Under wraps

Paul Ingram is the Green Party representative on the STWC steering committee. He put an amendment to the leadership motion on the general elections that called for support only for anti-war/anti-occupation candidates. Afterwards he spoke to Mark Fischer about the controversy this sparked

Could you explain some of the background to the debate we saw at conference? The way decisions are reached on the steering committee lacks transparency. Effectively, the coalition is controlled by a small group of officers. These are 'elected' by the steering committee in the first meeting after the annual conference, but it hardly feels like a genuinely democratic process. The agenda for conference is set by the steering committee with guidance from these officers. They come up with the proposals and the key motions are drafted by them as suggestions. Quite often on this committee I find myself at loggerheads with the officers - that seems to be my role normally. But this time, on this issue, I actually found myself quite supportive of the original draft of their motion on the general election. They were originally proposing the words that I actually ended up moving as an amendment to annual conference - that the coalition urge people to vote for candidates who didn't support the war, who didn't back the occupation. You would have thought this was logical for an anti-war movement. I made the point in the conference debate that the STWC is a significant player on the British political scene. If it is not prepared to openly come out and call on people not to vote for candidates who explicitly oppose its central purpose as an organisation, then what is the point of it? At conference, I was keen to show that this was not solely a Green Party amendment - it was the original wording proposed by the STWC officers themselves. The perception that is was a Green amendment would have guaranteed its defeat, quite frankly. People don't see us as a 'kosher' brand of socialism. In particular, two people opposed me - one from Labour CND and the other a union activist - both on the steering committee and at the conference. Their essential argument appeared to be that we must have unity. As either members of the Labour Party or of trade unions affiliated to Labour, they would find themselves campaigning for their organisation's candidates, whether or not they supported the war. They felt it was unnecessary to urge people to cast their votes one way or another - just providing information was sufficient. The officers were persuaded of the 'unity' line because of this argument. But to go down this route of compromise with what are the core values of the coalition is wrong. To be charitable, perhaps they didn't see the importance of urging people to vote one way or another; that it was a minor question. I strongly disagree with that. The same 'unity' argument that appears to have swayed the SWP and other STWC officers could easily have been made by ourselves - ie, unless the amendment is passed then we will break away. To be honest, it is already a very difficult job to keep the Green Party on board the coalition. There is that level of dissatisfaction? No question. There are elements within the Green Party that are extremely unhappy with the approach of the STWC. All Green candidates in the forthcoming general election will be anti-war, anti-occupation. Yet we are alienated by the way the coalition is run and - quite blatantly - used for the sectarian agenda of a small organisation "¦ You mean Respect? Yes, previously the Socialist Workers Party, but now Respect. I really have to fight hard to keep my party in the coalition. For them not to pass the original, principled motion on the general election makes my job much harder. I think this tells us something about the SWP's method. For them numbers are the key. The nature of the politics you actually advocate is entirely secondary. Of course, tensions are inevitable in any alliance, but the point is to have such debates openly. But that appears to be an absolute anathema to them and their culture of work. They are obsessively concerned to keep things under wraps - under wraps is under control. And that is the key objective at the end of the day. But this approach is short-sighted and counterproductive in the long run - it is more likely to alienate people and produce splits than having a good, clean political debate in public.