The results of the county council election on 2 May marked a new low for all three major parties in Britain.
For the first time ever not one of them got 30% or more of the vote, Labour scored 29%, the Tories 25% and the Liberal Democrats a dismal 14%.
This is yet another illustration of the hollowing out of the base of support of all the major capitalist parties.
As austerity continues to bite, the coalition parties are becoming increasingly unpopular. Labour, the ‘official opposition’, is not turning anger at the Con-Dems into support for itself.
The county council elections are not the most favourable terrain for Labour, but its performance – only taking control of two councils – was poor.
Even in the parliamentary byelection in South Shields, which has been a Labour stronghold since 1935, Labour’s majority halved compared to the 2010 general election.
No wonder – the Labour candidate, Emma Lewell-Buck, was a local Labour councillor that had unwaveringly defended the closure of day care centres for the elderly and disabled, along with other cuts in local services.
Labour implemented pro-rich, anti-working class policies in government. The deregulation of the City of London, begun under Thatcher, continued apace under New Labour.
Now in opposition Labour is continuing to trail behind the Tories; refusing to promise to reverse the Con-Dems’ vicious austerity policies.
The inevitable result is that – while many workers will reluctantly vote Labour to try and defeat the government – there is no enthusiasm for Labour’s ‘austerity-lite’ – or not so lite.
At this stage, the most common response to profound disillusionment with all the major parties is to stay at home and not vote at all.
However, in last Thursday’s elections a substantial minority, 23% of those who voted, showed their anger by voting for Ukip.
Ukip voters include many disillusioned Tories, but also a section of working class ex-Labour voters, as is indicated by the 5,988 people who voted Ukip in South Shields.
The Guardian quotes David Bell, a South Shields voter who helped push the party to second place: “I was very disappointed that Labour made no effort whatsoever to stand up for ordinary working people’s rights… But I’ve found a party now that represents some of the views that I would like.”
Ukip poses as the party ‘for the little man and woman’, brushing over the fact that its leader Nigel Farage is the son of a stockbroker who used to be a commodities trader himself.
Ukip’s treasurer, Stuart Wheeler, is a multimillionaire old Etonian who lives in a Jacobean castle. And Ukip’s current income tax policy is for a ‘flat rate tax’ where everyone – from a cleaner to a commodities trader – would pay exactly the same tax.
Ukip is a right-wing nationalist populist party that offers no way forward for the working class. It poses as being against corruption and yet has lined up Neil Hamilton – who was forced out of parliament in the face of public disgust because he accepted brown envelopes full of cash from Mohammed al Fayed – to head its list for the European elections! Nonetheless, on 2 May 2013 a section of working class voters used Ukip as a stick with which to beat the government.
Ukip’s vote in this election has been aided by the enormous amount of publicity the party received. Despite not having a single MP, in the four years until the end of 2012 Nigel Farage was on Question Time eleven times, more than any other politician except Lib Dem Vince Cable.
Farage was also given a platform on the programme the week before the election – virtually promoted as the opposition.
There has been a semi-conscious policy by the capitalist class to encourage votes for Ukip as a ‘safe’ outlet for voters’ anger, as compared to the far-right racists of the British National Party (BNP) and, in particular, to try and prevent the development of a mass workers’ party with a socialist programme.
Whether Ukip continues to be promoted by the capitalist media, and also whether it can make further electoral breakthroughs, remains to be seen.
Socialist response needed
It is already clear, however, that Ukip’s vote has deepened the crisis in all of the major capitalist parties, particularly in the Tory party.
After Ukip’s vote in the Eastleigh byelection the Tories responded by increasing their anti-Europe, and particularly anti-immigration, rhetoric.
The same is likely to happen again now. The Tories are consciously using workers’ fears about the consequences of increased immigration in order to justify attacks on universal access to essential services and benefits.
The workers’ movement needs to warn that this is the thin end of the wedge; and the result will be the destruction of public services that are vital for all workers.
Labour, however, is once again echoing Tory propaganda rather than standing up to this blatant attempt to set one worker against another.
The need to build a new mass party of the working class has never been more urgent. That is why the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is beginning to lay the foundations for the creation of a powerful electoral voice for working class people.
TUSC brings together trade unionists, including the transport workers’ union the RMT, and socialists, including the Socialist Party.
TUSC stood in 120 seats in the county council elections, more than the left have been able to contest in this round of elections in living memory.
It also stood a candidate for mayor of Doncaster, receiving a creditable 1,916 votes. This vote, along with the 750 votes received by an independent socialist in the South Shields byelection, give a glimpse of the possibilities to begin to win electoral support for a socialist alternative to endless austerity.
Doncaster: 1,900 votes for TUSC in Ed Miliband’s back yard
Doncaster Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate Mary Jackson received 1,916 votes in the town’s mayoral election, finishing sixth out of ten with 3.1%.
In pro-cuts Labour leader Ed Miliband’s back yard, for every ten Labour first preference votes there was a vote for an anti-cuts, socialist candidate.
