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Labour’s ‘landslide’ and the tasks for the left

Communist Party leader ROBERT GRIFFITHS dissects the election results, looking at all of the political spectrum, from the hard right to the far left, and assesses the political landscape it reveals

ON JULY 4, the Keir Starmer-led Labour Party won the biggest Westminster majority of seats (174) since 1997 and the second biggest since national government coalition victories in the 1930s. Which factors produced Labour’s so-called “landslide?”
 
First, the collapse of the Tory vote: it fell from 14 million in December 2019 to seven million, from 44 per cent of the poll to 24 per cent, with the loss of 223 seats. The sharpest decline occurred in Brexit-supporting constituencies.
 
Second, the rise of Reform UK. Nigel Farage’s private limited company far exceeded the 644,000 votes in 2019 for his Brexit Party, which fought fewer than half the seats in order to help Tory candidates. Reform UK plc won four million this year (more than the Liberal Democrats) and took five seats from Tories.
 
In addition, Reform’s intervention cost the Tories up to 180 seats, most of which were gained or retained by Labour.
 
Third, the revival of the Lib Dems: not so much in votes (3.5m) or poll share, but in seats won — from 15 to 72 — most at Tory expense.
 
Fourth, the collapse of the SNP: losing one-third of their poll share and 39 of their 48 seats, 36 of them to Labour.
 
With the right-wing vote split more substantially than at any time since the end of the first world war, and the resurgent Lib Dems attracting Tory votes in southern England in particular, the first past the post system enabled Labour to win an extra 206 seats.
 
This occurred even though Labour’s vote this year (9.7 million) under Keir Starmer’s leadership was more than half a million lower than in 2019 (10.3 million) and more than three million lower than in 2017 (12.9 million).
 
While a lower turnout meant that Labour’s share of the poll rose slightly on July 4, Labour’s vote as a proportion of the overall electorate has fallen from 28 per cent in 2017 and 22 per cent in 2019 — both under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership — to 20 per cent on July 4.
 
In these circumstances, despite a resolution at the 2022 Labour Party Conference, it is difficult to see Keir Starmer’s government agreeing any moves to a PR voting system for the Westminster parliament.
 
Labour today occupies almost two-thirds of the seats with just one-third of the popular vote. The Tories are only slightly over-represented this time, while the Lib Dems enjoy proportionality.
 
But Reform UK with 14 per cent of the votes and the Greens with 7 per cent are grossly under-represented in what is the biggest mismatch between votes and seats since equal suffrage was achieved almost a century ago, in 1928.
 
As a matter of democratic principle, the Communist Party continues to argue for a genuine system of proportional representation, our preference being for the Single Transferable Vote in multimember constituencies.

 
A shallow and fragile mandate

 
Clearly, the defeat of the Tories and the election of a Labour government was the most important feature of this year’s general election.
 
The Communist Party welcomes this outcome on the basis of our main resolution at the 57th Party Congress last November. We said such a result would most likely raise the morale, expectations and demands of the working class and the labour and progressive movements.
 
We must now — together with our friends and allies — work to make that desired outcome a firm reality.
 
We also have to recognise that this Labour victory and Starmer’s new administration rest on a shallow and fragile base. This means, among other things, that the demand to fight for left and progressive policies from this Labour government cannot be postponed until a second term that may never arrive.
 
The continuing decline in election turnouts (from 69 per cent in 2017 to 62 per cent in 2019 and 60 per cent this July), which is especially pronounced in older industrial and traditionally pro-Labour areas, confirms the experience of many of our own 14 candidates and election teams in working-class communities: namely, that people’s hostility towards the Tories was not matched by any level of enthusiasm for Starmer’s Labour and its vague or feeble social and economic policies.
 
Millions of working-class people and their local communities do not believe that today’s Labour Party represents their interests as individuals, families, communities and as a class.
 
