European election: British left discusses urgent need for left unity

`If this debacle doesn’t wake up the British left, absolutely nothing will'

[See also ``European election: `An alarm is ringing' -- time `to build the broadest possible left unity'''.]

By Phil Hearse

June 8, 2009 -- Marxsite -- The outcome of the county council and European parliament elections means that the British left -- the left to the left of New Labour -- has to wake up and break out of its dire sectarian, bureaucratic and factional mindsets. Nothing is more shameful than the lack of of united left slate, around a minimal set of demands in the interets of the working class, in these elections. The near absence of the left from the electoral field was one important reason -- though far from the only one -- that such a large number of the protest votes against the main parties went to the hard-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the fascist British National Party (BNP). It is shameful that the left abandons so much of the electoral field to the far right because of nothing more than hardened, bone-headed, factional idiocy -- topped off by bureaucratic exclusions and anathemas.

There was of course the No2EU slate (more on No2EU here), supported by the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and Socialist Party and promoted by Bob Crow and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). This made some impact, but not much -- around about 1% in most places. It's very unfortunate name gave rise to wrong impressions and in its headline -- although not of course its policies -- seemed indistinguishable from the UKIP. But more than this, the No2EU was a temporary lash-up, a new name and not something easily recognisable and established, as a real political party or long-term electoral front has to be.

In London the Socialist Labour Party (sole proprieter A. Scargill) got 17,000 votes, nearly as many as No2EU. Scargill is playing the role of a spoiler and disrupter of real left progress in elections by using big money at his disposition to continually stand a party that does not in reality exist. But why did the ``SLP'' get this vote -- because of the name, Socialist Labour Party.

In the absence of a credible united left slate, the field is not just open to the right, but many of the left's core voters vote for the Greens as the least bad credible alternative. Everyone but the left and the working class benefits from what Sheumas Milne described last week in his Guardian column as 'a prostrate left'.

In his recent article replying to Francois Sabado and Panos Garganas, British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) leader Alex Callinicos strikes a realistic note:

"I also express my disagreements in some humility: the disastrous recent experiences of the radical left in Britain do not exactly set up any of the participants in these catastrophes to preach to their comrades elsewhere in Europe.''

Quite so: these disasters are the experience of the Socialist Alliance, Respect and the split in the Scottish Socialist Party. I will not dwell here on the role played by the SWP in each of these disasters: that is something that has to be put behind us. The SWP was not uniquely responsible for these disasters either. The problem is that they have led to a scepticism and disillusionment among many people who went through these experiences.

The legacy of the failure of these projects is that starting again to build something unified on the left that can seriously intervene in elections will be a difficult job. But there is no option but to attempt it, and rapidly before the general election. If the UKIP coming second to the Tories in England and Wales and the election of two BNP Euro MPs doesn't wake up the British left, nothing will.

Fairy stories

In the face of events like these there is a temptation to take refuge in fairy stories, and myth number one is that we are on the verge of a huge industrial upsurge that will dwarf elections in its importance. We are not. Elections of course are not the final arbiters of the political outcome of social struggles, but they play an enormous role in modern bourgeois democracies. Without solid electoral intervention the left fights with one hand behind its back.

It would also be quite wrong to take a quietist and resigned attitude, noting that more or less every kind of left has done badly in Europe and mostly (though not in France) the far right has done well. It's true that it's mainly the right who have gained from the appalling crisis of pro-neoliberal social democracy. That is something that is not inevitable, nor is it irreversible, but the left has to analyse its basis and social meaning. In the next couple of weeks we shall post a further article here on the reasons for the success of the right and hard right. For the moment we should note that the push to the right will not be prevented by abandoning the electoral field of battle.

A further temptation would be to think that the rise of the hard right could be thwarted by anti-fascist mobilisations and a repeat of the 1970s Anti-Nazi League. Anti-fascist mobilisation will continue to be important, but in the long term only an alternative that can appeal to significant section of disilusioned working class voters can prevent the rise of the right.

Pitfalls and obstacles

Left sectarianism is not the only problem that has to be fought to build a united electoral front. Exclusions and anathemas, especially coming from sections of the trade union leaderships, are also a major problem. Hostility towards the SWP has reached irrational levels, especially among former revolutionary leftists who now try to act as advisors to left bureaucrats. The SWP has in may ways itself to blame for its bad reputation; it has alientated plenty of people by high-handed and undemocratic practices. This is a problem that will not be easily overcome. But the SWP in England and Wales is easily the most important part of the far left and in the medium term the construction of a new left alliance must engage them. This problem shows that the issue of democracy is not a secondary consideration but a sine quo non of successful alliances.

