Socialist Party gains second Lewisham councillor

Peter Manson reports on the election of Chris Flood

The Socialist Party has won back a second council seat in Lewisham, south-east London. Chris Flood, a local healthworker, defeated the New Labour candidate by exactly 100 votes in the December 4 by-election, and joins fellow SP member Ian Page and an education campaign supporter as councillors for Telegraph Hill ward.

In the full council elections in May 2002 comrade Page stood alongside sitting SP councillor Sam Dias and Helen Le-Fevre of Local Education Action by Parents (Leap) in a joint campaign for the ward’s three seats. Unfortunately comrade Dias was narrowly defeated into fourth place by the leading Labour candidate, whose resignation sparked last week’s by-election.

This time both the SP and Leap insisted on contesting the vacant seat. Leap rejected the suggestion that comrade Flood should be the joint candidate. According to the SP website, comrade Flood “made a commitment he would attend all meetings of the Leap campaign and represent their interest in the community”. However, it is hardly surprising that Leap judged he would be bound by his own organisation’s wider priorities rather than fighting single-mindedly for the re-opening of the local secondary school. Besides, Leap was confident it could win more votes than any SP candidate apart from comrade Page, as was the case in 2002.

But it had not reckoned on the energy of the SP’s campaign, not to mention the effect of comrade Page’s own personal reputation as a dedicated fighter. In the event, comrade Flood, standing as Socialist Alternative, won 590 votes (32%), followed by 490 for Labour and 355 for ex-Trotskyist Louise Irving of Leap. This second success gives the SP the same number of Lewisham councillors as the Conservatives.

The SP campaign was boosted by the enthusiastic support offered by comrades from Lewisham Socialist Alliance - well, a section of them at any rate. The Socialist Workers Party did not lift a finger to help, leaving it to independent SA members and comrades from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

In fact the two SWPers on Lewisham SA steering committee, Ian Crosson and Pat Carmody, proposed that the SA should canvass for Leap against the socialist candidate. When they were outvoted by the three other members (Duncan Morrisson of the AWL, Toby Abse of Resistance and independent Jean Kysow), they made it clear that they intended to have this decision overturned at a full meeting of Lewisham SA.

In the meantime, though, the SA national executive had passed a motion supporting comrade Flood, and this caused the SWP to have second thoughts. It decided not to mobilise its majority to the November 25 meeting of the local SA, to which both the SP and Leap had been invited.

Still, comrade Crosson turned up with Leap leaflets and only seems to have been persuaded during the course of the meeting that the SWP was now dropping its backing for the education campaign, whose speaker failed to show anyway. The SA voted unanimously to support the SP after hearing comrade Page’s case.

The Socialist Party has proved time and again that it is perfectly possible for the left to win wide support in a given locality.

However, apart from in one ward in Lewisham and another in Coventry, the SP in general performs just as dismally as the rest of the left. No doubt the latest victory was used to demonstrate to the London conference of the organisation, held on December 7, that the SP is about to break through into the big time, but in reality local campaigning can never substitute for a global programme aimed at uniting the whole class.

Nevertheless, the SP success is something for the left to celebrate and learn from.