Mary’s election campaign, which also beat the Lib Dems by 800 votes, was backed by the Doncaster branch of the RMT trade union, a Prison Officers’ Association branch secretary and the local Unison council branch secretary.
Mary spoke to the Socialist about her campaign.
“It was an excellent result for TUSC. We ran a very vocal campaign, 20,000 leaflets delivered by hand, six public meetings and four anti-bedroom tax groups set up.
The media tried to ignore TUSC. It took a lot of lobbying to get TUSC to be acknowledged on TV as standing in Doncaster.
We had a brief entry on the council election report website but they took the word ‘Socialist’ out of the name on the full list of candidates on election day – they had me listed as Trade Unionists Against Cuts!
We used my mobile number, Facebook page and email address so we could have a dialogue with people. This went out to the whole electorate, almost 224,000 people, in the mayoral booklet.
Right up until election day, I was receiving calls for my opinion on issues from the local bus service, the arts, unemployment, young people to traveller sites (certainly not a complete list).
To each we gave the socialist approach, putting the interests of working class people first, and how it could be achieved despite the constraints of local government and Con-Dem cuts.
I think everyone who contacted us decided to support TUSC because socialism is the only sensible answer to the economic crisis that is currently being paid for by the majority.
Almost 2,000 votes is very creditable particularly because the Labour Party message on the street used the scare tactic of ‘if you vote TUSC you will let the right-wing present mayor back in’.
It has laid a marker for the future here, we shall now go on the offensive and campaign on the streets for the new Labour mayor and Labour council to stop the bedroom tax and cuts to council tax benefit, build houses, employ workers and create apprenticeships. Watch this space!”
Southampton: Rebel councillors support socialist byelection candidate
Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, Southampton Councillors Against The Cuts
We are giving our full backing to Woolston resident and local campaigner Sue Atkins, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate in the upcoming Woolston byelection.
Sue wants the city council to protect local services and jobs by refusing to make cuts in spending and demanding back from the government the money it has taken away from Southampton.
Our city desperately needs more affordable housing, more jobs, improved public transport and support for our young people.
The government’s austerity programme is eating away at the public services so important to Southampton’s citizens.
The courageous fightback by Southampton’s council staff to resist the attack by the previous Conservative administration on their pay and conditions led directly to Labour’s victory in the May 2012 elections, with a mandate from the people of Southampton to protect local public services and jobs.
But within weeks of the election we were told by the leadership of the Labour Group, without any prior discussion, that the popular Oaklands Swimming Pool in our ward of Coxford was to be closed down, despite Labour’s election campaign promise to keep the pool open.
Our refusal to break this election pledge and vote for the pool’s closure resulted in our suspension from the Labour Group.
But we resolved to continue campaigning to save the pool, and to challenge the idea that there was no alternative to making draconian cuts, by forming a new Group on the City Council: ‘Labour Councillors Against The Cuts’.
On the very same day we made the announcement we were kicked out of the Labour party.
We have given our full support to all those fighting to maintain their local public services: youth workers, play centre users, library users, and others.
City councillors have been democratically elected by their communities to represent them and are not simply the government’s local enforcers.
We believe that it is possible to mobilise popular mass support across the city behind a campaign to demand from the government the money it has taken away from us.
Electing Sue Atkins as the voice of Woolston residents would dramatically reinforce the growing city-wide campaign to defend public services and jobs.
TUSC Woolston byelection launch rally
Saturday 18 May, 2pm
St Mark’s Institute 37a Victoria Road, Woolston Southampton SO19 9DY
Building the anti-cuts alternative
Clive Heemskerk, TUSC national election agent
One hundred and twenty candidates, standing in 117 wards in 20 councils, contested the English local elections on 2 May under the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) umbrella.
TUSC also stood in the Doncaster mayoral contest and two candidates in council byelections held on the same day.
It was mainly county councils – last polled in 2009 – up for election, overwhelmingly Conservative – although Cumbria had been run by a Labour-Conservative coalition! The Tories had 1,477 (62%) of the seats to Labour’s 273 going into the 2 May poll.
It would be totally wrong, however, to caricature this year’s elections as mostly rural ‘shire contests’.
County councils administer a range of services – from education, adult social care and youth provision, to libraries, highways and emergency services – that cover a population of 24 million, control combined budgets of £43 billion, and employ 750,000 workers (including school staff).
County council cuts
Workers living and using public services in these local authority areas are being hit by austerity politics.
But the councils up this year are not the same terrain as the metropolitan boroughs that will be facing elections next year.
It will be harder then for Labour candidates to present themselves as ‘anti-cuts’ in Labour-controlled councils.
The total vote for all TUSC candidates on 2 May was 10,182. Where TUSC contested council seats, for every person who voted TUSC (8,188) there were 14 people who voted Labour (119,204).
This ratio has widened compared to the 2011 and 2012 local elections – although, in a metropolitan council comparator, the ratio narrowed in Bristol compared to the 2011 local elections in that city (the last council elections there) and last November’s Bristol mayoral poll.
