The British elections have led to a situation of political confusion. No party got a working majority. Labour did better than expected: many working class people apparently feared a Tory majority and the ferocious cuts that they are threatening to impose. The expected Tory majority did not materialise. The Liberal Democrats won votes, but not nearly as many seats. Rarely was the contradiction between the number of votes for the parties and the numbers of seats more blatant. First-past-the-post distorts the electoral picture and adds to the already valid sense that elections offer only a distorted way to express what policies people support.
A number of comments from the Trotskyist left deserve to be mentioned. Lenin’s Tomb has several pieces. One of them discusses the question: what governmental combination is the best for the working class and the left? A conservative-Liberal coalition? A conservative minority government? Both are made up of the biggest fans of savage cuts. Both mean that the open class enemy is in the giovernmental saddle. The article tries to convince the readers that a Labour-Liberal coalition is to be preferred. Such a government wil also go for cuts – but its mandate rests on people voting Labour because the fear the even more vicious Tory policies. That may weaken the government, which would bea positive thing for those who want to resist the austerity policies about to be imposed. The contradiction between a totally bourgeois Labour leadership and its working class base – also through the union link that still connects workers to Labour – makes Labour a weaker opponent for a resisting working class.
Socialist Resistance also prefers a Liberal-Labour coalition. It explains that the Liberals would harm not only the working class but their own prospects, if they would jopin the Tories in government. Supporting hated Tory policies would also hurt themselves, and the Tories would not be above promising some deal on proportional representation – an issue that is pushed by the LibDems – and then cynically breaking their promise. Much better for the LibDems to support Labour, with which party they have a lot of common ground. That might also a deal on PR possible, which would make it much harder for the Tory party to come back in government, als long as they do not reach the 50 percent of the vote.
Socialist Resistance adds “two key conditions” for such a coalition to “play any kind of progressive role”: serious reform of the electoral system in the direction of PR; and “an abandonment of the cuts agenda as an approach on the ecopnomic crisis and its replacement by an agenda of recovery through planned investment in green jobs.” In other wordds: Socialist resistance calss an openly pro-capitalist, neoliberal government – both Labour an the LibDems accept the neoliberal framework – to act as a serious radical social-democratic government. One might as well ask foxes to stop chasing rabbits.
But there is more to be said about the speculations on the Trotskyist left about which government is more favorable for our side, the working class side. The first thing is: you never know, you know. The idea th that a left-of-center government is a weaker opponent for us than a right wing government may be true. Then again, it may not. I remember the right wing electoral victory in France, 1995. Within a year, the new government overplayed its hand and had to retreat in the face of mass strikes of very serious proportions.
Right wing govermnents are more openly our enemy that left-wing governments. At the same time, they are more easily recognised as outrr enemy. Sometimes, left wing governments have less trouble in pushing cuts, because they can rely on forces with influence among workers – unions, especially their leaderships – to push their agenda. I would NOT prefer, as a rule, one type of government above the other. They are all enemies.
There is one more thing: specualation on what government is more or less favorable are rather futile. Giving electoral advice at least has the merit of recommendingh a certain copurse of action. Governmental speculation does not even doe that. There is, in essence, nothing that people in Britain can do to bring about one or another government coalition. Too much speculation distracts energies from the real task: how to counter the austerity offensive, no matter from which government the attack is about to come?