rs21 first reaction to the UK General Election results. This is just the beginning of ongoing analysis. We hope readers will send in comment and pieces in the coming days.
Against all predictions, the Tories have won a majority, and David Cameron will be Prime Minister again. This will feel like a punch in the stomach for socialists, trade unionists and anti-austerity campaigners across the country. We have to confront the stark reality of 5 more years of austerity, cuts, and the continued dismantling of the NHS. Our first solidarity should be to everyone who will suffer more under the Tories. The smiles on the faces in the City of London will be unbearable this morning.
But the Tory vote hides a number of possible crises. It benefited from the most significant development of the election – the collapse of the centre ground in general, and the Lib Dems in particular. Most Lib Dem votes appear to have split to the Tories, while UKIP rallied voters from all parties and none around an openly racist and reactionary agenda. UKIP’s success will drive divisions in the Conservative Party over the EU from day one, while Scotland’s vote will only exacerbate the constitutional crisis. That’s without even mentioning the economy.
The election has been a disaster for Labour. They have been near wiped out in Scotland, and failed to break through in large parts of England. They have to take much of the blame for that. Although Miliband shifted his rhetoric significantly in recent weeks, 5 years of failing to challenge Tory austerity clearly left their base uninspired and unmotivated. The post-mortem will begin for Labour today, and the Blairites will already argue the campaign was ‘too left wing’. There will be an immense fight in Labour and the Trade Union movement for interpretation, and for the future direction of the party. This is a debate that should matter to us all. Labour was not ‘too left wing’ – it was unable to inspire and mobilise people.
Scotland gives a lie to the Blairite line. There was an overwhelming vote for the SNP, a party that campaigned on a clear anti-austerity and anti-trident position. The other clear difference was the impact of a substantial social movement around the referendum, which fed directly into the political earthquake. Too many in Labour are now dismissing this as ‘nationalism’, and attempting to deflect responsibility for their failures in Scotland. This is absurd. The vote in Scotland was a clear anti-austerity vote, something Labour largely failed to offer.
The SNP’s success indicates a deepening constitutional crisis, which the Tories will not be able to resolve. The Westminster parties have 1 seat each in Scotland, the SNP have 55. No one in Scotland will feel the Tories can rule them legitimately from Westminster, and they are right. There will be calls for more powers, but the crisis for the British state runs deeper than that. Indeed, England too looks an increasingly divided country, with Labour holding sway in London and the North. Behind the Tories majority is a series of tensions, fractures, and instabilities that could explode at any moment.
Another fragment of good news is the failure of Nigel Farage in Thanet South. This is a massive blow to UKIP, since Farage has said he will stand down if he loses. It is hard to overestimate Farage’s importance to UKIP, in holding it together and detoxifying the brand. Without him, they may struggle. As always, this was a combination of national and local factors. The Tory press who celebrated Farage dropped him like a stone, and UKIP support stalled somewhat. But equally, huge credit has to be given to Thanet Stand Up to UKIP, who campaigned tirelessly, and deserve to be celebrating this morning.
Nonetheless, UKIP gained large votes right across the country, coming second in a swathe of seats. This shows the depth of anti-migrant sentiment out there, and, combined with the Tory victory, makes a referendum on the EU increasingly likely. If and when that happens, it is essential that the left can find ways to articulate both an uncompromising defence of free movement and migrants, and a staunch critique of the neoliberal and racist institutions of Fortress Europe, which impose austerity in Greece and leave migrants to drown in the Mediterranean. This will not be easy.
It is good news that Caroline Lucas held her seat in Brighton, expanding her majority, and showing that being a principled voice in parliament can win. The Greens also gained votes overall, and made a credible showing in a number of other seats. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the rest of the left of Labour failed to make much impact, with relatively poor showings even in places they hoped to do well.
Finally, we need to continue to build campaigns, networks and movements that can challenge the austerity consensus. The major difference between England and Scotland in this election was the presence of a social movement and a credible but ‘anti-establishment’ alternative in the form of the SNP. This is something we have failed so far to achieve in England. Such a movement cannot be wished into existence, but it is important that we continue to build networks and organisations capable of seizing the opportunities to build them when they appear. Given how unpredictable these results were, opportunities may appear quite soon. In this context, the People’s Assembly demonstration on 20th June takes on real importance, as the first national opportunity to challenge the new Government. We also hope people will attend our one day event They Don’t Represent Us, on May 16th, to discuss with us the way forward for the left.