The British general election of 5 May 2005 produced the result generally predicted – a Labour win with a greatly reduced majority. On a turnout of 61.3 percent (slightly up from the 59 percent turnout in the 2001 election), the Labour Party secured 55.1 percent of the seats, while securing a mere 35.3 percent of the votes. With 32.4 percent of the vote (almost the same as at the last election), the Conservatives won 30.5 percent of the seats. Although the Liberal Democrats’ share of the vote reached 22 percent, they won only 9.6 percent of the parliamentary seats.
Labour’s share of the vote plummeted by 5.4 percent and its parliamentary majority was reduced drastically – from 167 to 66. Labour received 1.2m fewer votes than in 2001, and 2m fewer than it won under the leadership of that windbag Neil Kinnock in the 1992 election, which Labour lost and which became the occasion for the rebranding of Labour and the rise of the Blair-Brown leadership. Labour’s majority of 66 was achieved on the basis of the lowest ever share of the vote by a winning party. Notwithstanding the enthusiastic support for Labour extended by Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper (the daily with the largest circulation and a notoriety for purveying pornographic filth and promoting extremely reactionary imperialist view) and the ‘left’-leaning Mirror, not to speak of suspect postal votes, Labour won only the backing of just over 20 percent of the registered voters.
The Tories, while barely increasing their share of the vote, managed to win 31 additional parliamentary seats, chiefly by mobilising their core supporters behind the “nasty party” issues of immigration, asylum and crime. While correctly accusing Blair of lying on Iraq, the Tories enthusiastically supported the criminal and predatory war waged by Anglo-American imperialism against the people of Iraq, in view of which the Tory attempt to make capital out of this issue, being as hypocritical as it was hollow, fell flat and fooled no one. The Liberal Democrats, who opposed the war until it actually started, were to be the main beneficiaries: of Labour voters angered by the war, seven out of eight transferred their allegiance to the LibDems. However, notwithstanding a leap in their share of the vote, the LibDems added only 11 extra seats to their 61, for their gains at Labour’s expense because of their stance on the war and their opposition to university fees were negated by their losses to the Tories: the tax increases the LibDems proposed frightened the affluent voters, who deserted them, especially in the West Country.
Besides, LibDem electoral support is far less concentrated that that of the other two major bourgeois parties – Tory and Labour – which means that it must rise a lot more to win a substantial number of seats. Because of the configuration of the parliamentary constituencies and the concentration of their vote, the present system is hugely tilted in Labour’s favour, with the result that, on average, if it takes 35,000 votes to elect a Labour member of parliament, it takes 50,000 to elect a Tory and a whopping 100,000 to elect a LibDem. The result of this skewed first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system not only renders the votes of some electors worth several times more than those of others, it reduced electoral campaigning to a farcical absurdity, with the major bourgeois political parties concentrating their campaign almost entirely on the 800,000 floating voters in marginal constituencies. No wonder, then, that the principal parties of the bourgeoisie employ marketing experts who bring to bear their expertise in mass advertising and manipulation on the electorate in these marginals. Elsewhere, as most parliamentary seats are safely in the bag of one or other party, little by way of election campaigning is to be encountered. This, combined with the fact that the bourgeois parties have become indistinguishable from each other on questions of policy, accounts for the low turnouts at elections (59 percent of the registered electorate voted in 2001 and 61 percent in 2005).
Dull and boring
No wonder, then, that general elections have increasingly become dull and boring. The election just held is by common consent the second dullest (the first being in 2001) since 1935. Real issues affecting the lives of ordinary people here in Britain or abroad are hardly ever discussed. What takes place is shadow boxing between the main political parties who, being in basic agreement with each other on almost all the major questions of domestic and foreign policy, confine themselves to slick advertising campaigns, hollow soundbites and appeals to the meanest passions in the human breast to win over wavering elements in the marginal constituencies. Resort to bare-faced lying has become even more of an accepted and normal part of bourgeois politics than ever before – especially at election time. Writing on the eve of the election, Mr Peter Osborne wrote: “It is set to be the first election in history in which a British electorate has re-elected open-eyed what it regards as a lying government.” (The Independent on Sunday, 24 April 2005) Mendacity is now a normal part of government statements, and political discourse has degenerated into an exercise in manipulation of the masses.
