Elections and polarisation

Susan Pashkoff looks at the politics of recent elections

As has been evident from the election results that we have seen in the States, the Presidential elections in France, the Netherlands, and Austria, and the Brexit referendum in Britain we are seeing a polarised electorate which is impacting upon the votes for centre-right and centre-left candidates and as a result the crisis in liberalism (read as neoliberal as that is liberalism everywhere but the US predominantly and also, I would argue the US, but that is another piece which I have already written) is becoming rapidly apparent to those that can be bothered to look. This has led to elections in which the hard right and the left are facing off against each other. Left wing groups are doing well in Spain (Podemos), Portugal (Bloco), and Denmark (Red Green Alliance), as part of the growth of the Pink Tide with these parties supplanting support for so-called Social Democratic parties whose policies have endorsed neoliberal economic policies. In the case of the right, we are seeing Parties that are hard right supplanting tradition centre-right parties who are losing votes and elections to the hard right.

The impact of neoliberalisation has come home to roost with devastating consequences for working class people and this has impacted upon support for the centrist neoliberal parties; this has been quite evident and Britain is no exception. A weak and divided left leaves room for the hard right to succeed and alas that can be seen in election results. Some of these parties are actually fascist, see Golden Dawn in Greece, some appear to be right-wing authoritarian and nationalist (Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party in Hungary), others are right-wing populist whose politics can still turn farther to the right. They all share a Nationalist opposition to the EU and opposition to immigration (including refugees). Opposition to the EU from this perspective is one based on nationalism and EU interference in economic and political decisions.

This increasing polarisation is giving hard right and left candidates far more support than would have been the case earlier. However, and this is a big however, the left in many parts of the advanced capitalist world is often far weaker, trade union power is also weaker and in areas where industry and manufacturing has been off-shored (e.g., US, Britain) based in the public sector. As a result, while the left has an audience, it is unfortunately far weaker than the rising support for the hard right.

Growth of the hard right

In the 2017 Netherlands General Election, while relief was felt that Geert Wilders hard right Party for Freedom did not win (it lost to Rutte’s conservative and neoliberal People’s Party), the fact is that Wilders’ party came in second place with 13.1% of the vote and 20 seats in the Dutch parliament.  The shift towards the right and the hard right in the Netherlands must be noted and while it is good that Wilders’ party did not win, it did come in second place and if this does not give pause for worry, then you are not watching close enough.

The first round of the French Presidential elections that took place on April 23rd 2017 clearly shows this trend.  Emmanuel Macron came first with 24% followed by LePen with 21.3 % of the vote. The Conservative (Republican) candidate François Fillon (who is really big on social conservativism, you know the type, “family values.”) came third with 20% and one left candidate Jon-Luc Mélenchon came 4th with 19.58%. The Socialist Party candidate, Benoît Hamon, came 5th with 6.36% of the vote. Quite honestly, it is legitimate to ask why the hard left ran 2 candidates rather than uniting behind Mélenchon which may have enabled him to take 2nd place, but that is something that the French left needs to ponder seriously. Today, France is voting in the 2nd round of a Presidential election which pits National Front candidate Marine LePen against neoliberal Emmanuel Macron.  Macron has won according to polls that predict him winning 65.5% of the vote as compared 34.5% for LePen. So Macron has won, but keep in mind that Marine LePen has won 34.5% of the vote!

As in other European elections that we have seen recently, neither of the mainstream conservative or Socialist party candidates in the final round of the election; this was the case in Austria where a hard right Norbert Hofer of the Freedom ran against a former Green candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen in an election that was run twice before the final vote was declared , this is the case in the French Presidential election. Hofer, like LePen opposes two things (and this is consistent with other hard-right candidates in Europe) the EU (they are economic nationalists) and immigration (not only migrants, but also refugees).


I am hoping that while the US MSM is only concerned with the US (and things that may impact the US), that they have discussed the fact (rather than a mere statement, but that is probably expecting too much) that there was both Mayoral (e.g., Liverpool, Greater Manchester and Birmingham) and Local Elections (for local council seats) on the 4th of May and an upcoming snap General Election called by Theresa May for June 8th 2017. The call for a snap election (overturning the 5 year rule passed by the Con-Dem coalition government protecting their governments) gives 1 month for campaigning before voting.

