The by-election result in Heywood & Middleton in the Manchester conurbation is deeply worrying for Labour. It is true that people take liberties in by-elections that they would be unlikely to take in general elections, but it is designed to show their real underlying feelings which it would be unwise to discount or explain away. It is also true that Labour’s proportionate share of the vote rose by 1%, but that was largely because the Tory vote fell dramatically and the LibDem vote plummeted, and it doesn’t explain why the UKIP vote rose by 35%. The real reason for this disturbing result is the disillusionment felt by so many working class people in Labour’s northern strongholds that they have been neglected and that their interests have not been properly represented by the Westminster establishment (shades of the No vote in the Scottish referendum). This was expressed poignantly on the doorstep as ‘the Tories are going to continue with cuts till 2020, and you’ve said you will do the same, so why should we vote for you?’
As we enter the eighth year of continuing austerity this is the first vote in a northern constituency that expresses the resistance bubbling up against a regime of endless cutbacks – average wages already fallen 9% in real terms and still falling, low-paid insecure jobs (even if you can get one) whether self-employment on pittance incomes or zer hours contracts, with benefit cuts forcing people to leave home or use food-banks, and with no sign of any change for the foreseeable future. What people are crying out for, and want desperately to hear from Labour, is the alternative to austerity that would give them hope and inspire them to come out to vote. That is a policy of public investment to kick-start the economy on a sustainable course (when the present so-called recovery is already fading before 90% of the population have even felt it), a policy of job creation in house-building, infrastructure and green economy, a policy of rising incomes which will increase government tax revenues which will pay down the deficit much faster (when it’s still £100bn and actually rising this year).
Of course immigrants are blamed for all this disillusionment by Farage, the con-man ex-investment banker posing as a man of the people behind two pints in a pub). But immigrants are not the root of the problem – austerity is. All the studies undertaken of the immigrant contribution to the British economy shows that they provide a net benefit, there are a higher proportion of them in work than in the white host community, and a smaller proportion of them are on benefits than in the white community. There are undoubtedly problems of providing public services, particularly housing and education, in some areas, but that of course is exacerbated by Tory government cuts of 40% to local authority budgets.
It has been said that Grayling’s inveighing against the European Court of Human Rights is to spike UKIP’s guns in denouncing the EU. It is much more likely to be spurred on by another Tory personality trait – the unyielding demand for control to mould everything in their own image. They concede greater devolution to Scotland, but only at the expense of neutering Scottish MPs at Westminster to secure their own semi-permanent dominance in England. They are prepared (or at least some of them) to tolerate the EU exclusively as a trading bloc, but only on condition of junking the social, environmental and labour standards that go with it. They’ll put up grudgingly with trade unions, but only so long as they have little or no power to be effective. They want charities and voluntary groups to blossom in the Big Society, but then use the Lobbying Act to try to choke them off from having any political influence. They pretend to be champions of liberty, but then keep trying to push through the intelligence-gathering Snoopers Act to hoover up all the communications of every single citizen. And now they want to exit the ECHR and become the only European state except Belarus to dump this fundamental statement of human rights, so that they can re-write their own version to suit their own prejudices, for example to dispense with any rights for trade unionists. Read more “Tory extremists go for broke over ECHR” »
By any standards the Tories must be odds-on to lose the next election. They have not won an election with an overall majority for 22 years, and if they couldn’t win an overall majority in 2010 in the aftermath of the crash and against one of the most unpopular prime ministers in modern times, they won’t win one now when their position is much worse. Ashcroft’s polling finds that one-third of the people who voted Conservative in 2010 are not planning to do so now, and clearly Tory votes are haemorrhaging badly to UKIP. In particular Ashcroft has found that Labour’s position is significantly stronger in the marginals and overall he believes that “the number of Conservative losses could extend to the point where Labour have a confortable working majority”. Even Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader in Scotland, admitted during the Scottish referendum campaign that she didn’t believe the Tories could win in 2015. And given the latest evidence of UKIP defections (with likely more to come) plus sleaze again rearing its ugly head plus deep Tory divisions over Europe and an ungovernable Tory Right in full-scale rebellion against Cameron, the Tory party today lacks unity, vision and discipline. Read more “The next election is a race that both main parties seem anxious to lose” »
So much for ‘The Vow’. Agreed by all three party leaders just a week ago in the spirit of the union together, it is rapidly unravelling in a welter of uncertainty over what the ‘extensive new powers’ for Scotland will be, the timetable for their delivery, and above all by their being linked to party political gaming in Westminster. The Vow commited them keeping Scotland’s current share of public spending, yet the day after the referendum Hague was already saying that with increased devolution the Barnett formula would be ‘less relevant’ over time. There isn’t even agreement on the degree of fiscal powers to be devolved. The timetable is also slipping, with a draft bill to be published in January, but almost certainly no second reading debate before the House is prorogued on 30 March for the general election, so that all the detailed negotiation is postponed till a new government is formed. Read more “Cameron rats on early devolution & is nakedly partisan to secure Tory interest” »
