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Stay-at-home voters reject the old political order

When an average of two-thirds of registered voters boycott an election – in some areas over three-quarters abstained – it is another sign of a deep disillusionment with mainstream politics and parties.

The widespread hatred of the ConDem coalition for imposing austerity on behalf of the financial markets has, unsurprisingly, produced a backlash in the shape of a swing to Labour.

But with so many people deciding to stay at home, Ed Miliband’s claim that people have “put their trust” in his party is little short of risible. People voted against the government, not for Labour.

Over the last two years, Labour-controlled councils have carried through draconian cuts in spending. Alright, their budgets were cut by the government – but there was absolutely no opposition at town hall level.

Labour councils up and down the country simply passed on the cuts in terms of redundancies alongside eliminated or reduced services. No attempt was made to resist them by mobilising local communities or the workforce against the government.

Councillors who threatened to vote against cuts were suspended or threatened with expulsion!

So having more Labour councils as a result of last night’s election will not protect people one iota. There are years of cuts ahead as the government carries out its plan to reduce the deficit (which Labour more or less supports as an objective).

If Bradford is anything to go by, support for Labour is weak when it is challenged in a substantial, populist way. Respect won five seats following George Galloway’s sweeping success in last month’s by-election, deposing the council leader. In London, maverick Tory Boris Johnson seems set to defeat Ken Livingstone in the race for the capital’s mayor.

Which brings us to perhaps the most stunning results of all – the decisive rejection in referendums of plans to introduce directly elected mayors to run town halls over the heads of elected councillors.

Manchester, Nottingham, Coventry and Bradford rejected the mayoral plan, and Birmingham, Bristol and four other cities were expected to do the same if early indications were anything to go by.

The total disinterest in mayors was captured in the Bristol ward of Filwood, where just 9.9% of people voted. In Coventry, on a 28% turnout, there was a two-to-one majority against a mayor. The low turnout did not help Dave Nellist in the council elections. The independent socialist candidate lost his seat to Labour in a ward where nearly eight out of ten voters stayed at home.

For the Tories, the threat from the right is gathering momentum in the shape of the anti-European Union, anti-immigration, xenophobic UKIP. They may not be quite the equivalent to France’s National Front but they are heading in that direction.

UKIP polled an average of 14%, five points higher than a year ago. They took most of their votes from the Tories but undoubtedly some from the ultra-right BNP which fared badly, losing councillors in Derbyshire and Rotherham.

The UKIP results will increase pressure on the Tory leader David Cameron, whose alliance with the Lib Dems is rejected by many traditional Conservative voters as well as papers like the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. Cameron must know that UKIP could block a Tory general election victory unless he adapts to their policies.

With the global economic crisis deteriorating at a rapid rate, added to growing political uncertainty in countries like Greece and France, the local elections only add to the break-up of the old order.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
4 May 2012

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