Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

What now for the Forest of Dean Left?

In O. Adams on May 29, 2015 at 12:36 pm
I DARESAY this is not every Clarion reader’s experience, but on May 7 I was in a real quandary: who to vote for – red or green?

My disenchantment with Labour’s tacit support for austerity and neoliberalism nationally and support for the progressive social policies of the Green Party had been steadily growing. (But at the same time I acknowledged that the Greens’ one sniff at power, on Brighton council, was blighted by the binmen going on strike over reduced pay and Caroline Lucas herself crossing their picket line, and also I could never ever agree to support some of Labour’s actions on Forest of Dean District Council, particularly the Cinderford Northern Quarter fiasco, and also many councillors’ tacit support for Brian Bennett and opposition to Yorkley Court Community Farm and apparent ignorance of the positive proposals of the food growers.)

On the one hand I wanted to be part of the ‘Green surge’, but on another I desperately wanted to get the Tories out. What made the decision harder was that both the Forest of Dean Labour and Green parliamentary candidates were men of integrity, who took the same positions on causes dear to my heart – our public Forest, nuclear developments, renewable energy, austerity and social justice.

So I was torn between James Greenwood and Steve Parry-Hearn. In the event I voted for the latter, based on that desire to get Harper out.

But in the grand scheme of our ‘first past the post’ so-called ‘representative democracy’ my vote counted for precisely zilch. I may as well have been one of the 29.1% in the Dean, and 34% nationally, who didn’t vote.

Ever since May 8, the mantra espoused in the media is that the Tories have been granted a solid mandate by scoring a comfortable majority. But only 24.4% of those eligible to vote have elected this Government. And even if you add UKIP’s 8.3% share of the entire vote, Nobody still emerges as the majority.

Another interesting UK-wide analysis shows that if we are to bracket Sinn Fein, Green, Plaid Cymru, the SDP and SDLP with Labour on the Left and the Tories with UKIP, the BNP and Ulster Unionist parties on the Right, the combined Left vote share has leapt in five years from 33.5% to 40.6%, while the Right has leapt from 42.4% to 50.4%. The Centre (represented by the Lib Dems) is the vote which has collapsed – from 23.5% in 2010 to 8% now.

But the Forest of Dean constituency result is perhaps more worrying – Mark Harper trumped the non-voters, and the Tories have regained the balance of power on the district council (not that they ever really lost it, due to the cabinet system). A glance at the respective turnouts for council wards shows that turnout was far higher in the Tory heartland, seats such as Tibberton, than in Cinderford, which remains a Labour stronghold.

While Labour, the Greens and UKIP supporters all shouted from the rooftops their party espousal before election day, the Tory majority remained unseen. It was evident that Harper realised the Forest sell-off issue was important, and ensured in his propaganda a commitment against privatisation, while at the same time applauding the privatisation via leasehold of Christchurch campsite to Lloyds private equity.

But at the end of the day, aside from the few hundred people who followed the various hustings and looked at the HOOF election coverage and utterances made by candidates, thousands of voters (and especially those to the west, east and south of the Statutory Forest) stayed disengaged and went for “I’m alright Jack”. As long as austerity was directed at those in society’s gutters, they were happy with the programme. Many may have reasoned that, ok, the Government made a blip when it tried to sell the Forest in 2010/11, but Mr Harper had helped sort it all out.

Still, while nationally the “comfortable Tory majority” is an illusion and locally it is less so, those of us on the Left – whether Labour, Green or non-voting – must carry on regardless. We must resist Tory tyranny with all our might and not give in to this notion that they can do as they wish because they were elected.

My dearest wish is that we can do so beyond any party lines, and that democracy means so much more than the fruitless cross in the box every five years. In fact, in the vast majority of historical events, the rights of people have only been won through direct action and not the ballot box.

In the weeks after the election, we hear reliance on food banks in the Forest continues to soar, and it’s going to get a whole lot worse. And if the Tories succeed in doing away with human rights legislation, even the most peaceful protest could be rendered illegal.

I am just about old enough to remember the slogans of the 80s which accompanied successive Tory victories, such as Agitate, Educate, Organise. These remain as valid now.

But the big question is, is the Labour Party and indeed the entire Parliamentary system of embedded privilege, a judiciary created by and for the rich, any kind of solution? It seems to me the Party system is a dead end. The massive anti-austerity vote in Scotland should be a wake-up call to Labour, but already the big guns are calling for Labour to be more like the Tories to be “electable”. (While the far-right sirens will also see Labour politicians shamelessly play the anti-immigration charade).

One pundit from the Labour List had it right in my view:

“They didn’t buy what we were selling, how we sold it or who was selling it. In fact, all too many didn’t know what we were selling at all.“A party too isolated in terms of geography, mindset and pure human contact from the British people can never hope to prevail against a surprisingly resilient and resurgent Tory party – and a tidal wave of nationalism. If we stay trapped where we are right now, we’ll lose again.”

I suspect Labour loyalists will now seek to rebuild their party and fight for its buried socialist soul, just as they have been doing and failing to do since the death of John Smith. In the process they will be prepared to defend the next Party leadership no matter how similar to the Tories they become, and oppose the Greens, anarchists or any other Left entities, all for the sake of their Party and a hope that in 2020 some sort of compromised red team will have some power.

I find the words of blogger Johnny Void, referring to the power elite, more inspiring and real-world:

“So cossetted and pampered have their lives been so far that they think we will continue to accept any indignity. That we will work for peanuts, or nothing at all, and let them sack us on a whim and jail us if we strike. That we will continue to pay them huge rents to live in hovels and willingly accept being socially cleansed from our homes and communities. That the champagne will flow forever and their lives remain undisturbed as they steal the very world from beneath our feet.

“Only a few of the pampered elite have looked to history and realised that this situation cannot last. That the rage of the working class has conquered dynasties and empires centuries old in the past. That no army, or fucking copper will save them when they finally push too far. And they will only have themselves to blame when the pitchforks eventually come.”

Party or no party, comrades, we must and will keep up the dissent. Whoever they vote for, we must ensure we are ungovernable.

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  1. Cannot disagree with this election post mortem. And Labours’ wannabe leaders are a self-serving, safe and vacuous lot, on the road to Tory-lite and nowhere.

    If they’ve got the answer it was a bloody silly question. Think I’ll concentrate on some gardening and DIY and await the next financial crisis (if I’m still around) and see who our Westminster politicians (Tory, Labour & Liberal) blame and punish next time the scam and casino economy they have built – goes belly-up.

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