Issue 254 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review

Election analysis

The left and the landslide

Labour's second term will be bloody. Tony Blair has no mandate to go on the offensive. John Rees assesses the election result and the prospects for the left

Going down

  • Tony Blair's vote of 10.74 million is the lowest of a winning prime minister
  • In 1992 John Major got 14.05 million
  • In 1997 Blair got 13.52 million.
  • This year's vote for Blair is less than the 11.56 million Neil Kinnock got when he lost to the Tories in 1992
  • What does it profit a party to win a landslide but lose a mandate? That is the question that will bedevil New Labour's leaders over the course of the next parliament. Labour won a huge majority of 167 seats--but the number of people who voted for it was only 2.2 million greater than during Michael Foot's humiliating 1983 defeat by the Tories. Only one in four of those who could have voted actually supported the Labour Party.

    One thing, and one thing only, gave Labour its victory--the fact that the Tory Party is so overwhelmingly despised by the majority of the electorate. Unlike previous periods of disillusionment with Labourism, there is no sign yet that the Tories have benefited. Safe Tory seats only won by Labour for the first time in 1997 saw huge increases in the Labour majority. Michael Portillo's old seat in Enfield Southgate saw a further 5 percent swing from Tory to Labour, increasing the Labour majority from 1,433 to 5,546. Rugby's Labour majority leapt from 495 to 2,877, and Harrow West's from 1,240 to 6,156. Indeed, the Tories only gained four of their 30 top target seats, and in 23 there was actually a further swing towards Labour.

    The Tory Party is now in meltdown. Many Tories hoped that Hague would remain leader long enough to lose any referendum on the euro and leave a dean slate for a new leader. But even that crumb of comfort has been denied them as they enter their second damaging leadership battle in less than five years.

    The Tory Party, for all its current disasters, will not disappear. It was one of the most successful ruling class parties in any industrialised country in the 20th century. The ruling class in Britain, facing the popular backlash against Thatcherism, may find Tony Blair's Labour Party a more convenient government just now, but it will not abandon its own party in the longer term. Far more decisive social crises than two electoral failures would be necessary for that to happen.

    Nevertheless, the Tory Party is weaker than it has ever been in postwar politics. The fundamental reason for this is that the electorate is too far to the left on the most fundamental issues--privatisation, the NHS, education, transport--for the Tories to be able to get beyond appealing to their core supporters. If 51 percent of voters think the Labour Party is too right wing, as one recent poll revealed, we don't have to use too much imagination to picture what they feel about the Tories.

    The collapse of the turnout at this election is unprecedented. Before the election, predictions of the lowest turnout since the war were giving projected figures of 67 percent. In the event the turnout was the lowest since 1918, just 59 percent--down 12.8 percent in the poorest Labour seats, 12.1 percent in the most middle class seats, and 11 percent in Labour's most marginal seats.

    It has long been clear that Labour's flagship policies find only minority support among the electorate: 73 percent favour rail renationalisation rather than Labour's policy; during the election 81 percent rejected Blair's newly announced plans for further privatisation in the NHS; in another poll held during one of the most racist campaigns by the major parties in living memory 51 percent recorded favourable attitudes toward refugees.

    But the turnout at this election is fresh testimony demonstrating how alienated voters, particularly Labour voters, are from a political process which fails to represent their wishes or express their aspirations. The result is a government facing a dissatisfied and restive electorate with a programme only 25 percent of them voted for, and which, on key issues, even less approve of. The Mirror headline on the day after the election well expressed this mood. Under a row of pictures of smiling Labour ministers it ran the headline, 'What are you lot looking so smug about? Get back to work'. In the few days after the election articles and speeches by Bill Morris of the TGWU, Dave Prentis of Unison, John Edmonds of the GMB and London mayor Ken Livingstone all attacked Blair's privatisation plans.