Right now the leadership of every part of the left-of-Labour left has to stop and think. Calculations on the basis of a ``small capital'' basis, eagerly counting the number of new recruits and papers sold, hopelessly fails to meet the situation. Left leaders have to start talking to one another, irrespective of past conflicts and prejudices. The left has many activists and immense resources of talent, experience and political capacity. But being stuck in the narcissistic bunker of narrow minds and narrow organisations won't make any impression on the national political map.

Of course the left faces an almost total ban on publicity in the national media, and indeed the right-wing domination of the media more generally. But we start from where we are, not from where we would like to be. We are much further behind where we ought to be in building a united left alternative. We now have to rapidly build a new Alliance for Socialism.

It'll be the first name on any ballot paper.

[Phil Hearse writes for the British socialist newspaper Socialist Respect.]

No2EU calls for unity to defeat the BNP

No2EU: Yes to Democracy coalition convener Bob Crow has called for urgent discussions involving socialist organisations, campaigns and trade unions to build a concerted response following the election of two fascists from the BNP to the European Parliament.

No2EU was the first progessive EU-critical coalition to stand in Britain in any election and it gained 153,236 votes despite an almost complete media blackout.

The combined vote in Thursday's poll for No2EU, the Socialist Labour Party and some of the smaller left parties stacks up to nearly a third of a million votes -- just over 2% of the total. In Scotland, the combined left vote was close to 4%.

Meanwhile, the Labour share of the vote has dropped by a massive 31%, the Lib Dems by over 7% and the Tories, despite all the hype, have only managed a tiny increase in share with turnout collapsing to just over 30%.

Bob Crow said today:

"There is no question that the BNP have benefitted from the collapse of the establishment political parties and from media coverage that has pumped them up like celebrities on `I'm a Nazi -- Get Me Out of Here.'

"Sections of the press, which have deliberately ignored anti-establishment parties from the left, need to take a long, hard look at the way the blanket coverage they have given to the fascists from the BNP has contributed to their success.

"But it's the collapse of public support for the three main parties - each of which is pro-business, pro-EU and supportive of the anti-union laws -- which has created the conditions for the scapegoat-politics of the BNP to thrive.

"The fascists support in former mining communities like Barnsley is shocking and throws down a massive challenge to the Labour and Trade Union movement.

"Along with our colleagues from the SLP and other left groups we won nearly a third of a million votes. From No2EU we won over 150,000 supporters from a standing start in the teeth of a media blackout. That gives us a solid platform to build from.

"We now need urgent discussions with political parties, campaigns and our colleagues in other unions like the CWU to develop a political and industrial response to this crisis.

"I also want to pay tribute to our colleagues from the Hope Not Hate campaign. There is no doubt that without their tireless efforts the BNP would have won even more seats," he said.

An open letter to the left from the Socialist Workers Party: it’s time to create a socialist alternative

June 10, 2009 -- Socialist Worker -- Labour’s vote collapsed to a historic low in last week’s elections as the right made gains. The Tories under David Cameron are now set to win the next general election.

The British National Party (BNP) secured two seats in the European parliament. Never before have fascists achieved such a success in Britain. The result has sent a shockwave across the labour and anti-fascist movements, and the left.

The meltdown of the Labour vote and the civil war engulfing the party poses a question—where do we go from here?

The fascists pose a threat to working class organisations, black, Asian and other residents of this country—who BNP führer Nick Griffin dubs “alien”— our civil liberties and much else. History teaches us that fascism can be fought and stopped, but only if we unite to resist it.

The SWP firmly believes that the first priority is to build even greater unity and resistance to the fascists over the coming months and years. The BNP believes it has created the momentum for it to achieve a breakthrough. We have to break its momentum.

The success of the anti-Nazi festival in Stoke and the numbers of people who joined in anti-fascist campaigning shows the basis is there for a powerful movement against the Nazis.

The Nazis’ success will encourage those within the BNP urging a “return to the streets”. This would mean marches targeting multiracial areas and increased racist attacks. We need to be ready to mobilise to stop that occurring.

