Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Nightmare Awaits Us. Who Is To Blame?

The chances are that we will wake up tomorrow morning with Boris Johnson as Mayor of London and the BNP with a seat on the Greater London Assembly. It's a nightmare, and the monsters of the piece are the Tories, their cheerleaders in the Evening Standard, and the Nazi scum.

But Livingstone and the Labour Party will have brought it all on themselves. Which would be a cause for simple sneering if it weren't for the fact that they will have brought it all on working-class Londoners too.

Few of my workmates are persuadable to vote for Livingstone. Hardly surprising, since he has privatised one of their Underground lines, threatened to close their ticket offices, told them to cross their union's picket lines, and allowed - indeed encouraged - their managers to push them around.

Aside from Underground workers, many other people who might in the past have felt inclined to vote Labour are turned off by Livingstone's smooching with big business and his siding with police brutality against its victims. Even on issues where he is supposed to be progressive, such as anti-racism, he is seen to have created a race relations industry which lines a few pockets but does not touch real lives.

Thousands of white working-class Londoners have turned to voting BNP because they feel abandoned. They are vulnerable to the BNP's poisonous lies that the reason their estate is run down or their hopsital waiting list is so long is that immigrants are jumping the queue. Of course that is nonsense, but if their estate was not run down and their hospital waiting list not so long, then they wouldn't be tempted by the racists.

The anti-fascist movement must learn not simply to tell people off for voting BNP, but to tackle the reasons why they do. You can not destroy the nazis' base of support without taking up issues such as jobs, housing and public services. Neither can you win people away from the BNP by telling them that fat cat Alan Sugar says the BNP is bad, as 'Hope Not Hate' does. In the absence of better material, I cringed while dishing out such a leaflet at Hackney Central station the day before yesterday.

Working-class Londoners feel abandoned if not by Livingstone specifically, then by new Labour in power. Attacking the poor, cossetting the rich, waging wars that few supported, dishing out public money in spadeloads to bail out the private sector but begrudging every penny to public services. Mouthing off about crime but maintaining the social inequalities and problems that cause it. Sure, it is ridiculous and reactionary to turn to the Tories or the BNP for solutions to these issues - but don't be surprised when some do. It seems that if you vote Labour, you get Tories in the Cabinet anyway.

The left also shares the blame. The left deluded itself for years that Livingstone was a left-winger, when he had said and done easily enough to prove that the emperor was naked and he was right wing. There is a well-worn trail of 'lefties' entering local government as Labour councillors, promising to defy the law and refuse to make cuts, who ended up, erm, obeying the law and making cuts. Other sections of the left abstained from the fight within the Labour Party when there was still a fight to be had, and therefore made it easier for the right to win. Then when we had half a chance of a viable Socialist Alliance, the SWP and their hangers on spoiled it by going off on a doomed love affair with unprincipled fat cats and communalists.

And this time round? There should have been a socialist list for the GLA, made up of candidates with a genuine base in the trade unions and communities, standing explicitly for working-class political representation. We made moves towards that in the RMT, but although our regional council backed the proposal, the national executive put the kybosh on it. Sure, such a list would not have shaken the foundations of capitalism, but it would have given thousands of working-class people a reason to bother going to the polling station, people who will very likely stay away today and unintentionally let the right wing in.

Other unions not affiliated to Labour seem to have had very little to say about the election. Those that are affiliated have obviously backed Labour, but have campaigned so little that I assume they know there is no enthusiasm for Labour amongst their members. When it comes to today's election, the trade unions have been like rabbits caught in the headlights. In the absence of a genuine working-class, socialist list, we are left with those who helped wreck the prospects of that (Left List, Galloway, ...) begging for our vote. I will go and vote Left List and Livingstone with a heavy heart.

I genuinely hope that my nightmare turns out not to be true, even if that makes this post look premature and bitter. But even if Livingstone scrapes in and the BNP are squeezed out, the fact that the Tories and the BNP came so close is still reason to learn the lessons.

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