    This comes on the back of an important realignment of sections of the union bureaucracy under the first Blair government. In the Aslef and RMT rail unions, in the PCS civil service union, in the CWU leadership election and the FBU vote on the political fund, the left began to reassert itself. This in part reflected the beginnings of a revival of industrial struggle, particularly in the post and on the London tube. All these developments mean that Blair's second term will see a broadening of the opposition to the government that began to develop during the last couple of years of the first Labour term.

    The Liberal Democrats, aided by a favourable press, have made great claims about the success of their election campaign. The facts tell a different story. In 1992 the Lib Dems took 18 percent of the vote, in 1997 they took 17 percent, and this election saw them take 19 percent of the vote--hardly a great surge forward. They won six more seats but, like the other parties, they lost voters. The Lib Dems got 4.8 million votes compared to 5.2 million at the last election.

    The Lib Dems made virtually no inroads on the Labour vote. Their base remains middle class and overwhelmingly rural. The roll call of their seats tells its own story--Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine, Argyll & Bute, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Bath, Brecon and Radnorshire, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross, Carshalton, Cheadle, Cornwall North, Cornwall South East, Devon North, Ludlow, Norfolk North, Winchester, Southport, Newbury, Richmond Park. In the vast majority of Lib Dem seats the Tories are the second party. One exception, Chesterfield, where Tony Berm stood down at this election, fell to the Lib Dems, but it can hardly be used as an example to cheer the left. Practically the only other working class stronghold that the Lib Dems held was Simon Hughes's seat in Bermondsey. Hughes originally won against Peter Tatchell on an anti-gay vote in the 1980s. This time Hughes got a 9 percent swing standing against black Labour candidate Kingsley Abrams in an area where the Nazis repeatedly marched during the election campaign.

    Even on policy issues, where the Lib Dems are supposed to be to the left of Labour, it is by no means clear that this is the case. The increase in tax to pay for the welfare state is in fact a regressive measure, since any tax increases hit the poor as much as the rich. And on union recognition, a fundamental question of the right to organise the Lib Dems are much more right wing even than Tony Blair.

    Tony Blair big vote loser
    Tony Blair big vote loser

    Gordon Brown return to boom and bust
    Gordon Brown return to boom and bust

    David Blunkett makes Jack Straw look liberal
    David Blunkett makes Jack Straw look liberal

    Jack Straw no pretence at ethics
    Jack Straw no pretence at ethics

    Peter Hain former protester now defends EU summit
    Peter Hain former protester now defends EU summit

    Patricia Hewitt friends high places
    Patricia Hewitt friends high places

    Gus McDonald Blairs axer
    Gus McDonald Blairs axer

    Estelle Morris an end to comprehensive schools
    Estelle Morris an end to comprehensive schools

    51 percent of voters think the Labour Party is too right wing

    The left of Labour Challenge

    The real challenge to Labour came from the left. The total socialist vote of 185,000 was more than double that in the 1997 election. The Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance accounted for 125,000 of that total. The SSP saved ten deposits, and the Socialist Alliance saved a further two deposits. The Greens also had their best ever election, saving ten deposits rather than the one that they saved in 1997.

    John Curtice, deputy director of the ESRC Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends, gave this assessment of the left of Labour vote in a major article in the Independent: 'Tony Blair leads a party that has lost contact with many of its traditional voters... Labour is no longer clearly seen as the party of the working class or those on the left in Britain. Its support fell by 4 percentage points in the most predominantly working class seats, while the party held its own in middle class seats. Some of these votes seem to have been lost on an unprecedented scale to parties of the far left. The Socialist Alliance on average won 2.4 percent of the vote [combined with the Scottish Socialist Party] in seats where it 'I stood, while Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party secured 1.4 percent... With the performance of the parties on the far left, it appears that Labour may be reaching the limits of its shift to the right without running the risk of allowing new competition to emerge to its left.'

    A BBC Online article, although slightly overstating the percentage vote, had the following analysis: 'Left-wing minority parties put up a respectable showing. Far left candidates polled a small but significant number of votes. On average Socialist Alliance candidates won 3 percent of the vote, with the Scottish Socialist Party winning 3.5 percent. Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party averaged just under 3 percent... The rise of the far left has clearly affected the Labour vote. Labour's vote was down by nearly 5 percent in seats in England where socialist candidates won over 2 percent of the vote but by only 3 percent where the socialist vote was less than 2 percent.'