Griffin predicted a “perfect storm” would secure the BNP’s success. The first part of that storm he identified was the impact of the recession. The BNP’s policies of scapegoating migrants, black and Asian people will divide working people and make it easier to drive through sackings, and attacks on services and pensions.

Unity is not a luxury. It is a necessity. If we do not stand together we will pay the price for a crisis we did not cause.

The second lesson from the European elections is that we need a united fightback to save jobs and services.

If Cameron is elected he will attempt to drive through policies of austerity at the expense of the vast majority of the British people. But the Tories’ vote fell last week and they are nervous about pushing through attacks. Shadow chancellor George Osborne told business leaders, “After three months in power we will be the most unpopular government since the war.” We need to prepare for battle.

But there is a third and vital issue facing the left and the wider working class. The crisis that has engulfed Westminster benefited the BNP.

The revelations of corruption, which cabinet members were involved in, were too much for many Labour voters, who could not bring themselves to vote for the party. One answer to the problem is to say that we should swallow everything New Labour has done and back it to keep David Cameron, and the BNP, out.

Yet it would take a miracle for Gordon Brown to be elected back into Downing Street. The danger is that by simply clinging on we would be pulled down with the wreckage of New Labour.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, has asked how, come the general election, can we ask working people to cast a ballot for ministers like Pat McFadden.

McFadden is pushing through the privatisation of the post office. Serwotka proposes that trade unions should stand candidates. Those who campaigned against the BNP in the elections know that when they said to people, “Don’t vote Nazi” they were often then asked who people should vote for.

The fact that there is no single, united left alternative to Labour means there was no clear answer available. The European election results demonstrate that the left of Labour vote was small, fragmented and dispersed. The Greens did not make significant gains either. The mass of Labour voters simply did not vote. We cannot afford a repeat of that.

The SWP is all too aware of the differences and difficulties involved in constructing such an alternative. We do not believe we have all the answers or a perfect prescription for a left wing alternative. But we do believe we have to urgently start a debate and begin planning to come together to offer such an alternative at the next election, with the awareness that Gordon Brown might not survive his full term. One simple step would be to convene a conference of all those committed to presenting candidates representing working class interests at the next election.

The SWP is prepared to help initiate such a gathering and to commit its forces to such a project. We look forward to your response.

Yours fraternally,

Socialist Workers Party

Respect: BNP victory shows the need for broad left to work together

Statement on the European election results by councillor Salma Yaqoob, Respect party leader

June 8, 2009 -- Respect -- The historic scale of Labour’s defeat at the ballot box is evidence of the deep betrayal felt by those who once voted Labour in the hope of a fairer society. The depth of disillusionment with the mainstream parties is underlined by the shocking breakthrough made by the BNP.

Labour is wholly to blame for its own crisis and has to take a large share of the responsibility for creating the conditions in which the far right is growing.

Labour loosened the rules that gave licence to greedy bankers to gamble away our jobs and homes. Labour failed to protect our public services from wasteful and costly privatisation. Labour has overseen growing inequality and a chronic shortage of affordable housing. And Labour failed to tackle the scandal of MP’s expenses.

Labour’s failure to deliver for its core support has helped the BNP win votes in deprived white working-class communities. Labour’s determination not to be outflanked by the Tories on questions of race and immigration has created fertile ground for racist arguments to win support. Too many BNP arguments have been legitimised by a political consensus that treats asylum seekers and immigrants as a criminal threat. The BNP has fed on the growth in Islamophobia, egged on by a barrage of racist coverage in national newspapers. Political ground was conceded to the BNP, and they have occupied it to devastating effect.

Labour has betrayed the hopes of millions of people who believe in a fairer and more equal society and those who believe in an ethical foreign policy based on peace and justice. These election results are a warning of the potential scale of the drift to the right.

This right-wing threat cannot be confronted by conceding the argument in advance. There is every practical and political reason for tackling the recession by extending state intervention, piling investment into a massive programme of house building, taxing the richest to support the big majority of the population through this recession. But a recent survey showed that more than half the working population have seen a cut in pay, reductions in hours or a loss of employment benefits since the recession began. While bankers and shareholders have been bailed out, millions of workers are paying for the economic crisis through lower pay, longer hours or unemployment. The Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP are all competing with each other on who will push through the most ruthless cuts to public spending.

