Farcical Labour Party mark two
Tusc’s February 3 convention was, by any objective assessment, an abject failure. Most of the organisations represented amount to no more than political dust, reports Carla Roberts
Leaders of the Socialist Party in England and Wales cannot possibly be happy with the outcome of its ‘Convention to organise a working class challenge at the general election’. Staged by its electoral front, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, it attracted little support and little enthusiasm.
Yes, the event managed to take a few decisions and agreed to “attempt to contest” enough seats to reach the “fair media coverage threshold” that would give Tusc the right to a TV broadcast. It also agreed a set of “minimum policies” for Tusc candidates, while confirming that they can still “campaign independently” and “beyond the core platform”1 (more on that below).
For months, SPEW’s Clive Heemskirk had been writing to all and sundry, urging them to mount a united challenge at the next general election. And yet, only 10 groups were represented by the 50 or so people who had travelled to the Carrs Lane Church Centre in Birmingham (another 23 attendees watched on Zoom) - and that includes 10 delegates each from SPEW, its youth wing, Socialist Students, and the ‘Tusc Independent Socialists’. Of the seven remaining groups, only one was what could be called enthusiastic about Tusc - the born again Spartacist League.
“We were not actually invited and had to fight to be here, but we are here with the full 10 delegates and we will do everything to build Tusc”, longstanding SL member Eibhlin McDonald announced. A slightly embarrassed Dave Nellist had to assure the convention that this was not down to sectarianism: “We only invited groups who had previously stood in elections, but of course you are welcome,” he said rather unconvincingly. After all, previously Tusc had insisted on organisations having what were called “social roots”, which would nowadays bar SPEW from affiliation, let alone the Sparts.
Nonetheless, they had submitted a couple of amendments and were allowed to make an intro speech of seven minutes, they were, however, the only group present that was not listed in the pre-meeting blurb online and in Tusc’s many emails.2
It transpired that, although they had “applied to join Tusc”, a decision has not yet been taken by the executive - and it is easy to see why. SPEW will be seriously worried that the presence of one of the more eccentric sects on the British left will tarnish its campaign, which is floundering as it is.
But, to make matters worse, Tusc also rather idiotically organises on the basis of “consensus decision-making”, which sounds ever so democratic, but is anything but. In theory, it gives tiny sects like the Sparts a veto (though comrade McDonald actually said in her speech that “we are not demanding a veto”). In reality, of course, it means that the majority is likely to pressurise a minority into shutting up. Much better to have the open clash of different ideas, with minorities being able to put their dissenting views forward, have them voted on and publicly recorded.
In any case, the Sparts were the only non-SPEW group that showed up with more than one or two delegates. They are planning, if allowed, “to stand one candidate under the Tusc banner, because Tusc draws a class line”, according to comrade McDonald.
Most of the other organisations present seemed to have come along merely to explain why they were not going to get involved with Tusc:
- George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain announced: “We will not be standing under the Tusc banner. We want to keep our own identity, but that might change in future.”
- The newly founded Transform (which is ‘the Breakthrough Party’ plus a few odds and sods3) was represented by Nick Long, who said that “we want to get the name of our new party out there. The results that Tusc has been getting are poor, not to say piss poor”. Another Transform member on Zoom later clarified that the organisation’s “executive committee has not yet made a formal decision regards Tusc”.
- Asa Jones from the tiny Social Justice Party said that it is “up to our members to make the decision to participate or not”, but later clarified that the party only has two branches, in “Scarborough and Whitby”.
- Roger Silverman from the Campaign for a Mass Workers’ Party said on Zoom that he was just there to observe.
- System Change was presented by Peter Foster (“I’m kind of the leader”), who admitted, “we are what is left of Resist” (which is clearly not very much after the departure of Chris Williamson, who has since joined the Workers’ Party). In his unfocused opening remarks, he did not really clarify if System Change (“which is now registered as a party again”) would join Tusc or is even considering standing candidates.
- The snappily-titled Organising Corbyn-Inspired Socialist Alliance (OCISA) seems to have attended only to move a (successful) amendment to ensure that Tusc will not stand against its sole candidate in Keir Starmer’s seat of Holborn and St Pancras.
SPEW is still waiting on ‘big hitters’ (this is all relative!) like the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and the Socialist Workers Party to change their mind and get involved - but it appears they did not even reply to Clive Heemskirk’s emails.
One would be hard-pressed to find a rational argument explaining why all these organisations continue to insist on doing their own thing. The left in Britain is currently split into more sects, grouplets and ‘parties’ than for many years - some old, some new. It is certainly not that their programmes are miles apart from one another - in fact, pretty much all of these groups agree that the working class can only cope with warmed-up Keynesianism. After the failure of the Corbyn movement, much of the left has kept his sub-reformist programme in the mistaken belief that it was For the many, not the few (2017) and It’s time for real change (2019) that explained Corbynmania and not the fact that Corbyn was in a position - unlike today’s tiny left groups - where it looked like he could actually implement some minor changes.
Accordingly, the convention was dominated by rather eccentric participants representing tiny groups and ‘pop-up parties’ - or just themselves. For example, most of the amendments to the six ‘convention propositions’ prepared by SPEW were submitted by “individual members of Tusc”, including a parish councillor from Kegworth. They were displaying a lot of confusion - reflected in the convention itself - about what Tusc actually is and what this event was supposed to achieve.
