Monday, 9 May 2011

Splitting the left vote?

This election saw the TUSC movement trying to gain local council seats in localities. Here in Medway we had Jacqui Berry for Gillingham South, aged 23, Andrew Feist who had just turned 18 for Gillingham North, they are young, they are enthusiastic and they are a party to watch out for in the future, but are they dangerously going to split the left vote and keeping the Tories in power?
The party's main aims are to the left of Labour's current position and I would say have a lot in kin with old Labour. Their basic message is that Labour has failed to represent the unions or the electorate and TUSC are moving into the void. They aren't, as some commentators have labelled them "this TUSC band of lunatics" but a serious party that should, in my opinion be taken seriously.

It is easy to throw labels around and neatly box people and parties up but if you intend to fight parties at the ballot boxes you should study them and evaluate them and their messages - after all parties exist because they represent someone. With the shift of Labour towards the right many people feel unrepresented, especially some of the unions like the PCS who have seen their workers in the civil service maligned and targeted by the last administration and will continue to be so under this government. Now as an ex PCS member and a member of the civil service I can agree with the sentiment. When they talk of civil service pay freezes across the board at £22k pa it hits people like myself who work in London and earn that much as prices for the commute, food, VAT, interest rates go up. One of my Colleagues said that she can only just scrape by on her wages and I myself am forced to face the very real possibility that I may be priced out of my job in three years times by the level of rail fares! Other governmental moves by the Labour administration included alterations to the Civil servants compensation scheme which would make staff easier to get rid off and cheaper too, after all as in any place of employment its always the bottom rung person who'll get let go rather than a manager and that had been our Union Rep's fear.
Other groups, that are separate from the Unions are apposed to the cuts, everyday people who supported the peaceful UKuncut demonstration back in March and went to Hyde Park to listen to Mr Miliband speak.
Others who work for the NHS are worried about job cuts, privatisation, "efficiency savings" that will not only jeopardise Patient care but also patients lives.
On the local level people are worried about affects on council services, loss of Sure start, wasting money on a new Bus station that no one really wanted, public services etc
Who do these people turn to? The Conservatives? Labour- who have let them down in the past and whose plan for the future is pretty much the same just slower or a blank sheet of paper, Lib Dems?- The bedfellows of the Conservatives and betrayers of the people (obviously not my view but a common one) UKIP or the BNP? Greens? -aren't the environmentalists? No one is there...

TUSC does represent people's needs and fears. They aren't some loony lefty fringe party that only has one message they have practical suggestions and courses of action that would solve unemployment and their plans are drawn from historical precedent and actions of the Attlee government.

(Please see: for more of what they stand for and what I think, Jacqui Berry's facebook page;

As a Historian I am forced to ask what has History taught us about this? At the turn of the last century the leading party that represented the people and brought in reform such as better health, old age pensions, votes for women and residential reform looked at a small party led by Ramsey MacDonald and Keir Hardie as a group of left wing radicals that were over exposed to Marx and Engels and would never develop, in fact Asquith offered them a loose coalition just to help keep the Conservatives out and his party in power. A century on the Liberal party is all but gone, its successor the Liberal Democrats just suffered a major electoral loss to this small party - Labour.
I'm not saying that in a hundred years time Labour will have been supplanted by TUSC but it is a scary precedent!

So how well did TUSC do in the local vote in Medway? Well they stood 8 Candidates across the whole conurbation and received, on average 249 votes per candidate! Well that's more than I got! Some people will say that they only got 0.72% of Medway's vote but as I said they only fielded eight candidates so that's pretty damn good in my opinion.

(Figures quoted from:

BUT and back to my original point, does their existence threaten to keep a Tory majority by splitting the left vote? Yes it does.

Some people, who would normally vote Labour or Lib Dem are drawn to the message, decisiveness and drive of Ms Berry and co. as well as their direct campaigning on the streets of Medway and at the PCS hustings, an event the Conservatives and ourselves failed to attend ( I was there, just didn't have the gumption to get up and speak!) By default the Conservatives get in, however this is no reason not to vote for a party or its representatives. After all only a year a go the Conservative media was telling us "A Vote for Clegg is a vote for Brown!" and I recall an episode of the Simpsons where the evil aliens Kang and Kudos are running for US president,
Homer says: "We could vote for a third candidate"
Kang and Kudos in unison. "Sure you can, throw your vote away!"
If the party were to use this election as a learning experience and get out on the streets and really push the message then they may even take seats at the next election, especially if the Libdems continue to fall apart and Labour continue not to do anything about their economic policy or properly oppose cuts etc.

If Labourites are worried enough about the rise of TUSC, and I believe they should be, then they need to address their party's policies or represent genuine people's problems in Medway and dare I say it the UK in general and remove the need for a splinter party. As for us, I'm not sure. I think the Lib Dems have their own journey to make and because of our spot in the coalition it could cause massively harmful ramifications for us.

Ultimately the appearance of TUSC has inconvenienced Labour at this local election, probably cost them some votes and maybe even a seat or two across the board but they aren't some lunatic fringe that should be ignored, I think they're a force to be reckoned with and should the economic situation fail to improve or, as Ed Balls suggests, double dip, then their support will, rightly, grow and grow.

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