Giving ground to a right-wing consensus will not undercut the growth of right wing parties. It will only encourage them. It is now critical that the broadest swathes of the left and progressive opinion in this country work together to lever the political agenda in the opposite direction.

We need an alternative to failed free-market dogma.

We need an alternative to an electoral system that disenfranchises the millions of people who don’t vote for the winning party and consigns whole geographical areas to be taken for granted. And we need a reassertion of a politics embedded in principles of peace, social justice, equality and anti-racism.

The broad left must work together, irrespective of party affiliation, to maximise the impact of the progressive vote at the next general election.

I am proud of the contributions that Respect members made by supporting Green candidates in the West Midlands and North West. In the North West, with BNP leader Nick Griffin on the brink of a breakthrough, the choice was surely clear. For those who would not give their vote to Labour, the Green candidate – Peter Cranie – was more than a credible alternative. A left-wing Green candidate, with a principled record of opposition to racism, deserved our support.

The results are in, and Peter Cranie was less than 5000 votes away from stopping Nick Griffin’s election. Yet almost 50,000 votes were cast for the Socialist Labour Party and No2EU. Together they amounted to just 3% of the vote – nowhere near enough to make a positive impact. The plain fact is that had even a minority of that left-wing vote gone to the Greens we would not be waking up to the fact that the North West is sending a fascist to the European parliament.

If nothing else, these results should spark a renewed and more energetic discussion about bringing the broad left together around a common agenda for progressive change. I will be speaking at the very timely Compass conference next weekend, and I look forward to discussing these and other issues with Labour and Green supporters.

I do not believe that the British public have become hostile to basic progressive policies on the responsibility of the state in providing decent housing, protecting jobs, and regulating the economy. But the retreat of Labour from even a modest social democratic alternative has led to a lack of connection in the public mind between the effects of the recession and the neo-liberal policies responsible for it.

The manner in which Labour has vacated the traditional ground of the left has served to weaken any convincing notion of a political alternative to neoliberalism. This has created a dangerous vacuum which is in danger of being filled by hate fuelled simplicities of the far right. The challenge for the left is to renew itself and reassert some basic socialist critiques and solutions into mainstream political debate.

Respect will be doing everything we can to contribute to the renewal of a progressive and left-wing politics. But we need to broaden our challenge to the failed parties. There will be many who want to see the values of peace, civil liberties and social justice represented at the ballot box, and in a fairly elected parliament. I encourage them to put themselves forward for consideration as candidates at the next general election.

We need each other and this country badly needs a political alternative of the left.

It is not beyond our ability to create this alternative. There are lessons we can draw from the anti-war movement. In a hostile climate and against formidable obstacles, a clear message, delivered with determination and organisational verve, was able to influence, shape and organise public opposition to war. We need a similar ambition to ideologically and practically build resistance to neoliberalism and racism.

Monday, June 08, 2009

I just want to summarise what is already known about the election results and put it into some shape and perspective. The worst, first. The BNP gained two MEPs, Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons, worth 120 139 and 132 094 votes respectively. [Figures at UAF]. Across the country, they averaged 6.2% of the vote according to the BBC's figures, and gained a total of 943 000 votes. I see that this confirms the UAF's pre-election analysis [pdf], which disputed the complacent tendency among some liberals to play down the BNP's prospects. There is still a fight to be had over whether these votes translate into long-term party identity or whether they amount to a temporary right-wing protest vote. But whatever the basis of the vote, that number of votes for a fascist party has to be treated as a menace and the basis for urgent organisation and rethinking.

Secondly, and relatedly, Labour's electoral annihilation has overwhelmingly benefited the right. The surprisingly strong votes for No2EU (born yesterday, as it were) and the Socialist Labour Party (no campaign, no profile) suggests that it didn't have to be this way. Their combined vote nationally was just over 2%, or about 300 000 votes. Had there been a united left alternative, with a real campaign, I am willing to bet it would have been capable of drawing three times that number of votes. The Greens saw their overall vote increase by 2.4% to 8.7%, just over a million votes. Otherwise, people shifted their votes from Labour to other reformist alternatives such as the SNP. Many, many people were obviously desperate to vote for some kind of left alternative, if only to really stick it to the New Labour machine. Nonetheless, it's true that across Europe the right made sweeping gains, despite some very good results for radical left candidates. This meltdown of social democracy is not just a British phenomenon, although the utter cravenness of New Labour has probably advanced the degeneration much more rapidly in the UK. There is some talk in the comment pieces suggesting that the very odd distribution of votes and the powerful showing by UKIP make it unlikely that such patterns will be reproduced in a general election. Perhaps not, but who can now be sure that the assumptions about general elections that worked in the past will continue to be operative a few months hence?

