Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Monday, May 07, 2007

British and French elections: A tale of two countries

People in both Britain and France have gone to the polls over the last week or so, and it is perhaps worth briefly comparing and contrasting the outcomes of both elections, as there are interesting parallels between them both.


On the face of it, the winners seem to be the mainstream Right, with Tory toff David Cameron winning hundreds of council seats and control of plenty of new councils in England and Sarkozy's triumph in France. Both Cameron and Sarkozy often try to come across as populists who stand for the poor and oppressed of each country, especially when garnering votes, but both of them also played the race card against migrant workers during these elections - one factor in the marginalisation of the fascist Right. Local Conservative election leaflets for example in Britain led with the liberal caring 'compassionate Conservatism' on the front pages, before discussing immigration and population numbers on page three.

Aside from the Scottish National Party, whose anti-war credentials and credibility of their leader Alex Salmond helped them to hammer New Labour in Scotland, the only other real noticeable group who saw their votes in general rise beyond expectations were the far Left, for reasons which hopefully regular readers of this blog will understand (widespread anger with neo-liberal economic policies and neo-colonial wars). In Britain, the results for Respect and Solidarity are online here, and were highly impressive given the media blackout of their campaign - for Respect bloggers reactions see here and here though the sad loss of Tommy Sheridan remains a body blow for all Scottish socialists. In France, the results for the LCR's Olivier Besancenot in the first round of the Presidential elections show the potential for the far Left to continue to advance electorally in the coming period in both Britain and France.


The main losers were mainstream parties of the centre - Blair's New Labour (if that can be classed as 'centre' still) and Ming Campbell's Liberal Democrats in Britain and the French Socialist Party. 'The centre cannot hold', as Yeats I think put it. Polarisation towards Left and Right are the order of the day. Though here again it is interesting. The far Right - the Nazis - had a bit of a nightmare to be honest in both countries. Le Pen seemed to be a threat at one point early on - well enough of a threat to pull lots of socialists into voting for Royal in the first round of the Presidential elections - but he is so old now that many racists looked to Sarkozy instead of him. The British Nazi Party have a more youthful leadership but really failed to advance at all in these elections - I think a high turnout and useful work carried out by anti-fascists in groups like Unite and Love Music were important here. However, their votes remained worringly high in several areas and there is no room for complacency.


The Guardian reported that small parties like Respect had 'little, if anything, to cheer' after the election results. Yet what was most encouraging to me as a socialist about the British elections was the fact that where the far Right were confronted with a radical left alternative like Respect, nine times out of ten it was the people who talked about peace, equality and putting people before profit who appeared most attractive to those working class voters who have been betrayed by 'their' Party and were looking to try and punish Blair. Those worried about the rise of the BNP - and no doubt they are still on the rise - should take comfort from these elections and draw the lesson: Respect can fill the political vacuum in British politics, we can offer hope where there is currently only hatred and despair, - we just need more socialists to put aside infighting and introspection and get involved in the task of building a serious, united socialist alternative. If neither McDonnell or Meacher succeeds in getting onto the ballot paper in the battle inside Labour to challenge Brown, then doubtless many of those few remaining socialists worthy of the name still inside New Labour will look around elsewhere. In those areas where Respect is strong - in places like East London, Birmingham and Preston - the natural home for such people already exists. Reports of Respect's looming death on the pro-war "Left" blogosphere have once again been found to be exaggerations. Respect no longer has to prove to anyone that is the best weapon English socialists have got come elections - it now has to grow nationally and build on these electoral successes at a council level in order to be able to fight for places in the European Parliament, in the GLA in London and in the Westminster Parliament over the coming years. Yet as the results, particularly the glorious result in Bolsover showed, we now know that it can be done!

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At 9:08 pm, Blogger DJN said...

I have absolutely no idea of what's really happening on the ground in Britain, but I find it remarkable that so much of the British far left (or at least its online presence) is so hostile to Respect given the decent electoral progress of such a young left-wing party.

Regarding Scotland, I've heard some chalk up Solidarity's outpolling of the SSP as simply the result of having Sheridan's name on the ballot. But wasn't the SSP already doing poorly in by-elections and so on after 2003 and before the split?

At 9:21 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Cheers. The SSP only ever had 2 councillors - which was more than the English Socialist Alliance had in 2003 but less than Respect had by about 2005 - which gives some indication of its weak base despite the fact that Proportional Representation helped it get 6 MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) at one point. The SSP looks kind of fucked after the recent election results - the Socialist Labour Party (a party that essentially exists on paper outside a few former mining areas) beat them pretty much everywhere...

At 9:41 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The SSP and Solidarity have just disappeared into the night, even Tommy Sheridan has lost his seat. The parties have one Councillor each: Solidarity in Glasgow and the SSP in West Dunbartonshire. The SSP got 19,016 votes in Central Scotland four years ago; the two parties couldn't even manage 8,000 between them yesterday. Their 31,116 votes in Glasgow turned into just over 12,000 combined yesterday. What's worse is that had there been only one party, with the same vote, they would have got an MSP, at the expense of Patrick Harvie. The two parties combined lost more than two thirds of the SSP's vote in the Highlands and Islands. Their combined vote in the Lothians was just under 5,000, compared with 14,448 for the SSP in 2003, and the SSP this time, with their Leader standing in the region, came eleventh, behind the BNP, SSCUP, Solidarity, and the Socialist Labour Party! Neither Party could manage 1% in Mid Scotland and Fife or North East Scotland, Rosemary Byrne has sunk without trace in the South, and the two parties's support was less than 2.5% in the West. Tommy Sheridan has said that the Party will build up and work towards 2011, but the SSP are doomed and Solidarity is in danger of being strangled at birth.
The BNP beat the left hands down!!

At 7:35 pm, Anonymous Johnny Rook said...

To the anonymous poster, if they get it right, both parties could capitalise on the political vacuum that currently exists in Scotland and pull people dissatified with New Labour away from the SNP as an 'option'.

The SSP however will be far more busy castigating their former leader and burning effigies of him to bother trying to unite the left of Labour.

Solidarity (IF they do things right) are in a better position.


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