Build the local alliances
Members of the London Socialist Alliance steering committee have unanimously backed a resolution calling on the Liaison Committee of the Socialist Alliance network to establish a programme sub-committee as soon as possible. Initial mistrust of the motion, moved by Steve Freeman from the Revolutionary Democratic Group, was overcome and the meeting agreed to back it.
Reflecting discussion at the September 30 elections conference of the Socialist Alliance, members of the committee recognised that the Liaison Committee will need to create its own officers and sub-committees to run our general election campaign. This, of course, was the content of the final CPGB motion put to the Coventry conference, which was overwhelmingly rejected.
While there were clear differences over the outcome of the conference, encouragingly the component parts of the alliance felt confident the elections protocol decided at Coventry provided sufficient unity to move forward. Clive Heemskirk of the Socialist Party in England and Wales described the protocol as a "workable document". Given that the SP had made veiled threats of walking out of the conference if things had not gone its way, this was a very positive sign.
Comrade Heemskirk pointed out that the final document was far removed from the initial highly bureaucratic proposals drafted by John Nicholson. However, the SP remains uncomfortable about being under a more united umbrella than they would have liked. John Rees of the Socialist Workers Party, for his part, said that much of the problem with the conference was that it was for "a movement that only partly exists".
All comrades agreed that given a constantly changing substantive document in the lead-up to Coventry, comrade Dave Nellist chaired extremely well. Nevertheless, there were many mishaps in its organisation, and the LSA will offer to host the forthcoming national conference of the Socialist Alliance to debate our election manifesto.
Independent member of the committee Nick Wrack said that Coventry had been an "historic event". He welcomed the amendment from the SWP which called on organisations to conduct campaigning in a self-disciplined manner and pointed that this was a step back from the proscriptive approach the SWP had adopted at the LSA conference where a ban was passed on the use of partisan literature during canvassing: "You can't legislate to stop political activity," said comrade Wrack.
A key problem with Tuesday's LSA meeting was a lack of coordinated discussion around building the borough socialist alliances. Since the GLA election, this has been the key task for the LSA if we are to have a dynamic, successful general election campaign. The uneven work on building the local alliances was due largely to the Coventry effect - comrades were understandably waiting for the outcome. Now that we have a protocol for the campaign, local alliances must kick into gear and start to build.
Given that most work will be done locally, comrades generally recognised that the LSA would have a general facilitating role around issues of finance, media and candidate selection. The LSA committee will also have a role to assist in overcoming unevenness across London.
In this context, Workers Power proposed a motion saying that, while local alliances had the right to choose their own candidates, the steering committee had a "responsibility to ensure that our slate of candidates in London reflects the political balance of the LSA and the ethnic, gender and age diversity of the whole of London." To this end, the motion called on the LSA to draw up a central slate of candidates from which borough alliances could choose.
Given that the alliances nationally have a protocol for the election, I felt that this was unnecessary. Amendments removed the LSA's duty to "ensure" a balance, but gave the steering committee responsibility for circulating the identity of candidates selected. In addition, the LSA will issue a call to the wider labour movement, inviting expressions of interest to stand as Socialist Alliance candidates. Component organisations of the LSA have been asked to forward names of would-be candidates, along with their CVs and proposed constituencies, to the LSA secretary within two weeks.
The main job now is to get the local alliances moving. The next LSA meeting will be presented with a written report on membership and borough activity.
Socialist Party confusion
Comrades from the Socialist Party working in the Eastern Region Socialist Alliance have reacted negatively to the outcome of the September 30 Coventry conference.
Speaking at the open ERSA steering committee meeting the following day, the Socialist Party's representative said that he was not in favour of "unity at any cost": as far as he was concerned, the Socialist Alliances were heading in the direction of the SLP. Preempting any democratic discussion, the comrade simply asserted that the SP would stand a candidate in Stevenage in the general election. Reflecting the divisions within the embattled SP, the comrade, after further questioning, then revealed that 'Socialist Alliance' would appear on the ballot paper.
In response, a leading SWP member commented that, "You either accept the principle of the Alliance or you don't." But the most that could be offered in terms of justification was the base the SP had built up as Socialist Alternative. But why not channel any local support behind the united national campaign? It was hard to avoid the suspicion that the only reason for the presence of the comrade was to make that single solitary speech.
On a more positive note, the meeting went on to discuss preparations for the forthcoming ERSA conference. Five hours will be allowed in order to fully debate ERSA's structure, the nature of our electoral intervention and the election of representatives to the SA liaison committee.
With the national context firmly in mind, we should certainly be thinking of contesting additional seats. We must aim for the maximum impact in the Eastern region. A serious interest in the major population centres must mean contesting at least five constituencies.
The next month will be crucial for the development of ERSA.
