Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bob's election priorities no.4: Keep some space open for the left

Without electorally credible political space to its left, the Labour Party blows rightward in the breeze, taking for granted that people like me will vote for them so it can play to the middle ground. In Scotland, it can no longer do that: the SNP, previously seen as the Tartan Tories, has pulled of a plausible performance of an anti-establishment, anti-Westminster, social democratic party and pushed Labour off to stage right.

As you'll see as I get through my election priorities posts, I would not vote for a left party if it meant the possibility of letting in a Tory (imagine having voted for Nader in 2000, when GW Bush narrowly stole the US presidential election from Gore - how could you live with that?).

However, if you live in a non-marginal seat, voting to the left of Labour might send out a signal to the party that it can't keep on taking us for granted.

But how appealing are the options?


Greens
I'm not sure if the Greens are exactly a left alternative, given the debacle of its administration in Brighton, which has imposed austerity like the mainstream parties (with refuse collection workers in particular bearing the brunt). I also find its leadership completely unappealing, often posturing in an off-the-shelf leftist way (e.g. saying people who fight for ISIS shouldn't be criminalisedgetting involved in silly boycott campaigns, or helping lead the pro-Assad Stop the War Coalition) while lacking any substantively radical social analysis. (Check out Jake Goretzki's #BackingCaroline tweets for a pithier and more amusing version of this paragraph.) However, the fact that the Greens have MEPs and one MP means that the mainstream media is forced to give some acknowledgement that the universe extends further to the left than "Red" Ed. [Previous: The Greens are a viable force in the inner city.]
tusc-square-colour

TUSC
The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is standing some 130 parliamentary candidates in this election. Founded by Bob Crow, TUSC is an electoral alliance of a few left parties, the Independent Socialist Network (ISN), and some trade unions. In the credit column, it has councillors and former councillors and other local activists with important track records in both community politics and the trade unions. In the debit column, and possibly cancelling out all the positives, one of its constituent units is the Socialist Workers Partyone of the most poisonous forces on the British left.

They have some credible candidates in some places: Nick Wrack in Peckham; in Simon Hughes' Bermondsey and Old Southwark Kingsley Abrams, a former Labour candidate; in Lewisham Deptford former councillor Chris Flood; in Lewisham West and Penge (which includes Forest Hill), Martin Powell-Davis, a well-known local campaigner and teachers' union activist (Twitter/Facebook/blog) and in Coventry Dave Nellist.

On the other hand, make sure to avoid if their candidate is from the SWP. I think that includes Jenny Sutton in Tottenham, Jon Woods in Portsmouth, Ayeesha Saleem in Edinburgh, Ann Lemon in Bristol.

Left Unity
Left Unity are definitely worth watching in general. Its launch by Ken Loach appealed to ordinary people fed up with politics as usual, but as far as I can tell it's at risk from being more or less taken over by the usual suspects of the left swamp and they're probably not worth watching in this election. LU have some kind of electoral pact with TUSC and there are even some joint LU/TUSC candidates, but it is striking that LU, which sees itself as potentially the Syriza or Podemos of the UK, is fielding barely a twentieth of the number of candidates that TUSC is putting forward. Their candidate in Vauxhall is Simon Hardy.

Class War
I'm not sure whether we'd count Class War as part of the left or as a credible electoral force (or instead, as Waterloo Sunset puts it, as "some kind of retro anarcho-80's disco thang"), but they bring a blast of fresh air into the room. They recently launched their campaign in Croydon South, where their candidate is Jon Bigger. Lisa McKenzie (FBTwitter) is challenging Ian Duncan Smith in Chingford. Her article here explains why she's standing: "Someone has to talk about class politics, social apartheid and the social cleansing in our country on the political stage, someone who has lived it, knows it and feels it." CW's dear leader, Ian Bone, is standing down the road from me in Lewisham West and Penge. And they're standing in a few other places too. Adam Ford was standing for them in Liverpool Riverside, with a great manifesto, although I'm sure I read he'd decided to stand down because he found them un-democratic and London-centric.

Lewisham People Before Profit
PB4P are standing candidates in Lewisham. I think in many ways they have a better approach than many of the other left parties - involvement in ground-up grassroots campaigns, avoiding the sterile dogmatic language of the Trotskyist sects, a broad-based populist appeal addressing bread and butter issues rather an ideological programme. But these posts explain why I will not consider voting for them. George Hallam, their secretary, actually queries why they are in a list of left candidates at all:
It's odd that you have included Lewisham People Before Profit at all as we don't even call ourselves 'left', let alone lay claim to "Marxist, communist, and/or socialist labels".
He's got a point: although their leader might seem like an orthodox tankie, their colourful spokesman once stood for the Tories and asked people to vote UKIP for their second choice in 2014! Note, the "people before profit" name was, I think, first used by the Socialist Alliance, and there is another groupuscule claiming that name in Northern Ireland, which I think is an electoral front for the SWP.

