New Labour's vote collapsed at these elections to 15.7%—the worst Labour showing since before the introduction of universal suffrage. The main beneficiaries, however, were neither the Conservatives (up a little on 27.8%) nor the Liberal Democrats (down a little on 13.8%). The Green Party's vote rose to 8.6%, and the Scottish Nationalists performed strongly. But parties to the right of the Conservatives were also among the winners, with roughly a quarter of the vote between them.
The UK Independence Party received 16.5%, well ahead of Labour. A smaller right-wing party, the English Democrats, got 1.9% and won the election for mayor of Doncaster. Most troublingly, the British National Party took 6.2% of the total vote and secured two of the 69 British seats in the European Parliament.
This move away from the political mainstream cannot be put down simply to the recent scandal about MPs' expenses. (In fact, the opposite is true: the reason many people are so furious about the expenses row is that they already feel cheated and ignored by the mainstream parties.) The right-wing parties' gains build on their shock successes five years ago, which many observers had hoped were a flash in the pan. UKIP's vote rose then from 7.0% to 15.6%, and the BNP's from 1.0% to 4.8%. The breakthroughs that have now been made by the right, including the neo-Nazi right, express a mood of anger that has been mounting throughout the New Labour period.
The Socialist Labour Party, for which we campaigned, took 173,000 votes (1.1%). We congratulate our Socialist Labour comrades on this result. Another 153,000 people (1.0%) voted for the No2EU electoral bloc. The Scottish Socialist Party won 0.9% of the regional vote in Scotland, and the Socialist Party of Great Britain got 0.2% in the London region. The combined vote for the left represents 2.3% of the total, compared to 2.0% five years ago and 1.6% ten years ago.
Some people argue that the left should have thrown its weight behind Labour in an effort to stop the BNP. This reflects a misunderstanding of the political reality. Most people who vote BNP do so because they have already rejected New Labour and want a radical alternative. Their sense of grievance is legitimate—although they are horribly misled in allowing neo-Nazi demagogues to exploit it. A strong, combative left challenge can show potential BNP voters the real causes of the conditions they are protesting against, and can enable some of them to direct their protest against the exploiters rather than against their fellow workers. If the left had acted instead as cheerleaders for a deeply discredited New Labour government, the BNP vote would have been even higher.
But, so far, most people who are abandoning New Labour are not turning to the left. The task of developing a programme that can really resonate with people's experiences has never been more urgent. There is one significant conclusion, though, that can be drawn from the left's results this time. The SLP was standing on an unequivocally socialist manifesto; No2EU was a much broader and more populist formation, including the official Liberals and other non-socialists alongside representatives of the left. And the SLP, despite having minimal funding and a desperate shortage of activists, actually received 20,000 more votes. That fact deserves serious consideration—especially by people on the left who fear that a clear, radical manifesto would spell electoral suicide and who hope there is a mass vote to be won for broader, shallower left-led alliances.