|Volume 45 Number 14, May 17, 2015||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :
Conservatives' electoral coup:
The Need Is for All-Sided Democratic Renewal
Weekly On Line Newspaper of the
Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
170, Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2LA.
Phone: 020 7627 0599:
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition Freely available online
Workers' Weekly E-mail Edition Subscribe by e-mail daily: Free / Donate
WW Internet RSS Feed
The Line of March Monthly Publication of RCPB(ML) Subscribe
General disbelief followed the result of the General Election that the Conservative Party had won an overall majority in the Commons. The resolve of those forces who are pledged to oppose and defeat the austerity agenda has, however, been strengthened. It is recognised that the ruling elite had been set on ensuring that Cameron remained in Downing Street. The last-minute tornado of fear-mongering from the Conservatives could be seen to amount to a coup carried out against the electorate.
The disinformation about the result has been that it has amounted to a famous victory for the Conservatives and a horrendous loss for Labour. From this, it has been a short step to concluding that the electorate returned a Conservative majority representing the centre-ground, while Labour lost because it had turned too far to the left, was in hock to the unions, and rejected the values of New Labour. The reflection of this in the workers' movement is the pressure to blame the electorate for the Tory majority, and express despondency about the outcome or, what amounts to the same thing, develop a hysteria about fighting harder.
But the issue does not pose itself primarily about moving left or right. The issue was and continues to be to say no to the austerity programme and defend the rights of all. The electorate did not embrace the austerity agenda. Far from it. It is clear that the SNP inspired the Scottish people to reject austerity in as much as it was represented by Scottish Labour. And they pledge to take this fight to Westminster also. A party such as the National Health Action party inspired people through its principles, its stand and its organising work to challenge the status quo.
The facts show that the Conservative Party barely secured one-third of the vote. It only increased its share of the vote by 0.8% from 2010. With a turnout of 66.1%, only a quarter of eligible voters turned out to support a Conservative candidate.
What was particularly noticeable was the rejection of the Lib Dems. This shows a rejection of the Lib Dems as the party that betrayed the electorate by ditching its promises and its manifesto in 2010 and allowing the Conservatives to rule. Of the seats the Lib Dems lost on May 7, two-thirds went to the Tories and only one-third to Labour. Overall the share of the vote by the old Coalition parties plummeted by 15%. Parties such as the Greens increased their share of the vote, and Caroline Lucas was elected in Brighton with a substantially increased majority.
The conclusion can be drawn that Labour was unable to prevent the Conservatives from reaching a majority because it conciliated at best with the austerity agenda and did not present an alternative to the programme of austerity. At best, Labour apologetically refused to fight austerity, and indeed actually focused on how it would continue this programme. It did not affirm it would defend the rights of human beings, but on the contrary it capitulated to the agenda of the rich which blames the people and not the state for the ills of society. One had the spectacle of Labour swearing that its main priority would be to balance the books by reducing investment in the future of society, while the Conservatives presented themselves as the party of working people. It can be confidently said that behind this scenario lies the agenda of the rich and powerful who wish to keep the people disempowered and to exercise their dictate over society.
The spectacular success of the SNP not only reflects their opposition to austerity but to upholding the principle that the Scottish people should exercise their sovereignty. Support had been increasing by leaps and bounds since the Westminster parties united in opposition to Scotland as an independent country in which the people are sovereign, and hence paid the price. The success of the SNP also reflected the opposition of the people to militarisation and the threat of nuclear weapons.
The election of the Conservatives with a majority poses the danger to the people of an extremist and dictatorial government, which does not recognise the right of human beings and their collectives and the importance of a modern government basing itself on a culture of rights, and which in particular is singling out the right to conscience for attack. It goes without saying that it is fundamentally opposed to the right of the people to be the decision-makers, a right which has taken root with the Scottish people.
The scene is set, not for a consensus parliament, but one in which pro-austerity and anti-austerity agendas will come into clash. How far this develops remains to be seen. The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act would seem to guarantee a government that can rule out a vote of no-confidence for a term of five years. However, the Tories have a very slender majority, and are set for a growing opposition to their term in office, perhaps within the Commons but certainly through the working class and people's movements.
