Left Luggage

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Archive for the ‘European Union’ Category

Amateur psephology and the rise of the far-right

Posted by Left Luggage on June 13, 2009

There have been a number of attempts to downplay the scale of the British National Party’s success in the Euro elections last week. One of the main arguments which has been put forward is that while the BNP won two Euro seats, it’s number of votes actually dropped, proving that people are not turning to the far-right.

There’s a possiblity here of reading the results for the narrative we hope find, rather than facing the true extent of the challenge for the Left and the shape of likely developments to come. It’s correct we need to avoid hysteria, but at the same time we need good analysis to form effective strategies. Despite the risk of engaging in amateur psephology, and the danger of getting some of our calculations wrong, we want to try to break down some of the figures to find out if BNP support is static or if the party is still on the march. So, let’s look at the two seats where the BNP won.

First, the North West. In 2004, the BNP won 134,958 votes (6.4%) out of 2,115,163 votes cast. This time around, the BNP attained 132,094 votes (8%) out of 1,651,825. So here we have a 1.6% increase in vote percentage but a slight drop in support of 2,864 votes between the two elections. However, this must be set against a decline in turnout of more than 21%! In this context, the BNP’s total number of votes dropped about 2%.

Second, Yorkshire and the Humber. In 2004, the BNP won 126,538 votes (8%) out of 1,573,201 votes cast. This time around, the BNP attained 120,139 votes (9.8%) out of 1,226,180. Here we have a similar picture. The BNP’s share of the vote is up 1.8% but its absolute number of votes is down by 6,399. But again the turnout fell by more than 22% while the BNP’s total number of votes fell by just over 5%. -Keep reading>


Posted in Anti-fascism, Class, European Union | 3 Comments »

Leftovers #9

Posted by Left Luggage on June 3, 2009

As we reported previously, the entry of No2EU into the political arena has ignited a lively debate on the Left. One positive result of the establishment of the union-backed electoral platform is the way it has raised the question of what the Left’s approach to the European Union should be. Last week, the debate reached the pages of Red Pepper, where European Union expert Leigh Phillips explained in great detail why “it’s hard to claim the EU is a continental-scale democracy”. On the record low turnout expected for this week’s European elections, she writes:

East and west, this is clearly not the apathy of the contented. Rather, it is the rational decision of those who may have little knowledge of the snakes-and-ladders hierarchy of the European institutions – but sense that however they vote, it will make little difference.

As a Brussels journalist, I can confirm that their hunch is mostly correct. The real power in the EU lies not with elected MEPs, but with a clatch of committeemen, civil servants and diplomats.

Phillips goes on to cite an estimate that the European Parliament has a substantive say in only 15% of EU legislation, with the unelected European Commission accounting for 70%.

Given these claims, it is perhaps surprising that Phillips argues against “the blinkered defence of national sovereignty” she attributes to No2EU, advocating instead “another version of European politics, one that is internationalist and democratic, not intergovernmental and technocratic.” The reader is not enlightened as to what that might mean in concrete terms. -Keep reading>

Posted in Elections, European Union, Leftovers, New workers' party, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »

Leftovers #8

Posted by Left Luggage on May 27, 2009

In this week’s Leftovers, we feature the latest developments around the RMT-backed No2EU platform, strategic differences around combatting the BNP, as well as some analysis on trade union militancy, the latest unofficial walkouts, and student occupations.

Plenty has been written about the forthcoming European elections on June 4, though much of it either regarding the failings of No2EU or the possibility of the BNP winning seats.

First, regarding No2EU, an interview with the platform’s Dave Hill (also of Socialist Resistance, which garnered a mention on Left Luggage last week) on Liam MacUaid’s blog has some interesting points and deals with some of the biggest questions that have been raised about No2EU. (It is from the Weekly Worker, however, so does contain some utterly barmy questions.) Regarding the platform’s attitude towards British capitalism and the accusation of Left nationalism, he says:

in my view the enemy is capitalism, based in both the European Union and in Britain. They are the same. What I have been arguing for in the meetings I’ve been involved in is workers’ internationalism with no illusions in the sanctity of British capital. We’re a movement seeking to replace capitalism with socialism – and I’m not just talking about neoliberalism, which is simply the current version of the class war from above.

Regarding immigration and the “no borders” position:

My view is that this is not a time to have completely open borders. On the other hand, I think that the current controls are racist and that people who are in this country should be treated with full human rights and have full workers’ rights. The conditions under which many refugees and asylum-seekers live are horrendous.

