Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Respect’

EDITORIAL COMMENT: the Local Elections – a Double-edged Victory for Labour?

In Editorial on June 22, 2012 at 2:08 pm

The local council elections at the beginning of May were an encouraging sign that voters are now increasingly turning against the Tories and their junior partners in coalition, the Liberal Democrats.

Labour gained over 800 seats, whilst both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems lost heavily. It wasn’t quite the wipe-out for the Lib Dems that one might have expected, but they were still left battered and bruised by the voters who deserted them in droves at the ballot box.

Labour supporters had every right to be encouraged by the result. The party gained control of seven more councils and won hundreds of seats throughout the country. Of course, we in the Forest of Dean had no elections this year, so we can’t tell for sure whether the same patterns might have been repeated here.

For other progressive parties (like the Greens for example), the results were rather more patchy. It was only in Bradford, where George Galloway’s victory in a by-election encouraged a surge of support for “Respect”, which resulted in the gain of five seats for that party on the city council.

It could be claimed that (apart from areas where special circumstances applied) Labour was just the beneficiary of a general anti-ConDem swing, which followed a disastrous couple of weeks for the Government. Fair enough , if you follow the “swings and roundabouts” theory of politics. But Labour still has some way to go before it succeeds in establishing a new sense of identity that its natural supporters can relate to. At leadership level it still hasn’t altogether broken free from the cloying legacy of Blairism. And, it seems, there are divisions in the shadow cabinet between those who believe that the party should spell out its policies in specific detail, and those who feel that at this stage Labour should merely indicate its general approach when it comes to opposing the damage done by the ConDem coalition government. Meanwhile, it still has to learn to campaign vigorously on the issues that really matter to people affected by the cuts imposed imposed by the Government and its supporters at both national and council level.

In those local authorities where Labour has now gained a new influence in the council chambers, they also face a dilemma. Cuts in council spending are now virtually dictated from above with little control by councils over their own budgets. So how does Labour react? How will they be able to save local council jobs and services? It may be that all they can do is wring their hands – or try to ameliorate Government-imposed cuts by re-directing them as far as possible elsewhere. But even that approach is dubious, to say the least.

But so far, the local election results are an encouraging sign that maybe – just maybe – we’ve got the Government on the run. And on a wider, European scale, there are now signs that people are finally turning against the “slash and burn” approach that’s been imposed throughout the EU. The victory by the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande, in the French presidential elections indicates that voters there have had enough of austerity packages. Like their new president they now want to go for growth.

But as Harold Wilson once said, a week in politics can be a long time. We’ve a rough ride ahead of us, and there’s still plenty of campaigning to do. On other pages we look at what’s in store for the health service. And there’s still a need to try to co-ordinate opposition to local authority cuts.

Bradford: THE GALLOWAY EFFECT

Meanwhile, the House of Commons has seen the return of George Galloway as the new “Respect” MP for Bradford West. Following his victory in the recent by-election, his party has now gained seats on the Bradford city council. When the by-election results were declared, much was written about his victory, and how this enfant terrible had “trounced” Labour and rubbed its nose in it, to boot. But whatever we think of Galloway, his success needs to be put into perspective.

First, “Respect” already had a presence in the constituency. The party fought West Bradford in the 2010 General Election, and gained over a thousand votes – so it already had some level of organisation in the area. Second, back in 2010, the Tories had put the constituency down as a “winnable” seat, and indeed came a respectable second. But in the by-election , Conservative support just melted away. So, who then was being “trounced”?

Having said that, Labour needs to give some thought to why its candidate in the by-election failed to hold the seat – and why it was snatched by an (albeit charismatic) outsider. There are obviously roots of discontent that Labour simply isn’t addressing – in Bradford, at least..

The Euro-Crisis:

As we prepare this issue of the Clarion for the printers, the Euro Crisis has been deepening. In Greece, the country worst effected, people are now showing that they are no longer prepared to accept the so-called “austerity” imposed on them. At home, Cameron wades in with a speech that is not only uncalled for but unhelpful.

To tell those in the Euro-zone that they have to get their act together not only seemed to exhibit a degree of smug triumphalism but also seems designed to alienate him yet further from those in Europe facing up to their currency problem.

Or, is it possible that there was a note of panic in Cameron’s ¬†outburst? After all, he should realise that the fate of the Euro is something that ultimately affects us all. After all, these days Europe is a major trading partner (involving some 40 per cent of our exports). And UK banks are also big in Europe. Indeed, thanks to policies pursued by successive governments since the Thatcher years, we’ve become increasingly dependent on finance capitalism. Whilst once upon a time we manufactured goods we now make money instead. Which, of course, makes us particularly vulnerable.

In Europe (as elsewhere of course) it was the greed of a banking system out of control that caused the crisis. But it is the victims of this greed who have had to pay the price. In Greece, Ireland, Spain and elsewhere, the “austerity” packages have been imposed specifically to prop up a corrupt and unregulated banking system

It’s true, as Robert Peston pointed out on television (BBC2, May 17), that the Euro was introduced on extremely shaky principles.

Disparate economies with very little in common, were yoked together in a single currency, with no overall political direction or control. But ultimately it was the international banking collapse of 2007-2008, spreading like a plague from the USA, that finally kicked off the Euro-crisis.

European banks (many of whom had indulged in dodgy practices when times seemed good) were bailed out – but little of the money involved trickled out to the economies of the Euro-nations. And the people of the financially weaker countries, such as Greece, Ireland, Spain and Italy, were expected to pay the price.

There is now a growing revolt against the imposition of “austerity” packages. Austerity has nothing to do with the banks adopting more rigorous, or even ethical, practices. It’s to do with cutting the public sector to the bone, of cutting jobs and wages – of impoverishing people who had nothing to do with causing the crisis.

In Greece, and of course in France, people have shown by their votes and their actions that they have had enough. In Spain and Italy, they have taken to the streets in growing numbers.

That is the background to David Cameron’s speech. But like it or not, we are all in this together. We have common cause with those across Europe whose lives have been blighted by the overweening greed and hubris of bankers and financiers.