All indications are that Ken Livingstone will be a candidate for mayor. Whether he stands as ‘New Labour’ or as an independent, his candidacy - not to mention a victory - would be a blow against Blairism. It would create fluidity and perhaps the opportunity for revolutionaries to address the masses of working people still held in electoral thrall to the Labour Party. It is an important opportunity for revolutionaries to fight for a political space to the left of Blair’s party.
This period of delicate minuet between ‘Red Ken’ and the Millbank leadership has been preceded by a frustrating series of near-farcical attempts by the left outside Labour to unite for electoral work. Over and over again, the left’s seemingly congenital sectarianism and its sad lack of self-belief combined to wreck the project. Often, this weakness has, as a biproduct, manifested itself as bitter hostility to the CPGB, ironically the very organisation that has most consistently fought for an open, democratic and principled approach to left unity.
This hostility takes on quite absurd forms - none more so than the repeated refusal of all the factions that have been involved in the various unity attempts to even mention our name in their published reports. The latest of these entertaining ‘significant silences’ can be found in autumn’s deathly dull All Red and Green, the national bulletin of the Dave Nellist-John Nicholson Socialist Alliance. There is an inaccurate report of recent developments in the London Socialist Alliance by Nick Long. We read, for example, a comprehensive list of those participating ... excluding the CPGB, of course.
This latest manifestation of the LSA has proved to be a pretty flimsy affair so far. Its next meeting takes place on November 24, with Patrick Sikorski invited to speak on behalf of the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation. CATP has taken the decision to stand a list of 11 candidates for the Greater London Authority elections, although doubts are still being expressed whether the campaign will have sufficient cohesion or cash to actually deliver.
CATP would be able to merge pretty seamlessly with any Livingstone campaign. Ken repeatedly insists that the miserable state of transport in London is at the core of his challenge. Bearing in mind that so many of the LSA groups involved have expressed the fear of lacking ‘credibility’ with the voters, such a package is inviting.
There are therefore likely to be tensions within the alliance between those committed to a version of left unity and those who have been markedly less enthusiastic - the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, for example. Similarly, Sikorski is apparently coming under pressure from his co-thinkers in the bedraggled Fourth International Supporters Caucus to keep the rest of the left at arm’s length.
The decision to stand was confirmed at a CATP meeting on November 9 attended by about 35 comrades. There alongside Sikorski were the likes of Fiscite Brian Heron, a man renowned for his dirty anti-left witch hunts in the Socialist Labour Party.
Comrade Greg Tucker, secretary of the LSA, leading RMT militant and member of Socialist Outlook, is keen to develop cooperation between the CATP and LSA. There has been talk of possibly bringing together a joint slate. While various Fiscite leftovers may balk at such a suggestion, the RMT is setting the pace. It probably realises that bringing the left on board is the best option it has for giving itself an activist base to service a campaign of any type.
All of us should welcome the fact that an initiative supported by the transport unions in London - a bloc whose leadership remains militantly un-Blairised - has committed itself to standing candidates against Labour, possibly in concert with a huge independent challenge from Livingstone. However, these developments underline once again the opportunities the socialist and revolutionary organisations have let slip over the past period. A viable left bloc - if it had been built in a committed and non-sectarian way - could now be a position to fight for political hegemony over these developing splits from Labour.
The left may find itself once again in the guard’s van - not the vanguard.