Labour made significant gains in Staffordshire but not enough to regain control from the Tories. This partly summed up the mood across the country – the desire by millions to punish the Con Dem government for their programme of savage cuts, closures and privatisation leading to an increase in votes for Labour. But with that shift towards Labour tempered by the recognition that they do not fundamentally offer anything significantly different.
TUSC supporters campaigning outside the Co-op on Stone Rd, Stafford on election day
The fight to save Stafford hospital has been an important factor in these elections rippling out from Stafford across the whole county. Now under administration, the hospital is facing severe cutbacks in it’s facilities. A march of 50,000 during the election campaign demonstrated graphically the anger and opposition which exists but Labour refused to clearly oppose the threat posed by privatisation.
Instead Labour were happy to participate in an ‘apolitical’ campaign to save the hospital thereby not having to explain their continued support for NHS cuts and privatisation when in government and now. The brutal truth is that even if the campaign to save all the hospital’s services is successful it still faces the threat of being handed over to big business vultures already circling overhead.
If Labour had clearly fought against any cuts, closures or privatisation of Stafford hospital or at least pledged to reverse them when in power they would have won control of the county council by a mile. This abject failure just reconfirms that Labour is fundamentally no different than either the Tories or Lib Dems.
So it was left to the small forces of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and Socialist Party members to raise the need for the fight to defend Stafford hospital to include opposition to privatisation.
TUSC candidates on the march in Stafford
Given the strong mood to punish the government by voting Labour and to a certain extent for UKIP it was inevitable that the votes of small parties would be squeezed. The Lib Dems lost all their four seats. The Green Party, who have a history of standing in Stafford borough since 2005, saw their vote halved from an average of 9% to 4.5% compared to 2009.
Unlike TUSC, the Greens had also been aided by one of Staffordshire’s main local papers, the Sentinel, whose headline at the beginning of the campaign was, “The Green Party bids for power”. TUSC has not once been mentioned by this paper despite the fact that TUSC was standing more candidates than the Greens!
Under these difficult circumstances TUSC made a small but creditable start on the urgent task of laying the foundations for a new party to represent working class people across Staffordshire. TUSC candidates have stood in Newcastle-under-Lyme once before but nowhere else in the rest of the county. This was the first time ever that TUSC candidates have stood in Rugeley, Leek, Stafford, and Burton-on-Trent. We stood a total of 11 candidates gaining 2% of the vote in some divisions of Newcastle, Rugeley, Burton and Stafford.
Almost 500 people voted for TUSC’s Socialist candidates across the county which is a good start on which to build. We spoke to thousands of people and gave out over ten thousand leaflets. Many supported what we had to say but at this stage were not prepared to vote for us but that will change.
We are confident that the TUSC campaign in Stafford borough also helped to limit the gains made by the current far right ‘pin up politicians’ of UKIP. UKIP’s share of the vote nationally and across the whole of Staffordshire was 24%. In the outlying areas of Stafford borough and nearby Newcastle it was 28% but in the four divisions of Stafford borough where TUSC stood UKIP’s average vote was limited to 19.5%.
Across these four divisions we gave out over 4 thousand leaflets which highlighted UKIP’s plans for further privatisation of the NHS. Our leaflet pointed out that UKIP policy is to “require the NHS to use people with commercial experience to negotiate with the private sector" and that they "want to increase the number of companies who can have a share of NHS business". This leaflet, along with discussions with potential UKIP voters appears to have helped cut across their support.
What was crystal clear, was that those who were voting Labour were not doing so with any enthusiasm. In many cases it was a protest against what the government and local councils were doing but with the knowledge that Labour would not be any different. TUSC candidate in Stafford North, Josie Shelley, told us, “North Avenue normally has loads of Labour window posters. This year only TUSC posters can be seen”. Thirty four year old Simon had never voted before, but did this time for TUSC.
TUSC banner in garden of house in North Street, Stafford
TUSC supporters and Socialist Party members across Staffordshire will continue our fight against the savage cuts, closures and privatisation programme supported by the three main parties and UKIP.