Richard Seymour on the British Elections
The recent elections in Britain have resulted in a “hung parliament,” (no party winning a majority of the seats) the first time in 30 years or so, and the Liberal Democrats are in a position to negotiate who they want to be part of in a ruling coalition: either the Torries or Labour.
The Torries came up with 305 seats, the Labour Party came up with 258, and the Liberal Democrats came up with 57 seats (down from 63 despite getting 1% more of the vote).
The problem with the hung parliament is that any government arising from it will impose vicious public spending cuts. The Tories will just go for it more aggressively and urgently than Labour would, because of the latter’s relationship to public sector trade unions and dependence on working class votes. The Liberals, I believe, are inclined to support any emergency budget that the Tories can come up with. I suspect that this close alignment over fiscal policy, not the belief that the party with the most seats should rule (an odd declaration from a believer in PR, surely?), is what motivates Clegg’s preference for working with the Conservatives.
Thatcher achieved zero growth for a brief period in some areas of public spending, and has a reputation for starving the public sector of necessary investment because of it. Any government that gets in now will not just freeze spending, but cut public spending by 11% across the board, and that’s based on optimistic assumptions about growth. The damage this will do is hard to even project. For example, if New Labour cut over a hundred thousand civil service jobs during a period of sustained growth, the contraction of the public sector implied by these cuts is many magnitudes greater. Would anyone care to imagine the chaos of a system that seriously under-manned? Local councils are already experimenting with models for severely reduced provision, with Barnet’s Tories leading the way: having already sacked a quarter of their workforce over a seven year period, their new ‘easyCouncil’ model seeks to further cut and privatize public services, reducing bin collections, closing libraries, privatizing the housing and refuse departments, etc. Those who suffer most will be pensioners, children and the poor. The social landscape in Barnet is likely to be very bleak in these circumstances, though resistance is helping to hold back some of the cuts.
On balance, I tend to think that a government led by a party that is constrained in its cuts agenda because of its dependency on working class votes and its connections to the trade union movement is a better opponent to have. But the main point I wish to reinforce is that whatever the left ultimately favours should be based first and foremost on an appreciation of the terrifying scale of the crisis that is ahead of us, not on what’s good for the Labour Party’s long-term electoral chances or on what will deliver PR.