So-called “insurgents” are surrounding the walls of Westminster. The likely result will be another hung parliament. Whichever parties form a government, the only certainty is that they will face a crisis from day one, with serious implications for the class struggle in Britain.
So-called “insurgents” are surrounding the walls of Westminster. The likely result will be another hung parliament, with recent polls suggesting that Labour and the Tories will take an equal number of seats. Whichever parties form a government, the only certainty is that they will face a crisis from day one, with serious implications for the class struggle in Britain.
All that is solid melts to air
In the 1951 general election, Labour and Tories took a combined 97% share of the vote. In the coming General Election, Labour and the Tories will be lucky to get a combined 65% of the vote. We are moving towards a six-party situation.
Whichever parties come to power following the election, they will be presented with an annual budget deficit of at least £75 billion. This is on top of a public debt of approximately £1.5 trillion (over 81% of GDP).
Although Labour still has a layer of support, there are few illusions in the leadership to present an alternative. The leadership, being made up of careerists who are completely out-of-touch from the lives of ordinary working people, accept capitalism as the only possible system. They proclaim that they too will continue cuts. Faced with a black hole in the public finances, they are unable on a capitalist basis to offer any serious reforms to improve the lives of workers.
A deep resentment of the entire political establishment is building up. In 2009, the MPs expenses scandal came to light, with members of all the main parties discovered to be enriching themselves at the public’s expense. In 2010, any illusions in the Lib Dems were quickly shattered when they U-turned on their promise to abolish tuition fees.
The subsequent years have seen massive attacks on workers and youth, whilst the Coalition, at the same time, gave tax breaks to the rich. When the austerity programme was voted through in parliament, many Tory MPs cheered, literally crying out for “more”. The recent uncovering of a Westminster paedophilia network in the 1980s, with links to senior Tory politicians, is the icing on a thoroughly rotten cake.
Politicians are not trusted to say an honest word, with MPs speeches characterised by a political double-speak. Reforms now mean counter-reforms. Manifesto promises are worth less than the paper they are written on. In a word, most of Westminster is seen as completely corrupt and bankrupt.
Scottish National Party
Against this backdrop, support for parties previously on the fringe has increased. The Scottish referendum, with 45% voting to leave the Union, offered an outlet for the anger and frustration that had built up. It represented not a vote for nationalism, but a vote against austerity – against the Westminster establishment.
Since then, support for the SNP has grown enormously. Polls have averaged between 45 to 52% recently. This comes at the expense of Labour, whose ratings have dropped to between 24 and 28%. If the SNP were to achieve 52% in May, Labour could be reduced in Scotland from 41 seats to just 4. Recent polls have even estimated that the SNP could win up to 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland in the upcoming general election.
The latest opinion polls from Lord Ashcroft, the millionaire Tory peer, suggest, in the words of the Financial Times (4th March 2015), a “near wipeout for Labour in Scotland”, with the SNP on course to take the seats currently held by big-name Labour figures such as Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, both of whom are standing down at the coming elections. Jim Murphy, the leader of Scottish Labour, could even lose his seat, with current polls giving him only a 1% lead.
According to membership figures, the SNP is the third biggest party in the UK, with around 100,000 members now – and this for a party limited to just Scotland! The SNP has attracted a large layer of frustrated workers and youth who feel let down by the Labour leadership by adopting a reformist programme to the left of Labour on certain issues.
UK Independence Party
In the 2010 general election UKIP achieved 3.2% of the vote, with no MPs. Their breakthrough came in 2014, when they took the most votes in the European elections. Current projections put UKIP on about 15% of the vote for the May general election. The broadcasting regulator Ofcom has declared them a “major party”.
Fundamentally a party for the most reactionary layer of the middle class (Thatcher paraphernalia is popular at their conferences), UKIP is nevertheless attracting a layer of workers disaffected by the Labour Party. Although Nigel Farage differs little in background and outlook to many of those in Westminster, he portrays himself as straight talking and “anti-establishment”.
Crucially, the Labour leaders fail to answer UKIP’s demagogy on a class basis. Rather than explain to workers that unemployment, lack of housing, and deteriorating services is due to capitalism, the Labour leaders keep quiet on these issues, since they do not want a conflict with big business.
But it is the Tories who have the most to lose from UKIP. Two Tory MPs have already defected. The British Election Study concluded last year that the Tories could lose up to 2 million votes to UKIP, in comparison with a loss of 700,000 by the Lib-Dems, and 500,000 from Labour.
Whilst the Tories’ big business backers have no interest in leaving the EU, the destination for over 40% of British exports, a wide layer of the Tories’ middle class base is enthusiastic to leave the EU, which they see as a source of unbearable regulation and red-tape. Under pressure from UKIP, Cameron has already conceded that if re-elected, he will call a referendum on Europe for 2017.
Without a majority in parliament however, the Tories will be forced to seek coalition partners. Cameron could therefore drop the referendum promise, whilst putting the blame on his coalition parties. Although saving the interests of big business, such an outcome would further destabilise the base of the Tory party, leading to further defections or even a split.
