The parliamentary game is up
New Labour’s continued disintegration – both as a government and a party – is now accompanied by an historic fracturing of a political system that has hitherto functioned on the Tweedledum-Tweedledee principle. That much is clear from yesterday’s devastating European election results.
For those who can’t remember their nursery rhymes, Tweedledum and Tweedledee were two men who agreed to have a battle, only to take fright when a crow appeared. The story nicely sums up the history of the parliamentary system over the last century, where the major parties have sustained the democratic façade through mock battles while agreeing to preserve the status quo.
For this to work, Labour has had to remain a credible partner in the game. Now that New Labour is collapsing before our very eyes – winning just 15.3% of the votes cast, its lowest share of the poll in a national election since 1910 – the Tweedledum-Tweedledee system is also coming to a finality.
Labour had its worst results since 1918 in Scotland and Wales. In Cornwall the party came sixth behind the Cornish Nationalist party. In the south-east and south-west, it came fifth behind the Greens. Add in the expenses scandal and there can be no doubt that all this adds up to a seminal crisis for the parliamentary democratic system.
New Labour’s betrayal of the less well-off, white working class in areas like Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield, Lincolnshire and parts of the North-West, along with the government’s anti-asylum, anti-migrant pandering, is entirely responsible for the election of two neo-fascist BNP members to the European Parliament. At the same time, the inability of the Tories to maintain loyalty amongst their own natural supporters enabled UKIP – another far right-wing grouping – to finish second in the Euro elections.
A further indication of the profound crisis gripping the capitalist political system is the slump in turn-out, not just in Britain where it plunged from 38.4 % in 2004 to 33% of those eligible to vote. This itself is well below the European average of 43%, which is down on 2004 and compares with an average of 63% when the first elections were held in 1979.
Significantly, the parties that have their origins in social democratic reform traditions in Spain, France and Germany did extremely poorly, whether in government or opposition. This is further verification that their historic role in preserving the capitalist status quo with a few reformist trimmings doesn’t wash any more. In Sweden, once a bastion of social democracy, the country’s Pirate Party, which wants to legalise Internet file sharing, won 7% of the national vote and one of the country's 18 seats in the European Parliament.
So where does all this leave us politically? The first thing to say is that just concentrating on who won what seats in a pretty meaningless European parliament is to miss the essence of the crisis. Particularly in Britain, this is about a break-up of an historic and often cosy political arrangement in which the focus was Parliament.
Ultimately, the cause is the growing alienation from traditional politics that itself flows from the corporate-driven globalisation process. The simultaneous crisis within the capitalist economic and financial system gives the political crisis a unique character.
The answer cannot and does not lie simply in contesting elections for institutions that are increasingly discredited but in developing a credible, alternative anti-capitalist democratic politics (and economics) which will require a revolutionary transformation to carry through. There are enough warnings from the European elections to show that if we don’t grasp this nettle, others on the far right are ready to do so.
AWTW communications editor
8 June 2009