5 May: why the Tory vote held up

Submitted by martin on 9 May, 2011 - 4:40

The Lib Dems lost heavily in the local government elections on 5 May, but the Tory vote held up.

The Tories gained 86 new council seats in England compared to last time these seats were contested - which was in 2007, when the Labour government was very unpopular. They control 19 more councils than they did before 5 May.

The Tory percentage of the vote was the same as in 2010. The Tories have lost no share of the vote since the general election, despite introducing huge and very unpopular cuts.

In mid-2009 George Osborne, then shadow chancellor, calculatingly leaked to the press the opinion that "After three months in power we [the Tories] will be the most unpopular government since the war". He was trying to brace his party in advance for what history indicated as probable.

Margaret Thatcher's government, even though it would go on to win the 1983 and 1987 elections, was hugely unpopular a year after taking office. And it was, at that point, much slower and more cautious about its cuts and privatisations than Cameron is. And it faced a Labour Party deeply discredited by very harsh cuts in 1977-9. This time, more by luck than by judgement, Labour increased social spending seriously and made fairly few cuts before leaving office.

The Labour leaders' opposition to the Tory cuts can rally a limited constituency; but it is so much more weak and mumbling than even in 1980 that it has no power to grip and win over the perplexed, the deferential, or the dispirited, the people who think that big cuts may be "necessary".

The Blair-Brown regime shifted general public opinion to the right - more so, in fact, than Thatcher did. That shift could quickly be reversed given a sizeable force in the working class which will seize on the vast disquiet with capitalism created by the 2008 crash and point it forwards.

Yet Ed Miliband seems to have decided that with his speech at the October 2010 Labour Party conference disavowing New Labour he used up his quota of even vaguely left-wing talk for the year. Since then he has been on the run from the Blairites.

Ed Balls, now Shadow Chancellor, was relatively pugnacious against the cuts when running for the Labour leadership. Now he only offers snide jibes about George Osborne being "out of his depth".

The Labour leaders have let the Tories appear to the confused and unsure as the people who may be nasty, but are straightforward about the plight of capitalism and ready to do something to fix it.

Miliband and Balls move under pressure. They have been under heavy pressure from the diehard Blairites in the Labour Party, who have recovered their confidence since October 2010. They have been under almost no pressure from the Labour left, or from the Labour-affiliated union leaders, almost all of whom, on paper and in formal policies, should figure as "left" in the current Labour Party spectrum. Instead, the union leaders have adapted to the pressure to be cautious and "realistic" exerted by the diehard Blairites and transmitted through Miliband.

Then, in turn, those leaders have been under very little pressure, on the political issues, from left caucuses in their unions, or the union membership more broadly. On the contrary, the leaders have weighed down on the left caucuses and the members.

Beginning from the local anti-cuts committees, and the very significant minority of workers who already are up for a fight, activists can make those political gears and levers work in reverse.

Meanwhile, we should face facts about where we are. Things can change quickly. In action, confidence can grow fast. But at present we are on the back foot. Demagogic appeals to the TUC to call a general strike are just escapism.

● "Blair's children": www.workersliberty.org/blairchild

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