Firefighter selected

Tottenham Socialist Alliance is contesting a council by-election, which has been called for January 23, in Hale ward. Labour councillor David Prendergast resigned just before Christmas, without giving any reasons for his decision. "No comment" was the only thing he told the local newspaper, reflecting his contempt for the people who elected him. The Socialist Alliance now has a real chance to reinvigorate a once active branch that has in effect been non-existent since the 2001 general election. In a snap decision the local Socialist Workers Party majority threw the SA hat in the ring. On Wednesday December 17 SWP member Fergus Nichol contacted the SA nominating officer, Marcus Ström, informing him about the election and the SA's intention "possibly" to stand local firefighter Steve Cracknell. Moreover, Fergus informed comrade Ström that a local officers' meeting two days later would decide on the final candidate. However, the SA membership had not at this stage been informed about the intention to contest the by-election. Surely, at least the most active members of the branch should have been contacted - maybe somebody would have liked to suggest a different candidate or argued against standing at all. A brief email might have been a good idea. After we complained, a proper selection meeting was scheduled for Sunday December 21 - the day before the nomination papers had to be handed in. Comrade Cracknell, branch secretary of Hornsey Fire Brigades Union and a firefighter for 24 years, used the opportunity to introduce himself to the 15 comrades present, almost all of them members of the SWP. He admitted that he is "not a member of the Socialist Alliance yet, but I am in the process of joining". He was quite open about not having had any political experience and his previous support for New Labour. While Steve seems a decent enough guy to contest the election, I think it is problematic to choose a candidate just because of his 'symbolic' value. A number of local SWP members had expressed interest in standing, but their leadership obviously pushed for Steve to be the candidate. When a CPGB comrade asked him if he stands for the politics of the Socialist Alliance and if he accepts the SA's election manifesto, he frankly admitted that he had not read it. "Well, come on, hands up everybody who has read the manifesto," asked a local SWP member, presumably in order to 'defend' the comrade. Sadly, this was greeted by the lone hand of our CPGB questioner. "In a local election it is more important to understand the local issues anyway," the SWP comrade continued. "We need to highlight the council's intention to privatise school meals and the local leisure centre," she said, to the heavy nodding of her comrades. Fortunately, comrades who drew up the first letter to SA members have focused instead on more than local issues, highlighting 'Defend public services', 'Support the firefighters' and 'Don't attack Iraq'. Quite correctly, these are all big, national topics. While we should not ignore local issues in a local council election campaign, surely we must focus on those that challenge New Labour and the government directly. Tina Becker Election diary Saturday and Sunday, January 11-12 and 18-19: Mass leafleting of the ward. Meet 12 noon at Enjoy Café, 408 Tottenham High Road. Tuesday January 21: 'Where is New Labour going?' Election debate with Steve Cracknell, Paul Foot and others. To get involved, contact Simon on 0773 606 4045 or Gary on 020 8808 2500.