Friday, March 01, 2013

Miliband joins race to the bottom after Eastleigh

Earlier in the week,  the key message from the Italian elections was that support for traditional politics was in free-fall. Yesterday, the point was reinforced in the Hampshire town of Eastleigh where the by-election result is likely to kick-start a political crisis at Westminster.

Although the Lib Dems held on to the seat – despite its former MP Chris Huhne awaiting a probable jail sentence and sex allegations surrounding former party chief executive Lord Rennard – the junior partner in the Coalition government lost 14% of its vote.

With the Tories coming third and Labour a distant fourth, the only winner was Ukip – the party of Little Englanders and populist reactionaries. They picked up votes from the right-wing of the other two front-runners and but for entrenched Lib Dem organisation on the ground, would have captured the seat.

Ukip ran with on an anti-EU bureaucracy and anti-immigration platform – hardly issues that affect most people in this relatively wealthy town in southern England. But their appeal also reached out to those whose disgust at Westminster politics has built over the last decades.

Voters like that are to be found in all social classes who, for a variety of reasons, feel betrayed, abandoned or simply used by the major parties at election time. That’s why no party was able to secure enthusiastic let alone overwhelming support at the 2010 general election.

Come 2015, the scheduled date of the next election, neither the Tories, Lib Dems nor Labour will find the position has improved. In fact, Ukip is capable of taking votes off all of them and another hung parliament seems the outcome. Viewing Ukip’s performance as a one-off protest vote would be a mistake.

We should not underestimate the crisis surrounding the leadership of David Cameron following the Eastleigh result. His project to remake the Tory party in a modern image lies in ruins. As Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, noted after the result: “The Conservatives failed here because traditional Tory voters look at Cameron and they ask themselves ‘Is he a Conservative?’ and they conclude ‘No, he’s not’. He’s talking about gay marriage, wind turbines, unlimited immigration from India. He wants Turkey to join the European Union. The Conservatives’ problems are not because of Ukip, it’s because of their leader.”

A coup against Cameron is entirely possible, replacing him with a figure from the right of the party. This would almost certainly lead to a swift end to the Coalition with the Lib Dems and precipitate an early election, at which the Tories could well get hammered. With Britain losing its AAA credit rating, a political crisis of this magnitude would shake the markets. Just look at Italy’s perilous position since the election.

Which leaves with Ed Miliband’s party, New Labour Mark II, the champions of responsible capitalism, and whose policies are barely distinguishable from those of the government parties. The lesson Labour is apparently drawing is that – wait for it – they have to appear tougher on immigration than they have done thus far.

So come next Wednesday, Miliband is to devote an entire party political broadcast to address “voters’ concerns” on immigration (which, by the way, is falling rapidly). He will tell them that Labour should have done more to address the issue when in office for 13 years.

Making this a key issue when austerity driven by the crisis of global capitalism is wrecking people’s lives is entirely reactionary. This is Labour’s appeal to backwardness, narrow nationalism and prejudiced voters who hold immigrants and foreigners responsible for every problem.

Ukip is leading a race to the bottom in British politics and Labour is desperately trying to get in amongst the front-runners. It makes you want to throw up.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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