LSA reports

Tactical debates

Hackney Socialist Alliance is to stand a candidate in the Wick ward in the October 12 council by-election, an HSA meeting decided earlier this week.

The proposal to contest the seat was put forward by the Socialist Workers Party and was unanimously agreed. Of the 50 or so comrades present they were overwhelmingly SWP members, with comrades from the CPGB and Workers Power also attending. As with most London alliances recently, the Socialist Party was conspicuous by its absence.

The meeting went on to agree (also unanimously) that the candidate should be SWP member Mitch Dublin, a leading council worker. Unfortunately it was subsequently realised that his job would debar comrade Dublin from standing, but SWPer Beccy Palmer contacted the other components to seek our agreement for a replacement, in the shape of Diane Swingler, another well known SWP member.

Comrade Swingler, a prominent healthworker and trade union militant at Homerton hospital, should make an excellent candidate in this deprived part of the borough, which is, however, at present a Liberal seat.

The meeting then turned its attention to the forthcoming general election. Phil Kent of the CPGB proposed the following motion in relation to our attitude to the two sitting Labour MPs: "Hackney Socialist Alliance is determined to present a socialist alternative in the forthcoming general election. We believe that no candidate deserves a vote unless they are prepared to take the side of working class people against New Labour. Therefore we challenge Diane Abbott and Brian Sedgemore to a public debate on where they stand on unemployment, housing, immigration controls and the many other vital issues facing the working class in Hackney."

Although some individuals were sympathetic to the ideas put forward by comrade Kent, the SWP comrades were unanimous in opposing the motion. Although the proposer made it clear that the it did not commit the alliance to any particular course of action, some SWPers interpreted it as an indirect way of announcing an intention to oppose Diane Abbott. Others thought that there would be no advantage in challenging the Labourites on, for example, immigration controls, since they would say one thing in private to us, but another thing from a public platform.

Mike Marqusee pointed out that there was a distinction to be made between the two MPs. He thought that we should not even consider the possibility of opposing Abbott, as this would only succeed in uniting Labour supporters behind her and against us, when our tactics ought to be to exacerbate the divisions between the left and right wings. On the opposite extreme some unattached comrades could see no difference at all between Abbot, who still has a reputation as a leftwinger, and Sedgemore, the Blairite, and thought they should both be opposed, come what may.

A minority of SWP comrades began to display some impatience with this exchange of views. One referred to it as "demoralising". Presumably these comrades think that minorities should refrain from expressing their opinions altogether. However, the motion was left on the table, with further discussion on our attitude to the general election scheduled for the meeting to be held after the September 30 Socialist Alliance network conference in Coventry. It does seem though that the SWP will opt for standing a candidate against Sedgemore.

The meeting went on to elect a committee of eight members: five SWPers, Mike Marqusee, Anne Murphy (CPGB) and George Binette (Workers Power), who were all accepted without a vote.

Alan Fox

To help with the Wick election campaign, please contact Beccy Palmer on 020 8507 0657 or HSA chair Anne Murphy on 020 7254 7062.

Brent and Harrow

Soft on Labour

Brent and Harrow Socialist Alliance has set out on the general election road. A business like planning meeting on September 11 was attended by 10 comrades from the SWP, CPGB, International Socialist Group, the local asylum-seekers campaign plus individuals, including ex-Labour Party activists.

Convenor Brian Butterworth (SWP) set an optimistic tone, highlighting the Scottish Socialist Party's intention to contest all Scottish seats and drawing comrades' attention to the Coventry conference. He called for campaigning to begin now to raise the profile of the alliance and build up a local network of support - particularly working with asylum-seekers and local unions - in preparation for a "credible and serious challenge to Labour from the left".

Stan Kelsey said the CPGB intended to field - and finance - at least four Socialist Alliance candidates nationally, and reported its proposal that Anne Murphy contest Brent East, to be vacated by London mayor Ken Livingstone - something which should be resolved at a higher level to ensure that no alliance partner is excluded from the fight. Arguing the need to maximise the number of SA candidates nationally to obtain a high profile, including a TV broadcast, he suggested that we contest at least two of the five Westminster seats covered by SWP candidate Austin Burnett in the Greater London Assembly elections.

A cautious note was sounded by Alf Filer, leading left-Labour activist in Brent East in the 1980s, who had been drawn out of disillusionment by the London Socialist Alliance intervention in the GLA elections. Fearing the "demoralisation" which "poor votes" would bring, he called for a "selective" approach, advocating we concentrate our small forces on only one seat - Brent East or Brent South (leaving Harrow borough untouched). In Brent East, if Labour selects local "leftwinger", GMB activist Mary Turner, we should think twice about challenging. If she is not selected, Brent East is favourite. In Brent South (where Mike Marqusee is reportedly "determined we should stand against Paul Boateng") we need a "real" candidate, he said, who either "arises" out of campaigning or can "represent struggles" in that constituency.