Commentators continue to misunderstand and misinterpret the EU election results, totting up the far-Right votes in France, UK, Denmark and elsewhere as mounting an almighty challenge to the ‘European project’. They miss the point. The far-Right managed to achieve their breakthroughs, not because their supporters were voting against Europe as such (despite its admitted failures in bureaucratic governance, democratic deficit, remote accountability, agricultural policy, etc.), but because they utterly rejected what now Europe under the dead hand of Merkel and her neo-classical economic model is seen to stand for and be wholly identified with, namely unrelenting austerity. Otherwise how does one explain that in Greece the radical Left party, Syriza led by Alexis Tsipras, topped the poll 4 points clear of the prime minister’s party (almost exactly the same as in the UK), yet Syriza is not advocating withdrawal from the EU and is utterly opposed to the far-Right? From opposite poles both the radical Left and far-Right were calling for the abandonment of the EU deadweight which has plunged large parts of Europe into near-destitution and spawned the eurozone crisis which is far from over. Read more “EU results confirm rejection of austerity is key issue across whole of Europe” »
It’s true there’s huge disgruntlement at the political establishment for the current disillusioning state of Britain, and in particular for the deeply run-down economy, and that was the real reason for the UKIP so-called surge ( though actually a significant fall-back from UKIP’s vote last year). Of course there was constant vilification of Europe and immigrants, but they are merely convenient scapegoats for the real cause of Britain’s current malaise which is 4 years of austerity and the bitterness, hurt and anger that this has provoked. This is not to suggest that there are not real and serious problems about both Europe and immigration which certainly need to be addressed. But in normal times (i.e. not in the midst of the longest recession for a century) Europe has never been a key issue for more than 3% of the electorate, and even immigration (which is a much more complex and difficult issue) only rises up the political agenda at times of economic crisis when wages are falling and jobs are hard to get. Neither is the real root cause of the deep disaffection sweeping the country: austerity and endless cuts are the real culprits. Read more “Austerity is why white working class deserted to UKIP: why doesn’t Labour say how it would end cuts?” »
The Daily Telegraph caps it all with their front page top headline: “UKIP surge puts Labour into poll crisis”. If coming top of the poll in a 4-horse race with 31% of the total votes and on that basis being projected by two separate analyses to gain 322 seats (just 4 short of an overall parliamentary majority), 65 more than the Tories, is being thrust into a poll crisis, what would count as a thumping success? And after lionising UKIP for the past 3 weeks as the party that would break the grip of the 3 mainstream parties as part of its forward march to even greater heights next year in the general election, how do they explain that UKIP actually slumped from 23% of the total vote last year to only 17% this year and as low as 7% in London? And if Labour ‘failed’ as so many of the commentators have chosen to portray it, how do we describe the position of the Tories who lost over 150 seats and now have 600 seats less than Labour – no doubt that’s an outstanding performance? Read more “If coming top of the poll and heading for an (almost) overall parliamentary majority is failure, what would success look like?” »
Why is it that UKIP has stormed to 140 seats in the rest of the country, but not in London? It’s because London is by far the most prosperous part of the country and members of the white working class are much more likely to be able to find a job at reasonable pay than elsewhere across Britain. Though they have certainly not been excluded from the bruising experience of austerity cuts over the last 5-6 years, the hurt and the pain has generally been much less keenly felt in London than elsewhere. That explains why UKIP failed to make inroads in London and Labour did notably well there. It also explains why UKIP, having won a third of its votes from the Tories particularly in the south, was then able to build on this by depriving Labour of some of its expected gains in the north. The lesson of the local elections, which has been widely accepted, is that UKIP’s success derives from universal repudiation of the three main political parties, and of course there is truth in that. But the real lesson is that the white working class feel bitter, resentful and angry at what they perceive as being abandoned by Labour and thus disenfranchised. Read more “Big issue for local elections is not UKIP, but abandonment of white working class” »
UKIP is the Teflon party in these European elections. However disorganised and anarchic they are, with no policies except a visceral hatred of the EU and immigrants, however vile the racist and sexist views of so many of its representatives, a significant section of the British electorate are quite prepared to ignore all that because they are not voting for UKIP but rather against the political Establishment which they perceive as having utterly failed them. Indeed the more the three main political parties gang up together in attacking UKIP, the more Farage revels in it as confirming his status as the anti-Establishment candidate. The way to destroy UKIP is for a political party to respond effectively and positively to the prevailing political mood sweeping Britain which, more than anything else, is anti-austerity. That is only reinforced by the fact that the elections in a week’s time highlight the perception of the EU under Merkel’s hegemony as burying the whole European region in austerity. Read more “How to tackle UKIP” »