Loading images...

UK Local Elections 2011: Goodbye Compromise

by Richard Elen on 6 May, 2011

in Politics

Post image for UK Local Elections 2011: Goodbye Compromise

Why did the Lib Dems do so bad­ly yes­ter­day? The short answer is “prob­a­bly not what you think.”

The com­mon­est eval­u­a­tion that seems to be float­ing around cur­rent­ly, the day after the elec­tion took place and now the results have become clear, is that, exact­ly a year after the Gen­er­al Elec­tion that brought the Lib Dem/ Tory coali­tion, the vot­ing pop­u­la­tion expressed the view that it did­n’t like the cuts and oth­er dis­as­trous poli­cies pro­posed by the coali­tion. As a result the Labour vote rose; but in addi­tion, the Lib­er­al Democ­rats took a par­tic­u­lar beat­ing while the Con­ser­v­a­tives got off more or less scot free (with a slight increase in seats in fact). There seems to be some mys­tery in many minds as to why the Lib Dems should have borne the brunt of the nation’s dis­plea­sure while the Tories remained unscathed.

In my mind, there’s no mys­tery at all. Imag­ine a con­sci­en­tious Labour vot­er on the Left, per­haps quite far to the Left, who over the peri­od since 1997 (actu­al­ly before that in fact), saw the par­ty drift­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly right­wards until it was more cen­trist than any­thing else. That was a cause for con­cern, but even more dis­turb­ing was the behav­iour of Blair, over Iraq and the imag­i­nary Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion which nev­er were, and of course that many believe he knew all along nev­er were.

The only sig­nif­i­cant par­ty to oppose the Iraq involve­ment was the Lib­er­al Democ­rats. And as time went by, and Labour nev­er repealed the excess­es of Thatch­erism (just as Clin­ton nev­er reversed Rea­gan and Bush senior, inci­den­tal­ly*) nev­er reined in the finan­cial insti­tu­tions (that were to bring ruin upon us as an inevitable result of the com­bined efforts of Rea­gan and Thatch­er), nev­er in fact took any moves to the left at all to any great extent while at the same time increas­ing­ly threat­en­ing civ­il lib­er­ties, kow-tow­ing to big media com­pa­nies over inter­net use, media own­er­ship and behav­iour, the Lib Dems came to look more and more attrac­tive.

Trou­ble was, the Lib Dems were by and large from two back­grounds. There were those who were orig­i­nal­ly Lib­er­als, many of whom were of course quite remark­able and pro­gres­sive peo­ple — my par­tic­u­lar favourite being Bev­eridge, who con­ceived a mod­el of the Wel­fare State before the end of the Sec­ond World War which, imple­ment­ed as much as was prac­ti­cal by the 1945 Labour gov­ern­ment, worked pret­ty well on the whole until Thatch­er start­ed attack­ing it.

But the oth­ers were for­mer­ly mem­bers of the Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, a spin­off of what was essen­tial­ly the right wing of the Labour Par­ty when the lat­ter was rather clos­er to being (though not actu­al­ly being) a Social­ist par­ty than it was today. They were cer­tain­ly to the Right of the Labour Par­ty at the time of the Gang of Four, but where they stood with respect to “New Labour’ was pos­si­bly a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

Those of us firm­ly on the Left, dis­sat­is­fied and betrayed by the Chris­t­ian Demo­c­rat-style New Labour edi­fice (whose poli­cies, using tech­niques learned from Clin­ton, had been craft­ed by focus group and mar­ket research and not by fer­vent belief in the need for rep­re­sen­ta­tion of work­ing peo­ple; and who were fund­ed, like the Tories, by big busi­ness and oth­ers inim­i­cal to their needs) want­ed some­where to go. Some­where where we might actu­al­ly have a chance of the par­ty we vot­ed for actu­al­ly win­ning some seats (ie not Respect or some oth­er fringe Left­ist par­ty). The Lib Dems said enough of the right things for us to be inter­est­ed in sup­port­ing them, espe­cial­ly when every­one else in the coun­try seemed to be on the right.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, of course, the Lib Dems were on the right too — or at least part of them was. Many of us were dis­mayed last year that the Lib Dems formed a coali­tion with the Tories, even if we knew full well that a part­ner­ship with Labour would not have been work­able. How­ev­er we con­soled our­selves with the thought that at least “our lads” were mak­ing the Tories less tox­ic than they would oth­er­wise have been. With hind­sight, this seems debat­able.

What has hap­pened in the past year is that we have seen threats from the Gov­ern­ment  to many things we hold dear, from Coun­cil ser­vices to the NHS to the BBC, and cuts that are very evi­dent­ly ide­o­log­i­cal rather than fis­cal­ly nec­es­sary. It’s Thatch­erism in a skin. In the mean­time the Labour Par­ty under Miliband has sought to dis­tance itself some­what from New Labour and even appear to move left­wards a lit­tle and behave a lit­tle more at least like a Social Demo­c­rat, rather than a Chris­t­ian Demo­c­rat,  par­ty. No doubt many of us would like it to move fur­ther to the Left, but we’re also con­scious that a right-wing press would per­suade the major­i­ty that a hard Left par­ty was une­lec­table and dan­ger­ous. It will take a lot of effort to depose the influ­ence of the Right in the media, and mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy is only part of the answer — one of the most pop­u­lar web sites in the UK is, I gath­er, that of the Dai­ly Mail, for exam­ple. That’s one rea­son why the unbi­ased nature of the BBC , though we may com­plain about it from time to time, is so impor­tant.

