General Election: With the votes of 24% of the electorate, Tories have no mandate for more savage cuts

no-cutsOn Friday 8 May the front page of the Daily Mirror was entirely black apart from a small headline: “Condemned again – five more damned years”.

This will have fitted the mood of millions of people waking to discover that the Tories had unexpectedly managed to scrape a majority government; making Cameron the first sitting prime minister to increase his party’s share of the vote since 1955.

Workers, pensioners, young people, the unemployed and the disabled: all of these people and more are now in fear of the misery that this new government will mete out.

Meanwhile the FTSE 100 index jumped by £40 billion as the financial markets celebrated ‘their government’ being elected. There was also an immediate surge in the purchase of central London luxury properties, priced at well over £2 million apiece.

It is incredible that Labour could not defeat the Tories after the last five years. The Con-Dem government has cut £35 billion from public services, more than any government since the second world war.

It has left almost a million people reliant on food banks to feed themselves and their families. Workers have suffered the longest and severest wage squeeze since the Victorian era and despite the Chancellor George Osborne’s claim that there is now a recovery, average incomes remain 2% below the pre-recession level.

Nor has the Con-Dems’ promise that austerity would eliminate the deficit been delivered. On the contrary, Osborne predicted it would be £37 billion in 2015; instead it is well over £80 billion!

Labour’s failure

Inevitably, the conclusions drawn by the pundits and the capitalist media are that this misery isn’t too unpopular and that Labour lost because, as the Blairite Lord Hutton put it, people didn’t want an, “old-school socialist menu”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Labour lost not because it was too left wing, but because it wasn’t left wing enough, refusing to put forward an alternative to austerity and instead limiting itself to supporting ‘austerity-lite’.

Even the Financial Times, in an article titled ‘Miliband pays price for lurch to the left’ admits – in complete contradiction to their own headline – that the only times Miliband’s popularity “spiked” upwards was when he fleetingly seemed to take on ” ‘vested interests’ such as bankers, the media or energy companies”.
The popularity of opposing austerity was shown by the SNP’s landslide in Scotland, virtually annihilating Labour who were derided by Scottish voters as ‘red Tories’. While in reality the SNP in Scotland has carried out austerity, it was by posing as being to the left of Labour and anti-austerity that the SNP was able to win.

Working class people in Scotland do not have a fundamentally different outlook to those in England and Wales, many of whom were also enthused by a seeming voice against cuts.

In one opinion poll the SNP won 9% support in English and Welsh seats, despite only standing in Scotland! During the election debates, “can I vote SNP in England?” was one of the most frequent google searches.

Yet Labour endlessly repeated that it too would carry out further severe cuts in public spending and would be ‘tougher on benefits’ than the Tories. Ed Miliband refused to contemplate forming a government supported by the SNP even if that meant the Tories coming to power as a minority.

For all those desperate to end austerity, Labour was clearly signalling it wasn’t on its agenda. The result was that Labour failed to do more than marginally increase its vote, scoring a mere 1.8% increase on its terrible 2010 result.

The initial post mortems by the pollsters, trying to work out how they got it so wrong, suggest that one key factor was the turnout.

The final ICM poll was based on 74% of those polled saying they were certain to vote. In the end the turnout in England was only just over 65%. It seems that a section of people who said they would vote Labour stayed at home on the day.

Protest votes

Others protested by voting for the right-wing, divisive UKIP which won almost four million votes and came second in over 90 constituencies, many of them previously Labour strongholds.

Again, it seems that more ‘traditional Tory’ UKIP voters returned to the fold and voted Tory when push came to shove. More working-class ex-Labour voters stuck with UKIP. Others – around a million people – voted for the Greens, who dramatically increased their vote by focussing on opposition to austerity.

Including the local elections taking place on the same day across England (outside London), over 100,000 voted for the 100% anti-austerity Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
In Coventry North West, Dave Nellist, chair of TUSC, received 1,769 votes. In Southampton, Councillor Don Thomas, a TUSC supporter who has taken a clear anti-cuts stance, won his council seat with 2,500 votes, a majority of 1,000. For details of TUSC results see

Millions of those who abstained or voted for other parties could have been won to voting Labour if it had clearly opposed austerity and put forward a programme including measures such as renationalising the railways, energy companies and Royal Mail, introducing an immediate and substantial increase in the minimum wage, and planning a mass council house building programme.

Instead the Labour manifesto stole the Tories’ clothes and concentrated on the need for cuts in spending and deficit reduction.

Nonetheless, even the very limited measures that Miliband did put forward – on zero-hour contracts, the mansion tax and freezing energy prices – irritated the capitalist class.

It was not Miliband or the Labour leadership they feared, but the appetite for change these minor measures could awaken in the working class. Particularly if propped up by the SNP, they feared a Labour-led government would not prove able to withstand pressure from the working class demanding improvements in its lot after five years of misery.

The result was all the bile heaped on Miliband by the bulk of the capitalist media, erroneously decrying him as ‘Red Ed’. Miliband’s minor proposals were enough for him to be savagely attacked by the capitalist class but were not enough to motivate working and middle class voters to support him.

