Publications Index | Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’s Internet Archive

Socialist Review Index (1993–1996) | Socialist Review 175 Contents

Socialist Review, May 1994

Notes of the Month


Vote of no confidence


From Socialist Review, No. 175, May 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


With luck, the Tories should get a bloody nose with the election results on 5 May. Their unpopularity is as great as ever. Any local support that the Tories can claim for ‘efficiency’ or good management of local government has been undermined by John Major’s determination to maintain a high profile in the local election campaign. That alone has ensured that the date becomes a referendum on the Major government. Any such referendum is likely to have one outcome: a resounding no for Major and his policies. All the signs point to it. The government is trailing a full 20 points behind Labour in the opinion polls. Attempts to make themselves more popular blow up in the Tories’ faces.

The latest fiasco – plans to turn the D-Day anniversary into a grotesque ‘family day’ with spam fritter cooking competitions dreamt up by an advertising agency at the cost of £62,000 – led to an outcry. Opposition ranged from those who thought the battle should be remembered in a more serious way to those who saw it as a cynical government manoeuvre just days before the European elections, or even to those who dislike the repackaging of history as fake national heritage imbued with Tory values.

Paralysis at the top, as the Tory government rushes from one such mess to another, is mirrored by discontent below. So the Tories are petrified by these elections and even more so by the European ones in June, where they are likely to do even worse.

The main beneficiary of government unpopularity should be the Labour Party. Were there a general election today, the most likely outcome would appear to be a majority Labour government. Labour’s policies clearly fit more closely with the aspirations of millions of ordinary people than with those of either the Tories or the Liberals. There is a majority in favour of more NHS funding, an end to privatisation, lowering unemployment and a minimum wage.

Any doubt that exists about the outcome of either election, or indeed any reluctance to see Labour as an alternative government party, is the fault of the Labour leadership. At every turn it responds in the most timid and conservative manner. Its main public argument in the local elections has been that Labour councils are more ‘efficient’ at saving money than the Tories – a claim which is hard for Labour to justify unless it talks about different social priorities, such as more nurseries or home helps.

Labour’s record in local government is one of cuts, a worsening housing situation and more and more readiness to manage the economic crisis for the Tories at a local level. Labour councils such as Birmingham and Sheffield are more interested in prestige projects, such as building new roads or sports stadiums which attract business investment, than in the needs of ordinary people. In cities such as Sheffield the Labour councils are attacking their own workforces in an effort to improve ‘efficiency’.

The housing shortage has led to greater political problems for Labour, as the ever diminishing stock of public housing puts pressure on different groups and allows witch hunts of those such as single parents or blacks who supposedly receive preferential treatment. Labour’s refusal to stand up to the Tories, so finding itself increasingly unpopular, has opened the door to the Liberal Democrats, and of course to the fascists, in a number of areas. Yet there is absolutely no evidence that the Liberals can improve the housing situation. They are in favour of the sale of council houses and for partnership with private builders to sell houses at a profit. Their racist policies in Tower Hamlets have provided a fertile seed bed for the BNP.

A big vote for Labour in both the May and June elections would be a real step forward. In any referendum on John Major’s government, a Labour vote represents a sign that the more advanced section of the working class which wants change and is willing to resist Tory attacks is feeling more confident than it did at the general election. A vote for Labour would be a vote for class politics.

A vote for the Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, is a vote for pale imitation Tories, who are anti-union and racist at least in some areas. Labour is, unfortunately, all too happy to play into the hands of the liberals. Many of its leaders write off the south of England, refusing to organise or even canvass in some areas. Some even agree with ‘tactical voting’ which is much more advantageous to the Liberals than to Labour.

It is worth remembering that, of the 50 most marginal Tory seats, Labour is the second party in 36 of them, the Liberal Democrats in 12 and the SNP in two. Labour’s 36 include 19 in the southern half of England and Wales, for example seats in Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol. Yet Labour all too often concedes the argument that it cannot win in such seats. The other problem for Labour is that it turns its back on the struggle which could help it to foster opposition to the Tories. Although local Labour MP Ann Clywd occupied Tower colliery in South Wales to protest at its closure and win a shortlived reprieve (later reversed by the miners themselves under pressure of bribery from British Coal), the Labour front bench did nothing around the closing of the pit.

It does nothing about the anti-union laws for fear of adverse publicity, nothing around the minimum wage and little even over the NHS. It therefore does not become a focus for those who want to fight against the system.

Labour’s failure has given ground to the fascists in some areas. We do not know how well the BNP and NF will do in the local elections. But if they increase their support it will be among people who feel failed by Labour and embittered by their experiences.

Most of those who voted for the fascists on the Isle of Dogs last year, and who claim they may do so in May, are not deeply committed to fascist ideas, but see no hope of change from Labour.

Socialists have been out campaigning to try to prevent the fascist vote growing and stop Derek Beackon’s re-election in the Isle of Dogs. We hope that will be successful. But we also need to build a revolutionary alternative to Labour which can begin to address the concerns which have helped the Nazis to get a hearing.

Socialist Review Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 18 April 2017