Britain: Tory majority with 36.9% vote; Scotland moves left as SNP demolishes Labour

After her party won more than 1 million votes but just one seat, Greens leader Natalie Bennett said: "The fight for a fairer, more democratic voting system begins today."
By Stuart Munckton

May 9, 2015 -- Green Left Weekly, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party won a clear victory in Britain's May 7 general elections. In Scotland, however, the Scottish National Party (SNP) dramatically rose from six seats to 56 out of 59, in a clear sign of opposition to the brutal austerity backed by the major parties in Westminster.

The big loser in Scotland was the Labour Party, which was nearly wiped out. Previously the largest party in Scotland, it kept just one seat. It was ruthlessly punished for its support for austerity and its role in opposing Scottish independence. Although the “no” vote won, Labour paid the price for a nasty campaign in which it appeared as just one more voice of the London establishment.

“The SNP gains wiped out political heavyweights,” TeleSUR English said on May 8, “including former cabinet minister Danny Alexander of the Liberal Democrats, Scottish Labour Party leader Jim Murphy and Labour’s foreign affairs spokesperson Douglas Alexander. Douglas Alexander lost his seat to one of the SNP’s new seat holders, Mhairi Black , a 20-year-old university student, who has become the youngest member of parliament in 350 years. She won 23,548 votes against 17,804 for Alexander in the Paisley and Renfrewshire South constituency – an embarrassing result for a man who is Labour's shadow foreign minister and electoral campaign chief.”

The Conservative Party won 331 out of 650 seats, giving it an outright majority. However, in a sign of the deeply undemocratic electoral system, it did so winning only 36.9% of the popular vote. Combined with the nearly one-third of voters who abstained, the vast majority of people in Britain did not vote Tory – but will be subjected to its brutal rule.

While imposing crippling cuts and the austerity measures on the majority, under the Tories the super-rich have doubled their wealth. On April 26, TeleSUR English reported: “Britain's super-rich doubled their collective wealth since 2009, the annual The Sunday Times 'Rich List' has revealed.”

At the same time, The Guardian reported on May 3: “A harrowing study by the National Association of Head Teachers, published at the start of its annual conference, has revealed the extent to which schools are helping children whose families have been affected by government cuts. Providing an estimated £43.5m of unfunded support, schools are helping unemployed or low-income families with everything, starting with food (on top of free school meals).Then there are issues as basic as underwear, laundry and washing facilities, equipment, school trips, bus passes, haircuts, head-lice treatments, even birthday cards for children who otherwise would not receive them.”

Labour clearly failed to capitalise on anger at this reality by providing a clear alternative. Despite its national vote rising by 1.4%, its number of seats from 256 to 232.

In England, the Green Party's Caroline Lucas – a leading voice against austerity – kept her Brighton Pavillion seat, winning 22,871 and increasing her majority by 11%.

Across Britain, more than 1.15 million people voted Green, compared to the 265,243 votes the party won in 2010. The party came second in four seats, including Bristol West, where Greens candidate Darren Hall took the Green vote from 23% to 26.8%.

However, despite the large rise, the Greens have won no more seats due to the undemocratic “first-past-the-post” voting system. Greens leader Natalie Bennett said in response: “The fight for a fairer, more democratic voting system begins today.”

The left-wing Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru kept its three seats. Irish republican party Sinn Fein, which abstains from taking seats in Westminster, fell from five to four seats.

Left-wing Respect MP for Bradford West George Galloway lost his seat to Labour's Naz Shah.

The Liberal Democrats were punished for their role as a junior government partner, which resulted in it breaking key election promises, falling from 57 seats in 2010 to just eight.

Left Unity: 'We have a long battle ahead'

This statement was released by the executive committee of May 7 general elections won by Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party.

* * *

No one was expecting this election result. Against all predictions the Tories are set to return to government – and the fight is on to stop five more years of austerity and the destruction of the welfare state and attacks on migrants.

A significant factor in this defeat was the Labour leadership’s capitulation to Tory economic policies and their failure to offer a much needed alternative. But already the Labour leadership are finding other factors to blame.

They are lashing out at the SNP and Greens, who were able to attract voters opposed to austerity away from Labour. Yet at the same time Ed Miliband will be blamed for being "too left wing", and there will be moves to replace him with a figure from the hard right of the party. Labour’s position is now likely to shift from "austerity lite" to simply austerity.

That is why the project of building a broad left party as an alternative to Labour is as urgent as ever. Left Unity’s general election results mark the first step on that long road.

All our campaigners worked hard and we thank them for that. We can see potential in votes such as the 949 (1.8%) for Glyn Robbins in Bethnal Green and 542 (1.2%) for Stephen Hall in Leigh. We also hope for some good showings in the local election results, which are mostly not yet announced.