National Health Action
NHA, one of whose figureheads, Louise Irvine, is a Lewisham GP, are standing in a few places. I think it's good for them to be around to raise the dangers the NHS faces, especially from the Tories, but splitting an anti-Tory vote on a single issue basis seems odd to me.

Respect
George Galloway's personal vanity project, the misnamed Respect, is standing in a few places in the North and Midlands. It's wrong to call them a left-wing party: they're an electoral vehicle for opportunistic careerists who can't get to the top in the Labour party's municipal machines; their leader is an anti-feminist, anti-abortion, tea-totalling, pro-religion supporter of the most right-wing regimes in the world who rarely turns up to vote against Tory austerity laws; their political appeal is mainly Islamist and communalist rather than left. In short, don't vote for them, and actively vote against them.

Others
There are some other micro-groupuscules standing too. The oldest socialist party in Britain, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, has several candidates. The Alliance for Green Socialism has three candidates, including Toby Abse in Kensington. Steve Freeman, a member of Left Unity is standing as a Republican Socialist in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, which not only weakens the chance of Labour's Neil Coyle unseating Simon Hughes but also splits the vote of a credible TUSC candidate, Kingsley Abrams. There are seven candidates from the truly appalling Workers Revolutionary Party, six of whom are standing in seats where other socialists are standing.

Cutting off your nose to spite your face:
My fellow left anorak, Phil BC, has a longer list of left candidates here. On his list, an asterisk after the constituency name indicates a clash of far left candidates, which seems insane given hardly any of them polled more than a percent or two last time. For example, in Lewisham, we have TUSC against People Before Profit. This kind of fratricidal instinct is just one of the reasons it's going to be a while before there is a far left actually worth voting for for positive reasons.

6 comments:

Waterloo Sunset said...

Some thoughts of my own on the candidates.

As you'd expect, I disagree with your opening paragraph. There are very few cases where a Labour vote is justified. And that includes the Labour Left, who's only role in a Labour government will be to provide left cover to a pro austerity agenda.

To get a credible alternative you need working class people to break with Labour. You don't get that by tail ending them.

And the "Vote Labour to get the Tories out" argument turns to "Vote Labour to keep the Tories out" and nothing ever moves forward from auto-Labourism.

Obviously, a lot of that is to do with our different goals. You want to "send out a signal" to the Labour Party. I want to replace and eventually destroy them.

But even from your perspective, I don't think your argument makes sense. You're essentially saying "only consider voting for a party that isn't Labour if it won't hurt Labour". The only signal that gives is that Labour don't have to worry about you, because when it's needed you'll be there for them.

All that said, there are two main seats where I'd be tempted to vote Labour at the next election. Sheffield Hallam and Bradford West. Obviously, those would be negative votes in both cases.
Some thoughts on your thoughts on the options.

Green

My understanding of the Brighton situation is that what's happened is that the Greens have implemented the austerity agenda handed down from Whitehall. That shows they're weak and cowardly, but it's different than actively supporting it. They also are in coalition with the Tories on some councils, but so are Labour. Also, you misrepresent the Isis quote. It was tactically farcical and based on some kind of fluffy free speech absolutism, but it was saying that groups/ideas shouldn't be proscribed, which explicitly doesn't cover people who fight for ISIS.

The Greens are, in general, a very mixed bag. I'd only suggest considering voting for them if you have a good idea of what your candidate believes on a personal level. Without that, you could get anything.

TUSC

Worthy, but dull. As you say, they're better then much of the left for having a history of community and trade union work. But, god, that name. It really doesn't help the impression that they think it's the 1970's.

Your SWP criticism seems strange, considering you later criticise far left parties for standing against each other. I'd be reluctant to vote for the SWP candidates, but I'm not sure it's that significant for TUSC as a whole. Everyone knows it's the SP in the driving seat there.

Left Unity

Yeah, I'm increasingly thinking the potential there has been squandered. It's currently a place for the flotsam and jetsam of far left politics to congregate. And considering their grandiose ambitions, it's a very low number of candidates. Still, harmless enough and probably worth voting for if you want a "left of Labour" party.

Class War

I don't think Class War would claim to be a credible electoral force, it's overtly electoral stuntism. There are issues with CW (the ones you mention; Londoncentrism, lack of democracy, overdominance by Bone), but they're still worth voting for in this election I think. Both for the potential publicity, but also because if they get a larger vote than the trad left it should hopefully make some quite pertinent points about the need for imaginative populist approaches to far left politics.

