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Alex Miller

Following disastrous performances in the English local council elections and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election in May, the ruling Labour Party suffered more humiliation at the hands of the electorate in the June 26 by-election in Henley-on-Thames. Conservative Boris Johnson vacated the Oxfordshire seat after he took up the post of Mayor of London in May. Although the seat was deep in Conservative territory and Labour had come third in the 2005 general election, Labour’s performance in the by-election was worse than even the most pessimistic Labour supporters could have feared. The June 28 Morning Star reported that Conservatives retained the seat with a majority of 10,116 over the Liberal Democrats, who took second place. Labour lost its deposit and polled just 1,066 votes compared to the Conservatives’ 19,796, finishing fifth behind the Green Party (1,321) and the far-right British National Party (1,243).

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s woes increased on June 28 when Wendy Alexander, the Brownite leader of the Scottish Labour Party, resigned following a recommendation by the Scottish Parliament’s standards committee that she be barred from the Parliament for a day because she failed to declare donations to her 2007 campaign for the leadership of Scottish Labour (ironically, Alexander was the only candidate in the leadership contest). In a comment posted on the Scottish Socialist Party website, former Labour MP and MSP John McAllion, who is now a member of the SSP, commented: “Unfortunately, Scottish New Labour will stagger on under new management. A successor will be chosen from the same talent pool in Holyrood deemed to be not good enough to produce a challenger to Wendy just 9 months ago. There will be lots of noise about the party appearing to be more independent of its British management, but always stopping short of any real transfer of power away from Westminster. The party will continue to push the same pro-business and anti-worker policies at home and abroad while the economy implodes around them”.

There is further potential by-election misery in store for Brown following the announcement by Glasgow East Labour MP David Marshall that he is resigning from the Westminster Parliament on health grounds. The seat is one of Labour’s safest, but as the June 30 Morning Star commented: “At the last election, Marshall had a majority over the SNP of 13,507 – but no Labour seat in Scotland can be seen as safe after the shock of the 2006 Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, where the Liberal Democrats overturned a Labour majority of 11,500”.

With inflation on the rise, the housing market in a slump and the economy in general heading for a recession, Brown is likely to face a “summer of discontent” as unions fight his attempt to impose de facto pay cuts on public sector workers. The June 27 Scottish Socialist Voice commented: “Aside from the economic pressure trade unionists face a wider political question – why are we still bankrolling New Labour? There can now be no illusions that New Labour has any real link with workers’ interests as they bend over backwards to cushion their rich business friends. Surely when Labour once again passes round the hat to pay for election campaigns it is past time that unions recognise reality and put the cheque book back in the safe”.

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