Thirdly, of course, while social democracy is disintegrating, this doesn't automatically rebound to the benefit of the right. In fact, those who think that the best response to such a crisis is to try to save social democracy and bolster its left-flank have some explaining to do. The UK results plainly show that even if the field is more less left open for New Labour, with only marginal challenges from the left, it still loses big time and the right-wing makes gains. The contrast between the UK and Ireland is striking. There, the Socialist Party made a breakthrough, sending Joe Higgins to Brussels by ousting the Fianna Fail MEP. In the council elections, the SP gained six seats and People Before Profit gained five. The ruling Fianna Fail-Green coalition was hammered for its attacks on workers and its decision to re-run the EU Treaty referendum until it obtained the result it wanted. Similarly, in Portugal the Left Bloc got 10% of the vote and the communist-green coalition also received 10%. In France, the combined vote for the Greens and the radical left was about 28%. In all of these places, the major reformist parties had treated their core voters like sandbags to be tossed overboard the better to ascend to loftier heights. As a result, they shed votes in abundance. But the political significance of the elections is very different from that in the UK.

We fluffed it, boys and girls. It has been obvious for some time that a fundamental crisis of social democracy was brewing, and that this was going to be deeper than ever before, and that nothing the left could do - even if it was so deranged as to want this - could rescue it. We watched a yawning political vacuum open up and, due to our shibboleths, totems and taboos, our inward-lookingness, our traditions of feuding, and many other flaws, we failed to fill it. Elections are not the be all and end all, and ultimately what will matter far more than such votes will be what we do between elections. But this was one important way for us to assert ourselves in this crisis, and we handed the initiative to everyone but the radical left. I am not saying we should hammer ourselves over the head repeatedly with such facts, but I think it would be healthy to begin by acknowledging them and resolving never to let that happen again.

Dear comrades,

We support your open letter initiative and the proposal for a conference. We would like to work with you on this project, so please do get in touch with plans for the conference, or, just to discuss the initiative further with us. Below, you'll find our political response to the letter with an assessment of the current situation and the tasks of the left.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours fraternally,

Luke Cooper
Workers Power


Dear Comrades,

Workers Power welcomes the Socialist Workers Party's Open Letter to the Left, It's Time to Create a Socialist Alternative.

In particular, we support your proposal "to convene a conference of all those committed to presenting candidates representing working class interests at the next election."

We believe there is an urgent need for such a conference, which could draw in representatives from socialist groups, campaigners against fascism, antiwar activists, existing left wing electoral initiatives and above all trade unionists in struggle against the effects of the crisis and this rotten government.

There is every possibility that a conference of this type would draw support from members of unions which have broken with Labour, like the RMT, and from the PCS, whose leader Mark Serwotka has, as you note, expressed his support for electoral challenges to Labour. It could also attract support from the growing numbers in the big Labour-affiliated unions who are trying to break the link with Labour, including from the CWU which is right now debating its affiliation.

Above all, we believe that a conference of this type would be a chance to take a step which could transform the situation in the class struggle in Britain: to form a new political party of the working class.

The historic meltdown of the Labour Party's vote was part of a general trend across Europe – a collapse in support for the established parties of Social Democracy. The reason should be clear to all socialists – in the context of a huge economic crisis threatening millions of jobs and deep cuts in services, the SPD in Germany, the SP in France, the Labour Party in Britain are all tarnished by years of carrying out pro-market, pro-capitalist policies.

Everywhere the main beneficiaries of this collapse in working class support for the traditional reformist parties were the centre right Conservative parties and even in some countries the far right and fascists.

In the UK, the rise in support for the fascist BNP and the far greater surge in support for hard right parties like UKIP were a product of this. But whereas in Germany and France a clear pole of attraction existed to the left of the Social Democracy, in Britain there did not. So in the European elections the Left Party in Germany won eight MEPs; in France the new Left Front scored over six percent and the New Anticapitalist Party won nearly five percent.

