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?
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 criminalised, getting 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.]
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 Party, one 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 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.
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 (FB, Twitter) 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.
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.
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: