Aim for socialist working class party

National executive committee member Steve Godward, who chaired the May 10 Socialist Alliance conference, gives his views on the way ahead

It was not until about an hour afterwards that it sank in what had happened at the Socialist Alliance conference. Chairing means you are concentrating on quite technical questions.

I was not entirely picking up on the flavour of things and, being up on the stage, I did not hear some of the barracking. If I had, I would have jumped on that much earlier, because, at the end of the day, everybody there was a member of the Socialist Alliance and we should treat each other with dignity and respect. From what has been fed back to me, the barracking appeared to be directed at our comrades in the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty for talking about George Galloway. You have the right to disagree with what somebody says, but Galloway is not a member of the SA and the AWL are. Anyway, I think we must ensure that the acoustics are of better quality in future conferences.

I read the Weekly Worker the following week literally to find out what had taken place and remind myself what had been said. I was very taken with John Rees’s speech, reproduced in the paper. I had no idea that he had had meetings with various people and organisations and, as a member of the SA executive at the time, was unaware that this was going to be discussed at conference. I was not too happy about that and I will be taking it up at the June 7 executive meeting.

He talked about an alliance with the muslim community that the Stop the War Coalition had built up. But, as an independent whose only political home is the Socialist Alliance, I would like to ask the groups how many SA members have actually been picked up from the STWC and the anti-war movement - I am not sure there are many. It seems we have done a lot of marking time, with everything subordinated to the war. We lost our way - not having SA speakers on platforms was a great mistake. The STWC put the Liberal Democrats up there and the Liberal Democrats got the votes in the local council elections.

I believe politics should be secular. Everybody is entitled to their belief, including religious belief, so long as that belief does not harm anyone; so long as it is not on the extreme right wing. I believe that you must uphold your principles and people will come to you on that basis - that was the way I was taught. I do not think we should subsume our politics. It does not matter what your religion or your culture is. Personally I do not pander to anybody, but in Birmingham, if you question the politics of some of those in the muslim community, the comrades in the Socialist Workers Party call you an islamophobe - read racist - and I would deny that vigorously.

I did think the conference took us forward, but, at the end of the day, are we a political body that is trying to give people a real leftwing alternative to the Labour Party, or aren’t we? There is a risk of chasing shadows. The contacts with the Communist Party of Britain and the muslim community were fine - for the Stop the War Coalition. We are the Socialist Alliance and I do not think we need to create these blocs. Perhaps I am naive - I came to politics quite late in life - but it seems to me there is a need to become rooted rather than jumping from one tactic to another. You have to get the basics right first. At the moment the internal battle seems to be the order of the day, without getting on with the business of creating that alternative to Labour.

If we set out the aim of becoming a political party, that would be an antidote to a lot of the internecine warfare. The Scottish Socialist Party has been able to develop grassroots politics, react to events and fight for the community: that is the kind of socialist organisation I would be looking for - one that actually gets into the working class. I would like to go to Scotland to discuss face to face with the SSP comrades how they are taking things forward. That is my idea of a workers’ party. That is my idea of the future. We should learn from the SSP and replicate where appropriate.

The reason we could go out onto the streets and defeat fascism in the 70s was that we had a very strong workers’ movement which called itself socialist. At the moment we do not have that. That is why I believe that the CPGB’s motion at the SA conference about moving forward towards a workers’ party was excellent, and it is something I will be working for on the executive. At the end of the day we would all be in the same organisation and working for the same aims. Some comrades are constantly talking about what happened in the past. While it is important to learn from history, politics should be dynamic and we should use the past to move forward.

Trust would be a good first step - I think we have to start trusting each other. I have had some feedback regarding the size of the new executive and the dominance of the SWP. But you can look at the cup as being half full or half empty. If the SWP has committed so many people and so many resources, let us give them a chance. It is easy to attack, but harder to try and work through problems and get them sorted. There can be positives if we are accountable and more transparent. As I say, it was a bit of shock to find out that John Rees had come to Birmingham for discussions and had not thought to invite anybody from Birmingham SA. We need to operate in a more professional manner with each other.

I have never before been in an organisation that did not have its own paper. The only SA paper I have sold is the Left Turn broadsheet for 20p. I believe we need to have a collective voice. Such a paper would have to be regular. Even if we decided it would be quarterly, it would be an advance. There needs to be a commitment to something that carries the aims and the ideas of the Socialist Alliance which members could carry with them and use in their work.

I am looking forward to June 7, which, as the first meeting of the new exec, will be an important occasion. It will be good to meet the new faces, but we will need to have a few things out. Socialism is not a hobby of mine, but something I believe in. It is not a dirty word any more amongst the working class and we need to start moving forward with that understanding.