Ballots to the war

High Peak Socialist Alliance in north-west England is to stand five candidates in the May local elections under the banner 'Socialist Alliance against the war'. There will be three candidates for the town council in New Mills. Christine Vie and Dave Turton are trade union activists, and Nick James is a well known local campaigner. There will be two candidates for the High Peak borough council, which covers all the towns and villages in the area: Dominic McGlynn, a local firefighter and union activist, and Paul Brook, a leading SWP activist. The election publicity will follow the 'welfare not warfare' and 'people before profit' themes: stop the war, stop privatisation, fully fund the NHS, defend council housing, stop attacks on asylum seekers, fight racism and tax the rich to fund public services. The campaign has made a start with a regular stall and leafleting on the main shopping street in New Mills. There has also been some reasonable publicity in the local newspapers. Despite the short period to the election, the SWP leadership line is to focus on turning out numbers for the April 12 demonstration in London - leaving just over two weeks for the election campaign proper afterwards. A very brief period. This dogmatic separation between organising for the demo and arguing socialist and revolutionary politics including the politics of opposing the war, rather than just facilitating maximum numbers, began to break down on the first day on the stall whenever discussions arose. It was logical to mention that the Socialist Alliance would be the only local party opposing the war. And only socialist ideas could counter arguments that pulling the troops out would give victory to Saddam Hussein and our soldiers would have died in vain, etc. The arguments to continue opposing the war are now far tougher, especially against the emotion of support for 'our boys' and the fatalistic sentiment that we cannot stop the barbarism of the war now it is almost over. To focus one sidedly on mobilising numbers is not politically effective at this stage. What ultimately counts is not simply the sheer mass of demonstrators, but the political character and direction of the anti-war movement. This is the political weakness of the local campaign. Its strength has been to mobilise 500 local people - both the Socialist Alliance and the Stop the War Coalition are led by the same comrades - but there has been little organised political debate and discussion. While canvassing, leafleting and a motor cavalcade have happened there is to be no political meeting where the candidates can speak and be questioned by electors or the rank and file membership. True, there was to have been an election rally with Rob Hoveman, Socialist Alliance national secretary. However, this coincided with the outbreak of the war and a demo in the town centre. The local SWP comrades did not have the confidence that people on the demo would attend a political meeting after the end of the demo. So they cancelled. The organisational meetings have yet to have a political report on the war. Hence no formal political discussion has taken place about the nature of the war or about the strategy and tactics to be adopted. Meetings have been purely organisational. Certainly some of the comrades found themselves in a very good debate in the local pub. This was far more political than anything so far in the organisation meetings. We need a hustings for the candidates and we need to develop a culture of open debate and discussion to prepare the activists to effectively canvass and win the battle of ideas. David Green