Election? What election?

With only two weeks to go before elections to the National Assembly of Wales, the campaign seems hardly to have registered with most voters in the principality. Whilst undoubtedly this has something to do with the blanket coverage of the war, apathy also reflects the high degree of indifference with an institution which is frequently viewed as merely a talking shop. Yet it would be a mistake for socialists to tail this apathy and view the elections as irrelevant. In fact, the election result on May 2 could well force socialists in Wales to take a hard look at themselves and consider whether present strategies only consign the Welsh left to the furthest margins of politics. Unlike Scotland, where there is a real buzz about the prospect of the Scottish Socialist Party becoming a significant force, no such excitement exists in Wales. Consequently politics will be largely viewed as a choice (let us leave aside the Tories) between three parties - Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, whose policies a cigarette paper would find difficult to separate. Such an approach to the elections is taken in an article by Daniel Morrissey in the latest edition of Workers Action. This article is worth commenting on as it represents one of the very few attempts on the left to write seriously on Welsh politics. Yet the vision comrade Morrissey has for the working class is a feeble one. Despite first minister Rhodri Morgan's talk of putting 'clear red water' between Welsh Labour and the party nationally, Morrissey recognises that the policies of Welsh Labour and Plaid amount to little more than warmed-over social democracy politics. But he seems to suggest that the approach of both parties is rather different to the neo-liberal policies of Blair. Consequently, comrade Morrissey calls upon the working class to vote for Labour with their first vote and cast their second vote for Plaid. Since Labour is unlikely to win more than one seat on the regional lists this will maximise the vote of the 'left' parties. Indeed in the event of Labour again failing to win a majority in the assembly, the comrade advocates a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition instead of the present Lib-Lab one. Thus, the tactics employed by Daniel Morrissey amount to little more than auto-Labourism with a 'twist' - voting Plaid where a Labour vote will be wasted. Unfortunately such tactics can only sow illusions in the working class that these parties represent an alternative to neo-liberalism. First, let us look at Plaid Cymru. This party is nothing more than a petty-bourgeois nationalist party. True, it has opposed the war and will use the word socialist in its rhetoric when it suits. Clearly it has begun to win a base in industrial south Wales. Yet its vision for Wales is little more than mirroring the neo-liberal 'tiger economy' approach of the Irish ruling class. When Plaid has taken control of councils, such as in Rhondda Cynon Taff, its record has been a programme of cuts seen all too often with other parties. No vote should be advocated for Plaid. Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, would be well advised to think again whether he really wants his members' money going to this source. What of 'Welsh' Labour? For all of Morgan's 'red' rhetoric he is nothing more than an old Labourite of the right-wing variety. He has sat on the fence during the war, clearly showing his unwillingness to break from Blair. His Labour colleagues in the assembly are not much different. Having done its best to rid the assembly of dissident leftwing voices in a rigged selection process in 1998-99, Labour AMs have not been characterised by their propensity to defend the interests of the working class. Indeed the handful of the more independent AMs are either retiring from the assembly, have been deselected or have been 'disgraced' as in the case of Ron Davies. In these circumstances a blanket call to vote Labour is unwise. If a Labour candidate were to come out unambiguously for socialist policies and defence of working class organisations, which would place him or her at loggerheads with both Morgan and Blair, then a critical vote could be advocated. Yet this seems unlikely. However an interesting situation has arisen in Wrexham, where the former MP and sitting AM John Marek is standing as an independent, following his recent deselection by his local Labour party. In fact the full title is the Independent John Marek Party, having been joined by the leading Cymru Goch supporter, Marc Jones, in a neighbouring constituency and by an anti-war activist in a third north Wales constituency. The logic of this tactic is straightforward. Even if Dr Marek fails to win his constituency, he is still likely to win a seat on the regional list. Yet a recent opinion poll for HTV suggests another scenario is now possible - not only will he win his Wrexham constituency, it is just possible that a second seat for IJMP could be won on the list, with Marc Jones squeezing through. What approach should be taken to the IJMP by socialists? The 'party' has really been conceived as simply a way of ensuring Marek is returned to Westminster. It is really not much more than a vehicle for a bourgeois politician to remain in gainful employment. He is no left-wing socialist. Dr Marek is best described as a maverick politician. With no hope of further advancement, he has found the Blair era too much to stomach and rebelled against certain New Labour policies. His opposition to the recent war has been muted. In a recent interview in a new Cymru Goch inspired publication, SEReN, Dr Marek was asked about his position on the war and remarked that, "I do have strong views on the war, but am not saying anything that may increase casualties in Iraq. It is important to remember that British armed forces are there doing their duty under orders from the British government." More recently, he has made his opposition 'clearer', as he trawls around for anti-war votes. Interestingly, Bob Crowe has also pledged his support for Dr Marek, an RMT member, and will speak at an election rally on April 30. What, then, of those to the left of Labour, Plaid and IJMP? There will, in fact, be no shortage of left parties standing in the elections. Attracting most attention so far is the Socialist Labour Party, with its leader, Arthur Scargill, heading the list in south eEast Wales. The SLP is also standing in two other regions, as well as in the Ogmore constituency. The Communist Party of Britain will be standing in two regions. Not content to simply support Plaid or IJMP, Bob Crowe is being billed as the star speaker at its main rally on April 28. Bob has obviously completely severed his links with Scargill, since the CPB and the SLP will be going head to head in the South Wales Central region. Of some curiosity has been the emergence of Vote 2 Stop the War, which is standing on two of the regional lists. This appears to be some sort of 'popular front' party, its candidates being a motley crew of Stalinists, peaceniks and the odd former cold war stalwart, such as Group Captain Kel Palmer. The WSA is actually standing as the 'Welsh Socialist Alliance - Against the war'. This may bolster the vote, particularly in areas, most notably Swansea, where the WSA has maintained some sort of existence between elections. Yet it is already apparent that the WSA is not fighting a centralised national campaign, but a set of local campaigns handicapped by their rank amateurism. The campaign website of the WSA remains largely dormant, with its manifesto still to be posted on the site. It is not clear whether this is because of dozy organisation or because the WSA does not actually have a manifesto. Cameron Richards