EU elections: Trying to vote internationalist
Peter Manson outlines how to approach the May 22 EU elections
At our April 27 aggregate of CPGB members, we agreed our policy towards the May 22 local and European Union elections. In relation to the council elections in England and Wales, the recommendations of the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee, outlined in my article last week1, were endorsed. In other words, vote for any Labour anti-cuts candidates who have managed to get through the selection process and, in their absence, offer critical support to leftwing groups - primarily the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and Left Unity.
When it came to the EU elections, however, the PCC had not yet made any recommendation, and so the aggregate decided to adopt a policy on the day. While this did not commit to voting for any of the Labour lists, it did invite comrades to check whether any of them may be supportable. If, for example, any of the lists has one or more candidates whose approach to the whole question of the EU is similar to the policy agreed at Left Unity’s policy conference in March (see box), then we should consider voting for that list.
A full report of the discussion at our aggregate appears on the opposite page. However, let me explain our thinking here. Unlike many on the left - most notably the Socialist Party in England and Wales - we do not consider Labour to be just another bourgeois party. Thanks mainly to the union link, union funding and union votes, it remains a bourgeois workers’ party - albeit one where the bourgeois pole is very much in the ascendancy.
This fact does not lead us to automatically vote Labour - it never has done. The attitude of communists to elections is a matter of tactics - and different tactics are necessarily applied according to the specific circumstances. For example, five years ago, in the 2009 Euro elections, we called for a Labour vote everywhere. That was the only time our CPGB has ever recommended such a blanket vote and we did so because of the particular conditions. Following the MPs’ expenses scandal there had arisen what we termed a kind of “anti-politics politics” - ‘They’re all the same, so why bother voting at all?’
But the main parties are not all the same - Labour remains different from the others in that it still expresses, in however restricted and perverted a form, the notion of working class representation. And, especially since there was no other supportable working class formation contesting in 2009, we were right to use the Euro elections to emphasise that point.
Vote Labour if …
Of course, the conditions of 2009 no longer apply. But there is still a point to be made about Labour. If any of its candidates were to express a pro-working class, internationalist vision for a different Europe - one that stands in sharp contradistinction to the current EU of big capital and the banks - then we would be well advised to support such candidates in the current climate of Europhobic British nationalism.
We are well aware, obviously, that the EU elections are held under the party list system, where it is not possible to vote for some candidates on a given list but not others. Nevertheless, if a Labour list contained even one supportable candidate, then voters, in our view, should consider voting for that list - the advantage of electing just one pro-working class internationalist might well outweigh the undesirability of voting at the same time for a bunch of pro-capitalist careerists.
I keep stressing the word ‘if’ because I am not so foolish as to believe it a certainty that any such supportable candidate will have found themselves amongst the 73 Labour members contesting on May 22. We should not, however, dismiss that possibility outright. Nevertheless, I have taken a quick look at the record and platform of the lead Labour candidate in each of the seven British regions and you will not be surprised to learn that none of them come anywhere near matching our criteria.
Whenever possible, Labour aims to select a sitting MEP to top its list and, as you might expect, these are very much part of its bureaucratic machine. So, for instance, Glenis Willnott, Labour’s number one in the East Midlands, is leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, while Claude Moraes (London) is her deputy. Moraes is also spokesperson for the centre-left Socialists and Democrats group of MEPs, to which Labour is affiliated.
Derek Vaughan (Wales) is proud of his work on the EU parliamentary committee on budgets: “I’m pleased that I have been able to ensure Wales receives more funding from the EU from 2014-20,” he writes. In fact, thanks to his hard work, people in Wales have gained at the expense of those elsewhere: they will receive “£70 per person per year more from the EU than what they put in” over the next six years.2
Neena Gill (West Midlands) is another one who boasts of her participation on the EU committee on budgets in the years up to 2009. In that year she lost her seat, but, as the most senior and reliable bureaucrat amongst the candidates, this time she tops the Labour list and is sure to be re-elected.
