General election reflects growing anti-austerity mood

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As we go to press the 2015 general election campaign is beginning to sour for the Tories. Their initial focus on attacking Labour leader Ed Miliband has been dumped in favour of carrots and sticks. David Cameron announced a pledge to increase NHS funding by £8 billion by 2020. This followed the Tories’ call for public sector workers to get three days’ paid leave for “volunteering” — that is, filling in for other public sector jobs which have disappeared as a result of Tory cuts.

So much for the carrot. The stick is an increasingly shrill fear-mongering over the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the threat they pose to the sanctity of the British state. This panic is, of course, multiplied for Labour in Scotland, who face potential wipe-out in the election. The leaders’ debates have revealed, more than anything else, a shift to the left in the public mood.

The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru and Natalie Bennett of the Greens have all recognised to some extent that anti-austerity and anti-Ukip stances resonate with the class anger that people feel. The mass deaths in the Mediterranean of people fleeing warzones confronts us with the reality of what Ukip’s anti-migrant policies lead to — and the danger of tailing behind them, as the main parties have done.

The widespread public revulsion has only confirmed the new mood in Britain and beyond. There is also a whiff of the new about the women who lead Plaid, the SNP and the Greens. The simple fact that they are women appeals to all those fed up with the Westminster old boys’ club. Like Bolivian president Evo Morales’s jumpers and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras’s relative youth, they seem to represent a break from the establishment.

Yet the election result is still too close to call. Two weeks before the election we can foresee several potential outcomes; from a minority Labour government backed by the SNP, to the worst nightmare — a “Bluekip” Tory-Ukip coalition. While the gloss has certainly faded from Ukip, it hasn’t disappeared, with its poll ratings steady at around 13 percent.

The work that Stand Up to Ukip (SUTU) has done over the last 18 months to constantly be a thorn in its side and expose its racist, bigoted and anti working class policies has been crucial — and will continue to be so after the election. The greatest shake-up is sure to be in Scotland. Lord Ashcroft polls have shown swings from Labour to the Scottish Nationalists of between 15 percent and 34 percent.

Labour could be wiped out in Edinburgh, and in most of Glasgow. Even in Edinburgh South, the seat where they polled their lowest vote share in 2010, the SNP are currently leading by three points. An SNP victory and Labour annihilation will have massive implications in Westminster, but also in Scotland, where the Labour Party’s working class base, entrenched for decades, is now in doubt.

The unions will have to decide which way they turn. The broader left will also have to assess how to go forward in Scotland. Carlo Morelli sketches out some of the debates to be dealt with overleaf. In England and Wales, too, the need for realignment and strengthening of the radical left is obvious — although making it happen is trickier.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc) has provided a modest left challenge, which has shown how a radical voice can express people’s anger and frustration. Slogans such as “Blame the bosses, not the migrants” are an important counter to the mainstream, and candidates who are fire fighters, health workers, anti-racist and disabled campaigners provide a genuine alternative.

Those Tusc campaigns which have had most success at involving new people in activity are generating a real sense of excitement. And though votes may be relatively low, the possibilities of building the left longer term are boosted. It is a positive move that seven out of the ten Left Unity parliamentary candidates are now joint with Tusc. Next month’s issue of Socialist Review will carry extensive coverage and analysis of the outcome of the election.

For now it is clear that, whatever the precise configuration of the new government, the long term crisis of the British political system continues, with all its attendant instabilities and polarisation. The SNP/Plaid Cymru/Green effect is a pale reflection of the anti-austerity feeling which has produced Syriza and Podemos in southern Europe. The need for a bigger, broader and more effective radical left that can unambiguously challenge racism and austerity is ever more apparent.