LAST THURSDAY’S local election results were a disaster for Gordon Brown’s “New Labour” policies as the Tories made huge gains – including the crucial position of London Mayor for Boris Johnson. This is a vote of no confidence in Brown’s leadership and not a vote for Cameron and the evidence is that in Wales and Scotland, where voters had the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction by voting for Plaid Cymru or the Scottish National Party rather than Tory, this is what they did and the Tories failed to gain ground.
It also showed the voters virtually ignored all other small and fringe parties, including the Liberal Democrats who have little to distinguish them from the Tories or New Labour. Throughout the country the total turnout was low, indicating high levels of dissatisfaction for the whole bourgeois electoral process.
In London, a turn out of 45 per cent was considered high. Although the Tories won the prize seat of Mayor, the Labour vote in London held up and increased a little on the last election. Labour gained one Greater London Assembly (GLA) seat, Brent and Harrow, back form the Tories.
What swung it for Johnson was the very high turnout for the Tories in the outer London suburbs, especially in Bromley and Bexley which achieved a 60 per cent turn out.
This is partly due to an organised campaign over the last year by a motorists’ lobby, based in Bromley, against the extension of the congestion charge to the Blackwall Tunnel and parts of Greenwich near the river that suffer highest pollution levels, along with highest levels of childhood asthma, in London. The motorists of Bromley and Bexley all drive through this area as they commute into London and are prepared to defend their right to continue to do so, unhindered by the congestion charge.
Now in power in County Hall, Johnson has declared that his priority is to make public transport “safer” by introducing metal scanner arches at busy Tube and railway stations. Clearly he has never travelled in the rush hour and has no idea of the delays, queues and anger that will result. Unless the idea is thrown out quickly, it will drive yet more commuters to use their cars rather than public transport – another win for the motor lobby.
Tube travellers can also expect to find themselves in the front line of the coming battle between Johnson and the RMT, Aslef and TSSA as Johnson tries to impose a ban on strikes on the Tube.
The neo-Nazi British National Party gained one seat on the GLA – a result of the proportional representation system that invariably helps the extreme right fringe. Nevertheless this is a lot less than the BNP hoped for and throughout the country they tended to lose seats they had won before; but they gained a few new ones and finished with more seats than before. It is a sign that people rarely vote BNP twice.
The fringe left parties achieved very low votes – at best interpreted as a message that those who are disillusioned with bourgeois democracy often cannot be bothered to vote. The reality is that the fringe left parties, in order to make themselves electable, drop all their old pretensions to Marxism or Leninism, all ideas of revolution and end up simply as left-wing bourgeois social democrat parties – trying to occupy the same political ground as Labour. And they cannot compete against the giant party that already occupies that position. So they lose their money, their time, their effort, their principles and their morale at every election.
And for all their criticisms of Ken Livingstone – many of them justified – the members of these fringe parties still find themselves depressed at the prospects of London governed by Johnson’s policies, which will be far, far worse.
Voting Labour is never going to bring socialism – that will take a revolution. But in current circumstances, in the short term, it is still the best option for the working class. And we should remember that the most important battles for the working class are taking place in work places, local communities and on the streets – voting has only ever been a small part of the overall struggle against the ruling class.