Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Be careful what you vote for

Tom Fox on the Oldham East and Saddleworth byelection, and Labour's false renaissance.

January 18, 2011
4 min read

All things considered, Labour’s victory in the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election is remarkable. To recount the facts that have been lost in the media as the contest inevitably became presented as a vote on the coalition, Phil Woolas was ejected from parliament last November for stoking racial tensions during the general election in a town that suffered race riots only a decade ago. In internal emails, his campaign team said that “if we don’t get the white folk angry he’s gone”, a plan they referred to as “shit or bust”.

Until his ejection Woolas only had a majority of 106, and if the Lib Dems were not in an increasingly hated government it would seem impossible that they would not win in a traditionally Liberal region. As it turned out, Labour achieved a better majority and share of the vote than not only last year, but 1997 as well. The coalition result was nothing short of a disaster; at the back of their minds, Lib Dems consoled by a better than expected result must be aware that it was at the cost of thousands of Tory tactical votes, a cannibalisation that incensed the Tory right.

But the first electoral test of the coalition not only underlines the obvious – that people are becoming increasingly hostile towards the coalition – but also, when Labour’s campaign is analysed, that the party has not changed a bit since the tragedy of Blair and the farce of Brown.

The thrust of their campaign in the seat was on law and order, with one leaflet almost entirely devoted to the subject, accusing the coalition being “guilty of going soft on crime” and, reminiscent of Woolas’ murky rhetoric, “guilty of gambling with public safety”. It made much of the “axing of 1,387 police officers” in Greater Manchester, while the sole photo of Ed Millband appeared tucked away in favour of two photos of candidate Debbie Abrahams in front of a poster saying “save our police”.

So much for Miliband’s new found progressive liberalism; this line of attack reeks of New Labour’s Whiggish authoritarianism. Police numbers tend to increase with elections, simply because scaremongering is a brutal and effective tactic. New Labour oversaw a 40% real terms increase in police investment between 1997 and 2007, despite the fact that there has never been any conclusive proof that increased police numbers reduces crime.

The secondary element in Labour’s campaign was tuition fees. Although nominally on the side of students, in reality Labour have no grounds to position themselves with the protestors; not only did they begin the privatisation of university by introducing fees in the first place, but they also propose to introduce the graduate tax, a second income tax attacked by the University and Colleges Union as a simple rebranding of debt, which could end up with teachers paying £17,271, nurses £7,824 and social workers £8,528 more than they do now for their respective courses.

Although Miliband pledged to go on some protests when he was elected, the commitment of the student marches seems to have changed his mind. Attempting to shoot down union militancy, he dismissed strikes as “a sign of failure”, and refused to support the right of workers to strike for political reasons – even though this was not a fight, or even a crisis, that workers started. If workers, the unemployed and youth don’t resist the cuts, who will? Certainly not the shadow cabinet, who recently agreed that labour had been “too slow” to commit itself to cuts after the recession; the opportunity to build a genuine case against the disintegration of welfare and public services was thrown out of the window with this pledge to prove that Labour are not “deficit deniers”, committing the party to New Labour’s fatal addiction: out-Torying the Tories.

Milliband was merely adjusting the message for the audience when he wrote in The Guardian that Labour “must be willing to change” in order to move on from the defeat last May. They have simply not changed; they can score easy victories by attacking the VAT increase, despite the fact that when in power, the cabinet that Miliband was part of twice attempted to increase it. Their law and order campaign in Oldham repeats the worst tendencies of Woolas, their campaigning on the tuition fees rise is disingenuous and hypocritical, and their pro-police attacks on student protestors “violence” will likely foreshadow attacks on the wider anti-cuts movement as it grows.

The left should therefore be wary of celebrating Labour victories, since although they suggest popular support is turning against the government, all of this is for nought if it simply returns New Labour. Without the party’s promised renaissance, a Miliband government would be more of the same, just as Thatcher has returned as Cameron’s spirit guide; “shit or bust” indeed.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency


6