Labour's historic victory

Labour has scored an historic landslide victory in the 1997 general election. The scale of the Tory defeat is unparalleled in modern history. In the words of former Tory cabinet minister, Douglas Hurd, "this is a meltdown." In fact meltdown is probably a vast underestimation of the hole the Tories now find themselves in. Only the Duke of Wellington has presided over a worse defeat for the Tories - and that was in 1832!

Labour has scored an historic landslide victory in the 1997 general election. The scale of the Tory defeat is unparalleled in modern history. In the words of former Tory cabinet minister, Douglas Hurd, "this is a meltdown." In fact meltdown is probably a vast underestimation of the hole the Tories now find themselves in. Only the Duke of Wellington has presided over a worse defeat for the Tories - and that was in 1832!

Seat after seat fell. Not one Tory was returned in Wales or Scotland. In fact the Tories have been obliterated off the political map in virtually the whole of the country. They have been left a rump in a few leafy suburbs and in some of the shires.

Let's remember, too, that in 1955 the Tories held 36 seats in Scotland winning about half the popular vote. Now they do not exist. Even across huge tracts of the so-called prosperous south they were wiped out. Seats went to Labour where they have never won before.

The roll call of defeated ministers and leading Tories was startling. Biggest cheer of the night was when arch-right wing Tory leadership aspirant and Minister for Defence, Michael Portillo, was thrown out in Southgate. But the other results were just as sweet.

Scottish secretary Michael Forsyth, out to save the 'union' - sacked! Foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind - sacked! Ian Lang, president of the board of trade - sacked! Marcus Fox, chairman of the Tories 1922 committee - sacked! Angela Rumbold, vice-chair of the Tory Party - sacked! Norman Lamont, ex-chancellor - sacked! Rhodes Boysen, leading hang-em-and-flog-em Tory - sacked! We could go on.

Workers across the country can celebrate. The Tory Party, the 'natural party of government,' the party of the 'invincible' Margaret Thatcher, the party that promised to destroy the trade unions and the Labour Party for ever, has been defeated on a scale few can ever have dreamt of.

And what a celebration it should be! For as they shamble off the political scene lets remember what damage the Tories inflicted upon this country. The decimation of the steel and coal industries, the sell off of virtually all our public assets, the ending of Britain's role as a major manufacturing nation, the attempted crushing of the trade union movement, the vicious and relentless attacks on the health service, education and local authorities, and the creation of the most unequal and divided society in the advanced capitalist world.

They spent the last few years dreaming of the 'enterprise capital of Europe,' while in reality they had created one of the poorest countries in the EU, only just beating Spain, Portugal and Greece, dependent on foreign investment from the Japanese and Koreans for any job creation that did take place.

It is no wonder that they have been punished so badly in the election. The swing against them was truly unprecedented, more than double the swing to Thatcher in 1979 when they heralded their 'revolution.' The national swing was huge enough, but in the ex-Tory areas it was immense. Senior Tories were left speechless, asking to be left alone for a 'period of reflection.' But daggers are already drawn and recriminations are already flying.

One of the strangest questions to be asked in modern political history is 'why did they lose?' We should ask, 'how could they ever have won?' The pundits have tried to explain away the defeat with the idea that people merely wanted a change, that eighteen years was just too long for any one party to be in power. The Labour leadership, on the other hand, are trying to explain away their enormous victory with some glorious talk about 'new Labour' and the great leadership of Tony Blair - for them victory would have been impossible without him and his project to 'modernise' the party.

Both views miss the mark. The fact is that the Tories have been historically unpopular since the autumn of 1992, a long time before Blair became party leader and only a few months after Major had secured the Tories fourth term in office. The ERM fiasco followed by the massive movement against the Tory pit closure policy marked a real turning point in the situation. The Tories never looked like recovering from that time on. Even during the last few years of economic boom their opinion poll ratings never got any better.

Since 1992 the mass of people have realised that there is no going back to the heady days of the 1980s boom. Tory policies and the transformed situation in the workplace, with a massive increase in job insecurity, temporary and part time working put an end to even life long Tories hopes for a return to better times.

The defeat is a real reflection of the changed situation that now exists in the economy, in the workplace and in society generally.

A massive anti-Tory mood gripped the country. Tony Blair's 'modernising' agenda has had little impact. In fact Labour's landslide was in spite of the 'modernisation.' People have rejected the Tories and all they stood for, they have voted Labour not for Tony Blair's 'play safe' policy or for Gordon Brown's 'sound financing.' They voted Labour in the expectation that they would really start to change things, tackling the real problems we face in education, health, employment and so on. After rejecting the Tories so strongly the last thing people want is more of the same.

The Tories were punished everywhere. The Liberal Democrats were able to pick up their biggest number of seats since the days of Lloyd George, the SNP also took seats from them. And of course Labour won the most. This reflects the massive anti-Tory mood that swept the nation. Usually you would expect the polls to narrow as the election campaign develops, but if anything all the opinion polls underestimated what was about to happen.

1945

Labour's majority is it's biggest ever, even bigger than that scored in 1945. The victory is both a turning point and a tremendous opportunity. People want to turn their backs on the Tory years, they want change and they want some answers to the problems we face. Unfortunately, the Labour leaders seem to have tremendous illusions in their ability to run capitalism better than the Tories. Although the first period in office will be busy with the introduction of the Scottish parliament, health service and education reform, the windfall tax and so on, they are not addressing the fundamental problems faced by millions of workers and their families - job insecurity, poverty wages and the tremendous disparity between the 'haves' and the 'have not's.' Even on health and education there will be no extra spending, reforms must be financed from within the Tories spending plans - plans even the Tories had no intention of sticking to.

By tying themselves to these financial constraints and by going wholeheartedly for the market, they are in the process of throwing away the the biggest mandate for radical change this century. An historic opportunity like this does not come along all that often. Labour should be prepared to seize it.

On the issues facing millions of workers Labour needs a bold campaign. For full employment. For a proper minimum wage. For the repeal of the anti-union legislation. For the restoration of local authority funding. For a real development with a massive injection of funds into health, education and welfare.

That is the sort of campaign that we need to be fighting for. And that means a campaign inside the Labour Party. Those who left the party in disillusionment with it's drift to the right and formed the Socialist Labour Party have not found a viable alternative. Even Arthur Scargill himself, barely saved his deposit standing against ex-Tory and 'new' Labour convert Alan Howarth in the solid working class area of Newport.

Rather than leaving the party it is now more than ever essential that workers join the party take part in the struggle for socialist policies. This will mean transforming the party and bringing it back into the hands of working class people. Only then will it become an effective vehicle for socialist change.

The election is a real watershed. Any return to the boom years of the eighties has been ruled out. The Tories have been decisively routed. Labour is in a tremendous position. People wanted change, they voted for change and Labour has the opportunity to bring it about.

We need a real socialist programme to solve the problems faced by ordinary people. Measures like the 32 hour week, full employment, repeal of the anti-union laws, a minimum wage starting at half of average male earnings, a massive injection of funds into health, education and welfare. These are the measures that can really tackle the problems we face. Part of a programme that would mean this Labour government going into the history books alongside the great government of 1945.

How could such a programme be financed. By nationalising the big monopolies, banks and financial institutions, run under workers control and management, the funds could be released that would really transform our lives. LLoyds Bank alone made profits last year of £2.5 billion. That's our money - so why not use it!

This is the real programme that can take Labour into the next century.