May 22: Vote Tusc, vote left
In the absence of Labour anti-cuts candidates, Peter Manson calls for critical support for the left in next month’s local elections
As comrades will know, this year the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has been attempting to nominate as many candidates as possible for the May 22 local elections in England and Wales. Tusc, set up and mainly built by the Socialist Party in England and Wales, is aiming to stand at least 625 candidates - the figure representing 15% of contested seats that it believes would meet the BBC “threshold” for “fair coverage” of the elections. Its website appeals for “every trade unionist, anti-cuts campaigner, community activist and all those who want to see an alternative to the establishment parties to become a Tusc candidate”.1 On April 17, it was announced that 554 candidates had been nominated, and it is likely Tusc will have got pretty close to the target by the time nominations close on April 24.
All this is very encouraging: it is a completely valid tactic to put up as many candidates as possible, irrespective of their local standing or political experience. The aim ought to be to let large numbers of working class voters know that an opposition exists to the bourgeois agenda of cuts and austerity - the winning of a big vote, if it happened, should be regarded as a bonus. However, this new policy stands in sharp contrast to what the SPEW leadership consistently told the CPGB, when we offered to stand our own candidates under the Tusc umbrella back in 2010, when the coalition was formed to contest the general election. Then we were told that this was impossible, since the CPGB had no “social weight” (unlike SPEW, of course).
It has to be said, though, that had the CPGB been permitted to stand as Tusc our manifesto would have been rather different from those on offer from our fellow Tusc candidates. It goes without saying that we would have signed up to Tusc’s “local election platform”, which is “a supplement to the core policy statement” agreed in 2010. This is perfectly supportable, with its commitments to “oppose all cuts”, “refuse to implement the bedroom tax”, “support all workers’ struggles”, “reject increases in council tax, rent and service charges”, “vote against privatisation” and “use all the legal powers available to councils” to uphold such policies.2
However, these are essentially defensive, reactive, trade union-type policies, utterly bereft of the positive alternative that we ought to be putting before workers. They are actually far more ‘moderate’ than those put forward by SPEW’s comrades contesting the May 7 general election in South Africa. There the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp) is putting forward a full programme for (national) socialism - even though Wasp, like Tusc, is supposed to be the beginning of a ‘broad’ workers’ party embracing all who want to stand in defence of the working class.3
In contrast to the vast majority of Tusc candidates, the CPGB believes that our task is primarily one of propaganda - of beginning the long process of winning workers to the programme of Marxism, socialist internationalism and communism. As I have said, that does not mean abandoning workers to the current austerity assault. But it does mean going far beyond defensive demands by putting before voters our vision of the positive, long-term working class alternative.
One group that, unlike the CPGB, has been allowed to participate in Tusc from the beginning is the Socialist Workers Party. However, its participation is, as ever, rather low-key. It is standing just a token number of candidates, including Maxine Bowler (Sheffield), Jenny Sutton (Haringey) and Mark Krantz (Manchester). SWP members will only be out canvassing for Tusc in those wards where their own comrades are standing.
Take a look at the latest Party Notes - the internal bulletin for SWP members - and you will see why. The April 22 edition4 makes absolutely clear that the main priority for the SWP in the lead-up to May 22 is the ‘Stand Up to Ukip’ campaign. Comrades are supposed to turn up at all the meetings organised in support of the UK Independence Party’s European Union election campaign in order to expose Ukip’s anti-migrant “racism”. Comrades in the North West region, however, are to focus on defeating the British National Party’s Nick Griffin, who is seeking re-election as an MEP.
Party Notes begins with all that and only gets round to mentioning the local elections and Tusc more than halfway into the bulletin.
Exactly the opposite is the case when it comes to SPEW’s priorities. Despite the fact that two of its comrades - Dave Nellist and Roger Bannister - are heading the lists of the left-nationalist No2EU campaign in the Euro elections (in the West Midlands and North West respectively), No2EU merits hardly a mention in The Socialist or on the SPEW website. Mind you, this year’s No2EU campaign has not even been launched yet, it seems. I reported two weeks ago that no No2EU candidates had been announced,5 and that remains the case, as I write. In fact, the already neglected No2EU website6 has not even been updated since then.
