Left candidates in May elections

Submitted by AWL on 13 May, 2014 - 6:03

Rhodri Evans (Solidarity 323) is wrong to simply say: “That socialists will have to vote Labour and step up the fight in the unions”. That might have been sufficient in 1991 but it hardly deals with the complexities of the situation we now face.

Workers’ Liberty has analysed the Blairite restructuring of the Labour Party and increasingly recognised the diminished scope for party members and union members to affect policy. Indeed from 1999-2010 we stood candidates against Labour, sometimes in alliance with other socialists, sometimes alone. In 2010 it was argued that we could reckon upon some sort of settling of accounts with Blairism within the Party and a realignment of the union leadership and the Labour Party. This has failed to materialise.

In fact the Collins report and the changes, which have been agreed, to the relationship between the Party and the unions have gone further than the Blairites dared. In the meantime Labour councils up and down the country have implemented the Tory cuts with barely a whimper of resistance from within the Party. In these conditions even the ultra-Labour loyal Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, have started to consider how to work around rather than through the existing Labour Party structures.

Rhodri is right however in his analysis of the left electoral alternatives. However the situation requires that where there are TUSC who are “good activists” and standing on a reasonable programme then we should support them.

In the election for Mayor of Lewisham we are presented with the choice of the Labour Party incumbent Sir Steve Bullock who on a salary of £77,000 has presided over nearly £100 million worth cuts and plans a great deal more and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate, Socialist Party member Chris Flood.

Chris is standing under the banner of “A workers’ mayor on a worker’s wage.” His programme includes: no to all cuts, creating jobs for anyone under 25 who is unemployed, £10 per hour minimum wage, rent controls and a register of private landlords, building council houses and no selling off of existing stock, end PFI in the NHS, scrapping the bedroom tax and restoring full council tax benefit. All of which amounts to a little more than being “pretty much limited to opposing the cuts”. Chris himself is an ex-nurse who previously served as a Socialist Party councillor in Lewisham.

We have many disagreements with the Socialist Party and Chris but we cannot doubt that he is an honest individual who is on our side of the class struggle. Whilst TUSC itself is unlikely to be central to a re-founding of working-class political representation, we should surely support candidates such as Chris to send an immediate message about how Labour should be opposing the Coalition — rather than voting Labour and hoping that a fight will emerge within the unions that will eventually find its way through the tortuous structures, against the will of the current leaderships, and force the Labour Party into an adequate response to the cuts, rather than implementing them.

As Workers’ Liberty we must begin a serious discussion on how we can move forward the struggle for a genuine workers’ party. The tactics for this will include independent working-class candidates as well as work within the unions and what is left of the Labour Party.

Rhodri Evans replies:

We use electoral tactics either to make propaganda for our socialist ideas, or to help intervention in a broad labour movement effort.

Given the realities of the British labour movement, that generally means either (a) recommending our own candidates, or left initiatives in which we can intervene substantially and constructively; or (b) voting Labour and arguing for a fight in the affiliated unions and the Labour Party.

Since February 1974 we have been against giving a necessarily passive endorsement to propaganda candidates of hostile left groups. We want left unity, but we don’t want to build groups when they are making left unity unviable. We have voted for other left groups when that is linked to intervention (as our vote for SWPers in the SA was linked to intervention when we could unite with them).

From 1999, as Duncan points out, we electioneered, mostly through left unity initiatives (Socialist Alliance, SGUC), occasionally on our own. However, from 2005 at latest, that left electioneering became more desultory. SA and SGUC broke up, against our wishes. We didn’t back their successors, No2EU in 2009 and TUSC (son-of-No2EU). We judged them too poor politically, and too closed to intervention.

Duncan suggests that the AWL majority in 2010 “reckoned on” big improvements in the Labour Party. Not so. We rejected claims that CWU disaffiliation from the LP would likely lead to a big and good new working-class political “alignment”, “project”, “coalition”, etc. Facing an aggressive Tory government, some movement in the Labour Party was more likely.

The movement in the Labour Party came quicker than we thought (influx of members, etc.) We predicted immediately after the 2010 general election results that it would be limited, because Labour’s defeat had been narrow enough that the leadership retained authority; and we were right about that. Things have gone into reverse recently, which is unsurprising given the depression in working-class struggle since the pensions sell-out of late 2011.

The changes of detail in the last few years strengthen the case against recommending propaganda candidates of hostile left groups. (a) SP now stand not as (even generically) socialist candidates, but as TUSC, with a platform going little beyond anti-cuts. (b) For 22 May 2014 TUSC is closely linked with No2EU (both are essentially SP-plus-RMT).

Of course Chris Flood is personally preferable to Steve Bullock. Almost all TUSC candidates are “good activists” compared to their Labour rivals. It does not follow that we endorse SP/TUSC politically.

We are sympathetic to people who want to vote Chris Flood, but say that Flood votes can do no more than boost the SP/TUSC, and that that doesn’t help.