Hackney Socialist Alliance

Abbott backs SA priority pledges

Diane Abbott, Labour?s candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and the sitting MP, has publicly stated her support for the Socialist Alliance?s ?priority pledges? - the main campaigning points of the SA general election campaign.

Her declaration came at a hustings meeting held a week before the election when Anne Mc Shane, chair of Hackney SA, challenged all the platform speakers to back the pledges. Comrade Mc Shane, speaking from the floor in a personal capacity, said that many SA members and supporters in Hackney North and Stoke Newington were discussing how they would vote, given the absence of an SA candidate. She argued that no candidate putting themselves forward to represent the working class ought to have any problem in supporting the pledges - they were the minimum any such candidate should stand on.

Diane Abbott said she would support the pledges - doing so ?did not add or subtract anything? from what she had argued over the years. Earlier she had condemned the Labour group in Hackney for their cuts to nursery provision. She claimed that she has been trying hard to put pressure on them and had done ?the best I can as an MP?. She said that Hackney council is ?in meltdown, with my own government doing nothing to help?. Finally she said that, although the Socialist Alliance might portray her as such, she ?is certainly not a snivelling lackey of Tony Blair?.

Cecilia Prosper, SA candidate for the neighbouring constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch, pointed out the problem for Diane Abbott. While she may well be sincere, her government does not in practice support proper nursery provision. Comrade Prosper said that, while verbal support is welcome, the real question is action: ?How do we achieve what we need?? She argued for the taxation of the super-rich.

This SA policy is perfectly correct in itself, but when it is put forward as a means of paying for budgeted reforms it amounts to little more than an attempt to balance capitalism?s books. Meral Ece, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hackney North, later stated that she agreed with Cecilia on taxation and claimed that her party was committed to much the same policy. Obviously a penny on income tax is hardly the same as milking the rich, but no doubt Ece would argue it is just a matter of degree.

Ece is of course very much on the left of her party - demonstrated by the fact that she too said she would support the pledges. But all politics in Hackney is far to the left of most other parts of the country. This was further illustrated when Chit Chong, the Green candidate, not known as being among the most radical of his party?s members, also felt obliged to back the SA?s pledges. The only platform speakers who did not endorse them were the Tory and the Socialist Labour Party candidates!

The meeting, organised by Friends of Hackney Nurseries, was not well attended despite the appearance on the platform of all the candidates in Hackney North and Stoke Newington. This may be partly due to demoralisation among activists involved in the campaigning work of Friends of Hackney Nurseries. Despite successes in keeping some nurseries open, the council has pressed on with the closure of others. However, one representative from Oranges and Lemons Nursery - also targeted for closure - got pledges of support from all the candidates, which hopefully will be translated into practice.

As is usually the case at election hustings, the candidates from the main parties appealed to the audience on the basis of their own personal record and alleged commitment to the people of Hackney. Even Pauline Dye, the Tory candidate, repeatedly tried to distance herself from the Labour-Tory coalition running the bankrupt council, which has been spearheading massive attacks on services and jobs as it plunges deeper into financial chaos. She said it was ?not a coalition, but a loose arrangement that my party locally entered into, simply as a way of trying to help out?. This brought peals of laughter from an audience which included those who have borne the brunt of this ?loose arrangement? over the last year.

Chit Chong of the Green Party was next to speak. Chit has not got a history as a leftwinger. As a local councillor he refused to back striking Unison members and in a leaflet sent out earlier this year to households across Hackney made a personal call to workers and management to ?unite to save services?. According to some local Green Party members, he had to be pressurised to vote against cuts. But all this was forgotten (by him at any rate) as he committed himself to fighting for equality, against poverty, etc.

Meral Ece, for the Lib Dems, has a far better personal record as a councillor in Hackney. She claimed tremendous support from the Turkish and Kurdish community and also from those who are ?sick of Labour?s empty promises?. The fact that the Lib Dems are not part of the ruling coalition allows her to talk left and ignore the Liberals? own appalling record in Islington, where they are in control. Undoubtedly Meral has gained respect for being a fighter against cuts over the last year. However, the Lib Dems cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called a working class party. If she is sincere she should align herself with the Socialist Alliance.

The SLP candidate was the last to speak. Sukant Chandan is a student at Sussex University and stood in to replace David Morgan, who stepped down at the last moment. There were three other SLP members there, including Ranjeet Brar and another comrade from Southall - none from Hackney. Incidentally their election agent actually had to be introduced to their candidate by one of the hustings organisers!

Sukant spoke about the difference between the SLP and the SA. The SLP is against Europe and against Labour while apparently ?the parties that make up the SA call for a Labour vote?. He also said that unlike the SA ?the SLP concretely supports people in struggle around the world?.

Questioned afterwards about why he had failed to back the SA priority pledges, the SLP candidate said it was because his party refused to give any support or credence to the Socialist Alliance. He was backed up in this by Ranjeet Brar, who again reiterated that because the SA is not standing against Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn we were in fact supporting Labour. This madcap sectarianism in refusing to agree to any degree of cooperation or left unity exposes the fact that Scargill and his friends in the Stalin Society are simply out to wreck.

The questions from the floor that followed the speeches mainly centred on local issues and especially the question of nursery provision. Again Diane Abbott was asked about what good she would ever do as a single individual in a Blair-controlled Labour Party. It was also pointed out that, given the government?s policies, her being MP in Hackney made little difference to the working class. She responded by saying she was used to being in a minority, being a black woman, and that it did not bother her at all.

After being questioned on how she would vote in St Helens, Abbot said she could not say ? if she did it would mean trouble with Tony. Nevertheless she argued that it was ?quite wrong? that Shaun Woodward had been parachuted into St Helens against the wishes of Labour Party members, many of whom are well known to be ?opposed to his candidacy?.

Diane Abbott?s public commitment to our priority pledges shows an important missed opportunity for the Socialist Alliance in Hackney. There should have been a big Socialist Alliance campaign for her ? then she really would have been in trouble with Tony and Millbank. Yet when it was proposed by the CPGB that we ask her to stand on a minimum platform to defend the working class, Socialist Workers Party comrades refused to hear of it. The CPGB proposal was idiotically portrayed as tantamount to a call to automatically stand against her and was therefore voted down. However, we now see how easily she has supported our pledges - when asked! This should not have been left to individual initiative in the last week of the election.

In order to win those who at present place their trust in the Labour Party, we need to have a serious strategy towards them. That entails putting pressure on those like Diane Abbott so that they  come out openly for definite working class politics.

When we reported back to SWP members that Abbott had supported our pledges, while the SLP had not, the comrades were in general reluctant to discuss what, if any, implications this had for us. On the basis of ?voting socialist where we can and Labour where we must? they seemed inclined to vote for Sukant Chandan and the SLP. Being in such a lamentable situation - in an area where we got up to 20% of the vote in some wards in last year?s GLA election - reveals a tremendous political weakness and shows the need for renewed debate and an ability to listen to others.

Anne Mc Shane
chair, Hackney Socialist Alliance
(personal capacity)