Despite the absence of a strong and well-prepared leftwing challenge, two of the leftwing lists in the UK won around 300,000 votes between them. But their message was diffuse, they were not widely recognised, they offered no unified pole of attraction. They won just under a third of the votes of the BNP, but a single nationwide campaign could surely have won many more.

The broad mass of the people do not understand non-party alliances, platforms, joint lists and blocs. In elections they vote for those organisations that have the self-assurance to constitute themselves as unified formations with a set of policies and which aim for power. That is what a political party is. The dangerous reality is that the fascists have formed a party while the socialists have not. All the socialist groups in Britain are propaganda societies, not parties: in a sense we are factions of a party that is yet to be built.

The time to build a new party is now. Labour's collapse has hugely weakened the argument of those on the left who want to focus on reforming Labour. The shock of the BNP's advance presses home to many thousands across the left the need to create a strong pole of our own. An initiative for a new party would – if it came from serious forces in the movement – doubtless meet with an enthusiastic response.

That is why Workers Power welcomes your call for a conference, commits itself to work hard to build the conference among workers and youth, and will attend such a conference with the aim of persuading the delegates that it is time to go beyond alliances and joint tickets. Instead we should agree to set up a new party and begin a democratic debate on its structure and above all on its political programme.

A new workers' party should by no means be just a vehicle for elections – we need a party that is so much more than this. It would give us the chance to commit many thousands across the country to campaigning on the estates and the streets against the lies of the racists and nationalists and for a working class answer to the crisis. It could prove to workers that migrants aren't stealing jobs and that capitalism is to blame for job losses and cuts in services. It could capitalise on anger at the system and the rich elite and express it in socialist rather than nationalist terms. It would oppose the slogan `British Jobs for British Workers' and fight for jobs for all. It would break the sickening situation in which the BNP is able to pose as the main anti-establishment party.

Creating a new party would also help unlock that other key element of the situation you identify in your letter: the need for `a united fightback to save jobs and services'. There is a jobs massacre in progress across manufacturing and the service sector, but the leaders of the biggest trade unions are blocking action and bending the knee to the employers and the government. These self same leaders are supporters of the Labour government and of Gordon Brown. A strong political challenge to Labour's hold over our unions can only help to coordinate action against the will of these leaders where necessary, to bypass and unseat the sell-out right wing union leaders and replace them with fighters under the control of the rank and file. It could rally workers around the need for action in the here and now, for strikes and occupations against job cuts, around the slogan `we won't pay for their crisis.'

In short, the need for a new party is posed not just by the elections, but by the state of the fightback against the recession and by the need for a political fight against the BNP. Your open letter deals with these three things separately. We think the formation of a new party would be a way to respond to them all and link them together.

The experience in France of the formation of the New Anticapitalist Party shows that it is possible to form a new workers' party without waiting for the approval of the trade union leaders. By contrast, the process in which the Left Party in Germany was created gave a privileged role to former Social Democrat MPs, former East German party apparatchiks and union officials. It is no accident therefore that the NPA in France has emerged as an activist party which rejects the idea of governing in alliance with pro-market parties and which is developing a fighting policy, while the Left Party has entered a ruling coalition with the pro-market Social Democrats in Berlin, and has carried out anti-working class neoliberal policies. In both cases, the approach socialists took to the way the party was formed had a powerful effect on the type of party they got.

Closer to home, as we know from a succession of our own experiences in Britain over recent years, giving privileged role to labour movement celebrities is not a short cut to success but a road to catastrophe. We fully accept that it is essential for the new initiative you are proposing to draw in broader forces from the labour movement. One of the great weaknesses of the Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party was that they began as little more than agreements between socialist groups. We think it is possible to combine a broad appeal to the most determined sections of the labour movement with an approach that does not grant existing MPs and union leaders a veto in advance over the form and policy that the new party will take.

How? Alongside your call for a conference, let's link the campaign for a new party to the fightback right from the start. Local committees could not only spread the idea of a new party amongst wider layers, they can also lay the basis for a fighting party, by helping to co-ordinate resistance to the crisis. In the unions many of the activists who see the need for a new party also want greater coordination of the struggles too.

And while we're at it, why not contact the other left parties in Europe facing the same economic crisis, in France, in Greece, in Portugal, invite them to share their experiences and opinions, and help create a real practical and political coordination of the socialists across national boundaries.