    This is a considerable achievement for an organisation that did not even have a national presence at the start of the year. Nor did it have an effective administrative organisation or indeed a national office until the start of the election campaign.

    To have some sense of the Socialist Alliance's progress let us compare it with the Green Party. The Greens did well, as we have seen, saving ten deposits. But at the last general election, their fourth, they only saved one. Election results are a lagging indicator--they reflect the past. The Greens had a weak campaign but traded on their past. We had no effective past as a national organisation in a general election. There seems no reason to suppose that having now created a nationwide alternative to New Labour, largely in the course of the campaign, we should not do as well as the Greens next time out.

    One factor that hid the effectiveness of the Socialist Alliance campaign was the existence, in a minority of constituencies, of a Socialist Labour Party candidate who split the left vote. In St Helens, for instance, where an excellent Socialist Alliance campaign gave Neil Thompson 7 percent of the vote, the SLP candidate also gained 4.5 percent of the vote with virtually no public campaign. The same situation in Blackburn, where the SLP candidate made no appearance in the campaign, split the socialist vote in two.

    This situation requires that Socialist Alliance supporters urgently approach SLP members and discuss with them the need for a united campaign. The Socialist Alliance has been specifically built on the principle that we can unite around a basic broad socialist programme that will find an echo in the wider working class movement, and at the same time still have the freedom to debate our differences and even act independently where we feel we must. SLP members could play a valuable part in this democratic structure and help us allow the left to punch its full weight in the electoral arena. But the fixture of the Socialist Alliance does not depend on realignment among the forces of the existing left outside the Labour Party--it depends on winning over more of those still loyal to Labour.

    Socialist Alliance campaigns linked the election to wider issues
    Socialist Alliance campaigns linked the election to wider issues

    The future of the Socialist Alliance

    Socialist Alliance campaigns linked the election to wider issues

    The best successes of the Socialist Alliance have arisen from two complementary sources. The first is sinking roots by imaginative and sustained political activity that champions the interests of working class communities. This is what achieved the best votes in the Greater London Assembly elections over a year ago for Weyman Bennett in Tottenham and Cecilia Prosper in Hackney, results which have been repeated in by-elections, council elections and the general election. The second source of success has been to win over Labour supporters who often bring with them this kind of support--Terry Cartwright, the former Labour councillor who retained his deposit for the Socialist Alliance in the Preston byelection, and Neil Thompson, who did the same in St Helens in the general election, are two good examples.

    Once a Socialist Alliance is established, from whatever source, the same dynamics are needed to keep it growing. One thing on which we can rely in Blair's second government is the continuing alienation of Labour's base. The Socialist Alliance exists above all else to reconfigure the base of the labour movement into an effective fighting force against New Labour's privatisation agenda. The process of winning over Labour Party members and Labour supporters in the unions has only just begun. Continuing this process and continuing to deepen our roots in the areas where we are already established are two sides of the same coin.

    The extent of our progress in this task can be seen from the FBU conference decision to break the political fund link with the Labour Party, and by the vote at the CWU conference where a quarter of delegates voted for a similar motion. But the extent of the task ahead of us is also clear from the election results. Labour's share of the working class vote (more precisely, the statisticians' social groups C2, D and E) fell compared to 1997. But it was still 49 percent--higher than the 45 percent that Neil Kinnock got in 1992 or the 46 percent that James Callaghan won in 1979. Labour lost 7 percent among the poorest voters (the DEs) but still got 50 percent of their vote, the highest Labour vote of any group. Labour's next best vote was among the C2s where it got 47 percent of the vote, down 3 percent. And it picked up a couple of percent among the C1s and ABs, where it got 39 percent and 33 percent respectively. What is true is that the abstention from the vote was more concentrated in the working class, but that is not the same thing as the transformation in the class character of the Labour vote.

