Where stand Britain’s political parties at the close of 2013 and into the new year?
The Tories should be feeling relieved and pleased. Technically, the economy has grown out of recession, although many millions of workers and their families continue to struggle with falling real incomes, rising prices, shrinking horizons and persistent insecurity.
Aided and abetted by most of the mass media, Chancellor Osborne has successfully perpetuated the big lie that the last Labour government was responsible for a non-existent crisis in Britain’s public finances.
Although emperor Dave Cameron has no clothes, his shiny and superficially sincere face attracts much more attention than his naked class politics. And playing the anti-immigration and anti-EU cards has helped buoy up the Tories in the opinion polls.
Despite a year’s public spending cuts, falling living standards, the scandalous privatisation of Royal Mail and defeat in the Commons about war in Syria, Cameron’s crew managed to increase their average opinion poll ratings over the year slightly to 33 per cent.
But the biggest winners have been Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party. Despite the outing of more racist, sexist and extreme right-wing elements in UKIP, the party’s share of public support has surged by a third over the past 12 months to 12 per cent.
Having a near monopoly on expressing popular anti-EU sentiment, while also beating the anti-immigration drum, has hugely outweighed unconvincing attempts to brand UKIP as racists – which many members are although their policies stop short of open racism – or ‘pinstripe fascists’ (which they are not).
Perhaps some concentration on their anti-NHS and pro-big business credentials will help put the skids under them over the coming period.
The LibDems should have received a much heavier drubbing in the polls during 2013, given the leadership’s open betrayal of their party’s supposed principles of tolerance, fairness, civil liberties and equal opportunities for all.
Instead, support has dropped by only a single point to about 9 per cent.
Admittedly,this still represents a collapse of two-thirds from 23 per cent of the popular vote won at the 2010 General Election. But given LibDem support for the Bedroom Tax, privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and the monopoly corporations (despite the odd squeak from Business Secretary Vince Cable), direct military intervention in Syria and the anti-democratic Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, a level of support nearer to nil would have been more appropriate.
Labour’s lead in the polls seems to have shrunk slightly, even though the party has performed well in numerous council by-elections. Support since last December is down by about four points to around 39 per cent.
Most of the fall came in the first quarter of this year, as the media trumpeted Britain’s flimsy and selective economic recovery.
Significantly, the slide was only halted and reversed once Ed Miliband proposed an energy price freeze, abolition of the Bedroom Tax and – bowing to the better judgement of shadow defence secretary Douglas Alexander for opportunistic reasons – eventually coming out against a British military adventure in Syria.
The lesson is clear. When Labour puts even some pale pink water between itself and the Tories, and argues vigorously for such bolder positions, people respond positively.
Campaigning in 2014 for public ownership of the banks, railways, postal service and energy utilities would reap electoral dividends in the following General Election.
More immediately, Labour’s electoral propects for next year are mixed. While there should be gains in local elections in England on May 22, UKIP are likely to be the big winners in that day’s ballot for the European ‘parliament’ (I use the term loosely for the most toothless legislature on the planet now that the Welsh national assembly has some primary law-making powers).
This will not be averted unless the labour movement and the Labour Party remove their rose-tinted spectacles and see the EU for the anti-democratic, anti-working class and pro-big business racket that it is.
Rather than allow the UKIP nationalists and the dwindling but still toxic BNP fascists to monopolise anti-EU sentiment from the right, Labour and the trade unions should be educating and mobilising it from the left.
Where communist parties and trade union confederations do this with gusto, as in Portugal and increasingly in Spain and Italy, so the right-wing parties make less headway. Where social-democratic, left and trade union bodies swallow the myth that a ‘social Europe’ is possible through reforming the EU, as in France and Greece, the far right have a field day.
With this lesson in mind, Britain’s communists will be joining other socialists and workers – not least those in the RMT union – to fight the EU elections as part of a left-wing, internationalist and anti-EU alliance, No2EU – Yes to Workers’ Rights.
September 18, 2014, will see the referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. Whereas the SNP retains considerable support for its record in government at Holyrood, its White Paper on independence appears to have had little impact on public opinion. With many more Scottish electors beginning to make up their minds, still only 34 per cent favour ‘independence’ (under EU, NATO and Bank of England rule) while 57 per cent oppose.
By far the most popular option would have been ‘devo max’ (greater powers for the Scottish parliament short of separation), broadly supported by many socialists, communists and trade unionists, but this has been excluded from the ballot paper at the insistence of David Cameron and the Scottish Labour Party.
On the far left in Britain, the biggest news in 2013 has been the continuing implosion of the Socialist Workers Party.
Its mishandling of rape and sexual harassment allegations against a leading party member – and of the consequent revolt – reflected an internal regime which is deeply undemocratic, inflexible and dictatorial.
This is ironic, considering that the SWP established itself as the biggest force on the far left primarily on the basis of ‘anti-Stalinism’ and trade union ‘rank and file-ism’, larded with quixotic theory concerning ‘state capitalism’ in the Soviet Union and leavened with ultra-leftist slogans.
While the ability of the SWP to play a leading role in popular front-type initiatives such as the early Anti-Nazi League and more recently the Stop the War Coalition may be missed on the left, its anti-communist ideological influence will not.
For Britain’s Communist Party, one of the past year’s most positive developments has been the formation of the People’s Assembly against austerity.
Its mobilisations for the ‘No Cuts, Save the NHS’ demonstration in Manchester in September and the ‘Bonfire against Austerity’ on November 5 show the potential for building a broad and united alliance in 2014.
Mass trade union and community action against cuts, privatisation, workfare, blacklisting, the Bedroom Tax and a new generation of nuclear weapons and in favour of higher incomes, progressive taxation, public ownership and other policies in the People’s Charter could help bring down the Tories and put pressure on the Labour leadership to adopt more radical policies.
This perspective will inform much of the discussion before and during the Communist Party’s 53rd congress late next year. In particular, delegates will need to assess what progress the labour movement has made towards reclaiming the Labour Party and how it can ensure that Britain has a mass party of labour capable of winning elections and enacting far-reaching reforms.
A stronger, vibrant, democratic but disciplined communist party would help advance working class and popular struggle on every front.
With that aim in mind, the Communist Party will be launching an intensive three month recruitment campaign from next February, Watch this space!