CPB poll 'gains' lies

Dave Lynch reports on an election disaster

The London elections were a disaster for the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. That is the sober assessment being advanced in London party circles after its list - Unity for Peace and Socialism, an alliance with various domiciled ‘official’ communists - scored a derisory 6,394 votes (0.26%) in elections for the London assembly.

UPS thus came last in the fight with the left-reformist clones of Respect Renewal and the SWP’s Left List. Critics of this strategy, such as Mike Squires and Nick Wright, will now have a little ammunition, given that the CPB has been punished for its sectarian stance, although the fact that the two rival lists also performed badly will no doubt be thrown back at them.

In reality, there was no ‘campaign’ for the UPS: election materials appeared late and were poorly circulated; and ‘electioneering’ itself seemed to amount to a few hour-long leafleting sessions in a limited number of localities staffed by a handful of loyal CPB activists. The real focus for the CPB in the election was supporting Ken Livingstone in the mayoral contest. Again, Livingstone’s defeat is a blow to the CPB after nailing its colours to Ken’s mast for so long.

As I write, there has been no public comment forthcoming from the CPB about the London elections. The headline on its website’s ‘Latest news’ (www.communist-party.org.uk) reads: ‘Communists welcome election advances’. This is a rehash of a Morning Star story (May 3) that dealt with local election results in England and Wales, written before the London assembly results had been released. By May 6 the Star had still not mentioned how the UPS London assembly campaign had ended. Similarly the UPS itself has not bothered updating its rather forlorn website since before the poll. The world waits with bated breath for the CPB analysis.

But then what of these “gains” that the CPB made in local elections outside London? Its website tells us that “the most significant advance was in the party’s ability to contest five additional wards in Wales for the first time. The eight communist candidates standing in five cities and boroughs in Wales - Cardiff, Swansea, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Merthyr Tydfil - won between 3 and 7 percent of the poll, representing between 7 and 25 percent of the Labour vote” (www.communist-party.org.uk/index.php?file=newsTemplate& story=301). Of course, the CPB already has one councillor after Clive Griffiths was elected unopposed as councillor for Hirwaun and Penderyn. Griffiths (no relation to general secretary Rob) also stood for election to Rhondda Cynon Taf County borough council, winning 3% of the vote.

It is clear that the Welsh district, and, in particular, its South Wales component, is the most dynamic section of the CPB (not saying much, of course) and to that end these local elections had much more depth as campaigns. But before the CPB gets too carried away with its “gains”, there is of course a long tradition in south Wales of communists representing people as councillors, community campaigners and trade union officials, which persisted until at least the 1970s in some areas (for example, communist Annie Powell became Rhondda’s mayor in 1979, after 18 years as a councillor).

However, this local implantation was little help in preventing the political implosion of the CPGB in the post-war period affecting south Wales too. Indeed, when these local leaders stood at general elections, their votes may have been better than more run-of-the-mill CPGB candidates, but not enough to threaten the Labour Party and, as time wore on, Plaid Cymru. So, even if the CPB were to stand more candidates and win more votes, local campaigns cannot offer an escape from the organisation’s general programmatic crisis.