Lacking the will to win in Manchester
Local elections in May 1998 could be fought by Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance candidates on an agreed minimum platform of working class demands. A united left challenge would send a shock wave through the Labour Party bureaucracy in Manchester.
Discussions to bring this about were launched in Manchester Town Hall on November 27, when the first of several meetings to discuss electoral strategy was held by the GMSA. Many left organisations in the region were invited, and the meeting was attended by representatives of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Socialist Party, Socialist Movement and dissident members of the Socialist Labour Party.
The centrepiece of the discussions was a CPGB proposal for a joint campaign in the elections. There were, of course, some differences expressed with the proposal. SP members stated that they could not possibly respond until their organisation had decided its position in January. SM supporters said that any move to oppose Labour would create problems for them since they were still Labour Party members. However, the SLP members present stated that their campaign to win branches to work with the Alliance, despite Scargill’s intransigent sectarianism, may yet bear fruit.
It is quite clear that comrades in the SA who still maintain an organisational link with Labour are hypersensitive on the issue of electoral strategies. Socialist Outlook declined to attend the meeting at all, while Alliance for Workers’ Liberty members contented themselves with selling papers outside. And now that Labour is in government committed to attacking the working class, there is even less excuse for such head-in-the-sand inactivity. Comrades in the Labour Party should dare to be dissidents. Wards should take up the SA’s minimum platform and defy the Blairites. If they are kicked out for being principled, then they have a home in the SA.
Both the CPGB and the SP (and previously as Militant Labour) have a history of standing against Labour in Manchester, and have every intention of doing so again in May 1998. John Killen of the SP said, however, that the GMSA is not yet capable of building an electoral alliance. In that case we would be obliged if the comrade would answer these questions: Does the SP want to work towards standing GMSA candidates? What conditions does the GMSA need to meet to be up to the job?
Margaret Manning, also of the SP, said that the GMSA does not have the campaigning record to sustain an electoral challenge. But her own party comrades on the steering committee have repeatedly poured cold water on suggestions that the GMSA should build its campaigning presence. And frankly the argument is in any case tosh. Electoral campaigns are, for revolutionaries, about raising a tribune of the oppressed, not simply capitalising on previous campaigns. The SP needs only look to its own comrades in the Scottish Socialist Alliance for an example of this.
It has been claimed that the national question has created different conditions in Scotland, but this is a tartan herring. Apart from Tommy Sheridan’s personal vote, the SSA performed comparably to the SP in the rest of Britain, the national question notwithstanding. In Coventry Dave Nellist has retained a credible electoral presence, partly because of his commitment to the SA.
Frankly, what the Socialist Party is exhibiting in Manchester is a crisis of political will. If the comrades want the GMSA to remain a toothless debating society, why don’t they come out and say so? Or do they think the SP should try to go it alone a là SWP?
The GMSA has the potential to be much more than it is, but may be paralysed by the fear of opposing Labour, and by a lack of political ambition. Both trends must be defeated.
CPGB motion to GMSA - May 1998 local elections
GMSA brings together organisations of the left in Manchester for joint discussion and action. A key area for joint action is in fighting for a working class agenda in elections, and in particular, in the local council elections to be held in May 1998.
May 1 1997 saw the election of a government which is sympathetic to the interests of business and antagonistic to the interests of the working class. The Labour government is dedicated to modernising, underpinning and stabilising capitalism in Britain. The interests of the working class will therefore be best served in these elections by the left opposing Labour in a campaign coordinated by the Socialist Alliance.
In pursuance of this objective Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance resolves as follows:
Affiliated organisations of Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance will field the maximum number of candidates possible in the May 1998 local elections in Manchester and the surrounding areas. Agreement will be reached on the wards to contest and the candidates to stand. No GMSA affiliate will campaign against an agreed GMSA candidate.
A minimum platform of working class demands will be agreed as the basis for a joint campaign. These demands will be incorporated into the campaign propaganda of all candidates standing with the agreement of the Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance.
Other left organisations
Left organisations outside the Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance will be approached with a view to taking co-operative measures during the May 1998 elections. At a maximum this might mean joining the GMSA and becoming integral to the campaign. At a minimum this might mean not fielding candidates against each other.
All organisations and candidates which will not, or do not, meet at least the provisions of the minimum platform are considered opposition organisations and candidates. All opposition candidates are fair game for the Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance to stand a candidate against. The GMSA will not recommend a vote for opposition candidates, even where no other candidate is standing.
Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance will create and distribute propaganda to highlight its joint approach to the elections. The GMSA propaganda will be used by all GMSA-agreed candidates. Affiliates to the GMSA will work actively in, and make resources available to, the campaigns of agreed GMSA candidates, whether or not their own organisation is fielding candidates.
Affiliate organisations which field agreed Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance candidates may supplement the GMSA propaganda material with their own. All such propaganda used in the campaigns of agreed candidates will call for a vote for all agreed GMSA candidates