David Henry is standing in Salford in the general election. He was selected as a “community candidate” by the “Hazel [Blears] Must Go” campaign, but is now standing under the banner of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. He spoke to Solidarity.
How did you become a TUSC candidate?
The “Hazel Must Go” campaign was founded before TUSC was even conceived, by a diverse group of people who aren’t particularly party political, and they remain dominant in the campaign.
Disillusionment has been brewing among Blears’ constituents for years, to the point where she was targeted for de-selection by her own local Labour Party last June. She survived, but the turnout was very low. At the time I was about to be evicted from my home, and had been “fighting the system” from just about every possible angle.
We were originally more of a pressure group, but evolved after Blears refused to engage with our concerns. TUSC approached us at quite a late stage, about six months after the campaign had already announced we’d stand a candidate against Blears. When I put myself forward as a candidate I’d never even heard of TUSC. We had a vote on the proposal to affiliate to TUSC, which was resoundingly passed.
What sort of people have been involved in your campaign?
All sorts of people — Salford wants Blears out! We’ve had Martin Bell support us and attend our meetings, we’ve had huge media interest; but the emphasis has been on community and voluntary organisations, trade unions, and disenfranchised Labour supporters. The Green Party is also backing the campaign. The far-right, naturally, have stayed away!
Beyond Salford, we have links with left candidates in neighbouring constituencies — the Green Party in Manchester, Respect in North Manchester, the Community Action Party in Wigan, and TUSC candidates in deprived areas of south and east Manchester.
Where are you coming from politically?
I grew up in relative poverty on a rough estate: my dad was a plasterer and my mother was a community health worker. We moved around different estates because my parents experienced a lot of racism as a mixed-race couple. They aren’t rigorously political, but didn’t have much choice but to stand up for themselves. Some of my earliest memories are being with them on an Anti-Nazi League march in the 1980s.
When I was nine I organised a campaign to save my local playground, and I’ve been passionate about social and environmental justice ever since. I became involved in human rights and direct action campaigns when I was still at school. Growing up under Thatcher always felt like a big grey cloud hanging overhead.
Every day was an uphill struggle during the dark days of Section 28. I began reading about the LGBT civil rights movement in the radical press as a teenager and I’ve been involved ever since.
Now, with the “Pink Pound”, the stereotype is happy-go-lucky, carefree, party people with big disposable incomes. The assumed leaders of the gay community are privileged, middle-class, white, macho businessmen. They have turned equality into another consumer product.
I’ve not always been entirely comfortable defining my political identity, but I’m basically a socialist with a tendency to resist oppression, and opposed to authority.
What sort of place is Salford?
Salford has the typical traits of any industrialised city. I live in the most deprived ward where there’s a lot of regeneration going on, but also a lot of gentrification. The poorest have had their homes demolished and the land sold off to private developers.
Salford is one of the birthplaces of the modern working-class movement. Today, politically speaking, it’s an exciting place to be. There are three Labour MPs in the city, the most high-profile being my opponent Hazel Blears, who is a key figure in the disastrous New Labour project. Blears has abandoned every socialist and working-class principle she was expected to champion.
What are the main issues for your campaign?
Our “Charter for Salford” outlines ten points. We are against the savage cuts planned by the big three political parties, cuts which are going to hit the most disadvantaged in Salford the hardest. We oppose privatisation, war and discrimination; we will defend the NHS and public services and are calling for free education and public ownership. We support parliamentary reform, transparency and accountability. We want a political system that operates in the interests of everyone, not just the privileged ruling elite.
Some on the left have criticised TUSC for being not very democratic or inclusive, both at a national level and in some local areas. Do you think that’s fair?
TUSC comprises such a diversity of campaigns and activists. Yes, there are people who are putting the work in nationally, but they’ve been unfairly criticised by people who I think are scarred by events they need to put behind them in order to build a united left.
The left has been damaged by infighting and sectarianism for far too long. As a result we’ve got a right-wing Labour government and the likelihood of a Tory government. It’s awesome that there are so many schools of thought to the left of New Labour. It can be a source of diversity rather than division. The Convention of the Left and the People’s Charter are laying the foundations for bringing the left together.
The best way to view TUSC is at a local level. I can only speak for my experience here in Salford, where our campaign is the only left-wing challenge to New Labour and the far-right. TUSC isn’t going to form a government, but it has the potential to put radical voices back into Westminster, where they are needed more than ever.
Some have argued that TUSC doesn’t take a strong stance on migrants’ rights and migrant workers’ struggles, and also that it shares some of No2EU’s nationalistic stance on Europe.
I fully empathise with that criticism, though as someone who had no involvement with No2EU I can only look at it retrospectively. TUSC is not No2EU; it’s a fresh start. I don’t think No2EU was actually nationalistic, but it was misunderstood that way. The majority of people involved in TUSC are well-known anti-fascists who’ve been attacked for standing up to racism and nationalism, like Alec McFadden who was brutally attacked by neo-Nazis in his own home. TUSC has clear policies about defending the rights of asylum-seekers and economic migrants, and here in Salford our campaign has supported those threatened with deportation. I want a world where we don’t need borders or controls on the movement of people.
I’d argue that the Lisbon Treaty reinforces capitalist globalisation by devolving power away from local communities. There is a real danger that the whole planet is sleepwalking towards a “new world order” led by capitalist superstates.
What would you say about the big majority of constituencies where TUSC isn’t standing?
TUSC isn’t fielding pointless “paper candidates” to raise its overall electoral profile. Where there exists a strong, organised, socialist, left-wing, trade union or working-class resistance movement, TUSC should be there to provide a genuine alternative to the three big parties and the far right.
What kind of result would you regard as a success?
We’ve already achieved so much. We believe victory is within our grasp, but beyond that we’d like to use the grass-roots infrastructure we’ve built to fight for reforms locally. Our local authorities exude corruption, and resistance is shaping up in education, in public services and in workplaces all over Salford and Greater Manchester.
When the dark days I remember as a kid return, Salford will be ready to fight back.