SLP vote rocks Welsh SA

As readers will know, Labour won the February 14 Ogmore by-election with a reduced majority of just over 5,700. The new MP is Huw Irranca-Davies, who beat off opposition from nine other candidates for the seat Labour has held since 1918, after just 35% of the electorate cast its vote. Yet the most surprising result of the night was the 1,152 votes (6.3%) cast for the Socialist Labour Party candidate, Chris Herriot. Keeping its deposit, the SLP easily outpolled both the Greens (1.4%) and the Welsh Socialist Alliance (1.1%). The fact that the Arthur Scargill's SLP beat the WSA in the by-election was not, in itself, surprising. In the 2001 general election, with the same number of candidates, the SLP achieved a higher percentage of the vote than the WSA - there were no direct clashes. Indeed it has frequently been reported in the Weekly Worker how the WSA represents the weakest link in the chain of Socialist Alliances in mainland Britain. What was astonishing, though, was the margin of the SLP's victory over the WSA. With over five times the vote of our candidate, no doubt Scargill will now claim, with some credibility, to lead the main socialist alternative to New Labour in the principality. One waits to see whether he will use the opportunity to dub the SLP the 'fifth' largest party in Wales. Yet in fact the SLP has no branch and no active members within the area. Clearly, the poor result for the WSA will cause some soul-searching within our ranks. Even before the ashes of former MP Sir Ray Powell had been scattered, some comrades had privately expressed doubts about the tactical astuteness of standing in a former mining constituency, where comrade Scargill had parachuted in on behalf of the SLP on a number of occasions. Yet it would be wrong to draw completely pessimistic conclusions about the result. Instead any inquest conducted into the election should properly give weight to the positives emerging from the election campaign, as well as highlighting the still fragile nature of the WSA. On one level the fact that the combined vote of leftwing candidates (I exclude the Greens from this description) totalled nearly 7.5% of the vote is significant. Such a healthy total ought to bring cheer to socialists not only in Wales, but elsewhere too. On another level, the local branch of the WSA in the constituency is stronger for having fought the election. According to our candidate, Jeff Hurford, in a post-election statement, the branch has raised its profile amongst the left in the area. New members have been recruited and our periphery has been enlarged. The campaign involved a good number of WSA members from across Wales in terms of canvassing and financial contributions. Much has been learned about running election campaigns and building the WSA. Nevertheless, it remains true to say that the Socialist Alliance in England continues to be slow in lending the WSA physical help in election campaigns. If the SA were to put at its disposal the more considerable financial and human resources available to it, then further successes could have been had. The Scottish Socialist Party might in future by-elections also wish to offer its not inconsiderable expertise to the WSA. Of course, if one measures success just by the number of votes received, then it is possible to be pessimistic. Yet Marxists do not use this criterion to judge our success in elections. If as a result the WSA is better known and we have built a stronger branch in Ogmore, then there are reasons for optimism. After decades of abstaining from using the election tactic, revolutionaries ought not to be too surprised if our vote is somewhat disappointing. Scargill had the nerve to stand against Labour long before most of the revolutionary left broke from auto-Labourism in elections. Our late start will be a handicap in this regard for some time to come. After all, the recent electoral success of Lutte Ouvrière/Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire in France was a consequence of a fairly consistent approach to elections for over a quarter of a century. Neither did the success of the SSP come out of thin air. To have given the SLP a free run would have been a major error. If the WSA, with a branch in the constituency, had stood aside, then it would have been guilty of refusing to combat the perverse Stalinite politics of Scargill and Harpal Brar and deserved infamy. Unfortunately many in the WSA are not prepared as yet to do ideological battle with the SLP. The Socialist Workers Party, of which comrade Hurford is a member, has always been soft on Scargill. He is a would-be labour dictator - we must expose his politics remorselessly. Scargill after all will do his best to destroy the Socialist Alliance. Contesting the SLP on economistic trade union demands and leaving voters ignorant of the real nature of Scargillism will continue to let the SLP off the hook. One theory being peddled by the SWP for the size of the SLP vote has to do with the nature of its campaign literature. Yet it is a bit rich for SWP to contrast the SLP appeal to old Labour sentiments with the 'socialism' of the WSA. The SLP's muscular brand of reformism (albeit with grotesque Stalinist nostalgia) is perhaps more 'leftwing' than the WSA attempt at presenting itself as a version of old Labour. This is not to say that the SLP programme is anything less than an abortion of working class politics - it is a reactionary leftwing programme, based on national socialism. But for the SWP to claim that the WSA stood on a 'socialist' manifesto is only a half-truth. We stood rather on yet another version of left reformism. True, our literature made mention of our opposition to the war, but what dominated was mainly platitudes about "our NHS", etc (see Weekly Worker February 14). Once, the SWP claimed that standing in elections inevitably and automatically pulled socialists to the right. Utter nonsense, but for the SWP a self-fulfilling prophecy. We should not be surprised if, presented with a choice between two very similar programmes, more voters put a cross next to "Socialist Labour Party/Arthur Scargill" than to the less well known forces of the WSA - especially in this mining area. Also, the absence of any position on the national question in the WSA's election material will continue to be a major handicap unless we correct it - we need to take on nationalism, not take fright at it. It is, however, interesting to note that the SLP's vote did not seem to harmed by the absence of the word 'Welsh' on the ballot paper. The WSA needs to express its support for the right of the people of Wales to self-determination, while openly advocating unity with Britain's working class - a unity best expressed through the demand for a Wales-Scotland-England federal republic. The WSA continues to adopt an odd position on the national question. In its document, Towards a socialist Wales, agnosticism (there is no recognition of the right to self-determination) combines with a nationalist-reformist set of policies which assume Welsh solutions and totally ignore the fact Wales is part of the UK state. Taken altogether, this amounts to a political concession to nationalism - neither the Socialist Party nor the SWP are prepared to openly and honestly argue for unity. Nor are they prepared to challenge the damaging division of socialists in Britain into national/royal units. Yet, isolated from the stronger forces amassed in the Socialist Alliance in England, the WSA will continue to suffer from the inevitable incoherence and amateurism stemming from its inability to explain theoretically why it actually exists as a separate organisation. Until the politics of the national question are brought out into the open, the WSA will remain at sea and risk paralysis. Our slogan, whether we be in England, Scotland or Wales, should be: 'One state, one Socialist Alliance party'. Cameron Richards Parliamentary by-election: Ogmore Votes % Bean Party Captain Beany 122 0.66 Conservative Guto Bebb 1,377 7.49 Green Jonathan Spink 250 1.36 Independent Rev David Braid 100 0.54 Labour Huw Irranca-Davies 9,548 51.96 Lib Dems Veronica Watkins 1,608 8.75 Loony Leslie Edwards 187 1.02 Plaid Cymru Bleddyn Hancock 3,827 20.83 Socialist Labour Party Chris Herriot 1,152 6.27 Welsh Socialist Alliance Jeff Hurford 205 1.12