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Editorial from the Socialist issue 814
Newark byelection: capitalist parties in crisis
The Tories are claiming the Newark byelection as a complete victory. Much of the capitalist media has also suggested that it marks the start of the bursting of the Ukip bubble. Neither claim is matched by reality.
Newark has been a safe Tory seat since 2001. The Tories put in gigantic efforts to try and make sure it remained so on 5 June. Cameron visited Newark four times. In the final week of the campaign there were over 40 Tory MPs on the streets of Newark every day.
In addition the government tried to bribe the population with a few crumbs - extra flood defences and a new railway service. The only serious opposition that the Tories faced was from Ukip. The Lib Dems continued their descent towards oblivion with a pathetic sixth place and 2.5% of the vote, losing their deposit.
Pathetically Labour let it be known beforehand, that as it didn't expect to win Newark and the Tories were more likely to defeat Ukip, it was 'soft-pedalling' in the campaign. This shows how Labour is not even trying to offer an alternative to workers angry about their falling living standards. Labour leaders have repeatedly pledged to maintain the Tories' cuts if it forms the next government.
Unpopularity of big three
For further evidence of just how not serious Labour actually is about providing a genuine opposition to cuts or to Ukip, just look at the goings on in Portsmouth council. Labour has linked up with Ukip to back the Tories against the Lib Dems.
Despite the factors in their favour, the Tories lost 10,000 votes in Newark and Ukip was able to take 25% of the vote. This was not a decisive breakthrough for Ukip, but the byelection showed again the profound unpopularity of the three major parties, and the potential for the right-wing populists of Ukip to take advantage of that.
The main reason for Ukip's surge is that voters are using them as a means to punish the traditional capitalist parties. In fact, on many issues most Ukip voters stand not just to the left of Ukip, but to the left of all of the establishment parties.
One YouGov poll showed 78% of them support renationalisation of the energy companies, 73% renationalisation of the railways, 57% want zero-hour contracts banned and the same number want to see the 50p tax rate re-introduced. Another poll showed that 81% of Ukip voters think big business takes advantage of ordinary people.
Yet Ukip is a party led by millionaires and stockbrokers with policies to the right of the Tories. At the time of Thatcher's death leader Nigel Farage said he was the only politician "keeping Thatcherism alive". Ukip's policies until a few weeks ago included support for 'a flat rate of taxation', so that everyone from billionaires to workers on the minimum wage would have to pay the same amount of tax.
Like all populist parties, however, Ukip is capable of bending in the wind to try and harness more votes. The flat rate tax has been dropped, although the new policy of a top rate of 40% is still a 5% tax cut for the rich compared to the current government's policy. Farage is also now attempting to distance himself from Thatcher's legacy which he has discovered was "divisive".
Part of the reason Ukip has gained an echo is because it plays on the fears workers have over increased immigration, falsely trying to blame immigrants for the problems workers face. It is no surprise that this gains an echo. All three major parties - alongside the capitalist press - have to one degree or another used anti-immigrant propaganda to divert attention from the real reasons workers' living standards have been driven down.
At the same time big business has blatantly used super-exploited migrant workers as a means to maximise their profits.
As Seumas Milne reported in the Guardian (4 June 2014) the two biggest employers in Newark - a cake factory called Bakkavor Desserts and a Dixon's owned electrical warehouse - both employ a majority of workers from Eastern Europe. Bakkavor Desserts uses EU law in order to pay agency workers less than the permanent employees and often to recruit them directly from abroad without advertising locally.
The same story could be repeated in many other towns across Britain. However, the divisive policies of Ukip offer no solution. On the contrary, their leaders include greedy bosses who have themselves used low paid migrant labour as a means to increase their profits. Ukip MEP Nathan Gill, for example, runs a care home that has employed dozens of Eastern European and Filipino workers, accommodating them in primitive 'bunkhouses'.
The only way to stop the bosses using migrant workers as a means to lower overall wage rates is for the trade union movement to launch a major campaign that every worker - regardless of their country of origin - receives the rate for the job.
This should be combined with a campaign to outlaw all the brutal anti-worker practices that have become commonplace in recent years - zero-hour contracts, paying agency workers less, exploiting migrant workers by charging them a fortune for sub-standard over-crowded accommodation, and so on. The workers' movement should also fight for all jobs to be advertised locally, regardless of where else they are publicised.
In 2009 workers at the Lindsey oil refinery organised strike action at a time when the employers were attempting to use Italian migrant workers to undermine wages and conditions of the whole workforce. They succeeded in winning their demands for the benefit of workers from Britain and Italy alike. This is a model for what is needed nationwide. Read more about Lindsey on www.socialistparty.org.uk
Alongside an industrial battle there is an urgent need to build a mass workers' party ready to fight austerity. This is the only force that would be capable of cutting across Ukip's divisive lies.
In The Socialist 11 June 2014:
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