Echoing Prescott's call?

With only a handful of seats likely to change hands, the general election has so been a rather lacklustre one in Wales. So much so that John Prescott's 'bugger off' rebuke to a Gwent journalist has so far been about the only thing to create a buzz of excitement. Although the organisational base of Labour in Wales continues to wilt, Plaid Cymru still seem unable to threaten its hegemony in this bastion of Labourism. Despite (or maybe as a result of) putting on its 'socialist' face in the election, Plaid's nationalism seems to have lost the momentum it was gaining after the creation of the national assembly. So much so that the main area of controversy specific to Wales in the election - to enhance the powers of the assembly - has failed to ignite much public interest. Not surprising, perhaps, when one considers that Labour's proposals to offer "a stronger assembly, with enhanced legislative powers" amounts to little more than a halfway house between the current powers of the assembly and those of the Scottish parliament. Plaid has tried to make an issue of this, demanding the same powers as those in Scotland. Yet it appears that it has made little headway and Labour's devolution settlement seems to be holding - at least for the moment. That there is a democratic deficit in Welsh politics, as there is in the whole of the United Kingdom, seems to have escaped most of the left parties in the election. Interestingly, there are left candidates in some 40% of the constituencies in Wales - half a dozen each from Forward Wales and the Socialist Labour Party, whilst Respect, the Socialist Party and the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain field a couple each. For example, the manifesto of Respect completely ignores the national question, be it in Wales or elsewhere in the UK. This is unsurprising and explained largely as a result of the character of the 'coalition' - Socialist Workers Party indifference on the question, George Galloway's British nationalism and the plans of both to consider a raiding mission on the Scottish Socialist Party after the election. Not much better is the position of Forward Wales, which has now added the prefix, "the Welsh socialist party", to its moniker. FW is a strange party, a coalition of not very leftwing Labour politicians ostracised by New Labour - John Marek and Ron Davies - and the left nationalists who once called themselves Cymru Goch. Consequently, its manifesto demand for "participatory" democracy amounts to little more than a demand for a Welsh parliament on the Scottish model. No call for self-determination, no demand for the abolition of the monarchy or the House of Lords. Essentially it amounts to a monarchist and unionist call. All this from the Cymru Goch followers, who still like to describe the CPGB as part of the "Brit left". So as an aside to comrades Richards, Davies and others who were once ever so principled Cymru Goch 'republicans' - we in the CPGB still have disdain for your nationalism, but we shall not be dumping our principled positions on abolishing the union and republicanism. Our demand for a federal republic of England, Wales and Scotland is not something to hidden away from the working class: it is to be fought for in the here now. That said, candidates from Forward Wales should be supported. Although its manifesto is crammed with all sorts of social democratic platitudes, it does make the call for "Troops out of Iraq - turn off the lies, return the troops and the truth, no more wars for oil". A statement issued on November 17 2004 demanded: "British troops should withdraw from Iraq immediately and Tony Blair should be impeached for taking them into an illegal war." The new formation had just unanimously passed an emergency motion at its annual conference, which read: "The latest offensive on Fallujah is further evidence that the Iraq war has failed to bring peace, democracy or stability to the Iraqi people. It has caused further hardship, misery and death. We reiterate our opposition to these US-UK imperialist adventures and call for 'troops out now'." The Forward Wales statement went on: "It's not enough for Labour MPs to say they're against Iraqi occupation and then wring their hands saying there's nothing they can do. The US-led attack on the Iraqi people is causing more misery and bloodshed. UK troops have been cynically used by Bush and Blair to prop up the Fallujah offensive. "Now the families of soldiers killed in the conflict are leading a real challenge to Blair's deceit and lies. They know better than anyone the real sacrifices that have been made for cynical political and economic gains. If Labour MPs won't stand up to their own prime minister, we need elected representatives who will listen to the vast majority of people who want the troops out now." Forward Wales is a strange mixture of Labourites, greens and (mostly soft) Welsh nationalists. But its programme is unmistakably social democratic and old Labour. It falls (just) on the right side of the class divide in this election. What of the other left forces contesting the election in Wales? If it is the six candidates from the Socialist Labour Party who arouse most curiosity (perhaps disproving the Marxist proposition that life ends with death), it is the Respect campaign in Wales that is almost as curious. For it is hard to work out what its campaign aims to do. Unlike the candidates from the SP or the CPB, who have few illusions that they will get not much more than the normal left vote, Respect Wales is in a somewhat more invidious position. Partly caught up with the possibility that Respect candidates in London and elsewhere may get substantial votes, they, nevertheless, find themselves the poor relations of the outfit. Gaining only 0.6% of the vote in the European elections, Respect Wales is unlikely, to put it mildly, to make a breakthrough this time. Indeed it is likely that their leaders in London determined that they should stand candidates here for reasons other than to build Respect in Wales. Rather their standing has much more to do with the not very secret battle between the SWP and the leadership of the SSP. The response of John Rees and co to the demand made by the SSP to promise that Respect will not stand in Scotland is to point out that the SSP is refusing to support Respect in Wales, preferring, instead, to back FW. Consequently, to back up this argument, the SWP has to give the impression that Respect is alive and well in Wales. Hence the standing of two candidates - one in Neath and Port Talbot, the other in Cardiff Central. Yet we in the CPGB shall not be echoing Prescott's call to bugger off and not support the Respect candidates in Wales. Some have speculated that the candidate in Cardiff Central - Raja Gul Raiz - might not be supportable because of his links with islamic organisations. This would be unwise. Raja openly identifies himself as a socialist, was a candidate for the Welsh Socialist Alliance and indeed has asked for the support of the CPGB in his campaign. I wonder how many other Respect candidates have made a similar offer. Cameron Richards