CPGB members and supporters in the Milton Keynes and Northants area are backing Paul Crofts – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate for Wellingborough and Rushden – in the general election. We encourage all of our readers to do what they can to build support for this campaign. Dave Isaacson from Milton Keynes Communists spoke to Paul about TUSC and the election …
What was it that made you decide to stand as a candidate for Wellingborough & Rushden in the general election?
A number of us have been meeting over the past four years or so under the heading of “Independent Socialists in Wellingborough“. The group is made up of people from some political parties (Labour and Socialist Party) but most are not in any party but have either been traditional Labour members or supporters. We came together originally to support my bid to be re-elected to Wellingborough Council as an “Independent Socialist” after I left the Labour Party (we were successful!) and also to campaign on local issues – especial activity to oppose the BNP – and to undertake progressive social activities, such as attending the annual Tolpuddle Martyrs festival. We have also organised some interesting public debates that have been well attended and attracted media interest: one on religion and socialism and one on faith schools. We have tried not to take ourselves too seriously, but we are committed to carrying the “banner” for socialist ideas and principles into the 21st century in Wellingborough.
At an early stage we adopted some basic values/principles/ideas that we felt we could all sign up to, but we are not a political party and welcome anyone to get involved the group who broadly describes themselves as “socialists”. [The basic “values” statement is can be read just below this interview and will form the basis of Independent Socialists of Wellingborough’s election campaign].
Standing in the general election became an extension of the work of the group. We also decided that we were fed up of not having a “socialist” candidate for whom we could vote positively for (as opposed to our usual position of having to vote Labour or Green because the alternatives were worse).
It is now clear to us that a Labour Government is no longer for working people – it will not defend public services, it will fight illegal wars, will privatise what it can, will abuse human rights (especially in the areas of policing and immigration), it will not tackle the public sector deficit by (for example) cancelling Trident or by taxing the rich and powerful – but will pass the burden onto those who have absolutely no responsibility for causing it. In short, we wanted to present an alternative to Labour and the other political parties and a vision that things could be different.
How has the campaign been going so far?
Given our limited resources we have no high expectations of mounting a mass and comprehensive campaign. We will however be distributing a leaflet to every household (courtesy of the Post Office), will be holding a public meeting (probably on Saturday May 1st) and will be organising street stalls. We also hope to attend publicly organised debates and to get around as best we can to try and present the broad case that there is an alternative! We have set a target of raising £1500 towards the costs of the campaign and we are making good progress on this – and we still welcome contributions!!
You used to be a member of the Labour Party. When and why did you leave?
Leaving the Labour Party came about at the end of a long process of growing disillusionment and questioning which essential started with the Iraq war, but resulted in a “final straw” moment when the government announced proposals for schools to become Foundations and essentially to be privatised. My father was a long-standing Labour Party member and campaigner for comprehensive education. He would have turned in his grave at these proposals.
Over a period of several years (after the election of the second term Labour government) it also became increasingly apparent that I disagreed with nearly every announcement from government. I asked myself the simple question “why I am in a political party when nearly all the significant policy announcements I disagreed with and many also ran counter to some basic values that I hold dear”. The final decision was easy, but the process leading up to it was difficult!
However I remain friends with many Labour Party members and bear no grudges against them either politically or personally. I made a personal/political decision of my own and respect their decision to remain as Labour Party members. Many of these friends hold similar views to my own and are deeply disappointed with Labour, but they have made a different decision to me. I respect this. I still work closely with the small Labour Group on Wellingborough Council, with whom I have no serious disagreements in the face of a reactionary Tory administration.
You are now standing as a candidate for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition of which the Independent Socialists of Wellingborough is a supporting organisation. Can you tell us about the policies you will be standing on?
Given our limited resources (we will be producing only one A4 leaflet) we have broadly decided to concentrate on promoting our positive “socialist” values, rather than outlining detailed “policies” (as we are unlikely to get elected these are really rather rhetorical – but illustrative of our overall approach). We have agreed to support the national TUSC and their more detailed policies.
We are really thinking beyond the election and standing to offer an alternative that some people may relate to and, hopefully, they may wish to get involved in the group and local campaigns when the election is over. We see some of the major challenges ahead taking place after the election – as whatever government gets in it is clear there will be a major assault on working peoples’ terms and conditions of employment, standard and quality of life and the services they are dependent on.
