May 22 results: Once again a sorry joke
The left’s election results reflect its lack of social roots, reports Peter Manson
The attempt by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to make a breakthrough in the May 22 local elections in England and Wales - in terms of both achieving a large vote and gaining wide publicity - was unfortunately unsuccessful. Tusc’s 560 candidates polled 68,031 votes - an average of 121 per candidate.
But this average is rather skewed by, in particular, the victory of Keith Morrell in Southampton Coxford. Comrade Morrell was one of two Labour councillors suspended for their opposition to cuts who formed the Councillors Against Cuts group. This time standing for Tusc, he picked up 1,633 votes. Another score that was well above the average was Dave Nellist’s 974 votes (29.7% for second place) in Coventry St Michael’s, where he had been a Socialist Party/Socialist Alternative councillor for 14 years from 1998 to 2012.
A second former councillor, Chris Flood, also fell well short of winning back his seat, gaining 659 votes (16.18%) in Lewisham Telegraph Hill. He also stood as Tusc’s mayoral candidate in Lewisham, where he won 1,354 votes (1.88%). In both contests he was a fair way behind John Hamilton of Lewisham People Before Profit, who won 6,014 votes (8.33%) for mayor and 1,258 votes in Telegraph Hill (second place). People Before Profit stood in all 18 Lewisham wards, by the way, winning an average of 14%.
The driving force behind Tusc is, of course, the Socialist Party in England and Wales. In fact SPEW comrades were so busy campaigning for Tusc that they decided they would not be able to publish The Socialist on Wednesday May 21 - the pre-election issue was printed on Wednesday May 14 and was dated May 15-28. So, after this all-out effort, SPEW must be very disappointed in the election results.
However, its public reaction is mixed. On the one hand, it wants to play up Tusc’s impact: “In 21 councils Tusc has polled over 1,000 votes. In 10 of these, it has been over 2,000. A powerful anti-austerity message has been sent in all these areas.” The Tusc statement continues: “In 31 councils Tusc stood in over 30% of wards and in five of them (including Southampton) it averaged more than 5% where it stood.”1
On the other hand, it wants to blame the media for failing to give it the necessary publicity. Tusc’s total of 560 candidates was the fifth highest after the big four (including Ukip, obviously) and it contested 13% of all seats. It was “indisputably ahead of the rest of the pack” - the party with the sixth largest number of candidates being the British National Party, with 106 candidates. “Yet Tusc’s share of media coverage is no way commensurate with the number of candidates we are standing” and in fact the BBC website’s “guide to the English council results doesn’t even include Tusc in its handy list of abbreviations”.2
While the complaint against the media is reasonable on one level, both these arguments are incorrectly based. Tusc’s “powerful anti-austerity message” did not make any real impact. A couple of thousand votes across a whole town or borough represents a very small proportion and even in those areas most workers will still not have heard of Tusc, let alone take on board its political message.
But why blame the media for this lack of impact? After all, a common complaint against politicians in general is that ‘You don’t see them between elections’ - and that applies to Tusc even more. For it does not actually function in any real sense at other times. SPEW is campaigning under its own name, while Tusc is hidden away out of sight. And what can be said about SPEW applies many times over to the Socialist Workers Party, which takes no part in Tusc other than nominating a handful of SWP candidates for each election.
According to the SWP’s internal Party Notes,“Tusc candidates ran some excellent campaigns and there were some good results, including our comrade Dave Gibson’s 17% in Barnsley ... Well done to all who campaigned.” But it goes on: “The generally low figures emphasise that we need a less fragmented and broader left electoral coalition. We need to build on what we have done in Tusc and begin thinking about strategies for the general election.”3
A “broader left electoral coalition”? At least SPEW has the idea of a new party, which it wants to see emerge from Tusc. Admittedly it aspires to the strategically hopeless notion of a Labour Party mark two - to be created by a coalition that only emerges at election time! - which is why SPEW claims the participation of the RMT union is so significant (although the failure of the RMT website to even give Tusc a mention in the run-up to May 22 does not augur well for its continued support).
But what is the purpose of the SWP’s “electoral coalition”? To do what exactly? And it should be “broader” - ie, more rightwing? Something like the Respect of John Rees and Lindsey German perhaps?
Talking of which, Respect lost its remaining councillor and failed to win any of the eight seats it contested in Bradford. In October last year its five sitting Bradford councillors resigned from Respect en bloc, less than 18 months after being elected. Respect also stood another five candidates in the north, but now has zero councillors (as I write, six days after the elections, Respect has still not announced its results: “The results are due in tomorrow!” reads its only post-election comment, on May 224).
