By Jo Mullins
The Tory party is on course to achieve its lowest-ever polling in Euro elections and will receive a drubbing in the local elections held at the same time.
The Tories are likely to do even worse than the devastating 26 per cent that Labour got in 2007 local elections (almost neck and neck with the LibDems). That was finally enough to oust Tony Blair from Downing Street. But rather than anticipating a Labour advance, the media remains full of talk about the possibility of a Tory re-election next year.
There are two related reasons for this. The Tories have spawned the rancid UKIP, who are not merely overt racists but whose sole policy is to whip up racism. This has shifted the entire political debate in Britain sharply to the right. The second reason is that Labour has failed to capitalise on the long-term decline in the Tory vote and has largely been content to emulate it on the decisive issues of the economy and immigration.
As a result, aside from UKIP, there has been the emergence of parties that have broken free from both the Tories and Labour, beginning in Ireland and taking in the nationalist parties of Scotland and Wales, but also others notably the Greens.
When internal critics have argued that Labour must adapt to Britain’s changing role in the world and its changing social composition, Labour has tended to respond with exclusions and expulsions. This was the case with Ken Livingstone and remains the case still with George Galloway and Lutfur Rahman who confronted the issues of war and racism inside the party.
In Scotland, the SNP is able to make gains even though the Gordon Brown plan for greater devolution is almost indistinguishable from the SNP’s pro-monarchy, pro-NATO ‘independence’. This is because Labour in Scotland has pursued such a reactionary economic policy that it is the last big bastion of Blairism. In Wales, Plaid Cymru is likewise able to maintain support primarily because of Labour’s right-wing economic policies.
Across the country, and especially among youth, the Greens represent a significant layer of society that recognises the urgency of tackling catastrophic climate change and other ecological threats. Labour could equally raise this banner. It could also work with Caroline Lucas, and the Green MEPs who also support key issues such opposing austerity and supporting CND. Instead, Labour responds with hostility and has no serious plans to tackle CO2 emissions or even the looming crisis in energy supply.
The Tory party is in long-term decline, retreating to its historic heartlands in the English shires. It is based on a reactionary ideology that conflicts with the reality of a globalised economy and a multicultural society.
Labour could offer a genuine alternative. Labour has advanced whenever it has clearly presented an alternative to the Tories, for example, on the cost of living, freezing energy bills and abolishing the Bedroom Tax. It needs to expand this approach to present an overall progressive alternative on all the core issues confronting society. That would mean it becoming a champion of democracy, multiculturalism, peace and tackling the climate crisis. Above all now it would mean reversing austerity. Labour’s failures to capitalise on Tory decline to date are because it has left these issues to others, or opposed them outright. But these issues refuse to go away.
Socialists should vote Labour in European and local elections. Other progressive candidates can also be supported where they are genuinely fighting on these issues.