The following article appeared in Proletarian Revolution No. 63 (Fall 2001) to accompany No to New Reformist Parties!

Left Flops in British Election

In the parliamentary election, the left did poorly. The SSP won over 3 percent of the vote (much less than it expected) standing in all 72 constituencies in Scotland, but the Socialist Alliance, despite its high-profile campaign, edged out the barely active SLP in England and Wales, winning well under 2 percent. The total “socialist” vote across Britain was about 180,000.

The Labour Party won re-election handily, but the overall turnout of voters was way down at 59 percent, approaching U.S. levels. The bulk of working-class voters turned off by Labour’s attacks on their class chose to abstain; the second largest contingent voted for the bourgeois Liberal Democrats, whose program was on the whole to the left of Labour’s. Clearly few in the working class saw the left reformist groupings as a serious alternative. The SWP’s post-election claim that “Millions more people agree with the Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party than voted for them on 7 June” seems wildly exaggerated.

Most ominous was the 15 percent vote for the fascist British National Party (BNP) in two districts in Oldham, a town where Nazis had sparked violent attacks on Asian houses and shops and were defended by the police when they were beaten back by Asian youth. Despite the mounting fascist threat, the Socialist Alliance declined to run candidates or actively intervene in Oldham.

After the BNP’s electoral success, SA and left Labour supporters consoled themselves by pointing out that nationally the fascist parties got a very low vote. But that is irrelevant. By blaming capitalism’s miseries on working-class immigrants, the fascists were able to present a hard alternative to Labour’s attacks. In contrast, the socialists saw their task as presenting not revolutionary answers to the most oppressed sections of the working class but a mushy reformist alternative to the Labour government. Thus they failed to counter the fascist strategy.