Richard Howitt, top candidate in the East of England, has been a member of Labour’s national policy forum since 1994, while Linda McAvan (Yorkshire and the Humber) was voted Britain’s European Woman of the Year in 2002 for her “efforts to engage women in the future of Europe”.3
Scotland’s David Martin seems to be mainly concerned with animal welfare, but Anneliese Dodds (South East) believes that “our economy is international and European” and, as the south east is “reliant on exports to the EU”, we must support membership of the EU as currently constituted, no matter what.4 Judith Kirton-Darling (North East) expresses similar sentiments: “Over 140,000 north-east jobs are dependent on EU trade. We have safer workplaces, equal pay and four weeks’ paid holidays as a result of being in the EU.”5
The South West is the only region with no sitting Labour MEP and here Clare Moody tops the list. This Unite official describes herself as a “Europhile” who is proud to be a “communicator and campaigner”.6 Theresa Griffin (North West) is the only Labour number one with a vaguely left-of-centre approach. She too has a record as a union official and stresses how much she wants to “kick out” her namesake, Nick Griffin of the British National Party, who is a sitting MEP in the region, of course. But there is nothing on her website to suggest that she would come near meeting our criteria for support.
As readers will know, the left group standing the most candidates in the Euro election is ‘No to the EU, Yes to Workers’ Rights’. Whereas in 2009 No2EU stood in all 11 regions, this time it could only manage seven. As I explained in a previous article,7 its British nationalism and opposition to the free movement of labour - which, if anything, are even more overt this time around - rules No2EU out even for critical support.
No2EU finally announced its candidates at the beginning of this week - several days after nominations closed on April 24. In three of the regions its lead candidate is a member of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and they are: No2EU convenor and ultra-nationalist Brian Denny (East of England); CPB general secretary Robert Griffiths (Wales); and international secretary John Foster (Scotland). In another two regions the lead candidate is a member of Socialist Party in England and Wales: Dave Nellist (West Midlands) and Roger Bannister (North West). In addition, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union area president for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, Trevor Howard, tops the No2EU list in Yorkshire and the Humber, while Edward Dempsey, who I must admit is unknown to me, heads the list of London candidates.
The aggregate of CPGB members agreed that No2EU offers no positive alternative to Labour - quite the opposite. And that also applies to what remains of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party. In 2009 the SLP scrabbled together a full slate of candidates in every region (admittedly thanks to SLP members managing to persuade their partners or other family members to join them as candidates). This time around, it is contesting only in Wales.
The following statements on its website demonstrates not only the abysmal ignorance of the SLP, but, more to the point, its attempt to dismiss No2EU as insufficiently nationalist: “… once again we see the emergence of temporary alliances on the so-called ‘left’, with their predominately single-issue politics and wishy-washy slogans, giving, at best, insipid opposition to Britain’s role within the EU. This opportunistic, half-hearted opposition is clustering around groups such as Socialist Alliance [sic], Tusc and No2EU.”
It goes on: “As a party we are against the uncontrolled movement of labour and capital … The single-issue parties of the so-called ‘left’, on the other hand, are against any restrictions on movement of labour within the EU and, as we have seen, this is depressing British wages.”8
The CPGB, therefore, recommends no vote for either No2EU or the SLP. Comrades in Wales should cast a critical vote for the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which is also contesting in the South East; while those in the North West should vote for the Socialist Equality Party, which is standing in only one region.
1. ‘Vote Tusc, vote left’, April 24.
7. ‘Back into our shells?’, April 10.
Left Unity’s resolution
The following resolution was passed at Left Unity’s policy conference and represents a good reference point to judge candidates in the EU elections
Left Unity opposes all programmes and demands for a British withdrawal from the European Union. By the same measure we oppose the EU of commissioners, corruption and capital. However, as the political, bureaucratic and economic elite has created the reality of a confederal EU, the working class should take it, not the narrow limits of the nation-state, as its decisive point of departure.
The constituent national parts of the EU exhibit a definite commonality due to geography, culture, history, economics and politics. Put another way, the EU is not an empire kept together by force. Nor is it just a trading bloc. Far from capitalism pushing through what is objectively necessary - the unity of Europe - on the contrary capitalism has held back European unification.
For the working class that necessitates organising at an EU level: campaigns, trade unions, cooperatives, for the levelling up of working conditions and wages across Europe to the best status quo currently in force, and the fight for extreme democracy.
Left Unity wants not a quasi-democratic, confederal EU, but a united Europe under the rule of the working class.
- Power to the European parliament. Replace the EU commission by an executive democratically responsible to the parliament. Abolish the Council of Ministers.
- For a democratically controlled European Central Bank.
- Towards indivisible European unity.
- For the free movement of people. Against all immigration controls.
Naturally, to the degree the working class extends its power over the EU it will exercise attraction for the oppressed peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Such a bloc would be able to face down all threats and quickly spread the flame of universal liberation.