The local elections have now drawn to a close. The results were clear; the Tories have been humiliated. Trying to answer the question of who the winner was, however, becomes significantly more complicated.
The mood around these locals were best summed up by the former Tory advisor to Theresa May, Will Tanner, who said “This was a low-energy, low-turnout midterm with few truly decisive battles, in which the big winner was ‘none of the above’”. The low turnout at the polls, which is often part of local elections in general, does also indicate however that for many working class people, the uninspiring choice between Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer – two slavish servants of the capitalist establishment – has failed to gather meaningful support and enthusiasm. In some working class areas of Scotland, for example, reports were given of turnout reaching lows of 30 per cent.
While ordinary people are concerned first and foremost with the question of how we will be able to fend off the worst effects of the cost of living crisis while the capitalists profits skyrocket, the onslaught of corruption, sexism, and hypocritical rule-breaking has clearly been too much to stomach. Any kind of faith in the established parties is clearly at a record low. Even in the case of the SNP, who gained 22 council seats to some fanfare from Sturgeon, this speaks much more to general disenchantment rather than any great enthusiasm for the SNP.
These elections have also given a taste of the instability of this system on a whole number of fronts. The rising share of the vote going to Sinn Fein in the recent Northern Ireland Assembly elections only highlights the growing polarisation and instability around the national question in Ireland and the UK as a whole, as well as the continued quagmire of the Brexit process. The fragility of the so-called ‘peace process’ has been laid bare (read the comment from our sister organisation in Ireland here).
Already, the shocking results for the Tories, of a loss of 487 seats, will have the potential to reignite the ongoing unrest within the ranks of the Tory Party. Reports have already begun to emerge about the prospect of a leadership challenge to Johnson if he does not urgently reverse the party’s fortunes.
While some noise has been made about Labour’s supposed gains, in London but also Scotland and Wales, what is also clear is how unimpressive these results have really been for Starmer. While gaining control of eleven councils, Labour lost control of six.
Starmer’s response, of course, had to be one of celebration about these supposedly ‘landmark’ results. Never failing to use an opportunity to attack the left, he hailed the results as a step out of the “depths of 2019” (i.e. when Corbyn was leader of the party). Ridiculously, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, described the lackluster result as a supposed symptom of “long Corbyn”.
But these results reveal nothing of the sort. As the idea of Starmer’s whole project goes, if Labour is to be transformed back into the “pro-business, patriotic” party of the Blair era, this would be the key to winning back the lost Red Wall seats. This has clearly not been the case.
As Socialist Alternative has long pointed out, working class people remain more desperate than ever for a political alternative to consistently fight for the change that our class needs – a £15/hr minimum wage, fully-funded public services and radical action to fend off the cost of living crisis through nationalisation and public ownership of key sectors of the economy. But this finds absolutely zero echo from the hollow, pro-capitalist establishment politics of Starmer.
Beergate vs. Partygate
Somewhat overshadowing these results has of course been the new so-called ‘Beergate’ scandal. Based on an image of Starmer drinking in a room with Labour staff in May 2021, this has become the go-to point of attack for the Tories. After initially being labeled ‘within the rules’ by Durham Police, a barrage of constant and insistent pressure from the Tories and right-wing press has thrust the issue back into the spotlight.
Over his time as leader, Starmer has postured around issues of ‘law and order’ in place of a pro-working class programme. From drawing on his own reactionary record as Crown Prosecutor, to pledging his own version of a ‘War on Drugs’, it is clear that he has banked on tearing a page out of the book of right-wing Tory populism.
As a result, Starmer has now been trapped in a situation largely of his own making. The fact that this case, which in of itself appears to bear little-to-no comparison with the repeated, blatant rule breaking of Johnson, has disarmed Starmer so much can be reduced to a simple reason. He has had no convincing, bold pro-working class policies that he can fight back with.
Equally striking however, has been the complete and total absence of any kind of resistance to Starmer’s leadership from the 33 members of the so-called Socialist Campaign Group that remain sitting as Labour MPs. When quizzed on LBC about how Starmer would go down in history, the response of John McDonnell, Corbyn’s former Shadow Chancellor was to describe Starmer as “an honourable person; someone who stands by principle”. Starmer’s counter-revolution against the left has closed down Labour as a vehicle for effective struggle against the Tories and the class they represent.
Low engagement and low turnout aside, there clearly is a sharp and growing desire for change. This was mostly expressed in abstention, But it also found other expressions – particularly the increase in vote shares for both the Lib Dems and the Greens in many areas. while certainly containing an element of a so-called “revenge of the Remainers”, also in these votes, in a distorted way, indicates the deep desire for a progressive alternative to the reactionary posturing of Johnson and Starmer.
However, the endless horror of Johnson’s rule will clearly not be solved within the bounds of the policies of the parties on offer (Greens and Lib Dems included). The only stage on which we can build a movement to kick out Johnson and bring an end to Tory rule will be through militant struggle, drawing together workers and young people using whatever means necessary to kick the Tories out the doors of power.
The desire for a fightback over working conditions have been seen in recent weeks in a number of key workplace struggles, including the recent victory of workers at the Manchester CHEP factory, among women workers fighting for equal pay in Glasgow and many more. Protests demanding a full ban on the horrific practise of ‘conversion therapy’ reveal the deep willingness of workers and youth to do all they can to resist for the full liberation of all the oppressed.
It will be through these methods – of protests, strikes, demonstrations and occupations, that will be key to unseating the Tories over the next period. But equally important will be turning these various struggles into a unified political voice – a new party, a left-wing party based in workplace and social struggle, with bold fighting demands and a socialist programme.