He also suggests the platform should become something more permanent rather than disbanding on June 5, as is its stated intention. He also advocated the idea of a “workers’ MP on a workers’ wage”, which is an advance on No2EU’s intention of not taking up seats in the European parliament if elected.
-Keep reading>

Posted in Anti-fascism, Elections, European Union, Leftovers, Unions, Workers' struggles | 1 Comment »

Poll suggests Labour will stagger on

Posted by Left Luggage on May 22, 2009

ICM pollAre these not the epoch-changing times for British politics that some have predicted?

A story on The Guardian website today is headlined “Quarter of voters to reject mainstream parties at EU elecions”, based on an ICM poll that puts the combined total (from those who expressed a preference) for Labour, Tories and Lib Dems at 72%. But reading beyond the headline to the data itself, what seems really extraordinary is that the poll indicates an increase in support for all three main parties compared with the 2004 European elections. The Tories are up +3% to 30%, Lib Dems have increased in support +3% to 18%, and even Labour has gained +1% to take the party to 24%. Given the depth of the public anger over the recent MPs expenses revelations this is most unexpected. While the Guardian report attempts to exaggerate the poll’s findings somewhat, it seems that the predicted meltdown of support for Labour is not quite upon us. This polls seem to indicate the possibility of its staggering on in the same grim fashion, rather than anything more terminal.

It also shows support for the British National Party is lower than many had expected, at only 1% according to the ICM figure, although this is likely to be an underestimate due to the reluctance of those polled to own up to supporting the BNP. At present this is down from the 5% it achieved in 2004. From the (admittedly small sample of) data gathered by ICM in another recent poll (pdf), support for the far right seems to be highest among men, those aged 18 to 24, and voters in social class C2 (skilled manual workers), showing again that the far-right’s support is strongest among working class people. They also seem to be stronger in the Midlands than the North or South. Clearly it is to be welcomed if the BNP do suffer a decline in support, but it should not distract from the Left’s task: building of working class political organisation to fill the vacuum the far-right is attempting to exploit. A poor BNP showing cannot be a charter for the “anyone but the BNP” strategies of mainstream anti-fascism to persist.

Other notable figures from the EU election poll are the increase in support for the Green Party, which is up +3% on its 2004 result at 9%, and the decline in stated support for UKIP, down -6% at 10%.

It’s worth being cautious about all these figures, not only because they produce counterintuitive results. The full data sets are not yet available on ICM’s website, but it seems certain that the sample will have included a large percentage of “don’t knows” that could radically alter this picture, or put a cross by the BNP on polling day.

One thing is certain, however: yet again the Left has let an opportunity slip. In the midst of both the largest economic and political crises in generations, there is no credible challenge from the Left whatsoever. The electoral platform No2EU doesn’t register even 1% in the poll, which should be unsurprising given how late in the day they launched their campaign. In any case, once again the Left is out of contention.

Posted in Anti-fascism, Elections, European Union, Labour Party, News | 2 Comments »

A note on No2EU

Posted by Left Luggage on May 15, 2009


Plenty has been written in the “blogosphere” and elsewhere online about the No2EU electoral platform formed by the RMT union, alongside the Communist Party of Britain and the Socialist Party to contest the forthcoming European elections . (Although, notably, this reasonably-sized political initiative from the Left has garnered only a single mention in the pages of Socialist Worker.)

Much of the analysis has been hostile, with highly sectarian and personal attacks on some of the activists involved in the more squalid corners of the far-left’s Internet presence. We won’t be directing your attention there. But it is worth highlighting some of the cogent arguments from the blogopshere about No2EU’s strengths and weaknesses, before outlining what we feel to be the key points.

First up is The Commune, which has a very critical analysis of No2EU, calling it “at best a diversion” and at worst “right wing and reactionary, pure and simple”. The writer, Dave Spencer, criticises the platform on a number of grounds, saying it has been called too late, criticising the platform for saying its candidates will not take up their seats in the European Parliament if elected, and saying it is bureaucratic and led in a top-down fashion. The most biting critique is over the platform’s “nationalism”, however:

Some comrades have called the politics of “No2EU” “left-wing nationalism”. Perhaps this is to keep the embarrassment within the Left family. Personally I cannot see how British nationalism in the context of global capitalism can be anything other than right wing and reactionary, pure and simple. […]

When there is an economic recession, the first reaction is to find scapegoats, usually immigrants or foreigners. The No2EU leaflet complains about “social dumping” which refers to foreign workers coming to Britain for jobs. This is a disgraceful, reactionary statement.

It is worth pointing out that this seems to be a slight misrepresentation of No2EU’s position. On its website the term “social dumping” appears to refer to the practise of companies bringing in workers from elsewhere in the EU for specific jobs, as in the Lindsey dispute, rather than labour migration per se.
-Keep reading>

Posted in European Union, Nationalism, New workers' party, Socialism, Strategy | 13 Comments »