SA 'awkward squad' under threat

Marcus Strom reports from the first meeting of the newly elected executive committee of the Socialist Alliance in England and Wales

New executive, new dynamic. The first meeting of the newly elected executive committee of the Socialist Alliance in England and Wales had been awaited with interest. Given the opaque nature of the process that resulted in the NEC’s election at annual conference, the move of the Socialist Workers Party to greatly increase its presence (from three to 13) and rumours flying about of behind-the-scenes negotiations over the future of the alliance, this executive meeting indicated the pace, culture and direction for developments to come.

Discussions centred on the future direction of the SA. What is going on in the anti-war movement? Where is New Labour going? What of the European elections? What is our overall strategy? How is the alliance placed for debates on the political fund and the unions’ links to Labour? These were all touched upon and quite rightly so. In a positive shift, most of our discussion was of a decidedly political nature. Technical matters were delegated to officers and committees.

Yet questions about the SWP’s negotiations with the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, Salma Yaqoob and the Birmingham central mosque were kicked into touch by an increasingly arrogant John Rees of the SWP. Talks with the CPB were “bilateral” and thus “confidential”, he said. The sensitivity of them meant they could not be reported publicly. Why ever not? Doesn’t the SA membership, its executive and the working class movement require transparency and accountability on these matters? Obviously the content of the discussions would be of some concern to British road to socialism loyal members of the CPB, for whom voting Labour is the alpha and omega of their political strategy.

Comrade Rees said that there was no secret regarding his talks with Salma Yaqoob in Birmingham, but he nevertheless kept shtoom about their outcome. My written questions to the executive on this matter remain unanswered (see below). Neither has there yet been a response to Birmingham Socialist Alliance’s written request for clarification.

The outcome of the executive was mixed. Not unexpectedly, the SWP pushed forward its drive for political dominance. There is no problem with the fact that the SWP constitutes a majority either on the executive or in the alliance as a whole. But, using this majority to go behind the backs of the executive and the membership, entering into secret negotiations with non-SA forces and displaying increasing intolerance for the SA ‘awkward squad’ is not acceptable.

Despite its show of charm, the SWP could not resist its usual knee-jerk resort to control-freakery. Minority voices on the future of the alliance are to be salami-sliced out of the picture. Following his article in last week’s Weekly Worker, Steve Godward, vice-chair of the previous executive, was unceremoniously dumped from his post for having a minority position unacceptable to the current executive. In the words of secretary Rob Hoveman (SWP), comrade Godward was deemed to have a vision inappropriate for a public figure of the executive. While I have my own differences with comrade Godward’s views, nevertheless I regard them as coming from an SA partisan and perfectly healthy in terms of the overall project - we are not a confessional sect. It was disappointing that only five executive members voted for there to be three vice-chairs (with four abstentions), as proposed by John Fisher, which would have allowed comrade Godward to retain his post.


Yet this was not the end of the SWP’s attempts to remove from influence some of those who dare to express their differences. I had put myself forward for re-election as SA nominating officer - a post which parties standing candidates are legally obliged to appoint. Rob Hoveman nominated Simon Joyce, an SWP member from Camden Socialist Alliance, as an alternative to me. This was a step too far for the executive. John Fisher and Lesley Mahmood (both non-aligned) and Mark Hoskisson (Workers Power) all spoke against the SWP carving out ‘troublesome’ executive members from officer positions. In his speech against my re-election, comrade Hoveman graciously admitted that I had done a good job, but that my “minority position” on the future of the alliance made it unacceptable for me to hold an officer’s post. He argued that the alliance required a “coherent set of officers” and that minority positions were not appropriate.

Lesley Mahmood, having just been elected as a vice-chair, was put out by this. Didn’t she have a minority position herself? Of course she does, but it seems some minority positions are more tolerated than others.

I pointed out that after the other motions had been defeated I voted for the main resolution moved by Alan Thornett (International Socialist Group) at annual conference. Comrade Rees of the SWP accepted this, but said that I did not really mean it. My vote was made redundant by comrade Rees’s pronouncement, it seems - what it must be to have such power. I said that to remove officers on this basis would be to send all the wrong messages about the direction our alliance was taking.

Comrade John Fisher’s support for my re-election was most welcome. He openly called on SWP members of the executive to seriously consider the negative effect on the alliance if I was not re-elected. His call was heeded by five SWP members. Only six of the 11 SWP members present could bring themselves to vote for their own candidate. I received 14 votes and was re-elected.

Some will jump on this to ‘prove’ the independence of the executive from the SWP. While the non-aligned comrades taken as a whole are hardly creatures of the SWP, this misses the point: the SWP is definitely set on a course of remoulding the SA in its own image and of course we are all, as individuals, there only inasmuch as the SWP is prepared to tolerate us. It wants to send out all the right images as far as it is concerned - it is in control.

Throughout discussions about the future electoral direction of the alliance, supporters of the SWP/International Socialist Group bloc kept referring to the conference resolution on ‘a new initiative for the left’. In part, that resolution states: “We also want to discuss with those on the left who are not currently inside the alliance and argue for their participation in a new initiative. We are not simply appealing to people to join the alliance as it is, although we are keen to recruit.

