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EVERYBODY seems to be joining in their own special analysis of the election results last week, and it does make for fascinating and introspective navel-gazing.
Before we go into the results of the election I think it’s worth looking at the very grim prospects that lie ahead, so that we can decide how best to deal with them.
We now have a Conservative government with a small overall majority, elected by the votes of 24.4 per cent of the electorate — less than a quarter of it.
On this basis they propose to build on the already gaping chasm of inequality in Britain, which the Liberal Democrat participation in the last government allowed to happen by making things markedly worse.
First in their sights is a further £12 billion in cuts to benefits, on top of the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, the end of the independent living fund and a draconian sanctions policy which leaves hundreds of thousands of people without any income whatsoever at any one time.
Next up is to deliver on their tax concessions to businesses and reduce inheritance tax. None of this will do anything to improve the living standards of the vast majority and their plan to force local authorities to sell off valuable properties, introduce five-year tenancies and sell housing association properties will inevitably lead to more people being forced into the expensive and largely unregulated private rented sector, or in extremes, end up joining the many homeless people who already inhabit the streets of our big cities.
When it comes to human rights the Tories have a special place of their own. Theresa May’s reappointment as Home Secretary has immediately been accompanied by the most nasty refusal to welcome any of the Mediterranean boat people to Britain, insisting they should all be sent back.
She is either unaware, or more likely refuses to believe, that the majority of the desperate people who’ve lost their lives in the Mediterranean on leaky boats from Libya are victims of wars in Iraq, Somalia, Mali and Libya, plus many Palestinians.
Those wars have all been financed or politically supported by Western European interests. It is beyond disgusting that the xenophobic rhetoric of right-wing politicians in Britain and Europe feeds directly into this whole narrative of blaming the victims for being victims. In addition to this, they propose to repeal the Human Rights Act and leave the European Convention on Human Rights and thus end any jurisdiction that the European Court of Human Rights has in British law, and they have the nerve to be celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta next month.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and other groups are to be commended for their advertising campaign showing the huge positive contribution migrant people make to society. It’s a shame the Labour Party itself isn’t doing that.
In the election the Tories made much of the alleged rise in employment in Britain and conveniently forgot to say that the new jobs created are mostly in the private sector, nearly all on lower wages for the individuals who lost jobs in the public sector, and nearly a million people are already working zero-hours contracts. That number can only rise.
In order to head off the predictable opposition to all of this they are apparently planning an even more draconian anti-trade union law on May 27 in the Queen’s speech.The election results showed a strange disconnect across Britain with very strong results for Labour in London, very poor support for Labour in some of the south and south-west and mixed results in towns and cities all over the country. Esther McVey quite deservedly lost her seat in Wirral West and yet there was a swing to the Tories and Ukip a few miles down the road in Stoke on Trent, and Labour lost Telford to the Tories.
Across Britain there were some remarkable gains, some at the expense of the Lib Dems, but others in Tory marginals — for example Cat Smith in Lancaster and Fleetwood.
An area that has had less examination is the Green vote in England and Wales, which amounted to around a million and was enough in a number of constituencies to prevent Labour from winning, such as Gower in South Wales. It thus helped to boost the surprise of the Tories holding enough seats for an overall majority.
The real issue is of course austerity. Ed Miliband made some brilliant points during the campaign about wages, working conditions, education opportunities and housing, and clearly was mobilising quite a lot of younger voters to support the party.
The problem was that while Chancellor George Osborne was claiming that austerity was working and thus ignoring the inequality and poverty created, Ed Balls was in essence saying that the only difference in Labour’s policy was that his economic strategy would simply take longer to deal with the deficit.
He was not offering to restore the funding that the Tories have cut in local government particularly, or reverse cuts to benefits over the past five years.
In Scotland the issues are obviously very different, and the SNP’s rather strange economic policy was effectively presented as an anti-austerity agenda. Thus a combination of a desire for independence in Scotland and a positioning of the SNP to the left of Labour in the public mind managed to gain them a stunning victory and the third largest block of MPs in a new House of Commons.
The issue now facing Labour is not just about electing a leader, important as that is. It is about the strategy the party follows, and we’ve heard a great deal from former New Labour figures such as Mandelson and Blair that the failure was somehow or other the fault of the party left and Ed Miliband in particular.
The reality is that within a few months the Tories are going to be in disarray over Europe and many will rapidly realise the horror of what has happened when they see rising poverty and further attacks on working conditions. Surely the need for Labour is to examine the economic strategy needed to develop a more equal society with full employment, decent housing and a fully funded and public NHS, rather than taking the advice of Peter Mandelson and Lord Sugar that we weren’t “appealing to big business.” By September we will know who the new Labour leader is, and the rules require that 35 Labour MPs nominate an individual to be a candidate. I hope there are enough Labour MPs prepared to support an anti-austerity candidate in the leadership election so that party members and affiliated supporters have a real choice.
- Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.
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