And comrades Nellist and Bannister are obviously putting much more effort into Tusc, for whom they are also candidates. The former is trying to regain his seat for Socialist Alternative (SPEW’s electoral name) in Coventry St Michael’s, while the latter is a Tusc candidate in Liverpool Kirkdale. Other prominent SPEW candidates are Clive Heemskerk in Tower Hamlets, Judy Beishon in Hackney, former councillor Chris Flood in Lewisham, Nancy Taaffe in Waltham Forest and sitting Tusc councillor Joe Robinson (Maltby).
Comrade Robinson won a surprise seat on Maltby council in a by-election a year ago, but I fear that, this time around, the local Labour machine will be rather better organised. Another (non-SPEW) sitting councillor trying to retain his seat for Tusc is Keith Morrell, who was one of the two councillors expelled from the Labour Party in Southampton for opposing cuts and subsequently joined Tusc. The other, Don Thomas, is not up for re-election this time.
The list of Tusc candidates includes 54 RMT members, including assistant general secretary Steve Hedley - a former SPEW member, of course - in Newham. And while a small number of local Left Unity groups have decided to stand candidates in the local elections, some are doing so under the Tusc umbrella. Pete McLaren in Rugby and Will McMahon in Barnet fall into this category.
Apart from Tusc and LU (the latter on a much smaller scale, obviously), the Socialist Labour Party is making its usual ‘reappearance’, if that is the right word, come election time. The SLP website implies it will be contesting some council seats in England, but there are no further details. This time, it seems, its electoral intervention will be the most modest yet - for instance, it seems to be contesting the Euro elections in Wales only - again if its website is anything to go by (admittedly, that is no guarantee of accuracy, since it is hardly ever updated nowadays).
Neither the Workers Revolutionary Party nor the Socialist Equality Party appear to be contesting the local elections - although the SEP is standing a slate of eight candidates in the EU elections in the North West region.
When it comes to the council elections, the recommendation of the CPGB is straightforward. Our first priority is to vote for any anti-cuts Labour candidate - if you can find one (and if he or she has not been expelled first). By ‘anti-cuts’ we mean a candidate who commits to voting against all cutbacks to council services and amenities that will impact negatively on the working class.
It is important to offer our support for those in the Labour Party who still actively identify with our class and are prepared to make such a stand, however token - although it has to be said that the right is for the moment in such firm control that such comrades are unlikely to make it onto the ballot paper, even if their local party nominates them.
Secondly, we will offer critical support to all other working class anti-cuts candidates - in practice, Tusc and Left Unity. But if a candidate from the SLP or some other small left group happens to be standing in your ward, and in the absence of a Labour anti-cuts candidate, then, of course, they too should be supported (we can safely assume that electoral clashes between left candidates will be very rare indeed).
In respect of the Euro elections, however, things are not so easy. Where are the supportable working class candidates? The CPGB will not be offering even critical support to No2EU, standing as it is on a regressive platform of British left nationalism.7 And it seems that the Scottish left nationalists of Solidarity and the Scottish Socialist Party will not be contesting north of the border. So that leaves the SLP in Wales and the SEP in the North West (sorry if I have missed anyone else).
Elsewhere, it comes down to a choice between voting Labour - even though it is a certainty that there will be no anti-cuts candidates on the party’s lists - and spoiling your ballot. Speaking personally (the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee has yet to make a decision), I think the latter choice wins hands down.
In my view there is no pressing need to vote for one set of austerity merchants over and above the others. True, Labour remains a bourgeois workers’ party and a critical (or even extremely critical) vote for its candidates should always be considered among our options, but in this case there is nothing at all to be gained from such a tactic, as far as I can see l
3. For my commentary on Wasp, see ‘SACP plumbs the depths’, April 17.
5. ‘Back into our shells’, April 10.
7. See ‘Back into our shells’, April 10.