It is not “business as usual” for the left

Submitted by AWL on 2 June, 2015 - 5:20 Author: John Cunningham

In the wake of the Tory victory, Daniel Randall’s article about how to regroup is a disappointment (Solidarity 364).

The message seems to be, “not that much has changed, work harder and keep on fighting”. There is no consideration of the strong possibility, that this could be the beginning of the end for social democracy in the UK.

Certainly it is difficult to see how Scottish Labour can regain its former position and without Scottish Labour’s electoral weight the English and Welsh parties are in deep trouble. Proposals for boundary changes will only exacerbate this situation. Looking at the candidates for leadership the temptation to sink into despair is hard to resist.

The Labour Party now seems to be sleepwalking into “New Labour mark 2” in its obsession with netting “aspirational voters” and the so-called “middle ground”. Figures in the New Statesman show that Labour lost most of its votes in the semi-skilled and unskilled groups of workers, traditionally strong Labour supporters and not in the so-called “aspirational” groups.

I suspect, like John Harris in the Guardian, that Labour’s time is up. It is a party of the industrial era and, like it or not, we are now in a post-industrial era. People, of course, are still working but this work is quantitatively and qualitatively different. Zero hour contracts, precarious employment, the almost total collapse of heavy industry and the enormous changes that have come in its wake have changed our world. Society has changed and this is reflected in the vote for social democracy and its general decline.

A glimpse at the voting figures (and I suspect membership figures) for all European socialist parties demonstrates this: Greece’s PASOK is in deep crisis, as is PSOE in Spain and Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party. If there were elections tomorrow all three parties would be almost wiped out.

Everywhere votes and loyalties are either lost to the right (France) or to new alternatives (Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain).

In Sweden the once rock-solid social democratic vote was down again in 2014 – 30% from 35% in 2006, in Belgium the Socialist Party won just 11.67% of the overall vote and the Netherlands’ PvDA garnered a mere 12% of the vote in 2009. In some countries (Austria) the social democratic vote is holding at around 33.3% but at the cost of an ever more rightward drift.

Elsewhere, notably Hungary, the far right continue to hold sway and the threat from Le Pen in France is considerable. Most worrying of all perhaps is that the growth in support for Le Pen comes often from formerly solid working class areas including the former coalfields. A similar pattern, if not so well-defined, emerges when the votes for UKIP are analysed. According to one website I consulted “Between the 1950s-1960s and now, social democratic parties in northern Europe have lost about 20% of their vote.” This can’t be ignored and I find the analysis offered by Solidarity peculiarly detached from these important developments in the rest of Europe.

Too often the response in the pages of Solidarity seems to be that these are not serious problems we can fight back, regain the people who have drifted away and win again. This ignores many things but perhaps most important of all that these are long term, well-developed trends not overnight blips or temporary phenomena that will go away when we really start the fightback.

Daniel Randall mentions the poor performances of Left Unity and TUSC and an enduring memory for me of watching the election night coverage on TV was the pathetic spectacle of one TUSC candidate punching the air with his fist as his result was announced — he received 136 votes, less than some of the loony fringe candidates. Clearly there is no comfort to be had here. However, what about the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory? I see no assessment of its achievement on the night.

I take no pleasure from the comments I make here particularly as I have no alternative to offer. However, an analysis of where we are now needs to start from or include a recognition of the enormous problems presented by the long term decline of social democracy and the changed world for trade unions, problems which will not go away and I think, in the case of social democracy, cannot be overcome in the long term. This calls for a radical rethink of just about everything, not another tired call for “stepping up the fight”.

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