Split over No2EU
Peter Manson examines what No2EU means for Respect, Solidarity, the Socialist Party, and the CPB
The ‘No to the EU, Yes to Democracy’ platform to contest the June 4 European Union elections has provoked something of a crisis in Respect, leading to the resignations of Nick Wrack as national secretary and Will McMahon as treasurer.
The resignations came after the April 4 national council decided by 11 votes to 10 to reject comrade Wrack’s motion for Respect to throw itself into a joint campaign and voted in effect to leave it to individual members to decide whether and in what way to support No2EU. Set up by the RMT transport union on a left nationalist platform inspired by the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, No2EU enjoys the uncritical support of the Socialist Party in England and Wales and comrade Wrack was hoping that Respect would also come on board.
His motion welcomed the RMT electoral initiative and reminded the NC of the 2008 conference decision, which recognised that “Respect cannot, at this stage, present an alternative at elections except in a few places”.
It would therefore “work with other organisations and individuals who also want to build a leftwing alternative, with a view to presenting the broadest possible leftwing challenge at elections”. This could include “joint lists”. Comrade Wrack’s motion called on Respect not to stand its own candidates in the European elections and instead to participate fully in No2EU.
Ironically the successful rival motion was moved by Kevin Ovenden - like comrade Wrack expelled from the Socialist Workers Party in 2007 for failing to break with George Galloway in support of the SWP’s new line. Comrade Ovenden’s motion called for any decision on standing a Respect list to be devolved to the regions - effectively London and the West Midlands only. The third region where Respect has something approaching an organisational structure, the North West, had already decided to back the Green Party. And the other two are virtually certain not to stand despite Galloway’s argument in favour of keeping up the momentum ahead of the 2010 general election.
But comrade Ovenden’s motion declared that “doing everything possible to strengthen [Respect’s] position for the local and general election in 2010 … need not involve either standing in the European elections or endorsing other parties or standing on their lists”. Therefore, while the NC would not formally recommend support for “progressive candidates” on “Green, No2EU and other lists”, it “accepts that individual Respect members may endorse particular candidates and lists and may even stand on those lists” (I hear that comrade Wrack will himself take advantage of that final clause and will feature behind Bob Crow in the capital, once it is confirmed that Respect will not contest).
This narrow defeat for No2EU was in no small part down to the position adopted by the International Socialist Group. Although the ISG itself has voted to support No2EU, its comrades decided to go with the successful ‘do as you like’ motion - presumably because Alan Thornett did not want to upset comrade Galloway too much. The ISG had previously decided it would be prepared, despite its enthusiasm for No2EU, to back a Respect list in London only.
No2EU, which officially launched its campaign on March 19 with a Westminster press conference and an impressive website (www.no2eu.com), is not exactly characterised by dynamism. Since the launch the website does not appear to have been updated at all - no new reports or press statements, details of candidates selected … Visitors are invited to “Keep up to date with Bob Crow’s blog”, but the sole entry has been there from the start - it is actually a Morning Star article by comrade Crow, the RMT general secretary, who is No2EU’s convenor and registered ‘party leader’.
Of course, things have been happening behind the scenes, and in one or two regions the platform’s supporters have not been quite so dozy as the comrades who are supposed to be running the website. First of the 11 EU electoral regions to announce its list of candidates was Scotland, on April 17. Incredibly the comrade chosen to head the list will not be Tommy Sheridan - leader of Solidarity and still one of the most instantly recognisable political figures in Scotland - but “professor John Foster” (The Herald April 17).
Comrade Foster is the CPB’s international secretary and a leading member north of the border. But he is not exactly a household name. Solidarity comrades say they are quite happy with this order, but to everyone else it seems completely bizarre. With comrade Sheridan at number two (and fellow Solidarity member Leah Ganley in third spot), No2EU would probably have to pick up around 20% of the poll to see him elected. Not that there is the slightest possibility of the campaign getting anyone elected anywhere, of course, and certainly not comrade Foster in Scotland. But with Tommy heading the list, you would have expected the campaign to at least make a bigger impact.