It is no secret that there have been several unsuccessful electoral initiatives of the left since 1997. There are many criticisms that can be raised but one point above all needs to be borne in mind. Not one of them aimed to establish a unified and democratic all-Britain political party of the working class. It would be a failure of imagination and of will if we bypass this opportunity once again.

We look forward to continuing this discussion, confirm our support for the conference proposal, and commit ourselves to working with you on this project.

Yours fraternally,
Workers Power


Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The results are in and the debates on No2EU have begun in earnest. The platform's 153,236 votes (one per cent of total cast) is well within the percentage range one can typically expect from a far left challenge in Britain. Taken together with the vote achieved by the phantom SLP, the SSP, SPGB and Peace Party 2009's 350,339 votes (2.3%) is barely any progress on 2004's 343,424 aggregate votes (2.1%). A factor complicating the picture is the character of the No2EU vote. We've already discussed the complexity of the vote for unambiguous socialist organisations and the same will be doubly true of No2EU. Because of the slate's relative lack of profile, it is quite likely a fair proportion of voters put their cross next to us on the basis of our name while being ignorant of the politics of the coalition. Therefore it is difficult to say if No2EU has much of a 'base' to build on.

This problem is directly traceable to how No2EU came into being. I first got wind of talks with the RMT in February and it wasn't until 18th March the coalition was formally announced. Then there was another period of waiting before the candidate lists were arrived at, which didn't help the already tiny campaigning window, and more waiting for national material. It was all very ad hoc and quite amateurish up until the last few weeks before the election, but even then it continued to creep in - for example No2EU's web presence wasn't utilised to the full, which is unforgivable when you consider its prominence in the election broadcast and claims it was attracting 10,000 visitors a day. Much effort was put in but the rushed last minute launch was a big mistake. If you want to be serious about electoral politics you have to play the long game.

The other down side of No2EU's genesis was its top down nature. The Socialist Party was only invited in after the name and the substance of the platform had largely been predetermined. One can understand why the RMT and Communist Party weren't keen to have the SWP and sundry ultra-lefts on board after their behaviour over the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike (though to be fair to the SWP, their position was more nuanced than some of its online advocates would have you believe), but it was a mistake in my opinion - especially when the RMT and CPB held all the cards and there was zero chance of No2EU being hijacked. What would have been lost by the addition of hundreds of activists, more resources, and Britain's highest circulating socialist weekly giving No2EU their support?

There was another political price to pay for its top down nature: it unnecessarily alienated many among the hundreds of active independent socialists across Britain. You can undersatnd why large numbers of them would question why they should get involved when they have very little say over the campaign's strategy and policies.

Politically, if you compare No2EU to previous far left electoral coalitions it did not differ too much, though one could see the impression left by the CPB's British Road to Socialism. But all that could be lived with. The most serious political mistake was the stated refusal of elected No2EU representatives to take their seats. The call for a workers' representatives on workers' wages is a good populist point at the best of times and would have helped differentiate No2EU from the rest had the expenses scandal not broke. But to stubbornly cling to the initial position, leaving SP and Solidarity to unilaterally declare that their No2EU candidates would take their seats but not the full salary when it was the big story of this election was an utterly unnecessary own goal. It probably wouldn't have made much difference to the outcome because of the pinched campaign, but it certainly would have if the coalition had pulled together earlier and had already made the workers' wage a clear plank of the platform.

The No2EU experience was not all negative. Despite political weaknesses it did represent a left wing critique of the European Union and did manage to get its message into millions of homes. In many areas working relationships between comrades from the RMT, CPB and SP were established where previously there were none, and these proceeded without the rancour and the bickering that bedeviled the old Socialist Alliance. For a layer of workers disillusioned with Labour and were preparing to vote UKIP or the BNP out of protest, No2EU provided a left alternative. But most significant of all was the fact Britain's most militant trade union took those vital first steps into electoral politics. The SP were absolutely right to accept the invitation to join No2EU, despite its problems and disadvantages, if only to assist the RMT. And it is a decision that has paid off - already Bob Crow has indicated here and elsewhere the RMT's support for unified left action and electoral activity in the future. There is talk of a convention coming together soon to discuss this issue in which unions, left groups and interested others can decide how to proceed in the run up to the general election.

Judged on votes counted alone, No2EU was a failure. But it was never just about the votes, it was part of the process of refounding and renewing working class political representation in Britain. No2EU was the vehicle through which the RMT became committed to that project, and that ultimately is how it will be remembered.