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The break-up of old politics

The long-term break up of traditional party allegiances is confirmed by yesterday’s national and council elections. Last year’s general election stalemate may well prove the rule not the exception.

Neither the Tories nor Labour can command overwhelming support, especially as turn-out remains stuck in the low 60% range at general elections and much lower in other polls.

Labour’s loss of key seats to the right-wing populist Scottish National Party is indicative of the trend. Who would have thought that Lanarkshire, home of Keir Hardie, Labour’s first leader, would go over to the SNP? Once Labour could put up a donkey (and often did) and it would win in Scotland, enabling it to win at Westminster elections.

No longer. Labour’s bankrupt politics of embracing market capitalism has less and less appeal to working people in Scotland and elsewhere. New leader Ed Miliband’s appeal is so diffuse and undifferentiated from the Tories that he makes little impact. His support for the AV on the basis that it would force parties to broaden their appeal went down like a lead balloon.

The SNP’s demagogic populism even attracted the support of trade union leaders, according to party leader Alex Salmond. With half of Scots entitled to vote staying at home, it was hardly a resounding victory for the parliamentary democratic process or a vote for independence, which Salmond is now promising.

Political fragmentation brought the Lib Dems into a coalition with the Tories – and they took on the role of human shield for David Cameron and his “deficit reduction” plan – aka as massive public spending cuts. As a result, Nick Clegg’s party took a massive hit at the local elections and in Scotland while the Tories escaped relatively scot free.

This can only intensify tensions and contradictions at the top of the government, and even threaten Clegg’s position as leader. It is surely no more than 50-50 whether the coalition is able to stagger on for more than a year or so. Only a lack of organised opposition to its policies from Labour and the Trades Union Congress allows it to remain in office in any case.

The cuts in services and jobs at town hall level have been implemented by Labour, Tory and Lib Dem councils alike. Nothing will change as a result of yesterday’s elections, except that more Labour councils are ready to do the government’s bidding.

As they take control of town halls around the country, they will inherit cuts budgets and carry on with their implementation. Later this year, the new Labour councils will start work on budgets for 2012-13 which will involve further reductions in spending. Anyone who thought a vote for Labour was a vote against the cuts is sorely mistaken.

The elections solve nothing in that respect. Economic conditions continue to deteriorate, as the National Institute of Economic and Social Research pointed out this week. Its briefing said:

The weak recovery will feed through to lower tax revenues. That will mean that even if the spending plans are met over the next four years, public sector net borrowing will fall only to 3.6 per cent of GDP in 2015–16 rather than the 1.5 per cent projected by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

In plain language, it means that the government’s deficit is out of control and that deeper and deeper cuts are on the cards. The market capitalist economy has failed. Replacing it with a sustainable, not-for-profit economy is a political task that of necessity means going beyond the existing system and creating a real democracy.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
6 May 2011

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