Abysmal day for non-Labour left
The performance of non-Labour working class candidates on May 6 was woeful. Peter Manson and John Masters report on the candidates, the figures and the excuses
The performance of the far left in the general election was, to put it bluntly, abysmal. Votes cast for the 108 candidates who identified themselves as communist, socialist, workers, etc, on the ballot paper totalled 30,754 - about 324 votes per candidate. Compared to the previous general elections of the last two decades, fewer far-left candidates stood, and the return per constituency was at its lowest since 1992.
Factor in Respect, various independents and vaguely reformist types, such as People Before Profit and the Peace Party, and the total goes up to 85,559 votes for 135 candidates - a rather better, but still dismal 634 votes per candidate. But even these figures are grossly distorted by the inclusion of, in particular, three Respect candidates - Salma Yaqoob, George Galloway and Abjol Miah, who polled 28,932 votes between them, plus Dai Davies in Blaenau Gwent (whose vote slumped to 6,458, as he lost his seat back to Labour). These four alone easily outpolled all 108 of the far lefts put together.
The ‘great red hope’ for this election was the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, an alliance of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, Socialist Workers Party, Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity and some non-aligned lefts. Tusc stood 42 candidates, having barred smaller groups to its left, including the CPGB and Workers Power, using the excuse that we have insufficient “social weight”. Well, now we know how much of that commodity SPEW et al enjoy, at least as far as it is reflected electorally - a stunning 370 votes per candidate, or 0.9% on average. In 2005 SPEW alone, standing as Socialist Alternative, averaged 1.6%, so its “modest, but very important, step” in the direction of a replacement Labour Party managed to do half as well as SPEW five years ago.
SPEW claims that Tusc is a big advance on the Socialist Alliance (which was made up overwhelmingly of comrades who would describe themselves as revolutionary socialists) despite the fact that in the 2001 general election the SA stood 98 candidates and got an average of 1.7%. The reason why Tusc is apparently so much better is because of its claimed trade union support (a number of union branches and some regions, plus the endorsement of 20 Tusc candidates by the RMT national executive).
Of course, according to SPEW’s post-election statement, it is necessary to recognise “the early stage of development of this formation” and its “limited number of activists”. However, “the most significant aspect of Tusc is that it has involved sections of militant trade unionists, and is therefore a real step towards independent working class representation”. And guess what “made this possible”? Tusc’s “federal, inclusive [sic] approach. All future developments will need to build on this method”.
SPEW comes up with the usual excuses for Tusc’s dreadful showing: it was “squeezed” by the close battle between the main parties, with many workers reluctantly voting Labour to try to keep out the Tories. Well, on this occasion there is certainly some truth in that, but did you know that “Everywhere Tusc candidates stood we had enthusiastic support - particularly from young people and public sector workers”? And “Tusc election meetings were successful - with significant numbers of people coming along because they had picked up a leaflet and wanted to find out about a socialist alternative”. But, despite “some creditable results”, this “support was not generally reflected in the votes it received”.
Who do they think they’re fooling? The three examples of “creditable results” given - for Dave Nellist (3.7% in Coventry North East), Tommy Sheridan (2.9% in Glasgow South West) and Jenny Sutton (2.6% in Tottenham) - all saw a sharp fall in the vote share in the constituency for the same or similar candidates compared to previous elections.
As for Tusc itself, as we write, it has yet to issue a statement on the election beyond: “Well done to everyone for an excellent campaign. Here are the results. A fuller analysis will be posted later” (May 7). That will be something to look forward to.
For its part the SWP was more modest in its claims. No doubt this reflected the far smaller amount of political capital it invested in the project than SPEW did: “In some areas, Tusc activists tapped into the anger with mainstream politicians and ran good campaigns. In areas like Tottenham, for example, Tusc supporters now know more people in the area and have a stronger basis to build activity against cuts and privatisation … Yet in most areas the vote was disappointing.”
Unlike SPEW, the SWP can at least bring itself to describe the result in this mildly negative way. And it is much more realistic than SPEW over what it thinks might have emerged from Tusc - getting to “know more people” and as a result achieving a “stronger basis” for local campaigning rather than moving towards the building of a Labour Party mark two. True, an unsigned article in the latest Socialist Worker concludes: “Tusc needs to be broadened. A national conference would help to democratise and widen the process.” But “broadened” in what way and to what end?
Charlie Kimber, writing in the same issue, correctly states: “… the radical left, and the audience that wants to resist the cuts, is far greater than the number who voted for parties to the left of Labour last week. There are millions of people - many of them who voted Labour - who support strikes, or who campaign against the Nazis, or are ready to defend education and the health service and local services. Mobilising those people for a fightback, and for socialist politics, is now vital.”
But once again the form such organisation should take is not even hinted at. Does the SWP think the working class needs a new party to lead the resistance and if so what sort of party?
The SWP may be without answers and SPEW may have its head in the clouds, but, compared to the Morning Star, they are both the epitome of sober realism. The Star seems to have taken an editorial decision to go for official optimism in extremis. Its front page on May 8 delightedly announces: “Voters say no to a Tory government”, while on pages 2-3 the main headline reads: “Red days as socialists gain”! These “red days” have come about because of the election of around 20 left Labour candidates, including Michael Meacher, Austin Mitchell and Diane Abbott. Page 4 informs readers that “Unions hail public’s vote against cuts” and, reporting on the Communist Party of Britain’s election campaign, declares: “Communists fly the red flag”.
