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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Déroute historique des travaillistes

by Peter Avis, Special Correspondent.

Historic Collapse for Labour

Translated Thursday 15 May 2008, by Jonathan Pierrel

London, England. The prime minister, Gordon Brown, leader of the Labour Party, tries to quench the fire after the historic defeat in the May 1st local council elections and the loss of a stronghold : London.

After Rome, it is now London’s turn to shift to the Right. The European Left is going through a disastrous year. The electoral setback of Gordon Brown’s government is not a passing fancy : it is part of a deep transformation of the political landscape in Great Britain. Results of the council elections in England and Wales have never been so bad for the Labour Party in the last forty years. The Conservatives, with 44% of the votes, leave the Liberal Democrats far behind, with 25%, and Labour arriving only third with 24% of the votes.

Historic reverse for London

It is the lowest score for Labour since 1968. Almost 400 seats and nine councils have been lost. But the worst happened at the City Hall of London on Friday 2nd around midnight when Boris Johnson, in-vogue candidate of the Conservative Party, was declared new mayor of the capital with its seven million inhabitants. By winning 53% of the votes, he ousted Ken Livinsgtone, socialist mayor since 2000 and the most cunning politician of the country. It was also the posh neighbourhoods taking their revenge on Ken the Red and his supporters….

At the same time, in a separate ballot, London voters elected the members of the London Assembly: eleven Conservative, eight Labour, three Liberal Democrats, two ecologists and, for the first time, a member from the BNP (British National Party, xenophobic extreme Right-Wing party). This assembly supervises the activities of the mayor of London without having extensive powers.

The defeat in London represents a historic reverse for a long term project, which used to be called “municipal socialism,” born a century ago. For decades, the successive local authorities which run the capital – the London County Council created in 1889, the Greater London Council from 1965 to 1986, and eventually the City Hall of London in 2000 – were usually run by the Labour Left.

The “County Hall”, the main administrative headquarters of the City of London, hosted in a building sold to the private sector since the Thatcher era, was located by the Thames opposite the Parliament in eternal defiance of twentieth century Tory governments. Between the two great wars, qualified progressive elected officials and civil servants were responsible for major steps forward in the fields of health care, education and social services. In some ways, London led the country.

Having been humiliated by this bitter defeat that cast doubts on his authority as prime minister, Gordon Brown is now attempting to present his mea culpa. Ordinarily refusing any unfavourable criticism of his actions, since the weekend after the election, he could not avoid expressing his excuses for the “errors” that were committed — the worst being income tax increases for more than five million taxpayers, among whom the most destitute subjects.

The Labour Party in a thorny position

To quench the fire and try to ease the angry electorate, Brown promised yesterday, in an interview with the BBC, that he would carry out various policies in the coming weeks. Among others in this series of promises is a great plan to build low-cost housing. A tax relief on petrol can also be expected, as current prices are taking their toll on the population’s buying power.

Yet, the prime minister sticks to his line in regard to his neo-liberal economic policies. Thus, he claims he is not responsible for current problems such as the disruption in the property market, the sub-prime crisis coming from the US, and the increase in petrol prices as well as those of food products on a worldwide scale. Finally, not a single word was said on financial and tax policies implemented by his government and those of his predecessor, Tony Blair, which allowed the rich to get richer. Gordon Brown could certainly have made efforts, in particular to help children from low-income families, but the gap separating the rich and the poor in the United-Kingdom has been widening for the last eleven years.

The Labour Party is in a delicate situation. Deputies of the majority, even those who up until now never sought to sow confusion, do not hesitate to express their doubts. There is even talk of whether the leader should be changed before the next elections which, in theory, should take place before Spring of 2010. In a near future, Gordon Brown will be facing new difficulties, and not only regarding the economy. His project, still supported, to extend the maximum number of days in custody from twenty-eight to forty-two for terrorist suspects is another source of problems within his own party. Many elected members perceive this policy as a threat for human rights and habeas corpus, the historic doctrine which states that any person accused has the right to appear in court.

But, facing this multifaceted crisis swooping down on Great Britain, life is not morose for everyone. It has been said that Tony and Cherie Blair have just bought a nice little castle in the country for five million euro; just another residence to add to the five others they already own.

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