Britain after the election: key battlegrounds

An assessment from Left Unity’s executive committee.

1. We now have a Tory government claiming an electoral mandate for £12 billion cuts; pursuing the repeal of the Human Rights Act; advocating the EU deportation of hundreds of thousands of refugees; and bringing in new anti-union laws that will effectively abolish the right to strike.

2. We can expect a first 100 days of reactionary legislation aimed at further undermining the welfare state, including the NHS, the public education system, the welfare system, abolishing fundamental democratic rights, fostering racism and Europhobia and increasing global tensions through support for new nuclear weapons, military interventions and NATO’s expansionist policies.

3. Social Housing will be sold off at a faster rate; policies like the Bedroom Tax and the abolition of the Independent Living Fund will cause more suffering and claim more lives amongst poor, old and disabled people; and the media – including the BBC – will come under attack to further stifle any oppositional views.

4. Measured against this, the votes for our candidates are small consolation – they are numerically insignificant. The socialist argument made little or no impact in the election. But we are a new party just beginning to make our mark in our communities and our candidacies have been an important part of developing our political work and local activity.

5. Despite the anti-austerity vote for the SNP and the Greens, the 2015 election saw both a large number of voters remain at home (33.9%) and a very large number of votes for right wing parties. Though thwarted from gaining any new seats by the First Past the Post voting system, UKIP had nearly 4 million votes and thus exerts powerful pressure on the Tories and Labour to be even harsher in their anti-immigrant policies and strengthens the “get out of Europe at any cost” forces in the Tories’ ranks.

6. The election of a right wing government and the growth of right wing populism cannot be the cause of demoralisation and inactivity. It must be a spur to further resistance.

7. The threat from a resurgent right is not confined to the Tories. We also see a Blairite offensive to take back the Labour Party for failed New Labourism, abandoning the working class, to chase the votes of the wealthier sections of the electorate. The shift to the right of social democracy – in Britain and across Europe – serves to underline the importance of building Left Unity and advancing the policies for an alternative politics, economics and society on which it was founded.

8. There has been an upsurge in protest since the election. The vibrant demonstration in Bristol called by school students – many of them young women, the Whitehall protests, the mass rally called by the Brick Lane Debates, a massive People’s Assembly meeting in Nottingham, indeed anti-austerity meetings and protests across the country, All these show that young people, community activists, trade union members, are angry about the Tory victory and are fighting back.

9. Left Unity must be at the heart of this resistance that the Tory victory and the threat of UKIP have already put in motion, working with others to build the most effective movement possible.

10. It is important to mobilise for every significant call for resistance and protest because they are vital for renewing and building a powerful movement of resistance, and working to strengthen existing initiatives like the People’s Assembly and local anti-austerity campaigns. We need to make swift progress while indignation and alarm are motivating people to action.

11. Left Unity should do all in its power to initiate or support such actions around the country, supporting mobilising meetings called by the People’s Assembly for the June 20th ‘End Austerity Now’ demonstration, to book coaches, leaflet workplaces and commit local union branches to supporting it. We will make the case for socialisation of the banks under democratic ownership as a step on the way to reversing neo-liberalism and removing a key support mechanism for the enrichment of the 1% in the UK.

12. It is important that we learn some of the lessons of the last five years. The coalition government faced sustained opposition to cuts but primarily – and most effectively – organised by local campaigns focused on particular services. At a national level, the initial failure to organise a united movement on a broad basis dissipated the potential for resistance. The eventual emergence of the People’s Assembly and its continuing work is to be welcomed but the development of grass roots support and activity – and work with existing local campaigns – needs to be a priority to provide essential balance to the People’s Assembly’s on going profile of national demonstrations and public meetings.

13. The trade union movement’s resistance peaked with the public sector pension mass strike and then retreated at a pace when Unison pulled out and the other unions felt they couldn’t go it alone. After that set back the Bedroom tax and benefits cap were rolled through at speed – the Tories knowing that the opposition was too weak to stop them. In particular Unison’s failure to mobilise against Lansley’s NHS “reforms” when they were going through parliament was a real scandal – leaving the NHS increasingly marketised and open to predatory capital. As a result of the setbacks, UKIP membership and support accelerated after 2013 as the left and Labour failed to provide an alternative.

14. In conclusion, the government has proven to be expert at divide and rule. Turning public and private sector workers against each other, employed against unemployed, instilling racism and xenophobia. We need to make the case for solidarity and collective resistance to austerity. Coherent arguments – exposing the government’s lies – and campaigning materials to support our work are vital in the struggle against these divisive government tactics. And they are essential if we are to be successful in our struggle.

Key battles and next steps

· Defending the right to strike, repealing existing anti-trade union legislation and getting Labour to commit to these – a strategic goal otherwise our resistance will be even weaker under the Tories. Linked to this is a more widespread government attack on our rights which we must strenuously oppose. Building active solidarity with workers in struggle is central to Left Unity as a project.

· Welfare/benefits – we need to be creative, claimants unions, pamphlets with key arguments, and working with trade union members on strategies against the sanctions. Organising the unorganised will be very important if we want to fight back and win and support for Unite community branches and similar initiatives is crucial.

· Housing – Selling off social housing and extending the right to buy to housing associations will only deepen the crisis of housing in many parts of the UK. We have strong policy on housing and specific materials on it, as well as networks out of the Radical Housing conference, being part of anti-eviction campaigns, in defence of social housing and demanding rent controls will be very important.

· We have to pay particular attention to the way that the cuts and austerity is affecting women – reducing benefits and social housing will impact heavily on women, particularly those in vulnerable situations and we should work with those organisations active in this sector. Young people also face a decline in living standards as spiralling house prices and low wages squeeze take their toll.

· NHS – on-going privatisation, we need to work more closely with campaign groups like Keep Our NHS Public and health workers in Unison and Unite.

· All these issues mean united campaigns with other socialists, the Greens, autonomists and the Labour Left are very important now. We want to build Left Unity but we also have to be strong advocates of a united fight back, supporting existing organisations and new democratic initiatives that may emerge.

· Economic uncertainty – A period of stagnant ‘no-growth’ and low wages will be the norm for the foreseeable future, coupled with the global economic slowdown, deflation and the housing bubble, and this could lead to increased economic instability. It will be very important to make sure that we have good regular coverage of economic issues on our website and can counter Tory and Labour lies about “over spending” effectively and be able to campaign around these issues as they develop.

· Environment – The mobilisations around the COP15 climate negotiations in Paris will be a very important international protest (30 November to 11 December 2015). The battle is on to reduce carbon emissions rapidly before irreversible and catastrophic climate change occurs. Left Unity has clear policy on the environment that we can contribute to these campaigns.

· Proportional Representation – Left Unity supports PR and should be involved in the debate about this, contributing articles and supporting popular petitions, particularly if a movement develops.

· EU referendum – a referendum on the EU could happen as soon as 2016 – Left Unity’s policy is to remain within the EU and a further position in relation to a referendum will be decided at our next conference. We will oppose the rise of racism and xenophobia which is bound to accompany a referendum.

· Europe – the Syriza government has called for acts of social and political solidarity across Europe in support of their struggle against the Troika’s austerity policies. We must mobilise the movement in Britain in support of this call.

· Tower Hamlets – we support the candidacy of Rabina Khan for Mayor and will mobilise locally to help her. She is standing to defend democracy in Tower Hamlets and has a strong left wing record.

Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.

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