Tuesday, 8 May 2012

‘The toughest times in 80 years’ - An overview of the Local election results

After losing the London Mayoral election to Boris Johnson, Labour’s Ken Livingstone reflected on the sense of foreboding he feels for working people in what he described as ‘…..these, the toughest times in 80 years.’ Some may feel his comparison understates the collapse in living standards suffered in the 1970s and 1980s, nonetheless for working people there are clear similarities with ‘the hungry 30s’. The character of this economic collapse has been sudden, severe and widespread. Food banks have been set up in some places providing emergency supplies to thousands of families struggling to feed themselves and referred by social services. Youth unemployment, already at record levels, is set to rise further as hundreds of thousands of school leavers search for work. Millions of people across Britain are facing prolonged hardship and inequalities as bad as those seen in the decade before World War Two. This issue was the ‘elephant in the room’ during last week’s local elections. The mainstream parties barely mentioned it. Neither did the increasingly inadequate mass media who superficially reported Labour gaining disaffected Lib Dem supporters and winning back part of the vote they lost to the SNP last year. The SNP still emerged as the biggest party in Scotland with 425 Councillors although they did not match last years stunning advances. It’s share of the vote fell from 45% 33%. Salmond ‘spun’ the results saying they made progress on 2007 but the performance of SNP candidates in Councils where they had implemented cuts undoubtedly cost them. Many people who voted Salmond last year apparently ‘returned home to Labour’ as Ed Milliband put it. Labour, in a sign of things to some, was anxious to ‘spin’ the results as a rejection of Independence. The truth is the electorate choose to punish the Coalition for its austerity programme and for driving down living standards. They did so by voting for both Labour and the SNP. And yet both parties support 80% of the Coalition cuts and will continue to implement them at local level. Neither party offers any real alternative to the hated Coalition far less an organised fight back and we will see that reflected oh so clearly across Scotland in the months to come. Support for the Left in the elections was poor when measured in terms of 1st preferences and it is right we acknowledge that as a motivation to do better in getting our case over to people. With the honourable exception of Jim Bollan’s re-election in West Dunbartonshire there was little to cheer in 1300 contests. But that situation will change. The mood of working people is angry, not at us, but at the situation in which they find themselves. People chose what appears to them as the easiest option, but this is not always the answer. The SSP will continue to patiently explain that the neo-liberal, free market, corporatist model is behind what is eating away at their living standards and Labour and the SNP both tied their colours to that particular mast some time ago. They are part of the problem not the solution and they will dutifully do what their corporate paymasters like Rupert Murdoch demand. That picture and its full implications will become clearer and clearer in the months to come. The Scottish Socialist Party’s programme lays out how things can be turned around, how working people’s increasing pauperisation can be reversed. Our commitment to a Scottish Service tax, and a ‘Tobin tax’ on financial transactions as well as many other proposals designed to redistribute Scotland’s enormous wealth. These are the foundation stones upon which we will build the forces necessary to encourage action and protest activity in working people. The acid test for the left is to articulate the anxieties of working class people and develop further our economic and social programme for getting out of this recession. We intend to be at the forefront of every protest, strike, march, rally of dissent to ensure working people to place their faith, not in neo-liberal charlatans who will betray them, but the in the socialist ideas of the Left, where we will remind them, only a steadfast commitment to addressing the route cause of the problem will do.