Tory victory

The Tories were therefore able to win despite a very small increase in their vote share. In 2010 only 24% of the electorate voted Tory.

This time their vote increased marginally, by just over half a million (0.8%), but still just 24.4% of the total electorate. This is very far from being a ‘clear mandate’ for the savage cuts that will come. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats, brutally punished for their participation in the coalition, lost well over four million votes.

It was mainly by winning a section of ‘right-wing’ Liberal Democrat voters that the Tories were able to gain seats. Why vote for the monkey when you can have the organ grinder?

Particularly in more rural Devon and Cornwall, areas that have traditionally been Liberal Democrat and in which Labour has been weak, the Tories were able to take a whole series of seats.

In addition, there were a number of seats in the Midlands which Labour expected to take, but failed to do so. This has been put down to the ‘shy Tories’, people who said they would vote Labour but – when in the polling booth – put a cross next to the Tory candidate.

It is difficult to know at this stage how many of these voters existed. However, there will be some better-off workers who hope that the worst of austerity is over and wrongly imagine a new Tory government would bring economic growth.

Lack of trust in Labour’s ability to run the economy was undoubtedly a factor in the election. This is inevitable given that Labour has gone along with the huge con-trick the Con-Dems carried out on this issue.
The government blamed a crisis of the capitalist system – triggered by the bankers – on Labour’s supposed excessive public spending.

And Labour spent five years agreeing that it was vital to reduce public spending! Paul Krugman, the Keynesian economist, lambasted Labour a week before the election for joining the Tories in promising “a renewed round of austerity” after the election and for being: “amazingly willing to accept claims that budget deficits are the biggest economic issue facing the nation”.

However, any illusions that the Tories will bring economic growth and increased prosperity for the majority could be shattered very quickly. What growth has taken place in the economy is largely based on a partial re-inflating of the financial and credit bubbles that burst in 2007.

Meanwhile British manufacturing remains exceptionally weak and the productivity gap with other major economic powers continues to widen – output per hour is 16% lower than if the pre-crisis trend had continued.

The prospect of a new downturn, possibly triggered once again by the finance sector, is posed in the next period – but this time on the Tories’ watch.

The Tories were also able to have some success in whipping up fear of Scottish nationalism and the SNP among a section of voters in England. Labour could have cut across this by putting forward a bold anti-austerity programme and calling on the SNP to vote for it in parliament, but instead Labour chose, once again, to accept the Tories’ narrative.

Weak new government

Cameron has therefore been able to scrape a narrow majority of twelve, even smaller than Major’s 21 the last time the Tories managed to form a majority government. On that occasion the euphoria of the Tories – that they had managed to win the election – soon burst.

Today Major is remembered for leading a weak and divided Tory government. The same will be true of Cameron, whose government will face huge social unrest.

In 1992 the election was followed by Black Wednesday (when sterling crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism) and economic recession. The massive movement against pit closures at the end 1992 had huge popular support, including from many of those who had voted for the Tories months before.

The small size of the majority will not stop this government attempting to launch a new, even more vicious wave of austerity.

The Financial Times mildly declared that spending cuts will be “significantly more severe than those enacted during the five years of the last parliament”! Alongside vicious austerity the new government is likely to launch a new assault on trade union rights.

But renewed austerity needs to be met with a renewed and strengthened movement against it. The last government could have been defeated if the public sector general strike in November 2011 had been used as a starting point for a mass movement against austerity.

Instead the majority of the trade union leaders derailed the struggle, telling workers that we should hold on for a Labour government to solve our problems. We need to get organised to prevent that happening again.

The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference on 4 July will be vital in helping to prepare for that struggle. When this government launches its next onslaught, the workers’ movement needs to respond with a powerful 24-hour general strike.
But if a movement against austerity is blocked by the trade union leaders it will find another road, as has happened with the magnificent anti-water charges movement in Ireland.

At the same time the workers’ movement needs to create a political voice. The leaders of the Labour-affiliated trade unions are likely to argue – yet again – that the answer is to try to push Labour leftwards.

Yet the ultra-Blairites in the Labour Party are already praising Miliband for just one thing – the way he removed the final vestiges of the democratic structures which allowed the trade unions to have a say in the Labour leadership.

Unite, and the other big trade unions, gave many millions of pounds to Labour to fund its election campaign, yet had no say over how the campaign was conducted. The Collins Review now means the trade unions do not even have a voice in the election of the Labour Party leader.

The leaders of the affiliated unions are likely to back Andy Burnham, with some of them hoping he will be a more left wing leader. His record, however, is not more left wing than other figures in the Labour leadership. As health minister in the last Labour government he oversaw the dramatic extension of privatisation in our NHS.

Before the general election, Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, suggested that if Labour could not even defeat the Tories, the time had come to look at a new party. Labour’s failure on 7 May puts that issue centre stage. The trade union movement as a whole needs to urgently discuss how to create a new mass workers’ party.

In these elections the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) did not yet have the numerical strength or profile to attract and channel the majority of the anti-austerity mood. Nonetheless, its campaign gave a glimpse of the enthusiasm that a new mass anti-austerity force could create.

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