Campaigns and debate

T eesside Socialist Alliance's meeting on Monday April 8 marked the two-week countdown to the start of voting in the contest to determine Middlesbrough's first directly elected mayor in a postal ballot. Voting will last five days, and comrades are determined that our candidate, Jeff Fowler, will keep a high profile for the whole election period. For the most part, discussion centred around campaigning tasks over the final fortnight. Comrade Fowler has been successful in attracting invitations to a number of hustings-style community gatherings, and we intend to make a presence at as many as possible. Controversy arose, however, over an invitation from a local mosque to two separate meetings: one exclusively male; the other female. Comrades debated whether such a meeting could be supported by a socialist candidate and, if it could, whether our opposition to segregation should be vehemently asserted. Some, including Socialist Workers Party comrade Geoff Kerr-Morgan, thought that we should adopt a 'softly softly' approach, and seemed to downplay the women's oppression which is practised in some muslim communities. Other comrades asserted that it was important to attend, since the audience may contain those who have fled repression at the hands of fundamentalist regimes, and who are in the process of radicalisation. Whatever the composition of the meetings, however, it is vital that the SA does not pander to chauvinism, religious or otherwise, and it was eventually agreed that comrade Fowler should complain of the absence of women in the men's gathering, and vice-versa. Another interesting element to Monday's meeting was the success of a motion - carried without opposition - from James Bull of the CPGB, calling for the creation of a "Socialist Alliance-organised wing for youth and students". This resolution will be presented to the next meeting of the national executive, and marks a first step in the direction a serious approach towards harnessing the growing disaffection amongst youth. Comrade Martyn Hudson raised a point towards the end of the evening regarding the phobia for ideas which has characterised Teesside SA meetings of late. Some independent and SWP comrades have rejected proposals for a regular political discussion slot at our fortnightly meetings, as this might "hamper campaigning". Bizarrely, the persistence of other independent and CPGB comrades to push forward this fundamental necessity has been met with accusations of a "hidden agenda" and 'bureaucratism' for trying to put the proposal to a vote. Comrade Kerr-Morgan attacked CPGB comrades for allegedly undermining the campaigning effort, seemingly blaming us for the "rank and file amateurism" which plagues the SA project. According to him, and independent comrade Gordon Rowntree, the SA should limit its role to standing candidates and distributing campaign material - or at least that is all that should be discussed in meetings. Debates around political theory and national events should be restricted to meetings of the supporting organisations (presumably non-aligned comrades have no need for any such discussion). This, of course, is absolute nonsense. The SA, if it is to be treated as a serious political project, must be the place for the hammering out of ideas and perspectives. It is precisely because our amalgam is so diverse that we should "create an atmosphere where our differences can be debated and overcome", as comrade Lawrie Coombs of the CPGB remarked. Developing a healthy, open political culture must be one of the SA's principal tasks, and is essential if we are to attract or even retain support after the mayoral election is over. James Bull