Brent and Harrow

Anne McShane to fight Boateng

Brent South MP and Blairite cabinet minister Paul Boateng was targeted at Brent and Harrow SA hustings on January 23 when the 20 or so members present voted unanimously to stand the CPGB's Anne McShane against him in the general election.

Comrade McShane stood as a CPGB candidate in the 1992 and 1997 general elections, as well as for the European parliament in 1999. In 2000 she was a London Socialist Alliance candidate for the Greater London Assembly.

Although some International Socialist Group comrades expressed concern that the campaign should be "handled carefully" - as standing against a black MP "could give the wrong message" - comrade McShane reminded us that Margaret Thatcher had been no good for women. Boateng is arrogant, dismissive of the needs of his working class constituents and no good for black people. As an Irish woman, she would be delighted to take on a man who bears responsibility for Britain's prisons and the disgusting treatment of asylum-seekers.

The Brent and Harrow convenor, Brian Butterworth (SWP), added that Boateng, as a prominent member of Blair's government, was "a prime target".

Comrade Butterworth also gave his reasons why the former constituency of London mayor Ken Livingstone, Brent East, should not be contested. Firstly, Livingstone has given his backing to the Blairite candidate, former leader of Brent council Paul Daisley. Secondly, the Green Party will be fielding a candidate, and standing against the Greens is best avoided, according to comrade Butterworth.

Comrade Butterworth, and later SWP full-timer Susan Jeffrey, pointing to the fact that the SA had saved its deposits in recent elections, overdid their optimism, claiming the left was in its "most favourable position since World War II". Comrade Mark (ISG) was more sober, anticipating that the much higher turnout of voters usual in a general election will probably cost the SA its deposit in most constituencies.

In discussion, all comrades backed the proposal to target Boateng in Brent South. GLA Socialist Alliance candidate Austen Burnett "used to favour two constituencies - Brent South and Brent East", but now reluctantly accepted that "resources" did not permit contesting more than one seat. Comrade Butterworth had earlier reported a paid up membership of 38, and a "supporters" mailing list totaling 142.

The CPGB's Tina Becker, secretary of Haringey SA, suggested we had enough comrades to fight at least two seats, and that would be the best way to build the alliance. Other comrades, including the SWP's Anne Drinkall, emphasised the necessity of "doing the job well" in one seat.

Comrade Butterworth said he liked the slogan, 'Vote socialist where you can; vote Labour where you must'. Comrade Drinkall was less enthusiastic, admitting how "painfully" she will "force herself" into the polling booth to cast her socialist vote for the Blairite Daisley. However, comrade McShane, when asked whether she would call for a Labour vote in Brent East, said we should challenge Daisley to agree to our five programmatic bullet points - to be agreed at the SA's March 10 conference. If he failed to do that, voters should be encouraged to write "Socialist Alliance" across their ballot paper.

A number of questions to comrade McShane touched on how, as SA candidate, she would handle differences between SA and CPGB policies. Comrade Alf Filer, characterising the alliance as a "united front", asked whether she would "keep differences for internal discussions". Comrade McShane replied that she would "stand on the agreed manifesto", but where the SA had no position she would "think for herself". The coming together of different left groups and individuals was "inspirational", but real unity could only be achieved through "democracy, debate and openness".

Three officers were elected unanimously - election agent, Brian Butterworth; treasurer, Adam Hartman (ISG); press officer, Alf Filer. Comrade Filer sketched an enthusiastic vision of frequent press statements, guidance notes for letter writing to the local press, and flexible leafleting campaigns. Meetings are to be more frequent - fortnightly at first - and Saturday streetwork will be directed to Harlesden, Wembley High Road and other locations in the Brent South constituency.

Ian Farrell