December 13, 2019
In a bitter blow the Tories have won a substantial majority in parliament after Thursday’s general election.
It’s a time to renew resistance, not to retreat. The battle goes on. For now the Tories have a spring in their step. But a host of problems will return for them over Brexit and much else.
The Conservatives took 365 MPs, with 203 for Labour. The Scottish National Party swept to 48 seats out of 59 in Scotland.
Boris Johnson reached his majority as veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner lost his Bolsover seat to the Tories.
Jeremy Corbyn has said he won’t lead Labour into the next election and there is intense pressure on him to resign.
The Tory vote across Britain was up only 1.2 percent compared to 2017. But Labour’s was down almost 8 percent.
The Tories took a string of seats that had been seen as Labour strongholds such as Blyth, Darlington, and Durham North West. They won in Ashfield, Bishop Auckland, and Workington, areas that had never previously elected a Conservative MP in a general election.
It is a harrowing disaster for every worker, for the NHS, for our schools, for people menaced by the cruel regime of Universal Credit, for all who want action over climate chaos, for people stuck on zero hours contracts and without union rights.
More homeless people will die. More desperate people will be deported or jailed. Racists will feel stronger. Women and LGBT+ people will face renewed assaults.
But it’s not the end. We’ve all lost, but we’re not broken.
The school students will still march for the climate. The university workers and the South Western Railway workers can strike. There will be even more agitation over Scottish independence.
The election result must not be used to say that workers are all reactionary or, in particular, that ordinary people in the Midlands and north of England are enemies of progress.
It’s a tragedy that some of the anger at society has been lined up behind the Tories who will make their lives worse.
Lots of socialists will feel down, but we need resistance. We also have to ask how this happened.
When Labour lost under Neil Kinnock or Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband the party’s left had an immediate answer. It was right wing Labour with austerity-lite policies.
That’s not true this time. There was a sincere and convinced left leader and a radical manifesto compared to many that had gone before.
It’s true that the media were overwhelmingly pro-Tory, including the “balanced” BBC. Corbyn was subjected to a vile slew of lies and smears.
But however unpleasant, rich men procuring a media that backs the rich is a factor in a class society.
The Labour right undermined and sought to smear Corbyn at every opportunity. It continued on election night with Ruth Smeeth the ousted MP for Stoke-on-Trent North saying Labour was “the racist party”.
But again, the Labour right have always existed.
There are elements about the Labour campaign that Socialist Worker thinks could have been better. It should have centred on mass rallies and major public events open to all. Instead there was a drive towards trying to implement a more “professional” approach, centred on canvassing.
Corbyn could have been more confrontational with Johnson in the two televised debates, pinning the responsibility for Grenfell, 130,000 deaths from austerity and foul racist and homophobic statements directly and personally on him.
But elections are not generally won or lost in six weeks of campaigning.
We have to look deeper.
Brexit was a central issue. It has brutally divided the working class, enabling a disgusting fraud like Johnson to posture as the friend of ordinary people against the elite.
In those seats where more than 60 percent of voters backed Leave in the 2016 EU referendum, the increase in Conservative support on average was 6 percent.
However, in those seats where more than 60 percent voted Remain, the party’s vote actually fell by three points.
Over the last two years Labour has edged closer and closer to a Remain position and called for a second referendum.
It was a major shift from its 2017 policy of “Labour accepts the referendum result and we will seek to unite the country around a Brexit deal that works for every community in Britain.”
This new approach was disastrous. It alienated swathes of those who voted Leave. Labour’s vote fell on average by more than 10 percentage points in the most pro-Leave areas – although it also fell by more than six points in the most pro-Remain ones.
The Lexit position of fighting for a workers’ Brexit was derided by many in Labour, but it was right.
For those who say Labour should have embraced Remain more completely and quicker, look at the fate of the Lib Dems.
Their terrible results which saw them do even worse than their 12 seats taken in 2017, were topped by their leader Jo Swinson losing to the SNP. She started the campaign claiming she might be prime minister.
Labour’s retreats in the face of allegations of antisemitism were also utterly catastrophic. Instead of saying that it wasn’t antisemitic to be against Israel and Zionism, the party ran away and betrayed the Palestinians.
This simply demoralised activists and encouraged more assaults that came back again with renewed toxicity during this election
A more fundamental problem is the low level of struggle in society. When people are involved in strikes, protests and demonstrations they gain a sense of collective unity. They are more open to radical ideas.
But we haven’t seen that sort of resistance.
Corbyn has been a boost to the whole of the left, raising the confidence that socialist ideas can be popular. But the other side of his success is that union leaders, and many activists, staked everything on his electoral advance.
There were no big demonstrations, no encouragement for strikes.
Even when the Tories hit the rocks, the only response was parliamentary, not on the streets and at work.
Just under a year ago May’s Brexit deal was rejected by a majority of 230 MPs. It was the biggest ever parliamentary defeat.
There were never any mass protests, no effort to force the Tories out.
Later the parliamentary deadlock forced Johnson to offer a general election on 14 October. Labour ran away, saying it wanted to work with the Lib Dems and others to block a no-deal Brexit rather than go to the polls.
Many trade union leaders have failed the working class. The failure to push for strikes and the determination to pull everything behind Labour was fatal.
In a bad time we have to repeat that what happens on the streets and at work is more important than parliament.
Labourism, the idea that parliament comes first and must discipline everything else, is in the end the problem. Being trapped in a world view limited by the Labour Party and its internal battles is catastrophic.
That’s why we need independent revolutionary organisation.
Johnson faces serious problems. Those who voted for him will expect him to deliver for them, and he won’t. Brexit will require further tortuous talks. He has fallen out with much of big business, the Tories’ traditional bastion. Further economic shocks may be coming across the world and in Britain.
But the left can’t go on in the same way. Now we need concrete action, not excuses.
Stand Up To Racism has called a demonstration on Friday at 5pm at Downing Street to say ”Not my prime minister, resist racist Johnson”. It’s a good place to start the fightback.
All those who worked for a Labour victory or hoped for one have to maintain their energy for the continuing fight for a better world and socialism.
No giving up, instead fight the Tories and their system.
Action can topple the right
A victory for the right at an election doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten.
- In 1970 Tory Edward Heath grabbed an unexpected election win with over 46 percent of the vote. Within two years a national miners’ strike had hurled back the first wave of his attacks on workers. There were more than 200 factory occupations between 1972 and 1974.
Workers’ living standards improved.
In February 1974, 250,000 miners struck for four weeks over pay. Heath called a general election, effectively asking people to choose between him and the miners.
He was voted out.
- At the 1992 general election the Tories led by John Major won what remains the largest number of votes in a general election in British history.
Within six months the economic emergency of “Black Monday” had shattered the government’s authority.
And a month later the widespread revolt over closures of coal mines virtually sealed Major’s fate.
The government staggered on, but its ability to launch attacks was severely limited.
- In 2015 David Cameron unexpectedly won a majority and could rule without the Liberal Democrats. The result meant he had to implement his promise to hold a referendum on European Union membership. The victory for Leave a year later forced him out and has hamstrung the Tories ever since.
- At the 2017 presidential election in France the candidate of the equivalent of the Labour Party came fifth in the first round with six percent of the vote. The run-off was between the neoliberal Emmanuel Macron and the fascist Marine Le Pen. Within 18 months the Yellow Vest movement had swept the country and a year after that mass strikes and demonstrations are threatening to break Macron.
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