Well, comrades, what an exciting afternoon I had last week. Being in charge of a six-year-old, I had to twist his arm to allow me to take him to a Socialist Labour Party meeting in town, offering to allow him to plaster lamp posts with Socialist Alliance stickers along the way.
The meeting, with Arthur Scargill, was the SLP?s election rally for its three candidates in Leicester and the only significant meeting they have held in the city recently. In addition to comrade Scargill and a couple of women with him, who I presumed were from the SLP national leadership, there were the three candidates and no more than 15 to 20 others (SA comrades who turned up after I left told me later that the numbers increased to around 50 - of which only about 10 were ?members of the public?).
I was quite surprised by the low turnout, as Scargill often draws a crowd if his events are publicised well enough. Also, the Indian Workers Association, which has a base locally, can usually be relied on to bulk out SLP rallies, but they were not much in evidence.
Fortunately, if that is the right word, the numbers were bolstered by the presence of at least five members of the Spartacist League. Since there have never been any Sparts active in Leicester or nearby towns, they were, presumably, following Scargill from town to town as he did an 11th hour speaking tour to bolster his candidates? fortunes (this makes one wonder who was keeping the home fires burning in his adopted constituency of Hartlepool, where he stood against Peter Mandelson).
I engaged one of the Sparts in polite conversation, asking why they were calling for no vote for the alliance but supporting the SLP. I was told that the alliance wanted a Blair government, whereas the SLP was calling for no vote for anyone else anywhere (ie, for a Scargill government!). I was told this in such a matter-of-fact way that I was actually quite taken aback!
Apparently every component of the SA is calling for a vote for New Labour where there is no SA candidate. This was news to me as one of the reasons I went along to the meeting was to pick up a window poster for Dave Roberts, the SLP candidate for Leicester East, since I simply could not stomach voting for Keith Vaz. (Ironically this same claim, made by the Trotskyist Sparts, was also mouthed by extreme Stalinist Carlos Rule, SLP candidate for Ealing Acton and Shepherds Bush, on Radio Four?s The world tonight just before the election. Carlos Rule also alleged that the SA were only contesting in safe Labour seats - clearly untrue. There again, what does the truth mean to the likes of the Sparts and the SLP Stalinists?)
I protested that even if every SLP candidate were to win their seat they would not have enough MPs to form a government and so Blair would still be in power, presumably in alliance with the SLP. Besides, my own view, shared by a good many others in the alliance, is that we should vote for other credible leftwing candidates, including the few Labour lefts remaining.
Since I was stone-cold sober I decided not to bother pursuing the argument further. I would estimate I need five pints of Carling before engaging with the Spartacist League begins to have any appeal.
However, I can?t help wondering if the Sparts are sucking up to Scargill, as have so many before, with the intention of entering the SLP - either as a raid or an attempt to capture its ?commanding heights?. In the 1930s the German CP had the line, ?After Hitler, us?. Perhaps the Sparts are thinking, ?After Harpal, us?!
Certainly if I were a rank and file SLPer I would be more than a little worried. After all Scargill could really use some super-activists to wake up his sleepy little party and they certainly have the right credentials to fit in. At the very least, he needs paper-sellers, as there were none in evidence despite there being stacks of the latest Socialist News.
Having sized the meeting up, I elected not to stay, as my youthful comrade, Andrew, was starting to get a little fractious. As I was leaving, I bumped into Shaun Kirkpatrick, SLP candidate for Leicester West, and asked him how his campaign was going. ?Not too bad,? he replied, ?although mine started a bit late because I was unwell last week.?
Tragic really. Shaun is a good bloke: ex-Labour Party, who has been active in a number of campaigns locally. He would have been an asset to the alliance. It looks like he had his arm twisted to run a paper campaign against the Socialist Alliance candidate, Steve Score, who ran an active campaign, drawing in real forces from the Leicester Radical Alliance, his own Socialist Party comrades and the SWP. Steve has something of a local profile and a record of dogged activity in his constituency for over 20 years.
Since the SLP candidate was out of action for a few weeks, through no fault of his own, there was no-one to canvass or leaflet for him - therefore none took place. I wished Shaun good luck with his campaign, but told him I would be supporting Steve Score.
Surely anyone can see that, in a city this size, running one halfway decent campaign, in either of the two constituencies where the left vote would not be split, rather than three Marie-C?l?ste operations, is just plain common sense?
Back from the twilight zone, Andrew and I scoffed ice cream, whilst I explained what elections are all about and why Microsoft Word keeps underlining ?Sparts? in red.