Tories' support begins to crumble

Submitted by AWL on 5 May, 2012 - 12:19

Labour gained 823 council seats in the 3 May 2012 local elections. The Tories lost 405, and the Lib Dems 336.

UKIP and Greens scored fairly well, but made no breakthrough: the Greens gained 11 new seats, UKIP gained no new seats despite a slightly raised vote. The BNP lost all the seats it contested.

Up to and including George Osborne's 21 March 2012 budget, the Tories had retained their base much better than a party in their position might expect. Since May 2010 they have led a government ramming through unpopular measures - huge cuts in social spending, big rises in student tuition fees, radical marketisation of the Health Service - and yet clearly failing to get the economic revival, or even the debt reduction, which these measures were supposed to bring.

Still, they had remained only marginally behind Labour in the polls. The Lib Dems took the electoral brunt of the coalition's difficulties. Emboldened by the unions backing down on public sector pensions, Osborne felt confident enough to cut the 50% top tax rate in his Budget.

Since then, it is as if something has snapped, or at least frayed. Relatively minor things, like the "pasty tax", and potentially huge issues, like the Murdoch connection, have undermined the Tories.

Opinion polls since 2010 (red = Labour, blue = Tories, yellow = Lib Dem)

Labour leader Ed Miliband, however, was being no more than prudent when he responded to the 3 May results by saying: "We have more work to do". The turnout on 3 May was exceptionally low even for local government polls, reflecting widespread disillusion. Labour's share of the vote was 38%, not good for a party which faces an unpopular government and has little competition in its opposition role. 38% of a 32% turnout is only 12% of the electorate. Even the modest lead over the Tories achieved by Labour on 3 May has yet to be consolidated.

The "more work" which Labour and trade union activists need to see from Miliband is some substance to his talk against "predators", an audible campaign against the social cuts and marketisation of the NHS, an opening-up of Labour democracy - and a firm rebuff to the diehard Blairites who have become increasingly assertive in Labour's top ranks.

The councils newly brought under Labour control on 3 May are all set to execute the Tory-imposed cuts: socialists and trade union activists will demand that they instead oppose, defy, and mobilise local working-class communities against those cuts.

Labour held Glasgow council, which it feared it might lose to the Scottish National Party.

Although Labour beat the Tories by 41% to 32% in the list section of the London Assembly elections, Labour candidate Ken Livingstone lost the mayoral election to the Tories' Boris Johnson.

In 2000, Livingstone was able to win the London mayoralty as an independent, by outpolling both Labour and Tories, and when he lost it in 2008, that could be put down to the unpopularity of the Blair-Brown Labour government in its dying days.

Since 2008 he had run a sort of mini-popular front campaign, Progressive London, designed to secure him support beyond Labour ranks for the mayoralty in 2012.

The effort failed spectacularly. Livingstone's vote on 3 May was not broader, but much narrower, than Labour's vote. Although only 14% of people polled thought Johnson "in touch with the concerns of ordinary people", Johnson evidently outdid Livingstone in the "colourful maverick" act.

Livingstone's campaign lacked even gimcrack shreds of his former leftism, and thirty years of gimcrackery have left him looking merely tawdry.

Apart from the Greens' modest gains, other leftish anti-Tory forces outside Labour made little showing.

Five of the twelve candidates standing for George Galloway's Respect group in Bradford won seats on the back of Galloway's 29 March parliamentary by-election victory in Bradford West.

Although he made the decision to stand only at the last minute, after George Galloway's Bradford victory, Michael Lavalette won back the Preston council seat which he held for the Socialist Alliance and then for Respect from 2003 to 2011. He stood as an "independent", apparently because he decided to stand too late to complete the formalities to stand as TUSC.

Tony Mulhearn got a respectable 4.86% in the poll for mayor of Liverpool.

Peter Smith of the Democratic Labour Party, a long-standing Walsall group led by former leaders of the local Labour Party, won back the council seat he held from 2007-2011.

The SWP's Tom Woodcock got his best result so far in Romsey ward, in Cambridge, where he has stood, under various banners, since 2006. (19% this year - previous results, reading back from 2011, were 12%, 11%, 15%, 17%, 11%).

However, TUSC did poorly in its main campaign, for the list section of the London Assembly election.

TUSC got 0.8%, with no other left-of-Labour lists taking votes from its pool of potential support.

TUSC is the electoral front set up as a sequel to the 2009 No2EU operation by the Socialist Party and some leaders of the RMT rail union. It was used as a label by SWP candidates other than Lavalette.

0.8% is poor even compared with the 0.9% got in 2008 by the SWP's Left List campaign, universally admitted to have done poorly. And in 2008 the Left List had to compete with Respect, which got 2.4%.

Respect's 4.7% in 2004 should perhaps be taken out of comparison, because it was inflated by votes won on a communalist basis in Tower Hamlets. But in 2000 the London Socialist Alliance, on its first outing, won an average 2.9% in the constituency polls and 1.6% in the list section - despite being jostled by the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation (run by RMT activists) with 1.0%, a list led by Peter Tatchell with 1.4%, and the Socialist Labour Party with 0.8%.

TUSC suffered from the toxic combination of being politically dull and minimal and organisationally narrow. Politically, its message was limited to being against cuts and identifying in a general way with trade unions. Organisationally, anyone who looked could see it was a consortium of two small ideological groupings, the SP and the CPB-ish (but not actually CPB) strand in the RMT around Bob Crow. The TUSC candidates had all the disadvantages of being "propaganda candidates", and almost none of the advantages.

The SP's other main effort, to win re-election for its foremost public figure, former Labour MP Dave Nellist, standing as "Socialist Alternative" in the ward he has represented since 1998, also failed. The SP now has no councillors in Coventry.

The SWP's other perennial council candidate apart from Lavalette and Woodcock, Maxine Bowler in Sheffield Burngreave, saw her vote decrease again, as it has done every year since 2007.

AWL member Alison Brown had stood in that ward for the Socialist Alliance in 2002, 2003, and 2004, gradually raising the vote to 610. There was no poll in 2005. Because of domestic circumstances, Brown didn't stand in 2006. Bowler stepped in, under the Respect banner, and, thanks to more favour from local mosques than Brown had got, took 1,208 votes.

That went up to 1,290 in 2007, but has declined every year since then, to 708 in 2012.

In Glasgow, where the Scottish Socialist Party was a strong minority electoral and political force ten years ago, the SSP and the Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition stood only a few candidates and got poor results (less than 2%, often much less than 2%).

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