Choosing between opportunists

Peter Manson lays out selections for May 1 elections

How should leftwingers vote on May 1, not least in London, where there are three rival left slates contesting the assembly elections?

First of all, it must be pointed out that the very fact of this duplication says a lot about the bankruptcy of those who call themselves socialist. The Left List, Respect and Unity for Peace and Socialism are all competing for the 11 proportional representation ‘party list’ seats on what are, to all intents and purposes, almost identical reformist platforms.

Left List

The Socialist Workers Party, as this paper has pointed out, provoked a split in Respect when it concluded that the ‘unity coalition’ was not only a dead end as a vehicle for building the SWP, but was actually costing it members. And, far from being able to ride on the backs of (mainly muslim) ‘community leaders’ and businessmen into the council chambers, the opposite was the case. While the SWP provided the foot soldiers, it was the businessmen and their patriarchal networks that reaped the benefit.

For the SWP the stipulations of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 was another predictable disaster. It meant that ‘ownership’ of the Respect name remained in the hands of Linda Smith of the George Galloway wing. This forced the SWP to adopt another electoral name at the 11th hour, all the while claiming that their Left List was the legitimate continuation of Respect, but shorn of its right wing (that designation not only includes the likes of George Galloway, Salma Yaqoob and Yvonne Ridley, but figures such as Alan Thornett, Rob Hoveman, Ken Loach, Nick Wrack and Victoria Brittain).

This new incarnation is also stripped of the “muslim activists” who were said to be in alliance with the “secular socialists” in Respect. In fact the new name is pretty accurate - the Left List for the assembly is made up of SWP members Lindsey German, Rania Khan, Pat Stack and Tansy Hoskins, plus a range of comrades from a leftwing background who have worked with the SWP over recent years. These include Oliur Rahman, the first elected Respect councillor, Respect-SWP national organiser and “green Marxist” Elaine Graham-Leigh, Unison militant Pat McManus and former Militant Tendency member and Tower Hamlets Respect chair Glyn Robbins.

The all-London list also includes a variety of leftwingers from different backgrounds who have been selected to ensure that the slate has the right ethnic mix. These are Indian Workers Association leader and long-time Southall militant Salvinder Dhillon, Kurdish activist Sait Akgul, Iranian anti-war campaigner Mujgan Kazeroonian, Bengali socialist and former race-equality adviser to Ken Livingstone Kumar Murshid, ex-Ford worker Berlyne Hamilton, and black and LBGT activist Paul Fredericks.

The Left List is also contesting all 14 of the first-past-the-post constituency seats and, of course, is standing Lindsey German for mayor. She is the only mayoral candidate standing on some kind of independent working class platform, however grossly inadequate.

Respect Renewal

Unlike the Left List, candidates standing for Galloway’s version of Respect mirror the original ‘unity coalition’ with its working class-muslim alliance - only on a much smaller scale. There are five candidates from a working class/socialist tradition (Galloway, Smith, John Mulrenan, Margot Lindsay and Tony Collins) and another five who are either islamists or influenced first and foremost by an islamic world view (Abdul Karim Sheikh, Sabia Kamali, Abdurahman Jafar, Hanif Abdulmuhit and Mohammed Rashid). It is true that both individually and as part of the Respect collective the latter candidates have each espoused causes often associated with the left - opposition to privatisation and closures, cheaper transport, higher pay - but none of them can be seriously considered partisans of our class.

Abdul Karim Sheikh, for example, is a leading member of the Muslim Council of Britain and the London and Southern Counties Council of Mosques, as well as being president/chair of Newham North Islamic Association and general secretary of the Alliance of Newham Muslim Associations. Jafar and councillor Abdulmuhit are part of Respect’s east London muslim-businessmen network.

While it can be perfectly principled for working class partisans to form all manner of temporary alliances with such people, it is absolutely unprincipled to join with them in promoting a common, fudged political programme, which by definition must hold back the proletariat’s struggle for self-emancipation.

In addition to contesting the all-London party list seats, Respect is standing Hanif Abdulmuhit in the City and East constituency (which includes the Respect strongholds of Tower Hamlets and Newham), where he is opposed by victimised union militant Michael Gavan of the Left List.

Unity for Peace and Socialism

The Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain is the third left group in the mix for the party list seats. It is contesting under the Unity for Peace and Socialism umbrella alongside London-based members of ‘official’ communist parties in India, Bangladesh and Greece.

