Taaffe pulls out

LSA slate for London elections

The Socialist Party has withdrawn from the united campaign to be mounted by the London Socialist Alliance in June's Greater London Authority elections. The January 18 LSA meeting saw the SP present a resolution calling for the alliance in effect to abandon its London-wide challenge in the face of the refusal of the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation to reach an electoral agreement.

The key passages of this lengthy resolution state:

"This meeting recognises the significance of the decision of the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation (CATP) to stand in the London Assembly elections this year. There is growing anger towards New Labour's anti-working class policies, which is reflected in the support for Ken Livingstone, who is perceived as a radical alternative to Blairism.

"We recognise that the Labour Party no longer in any way represents the interests of workers. In its now open pursuit of Thatcherite policies, Blair's New Labour places the profits of the millionaires before the health, education, safety and pay of millions, making it an openly bosses' party.

"... the victory of Tommy Sheridan . in Scotland, Dave Nellist and Karen McKay for the Socialist Party in Coventry and, importantly for us, Ian Page for the Socialist Party in Lewisham show that where a credible candidate with a proven record stands, with a good campaign, a layer of people are prepared to vote for a socialist alternative.

"These victories will be a beacon and can be used to encourage others to also stand against Labour. We are likely to see more examples such as the Tameside careworkers, RASP campaigners in Killamarsh and victorious NHS campaigners in Kidderminster. The decision of the CATP to stand is also significant in this respect ...

"The CATP's decision to contest the GLA elections is significant because it represents the first tentative steps of a section of the trade union movement to stand against the Labour Party, albeit on the single issue of transport ...

"Given both the significance of the CATP and the desirability of presenting a broad socialist programme it would be wrong for the LSA to stand a slate against the CATP list. The London Socialist Alliance therefore agrees to support the CATP list for the London Assembly elections and only stand LSA candidates in the 14 constituencies, which is where we can best build support for socialist ideas."

While the debate to the motion revealed a variety of approaches among the component elements of the alliance, a broad consensus on the need for the LSA to press ahead was clear. John Rees of the Socialist Workers Party correctly pointed out that restricting our campaign only to local London constituencies would mean that it was "considerably diminished". Greg Tucker, LSA chair and member of Socialist Outlook, reminded the meeting that - despite recent rebuffs - LSA pressure on and engagement with the CATP continues. The motion was therefore "premature". Speaking for the Communist Party, Marcus Larsen recalled the LSA collapse before Scargill in the European elections of last year. That had been a mistake. To fold now in front of the CATP would be to seriously "compound the errors" made last June.

For the SP, Paula Mitchell suggested limiting our intervention to the local constituencies would be to concentrate "on where our strength is". These low horizons point, in fact, to the crumbling of the SP's own aspirations, not to any concern for the wider needs of the movement across London. Which left group has any real mass local strength anywhere? The SP's Ian Page is hardly a well known figure amongst Lewisham workers outside Pepys ward, where he was originally elected as a Labour Party councillor.

The resolution - predictably - was defeated by a show of hands of all comrades present, with five for, 11 against and no abstentions. The SP then asked for a vote by organisation. Just three groups supported the resolution - the SP itself, plus the small Workers International League and the representative of the practically defunct Independent Labour Network (although subsequently the comrade has indicated that given the importance of the LSA initiative, he will accept and work for the majority position - a principled stand). Against - the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, CPGB, ISG (SO), Socialist Workers Party and Workers Power.

Having lost the vote on this, the SP comrades read a prepared statement. This regretted the decision of the LSA to stand firm and outlined the group's rationale for retreat:

This is an important mistake on the part of the SP. While it will not greatly affect the preparations of the LSA - the SP has probably been the most reticent of the participating organisations despite the statement's snipes at others - it weakens the bloc. In fact, its intervention at the January 18 meeting appeared to have more of the character of an attempt to bring coherence to the position of the SP itself rather than a genuine attempt to shift the bloc as a whole. The inclusion in the resolution of the SP's untheorised and patently false characterisation of the Labour party as a purely "bourgeois" organisation - a position the comrades are well aware is shared by no other organisation in the alliance - plus the emphasis on its own marginal successes reinforces this impression.

Also, it should be noted that the SP has actually had a comrade intimately involved in the CATP throughout this period - he is now included on the campaign's provisional slate. Unlike tubeworkers associated with the AWL, there has been no evidence of this comrade positively agitating for electoral unity with the LSA. The localist approach now adopted by the SP in the capital could be seen as yet another expression of its growing loss of confidence and organisational decline. Active supporters of the LSA who have recently left the SP have speculated about Taaffe losing more members because of the latest about-turn.

Most comrades at the January 18 meeting energetically criticised the SP representatives for this collapse. Political developments in the capital remain very fluid, not least because of the challenge of Livingstone and the political space that will create. If the LSA followed the SP lead by pledging an unconditional vote to the CATP now, it would mean the left in the capital effectively making itself irrelevant to those potential developments. Why negotiate or strike a deal with forces that have just folded in front of you?

Despite the understandable reluctance of SP reps on the night to be drawn on the question, in this resolution and its associated statement Taaffe's organisation has officially stated that it will vote for the CATP slate against that of the LSA.

As leading comrades from the Socialist Workers Party pointed out on January 18, this could put SP activists in a pretty invidious position on the ground. I have highlighted the fact that, given the new restrictions applied to this election on free postal distribution of organisations' manifestos, having activists on the ground is at a premium (Weekly Worker January 13). In these circumstances, the distinction between the propaganda and work for local campaigns and that of the London-wide list will inevitably become pretty blurred.

Local candidates will also have to make clear their attitude to the London-wide contest in their constituency literature, in public meetings and the local press. Which slate will LSA constituency candidates who are also in the SP recommend?

Given SP practice in the past and its current feebleness, we anticipate that it will respond to such a difficult question with silence. However, this latest turn risks further splits and fragmentation. Boycotting the LSA slate will save the SP money, but nothing more.

The CATP is important. However, at present it does not equate to a mass convulsion from below, with new political leaders thrown forward as representatives of the whole class. If we were dealing with a movement that had the momentum of the miners in 1984-5 or 1992, which was now moving into the electoral field, there could be no argument. Anyone who then quibbled about offering anything other than support would be a hopeless sectarian. The situation is different with the single-issue CATP. The LSA majority is right to stand firm.

The LSA has now provisionally named five candidates out of 11 for its London-wide slate - Paul Foot (SWP), Janine Booth (AWL), Mark Steel (SWP), Greg Tucker (SO) and Kate Ford (Workers Power). However, our collective approach remains flexible and alive to political developments, particularly within the Living-stone camp. Some inevitable frictions aside, the LSA is illustrating through its work that principled and inclusive left unity is not simply a nice thought: it is the practical task of the day.

Mark Fischer