Friday, May 02, 2008

Early results

Well, first of all for the Left List, not bad so far. The Left List has not stood many candidates outside London, so the main event will be the results for the London mayor and GLA. Nevertheless, according to the Respect website, the results in the local council elections include 37% for Muktar Master in Preston, 23% for Neil McAlister in Bolton, 12.5% for Nahella Ashraf in Manchester, 11% for Raghib Ahsan in Birmingham, and a spate of other strong results. The full results for the Left List candidates are updated regularly here. These reflect continuing pockets of strength despite the obvious difficulty of having undergone a split and then, due to a legal technicality, having to launch a new name in a very short space of time. We're down in some places but notably Muktar Master actually increased his vote somewhat, and was barely kept out by the Labour candidate. Having seen the results for both sides of the split organisation, I can see that both have suffered somewhat in a number of areas. I am not going to get lachrymose about that - we all knew it was coming, and anyone who didn't had their head buried in rocks. The real question from my point of view is what sort of basis the mainstream of Respect that stood as the Left List has for a regroupment, and while we shall have to see how well we've done in London, these few results show that we're in a decent position. (I don't want to be rude, but I honestly don't think the Renewalists have any such basis, simply on account of who they are and the incoherent politics holding the fragile coalition together. My intuition is that they are going to spend a few years guarding diminishing pockets of strength and slowly seeping back into the Labour Party.)

The big picture, beyond insurgent left-of-Labourism, is that the Tories have made significant gains across the board, with 147 new councillors at the minute. According to The Guardian, with a turnout of 35%, "Labour looked set to be pushed into third place, with a meagre 24% share of the vote, trailing the Lib Dems on 25% and the Tories on 44%." This is a catastrophic low of New Labour's making, and it is self-evident that nothing beyond a sudden very popular policy reversal could have saved the situation. And the fact that it is going to continue in 2009 makes the task of building a left alternative all the more urgent. This is a perception quite contrary to the impulses of some who take it as a cue to rush back to the Labour Party. But that is British politics for you - the rats flee onto the sinking ship rather than the other way about. In addition to the Tories' success, the BNP have 8 extra councillors including two in the Labour stronghold of Rotherham and a couple of new ones in Coventry and Warwickshire. From what I gather, their overall vote has not surged and is probably even down a bit, which is a relief. But if the far right can pick up 8 council seats and that is not a big night for them, this just points to how much they have been able to insinuate their way into local politics on the basis of the toxic Islamophobia and bigoted nonsense about asylum seekers that their Express-reading petit-bourgeois constituents lap up. And we haven't seen their results in London yet - if they get someone on the assembly, we're talking about a whole new kind of fight, especially if it coincides with the victory for Boris Johnson that the fascists are eager for.

The liberals have done abysmally. In the prevailing circumstances, they ought to have been taking Labour councils. They certainly did far better under the slightly left-of-centre leadership of Charles Kennedy, but they are crashing and burning under an uncharismatic right-wing leadership after the Orange Book crowd mounted an effective coup. It's not just that they don't have any distinctive policies to speak of. They don't even have any resonant policy flavours. In 2005, they were seen as a major 'anti-war' party, and they made gains as a result. They seemed to stand against the corrupt and hated Blair regime on some principled grounds. Now the co-ordinates of the situation have drastically changed. They no longer have the affable Chuckie-Egg, New Labour no longer has Blair, and the Tories no longer have Michael Howard. Their London candidate is even less memorable than Susan Kramer and will be lucky not to see his vote fall below the 2004 level. True, the war is not as immediate an issue as it was before. If it points to everything that is rotten about New Labour and unites a broad swathe of people against the party, it has been eclipsed by the economic crisis and the government's responses to that - the public sector pay cuts, the blundering over Northern Rock, and the abolition of the ten pence tax rate. However, I can't believe that even supercop Brian Paddick really believed that people would storm the polls on the basis of a promise to 'cut crime'.

If these results are a reliable guide, it seems likely that New Labour are in for a hammering in London. And it's hard to see Ken Livingstone escaping from that - he might just scrape through on the basis of not being Boris Johnson, perhaps with a small lead in second preferences, but if so he's going to be presiding over an Assembly that has more Tories in it. The Greens, who have made a few gains nationally, but are generally on stalemate, may have been boosted by the attention given to them in the press coverage - Sian Berry is seen as somehow the 'natural' fourth candidate, despite the fact that the Greens were beaten by Lindsey German in 2004, and has already received the full backing of the Independent and a nod of approval from the Observer. Yet, the Greens have done little to distinguish themselves from New Labour, and it is hard not see their London campaign as an adjunct of Livingstone's. That is partially a result of a conscious decision not to seem left-wing, as the party's election agent Chris Rose has explained. Further, their record in power is pretty flimsy and sometimes disgusting - as per Jenny Jones' backing for Sir Ian Blair (so much for the party of civil liberties and anti-racism). Given that, it is just possible that they will suffer from some of the same reflux that is about to hit New Labour.

While I don't think people are moving sharply to the Right, the Tories are going to be the main beneficiaries of New Labour's woes for as long as the alternatives are faceless Lib Dems, rightward-moving Greens, and some small radical parties. And the Tories will be much more aggressive on privatization and public sector pay, and may well try to force through strike bans. There is no alternative to the project of realignment, which must be grounded in the organised working class.

Update: We've just got a brilliant result in Sheffield Burngreave, where we came second with about 23% of the vote, beating the Greens and the Tories.