Reply to Bruce on the June elections

Submitted by martin on 31 January, 2004 - 7:48

In June we should say something like: keep out the BNP and the Tories. Vote socialist or Labour. Fight Blair - build the LRC.
1. If we had concluded, as the Socialist Party has, that the Labour Party is finally, totally, completely and irreversibly dead in working-class politics, then of course we would abstain where we could not stand independent working-class candidates. We would also call on the unions to disaffiliate, and dismiss the current moves for an LRC as a pointless dead end. We do not.

2. Thus in principle we can say: we're voting Labour because Labour still, despite everything, represents something closer to the labour movement that the BNP and the Tories. If we can stand, or support, something better than Labour, we do; if not, we vote Labour.

3. Abstention is not ruled out in principle. But abstention is rarely a good tactic. All the evidence is that it would be a bad tactic in June.

4. First, consider Cathy's point at the 27/03/04 National Committee. What do we say in the unions? We can argue that the unions stay affiliated to Labour and support the LRC while also arguing that they should support or promote independent working-class candidates, for example that they should back the SSP. How can it make sense to anyone that we call on the unions to abstain between Labour and the Tories or BNP, yet simultaneously support those same unions continuing to finance the Labour Party and urging them to join the LRC's attempts to reassert the union voice within the Labour Party?

5. Then, Patrick's point at the NC. What about the BNP? The BNP is a serious threat in the June elections, especially in the PR elections where Respect is standing (Euro and GLA), those very elections for which Bruce is worried about the tactical downsides of us voting Labour against Respect. "Unite Against Fascism" has launched a big campaign to persuade people first to register to vote and then to vote "anything but BNP". In the past we've said the call should be to vote socialist or Labour against the BNNP, not just "anything but the BNP". But now we are to say: don't vote at all? Let the BNP in because you can't bring yourself to vote Labour? When UAF goes round leafletting, we should follow up with counter-leaflets saying: No! Don't go out and vote against the BNP! Stay at home!

6. But Lutte Ouvrière rightly abstained in the Chirac-Le Pen run-off in the French presidential election? They did not just abstain. They called for blank votes (and the extra blank votes could be quantified, about 3%). They made clear that if the run-off were Jospin-Le Pen rather than Chirac-Le Pen, they would vote Jospin, though the French Socialist Party's working-class links are no stronger than New Labour's. And anyway the question of abstaining only arose because electoral law excluded LO from the run-off vote. Bruce would have us abstaining, not because we have been excluded from the election, and not because we have an objection of principle to voting Labour (as we would have to voting Chirac), but just because voting Labour might bring us difficulties with Respect supporters". So we wash our hands of it and let the BNP in?

7. How do we explain voting for New Labour against Respect? Much more easily than we'd explain abstaining. We vote Labour because we are with the mainstream labour movement, even as it is, against the BNP and the Tories. It's not support for Blair, and no-one who knows about the Labour MPs' rebellions against Blair - the biggest backbench rebellions since the 19th century - will think it is. We vote for minority candidates like Respect, when we do, on a different basis - to make a statement, or send a message. The message that voting Respect sends is "we like George Galloway". We don't.

8. The Labour Euro-candidates are handpicked, under a selection procedure even more controlled than Labour council or Westminster candidates? Yes, but it is a matter of degree. To stand outside polling stations with leaflets asking voters to abstain in the Euro elections but vote in the council elections (on the same day) for Labour candidates who have the same politics as the Euro candidates would baffle, not enlighten. Voting Labour is about an orientation to the labour movement, not an evaluation of individual candidates. By the way, it may be wrong to think that the Labour Euro-candidates are completely immune from labour movement influence. The 2001 intake of Labour MPs were notoriously handpicked, yet a recent academic study has found that - surprisingly - they are not markedly less rebellious in Parliament than longer-standing Labour MPs.

9. To sum up: abstaining would give us a policy at odd with our ongoing activity both on our union and LRC work, and in anti-fascist work, and all for the sake of a private satisfaction at having our hands free of all association with bad politicians. It would be sectarian.