Birmingham Socialist Alliance: Excluding awkward voices

The SWP continues its witch hunt against victimised FBU militant, Steve Godward, writes Mark Fischer

The July 1 annual general meeting of the Birmingham Socialist Alliance was packed. Close on 100 attended - though many there could hardly be described as active.

The Socialist Workers Party managed to just about mobilise enough of its members to ensure a clean sweep of the officer positions and finish the hatchet job on Steve Godward, victimised Fire Brigades Union militant. Already removed as vice-chair of the national executive because of his “minority position” on the future of the SA, now comrade Godward has been deposed as chair in Birmingham. Any notion that under SWP leadership the SA adheres to the constitutional principles of inclusivity and consensus is now a dead letter.

Comrade Godward is replaced by Lynne Hubbard, a leading SWPer who has been prominent in the anti-war movement locally - but not perhaps a comrade with the most honourable of records. One wit cuttingly suggested that she had indeed been “central” to the local Stop the War Coalition - “central to closing down democracy”. Later, the meeting was reminded that comrade Godward had actually been kept off an STWC platform, thus ensuring that the Socialist Alliance was denied a public profile. A crushing rebuttal of the claim made by comrade Hubbard that her position in the STWC would be used to “strengthen the SA”.

In truth, the speeches on the relative merits of the different candidates had a token character anyway - the decisions on who would be supported, who would be chopped, had already been decided by John Rees, Rob Hoveman and the SWP’s political committee in London. Two relatively solid blocs confronted each other. But after the first vote of the night - 35 to 39 to remove Steve Godward from the chair in favour of Lynne Hubbard - the rest of the meeting was a forgone conclusion.

One after another, SWPers or their hand-picked favourites ousted the incumbent officers. Selma Iqbal (“not in the SWP”, she assured us, but frankly it did not show) replaced James Cunningham (Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) in the post of membership secretary (41 to 31); Stuart Richardson (Resistance supporter) lost the job of treasurer to Sue, a recent defector from the Labour Party, by 30 votes to 40 and Rachel Smith - a really excited young SWPer, recently arrived from Lancashire - beat comrade Rumy by 39 votes to 31 for the post of publicity officer. She promised to “shake things up a bit” in a speech that did not actually mention the role of press and publicity at all. Comrade Rumy is an ex-SWP member, critical of the turn to the mosque and is at pains to announce his secular beliefs to journalists who assume he is muslim. Presumably not the message the SWP wants to give out at this moment, he sardonically noted.

The issue - made abundantly clear by SWPers - was support for a particular interpretation of the last SA national conference. SWP interventions from the floor claimed again and again that the new officer team would be better placed to “move the alliance forward” and “pull in people from the anti-war movement”. They contrasted the relatively huge STWC contingents travelling to the demonstrations in London with the “pathetic” SA showing in local elections. Selma Iqbal told us that there was “huge potential”, as yet unrealised, in the alliance. Sue, the new treasurer, told us she wanted to be “part of the march forward”.

Most instructive were the comments from Lynne Hubbard herself. She told us that the Socialist Alliance is “at a crossroads”. The way forward was to implement the perspectives of last conference by getting rid of dissidents - what we needed was “not suspicion, but enthusiasm”.

Thus, this is a political purge of people in the alliance perceived by the SWP to be not ‘on message’ as far as its popular frontist overtures to a section of the mosque is concerned (an electoral alliance with the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain already having come to nought). In pursuing this, the SWP is doing possibly irreparable harm to what began as a unity project and in the meantime is alienating allies by bad mouthing them as the problem, rather than seeking to incorporate all talents so that they can contribute to the answer.

Comrade Godward noted that he seems to have been ‘done’ simply for the crime of “consistently asking what the Peace and Justice platform is”. As he aptly pointed out, FBU militants like himself would never recommend that the membership “sign up to any package” before the details are on the table. Why should members of the SA?

The atmosphere of the meeting itself was understandably tense. Comrade Godward had been previously told by two prominent members of the SWP that he was “politically finished in this city”. That kind of sectarianism naturally leaves a bad taste in the mouth, as did the SWP’s tactics on the night. Minority comrades were also narked that people who had never been to an SA meeting before had been elected to replace hard working stalwarts. The newcomers’ only qualification? Their commitment to the SWP’s latest get-rich-quick scheme - an unprincipled bloc with a section of the mosque.

After the meeting, minority comrades told me they were pleased with their vote. Most were determined to keep fighting. One comrade told me that, while the SWP might be able to grandstand at one-off events, consistent work appears to be beyond them. As illustrated by the closeness of the votes, a counterattack could be effective - especially if members of the more lukewarm groups such as the AWL and Workers Power do not decamp.

What is important to bear in mind is that the SWP’s latest tactical lurch is actually born of its frustration. The organisation gained nothing substantial from the mass mobilisations of the STWC - apart from a taste of the big time. The overtures to the CPB and the mosque actually appear quite desperate. Any unity that results can only but be extremely fragile and fleeting. And who knows what pressures are building within the SWP itself?

Lastly, I note the hysterical allegations of Will McMahon - SA national officer and so-called ‘independent’. In conversation before the meeting, he excitedly dismissed Weekly Worker reports as mostly “bullshit” that he can hardly ever bring himself to read. If that were not bad enough, the paper is supposedly universally regarded on the left as containing almost total “lies”. Interestingly, given all that, the present writer was actually present at the AGM due to a specific request by Birmingham SA committee members. That surely speaks for itself.