If the purpose of the election is supposedly to present the electorate with clear choices, then the British election has been a total failure. Not a single one of the parties managed to come up with a compelling case as to why it deserved to win decisively. During the election, serious debate was supplanted by stupefying vacuity and shallow soundbites. Far from being a cause for serious concern, this alarmingly tiresome state of affairs offers to the bourgeoisie and its ideologues “grounds for celebration”, for the “very vigour of the debate about things that do not matter much underlines the extent of the cross-party consensus about things that do”, for it reveals that “Britain has moved well beyond the old left-right disagreements about the economy, profit and the role of the market … Britain no longer has a ‘business party’ and an ‘anti-business party’. Try as some might to point up the ideological distance between the parties, in fact the gap between Michael Howard’s Conservatives and Tony Blair’s Labour Party is smaller than the one at the last US presidential election between Republicans and Democrats.” (Financial Times, 3 May 2005)
Thus wrote the most authoritative organ of British finance capital two days before the election. Placing the LibDems to the left of Labour, the Financial Times dismissively added:
“Only the leftwing Liberal Democrats think the answer to present challenges is to raise the top rate of tax and spend more on middle-class welfare.”
In the same leading article, the Financial Times lavished praise on Labour and damned the Conservatives. “Labour,” it wrote effusively and with satisfaction, “has proved its economic competence [read – its total subservience to the interests of British imperialism] beyond doubt during its two terms, and its manifesto is a solid promise of more of the same in most areas.”
As to the Conservatives, the Financial Times was scathing to the point of calling their election manifesto “less a programme for government than a half-baked list of grievances designed to pander to popular fears”, adding that their policy on immigration quotas was “likely to hamper economic growth” and that their approach to Europe was “irresponsible and infeasible” and could plunge Britain into “the most severe isolation from the rest of Europe in more than 30 years”.
Labour have so successfully adopted, and carried out, in every significant way, the policies associated with the Conservative Party that all differences between them have disappeared, with the result that the Conservatives are left with nothing else but to stoke fear “with deliberate confusions and dubious statistics”, to use the words of Mr Philip Stephens in the Financial Times of 12 April. Hence their ominous election slogan: “Are you thinking what we are thinking?” Even here, the problem for them is that Labour is not only thinking but, more importantly, putting into practice what the Conservatives are thinking. Labour’s proposals for dealing with suspected ‘terrorists’ – ranging from curfews and tagging to house arrest incommunicado -already go well beyond Conservative proposals. What is more, these sanctions would be imposed without term on the basis of dubious intelligence that the suspect would have no right to see, let alone question.
As to immigration and asylum, if the Tories would impose a quota on numbers, Labour would introduce a points system to allow in those workers most needed and exclude the rest. No wonder, then, that many voters did not know what the Conservative Party stood for and how Britain would be different under a Conservative government. By beating overtly (as opposed to Labour doing the same on the quiet) the drum of unpleasant xenophobia and mobilising their core supporters, the Tories managed to gain 31 extra seats without increasing their share of the vote. At the next election, they would need to win an additional 127 seats to gain a majority in parliament. Considering their fatal disarray over the past eight years, during which they have seen off four party leaders, it does not look that they stand much chance. Unless, that is, Labour ceases to be the darling of British imperialism, either through the economy plunging into deep recession or the imperialist war in Iraq coming unstuck.
Trots and revisionists line up behind Labour
As was to be expected, the Troto-revisionist fraternity lined up, overtly or covertly, behind the blood-soaked imperialist Labour Party. This was done under very many subterfuges. Some portrayed the Labour Party as the only party of the working class because of its historic links with the unions – a bankrupt line taken by the bankrupt and nearly extinct mummies of the New Communist Party. Others supported the Labour Party under the guise of strengthening the fight of the labour movement and the left by securing a ‘real Labour’ government with ‘real Labour’ policies, such as public ownership of the railways, restoring the value of the state pension and the repeal of anti-trade union laws, as did the Communist Party of Britain. Some supported the Labour Party in the name of keeping the hated Conservatives out, an argument devoid of all meaning in view of the complete identity of views on all the principal questions of domestic and foreign policy between these two parties of the bourgeoisie – a fact recognised and celebrated by such an authoritative organ of British monopoly capital as the Financial Times. Yet others felt able to support Labour on the pretext of limiting the further electoral growth of the fascist BNP or supporting the ‘left’ Labour and ‘anti-war’ candidates, ‘forgetting’ that it is Labour that has been driving the racist agenda through the stream of legislation, which targets immigrants, asylum seekers and, of course, ‘terrorists’, and ‘forgetting’ too that the ‘left’ and ‘anti-war’ MPs continue, in the interests of protecting their salaries and privileges, to be in this imperialist party, which stands for suppression of the working class at home and endless wars on the oppressed peoples abroad – from Yugoslavia, through Afghanistan, to Iraq.
