The Far Right
In Britain the far right BNP was annhiliated, losing every seat it contested.  It now only has 3 councillors left in the whole country.  This is slightly tempered by advances for the BNP-lite UKIP.  More worryingly, there was a breakthrough for the openly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn movement in Greece, who have now gained parliamentary seats from previously having been a tiny fringe group in Greek politics

The stakes could not be higher.  The Tories will claim this is a mid-term blip.  It is clearly something much more signficant, but the Left needs to get its act together to present a genuine alternative to the politics of austerity.

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