Labour’s success in the Glenrothes by-election signals a profound change in the configuration of British politics.
The summer of 2008 marked the nadir of the collapse of the New Labour coalition which came to office in 1997. I earlier analysed the death of that coalition in the following piece:
By the summer of 2008 Labour had relinquished much of its working class support, not simply on account of Brown’s continued focus on the concerns of Middle England, but because of hostile economic measures which directly impacted on the working class: removal of the ten pence tax band and inaction in the face of rising fuel bills and corporate profits. Across the working class the question was posed: what does New Labour stand for? Labour support plummeted and votes dissipated in all directions. The low point was another Scottish by-election, Glasgow East, lost in July to the SNP.
The financial crisis of October 2008, ushering in recession, altered the pieces on the chessboard. Brown after his habitual dithering rose to the occasion and used public money to nationalise banking debt and reliquidify finance capital in order to prevent a financial meltdown, an act taken to bolster capitalism and in the immediate interest of all social classes.
Two consequences result. First, in the face of recession, rising unemployment and repossessions, the working class is moving in a pro-Labour direction for self-protection, though whether Labour will offer more than cold comfort is debatable. For vulnerable working people gambling with dandy Cameron in England or Salmond in Scotland is now less of an option. Hence Brown’s success in the Glenrothes election.
Second, the perception that the London government could ‘solve’ the banking crisis undercut the nationalism of the SNP. In the ongoing identification battle of Scotland whether a nation in its own right or a sub-unit of a greater Britain, it was the latter that was strengthen against the former. Hence Brown’s success in the Glenrothes election.
That Brown prevented a meltdown of support in the working class does not mean that he has yet convinced Middle England to vote for him over Cameron in 2010. Much depends on how Cameron re-orients his propaganda in the next two years of recession.