Like looking for a needle in a haystack
Peter Manson calls for critical support for Ken Livingstone, for Labour anti-cuts candidates and for all those standing on a left, working class platform
The left - both inside and outside Labour - was given a boost by the victory of George Galloway in the Bradford West parliamentary by-election on March 29. We in the CPGB certainly hope that this will feed into a general resurgence in class-consciousness, reflected in the election of militant working class activists.
However, it would be foolish in the extreme to imagine that the May 3 local and Greater London Authority elections will produce a sea change, with the return of a raft of Labour left and anti-cuts candidates and a substantial increase in the vote for the far left. When it comes to the former, Labour candidates had obviously long since been selected before March 29, and, while there is still time for a few to come out of the closet as working class fighters, do not hold your breath. It is vital that Labour candidates committed to opposing all cuts be supported, but these are so few and far between that you will be extremely fortunate if there is one to vote for in your ward.
As for left-of-Labour candidates, it is unlikely that many of them will make much of an impact, despite Bradford West. The Socialist Workers Party’s Mark Krantz last week reported optimistically from Manchester in the internal Party Notes, “Galloway has shifted the ground for us all … You can feel the qualitative shift compared to all previous election campaigns.” However, since then the SWP, with its smattering of candidates standing for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, seems to have thought better of forecasting anything approaching a breakthrough.
Probably the most important vote on May 3 will be for London mayor, where, according to the latest opinion polls, Conservative incumbent Boris Johnson is neck and neck with Labour leftwinger and former mayor Ken Livingstone. Livingstone declared in his ‘State of the race’ speech on April 23: “Our NHS is under attack. Students are being made to pay for an economic crisis they did not cause, with higher tuition fees. Public servants, not bankers, face job losses and pay cuts.” And he concludes: “A victory for the Tories in 10 days time will be used as a green light for deepening the Tory onslaught. They will use it to vindicate the next phase of their plans.”
That is quite correct. But there is another reason why we want to see a victory for Livingstone, and that is to do with Labour’s own internal dynamics: a Livingstone defeat would undoubtedly strengthen the hand of the openly pro-capitalist Labour right, who would argue that the party needs to stand firmly and unambiguously on the pro-business ‘middle ground’ it occupied under Tony Blair, that it can only hope to win if it bases its policies on a straightforward appeal to the ‘moderate centre’ (read: the bourgeois media).
In the same speech Livingstone showed his opposition to such an overtly pro-capitalist approach: “… in the way ancient religions worshipped the power of the sun, wind or sea, we are supposed to bow down before the unstoppable power of market forces. But when energy bills rise and fares are hiked this doesn’t mean there is less money around: just that ordinary people - the 99% - have less of it. The big energy companies, the rip-off lettings agents and [Transport for London] under the Tory mayor all have more money. And the bankers to whom the Tories have just given a tax cut are still getting their bonuses. The Labour argument is that ordinary people should not be made to pay for the crisis.”
Of course, that is not the “Labour argument” - not the argument employed by the leadership and the vast majority of Labour candidates, at any rate. Ed Miliband actually insists (although he does not say so openly) that “ordinary people” should be made to pay: it is just that they will be forced to shoulder the burden more gradually via less severe cuts, to be implemented over a longer time scale. However, it goes without saying that Livingstone is not advocating a genuinely working class solution, but a return to old Labour-style Keynesianism: “The post-war Labour government took over a financially bankrupt nation. Its response was not to scrap public sector jobs, increase taxes on older people and hike up fares. It was to get people back to work, a massive programme of reconstruction, home building and the introduction of the welfare state. Not only was it fair. It worked. These were Labour values in action.”
Not that Livingstone claims he will be able to introduce Keynesianism in one city following May 3. In his official election statement, delivered to every household in the capital, he admits: “The mayor does not have the powers to fully protect Londoners against this Tory government assault. But, faced with the worst economic crisis for 50 years, I will use all of the powers of the mayor’s office to protect them.” In other words, “We have to use what money is available to ease the squeeze …” (my emphasis).
So Livingstone argues that Transport for London has built up such a surplus that it can easily afford to cut fares by seven percent straightaway - he promises to resign if he has not done this by October. By contrast, Johnson argues that such a policy would eat into the resources needed for vital investment, which Livingstone denies. Whoever is right, it is clear that Livingstone has accepted he must work within the austerity limits set by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government: it is not possible either to reduce fares to an affordable level or to make the public transport capital investments that are really necessary.
Similarly, Livingstone promises to introduce a London education maintenance allowance of “up to £30 a week”. But this modest commitment to ease the burden of a small minority of students will be met by being “innovative, by bringing together other organisations that do have funding available, to re-create a London-wide EMA”. The one firm pledge he makes in relation to cuts is in the bullet point which reads: “Crack down on crime by reversing police cuts.” Obviously, however, if more money is to be spent on the police, less will be available for other, more useful services.
