May 5th Elections: some reasons for the left to be cheerful

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2016 by kmflett

May 5th Elections: some reasons for the left to be cheerful


The elections on May 5th for the Welsh, Northern Ireland and London Assemblies as well as the Scottish Parliament, local council seats in many areas (but not London), and Mayors of London, Bristol, Liverpool and Salford provided an updated benchmark for the left.

For a start it was the first time since the days of the Socialist Alliance in 2000/01 that there was not a concerted left-wing challenge to Labour.

The reason for this is obvious enough. The current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a man of the left under attack from much of the mainstream media and some sections of his own Party. Standing against Corbyn Labour candidates seemed hardly prudent. Whatever some may think of the left it does contain sufficient people in it who are prepared to ‘stare reality in the face’.

Of course there are always exceptions to any strategy particularly where Labour is still pursuing an unapologetic cuts agenda (an apologetic agenda is not better but can at least be the start of a discussion) and TUSC did stand in some areas.

TUSC’s Roger Bannister, a long standing trade union activist, came a creditable fourth in the election for Liverpool Mayor for example.

A real result for the left to celebrate however (because it was a victory) was the success of two People Before Profit candidates, including Eamonn McCann, for Northern Ireland Assembly seats.

Elsewhere, given the Corbyn framework mentioned above, a broader view can be taken.

The media of course struggled to say anything good about the Labour results. The BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg appeared to cross a rubicon around which she has hovered for a while when noting that Sadiq Khan had ‘snatched’ victory at City Hall. Meanwhile Guardian politics was tweeting a link to a piece pondering how bad the results were for Labour.

The media effort was underwritten by the usual complaints of what are known as Labour Bitterites. There were tweets critical (and worse) of Corbyn’s leadership which could have been lines from the Life of Brian.

That is more or less the point. While such people style themselves as ‘moderates’ in reality they are often anything but. They have in mind (but never exactly state) some electoral goals which would mean Corbyn had done well. In their view he was never going to meet them, and if he did, they’d change them so he didn’t.

Anyone who has dealt with forced distributions in performance management systems will recognise the pattern of behaviour.

But we are concerned here about reasons for the wider left to be cheerful.

The first is that after the 2015 defeat, and given a hostile media, Labour in most areas in Corbyn’s words ‘hung on’. It does certainly need to do more than that but given the terrain he had to fight on it was a decent enough start.

Labour did very well in London as did the Greens (who are mostly, though not entirely, on the left). Sadiq Khan’s victory against Goldsmiths racist whistle blowing campaign was a reason to cheer.

So too was Welsh Labour’s retention of the UK’s only Labour Government at Cardiff Bay. Of course they are hardly, for the most part, ‘left-wing’ but a 5th victory in a row is still a notable achievement.

In Bristol it was excellent to see Marvin Rees at last take the post of Mayor from red trousered former LibDem George Ferguson. A nod also to well-known trade union activist Tim Lezard who was a key part of that campaign.

Beard Power was advanced in Belper when my union colleague Ben Bellamy took the Belper North seat for Labour and another hirsute Labour man Maurice Neville took Belper Central. Belper is at last Beard Friendly.

The task of fighting a hardline Tory Government will continue but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate victories along the way. The Tories used May 6th to announce a partial retreat from their forced school Academies plan for example.

Finally I haven’t mentioned Scotland. Matters went wrong for Labour there (although not arguably and necessarily the left) well before Corbyn was elected Labour leader. The reality remains however that unless Labour can regain ground there (and it lost ground on May 5th) electing a UK Labour Government will be tougher than it should be. Challenging the Janus faced politics of the SNP is no easy matter clearly.


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