British Local Election Results

The Mayoral and Local Elections results provide some clear things that we need to discuss, but these results are not necessarily a template for the general election results. The latter is due to the fact that people vote local candidates for different things than they will be voting for at the general election; there are often specific local issues (e.g., protecting a local hospital, protecting funding for local services) that are not relevant for the general election. Moreover, there were not city council elections in cities in the North of England and these would clearly impact the General Election vote if the mayoral results tell us anything.

However important things have become clear and they concern Scotland and UKIP and these have serious implications for a Corbyn-led Labour Party and the Tory party.

Consolidation of the Tories to the Right

Theresa May has been successful in capturing the UK Independence Party (UKIP) vote for the Tory party. This is extremely important for several reasons.

First, UKIP essentially were successful in absorbing the fascist British National Party (BNP) which ran into several problems. The BNP’s success among sectors of the British working class who were essentially abandoned by Labour (in many areas where there were Labour MPs and Labour controlled local councils, the cuts at the local level were implemented by Labour and the New Labour MPs did not oppose them and often introduced some of these policies, e.g., assessments for claimants for Disability benefits). This gave UKIP a serious foothold in the English working class among those who were simply abandoned by New Labour and who bought into the argument that the problems that the working class in former industrial sector were experiencing (i.e., unemployment, poverty, housing crisis, crisis in NHS, benefit cuts) were caused by immigrants and the EU which was taking away British sovereignty.

Somewhere along the line the fact that it was the British government and not the EU that was responsible for introducing austerity was not made clear (you can thank the British media’s bias and sheer incompetence and moreover, the line that the EU was interfering in British sovereignty — essentially preventing the elimination of any laws protecting workers’ rights which the ruling class did not like at all) was bought by the people who were protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (May has never opposed the EU, her bête noir has always been the EHRC which she’s been trying to eliminate ever since it was adopted into British law under Tony Blair).

Second, May and the Tory party’s shift to the right (in point of fact, their Ukipisation) enabled them to pick up those who supported UKIP (so UKIP’s victory on Brexit made the party essentially redundant when the Tories supported a Hard Brexit and an anti-immigration position) and they lost many supporters to the Tories. It looks like the struggle between the Tories and UKIP is over with the Tories winning their supporters.  But as was noted above, this includes a section of the working class.  So the Tory party now has a section of working class support and that is a serious problem for Labour and will impact on their support even though Jeremy Corbyn is opposed to austerity and neoliberalism.

Third, it is not just that Theresa May and the Tories have gained the votes of UKIP and made UKIP redundant. The point is that in order to do this, the Tories themselves have shifted to the right and have shifted the mainstream of politics with them. The Tories have adopted a strong anti-immigrant stance and have been advocating a hard Brexit (leaving the common market, customs union, etc). So, her dictator tour with visits to Trump and Erdo?an to drum up Trade deals as a hard Brexit will leave Britain in desperate need of trading partners (currently countries in the EU are its major trading partners) and has made the need for trading partners almost to the point of desperation. We can be certain that human rights issues will no longer be a primary concern for political and trade alliances.


Scotland is rather interesting as an understatement as Scottish Labour has lost significant support to the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Scottish Conservatives. There are many reasons for this change in their fortunes but to understand it, it is important to understand the rise in support for the SNP both in the Scottish Parliament and in the Scottish members of the British Parliament.  Looking at the Local Election results in Scotland, most Councils are under no overall control (NOC), even more so, in the three councils that were under Scottish Labour control (Glasgow, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire) have changed to NOC.

Labour lost seats to both the SNP and the Scottish Tories.  Even more embarrassing, the only Scottish Labour MP in Westminster (they were almost wiped out at the last General Election and their collapse is almost painful at this point), Ian Murray, urged voters to support the Tories to Save the Union in the General Election. The Tories ran under the “Save the Union” slogan, Labour was all over the place for which it paid dearly (moreover, Scottish Labour is well to the right of Jeremy Corbyn and Unionist which has been costing them dearly) and given that Scotland voted strongly in support of Remain in the EU and given Scottish Labour’s collapse (and Unionism) the SNP and Tory vote was able to break more and more of Scottish Labour. The Scottish Greens (pro-Independence and to the left of both SNP and Scottish Labour) were able to pick up seats in Glasgow and Edinburgh (they are particularly strong in Edinburgh) and have come out stronger from this election.  The results were not only about Unionism (although that played a strong role), they were about Brexit (which Scotland overwhelming rejected) and they were also about austerity and cuts as well and Scottish Labour has no answers. The loss of Glasgow council to NOC for the first time since in 37 years is serious and indicative of how much power and support Scottish Labour has lost.

