Socialist Party feels the heat

Socialist Workers Party members were mobilised to the Greenwich and Lewisham Socialist Alliance meeting on Monday February 10, doubling the attendance compared to the previous meeting to 60. As a result of this timely move a welcome decision to support the LSA proportional representation list in the Greater London assembly elections was made. This was done against rearguard opposition from the Socialist Party, including the constituency candidate, sitting Lewisham councillor and SP member Ian Page, at whom the motion was directed.

The proposal, moved by the SWP's Guy Taylor and carried by an overwhelming majority with the support of Alliance for Workers' Liberty and CPGB comrades, was originally tabled by the CPGB's Marcus Larsen at the January 31 meeting (see Weekly Worker February 3). It read: "That the candidate of the Lewisham and Greenwich constituency for the GLA elections work in cooperation with the SA slate for London as a whole to maximise the socialist vote on May 4."

This steps up the pressure on the SP to drop its support for the CATP list, which, by dividing the left vote across London, could squander the very real possibility of a united left winning at least one GLA seat if we gain over five percent of the vote. Nevertheless supporters of the motion all made clear their backing for Ian Page as local candidate. This was not an attempt to remove him, but to focus on the prime importance of achieving a united left PR list and to get the SP to see sense.

Chairperson Nick Long ruled the item out of order on the grounds that it had been dealt with at the preceding meeting - where it had been defeated by 19 votes to 11, only then to be "left on the table" for later consideration on the proposal of the SP. He then invited a two thirds vote to overturn the chair's ruling, and was duly defeated by 40 votes to 16. After debate, the motion was "clearly carried" on a show of hands.

An SP motion, taken as an amendment, was defeated. Failing to appreciate the opportunity for the left presented by proportional representation, the motion gave greater importance to "a credible candidate with a proven record ... with a good campaign", such as Tommy Sheridan for the Scottish Socialist Party in Glasgow, Dave Nellist in Coventry - or Ian Page in Lewisham. The CATP list "represents the first tentative steps of a section of the trade union movement to stand against the Labour Party", which is "part of the process towards building a new workers' party". In the interests of unity locally, the SP proposed that Greenwich and Lewisham SA should "not formally support either list", leaving the constituent organisations "free to campaign for either list".

Nick Long had reported earlier on a London Alliance (LA) meeting - which he characterised as "ex-Labour Party people" - where a "strong feeling for left unity" was displayed, and he had moved a successful motion "to work with the LSA". The SWP's Rob Hoveman had offered the LA two places on the LSA list, which showed that "encouraging developments" were taking place. Therefore, he argued, we should "hold fire": that is, there was no need to decide which slate to support.

For the successful motion, Guy Taylor argued that the LSA's "slate has a chance", while socialists have "no chance locally" under first-past-the-post. Waiting another two weeks before deciding which slate to back would lose valuable campaigning time. The way to achieve electoral unity was to "make the LSA campaign so strong and vibrant that the CATP cannot refuse". The CATP, he argued, is not run by the RMT, but only a group within it. Three RMT branches have voted in the past three weeks to support the LSA list, which includes two RMT candidates, one of whom, Greg Tucker, recently gained 34% of the vote in the union leadership election against Jimmy Knapp. The CATP is led by a "small group who broke from the SLP and took their cretinism with them."

The AWL's Duncan Morrison pointed to the narrowness of the CATP, coming from only the RMT, not even uniting the rail unions. The LSA has left spaces on its list for the CATP, but cannot delay without undermining its own campaign. And Jim Hill of the AWL spoke of a CATP meeting which he attended, where it was evident they were "not interested in the LSA". Furthermore, despite their title, they were not even against tube privatisation, he said, being in favour of funding London Underground through a "bonds issue" - that is, Livingstone's method.

Like Nick Long, Ian Page argued to "wait for developments". The SP motion "recognised that the LSA attempted to reach an electoral agreement with the CATP, and that to date this has not been successful" - implying that the CATP might still come on board, just as the SP's Wally Kennedy had begged for unity at last week's west London SA rally: "Why can't we have a united list?" This ignores the hostility and sectarianism of the misleaders of the CATP, and pretends that the SP has not yet decided which slate to support. According to Guy Taylor, Wally had ordered 10,000 CATP election leaflets. Perhaps the SP is really waiting to see which way Livingstone's luck goes, whether he jumps the Labour Party ship, and whether he accommodates CATP in his list, as they hope. The SP is not fighting for principle, but simply trying to have its cake and eat it - an opportunist manoeuvre which leaves its Lewisham councillor at the sharp end.

This meeting, at which Greenwich and Lewisham SA support for the LSA list was resolved, was coloured - perhaps discoloured might be a better description - by yet another attempt by Nick Long to exclude the CPGB/Weekly Worker demon. The Independent Labour Network's lonely partisan, Toby Abse, together with comrade Long and Terry Liddle, who as the Green Party GLA candidate in the same constituency will actually be standing against both comrade Page and the LSA, put their names to an emergency motion which in the name of anti-fascism and anti-racism, sought to "permanently exclude ... members of the CPGB and other supporters of the Weekly Worker ... from membership of our Alliance and ... from any further participation in electoral or campaigning activity organised by our Alliance." Further, "those members of our Alliance who support the LSA undertake to call for a similar ultimatum on a London-wide level."

Our crime was Eddie Ford's piece, 'Beyond the pale' (Weekly Worker February 3), which was, according to the motion, "a qualified defence" of Nazi apologist David Irving, "recommending" one of his books. The ultimatum: to avoid permanent exclusion, the CPGB must "publicly apologise for, and repudiate, this disgusting article in the next edition of the Weekly Worker. Furthermore, given the terrible damage they have done to the SA image amongst London's ethnic minorities ... it is the duty of the CPGB to bring such an apology to the notice of such journals as The Voice and The Jewish Chronicle."

Thanks to an amendment by the SP, the very worst excesses of the motion - inflicting "permanent exclusion", etc. - were deleted. However, even the amendment maintained the threat of exclusion, albeit in a less immediate form, requiring "all members and organisations within the Greenwich and Lewisham SA to "abide by the policy of no platform for racism and fascism" and to "unite in total opposition to fascist propaganda of any form if they are to continue as members of the Alliance". Stan Kelsey for the CPGB opposed the motion, ridiculing the claim that the article was any kind of "defence" of Irving, and pointing out that calling for state censorship - in this case book-banning - was making a rod for our own backs. The motion invoked the 1936 Battle of Cable Street, but at that time the Communist Party campaigned - successfully, but wrongly - for the enactment of the Public Order Act, so that fascist marches could be banned from Jewish areas. But of course it was never used against the right: always against the left.

The amended motion, opposed by the CPGB, along with AWL comrades, was carried by a substantial majority. The bulk of the SWPers, mobilised for a different purpose, spontaneously backed the 'no platform' policy as an inflexible principle (rather than understanding it as a tactic to be used in appropriate circumstances) and overlooked the divisive implication of the amended motion.

The CPGB is, of course, totally opposed to "fascist propaganda of any form". But the most effective weapon to employ - not only to oppose it, but defeat it - is the truth. And truth needs the freedom to disagree.

Ian Farrell