The Guardian June 20, 2001


Poor left vote in British elections but Sinn Fein increases its seats

The results of the British elections, apart from the re-election of the 
Blair Labour Government and the devastation of the Conservative Party, have 
been given little coverage in the daily media. "New Labour" as the British 
Labour Party now chooses to call itself, received only 25 per cent of the 
electorate vote which, according to reports, is the lowest vote in living 
memory. The combined vote of New Labour and the Tories comprises less than 
50 per cent of the electorate. There were massive abstentions by the 
British people.

The Socialist Labour Party led by Arthur Scargill, the former leader of the 
British miners union, contested 114 seats and secured 57,497 votes, an 
average of only 504 votes per electorate. This vote was an increase of over 
11 per cent compared to its vote in the 1997 general elections, but remains 
very low.

An alliance of a number of other parties claiming to be left, secured 
55,635 votes.

These votes were particularly poor in view of the serious problems faced by 
the British working people.

A statement by Arthur Scargill says that "no-one, particularly on the left, 
has been able to win the support of that part of the electorate that 
abstained from voting  including those who represent the natural voice of 
protest against the evils in our society.

These are people who have lost all faith in political parties and they 
include those sections of the electorate demonstrating against 
globalisation in Seattle, Nice and London."

* * *
Sinn Fein increases its seats at the polls
by Steve Lawton Sinn Fein replaced the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) as northern Ireland's chief nationalist party following the Westminster elections, increasing its vote across the board and adding two seats to those already held by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. The success of Pat Doherty in West Tyrone was crowned by the very narrow victory of Michelle Gildernew in Fermangh-South Tyrone the first woman nationalist MP since Bernadette Devlin (McAliskey) and the first for Sinn Fein since Countess Markiewicz in 1918. The seat is the same one that Hunger Striker Bobby Sands won 20 years ago while in the infamous Maze prison where he subsequently died. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP's) candidate James Cooper who was ousted, is mounting a challenge to her slender 53 vote win, citing irregularities. The SDLP, suffering a general decline in support, now have three MPs with both Seamus Mallon Deputy First Minister and John Hume retaining their seats with a lower vote. At the same time, a big shift has taken place from the UUP to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), reflecting a hardening of the anti- Agreement positions. The DUP won five seats. In addition, three hardline anti-Agreement UUP MPs were also returned with an increased majority, despite other losses to the DUP, enabling them to keep the largest bloc by a whisker with six seats. UUP leader David Trimble was returned, but with a lower vote. Supposedly a litmus test of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and progress since, the results of the 18 Parliamentary seats which Sinn Fein challenged as a whole for the first time were significant enough not to be completely overshadowed by Labour's landslide return to Downing Street. The Labour Government, which is resuming talks between the key parties and the Irish Government, now has the urgent task of addressing, chiefly, three festering problems: * The policing legislation fiasco that former northern Ireland Minister Peter Mandelson engineered, undoing the Patten policing commission proposals and thereby leaving the sinister anti-Catholic Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) essentially intact; * the arms decommissioning process that unionists distort to mean that the IRA destroy its weapons, contrary to the agreed process which involves independent monitoring and secured arms dump verification by internationally respected inspectors; * the demilitarisation of British occupation of the Six Counties. The British military persists in maintaining a heavy presence in predominantly nationalist, Catholic areas, while the military base and spying infrastructure remain virtually untouched. The beleaguered leader of the UUP and Assembly First Minister David Trimble, hotfooted it to Tony Blair's court last week, insisting that he will resign on July 1 unless the IRA begin actual destruction of their weapons. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, who was returned with an increased vote, said that the solution lies beyond Trimble: "I would like to think that Blair's increased mandate will allow him to face down the rejectionists within his own establishment." The local elections showed an evening out of support across the four main parties for the 582 seats, but again Sinn Fein and the DUP advanced significantly. Sinn Fein busted its target of 100 seats to take 108, while the SDLP is down to 117; the DUP reached 141 and the UUP dropped to 154. Martin McGuinness took an optimistic view of the electoral outcome: "If you analyse the figures", he told the BBC's Sir David Frost, "there is probably now more support for the Agreement from right across our community." He emphasised: "There will be a huge responsibility to make it absolutely clear to those people who proclaim themselves to be rejectionists, that they are not going to have their way."
* * *
New Worker, (abridged) paper of New Communist Party of Britain.

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