Hopeful of being elected

Ex-Labour leftwinger Dave Hill tops the No2EU list in the South East. He also spoke to Peter Manson

How do you assess the campaign so far?

It’s the beginning. No2EU is a new party. The manifesto comes out on May 21 - the same day as the national television broadcast. In the meantime I am making a regional broadcast on The politics show.

We reckon that the South East is the area where we can get elected with the smallest percentage of the vote anywhere in the country - we only need about eight percent to get in. And we could be on line to do that - it depends on the way the national publicity goes - there’s only so much we can do locally.

We’ve got a vibrant local campaign - I must say, mainly run by the local Socialist Party, but also with the RMT and some independents.

There isn’t much by way of the Communist Party of Britain in your neck of the woods then?

No, not in the Brighton area. But in other parts of the region, yes, there are - in Kent, Oxford and Southampton, for example, the CPB is active. In the Brighton area, where I’m mainly going to meetings, doing interventions, etc, we have a group of young comrades from the SP.

I believe you’ve recently come out of retirement from politics?

Yes, I joined the Labour Party when I was 16 - I was brought up in poverty in fact. All my family are working class and I was a socialist from a very early age. I was a parliamentary candidate a couple of times. But in the early 90s I started to go deaf. At the same time I was getting pretty disgusted with Labour - this was before New Labour, under Kinnock - because of the expulsions, which I always opposed. I also decided it was time to concentrate on my career.

But then I got new hearing aids from the NHS about three years ago and it made a huge difference to my life - I could actually hear what people were saying! I left New Labour finally in 2005 after 40 years - most of my friends and comrades had left in tranches over the previous years. The sense of relief I felt was incredible.

I then joined what seemed at that particular time to be the major group on the left, Respect, and indeed the International Socialist Group.

Are you still in Respect?

I am a member, yes. I have been engaged in very vigorous attempts to get Respect involved in No2EU. When I saw the campaign was being set up, I immediately got in touch - then it was just the CPB, SP and RMT on board, so I got in at the beginning. I thought, wow, this is what I’ve been looking for for years - a reconfiguration on the left; a trade union-backed, working class-backed movement and hopefully party to the left of Labour.

Respect at that time was still considering standing and I was opposed to that. Since then Respect, I’m delighted to say, along with Socialist Resistance, has come on board and supported No2EU.

Isn’t it more a case of Respect leaving it open to individual members?

Well, you and I are both right. They have supported No2EU except where there are local considerations - we’re really just talking about the North West …

… where they’re voting Green.

My view is that the Greens are a bourgeois party - a lot of them are very good people - but they’re not a working class party and they are not socialist, even though individual members might be.

I could not believe it and I was very angry. My hope is that the layers that have been involved in Respect - that is to say, predominantly the middle and working class layers of the Muslim population and some others - will fully join No2EU. My hope is that after the election the promised convention does take place and I want to see the development of a democratic and pluralist party grow out of it.

But the main forces involved have divergent positions on that. The official position of the CPB is that No2EU is just an electoral platform and after June 4 it will cease to exist.

Well, you go round the blocks probably more than I do, so you will be well aware that there is a momentum building. If there is a tiny vote, then perhaps the momentum will be lost. But I think that by the time of the election No2EU will actually do well. There is a very good chance that there might be one or two MEPs elected, of whom I reckon to be one. The disgust with the mainstream parties is such that many people to the left of Labour have been looking for something substantial they can vote for.

But, to get back to the convention, history moves. I know the SP is very committed to the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party - which incidentally I support - and I think the CPB and RMT will come on board, and hopefully small groups like the Alliance for Green Socialism, which are also involved. I just hope that the momentum will be such that we are living in historic times, so that a successful party to the left of Labour will be launched some time in the next couple of months.

I see from your blog that you are part of the wing that is for taking up your seats if you get elected.

I’ve always admired the integrity of what was the Militant and SP and their position of a workers’ MP on a skilled worker’s wage - even though I’ve disagreed with them historically on various issues.

Here I’m going to be careful what I say - I think the historic position of working class parties and socialists seeking election has always, quite rightly in my view, been to take up those positions and to use them as a platform and an arena of mobilisation. In the South East election material - and indeed in the television and radio broadcast - I have been very firm about saying we are for a worker’s MP on a worker’s wage.

That’s an advance on the position on the website.

Absolutely. I think we should view No2EU as developmental, and that website was put up at the very beginning. I would like to see a development of that in the manifesto. What I’ve been saying when I’ve been interviewed is that we’re working class and socialist activists. We will be mainly in Britain, but of course we’ll be supporting workers’ slogans and workers’ issues in Europe. But there will no bathplugs or bungs on expenses for us!

