Articles  •  Britain

Eastleigh: a wake up call for the Left

18 March 2013

David Cameron once dismissed the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. But in the Eastleigh by-election, the Tories realised they had to get down into the gutter to outbid the “fruitcakes” in Europhobia and racism, fielding Eurosceptic Tory Maria Hutchings.

It was all in vain. Sheer xenophobia is UKIP’s whole stock in trade. UKIP focused their campaign on immigration, but also played the anti-foreigner card by pointing to the relocation of the local Ford factory to Turkey and the building of a new housing estate, which candidate Diane James falsely insinuated was for European Union (EU) migrants.

Though the Lib Dems kept their seat, UKIP scooped 27.8 per cent of the vote, trouncing the Tories and pushing them into third place.

Austerity to blame, not immigration

UKIP came close to winning their first MP by blaming the poverty that people are suffering under the austerity of Cameron, Osborne and Clegg on EU migrants, threatening that up to 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians could move to Britain in 2014.

Labour was nowhere to be seen in this election, despite being the main opposition party under an unpopular government. They maintained their modest 9.2 per cent share of the vote, but completely failed to capitalise on the corruption and sexism scandals rocking the Lib Dems or the cuts and closures threatening Eastleigh’s working class.

Of course UKIP offers no solution to factory closures or housing shortages beyond leaving the EU, but the mainstream parties are totally complicit with the economic policies that have lead to them. Without a credible working class party fighting austerity and laying the blame for it where it really belongs, people in their thousands fell for UKIP’s racist lies.

TUSC strategy under fire

So where was the left-of-Labour message? Well there was the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which got 0.15 per cent of the poll – or 62 votes.

As Socialist Resistance member Liam Mac Uaid pointed out on the Left Unity blog:

“You’ve probably never heard of the Christian Party (Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship) but in the Eastleigh by election last week their 163 votes was more than the 62” that TUSC won. He continues: “This electoral formation which brings together the two largest groups on the British far left and the RMT was even outperformed by the Elvis Loves Pets Party’s 73 votes. If you were looking for a comprehensive demolition of the far left’s electoral strategy Eastleigh is where you will find it.”

And his conclusion: “If the left takes one lesson from Eastleigh it must be that it has to start pulling together an electoral challenge that will push the debate back onto an anti-capitalist, left of Labour terrain.”


TUSC supporter Nick Wrack of the Independent Socialist Network goes further: “We need a party that tries to build support for its policies throughout the year, so that if it stands in an election it has built up a profile and standing. Candidates like Daz Procter deserve more than this. The anti-cuts movement, the students, those on workfare, disabled people, pensioners deserve more than this. It is no good the different bits of TUSC campaigning the rest of the year in their own name and then hoping to get a decent vote. We need a party that people can join and help to build. The model followed by TUSC at the moment is leading nowhere. A serious discussion is required.”

Revolutionary Unity

And he’s right: parachuting “united left” candidates into every by-election, when everyone knows the left is far from united, is the wrong starting point. It is quite simply trying to harvest where you have not sown.

For revolutionaries, electioneering is a way to measure achievements in the real class struggle: in the workplaces, in local communities, and in the leadership of national campaigns. The Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party and the RMT may indeed have real if modest achievements here, but the barely-recognised TUSC brand name obscures them. Indeed, what has TUSC done between elections?

For continuity and an identifiable presence, we need a party: not just single issue campaigns like Keep Our NHS Public, or local campaigns to save a library here, an Accident and Emergency ward there, and not just imitation united fronts at a national level, like Unite the Resistance or the Coalition of Resistance.

A party that offers leadership and policies that assist in all these concrete struggles, whose members are amongst their best militants, and which can draw people around it into common action in these struggles will more than likely not get such a derisory vote.

Organised into branches in factories, offices, schools, hospitals and housing estates, such a party would not simply disappear after polling day, and could make all the difference to the class struggle in Britain today.

Today we do not have such a party. But equally it is clear that we do need one, capable of taking the anti-cuts, anticapitalist message to a mass audience. To achieve one, the left must unite and work together to offer an alternative.

This means a party that unites all those who really want to halt NHS privatisation and the Bedroom Tax, who want to drive the Tories and Lib-Dems from power through direct action; and who are not afraid to condemn openly and unambiguously the scandalous prevarication of the trade union leaders in the face of the greatest assault on the working class in a generation.

Rather than standing as TUSC in elections and the rest of the year trying to build rival anti-cuts and trade union campaigns, the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party, and political militants in the RMT and many other unions should call a conference to draw up a basic programme of action against the cuts. This would be a step towards the formation of a new workers’ party that could discuss, debate and decide a strategy to fight for socialism, while spearheading a fight to drive out the Coalition government. That is what we in Workers Power are fighting for.

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