In fact, the six candidates standing for the Star’s CPB, despite the higher turnout than in 2005, experienced a drop of 65 votes in total, with its average falling from 187 to 176. Red days indeed.
What of the Scottish Socialist Party? The organisation that in 2001 contested all 72 Scottish seats and picked up 72,518 votes (3.3% of the total in Scotland), and in 2005 stood in 58 seats and averaged 2.6%, was last week reduced to a mere 3,157 votes (0.8%) in the 10 seats it managed to contest. Similarly Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party suffered a further decline. In a way it is a minor miracle that the ageing and increasingly deluded Scargill was able to cajole 23 of his tiny band of followers to contest yet another election well beyond the SLP’s sell-by date, and they too averaged 0.8%.
As we have noted, Respect’s vote was far and away the best among a sad bunch on the left. But it was not good enough to see George Galloway re-elected. True, that outcome was less likely once he switched from Bethnal Green and Bow to Poplar and Limehouse, but Abjol Miah’s share of the vote in the former constituency was more than halved, compared to 2005.
Just as significantly for Respect, all but two of its sitting councillors were defeated. It was nearly wiped out in Tower Hamlets, despite picking up thousands of votes in the borough’s local elections. The only surviving councillor there is Harun Miah, who came second in Shadwell. Ex-Respect councillors Oli Rahman, Rania Khan and Lutfa Begum were all re-elected for their new party: Labour. Respect also lost its single councillor in Newham, Abdul Karim Sheikh, who received just over a third of the vote for the Labour candidates.
But Salma Yaqoob was easily re-elected in Birmingham Sparkbrook, where the other two Respect councillors were not up for re-election. Yaqoob also polled 12,240 votes (over 25%) in the Birmingham Hall Green Westminster constituency, although even this percentage was a reduction compared to 2005.
So Respect now has no MPs and just four councillors (it once had 12 in Tower Hamlets alone). It seems likely that May 6 2010 will mark the beginning of the end for the whole ‘unity coalition’ project. The loss of Galloway in particular - together with his MP’s office and facilities - is a big blow. Senior Respect figures like Nick Wrack have for some time been looking for a broader regroupment and comrade Wrack was particularly keen on Tusc and its predecessor, No2EU. The tendency to look beyond Respect will now undoubtedly be given added impetus.
SPEW too suffered devastating council losses. Its two councillors in Lewisham Telegraph Hill, Ian Page and Chris Flood, were defeated by the Labour candidates, who won more than twice as many votes as they did. In Coventry St Michael’s, sitting councillor Rob Windsor - like comrades Page and Flood standing under SPEW’s electoral name, Socialist Alternative - was also soundly beaten by Labour despite polling 29% (Labour won 48%). SPEW had been hoping to increase its council representation, standing a third candidate in Lewisham and contesting all 18 wards in Coventry. But, apart from comrade Windsor, they could only manage between 0.9% and 3.7%.
The other SPEW councillor to lose out was Jackie Grunsell, elected to Kirklees council in 2006 on a Save Huddersfield NHS ticket. Last time she won easily with 2,176 votes, but on May 6 this was slashed to 1,472 against 2,812 for Labour. In truth, SPEW was undone by the large increase in turnout resulting from the local elections being held on the same day as the Westminster poll. One tiny consolation, however, is that its last remaining councillor, Dave Nellist, was saved by the fact that he does not come up for re-election in St Michael’s until 2012.
As is only to be expected, SPEW, while not quite being able to match the Star when it comes to official optimism, is still able to find the positives in the Coventry result. Rob Windsor “got the highest ever vote for the Socialist Party in the ward … more than 500 up on last time he stood - and yet still lost the seat as a result of the higher turnout created by the general election. The large increase in our vote puts us in a strong position to come back and rewin the seat next year.”
But, as we have seen, the decline in SPEW’s share of the vote has been ongoing and has reflected a similar drop across the whole left. The Alliance for Green Socialism, for example, went down from 395 per candidate to 263.
‘Unity is strength’ is a slogan you will see on many a trade union banner and ought to be regarded as a principle among socialists - which is why it was rotten to see left candidates fighting each other in some seats. In Camberwell and Peckham, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, SLP and Workers Revolutionary Party went head to head and achieved 1% of the vote between them - the biggest share going to the WRP, with the AWL bringing up the rear.
Manchester Central saw a similar three-way clash, this time between the WRP, SLP and Socialist Equality Party. Here the SLP got the upper hand, whilst the WRP and its sibling from the split in that branch of British Trotskyism came down to a difference of just five votes - WRP: 59; SEP: 54.
The least popular offering came from the Communist League, an organisation whose website does not mention that it was fighting the election - in fact it shows no sign of being updated since the year 2000. The CL recorded just 48 votes in Edinburgh South West.
While the further loss of “social weight” among the left groups may cause some to sneer and chuckle, in reality it is no laughing matter. The appalling results for the left reflect our profound collective weakness - and, it has to be said, a mind-numbing inability to chart the way ahead. As we have said, unity is strength, but not just any old unity.
At a time when the system of capital stands exposed as constantly susceptible to devastating crises and totally unable to meet humanity’s basic needs, the left refuses to promote the Marxist alternative in organisational form. We have to take matters into our own hands: we, the Marxists, have to change our ways if we are to break out of our isolation.
It is now more urgent than ever that we learn from our mistakes in order to forge the main weapon we are lacking: a Communist Party.
- Statement, May 7: www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/9498/07-05-2010/election-results-tusc-stands-for-socialism-prepares-for-battles-ahead
- Socialist Worker post-election special, May 8.
- Socialist Worker May 11.