NEC election farce

Marcus Strom recounts an election where the only transparency involved was the one displaying the names of the candidates on an overhead projector

What a way to elect an executive. The Socialist Alliance conference was presented with only one slate to vote for (or against) - proposed by the Socialist Workers Party. Most participants had no idea where this list had come from. Why were there no other slates? Who had decided which nominations would be included? The only transparency involved was the one used to display the names of the candidates on an overhead projector.

The nomination procedure had all the hallmarks of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring - at the expense of an open, democratic process. A number of non-aligned comrades in particular are angry at the lack of clear information about how to present an alternative list, about who was included on the SWP slate, as opposed to those who had been nominated but not included. Sheffield Socialist Alliance has subsequently called on the executive to co-opt Phil Pope, one of the six nominees who did not make it onto the final executive.

How did this situation come about? Nominations for the executive committee opened in January. By the time conference opened, only 16 people had put forward their names. These comrades had provided a 100-word statement giving biographical details and political affiliations. That 26 nominations were taken on the day - many of whom conference as a whole had never heard of - was one problem. Theoretically any member could propose a slate from among those nominated, but those considering doing so were left in the dark.

There were further problems. From the beginning of the day leading SWP comrades were saying privately that they would not support any slate that included Martin Thomas or any other comrade from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty. Given the numerical dominance of the SWP on conference floor, this would effectively lead to the exclusion from the executive of one of the five principal supporting organisations of the alliance. An unacceptable precedent.

The SWP said that the AWL's position on George Galloway effectively deprived it of the right to be on the leadership. A number of executive members told the SWP's John Rees and Rob Hoveman that, while we totally disagreed with the AWL position on Galloway, this was no reason to exclude them from the executive. Some of us told the SWP that we would not be prepared to be on a slate that did not include Martin Thomas of the AWL. For most of the day, intransigence prevailed.

I understand that at the 'independents' caucus meeting at lunchtime, a number of names had been mentioned in terms of membership of the executive. One of these was comrade Pope, who had been nominated way back in January. For one reason or another, the 'indies' meeting did not draw up a slate of its own.

Nominations closed at 2pm. As a member of the conference arrangements committee I took note of the 42 nominations - many of whom were unfamiliar to me. Still there was no progress on whether Martin Thomas would be on the SWP's slate. The CPGB began negotiations with Workers Power to consider putting forward our own slate from the 42 nominations - a slate that would include comrade Thomas. However, we felt unable to draw up an authoritative list. With no candidate statement for 26 of these people, how could we decide who was deserving of support and who was not? We were not sure of their political affiliation and did not know which local SA they belonged to. How could we strike up a political or regional balance under such circumstances? The SWP was in the driving seat.

Rather than start a debate about the relative merit of two slates, we decided to make the main issue whether or not the AWL was included. I was unaware of the preferences that emerged from the 'indies' caucus. So we decided that if the SWP proceeded on the basis of excluding the AWL, we would simply draw up a list that was 'SWP slate plus Martin Thomas'. (I understand that this was the approach of a number of independents - that they would settle for the same list as the SWP - plus any independents they backed whom the SWP had not included. I do not know why the independents did not approach the conference arrangements committee to propose such a slate.)

At the conference arrangements committee desk I conveyed our decision to Rob Hoveman. I asked him what slate was being proposed by the SWP. He said that was not the way things work - slates are presented to conference floor and judged on their relative merits. I told him that our slate was whatever the SWP came up with, plus Martin Thomas. He asked if we would support their proposed slate if comrade Thomas's name was added and I said we would. He said: "It's a deal."

In the end, fully 36 of the 42 nominations for the executive committee were elected. While the increased regional representation is positive, the size of the committee is cumbersome. Twenty-one would be a good number. At 36, the Socialist Alliance executive committee is larger than that of the Labour Party (33).

The make-up of the new executive is, however, now more reflective of the organisation's actual political balance. The majority faction - that of the SWP and its stooges from the International Socialist Group/Resistance - makes up 19 of the 36 places, the narrowest of majorities. The SWP has 13 - up from three. Supporters of Resistance have been handsomely rewarded for tailing the SWP. ISG representation goes up from one to two, while Resistance supporters now account for six places in all (although of course they are hardly a homogenous bloc). The CPGB, Workers Power and AWL remain at one each. There are 14 non-aligned comrades (including Nick Wrack and Will McMahon, who usually collaborate very closely with the SWP and its ISG allies).

The 'unlucky' six nominees who did not make it onto the incoming executive are: Steve Freeman (Revolutionary Democratic Group), Charlie Pottins (Workers International League), Alison Higgins (Workers Power), John Bridge (CPGB), and Phil Pope and Pete McLaren (both independent).

There is an improvement in terms of regional representation on the new EC, which includes Charlie Balch of the Welsh Socialist Alliance. Having our councillor Michael Lavalette on board is another plus. But the fact that this was all presented as a 'take it or leave it' single slate badly damaged the credibility of the process. Far better would be an individual nomination process with first-past-the-post elections. In addition candidates should not be able to go forward without submitting nomination statements - conference needs such information to be able to judge for itself.

It is just as well that we passed a resolution calling on the incoming executive to devise a new electoral system to be implemented from next year. We must never again be submitted to such a charade.