when you think it can’t get any worse for Gordon Brown, it does. New Labour has
succeeded in losing the Glasgow East by-election. Glasgow East is a solid
working class area with one of the finest labour movement traditions on the
The Glasgow East by-election and memories of Red Clydeside). It has been a Labour heartland for generations.
Scottish National Party won the seat by 365 votes. Labour previously had a
majority of 13,000 in the 2005 general election. Glasgow East was the third
safest seat in Scotland, a country which is largely a Tory-free zone. How did
they manage to lose the support of the voters? It’s not the attraction of
nationalism – not yet, at any rate. The voters are sending Labour a message,
‘change or you’ll be wiped out.’
SNP candidate was understandably delighted. “This SNP victory is not just a
political earthquake; it is off the Richter scale. It is an epic win and the
tremors will be felt all the way to Downing Street”, he declared. Though we
know better, the SNP presents itself with a left face in Scottish cities. The
swing against Labour in Glasgow was 22%. That’s worse than the shock Crewe
by-election in May, where the swing was 18%.
defeat represents the final nail in the coffin for the strategy of New Labour.
Gordon Brown comes across with burbling incoherence when asked what his government’s
vision is. There is a reason for this, apart from his lack of communication
skills. The strategy worked out by Blair, Brown and Mandelson after the 1992
general election defeat was as follows. New Labour could completely ignore the
interests of the working class. They had nowhere else to turn apart from
Labour. The results of elections, they argued, were determined by a handful of
swing voters in marginal constituencies. It was necessary to water down
Labour’s policies so as to get these people in the bag. Go easy on the ‘vision’
thing. The way to defeat the Tories was by appearing as much like the Tories as
possible! The technical term for this tactic is triangulation.
the tactic failed at its first test. Blair expected to win the 1997 election
narrowly, by 30 seats or so. In fact a wave of anti-Tory feeling engulfed the
country, including traditionally Tory areas and carried Blair into Number Ten
by a landslide. The mood was overwhelmingly for change.
Labour has been careful in government to pour cold water on this mood for
change, continuing with mainly Thatcher.ite policies. As a result they’ve lost
between five and six million votes in the general elections since their 1997
high water mark – working class abstentions. Now the other side of the strategy
of triangulation has come to haunt New Labour. ‘The working class has nowhere
else to go,’ it was argued. They don’t have to go anywhere. They can sit at
home and not bother to vote. In Scotland, they can vote SNP as a protest – it’s
not like voting Tory, they tell themselves.
East shows the complete failure of New Labour tactics as a means of winning
elections, which was its sole reason for existence. Labour betrays every
principle it has ever stood for and then loses elections. Glasgow East shows it
loses elections precisely because it has torn up its principles, and working
class voters are disgusted by it.
particular the result shows that abolition of the 10p income tax rate, which
hit the low paid, continues to rankle. Yet this was Brown’s brainchild. Last
year he proposed to reduce the standard rate of income tax, making things
better for the well-to-do by abolishing the 10p rate – at the expense of 5
million low paid workers. The proposal hit home last April. Characteristically
Brown maintains a guilty, grumpy silence on the reason for the decision.
Hangers on have suggested that he didn’t understand that the measure would rob
the poor. If that really is the case, then he is too stupid to be a government
minister. Certainly John McDonnell was warning loud and clear that abolition of
the 10p rate would hurt the worst off. Millions of people, including millions
of people who would personally benefit from the tax change, exploded in anger.
The measure outraged their sense of fairness. ‘Fair’, of course, is not a word
in the New Labour lexicon. Actually Brown was chortling when he announced the
measure in parliament last year. He was so clever! He was out-Torying the
Tories. This squalid political manoeuvre has brought a wave of disgust against
Brown and New Labour.
had a chance. He has blown it. When Blair resigned a year ago, he was a tainted
figure. All Brown had to do, to start with, was not be Blair Mark II. Blair was
a proven liar, a political trickster with not a single political principle he
could call his own. New Labour was already dead in the water. Brown’s aides
talked him up as the straight alternative to Blair. His broodiness was
presented as deep political thinking. Hints were dropped that he was ‘real Labour’
and had only been held back for ten years by Blair’s premiership.
came the election that never was. Brown experienced a bounce in the polls. In
true New Labour fashion he maintained his silence, but let his advisers put it
about that there would be an election in the autumn. Bad poll figures followed
and he had to call the whole thing off. Ludicrously, Brown claimed that
cancellation wasn’t because he would have lost the election. Oh, no! Instead he
needed more time to set out his vision. The nation continues to wait, but Brown
is unable to tell us what his government is for. We advise our readers not to
hold their breath for Brown’s vision.
as co-founder of New Labour, continued with the failed Blairite policies. He is
now universally considered as bad as Blair was. His government totters from
disaster to disaster. Finally the onset of recession has produced meltdown for
loyalists say it’s just a mid-term protest. The voters will be back in the fold
come next general election. They’re completely wrong. As John McDonnell points
out, “If this result does
not demonstrate to the Labour Government the need for change, nothing will. It
would be a fatal mistake to dismiss this result as a by-election protest vote. .
The message is
straightforward. Labour must change or we are finished.” That is the pass New
Labour has brought us to. They are preparing the way for a Tory victory at the
next election. All the polls indicate that Labour could be out of office and in
the wilderness for more than a decade.
reaction to the result show Labour MPs still paralysed like rabbits caught in
the headlights. They can continue on the present disastrous course and lose
their seats, or they can break with New Labour and join the fight for the
Labour Party to change course.
National Policy Forum meets this weekend. The NPF is a typical New Labour body,
set up so Labour’s leaders could take policy away from the floor of Party Conference
and kick it into the long grass. But the trade unions have a quarter of the
votes. In words, at least, they are in a fighting mood. They have tabled 130
policy changes. They want the right to take (quite limited) secondary strike
action, free prescriptions, bringing hospital cleaning back in-house, an end to
real pay cuts for 6 million public sector pay cuts and a raft of other popular
Woodley, joint general secretary of UNITE, writing in the ‘Guardian’
(25.07.08), presumably before the result was announced, declares, “Just three
words from Gordon Brown could transform Labour’s prospects even now: ‘Blairism
is dead’. Already I can hear the objections from the remaining defenders of the
faith – drop the Blairism that won three elections. Alas, each victory at the
polls was won with 2m less voters than the one before. We have run out of road
there.” Woodley goes on, “People notice what the government seems blind to –
that the free market has crashed. Their bills are soaring, their jobs and even
their homes don’t feel secure, and they know full well that the pain is not
activists too, are alarmed at the continued drift to the right and the looming
electoral catastrophe. The fight needs to be taken into the Labour Party. This
is an emergency. It requires emergency action. Either Labour is rearmed with
socialist policies, and New Labour policies dumped in the dustbin, or we are in
for a long hard period of Tory government.