Vote Livingstone Vote LSA

Ken Livingstone's announcement that he is to run for mayor of the Greater London Authority, without a slate, opens up a tremendous space for the London Socialist Alliance - and with it the real possibility of independent working class advance.

Already the LSA has been given useful publicity, as Frank Dobson and the Millbank machine, desperate to eat into Livingstone's huge lead in the opinion polls, try to smear him in every way they can. On the day Ken declared his candidacy the former health secretary alleged that his rival was already running scared of "the extremists": "He is cancelling his rally tonight which would have seen more support from the Socialist Alliance," declared Dobson. The Evening Standard echoed this, citing "suggestions from his opponents that, if it went ahead, it would bring out the far left and do him more harm than good" (March 6).

In fact the 'Stand down, Frank' rally was for Labour Party members only and had been planned as part of the campaign for Livingstone to replace Dobson as official Labour candidate. The left would certainly have been present outside, as it has been at every Livingstone event, but this would hardly have been the main feature of the occasion.

There are two reasons for the cancellation - reasons which will no doubt shape his whole campaign. Firstly, the one given: that the membership of Labour card-holders could be jeopardised if they openly associate themselves with someone standing against the official candidate. There is no doubt that, for the moment, despite his suspension from the party, 'Red' Ken does not want to split Labour - at least not until he believes his own personal ambitions (which are certainly not restricted to assuming the leadership of some small, left of centre grouping) would be substantially advanced by any break he heads.

In the words of Livingstone's statement, announcing his candidature: "I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not want anybody to leave the Labour Party. Members who have been appalled by the conduct of Labour's selection must stay and fight to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. I am standing as an independent solely in order to ensure that we have real devolution in London. I will not be setting up a new political party and I still hope one day to be able to return to the Labour Party" (Evening Standard March 6).

Livingstone aims to challenge Blair's control of the Labour Party from the outside, hoping to use his victory on May 4 as a bridgehead to continue the fight for the support of party members.

The second reason for the cancellation is that, while 500-strong rallies were fine for mobilising support in the battle to be Labour's candidate, they are hardly the way to reach London's five million voters. For that, Livingstone intends to play the mass media card, which since the days of his leadership of the Greater London Council he has learned to use skilfully to his own advantage.

Nevertheless, it is certainly true that he wants to keep a distance between himself and the left. For example, he has been at pains to ensure that all his printing requirements have to date been met by commercial companies, not entrusted to left backers. At Monday's press conference he explicitly disassociated himself from the LSA ("Paul Foot's slate"): "I am not running with any slate. I am standing as an independent."

It is not that he has not considered the opposite course. The trouble is, any suggestion of including right-wingers has met with objections from his leftwing supporters, while a left-dominated, working class-orientated list would alienate his 'broader' support. For the same reason he will not "stand as a socialist", as the SWP and others have called on him to do.

But that does not mean that we should withhold our support. The lack of a specifically associated slate can be used to our advantage. The nomination of a Livingstone list would to a considerable degree have determined the nature and extent of any potential break (or lack of it) - not only with Blair, but mainstream bourgeois politics. That is why we said, "Judge Livingstone on his GLA slate" (Weekly Worker February 24). As things stand, it is more open-ended. The LSA must become the pro-Livingstone slate in the minds of his popular base, helping to shape events and steering things towards an outcome favourable to the working class through criticism and mass involvement.

It is certain that Livingstone will not only want to keep the LSA at arm's length (although, if things go according to his plans, a left bloc in the GLA might serve his purpose in helping him to play one faction off against another), but also will resist moves towards consistent working class politics. But nothing is predetermined. A movement, through its own momentum, can transform itself into something completely unintended by the leader who initiated it.

As we have pointed out many times, the particular movement gathering around Livingstone represents a working class-based rebellion, however inarticulate and contradictory, against the programme and control-freakery of Blairism. Even if it can be confined within the limits of bourgeois politics, it must, at least at first, have a relative leftwing character, because of the man's own history.

But the rebellion is embryonic, fragile and passive, as all opinion polls continue to show. Support for Labour nationally is still running at around 50% - a remarkable figure, considering Blair is more than halfway through his term of office. Yet an ICM survey, published in The Guardian the day after Livingstone's announcement, shows that the Brent East MP enjoys the backing of a massive 68% of the sample of Londoners, as against just 13% for Dobson and 11% for Steve Norris, the Tory candidate.

This is where a forceful and dynamic LSA intervention will assume such importance. The message must be: vote Livingstone, but that is not enough; help us give rebellion a positive and distinctive working class cutting edge.

Some sections of the bourgeois media do not yet appear to have grasped the nature of the LSA. Witness The Daily Telegraph, which reported Ken's repudiation of any link with the alliance and went on: "Nevertheless there is little doubt that he has the support of the leftwingers who formed it, including the film-maker Ken Loach, the journalist John Pilger, the writer Tariq Ali and comedian Jeremy Hardy. Its assembly candidates, including the journalist Paul Foot, the broadcaster Mark Steel and a number of trade unionists, could form the nucleus of the sort of coalition that Mr Livingstone will need as mayor in order to break the power of the party machines" (March 7).

So the LSA was "formed" by the likes of Loach, Pilger and Ali and backed by journalists, broadcasters and vaguely political "trade unionists". Presumably the Socialist Workers Party was hoping for exactly this sort of reporting when it insisted that candidates should not refer to themselves publicly according to political affiliation. But the SWP is sadly mistaken if it thinks this kind of uninformed journalism will continue much longer. As New Labour seeks to pile on the dirt, it will seek to discredit Livingstone by 'exposing' our alliance as a bunch of 'Marxist extremists'.

Good. Just as every bid to blacken Livingstone's name has backfired - as first Labour Party members and then Londoners as a whole saw through Blair's attempts to pull the strings - so the LSA will gain much more than it loses from the chorus of condemnation.

If we are to make full use of this opportunity, the LSA must go on the offensive. We must vigorously expose the small group of Stalinite and sectarian wreckers gathered beneath the banner of Scargill's Socialist Labour Party. Neither should we pull our punches when it comes to the spoilers of the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation (nor their shamefaced backers in the Socialist Party) - they are no representatives of 'workers in struggle' or even of tubeworkers; they consist of a handful of RMT activists and syndicalists who have fallen under the influence of the notoriously sectarian Fourth International Supporters Caucus. Just five percent would give us a seat on the GLA, but these groups insist on trying to split the left vote. It is still not too late for them to rethink and join our common LSA slate - but don't hold your breath.

To take advantage of the mood of rebellion we must trumpet our revolutionary socialism, not try in vain to hide the 'hard left' reality behind the media-friendly faces of Foot, Pilger et al. Sure, that would not be to Livingstone's liking, but it would put the left well and truly on the map. The fact that the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, CPGB, SWP and Workers Power have come together despite our many differences is not a weakness, but a strength. In a small way it points to the sort of democratic centralist party we could build together.

The effect that the election of socialist candidates on May 4 could have is impossible to understate. It would open up the possibility of a resurgence in workers' combativity and self-confidence - not just in London, but throughout the UK.

Jim Blackstock