So what we did yes­ter­day is we went back home. Tory vot­ers remained Tory vot­ers – and why should­n’t they. We bol­stered the Labour vote, even in areas where only the Tories were in with a chance — like where I live in the East of Eng­land. Here, there has­n’t been a Lib­er­al (let alone a Labour) MP for 60 years, and if I was­n’t vot­ing Con­ser­v­a­tive it did­n’t mat­ter one lit­tle bit who I vot­ed for, thanks to First Past the Post (which we are now stuck with indef­i­nite­ly… I won­der if we could pro­pose the Scot­tish sys­tem of FPTP plus Lists to ensure pro­por­tion­al­i­ty?). Last time I looked, my vote here was actu­al­ly worth 0.01 votes in terms of how like­ly it was to change things. So I vot­ed Labour, and I hope the pun­dits look at the pop­u­lar vote, some­thing that was always ignored before the Infor­ma­tion Age, and note the num­bers well.

We post-Social­ists and friends of like enough mind with­drew our sup­port from the Lib Dems, and with­out us, their vote went, in most places, back to much ear­li­er, pri­mae­val­ly low lev­els.

We with­drew our sup­port because we dis­agreed with the state­ment that “com­pro­mise is not betray­al”; because we don’t believe the com­pro­mis­es should be being made. You can­not make accept­able com­pro­mis­es with the Right when the cor­rect answers are to the Left of both your posi­tions — some­thing I wish Oba­ma had grasped in the US, inci­den­tal­ly.

And because we sud­den­ly realised that of those two wings of the Lib­er­al Demo­c­rat par­ty, the Cen­tre Right one was very much in con­trol. And we did not come all this way to vote for yet anoth­er par­ty of the Right. We had already made our com­pro­mis­es by sup­port­ing a par­ty with a known right-lean­ing ten­den­cy, which hith­er­to had been ame­lio­rat­ed by a small num­ber of Lib Dem fig­ures who shared our views, for exam­ple, on the envi­ron­ment.

We did­n’t like dis­cov­er­ing that we had been sup­port­ing a par­ty of the Right for some time. So we went home.

So what hap­pens now? Well, the atro­cious behav­iour of Cameron with regard to the antics of the No to AV mob – about which I am absolute­ly cer­tain that absolute­ly noth­ing will be done – will no doubt sour rela­tions in the Cab­i­net. But Blair and Brown hat­ed each oth­er for years and man­aged to run the coun­try. So there is no rea­son the coali­tion should fall apart for that rea­son. And falling apart now is any­way too soon.

The impor­tant thing in my view is to ensure that Tory poli­cies are stopped. My expec­ta­tion is that as time goes by, Labour sup­port will con­tin­ue to rise. It’s already jumped in a year: as the cuts bite and pub­lic sec­tor work­ers are turned out of their jobs across the coun­try, that can only increase. At a point in the future, a stand by Lib Dem MPs on some issue they feel pas­sion­ate­ly about would bring about a vote of no con­fi­dence in the Gov­ern­ment, or some oth­er route to a col­lapse of the coali­tion, and we’ll have a Gen­er­al Elec­tion – one that Labour will win.

OK, the Labour Par­ty still needs to demon­strate that it real­ly is a par­ty of the Left, for exam­ple a man­i­festo com­mit­ment to re-nation­al­is­ing the rail net­work and undo­ing some of the rav­ages of Thatch­er might be a good start, but hey, we are so used to vot­ing for the “least worst” we can prob­a­bly live with that as long as it keeps a slide back to Thatch­erism off the table.

Image cour­tesy of secretlondon123 via Wiki­Me­dia Com­mons

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John Whiting May 7, 2011 at 00:00

Well done, Richard! Good sense, coherently summarized.

Michael Law May 7, 2011 at 20:11

As far as I can see we've had a Thatcherite continuum since 1979. I was a Labour voter until 1997, when two weeks before the general election I heard Tony Blair asked which politician he most admired and he answered Margret Thatcher. That was it, I realised fully that the party was as far right and as Thatcherite / neo-liberal as the Tories, which pretty much proved to be the case with their disgraceful support of business and bankers over the interests of the people and the country and their destruction of civil liberties along with their collusion with the USA in it's various "wars on terror" and invasions and evasions. It will take more than Ed Milliband (who is certainly a great improvement) for me to vote for them again, and now you can't even vote LibDem with a clear conscience (though where I live the choice was Tory, LibDem or UKIP, in other words no choice). The left is cowed by the media which is pretty much uniformly hard right (even the Guardian and to a lesser extent Independent (which has a best been centerist) have moved righwards), the BBC is terrified of upsetting the government and the rest is owned and controlled by the likes of Murdoch and the Mail group, so the chance of anyone getting a consistent left viewpoint in the mainstream is very slim and is down to the New Statesman and a few local publications. Richard will remember when we ran Radio London Underground and we used to let rip about Ted Heath (who we thought was the very devil, not knowing what was to come...) In those days there was a strong left in this country with plenty of sympathetic media and Unions who could still protect the workers. All of this has been shamefully and routinely demonised by the governments since 1979, we need to get back to somewhere near that situation. Unfortunately nothing short of a revolution will get us there under the current circumstances and I can't see that happening as people today seem too apathetic and self interested to care about the plight of others and their country. I do, however expect to see more events like the recent "Tesco riot" in Bristol as people become more frustrated and threatened. No one in their right mind wants violence, but it may be the inevitable consequence of the situation if things don't radically change soon.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: