by Colin Foster
THE election-figures expert John Curtice reckons that the 4 May local government poll outcome “was not a disaster for Labour” (Independent, 6 May).
Labour got the equivalent of 26% of a general election vote. That was low, but exactly the same as what Labour got in 2004 — before its 2005 general election victory.
Governing parties, these days, can lose out heavily in mid-term local government elections, and still go on to win general elections.
“On average, Labour’s support increased on its 2004 vote in more working-class wards while falling in more middle-class ones. Moreover, some of the damage done to Labour’s support among Muslim voters by the Iraq war appears to have been repaired too”.
However, compared to 2004, the Tories gained and the Lib Dems lost. On that basis the Tories can win the next general election even if Labour loses few votes compared to 2005.
Will Tory leader David Cameron’s “new boy” shine last until then? Was the Lib Dems’ poor performance in the local elections due to the fact that they have become the governing party in many councils? Will they still be able to reap “protest” votes in a general election?
We don’t know. What is clear from the 4 May results is a rise in communalist protest-voting against the mainstream, and a mediocre performance by the left.
The Green Party did fairly well, rising from 72 councillors across the country to 91. The BNP had spectacular success in Dagenham and Barking, and consolidated their position elsewhere.
Respect, the George Galloway/SWP coalition, won 12 seats in Tower Hamlets, three in Newham, and one in Birmingham — all, apparently, on a “fighter for Muslims” appeal. In a way paralleled by no other party, the votes for its various candidates in multi-councillor wards varied widely, candidates who did not appear as Muslims sometimes getting no more than half the score of Muslim-seeming candidates.
In Hackney, where Paul Foot gained 12.2% of the mayoral vote in 2002 on a straight socialist ticket, this year Dean Ryan, hiding his socialist views behind a Respect banner, got only 6.3%. No large Muslim-communal vote there.
The results of the genuine left were mediocre. How well outspokenly left-wing Labour council candidates did is impossible to tell, because the species has become almost extinct.
The Socialist Party won a third councillor in Dave Nellist’s ward (St Michael’s) in Coventry, and narrowly failed to win a third councillor in Ian Page’s ward in Lewisham. They had a Socialist Party member elected on a “Save the NHS” ticket in Huddersfield.
The Alliance for Green Socialism — which is a partner with AWL and the Socialist Party in the Socialist Green Unity Coalition — did disappointingly in Leeds.
AWL was pleased with our result (under the Socialist Unity banner) in Hackney Central; but that was because we managed to hold on to the 2002 socialist vote there despite the general lowering of any socialist profile in these elections.
The Independent Working Class Association, a maverick leftish-“community based” group won a fourth councillor in Oxford but failed to make the gains which it might have hoped for in London.
If the local government unions had continued their battle against pension cuts after 28 March, instead of calling off action to go into talks with the employers and government on how exactly the cuts should be made, then the left results would surely have been better — just as our results in the 2005 general election would have been better if the combined public sector unions had not called off their planned strikes on pension cuts shortly before that election.
But that is not all. Part of our weakness is that the working-class socialist left now appears too weak to rally the disillusioned. A chunk of the supposedly “socialist worker” left has buried itself in Respect, and the rest is scattered and fragmented.
Time to reinvigorate the left, and reunite as much as can be reunited!