Things have been so difficult for Gordon Brown recently you could almost feel sorry for him. The agony began on May 1 with the victory of Boris Johnson over Ken Livingstone in the London Mayoral elections, at the same time as Labour's worst council election results across England and Wales for forty years. Further salt was rubbed in Labour's wounds on the 22 May when, despite the ‘by-election bonanza' (a raise in personal allowances for all basic rate tax payers costing an estimated £2.7 billion), they spectacularly lost the Crewe & Nantwich by-election to the Conservatives, the Tories' first by-election win over Labour in 30 years with a swing of 17.6%. This would mean a landslide for Cameron & Co if repeated at a general election. According to the latest polls the Tories are at least 14% ahead of Labour. While Labour fortunes have collapsed around Brown, he has also had to deal with the fallout surrounding Cherie Blair's sensationalist biography, and discontent within the parliamentary party over the abolition of the 10p starting rate of tax, fuel duty and the 42 day detention plan. Things do indeed look gloomy for Gordon.
One man's loss is another man's gain
The press has had a field day with Labour's decline. "Is this the beginning of the end for Brown?" (The Observer 25.5.08); "Brown facing meltdown as Labour crash in Crewe" (The Guardian 23.5.08); "Labour chiefs tell Brown: appoint a leader-in-waiting" (The Observer 25.5.08); "PM isolated as ministers decide: Brown can't win" (The Guardian 24.5.08). The first Tory by-election win in 30 years "is uncomfortable, because the last Tory win, in Ilford North, came in 1978, a warning that the Callaghan government's time was running out and the Thatcher era was coming" (Ibid). But "although many fear the party is heading for a general election defeat, there seems little appetite for an early attempt to force Gordon Brown to stand down" (The Independent 3.6.08).
Smiling faces have emerged, left and right, from the ‘gloom' of Labour's defeat. The Tories have already announced that, "New Labour is dead" (The Guardian 25.5.08). For Cameron the Crewe & Nantwich by-election signalled a turning point on the road to electoral success: "Labour ran the most negative, the most backward-looking, the most xenophobic, the most class war [sic] sort of campaign they could have done and it completely backfired" (Ibid). For the Socialist Workers Party "Gordon Brown has reaped what New Labour sowed".
This is the stuff politics is made of; it's the familiar rough and tumble of any democracy, one man's loss is another man's gain, and so on. It's the essentially harmless ‘banter' of government, which oils the wheels of commerce and the state, isn't it? No! Internationally the more sophisticated national bourgeoisies have developed ideological tools to try and mask the reality of the capitalist system. The myth of the ‘free and democratic press' and ‘open government' are just two examples of this phenomenon. The endless ‘political' chatter is just the latest attempt to create a smokescreen that hides the reality of decomposing capital from the working class. An attempt to hide the crisis in the business and economic pages far away from the ‘real' news of parliamentary gossip and sleaze. But, as the crisis begins to bite, there is a danger that workers can be drawn into the politics of the ‘lesser evil'.
As internationally capitalism's crisis continues to deepen no one in government or the city really believes that the Tories, the Liberal Democrats or indeed the BNP or Respect could manage the economy any better than Labour, but it is essential that the illusion that it can be managed is maintained. The ‘game' of politics must continue. At least Brown himself understands the situation, blaming Labour's results on "difficult economic circumstances". Circumstances so difficult that the British bourgeoisie has no perspective for resolving them other than attacking the working class and increasing state intervention in the financial markets.
It's the economy, stupid
Politicians would do well to remember the phrase used by the Clinton camp against George Bush Snr in the 1992 US election: it's the economy, stupid! They could easily be its next victim. The state of the economy is central and things are not looking good for the bourgeoisie at home or abroad. The IMF have predicted that "the government faces another six months of economic pain" believing that "interest rates cannot be cut from their current 5% unless a tight hold is kept on pay, taxes rise more than expected or the credit crunch curbs domestic demand. It urged the Bank of England to be ready to raise rates if wage rises put pressure on inflation" (The Guardian 24.5.08). With the collapse of the housing market, increasing food and fuel bills and uncertainty over jobs, workers will begin to look for an alternative to the crisis. They won't find an alternative vision in bourgeois politics, where the choice is always between tweedledum or tweedledee, but in working class struggle and its perspective for a real alternative, communism. Kino 6.6.08