Lindsey German on why the election result indicates a new period of turmoil is opening up in British politics.

Parliament crackedThere were two elections yesterday. The ones we all participated in (or at least tried to), and the one conducted by the money markets. This morning the pound slumped against the euro and the dollar due to ‘uncertainty’ as a result of the election.

This ‘uncertainty’ comes from the fact that the Tories are definitely not going to win a clear majority in parliament, despite having the largest single number of seats and votes, and that there will have to be some sort of coalition or minority government.

You wonder quite what the markets have to be so frightened about. All three main parties are committed to managing the crisis in the most efficient way for the capitalists, and all are committed to vicious cuts over the next months.

When this situation last happened in Britain, the Wilson and Callaghan governments attacked working class people at the behest of the IMF – with the backing of the Liberals (forerunners of the Libdems).

The worry seems to be – and in this the markets are only being sensible – that the electorate has spoken and has made it quite clear that it doesn’t really have a lot of time for any of the parties. That is why this result has crisis written all over it.

The big story of the night is surely not that Labour lost seats after 13 years with an unpopular prime minister but that the Tory party, new fresh and rebranded, was unable to make a bare majority in a first past the post system.

The supposedly big story of the election, the rise of Nick Clegg and the Libdems, simply turned into the same old story, with a few Libdem seats won or lost but no breakthrough and no mould breaking.

The two party system under first past the post is pretty unforgiving, which is why only electoral reform is likely to make a big dent in it. Any close observation of Labour in its strong seats (or the Tories in theirs) will demonstrate a whole infrastructure of support, including local councilors and trade union officials (in Labour’s case) who are mobilized as at no other time in order to bring in the vote.

Clegg’s second place bounce after the first election debate was always unlikely to materialize into anything more than third in the real election, partly for this reason. And it would take a lot for Libdem votes to translate into seats, given the relatively even spread of support across the country.

Even so, the Libdems must be highly disappointed: failing to gain seats such as Islington South or Oxford East from Labour meant they were unable to capitalize on their high profile and photogenic leader who, after all, did run out of things to say.

Not so Gordon Brown, who found his voice only to remind us that Labour is all too capable of pulling at the old Labour heartstrings when it’s after your vote. But for him, there were too many people not going to be taken in this time. If he can form a government, it will have to be on a programme which makes concessions to the Libdems and nationalists, and which will have to return to the electoral arena fairly soon.

Minor parties didn’t do as well as expected. In some cases good: the parliamentary challenge in the two Barking seats by the BNP flopped, as the party faced internal disarray and mass campaigns against them. While they are still pulling in worrying large votes, this election did not mark any kind of advance for them.

But in most cases the left failed to make any breakthrough. The exception was Caroline Lucas, who won Brighton Pavilion for the Greens and will be an important voice in parliament.

Salma Yaqoob came a good second for Respect in Birmingham Hall Green, but despite a high profile and relentless campaign failed to overthrow Roger Godsiff’s Labour majority. The results in Tower Hamlets still aren’t out as I write. But the rest of the left didn’t do well at all, mostly sticking in the land of lost deposit. The TUSC candidates overall failed to gain the low numbers of votes that the Left List (fresh from the split with Respect) received in the London elections in 2008.

The problem is, just putting up candidates and expecting a vote is never going to work. The left’s successes in the last election (and some of its votes this time) were created out of a mass anti war movement. That issue didn’t play the same this time. But the left needs new mass movements and campaigns which can give a voice to those who want a radical alternative.

This election result is the beginning of a political process, not the end. We can see what is happening in Greece and how workers are refusing to pay for the crisis. Socialists have big challenges and opportunities ahead.

Greece is the future for the rest of Europe, with attempts to make us pay and growing resistance against those demands. Which wins out depends on what we do now to build a movement against the crisis, which can take on Cameron, Brown and Clegg in the months to come.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.