Election Fever

For the first time since the ’70s the Trotskyist Left, led by the SWP, are to stand against Labour in a major election. Amid the hype, Steve Potts takes a critical look at the London Socialist Alliance and examines its prospects for success.

While New Labour’s control freakery looks certain to deliver a Livingstone landslide, signalling a dramatic set-back for the Blair project, there is another development taking place that, while less newsworthy, is of far greater significance for the British Left. For the first time in their history, the Trotskyist sects, including the biggest - the Socialist Workers Party, have formed an alliance to oppose Labour in a major round of elections in Britain.

On May 4th London’s approximately 5 million electorate will have the opportunity to vote for the London Socialist Alliance (LSA), made up from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Communist Party of Great Britain (Weekly Worker), International Socialist Group, Socialist Party (formerly Militant), Socialist Workers Party and Workers Power. As well as the election for Mayor where the LSA are solidly behind Livingstone, there will be 25 members elected to the Greater London Assembly. Each constituency is made up of between 2-3 London boroughs and will be elected on a simple first past the post basis. The other 11 members will be elected from a party slate or list, according to the percentage of their party’s vote London-wide. It will cost £19,000 in deposits to contest all 25 GLA seats.

Any realistic hope the LSA might have of actually getting someone elected will rely on the London-wide vote for their slate, which is being headed by journalist and leading SWPer Paul Foot. However, the irony of the likes of the ANL, Searchlight, CARF, calling for Jack Straw to get tough on the ‘Nazis’ is that it is they themselves that have made it significantly harder for anyone from the Left to get elected, as the quota has been raised by Labour to over 4%, to ‘keep Far Right extremists out of the Assembly’. The only immediately comparable figures for London in recent times, are those for the 1999 European elections where Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party was easily eclipsed by the Greens and the UKIP, finishing just 1,672 votes ahead of the BNP with 1.72%.

The LSA’s task has been made even harder by the appearance of at least three other Left slates on the ballot paper. Members of the rail union, the RMT, have put forward a slate of candidates under the title of Campaign Against Tube Privatisation headed by Pat Sikorski of the obscure Fourth International Supporters Caucus, better known as a leading member of the SLP before Scargill chucked him out. The SLP, whose shrinking membership has fallen in under three years from a high point of over 2,000 to barely 250, is also putting up a slate. They will be drawn mainly from members of Harpal Brar’s Stalin Society which makes up most of the SLP’s two dozen or so London members. The third list is being put up by the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain.

As the LSA realise that any hope they have of getting elected lies in hitching their carriage to Livingstone’s runaway train, the ‘Vote Ken Vote LSA’ posters have already gone up. While Livingstone has made it clear he wants nothing to do with them, the LSA are determined to become ‘Ken’s unofficial slate’. The New Labour selection fiasco, has meant the LSA now believe they have a very real chance of winning “more than one of the GLA list seats” (Weekly Worker 16.3.00) spurred on by a report in The Observer that “Labour has even privately admitted that veteran Leftwing journalist Paul Foot is likely to be elected to the new GLA in the Livingstone backwash” (12.3.00).

Certainly Foot will get the backing of a number of the middle class Labour Left; the ‘Hampstead liberals’ as Jack Straw likes to refer to them. The LSA has gained support from ‘high profile’ backers such as Michael Mansfield and the Lawrence family solicitor Imran Khan, who had previously backed the SLP. Film director Ken Loach has appeared on public platforms (or the LSA and the author and former editor of Labour Briefing, Mike Marqusee is heading it’s press committee. Sukdev Reel and spokesperson for the National Civil Rights Movement, Suresh Grover, are also sponsors. Far more diffi­cult for the LSA will be getting the votes of London’s working classes where the Left have absolutely no support base. The Weekly Worker admitted “we must be brutally frank and state that you could probably count on two hands all the housing estates in Britain were the Left has any kind of base”.

The real significance however, lies in the Left’s break with Auto Labourism, which had seen them call for a Blair victory less than three years ago. Forcing the Left, especially the SWP, out of their insular environment and into the big bad world where their arrogant boast of being THE LEFT will count for nothing, is bound to come as a shock for their members, forcing them to question cherished beliefs for the first time. And while they have steadfastly refused to publicly acknowl­edge the other members of the Alliance in Socialist Worker, the fact that they have shared platforms with the rest of the Left will make it extremely difficult for them to retreat back into a closet. The Alliance, whether they care to admit it or not, has emerged from the Left’s weakness, something that will become all too apparent when faced with confronting both the establishment and indeed Far Right parties at the ballot box. In addition the SWP’s new-found friends would do well to remember that they never do anything for the ‘common good’. More likely they view the Alliance as an opportunity to conduct a mopping-up operation within the Left. Whatever the result in May, one thing is sure. Life for the British Left will never quite be the same again.

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Vol 4, Issue 6, April/May '00