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Few heroes, one zero: the election and the left

James O'Nions scours the election results in search of succour for the left

June 8, 2015
4 min read

James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a former Red Pepper editor. He is the head of activism for Global Justice Now.

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As the shock exit poll hit us at 10pm on 7 May, socialists all over the country were frantically looking for a glimmer of hope. While the scale of the SNP victory was confirmed relatively early, with Blairite Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy’s defeat a strong contender for most satisfying for the evening, we had to wait until the following morning to hear that the Greens’ Caroline Lucas had been returned with a majority increased by 11 per cent.

The Greens didn’t manage a second MP, though Darren Hall got 27 per cent in Bristol West, a constituency where they lost their deposit in 2010. Another Green target, Norwich South, saw a slight drop in the Green vote to 14 per cent, though they beat the Liberal Democrats, who had previously held the seat. The consolation here is that the new Labour MP, Clive Lewis, is on the left of the party.

Overall, the Greens saved 123 deposits (up from six in 2010) and won 1.2 million votes. In addition to Bristol West, they came second in Sheffield Central, Liverpool Riverside and Manchester Gorton. Like their better results in London (among them 15 per cent in Hackney North, 12 per cent in Hackney South, 10 per cent in Camberwell and Peckham), these are all safe Labour seats. But there were some exceptions to the pattern, such as the 9,400 votes they got in the safe Tory seat of the Isle of Wight.

Peter Pinkney, the RMT president who stood for the Greens in Redcar, made less of an impact than he might have hoped, with 880 votes (2.2 per cent) in a seat Labour took from the Liberal Democrats. The Greens’ best result in the north east was Newcastle East, with 8.7 per cent.

The National Health Action party did reasonably well in a few seats, such as Louise Irvine’s 8.5 per cent in Surrey South West, though they seem unlikely to win seats any time soon. Despite leader Leanne Wood’s increased profile in the election debates, Plaid Cymru just failed to increase their representation from three to four seats when they missed out on taking Ynys Môn by 200 votes.

Meanwhile, Socialist Party vehicle the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) fielded 135 candidates, up from around 30 in 2010, and enough to get a TV election broadcast. TUSC achieved over 1,000 votes in two parliamentary constituencies, Tottenham and Coventry North West. Creditable enough perhaps, but the latter candidate, Dave Nellist, has stood three times previously in neighbouring Coventry North East under the flag of previous left formations, getting 2,638 in 2001, 1,874 in 2005 and then 1,592 in 2010. The TUSC candidate in Coventry North East this time got just 633 votes.

Nellist clearly has a small personal vote dating back to his time as a Labour MP, but it appears to be in long-term decline. Undeterred, the TUSC website claimed ‘the parliamentary votes are just a small reflection of the support – including electoral support – for TUSC’s socialist, anti-austerity message’ and attempted to play up its only slightly less modest local council results.

Elsewhere the majority of TUSC candidates hovered around the 200 votes mark, or around 0.5 per cent. Left Unity’s more modest ten candidates, seven of whom were joint candidates with TUSC, got similar votes, with 949 in Bethnal Green and Bow the main outlier.

To the joy of zionists and hyenas everywhere (apparently), George Galloway lost the Bradford West seat he spectacularly won in a by-election in 2012, following a campaign characterised by some disgraceful behaviour towards his Labour opponent. Needless to say, the electorate will be hearing from Galloway’s lawyer.

Of the left Labour and SNP candidates highlighted in the last issue of Red Pepper, all were elected, including Labour’s Richard Burgon, Louise Haigh and Cat Smith, and Tommy Sheppard and Philippa Whitford for the SNP.

The progressive regionalist parties Paul Salveson wrote about fared as well as could be expected in a general election, with Paul himself getting 572 votes in Colne Valley. Yorkshire First’s 479 votes in Morley and Outwood was slightly more than the number former shadow chancellor Ed Balls lost by, though it seems unlikely they would all have otherwise voted for him.

Lisa McKenzie, the Class War candidate we interviewed who stood in solid Tory Chingford, got an unsurprising 53 votes. Not as few as a TUSC council candidate in Medway, however, who scored the remarkable total of zero. He swears he and his wife both voted for him, but calling for a recount hardly seems worth anyone’s while.

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James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a former Red Pepper editor. He is the head of activism for Global Justice Now.

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