Compared with the above shameless collection of self-styled communists and revolutionaries, whom luckily no one listens to, a much more honourable role was played by such individuals as the journalist John Pilger and Liz Davies, a former member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, and by the parents of young soldiers sacrificed at the altar of imperialist profits in the predatory war against Iraq.
Writing in the New Statesman on the eve of the general election, John Pilger, a bourgeois but honest journalist with no pretensions to being a communist, correctly referring to Tony Blair as “leader of one of the nastiest regimes in memory”, went on to address those “who will come under extraordinary pressure to put aside considerations of basic morality” to give electoral support to this allegedly successful Blair government thus: “By voting for Blair you will walk over the corpses of at least 100,000 people, most of them innocent women and children and the elderly, slaughtered by rapacious forces sent by Blair and Bush, unprovoked and in defiance of international law, to a defenceless country.”
Saying that by voting for Blair’s Labour Party, ” you will fall for the spin, the myth of social reformism and ‘economic achievements’ of his government”, Mr Pilger went on to explode this spin and myth by pointing out that the economic growth has been for the rich, not for the poor. Under the private finance initiative (PFI), the Labour government has “transferred billions of pounds’ worth of public services into private hands”. The fees for PFI projects in 2006-2007, he said, will be in the region of £6.3bn, which he correctly characterises as an “historic act of piracy”. Far from supporting the National Health Service, Labour is busy privatising it. Under Labour, Britain has the dubious distinction of having created “more than half the world’s tax havens so that the likes of Rupert Murdoch are able to play minimal tax”. Far be it for us to suggest that this might be one of the reasons that the Murdoch press supports Labour!
Labour’s much-trumpeted claims regarding a booming economy are a distraction from the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor has widened still further under Labour, that poverty among adults of working age without children is on the increase, that in 2002-3 – the latest year for which figures are available – 12.4m people (accounting for 22 percent of the population) were living in poverty.
As to Labour’s claim that it has brought unemployment to its lowest level for decades, this miracle has been achieved by the simple fraudulent method, beloved of bourgeois governments, of massaging figures and reclassifying hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers as long-term sick or disabled – thus making them disappear from the unemployment statistics.
One area of growth has been the increase in the number of insecure, part-time and temporary employments, which account for 8.8m workers. These people have little employment protection, work in the most horrible of conditions on poverty pay, and are liable to instant dismissal, leading a precarious existence at the whim of their employers.
Defying Labour’s spin, and ignoring the calls to vote for a ‘lesser evil’, John Pilger concluded thus:
“True politics is about all of humanity and our responsibility for those who commit crimes in our names. No reverence for the sanctity of a debased vote or a false choice – or the lesser evil of a non-existent, sentimental, pre-Blair Labour Party – will change that.
“We owe that truth to the people of Iraq, a least.” (John Pilger’s article as reproduced in the Morning Star of 25 April 2005)
Writing in the Morning Star of 9 April 2005, while entertaining illusions, not unexpected in someone who spent most of her life “as its active member, in the Labour Party that created the NHS”, Liz Davies all the same gave exceptionally good reasons for not supporting Labour. “I won’t be voting Labour,” she said, because the Labour Party “that offers itself for election in 2005 is hostile to working-class interests and is an enemy of democratic rights and social equality.
“It is the principal British instrument of neo-liberalism, which is why it commands the support of the bulk of the British ruling class … Above all, Labour in 2005 [only in 2005?] is the party of war and imperialism.”
Countering those who assert that only the Blair leadership is responsible for Labour’s crimes and everything else in Labour is fine, she had this to say:
“The responsibility for Labour’s crimes against humanity does not lie solely with Blair, Straw and the rest of the cabinet, although every one of them is a war criminal.
“A majority of the parliamentary Labour Party supported the war.”
She added that while on the eve of the war, “a large minority of Labour MPs voted against military intervention,” since then “all but a tiny handful have fallen back into line”. What is more, they “have not spoken out against the occupation of Iraq, which is no more justifiable than the invasion itself … To reward [them] with support at the ballot box would make a joke of the anti-war movement”.
