Unity through debate

Socialist unity in London is moving forward. The first candidates for the list of the London Socialist Alliance have been chosen, local organising committees have been set up and the first public meetings and fundraising events will go ahead in the next few days. Of course, this process cannot happen without friction and a degree of conflict.

Organising committees for the purpose of choosing LSA candidates have been set up in most local boroughs. Reports indicate that so far these meetings have been characterised by a comradely, democratic, and business-like approach. The first organising meeting of the Lambeth and Southwalk Socialist Alliance last week was a good example of what unity the left needs. All the participating organisations sent one or two representatives and the debate was very inclusive and open. Suggestions for possible candidates were put forward and the alliance will take a vote at their next meeting.

North east London has been a partial exception. At a January 20 meeting hosted by Hackney Socialist Alliance to discuss options for a candidate for the constituency of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest, the Socialist Workers Party used its relative numerical strength to force through its desired candidate against the wishes of others for a postponed decision. Given the sympathies of most comrades at the meeting for the SWP's nominee anyway, this smacked of unnecessary heavy-handedness.

Most of the participating organisations (the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, the CPGB, the Socialist Party, Workers Power, and Socialist Outlook) sent representatives to the meeting. The Socialist Workers Party however turned out 23 comrades to support their preferred candidate, Jim Stanley. Jim is the brother of Harry Stanley, who was shot dead by the Metropolitan Police in September 1999. He is now a leading figure in the 'Justice For Harry Stanley Campaign', an initiative heavily involving the SWP.

However, Workers Power also put forward its comrade, Kate Ford, as a potential candidate. Thus, most comrades felt it useful to organise a proper hustings meeting to finalise our decision. This way, more unattached socialists could be drawn, and the meeting could be advertised properly and attract a wider audience. Also, comrades wanted to go back to their organisations and get an official mandate to vote for either one of the two.

Beccy Palmer of the SWP made it quite clear that her organisation intended to call the tune. "We are by far the biggest organisation. I've got 500 people in Hackney and we are going to do most of the work. It is only fair that we decide here and now on a candidate," she underlined.

The proposal to adopt the voting structure of the London Socialist Alliance - one organisation, one vote - was rejected not only by the SWP, but also by Fred Leplat, the representative from Socialist Outlook.

Although other representatives of the participating organisations urged the SWP to agree to postpone the selection of the candidate, the vote was taken, with the predictable result. There was no question that most comrades - SWP and others - felt Jim was the best candidate and that they would have voted for him anyway, especially as Kate Ford will be on the PR slate of the LSA.

But this is not the point. All organisations are involved in a joint campaign. Unity is not about forcing through the opinion of the biggest organisation. It is about debating controversial issues in an open and democratic manner and trying to convince the others that your opinion is the correct one.

The LSA has functioned very successfully on an inclusive basis and the SWP has never attempted to use its numerical strength to bulldoze through decisions at other meetings. Comrades hope that this Hackney/Northeast London meeting was only a glitch on the way to the open and democratic unity the left needs.

Tina Becker

Inclusive alliance

The Camden and Barnet Socialist Alliance met on January 25 to select a candidate for the forthcoming Greater London Authority elections. Candy Udwin - a prominent SWP activist and outstanding Unison militant at University College London Hospital - was our unanimous choice.

It is more than ironic that New Labour's candidate will be the UCLH's personnel officer, someone with a long track record of attacks on workers' rights and conditions in the NHS, and who not surprisingly fully backs the government's Thatcherite programme for the privatisation of the underground.

Showing the incorporative nature of our alliance, Candy was nominated by Barry Walden for the SWP and seconded by John Bridge for the CPGB. It was also unanimously agreed that the election agent would be a non-SWP member. The first meeting of the Camden and Barnet Socialist Alliance was attended by no more than a dozen comrades, but discussed ambitious plans to take a full part in the LSA's election campaign. While the SWP was fully represented, along with comrades from the CPGB and the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, the Socialist Party in England and Wales was noticeable by its absence. This was regretted by the meeting, as was the refusal of the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation to join the LSA slate.

John Bridge