In these circumstances, it is vital that these movements put high on their agenda the issue of building a Workers' Opposition. The people ardently desire a change in the direction of the economy and of society, and are opposed to austerity, privatisation, paying the rich, and the imposition of an agenda which consolidates the rule of the monopolies and criminalises the right to conscience on the spurious grounds of combating extremism. The election has demonstrated that the more the ruling elite talk of “One Nation” and “British values”, the more they impose neo-liberalism and criminalise dissent and opposition to the neo-liberal agenda. Their whole system is counterfeit in this respect.
The task presents itself of carrying forward the struggle against Cameron, the Conservatives, and this neo-liberal austerity agenda that they represent. The task presents itself of developing resistance and giving this resistance organisational form. The task presents itself of defending the rights of all. We call on everyone to fully participate in taking up these tasks and turning the situation around.
(i) which ranked it the seventh party by votes per candidate in the 2015 General Election. This is a better result than any other small party in modern times in their first General Election and reflects the deep concern of the electorate to safeguard the NHS and oppose the anti-social pro-austerity agendas of the main parties in the election.The National Health Action Party (NHA) stood 12 candidates in targeted constituencies with the aim of challenging the most prominent representatives of the Coalition government, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health. The NHA candidates received 20,201 votes
Another important factor in their campaign was that in its manifesto and in the statements of its candidates the NHA party demanded a new politics that challenged the status quo of the party-led representative democracy that disempowers the people from all decision-making on the NHS and on everything else in society. They affirmed that it was possible for health worker politicians to challenge incumbent politicians of the big parties to directly represent the interests of the people in Parliament.
Dr Louise Irvine received 4,851 votes, the most for an NHA candidate, in challenging Jeremy Hunt the Secretary of State for Health. In her interview with WWIE she spoke of the aim of their campaign:“The NHA was formed by doctors, nurses, other health professionals and ordinary people to defend the NHS by raising awareness of the threat to the NHS from privatisation and cuts and standing in elections to challenge the political parties who are promoting these policies. If we get even one or two MPs elected they would be strong champions for the NHS in Parliament, which would help the wider movement to defend the NHS.”
In their analysis following the election the NHA points out(ii), “Despite an overall win for the Conservatives, the incoming government has a much smaller majority than the 363 seats won by the Coalition parties in 2010. While NHS cuts and austerity will continue, the Conservative government responsible will surely be in a weaker position. There will be a need for an ongoing popular movement against the Conservative government, to protect the NHS from cuts and privatisation.”
WWIE recognises the significance of this stand of the NHA party in the General Election alongside the stand of all the other genuine anti-austerity candidates, whether they won seats or not, for now and for the future. Whilst it was not possible for the NHA candidates to complete their breakthrough this time and win any seats it has placed the working class and people in a far better position to fight to build the workers' opposition. This will challenge the Conservative government on the direction of the economy that serves the interests of the monopolies and the rich and demand an alternative direction that defends the rights of all, safeguards the future of the NHS and serves the needs of the people and the public good.
(i) National Health Action Party
(ii) National Health Action
The election showed that the modus operandi remains the staging of electoral coups through campaigns of disinformation, and increasingly, of fear. However, this began to run into difficulty in the previous election in 2010, which failed to resolve a champion. Out of the Westminster cartel emerged a coalition, which at first tried to present itself as a kind of champion under the banner of what they called "freedom, fairness and responsibility". In the present election, things became yet more complicated. All pretence was gone. Cameron, openly and arrogantly the champion of nothing but further austerity, preferred to remain in the background.
Especially apparent in the present election was the difficulty in predicting its outcome, with the predictions based on opinion polls bearing little resemblance to the result. Voting behaviour, the choices people make and their reasoning have started to drift significantly away from prevailing assumptions.
Certainly a factor here has been the rising influence of smaller parties. The central issue of this election was the battle over austerity and the widespread sentiment was to eject the coalition. In this context, the involvement of the smaller parties who took a stand against austerity, both in their battle for inclusion in the televised debates, and the fronts they formed together in local campaigns, in various ways exposed the cartel party system. This threw into relief the role of the Labour Party as a non-opposition, and how it capitulated on each crucial issue. The Liberals had already been exposed by being part of the coalition; the election saw them dumped like ballast to keep the Conservatives afloat.
