The 2014 elections in Birmingham

Godfrey Webster discusses the implications for anti-cuts work
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The local and European elections were marked by the breakthrough of UKIP into an important electoral force, but also by a substantial vote for anti-austerity candidates in some areas of Birmingham. It is important that we discuss the implications for future anti-cuts work, and especially how we cam make an alternative to austerity a real presence in the general election next year.
At first sight it might appear that a party which failed to win a single seat in the six biggest cities in England could not be considered as significant. (London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and Newcastle). However outside of the multicultural big cities UKIP did much better, and even in most predominantly white working class wards in Manchester and Birmingham they got between 20 and 30 % of the votes. In Shard End, one of the poorest wards in England they got 38%.

The percentage vote for each party in Birmingham is shown in the table below for the 2014 and 2012 council elections and the 2014 Euro election.

Percentage vote …………2014……….. 2012…………. Euro2014
Labour……………………..43……………… 51……………….40
Conservative. ……………24 ………………24……………… 18
Lib dem…………………… 14……………… 14……………….. 8
Green……………………….. 3.3…………….. 4.5…………….. 5
UKIP……………………….. 12………………..2.3…………….23
Anti-cuts…………………….0.9……………. 0.4………………0.4

BNP……………………………0.1……………..1.5……………… 1.3
Other rt wing…………………………………………………….. 4

The drop of 8% in Labour support clearly reflects frustration with the implementation of cuts by the Council. Although only a minor cut financially the green waste charge was particularly resented and the eventual decision to collect the waste even more unpopular with those who had paid the charge. The cuts in libraries and other services in Northfield undoubtedly led to the defeat of cabinet member Steve Bedser. But the scandal of underfunding children’s services and the press enflamed “Islamist takeover plot” in schools certainly contributed to Labour’s decline.

The challenge to Albert Bore by John Clancy on the basis of diverting some money from Capita to reverse some cuts was an important development and the 28 votes shows unease with the electoral consequences of the cuts policy is spreading. It appears Albert will respond by incorporating some of the most prominent oppositionists into cabinet or committee chair positions.

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The leap by UKIP from 2.3 to 12% in two years is actually an underestimate of their strength because they still only stood in about two thirds of wards. The 23% in the Euro election is nearer their real strength though perhaps a slight overestimate where local issues dominate over European. From talking to UKIP voters I get the impression that their support comes from three main areas. Firstly a real concern about the availability of jobs, housing, and NHS services. Secondly a frustration that the main parties don’t take these concerns seriously and that the Westminster clique are a privileged elite who don’t understand or care about their problems. And thirdly an inner readiness to blame “the other” ,an easily identifiable group, rather than the shadowy figures of merchant bankers and industrialists that they cannot see.

In other words the success of UKIP is a reflection of our failure to promote and persuade people of the real cause of their problems, the deliberate actions of this and previous British governments in producing a housing shortage, destroying manufacturing, prolonging the recession, and starving local government and the NHS of funds.

Our failure to win the argument for a socialist alternative is certainly attributable in part to the mass media who want protest to go in the UKIP direction where it is no threat to the rich and powerful. However it is also due to our own factionalism, the cowardice of the Labour left and trade union leadership, and our lack of consistent political work in many areas of the city.

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The left stood anti-austerity candidates in 16 out of the 40 wards in Birmingham, more than in any recent election. What is particularly evident from the results is the importance of previous political work. In the seven wards in which substantial anti-cuts work had been done the vote varied from 9.3% in Tyburn to 4% in Kings Norton, Bournville, and Acocks Green with an average of 6%. In the nine remaining wards where little or no work had been done the average vote was 1%. Generally the left candidates did not have the resources to do door to door canvassing which past experience in Respect and Labour shows is essential to build a firm basis of support.

The 12 from TUSC and 1 from SLP agreed a joint statement for Birmingham which was issued to the press. The Chamberlain Files reported that the statement was imbued through and through with hatred for the Labour Party. I would say sadness rather than hatred. Most of those signing the statement were ex-Labour Party members who left in frustration. Of course BATC does not stand candidates because it welcome anti cuts activists from any party. It has tried repeatedly to open a dialogue with the Labour councillors but always been rebuffed.

For me the lesson is that we clearly do get our message across by consistent anti-cuts work which brings political questions to a head in the struggle to defend our facilities. The vote for anti cuts candidates proves this. To counter UKIP we need to step up the intensity and geographical spread of this work, not invent new anti UKIP campaigns.

The privatisation of children’s and adult care is only the start of the council’s withdrawal from service provision, and sell-off of assets. It seems some sections of council workers are going to resist with strike action. The strikes over pay will also get approval from most other workers. We need to reinforce the bond between the council workers providing services and the users in the community which is the foundation of the anti-cuts movement and an effective fight back.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “The 2014 elections in Birmingham

  1. Thanks for a very useful analysis. Just one minor correction: although the privatisation of children’s and adult care would raise the council’s withdrawal from service provision to a qualitatively higher level, it isn’t the first example. In late 2010 the Tory-LibDem council decided to transfer some local authority central school support services to a newly set up external social enterprise. Initially this included school catering, cleaning and caretaking, involving thousands of staff, but it was soon reduced to three services – Music, Health Education and Learning & Assessment. The transfer was continued and completed by the Labour council in September 2012. The services now trade as an independent charitable company, Services for Education – S4E.

  2. Pingback: Birmingham Trades Council » The 2014 elections in Birmingham

  3. Bob Whitehead

    Just a few points. In 2012 there were only 4 anti-cuts candidates as far as I recollect; 2 CATC, 1 SLP and I TUSC. This time there were a lot more, mainly TUSC, with quite a few respectable votes, so why did the overall percentage go down? Was it due to a bigger turn out?
    The CATC result in Bournville was 2.6% this time around, due in my reading of the situation to a local surge for the Greens.
    I think the West Heath library saga hurt the Northfield Labour candidate rather than the Kings Norton one, as it is in that ward. The reason for the loss of Steve Bedser’s seat lies mainly elsewhere.
    Then there is the issue of the lack of PR, which if in place would have helped the left vote.

    • Good point on the percentages for Left. The original version had correct figures of 0.4 for 2012 and 0.4 for Euro but in correcting the table format I lost a line and concatenated the figures with BNP’s. I will correct it.

  4. An excellent analysis Godfrey, but not certain about the statistics.

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