As for Left Unity, its very limited electoral challenge - mounted entirely on the initiative of local branches - produced the type of results that are currently routine for the left. In Wigan, Barnet, Norwich, Exeter and Bolton, LU candidates picked up around 2%-4%. It contested seven wards in Wigan and the best result was that of Hazel Duffy, who gained 252 votes (8.8%) in Wigan West - “modest beginnings”, as candidate Stephen Hall puts it on the LU website (mind you, let us not dwell on the 14 votes won by our Bolton candidate).5
Finally the Socialist Labour Party may or may not have contested the local elections. It has a page headed: “SLP 2014 election campaign: European parliamentary election Wales and English local elections”, but it has posted no details whatsoever of any local election contests. Par for the course for Arthur Scargill’s defunct grouplet.
While Tusc was the left’s main standard-bearer in the local elections, that ‘honour’ fell to the campaign known as ‘No to the EU, Yes to Workers’ Rights’ in the European Union parliamentary poll. Thankfully, however, 2014 will undoubtedly be the last we hear of No2EU and its abhorrent anti-European Union left nationalism.
First let us state the bare results. No2EU picked up 31,757 votes, which represents 0.2% overall - 0.3% when you take into account the fact that it only contested seven of the 11 EU British regions. Compare that to 2009, when it recorded 153,236 votes - just about 1%. But, worse, this time around there was virtually no campaign.
Take a look at the No2EU website.6 It has hardly been touched for months. If you click on ‘About us’, you will find a page entitled ‘No2EU meetings’ and learn about two gatherings that took place over a week ago. Following on directly from these two adverts is the statement: “No2EU will be standing 46 candidates in seven regions in the May 22 Euro election, including London, North West, Eastern, Wales, Scotland, Yorks and Humber and West Midlands.” All the candidates are then listed.
And that is it. Apart from this minimal information buried away as part of an advert for a couple of meetings, No2EU has been unable to give any biographical details about the individual candidates, keep us up to date with the ‘campaign’ or inform us of the results.
No wonder SPEW gave up on No2EU, even though two of its comrades - Dave Nellist in the West Midlands and Roger Bannister in the North West - headed its regional lists. As in most of the recent copies of The Socialist, there was not a mention of No2EU in the pre-election issue, let alone a call to vote for it (apart from in the weekly cut-and-paste column from SPEW treasurer Ken Douglas, which states: “The Socialist Party is appealing for £15,000 to help finance our election campaigns for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition … and No2EU in the European elections”).
This despite an editorial on the UK Independence Party predicting that Ukip would see “a new swathe of councillors elected on May 22, and do well in the European elections”. Even though the editorial told us, “It is vital to counter Ukip”, it did not even advise its readers to vote for its own comrades standing for No2EU. It concluded by stating: “… central to undermining Ukip will be revealing them to be just one more party for the 1% and, more importantly, beginning to build an electoral voice that really does stand for the millions, not the millionaires.”7 Obviously No2EU is not that “electoral voice” then.
But at least the comrades did not remove the call to vote No2EU from the SPEW website. Following immediately on from a piece from comrade Nellist urging a Tusc vote there was a very short, unsigned article, which began: “While Tusc is standing in local elections, for the European elections the Socialist Party is supporting No2EU-Yes To Workers’ Rights, which is led by the RMT union.”
“Led by the RMT union”? Not any more. Following the tragic death of general secretary Bob Crow, the RMT website has hardly been crammed with reports on No2EU. True, near the top of its home page and under ‘Campaigns’ there was a plug for it in the run-up to the elections, but these references were quickly removed after May 22 (at least the union does update its website, unlike No2EU itself).
Following May 22 Hannah Sell, SPEW deputy general secretary, notes on her organisation’s website: “The Socialist Party had argued for the Tusc banner to be in the Euros and the locals. This would undoubtedly have given both campaigns a higher profile. However, it was not possible to convince some other forces involved in No2EU of this, particularly the Communist Party of Britain, and unfortunately, it made less impact than it did in 2009, when it was able to draw around it combative workers like the Lindsey construction strikers and Visteon car plant workers.”8 So it was the Morning Star’s CPB that, virtually alone, attempted to keep the No2EU banner flying.
A report in the Star on a meeting of the CPB’s executive committee stated: “Britain’s communists agreed that it should be a top priority to maximise the votes for No2EU-Yes to Workers’ Rights candidates …” The report continued: “The executive also urged support for CPB and Unity for Peace and Socialism candidates in Thursday’s local elections in England” (May 19). Needless to say, the Star has not bothered to inform its readers of the no doubt outstanding results achieved by these candidates. Just like No2EU, Respect, the SLP …
The other left groups contesting the Euro elections were the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which picked up 5,067 votes (0.29%) in the North West, 1,384 (0.19%) in Wales and 5,454 (0.23%) in the South East. For its part, the Socialist Equality Party won 5,067 (0.29%) in the North West, while the ultra-nationalist SLP managed 4,459 (0.61%) in Wales, the only region where it stood.
One can only conclude yet again that the left, divided as it is into competing sectlets, is in an abysmal state. And SPEW’s ‘strategy’ for the building of a “new mass workers’ party” has once again shown itself to be a sorry joke l
3. Party Notes May 27.
7. The Socialist May 15-28.