The Labour leadership argued that bolder policies would repel potential so-called “middle-class” and Tory and Lib-Dem supporters.
 
Yet every opinion survey in recent years has shown majority support across our society for such left and progressive policies as higher taxation of personal wealth and corporate profits, a transaction tax on financial speculation, a cap on bankers’ bonuses, public ownership of the utilities and Royal Mail, pension justice for women, an end to charitable status for private schools and more public investment in health, council housing, public transport and green energy.
 
These are vote-winning policies, not vote losers.

 
Whose Labour Party?

 
Starmer’s Labour has rejected them because the party’s new leadership is continuing its drive to change the whole basis, orientation and character of the party founded by working class and socialist organisations at the dawn of the 20th century.
 
Labour’s boldness can be seen, however, when it comes to foreign and military affairs. There is no room for argument here — or in Britain’s ruling class media — about devotion to Nato, support for US wars and Israeli genocide, the ongoing military encirclement of China, increased armaments spending and a major expansion of Britain’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
 
Strengthening the peace and anti-war movement must be a top priority for the Communist Party’s political work over the coming period.
 
Of course, there is nothing new about a Labour government’s subservience to the requirements of British imperialism around the world.
 
What is novel is such craven capitulation to the requirements of finance capital even before taking office.
 
We have seen how swiftly and cynically Starmer has abandoned progressive policy pledges since his elevation to the party leadership in 2020.
 
He and his collaborators have purged left-wing MPs and activists on an unprecedented scale. Safe, conformist and careerist disciples of the “project” have been parachuted into safe Labour seats with the connivance of retiring MPs.
 
On June 17, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves addressed a breakfast gathering of company executives — including the bosses of Barclays, BT, Glaxo-Smith-Klein, Lloyds and Santander — about the party’s manifesto: “I really hope that when you do read it, or if you read the section on the economy, that you will see your fingerprints all over it.”
 
Not surprisingly, corporate and individual donations to the Labour Party overtook trade union contributions in 2022 and are now racing ahead. Last year, with £14.6 million, the rich and big business gifted more than twice as much as the unions to Labour.
 
This is part of the wider takeover of Establishment politics by big money, with financial donations to political parties almost doubling last year to £93 m. In the first three weeks of the 2024 general election campaign, parties received over £12m, two-thirds of it going to Labour, with wealthy donors outspending the unions by three-to-one.
 
 

Dangers and opportunities
 

The general election result also highlights the dangers and opportunities that face the working class, the people and the urgent need to build a United Front of working-class organisations to fight for left and progressive policies.
 
Firstly, the rise of Reform UK and its potential to attract the votes and allegiance of a sizeable section of the working class should not be underestimated.
 
Besides winning five seats, it finished second in 98 constituencies, almost all of them now held by Labour.
 
Britain is not immune from a substantial rise in support for the far right in future. Neoliberalism has ravaged industries, living standards and working-class communities here as elsewhere over the past 40 years.
 
Moreover, as an imperialist power with all the reactionary legacies of colonialism such as racism and militarism, people in Britain are as vulnerable to racist and nationalist arguments as those in France, Germany, Italy and other European imperialist countries.
 
Therefore, Reform UK must be exposed on a mass scale as a right-wing party with some deeply anti-working-class policies, and which contains significant far-right and pro-fascist elements.
 
The Communist Party will publish a pamphlet on Reform UK in the next few weeks. We will also step up our anti-racist work in the trade unions and local communities, co-operating with non-sectarian anti-racist and anti-fascist bodies wherever possible.
 
Secondly, the revival of the Liberal Democrats should not be allowed to fool people.
 
It champions the interests of British state-monopoly capitalism, of British imperialism, “with a human face.” It could possibly form part of a political and even electoral realignment with Labour and centre-right Conservative forces should the Starmer government on its own fail to represent ruling class interests adequately going into the next general election.
 