Despite glaring weaknesses and obvious inadequacies, candidates like Livingstone signify that the battle for the Labour Party is far from over. In however distorted a fashion, Livingstone represents working class interests - in the same way as trade union bureaucrats represent those interests despite forever conceding to employers’ demands - as opposed to the right, which would dearly love to transform Labour into a fully-fledged bourgeois party.
That is why we say: vote Labour anti-cuts; vote Livingstone. But our support for such candidates must be critical if we are to win the fight for the politics of our class. And I was pleased to hear that the leftwing Labour Representation Committee in London accepted a motion from Labour Party Marxists to include that word in its backing of Livingstone.
In the vast majority of contests there will be no supportable Labour candidate on May 3. But in England and Wales the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is standing 133 candidates in 39 local authorities, as well as a full state of London-wide candidates for the GLA (not to mention Tony Mulhearn, the ex-Militant Tendency Labour councillor, who is standing for mayor of Liverpool).
As Tusc points out, it is contesting over five percent of all council seats, which probably represents a higher proportion than Labour anti-cuts candidates. For example, there are 17 Tusc candidates in Coventry, 13 in Southampton, 10 in Liverpool and Portsmouth, eight in Rugby, six each in Cardiff and Stevenage, and five in Sheffield and Lincoln. One of the 17 in Coventry will be Dave Nellist, the sole remaining councillor who is a member of the Socialist Party in England and Wales. It will be interesting to see whether comrade Nellist will be able to do what his fellow SPEW member, the late Rob Windsor, who died in February, could not achieve last year - hold onto his seat in St Michael’s ward. St Michael’s may be regarded as the seat where we will be able to judge most accurately the extent to which the left has benefited from the ‘Galloway effect’.
In Preston Town Centre ward ex-councillor and Socialist Workers Party member Michael Lavalette will be attempting to recapture the seat. While the SWP is standing two Tusc candidates in Manchester, and one each in Barnsley, Sheffield, Portsmouth and Cambridge (in addition to having four out of 17 on the Tusc London-wide list), Preston is its absolute priority. In fact SWP comrades in Manchester and Sheffield are amongst those instructed to head for Preston rather than help their own local SWP candidate, much to the annoyance of some.
The same applies to Glasgow, where SWPers Angela McCormick and Graham Campbell are contesting for Tusc’s sister organisation, the Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition. Glasgow comrades have also been told to send people to help comrade Lavalette’s campaign - although the other SWP SACC candidate, Willie Black in Edinburgh, has been permitted to hold onto his helpers.
SACC has 36 candidates across Scotland, although the Chris Bambery-led International Socialist Group, which is very close to John Rees’s Counterfire, declined to get involved with SACC on the grounds that what was needed was not an anti-cuts electoral coalition, but a new ‘left unity’ initiative. It would be nice to think that what it means is a single, all-Britain Marxist party, but I can assure you that the ISG, like most of the rest of the left, is looking for yet another dead-end halfway house.
The Scottish Socialist Party also refused to join the coalition and has 31 candidates - although thankfully an agreement was negotiated to avoid clashes, so that in Glasgow every ward will have either a SACC or SSP candidate (Glasgow will also be a reasonable test of the ‘Galloway effect’, I suppose). Tommy Sheridan’s largely defunct Solidarity has a handful of candidates standing under the SACC umbrella.
Talking of Galloway, what about Respect? It has 12 candidates in Bradford, but, incredibly, only three others in the whole country on May 3 - one each in Manchester, Oldham and Tower Hamlets (a by-election). The reason for this is mainly down to the short time available (under a week) between Galloway’s stunning victory and the deadline for the May local elections. While the party was inundated with people (mostly new members) offering to stand, the leadership decided to reject such unknown quantities, many of whom were undoubtedly attempting to jump on the Galloway bandwagon in the hope of securing a nice little niche for themselves.
As for the pre-existing active membership, it had mostly accepted that Respect’s time had passed as an electoral force and, apparently, could not be aroused out of its lethargy in the few days before the April 4 deadline for nominations. So in Birmingham, for example, there are no Respect candidates and instead party leader Salma Yaqoob has issued a call to vote Green in the city.
Finally, the shell of Arthur Scargill’s party has made its usual reappearance at election time: “The Socialist Labour Party is pleased to announce that we will be fielding candidates in all three countries,” according to the home page of its website. But with less than a week to go it is unable to provide any details whatsoever.
That - together with the Communist League, Socialist Party of Great Britain and Lewisham People Before Profit, all standing in London - constitutes the sum total of the left’s efforts (apologies to any I have overlooked). Undoubtedly we should give critical support to all of the above, and it is clear where our main criticism lies - in the left’s dismal failure to even attempt to build what we really need: a united, democratic working class party that proudly declares its Marxism.
1. Party Notes April16.