Who holds the alliance back?

SA candidate Lee Rock looks at the results.

The former safe Labour ‘William Morris’ ward in Waltham Forest has gone Liberal Democrat - the Socialist Alliance vote being squeezed. The Conservative vote was also slashed, with many Tory voters switching to the Lib Dems.

The by-election came 16 months after the previous occasion when the SA contested the ward, in the 2002 council elections, when we got a very good result, winning 256 votes (10%). This time it was always going to be a lot tougher. The much lower return this time (84 votes; 3.5%) can be explained by a variety of factors.

Firstly, it was a by-election and therefore people had only one vote instead of three. This meant voters had to make a very definite choice. There was no splitting their vote between different parties/candidates.

Secondly, the ward had not previously been a battleground. It was a safe Labour seat and in May 2002 the Lib Dems had concentrated their efforts elsewhere in the borough. This meant that Labour did not have to put any effort into the ward, preferring to focus on other, more marginal seats. It was only the Socialist Alliance that did any canvassing in the ward.

This time it was very different. Both Labour and the Lib Dems threw in all their resources. Both put in numerous leaflets to every household and extensive canvassing took place. Residents stated they had not seen such campaigning in over 35 years! A Labour majority of 600 was turned into a Lib Dem gain.

Thirdly, many reluctant Labour voters, despite clearly being fed up with Blair and opposed to the war, stuck with Labour as the seat was now clearly under threat. The certainty of a safe Labour seat had allowed many to give one of their votes to the SA previously.

Fourthly, the Green Party also stood this time. In the last election the SA was the only alternative to the main parties. The Greens took 151 of the ‘alternative’ vote. This undoubtedly accounts for a fair proportion of the SA drop of 172.

Fifthly, if more SA members had got involved locally we could have put a second leaflet to all households, spoke to many more voters and had more than just three people trying to cover five polling stations on the evening of the election. These activities alone, especially on polling day, would quite probably have got the SA vote to over 100.

In terms of the campaign, and knowing that the SA vote would not be anywhere near the previous 10%, it was still undoubtedly important to stand. The profile of the Socialist Alliance - both in the ward and in the borough - has been maintained and in some areas improved. Every household received the SA leaflet, and nearly 50% of the ward was canvassed. There was also a very good piece of coverage in the local paper. Many people know that the SA is here to stay and we have also come into contact with a good number of new supporters. It was interesting to note, though, just how many people, including supporters from the previous election, had moved out in just 16 months, particularly in one or two areas. That meant there were a relatively large number of people not yet registered to vote.

It has to be said that unfortunately the Socialist Workers Party locally, with only a handful of honourable exceptions, played a pretty dismal role throughout the campaign. Firstly, the comrades voted against standing a candidate. They lost the vote. One of the SWP concerns was the low vote in a by-election in the borough a couple of months earlier, where the SA candidate (SWP member Cecilia Prosper) received only 47 votes in another ward we had contested in May 2002.

And then, once the decision had been made to stand in the William Morris ward this time, the SWP committed very few people. In terms of the hours put in for leafleting, canvassing and work outside polling stations, the statistics are quite telling: CPGB - 54 hours; PCSU/independents/other groups - 37 hours; SWP - 15 hours.

Whilst acknowledging that there was only a short campaigning period - slightly less than three weeks - it does beggar belief that the SWP locally was only able to manage an average of five hours a week in total. The claim from some SWP members that the timing of the campaign (mid-August to the first couple of days of September) meant that many of their comrades were away on holiday is incredible when one considers the numbers they have in the area - there are over 100 subscription-paying members in the Waltham Forest and Redbridge district of the SWP, including at least 30 active members. I know of eight SWPers who actually live in the ward. As the candidate I personally put in twice the number of hours as the entire SWP did!

The lack of participation by the SWP, as by far and away the largest bloc in the SA locally, can be explained by one of two reasons: either it decided not to get involved (in terms of SA work, the Brent East by-election has been regarded as the main priority by the SWP); or it simply could not motivate its membership.

I would like to think that the SWP did wish to get involved, but that it has not been convinced of the need to do any more for the Socialist Alliance than taking out membership and occasionally attending meetings/conferences to vote against the “sectarians who are holding the Socialist Alliance back”.

The question in response to this type of SWP hackish line is: who exactly is holding the SA back? Those who favour standing in elections and the like, in order to raise the SA profile, or those who vote against doing so? Those who put the work in, or those who do not?

William Morris result

Liberal Democrat          1,051   (43.7%)

Labour                         932      (38.7%)

Conservative                188      (7.8%)

Green                           151      (6.3%)

Socialist Alliance           84        (3.5%)

Turnout: 30.27%