British local elections: coalition blues

As the election results come in (with the AV vote expected tonight) we take a quick look at what they all mean. We will return to these questions shortly  with a more detailed analysis.

As expected the Liberal Democrats have paid a terrible price in this year’s round of council elections for their involvement in the Tory-led coalition government.  With results still coming in, they have already lost nearly 500 councillors, the worst election result for the party since it was formed out of a merger between the old Liberals and the SDP traitors.  They also seem set to lose the AV vote referendum, which will be a bitter blow to them. Already the knives are out for Clegg, with prominent Lib Dems calling for his resignation.

In England and Wales, Labour has done well. In the North they have regained control of a number of councils and have recorded big swings in the main cities. Lib Dems lost out to Labour in Sheffield, and lost control of Hull, Bristol and Stockport. In Wales, Labour took votes and seats off both the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru. This demonstrates what Marxists have long explained about how workers will always turn to their mass organisations when they are under attack. 

The result for Labour would have been even better were it not for two factors. Firstly, the recent record of a number of Labour councils in failing to properly oppose cuts by not implementing them clearly acted as a brake on the swing.  Secondly, a reaction to what has been seen by many Labour voters as a weak Labour leadership, unable or unwilling to clearly take on the Tories and challenge their position.  Saying that Labour would also have carried out cuts, only more slowly, was never going to be a vote winner. Had Labour stood on a fighting socialist programme then it could have swept the board, delivering a potentially fatal blow to both the Tories and the Lib Dems.

As it was, Labour was reliant on the huge mood of anger being directed against the Lib Dems for their rotten role in government. Ironically, the Tories also benefited from this in terms of results, with some votes travelling from the Lib Dems to them as people decided to vote for the real thing rather than the clones.

The BNP continued their sharp decline, losing most of the seats they were defending and making no gains. The fact that they have no answer to the cuts has been clearly understood by voters.

The other fringe parties, who have benefited in the past from a protest mood against the Labour government, also did badly. The various left groups who put up slates against Labour recorded votes that could only be described as derisory at best. The fact that workers have bypassed them on the way to vote Labour will no doubt be an unexplainable mystery to them.  They predicted a big swing against Labour on the basis of their record and have been proved 100% wrong as usual.  The only variation to this trend was the success for the Greens in Brighton, which reflects a very localised process.

However, the situation in Scotland has worked out somewhat differently. Here Labour’s vote held up just about on the 2007 level (but below that of the 2010 general election) but it was the SNP who benefited in the election from the votes being lost by the Lib Dems and the Tories. From a position where Labour looked set to be the largest party in Holyrood now it is facing a situation where it has just 29 seats to the SNP's 65. The SNP will now form the next Scottish government. They benefited from a pathetic campaign by Labour and were able to out-promise them on a number of key issues. Of course, now that the election is over they will have to face reality and start backtracking on their promises and implement the cuts dictated to them by Westminster. The SNP are, despite their rhetoric, a capitalist party and will act like it. It will not take long for the SNP’s popularity to start falling as the truth sinks in and Scottish workers realise that they have been conned again. As in England, the left groups standing against Labour did badly with the memory of the SSP’s six seats now very distant indeed.

Although the Tories will be quietly relieved that they did not take the same hammering that their chums in the Lib Dems had, it should be noted that we are only one year into the life of this coalition government. The first round of cuts are only just taking effect, there are many more rounds to come as we are forced to take the hit for the bosses’ crisis. The mood shown by the magnificent protest of half a million trade unionists on March 26th is just a small taster of what is to come.  Once the voters have finished with giving the Lib Dems a good kicking, they will turn to the Tories. Labour needs to break with capitalism and set about the task of defending workers under attack and providing a clear, socialist alternative to the brutal madness of capitalism.

Source: Socialist Appeal (Britain)