UKIP results shame the left

Phil Hearse wrote this piece for his site Crisis and RevoltThe worst possible response to the local council elections in which UKIP won 25% of the vote would be complacency. For this result is shameful for both Labour and for the left-of-Labour left. While it’s true that the mainly rural areas and small town being polled are the heartland of sections of the petty bourgeoisie and not at all representative of the electorate in general, for all that the result is dispiriting and frustrating.

UKIP - nationalism, xenophobia and racism
UKIP – nationalism, xenophobia and racism
This vote shows who is on the offensive politically, even if the vote is untypical of Britain as a whole. It reveals once again the chosen terrain for all of right-wing reaction in Britain – nationalism, xenophobia and racism – and the mass base it has. And it shows the terrible weakness of Labour’s ‘alternative’ and the absence of a coherent left at the electoral level – mainly as a result of division and futile sectarian factionalism which has sabotaged unity initiatives over the last 20 years.
In June 2009, the day after the county council and European elections I wrote:
“The outcome of the county council and Euro elections means that the British left – the left to the left of New Labour – has to wake up and break out of its dire sectarian, bureaucratic and factional mindsets. Nothing is more shameful than the lack of united left slate, around a minimal set of demands in the interests of the working class, in these elections. The near-absence of the Left from the electoral field was one important reason – though far from the only one – that such a large number of the protest votes against the main parties went to the hard right UKIP and the fascist BNP. It is shameful that the Left abandons so much of the electoral field to the far right because of nothing more than hardened, bone headed, factional idiocy – topped off by bureaucratic exclusions and anathemas.” (
What has changed of course is the relative demise of the BNP. UKIP is a much better instrument for right wing reaction without the stain of fascism and the bourgeoisie won’t touch it.
Hundreds of thousands of workers voted in these elections and many of them voted for UKIP. It was a case of the reactionary petty bourgeoisie leading the working class, rather than the working class and the left making inroads into the petty bourgeoisie. Many of the people who voted UKIP were doubtless protest voters, but Labour doesn’t inspire workers and middle class people who are suffering at the hands of the cuts and economic downturn. How can a Labour front bench that promises absolutely nothing for when and if it comes to power inspire anybody? The ‘left’and no-so-left union leaders who think that Ed Miliband is their man and can maybe be pushed further left are foolish beyond belief. Even with tens of millions suffering from austerity Labour is struggling to get the kind of poll figures that would ensure its return to office.
The failure to construct a left electoral alternative to Labour shames the left, and in particular the leaderships of the SWP and Socialist Party, jointly culpable for the collapse of successive left unity initiatives. Certainly on the kind of unfavourable terrain that existed in yesterday’s elections would not guarantee any kind of left electoral breakthrough. But the left should try to be a growing electoral force, to put forward an electoral alternative to austerity, xenophobia and racism. The present practice on much of the left is in fact a form of electoral abstentionism, although at a formal level organisations like the SWP and the SP reject it. Shrugging your shoulders and muttering about the primacy of mass struggle is (at best) a capitulation to syndicalism and spontaneism. The right wing must be fought in elections as well as in the mass struggle, obviously.
Both the subjective forces and the objective circumstances exist for the creation of a force to the left of Labour capable of creating a credible national electoral challenge. Probably the circumstances are not so favourable as they were 10 or 12 years ago, but we can only start with where we are and the forces we have to hand. The logic of course is to fight for a broad left party which of course prioritises mass struggle, but does not abandon the electoral terrain.
The left has to do everything possible to confront racism and xenophobic nationalism, so assiduously cultivated by the state and right wing media  over the past decade, particularly in relation to ‘our boys’ in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither should the left act as an echo chamber for the anti-EU xenophobia of the right. UKIP and the Tories attack the most progressive things in the EU, like the European Convention on Human Rights. It is a total diversion to imagine that austerity and the plight of the working class and middle class people suffering from the effects of austerity can be solved by leaving the European Union, or indeed that the EU is a central factor in imposing austerity in Britain.
The Left in Britain has been marking time – no worse, wasting time. The construction of a broad left party is an urgent necessity to fight the right.

