Crisis breeds chaos
To make sense of this election, the first thing that has to be understood is the context: the deep capitalist crisis of overproduction is creating conditions of chaos and uncertainty in all spheres of life. As in all the other capitalist countries of the world, the ruling class is thoroughly divided over the best way to deal with the crisis, and this is reflected in the rancorous polarisation in the media and within both the major parties, which are split over fundamental questions of Britain’s EU membership, of its wars abroad and subservience in these wars to US imperialism, and over the implementation of (if not the necessity for) austerity at home.
Moreover, the working class is increasingly frustrated and angry at the burden that the ruling class has been shifting onto its back: the lack of decent jobs and housing; the privatisation and scrapping of public services, especially the health service; the rising cost of living alongside falling wages and conditions; rising unemployment and falling benefits. The young, in particular, now face a situation where in order to get a job they must first acquire a crippling debt burden, and where living at home or becoming homeless seem to be the only options as far as housing is concerned.
As the crisis deepens, there are vocal sections within every capitalist class in the world who want to find a way out of their troubles by protecting home markets and exporting more goods abroad. But there’s a catch: if everyone’s home markets are glutted, there is not going to be much scope for increasing exports, and particularly not when everyone else is trying to do the same thing! On top of this, imperialist powers are also competing to control avenues of investment and sources of raw materials all over the world.
In truth, the ruling class has no answer to the crisis beyond austerity and war, and no answer to working-class anger than to try to divert it against whatever scapegoats can be found from amongst the workers themselves – ‘benefit cheats’, single mothers, immigrants, etc. It is this division within the ruling class and its parties and its need to promote scapegoats (in the form of immigration and the EU) that pushed the Tories into holding the Brexit referendum in the first place, and the success of decades of poisonous propaganda in convincing workers that their fellows are to blame for their problems that caused the ruling class to lose control of the outcome of that vote – all of which has further added to the chaos now being witnessed.
An election of chaos
Faced with a non-stop barrage of criticism and sabotage from the section of the ruling class that is set on scuppering the Brexit negotiations (including rebels within her own party), May hoped to increase her majority so as to have a surer base from which to outmanoeuvre her opponents. It would appear, too, that she had bought into the received Westminster wisdom that Corbyn was so unpopular and unelectable that the whole thing was bound to be a walkover; that she would triumph, much as in the Tory leadership contest, by doing nothing and allowing her opponent to shoot himself in the foot (or, rather, by leaving the media and his own party colleagues to destroy his electoral prospects on her behalf).
As far as the ruling class was concerned, this was most certainly the Brexit election (as, no doubt, the next one will be too). Ms May went into the election appealing to voters to strengthen her hand, and ‘Should May’s Tories be strengthened or weakened?’ would indeed appear to have been the main question on voters’ minds. Two major issues appear to have affected voting patterns: Brexit and austerity (including, most especially, the dismantling of the NHS, the housing crisis, unemployment, rising student debt and the general lack of prospects or opportunities for young people). In Scotland, added to these was the question of independence, and in the north of Ireland it was Irish reunification.
In general, it would seem that people voted in the way that they thought would be most likely to strengthen or weaken Ms May’s government according to their views on the above. A surge in turnout by previously disengaged younger voters also proved decisive in delivering not only the highest overall turnout in 20 years (69 percent), but also in swinging many seats from Tory to Labour. As a result, Labour gained 40 percent of both votes and seats: an undoubted triumph for Jeremy Corbyn’s platform of a move towards more traditional social-democracy.
In actual fact, it was not all bad news for the Tories. Their stance on Brexit wiped out Ukip and brought gains in Wales, while their stand against another independence referendum undermined the SNP and gained it seats in Scotland. But the governing party’s seat numbers collapsed catastrophically in England, particularly in university and anti-Brexit constituencies. So, despite increasing their share of the vote (from 37 to 42 percent), the Tories actually lost seats (318, down from 331). The net result is that May has gambled with what little majority the Tories had and has very publicly lost her bet.
