Fighting for ourselves

Stand under our own banner

LU ought to contest the GLA elections, urges Sarah McDonald - including standing a mayoral candidate

Prior to the first meeting of Left Unity’s newly elected national council in April, papers to be discussed were sent out to members - among them a welcome document (in our view) from Liz Davies on the subject of next year’s elections.

Its main emphasis is on the London 2016 elections, though there are also Scottish parliamentary and Welsh assembly elections to be held next year. This was discussed at the April NC, but referred back to the regional committees affected to discuss further.1 In presenting the paper both to the NC and London region, comrade Davies correctly commented that LU was slow off the starting blocks on this matter and that we need to take a decision as to how we approach these elections soon in order to get the ball rolling. The matter was discussed at the London regional committee but it will go to the June 9aggregate for all London members, which can advise, but not instruct the regional committee (constitutionally aggregate votes are non-binding).

I will not deal here with the Scottish and Welsh elections, and whether or not LU ought to contest them, and focus instead on London. There are different elements to the Greater London Assembly elections: mayoral, constituency and London-wide party list. The mayor is elected by the ‘supplementary vote’ system, where voters may express a first and second preference, while the constituency contests are ‘first past the post’ and the party-list elections are run on the basis of proportional representation. All things being equal, we would advocate that LU prioritises standing for both mayor and the PR seats. This could be augmented by standing in constituencies, if there is the will, the money and the support.

Firstly, though, LU needs to decide not just if it wants to stand in any or all of these elections, but crucially why it should do so. Within the organisation there are comrades who say we should not take part in the elections and amongst those who favour standing there are divisions between those who want to do so merely as part of their local campaigning, those who favour doing so under the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition umbrella, and those who want to prioritise the promotion of Left Unity as a political party. We in the Communist Platform stand in this last category.

The only argument that I have heard so far against standing a mayoral candidate has been one of cost (there is a £10,000 deposit). Not that most of us have that kind of money in our back pockets (if you do, please don’t hesitate to get in touch). Still, this is an amateurish and unambitious approach. With a few big fundraising events (film screenings, concerts, etc) and a financial push from those in and around LU, this should not be as daunting as comrades might at first fear. The £10k ought to be viewed in some sense as media costs. It would entitle LU to a lot of publicity, invitations to hustings and significant press coverage throughout the campaign - media attention will not be given to assembly candidates on anywhere near the same scale. If our purpose in standing in these elections is to build LU, the mayoral ticket surely provides the greatest opportunity raise the organisation’s profile.

There may be other reasons suggested at the London aggregate for not standing an LU candidate, now that George Galloway has announced he will run - maybe some comrades will say we should back him. But it has to be said that Respect is now a dead duck and there seems little point in helping George boost his own ego. On the outside chance that Diane Abbott is selected as Labour’s candidate, there would be a worthwhile discussion on whether we ought to favour her. However, the supplementary vote system means we could recommend a second-preference vote for another left candidate.

While we are in favour of standing for mayor, the key point to make is that we are at the same time against the post of mayor (at least one with wide executive powers, as in London, as opposed to a mere figurehead). This is a Bonapartist role, where an individual presides over a massive budget and cannot be recalled before the end of their term. So we should stand, while at the same time campaigning to abolish the post of mayor and for power to be in the hands of the elected assembly members instead.

In terms of the GLA list, there is a possibility of getting a candidate elected with something like 5% of the vote for Left Unity. Respect narrowly missed out in 2004, when it polled 4.6%. The chances of keeping your deposit (£5,000 per party) are significantly higher - only 2.5% is required (though that may not be likely, given the left’s polling in recent years). It would also be possible to capitalise on the publicity given to mayoral candidates by linking the two together.

The other key issue relates not just to how and where we stand, but to the platform we campaign on. Quite correctly there was discussion at the London committee about the need to highlight internationalism, Europe, etc given that we were then facing the possibility (now pretty much a certainty) of an in/out referendum on the European Union. LU has strong politics on the issues of Europe and migration. In the current climate of increased nationalism and xenophobia it would be excellent to highlight our demand for open borders and for workers’ unity across the EU - Irish, Commonwealth and EU citizens resident in the UK all have a vote in these elections.

There has been a call for ‘left unity’ in the aftermath of the left’s typically abysmal vote in the general election. Why comrades continue to be shocked that they have fared so badly is a mystery. Lambeth LU is currently not in favour of standing in the London election - one assumes because the comrades were disheartened by Simon Hardy’s result in the general election in Vauxhall. Seriously! What were the comrades expecting? Meanwhile Tusc, starting from pitifully insignificant support in previous elections, saw its share of the vote substantially reduced in the May 7 general election.

The problem with Tusc, of course, is that it serves no purpose apart from being an electoral front of the Socialist Party in England and Wales (with half-hearted support from the Socialist Workers Party). In theory it is for a Labour Party mark two - SPEW calls for the unions to ditch Labour and set up a more leftwing version of the same thing, based on Tusc - but in reality it closes down between elections. Unlike LU, it is not a genuine partyist project. It is full of comrades who self-identify as Marxist putting forward politics designed to appeal to those elusive ‘ordinary workers’ who want a mythical ‘old’ Labour Party. In other words, they lie to the class about their real politics, in order gain electoral support - which never seems to come their way. Why vote for a Labour Party mark two when you can vote for the genuine article? Tusc has neither ‘brand identity’, to use capitalist buzz terminology, nor ‘social weight’.

In our view, LU should not stand as part of or on a joint slate with the dead-end that is Tusc. LU is a partyist project that exists between elections (maybe it’s time for a name change). It is also more democratic in its structures (trade union bureaucrats are not given the option of vetoing policy). Crucially, if we campaign on Europe or immigration any alliance with Tusc would prove damaging, as SPEW takes the ‘bosses’ club’ line on the EU (as if the UK was not a bosses’ club) and refuses to oppose all immigration controls (only the ‘racist’ ones are bad). When dealing with Tusc, we should make every effort not to split the left vote, particularly in the constituency elections, where a reciprocal support arrangement could apply: ie, we would vote for Tusc in constituency seats where neither LU nor a Labour left candidate is standing.

For these reasons, we would urge comrades in London LU to attend the London aggregate on Tuesday June 9 and support the motion passed by Hackney LU below:

“We support Left Unity standing in the GLA elections and possibly in the mayoral election in 2016. We will campaign for power to be placed in the hands of elected assembly members. LU should not stand under a joint Tusc banner, but every effort should be made to avoid clashes and splitting the left vote”.


1. See my report of the NC for further details (‘How not to organise’ Weekly Worker April 23).