Brown gets his comeuppance - from a toff!

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5 May 2008

The newspaper headlines were unanimous, following last Thursday's local elections: this was "Labour's worst election result in 40 years". And none of the main parties, not even Labour, wasted any time in questioning this claim.

However, this claim is simply untrue! It only takes a brief look at the results of the last comparable local elections, back in 2004, to see that this is the case.

Indeed, not only did Labour lose more seats in 2004 (476 as opposed to 331 this year), but it came third in the election, behind the Tories and Lib Dems. In fact, 2004 was the first local election in British history in which the ruling party came third in the poll. Whereas this time round, at least, Labour managed to make it into second position.

Labour's on-going free fall

So why does everyone seem to have such a short memory, all of a sudden?

Well, quite simply because for both the Tories and Labour there is an advantage in blurring the past.

On the Tory side, Cameron is certainly keen to be able to boast of having inflicted the worst ever defeat on the Labour Party. After all, he probably hopes that this allegedly unprecedented victory can help to turn him into a more convincing party leader and would-be Prime Minister - which he is still far from being at present.

As to Brown, he would be unlikely to boast in front of the electorate about the fact that Labour has been losing ground continuously, in every local election since it came to power, and that this last election is just another defeat in a long series!

This long series is worth recalling, however. And in particular the fact that the real turning point in Labour's setbacks in local government took place in the 2003 local elections.

Under Tory rule, Labour had been by far the largest party in local government, throughout the 1990s. Between 1998 and 2002, however, Labour lost about 2000 seats. 2003 saw the largest losses, with 833 Labour councillors being ousted in just one election.

This was the predictable high price that the Labour party was made to pay for letting Blair join the invasion of Iraq, against public opinion. But as a result, the Tory Party became the largest party in local government - a position which it has been able to reinforce ever since, in every election.

A mini-referendum

Then, of course, there is the case of London, where Livingstone lost to a public school toff and dubious right-wing ex-journalist that few people would have thought, some time ago, would have a chance against Livingstone.

Not that Johnson's election was due to a Tory landslide. He won by just 6% of the votes, mainly thanks to a higher Tory turnout in the richest suburbs and he failed to win a majority in the London assembly, where Labour gained a seat.

Since it was first held, the Mayoral election has been a mini-referendum on government policies held between general elections. Livingstone's strength in 2000 and 2004 was that despite having Blair's official backing, he appeared as a maverick, willing to stand up to him. This allowed him to capture votes among both Blair's supporters and his opponents.

Eight years on, however, the illusion that Livingstone represented policies in any way different from those of the government has melted away. His two-faced policy on Tube privatisation, the imposition of the congestion charge and the Olympics' costly shambles, exposed him for what he really was, yet another errand-boy of the City, just like Blair and

Brown.

As a result, this time round, no-one could have any illusions. Voting for Livingstone was voting for Brown's policies - that is, for his wage freeze and attacks on pensions in public services, his 10p tax surcharge on poorest taxpayers, his cut in corporate tax and refusal to impose any windfall tax on the huge profits of utility companies, etc... Those who could not bring themselves to support these pro-business policies, could not possibly vote for Livingstone, because by doing so, that is what they would have been condoning - and they do not.

This is why, unlike Tory voters, working class Labour voters did not mobilise themselves to vote for Livingstone - as shown by the fact that the turnout increased a lot less in areas like City and East than in richer parts of London.

Elections do not change anything, but they do indicate a trend of opinion among voters. This one is no exception. What it indicates is, that rather than there being growing support for the Tories' reactionary demagogue, there is a rejection of Brown's pro-business policies - and, from the point of view of working people, quite rightly so!