Approach too late

Former Labour MEP Christine Oddy responds to West Midlands Socialist Alliance claims that she had rejected unity moves

It is with a sense of regret and weariness that I feel compelled to write a reply to the article by Dave Nellist (Weekly Worker July 8). The sequence of events detailed in that article and the contents of the fact sheet are not accurate. It would be possible to give a detailed account of what aspects I disagree with, but that would be tedious to the reader and would divert attention from the real issues, which are why the left did so badly in the recent European elections and what steps can be taken to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated in local elections and the next general election.

I shall restrict my comments to a few points. The treasurer of the Coventry and Warwickshire Socialist Alliance did not ask me to go on the Socialist Alliance list in October. He spoke to me briefly on September 25, as a friend, in an unofficial, unrepresentative capacity, and said some people were suggesting I should go on the Socialist Alliance list and that would help out with the £5,000 deposit. This was only four days after I had learned that I had been effectively deselected and was in the process of asking for an appeal and alternatively preparing a legal challenge.

Labour Party members in my Euro constituency have not behaved in such a supine manner as in other areas and have put up a spirited campaign in my defence, including picketing Labour Party Euro conference and a meeting of the NEC at Millbank Tower. Most constituencies have passed resolutions of support and a few passed resolutions withdrawing their labour from election campaign work. While Labour Party members were prepared to give me clear backing, it was right and proper to remain loyal to them.

After the April 28 Workers Memorial Day commemoration I had a coffee with Dave Nellist. As a courtesy to me he wanted to inform me that there would be a Socialist Alliance list and gave me details of the candidates. I felt this was a fait accompli and knew there had been a democratic selection conference to arrange the list. If only the Labour Party had been so democratic! He asked me what I would be doing in the future and how often MEPs went to Brussels. As I was aware that there was a sizeable public protest emerging to spoil ballot papers by writing Christine Oddy on them and as I had been advised that this would probably be counted as a valid Labour vote, I knew I had to withdraw from the Labour list to allow the public to give vent to their fury by spoiling their ballot papers. I told Dave this in confidence but in the event the Labour Party suspended me first on May 6 on the derisory grounds that I had not been working hard enough.

On May 10 it was announced on national radio that I was standing as an independent. Dave left a message with my PA on May 12 asking me to go on the Socialist Alliance list so that we could pool resources, but by that date I was publicly committed to standing as an independent.

Instead of a squabble between people who have worked well together in the past in the same city it would be better to look at why the overall result for the left was so poor. People are rapidly becoming disenchanted with New Labour, but returned to the Conservatives or opted for the UK Independence Party or the British National Party rather than turning to the leftwing alternatives. A worrying trend is that the combined vote of Socialist Alliance and Socialist Labour in the West Midlands was less than that of the BNP.

My vote was the best in the country after parties which actually won seats with 36,849 votes and 4.34% of the vote. I achieved 24.86% in Coventry North West, 24.05% in Coventry North East and 22.56% in Coventry South. In constituencies which I had only represented for five years I was achieving scores of 12.31% in Nuneaton, 11.45% in North Warwickshire and 10.78% in Rugby and Kenilworth. In Coventry North West only 207 votes separated Labour, Conservatives and myself and Geoffrey Robinson MP would have lost his seat if it had been a general election. In Coventry South I was only 54 votes behind Labour and Jim Cunningham MP would have lost his seat.

So how did I achieve such a good result? Partly because I campaigned against the election system itself which is oppressive, undemocratic, treats the public as morons, incapable of distinguishing between the relative merits of candidates, and shifts accountability of the elected representative from the voter to the political party. Further, the counting method gives a disproportionate advantage to the larger political parties. The Birmingham Post ran an article after the election to show that, instead of the distribution of seats being four Conservative, three Labour, one Lib Dem, if a different method been used the distribution would have been three Conservative, two Labour, one Lib Dem, one Green, one UK Independent. The system was clearly chosen to maximise the entrenchment of the large political parties in the British system and is unfair to the electorate.

Further, I campaigned on my record as a hard working constituency MEP (as Dave did in 1992). Over the 10 years that I have been an MEP I have put working with constituents before working with the party and have tried to look outwards, working with community groups, voluntary organisations, international and development bodies, pensioners, disabled people, trade unions and Coventry Trade Union Council. I do not wish to see the left fragment in Britain.

We need to have a constructive discussion to see how we can reach out to more people.