England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Capitalist parties stagger into local elections: We need a new left party of struggle!

Editorial from the May issue of Socialist Alternative, our monthly paper. To order your copy, click here

Every party of the British ruling class is currently in freefall, or experiencing huge internal difficulties. The Scottish government has been thrown into chaos with the breakdown of the SNP-Green coalition and Humza Yousaf’s resignation, as the SNP has seen a massive drop in support. The ruling Welsh Labour Party was stunned by the resignation of Mark Drakeford and once again his largely unknown successor, Vaughan Gething, has a mountain to climb.

Northern Irish politics have been thrown into turmoil following the sudden resignation of Democratic Unionist leader Jeffery Donaldson after being formally charged with previous sexual offences. In Southern Ireland Leo Varadkar recently resigned as Taoiseach in the Irish Parliament citing “personal and political” reasons for the decision. In reality in both the North and South of Ireland, the long established ruling parties are being outflanked by Sinn Fein as Irish people search for change.

Yet all these difficulties pale into comparison alongside the looming fate for the Tory Party, which is stuck in a seeming ‘permacrisis’. The party is openly riven with at least five different factions, which Sunak is completely unable to resolve. The Tories are stumbling on from one disaster to the next, whilst all the time his party is losing credibility. The latest Tory rebellion around the smoking ban in the House of Commons saw 51 MPs, including five ministers, voting against the government, with another 100 abstaining. Sunak was forced to rely on Labour votes to get his legislation passed.

Every one of the five ministers who voted against Sunak see themselves as future leadership hopefuls in the much anticipated Tory bloodbath following the general election, although there are now strong rumours that some critics will spring a leadership contest after the May elections! Whenever the election takes place, the Tories face a similar electoral wipeout to 1997, when they lost 178 seats. Already sensing the mood music, over 60 Tory MPs will not be standing again.

‘The sick man of Europe’

This political turmoil is no accident. It is a direct reflection of the dire straits Britain now finds itself in. One radio commentator, James O ‘Brien, wrote of 2024 Britain:

“The mood in Britain feels bleak. The economy has tanked, our freedoms are shrinking, and social divisions are rapidly growing. We are living in a country that is almost unrecognisable from the one that existed a decade ago.”

One TV presenter on Good Morning Britain asked the question of their viewers, “does nothing work in this country anymore?” The general feeling of malaise is now being felt in the entire political establishment, perhaps typified by the corrupt scandal gripping the Post Office over the appalling treatment of sub-postmasters.

Socialist Alternative has described the 2020s as falling within a new ‘Age of Disorder’, and the UK is now the ‘sick man of Europe’.

The IMF and World Bank have scaled back their predictions of any significant UK economic growth. Jeremy Hunt has been warned by the IMF that his proposed tax cuts will plunge the economy into a ‘debt spiral’. The latest unemployment data, according to the Resolution Foundation, signifies a clear sign of a ‘stagnant economy’. Any hopes of a cut in interest rates are being downplayed as inflation, and especially food prices, remain stubbornly high. The Office for Budget Responsibility summed up the last 10 years as a ‘lost decade’.

What Starmer will inherit is a country in crisis. One in five councils expect to go bankrupt this next year, with spending power slashed by 12% over the last decade. The NHS would be £32bn better off if spending had stayed at the level of 2010-11, but now up to 250 people a week are dying avoidably from delayed urgent care. The NHS backlog of maintenance and repairs is now £13bn and vacancies across social care are running at 152,000!

The crisis facing all the privatised water companies is typified by Thames Water which has accumulated debts of £15bn (with no debt burden at the time of privatisation), yet they are demanding a further rise in bills of 40%! Even the gutless water regulator OFWAT has had to rule that out, raising the prospect of renationalisation.

Yet pollution spillages across all our rivers and seas have never been higher. On the railways, 40% of journeys are either late or cancelled. Yet it seems, for ordinary people, bills keep rising: phone bills up 17%; rents up 12%; energy bills now average £1,800-£2,000; mortgages up by between 10-20% depending on which variable rate people are on.

Schools have been underfunded by £370m this year with an anticipated £1bn additional cut due to falling pupil numbers. Teacher turnover has never been higher. Every year, the number of social housing actually falls: last year, it fell by 29,000 with only 6,000 more being built! There are 400,000 outstanding Magistrates’ and Crown Court cases, but prisons are full to overflowing (see page 6). Sadly the list of woe and misery goes on.

Change desperately needed

Working and young people are yearning for political change. What Starmer’s Labour Party is promising will be ‘more of the same’. Since Starmer was elected Labour leader, he has u-turned 27 different times and his Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, will commit to very little unless the economy begins to grow! Starmer’s craven public statements on the bloodbath in Gaza, openly backing the genocidal warfare of Netanyahu, has seen over 25,000 members leave Labour and up to 100 councillors resign in protest.

Starmer cannot afford to be complacent as the Tories take an electoral beating. Expectations are high but confidence in his future government is low. Already hundreds of independent and left-of-Labour candidates are standing in the May local elections, a sign of a general search for political alternatives. A new youth group calling itself ‘Youth Demand’ has emerged from the direct action network Just Stop Oil, which perhaps sums up the mood of thousands of radicalised but disenfranchised young people. Their spokesperson said:

“The way we see it is that revolutions are coming down the road, whether we like it or not, because the current political system is broken beyond repair.”

These are the sentiments being stored up for the next government, which despite the pressure it will come under to act, will be unable to rectify the appalling levels of poverty and pay, poor housing, education and health. For that reason, we need to prepare now to build an alternative, with a strategy to fight back and challenge all the parties of the capitalist establishment.

That means going beyond independent campaigns or movements to challenge a Starmer government. It means building a new left party that can be a vehicle for our different struggles, backed up by a programme to really tackle the crises we are facing. We will be fighting for such a party, and for the socialist programme it will need to really succeed in that task.

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