The battle of the manifestos
With an apparently safe 20-point lead in the polls, May committed the cardinal sin of forgetting that while she in fact serves a tiny clique of the super-rich, she does at election time need to appear to be serving the masses if they are going to be persuaded to vote for her. The hubris with which she included such anti-worker items in her manifesto as the ‘dementia tax’ and the scrapping of the triple lock on pensions defied belief, and had even her own supporters reeling in shock.
These may well be aims of the ruling class, but what kind of politician believes they should actually be printed in a manifesto aimed at attracting working-class votes? The need to backtrack on these unnecessary attacks on her core voters fatally undermined her increasingly spurious ‘strong and stable’ mantra.
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn’s manifesto included a whole list of eminently reasonable demands appealing to a wide cross-section of society. More funding for the NHS, a programme of council house building and the scrapping of student debt and tuition fees spoke to all those who are suffering under austerity, especially the young; renationalisation of the railways and other key utilities spoke not only to workers who are sick of being ripped off by the privateers but also to significant sections of the ruling class, whose ability to run their businesses is undermined by the poor services that the private companies presently deliver.
And, of course, Corbyn’s promise to renew Trident and to ‘press the button’ if need be allayed the worst fears of his detractors, while doing nothing to stunt the support of his former colleagues in CND and Stop the War.
It is clear that Ms May, along with the entire bourgeois media, failed to appreciate not only the attractiveness of Mr Corbyn’s platform to large sections of the working class, but also to foresee that the liberal media’s hatred of Brexit might ultimately trump their hatred of Corbyn.
May might have had a huge lead while the media were united in singing the song of Corbyn’s ‘unelectability’, but, when push came to shove and it was too late for Labour to ditch Corbyn; when it was a choice between Theresa May’s declared intention of pushing Brexit through no matter what and the possibility of a coalition made up of members who are in the main opposed to Brexit (Jeremy himself notwithstanding), significant sections of the imperialist media and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) knew what they had to do.
And so, at the last minute, Corbyn was transformed in much of the liberal media from a bumbling idiot whose subversive ideas would ruin the country if anyone was crazy enough to vote for him (which, of course, they wouldn’t be) into a likeable, down-to-earth chap who was in touch with the common folk and not afraid to stand up for what he believes. Journalists stopped ignoring Corbyn’s triumphal progress and rapturous reception in cities around Britain and started to acknowledge the reasons for it, even going so far as hypocritically to join the chorus against May’s proposed new anti-terror legislation.
No stable majority government is possible with the present allocation of seats. With the need to please so many outside her own camp, many of May’s manifesto promises will now be impossible to act on and, with divisions rife within her own party, she will likely find herself having to cobble together an alliance for every single bill she wants to pass through parliament. In all likelihood, the Tory/DUP alliance will quite quickly fall apart, and there is every chance that May will be unceremoniously dumped and a new election called soon.
All in all, it is clear that the election has decided nothing: the splits within the ruling class and the bourgeois parties continue to deepen and the resulting political chaos continues to grow. And this is only to be expected, because no changing of the guard is capable of dealing with the root cause of society’s problems: the deepening capitalist crisis of overproduction.
The quest for a ‘strong and stable’ government has led it to become even more weak and unstable than it was before. The challenge for workers is to organise to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the weakness and disarray in the enemy’s camp.
It is a cause for optimism that increasing numbers of people, especially the young, are exercising their voting rights in their desire to promote working-class interests over those of the super-rich. LALKAR supports every struggle of the working class for improvements in their conditions, but this support seeks at the same time to convince workers of the need for proletarian revolution, not to lull them into the false but reassuring belief that their needs can be met within capitalism. No amount of tweaking at the edges of economic or foreign policy is going to make this parasitic and dying system serve the interests of the working class or cure the chaos now prevalent.
The programme of the Labour party is, at best, a prayer that the ills of capitalism can be solved within the capitalist system. But with the best will in the world, they can’t: workers’ salvation lies not with Saint Jeremy or Stern Theresa, but with the workers themselves.
Unpalatable as this truth may be, ultimately the proletariat will not be able to vote its way out of the crisis. Either the crisis will lead the working class deeper into poverty and war, or workers will organise themselves to defeat the crisis by overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist society that is capable of meeting their needs.