Non-Labour left election results
The performance of the non-Labour left on May 5 was, to be frank, dismal, writes Peter Manson
Symptomatic of this was the fact that in the English council elections we saw the loss of three of the remaining non-Labour left councillors - Michael Lavalette in Preston, Ray Holmes in Bolsover and Peter Smith in Walsall. All three finished second to Labour despite winning more than 30% of the vote (comrade Lavalette picking up a fraction below 40% in fact) and all three were contesting this time under the Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts umbrella. Comrades Lavalette and Holmes are members of the Socialist Workers Party, while comrade Smith was the last of the 11 witch-hunted leftwing councillors expelled from Labour in 1999, the Walsall Democratic Labour Party.
In the end Tusc stood 174 candidates across England and the three above-named were among 13 who won over 10%, while 33 others scored more than 5%. Another who finished second with over 30% was Rob Windsor, standing for Socialist Alternative in Coventry St Michaels. Socialist Alternative is, of course, the electoral name of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, the main driving force behind Tusc. And one of St Michaels’ three seats is held by Dave Nellist, who is not up for re-election until next year. Perhaps that is fortunate, since comrade Windsor’s Labour opponent gained almost double his votes.
Among others who scored reasonably were the SWP’s Maxine Bowler (14% in Sheffield) and Tom Woodcock (12% in Cambridge). Such results show that it is possible for far-left candidates to build up support through patient, hard work campaigning for workers in their locality. But that hardly amounts to a viable national strategy. SPEW, for example, was barely able to register in the rest of Coventry - its other Socialist Alternative candidates, contesting every ward across the city, averaged around 2%.
And that was par for the course for Tusc candidates - the great majority of whom struggled to rise above the votes recorded by eccentric independents. However, Nick Wrack of the Tusc steering committee describes the coalition’s overall performance in the local elections as, on balance, a “good initial foray”. Comrade Wrack points out that Labour is “seen as a line of defence” against the Con-Dem cuts and that Tusc, which really is against the cuts, was virtually unknown everywhere. Nevertheless, he says, if a 2% return was registered in every constituency across England in a general election, that would translate into half a million votes. Not bad at all!
Come off it, Nick. Think of what it would require just to register a candidate in 550 parliamentary constituencies (the equivalent of several thousand council wards), let alone mount any sort of campaign. How could we do that? We could not. Not unless we first built a working class party - ie, an organisation that became part of the working class.
Which brings me to a second, very pertinent point. Why do “most voters think Labour is opposed to cuts”, to quote comrade Wrack? Because most voters are workers, many of whom consider Labour to be some kind of working class party. And with good reason. Trade union cash, trade union money and trade union votes all help ensure that Labour remains a bourgeois workers’ party. That, together with the illusions that workers have in Labour and Labourism, will mean that the party will continue to keep the bulk of class-conscious votes. And, in turn, that means any attempt to build a Labour Party mark two - exactly what SPEW, the SWP and the likes of comrade Wrack have in mind - is doomed to failure. Not even the RMT union will support such an endeavour.
There are two lessons. Far from writing off Labour, Marxists must take it much more seriously as a site for struggle. Secondly, the battle to win Labour for the working class must go hand in hand with the battle to build the only formation that can lead our class to emancipation - a Marxist party, uniting all decent left groups, including those within the Labour Party.
Unfortunately, however, that is something most on the left refuse to countenance - at least at the moment. The SWP and SPEW may find themselves temporarily in the same electoral coalition, but they cannot even unite in a single anti-cuts campaign, let alone a single party.
As a postscript, let me mention other left forces I know of that contested the council elections. First, there is Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, whose website brags about its results in Wales and Scotland, where it contested every region in the assembly and parliament elections respectively. In Wales it gained 2.4% of the overall vote, easily outdistancing both Tusc (less than 0.5% in the two regions where it stood) and the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain (0.3% across the whole principality). Similarly in Scotland the SLP’s 0.8% was far ahead of both the Scottish Socialist Party (0.4%) and Solidarity (0.1%). It won more votes than the SSP and Solidarity combined in every region.
But the SLP is strangely reticent to give details of its contests in England. It boasts of its candidate (a former mayor) having notched up 27.34% in Chester and claims good results in two wards on Merseyside - without giving any figures. And that is it. In reality the SLP no longer has any organisation to speak of anywhere. Scargill long since killed off his own party by driving out anyone who opposed him.
Yet thousands of workers, a tiny proportion, compared to those voting Labour, knowing nothing of his record as an ageing labour dictator, remember him as an intransigent fighter for our class during the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85. It was Scargill who ensured the candidate lists were drawn up and the deposits paid, thus earning the SLP a party political broadcast in both Scotland and Wales.
The SLP website, by the way, announces that “issue 2” of its paper, Socialist News, is “out now”. Funny, that. Socialist News was first published in 1997 and ran to a few dozen issues. So presumably this is a relaunch. But the website only reproduces its front cover and the title of the paper’s articles. You don’t expect to be allowed to read it without paying your £1, do you?
It is also worth mentioning the Socialist Equality Party, whose candidates in Sheffield and Manchester polled 1.8% and 3% respectively. One of them even “placed higher than the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition”. No wonder the SEP considers that “This was a significant vote.” But it does not say how “significant” its vote was in the entire West of Scotland region, where it scored ... precisely zero. Perhaps its failure to mention its ‘campaign’ in Scotland in its post-election report is understandable.