5th May 2012
On 3 May, voters across England, Wales and Scotland firmly rejected the austerity policies of the coalition government. Hundreds of Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors were booted out of office, with large swings against the governing parties.
Labour made substantial gains in every part of the UK: Scotland, Wales and in the North, Midlands and South of England. A legion of new councillors (over 800) will soon be entering town halls, many of whom will serve in the 32 newly elected Labour councils.
These were very positive results for Labour. But the very low turnout - and experiences of Labour activists on the doorstep - clearly reflect that although people reject the coalition, there is no mass enthusiasm for Labour. Labour gained only 38% of the vote. This should act as a wake-up call to the Labour leadership that it needs to be as firm in speaking up for 99% as the Tories are in supporting the 1%. People just don’t yet feel that Labour is solidly on their side - because it’s not.
This new legion of Labour councillors has a role to play in this. As LRC Chair John McDonnell MP said:
“These elections must mark the first awakenings of Labour’s leadership to the possibilities in front of them. The electorate still feels like saying ‘a plague on all your houses’, but there are opportunities here.
“There is a responsibility upon Labour councillors to become centres of resistance in their communities; to mobilise and organise against the cuts in their communities.”
Trade unions played a massive role in many Labour election victories, but particular mention has to go to Southampton and Barnet. After weeks of militant strike action by Unite and Unison members against vicious cuts by the then Tory-led Southampton Council, Unite especially mobilised hundreds of activists to oust the Tory councillors. They also worked with Labour opposition councillors to secure guarantees over jobs and pay for their members. In North London, Unison and FBU members actively campaigned against Tory assembly member Brian Coleman, the chair of London’s Fire Authority and a Barnet councillor. These cases show how the labour movement must use its industrial and political strategy together in resisting the cuts.
Labour sadly lost the London mayoral election, but across the rest of the country nine other cities rejected going down the personality politics route of the mayoral system. Ken Livingstone polled similarly to Labour in London and to Labour in the rest of the country, yet the Boris-factor - policy-free and apparently amiable - narrowly came through.
The election results also marked a welcome and clear rejection by our communities of the far right’s scapegoating of migrants. Despite massive hype beforehand UKIP made no net gains, while the BNP and English Democrats lost every single seat they had and gained none.
There is now an opportunity and a responsibility on the left to come forward with a clear message that we will resist the cuts and fight for our communities.
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