The UPS list features such household names as Christiane Ohsan, “former convenor of the Defend Inner London Education Authority”, Pauline Fraser, “secretary of the International Brigades Memorial Trust”, and Jean Turner, “secretary of the Society for Cooperation in Russian and Soviet Studies” (Morning Star April 11). Then there is Star circulation manager Ivan Beavis, Peter Latham (a “retired UCU official”) and Phil Brand (described only as a “psychiatric nurse” in the Morning Star).

Why? That is the obvious question that springs to mind about the CPB decision to contest these elections. According to comrade Beavis, “A huge vote for us would put pressure on the government to end these wars”, while comrade Latham adds: “This shows the importance of why we are standing - we are saying things that no other party will say” (Morning Star April 11).

Although the UPS website claims that “London’s communists will work to bring about the widest unity of leftwing and progressive forces and the election of a progressive majority to the Greater London Assembly”, those same “London communists” rejected the possibility of standing on a common “progressive” list that Galloway was attempting to form earlier this year.

Instead they opted for a separate list, in opposition to two rival slates that also want to “end these wars”. Far from “saying things that no other party will say”, UPS is “saying things” that are virtually identical to both the Left List and Respect.

In fact, UPS is mainly there as an attempt to build the CPB by drawing a few co-thinking allies in and perhaps winning some green recruits (nothing wrong with that). But, as such, the UPS move marks an important tactical defeat for the CPB’s majority traditionalist wing. Whereas Robert Griffiths, John Haylett, Andrew Murray and the other ‘innovators’ in the CPB’s leadership have more or less despaired of transforming the Labour Party into a vehicle for socialism, the traditionalists have doggedly stuck to the CPB’s official programme The British road to socialism, which is, of course, premised on the Labour Party enacting socialist measures through parliament. The UPS is an unofficial declaration of the CPB’s programmatic surrender. The BRS is now an acute embarrassment, certainly no guide to action.

Least objectionable

Each of these three blocs is unprincipled, but one of them is overtly a popular front. Hence we shall not recommend a vote for Respect Renewal. It prominently features bourgeois and petty bourgeois candidates and programmatically it is they and the right that set the limits.

Between the Left List and UPS, it seems to us that the former is the less objectionable. The SWP is possibly less committed to the labour bureaucracy than the CPB and certainly appears far more serious in the way it is contesting May 1. Its Left List is mounting something approaching what could be called a campaign. The UPS is barely visible.

Although the Left List’s vote will almost certainly be tiny, that of UPS will be far, far lower. There is little or nothing to choose between their reformist politics (both propose a combination of populist platitudes and supportable reforms), but the Left List is marginally better placed and that is about all that can be said for it as against UPS.

When it comes to the 14 London constituencies, the Left List is opposed by another left candidate in only three. As I have noted, Respect is contesting City and East, where Hanif Abdulmuhit is likely to register a double-digit percentage. But clearly the best working class candidate is the Left List’s Mick Gavan.

In Lambeth and Southwark Katt Young (Left List) is opposed by Dan Lambert of the propagandist Socialist Party (formerly of Great Britain). Vote Young.

The other constituency is Greenwich and Lewisham, where Left List is opposed by the other Socialist Party (in England and Wales). Councillor Chris Flood is standing under SPEW’s electoral name of Socialist Alternative and is up against student Jennifer Jones.

SPEW is outraged at what it considers to be an SWP incursion into its territory: “Scandalously, the Left List is even standing a candidate in the Greenwich and Lewisham constituency against longstanding socialist campaigner and health worker, Socialist Party councillor Chris Flood” (The Socialist April 22).

It is true that SPEW has long had councillors in Lewisham’s Telegraph Hill ward, but that is the only place in the borough where it has any kind of foothold. The SWP has more activists overall, as it does in Greenwich. It seems that neither side attempted to approach the other in order to ensure there would be a single leftwing candidate, even though both knew the other would want to contest. Again there is nothing to choose between their platforms, but it is probably the case that SPEW is better placed (so vote Flood).

For mayor the CPGB is recommending a first-preference vote for German, and a second preference for Livingstone. Yes, Livingstone is compromised by his increasingly close relationship with the Labour leadership and big business, but he still passes as a leftwinger and comes from a working class tradition. And in the second round he will almost certainly be up against the appalling Boris Johnson (who covers his extreme rightwing politics by playing the buffoon). In this case, given the close margin, we shall unashamedly be voting for the lesser evil.