How did the left do on May 5? Peter Manson reports
Predictably the results for the non-Labour left on May 5 were not exactly outstanding. Of course, we are accustomed to a poor showing for left candidates, but in current circumstances, where the main political battle that is being fought out right now is surely taking place in the Labour Party, what was, for example, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition trying to achieve?
Yes, we know that Tusc was opposing austerity, and therefore standing against Labour - whose candidates were committed, however reluctantly, to implementing the cuts to services imposed by Westminster. But I seem to recall that Tusc’s big idea was not just that of a single-issue anti-austerity campaign, but to take forward the project of a new “mass workers’ party”. And, in the first place, that party would not be committed to a revolutionary Marxist programme (however defined), but to a ‘broad’ platform, which all sections of the workers’ movement could support: in other words, a Labour Party mark two.
Of course, the main driving force behind both Tusc and the idea of such a Labour Party mark two has been the Socialist Party in England and Wales (the Socialist Workers Party, for its part, while always supporting Tusc at election time, has never given it the same priority as SPEW). And SPEW has been contending for the best part of two decades that Labour is no longer a bourgeois workers’ party, but a bourgeois party pure and simple. So the first step, according to this mindset, must be to win the unions to disaffiliate from Labour and sponsor instead a new party, of which Tusc would be the forerunner.
However, as this paper has previously pointed out, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader completely and definitively exposed SPEW’s bourgeois party theory as completely spurious. Corbyn convincingly saw off his four rivals, with just under 50% first-preference support from Labour members and an even larger vote from supporters, not least union members. At the very least this overwhelming victory should have given SPEW cause for thought.
It is true that SPEW, like the rest of the left, welcomed Corbyn’s victory and even admitted that a new situation had opened up. According to Tusc’s post-election report, “These were elections fought in a completely different context, compared to that in which previous Tusc campaigns have been conducted, with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership victory last autumn transforming the political situation.”1
In that case, what is the point of Tusc now? Everyone knows that there is not a cat in hell’s chance of any trade union coming on board its ‘new mass party’ project - not that it ever had much going for it, of course. Yet, despite all this, Tusc candidates stood in 289 council wards in England (312 candidates had originally been listed, but clearly a couple of dozen Tusc contests did not materialise).
The Tusc statement continues:
Tusc has been clear that it would not stand candidates against Labour politicians who have backed Jeremy Corbyn and resisted austerity in the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly or local councils. But the big majority of Labour’s elected representatives, from parliament to the local council chamber, did not support Jeremy Corbyn for leader and still continue to implement cuts to jobs and services.
So this confirms that Tusc is now just a single-issue campaign. Tusc declares that Labour candidates “should get the message from Thursday’s elections that, if they continue to attempt to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and implement the Tories’ austerity agenda, they can expect more challenges - in workplaces, in communities and on the streets, but also at the ballot box”. And how exactly does this electoral ‘tactic’ help defeat Labour’s pro-capitalist right and give backbone to the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership?
Tusc states that its candidates won an average of 3.2% of the vote and a total of 43,309. However, this average is raised considerably by good performances in a handful of wards. For example, ex-Labour councillor Kevin Bennett “narrowly failed to be re-elected in his Fairfield and Howley ward on Warrington borough council, polling 921 votes, just 76 votes behind the third-placed Labour candidate”.
And in Coventry Tusc won over 5% across the city, including 19.8% in St Michaels - the ward where SPEW leader Dave Nellist was a councillor from 1998 to 2012 (before that he had been a Labour MP representing Coventry South East from 1983 to 1992). The next best results were in Knowsley’s Shevington ward (23.5%), Poulton in Warrington (20.8%), Halewood South in Knowsley (17.3%) and Monk Bretton in Barnsley (13.7%), while in all 59 Tusc candidates polled over 5%.
Another candidate to exceed that score was Roger Bannister, who was standing for mayor in Liverpool. Comrade Bannister picked up 4,950 votes (5.1%), coming fourth behind Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, but ahead of the Tories, who polled a mere 3,533 votes.
Nevertheless, as Socialist Worker states, most results were “disappointing” (May 10). In Wales in particular, the three Tusc candidates for the regional lists were very poor - in fact even the Morning Star boasts: “The Welsh Communist Party won 2,452 votes across the four regions, ahead of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition on 2,040” (May 7-8).
In Scotland, Tusc won a total of 3,540 votes in six constituency seats, gaining between 1.3% (Renfrewshire North and West) and 3% (Glasgow Cathcart). By contrast both Solidarity and Rise (Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism, whose main slogan is: “For independence and socialism” - in that order, obviously) contested the regional lists only. Solidarity did slightly better, its 14,333 total (0.6%) causing it to remark, “we are stronger than before and increased our share of the vote!”2 Hmm. Equally unimpressive was the result for Rise - 10,911 votes (0.5%), while the Communist Party of Britain won 510 votes, standing in North East Scotland alone (0.08%).
Mind you, the prize for hyperbole goes to George Galloway, whose May 7 general email was headed: “Thank you for making history”. He was referring to his performance in the London mayoral election, where he was standing for Respect. Comrade Galloway states that he won “more than 210,000 votes”, which was “the highest vote for a socialist party in British history”!
First of all, both “socialist” and “party” are problematic in describing the tiny Respect group. Secondly, Galloway’s 37,007 first-preference votes represented just 1.4%, and even if you add his 117,080 second preferences that comes to rather less than “210,000”. He only arrives at that total by including the 41,324 London-wide votes for Respect, plus 17,010 constituency votes - ignoring the fact that everyone had three votes anyway.
The CPGB recommended a first-preference vote for Galloway as a protest at the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign against Labour members - most notably Ken Livingstone - that Sadiq Khan enthusiastically supported, calling for Livingstone’s expulsion. We were pleased to be amongst those giving comrade Galloway our first preference, in view of his robust opposition to the witch-hunt - even if we consider that his “making history” comment is ever so slightly overstated.
Finally, a mention of the elections to the Northern Ireland assembly, where, following its success in the south, the People Before Profit Alliance had two candidates elected on May 5: Gerry Carroll in West Belfast and Eamonn McCann in Foyle, two staunchly republican areas. In West Belfast, comrade Carroll actually topped the poll when it came to first preferences, with 8.299 (22.9%), but it has to be said that the Sinn Féin first preferences were split between its four candidates, who picked up a share ranging from 9.7% to 13.1%. All were eventually elected in this six-member constituency, along with the sole candidate representing the Social Democratic and Labour Party.
Under the complicated proportional election system in place in the Six Counties, comrade McCann picked up 4,176 first preferences (10.5%), the fifth highest total, and squeezed home on the eighth count, behind two candidates each from SF and the SDLP, plus one from the Democratic Unionist Party.
Obviously this form of PR makes a big difference to the chances of smaller groups, but the level of support for comrade Carroll in particular is nevertheless a cause for celebration.