“We have an open mind on the organisational form that could emerge from such discussions. It could be the alliance as it is, a relaunched alliance or a new organisation entirely. We would insist only that it is open, inclusive, democratic and of course socialist.”

Already the SWP is looking to worm out of such formulations. How are attempts to remove ‘awkward’ executive members for officer posts reflective of an “inclusive” alliance? How is the refusal to report back on negotiations with the CPB and other forces “open”?

There are other questions about the drive to “broaden our alliance”. I wholeheartedly support broadening the alliance. However, not at any cost. Our resolution says we will “insist” that our new initiative is democratic and socialist. Has John Rees been doing this in discussions with religious forces?

John Rees reached the height of disingenuousness in this discussion. In an attempt to defend his refusal to report back he said that these talks had been bilateral discussions. He was not wearing his SA hat at the time. Why? Because it was “regrettable that the SA didn’t make its presence more forceful in the Stop the War Coalition”, so approaches were made directly by the SWP to the CPB and others. What double-talk! Does not the comrade realise he is a member of the SA executive committee? It was the political choice of his own organisation, the SWP, not to take part in the STWC as the alliance, but rather as a self-promoting sect.

There is also a worrying trend from some SWP members of the executive to consider the Labour Party vote to be “crumbling away”. Sure, there is a crisis of representation, but for comrades such as Andy Newman from Swindon to suggest that Labour’s vote is in danger of collapsing is fantasy. He went further into political self-delusion by saying that the Scottish Socialist Party’s success was based on “proportional representation and luck”. After all, the comrade pointed out, they only have two sitting councillors to our one. What myopic self-satisfaction.

John Fisher provided some sober realism. He said that in most places the SA barely exists. He pointed to a dramatic shift in the SWP’s strategy to build the SA. Up until the debacle of Liz Davies’s resignation as chair, the SWP concentrated on “building up the number of independents”. He asked what had happened to this approach.

He pointed to the problems of what he dubbed the “hattism” of the largest component: wherever the SWP was, it had to wear a different hat - Globalise Resistance in Evian, Socialist Alliance at the town hall, and so on. This was seriously stretching the SWP activists, as well as the credibility of their involvement. Comrade Fisher concluded his contribution by saying that “organisations need to give stronger support [to the SA] or we will just stagger on”. Quite right.


Comrade Godward emphasised the need for transparency, democracy and accountability in all we do. Mark Hoskisson questioned the political basis for our ‘new initiative’. Will it be an electoral arrangement or a new organisation? Will it involve non-working class political forces? Failure to report back is just making “peppercorns for the rumour mill”. He emphasised the class differentiation within the muslim community and warned against talking about this section of society as an undifferentiated bloc. Comrade Hoskisson called for clarity and the development of political ‘bottom lines’ in our negotiations. None were set.

To oversee future discussions and negotiations to achieve our ‘new initiative’ a taskforce was elected by the executive. Let us hope its deliberations are more transparent and democratic than they have been up to now. The taskforce is: John Rees (SWP), Nick Wrack (pro-SWP ‘independent’), Rob Hoveman (SWP), Lesley Mahmood (non-aligned), Cecilia Prosper (SWP) and Will McMahon (pro-SWP ‘independent’).

Although the size of the executive makes it somewhat cumbersome, the addition of leading activists from across the country has added to the content of discussions. Michael Lavalette (SWP), our Preston councillor, is able to bring his experiences to the executive. Others, such as those from Gordon Rowntree, Jim Jepps and Heather Cox, are also useful in helping the executive consider our direction.

Nick Wrack was elected chair, with Lesley Mahmood and Cecilia Prosper (SWP) vice-chairs. A proposal from comrade Mahmood for there to be two co-chairs (herself and comrade Wrack) received seven votes with 16 against.


The executive heard reports from comrade Rees on the Stop the War Coalition and from comrade Hoskisson on the campaign on the union’s political fund. It was agreed that Rob Hoveman and Alan Thornett (ISG) should represent the SA at the ‘European conference of the anti-capitalist left’, which was held in Athens on June 9-10. They will report back on the important discussions there in writing. At stake is a European-wide socialist ticket in the European elections.

Taken earlier in the meeting was a resolution from Sheffield Socialist Alliance calling for the cooption of Phil Pope to the executive. This received five votes (including mine). Two motions passed by Coventry and Warwickshire Socialist Alliance (Cawsa) were ‘noted’. The first called on the executive to avoid clashes between socialist and green candidates at the European elections. The second wanted a recalled national conference to discuss the nature of discussions being undertaken by leading SA figures (ie, John Rees). It states: “The main concern of Cawsa members was that such discussions were taking place without the knowledge of the membership. Rumours were circulating which may or may not be accurate - openness was felt to be vital, as was the need for the full and democratic involvement of the membership.”

Finally, Greg Tucker (International Socialist Group) spoke to the executive about the appeals committee. It is my understanding he did so without consulting any other member of the new appeals committee. He said that it will pursue the only matter before it: that of the proposal by the SWP-dominated Bedfordshire Socialist Alliance to expel Danny Thompson and Jane Clarke from the SA. Given that this had run into the ground, I would have thought natural justice would mean the new appeals committee would throw this ludicrous attempt at expulsion ‘out of court’.

There will be an SA national council meeting in Birmingham on July 19.