Reposted from http://www.coventrysocialists.com
The Tories have won the inaugural election for the position of Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority. In a tight race, the Conservative candidate Andy Street received 238,628 (50.4 per cent after the second round) to 234,862 (49.6 per cent) for Sion Simon of the Labour Party.
No doubt this will be a boost for the Tories in the run up to the general election. However it is important to understand what happened and the lessons that can be learnt in order to ensure this victory for the Tories is not built upon in June.
The loss for Labour is fuelling the narrative from both the capitalist establishment and the Labour Right that Jeremy Corbyn is a problem. The ‘blame Corbyn’ script in reality had already been written. Sion Simon, although refusing to explicitly blame Corbyn, made the following comment which many are seeing as an attack on the leader
“I am talking about values – the issues that came back on the doorstep were about values and our regional campaign [being] overshadowed by national political issues all the time.” He went on to say “… Labour voters in Labour areas were saying to us ‘we don’t feel confident that you are strong enough in our traditional Labour values’, which we always have been hear in the West Midlands and that’s the lesson we need to learn as a party and learn it soon.”
The Labour campaign
These claims however do not stand up to scrutiny. The campaign was wholly a creature of the right wing of the Labour Party. The candidate Sion Simon, is a careerist politician par excellence. A former minister in the Gordon Brown government and current Member of the European Parliament for the West Midlands, he is the personification of everything ordinary people mistrust in politicians.
As an MP for Birmingham Erdington he was caught in the MP’s expenses scandal, breaching parliamentary rules by renting his “second home” in London from his sister, and was forced to repay about £20,000. Soon after he stepped down as an MP he attempted to position himself as a candidate for the position of a Birmingham City Mayor, that was rejected in a city wide referendum in 2012.
His election leaflets patronised working class voters with talk of building Spitfire aircraft and pictures of the cross of St George. There was little or no talk of Tory austerity and importantly how to fight it. There was little or no mention of the sorts of policies that won Jeremy the leadership of the Labour Party and have begun to win wider support – £10 per hour minimum wage and an end to zero hour contracts for example. Indeed, there was not even a mention of Jeremy Corbyn on the election material from the Labour Party.
Simon prefered to pose with numerous local councillors throughout his leaflets, most of who have carried out massive cuts to local jobs, services and facilities. No wonder the turnout was so low.
Many ordinary Labour Party members would have worked hard in this campaign – unfortunately the direction of the campaign was dictated by the right wing, with disastrous results.
Sion Simon is part of the same section of the Labour Party as Gerard Coyne the West Midlands regional secretary of UNITE the union, who unsuccessfully challenged Len McCluskey in the recent general secretary elections. Indeed during the election campaign UNITE said it would suspend its donation to Simon’s campaign due to issues around the sharing of members data between the Coyne and Simon camps. The right wing say Corbyn is a turn off for voters, but they say nothing about the effects of their Councils in places like Coventry and Birmingham implementing Tory cuts!
The West Midlands Combined Authority and election turnout
The turnout for this election was 26.3 per cent and it is fair to say that there was a great deal of cynicism towards the question of the Combined Authority and the position of mayor. Indeed, both the populations of Coventry and Birmingham had voted against having their own city mayor in referendums in 2012 . It also needs to be remembered how the WMCA was created, which was promoted by then Tory Chancellor George Osborne and then willingly supported by right wing Labour Councils in the West Midlands.
The WMCA was never about genuine devolution, more it is about devolving austerity and is a key part of Conservative public sector reform (i.e austerity) agenda.
Unfortunately Labour in the West Midlands, rather than pointing this out for what it is, have gone along with the whole sham. Linked to this, Labour Councils in the West Midlands have obediently implemented every single cut handed down from central government. This does not help Labour set itself out as an alternative to the Tories.
What next? Step up the fight – elect Corbyn on socialist policies!
It is clear from this election, that the Labour Right have nothing to offer in terms of winning elections. The West Midlands is the fiefdom of arch Corbyn enemies such as Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader. Will he take his responsibility for this result?
Though a setback, it would be wrong for supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and all of those people who wish to see the end of the Tories, disheartened.
Working class people can be won over to a bold socialist programme! Jeremy’s policies as already mentioned ,around issues such as scrapping the Trade Union Act, restoring free education, ending the pay cap in the public sector, rights for people in rented accommodation are popular. They chime with the day to day experience of millions of people. What is needed is a massive campaign across the country – rallies, street corner meetings, demonstrations in every town and city. Let’s bring the methods of Bernie Sanders and Jean-Luc Melenchon in to this election! The right wing can’t be allowed to airbrush Corbyn from election material. No more sabotage from Blair, Mandelson, Tom Watson and their ilk.
A campaign based around Corbyn’s key policies linked with the need for socialism can push the Tories back. The Socialist Party looks forward to helping take the fight to the Tories over the coming weeks.