Britain is broken. Pick Up the Pieces.
No-one saw it coming. After five years of the most brutal attack on the very foundations of British capitalism’s stability, worse, much worse, than anything Thatcher attempted, we were shaken with even the thought that the electorate could have voted for more of the same, marching along the road to the slaughterhouse.
Virtually every product of Britain’s ‘greatness’, the products of our imperial past and, more recently, of our conversion to global finance, is set to be not just dismantled but bulldozed. Generations of social gains, health, education, social security, pensions, housing, human rights and much more are targeted for destruction, to be passed over to the profiteers.
The blinkered right wing sees only power and profit. Give them a sniff and they go for blood. The Tories have a rocky time ahead – the ‘power crowd’, that sees narrow interests and total control, against the neo-cons, utterly tied to the money markets, Europe and world financial institutions.
But not such a rocky time as is facing us.
Pick up the pieces.
Only a united response can resist the onslaught ahead. It is unity that will determine the outcome of the next five years. Our fragmented left must learn hard lessons from the shockwaves, discard our history of infighting, of tribalism, of sectarianism and unite round a platform of alternatives to austerity, measures to extend the NHS and the support systems around it, and a programme of expenditure on environment, energy, housing, education, welfare and training to spend money wisely rather than on weapons of mass destruction.
The Tories play the divisive card well. Unfortunately it has become ingrained into Labour’s DNA.
Who, in the election, had a good word to say about events in Scotland? The tri-partite ‘Better Together’ joke was binned five minutes after the referendum to be replaced with a refusal to talk, exclude Scots from votes and, increasingly, a propaganda of ‘send them packing’ – all within a rabid protection of the London-centric Union, of course.
Contrarily, the Scots have shown themselves to be the most sophisticated electorate in Britain. The referendum debate had a political breadth and depth that the left south of the border can only dream of. Not only that, the Scottish left was at the very heart of that debate and the huge popular mobilisation that accompanied it. The product has been the emergence or growth of a swathe of left groupings – Common Weal, Radical Independence, the Greens, Scottish Socialists, Women for Independence, Bella Caledonia and lots more. Their challenge, alongside the other popular Yes campaigners from outside the SNP fold, is to build mechanisms to come together in the face of a hugely popular SNP, whose influx of members made it understandably virtuous when being propositioned about united slates for the election. From their own perspective, the result proved the SNP right. From a left viewpoint, that was probably their only major fault in the election. The SNP sees itself as the vehicle for unity and, for now, they are right.
The SNP’s history is complex, not unlike Plaid Cymru in Wales, with its nationalist origins, but it is no longer the ‘nationalist’ party the Westminster parties wish to brand it as. Under Salmond, it was populist centrist, swinging left and right as was evidenced in the referendum campaign – pro NHS, anti-Trident, pro-monarchy, pro-NATO. There was no evidence of that in the election. Sturgeon is much more in the Social Democratic mould. Their oft repeated election platform was impeccable – anti-austerity, pro NHS, anti-Trident, backed up with a public offer to do everything possible to block a Tory government.
Incredibly, the Tories were allowed to make the most of that.
Tribalism and Oblivion
The top line lesson from the election, the lesson for us all, is that the Scots voted overwhelmingly for an alternative; the SNP provided it.
Labour snuggled up to Tory austerity, slagged off ‘the nationalists’, led their Scottish party with New Labour and, as seems very likely, self-destructed. It is well nigh impossible for them to recover. The future is with the Scottish left if they can get their act together. They are in as good a position as it gets, to do it.
Meanwhile, south of the border, Labour blames ‘the nationalists’ and that lefty Miliband. In a local meeting here, a Labour activist claimed Scotland was irrelevant now and, anyway, you can’t believe what the SNP said in the campaign. We have to move to the centre ground. On the broader canvas, the media is awash with ‘aspiration’ and the other Miliband.
Whoah! Take a step back here. Are we really saying that the very heartlands of Labour, the central urban belt of Scotland, with more socialist tradition in its big toe than the London careerists in their collective bodies, has been duped by the SNP? If this line prevails, Labour is doomed in Wales and England too.
It is a terrible irony that the Tories could have been wiped off the map after the 1997 election, to be replaced by a LibDem opposition, were it not for Blair pandering to war, high finance and monetarism. Two governments later (New Labour and Tory Coalition), it looks like Labour may be fighting for its own life. Or topping itself.
