It is the early hours of May 7th 2010, election pandemonium has finally reached its flamboyant end and the poor public can’t bear to see another ICM poll. Brown’s sullen gawp graces our screen with the stench of defeat ripe in his nostrils, the Miliband duo behind him have panicked scowls on their faces. What is next for the Labour party?
The last time the party suffered defeat was 1979, the party was sunk into a period of political isolation and acted out the 1980s with the attitude of a stroppy teenager with identity issues. The Miners Strike should have been a Hammer and Sickle shaped gift from God for the decrepit Labour Party, but Neil Kinnock could not capitalise on this glorious opportunity to rally the party behind the Labour Movement. The core of the Labour party, the LABOUR movement was ignored and sidelined, and cast as the “bad guy” of the Labour party, the ghost in the closet- he who should not be named. The 1990s saw a period of regeneration, the corpse had flickered back into life. The Conservative party was voting off Leaders in a bizarre reality TV show, all within 5-6 years….who said the Tories were incapable of change?! 1997 was Year Zero for the Labour Party – the dawn of a new era, a new opportunity. However, in 2010 the party find themselves in the same position as 1979 – about to lose to a rebranded Tory party, and the Labour party will again find themselves in the same position in 20 years time, perhaps led by Miliband Jr, if they continue to forget what gave the Labour its spirit, and persistently attack what gave the Labour party its heart.
Conditions in 1979 and 2010 are strikingly similar. The “winter of discontent” as it was dubbed doesn’t seem too far away from our current position of teetering on the edge of recovery from the recession. 1978 – 1979 saw widespread strikes by local authority trade unions who, because of Callaghan’s attempt to control inflation through freezing public sector pay, were demanding larger pay rises for their members – with the experience of the Ford Strike fresh in workers’ minds. The recession Britain found itself in meant cuts were going to have to be made, and this meant an attack on the public sector. Even though the strikes were largely done and dusted by February 1979, the damage had still been done to the Labour Party, playing into the hands of the reinvigorated Tories, whose draconian anti-union legislation proved popular with the middle classes, who became sick of “those bloody unions, selfish oiks up north”. The success of the National Union of Railwaymen, and the Royal College of Nursing, which meant a 25% average rise in pay, had led many in the Labour movement to see the Labour party as the enemy, along with the Tories.
It doesn’t take much to see the parallels between the strikes of this era and the recent PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union) strikes, where 270,000 civil servants went on strike over government changes to redundancy payments. The Postal Strikes of last year again show the Labour movement coming into direct opposition with the Labour party. Royal Mail, once a source of pride for British governments, came under threat from invasive privatisation, that has been a key string to New Labour’s bow; and this was not only unpopular with the Communications Workers Union, but also the general public. So, we find ourselves in a very similar situation to 1979- a Labour government desperately clinging onto power in the midst of economic recession, and once again they see the only way out to be an attack on public services.
Another dynamic that is looming over the election in 2010 and loomed over the election of 1979 was the rise of the Far Right. Back then we had the cheery bunch of “lads”. the National Front, led by John Tyndall- a white nationalist fascist neo-Nazi. The National Front had continued to grow in the 1970s from its inception in the later 1960s, and in 1974 had as many as 20,000 members. It was mostly made up of working class or self-employed people, disgruntled with competition in the labour market which the NF directed towards being the fault of immigration. The party attracted members from the Tories, particularly from the Conservative Monday Club, which was created in opposition to Macmillan’s “Wind of Change” speech in 1960. Despite the rise of the NF during the 1970s, which was heralded by a wave of violence throughout the country, 1979 was a disastrous year for the NF. The newly invigorated Tories, under their new messiah Maggie, took the ground that the NF had occupied, a hard line anti-immigration rhetoric and a tough with a capital T stance on crime. Of the 303 candidates the NF stood at the 1979 election, 0 were elected.
We are in a similar position in 2010, with the rise of the BNP, but there are worrying advances. Whilst the NF mentality was violence first, we’ll consider the politics second; the BNP is a much more organised and thus scary prospect. The BNP have exchanged boots for suits. They now brand themselves as a mainstream party, shedding the racist skin which it is accustomed to wearing, and dressing itself as a party that represent the common man, who is dissatisfied with 21st century Britain. However, behind this veneer of acceptability and understanding, still lies the deep seated hate and violent rhetoric that fuelled the NF fire. Whilst the NF seemed unelectable- the mainstream would never listen; the BNP now have snuck into the mainstream. The BNP membership is still the old breed, the facist heart still remains, but the BNP have made themselves marketable; an alternative in this time of political uncertainty. But, if they aren’t stamped out now, on May 7th, we will find it harder to eradicate a fascist BNP that has a foothold in our political system.
Despite Brown’s last ditch efforts to give the Labour party a purpose and try and cement himself as the reliable, hardworking Scot, the Labour party has still lost it’s place in British politics. The Labour party has ditched the movement that gave it life, trying to win the ground of the Tory party- the millionaires and the big businesses, instead of supporting workers and their industries. By abandoning the working class, it has let it fall prey to the Far Right. The Far Right have capitalised on the worries of the working class- housing, jobs, public services; and provided false answers and passing the blame onto the wrong people- immigrants rather than the politicians and capitalist system which create these problems. If the Labour party does not learn its lessons at this election it will find itself in another 20 years of political wilderness, and will have left the working class to fall into the hands of the Far Right.
Article by Jonny Keyworth. Edited by Marc Geddes.