Waltham Forest by-election: Combating chauvinism

Phil Kent has been on the campaign trail with CPGB member and SA candidate, Lee Rock.

The Socialist Alliance’s campaign for the September 4 council by-election in William Morris ward, in the London borough of Waltham Forest, is building momentum. The entire ward has been leafleted and canvassing is well underway.

All sections of the SA have contributed to the effort, but, considering its size in the area, the Socialist Workers Party has not pulled anything like its weight. SWP comrades actually opposed an SA contest in William Morris on the grounds that all our forces should be directed to the parliamentary by-election in Brent East.

Canvassing is necessarily impressionistic, because only those positively interested in talking politics give you time of day. Strangely in an area where the local Labour Party is in political chaos and the borough has just been dubbed a ‘failing council’ by Whitehall, in my experience the only local issue to come up repeatedly on the doorstep has been the question of road humps - from residents tired of having their streets used as rat runs. This did, however, allow for a more general discussion on London’s public transport system.

The nearest thing to a pro-Labour comment I encountered was: “I don’t really want to vote Labour.” Other comrades report that Labour voters were on the defensive and could not give any particular reasons for their voting intention. In this historically solid Labour ward antipathy was not directed at local politicians, but at Tony Blair personally. He was described as being more Thatcherite than Thatcher and as having done nothing for ordinary people. Nor has victory in the war on Iraq brought him any kudos.

The other comment that comrades came across from time to time was the famous ‘I’m not a racist, but ...’ We need to take the issue of asylum-seekers very seriously and provide a positive solution, based on working class solidarity, or we could lose the ideological war to the right on this single issue. Most people who say this are indeed not racist, but have fallen for the media-induced anti-migrant hysteria in the absence of any kind of socially rooted, counterbalancing working class ideology. The result is atomisation.

The moral panic directed against migrants comes from the top but gains purchase because of the feelings of powerlessness amongst wide masses of the working class. All decisions are made outside their control and without concern for their interests.

Without a fully rounded programme to extend democratic rights in every area of life the left cannot hope to gain ideological hegemony - over the working class, let alone society as a whole.