No one said it was going to be easy, but we must continue the fight, argues Lindsey German
Today's local election results were, as I wrote earlier, good for the Tories. They were also bad for Labour - although not as bad as polls and pundits have predicted, or at least very variable. The main reason for the Tory success is the collapse of the UKIP vote into that of the Tories - in other words, a consolidation of the right-wing vote. This was perhaps predictable following last year's referendum result, but it nonetheless has given support to a party whose success had been limited, even when it won an outright majority in the 2015 election.
The simple response to this has been to blame Jeremy Corbyn. Sion Simon, the West Midlands mayoral candidate who narrowly lost to John Lewis Tory Andy Street, refused to have anything about Corbyn on his election material, as did a number of Labour candidates. A lot of good it did them. Simon lost because turnout in Labour areas was lower than in posh parts like Solihull - an indictment not of Corbyn but of local and regional politics. The same is true of the unbelievably narrow loss of the mayor in Teesside where turnout barely scraped above 20% in an area dominated by right wing Labour. Kezia Dugdale in Scotland will undoubtedly also blame Corbyn rather than a series of lamentable decisions and policies from Blairites and Brownites - none greater than their decision to campaign alongside the Tories against independence.
The truth is though, that Corbyn's most recent poll ratings have been somewhere in the region of that achieved by Ed Miliband in 2015 and Gordon Brown in 2010. There is nothing unique about Labours poll rating now and any honest assessment would point to long-term problems for Labour, including the loss of 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010, the decline in political engagement in working class areas, the role of Labour councils in implementing the cuts, and the pandering to a right wing anti-immigration agenda of some Labour politicians.
But while these elections are not good for Labour it is worth considering a number of things.
Firstly this is a two-horse race - between Tories and Labour in England and Wales and between SNP and Tories in Scotland. The Lib Dems are down and really have not got anywhere in this election, UKIP is smashed. Labour's vote is also differential. In the cities ( which by and large didn't have council elections on Thursday) Labour is doing much better especially among young people. This is true not just in Liverpool and Manchester where Labour mayoral votes were overwhelming, but in Bristol where the Labour mayoral candidate came a close second and on this showing Labour would do well in the general election, and also in the Welsh cities (predicted to fall to the Tories) and especially in Cardiff, where the remain voters went to Labour, not the Lib Dems.
In former mining areas, Doncaster - where the far right won mayor in 2009 - the Labour mayoral candidate won in the first round.
It was almost de rigeur for pundits to claim only a few months ago that UKIP was set to replace Labour in many of its heartlands. What a load of rubbish that turned out to be. The uniformity with which the UKIP votes went Tory suggests they probably mostly never came from Labour in the first place but were an amalgam of votes from Tory, far right and Lib Dems who could never win in Labour areas. So we should put to bed the Blue Labour ideas that Labour can only fight on the right terrain with appeals to patriotism and controls on immigration. We should also put to bed the idea of the progressive alliance. The Tory who won in Teesside did so from Lib Dem transfers. The Lib Dem's and Greens will not break through in this election - probably the opposite. At the same time, Labour is unlikely to be smashed in this election and can only be in first or second place. A vote for Labour is crucial to the outcome of this election.
Here Labour has to spend the next five weeks nailing the Tories over health, education, workers' rights, pensions and taxes. We should not allow it to be all about Brexit. Labour's role in Brexit doesn't appear to have been key in these results, which suggests it's voters had a more sophisticated view of the issues than the commentators.
The very low turnout this week tells us that people are not motivated over these elections, we have to explain how important June 8th is. That means registering people in the next two weeks, especially young people who are much more favourable to Corbyn. So much is still at stake here, nothing less than the future of millions of working class people's lives.
It seems to me that virtually whatever the outcome, there will be a series of explosions. We have seen one face of the future in British politics, as Blair and Mandelson reappear and where they seriously want to create a new centre force whose aim, like Macron in France, will be to make society safe for neoliberalism, to the cost of us all. So it's about the creation and consolidation of a new left, both in Labour and in the wider movement, which can challenge the right wing agenda.
No one said it was going to be easy, but it is possible, and essential for the future of the left and the working class movement.
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’.
More articles from this author
- Marxism, the family and women's oppression - video
- Marxism and feminism - Marxism and Women's Liberation extract
- Tiers of a clown – weekly briefing
- Engels: giant of the socialist movement - video
- Engels: a working class hero
- No money for school meals but Johnson found £16.5bn extra for the military
- The left’s Trump card – weekly briefing