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Blairites trounced in Labour heartlands
"I'M VERY pleased - we're a socialist area and Labour has become Tory." This shopper in Ebbw Vale reflected thousands of voters' feelings in Blaenau Gwent at Labour's crushing defeat in by-elections for Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
Dave Reid, Cardiff Socialist Party
This constituency has some of Western Europe's highest levels of unemployment, poverty and ill health. Working people have been abandoned by big business and its parties for nearly 30 years.
Yet they suddenly found the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Welsh Secretary and the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly government on their doorsteps with furrowed brows promising to deal with the area's problems!
New Labour failed to win back this seat, which for years had Britain's highest Labour majority, from Blaenau Gwent People's Voice (BGPV). Their Tory policies were rejected in an old Labour heartland.
BGPV was formed after Peter Law won the parliamentary seat from Labour in the 2005 general election. Law's group split when he was excluded from Labour's short list through the manipulation of an all women's short list. This was seen as a way of shoe-horning a Blairite into Blaenau Gwent when the local Labour Party wanted a socialist.
But for Blaenau Gwent's working people, this was more than just a squabble over party selection procedures. The imposition of a Blairite candidate showed the anti-socialist, anti-working class takeover by New Labour whose Tory policies of privatisation and cutbacks devastated Blaenau Gwent and other working-class communities.
When Peter Law died earlier this year the media asked: was Blaenau Gwent's general election result a one-off protest vote? Well they got their answer when the result was announced.
The new MP, Dai Davies spoke for millions of disappointed Labour voters when he warned: "Political parties take note. You take people for granted at your peril. It's the people that matter, not the political parties. The dinosaurs thought they'd live for ever - they died out. Listen to the people or you're in trouble."
Certainly low turnouts in elections reflect people's disenchantment with the main parties who all dance to the same pro-business tune. But these parties will never listen to working-class people.
Davies also said: "A political revolution is starting in Blaenau Gwent tonight". It's certainly an important breakthrough, a half-way step to a new political formation. But this must be widened beyond the South Wales valleys and it means adopting a programme to tackle the vital issues of jobs, health, education and public services.
That would mean a socialist programme. Unfortunately while stating that BGPV is socialist throughout the election, none of this was reflected in the election literature which concentrated on local issues and "more police on the beat".
Dai Davies says he'll work with backbench Labour MPs at Westminster who voted on principle against the government. But the Blairites' grip on the Labour Party means this is a dwindling band resorting to protest gestures rather than offering a new political direction.
BGPV's success shows that when a significant socialist alternative is put forward working-class people would respond. The challenge to BGPV is to work with socialists and trade unionists to extend this potential to the rest of Wales and Britain. Socialist Party members and CNWP supporters who helped in the by-election campaign will work with BGPV members to achieve this.
In The Socialist 6 July 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party workplace news