Ollie Sutherland was not impressed by the common call on the left for us to vote labour.
What always strikes me as bizarre about elections is the importance the left places on them. Every few years working people get the chance to choose which part of the ruling class they wish oppress them; as it’s always the ruling class in power after the elections, why do most of the left encourage participation in them? Elections are an ideological cornerstone of capitalist ‘democracy’: that people have control over who governs the country and makes key decisions about society. Therein lies the problem: they give people the illusion of control, when people’s lives and society are actually controlled by their workplace and the economic system – not parliament or City Hall.
The fact people are given a free choice over who rules them provides the illusion of popular control, but the choice is a false one: whether Labour or Tory, it presupposes the existence of capitalism, so the choices people are given are hardly different from one another – not much of a choice. A ‘nicer’ capitalism is still capitalism – we don’t want something mildly better, we want a revolutionary change of society. This is the problem of the left’s attitudes towards the recent London Mayoral election: by advocating voting for Ken Livingstone, they merely encourage a nicer capitalism, and not a revolutionary change. Not to mention that by encouraging participation in elections in general, all the left does is reinforce bourgeois-liberal ideology of which elections are a cornerstone.
But apparently, if the left does not encourage voting ‘to keep the Tories out’, it alienates the working class. Well then. The working class on May 3rd must have so eager to ‘keep the Tories out’, considering the numbers of them that came out in force to the ballot box – a whopping turnout of just under 40 percent.
What was Livingstone’s supposed appeal to the working class, then? His main platform was how he’d lower bus fares by a massive 8% – evidently significant and worth mobilising for. Sadly I don’t think many bought into this, as the last time he was in office transport fares increased. Furthermore, his plan to cut them with TfL’s budget only means TfL would rise them dramatically in the future to cover that budget deficit, as the tube upgrade isn’t yet finished – something Boris’ ‘sensible budgeting’ campaign was clever to exploit.
The idea of fare cuts was totally discredited by the fact Livingstone did nothing to oppose the mass of cuts already hitting Londoners, cuts accepted by his own party. Besides reinstating EMA*, the extent of Ken’s anti-cuts was reversing police cuts, as of course, the Met are an excellent thing for working class Londoners (especially ethnic minorities). His campaign was concluded by how much people saw he had working people’s interests at heart, when he was exposed to be a wealthy tax-evader.
The fact Livingstone is a fake-leftist isn’t the most important issue, however – things would be little different if he was genuine Old Labour. The problem of Livingstone – ‘Red Ken’ on the ‘left of Labour’, advocating ‘working-class interests’ is exactly because of those things – a bourgeois politician helping the poor, powerless workers. They cannot struggle for their interests and win on their own – they need bourgeois democracy and a smartly-dressed white man to do it for them. The problems here are numerous. Elected bourgeois politicians never have and never will pursue the interests of the class. Saying that the right people winning elections will improve working-class life makes people think the only political issues are those which are electoral. Relying on people at the top to pursue working people’s interests stops them struggling for things themselves, and therein building confidence in their power to change society. For example, Ken’s ‘fare deal’ policy stops people organising a grassroots movement to cut fares – which would probably cut them a lot more than 8%, not to mention build confidence in other anti-austerity movements. A reliance on ‘left’ leadership denies the working class its agency, acting as an invisible barrier to grassroots working-class organisation, and subsequently the development of ideas of alternative social organisation (socialism/communism).
This seems obvious – so why do most of the left still advocate support for Labour? One point is the union link – Labour is the party linked to the unions, thus it’s better to have them in power. This foolishly ignores Livingstone’s abysmal record on organised labour – be it the attacks on the RMT or siding with the bosses in the Sparks dispute (dining with them at the Ritz). At any rate, I wonder how many young, casual, precarious workers across London even know about the union link, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t care. Another point made is that even though the election is insignificant, we should still try to make life better for working-class Londoners – as detailed, Livingstone’s policies would have had little effect (even bad effect in some cases), and his existence as Mayor acts as a barrier to working-class organisation, making life worse for everyone in the long term.
Ken Livingstone and Old Labour aren’t the left; they are not the alternative. We cannot pretend that they are, or that we have no alternative but to vote for them (at any rate, most of the working-class doesn’t even vote). By obsessing over elections and the Labour Party, all the Left does is distract itself from the real operation of capitalism and the real working-class organisation that needs to be done.
*This is an excellent policy, but not for the reasons Livingstone’s campaign implied; rather, allowing working-class kids to buy and use more recreational drugs is a great thing within a system of exploitation that Livingstone had no intention of changing.