Telling the truth
Campaigning in Hackney Wick council by-election is nearing a close, with polling less than a week away on Thursday October 12. The response to the LSA has in the main been positive, with the returns showing an average of 10% of those asked saying they will vote for Diane Swingler. Obviously translating this sympathy into actual votes is a different matter, but nevertheless it shows the opportunity to present an alternative. The campaign has picked up, with LSA members from throughout Hackney out canvassing en masse since the weekend.
The response on the doorstep shows a lot of people disillusioned with both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party on Hackney council. Our campaign has caused concern to the main contenders, with reports from their canvassers showing a large number of their usual supporters undecided. Understandably there is cynicism about politics in general and many say they will not bother voting. However, there has been a lot of interest in what we are saying and we have been fighting hard to convince working class people that the LSA is a real alternative.
One of my main criticisms of the campaign is that in the absence of one of their candidates we are being too soft on the Green Party. Having red and green campaign rosettes is clearly an attempt to literally paint us in their colours. But the Green Party is not some cuddly bunch of people with similar ideas to us. Its ideas range from 'socialist environmentalism' to the fascistic. Fundamentally it wants to solve environmental problems within capitalism. Because of this the Green Party needs to be criticised just as much as Labour and the Lib Dems.
The working class needs to have its own answers to environmental problems. Clearly we need to debate this vital issue in the run-up to the general election and hammer out a principled position.
In the meantime we should not paint ourselves green for the sake of boosting our vote. When we stand in elections we should tell people the truth. We need to build a workers' movement that is conscious of its role as a future ruling class. We should not fall into the trap of treating our class as voting fodder.
The London Socialist Alliance is clearly the most dynamic and committed campaign in this by-election. But we could certainly do with more help to canvass and help out on polling day.
Contact Becky on 0797 982 3597 to make arrangements.
Page to stand
Lewisham and Greenwich Socialist Alliance has selected Councillor Ian Page of the Socialist Party to contest the Lewisham Deptford constituency in the general election.
The local alliance, meeting three days after the successful Coventry conference, also scheduled a final decision on contesting a further one or two seats out of the six constituencies in the two south London boroughs for its meeting in a month's time.
Those who had attended the September 30 Socialist Alliance conference agreed that its outcome had been positive, although to a certain extent comrades from the SP, Socialist Workers Party, CPGB, and Alliance for Workers' Liberty inevitably went over the same arguments that had been presented at Coventry.
The SP comrades stressed their strong commitment to the Socialist Alliance campaign, including the use of the name on the ballot paper, although there was a degree of ambiguity over the extent to which they wanted comrade Page to be first and foremost 'their' candidate. Ian himself said it was inevitable that the SP would "put a certain identity down" and that the "strong groups" would have a "leading role". Nevertheless, he was "confident of a joint campaign that will work".
The local alliance has to a certain extent been paralysed over recent months as a result of the bitter SP-SWP rivalry. The SP had been involved in low-level work in the local alliance for a few years, but suddenly found itself outnumbered when the SWP came in prior to the GLA elections. Comrade Page himself was torn between his organisation's initial support for the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation and his own desire for non-sectarian left cooperation in the LSA. The stalemate after the GLA campaign meant that no constitution was adopted.
Despite the spirit of sweetness and light that prevailed at this week's meeting, there are still clear signs of mistrust. In order to avoid being outvoted by the SWP, the SP has proposed a constitution whereby non-aligned comrades have one vote each in the decision-making process, while political organisations have only one for each group. This could theoretically lead to just five non-committed individuals dictating policy to the 50 or so members of the SWP, SP, CPGB and AWL. Perhaps they could vote to stop us standing comrade Page.
The SP comrades stated that all decisions ought to be reached by consensus. However, this was immediately put to the test when it came to choosing our delegate to the Socialist Alliance network Liaison Committee. Comrade Page was proposed by the SP and CPGB, while Toby Abse was put forward as an independent by Guy Taylor of the SWP. Not to worry: "consensus" was arrived at when comrade Page withdrew.
Socialist Party comrades had earlier expressed their disappointment with those remaining features of the "centralised" SA protocol agreed at Coventry, where, it was claimed, local alliances are treated like branches of a party. But then the SP's Mick Suter, acting chair of Lewisham and Greenwich, suggested that the SA "centralised" protocol should perhaps be used as a model for our local constitution! It seems that opposition to centralisation is deeper with some than with others.
If the SP comrades can overcome their mistrust - not to mention the sectarianism of their leadership - there is no reason why we cannot run a successful campaign in at least two constituencies in the general election. While the CPGB supports the right of all component parts of the SA, including the SP, to put forward their own particular politics, there is a clear need for the campaign to be democratically accountable. There must be 'one person, one vote' at all meetings, with automatic representation on the steering committee for each affiliated organisation.