The Communist Party of Great Britain is supporting all TUSC candidates in the general election and calling on our members to so what they can to help with the campaign. We do, however, have differences with the political platform that TUSC has adopted. For example, the platform mentions the word “democracy” or “democratic” a number of times, but it does not flesh out what is actually meant by this. We think this is a problem because the capitalist state also claims to be democratic, but in fact acts in the interests of corporate capital. How do you envisage democracy being won?
I believe that “democracy” cannot simply be reduced to class interests. Democratic and political advances (such as the right to vote; collective trade union rights) have been secured through the struggle of working people historically and these must be defended. However, democracy can also be a two edged sword, particularly in the hands of populist, racist and/or reactionary politicians, so I am not naive on the value of “democracy” in an abstract sense, or closed to the reality of contradiction between (say) some individual rights and collective rights.
Democratic and political rights also have to stand alongside social, human and economic rights – which challenge injustices in the allocation of resources, income and wealth and present a vision of a different kind of society based on different values.
Another area where we think that the platform could be improved relates to TUSC’s position on Europe and international working class action. It is clear that governments across Europe will be imposing heavy cuts in response to the recession. We have already seen savage attacks on the working class and poor in Ireland and Greece. Once the general election is over (whoever wins) we can expect a much more aggressive policy of cuts from the UK government. Resistance to the cuts would be so much more powerful if it was coordinated across Europe. How do you think we can advance workers unity across Europe?
I am not sure how I can answer this – a bit off my radar I’m afraid.
What I can say is that we need to have much greater unity and co-operation between socialists both within the UK and across Europe. I am horrified sometimes by the extent of divisions and sectarianism on “the left”, and our inability to work together on the “bigger picture” in a spirit of respect for differences and disagreement, but united on those things we agree about.
There are some very interesting developments in Europe where socialists are coming together and they are beginning to make an impact (e.g. Die Linke in Germany and the work of the United Left grouping in the European Parliament. We need to build on these growing signs of unity and cross-border solidarity.
TUSC has brought a number of socialist organisations and individuals together to challenge the cuts consensus at the upcoming general election which is clearly a positive step. We want the organisation to stay together beyond the election and unite the left into a genuine party of the working class – a party that insists on working class independence, thoroughgoing democracy and internationalism. What are your hopes for TUSC after the general election?
I think TUSC may provide a framework for the developing unity that I spoke about above, and this is one of the reasons that “Independent Socialists in Wellingborough” welcomed the opportunity to work with TUSC and be part of the national general election campaign (it also enabled us to have “socialist” in the description of a candidate in the election. This was important to us.
We were also impressed and pleased by the degree to which we could maintain our autonomy as a local group, whilst broadly signing up to the coalition. We were not required to “sign on the bottom line” to a “purist” TUSC programme.
I think the success of TUSC in the future will be how much autonomy it allows both individuals and local groups to enjoy within its “umbrella”, or how much sectarianism raises its head – with competing parties trying to impose a purist and true “line” on everyone. I think we need to chill out a bit on this and let diversity on the left flourish a bit in a true (rather than tactical) spirit of unity.
What can readers of this interview do to support you between now and polling day?
We need help with money (sorry to be so materialist!) and for people to contact us offering support with things like street stalls. We would also like as many people as possible to attend our public meeting on May 1st (to be confirmed). People can contact the campaign by e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org, or people can visit my blog on: www.paulcrofts.blogspot.com where I will be posting regular updates on the campaign. We will also be establishing a website of ISW within the next few days and some young people, who are part of ISW, have established a Facebook site and they also hope to establish a active “Youth ISW” during and after the election.
We want to see a society based on the following values:
- the basic needs of all – for food, clothing, a home, love, dignity and respect – are met
- there is equal opportunities for all to develop their talents and abilities to the full – enriching society and themselves
- all are free from oppression, injustice, discrimination and exploitation – particularly if based on gender, race, disability, age, sexuality, ethnic or national origins, religion or belief or low income/social class
- positive action is taken to reverse historic inequalities
- children are nurtured, nourished and respected
- older people are valued and cared for
- people of different cultures, religions, ethnicities, “races” or background are valued and respected as human beings. Differences are a source of unity and celebration – not conflict and hatred
- there is respect for democracy and democratic institutions – opposition to all forms of corruption – the highest standards of behaviour and leadership in public life
- no one has the right to impose their values or life-style on others that breaches their fundamental human rights
- our world is developed sustainably and we all take full responsibility – individually and collectively – to ensure we leave the world and its environment secure for future generations
- we contribute to a new global community of co-operation, interdependence
- we eliminate poverty, famine, debt, militarism and war