The smaller parties started taking the agenda away from how the establishment, the ruling circles, big parties and media acting in their service, wanted it to be set. It was these smaller parties that voiced the opposition to austerity during the election campaign.
An added factor generating unpredictability was the massive publicity and promotion given to UKIP, itself a small party, but one chosen to play a role as part of the cartel party system, as another means to attempt to set the reactionary agenda and manipulate the population.
Unpredictability can lead to desperation, arbitrariness and exceptional measures. If the monopolies are unable to force their agenda through electoral coups, then other kinds of coups are on the table. The final days of the election period in particular were filled with speculation of constitutional crisis in the event of a close result, for example.
The Conservatives managed to steal a majority out of this situation, a result that cannot in any way be said to represent the popular will. It will have only sharpened further their crisis of legitimacy and the crisis of representative democracy in general.
What can people do about an electoral system that does not represent the popular will?
The theory that a party in power and party in opposition accommodate different views and social bases, and that therefore the legislature represents the electorate as a whole and the government represents a legitimate majority, no longer applies. Instead, it has developed into a cartel party system, which acts as a block to political power and as a bloc representing monopoly interests. These parties of the establishment have become part of the state apparatus itself rather than linking the state with civil society.
Related to this is the issue of accountability. The cartel party system has removed the basis of a link between their candidates and their constituents, and between these parties and the people on a general level. Increasingly the big parties act with arrogance and effectively rule by decree once in power. The mechanisms of accountability that are supposed to exist are now fundamentally broken.
Progress can only be made when people start making material demands about what kind of democracy is needed, from their own standpoint. Democracy is not an abstract concept: it has a content and must represent their interests. Its forms must reflect the aim of representing the popular will, an aim that is not even recognised at present. It has to be constitutionally based on the sovereignty of the people, with the executive held subordinate to the legislature and the legislature subordinate to the people as a whole. With this aim and constitutional basis, the role of political parties needs to be addressed.
In this context, the mechanisms through which people can exercise their right to elect and be elected need to be examined. The experience of the smaller parties during the election was that the odds were stacked against them. Despite some highly successful campaigns fought by various candidates of these parties, it was very difficult for this to materialise into actual seats won. This lack of a level playing field is a key feature of the cartel party system. Equality has to be actively ensured regarding the right to elect and be elected. This includes access to resources, air time, and so on, without prejudice in favour of incumbents or candidates of the big parties.
Furthermore, the power versus opposition model is itself no longer a guarantee of democracy and is actually a block to empowerment. Instead, political parties have to be blocked from coming to power. Governments should be selected by and remain subordinate to the legislature, rather than selected by the party in power and holding dominance over parliament as is currently the case.
The notion of parties coming to power with a "mandate" no long holds any water. On the basis of the current election, the Conservatives are claiming a mandate for even further austerity than we have seen so far under the coalition; on no basis can it be claimed that they have legitimacy for such a mandate.
Rather than vying for power, the role of political parties should actually be one of politicising the population. This is a big battle in itself – a truly engaging battle that will draw in the whole population over all key issues of the day – that can take place over what politics the population takes up, what stands it takes, what the agenda for the election should be.
The needs for a level playing field and for ending the domination by parties in general, and in particular by the big parties, means that the state funding of political parties should come to an end. Instead, with the aim of strengthening the right to elect and be elected, and for a result that reflects the popular will, it is the mechanisms of election, the electoral process, that need to be funded.
Further, in order to ensure that the agenda itself, the terms of the debate, is not dictated, the people need a role in setting the agenda. The kind of debate and discussion mechanisms that exist need to be renovated to that end. Related to both points – ending party-domination and democratising the setting of the agenda – is that electoral candidates should not be imposed on the electorate.
The nub of the matter is the right of the electorate to participate in governance. This right must be given constitutional force, and includes the rights to participate in formulating policy, to recall elected representatives and to initiate legislation. This goes far beyond the debate over what might be the best method of counting votes. Fundamentally, the principle must be that there can be:
No election without selection.
