Saturday, 15 May 2010

Politics as usual

For an election that was supposed to mark the demise of the old two-party system, the outcome of 6 May 2010 has gone a long way to restoring it. Even if reformers win the promised referendum on a new alternative vote system, it’s nothing like proportional representation (indeed, it makes it even harder for minor parties to get elected). And it won’t stop the polarisation of votes towards the two main parties that is an almost inevitable consequence of the Lib Dems going into government with the Tories.

Without having to do a thing, Labour has re-established itself as the only meaningful alternative to voting Conservative across virtually the whole of the country. The three Plaid Cymru MPs and one Green may merit a left vote in 2015 but no one can now justify voting Lib Dem if they want to keep the Tories out. As for backing anyone else – well, there is no one else. In Scotland there may still be the Nationalists but even there, when it comes to the next Westminster election, everyone knows it will have to be Labour or bust.

There were reports in the weeks after the election of the Labour Party receiving up to 4,000 membership applications in a day. There is certainly little evidence of the demoralisation and despair among party activists that followed previous defeats. Some even spoke of a ‘liberation’ or the sense of euphoria that comes from surviving a car crash you’d expected to be far worse with only a broken leg. The affiliation of Cleggite liberal democracy with the centre-right rather than the centre-left of British politics, in combination with the passing of the New Labour old guard, seems to have opened up a fresh sense of possibility in Labour and reversed the steady stream of desertions. The party is beginning to look as though it could be immensely more invigorated in defeat in 2010 than it was by the post-Iraq war victory in 2005.

The same cannot be said of the various shades of left electoral alternatives that stood for election, locally or nationally, on 6 May. Here is to be found only unrequited effort and crushing, abject failure – unmitigated by the narrow, exceptional and quite possibly unrepeatable election of Caroline Lucas for the Greens in Brighton. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (if ever there was a title designed to limit potential electoral support, this might well have been it) proved an outstandingly successful mechanism for squandering activists’ time, money and aspirations. A desperate 12,275 votes garnered from 41 constituencies (299 votes apiece, or 0.0004 per cent of the national poll), works out so low that you’d have to wait for about 35 jam-packed double-decker buses to go past before you found a single TUSC voter, squeezed between the pushchairs and the shopping trolleys and invisible to everyone bar himself on the crowded lower deck.

Respect mustered 33,251 nationally in what will probably be its swansong; the Scottish Socialist Party potted a paltry 3,157 – a far cry from the 117,709 constituency votes (6.2 per cent) it won in the 2003 Scottish Parliament election; and even the Greens’ 285, 616 (fewer than one in every hundred voters) pales in comparison with the British National Party’s 563,743 (1.9 per cent) or UKIP’s 917,832 (3.1 per cent).

In electoral terms at least, there really is no left alternative to Labour.

1 comment:

EtonMess said...

The question is how much the new government can get away with re-anouncing policies already enacted ( to produce cover for their cuts. And, more importantly, how on earth it is possible for the left to remind voters that it was the financial crisis and not public spending that has left the exchequer so short of cash.