    This underlines a simple but crucial point. Labourism will not fade away--it has to be actively replaced. Disillusionment with Labour provides the conditions under which this task can be effected with greater success than at any time since the war--but it can only be done by patient argument with those tens of thousands of activists, shop stewards and campaigners, and with millions of other workers, who are still reluctantly loyal to Labour. The framework for doing this most successfully is joint activity against the attacks the government is now threatening. The Socialist Alliance, providing it keeps its open and inclusive approach while strengthening its organisation, is a key tool in this task.

    The price of not building a socialist alternative to New Labour was horrifyingly obvious in Oldham. Where the left fails to build, the Nazis can step in. Now in Oldham we must fight to regain the initiative. A broad Anti Nazi League campaign is essential, but so too is a Socialist Alliance that is rooted in both the Asian and white working class. Direct experience from Oldham and reports in the press testify that many who voted for the Nazis did so because they felt abandoned by mainstream politicians. Only a broad socialist organisation can provide a permanent positive alternative to the right.

    The Nazi vote was serious but geographically limited, partly because the Nazis' declining strength only allowed them to stand the smallest number of candidates in any recent general election. But if Oldham is not to become a launchpad for rebuilding their strength nationally, the left must redouble its efforts to make working class areas Socialist Alliance strongholds before they can become bases of the far right.

    The wider struggle

    The crisis of Labourism is not the only front on which the struggle is opening up. The anti-capitalist struggle is interacting with the crisis of reformism on every level. Many of those most disillusioned with the electoral process are likely to see the direct action of the anti-capitalist movement as an alternative form of political expression. Many of those in the Greens or the Socialist Alliance who are trying to create alternatives to New Labour also see the anti-capitalist movement as dovetailing with their other political activity. They are right--the common enemy, corporate capital and the politicians who defend it, is active in both fields. Similarly, those active in the unions, those beginning to rebuild rank and file organisation, face employers backed by the Labour government and union officials keen to limit action on behalf of the government.

    The Socialist Alliance must relate to these struggles--it must fight to build the anti-capitalist demonstrations and to build up support in the unions. But, by definition, a mass movement or a rank and file organisation will be more politically differentiated than a political organisation like the Socialist Alliance. The anti-capitalist movement contains many who despise the system, but do not think of themselves as socialists. And a rank and file movement, to be effective, must contain workers who want to fight the bosses and the union leaders who stand in the way of a fight with the bosses, but who may still be Labour supporters.

    To provide a bridge between these struggles and a coherent strategy within each of them a revolutionary organisation is necessary. Revolutionaries do not want to be a numerical majority in any of these areas of struggle--if such organisations or movements are reduced to a core of revolutionaries they will fail. Their success depends on revolutionaries galvanising organisations that encompass many more people than the members of revolutionary organisations.

    But in each movement crucial debates about strategy and tactics will require the contribution, ideological and organisational, of revolutionary socialists. This has been the case in the creation of the Socialist Alliance as an effective national organisation and it will still be the case if the united front strategy of winning the base of the Labour movement to a new political home is to continue.

    The bitter fruit of Blair's rule

    Nick Griffin, the face of race hatred
    Nick Griffin, the face of race hatred

    'The political landscape in Oldham has changed, and though the ANL [Anti Nazi League] might not like it, it has been changed through the proper democratic process by Mr Nick Griffin and his British National Party campaigning properly and legally, and persuading people to vote for them.' Oldham Chronicle, 11 June, 2001

    'Another big step towards the political mainstream... Any constituency in which the BNP can take around 3 percent in a parliamentary election contains council seats in which it is possible to take around 25 percent of the vote or even more. This string of near 5 percent votes therefore provides us with a number of winnable council wards in which the British National Party can take the next step into the mainstream.' BNP press release, 8 June, 2001

    The Nazi vote in Oldham has sent shockwaves throughout the left. It has been met with disbelief, horror and paralysis. Worst of all, it has been overexaggerated and overgeneralised, serving to fuel the attitude that we can do little to halt the Nazis exploiting racial tensions and social deprivation. To be effective in resisting the rise of the far right means starting with an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. It is only if we look at the whole picture that we will be able to provide an analysis which enables us to build a movement that can challenge the Nazis. It also provides us with a political framework with which we can build an alternative to the Nazis.

