Saturday, 3 May 2008

Thoughts on the elections

First the good news - I don't think there is any. In pure numbers terms apart some small local gains (retaking Slough etc) this was a very bad set of results for Labour, worse than I was expecting. There is nothing positive at all in losing well over 300 councillors plus, of course, losing London to Boris. By the same score it was a very good night for the Tories. Worringly they did well in Wales and bits of the North. It does look like they are on a roll. The people have spoken, the bastards.

The strange thing about it is that you don't detect any particular enthusiasm for the Tories, people just don't want to vote for Labour. I do find this rather surprising given that the country is actually doing pretty well. When the Tories were doing this badly we had experienced two recessions, high unemployment and interest rates, negative equity etc. The situation is clearly much better now, despite the less rosy economic environment currently. But obviously people still feel they are not doing well and as such want to try an alternative. My own view is that we have become rather spoilt by the benign environment we've had in recent years. So much so that even the idea of difficult times is enough to make people angry.

I am not sure that people actually know (yet) what they are voting for when they vote Tory. I think that makes the current situation rather different to pre 1997, although the feeling of momentum is clearly similar. Labour under Blair pre 1997 were accused of being light on policy detail, but the Tories under Cameron have taken this to a new level. Whilst this is a very sensible, and successful, strategy for the Tories it does worry me (not just as a Labour supporter) that people don't really know what they are mandating.

I am not at all convinced that the Tories have significantly changed since the 1990s. They certainly haven't undergone the sort of introspection and transformation that Labour did in the 80s and 90s, since the modernising trend in the Tories has only been dominant for a couple of years. That does make me think that the Cameron makeover is simply a veneer job.

I have never had any doubt that there are significant policy differences between the parties. Just because Labour got pulled in some stupid directions by populist but relatively unimportant issues such as inheritance tax should not obscure the fact that in a range of policy areas they have tried to do progressive things whilst the Tories have been irrelevant or obstructive. In the areas I am familiar with because of work the Tories have tended to be obstructive and often been content to parrot the views of industry interests. Many also clearly still have an inherent distrust/dislike of unions.

The elections also demonstrate the irrelevance of the far left in electoral politics. Both wings of Respect did poorly, the SWP front the Left List particularly badly. It was quite interesting reading some of the commentary from the far left about Ken's relationship with the RMT. Some people were seriously arguing that Ken would lose support from working class voters because he wasn't supportive of RMT strike action. Only if your politics come out of marxist text books can you possibly come to that conclusion. Like it or not, most Londoners are more likely to react to a tube strike with anger than a desire to show solidarity with Bob Crow. I have to say that the utter failure of the far left when up for election does also make me question why they are so over-represented within trade unions. Aside from the fact that I don't agree with their analysis of society and the tactics that derive from it, I think the grandstanding they do in the unions also make us a much easier target for the Right.

More broadly the failure of the far left also demonstrates how volatile the political situation is. Look at the reverses suffered by UKIP in London. It does show you how hard it is to put down real roots in the electorate if you are a new party, especially if your pitch is primarily tied to a single issue. What can look like a serious emerging trend can quickly evapourate. I will be surprised if either bit of Respect has a real future as Iraq continues to recede as an issue.

Personally while I am glad its all over as I don't enjoy doing the practical stuff (though all I do is leaflet a few streets) this election has made me realise I really ought to do more stuff for Labour. We are thin on the ground these days and as many have said the party's structures have become hollowed out. The only way this can be changed is by more active participation by members, and I guess that means me.


Charlie Marks said...

"I have to say that the utter failure of the far left when up for election does also make me question why they are so over-represented within trade unions."

Here's the answer - unions are dealing with workplace issues. If socialists are in positions of power within the union, the likelihood is that the union will strongly defend the interests of members, rather than have a "partnership" with employers. Which is kind of what members of trade unions are looking for... which is why the RMT has a growing membership.

That you can't grasp this is quite amazing, Tom.

If the Labour party was strongly defending the interests of working people then more working people would be a) inclined to vote and b) inclined to make that vote for a Labour candidate.

Tom P said...

Hi Charlie

I didn't think you would agree with that bit!

I don't think that most people do want to be in a union like the RMT. The research into what people want from a union suggests something different. I think the RMT is successful because in the areas in which it has influence strike action is still a very powerful weapon, but let's not forget it is a small player in the union world.

My point about the far left is that given that they are so small numerically, nad have very little public support, they exert a disproportionate influence within unions. But then I spose leninists don't really see the need for democratic legitimacy!

I agree with you about Labour's failure to appeal to working people, though in my view this is maybe more about perception than reality. However it is a real problem and needs addressing. I think we have tilted too far towards the aspiring middle class voters and away from our core support in recent years. There is always a tension in trying to appeal to both but I think we have gone too far in one direction.

Still I fear the power may be out of our hands soon.

Charlie Marks said...

Tom it's not the attempts to appeal to the middle class that are the problem - it's the total obedience to the super-rich. Goodness me, even the Tories were making hay out of non-doms!

And are you suggesting that socialists in the labour movement use undemocratic methods to win positions? Ballot rigging? Bribery? I doubt it.

Tom P said...

Yeah I agree with you about the super rich. It has become an article of faith amongst Blairites that you can't touch the rich for fear of looking Old Labour, but I think that is simply out of date.

No I don't mean the far left is involved in dodgy practices, rather that they have power in the unions that doesn't in my view reflect any popular support either in the union membership or the public at large. My point aboutr leninists is that presumably that doesn't matter to them since they believe a vanguard should take power.