No2EU fails the test
Peter Manson calls for a Labour vote on June 4
None of the 11 first-placed candidates standing for ‘No to the EU, Yes to Democracy’ have committed themselves to the CPGB’s conditions for offering them support in next week’s European Union elections.
The No2EU platform, drafted by the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, fronted and financed by Bob Crow of the RMT union, and uncritically supported by the Socialist Party in England and Wales, is a mix of British nationalism and trade union-type demands.
Prominent among its bullet points are: “Defend and develop manufacturing, agriculture and fishing industries in Britain”; “Repatriate democratic powers to EU member-states”; and “Scrap EU rules designed to stop member-states from implementing independent economic policies”. No2EU’s website rails against the “social dumping of exploited foreign workers in Britain”, which results from what it dubs the “so-called ‘free movement’ of labour” within the EU.
In its rush to jump on board the “first electoral challenge to New Labour initiated by … the most militant industrial union in Britain”,1 the SPEW leadership pretends that, while it might have minor quibbles, the platform is totally acceptable. It claims not to be able to see any trace of nationalism within it - indeed No2EU has “a vital role to play in offering an alternative to nationalism”.2
It is true that No2EU is made up entirely of working class organisations and individuals (if we ignore Liberal Party oddball councillor Steve Radford, who is a candidate in the North West), but its overt nationalism makes an unconditional vote for it problematic, to say the least. Nevertheless, if any of the lead candidates (the only ones with even a remote chance of being elected) had indicated their acceptance of our two basic conditions - against Fortress Britain, for republican democracy - we would have recommended a vote for No2EU in that region.
I have attempted to contact all 11 lead candidates and succeeded in speaking to six of them. The other five did not get back to me. Of course, I expected no cooperation whatsoever from CPB comrades, who regard the Weekly Worker with a mixture of hatred and fear. So when I called Brian Denny, No2EU nominating officer, RMT employee and lead candidate in the Eastern region, his response was not unexpected: “You’re having a laugh, ain’t you, mate? You’re having a laugh ...” Comrade Denny hung up before I had the chance to ask him anything.
Martin Levy (number one in the North East) was more polite: “I don’t really want to talk to you, thanks. OK, goodbye.”
I tried to contact the two other CPB lead candidates - general secretary Rob Griffiths (Wales) and international secretary John Foster (Scotland) through CPB offices, but, unsurprisingly, my calls were not returned. Attempts to speak to No2EU convenor Bob Crow (London) and RMT executive member Alex Gordon (South West) had to pass through either the RMT press office or No2EU itself and in both cases I suspect comrade Denny’s influence would be a factor in ensuring my request for an interview was not met.
Socialist Party comrades were much more cooperative. Last week the Weekly Worker carried my interview with Dave Nellist (West Midlands) and this issue contains those with Keith Gibson (Yorkshire and Humberside) and John McEwan (East Midlands). The SPEW comrade I have not yet spoken to is Roger Bannister (North West). The Unison receptionist in Liverpool told me he was unable to take my call and put me through to his voicemail, but, as I write, he has not contacted me (I know he is busy, obviously).
Unfortunately SPEW comrades have all fallen down on an essential component of republican democracy - replacement of the standing army by a popular militia and the right to bear arms. The replies of comrades Gibson and McEwan on this point were a mixture of bewilderment and incredulity. According to comrade McEwan, “People would think I was off my rocker if I came out with that”, while comrade Gibson commented: “I think we should be looking at where workers are at the minute, their own consciousness” (see p4). For his part comrade Nellist refused to answer this one question: “Come and see me on June 5!”3
The final lead candidate, Dave Hill (South East), did not feel qualified to respond on the right to bear arms, despite his membership of the International Socialist Group. Comrade Hill, unlike the SPEW comrades, openly opposed open borders as well.4
Unless we unexpectedly hear from any of the remaining comrades at the 11th hour and (even more unexpectedly) receive a positive answer to our two conditions, the CPGB will therefore recommend no vote to No2EU anywhere.