    The BNP votes should serve as a warning to us all. It retained five deposits: Oldham West, 16.4 percent (6,552 votes); Oldham East & Saddleworth, 11.2 percent (5,091 votes); Barking, 6.4 percent (1,606 votes); Poplar & Canning Town, 5.1 percent (1,733 votes); and Burnley, 11.3 percent (4,151 votes). In contrast, it saved three deposits in 1997 and in two of those the BNP candidate shared the same surname as the New Labour winner. Alarmingly, after weeks of racial tension, violence and rioting in Oldham, the Nazis grabbed a total of 13,160 votes in the three Oldham constituencies, including their 4.5 percent in Ashton-under-Lyne (1,617 votes). The BNP Fuhrer, Nick Griffin, beat the liberal Democrats in Oldham West.

    While the outwardly violent fringes of the Nazi movement--the National Front, Combat 18 and racist football hooligans--rampaged through Oldham, the BNP consistently campaigned on deprived white working class housing estates around social issues--in a racist manner. It blamed society's ills on multiracialism and multiculturalism, while peddling the myth of Asian on white racist attacks. The BNP also ran an effective press campaign and received coverage in the local paper, the Oldham Chronicle (firebombed by rioting Asian youth).

    Yet most of the people who voted for the BNP are not Nazis. They are people disenfranchised from mainstream political life and alienated from mainstream society. They are the victims of a neoliberal agenda ruthlessly pursued by the previous Tory government and today's New Labour rulers. They are protesting against a system that has failed and betrayed them. The BNP may believe that 'the [election] result has been a complete vindication of the kind of party the BNP is trying to become--more efficient, more voter friendly and above all, more successful.' (Mission Accomplished!' BNP statement, 11 June, 2001). But it cannot escape its inherent racism and violence. Every Nazi activity breeds violence. Most notably, racist attacks increased by 300 percent on the Isle of Dogs after the election of a Nazi councillor in 1993. In Oldham the Asian deputy mayor's house has been firebombed, Muslim graves have been desecrated and there has been an increase in racist attacks.

    Nazis beaten before

    We now face the task of repeating the history of anti-fascists in the 1930s, the 1970s and the 1990s to build a vibrant anti-Nazi movement, mobilising the anti-racist majority into a force for change. Such a movement can unite those with divergent political opinions to defeat a common enemy, dividing the hardcore Nazis from their potential members. We must rip the mask of political respectability from the Nazis to expose them for what they are--Hitlerites, race thugs who want a return to the gas chambers.

    The BNP stood 33 candidates nationally, gaining 47,225 votes. The number of candidates is down on the 56 who stood in 1997, polling 35,358 votes and averaging 1.3 percent. The 27 candidates in 1992 mustered 11,821, less than 1 percent in each constituency on average. The National Front stood five candidates this time, failing to gain from its strategy of exploiting racial tension by marching, then standing in the general election, in areas like Margate, Bermondsey and Birmingham. This summer the NF is saying it will march in Oldham and Bradford. The police continue to protect the Nazis, at huge cost to the taxpayer, while batoning anti-Nazis who protest against their presence.

    A battle is taking place between left and right as society polarises
    A battle is taking place between left and right as society polarises

    The Nazis remain divided and at a fraction of their strength two decades ago. In the battle over the future of our society they are making small and isolated gains, but they are not winning. They are still a very long way from even beginning to emulate their counterparts in Europe.

    There is an alternative. A battle is taking place between left and right as society polarises as a consequence of economic crisis. Left candidates won 185,000 votes on a principled stance against New Labour's attacks on the working class. In comparison the Nazi vote poses less of a threat, but it is not insignificant. The candidates from the Socialist Alliance were contesting the general election for the first time and secured two deposits, and the Scottish Socialist Party made an impressive showing, saving ten deposits. In its heartland of east London the BNP vote fell. From the height of its success in 1993, with the election of a councillor, its vote has plummeted as a result of the opposition it faced. The BNP vote took a 'dramatic slump' (BNP statement, 11 June, 2001) when its vote halved in Bethnal Green & Bow, from 7.5 percent in 1997 to 3.2 percent today. Where it kept its deposit, in Poplar & Canning Town, the BNP vote still fell by 2.2 percent.

