Peter Manson discusses forthcoming council elections and the AV referendum
With just a week to go before polling day, it is worth restating the position of the CPGB. As Weekly Worker readers will know, on May 5 there will be council elections across England (apart from in London), while in Scotland and Wales voters will be choosing a new parliament and assembly respectively. On the same day the referendum on the alternative vote system will be held.
When it comes to the elections, we are recommending the same tactic everywhere: put simply, vote only for working class anti-cuts candidates. By ‘working class’ we mean candidates standing for organisations (or individuals) that clearly belong to the working class movement, including, of course, the Labour Party; by ‘anti-cuts’ we mean those who will commit themselves not just to speaking out against all cutbacks directed at jobs, conditions and services, but to vote against them too if elected. It is evident that the government’s ‘austerity’ assault is the key question facing our movement right now and this recommendation is intended to draw a clear line between those who are on the right side and those who are not.
In relation to the local elections following this advice should be a pretty straightforward matter – if, that is, you happen to live in one of the tiny number of council wards where a working class anti-cuts candidate is standing. They are of course, so few and far between that it would be astounding if there were more than one contesting the same seat.
I have heard of a small number of Labour candidates who say they will vote against all cuts, and no doubt there will be more, but I do not expect their total to reach even three figures. We need in particular to ensure that such Labour candidates receive the full support of all working class partisans. Apart from them, most of the supportable candidates will be representing the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – usually standing as Trade Unionists and Socialists Against the Cuts.
There are 154 candidates standing as Tusc, for 53 different councils. A couple of dozen are members of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, which is also standing 18 candidates as Socialist Alternative in Coventry. Dave Nellist is one of them – he is attempting to retain the seat he has held since 1998 – and these comrades also fall under the Tusc umbrella despite deciding to retain the electoral name many voters have become accustomed to in the city. The same applies to the eight candidates of the Democratic Labour Party in Walsall, so, all told, there are 180 candidates linked to Tusc.
While SPEW makes up the biggest single bloc of Tusc candidates, there are also supporters of other groupings – most notably the Socialist Workers Party, which has six. Two are sitting councillors: Michael Lavalette (Preston, Town Centre) and Ray Holmes (Bolsover, Shirebrook North West). Comrade Lavalette was first elected eight years ago as Socialist Alliance, then re-elected as Respect and subsequently changed his designation to ‘Independent Socialist’. This time he is ‘Independent Socialist Against the Cuts’. Comrade Holmes was another who was previously elected as Respect – before he joined the SWP. Strangely his official party designation remains ‘Respect – People Not Profit’, according to the council website,
but this time around he is standing as Trade Unionists and Socialists Against the Cuts.
As far as I know, there are only two other grouplets standing for any council in England. The first is the Socialist Equality Party, which is putting up one candidate in Sheffield and one in Manchester (the SEP’s parent and rival in the ultra-sectarian stakes, the Workers Revolutionary Party, does not seem to be contesting this time). The second is Unity for Peace and Socialism, which has council candidates in Leicester (two have agreed a “common platform” with Tusc, according to the latter’s website).
UPS is a strange grouping of overseas ‘official communists’ (mainly from India) “domiciled in the UK” and allied to the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. In Leicester, UPS’s Mohinder Farma is standing for mayor. According to the Star, he thinks that “Cuba’s socialist model should be seen as a blueprint for how the city’s public services are run”. Well, good luck with that one, Mohinder. However, comrade Farma also says: “No services will be cut on my watch and instead I’d increase public spending on services in Leicester”.
It has to be said that none of the above organisations has any prospect of substantially advancing the cause of the working class either organisationally or politically. Not even Tusc – SPEW’s electoral vehicle in its forlorn drive to create a Labour Party mark two – has any legs: not just the RMT union, but Bob Crow himself seems to have lost interest in it, while the SWP is currently using it as an electoral front of convenience. Nevertheless, the larger the vote for all working class anti-cuts candidates – irrespective of their rightism, opportunism, sectarianism, etc – the greater the possibility of instilling politics into the working class fightback and thus allowing the space to debate what those politics should be.
Scotland and Wales
While in the English council elections the main problem will be finding a candidate to vote for, north of the border no fewer than three left groups are contesting all eight regions under the under proportional-representation party-list system.