The collapse of Scottish Labour and Scotland’s general opposition to Brexit and the demand of the SNP for another Independence referendum (due to Brexit) will create problems for the Labour Party in the upcoming General Election as a whole as it is expected that these results will translate to the General Election. Without Scotland, even if Labour wins in England and Wales with a strong majority at the General Election (and that is a big if) they will need to reach an accommodation with the SNP. Scottish Labour will certainly not be happy with that (an understatement).

Moreover, Labour’s unionism will create problems for them going forward; the bad role (remember Devo Max and  Gordon Brown’s “carrot” against Independence?  The extremely bad role that Scottish Labour played in the Scottish Independence Referendum is coming back to bite them on the arse (as Brown had no way to ensure that the British Government would carry out his pledge after the vote). Given English and Welsh Labour’s Unionism (and the deep split in Scotland) and the strength of the SNP, there is no way that Labour can have even a minority government without the support of the SNP.

Why did May call the General Election?  

In many senses, that is obvious. She called the election because polls were giving her 20 percentage points above Jeremy Corbyn’s projected vote. Additionally, she wanted a mandate for her leadership and Brexit negotiations. Her leadership came about due to an internal election in the Tory party; her legitimacy to carry out a Hard Brexit was minimal (and as Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP kept pointing out she was not elected through winning a General Election like Sturgeon and for that matter David Cameron). The Tories won the last General Election under Cameron, not Theresa May. There is also no guarantee that the political situation (and for that matter the British economy) would not have changed by 2020 after Brexit negotiations and she needs that legitimacy and the lack of worry to cement her leadership. This gives her extra time in power to continue the destruction of the British welfare state including the privatisation of the National Health Service (NHS), the destruction of the state education system, and further attempts to undermine the conditions of the working class in Britain. The fact that she has done this before proposed boundary changes  have been done, tell you how strong she views her position. The campaign has been unpleasant and will continue to be so, Theresa May’s claim that Brussels wants a Corbyn victory will probably not be the strangest thing we will hear  nor the most dangerous unfortunately.

Issues for the Labour Party

While Jeremy Corbyn is the Leader of the Labour Party (LP) that doesn’t mean that he has complete control over the direction of the Labour Party or has the support of the Parliamentary Labour Party (the members of the Labour Party in the House of Commons). The LP is essentially two different parties with very different political directions; on the one hand there is Corbyn and the left of Labour and on the other hand, there is New Labour. These blocs are extremely divided. Unlike the case of the parties of the Pink Tide, Corbyn is attempting to bring the Labour Party back to its social democratic roots; to shift the party is an immense exercise as although there have always been left Labour MP and members of the party at various levels. The Party itself under the leadership of Blair had abandoned its social democracy, its base in the working class and undermined the power of the Trade Unions that are its affiliates.

Moreover, the LP is a very undemocratic organisation and even with attempts of democratisation by Corbyn, this will take quite a while to address. So while Corbyn has the support of the majority of the members (which is how he was able to become leader of the LP), he doesn’t control the actions of local LP leaders or MPs.  Moreover, Corbyn did not call for the deselection of opponent MPs or Blairite MPs (this was a mistake which has come back to bite him on the arse) and the Labour left does not control many of the councils and local area parties so selection of both local Councillors and MPs is under the control of the Party machinery which is mostly in the hands of people from New Labour.

As such, at the local level where LP councillors and LP controlled councils have instituted the cuts at the local level (Corbyn actually said not to set “illegal budgets”), even a “no cuts” budget will impact services which desperately need more financing. Also, those Labour controlled local councils that did institute cuts have lost support of local voters (the Tories were clever, most of the cuts were instituted at the local, rather than national, level). Even in areas where there are strong left Labour members often the wards are controlled by the right of the LP who have worked to prevent left Labour members running for local councils and higher level positions in the party.

For newer members of the LP who joined because they supported Jeremy Corbyn, this means that essentially they are being asked to campaign and vote for MPs whose politics they do not support. That is a serious problem as campaigning for these people whose views you strongly disagree with only due to your supporting Jeremy puts left-wing LP activists in a rather unpleasant political position.  Additionally, there is no guarantee that these MPs will support Corbyn’s policies if he actually did win (or support his being PM). These people needed to be deselected and they will not be before the election takes place.

