Britain: Labour’s electoral setback - Time to Change Course!

Last week’s elections confirmed the damage that Blairism has done to the Labour Party. Far from being the man who “wins elections” as the Blairites boasted in the past, Blair has become a liability. After ten years he has thrown away the 1997 victory. Now is the time to draw lessons from this whole experience and fight to change the leadership of the Labour Party.

The election results for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the local elections have been a big setback for the Labour Party under Tony Blair. The Blairites are attempting to put a brave face on things, saying the results are not as bad as had been predicted. But this cannot sweep under the carpet the deep-seated unpopularity of the government after 10 years in power. These election results are a clear warning that as things stand the Tories can win the next election.

Of course, Blair, who is on the verge of leaving office for a new career, had the audacity to describe the debacle as "a good springboard" for Labour. If things continue as they have been, it will be a "springboard" over a cliff.

In these elections, Labour's support has hit rock bottom as millions stayed at home, profoundly disillusioned with ten years of Blairism. In Scotland, for the first time in nearly 50 years, Labour was defeated as the Scottish Nationalists emerged as the largest party. In Wales, Labour had its lowest share of the vote for almost 90 years; while in England, Labour has fewer councillors than at any time since the early 1970s. In the latter case, where 4 million voted, the Tories obtained 40% of the vote, Labour 26% and the Lib Dems 24%. This is the real legacy of Blair's Decade, which was a continuation of the same discredited pro-capitalist policies pursued by Thatcher and Major. The present electoral set-back is the product of years of back-door privatisation, attacks on living standards, foreign imperialist wars and a bonanza for the rich.

The Labour Party was founded to represent the interests of working people. But after ten years of New Labour, the rich have got steadily richer, while 11 million live on the poverty line. According to the recent Times Rich List:

"Wealthy people in Britain have never had it so good... The combined wealth of the top 1,000 has soared by £59 billion in one year to just under £360 billion. This near 20% rise over 2006 is one of the highest annual increases in wealth we have recorded since our first list was published in 1989.

"The past decade of Labour government under Tony Blair has proven a golden age for the rich, rarely seen in modern British history. When the Blair administration came to power in 1997, the wealth of Britain's richest 1,000 stood at £98.99 billion. The £261 billion rise in the wealth of today's top 1,000 represents a 263% jump over the past 10 years."

Despite the disillusionment with New Labour, the elections were no dramatic break-through for the Tories. For many working class voters the Tories are still very much associated with the bleak Thatcher Years. That is why the Tories still have no councillors in urban areas such as Liverpool, Manchester or Newcastle. In Scotland too the Tories did badly, managing to hold only four constituency seats in Holyrood.

In Scotland, the increased vote for the SNP, which emerged as the largest party in the Scottish Parliament, is not due to increased support for separation, but a protest against the right-wing policies of the Labour Party. Whether the SNP manage to form a coalition government or not, we will have to see. The Lib Dems have announced they will not enter a coalition with the SNP if they are determined to push through a referendum on independence. If they manage to patch something together, the Nationalists, despite the rhetoric, will also continue with a pro-capitalist agenda, cutting business tax and offering incentives to big business.

In Wales, Plaid Cymru also picked up at Labour's expense. As Labour is still the largest party in the Welsh Assembly, a new coalition is the most likely. However, on the present basis of capitalism, it will not solve anything. It will lay the basis for greater shifts and turmoil in the Welsh Labour movement.

These elections clearly point to grave disillusionment with the Labour Party nationally. With the party's loss of some 500 council seats, there are now Labour MPs in the south who are totally isolated, without any councillors to back them up. Some 90 councils have not a single Labour councillor and a further 19 councils have just one.

These results represent a further nail in the coffin of Blairism and the New Labour Project. The attempt to crown Gordon Brown as Labour leader will not restore Labour's support. On the contrary, according to polls, Labour will do even worse under Brown. This is because Brown and Blair are essentially the same. They support the same pro-business policies of privatization, cuts in public sector pay, "labour flexibility", tax concession for the rich, occupation of Iraq, etc. It is essentially the same old big business agenda advocated by the Tories over the last 30 years. No wonder people are disillusioned and refuse to vote - "they are all the same!" is the common refrain.

The Lib Dems did not manage to capitalize on Labour's unpopularity. On the contrary, the increased Tory vote was largely at their expense. They have reached their peak. In England, the Lib Dems had their worse local election result since 1996, losing 250 seats. They will be further squeezed as we approach the general election.

These election results are a dire warning to the Labour Party before the next general election. The whole Blair Project has hit the buffers and has come off the tracks. There is no way it can survive under the present conditions. The ruling class, which gave Blair its blessing after 1996, is now preparing to stick the knife into the Labour Party. For the capitalists, the Blair government has run its course. It has exhausted its usefulness to them. Now they have used Labour for as long as they could, having done their dirty work, they are planning to discard it like a squeezed lemon. They are clearly unhappy with Gordon Brown as they feel he will not be able to hold the line. They are therefore preparing the way for a return of a Tory government. But they are mistaken if they think Cameron will be able to hold the line either. There is massive frustration and anger building up in the working class. For many in the public sector, the two percent wage rise, which means a wage cut with inflation at above 3%, they have reached the end of their tether.

Big battles are on the horizon. Already 200,000 civil servants have taken industrial action. The nurses and hospital workers are threatening to strike. This is the thin end of the wedge.

It is time we drew the lessons of Blairism. It is a temporary phenomenon, representing the pinnacle of the rightward shift in the British Labour movement. The pendulum swung very far to the right in recent years. But the experience of Blairism, which is being digested by millions of workers, is preparing a backlash and a massive shift to the left in the coming period.

Only by ridding the Labour Party of these Tory/Blairite interlopers, who have hijacked the party for their own ends, can a real alternative be offered to working people. That is the task of the trade unions which created the Labour Party in the first place. The trade union leaders cannot be allowed to sit on the fence while their members face the brunt of attacks from a so-called Labour government. If they had any guts they would put their full weight behind John McDonnell's campaign for leader of the Labour Party.

This is not a game. These election results indicate that Labour is facing electoral defeat at the next general election unless it changes course. This means a total change of leadership and policies is required. We need a leadership committed to the interests of the working class and which fights for real socialist policies, as opposed to the pro-capitalist policies of New Labour. No amount of tinkering will solve matters. On the contrary, only with the elimination of capitalism and its "market", can the resources of society be planned and used in the interests of the majority. No amount of cosmetic changes or a rehash of Blairism will save the party from the coming debacle and all the consequence this will mean for working people. There is no middle road.


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