In Wales, First Minister, Carwyn Jones, didn’t miss his opportunity to have a pop at ‘the nationalists’ in his immediate post election statement. Mind you, Plaid Cymru, not much better, modelled itself on Scotland and continued with Labour as its primary target. Tribalism is alive and well in Wales.
A deeper analysis of the detailed results is emerging from those more disposed to that angle than I, but it would be an error to join the tribalists and argue that voters are somehow different in Scotland, different from us, different interests, different history, different culture, in fact, aberrant nationalists. No they are not. They are overwhelmingly socialist or, if that is too much for some, they are of our class and subject to the same abuses as us. They are looking for resistance in our deeply flawed ‘democratic’ system and have found a vehicle in the SNP. How that pans out is a matter for the Scottish left, the unions, the campaign groups, supported, not condemned, by us in whatever they choose to do, by and large.
The alienated vote
Voters in Wales searched for alternatives and couldn’t find any. Most stuck with Labour, due to a bit of a haven in the Welsh Assembly. It wasn’t convincing. Seats were lost, majorities lost. Some increased, where no realistic alternative was offered. Plaid held its ground, gained a few votes. The Tories and UKIP made ground, some of it from the collapsed LibDem vote, some from disaffected Labour, not least in the Labour strongholds.
In England, Labour offered nothing to those yearning for an alternative. There was nowhere for voters to go. Tories gained seats (and Councils), UKIP gained; the Green, Caroline Lucas, gained, Liberals sloshed in all directions and Labour lost.
Labour lost the election in England. In Scotland, voters had somewhere to go and they went in their droves. Miliband would be PM if Labour had anything to say in England. But they didn’t.
And now? Aspiration? – not for socialist values that’s for sure. Talk is of the business community and the centre ground. A list of Progress Blairites as long as your arm is out in force for leadership, the other Miliband, Umunna, Cooper, Creasey. Andy Burnham, himself a former(?) Blairite, seems to be the best shot so far. Labour is in trouble. Ignore the Scots, the very foundations of Labour. Blame everyone else; keep moving to the money; the economy is everything, stupid.
That is the biggest trick of all. Somehow, all that economy gibberish, which not even the economists agree on, is what voters really want sorted, they say. Billions here and there, deficits, the value of the pound, Dow Jones and the FTSE. The gambling economy that led us to the crash, tells us that share prices matter as they slosh their money around the world searching for the next fast buck, investing for high yields, quick returns with not a care for the long term, sustainability, the planet. Even the old Victorian imperialist value of investment and long term returns has been ditched as they wallow in our blood. Up to the bit about blood, do any of us really know or care?
The fightback is dependent on unity. Those who argued against austerity, for the NHS, against Trident, to do anything to get rid of the Tories, these people are our allies. If we continue to denounce them we will suffer. Divided and ruled. These three themes are as good as any to begin to build a united resistance. We will have to be strong and we will need all our friends.
Already the talk is of more devolution, as if the Tories are doing us a favour. They are going to devolve all sorts of autonomy, including fiscal autonomy, to Scotland and Wales and probably to English regions. Then they will control the budgets and blame the national and regional governments for the inevitable cuts as they did to Scotland in the referendum and have done to Wales in the election. If Labour in Scotland blames the SNP and Plaid in Wales blames Labour then no-one will have their eyes on the ball.
In both Scotland and Wales, preferably in tandem, we need anti-austerity conventions led by SNP, Labour and Plaid Cymru, with every attempt to bring in Greens and all those other campaigning groups like Left Unity and the People’s Assembly, 38 Degrees, allsorts. It is not just the green left that will have to swallow its prejudices, the real challenge is to break into Labour, and Plaid here in Wales.
A deal of responsibility sits on the shoulders of Welsh Labour Grassroots and, indeed with Celyn, the former probably best placed organisationally in Wales and the latter founded on a platform of Socialist, Plaid, Green unity. Both may be vehicles to initiate or convene such a gathering.
It may be easier in Scotland with a vibrant and active base already established but nothing is easy against the British establishment. Suffice to say that it will have its own conflicts in the coming period and we need to be in amongst them with a united vengeance.