When the exit polls suggested that, despite five years of cuts and attacks, Cameron might be re-elected, even the establishment politicians themselves couldn’t quite believe it. A day later, and with Milliband, Clegg and Farage having already stood aside, the truth is dawning that we are going to have to gear up to fight a majority Tory government.
There is understandable fear and anger about what this General Election result could mean in terms of further attacks on benefits and welfare, further cuts and privatisation to schools and the NHS and a further strengthening of anti-union laws, to name just a few.
That anger has to be turned in to action. With any hope of any kind of anti-cuts Government gone for now, the trade union movement and community campaigners are going to have to act – and fast.
Locally, TUSC and the Socialist Party will be getting straight on with the job of supporting me, Stop Academies In Lewisham and the teacher unions building the fight to stop the break-up of local schooling into academy chains. Nationally, instead of pretending we can wait for a Labour Government to come to our rescue, the trade union movement needs to issue an immediate call to arms to take national strike action to defend jobs, conditions and services. This time, unlike 2011, it’s got to be action aimed to win – not just to protest then walk away.
The fact is, of course, that despite some people’s vain hope that somehow a Labour/SNP Government might reverse the cuts, that prospect was never really on offer. Ed Balls was so keen to show that Labour would be as reliably austerian a Party as the Tories, he couldn’t even hold his own seat.
If you're not going to challenge the austerity lies, then you shouldn't be surprised if some voters, such as disillusioned LibDem voters, opt for the 'real' Tories rather than their pretenders.
More than ever, trade unions need their own political voice
Surely, New Labour’s hapless failure makes it even more obvious that trade unions need to stop trying to resuscitate a dying beast and build their own political representation instead.
Assisted by media ‘guidance’, the pro-business politicians who dominate New Labour thinking will probably draw all the wrong conclusions and decide that they must turn even more to the right. Yet the Election results show that, if you want to defeat the Tories, you need to promise to oppose cuts, not to ‘balance the books’. Witness how the SNP, posing as an anti-austerity party, opposing Trident and privatisation, almost swept the board north of the border. The Greens, given national publicity that was denied to TUSC, also picked up votes in the same way.
Of course, some of those who still refuse to jump from Labour’s shipwreck will say that TUSC’s relatively modest votes show that a new voice cannot be built. Far from it! TUSC campaigners know that, wherever we were able to get our views across, our ideas are enthusiastically supported. That was certainly my experience at the Lewisham West and Penge hustings, and at our TUSC pre-election rally that was packed with new faces, most much younger than mine!
We met new TUSC supporters at the campaign stalls we held in Forest Hill, Penge, Sydenham and Bellingham. We were more active on the streets than any other Party. Our policies could offer an answer to the problems of low pay and unaffordable housing suffered by so many local people.
One personal highlight on the street stalls was bumping into into Tim again, twenty-five years after we had last worked together in the Penge Anti Poll Tax Union, to find that he still had the suit in his attic that I'd lent him to be a 'McKenzie's friend' to asist non-payers being taken through Bromley Magistrates Court!
|Ticking a box for the BBC ?|
Even on Election night, we were still meeting voters who said they would have voted for us if they’d met TUSC before. Even our lively campaign of stalls and activities could only scratch the surface of a whole parliamentary constituency, with mass media coverage largely denied us. The BBC did allow me twenty seconds on London Regional News on Wednesday – but few will have seen it. Even then, the visit to Broadcasting House, to then be hurriedly filmed in a side-street, felt distinctly like a mere ‘box-ticking’ exercise for the BBC to show that they had complied with their ‘fair media coverage’ duties.
Silenced from most of the press of course, many voters still saw TUSC as mainly a ‘minority’ option and the Greens picked up most of the ‘anti-cuts votes’ locally (although how reliably anti-cuts every Green would be once elected is debatable, as we found out ourselves when both Greens and the Socialist Party had councillors on Lewisham Council in the last decade). For now, TUSC’s support came from the most determined voters that have already seen through the austerity lies and/or have worked with us in trade union and community campaigns.
In Lewisham West and Penge TUSC secured 391 votes (0.8%), a solid enough start in a seat where we have never stood before. We got over 3% in places where our candidates have more of an electoral history, like Coventry North West, where Dave Nellist, chair of TUSC, received 1,769 votes. In Southampton, Councillor Don Morrell, a TUSC supporter who has taken a clear anti-cuts stance, won his council seat with 2,330 votes, a majority of 1,000 over the Labour Party.
Victories like Don’s show what could be achieved if the trade unions were to put their weight behind a serious anti-cuts political alternative. Just lobbying the main parties to support Union policies – like the NUT’s ‘Stand Up for Education’ campaign - has proved to be insufficient. Instead, trade unionists should be fighting for those policies themselves as trade-union backed candidates offering a real alternative to the establishment political parties.
If you agree, keep in touch with TUSC in Lewisham West and Penge and help us build to defeat the Tory attacks – and make sure that, next time, we can defeat them politically too.
The Socialist Party are meeting again at 7.30 pm in 'the Hob' in Forest Hill on Tuesday May 19 to discuss how we build action to defeat the attacks we now face - locally and nationally. Come along and join with us to fight cuts.