Despite its recent surge, it is unlikely that UKIP will gain many seats, due to the first-past-the-post system. But they threaten the Tories in several marginal seats, where due to the split in the right-wing vote, Labour could take the most votes.
The Green Party
In just over a year, the Green Party has increased its membership to over 54,000 – almost quadrupling in size. This rise has come largely from a layer of left-looking students and youth, who in the past may have voted for the Lib-Dems or Labour – or not at all. With students now disgusted by the betrayals of the Lib-Dems over tuition fees, and seeing no genuine alternative from Labour, the Greens’ rise is primarily a reflection of the radicalisation and politicisation of the youth.
At the same time, the Greens have even begun to gain some support from the trade unions, with RMT President Peter Pinkney standing as a Green candidate in the constituency of Redcar. Commenting on his disappointment with the Labour Party and its leadership, the RMT President stated:
“The press calling him [Miliband] ‘Red Ed’ is a joke. A minimum of 75 per cent of people want to see the railways renationalised. He [Miliband] has never once said he would take the railways back into public hands – not even East Coast.”
The Greens, from being a predominantly environmentalist party, have skilfully broadened their focus to one of “anti-austerity”. In addition, they promise to re-nationalise the railways, abolish tuition fees, and increase the minimum wage. It is on this basis that their support has increased. Recent polls suggest the party would take approximately 7% of the vote in May, but similarly to UKIP, this is unlikely to translate into many seats.
The main impact of the Greens’ rise in popularity will be to upset Labour in marginal constituencies. This contributes to the huge uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the general election. The only result that looks certain is that no party will achieve an outright majority, resulting in a hung-parliament.
The capitalists require a strong government to carry out their programme of cuts. A strong government, however, is the one outcome of the general election that most certainly will not occur. This is a recipe for instability and crisis further down the line.
The more serious bourgeois commentators can already see the threat that such “insurgents” pose to the social and political stability, with the Economist commenting in a recent editorial (21st February 2015) that:
“Political insurgency—from Syriza in Greece to the Tea Party in America—is a feature of many Western democracies. But it will hit Britain especially hard. Unaccustomed and ill-adapted to multi-party politics, Britain is more likely to get weak, unstable governments. That will only fuel the dissatisfaction with career politicians in the main parties. And if the parliamentary system comes to be seen as both unfair and ineffectual, then it is in for a crisis of legitimacy.”
Although at this stage it is difficult to predict, it looks more likely than not that any future coalition will be formed with the Labour Party at its head. Even more so than the Tories, this situation would be pregnant with crisis.
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, has ruled out any coalition with the Tories. However, she has stated that the party is open to an informal “confidence and supply” arrangement with Labour, whereby the party would support a Labour government on certain issues, but would not have any ministers in the government. This would allow the SNP to blame Labour for the continuing austerity, thus giving the party some breathing space before it is forced to confront its own working class directly.
Such a government would be incredibly unstable, and lack the strength to carry out the vicious cuts demanded by the capitalists. A more formal coalition may indeed be on the table; however such an agreement would likely come at a significant price: a second referendum on Scottish independence. On the basis of further years of austerity, it is likely that such a referendum would see a majority in support of independence.
A Labour-led coalition would be a crisis government from day one. Hard-won gains of the working class will come under increasing attack, resulting in increasing anger and rage among a wide layer of society. Discontent will build from below, and the trade union leadership will be put under enormous pressure. This would lead to open confrontation between the unions and the Labour leaders, setting the scene for a new wave of militant industrial struggles.
At a certain stage, such a government could collapse entirely. In this situation, it is not inconceivable that a “national government” will be required by the ruling class in order to maintain order. This could be similar to the experience of 1931, where members of the Labour Party, the Tories, and Liberals came together to save capitalism in the depression. A similar situation developed in Greece in 2011, and in Italy in 2014. Such a development could even lead to a split in the Labour Party.
Indeed, the possibility of a “grand coalition” between Labour and the Conservatives has even been suggested recently from within the Establishment itself. Lord Baker, a former Tory MP, commenting in the Independent (6th March 2015) on the results of the recent Ashcroft polls in Scotland, writes:
“What is at risk [from the rise of the SNP] is the continuing unity of the UK. In order to preserve that unity, another way should be found. This could be a joint government of the Labour and Conservative Parties – quite unthinkable at the moment and, at this time, likely to be rejected by both of them. But this is what has happened in Germany.”
This is a sign of the lengths that the ruling class may be willing to go to in order to attempt to preserve the stability of their system. However, a Labour-Tory coalition, far from being a strong government, would itself be extremely weak, and would only further fuel instability and political polarisation, driving even more ordinary people into the arms of the insurgents. In the same way, it was SYRIZA in Greece, that benefited most in the recent elections from the previous coalition between the right-wing New Democracy and the social-democratic PASOK parties.
Whatever specific developments occur following the general election in May, we can say for certain that the period will be characterised by increased turbulence – economically, socially, and politically. The fracturing of the political landscape will continue, as capitalism discredits itself. A new stage in the crisis will open up, and renewed and intensified class struggle will be on the order of the day. There is therefore no time to lose, in preparation for the titanic events ahead, in building the revolutionary organisation that is necessary to provide a socialist alternative.