The collapse of Scottish Labour will clearly not only impact on the numbers of seats that the LP can win across Britain. The unionism of the LP as a whole has placed it out of step with the political beliefs of large numbers of the Scottish people on Independence. Moreover, the other primary issue of membership in the EU is probably even more serious as across party lines in Scotland, the vast majority voted Remain (which people know was not the case in England and Wales).  For Corbyn to actually (if the LP enough seats in England and Wales) lead a Government, an alliance will be needed with the SNP (which Scottish Labour will not support), Plaid Cymru in Wales and Caroline Lucas of the Greens, that is an anti-austerity alliance and not the so-called Progressive Alliance which would include the Liberal Democrats (while the Lib Dems have been fighting an anti-Brexit and pro-immigrant  positions, their economic policies have not changed and quite honestly, I doubt I am the only one that wouldn’t trust them to sweep up the fallen leaves in my garden in Autumn).

So there is a mountain to climb. But it is a mountain that must be climbed as there is so much at stake. We have a clear election pitting the right against the left, it is a huge challenge for Corbyn and the Labour left!

Where can Corbyn get votes from? Will it be Enough?

As we see the Tories have won a portion of the working class by shifting to the right; they are running the election on a hard Brexit and anti-immigration position.  Corbyn is running the election based on his 10 pledges.

 Corbyn’s 10 pledges
  1. Full employment and an economy that works for all: based around a £500bn public investment via the planned national investment bank.
  2. A secure homes guarantee: building 1m new homes in five years, at least half of them council homes. Also rent controls and secure tenancies.
  3. Security at work: includes stronger employment rights, an end to zero hours contracts and mandatory collective bargaining for companies with 250 or more employees.
  4. Secure our NHS and social care: end health service privatisation and bring services into a “secure, publicly-provided NHS”.
  5. A national education service: includes universal public childcare, the “progressive restoration” of free education, and quality apprenticeships.
  6. Action to secure our environment: includes keeping to Paris climate agreement, and moving to a “low-carbon economy” and green industries, in part via national investment bank.
  7. Put the public back into our economy and services: includes renationalising railways and bringing private bus, leisure and sports facilities back into local government control.
  8. Cut income and wealth inequality: make a progressive tax system so highest earners are “fairly taxed”, shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid.
  9. Action to secure an equal society: includes action to combat violence against women, as well as discrimination based on race, sexuality or disability, and defend the Human Rights Act.
  10. Peace and justice at the heart of foreign policy: aims to put conflict resolution and human rights “at the heart of foreign policy (http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/pledges).”

He must get the following group of voters to participate in the election:

  1.  There are a large number of voters that have abstained in elections due to no major party offering anything to support the working class in one hell of a long time. People just stopped voting as they didn’t feel that they had anything to vote for.
  2.  Young people also support Jeremy Corbyn, the problem is that that they may not be registered to vote. There certainly has been some dissatisfaction among young people around Brexit and the anti-immigration policies of the Tories; they are strong potential voters for a Corbyn-led Labour Party.

Registering voters along with a GOTV campaign is essential to get a decent showing for Labour which will be needed to block Theresa May’s dreams of a romp over the LP especially a left-led LP as destroying the left itself would be quite the coup. A large turnout on Election Day increases the vote for Labour. We need to keep fighting even though the chances are not high that Corbyn will win. Never discount possibilities these days; it has been a very strange couple of years in politics and taking nothing for granted is important.

However, if there is a bad loss and Jeremy resigns, the probability of another left-wing Labour candidate winning leadership is not high, I cannot imagine the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) making that mistake again and the rules for running for leadership have not changed.

Needless to say (but I am going to do so anyway), a significant loss by the LP led by Jeremy Corbyn will be a significant loss for the left as well as the working class in Britain. There is no way around that; the Corbyn movement has managed to energise young people who joined the party in large numbers, to energise those on the left and also those who have been on the hard end of austerity (disabled people, women, and the working class on low income). It will be a catastrophic defeat and its impact will ripple throughout the whole of Britain and in Europe.  We need to fight as hard as possible for a Corbyn-led Labour Party victory.  This is a struggle that we simply cannot afford to lose and the odds are not in our favour.

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