Instead of pinning all the blame on the Blair clique, which is the wont of the Troto-revisionist opportunist fraternity, Ms Davies rightly stated that the Labour Party “as a whole bears a heavy responsibility for the crimes of the last few years”, in view of which, a “vote for Labour … is a vote for war, for occupation, for continuing assaults on civil liberties both domestically and internationally”.
Unable to tear herself away from “a tiny number of Labour MPs who consistently and actively oppose the occupation”, she called for support for them at the ballot box, forgetting that it is a strange opposition to the war that is able to reconcile itself with continued membership of the same imperialist party that is waging the war. All these ‘left’ MP’s, without exception, stood for a Labour victory, that is, for the victory of the very party that Ms Davies rightly says is guilty of crimes against humanity and is a party of war and imperialism. The truth is that these ‘left’-wing MP’s are the worst kind of opportunists. Knowing fully well Labour’s crimes, they refuse to part company with Labour, for to do so would deprive them of the cushy and remunerative niches they have carved for themselves. Jumping off the gravy train frightens them more than anything else. As a result, there is not a crime that Labour can commit which will make this gentry part company with it.
Military Families Against the War (MFAW)
The most honourable role in this election was played by the founders of the Military Families Against the War (MFAW), Reg Keys and Rose Gentle, both of whose young sons were killed in Iraq. They stood as independent candidates, Reg Keys in Tory Blair’s Sedgefield constituency and Rose Gentle in East Kilbride, the constituency of the armed forces Minister, Adam Ingram. Their aim was to achieve ‘justice’ and the withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq. On 6 April, after a meeting to launch their campaign, Reg Keys said:
“I want to hold Tony Blair to account for his deceit.
“Tony Blair told Parliament and this country that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to this country and could launch chemical weapons against us within a 45-minute period.
“That was clearly a blatant lie. Iraq had no such capabilities to launch a strike.
“My son marched off to the war with his head held high to do his duty believing the spin and rhetoric Tony Blair was telling this country.
“Tom went away and came back with his body riddled with 31 bullets – 84 other soldiers have come back in coffins.”
He added: “I feel our Prime Minister has betrayed us and he refuses to be accountable.
“We have a Prime Minister who has led us into an illegal war costing billions of pounds, which could be better spent. Where is the accountability?”
In an interview that he gave to the Morning Star two weeks later, Mr Keys again emphasised that prime minister Blair “took us to war on false information, 100,000 Iraqis died, 85 [British] soldiers have come home in coffins, more than 800 soldiers critically wounded, but the PM has not visited them – although he can write to Ozzy Osbourne when he falls off his motorbike – where is the accountability? Tony Blair should have the dignity to go”. (Morning Star, 15 April 2005)
In yet another interview, this time for the BBC, Mr Keys said that people in this country were told that Saddam Hussein was a madman and a murderer, adding that Tony Blair was no less himself.
Neither Reg Keys, nor Rose Gentle, had any political involvement or even an interest in politics before their sons’ deaths in an illegal imperialist predatory war opened their eyes to the unjust nature of the war against the Iraqi people, which is what impelled them to take up the fight against the lying hypocrites and war criminals led by Tony Blair. Turning their grief into a torrent of rage, Reg Keys and Rose Gentle fought a dignified campaign through which they exposed the Labour government’s lies and the unjust nature of the war in Iraq. Their campaign touched the hearts of millions in the country and brought justified shame and disgrace on the despicable coterie of war criminals led by Blair. Reg Keys received 4,252 votes – a considerable achievement for an independent standing against the prime minister. Rose Gentle did less well in East Kilbride, securing a respectable 1,513 votes against Ingram.
Non-Labour Party social-democratic ‘left’
The performance of the social-democratic ‘left’ outside of the Labour Party, with the sole exception of George Galloway’s Respect coalition, was simply abysmal. The Trotskyites of the Scottish Socialist Party, who contested every seat except one north of the border, secured 43,516 votes (just under 2 percent of the total) – a result that compares badly with their performance in the 2001 election when the SSP got 72,528 votes (just over 3 percent of the total). Only in one constituency, that of Glasgow South West, did the SSP save its deposit, as compared with the 10 deposits it saved in 2001.
SSP’s one-time sororial party south of the border, the Trotskyite Socialist Party, stood 17 candidates as against 14 in 2001, and attracted 9,398 votes, fewer than the 10,368 votes it polled in 2001 – with its percentage share of the vote coming down from 2.11 percent to 1.57 percent.
