It will have come as a shock to many, including Socialist Party members, to wake up to a Tory majority government on the 8th May. Not only did Labour fail to take the marginal seats of Leeds North West and Pudsey, but Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls lost his seat in Morley & Outwood.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
This is the price of Labour spending the last five years pushing austerity-lite as opposed to attempting any sort of real fight against austerity. Up and down the country, Labour-run councils have been implementing the government’s austerity measures, including the bedroom tax. The contrast is vast with Scotland, where the SNP dressed themselves in anti-austerity rhetoric and won a crushing 56 out of 59 seats. Although SNP councils have similarly implemented cuts, under pressure from below they did make up the money lost through the bedroom tax.
Now the Tories will begin to implement further attacks on benefit claimants, students, the disabled and especially the trade unions. Yet their overall majority of 12 is quite small, and a series of issues from Scotland to the EU loom that could cause serious problems for the Tories. (for more analysis of the national results see – http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/20670/11-05-2015/fight-against-five-more-damned-years & http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/20669/09-05-2015/with-the-votes-of-24-tories-have-no-mandate-for-more-savage-cuts)
Leeds Council Elections
In Leeds, almost like last year nothing much seems to have changed. All parties retained their existing council seats in every part of Leeds. Yet under the surface certain swings have begun to happen UKIP came second in 7 wards, whilst the Greens retained their existing councillor and came second in 4. All of those wards they came second in are Labour-held.
The Greens in particular had their 4 second place finishes in the 4 wards surrounding the universities, a reflect of the large number of young people who have joined them looking for an anti-austerity alternative. However, the track record of their councillors in Leeds is less than ideal. Six years ago they joined a coalition with the Tories and Lib Dems which carried out an attack on bin workers pay provoking a 3 month strike. In this year’s council budget whilst opposing attacks on facility time, the Green group moved an amendment to increase charges for non-statutory council services – cuts by the backdoor.
This is unfortunately not the only council where this has taken place, Greens have been part of a Tory-led coalition in Huddersfield, whilst most infamously in Brighton they ran the council after the 2011 election, implementing the cuts and provoking a strike of bin workers there as well. The result has been that the Greens lost control of that council in the election. This approach has led to significant criticisms within the Green Party, including soon-overturned vote at a Brighton meeting in favour of adopting a ‘needs budget’ approach.
In the run-up to the elections, Socialist Party members did hold some discussions with Green Party members in Leeds around the question of what is necessary to defeat the cuts. In our opinion, anti-austerity councillors should both refuse to vote for cuts and attacks on working class people, but should be actively putting forward an alternative. We believe anti-austerity councillors should advocate using reserves and borrowing powers to immediately defend services, whilst working with local trade unions and community groups to draw up a budget based on the needs of the city and mounting a mass campaign to demand the necessary money to fulfill it from the government.
Unfortunately, at this election the Greens we discussed with were not fully prepared to sign up to this. However, we are keen to continue discussions in the run-up to next years council elections, alongside other left groups.
Despite our efforts to break into the media with our party political broadcast (parts of which were later shown on Gogglebox) and other publicity being an increase on previous years, our media coverage was nothing compared to the main five parties despite qualifying for ‘fair media coverage’ by standing in over 15% of seats.
Locally however, we did manage to get several letters into the Yorkshire Evening Post as well as the Guardian. The Morley Observer & Advertiser was one of the few local papers who treated us like the main parties and covered both our candidates in Morley as well as a council candidates spokesperson statement.
Without the profile of the main parties, our vote was going to be squeezed both in the general and local elections, as people voted along the lines of who they wanted (or disliked least) to be in government.
General elections usually see a big increase in turnout, for example, in Hyde Park & Woodhouse ward the turnout went up from 24.68% in 2014 to 56.94% this year, more than double. These effects usually combine to push up the absolute numbers of votes for minor parties, whilst the percentage votes decline.
This indeed was the case for most of our candidates, with all increasing on last year’s vote and some candidates even doubling their votes. The Alliance for Green Socialism candidates were similarly squeezed, their best vote in Chapel Allerton of 555 votes being 5% – down from 8.6% last year. In half of the wards where we had stood last year, however, TUSC supporters managed to increase their percentage vote.
The first TUSC parliamentary candidates also got modest votes (in Leeds West we were the first ever left of Labour candidate in the constituencies history), but with good performances at hustings, leaflets distributed to every house in both constituencies then this has certainly raised the profile of TUSC.
The Socialist Party has made gains out of this election – we’ve had 6 new members join so far with many more wanting to discuss with us, as well as TUSC having many new supporters. The most urgent task though, is to help mobilise our trade unions and community groups to fight the likely even more vicious attacks thrown at us by the Tories, including challenging the local council to resist the cuts.
But given none of the main parties seem likely to do this, we will have to begin preparations now to ensure there are genuine anti-cuts candidates in every ward in the next election.
General Election Results
Leeds Central – Liz Kitching* – 330 (0.7%)
Leeds West – Ben Mayor – 205 (0.5%)
Council Election Results
Armley – Carole O’Keefe* – 103 (1.1%) [2014 – 65 – 1.3%]
Beeston & Holbeck – Amy Cousens – 119 (1.5%)
Bramley & Stanningley – Kevin Pattison – 60 (0.6%) [2014 – 40 – 1.4%]
Burmantofts & Richmond Hill – James Ellis – 150 (2%)
Farnley & Wortley – Maddy Steeds – 58 (0.6%) [2014 – 30 – 0.5%]
Headingley – Iain Dalton – 76 (0.9%)
Horsforth – Gary McVeigh-Kaye* – 125 (1%) [2014 – 56 – 0.8%]
Hyde Park & Woodhouse – Tanis Belsham-Wray – 112 (1.3%) [2014 – 98 – 2.5%]
Kirkstall – Dean Meehan – 133 (1.4%) [2014 – 56 – 1.1%]
Middleton Park – Nick Jones* (joint candidate with Left Unity) – 103 (1.1%)
Morley North – Karen Cussons* – 78 (0.7%)
Morley South – Neil Cussons* – 107 (1.1%) [2014 – 51 – 1%]
Pudsey – Michael Johnson – 72 (0.6%)
Weetwood – Max Cussons – 56 (0.5%) [2014 – 40 – 0.7%]
*Denotes TUSC candidate who isn’t a Socialist Party member