    Lessons from East London

    The Nazis invested heavily in the East End during the 1990s, as they will no doubt do in the north west of England leading up to next year's council elections. Our job is to learn the lessons from history in order to repeat them today in defeating the Nazis. The focus on Oldham has obscured other developments for the Nazis in the general election. Firstly, east London has shown that protesting gets results. The diligent and vigilant campaigning against the BNP has paid off, as the BNP notes, 'For the first time ever, the party is electorally stronger outside of London than in it.'

    The BNP has chosen specific areas to build a power base. It tried in the 1990s in east London and we stopped it. The Anti Nazi League must again mount a mass campaign against the Nazis-this time in the north west. As the BNP says in its election analysis of the 11.2 percent Burnley vote, 'This result was built up with solid community political work and not a race riot in sight... The BNP's first electoral outing in 1983 saw it get just 1 percent in its best seat, and that we could only take 3 percent in the Tower Hamlets constituency that included the Millwall ward in the general election before we won the Millwall seat, you can see the extent of the progress made in recent years. The BNP entered this election with the primary aim of setting itself up to make a real push to secure council seats next June, and to publicise the extent to which it has repositioned itself in the political mainstream.' (BNP statement, 11 June, 2001)

    The Nazis today are a fraction of the size and influence of their predecessors. Mass movements against them have shattered their unity, and their gains can be reversed. The Nazis exploited the failures of the last Labour government in the 1970s. As the Labour Party betrayed its supporters and played the race card over immigration, the fascists fed off working class disillusionment. By 1976 they had gained 44 percent in a council seat in London. They had councillors and went on to beat the Liberals in seats in the Greater London Council elections, getting 119,000 votes. National Front demonstrations were attracting new supporters and the Nazis were growing. This gave birth to the Anti Nazi League. On the admission of the then NF leader, Martin Webster, the ANL destroyed their chances of gaining ground.

    Areas where the Nazis fared well in the 1970s, like Hoxton in Hackney, east London, are now places where they can no longer show their faces. Anti-racists are the majority--in Oldham and in east London. United we can defeat the Nazis. This has been demonstrated by the movements across Europe which have kept the fascists in check. The 1990s were a rollercoaster for European Nazis, who gained votes and credibility one minute to have them stolen by a surge to the left through workers' struggles or through anti-racists organising and resisting. We have to learn these lessons again.
    Julie Waterson

    Trouble for Trimble

    The general election in Northern Ireland saw significant gains by both Gerry Adams's Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley's DUP. The media presented this as a move towards the 'extremes' of politics. Going into the election David Trimble's UUP had ten MPs, John Hume's SDLP three, the DUP three and Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein two. Now, the UUP have only six, the DUP five, Sinn Fein four and the SDLP three. But this cannot be described as a vote for the 'extremes', since none of the parties ran an 'extreme' election campaign. The DUP insisted that it is a devolutionist party which does not want to bring down the assembly. Rather, it said, they want to negotiate a deal more palatable to Unionists. The UUP--with David Trimble's postdated resignation letter to back it up--was saying much the same. Far from an 'extreme' campaign, Sinn Fein argued that it is the staunchest defender of the agreement. The SDLP disagreed--it is not only the defender but the originator of the agreement. The electorate, far from voting for extremists, were at one--people like the relative peace and are determined to keep it.

    Now the election is over and it can revert to type, the DUP, which represents the core of hardliners who do not want equality for Catholics, says its was an anti-agreement vote. Certainly some of it was, but extreme views were not going down well on the doorsteps.