Across the local council wards and county council divisions that TUSC contested, the ratio of Green voters (19,652) to TUSC voters (8,188) was two and a half.
For the Liberal Democrats, defending 353 seats, the ratio of their voters (43,521) to TUSC voters was five to one.
The Labour Party put up more candidates this year – 2,174, in 92% of the seats – than in recent previous local elections.
In 2011, for example, still recovering from the 2010 general election defeat, Labour fielded candidates for just 72% of the seats available and eight TUSC candidates did not face a Labour opponent.
This year every TUSC candidate faced a Labour candidate, in a context where Labour controlled just one council before 2 May.
Next year though, nearly half of the councils up for election are Labour controlled – and they will have just set their budgets for a fourth year of implementing the Con-Dem cuts.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition’s fight to present an anti-austerity alternative to the establishment parties will move into a different gear.
See www.tusc.org.uk for a fuller version of this report and all the TUSC election results, including a ‘league table’ presenting the TUSC results in percentage order and, separately, the results of all parties’ candidates for each seat contested by TUSC.
TUSC local election reports
Standing for the first time in Bolsover North, TUSC gained 9.4% of the vote.
Our candidate, former miner Pete Neeve, is very well known in both Creswell and Whitwell, two of the ex-mining villages making up this electoral division.
Many people told him and his campaigners how glad they were that there was alternative to Labour they could vote for.
TUSC also stood in three of the other five divisions within Bolsover District. Wherever we spoke to people on the doorstep or in the street, we got a very good reaction to our ideas.
There was little enthusiasm for Labour in this Labour stronghold in the former Derbyshire coalfield, although many appreciate help that MP Dennis Skinner has given them over the years. There is also widespread cynicism towards all political parties.
I stood as a TUSC candidate for Loughborough East, Leicestershire and was pleasantly surprised to receive 170 votes (7.7%), placing me third in front of the Lib Dems.
Over 1,000 TUSC national leaflets were distributed in the ward, and the local paper ran an article on all the candidates.
My personal reason for standing was to highlight the lack of representation for vulnerable people.
The reaction I received from people was mostly positive and supportive, many genuinely concerned about the impact of the cuts on society.
I experienced bullying from a couple of Labour men, which is very sad and I think shows how far removed Labour have become from working class issues.
TUSC candidates stood in 14 seats for Bristol city council, offering an alternative to the cuts policies of the main parties. Our campaign got an excellent response on the street and on the doorstep.
We focussed on important issues such as defending council services and opposing the bedroom tax. Other parties, none of which have an alternative to meekly passing on Tory austerity, were reduced to competing on who was toughest on dog mess!
We explained how anti-cuts councillors would make a massive difference in the city but since Bristol elected a mayor individual councillors have virtually no power.
This, and a widespread disgust at the main parties, was reflected in a significantly decreased turnout.
The biggest winners on the day were Labour and the Greens as people tried to kick out councillors from the government parties, especially the Lib Dems.
Despite this, our percentage of the vote improved in where we’d stood before, including to over 9% in our best seat.
Some of the Greens’ popularity was due to a pledge to protect public services, despite them voting for £35 million of cuts this year. They won’t be able to get away with this hypocrisy as easily next time.
Standing has helped us build the profile of TUSC in Bristol and helped us uncover new people to help with the ongoing campaigning to defend the living standards of ordinary people.
David Brown and Paul Lenihan from Harlow Socialist Party stood in the Essex County Council elections on a ‘no-cuts’ platform.
The time from nominations to the election seemed to go by very fast. We ran stalls in the town centre, and leafleted when and where possible. We also joined Harlow welfare rights and anti-bedroom tax campaigners.
Dave Brown received an almost hostile response from the Unison regional branch when he asked to speak about TUSC at their AGM.
He was not allowed to hand out TUSC leaflets at the meeting – although a private insurance company was! The lesson must be that we need more support from our trade unions for TUSC as, if nothing else, a few words or an article in branch newsletters could have gained us far more votes.
The end result was 270 in Harlow West for David Brown (3.5% – beating the Greens and Lib Dems) and 88 for Paul Lenihan in Harlow North (2%).
Tracey India Brown
Almost 500 people voted for TUSC’s eleven candidates across Staffordshire.
As well as standing in Newcastle-Under-Lyme this was the first time that TUSC candidates stood in Rugeley, Leek, Stafford and Burton-on-Trent. We spoke to thousands of people and gave out over 10,000 leaflets.
TUSC was alone in raising the need to oppose all cuts and privatisation in the fight to save Stafford hospital, which is currently in administration.
Labour made significant gains but failed to win control from the Tories. The Lib Dems lost all four of their seats.
The Green Party saw their vote halved from 9% in 2009 to 4.5%, despite the Sentinel local paper carrying the headline: “The Green Party bids for power”! TUSC was not mentioned once by this paper, despite standing more candidates than the Greens.
TUSC supporters across Staffordshire will continue our fight against the savage cuts, closures and privatisation programme supported by the three main parties and Ukip.