The Socialist Unity Network

Elections put class back on the agenda

Rupert Mallin

BBC's Newsnight's polling suggests UKIP not only took 45% of the vote from the Tories, but also took 20% from Labour. That the Tories suffered their worst share of the vote since 1836 and Labour is struggling to find the numbers (percentage wise) they enjoyed in 1910 or 1918, suggests a simple 'melt down' at the hands of the single-issue bigots espousing UK independence.

But the simplicity of this version of 'melt down' is a media mirage. There is a class reality.

When did you last see men wearing bowler hats? This is UKIP - village fetes, fox hunting, market stalls, sharp suits, farms and English businessmen (and, as their post-election press conference shows, exclusively white middle aged businessmen).

Hang on a minute. These bunch of ex-Tories were not only courted by high-up Conservative politicians but New Labour Blairites too! Hasn't the entire New Labour project been to deny class? To court the ruling and middle class? Actually, I'd argue that since 1902 Labour's project has been to deny class - but I leave this aside presently.

I argue that the 'melt down' of the English political status quo is entirely about class and class consciousness. If politically and ideologically it is difficult to get a cigarette paper between the main three parties, then is it any surprise the sponge in the middle breaks? More importantly, the ruling class and their lickspittles in the middle class are desperate to head off criticism of Iraq, carry on the privatision project and force more profits from workers. UKIP, in a sense, is a natural home for them - as comfortable as the Daily Mail.

But there is another side which shows that these elections were entirely about class. Livingstone's Mayoral speech: he spoke of his project to redistribute wealth in London. His fellow Labourites squirmed. He'd acknowledged the division of class - and the utter failure of Labour to represent workers, preferring to deflect their needs over and over.

Votes for Respect in Tower Hamlets and through the City-East corridor in London have sent terrible shivers through London Labour party circles. The historic role of the Labour Party has been to control then deny the working class - through its organisation of the working class, the union bureaucracy, the media. There is no difference between Tories and Labour. The 'idea' that there could be a socialist alternative still drives good LP socialists to hold their collective breaths: " but you'll let the Tories in!?" Thus we go round and round in a series of class compromises.

A swathe of the ruling and middle classes can no longer go 'round and round.' The Labour Party will deny anything fundamental has happened - that there is a real  'melt down.' Their world is a mythical 'middle England' (an old Tory one-nation phrase) - which UKIP has just stolen!

It is now even more important to build a socialist alternative to this government and the Labour Party - to build a working class party from the very base of society - the 'base' which Labour, Tories, UKIP and Liberals detest.


June 2004


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