This means that every voter in Scotland will be able to choose between three working class anti-cuts slates vying for the 56 additional-member seats to supplement those elected under ‘first past the post’ for the 73 constituencies. The three groups are: the rump Scottish Socialist Party, still campaigning for “socialism and independence”; the SSP breakaway, Solidarity, led by jailed former icon Tommy Sheridan; and what remains of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, which only resurfaces nowadays to contest major elections.
A slight correction: Solidarity is only contesting seven of the eight regions: in the eighth – Glasgow – it is supporting the ‘George Galloway (Respect) Coalition Against Cuts’, which also has the backing of the Socialist Party Scotland and the SWP (and Chris Bambery’s recent split from it, the International Socialist Group).
The elections to the Welsh assembly are contested using the same system – ‘first past the post’ plus party-list top-up – as in Scotland and here the SLP is opposed in all five regions by slates put forward by the CPB (which is also contesting one constituency seat in Scotland – Glasgow Anniesland, where Marc Livingstone is the candidate).
Voters in Scotland and Wales may be spoilt for choice, but that choice is hardly an appetising one. Clearly the SSP, Solidarity, the CPB and the SLP are all organisations that are well past their sell-by date. In the absence of any Labour Party anti-cuts regional slates (and, I assume, any Labour anti-cuts FPTP candidates), we say, vote for whichever of the rival anti-cuts slates you find least repulsive. We can, however, give one (almost) positive recommendation, I think. In Glasgow the Coalition Against Cuts list marks a slight advance over both the SSP and Solidarity, in that it does not include the left nationalist call for an “independent socialist Scotland” in its platform. That is because George Galloway – who heads the list and actually stands a chance of getting elected – opposes the call (in reality he is a left British nationalist).
However, there can be no doubt that the election of comrade Galloway – as an undoubted anti-imperialist and opponent of the cuts consensus – would represent a step forward. Let us hope, if he is elected, his victory speech will include the announcement that he has decided to end his shameful role for the Iran-sponsored Press TV, where he acts – in the name of some perverted anti-imperialism – as a disgraceful apologist for the reactionary Islamic Republic regime of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Also on May 5 voters everywhere will be able to vote for or against the proposal to change the system of electing a government. Virtually alone on the left, the CPGB is recommending a ‘yes’ vote in favour of AV.
Not that we think AV is much of an advance: it is not. We are for full PR based on the party list system with no minimum threshold for election. Nevertheless, there would be two clear advantages in a ‘yes’ victory. First, a change of voting system will demonstrate that there is nothing sacrosanct about the current UK electoral procedure. Secondly, it will allow the genuine preferences for parties marginalised by the current political system to be reflected in recorded votes. Because casting a first preference for a ‘no hope’ candidate is unlikely to cost a voter’s second favourite victory, such first preferences under AV are much more likely to register a smaller party’s actual support than is the case with votes cast for it under FPTP.
These would be small gains, it is true, but that is no reason to reject them simply because they are not PR. That is, in effect, the position of the SWP, SPEW, CPB, etc, but it overlooks the fact that a ‘no’ vote will actually be acclaimed as a vote of confidence in FPTP.
There are also those who, because they have no faith in the democratic power of the working class majority, prefer to trust in quick fixes to produce social advance. So, for instance, Owen Jones of the Labour Representation Committee, writes on his blog: “… I’ll be completely honest: I oppose a change in electoral system because it will make a leftwing Labour government less likely; it will make undemocratic coalitions with the Liberal Democrats more likely; and it will make Tory-led governments more likely.”
Since we are for the rule of the majority, we have no interest in futile attempts to sneak in progressive measures through undemocratic means, such as comrade Jones seems to have in mind: a left Labour government supported by, say, 40% of voters, but returned with a parliamentary majority, thanks to FPTP. We are for representative bodies accurately reflecting society’s contending political views – both under the current capitalist order and in the future socialist society. That is why we demand a voting system based on genuine proportional representation
Comrade Jones’s disdain for democracy leads him to dismiss the referendum as “an unwelcome distraction from fighting an aggressively rightwing government determined to take the Thatcherite project to its logical conclusion”. When will the left understand that fighting for the working class and fighting for democracy are one and the same struggle?
- Morning Star April 16-17.