Respect

Fuck Respect. Especially considering Galloway's recent antics.

SPGB

I'll admit to having an odd fondness for the SPGBeegees and their determination to stay immune to the vagaries of fashion or, indeed, any societal changes since the days of William Morris. Politically, they're fine. Obviously, they're not a viable left alternative to anything, but they're sweet and it will confuse them if they get triple figure votes.

bob said...

WS-

On your general comments:
I am very conflicted on this. Up to the early 2000s, I thought exactly the same as you on this. But I think that my personal experience of Sure Start and some other local-level New Labour programmes, as well as my personal experience of how much hospitals and changed under New Labour made me rethink this a little, and come to feel that the gap between the worst Labour government and the best Conservative government remains enormous. I would love to see something like a UK Syriza as an alternative, and I know that keeping the "auto-Labour" default vote alive defers that possibility. But until there is some realistic chance of the leap happening, I don't want to be one of the first lemmings over the cliff. I know that creates a vicious circle, but there you are. In the meantime, I think the revival of radicalism has to happen outside of rather than through party-building, probably through single-issue and local-level campaigns rather than through bearded men sitting in stuffy rooms in Friends' Meeting Houses voting on amendments to manifestos.

Greens
Yes, you're right about Brighton, I think. I don't think I meant to say that the Greens are actively pro-austerity, just that they are not an alternative to it. I agree that the local candidate is probably the key variable. I need to look in to my local Lewisham Green candidates.

TUSC
You're right I'm hypocritical to call leftists who stand against other leftists fratricidal while being fratricidal towards the SWP. I guess I have an un-articulated sense of drawing a line, with the SP, SPGB and AWL, for example, on the decent side of the line and the SWP on the non-decent side. I am not sure which side of the line I'd put the CPB and the SLP.

You're also right the SWP inclusion is probably not significant to TUSC as a whole; it remains effectively a SP front.

(There are other concerns with TUSC too, which I'd like to write about some time, and which Soupy has documented here and here, namely its leading members' habit of retweeting vaguely left-looking antisemites and conspiracy thinkers. Mind you, Left Unity might also have problems with antisemites...

Class War and SPGB
I agree CW wouldn't call themselves a credible electoral force. And neither they nor SPGB see themselves as part of the left. I should have given SPGB their own sub-headed paragraph in the post, as I like them a lot too, for reasons I spoke about here. Mind you, I didn't give sections to the CPB, Communist League or the other groupuscules. Maybe I need to re-edit the post!

Waterloo Sunset said...

I agree that any new movement is likely to arise from social campaigns (like the E15 mothers), not aging Trots. That doesn't necessarily negate the Labour issue though, possibly the opposite. Because at least some of those campaigns are going to be taking place against Labour councils.

I also think there's potential as yet unrealised for the Internet in terms of stuff like internal democracy. I don't go as far as the likes of Anonymous (I very much see the net as a tool, not an end goal), but I think the small c conservatism of much of the far left on that is holding us back.

Decents: The problem is that it's a term that (apart from maybe some AWL people?) it's not a term most of the groups you apply to would accept. In fact, I recall from past discussions that you'd include Class War. I'm pretty sure that doesn't fit their self image at least!

Antisemitism and the left: Steve Topple is obviously a racist prick. I'm never sure how seriously we should take stuff like retweets though. A lot of it is that people don't both factchecking on Twitter. "Supporter" is a nebulous term. Is there any evidence he's actually influential in TUSC as opposed to just voting for them?

Ian Donovan is now fully in the antisemitic swamp and should be expelled from LU for it. I think it shows an issue there; their structures are set up to deal much more effectively with individual clashes then this sort of more organisational issue. He's marginalised though. Kicked out of the Communist Platform and Weekly Worker have been openly calling him an antisemite. Also now banned from Socialist Unity. He's a sad old crank and should be dealt with. But I don't think he has any traction in LU, even less than the ISIS duo.

Waterloo Sunset said...

As an afterthought, I'm pretty sure I could find offensive racist comments by the supporters of any party on Twitter.

While I don't think the far left should be given a pass, neither do I think they should be held to entirely different standards than the mainstream on this.

bob said...

"Decent" probably the wrong word, given its baggage. Not sure what a better word would be.

Topple had Tusc's logo as his header pic and continued to get very heavy RTs from
Nancy Taafe & other more rank & file TUSCers (including the guy who is now TUSC candidate in one of the Croy

bob said...

Sorry pressed post accidentally...

one of the Croydon constituencies AFTER Soupy bludgeoned them with examples if the guy's racism, so it's slightly an issue of concern.

Re Donovan, I agree.