Supporting the "united front" view of the nature of the SAs, comrade Filer urged that the political programme adopted should not scare away the mass of disillusioned (ex-) Labourites who are in the SA pipeline, a view backed by comrade Butterworth, who declared "the united front will mobilise wide numbers of people", and comrade Padraig (ISG), who urged care "not to alienate ex-Labour voters" as Scargill's Socialist Labour Party had done. He was "not convinced" the Socialist Alliance could muster "50 credible candidates" nationally, and offered the personal view that "it may not be all up with the Labour Party". The Labour left may come back to life, though there is no sign of it at present, he said. A similar softness on Labour was displayed by comrade Butterworth, favouring the slogan 'Vote socialist where you can, Labour where you must'.

Comrade Kelsey countered that we should not aim for a "protest vote to push Labour back on course". He contrasted the CPGB's view of the SAs as an alliance of revolutionary groups leading towards higher unity in a revolutionary party, with the SWP's view of a 'united front' between the few revolutionaries already present and the abundance of imagined ex-Labourite reformists who are actually not with us. Our election programme, he said, should be revolutionary, and the CPGB will be proposing at Coventry that our manifesto includes crucial democratic demands such as a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales - the means of upholding the right to self-determination while fighting to prevent the break-up of the working class in Britain.

Comrade Padraig's dismal view was that, because we are a "united front", we must stand on a reformist programme while comrade Sarah (SWP) declared the SAs must unite us revolutionaries with "those pissed off with Labour".

But don't they need a revolutionary alternative to the failed reformist politics they are pissed off with? Let us not hide our light under a bushel.

Stan Kelsey


Haringey and Enfield

LSA to stand against Roche

Comrades from the SWP, CPGB, AWL and the Labour Party, amongst others, were upbeat about the likelihood of standing candidates in both Haringey parliamentary constituency seats when they attended the first post-holiday period meeting of the Haringey and Enfield LSA on September 12. Weyman Bennett (SWP), our candidate in the recent Tottenham by-election, reported that he is now constantly stopped in the street by people wanting to know the LSA's stance on recent events, the latest being the fuel protests. Without exception, everyone present thought Weyman the best comrade to continue to carry the LSA flag in Tottenham at the forthcoming general election too.

Most comrades thought that, come the general election, whenever it is, we should also contest the Hornsey and Wood Green parliamentary seat currently occupied by home office minister Barbara Roche.

LSA supporters in Haringey are immediately getting down to planning a rally later in October from which the nominations for the Haringey seats will be made. Local campaigns, such as that by Roger Sylvester's family, will be brought to the fore as the election looms. Comrades considered that we could not start too soon, since there is no knowing when the general election will be called.

Some comrades at Tuesday's meeting, including a former left Labour Haringey councillor who said he disapproved of the LSA standing in parliamentary elections, thought that we could only establish ourselves from the bottom up, with work at council ward level. If we did this, we could hope to make a big impact at borough elections in 2002, contesting all 60 council seats in Haringey. HELSA treasurer Jim Gilbert (CPGB) countered this jam tomorrow minimalist approach by pointing out that the GLA and Tottenham by-election contests had already built a base and that contesting both Haringey seats at the general election was an excellent way of preparing for the 2002 council elections in itself. If we can double the seats we contest in Haringey, then 100 seats contested nationally by the SAs do not seem so far-fetched. Unfortunately, most comrades present were chary of setting such a high national target of seats, looking to the Coventry meeting in a couple of weeks for resolution of this question.

As planning of the parliamentary election campaign continues in Haringey, action is to be a constant and essential accompaniment. One of the first manifestations of this will occur in three weeks time. Not averse to milking the local press for coverage of her 'achievements' as a government minister, Barbara Roche MP will soon have to deal with another kind of publicity. On Saturday October 7 HELSA will provide a sizeable contingent for the North London Committee to Defend Asylum-Seekers march from Duckett's Common (10.30am, Turnpike Lane tube) to Wood Green Library, where Roche is due to be holding a constituency surgery. Not only will this event target Roche and demand she be held to account for her actions as a New Labour minister, but this will be the first spark in HELSA's general election campaign in the borough.

We are going to warm up Haringey.

Jim Gilbert