General election: Don’t vote, organise

Liverpool FRFI marches with the banner: 'A vote for Labour is a vote for genocide'. (Photo: FRFI)

On 22 May, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak finally threw in the towel and called a general election for 4 July. The disintegration of the Tory Party into warring factions within parliament, and the open hostility by many towards Sunak’s leadership meant that the ruling class had to call time on a government which had become a byword for incompetence, racism and reaction. Its flagship Rwanda deportation policy would have been hopelessly mired in legal challenges, the economy at best flat-lining, the prospect of promised tax cuts in the autumn a fantasy. To go to the country now would offer the best chance of limiting the expected scale of Tory constituency losses.

This was a government which over 14 years enforced savage cuts in state benefits – it will be remembered for the introduction of the bedroom tax, the overall benefit cap, the two-child limit benefit policy, a ruthless regime of benefit sanctions, universal credit with concomitant reductions in eligibility for disability benefits. It presided over a housing crisis, the evisceration of the NHS and social care and the slashing of state and local government spending. It pursued an aggressive foreign policy, epitomised by its brinkmanship in implementing Brexit, its strident support for Ukraine in the proxy war against Russia, its enthusiasm for the AUKUS military alliance to contain China and of course for its determined defence of the Zionist state in its genocidal war on the people of Palestine. Its racism was unchecked: asylum seekers were dubbed illegal migrants, successive Home Secretaries whipped up frenzies over the relatively small numbers forced to cross the English Channel. Millions will greet this vicious government’s departure with relief.

A vote for Labour is a vote for genocide

But the Labour Party will offer no relief. It supports the overall benefit cap. It will not end the two-child benefit policy despite the fact that such a measure (now supported by Suella Braverman) would lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty. Labour will not lift benefit levels to reduce the number of people who face destitution, despite the fact that there were 3.8 million who experienced it at some point during 2022. It will not offer any extra funding to the NHS, and suggests that soaring waiting lists will be addressed through the use of volunteers, overtime working, and using private facilities. It has fully supported government policy on both Ukraine and AUKUS and at times has been even more militaristic in its approach. In line with Tory ambitions, it wants to raise defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, and is absolutely committed to NATO, and to Trident renewal. It has opposed the government’s Rwanda deportation policy solely on the grounds of ‘efficiency’ and ‘economy’ while dubbing asylum seekers ‘illegal migrants’, and proposes to militarise the response to Channel crossings. Labour’s unstinting support for Zionism, its refusal to oppose arms sales to the Israeli state or to condemn what are obvious Israeli war crimes, let alone the genocidal onslaught that is taking place in Gaza, confirm its character as a completely racist, imperialist, anti-working class party. A vote for Labour will be a vote for genocide.

Electoral sham

Participation in the general election is a substitute for building serious organisation on the streets and in working class communities. The spontaneous demonstrations against Labour MPs and their offices that took place last November following Labour’s opposition to a ceasefire in Gaza showed a militant spirit which needs to be organised and built on. Instead, what we have seen is a proliferation of organisations and individuals seeking to divert pro-Palestinian sentiment into simply furthering their electoral ambitions. They draw hope from both George Galloway’s victory in the February Rochdale by-election and the performance of pro-Palestinian candidates in the 2 May local elections. They see Labour’s reactionary position on Gaza as providing them with the political opportunity to pursue parliamentary careers. These groups have not really broken with Labour: they remain in alliance with the rump of the Labour left through their common, limited, demands for an immediate ceasefire and an arms embargo on the Israeli state, and their opposition to the armed resistance of the Palestinian people.

They are helped by the leadership of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) which has banned any expression of support for Palestinian armed resistance. National Executive member Julia Simpkins, a former lay official in the National Education Union, made the PSC’s stance explicit when she condemned Hamas as terrorist at a meeting organised by North West Unison Black Members Committee on 21 April. The PSC would no doubt have welcomed the 14 May statement by the BDS National Committee (BNC) which sought to dissuade the wave of student encampments from expressing support for the Palestinian armed resistance. However such hopes the PSC might have had of using this statement to marginalise anti-imperialists were dashed when the BNC had to hurriedly remove the relevant paragraphs following condemnation by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

That there are a multitude of left organisations and individuals prepared to stand candidates nominally opposed to the Labour Party at the forthcoming general election is not a positive political development – quite the contrary. The pursuit of an electoral form of opposition depends on a belief that working class interests can be advanced by a class of professional parliamentarians. Electoral campaigns – which always revolve around one individual whether that is Jeremy Corbyn, George Galloway or Andrew Feinstein (to name but three) – divert political attention, energy and resources away from building collective movements on the streets and in working class communities. Demonstrating this point, disputes over political priorities and their funding have caused a bitter split between Redbridge Community Action Group and Leanne Mohammed who is standing against the prominent Labour Zionist and Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting.

This ‘opposition’ to Labour is not real opposition. The Socialist Workers Party claims to be ‘opposed’ to the Labour Party, yet called on its readers to vote Labour in the 2 May local elections. It now says it ‘will call for a vote for Corbyn and other independent and socialist candidates who combined the rage over Gaza with a fightback over oppression and exploitation’ (24 May 2024). This is just a convenient formula to designate those Labour MPs who have voted for a ceasefire or for an arms embargo as such ‘socialist candidates’, concealing the fact that they will be standing on Labour’s manifesto and that alone. The British left’s oft-chanted slogan ‘Kick the Tories out’ is but a covert appeal for a Labour vote, since the Tories can only be ‘kicked out’ of government by a Labour general election victory. It is a call to replace one virulently racist, imperialist, anti-working class government by another. The many organisations created by disillusioned Labour supporters – Transform Politics, No Ceasefire - No Vote, Collective, TUSC, Muslim Vote, We Deserve Better, Reliance Party, the Rise Movement, etc etc – will also use Socialist Worker’s criteria to endorse left Labour candidates like Zarah Sultana, either directly, or indirectly by not opposing them, even when such people brazenly place their parliamentary careers before any political principles.

Don’t vote, organise

We need to be clear. A vote for Corbyn is a vote for nostalgia and nothing more, a vote for Galloway is a vote for a sexist, homophobic and transphobic charlatan, a vote for Feinstein is a vote for personal ambition. Such votes do not take the movement forward one iota. Nor does a vote for the many other opportunists: their electoral campaigns distract attention from the need to build what they have constantly undermined: an anti-imperialist opposition to the British state. FRFI welcomes last November’s spontaneous protests against Labour: such outbursts are a precondition for the emergence of a new movement which will fight for the independent interests of the working class. They are the basis on which we must build anew. That is why FRFI says: don’t vote, organise!