Left unity call

After June 10 European elections

As expected, the votes achieved by the Communist Party of Great Britain in last week’s EU elections were very low indeed - we had hoped for 2,000 or so. Our candidates, standing as the ‘Weekly Worker’ list, polled 878 in the North West and 846 in London (0.09% and 0.07% respectively).

The main reason for this was of course the undemocratic ban imposed by the registrar of political parties, preventing us standing under our own name. The excuse for this was that only one organisation bearing the name ‘communist’ could be allowed for electoral purposes, and the registrar, advised by a committee of MPs dominated by Labour, awarded the franchise to the Communist Party of Britain (Morning Star).

The CPB did not of course even consider contesting the EU elections itself. As usual it called for a vote for Labour, even though it was simultaneously condemning bomber Blair’s imperialist onslaught on Yugoslavia. But such niceties as which of the two organisations more accurately reflects the name ‘communist’ is the least of the registrar’s concerns.

Another reason for our low return was the fact that we were left to fight alone in both regions after our Socialist Alliance partners abandoned the field. The few weeks we had were inadequate to raise sufficient cash to organise a more powerful campaign, which could have included the printing and distribution of an election address to every household.

Nevertheless we made some impact, our challenge being at least mentioned on TV and radio and in the national press. But this publicity did not come close to compensating for the loss of our name, which undoubtedly cost us many thousands of votes.

The collapse of the SA outside the West Midlands - where the list headed by Dave Nellist won 7,303 votes (0.85%) - was caused by Arthur Scargill’s announcement that he was to be the Socialist Labour Party’s top candidate in London. First the Socialist Workers Party, followed in quick succession by the International Socialist Group (Socialist Outlook), the Independent Labour Network, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and the Socialist Party in England and Wales, decided they were not “viable” compared to Scargill. This cave-in in London coincided with a demoralised withdrawal in the North West too.

Only in London, where the SLP put in the most effort in terms of an election address (three million, featuring Scargill’s photograph, were delivered by Royal Mail), was anything like a respectable result achieved. The SLP gained 19,632 votes (1.72%). Elsewhere, the SLP was always beaten when opposed by a left bloc. Ken Coates’s Alternative Labour List won three times more votes than Scargill in the East Midlands and also headed the SLP in Yorkshire and Humber.

The Socialist Alliance beat the SLP’s total by more than 2,000 in the West Midlands, while in Scotland the SLP could only manage 9,385 votes (0.95%), as against the 39,720 (4.02%) for the Scottish Socialist Party. Last month’s election of Tommy Sheridan to the Scottish parliament has boosted the SSP’s fortunes across Scotland as a whole at Socialist Labour’s expense. In May the SLP surpassed the SSP’s total. Compared to then the SSP’s share of the vote doubled, while the SLP’s was more than halved.

Scargill delivered his promise of contesting in every region, winning 86,749 votes overall. But this represented less than one percent. Surely even Arthur will now have to drop his absurd boast that the SLP is “Britain’s fourth largest party”. Scargill’s pretence that his party’s membership is continuing to soar has already been dismissed by all but the most naive in view of the crumbling of most of the SLP’s organisation. But the June 10 poll destroyed the claim in terms of electoral support as well. Apart from the three main parties, the SLP was beaten by the UK Independence Party, the Green Party, the Pro-Euro Conservative Party and the BNP. If we discount three other groupings that won more support - the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Party (split from the Lib Dems) - on the grounds that none of them operate in all parts of Britain, then we can safely say that the SLP is the Britain’s eighth largest party, electorally at least.

The truth is that the SLP’s attempt to tap the chauvinistic Euroscepti-cism that exists in England particularly proved disastrous. Scargill’s decision to restrict his propaganda - both in his TV broadcast and his election address - almost entirely to the question of ‘pulling out’ of Europe backfired. The virtual absence of any kind of specifically working class opposition will no doubt have cost him support amongst the small minority of class conscious workers. He also failed to pick up much from those more backward workers who are opposed to the EU because they feel more attached to ‘British’ interests. Why vote for the UKIP mark II when you can back the real thing?

However, despite Scargill’s dire national socialist sectarianism, his ruthless ambition to create a new party with himself as its labour dictator at least ensured that voters in every part of Britain had the opportunity to put their cross against an organisation that had ‘socialist’ in its name. Which is more than can be said for the SWP and SPEW. While both groups were part of the Socialist Alliance (Nellist) slate in the West Midlands - which suffered a self-inflicted wound due to the foolish refusal to include Christine Oddy at the top of the list - elsewhere they deserted the field and, worse, refused to give their members and supporters a clear guidance on how to vote nationally.

Apart from the West Midlands, SPEW made only one recommendation: a vote for the SSP in Scotland. Socialist Worker backed in addition the Alternative Labour List in the East Midlands and advised its readers to vote SLP in London only. The ‘Weekly Worker’ list was predictably ignored. But what about the rest of the country? This was the first national election since May 1 1997, and the first ever under proportional representation. Yet the left was paralysed.

Clearly a vote for New Labour is now a big problem - not least for left Labour activists - but neither the SWP nor SPEW has the slightest confidence in their own ability to be part of a national alternative. (This contrasted sharply with the unity achieved by the Lutte Ouvrière/Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire bloc in France, whose alliance won over five percent.)

The Socialist’s coverage of the June 10 campaigns concentrated on the council by-election in Lewisham, south London and the parliamentary contest in Leeds Central. The morale of the beleaguered SPEW leadership will have been lifted by the Ian Page’s victory in Lewisham’s Pepys ward. Comrade Page, a former Militant Labour councillor, lost his seat in 1998 having been expelled from New Labour and announced his membership of Taaffe’s organisation. SPEW mobilised what remains of its London membership in a successful bid to build on comrade Page’s local popularity. He polled 786 votes (40.43%), and the announcement of Labour’s defeat led to scuffling in the hall between supporters of the Blairite candidate and their old Labour ‘comrades’.

The intervention of SPEW’s Chris Hill, standing for the Left Alliance in Leeds Central, was less inspiring. He won 258 votes (1.96%).

Comrade Page’s victory, following the success of Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow and Karen McKay in a Coventry council election last month, represents another small advance for the working class. It shows that workers will back a left alternative - if only it could muster some self-belief.

The CPGB’s Anne Murphy, who headed the ‘Weekly Worker’ list in London and is the coordinator of London Socialist Alliance, said: “We must learn the lessons of June 10. The building of a nationally coordinated alliance now assumes the greatest importance.”

But is the left capable of rising to that challenge?

Peter Manson