At 10pm last night the polls closed and the BBC provided us with exit polls that predicted that the Tories would be the largest party, but would come short of a majority. Also the SNP would dominate in Scotland and the Lib Dems would be decimated.
The clear indication of a Tory victory sent me in to a depression. The question is, would the Lib Dems have enough MPs to be the junior partner in a coalition or not, or rather would the Tories turn towards the DUP (Democratic Unionists – the dominant Loyalist party in Northern Ireland) to make up the numbers.
At 6am I was woken by the cat. I checked my phone to see the prediction had now shifted to suggesting that the Tories would come to within 1 seat of an overall majority. After seeing that, try as I might, I couldn’t get back to sleep.
Then in the morning when I’m driving my girlfriend to work I hear on the news that the Tories will definitely get a majority after all. Only my love for her stopped me turning the car over in to the River Irwell. Who would have thought that those exit polls were a best case scenario?!?
Ok, so nailing my colours to the mast, I’m a big old leftie. Actually, I’m proud to call myself a Socialist – the term still exists, I’ve just checked a dictionary.
As such, general elections to me are only one part of politics. When most people think about politics, they think it is something you elect someone else to do every five years, and hope they don’t all bollocks it up too much.
The elections are still important of course, because these are the people who decide on our laws. I was going to write that they run the country, but that’s far too simple a concept, and we all know how much money and power outside of official ‘politics’ plays it’s role.
What we have had under Tory rule (propped up by the Lib Dems), is an austerity drive as a method of bringing down the national debt. In the last 5 years we have started to see growth, and employment increase.
It was always going to be hard to shift a party that’s in power when growth begins, however, we would have had growth whether the Tories or Labour had been in power. It’s the global market recovering. We were not as hard hit as many countries in Europe for a variety of reasons, and growth was always going to happen.
The worst aspect to the government position was just how much the very worst off in our society have been affected. Look at the degrading assesments around disability benefits. ATOS, a private company, being given the job of trying to find any reason to force people off benefits. A big number of those who complained won their appeals. Think of how many didn’t appeal because they didn’t have the knowledge, energy or ability to do so.
Labour offered us essentially a nicer version of what the Tories were doing. Still austerity, but stretched over a longer period, and with promises to look after the NHS, introduce a Mansion Tax and other reforms to make the rich pay at least some share of the costs.
If you look at what Ed Milliband was promising over the last few weeks it sounds pretty good. The poorest and most vulnerable in society would be protected in some way.
But it was still austerity, and that isn’t the kind of politics that can energise activists. The SNP in Scotland however, who are not a radical party, could win activists. Getting rid of Trident (our nuclear deterrant), ending austerity, these were the kind of policies that got people excited.
The SNP might have lost the referendum on Independence, but politically they won massively from it’s aftermath. Many working class voters, traditionally Labour, voted for independence, and switched to the SNP as the only major political force in Scottish politics that backed it.
The Yes vote might only have got around 45% of the vote in the referendum, but if you have even close to that many people deciding to support one party in ‘first past the post’ politics they will win every time.
The referendum was a massive democratic debate the like of which I have never seen in my lifetime. Apathy was pretty much impossible in Scotland around this time. This platform was enough to turn the SNP into the biggest force by far in Scottish politics.
Whilst the SNP were the biggest winners despite losing, the biggest losers despite winning were the Labour Party. The three big parties of the time were all strongly in favour of the Union, but it was Labour that delivered the campaign and the vote. When the right wing aftermath from the Tories and UKIP in England showed how actually disregarded the Scottish are south of the border, it was the Labour Party they turned on.
It made no difference to the Tories, so really, they were the ones who really won.
Aside from Scotland though, the Labour party also lost the argument throughout England and Wales as well. There are a few reasons as far as I can see.
The effect of the Scottish referendum also had a big negative impact on the Labour party in England I feel. As I said, it was the biggest democratic debate that I can remember in my lifetime, but if you lived in England you heard nothing on the news except about the referendum and yet had no say it whatsoever.
I’m not saying that English voters necesarily wanted a vote, but I do think it helped further enforce a feeling of disenfranchisment. In terms of English nationalism, many felt bitter towards the Scottish, and as soon as the election was confirmed the likes of the Tories and UKIP were on the news again banging on about ‘English votes for English laws’.
The fear of an SNP/Labour coalition drove English centre-right and right wing voters away from Labour. This idea was pushed massively by the Tories and the right-wing press, and wasn’t helped at all by Nicola Sturgeon constantly saying that they ‘would work with Labour’.
Saying that was intended to appeal to Scottish voters, but also scared some English voters at the same time. Those on the left loved the idea of such a coalition (rather the SNP than the Lib Dems anyway), but Labour knew all too well that it would cost them votes from the centre ground in England.
Talking of the agenda of the right wing press, Ed Milliband in his interview with Russell Brand said he didn’t think Rupert Murdoch had as much influence on this election as he has had in the past. Of course he does!!
Just because he personally hasn’t said much means nothing, his media empire pushes his agenda for him. The Sun campaigned viciously against Ed Milliband, even republishing pictures of him looking slightly odd eating a bacon sandwich on the front page. Anything to frighten people in to voting Tory – fear Ed Milliband, fear Nicola Sturgeon, vote Conservative was the message.