But we recognise that the final votes did not generally reflect the effort put into the election campaigns. The election system puts huge pressure on people to vote for the "lesser evil" of Labour, and many voters were reluctant to support smaller parties even in safe Labour seats.

The election results show the voting system is not fair. Most people did not vote Tory: their share of seats is out of all proportion to their percentage share of the vote.

Meanwhile a million Green voters are only represented by a single MP. We believe a key demand now should be proportional representation, so that future elections give parties a fair share of seats according to their real support.

As the Tories prepare another round of brutal austerity cuts, we have a long battle ahead. We must all be part of building the alternative that Labour has failed to provide.

The anti-austerity, radical left can grow – but support will only come if we continue to do consistent work within local communities, shoulder to shoulder with all resisting austerity.

Left Unity is a party of activists who will campaign as hard on the streets as we campaigned in the elections. We will be right there alongside all those fighting to defend the welfare state, defend migrants, save the NHS and build a better world.

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From GLW issue 1052

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Mon, 05/11/2015 - 11:25


May 9, 2015

A combination of a fear campaign by the Tories and deep flaws in Labours stance produced a slim Tory majority that no one (including the Tories) expected.

The opinion polls were right about two things.

The first was the decimation of the Lib Dems which have been reduced to 8 seats with major figures – the people who have been propping up the Tories for the past five years—from Vince Cable to Danny Alexander now out of parliament. They bear direct responsibility for all the attacks the Tories have mounted. Labour failed to gain from their collapse as significantly as it would have if it had put forward a consistent anti-austerity message.
The second was the staggering swing to the SNP in Scotland, with Labour reduced to just one seat. In some constituencies the swing from Labour to the SNP reached almost 40%. Only three seats were not won by SNP, one LibDem, one Tory and one Labour.

Labour’s life threatening wounds in Scotland were self-inflicted through their reactionary adherence to ossified unionism, the enthusiastic way they stood alongside the Tories to defend it in the referendum campaign and their failure to take up an anti-austerity and anti-Trident policy. This was massively punished by the Scottish electorate, who swung in an unprecedented way to the SNP and wiped out Labour for a generation.

However, while the shock of this was massive, it’s a trend that’s been growing for a number of years culminating in a major swing among Labour voters towards independence and anti-austerity and a massive tactical vote for the SNP to wipe out Labour. SNP MPs are likely to be a diverse group, with some radicals likely to emerge within them.

This was the single most significant factor in the election; an earthquake in British politics, which is not going to go away.
But overall the UK is becoming more fragmented electorally, in reality there were actually four different elections going on – Scotland, Wales, England and the North of Ireland. Labour won by around 10% in Wales, the Tories won by around 10% in England and hence scooped the majority of seats, the SNP were triumphant in Scotland and the North of Ireland has its own unique dynamics.

The relentless demonisation of the SNP by the Tories and the Lib Dems clearly had an impact on English voters that did not show up in the polls. Plaid Cymru was the party with a strong woman leader that benefitted least from the anti-austerity sentiment – with only a modest increase in its vote of 0.8%, while UKIP saw a dramatic increase in its vote in Wales of 11.2% (the swing across Britain as a whole is 9.5% – kept lower than would otherwise be the case by its poor showing in Scotland}.

The advance of Sinn Fein in the six counties was halted, not least because of the contradiction of its presentation of itself as an anti-austerity party which is deeply tainted with the implementation of austerity in the coalition government of the six counties with the reactionary DUP. There was a significant anti-austerity alternative vote against SF in its base in West Belfast

The victory of the Tories (based on winning England) will open a further deeply reactionary phase of government with a Queen’s speech laden with massive cuts in welfare benefits, attacks on living standards, cuts in public expenditure, increases in university fees, more racist controls on immigration etc. A referendum on EU membership is now highly likely within a couple of years, with a deeply reactionary underlying racist anti-migrant agenda.

Labour lost the election rather than the Tories winning it. They failed over the past five years to refute the Tory claim to economic competence. The leadership capitulated to the Tory’s economic policies and failed to offer a much needed alternative or to project an anti-austerity pro-working class agenda.

When they put forward a few good and popular policies such as taxing the wealthy, these were overshadowed by what was seen as its ambiguous attitude to austerity, promising further cuts and leading to abject confusion about its message. Voters deserted it in droves, though this was also partly offset by the collapse of the Liberal Democrats and some compensating gains.

Labour remains a significant force in English local government, winning practically every local government seat in the big cities of the North and Midlands. However it is under pressure from UKIP to its right and the Greens to its left while it fails to provide an anti-austerity alternative – this is likely to provoke a severe crisis in its ranks and areas controlled by it as it meekly implements the cuts and austerity agenda of the new Tory government. Building local struggles against austerity by resistance to cuts will be essential if the left is to build a base for the future

The inquest into Labour’s general election defeat started even before Miliband resigned. There is now a real danger that the conclusion (under pressure from the Blairites) that the campaign had been too left wing and the answer is to move further into the ‘centre ground’. Only Peter Hain mentioned the word neoliberalism and that it is not working. Charles Clark actually described the 1% as the “wealth creators” echoing right-wing ideology as though wealth could ever be created in the absence of human labour working to produce it.

