Should socialists argue for a vote for Labour?

Issue section: 
(344)

Against: "A waste of time"

Ask me to vote Labour? Never again!

When the editor of Socialist Review rang and asked me for an article on why I believe we shouldn't vote Labour at the next general election, I jumped at the chance.

I recently heard SWP national secretary Martin Smith say that he was meeting more and more young people who vowed they would never vote Labour again. I can well see why.

I am 24 years old, one of "Blair's children", and was at junior school when Labour won the general election in 1997. Even at 11 years old I felt that things were getting better and that real change could come. I sensed the elation in my family, friends and teachers that good times were ahead and, to a point, they were right.

I genuinely feel privileged to have had a decent state education and saw first hand the benefits of Labour pouring money into our schools. I remember the introduction of the minimum wage - there would be no slave labour on the newspaper rounds now! I also recall the intervention in Kosovo and, while I was appalled at the war, I believed that without that intervention the genocide could have been far worse. We witnessed devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for which I'm sure many people were overjoyed. Early on I'm sure we could all see things which made us happy we voted Labour.

But since then I'm sure we can all point to events, policies and issues which make us wonder why we ever voted Labour - I certainly didn't at the last general election. Be it the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "British jobs for British workers", attacks on the Royal Mail and NHS, pay freezes on public sector workers, the rising cost of utility bills, top-up fees, foreign policy, the expenses fiasco, the cash for peerages scandal, increasing levels of poverty, ID cards, restrictions on the right to protest, active participation in torture and rendition - the list goes on and on.

Would it be any worse under the Tories? On the whole, yes it would. But there are areas, as detailed above, where I'm sure we can all agree that Labour is equally as bad.

I well understand the intellectual and tactical argument for supporting Labour as a means to aid revolutionary socialism (this has been put to me many times and at great length). But there is no large party in the current system which stands to the left of Labour. The Respect project was the closest alternative we've had for many years and we all know what happened there. Thus, it would appear that Labour, sadly, is the only tactical option for uniting the working class at large at the next general election.

But my point is this - can we not see, and indeed know and accept, that it doesn't matter who we vote for? Whichever party is elected, it will still operate under the capitalist system - a system which as a revolutionary I know cannot be overturned at the ballot box. Under capitalism there is no golden, angelic party for whom to vote. History has shown us that every single government has succumbed to some kind of corruption, sleaze or skulduggery. When New Labour came to power, Tony Blair said of his government, "It will be a government that seeks to restore trust in politics in this country, that cleans it up...that gives people hope once again that politics is and should be always about the service of the public." Sound familiar?

Is it therefore not prudent to talk to the people on the streets about how we change the system and not the party in power? Do we not seem hypocritical for advocating the support of a party which is fundamentally opposed to our own position? Can we not see through low turnout figures at elections, the rise of fascism in our communities or the election of a bumbling fool as mayor of London that the general populace know that it doesn't matter who they vote for? It is my firm belief that our efforts as socialists are put to waste when we spend our time canvassing support for electoral parties.

I can accept that many do not agree with this viewpoint and believe that we first need to climb to the top of the parliamentary "dung hill" in order to overthrow the system.

Like it or not, we know that Labour is essentially the political backbone of the union movement and the working class at large and is the only party capable of defeating the Tories. Does this make it an open and shut case? No. Why? Integrity. Honour. Principle.

Regardless of everything they have done right or wrong, a vote for the Labour Party at the next general election betrays the working class, it betrays the unions and it betrays the memory of every single innocent man, woman and child who has died in horrific circumstances across the globe. I can accept that there are "good" members of the Labour Party. So tell people to vote for the best candidate in their area - be they Labour or not - if you really must. But I will never advocate a vote for a Labour government again as long as there is breath in my body.


Jonny Jones: "Hold your nose and vote Labour if you must."