Issue 242 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review


Blair's bad result

The May elections underlined deep dissatisfaction with Labour and the beginning of a polarisation between left and right. Rob Hoveman assesses the left vote.

A left vote

Protests to the left of Labour registered in the recent elections
  • Labour's share of the vote in north east London fell by 25 percent.
  • The Greens and the LSA there won 22.6 percent.
  • Frank Dobson was nearly beaten into fourth place for London mayor
  • Friday 5 May was a very bad day for Tony Blair. Across England New Labour lost over 600 council seats. In London, Blair's hand-picked candidate for mayor, Frank Dobson, was relegated to a humiliating third place with just 12.78 percent of the vote, only just ahead of the Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer (11.61 percent). For the London Assembly, Labour got a smaller share of the vote than the Tories.

    Livingstone won easily but his first preference vote at 38.11 percent (667,877) was well below the opinion polls, which had put him on around 50 percent. Norris did better than predicted, with 26.5 percent. Second preferences for Livingstone added 108,550 votes to his total against 99,703 for Norris. Livingstone clearly suffered from differential abstention because of the lower turnout of working class and traditionally Labour voters, (in the South West constituency, turnout was just 31 percent in more working class Hounslow and 46 percent in more middle class Richmond). His campaign was virtually non-existent in the late stages of the election as he sought to 'play safe' by keeping quiet. This also ensured that the enthusiasm which would have guaranteed a much higher turnout and an even larger vote for him never materialised.

    If the London election demonstrated beyond question the deep crisis Blairism is currently in, it also proved the extent to which the mood has swung to the left. Livingstone may not have capitalised on that mood as much as he could have, but he was elected against every bit of dirt that Millbank could throw at him. Indeed, people voted for him in such large numbers because he appeared to have rejected Tony Blair and New Labour. The leftward mood was also demonstrated in the assembly elections.

    The assembly received virtually no publicity in the election. The government carried no serious advertising either to show its role or to explain the voting system to elect it. New Labour undertook very little campaigning, perhaps having concluded that, given the result was likely to be bad, it would be better not to attract too much attention to it. Indeed, one of the bizarre things about the London election was that all of the participants engaged in very low key campaigns with the singular exception of the London Socialist Alliance (LSA).

    The combined list vote for those standing to the left of Labour, that is the vote which elected the 'top-up' members to make the assembly proportional, was 272,425 or 16.41 percent. The lion's share of this was taken by the Greens, with 183,910 votes or 11.08 percent, giving them three assembly seats. The other left wing list participants, which included the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation, the Communist Party of Britain (Morning Star), the London Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Labour Party and Peter Tatchell, received 88,515 votes between them. This represented 5.33 percent of the vote, and if the vote had been cast for a united left list it would have been sufficient to elect a socialist candidate to the assembly.

    Frank Dobson

    Fall in Labour's vote

    The most remarkable success for the left in the assembly elections came for the London Socialist Alliance. The LSA was up against a number of formidable barriers. Nonetheless, over a period of just two months of serious campaigning, the LSA came from nothing to win over 46,500 votes in the constituency vote section (an average of 3.1 percent per constituency). In the North East constituency, which embraced the boroughs of Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest, the LSA's constituency candidate, Cecilia Prosper, received 8,269 votes (7.03 percent), and in Lambeth & Southwark the LSA's Theresa Bennett received 6,231 votes (6.17 percent). These were successes far beyond what we originally expected, and were sufficient to retain the deposits of 1,000 in both constituencies. The size of those votes, given the nature of the constituencies, implies that the LSA vote in certain local council wards could have been up to 20 percent. Moreover, these two constituencies saw the biggest fall in Labour's share of the vote in London--25 percent and 21 percent respectively--with the Green and LSA share rising to 22.6 percent and 19.3 percent respectively.

    Even the fat cats are laughing at Dobson

    In Lewisham and Greenwich, Socialist Party local councillor Ian Page took 4.2 percent of the vote with 3,981 votes; in City & East, covering Tower Hamlets, Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Kambiz Boomla received 4 percent of the vote with 3,908 votes; and in Enfield & Haringey, Weyman Bennett received 3,671 votes (3.6 percent) despite being squeezed by a self proclaimed 'Livingstone' candidate. In Camden & Barnet, Candy Udwin's 3,488 votes were sufficient to deny Candy's witchfinder-general and New Labour candidate Helen Gordon a seat on the assembly. Even in our lowest percentage result, 1 percent in Bromley & Bexley, the LSA still received over 1,400 votes with very limited campaigning resources in a constituency, half of whose voters cast their votes for the Tory candidate.

    The one slightly disappointing result was that the LSA received a lower vote on the list than for the constituency candidates, contrary to our original expectations. At 27,073 or 1.6 percent, it was still significantly bigger than any of the other left wing alternatives, but well short of retaining the 5,000 deposit for the list which required 2.5 percent. Some of our voters may have been confused about the nature of the second vote, thinking it was a second preference like the mayoral vote. Secondly, we did not break through the psychological barrier with some of our constituency voters to persuade them the LSA had a serious chance of winning an assembly seat through the top-up. They therefore voted for the Greens as the more realistic option. The number of left alternatives standing on the list contributed to this.

    Worrying trend

    The London elections also saw some growth in support for the Nazi British National Party whose list obtained 47,670 votes or 2.73 percent. In City & East their list vote reached almost 8 percent. They were still a long way off getting an assembly seat and their vote was less than half the Nazis' highest vote across London in the 1977 GLC elections. Nonetheless, the rise in the BNP vote was a worrying trend, increasing their vote in their customary heartland in the East End. It also demonstrated that it was the Nazis, more than Hague's Tories, who benefited from Hague's racist scapegoating of asylum seekers.

    London Socialist Alliance activists in every constituency were delighted with the LSA's election results.The LSA, initiated by organisations of the far left, won significant numbers of Labour and ex-Labour councillors, members and supporters, and trade union, tenants' association and pensioner activists to support and vote for the LSA. Everyone knows that the LSA vote would have been much bigger across London if we had had a bigger organisation to campaign with. We demonstrated that socialist alliances which involve real grassroots forces can tap into the anti-capitalist mood and attract significant working class support away from New Labour.

    With the possibility of increased political polarisation, socialist alliances will also be vital in countering the attraction of the far right.

    Greens: the test is still ahead

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