In Scotland, the electoral collapse of the SNP followed two changes of party and government leadership in the wake of a financial scandal and a political misjudgement. This — together with Labour’s victories — is likely to blunt the independence movement at least temporarily, with recent opinion polls showing a notable decline in enthusiasm for Scottish independence since the end of 2022.
 
This new situation offers an opening for the return of class-based politics and for making the case for progressive federalism, with the Communist Party working closely with pro-federalism elements in the Labour Party and even in the SNP and Scottish Green Party.
 
In Wales, the Tories lost all 13 seats. Despite Wales losing eight of its 40 constituencies, Labour won six extra seats although its share of the poll barely increased. Plaid Cymru made a small advance in terms of seats and vote share.
 
But the Welsh turnout fell by almost 11 points to 56 per cent, reflecting widespread alienation from Establishment politics in general and the Labour Party in particular.
 
In the wake of conflicts between the Welsh and Westminster governments and parliaments over central funding, Welsh legislation and parliamentary representation, and the relative weakness of the independence movement, the potential in Wales for winning broad-based support for progressive federalism has expanded.
 
This weekend, Prime Minister Starmer has been touring Britain seeking to “reset,” as he put it, relations between the central and devolved government.
 
By far the best basis for this is not fine words and empty promises, but a new constitutional settlement that guarantees equal status to Britain’s constituent nations and enables the existing Scottish and Welsh parliaments to intervene economically and financially in the interests of their peoples against the market forces of monopoly capitalism.
 
Across Britain, the Greens not only won four seats in England; they more than doubled their share of the poll to 7 per cent and finished second in 47 constituencies. Of all the parties at Westminster, their manifesto was arguably the most progressive despite their recent turn to Nato.
 
The Green advance underlines the importance of environmental issues and a growing awareness of climate change as an existential threat.

The Communist Party at every level is still not addressing these matters consistently and comprehensively, showing how capitalism, imperialism and militarism are incompatible with the future of humanity, our planet and its poorest peoples.
 
Jeremy Corbyn’s victory must be welcomed as one for left and anti-imperialist politics. But other ex-Labour left and independent left candidates failed to make a breakthrough, although some polled quite well.
 
Left Labour MPs such as Richard Burgon, Zara Sultana, Paula Barker and Diane Abbott retained their seats, but will comprise only a small minority of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
 
Having supported a vote for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 and 2019, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition fielded 40 candidates this time with an average vote of 314 each.
 
The Workers Party stood 152 candidates with an average vote of 1,383.
 
While the Workers Party manifesto contained many left and progressive policies, it is unclear how representative this was of many Workers Party candidates, many of who were motivated primarily by pro-Palestinian and religious sympathies. It remains to be seen how the party will fare following leader George Galloway’s loss of his Rochdale seat.
 
The Communist Party’s 14 candidates secured a total of 2,622 votes, with an average of 187 per candidate (136 for nine candidates in 2015). Our central and local campaign teams produced and helped distribute almost one million election addresses, leaflets and posters, winning new members and breaking new ground politically, organisationally and geographically.
 
Elsewhere, independent pro-Palestine candidates won four seats from Labour in constituencies with a large Muslim and Arab population.
 
In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein replaced the DUP as the main party in terms of seats and vote share, although there was no major shift in the overall balance between Republican/Nationalist parties on one side and Unionist/Loyalist ones on the other.
 
Nonetheless, Sinn Fein’s advance north and south — elections are due in the Irish Republic within a year — will promote the debate around all-Ireland relations, a border poll and reunification, which underlines the need for the Communist Party of Britain to consult the Communist Party of Ireland whenever necessary.
 
In any event, the labour movement in Britain must be won to oppose any British government attempts to obstruct the path to Irish integration and unity.
 

Ruling class strategy
 

The other main feature of the genera election result — the rout of the Conservative Party — begs the question: how will the ruling capitalist class approach electoral politics in the coming period?