    The four largest parties in the North, the UUP, SDLP, Sinn Fein and DUP, sit together, in the power-sharing executive. There are four ministers each for the SDLP and UUP, and two each for Sinn Fein and the DUP. Together they agreed a programme for government Blair would be proud of, full of Private Finance Initiatives and cost-cutting measures. They vie, however, to represent the majority of Catholics or Protestants. This means the main controversies are always about which 'side' is hurting most. As with race controversies in Britain, this fuels a small minority of vicious sectarian bigots. As Drumcree looms, whether the agreement holds together depends less on election results and more on what happens on the ground.

    One bright new spot in Northern Ireland, though is the Socialist Environmental Alliance (SEA), an alliance of anti-capitalists which got a credible vote in the local elections. It stood in both Catholic and Protestant areas of Derry and Belfast, as campaigners on the issues other parties ignore. Two of the four candidates got less than 1 percent of the vote, but the other two got 3.5 percent and 2.5 percent respectively. The response on the doorsteps was brilliant. People said, 'I was going to spoil my vote, but now I won't have to.'

    The anti-sectarian stance of the SEA is the first thing commented on by many. That it is about campaigning around issues, not just vote-seeking, made all the difference for others. Many said they would not vote for any of the mainstream politicians, that all the established parties use the Orange-Green divide to dodge dealing with 'the real issues'. There is a shared feeling that the established parties are letting working people down by rushing to attract low paid, non-union jobs. One man in Derry's Creggan who had voted Sinn Fein since the early 1980s told a candidate--'I'll give you my No.1, that shower of bastards certainly aren't getting it.' Others were less forthright, but said much the same thing.
    Goretti Horgan

    On a red roll

     SSA Results
    SSP Results
    Dundee West1.14.1
    Glasgow Baillieston3.06.8
    Glasgow Cathcart1.46.3
    Glasgow Govan2.36.1
    Glasgow Kelvin1.26.9
    Glasgow Maryhill1.47.9
    Glasgow Shettleston1.86.8
    Glasgow Springburn1.37.8
    Edinburgh Leith0.84.0

    The Scottish Socialist Party's achievement in saving its deposits in nine out of ten Glasgow seats was the highlight of the general election for every socialist. The party won 72,500 votes, short of its target of 100,000, but an excellent achievement given the low poll. Added to this is its poll of 5.1 percent in Coatbridge & Chryston, saving its deposit, 4.6 percent in Orkney & Shetland, which is a long term Liberal Democrat held seat, and 4.4 percent in Cunninghame South in the old Ayrshire coalfield from which Keir Hardie hailed, and where it might have saved another deposit if not for a Socialist Labour Party candidate splitting the vote and taking 1.4 percent (the SLP insisted on standing against the SSP in a number of seats and were soundly beaten by them in each one). The Scottish Socialists contested none of these seats in 1997.


    The SSP did not pull its punches in this campaign. Its leading figure and member of the Scottish parliament, Tommy Sheridan, had his weekly column axed in the Daily Record, the equivalent of the Mirror, after a Blairite editor was moved in. Not content with that the paper ran a campaign aimed at heroin dealers, the subtext of which was a vicious attack on the SSP. Tommy Sheridan and the SSP stuck by their guns, not only campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis but also pointing to the complete failure of the official drugs criminalisation policy. As a consequence the Record announced it was refusing to even mention Tommy Sheridan in its election coverage. During the election campaign itself Tommy Sheridan was also upfront in defending asylum seekers after a series of vicious attacks on refugees in the Sighthill area of Glasgow.

    For socialists south of the border, the SSP's performance should give us cheer. If you look at the table for the votes cast for the SSP's precursor, the Scottish Socialist Alliance, in the 1997 Westminster election and the results in the June election, the SSA's performance four years ago was on a par with the Socialist Alliance's results this year in England and Wales. In those four years the SSP built up its presence, winning a seat in the Scottish parliament and contesting council and Euro elections plus Westminster by-elections. That was accompanied by consistent campaigning on issues like scrapping Trident and the council tax. In the coming weeks socialists in England and Wales have to follow this lead.
    Chris Bambery

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