SWP rebels defeat Hoveman

A rebellion by members of the Socialist Workers Party will allow Lewisham Socialist Alliance to contest a forthcoming council by-election. On October 8 Lewisham SA voted by nine votes to five, with one abstention, to stand a candidate in Downham ward on November 7. The votes of the SWP rebels - in opposition to the arguments of SA national secretary Rob Hoveman, who was present at the meeting - were decisive. Three SWPers joined with two comrades from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and four independents in voting for an alliance contest, while another SWP member abstained. The reasoning put forward by comrade Hoveman, and echoed by the SWP majority, was that the Socialist Alliance is set to score a good vote in Hackney, where Paul Foot is standing for mayor on October 17. But another poor return - such as in a recent by-election in Tower Hamlets, where the SA scraped together only nine votes - would be a disaster. The possibility that success for comrade Foot would have a knock-on effect does not seem to have been considered by comrade Hoveman. This seems to signal a move by the SWP away from the position it accepted at the time of the general election - that we should aim to contest as widely as possible. Now, it seems, the line is that only those seats where we can be confident of a good vote should be targeted. Comrade Hoveman was so convinced of the foolishness of standing in Downham that he had spent a good deal of time on the telephone beforehand trying to persuade independent comrades of its inadvisability. In fact there have been three leftwing contests in this part of south Lewisham over the past few years (although boundary changes means the ward is no longer the same): by the Socialist Labour Party, Nick Long's independent socialists and the AWL's Jill Mountford - all achieved modest but by no means derisory results. Let us hope that this incident is just an aberration on the part of the SWP. The need remains to put the SA more firmly on the political map. Inevitably there will be some poor results, but there will be no possibility of advance if we are afraid to run the risk of failure. Peter Manson