Socialist Alliance executive

Full throttle

With the compromise deal over seats between the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party behind us (for now), the executive committee of the Socialist Alliance got down to business last Saturday, February 3. And a productive meeting it was, conducted in a fraternal and even convivial atmosphere.

The practical issues of our media launch - materials, fundraising and candidate training - were all covered in a constructive manner. Even Clive Heemskerk, the pugilistic SP representative, was all sweetness and light. It goes without saying that the approach of Dave Nellist, leading SP member and chair of the Socialist Alliance, was all about building the SA. In contrast to his leadership's turn to building the SP as the 'small mass party' in 1996, the Socialist Alliance was always comrade Nellist's project. In building its election campaign, he is in his element. Nellist even suggested we push forward to ensure the nomination of 100 candidates, should such a figure be set as the qualifying limit for an election broadcast.

The constructive approach from the Socialist Party was welcome. And it shows how unfortunate the deal was which divides SP candidates, who will be running their own separate campaign under the SA banner, from the rest of the alliance. United with all the other components, the SP would have much to offer.

Yet it was not all smooth sailing. Given the likely date for the general election, there was an awareness that we must work to a tight timeline: we need to fit in the next Liaison Committee meeting, the March 10 policy conference and AGM, and a working school to train candidates, agents, press officers and treasurers. The initial suggestion from the SWP was for turning the March 10 conference largely over to such a training day. As John Rees said, "Given a choice between a meeting to train candidates and a bun-fight over the correct line on Palestine, I know what I'd choose."

Mark Hoskisson of Workers Power and myself strenuously opposed this. Initially Dave Nellist seemed inclined to bend towards the 'practical suggestion' from John Rees. After all, as comrade Rees said, "We all know pretty much what the manifesto will be." Such a philistine and bureaucratic tendency to overturn more decisions of the Coventry conference from comrade Rees was also rejected by Dave Church of the Walsall Democratic Labour Party and Dave Packer from the International Socialist Group.

Comrade Packer said it would be a mistake to "squeeze" the debate at our policy conference. Different organisations and local alliances have submitted proposals in good faith. A sub-committee chaired by Steve Freeman (Revolutionary Democratic Group) is considering those proposals. Comrade Packer said that it was the responsibility of those, like himself, who do not want a revolutionary manifesto to get involved in the process. So far only the CPGB, Workers Power, RDG and ISG have attended the sub-committee.

Speaking for the CPGB, I said that we had never accepted the '80-20' schema, where we are supposedly 80% in agreement with each other and ought to avoid debating the 20%. The CPGB has always been upfront that it wanted a revolutionary minimum-maximum programme for the alliance. We have the right to argue for such a position at the policy conference. No one wants the conference to be a bun-fight; comrade Hoskisson reported that the policy committee was working out suggestions to allow for smooth and clear debate around positions of contention.

Comrade Heemskerk provided us with our workable compromise. He suggested that the February 17 Liaison Committee meeting become, in part, an information and training day for candidates, treasurers and agents. The March 10 policy conference should go ahead as planned. This was agreed by all.

The Liaison Committee agenda will cover: issues relevant for candidates (introduction by Dave Nellist); agents and treasurers (introduction Rob Hoveman): campaign organisation and local research (introduction John Rees); media (introduction Anna Chen and Mike Marqusee); and fundraising (introduction Declan O'Neill). The Liaison Committee will decide upon a policy document to go forward to the policy conference. In addition to delegated representatives from local alliances, as many candidates, treasurers, press officers and agents need to attend this meeting.

Ensuring our campaign is as wide in focus as possible will be one aim of the day. The executive meeting recognised the tendency to localism in campaigning. Whereas this may arguably be more relevant in some by-elections, a campaign for the general election is about electing the government. While we are not standing in every constituency, and so cannot pose as an alternative government, our propaganda needs to reflect the general rather than the particular.

This will be a key aspect of our debate on March 10. As comrade Packer said, "We need a governmental slogan." While his slogan "for a government that defends the workers, not the bosses" is inadequate, the fact that politics is being forced onto the agenda is welcome. That is why the CPGB (and hopefully the RDG and Alliance for Workers' Liberty alongside it) will be arguing for 'federal republic' to be a key slogan of our election propaganda.

It was agreed that posters need to be produced before the March 10 conference. John Nicholson's suggestion of adopting the Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance posters was agreed. These include the slogans along the lines of 'For a £7 minimum wage: a living wage now'; 'Stop the sell-off of council housing'; 'Asylum-seekers welcome here'; 'No to PFI'; 'Defend the NHS'. I suggested that we add, 'Abolish the monarchy, for a democratic republic', which was unanimously agreed. While these will do for now, our policy conference on March 10 will decide our key five or six campaign slogans.

What was also agreed in principle was that the March 10 conference will not decide the manifesto per se. A policy document with key slogans will be the outcome. From this, one individual will write up a manifesto to be agreed by the election executive. A manifesto cobbled together at conference through the comp-ositing and amending of competing proposals would be an ugly, clumsy affair.

One other point on the policy conference. While it has yet to be decided how many amendments will be allowed, what is central is that minority voices are heard. Following the example of the Scottish Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party after it, the CPGB recommends that each local alliance be allowed three motions. Two majority motions and one minority motion. Each principal 'supporting organisation' should be allowed two motions. A conference committee will need to sort through these to avoid duplication.

In a welcome move to maximise the impact of our campaign, comrade Nellist suggested we put up the deposits for enough candidates to qualify for an electoral broadcast, depending on the decision of the BBC-ITV electoral commission. He noted that the number of our candidates was in any case approaching 70. This was agreed in principle. However, we need to pursue cooperation with the Scottish Socialist Party and the Welsh Socialist Alliance to the maximum extent possible in order to secure a joint national election broadcast in addition to a local Scottish broadcast specifically for the SSP. To this end, John Nicholson and myself will meet with the SSP this weekend at the SSP conference.

Strangely, comrade Nellist also asked that the executive agree to underwrite all deposits for the election campaign. Why was unclear. The committee felt that, while special cases should be allowed, such as the possible intervention of the Dudley strikers perhaps, in general fundrais-ing needs to be carried out locally as far as possible. Saying that centre will look after it is an invitation to complacency. We need the opposite approach at the moment: a real sense of urgency is required. After the meeting one comrade, commenting on the SP's own electoral tactics, quipped: "First it was 18 candidates, then 14, then 12. Now they want us to pay for their deposits." Whether this is the case or not, comrade Nellist's suggestion certainly seems to be at odds with the SP leadership's anarchistic aversion to any hint of centralisation.

This executive meeting has set the Socialist Alliance on course for the general election. Our press launch will be on February 20 and the SA website will be up and running soon after. Now we must unite England, Scotland and Wales, prioritise fund-raising, increase our profile nationally and locally, and equip ourselves with a political, as opposed to an economistic, general election manifesto

Marcus Larsen

Dates to remember:

February 17: Campaign training day and liaison committee meeting, United Services Club, Birmingham (near New Street Station), 11am to 5pm.

February 20: Election campaign press launch.

February 22: Website launch.

March 10: Policy conference and AGM. Most likely in Birmingham