Notes from the front of 31-08-16
The concerted campaign in the capitalist media continues to be mobilised against Jeremy Corbyn as balloting takes place in Labour’s leadership election. Most of the propaganda is not even aimed at promoting the right wing challenger Owen Smith, but just at vilifying the left wing candidate and his supporters.
Amongst the various smears and fabrications in circulation is the claim that a Corbyn-led Labour Party cannot win a general election. Current opinion polling is cited as the definitive proof of this assertion, despite such polls significantly failing to predict the outcomes of recent elections and the EU referendum. Labour’s record in actual elections since Corbyn became Leader is ignored by the right wing commentators, because it reveals that Labour is consistently advancing in England.
Corbyn’s biggest electoral test to date was on 5 May this year, when there were elections to: 124 local councils in England, the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Mayors in four cities.
In the local elections Labour beat the Tories into second place, having been seven per cent behind in 2015. The National Equivalent share of the Vote1 in May 2016 for Labour was 33 per cent and the Tories 32 per cent, having been respectively 30 per cent and 37 per cent in 2015. Labour had increased its vote share by three per cent, with a four per cent Tory to Labour swing.
Labour also won the Mayoral elections in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Salford, increasing its first preference vote share in all four.
However in Scotland and Wales, where Labour is led by its right wing, the party has continued to lose electoral support. In Scotland in May this year Labour lost an 8.2 per cent share of the vote (2011 29.0 per cent; 2016 20.8 per cent) and in Wales it lost a 6.5 per cent share (2011 39.6 per cent; 2016 33.1 per cent).
The 5 May results clearly indicate in England, with Corbyn as Leader, Labour has increased its electoral support. This has also been confirmed in all the Parliamentary by-elections in England since September 2015, which Labour won, and increased its vote share in all three. Only in the one by-election in Wales, for the seat of Ogmore, did Labour’s vote share decline (by 0.3 per cent), but it still won.
It is the vote in England which is the largest component of any general election, as it accounts for more than 80 per cent of the UK electorate and number of MPs in Parliament. Whatever opinion polls currently report, Labour’s advance in real elections means it would be a high risk strategy for the Tories to call an early election and Theresa May has ruled it out.
The charts below summarise the key elections in England and increases in Labour’s vote share since Corbyn became Labour Leader.
If Corbyn is re-elected Labour Leader on 24 September the campaign against him will not halt. Having persuaded many MPs to resign from the front bench, the right wing want Labour to be mired in as much chaos as possible, with a stream of hostile press coverage helping depress its standing in the polls. Labour’s membership, on the other hand, will overwhelmingly want the party to pull together and for MPs to work with the Leader in mounting a serious opposition against the government.
The coup plotting and failure of many MPs to unite against the Tories has encouraged a growing interest in how Labour members will select Parliamentary candidates to fight the next general election. With the boundary review likely to adjust most Parliamentary seats and the possibility that the new constituencies could have more representative candidates, Labour activists are acquainting themselves with the party’s selection procedures and how ‘trigger ballots’ work.
Despite the media talking up the prospect of a split in the Labour Party, this is most unlikely. Right wing MPs know any new party is unlikely to gain many seats at an election and that there is no support in the unions for breaking up Labour.
The Labour’s leadership ballot continues for the next three weeks. Whilst this week’s YouGov/Times poll of Labour members suggests Corbyn has a comfortable 24 per cent lead, there should be no complacency. The party bureaucracy is still attempting to exclude as many left wing voters as possible. So the aim should be to maximise Corbyn’s vote.
1. National Equivalent share of the Vote (NEV) figures are published by the House of Commons Library. They are authoritative and widely used estimates of where the parties stand in any given year. The figures are based on the calculations of the academics Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of the Elections Centre at the University of Plymouth. They estimate how the major parties would have fared had local elections in any year taken place throughout Great Britain, to give an overview of how much support political parties have attracted across Great Britain.
