The main issues in the 2015 general elections in the United Kingdom seem to be: the cuts to the government’s social spending under the Tory-LibDem coalition (and whether to continue with them to ‘deal with the deficit’ or to reverse them); the worsening situation in the NHS (and whether privatisation is the way to go or not); and the role that Europe and immigrants play in the British economy. Financial problems are very real in the UK (though primarily for the country’s workers and not for its economic elites), but it is perhaps the divisive societal tensions exacerbated by the ConDem austerity policies since 2010 that will play one of the most significant roles in May’s elections.
The Self-Interested Bickering of the Two Establishment Parties
In April’s leaders’ debate, current Prime Minister David Cameron stressed that his party ought to be left to “finish what we have started” (in spite of the economic problems which it and its coalition partners have aggravated). Trying to convince the electorate that the Conservatives are the only party able to ‘deal with the economy’ (i.e. keep wealth in the hands of the country’s exploitative and bloodsucking economic elites), he displayed a self-interested arrogance that has long emanated from his party.
Cameron’s main competitor, meanwhile, of the ‘austerity light’ New Labour Party, also emphasised that his grouping was the ‘only real alternative’ to the Conservatives. In doing so, Ed Miliband sought to convince anyone against the Tories’ policies to back him, even though his party was, in reality, no longer that different from its rivals in government. And, while the Lib Dems’ Nick Clegg (whose party had already been tarnished irreparably by its alliance with the Conservatives) stressed that coalitions were a new reality in British politics, Miliband sought to hammer home the point that there was only really a choice between two parties on the UK’s political scene (i.e. the Conservatives and Labour). In other words, just as Noam Chomsky argued that the USA was “basically a one-party state” run by “the business party, with two factions, Democrats and Republicans”, both Cameron and Miliband sought to replicate the US system in the UK.
The Attack of the Reactionary Clowns
Apart from the tiresome bickering between the two main establishment parties, there was also another voice on the political right in the debate – that of UKIP’s Nigel Farage. Although his form of nationalist populism no doubt touched a note in many communities, his rhetoric was really just another manifestation of the type of far-right rhetoric that gained strength in Europe in the early twentieth century (in the wake of the First World War and the Great Depression).
Whilst claiming to be ‘outside the establishment’, Farage’s words suggested that very little would be done to combat the real ills of ‘the establishment’ if his party were to play a role in the next government of Westminster. In other words, as he argued that he would “put our own people first” (which was surely popular among the least conscious of British workers), the UKIP leader was in fact distracting the public from the real issues at the heart of injustice and exploitation (with talk of “health tourism” and bureaucratic interference from Europe – secondary problems at best). Not too different from the intolerant and utterly reactionary nationalists of Hitler or Mussolini in the past, then, Farage showed himself once again to be just another scaremongering clown seeking to take advantage of the justified anger of the British people for the interests of his own bigoted clique and the country’s exploitative economic order.
A Centre-Left Alliance
On the much more progressive end of the scale in April’s debate stood the UK’s prominent female leaders: the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon; the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett; and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. Sturgeon was perhaps the best performer out of the three centre-left parties, though Bennett and Wood also made good points. The SNP leader insisted, for example, on the need to “break the ‘old-boys’ network at Westminster” and cooperate with other progressive political forces in the UK.
As the Greens stood for both environmentalism and a number of socialist measures, the SNP and Plaid Cymru represented a form of progressive nationalism (focussed primarily on social welfare, more localised government, and cooperation with other parts of the UK). In short, although none of these parties advocated the immediate replacement of the capitalist system, they were nonetheless focussed on keeping the current welfare system intact (which the other four leaders were not, believing (in different measures) in the need for privatisation and government spending cuts).
Overall, the emphasis on a left-wing alliance seemed to be key for Sturgeon, Bennett, and Wood (and would also be bolstered by victories for Left Unity or TUSC candidates in the elections). None, however, mentioned the need for greater democratisation in the UK or the need to replace the capitalist system with a humane, popularly controlled economic and political system. At the same time, though, a strategy of working to change politics from above and below simultaneously would suggest that supporting the SNP, the Greens, and Plaid Cymru (along with Left Unity and the TUSC) would be the right electoral choice for those hoping to forge a more progressive political system in the United Kingdom. However, the need to increase consciousness, unity, and democratic activity at the grassroots of British politics must never be neglected.