Rehashing the left's 'abiding delusions'

100 people came to hear Socialist Alliance candidate Brian Butterworth, reports Stan Keable.

Over 100 people came to hear Socialist Alliance against War and Privatisation candidate Brian Butterworth and other leftwing notables at the Pakistani Workers Centre in Willesden Green on September 15. Not a bad turnout. Unfortunately, though, the Socialist Workers Party ran the whole thing in a typically bureaucratic and ham-fisted manner.

Comrade Butterworth, who is contesting the September 18 Brent East by-election, made some cutting points. He denounced the “insulting drivel” being served up to voters by the mainstream parties: “People are dying of starvation in a world of plenty,” he said, “and all they can talk about is broken paving slabs.”

Sending out a “clarion call” for “something different”, the comrade acknowledged that the SA had so far failed to unite the left and anti-war forces: “There are four or five anti-war candidates. Whatever happens on Thursday, we must not make that mistake again. After the election we must sit down together and talk - not just in the Socialist Alliance - and find out what unites us, not what divides us.”

But the stage-managed character of the rally, with a series of pre-planned speakers “from the floor” being named and introduced by chairperson Linda Smith (London Fire Brigades Union treasurer) made it the private property of the SWP, with no scope even for questions from voters, let alone the expression of views from SA members such as myself. Unless the SWP learns the lesson of inclusiveness and democracy in relation to its existing SA partners, how can any new allies expect to be treated differently?

As for transparency, nowhere does comrade Butterworth’s election material explain that he is a member of the SWP, that the SWP is one of several components of the SA, or who the other components are. This is not an honest approach, downplaying our best argument for an SA vote - that it will help build an inclusive, pluralist socialist party. Instead of demonstrating that diverse forces can unite, the subliminal message is - join us and disappear. Yet only by showing tolerance for different views will we open the door to the wider forces Brian speaks of.

The SA election leaflet states: “You can’t trust New Labour … but you can trust Brian Butterworth.” Why? Because of his 20 years of local activism. But parliament is littered with ‘genuine socialists’ gone astray. What makes Brian different is that he is a disciplined member of a socialist organisation, the SWP (leaving aside the unpredictable future of the Socialist Alliance, given the SWP’s ambiguous attitude to it). We know that, if elected to parliament, he can be relied upon to do what his organisation (‘party’) says. That is a big plus, to be boasted about, not something to be ashamed of or to be brushed under the carpet.

But what do we find on his election leaflet? The naive words of local firefighter Sian Griffiths, uncritically given prominence by experienced comrades who should know better: “Brent East needs someone who will make a difference and not just toe the party line. That’s why I’m voting for Brian.” Well, Brian and the SWP need to answer this one. Which party line is Brian not going to toe - SWP or SA? Or, on the other hand, is he a disciplined, organised socialist - and does hiding that fact help to build the disciplined, effective socialist alternative we need?

Among the platform speakers, top marks go to Eamonn McCann, author of War and an Irish town, for his rousing agitational speech condemning the Labour government cover-up of the Bloody Sunday massacre. Comrade McCann showed how the same paratroops regiment later massacred the ‘Westside boys’ in Sierra Leone and is now dispensing its form of imperialist justice in Basra.

He commended Kelly McBride, sister of murder victim Peter McBride, for her determination to have her brother’s convicted murderers removed from the British army, leading her to contest the Brent East by-election. But to challenge the oppressive system of capitalism and imperialism worldwide, he said, means to vote SA on Thursday - we must leave behind an enhanced organisation with enhanced credibility.

Socialist filmmaker Ken Loach’s joke that he was sitting “to the left of Paul Foot” turned out to have more than a grain of truth. Comrade Foot admitted to voting Labour in 1997 and bemoaned the loss of Labour’s “social democratic consciousness”, every single aspect of which has been “ripped up”. He left the Labour Party in 1967, when he was unable to give voters “one good reason to vote Labour”. But he himself continued voting Labour for three decades, because “Labour stood for social democratic change”. It “reversed anti-trade union laws” (he has evidently forgotten that Wilson’s Labour government started them in 1969 with Barbara Castle’s In place of strife). It introduced public ownership, which was “at least in some way accountable”. The object of the SA, he said, was to “win back instinctive Labour supporters to socialist positions”.

Comrade Loach, in contrast, endorsed Blair’s comment that a leftwing Labour government was “an abiding delusion”. Those who wanted to “reclaim Labour” should say which Labour Party they wish to reclaim - Kinnock’s, which failed to back the miners’ Great Strike; Callaghan’s, which forced through pay cuts; Wilson’s, which was ferociously anti-trade union; Attlee’s, which nationalised to provide an infrastructure for business; or Ramsay MacDonald’s, which betrayed the working class with a national government?

These points must surely have given Paul Foot food for thought. But then Ken Loach revealed his own illusions: “Blair is the worst” because he has “broken international law, and destroyed the credibility of the United Nations”.

Comrade Loach found it sad that single-issue candidates (not only Kelly McBride, but “Save Brent East Post Offices” independent Neil Walsh and Fawzi Ibrahim for “Public Services Not War”) were on the ballot paper, because “the point of the SA is to bring together all anti-war, anti-imperialist and anti-privatisation candidates”.

Condemning Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (whose candidate is ultra-Stalinite Iris Cremer) for “disgracefully disrupting unity”, comrade Loach rounded off by quoting comandante Marcos at the Cancun conference, and placing the SA as “part of the struggle for a better world”.

A collection raised over £600 for the election campaign and many signed up to canvass for Brian over the remaining few days. Activists will celebrate at the Ceilidh on the Green pub, Willesden Green, in the evening of Friday September 19, but will be busy immediately after - building for the September 27 anti-war demo, supporting the postal workers and other trade unionists in their pay fights and beginning the campaign for next year’s Greater London Authority and European elections.

Stan Keable

Brent Socialist Alliance: 07940 510906

Brent East candidates

Bardwaj, Jiten - independent
Barschak, Aaron - independent
Butterworth, Brian - Socialist Alliance
Cremer, Iris - Socialist Labour Party
Evans, Robert - Labour
Fernandes, Um - Conservative
Hall, Brian - UK Independence Party
Hope, Alan - Official Monster Raving Loony Party
Ibrahim, Fawzi - Public Services Not War
Immanual, Harold - independent
Lynch, Noel - Green Party
McBride, Kelly - independent
McKenzie, Winston - independent
Teather, Sarah - Liberal Democrat
Walsh, Neil - independent
Weiss, George - independent