A socialist how-to for the election

Submitted by martin on 17 March, 2010 - 11:46 Author: Rhodri Evans

Take a busy street corner in a big city. A hundred adults pass by. Statistically, how do they relate to the general election?

Forty of them won't vote. In fact, more like fifty or sixty. The 40% non-voting rate is among electors, and quite a few people in cities are not on the electoral register. Young people are more likely to be out on the streets than older people, but vote less.

And the 45 or so who will vote? Extrapolating present polls, about 17 will vote Tory, about 14 Labour, about nine Lib Dem, and the remaining five a mix of UKIP, Greens, BNP, and nationalist (in Scotland and Wales). In fact the Labour number will be a bit higher than 14, the Tory number lower than 17: the Tories are weaker in big cities, and much weaker among younger people.

Statistically, unfortunately, you'll need several groups of a hundred each to pass by before you're likely to meet a far-left voter, even if the few far-left candidates do much better than they expect.

What do socialists do about this, in the coming weeks when people will be thinking about and ready to talk about their political preferences in a way they usually aren't?

However active we are, we can't hope to sway the broad political picture by the short conversations we can have in the coming weeks, with a minority of voters.

But among the 14-plus of every hundred who vote Labour, there are few outright Blair-Brownites. They are many more who have a basic working-class viewpoint, but at present see nothing to do about politics but put a cross for Labour, with gritted teeth, on 6 May.

We can offer them an active political project, rather than the private gesture of gritted teeth. We can tell them: yes, vote Labour, but also organise so that there is pressure on the Labour leaders from the left, where now the huge pressure on them from the right (which they are predisposed to go with anyway) goes almost unchallenged.

Organise to make the unions use all their channels to put pressure on Labour! Organise anti-cuts campaigns, and take their campaigning into the unions and the local Labour Parties! Organise to re-establish socialist ideas in the labour movement!

That message also offers a path to the sizeable chunk among the 50-odd who are currently unlikely to vote, but who are willing to think about it, and to some not on the electoral register.

If we can draw even one of each hundred passers-by into further discussion and activity, we will shift the options seriously. That is what the Socialist Campaign to Stop the Tories and Fascists will attempt. We are trying to reach the "constituency" which turned out for the large meetings which John McDonnell MP drew in his campaign for Labour leader in 2007, and which otherwise remains atomised and passive.

In every area where there are even a few active SCSTF supporters, they can do a sort of "election campaign without a candidate". They can go on the streets in favour of voting Labour, but promoting positive working-class policies, a critique of new Labour, and a call to fight against the next government whether Tory or New Labour.

They can do street stalls; hustings and debates; intervention in other hustings; interventions at the public "appearances" of MPs during the election campaign.

SCSTF, so we understand, will be producing material - broadsheets, leaflets, etc. - for use on such street stalls.

In the next two or three weeks the ground needs to be prepared by taking the SCSTF to union branches and and to individual left activists. As SCSTF people approach those union branches and individuals, we can explain to them our plans for street stalls and so on, and invite their support.

It's unlikely that we will have enough resources anywhere to do door-to-door canvassing with SCSTF. Obviously "without a candidate" is in general a limitation for an "election campaign". But the relative limitation is smaller when the possibilities if the far left had a candidate extend only to popularising ideas and winning contacts, i.e. do not include mustering a vote sufficient to become a visible "political fact". And, realistically if sadly, that is where we are now.

The "election campaign without a candidate" has the advantage of being "scalable". It can be done on more or less any scale from modest to highly-visible depending on the numbers and energy involved.

Inquiries at the Electoral Commission reveal that there are no complications of "electoral law" about doing this sort of activity as what is called a "third party" or a "non-party campaign", so long as all the literature carries the imprint (in the required form) of a "responsible person" and a street address, and the total expenditure is less than £10,000.

SCSTF supporters also should immediately plan for SCSTF public meetings in major cities soon after 6 May. Such meetings can pull together contacts made in SCSTF campaigning to discuss what to do about the major theme of SCSTF, i.e. organising a working-class fight back against the next government whether Tory, New Labour, or coalition.

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