It has not been easy to sift through the saturated media coverage of the election and to try to distinguish hyperbole from novelty, opportunism from opportunity and shit from shinola. However, around the edges of the election, a number of issues appear to have become apparent, or perhaps I should say that the blindingly obvious has become forcefully brought home with renewed vigour and in a new context.
Firstly, in the attempts to sugar-coat past Lib Dem policies with so-called ‘progressive’ credentials (whatever that means), the Lib Dem’s economic liberalism is really coming to the fore. Whatever deals are done to abstain on issues such as Europe, the one area where the Lib Dems and the Tories are in accord seems to be the economy, which will have catastrophic effects for public services. The liberalization of the economy in the past generation has meant that Government has virtually no control over anything except public services, and so this area is likely to be disproportionately targeted. The problem is that this is not merely a point that has been grudgingly accepted by the Lib Dems as part of the preconditions for a coalition agreement, but has been warmly welcomed as a key plank of the liberalism that they have always represented. That is not to say that the Lib Dems are the same as the Tories, but their agreement on this particular issue sounds alarm bells for the future of Britain’s public services, and I would be very surprised not to see substantial waves of industrial action over the coming months and years.
This brings me to my second issue: the role of the ‘markets’ in this election. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or ultra-orthodox Marxist to realize the major influence that so-called ‘market forces’ have on supposedly democratic politics, but any subterfuge or pretense to the contrary seems to have been dropped. If I hear one more reference to the ‘impatience of the markets’, the ‘uncertainty of the markets’ or the ‘need for stability demanded by the markets’, I am going to spit blood. The level of hubris is simply breathtaking, and this is a clear indication of the sheer lack of government control over a deregulated market. Not only is the government utterly impotent to hold banks and market forces to account for this stage of economic crisis, but representatives of the various market forces are explicitly dictating the shape and policies of the government. This is nothing new you might say, but the level of explicitness is rather alarming, as is the complicity of media coverage in promulgating fear of market collapse, which in turn justifies the supposed necessity of public cuts during this stage of economic crisis. I say this stage of crisis because, beyond the media hype, this is merely one part of a process of serial crises that have always afflicted capitalism. This is neither the beginning nor the end of capitalism; it is simply the way it has always worked, if you extend your historical perspective beyond the selective amnesia of this generation.
The details are new, but the predicament is old, and the response to this leads me to my third issue: the results of the far left parties in and out of the TUSC coalition. It won’t be a surprise to hear that results were not all that impressive. Indeed, that is something of an understatement. We could, of course, point to the fact that it took a painfully long time to get the coalition together, that there is still a residual reluctance within parties like the SP and the SWP to work together, and that there are many different views on the role of far left parties within parliamentary politics, but garnering fewer votes than the Christian Party has to sting a little. 12,275 votes! Let us not forget that, despite being utterly decimated in the local and general election (itself a testament to the tremendous and tireless labour of leftist activists across the country and in the key marginal seats), the BNP garnered half a million votes. That threat has not gone away, and the left still has work to do to win the argument in areas of strong BNP support (whether that support is a protest or not). Nonetheless, as I have mentioned before, one of the real tests of the TUSC coalition is not the election results, but whether or not the coalition holds together now. We all know that sectarian divisions on the left are rife, and we all know that there may, on occasion, be perfectly good reasons for that (both historically and in terms of contemporary strategy and theory), but, in the absence of a viable and broad leftist party, a coalition of existing parties is needed more than ever, both inside and outside of parliamentary politics. Parliamentary agitation, industrial action and anti-fascist activities can work in tandem, albeit often in tension, but a coalition of forces should help in the local, national and strategic division of labour. Indeed, it is one of the great ironies of this election that coalition politics is making its mark across the political spectrum. Whose mistakes, whose lessons? Time will tell.