Assessing mayoral elections

Teesside Socialist Alliance met on May 27 to evaluate our campaign in the recent election for mayor of Middlesbrough. Our candidate, Jeff Fowler, attracted 352 first-preference votes. Due to the nature of the voting system many more second-preference votes remain uncounted. Although perhaps the result seems somewhat meagre compared to that of the general election, in which over 500 people voted for SWPer Geoff Kerr-Morgan, it cannot be ignored that overwhelming public support for populist anti-Labour candidate 'Robocop' Ray Mallon made our campaign somewhat more difficult this time around. Indeed, in contrast to the usual 'keep the Tories out' excuse for voting Labour, many people who cast an SA vote last time told canvassers they would this time vote Mallon in order to keep Labour out! A sober evaluation of the campaign led comrades to draw different conclusions on its effectiveness. Martyn Hudson of the CPGB suggested that perhaps it would have been better for us to stand a paper candidate in light of the low ratio between work put in and contacts gained. Hustings-style community forums were relatively disappointing, and the 'scatter-bomb' leafleting approach garnered little success, some comrades argued. Comrade Kerr-Morgan, however, argued that the campaign was an overall success, and that it helped "build our profile" in the region. The inclusion of our candidate in local radio and newspaper coverage gave us more exposure than a paper candidate would have offered, he said. We now plan to stand CPGB member Lawrie Coombs in an upcoming by-election in Thornaby. Also discussed on Monday was the recent increase in far-right activity on Teesside. On Saturday May 25 around 15 members of the National Front leafleted near the entrance to the Cleveland shopping mall - previously the location of our regular SA stall - and reports have reached comrades of a recent 'social get-together' of BNP activists in a local pub. Comrades asserted that we must be objective in our assessment of what appears to be an isolated incident and agreed that the worst step at this stage would be to respond with excessive, ANL-style 'Smash the Nazis' activity. Perhaps a better idea would be to respond with our own politics and begin building Socialist Alliance work once again in the town centre - something we have neglected since the general election campaign of 2001. Undoubtedly, now that the mayoral contest is over, there is a danger that the Socialist Alliance will once again ebb on Teesside, only to be brought to the fore when another major election is called. In order to combat both the far right and the politics of Labourism, we need an active, vibrant working class organisation which not only campaigns in elections and during times of struggle, but provide a political culture in which ideas can be discussed. The success of the Communist Party day school, 'Rebuilding working class politics', indicates that people are ready to engage with ideas - we now need to bring high politics into the Socialist Alliance. James Bull