The general election in May presents the usual Hobson’s Choice for the left. We certainly won’t shed any tears if we see the back of a vicious Tory-led government and their hapless Lib Dem allies. Their attacks on the welfare state (including the notoriously punitive bedroom tax, the workfare and sanctions regime and the malicious targeting of disabled people) have helped to fuel the emergence of food bank Britain, where even people in work are forced to rely on charity to feed their families.
Add to that the stealthy privatisation of the NHS, the contempt for ‘green crap’ like the catastrophic change in the planet’s climate, the tax cut for millionaires, the axing of a million public sector jobs… The list goes on. And on.
The only viable alternative to a government led by the Tories is one led by Labour. Incredibly, given Cameron’s record, the prospects of this still hang very much in the balance. But how much change an Ed Milband premiership would offer is a matter of debate. True, the bedroom tax would go, and a mansion tax is a positive step. But Labour goes into the election committed to the Tory spending plans to the end of 2017. People can be forgiven for not exactly racing to the ballot box.
This has created a space for parties claiming to offer a radical alternative. The SNP appears to have maintained huge momentum from the mobilisation around the Yes vote in last year’s referendum. The Greens, too, are riding high in membership terms at least, as Andrew Dolan considers. Yet what are the chances of the Greens fulfilling the expectations they have inspired? Their record elsewhere in Europe is not encouraging, as former Green member Joseph Healy discovers.
With a perverse electoral system, even a substantial vote for smaller parties won’t guarantee them any more representation. And insofar as these votes might otherwise have gone to Labour, they may well benefit the Tories.
It is difficult to assess the likely outcome of a further hung parliament. A number of different scenarios could play out here, as Hilary Wainwright reflects, and a new progressive dynamic could yet come into play. One thing seems certain: if Labour was to rely on Tory votes to get through its programme – or still worse form some sort of ‘grand coalition’ – it would be set for a British equivalent of ‘Pasokification’.
Not even the most favourable electoral outcome is likely to deliver the social and economic overhaul that would be needed to eliminate the housing crisis, radically reduce inequality and protect spending on public services. So the extent to which politicians are forced to listen will depend on the scale of what goes on outside the electoral cycle – in direct action, workplace militancy and grassroots solidarity. If a new electoral formation giving expression to these movements is ever to emerge – a British equivalent of a Syriza or Podemos – it may not come in response to the initiatives of the traditional far left structures but from a new generation of activists for whom the very concept of ‘doing politics’ must be reinvented.