The Sun is by far the widest read newspaper. Any office I work in usually has at least one copy floating around, and there’s only so much people can see a person or group of people demonised before it is internalised as fact.
At the end of the day Labour were not able to convine the centre ground that they were a better alternative than the Tories. Why would they, Labour didn’t appear to really be that different.
From working class or left wing roots folk also had little reason to back Labour. In the same way that many were convinced to vote Tory out of fear, all Labour really had was a fear about what the Tories could do to make you vote for them. Don’t get me wrong, we do have every reason to be afraid.
Could Labour get themselves in a position to attract large numbers of new members to their party to reinvigorate and reinforce their activist base – have people to door knock, canvass and leaflet in future elections?
The SNP did that around the referendum, but there will not be anything like that for Labour. They are the party in opposition, but any opposition is in words only, never in deeds. They would have scrapped the Bedroom Tax, but will they genuinely stand in opposition to it?
No, they won’t. Councils which are Labour controlled could refuse to enforce the Bedroom Tax, but they won’t. They will do as they are told and will only complain through letters and council motions, which mean nothing in concrete terms.
The argument from Labour is always “when we get in to power, we can change things, but until then… ” In other words, voting for them is the only thing you can do, and without that you are impotent.
The Bedroom Tax is an interesting area for me. For those that don’t know, this is the name given to the ‘Under Occupancy Penalty’. For Vs people who live in social housing (such as council housing), if you are deemed to have more bedrooms than you need you have money deducted from your Housing Benefit.
That benefit is designed to give you enough money to survive if you are unemployed. So for a starter, they are taking money away from the minimum that you need to live on, when in reality even that is not enough.
On paper it might not sound too bad. We have a housing shortage and it’s not fair that people get to live in houses with a number of bedrooms if they don’t need them. Other families need them so it’s only fair that they move in to a smaller home so larger families can have them.
The problem is that the smaller homes do not exist. The waiting list for people who have declared that they are willing to downsize is huge because the smaller houses are just not there. What would happen in reality is that you would be forced to move in to the private sector and pay rent to a private landlord.
That’s one thing when you’re unemployed and in receipt of housing benefits, because the rent is covered. But when you get back in to work you pay your rent of course, but now you are paying a lot more because rents are much higher in the private sector. Don’t worry though, Labour are going to bring in rent controls when they get… oh…
But there is one other thing, one other problem with forcing people to downsize – It’s that the house they live in is their home. You know, because we are human beings, and that’s what we do. We make homes, where we live and raise families.
Tories you see don’t have homes – they have properties. Portfolios of them. Houses to them are commodities to be bought and sold.
When I lived in Bolton I helped form the anti Bedroom Tax group there, and it was a wonderful experience. I was the joint chair of the group alongside a woman called Linda, who was a tenant facing eviction. In the garden of her home she had buried the ashes of her late Mother and Brother. As you can imagine, she wasn’t for moving.
But don’t worry, she had no intention of moving. Nor, of paying the Bedroom Tax. Could she afford it? Not really, but that wasn’t the point. She wasn’t paying the Bedroom Tax because she was taking a stand.
We set up groups throughout the area, and attracted many people to public meetings. People who felt like they were alone and vulnerable found other people in the same situation. After that, they were not alone.
People were worried that if they didn’t pay they would be evicted, physically thrown out of their homes. At these meetings pacts were made that if anyone ever faced eviction as many people as possible would be outside the front of their house to block access to any baliffs. We had a saying – “I’ll stand by you if you stand by me.”
But why was I so heavily involved? Was I facing the Bedroom Tax? No, I was working and lodging with friends. I got involved because it was an injustice and something needed to be done.
I met Linda and others through being involved in the Socialist Workers Party in Bolton and being active in my Trade Union. We met at the Trades Council in Bolton where they had come because they were given the number for the chair of the council as being someone who could help them to organise.
From that day I was joint chair representing the Trade Unions, and Linda was chair with me representing tenants affected directly by the Bedroom Tax. The campaign involved tenants, trade Unionists, and people from various political parties and non.
We were critical of Labour councillors at times but always invited them to our meetings – invitations that were often accepted. Labour Party members in various Unions became heavily involved in the campaign, alongside Green party members, SWP members, and many who were not a member of any political organisation.
Why am I telling you all this?
Well, after such a depressing election you ask yourself, what can we do about it?
My answer is that voting in elections is only one very small part of democracy, and that democracy is too important to just be left with MPs. There are alternative forms of democracy that you can be a part of.
If you work, join a Trade Union. They are not perfect organisations, but they are very important. If you are in a Trade Union become a workplace rep – just ring the number you have been given as a member for more information, they will be happy to tell you what is required. The politics in Unions can be limited times, but fight to make it more than just a helpline for colleagues to ring if they’re in trouble, more than just discounts on credit cards or insurance.
Organise in your workplace, and not just on work issues. We have a whole tide of bullshit coming our way that we have to fight back against – the Bedroom Tax, Fracking, attacks on the NHS, closure of local services, etc. Organise and unite with people in your workplace, other workplaces, in your communities, nationally and internationally.
Doing this won’t take away the feelings of anger or frustration at the Tories (or any of the major partes at times). But, what else can you do?
The Tories are in power. It’s time to unite and fight.