The choosing of candidates should not be the prerogative of the political parties. Candidates should instead be chosen, for example, in the workplaces and educational institutions as direct representatives of the rights and interests of objective collectives of the people. There need to be mechanisms to allow the electorate to participate in setting the policies and agenda that these candidates will represent. There need to be mechanisms in place so that the electorate can continually hold these representatives to account, and participate in continuing to set the political agenda. This is what is meant by all-sided democratic renewal of the political process.
Lee Brown, May 11, 2015. Originally published by teleSUR here.
One thing that may not be clear from the first reading of the UK election results: the winning majority achieved by the ruling Conservative Party came despite the party barely increasing its share of the vote.
Looking beyond the headlines in the right-wing media of a historic victory, the Conservatives received 36.9 percent compared with its 36.1 percent in 2010. With turnout at just 66 percent, only one in four eligible voters backed the Conservative Party. It remains a party with minority support.
But not increasing the share of the vote doesn’t mean no new seats under the UK’s slightly strange electoral system. The Conservatives won 24 additional seats and were able to form a majority rather than relying on a coalition as it had to in 2010.
Far from the ringing endorsement suggested by the Conservative's re-election, the coalition government it led for the past five years - the first in 80 years - saw its combined share of the vote collapse by 15 percent.
But the blame was shared unevenly. Chief losers of the 2010-2015 UK coalition was the Liberal Democrat party, whose numbers of Members of Parliament (MPs) plummeted from 57 to 8.
The party acted like a bodyguard for the Conservatives, taking the blows delivered by a population angry at coalition policies, but at a huge cost for itself. Just 10 years after the Liberal Democrats secured a record number of MPs due to its opposition to the Iraq war and its promise to scrap tuition fees, the heavy price paid for propping up a right-wing coalition has left it with a parliamentary wing small enough to fit inside a minibus, with plenty of places to spare.
It was the Conservatives that mainly gained from this. Of the 35 extra seats the Conservatives won (it lost others), 27 came from the Liberal Democrats. These were either in seats where the Conservatives were previously in second place behind the Lib Dems and gained from the latter’s collapse. Or in areas where Labour looked set to win the seat from the Conservatives but where former Lib Dem voters rescued the Conservatives. Either way, the Liberal Democrats’ historic role appears to be nothing more than to have resurrected the corpse of the Conservative Party
Labour and the SNP: A Test Case in How to Respond to Conservative Austerity
The main opposition party Labour had a humiliating night with the results leading to the resignation of leader Ed Miliband. It was undeniably a very bad performance, but again not necessarily for the reasons that the mainstream media has projected.
Miliband did not lose the party any votes. In fact, Labour increased its vote share by 1.5 percent, more than the Conservative party managed and it gained almost 800,000 votes.
That increase reversed the constant fall in votes that the party had seen since Tony Blair was first elected in 1997, losing five million votes through to 2010 due to its adherence to war, free market economics and illiberal social policies on immigration and civil rights.
This reversal, however insufficient, in the number of votes won by Labour is being downplayed by Tony Blair and his loyal disciples who have gone onto the media post-election to urge the Labour Party to adopt even more right-wing policies.
Miliband's 1.5 percent increase in the vote share certainly fell well short of what his party needed and led to the loss of 26 seats. It is Scotland, and not the Tony Blair loyalists, which offers the real lessons of the elections for the badly wounded Labour Party.
Some have blamed the rise of the Scottish Nationalist party for Labour's inability to take advantage of the unpopular Conservative coalition, with the nationalists destroying Labour in its traditional heartland where it went from from 41 to just one seat. But even if every single vote in Scotland had gone to Labour the arithmetic would not have altered the overall election outcome.
And politics is about more than just electoral arithmetic. It was the SNP that captured the mood. It won a historic 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland, and half of all votes cast, by offering a clearly distinctive message to Labour, prioritizing opposition to austerity and speaking out about wasting $150 billion on new nuclear weapons at a time where many have seen the worst fall in living standards in decades.
As Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats battled over how to present cuts to the public sector, the SNP called for “a modest spending increase of 0.5 per cent a year.” In doing so it was the SNP that tapped into the public’s exhaustion with public sector cuts. A recent Lord Ashcroft nation-wide poll showed that 58 percent wanted no more austerity. And among previous Labour voters the proportion was even higher.
The SNP also built on the strong support it gained in last year's referendum for Scottish independence, where advocates of independence secured 45 percent of the vote, which many interpreted as a defence against ongoing domination by London-based governments intent on public service cuts. In contrast, Labour ran a joint campaign with the Conservatives against independence, cementing in the mind of many the idea that there is no difference between the two dominant parties and boosting the SNP as that alternative. With its stronger voice in parliament, the SNP could ensure that anti-austerity arguments are given expression with a positive impact on the wider debate.
Anti-austerity Voices Strengthened
Just as the SNP stood on a clear anti-austerity platform and opposed to spending billions on new nuclear weapons, so did the Green Party whose supported soared more than fourfold - to over 1 million votes - securing an extra 2.8 percent of the vote share compared with the last election.
Together the Greens, the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru and the SNP received 2.8 million votes, taking nine percent of the national share, a huge increase on previous UK elections for such views. This could be a sign of the emergence in the UK of the kind of radical politics that Syriza and Podemos have successfully pushed in Greece and Spain.
Likewise, Labour parliamentarians who spoke out against austerity and inequality actually saw their share of the votes increase by more than the average, such as left-wingers Jeremy Corbyn (whose share of the vote went up by 5.8 percent), Diane Abbott (7.9 percent) and John McDonnell (up 4.7 percent). As McDonnell tweeted “let's be clear, it was a party standing on anti austerity ticket that swept the board.”
In fighting austerity, progressive politicians from the SNP, Greens and Labour’s left wing, have a uniting factor that could help all grow stronger. Given the big fall in the share of the combined vote of the two parties in the last coalition government (from 60 percent down to 45 percent), the Conservatives are likely to lose further support as it carries out its promise of tens of billions of dollars of further cuts over the next few years. In the past few days tens of thousands have already signed up to a coming national demonstration against further government cuts and Greece and Spain shows that it's those who oppose austerity most vehemently, rather than ceding to it, that will gain from such a mood.
Racist Scapegoating Boosts the Extremists
But just as the strengthening of voices who opposed the Conservative's crucifying austerity economics can not be ignored, nor can the strong performance of the extreme right-wing party UKIP.
UKIP increased its share of the vote to 12.6 percent, though this translated into just one seat. Nevertheless, the extreme right party is clearly now a force in UK politics having increased its vote share by 10 percent, coming in second place in over 100 seats, and having won the European elections in the UK in 2014.
Clearly, the concessions by the mainstream parties to the anti-immigration rhetoric have not stopped the growth of the extreme right. France, perhaps, offers an insight into one aspect of the UK’s political future if the politics of xenophobia and racist scapegoating are not tackled head on. The anti-immigration party National Front has emerged in numerous polls as the frontrunner ahead of France’s 2017 presidential election.
Minority Rule with Policies that Punish the Majority
With the country ruled by a party that won not much more than one-third of the votes - and just one quarter of the population - calls for voting reform have already grown stronger.
Tens of thousands have already signed up to campaigns for an end to an unfair voting system and to replace it with something more proportional.
But is seems more likely that the Conservatives will use its majority to force through different electoral reforms to change the seat boundaries which would strengthen its grip on office, making the system even less representative.
Yet despite any such electoral manipulation, the undeniable reality is that the UK will face five years of a government, elected by a small minority of the voters, that is set to embark on deeply unpopular policies that will pit it against the majority of the population. That looks set to produce outcomes very far from the image presented in the mainstream press of a popular Conservative Party sweeping into office.