Former Tory chair Eric Pickles, following his review of electoral fraud in Britain, has produced a racist report which would limit access to voting for broad sections of the population, mainly immigrants and working class communities.
Pickles targets Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in an Islamophobic attempt to demonise and isolate them. He cites Tower Hamlets, where Lutfur Rahman was removed from office on trumped up charges. Pickles himself bemoans the lack of any police prosecution in that case. But this precisely highlights the concocted nature of the charges which brought down an elected mayor. There is no substance to them. The Metropolitan Police rejected Pickles’ charges, saying that it can only prosecute when laws are broken!
From this fabrication Pickles recommends a series of swingeing anti-democratic measures. These include requirements for voter ID at polling stations, greater police presence outside stations, ending permanent postal ballots, targeting foreign nationals for removal from the electoral roll and creating a new agency to initiate local government coups such as the one against Lutfur Rahman.
Tory racism and Islamophobia is the cutting edge of this campaign and should be resisted. But it is clear that voter access for all migrants and for all working class communities will be hit. This follows previous Tory removal of students and immigrants from the electoral roll.
This is a reactionary report with thoroughly anti-democratic proposals. It should be resisted by the anti-racist movement and by the whole labour movement.
With the European economies stagnant and national elections approaching in France and Germany a renewed racist offensive has been launched.
In France a campaign against Muslims is already becoming central to next year’s Presidential election. It is a core issue for the far right Front National. Also Nicolas Sarkozy has made it a focus of his presidential bid and is calling for a ban of the Muslim veil in universities and the burkini, the full-length swimwear. Meanwhile Manuel Valls, the Socialist Party Prime Minister, is also denouncing the burkini as the instrument of an ‘archaic’ concept of Islam.
Against this political background, several French towns banned the burkini from their beaches this summer, with women in Cannes fined for wearing the swimwear and in Nice armed police surrounded a Muslim woman and forced her to remove the clothing.
France’s highest administrative court, the State Council (Conseil d’Etat), has now ruled that these burkini bans are illegal. France’s Human Rights League (LDH) and Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) took the case to the State Council and won against a right wing that still intends to step up this fight.
A similar anti-Muslim offensive has been launched in Germany this summer, with moves to outlaw the burka in public spaces. Thomas de Maizière, the federal interior minister from chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU, has proposed a burka ban. Meanwhile Germany’s Social Democrats are waging a campaign against Merkel’s handling of the migrant crisis and calling for a cap on the number of immigrants.
Britain’s new wave of reaction has encouraged a rise in violent attacks, including the killing of a Polish migrant attacked in Essex on 27 August.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has already painted a bleak picture of racial inequality in its August report.
Subsequently the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has also reported and blamed British politicians for helping fuel the recent steep rise in racist hate crimes. The committee also attacked the Tories’ so called anti-terrorism strategy Prevent, criticising ‘the ambiguity of terms such as terrorism and extremism’, ‘the negative impact on the rights to freedom of expression, education and freedom of religion’ and the creation of ‘an atmosphere of suspicion towards members of Muslim communities’.
Keen to re-brand her new government as ‘One Nation’, Theresa May has ordered a racial inequality audit of public services, with Whitehall departments assembling data on how they treat different racial groups. The Tories are still the nasty party and this audit is a PR exercise, led by a Prime Minister who told the 2015 Tory Party Conference that immigration has zero economic benefit, is responsible for worsening schools, hospitals and housing, plus drives down wages. This exercise follows the Eric Pickles report which seeks to further curtail democratic representation of Muslims and Black people.
Real opposition needs to be mounted against this new upsurge in racism and Islamophobia. In that vein there will be useful conference this Autumn. Hosted by Stand up to Racism, ‘Confronting The Rise In Racism’ will be addressed by Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and Kate Osamor. It is on Saturday 8 October (10.30am-4.30pm) at Friends Meeting House, Euston Rd, London NW1 2BJ. For more details see here.