  1. What a weird article. Have you asked yourself why people are voting for UKIP? It’s not a Left or Right thing – it’s immigration, stupid.

  2. The author seems to believe that the UKIP’s vote indicates that the socialist left might have pulled off its own breakthrough, if only it had got its act together.
    I seriously doubt it. The core Labour vote held up and a mass breakthrough by the left on a national scale won’t happen this side of another Labour government.
    Labour isn’t attracting younger voters though.
    Those hardest hit by the difficulty of finding work & housing and the cost of education.
    UKIP shrewdly calls for a return to student grants, while Miliband doesn’t.
    He hasn’t promised to restore the EMA either.

    Another clever move by UKIP is that it doesn’t whip its local councillors.
    So it can attract all manner of matey local opportunists onto its bandwagon.
    It’s hard to see how their new councillors will have any coherent policies once in office though.
    Perhaps council business will be discussed over a pint in the saloon bar?

    It would be foolish to deny that there is a populist fear of Eastern European immigration.
    UKIP’s anti EU stance has exploited this fear rather succesfully.
    But “Left Eurosceptics”, have never challenged this position very succesfully.
    It’s simply not credible, for instance, to defend gangmasters in Lincolnshire, herding low-wage Eastern European workers from dawn to dusk in the fields.

    UKIP’s national and international policies don’t stand up to serious examination either.
    A flat-rate income tax, would lead to a sharp drop in public spending, deepening the recession in Britain.
    It claims that it will defend the NHS, but how will it pay for it?
    Pulling out of the EU would mean trade barriers erected against British goods.
    These are the sorts of issues on which UKIP needs to be relentlessly attacked .

    UKIP, as presently constituted, is by no means a fascist movement.
    The most serious threat that it poses is that it might push the Tories to the right.
    This could produce a serious populist right-wing challenge at the next General Election.
    Stopping this threat in its tracks requires a United Front of the Labour Party, Socialists and Greens.
    Socialists need to operate within that arena, to argue for the economic policies needed to pull Europe out of recession.

    • I don’t understand how you can draw the conclusion you stated in the first sentence of your comment. I have read the article several times and I can’t find a reference to a breakthrough at this time, indeed the author states that “the circumstances are not so favourable as they were 10 or 12 years ago.”

      The point of this article is that there will be no breakthrough for the working class unless and until the Left of Labour gets its act together to build a broad political formation which can set the stage for the type of “breakthrough” experienced in Greece by the coalition of left forces known as Syriza.

  3. “Nothing is more shameful than the lack of united left slate”. Actually there was one – The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition – but it is notable chiefly for being almost indistinguishable from the Greens in its platform. That being the case, I don’t see its purpose. Maybe the left should come clean and seek an electoral alliance with the Greens (preferable to competing directly with them), maybe we should present a more militant programme to the public. Either way, I’d have thought the popular anger created by austerity makes the circumstances a good deal more favourable than they were a decade ago.

  4. re. Bob Lyons.

    Of all the “left” parties in Europe, Syriza has come closest to winning power. This was on the back of massive disillusion with PASOK and its role in accepting Austerity in Greece from 2009-12.
    Pasok’s vote consequently collapsed from 43.92% in 2009, to 13.18% in 2012.
    We’ve seen no such a collapse in the Labour Party’s vote in Britain.

    The fact that Syriza didn’t win was partly down to sectarianism towards it by other parties of the left.
    Criticisms of its programme must be made within the context of supporting its implementation.
    A Syriza-led government would meet serious resistance from the leaders of the EU and International Capital.
    Its leadership will either compromise, or fight.
    To ensure that it’s the latter, socialists need to be organized within the Syriza coalition.

    The situation in Britain is very different at this stage.
    The biggest danger we face can be seen by simply adding up the Tory and UKIP votes. Together, these two right wing parties had 48% of the national vote in the May Council elections.
    This gives UKIP leverage over Tory Party policy and the possibility of forcing policy changes, or even a coalition on the Tory leadership.

