Westminster – a Polarised Election

Michael Collins, People Before Profit, analyses the results of the recent Westminster election. The recent Westminster election saw a massive surge of support for Jeremy Corbyn. Labour gained 30 seats and ten percentage points in its total vote , representing the biggest swing from the Tories to Labour since Clement Atlee in the 1945.

Socialist Worker

Westminster – a Polarised Election

The election smashed the myth that left wing policies are unpopular.
Corbyn’s manifesto attracted huge support from working people. His campaign was based on the many not the few.
Plans to tax the big corporations, to challenge the power of the elites, and invest in jobs and services were a relief from the years of neo-liberalism brought about by successive New Labour and Tory governments. Despite the establishment onslaught and media spin that he  was “unelectable”, his surge irrefutably showed the appeal of  left wing politics
Corbyn’s vote has thrown the Tories into crisis. Having called the snap election to increase their mandate, they now face the reality that a Tory-DUP coalition is the only way they can cling onto power.
It will be an unstable government, with the Tories coming under pressure for aligning themselves with a party with such an atrocious record when it comes to bigotry, racism, the environment, Irish language rights, and LGBT and women’s rights.
Theresa May is now under enormous pressure to resign, even from within the ranks of the Tories.
A mass movement on the streets will be key to keeping up the pressure. With the People’s Assembly set to mobilise in London on June 1st, and a major marriage equality march planned for Belfast on the same day it will be all to play for in the months ahead.
Results in the North
The same conditions which gave rise to Corbyn exist in the North, and indeed across Ireland. Anger over austerity, inequality, and the run-down of public services is widespread.
Drawing from Corbyn’s example, we should be confident that our left wing ideas can gain a hearing.
But elections in the North aren’t as simple as a straight fight between the left and the right. And following on from the Assembly election in March, the Westminster election became an even more polarised affair, with a battle to see who would emerge as the biggest party between the DUP and Sinn Féin.
Smaller parties were squeezed. The Ulster Unionist Party lost all  its seats, including in Fermanagh South Tyrone, Tom Elliot lost his seat to Sinn Féin (despite a Unionist pact)
Similarly, the SDLP were wiped out, losing all three seats, including Mark Durkin’s Foyle seat to SF (an historic base for the SDLP).
So the DUP and Sinn Fein were the beneficiaries of this polarisation. Of the 18 seats, the DUP returned 10 MPs, with a !0%  increase in their vote by 10%, while Sinn Féin returned 7 MPs, with a 5% increase.
Just as the British election became a battle between left and right, so the election in the North became polarised along communal lines.
Backdrop to Northern Election
The Westminster election came in the wake of a March Assembly election which saw SF come within one seat of the DUP. This led to intensified polarisation this time around,
The previous Assembly election, on March 2nd, was triggered when Sinn Féin collapsed the Executive over the DUP’s role in the RHI scandal. In stark contrast to their  stance during previous scandals such as expenses, Red Sky or NAMA, (where SF were often participants, or simply said little or nothing about the culture of corruption) they now opted to collapse the Assembly.
This was, in no small way, down to the growth of People Before Profit in areas like Foyle and West Belfast, and the fact that PBP had been to the fore in exposing both the DUP and Sinn Féin’s role in rotten schemes like RHI, and the austerity  Fresh Start Agreement.
Sinn Féin’s stance against Foster and the DUP increased their support and, with Foster on the ropes following the RHI fiasco, took them to just one seat behind DUP.
It was a major blow for Unionism, and served as “a wake up call” for Unionist voters to return to the DUP despite RHI. This set the stage for the June 8th Westminster election to become the most polarised ever between SF and the DUP.

People Before Profit – the Alternative Voice in the North

In this context PBP’s vote is extremely significant. Despite a surge to the big parties, in West Belfast Gerry Carroll polled 4132 votes (10.2% of the vote); a very strong result when compared to other small parties. Stephen Agnew, for example, the leader of the Green Party and a sitting MLA for North Down since 2011,  polled only 2,549 respectively (6.5% of the vote); People Before Profit have proved they have cemented a significant base in West Belfast.
Similarly, the vote of 1377 for Shaun Harkin in Foyle was extremely positive given the contest was effectively a two horse race between Sinn Féin and the SDLP.
To have a radical socialist polling over 1300 votes on his first outing, in a first past the post election, shows there is a real space for left wing forces to continue to grow. It will be crucial in the weeks and months ahead to develop these roots at local level.
As this goes to press, the future remains uncertain. A DUP-Tory coalition is almost inevitable, but it is difficult to say how long it will last. For Corbyn, forcing another election is a key priority, and with mass demonstrations planned for 1st of July, in Belfast and London, it is a distinct possibility.
Challenges
Similarly,  if parties at Stormont fail to strike a deal there could be another Assembly election in October. People Before Profit will throw ourselves energetically into the challenges ahead.
We need an alternative voice in the North; one which seeks to challenge the rotten sectarian set-up, and unite people around the kind of demands we’ve seen from Jeremy Corbyn, like taxing the big corporations, introducing a living wage, abolishing tuition fees, kicking the private companies out of the NHS, nationalising services like Royal Mail or the NI Housing Executive, banning zero-hour contracts, and investing to create jobs and improve living standards.
On all these questions, the NI Assembly has utterly failed. Inequality here continues to grow, poverty levels here are higher than anywhere in the UK or Ireland, tax cuts for corporations are planned for 2018, and Stormont has borrowed millions of pounds to make thousands of public sector workers redundant
This is why it is so crucial to have an alternative voice in the form of People Before Profit, which points to the failings of the establishment parties, and seeks to overcome sectarianism by uniting people in a movement for the many, not the few.

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