Friday 25 March 2011

A Socialist challenge to our Labour Council to fight the cuts

The 12% vote for Ian Page in the Bellingham council by-election is a warning to Labour Councils making cuts that working people are growing tired of their excuses.

Labour 1100 51%
Tory  340 16%
Lib Dem 334 16%
Ian Page SP/LPBP 264 12%
Greens 100 5%
Turnout 22%

Lewisham Council is making £88 million of cuts over the next four years, slashing jobs and services. Labour councillors want to put all the blame on the Con-Dems. For now at least, that anger against this government of millionaires still guarantees a Labour victory – but for how much longer?

Lewisham Socialist Party – standing on a joint ticket with Lewisham People Before Profit – understood that most voters would want to punish the Tories and Lib Dems. But our message was clear – that you couldn’t trust Labour to resist their attacks. Voting for Ian Page, our anti-cuts candidate, was the best way to send a message to all the parties that a working-class area like Bellingham needed councillors who would fight for their community and against all cuts.

In a few weeks, our campaign secured a real base of support in a ward where we had never done any previous campaigning. We could point to Ian’s campaigning record as a socialist councillor in Telegraph Hill but Bellingham is at the other end of the borough. After this result, the other parties will have to recognise that we are force to be reckoned with right across Lewisham.

On the doors and the street stalls, there was growing support from local people to our anti-cuts message. Hatred for the Government was also mixed with anger for Labour councillors who were carrying out the Tories’ dirty work – slashing jobs, closing libraries and privatising children’s centres. The low turnout reflected a mood amongst many that they couldn’t trust anyone to defend them. But our 12% vote – close behind both Tories and LibDems - shows that we persuaded many others not to stay angrily indoors on election day but to vote for a real alternative.

While both the LibDems and Labour tried to present Ian as an ‘outsider’, it was the Labour canvassers in suits that looked most out of place in Bellingham. One Labour councillor was so lost that she had to come up to our stall for directions. ‘I’m meant to be meeting the Labour team outside the Housing Office’ she explained. ‘Yes, but you closed it’, came our reply – pointing to the boarded up office behind us!

When Ian finally finished on the doors, he realised he’d dropped the keys to his scooter. A group of lads came out of one of the houses to say they’d found them and taken them safely indoors. When they realised it was Ian, they explained their family had voted for him too! That’s working-class solidarity!

At the Town hall election count, Labour looked relieved but we were smiling. Lewisham’s Labour councillors know that trade unions and the community are already organising against their cuts. Now they will have to start looking over their left shoulders for a socialist challenge at the ballot box as well.

1 comment:

Agrona said...

Yes, this was a noteworthy result in more ways than one.

a. The Labour share of the vote (51.3%) is much the same in 2002 and 2006 and slightly up on the 46.1 percent they gained at previous election in 2010. Given that, nationally, Labour is poling between 41 and 44 percent one might have expected more support in what is one of the safest Labour constituencies in the country. Clearly, despite the unpopularity of the Government, people are not flooding back to Labour; its more of a mild leak. The headline in the New Shopper notwithstanding (“Labour r candidate ..romps to in y Bellingham by-election victory”) , this is nothing to write home about.

b. Far more significant is the unpopularity of the governing parties. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats lost out badly: their combined vote has dropped from 46 percent to 32 percent.

Of the two parties the Liberal Democrats suffered the most obvious setback: in May 2010 their three candidates received 27.1 percent of the vote compared to the 15.9 percent they got yesterday. That is a decline of 41 percent. Interestingly, this collapse is almost the same as that indicated in the national public opinion polls from this time last year. It seem as though people right across the country have seen though the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservative’s vote also waned, though to a lesser extent (from 19. per cent to 15.6 percent). Proportionately, this is a drop of 18 percent. Conservative Party central office should be worried by this result.

Historically, the Conservatives have always been able to rely on a small but loyal band of followers in even the strongest of Labour areas. Hitherto these devotees could always be relied upon to turn out and vote even when the chance of victory was effectively nil.

Nationally, The Conservatives have appeared to hold on to their supporters quite well: they are currently polling 37 percent in opinion polls, exactly the same as they were a year ago. However this pattern was not repeated in Bellingham (or in the Ladywell by-election in November where their vote shrank to 5.1 percent).

The decline of the Conservative vote of in Lewisham is an indication that the cuts starting to polarising opinion. If this trend continues then the Conservative will loose their legitimacy in urban areas. In turn, this opens the way to a form of politics that is new to Britain, a form based on conflict between whole sections of the population.