Shenanigans sour meeting

Our Socialist Alliance held a forum on June 14 to discuss the way forward after the general election. Platform speakers included the three local candidates: Brian Kelly (ex-Militant), Theresa Bennett (Socialist Workers Party) and Greg Tucker (International Socialist Group). They were joined - somewhat controversially - by SWP central committee member Lindsey German. Another SWPer, Rahul Patel, took the chair.

From the start the meeting threatened to degenerate into a bun-fight, provoked by the SWP?s attempts to railroad it. Objections were raised by a number of comrades - mainly non-aligned - to Lindsey German?s position on the platform. It had previously been agreed that John Rees should attend in his capacity as a national executive member. No such invitation had been extended to comrade German, who could not claim to represent anything other than the Socialist Workers Party.

The chair refused to take objections at that point, advising the meeting that any concerns could be raised at the end - rendering the exercise pointless of course. Comrade Patel stated, rather unconvincingly, that comrade German was not speaking as a representative of the SWP. ?Then let her speak from the floor then,? one comrade retorted.

While I am sure comrades Rees and German would had sung from the same hymn book, and of course in one respect objections were of a technical nature in that comrade German?s contribution was obviously worthwhile and the meeting would surely have agreed to her appearance on the platform had it been asked, this poor display did little to allay fears that the SWP has yet to grasp the niceties of workers? democracy.

Comrade Bennett opened, articulating the SWP?s fondness for an economistic and localist agenda. She focused on schools, rats (the furry kind), cockroaches, parking and children?s play areas. The role of the alliance was reduced to asking workers, ?How can we help?? Calling for the ?police to be controlled?, comrade Bennett urged the alliance to campaign on ?racism, housing and privatisation?.

Comrade Kelly spoke of past cynicism and his eight years as a Labour councillor in neighbouring Southwark. The election campaign had changed all that. Starting with only a dozen activists, the alliance had mobilised some 200. Moving on to the future, comrade Kelly envisaged a role for the SA fighting alongside unions against privatisations. He went on to stress the need for democratic structures and debate on a ?fraternal basis?. His remarks were well received.

Comrade German took up the theme of privatisation, pointing to Labour?s October conference as a focus for work. Moving on to the general election campaign, she stated it had been a ?breakthrough for the left?. She compared the alliance vote in England and Wales with that of the Scottish Socialist Alliance in 1997 - drawing the conclusion that the SA could make a similar advance over the next few years.

The alliance should be made up of ?local campaigning bodies?, said comrade German. While the comrade gave a welcome commitment to the alliance, stating that it would ?not go away? (she claimed the Labour Party was ?decomposing ? at its edges?), she tempered this by going on to argue that we should not ?be hindered by debates which look inward?. A coded warning to those who would raise organisational questions?

In her closing remarks, comrade German reported that the left ?has been scarred by the last 20 years? - an interesting admission, given the SWP?s role over that period.

Finally Greg Tucker took the mike. He kept his intervention brief, stating that the alliance ?clearly has to change?. The meeting was then opened to contributions from the floor. With only 45 minutes remaining, the debate was somewhat truncated.

A comrade from the Socialist Party in England and Wales called for the alliance to adopt a constitution and a programme. Stuart King of Workers Power raised the need for an alliance newspaper, while others called for more democracy and debate.

Speaking from the floor, leading SWPer Paul Holborrow claimed that the ?standard of the Socialist Alliance [had been] firmly planted? at the general election. In response to one comrade who had pointed to the higher vote received by Arthur Scargill?s Socialist Labour Party in 1997, comrade Holborrow claimed that ?The trend is up?.

To justify his contention, comrade Holborrow pointed to the increased votes for the Greens and the number of abstentions in Lambeth. Tortuous. Claiming these as ours smacks of spin, not working class honesty and does little to orientate the alliance for the struggles ahead.

The meeting ended with the chair unilaterally announcing that constituency alliances would meet again in a fortnight. At this the meeting once again descended into uproar. The members had made no such decision. A motion had been brought and distributed by three independents calling, among other things, for Lambeth Socialist Alliance to be reconstituted in the aftermath of the election campaign. The chair did not put this to the meeting.

Once again the SWP seems intent on shooting itself in the foot. It seems our comrades are set on alienating the very individuals they have targeted as their natural constituency in the alliance. The Socialist Party has no need to worry about the SWP winning hegemony over the project if they carry on like this.

Andy Gunton