Commemorative events took place across Britain from May 8-10 to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. The three days were in stark contrast to the four-year period the government has set aside for the commemoration of the First World War. Moreover, it was evident that the events organised by the government were not intended to commemorate the fact that the conclusion of the Second World War was a decisive victory over fascism. Everything has been done to obscure the nature of the war and its significance and the fact that the victory over fascism in Europe was led by the Soviet Union, which bore the brunt of the fighting. In fact the Soviet Union contributed nearly 50% of all allied expenditure on the war and, of the five major belligerents, suffered nearly 60% of all economic damage caused by the war. Above all it contributed the lives of some 27 million of its population. As if to add insult to injury the government, and many of its wartime allies headed by the US, boycotted the official Victory Day commemorative events in Moscow, allegedly in response to Russia's intervention in Ukraine. These events were however were attended by leaders of many countries including Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Cuba, as well as the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon.
The re-writing and falsification of the history of the Second World War has been ongoing for at least seventy years. It is not by coincidence that in Britain and several other countries VE Day is commemorated on May 8 rather than May 9, which was the date of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany at Karlhorst, a suburb of Berlin, and is often symbolised by the photo of the Soviet flag being flown from the Reichstag building. The different dates not only reflect differences between the wartime allies, the Anglo-Americans and the Soviet Union, as to where and when the surrender should be signed but also the fact that towards the end of the war the Anglo-Americans had onseveral occasions made separate armistice agreements with Nazi Germany, which allowed the latter to hurl the full weight of its armed forces against the Soviet Union. The Anglo-American strategy of allowing the armies of Germany and the Soviet Union to annihilate each other was implemented throughout the war and led to the delay of the opening of a second front in western Europe. The 1944 D-Day landings did not take place to relieve the onslaught on the Soviet Union as its government had demanded since 1941. At that time the policy of the Anglo-Americans was perhaps best summed up by the future US president, Harry Truman who wrote: “If we see that Germany is winning, we should help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we should help Germany, so that as many as possible perish on both sides." Instead the Anglo-Americans waited until after the decisive battle of Stalingrad, the turning point of the war in Europe in 1943, when they became concerned that the victorious Red Army might not only defeat Nazi Germany single-handed but also liberate the whole of western Europe. Such fears also help to explain the war crimes carried out by the Anglo-Americans by the bombing of Dresden and other German cities that had no military significance during the war.
The people of Britain and its colonies, as well as the people of many other countries, gave their lives to rid the world of the Nazi menace and scored a historic victory in 1945. However, it cannot be forgotten that fascism in general and Nazi Germany in particular were financed, encouraged and appeased by the government and ruling circles of Britain and its closest allies. As is well known, the government of Britain completely betrayed the people of Czechoslovakia in 1938, just as it betrayed the people of Ethiopia and Spain in previous years. Everything was done to encourage fascist aggression and in particular the expansion of Nazi Germany eastwards, so as to fulfil the wish of Churchill and others that communism might be “strangled in its cradle”.
However, communism was not strangled. Indeed it was the Soviet Union in Stalin's time that demanded a policy of “collective security” against fascism, that time and again sought alliances with Britain and other countries in Europe against the menace of fascism, advances that were always rejected. In the same period it was the communist parties organised in the Communist International that called for a united front of the workers and all democratic people, irrespective of party affiliation, against fascism, a call initially rejected by the leaders of the Labour Party in Britain and its sister parties. Nevertheless the call of the Communists for unity in action against fascism, not only in Europe but internationally, was put into practice during the Second World War and was the basis for the victories of 1945.
The Second World War was a great tragedy in which over 60 million people lost their lives. However, it was successfully fought to prevent an even greater tragedy and fascism was defeated. The victory over fascism created the conditions for the liberation of many nations in Africa and Asia and for the working people to advance their cause for progress and social emancipation. The few years after the victory over Nazi fascism were a time of great momentum, profound changes and the creation of the socialist camp. In 1945, for example, for the first time in history the trade union centres of all countries came together to found the World Federation of Trade Unions and there was even the expectation that the workers of the world, who had sacrificed so much, would be represented in the highest bodies of the United Nations. However, history shows that these advances were not welcomed by all. They were opposed by those that had nurtured, appeased and financed fascism before the war. Once the victory over fascism seemed assured, the struggle against communism and to prevent the peoples empowering themselves recommenced.
RCPB(ML) Home Page
Workers' Weekly Online Archive