After a few speakers argued that Tusc should help build a “new umbrella organisation” for the general elections, “bringing together the left”, SPEW general secretary Hannah Sell insisted that, don’t you know it, “Tusc already is an umbrella organisation and you should all consider joining”.
But particularly since the departure of its only union affiliate, RMT, in July 2022, Tusc has struggled to shake off its image as a mere SPEW front - and this convention showed once again that that is exactly what it is. Any amendment arguing that it should not be the “unsuccessful” Tusc moniker on the ballot paper, but a name like “Independents”, “Left Bloc” or one “yet to be democratically agreed” was voted down by the clear majority of SPEW members in the room.
Comrade Sell clarified the real purpose of the convention: “The Socialist Party is planning on standing 40 candidates as Tusc, but we need 98 people standing under the same name and on the same programme in order to get a TV broadcast.” Dave Nellist further explained:
Tusc might not find financial resources in the coming general election to achieve that - we would need around £60,000 to pay for deposits and such. In the general election of 2015, we stood 135 candidates and 619 council candidates, which made us the sixth biggest party in the country in terms of number of candidates.
There is no chance of that happening now, he admitted, explaining that it “is much easier today though to stand candidates in the local elections. No deposits are required and it only needs two signatures per seat. 340 council candidates standing on the same platform would get us a TV broadcast.” And yet, judging by the February 3 event, this seems like a long shot.
Tusc went into hibernation when Corbyn was elected Labour leader. SPEW decided to apply to affiliate to Labour … but heaved a sigh of relief when they were turned down by Jennie Formby. But effectively sitting out Corbynism has done the organisation no favours - like many groups, it has shrunk (the CWI split and the formation of Socialist Alternative certainly points to that conclusion).
And yet Corbynism has clearly infected SPEW too. The convention’s proposition 3 states: “The joint election challenge will not in general seek to contest seats against leftwing Labour candidates or left MPs or ex-MPs standing as independents.”4 Socialist Students put forward a successful amendment that “encourages local Tusc groups to send delegations to Labour prospective parliamentary candidates to ask where they stand on Corbyn’s 2019 manifesto”.
While it can be a good idea to challenge left Labour candidates, we could think of many better questions, particularly considering the current genocidal campaign by Israel against the Palestinians. In his speech moving the amendment, Adam Powell-Davis (national organiser of Socialist Students), told the convention:
Corbyn’s programme moved the consciousness of a whole generation. He put forward the answers to the crisis in today’s society. He pointed to the super-rich and said let them pay for it. The Corbyn programme is a good standard for anybody standing in elections.
I am not sure the comrade has actually read It’s time for real change. I did and, I have to admit, I did not spot any convincing “answers to the crisis in today’s society”. Sure, the Corbyn leadership wanted to reverse some of the austerity politics of the Tories and increase the economic role of the state, while repealing some anti-trade unions laws. But, as the CPGB/Labour Party Marxists theses on Corbynism pointed out, the programme was committed to Britain “continuing wage-slavery, the monarchy, a member of Nato and armed with US-controlled nuclear weapons”.5
The role of socialists surely is to critically examine such sub-Keynesian, illusory attempts to run British capitalism on behalf of the working class, rather than simply celebrate them. But the amendment was, of course, overwhelmingly carried.
The “minimum policies” or “core principles” that Tusc candidates are supposed to agree to are dominated by SPEW’s illusionary and long-standing belief that it can nationalise its way to socialism - which is here defined as “bringing into democratic public ownership the major companies and banks that dominate the economy, so that production and services can be planned to meet the needs of all and to protect the environment”.6
Amazingly, there were also no amendments to the short point dealing with Israel’s war on the Palestinians, which parrots imperialism’s ludicrous pretence that there is any chance of a two-state ‘solution’: “Justice for the Palestinians, lift the siege of Gaza and the occupied territories, recognise the state of Palestine.”
This is a long-standing, if increasingly idiotic, SPEW policy. As the CPGB/LPM thesis on the question comments,
We cannot expect Israel, as presently constituted, to concede the territory necessary to create a viable Palestinian state. Without a serious transformation of the regional, and indeed global, balance of forces, any such solution will simply not happen. Benjamin Netanyahu has the virtue of making that abundantly clear.7
There were only two slightly interesting amendments to the “minimum policies”, which focused on proportional representation and union rights for prison officers.
Both the Social Justice Party and Michael Westcombe (“Tusc individual member”) wanted to delete the demand for “proportional representation, for local, regional and national elections” - with some of the most absurd arguments I have heard for a long time. Apparently, according to the speaker from the SJP, “in every part of the world where PR has been introduced, it moves society to the right”. Michel Westcombe claimed that “PR is the engine of fascism”! You see, it is not about failed revolutions or street-fighting gangs trying to smash the organised working class or the inability of capitalism to rule society directly - no, fascism is driven by PR. Bizarre.
See ‘Sixty seconds and no politics’ Weekly Worker November 30 2023: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1469/sixty-seconds-and-no-politics.↩︎
‘Critical but not unconditional’, Weekly Worker May 2 2019: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1249/critical-not-unconditional.↩︎
‘Israel-Gaza war and communist strategy’ Weekly Worker January 25: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1475/israel-gaza-war-and-communist-strategy.↩︎