Strangely, the biggest point of contention between Solidarity and the CPB is not the fact that British unionist Foster is number one and Scottish separatist Sheridan is number two, but the largely academic question of whether any successful candidates should take up their seats in the European parliament. No2EU’s launch statement is clear that “Our candidates will nominally hold the title ‘MEP’, but will not board the notorious EU gravy train by taking their seats.” But since that was posted Solidarity insists that comrade Crow has conceded that a convention would decide the question after June 4 (he did indeed appear to say as much in his post-launch interview on The politics show). However, with no-one updating the website, this and a few other claimed minor changes to the platform cannot be verified.
Like Solidarity, the Socialist Party thinks that any successful candidates, while spurning the “gravy train”, should take up their seats. Of course, SPEW is not actually expecting comrade Dave Nellist, long-time councillor and former Labour MP, to be elected, even though he was formally confirmed on April 19 as number one on the West Midlands list.
As in Scotland, there are six places on offer in the West Midlands, and comrade Nellist’s number two is Young Communist League women’s organiser Joanne Stevenson. They are followed by Dyal Singh Bagri, president of the Indian Workers Association, a couple of local union militants and Pete McLaren, No2EU’s West Midlands press officer and SPEW collaborator in the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party.
In comrade McLaren’s press statement following the selection, Nellist is quoted as saying: “… none of our candidates is in this to get on the Euro gravy train. If any of us are elected you’ll see an entirely different type of MEP to any of the other parties!” (West Midlands regional press release, April 20). But will they be “entirely different” because they will stay away or because they will turn down (most of?) the cash? Take your choice.
The composition of the West Midlands list is likely to reflect those in other parts of the country. No2EU will hope to find a name recognised by some electors to head a list of CPB, SPEW and other comrades. Comrade Crow himself will be number one in London and it seems that Alice Mahon, the veteran leftwinger and former MP for Halifax (who announced her resignation from the Labour Party over the McBride smear scandal earlier this week), will head the list in Yorkshire and Humberside. She will be joined by Mike Davies and Celia Foote of the Alliance for Green Socialism (the AGS decided to participate critically after its attempts to change the platform failed) and SPEW’s Keith Gibson, who was prominent in the Lindsey refinery workers’ strike, helping to steer it away from its original nationalistic slogans and the adoption of a set of more principled demands.
According to The Socialist, “The presence of socialists such as these on the lists [there are also Visteon workers standing in the London, Eastern and Wales regions] answers those who claim the No2EU campaign is pandering to ‘narrow nationalism’” (April 22). I’m afraid it does no such thing.
Why don’t the SPEW comrades answer the actual arguments? The Weekly Worker has pointed out that the CPB-devised political platform is totally and utterly left nationalist, upholding the ‘sovereignty’ (or right to “self-determination”) of the United Kingdom and other imperialist states in the face of EU ‘encroachments’. We have provided chapter and verse in several issues of this paper, quoting directly from the relevant sections on the No2EU website.
Whereas, as I have pointed out, in Lindsey SP comrades played an honourable role, in No2EU they are doing the opposite. Far from combating the overt nationalism of the CPB and Crow, and much to the chagrin of a minority of its own comrades, SPEW maintains a shamefaced silence. The most Clive Heemskerk, who covers No2EU for The Socialist, is prepared to say is, “despite any weaknesses it may have …” (April 22). Did he say “may”?
One group that will definitely not be supporting No2EU is Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party. I am told that Scargill contemptuously rejected an approach from comrade Crow and is apparently still desperately trying to find enough people (not to mention cash) for a challenge from his dying party.
According to its website, “The SLP will be standing candidates in the … elections, as it has done in every election since the founding of the party in 1996” (www.socialist-labour-party.org.uk). Unfortunately, however, the announcement refers to the May 2008 local elections - the last time the word ‘election’ got a mention. The SLP does not see the need to remove out-of-date material and issued its last press release in July 2008. The website was, however, ‘updated’ with a couple of Scargill speeches on March 24.