UKIP gained massively on the back of a right-wing campaign with many racist undertones, but failed to breakthrough electorally in parliament under the first past the post system. They got 4 million nationally and increased their penetration into Labour seats in the North. Farage has resigned but he is likely to be back before the end of the year.

Despite their deeply reactionary character, they now support electoral reform as both Carswell’s acceptance speech and Farage’s resignation statement showed. But while this was a savvy media move they are not going to campaign around it.
They will win many local council election seats however and are capable of winning control of councils in the coming period – a major setback for progressive politics in Britain. Much of the migrant population (mainly from the EU countries) is denied a vote in general elections but does have a vote in local elections. This community needs to be mobilised by the left in a massive anti-xenophobic campaign to combat the racism of UKIP and the Tories. However the tactics used against fascists will fail to achieve this and the left needs to rethink its tactics in order to pursue this approach seriously.

The Greens had their best general election results ever winning a total of over a million votes and Caroline Lucas substantially increased her majority in Brighton – one of the few bright spots in the English political landscape.

They benefited from the LibDem collapse and a higher profile for anti-austerity and left policies particularly among younger voters. They won an increased number of votes and won a number of second and third places; but despite this they are not likely to make much progress electorally. They have massively increased their membership and presence and the left needs to relate to this, especially in the wider audience that now exists for a major campaign around climate change and ecological issues.
The Scottish Greens significantly underperformed due to massive tactical voting for the SNP to destroy Labour; there is every sign this could swing to the Greens in the list (PR) vote in the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016.

The National Health Action Party did moderately well. They ran a good campaign and gained 20,210 votes standing in only 12 seats – well targeted against high profile opponents. Former independent MP Richard Taylor won 14% in Wyre Forest while first time candidate Louise Irvine took 8% against Jeremy Hunt.

The socialist (left of Labour) parties did badly, including Left Unity and TUSC, with most candidates down at less than 1%, with only a few exceptions. TUSC is not going anywhere and should be discontinued as should Respect which also failed to build on the by-election victory of Galloway.

The left wing organisations have failed to build a serious alternative to Labour and have been eclipsed by the SNP and Greens. We are worse off than we were 15 years ago when the Socialist Alliance existed and the gains of the Respect period have been willfully discarded by the major left organisations (SP and SWP). A major rethinking is necessary and a more consistent attitude towards the building of a long term united left wing alternative.

Despite generally poor electoral results Left Unity has clearly emerged as the only hope for such a development, not least because it exists on 8th May. The potential can be seen in votes such as the 949 (1.8%) for Glyn Robbins in Bethnal Green and 542 (1.2%) for Stephen Hall in Leigh.
There are a number of key conclusions to be drawn from all this:

The near 5 million votes for the Greens and UKIP resulted in just 2 MPs compared to over 200 for Labour with less than double the vote shows there is a major crisis of democratic legitimacy of the parliament – the Tories have won a majority of seats on just 36% of the vote with deeply unpopular policies they will now try to implement. Far from being stable there are likely to be periodic crises over the coming period.
The voting system is outrageously undemocratic. For the smaller parties their share of seats is out of all proportion to their percentage share of the vote. The Greens are only represented by a single MP despite getting a million votes. The DUP won 8 seats with just 180,000 votes. A key campaigning demand now should be proportional representation, so that future elections give parties a fair share of seats according to their real support.

Left Unity rightly made this point central to its post-election statement – it will need to work over the next weeks to explore how to make this a campaigning priority – and how to work with others to address this massive democratic deficit.

The results also reinforce the need to build a broad left party as an alternative to Labour.They bring home in full force the price we are paying for the squandering of previous attempts to build broad parties in Britain over the past 25 years. None of the socialist left parties in this election has results that match the election results of Respect in its most healthy period or in the Socialist Alliance before it. We have been going backwards whilst the left in many other countries in Europe have been going forward.
The importance of LU is that it is attempting to address this by building a party that is democratic and inclusive and seeks to build ongoing branches – but we are starting from a long way back.

Such an alternative needs to combine presenting a radical political alternative at the ballot box with campaigning on the streets. Left Unity will rightly mobilise for the first major demonstration against the new government called by the People’s Assembly on June 20 – and then further ahead for the COP21 demonstrations in Paris as well as much more locally and nationally. We also need a united campaign to defend the NHS – this will be increasingly privatized and cut back by the new government.

But If the SNP and the Greens were better placed to attract anti-austerity voters on May 7 it was not least because they had been appearing on the ballot papers over a long period of time. Left Unity needs to build that credibility not only in communities and campaigns but also at the ballot box in a consistent manner.