The UK is set for further austerity and anti-immigrant racism following the re-election of David Cameron’s Conservative government. The result is a disaster for the Labour Party, which did only marginally better than the dismal 29 per cent they achieved last time—and there is a lesson in this for Bill Shorten and Labor here.
Some within British Labour have blamed the result on leader Ed Milliband being too left-wing. This is absurd—Labour failed because it was too right-wing and could not convince anyone it would end austerity.
Its occasional promises to increase taxes on the rich sat aside constant promises of “iron discipline” on government spending “not a penny more” of borrowing, and “cuts in the deficit every year”.
The proof of this is Scotland, where the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) vote surged as a result of its strident campaign against austerity. In Scotland, a Labour stronghold for half a century, the party was reduced to just one MP.
Bill Shorten should take note. Labor’s refusal to offer a clear alternative to cuts and spending restraint gives working class people no reason to vote for it. The outcome here can easily be a victory for the Tories, as it was in the UK.
The SNP under leader Nicola Sturgeon won 56 seats, from six the election before. The SNP argued against spending cuts, for protecting the National Health Service and against renewal of the nuclear weapons program Trident. This saw Sturgeon become popular not only in Scotland but south of the border too. Following a TV debate that saw her openly articulate an anti-austerity message the question “Can I vote for the SNP in England?” became the second most searched question that night on Google.
The roots of the SNP’s success lies in the Independence Campaign in 2014, which was narrowly defeated 55-45. The campaign was marked not only by anti-Tory rhetoric but by a commitment to an anti-austerity, social democratic Scotland.
Labour however sided with the Tories as part of the establishment campaign to oppose independence. Since the referendum SNP membership has surged to over 100,000, and the party will now be under enormous pressure to deliver on its left-wing rhetoric, especially in the Scottish parliament and councils it controls in Scotland. The party has shown itself willing to make cuts in the past.
The biggest loser were the Liberal Democrats, who collapsed from 23 per cent to 7.7 per cent, leaving the party with just eight seats. Their strategy of being “kingmakers” within a deeply unpopular establishment, and joining a coalition government to help implement austerity alongside the Tories, has been severely punished.
The Tories’ five year austerity program has already cost hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs, cuts to welfare and services and an increase in student fees.
However, this is hardly a “Tory surge”. They have failed to overturn the long-term decline in Tory support, increasing their support by only 0.8 per cent since last election, been vanquished in Scotland and many parts of the North-West and inherit a slowing economy riddled with poor wage growth and increasing inequality. The Tories will now be forced into a referendum on British membership of the European Union as a concession to both the racist and xenophobic UK Independence Party (UKIP) and their own Euro-sceptic right-wing.
It was very pleasing to see UKIP leader Nigel Farage fail to win a seat in parliament in Thanet South. But UKIP managed four million votes across the country and 12.6 per cent of the vote, coming second in as many as 118 seats.
This means they have managed to consolidate not only the existing far-right, but taken votes away from both major parties and the Liberal Democrats.
Though Farage losing will be a blow to his legitimacy this is a worrying sign. As austerity continues to erode living standards anti-racists will need to argue that the blame lies with the rich and powerful rather than immigrants.
On the left the Greens retained their seat in Brighton and have seen reasonable results in other electorates. Socialists running as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and Left Unity achieved only modest results, but used their campaigns to strength grassroots resistance. In Belfast West, Gerry Caroll of People Before Profit won almost 20 per cent of the vote.
A wave of anger on the streets against the new government has already begun, with 2000 marching on Downing Street two days after the election, and further anti-austerity marches planned. With the Tories set on further cuts and austerity, there are plenty of reasons to keep fighting.
By Danny Hardiman