You’ve probably never heard of the Christian Party (Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship) but in the Eastleigh by election last week their 163 votes was more than the 62 won the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). This electoral formation which brings together the two largest groups on the British far left and the RMT was even outperformed by the Elvis Loves Pets Party’s 73 votes. If you were looking for a comprehensive demolition of the far left’s electoral strategy Eastleigh is where you will find it argues Liam Mac Uaid
The election was won in terms of votes cast by the Lib Dems, who by virtue of holding onto one of their safest seats following the conviction of Chris Huhne and the allegations against Lord Rennard, appear to have avoided Armageddon.
The real winners were the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). They won 27.8% of the vote picking up support from former Tories, former Lib Dems and new voters. They are now defining the debate on the right, particularly around the issue of immigration. Their voters are racist, anti-immigrant and proud of the fact, something which is finding a resonance among the Tories and , to a certain extent Labour. Miliband is due to give a speech on the subject in the next few days and the Labour supporting Sunday Mirror ran a story this weekend “Butlin’s is hiring hundreds of foreign workers in recruitment drives throughout Eastern Europe while turning away unemployed Brits.” This is the angle one expects from the British National Party or the Daily Mail.
While UKIP’s public profile is mostly based on immigrant bashing and hostility to the European Union it has a wide range of reactionary policies. These range from climate change denial; large scale use of nuclear energy; a 40 per cent increase on defence spending annually; doubling the number of prison places; restoring grammar schools; teaching children to be proud of the British Empire and even lifting the smoking ban in public places. Alongside the party’s overt racism its leader Nigel Farrage is a frequent deployer of casual misogyny in political argument. Last week in Eastleigh 11,571people voted for this programme.
This means that half way through the life of a government which has pushed through the most serious attacks on the British working class since the 1920s opposition is being articulated by middle class racists. The left is utterly absent from the debate.
If nothing else it means that the time for complacency is over. The ideas articulated by TUSC in its election campaign are shared by a big part or British society. The left’s problem is that it is not seen as having a credible instrument with which to fight for them. It is beyond scandalous that deep into an economic crisis that is impoverishing millions the terms of the debate are being set by racists in blazers. The neo-fascist BNP has been swept aside by the rise of UKIP. The tactics of street mobilisations that helped marginalise it will not work against a mass party like UKIP. If the left takes one lesson from Eastleigh it must be that it has to start pulling together an electoral challenge that will push the debate back onto an anti-capitalist, left of Labour terrain.