British Elections: What Happened?

From London, Roger Silverman analyzes the results of the recent elections in Britain and what those elections say about the mood and consciousness there:

Some initial hurried reflections on the general election result…

The Labour Party was the political creation of the trade unions. At its peak it won 48% of the votes. That was in the days when Britain’s economy was primarily based on manufacture, and there was a large concentrated industrial proletariat. There were massive confrontations like the seamen’s strike of 1966, the miners’ strikes of the 1970s and ‘80s, repeated Ford workers’ assembly line strikes, etc. Today there are virtually no coal mines, steel works or car factories; the industrial backbone of Labour is gone. Trade unionism today is largely confined to the public sector; and, due to privatisation, outsourcing and massive cutbacks, this is a shrinking work force.

In my earlier predictions of the election result, I noted that it was 23 years since the Tories had won a majority at a general election, and drew mistaken conclusions from that. What I had overlooked is the fact that, for three of the four general elections that had been held since then, the ruling class had actively favoured a New Labour victory.

It is 40 years since Labour won an election (actually, two successive elections) in clear defiance of the wishes of the ruling class. That was on the crest of the miners’ strike and Heath’s rash gamble on going to the country on the issue of “who runs Britain?” The 1974-9 Labour government was a period of economic crisis and political confrontation, when there was alarm and open speculation by the ruling class about the need for extra-parliamentary measures, the veiled threat of military manoeuvres at Heathrow airport, favourable comment on the Chilean coup,  etc.

For a period, under the New Labour clique, Labour really was the preferred political instrument of the ruling class. The Tories had become so discredited by 1997 that money came pouring into Labour funds from big business donors, while the Tories were starved of funds and became the object of derision in the Murdoch press and similar media outlets. This arrangement continued right up to the time of the financial crash in 2008. The ruling class reverted to support for their by now rehabilitated traditional Tory team. New Labour had served its purpose and was now tossed aside with contempt. Brown in particular received no gratitude for his services and was humiliated.

Miliband had drawn from the experience of New Labour the conclusion that the only way he could regain office was by reassuring the ruling class that he too was responsible and worthy of trust; hence his commitment to an “austerity-lite” programme and his short, feeble, miserable list of very minimal reforms.

Along with everyone else, I had wrongly trusted the opinion polls, which had unanimously and consistently put Labour and the Tories neck and neck – even though that didn’t tally with the bad feeling I was getting about the outcome from the fact that this time, unusually, I kept coming across people who were actually prepared to admit without shame their intention to vote Tory. I added a cautionary postscript to my initial writings about the election campaign once it had become clear that the ruling class had taken a firm decision, no matter what, to push all out for a Tory victory. All the press and media (apart from the Guardian/Observer and the Mirror), including even the Independent, were campaigning hard for the Tories, with relentless crude scare stories, despicable taunts against Miliband personally, etc. This is because the ruling class were genuinely scared of the constant pressure that would be exerted on a minority Labour government by the SNP.  (NOTE: The SNP is the Scottish National Party, which advocates for an independent Scottish nation. They have also criticized the austerity measures of the Conservatives and Labour.) They weren’t concerned about the risk of a “break-up of the UK”, as they pretended; they were alarmed at Nicola Sturgeon’s highly effective and popular calls on Miliband to end austerity. And, with their monopoly control of all mass sources of information, the ruling class can normally count on getting, by and large, the result they want.

It is true that there are special factors that explain the obliteration of a century of Labour tradition in Scotland; but this political earthquake has powerful lessons for the future in Britain as a whole. If Labour can be wiped out overnight in its former rock-solid red-belt heartland, then how can it be considered secure anywhere else?  Labour can’t simply continue to rely on the automatic loyalty of the working class – even more so when the conclusion of the next Labour leadership will undoubtedly be to move even further to the right. Already they are openly blaming the defeat on Miliband’s few fleeting gestures to the left in the late stages of the campaign.

What does this result mean? It is a catastrophe. There will be more suicides, more scapegoating and more riots; despair and outrage, sudden explosions, but all blind and impulsive. The best hope is still that at least some key trade unions will at last break free from the still overwhelmingly Blairite Parliamentary Labour Party, assume their rightful role helping to harness the rage that will be sweeping the millions, to unify the hundreds of currently atomised protest groups, to mobilise the forces for a mass movement against capitalism.

Roger Silverman

Categories: Europe

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