Arthur Scargill stood 50 candidates under the name of the defunct Socialist Labour Party. Neither he, nor his chief hatchet man, Paul Hardman, could summon up sufficient courage to present themselves to the electorate. Bereft of the will and the activists to do the work, the so-called SLP conducted no election campaigning, instead relying on the name of Scargill – a fast fading currency – to pick up votes. Not surprisingly, the results were less than flattering, with the SLP polling 20,027 votes (on average 1.14 percent of the total). The results are even more pitiful if we exclude the 4,036 votes that one of its candidates secured in the Speaker’s constituency of Glasgow North East (where by tradition the main parties do not stand against the Speaker). In 2001 the SLP had stood 114 candidates and secured an average of 1.42 percent of the votes. Obviously the ‘mass party’ of the working class is making progress – backwards to total oblivion.
The CPB’s six candidates picked up 1,124 votes – a result that the CPB considers a great improvement over the 1,003 it polled at the last election in 2001.
George Galloway’s Respect stood 26 candidates and polled 68,094 votes – an average of 6.85 percent. It won in Bethnal Green and Bow, came second in three other seats, third on one and fourth in four other places. Eight of its candidates managed to save their deposits. It scored well in constituencies with a high concentration of Muslim voters, who were angry with Labour because of its predatory war in Iraq and the ‘anti-terror’ legislation that criminalises Muslims to a larger extent than any other section of the population.
George Galloway’s victory is a victory for the anti-war sentiments of the electors of Bethnal Green and Bow and a slap in the face of the Blair government of war criminals and imperialist mercenaries, and therefore it is to be welcomed by all progressives.
There is another reason why revolutionaries should welcome this victory. Although it is the counter-revolutionary Trots of the SWP who provide the foot soldiers for Respect, it is Galloway who takes the important policy and programmatic decisions. Time after time, on a whole range of issues, the SWP have voted with Galloway in defiance of their professed principles. All the signs are that this is beginning to cause serious friction in the ranks of the SWP, some members of which delude themselves into thinking that they are revolutionary. Either they will all have to go along with Galloway’s social-democratic programme, albeit of the ‘Old Labour’ variety, and thus openly expose themselves to be the social democrats that they have always been; or some of them will resist the tearing off of the fake revolutionary mask and put up resistance, thus initiating a brotherly fight that can only end in their mutual annihilation. Either way it would lead to the extinction of this largest Trotskyite counter-revolutionary formation in Britain, which can only help the task of advancing genuine communist politics.
Besides, Galloway can do without the SWP. The latter, on the other hand, are nothing without Galloway. The war in Iraq has discredited Tony Blair to such an extent that he is on his last legs as leader of the Labour Party. It is not inconceivable that his successor may want to distance himself from this war, which is increasingly becoming unpopular with a significant section of even the bourgeoisie. At any rate, it is even less inconceivable that a new Labour leader may wish to make a gesture of conciliation to anti-war social democrats of the Galloway type by readmitting him into Labour’s ranks. After all, Galloway has never pretended to be anything other than Labour. He did not willingly leave Labour – he was expelled from it, and very arbitrarily too. Writing in the Morning Star of 15 April, Galloway openly stated his line of thought, and future intentions by implication, in the following terms:
“If I or other Respect candidates win on 5 May, it will strengthen the hand of those all too few left-wing Labour MPs – comrades such as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – who we hope are returned with increased majorities.
“For here the battle is between new Labour and Respect, which is the ghost of old Labour or, more precisely, the ghost of what generations of old Labour supporters believed in.”
Thus it is clear as daylight that Galloway’s intention is not to harm Labour – only Tony Blair. He wishes to go back to old Labour, which was no less a blood-thirsty imperialist party than new Labour. He openly says that Respect “is the ghost of old Labour” and the allegedly revolutionary Trots of the SWP supinely accept this without registering even a murmur of protest.
These are very interesting and exciting times to be living in. One after the other, various social-democratic outfits, from the Labour Party to the Troto-revisionist fraternity, are exposing their own bankruptcy. With the above gentry discrediting themselves, and total disarray in the Tory ranks, there is beginning to open up an opportunity, which has not been there for at least two decades, to advance the cause of genuine proletarian politics.
Let our party take up this challenge and rise to the occasion by becoming a pole of attraction for all those disgusted by imperialist war abroad and internal suppression at home.