    In urban area nearest to me, the total votes cast in the May 2013 election were:-

    Labour 10,000
    Conservatives 6,300
    UKIP 4,200
    LibDem 2,400
    Greens 1,800

    (This is based on a 30% turnout – half of what could be expected at a General Election.)
    Labour has control of the City Council and has been able to enact some modest reforms; building council houses for the first time in 20 years and has implementing a living wage.

    This suggests that best tactic for the next General Election is not a head on national challenge to the Labour Party.
    This is not even a practical propostion – not even with 8,000 members (far less than the ILP, or even the CPGB had at their peak)

    There may be one or two areas where socialist candidates could win against right wing Labour.
    But the main task is to be supportive of the return of a Labour government, while not being uncritical of the policies of the Miliband leadership. Len McCluskey’s warning over his policies will become a much more urgent question when Labour are in power again.

    The Peoples Assembly has shown that its possible to organise members of the unions, the LP, Greens and Socialists to campaign against cuts and discuss the policies we need to resist Austerity.

  5. There are many of comrade Prianikioff’s comments with which I can agree to be sure. I certainly agree that it makes no sense for a new political formation to try and present itself as an electroal alternative to Labour at this time. But I suggest that those flocking to join Left Unity (or whatever it will end up being called) are less interested in running against Labour candidates in a general election than they are in animating the social movements, the social movements which have played such an important place in the rise of Syriza in Greece, the PSUV in Venezuela, the LIBRE in Honduras, and the Left Front in France. As an aside, there will be another revolution in November led by another Castro. Xiomara Castro is the Presidential candidate of the openly and militantly socialist LIBRE (the party for Liberty and Refoundation).

    They share the common similarity that they are all products of social movements, the political expression of the conscious protagonists of society. In the old days we would call them the social vanguard, made up of those whose consciousness and insertion in the social formation made their political presence key to the overall advance of the revolution.

    Where the new political entity can in fact challenge Labour is at the programmatic level through acting as animators of the social movements (that is, getting out and organizing, with all that entails) instead of self-proclaiming themselves as “leaders”.

    Let me use the following as an example of what it is I am talking about. Austerity is just another way of describing the refusal of the neo-liberals of all stripes, including Labour, to collect taxes from the capital pools which have swollen to obscene proportions, thanks to Thatcher and New Labour. Milliband has no intentions of reversing this in any shape or form whatsoever. The result is an ongoing fiscal crisis of the state, impacting those sectors like housing, health and education. This is a global phenonemum, with its impact tracing a depressing similarity across the planet.

    Thinking strategically then, where can a small political formation make the most impact. Comrade Prianikoff has identified the Peoples Assembly as an important forum for political work. I think there would be little disagreement with this. However, I would suggest that the education sector represents the base area where a left of labour organisation can quickly make a programatic alternative to Labour.

    Across the western hemisphere, from Chile to Quebec, the student and teachers movements have found common ground and developed common forms for struggle to challenge the very ideology of neo-liberalism by demanding free access to education, that education is a right and a social responsibility and that it is a sector of the common weal, not open to privatization. While the specific demands vary from country to country, depending upon the particular configuration of the educational system, the central thrust is the same: education is a social good and a common responsibility: free education. No tuition, no fees (a bit like the Norweigan system).

    Posing the program this way, and organising around these demands in the NUS will very quickly bring the new political formation into head to head conflict with the Labourites, especially those NUS tops looking to further their careers within the folds of new Labour. As an aside, it means a sustained campaign to build militant, democratic student-unionism through self-organisation and conciousness-raising; it means building a relationship with teachers who see themselves as valuable beings within society, and it creates a dynamic totally opposite to the real program of the Milliabnd leadership.

    I could use the health sector, or the housing sector, or those increasingly marginalized youth who are being blamed for their own prediciment, as examples. But the point is, that the animation of the social movements is the task of the movement and the moment. We should be able to agree with that.

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