Over a pint in the pub

Peter Manson spoke to Dave Nellist of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, who heads the No2EU West Midlands list in the EU elections

How is the campaign going?

I think very well. We’ve got a dozen or 15 public meetings organised in the West Midlands and, as far as I can see, we’re the only election campaign which is conducting public debates.

The Weekly Worker has been highly critical of the No2EU platform, which was drawn up by the Communist Party of Britain. But the Socialist Party has not made any criticisms of its nationalistic aspects.

Well, I don’t agree. Firstly, over the three months or so that the components of the coalition have been together, there have been changes of emphasis, particularly on the question of internationalism, which have come about by the way people have worked together. Had the campaign started earlier, there could have been much more debate and hopefully, whatever comes after this, this is a stage in a debate on what sort of independent political voice working people need. But no brief coalition, which is what this is, can be absolutely tied by a common denominator.

For example, I happen to think that most people will vote on June 4 not on European issues, but on their perception of the big parties on sleaze, the recession and questions like that. So most of my speeches are on those topics. That’s not moving away from addressing European issues, but my experience is, you engage working people better by talking about the issues they’re thinking and talking about themselves.

Nevertheless, you can’t get away from what is spelled out in detail on the No2EU website. The opposition to the right of free movement, for example, and the posing of democracy purely in terms of ‘British sovereignty’.

Well, I’m not opposed to the right of free movement and I’ve never met anyone in the campaign yet who is. What I’m opposed to is the posted workers’ directive, which legitimises multinationals’ ability, using agency and non-unionised workers, to try to weaken and then break trade union agreements. That’s the only aspect of free movement I’m talking about in the campaign.

As I say, I’ve done quite a few meetings and by the time we’ve finished I will have been in meetings in Wales, Scotland, London and other parts of England, but I’ve yet to meet anybody in the campaign who’s called for a restriction on the free movement of the right to work.

So, as well as opposing Fortress Europe, would you be for the right of free movement in and out of Britain?

I’ve always believed that part of socialism is the right to live, work, love wherever you want to be. However, if you put a practical example in front of me, which is the IREM multinational at Lindsey, then I come down on the side of the strikers who want to enforce common trade union levels of pay and conditions on whoever works there - as opposed to the right of IREM to use the free movement of capital and labour to make the biggest possible profit.

Similarly, when it comes to Peugeot shifting the Ryton factory out to Slovakia, where they can pay workers a sixth of what they get in Coventry to make Peugeot 207s, and Visteon, which figuratively builds a car components plant next door and shuts down Basildon, Enfield and Belfast - those not only are the campaigns and issues I’m taking up, but, instructively, the leaders of those disputes are our candidates as well. It’s a very good working class platform.

The other point I would make is that it’s wrong in relation to Lindsey to look at the first two days and some home-made A4 posters with “British jobs for British workers” to assume that’s the consciousness of workers all the way through the dispute. It’s the same with this election campaign. It’s organically changing as we go along, as more people get involved. In some people’s minds, regretfully, at the moment there are probably less EU issues being raised at the meetings as the weeks go by because of people’s anger at the establishment parties over MPs’ expenses.

Can I turn to the question of democracy? Hannah Sell in her latest Socialism Today article alludes to the fact that the way ‘Yes to democracy’ is posed could be interpreted as a defence of the British parliamentary system. What in your view would a positive, radical democracy look like?

I’ve always said that 650 MPs isn’t my idea of democracy - and neither is just short of 800 Euro MPs. The idea that the neoliberal Thatcherite agenda from the 1980s writ large across Europe is somehow more democratic is clearly wrong in my view. Democracy is defined, again in my view, as the maximum involvement of working people in decision-making. We could go back to the Chartists 150 years ago and their annual parliaments - something that was never achieved - to get an inkling of that. People have always wanted the right to regularly review decisions that are made in their name.

Would you call for annual parliaments, then?

Well, more frequent elections, the right of recall - for example by a certain percentage of the electorate demanding a fresh election - and so on would be helpful. It wouldn’t actually give us fundamentally more democracy, because parliament isn’t the place where most decisions are made.

They’re made in boardrooms and other avenues that the employers have and are sometimes legitimised through laws passed in parliament, in the same way as mass campaigns of working people sometimes change things. But fundamentally parliaments aren’t the place where decisions are made, either in Britain or in Europe.

In the same way, I wouldn’t go along with those who have tried to turn the campaign into one for withdrawal from the EU, even though I organised and helped lead the 1975 ‘no’ campaign in Coventry against British entry.

So many directives and treaties of the past 30 years have now been incorporated into British law that, whether we are inside or outside the EU, with its form of parliament, there would still be the same battles against neoliberalism to be had here in Britain.

So, when it comes to parliaments, whether they’re in London, Brussels or Strasbourg, there are so many other ways in which decisions are made. For example in Britain, there is the House of Lords and the right of the monarch to refuse to countersign legislation - by the way, if the House of Lords tomorrow refused or delayed the passing of some legislation that was going to affect working people, pensioners or what have you, I’d welcome it under the ‘any port in a storm’ argument, but I wouldn’t hand over all the rights to make laws in Britain to the House of Lords.

In the same way those few people who say there are elements of slightly more progressive things that have come out of the EU, so bad has been the British record on these issues over the past 10 or 20 years, don’t persuade me that it would be a good idea to hand over to the European parliament even more power to make laws.

We are putting forward the notion of republican democracy, which obviously includes the abolition of the monarchy and the second chamber - any second chamber …

Any serious socialist would contend that the only place where binding decisions on working people ought to be taken is one that is (a) elected, and (b) accountable and subject to recall, which clearly the House of Lords and the monarchy are not. I’d abolish the House of Lords tomorrow quite happily and have a unicameral parliament. But I’m not making in this election - or, for that matter, in most elections I stand for - one of the priorities the question of the role of the monarch, because it isn’t what’s on most people’s minds. They’re more concerned about other things …

But you’re telling me about it, so it’ll get some prominence! There is, however, another aspect to republican democracy, and that is the abolition of the standing army and its replacement by a popular militia and the right to bear arms. What is your view on that?

Come and see me on June 5! I almost thought at the beginning, ‘Put these questions in writing and I’ll give you a proper, structured answer rather than just a quick rundown on the phone.’

That issue has not come up in any election meeting so far and I doubt it’s going to come up before June 4 …

I’m bringing it up now!

But you’re not in my patch! What is coming up is the question of factory closures, of unemployment, the export of jobs and factories, the use of agency workers - all the things that working people are really concerned about. Whether I have views or not on other socialist issues are things to debate over a pint in the pub after June 4.

The priority at the moment is to try and get as many votes off the BNP as we can in this election and lay a bit of a marker down for the next stage of discussions that take place between organisations of working people.