What about the other left-of-Labour groups standing on June 4? Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party has once more managed to put together a full slate of candidates in every region. How Scargill manages to raise the cash is anyone’s guess, but it is clear that he was so desperate to find people willing to stand that comrades were forced to draft in family members to make up the numbers. So in the East Midlands we find Dave and Thea Roberts among the candidates, while Steve Yoxall managed to persuade partner Holly to join him on the Yorkshire and Humberside list. Then there is Pat and James Bowen (Eastern), Linda and Colin Muir (London), Billy and Dot Kelly (North West), Maureen and Derek Stubbings (South East), and Louise and James McDaid (Scotland). The South West features a father-and-son team, Robert Hawkins senior and junior.
Within a few months of its foundation in 1996, the SLP had over 2,000 members. But Scargill’s insistence on his own role as unassailable labour dictator and his refusal to countenance even the mildest opposition had reduced this left break from Labour to a couple of hundred (mostly inactive) adherents within a couple of years. I suspect that there are now just a few dozen SLPers.
The SLP paper Socialist News has long since folded and its website is ‘updated’ roughly once every couple of months with news of a speech or two Arthur may have made. His party was always notorious for its sectarianism and even today, when it is clearly dying, he absurdly rejected No2EU’s approach for a joint challenge - despite virtually identical common politics.
The website now carries the SLP EU election ‘manifesto’ (all 241 words of it), which informs us that “The EU is a capitalist club that makes it easier for the multinational companies to exploit workers throughout its member-states.” Moreover, privatisation is blamed entirely on “EU directives”.
Unlike No2EU the SLP is open about its commitment to “complete withdrawal from the European Union” - “Only by coming out of the EU can we begin to put things right economically and socially.” It also claims that its own version of left nationalism comprises “a genuine socialist alternative” - in contrast to that of the single-issue No2EU presumably.5
Apart from the purely propagandist Socialist Party of Great Britain, which is standing in London alone, the only other left group contesting is the Scottish Socialist Party. Like the SLP, the SSP has seen better days - much better days. In fact delegates to its March conference were split on whether the SSP should bother contesting at all - it was only decided not to talk to No2EU on the chair’s casting vote.
The SSP list is headed by co-convenor Colin Fox and the campaign is being fought under a truly stomach-churning “Make greed history” banner. Its entire campaign appears to be based on the theme of a one-off wealth tax - we are told that Europe’s richest one percent have assets worth $10 trillion and a 10% tax would net Scotland a share amounting to £6.5 billion.
The SSP - whose website features the unintentionally ironic slogan, “Socialism, independence, internationalism” - unlike No2EU combines its (Scottish) nationalism with a new-found spirit of European working class cooperation. Its campaign site prominently features the joint statement of the European Anti-Capitalist Left - an initiative of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France - and its election broadcast, dramatically presented by leftwing actor Tam Dean Burn, proclaims: “For a green socialist Scotland in a green socialist Europe”.
It goes without saying that both the SLP and SSP are completely disorientated organisations with no future whatsoever. They cannot be viewed as representing even a small step in the direction of a genuine working class party - quite the opposite in fact.
For its part SPEW has shown by its shameful collaboration with the CPB in the blatantly nationalist enterprise known as No2EU that it is rapidly moving to the right. Any party that emerges from this platform will inevitably be tarred by this nationalism and in this one sense will be worse than the existing version of what SPEW wants to recreate - the Labour Party.
Although the MPs’ expenses scandal has reduced the standing of all three mainstream parties, the left has shown itself incapable of providing a principled working class alternative. Instead a reactionary anti-partyism is widely encouraged. In the absence of any positive leftwing intervention the CPGB is recommending the biggest possible vote for Britain’s bourgeois workers’ party on June 4.
2. Socialism Today May 2009.
3. ‘Over a pint in the pub’, May 21.
4. See ‘Hopeful of being elected’, May 21.