We’ll be workers’ MPs on a worker’s wage, fighting for working class issues, rights, conditions and pay and opposing privatisation and neoliberalism.

It seems to me that the ‘Yes to democracy’ slogan is without content. It is posed in a way which suggests that the British parliament, House of Lords and monarchy is the alternative.

Yes, I agree with that 100%. I think a better slogan would have been ‘Yes to a workers’ democracy’ or ‘Yes to a socialist democracy’.

We have an article in the Weekly Worker calling for republican democracy.

I’m a convinced republican.

What we’re saying is: abolition of the monarchy and the second chamber, annual parliaments, as with the Chartists; recallable MPs on a worker’s wage, which you’ve already referred to; an end to the secret state …

… I haven’t thought about the annual parliaments, but I agree with retiring the monarchy and giving them all an old-age pension; and getting rid of the House of Lords and having an elected second chamber - if there is to be a second chamber. The term of the parliaments I’m not so sure about.

What I would say in defence of No2EU is, looking at the speeches of Bob Crow, Dave Nellist and various other comrades, it has been pretty clear that it is a leftwing, internationalist campaign that goes beyond the initially thought-up slogans.

I want to ask you about internationalism, but first can I put to you our last point on republican democracy? That is, replace the standing army with a popular militia and the constitutional right to bear arms, as in the United States. What do you reckon on that?

I haven’t given that any thought. I wouldn’t want to comment without doing so and discussing it.

OK, fair enough. Then let me take you up on what you said about internationalism. For example, the platform - which seems to be inspired by the worst part of the CPB’s programme of anti-EUism from a nationalist perspective - comes out against Fortress Europe, but gives every impression of being for ‘Fortress Britain’.

I fully understand what you’re saying and where you’re coming from. During an election campaign I’m not going to attack other constituent parts of the campaign of which I am a candidate.

What I would say is that in my view the enemy is capitalism, based in both the European Union and in Britain. They are the same. What I have been arguing for in the meetings I’ve been involved in is workers’ internationalism with no illusions in the sanctity of British capital. We’re a movement seeking to replace capitalism with socialism - and I’m not just talking about neoliberalism, which is simply the current version of the class war from above.

What I do think is that we’re living in tumultuous times. We’ve seen 30 years of incredible war on the workers since Thatcher and Reagan, and this is the chance that working class, socialist and progressive forces have to ally, nationally and internationally, to pose and to organise for a working class and socialist alternative to combat and replace capitalism.

If the platform read, ‘No to Fortress Europe, no to Fortress Britain’, how would that sound to you? In other words, for the free movement of labour.

I was a politician for many years, so I’m well used to not answering questions! What I will say is that the views expressed, for example, over the Lindsey refinery workers’ strike by the leaders of No2EU from all its sections have not been narrow little Englandism. What they have defended is the rights of all workers in Britain, wherever they might come from.

So I take heart not from the odd phrase that needs developing, but from the more lengthy phrases that No2EU speakers have been expressing on the stump and in public statements.

I agree with what you say about Lindsey and in fact I think the Socialist Party did a good job in helping to divert the strike away from the ‘British jobs’ slogan …

It was a dreadful slogan …

But that wasn’t actually the nature of the strike, which was to defend jobs. However, what about immigration controls? I’m against them.

Well, I’m not sure that the No2EU campaign has got a particular view on that …

What’s your view?

My personal view is that in my political life I’ve been opposed to racism and active in the Anti-Nazi League - and indeed was attacked on two occasions by fascists because of my leading local role in anti-fascist activity. My working life has involved teaching against race, gender and sexuality discrimination.

My view is that this is not a time to have completely open borders. On the other hand, I think that the current controls are racist and that people who are in this country should be treated with full human rights and have full workers’ rights. The conditions under which many refugees and asylum-seekers live are horrendous.

If ever - god forbid - there were a fascist government in this country, then people like me or you would have to seek asylum somewhere else unless we went underground. I would want us to be treated with full human rights and dignity and have the ability to lead a happy, healthy, safe and employed life.

So the anti-racist slant of No2EU is hugely important to me. I fear that now, unlike any time since the late 70s, when the left basically kicked the fascists off the streets, and unlike the 1930s, when the Battle of Cable Street did the same, the dangers of fascism and of a BNP revival are greater at this moment than at any time in the last 30 years. So we must have no truck with nationalistic slogans and must make very clear our internationalist and anti-racist beliefs.

Finally, I do hope that all of the left, including the CPGB, will come into No2EU and make it a democratic and pluralist organisation. I am including in that people like the Socialist Workers Party and Alliance for Workers’ Liberty - I am totally non-sectarian. I look with great hope to the new anti-capitalist party in France, the Bloco de Esquerda in Portugal and some of the experiences of Die Linke. That’s what I want this to develop into.