Monday, June 08, 2009
Poring through the wreckage posted by Richard Seymour
Secondly, and relatedly, Labour's electoral annihilation has overwhelmingly benefited the right. The surprisingly strong votes for No2EU (born yesterday, as it were) and the Socialist Labour Party (no campaign, no profile) suggests that it didn't have to be this way. Their combined vote nationally was just over 2%, or about 300 000 votes. Had there been a united left alternative, with a real campaign, I am willing to bet it would have been capable of drawing three times that number of votes. The Greens saw their overall vote increase by 2.4% to 8.7%, just over a million votes. Otherwise, people shifted their votes from Labour to other reformist alternatives such as the SNP. Many, many people were obviously desperate to vote for some kind of left alternative, if only to really stick it to the New Labour machine. Nonetheless, it's true that across Europe the right made sweeping gains, despite some very good results for radical left candidates. This meltdown of social democracy is not just a British phenomenon, although the utter cravenness of New Labour has probably advanced the degeneration much more rapidly in the UK. There is some talk in the comment pieces suggesting that the very odd distribution of votes and the powerful showing by UKIP make it unlikely that such patterns will be reproduced in a general election. Perhaps not, but who can now be sure that the assumptions about general elections that worked in the past will continue to be operative a few months hence?
Thirdly, of course, while social democracy is disintegrating, this doesn't automatically rebound to the benefit of the right. In fact, those who think that the best response to such a crisis is to try to save social democracy and bolster its left-flank have some explaining to do. The UK results plainly show that even if the field is more less left open for New Labour, with only marginal challenges from the left, it still loses big time and the right-wing makes gains. The contrast between the UK and Ireland is striking. There, the Socialist Party made a breakthrough, sending Joe Higgins to Brussels by ousting the Fianna Fail MEP. In the council elections, the SP gained six seats and People Before Profit gained five. The ruling Fianna Fail-Green coalition was hammered for its attacks on workers and its decision to re-run the EU Treaty referendum until it obtained the result it wanted. Similarly, in Portugal the Left Bloc got 10% of the vote and the communist-green coalition also received 10%. In France, the combined vote for the Greens and the radical left was about 28%. In all of these places, the major reformist parties had treated their core voters like sandbags to be tossed overboard the better to ascend to loftier heights. As a result, they shed votes in abundance. But the political significance of the elections is very different from that in the UK.
We fluffed it, boys and girls. It has been obvious for some time that a fundamental crisis of social democracy was brewing, and that this was going to be deeper than ever before, and that nothing the left could do - even if it was so deranged as to want this - could rescue it. We watched a yawning political vacuum open up and, due to our shibboleths, totems and taboos, our inward-lookingness, our traditions of feuding, and many other flaws, we failed to fill it. Elections are not the be all and end all, and ultimately what will matter far more than such votes will be what we do between elections. But this was one important way for us to assert ourselves in this crisis, and we handed the initiative to everyone but the radical left. I am not saying we should hammer ourselves over the head repeatedly with such facts, but I think it would be healthy to begin by acknowledging them and resolving never to let that happen again.