Left makes modest gains in internal elections
All of the three main factions have something to celebrate, writes Peter Manson
Left Unity’s internal elections saw a slight shift to the left, with the Communist Platform’s representation on the national council - LU’s decision-making body between conferences - increased from one to four comrades.
Yassamine Mather, who was elected to the NC last year, this time had the highest number of first preferences in the single-transferable-vote system for electing the 15 comrades on the directly elected national list. She was therefore the first NC member to have their election confirmed and was subsequently joined by Jack Conrad, who squeezed in on the final, 48th round, of STV vote transfers.
The other two CP members elected were Dave Isaacson - the first out of five voted through in the South East region - and Sarah McDonald, who was automatically elected in London under the equal representation rule. She was one of only five women contesting for 10 London places and it was known when nominations closed that she was a shoo-in. However, before the implementation of the “women rule”, another CP comrade, Dan Gray, was occupying the 10th and final London regional slot, so there would have been four CP members elected in any case.
This success for the Communist Platform results from three basic factors: firstly, the democratic nature of LU’s agreed, entirely proportional, voting system, which allows for the representation of minorities; and, secondly, the discipline of CP supporters, who acted as one in ensuring that all their preferences were cast in the same order - so that, for instance, excess votes for comrade Mather were transferred to the CP’s second preference, comrade Conrad; thirdly, the votes of leftish candidates eliminated in the earlier rounds shaved off to him.
The rather more heterogeneous Independent Socialist Network also increased its numbers on the NC: Pete McLaren, who was re-elected, plus Soraya Lawrence and Ed Potts on the directly elected list; others include Dave Landau and Joseph Healy on the London list, Matthew Jones from Scotland and Dave Parks from the South West. So the ISN was another minority that undoubtedly benefited from the voting system.
However, one ISN comrade, who also had the support of the CP, was - perhaps surprisingly - not elected. Toby Abse, who was a member of the outgoing NC, mustered only five first preferences and was eliminated quite early - he was only eighth on the ISN’s recommended list of ‘directly elected’ candidates and fifth on the CP’s.
Apart from comrades Mather and McLaren, five other, more rightwing, NC members were re-elected on the national list: Kerry Abel, Matthew Caygill, Liz Davies, Guy Harper and Sharon McCourt. As for the national officers, however, they are still in the hands of the leadership faction. Despite a good showing by ISN candidates, not least Nick Wrack, all but one of the existing officers were re-elected (the exception being outgoing nominating officer Chris Hurley, who decided to stand for the disputes committee instead this time). So Felicity Dowling, Pete Green and Salman Shaheen are once more principal speakers (along with newcomer Micheline Mason), while Kate Hudson (national secretary), Andrew Burgin (treasurer), Oliver New (trade union officer) and Tom Walker (media) were also re-elected. Terry Conway switches from membership to nominations, and the only other new officer, Simon Hardy, takes over from comrade Conway in charge of membership and communication.
Comrade New was more narrowly re-elected as trade union officer, but his ‘left’ challenge came from two comrades standing for the same post under a job share: Rebecca Anderson (Workers Power) and Ruth Cashman (Alliance for Workers’ Liberty). WP had previously denounced the social-imperialist AWL and just two years ago declared that no AWL member who failed to “disassociate themselves” from AWL guru Sean Matgamna over his infamous 2007 Islamophobic rant entitled ‘Political Islam, Christian fundamentalism and the left today’1 could have any legitimate “role in representing workers and students”.2 This unprincipled lash-up was deservedly defeated, and another WP candidate, Dave Stockton, failed to be re-elected to his London NC seat.
The national council is supposed to consist of no fewer than 70 members (including the individually elected national officers). Of course, this is hopelessly large for an efficient decision-making committee - added to which it meets just bimonthly - and in reality only about half that number turn up to NC meetings. However, it has never had its full complement. That is because a total of 40 of its places are reserved for “regional representatives”, but some regions are actually unrepresented. For example, in the North East, where there is virtually no LU organisation, the two NC seats remain vacant, as once more no-one was prepared to stand for election. Only 31 of the 40 regional seats are currently filled.
It goes without saying that the “regional representatives” do not genuinely ‘represent’ the members in their region. In no way can they be held to account by those who elect them. For that to happen, they would have to be elected by and recallable to regional membership meetings, but, of course, all these elections are conducted by email, where atomised individual members puzzle over the list of candidates before them for both the regional and national lists. They are expected to know which candidate will be the best treasurer or media officer. Of course, most of these members (I am informed that earlier this week there were 1,905 of them) have joined Left Unity via the internet and the likelihood is they will not have heard of many of the candidates, let alone seen or met them.
No wonder that there was such a dismal turnout. Just over 400 cast their votes, the highest poll being that for the directly elected NC candidates, where 417 members took part - a turnout of 21.9%. In addition to the North East, there are other regions where there is a much lower membership relative to the population than in the country as a whole and, for instance, in both Scotland and Wales only 17 members voted in the regional ballot.
Another aspect of the elections that highlights the failure of LU’s method of organisation is the fact that we now have just one member each on both the disputes and appeals committees. Once again, there is no surprise here. Comrades elected to these bodies, both of them dealing with problems between members, are restricted and hampered by the labyrinthine constitution with its ‘safe spaces’-type methodology.