Friday, 7 May 2010

The ballot is over, and the struggle continues

At around one o'clock yesterday afternoon, I went into my local polling station. It took me all of two minutes to have my details verified, collect my ballot papers, spoil them with giant circle-As, and drop them in the ballot box. Many others, it seems, were not so lucky.

In many places across the country, queues of people were turned away at 10pm as understaffed polling stations struggled to cope with the demand to vote. There was also considerable inconsistency in how the problem was dealt with. In some places, voters were called in the building, and the doors locked, so they could all get their say. Elsewhere, those who had their papers by 10pm got the chance to cast their vote. And still others were simply denied the vote because - it being after 10pm- to give it to them would be illegal. In East London, anger at this farce turned into a sit-in.
It's difficult to know what to make of this. The event screams of the farce that is political bureaucracy. It is also an indictment of our system that the scenes were, as many commentators noted, reminiscent of "third world" politics. The consequences remain to be seen.

In terms of the results, things are a lot more straightforward. As those who follow me on Twitter will be aware, once I got home from work I succumbed to curiosity and watched the BBC's live coverage. Until 3.30am at least, and then the fact that I'd been up for 20 hours and working most of it forced me to bed. One thing that I did notice in these results was that the swing to Lib Dems and Conservatives in various areas appeared more anti-Labour than pro-anyone else. In fact, voting overall appears to have been done against specific parties rather than for the people who got the "x" against their name.
Whilst delivering leaflets with Liverpool Antifascists in the run up to the election, I noticed a similar trend. Talking to people in various areas, particularly Labour strongholds, we found a lot of anger towards the Labour government of the past 13 years and a general feeling of betrayal on the part of the working class. Yet "vote Labour" posters were not sparse in people's windows. This appears to be a mixture of tribal loyalties and a fear of the Tories, inspired by the collective memory that people in Liverpool retain of the Thatcher years.

At the same time, there was also a minority tendency amongst conservative voters - as articulated by Greg of The Anti-Politician - to vote against the Conservatives. This added to the deep-rooted (and, I might add, justified) fear of and opposition to the Tories from a working class perspective to deny them the outright victory they had been hoping for.

But the outcome was never going to swing in the opposite direction, towards Labour. Thirteen years of New Labour government have put paid to any illusions that people might have had about the party as representing the working class and, whilst many have held their nose to "vote Labour without illusions," others have simply vetoed them in favour of third parties. This was most apparent in Brighton Pavillion, where Caroline Lucas lived up to expectations and overcame a 5,000-strong Labour majority to become Britain's first Green Party MEP.

Happily, BNP leader Nick Griffin was not so fortunate. Despite party activists being pulled away from elsewhere to concentrate on these two areas, the fascists failed to win in Barking or Stoke Central. After a campaign riddled with scandal, from the exposure of more links to neo-Nazis to webmaster Simon Bennet's angry tirade against the  party's "Laurel and Hardy leadership," neither Griffin nor deputy leader Simon Darby could even manage second place.

Another unsurprising failure on the night was that of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Although many of the individual candidates may have solid records of fighting for people locally as trade unionists and activists, the coalition itself has sprang up out of nowhere. Like No2EU before it, it represents the left's continuing faith in the idea of a "new workers' party" and in the electoral system, and like that previous coalition it has fallen due to the fact that working class people - including many individual socialists and trade unionists - don't share that same faith.
Various ministers, former ministers, and other high profile names were ousted from their seats, notably Charles Clarke and Jaqui Smith. In one constituency, a candidate standing as "none of the above x" gained 125 votes. If anything, yesterday's high turnout seems to have been inspired by the need to voice disdain with the political system more than anything else.

The ultimate result is a hung parliament. David Cameron will try and form a new government without a viable majority, whilst speculation about potential coalition governments continues to rage. Whilst all that goes on, there is a vital need for a response from the working class.  Many people had fun watching the election results unfold and speculating about the outcome. But no matter what happens, a lot of things are certain with the next government - not the least of them being public service and job cuts.

In great numbers, the people of Britain voted, and nothing much will change as a result. Voting is not a way to fight back, and the real work will be in organising communities and workplaces to fight the next offensive in the class war.