Building for the future

Local elections in England are set for May 2. With Labour reeling from charges of being in the pay of big business this is the Socialist Alliance's most important challenge since the 2001 general election. Rob Hoveman is the Socialist Alliance's national secretary. He decided to give written responses to our questions which he asked to receive in advance

What is the final figure for the number of candidates we are standing in the local elections and how many wards are we contesting? We've got about 90 candidates in London. In one or two places we're standing more than one candidate in a ward, so the number of wards is a little over 80. Elsewhere our estimate is we have somewhere between 115 and 125 candidates. Most elections outside London are single-seat wards, but we are standing multiple candidates in three-seat wards in one or two places, so again the number of wards is slightly lower than the number of candidates. We are working on getting a completely accurate picture in time for the election results. Our problem has been that local SAs were unsure exactly how many candidates they would be able to agree to stand in advance of nominations and, with the campaign underway, we haven't had the time to check the whole of the country since. Are you disappointed in the number of candidates? Why do you think fewer electors proportionally will get the chance to vote for us than in the general election? I think over 200 candidates for our first serious national outing in local elections is very good. I don't know how many socialist candidates standing independently of the Labour Party have stood nationwide in the past in local elections, but I think we will compare very favourably with the past. I am certain that we have by far the largest number of socialist candidates in this election. On the assumption that the average electoral size of a ward is around 5,000 (and they vary from area to area quite significantly) we are standing candidates in front of around a million voters. In the general election, assuming an average constituency size of around 55,000, we stood in front of getting on for five million voters (including our comrades in the WSA). There are a number of reasons the figure is smaller in the local elections. Firstly, there are significant areas of the country which do not have elections this May, including the whole of Wales, Brighton and a swathe of territory stretching up from the home counties to just south of Sheffield. Secondly, with no freepost, less pressure to create the national organisation we forged out of the general election campaign and no possibility of an election broadcast, local SAs have adjusted their perspectives to what they believe they can seriously leaflet with the activists they have at their disposal. Moreover, with publicity for the local elections almost non-existent (at least until now) and the turnout likely to be very low, we have emphasised the importance of doing as much canvassing as possible. This is of course very labour-intensive. We've also been handicapped by the fact that many very potential candidates have been ruled out by virtue of their working for the council where they wanted to stand for election. Having said that, my feeling is we could have sustained good campaigns for perhaps 300 candidates nationwide. There may have been some conservatism locally, with comrades not realising just how many people we could get to do some campaigning, however limited, for our candidates. And some comrades who would have made very good candidates and who were eligible may have been unjustifiably daunted. I'm not disappointed, however, because over 200 is a very good number. We have candidates in all the major cities and in many other areas where we have functioning local SAs. We'll learn from these elections and will have a lot more candidates in future, providing we have good campaigns this time round. What in your opinion are the main priorities for the SA in the campaign? There are many local issues which candidates will be taking up in a big way during the election. This is an indication of the extent we have developed roots and where we have even at times led local campaigns - to defend council housing, over incinerators, etc. And there are a host of issues relating to the funding of and democracy in local government, including the changes to planning law, which will further erode local control over corporate development. However, above all, we will mobilise voters if we are able to persuade them this election is not just about local issues, but is a mini, mid-term referendum on Blair and New Labour. Therefore the underfunding of public services, their proposed privatisation, the renationalisation of the transport system and the fact there are the resources available for decent health, education and transport services if the government were to raise taxes massively on the rich and the big corporations - all these are very important issues to raise. And with the continuing war in Afghanistan, the threat to Iraq, the Israeli terror in Palestine, the fuelling of racism and the role of Bush and his poodle, Blair, in all of this, it would be very foolish if we didn't raise these as very important issues. Has there been cooperation with others on the left to avoid electoral clashes? Our position, stated in the election guidance notes we produced in February, was that we wanted to avoid the situation, wherever possible, of socialist candidates competing for the same vote. This is not something it was ever practicable we could negotiate to a conclusion nationally, even if other organisations were prepared to discuss the issue, as decisions on candidates have been a matter for local SAs. Avoiding dividing the socialist vote is therefore something that it has been down to local SAs to resolve. I'm pleased to say that as far as I know there are very few such clashes. Indeed I actually know of only one ward in the country where this has happened.