It is too early to conclude that it is adopting Labour as its permanent, mass electoral party, much though Starmer and Reeves might wish it otherwise.

Influencing a major party and backing a certain winner is one thing, but monopoly capital and its mass media are not yet backing Labour to the extent that they backed the Tories for much of the 20th century.

The Starmer government has yet to prove itself the most consistently loyal, obedient and electorally successful servant of British state monopoly capitalism in the way that the Conservatives were between 1924 and 1997.

Yet the Tories blotted their record when a growing section of the party campaigned for Brexit and took Britain out of the EU against the wishes and interests of the majority part of British monopoly capital.

Now that party has suffered its biggest-ever general election defeat and lost millions of votes to Reform UK, which is not only anti-EU but whose present policies might also disrupt British imperialism’s vital alliances with Nato and the corrupt Arab dictatorships.

Soon, there could be a fierce struggle between centre-right and far right candidates for leadership of the Tory Party. It could split the party, with a victorious far right seeking an alliance or merger with Reform UK or a defeated far right joining Nigel Farage plc.

Either realignment would most likely produce an unstable, headstrong and reckless formation that would put British nationalist demagogy before the interests of finance capital when it comes to matters of trade, commerce, the labour market, public finances and world geopolitics.

British monopoly capital would prefer the return of a more stable, obedient, centre-right leadership in the Conservative Party, although it is difficult to envisage such a development anytime soon.

This leaves open the possibility that big business will look to increase its influence over the Labour Party leadership and its policies. The cash nexus could help secure this, with donations flowing in one direction as contracts and tax incentives flow in the other.

It may be significant that, already, Foreign Secretary David Lammy is proclaiming the need to “reset” relations with the EU, as the Prime Minister prepares to chair the European Political Community summit in London on July 18.

Certainly, Labour has no mandate to begin undoing Brexit, much though its corporate paymasters would welcome it.

Further weakening or even eliminating the trade union-Labour link could convince major sections of monopoly capital that the Labour Party has become the safe party of choice for big business.

Thus the next five years could well decide whether Labour ceases to be an electoral vehicle for the working class: one that not only can win elections but which also enacts reforms that strengthen the position of the working class — materially, organisationally, politically — in relation to monopoly capital.

Failure to do so, now that Labour has won a general election with a substantial working majority for the fifth time, would mark the end of any notion that the party has any role to play in opening the road to socialism.

 

The challenges ahead
 

In the meantime, the priority for the Communist Party is to combat this new Labour government’s right-wing policies and seek to push it to the left.

This can only mean building a united front of working-class organisations around a left-wing programme, at the core of a people’s front of left and progressive forces, to challenge the interests and prerogatives of British state monopoly capitalism and British imperialism on every front.

Should the left fail to organise on this basis, there is the very real danger that the far right will seek to fill the vacuum, posing as the only true defender of the working class, the people and “the nation.”

The failure or refusal to challenge capitalist market forces and neoliberalism, and fight for a left and working-class alternative, is precisely what has decimated support for traditional social democratic parties in so many EU countries — and opened the way for the far right and neo-fascist parties.

July 4 indicated the potential for Reform UK to make inroads into working-class communities, where so many people believe that Labour has abandoned them.

Industrial militancy for pay, jobs and pensions would help create the basis for a united front here in Britain today, particularly if Labour sticks to its “fiscal rules,” austerity and reliance on the private sector for industrial investment, housebuilding, lower energy prices and a transition to net zero carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, striking railway staff and junior doctors could soon be joined by local government employees, civil servants and steel workers.

Local trades union councils, too, can play an important part in building the united front, strengthening the links between unions and workplaces on the one hand and working-class communities and campaigns on the other.

The course of this struggle will determine whether the Labour Party can play a progressive role in the struggle for a socialist transformation of society.

Certainly, a stronger and more influential Communist Party will be vital if the working class and peoples of England, Scotland and Wales are to take the road to socialism.

This article has been updated. 

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