This year I stood as an independent left candidate in the local elections in Cambridge. I polled a close third with nearly 18 percent–less than 3 percent behind Labour.
I have contested the seat three times in recent years – twice as Respect and last year as part of the Left List. This year was our best result. And, more importantly, the campaign brought together new forces.
I welcome the open letter published by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). We need to build a new left capable of harnessing the anger of millions and challenging the madness of the market.
The question is, how do we create such a force and what might it look like?
Ideally, left-wing Labour MPs should break away together with parts of the trade union leadership.
But we can’t afford to wait for that to happen. Any new political formation can only be successful in areas where forces on the ground work together to build campaigns and attract new activists. Local alliances are the key for all of those serious about left unity.
Any left force has to organise to fight redundancies, privatisation and cuts, as well as challenging at the ballot box.
That means fighting the recession wherever it strikes and generalising the fight for jobs and services. We have to resist, community by community.
We need to build for the greatest possible unity in action and organisation well beyond the existing left. We must help create a home where people feel comfortable discussing the challenges we face while fighting a common enemy.
I believe that this will be best achieved through campaigns that also stand in elections, not in the formation of a new party–although this might also happen.
For the left elections are not a gauge of public opinion or a barometer of the movement. Nor are they a distraction from building the militant class action we need to keep millions from hardship. If approached in the right way, they can be part of building strong industrial and community-based resistance.
To do this we have to unite people who have been involved in anti-fascist work, Gaza, the G20 protests, housing, defending jobs and other campaigns.
This won’t look the same everywhere. In Cambridge we started to do it around a jobs campaign at a publishing and printing company and through the Gaza occupation in the university. Our election campaign felt like a continuation of this.
We put a letter through every door explaining that the £1.3 billion bank bailout amounted to £150 million for every council ward in the country. Our election slogan was “make the bankers pay”.
We knocked on every door, leaving a calling card if no-one was in. Students from the university and sixth form as well as trade unionists and Stop the War activists came and canvassed.
We had Labour party members as well as those with affiliations on the radical left. But most of those campaigning were in no organisation at all.
Our materials called on voters to get active. We publicised solidarity action with Visteon workers, the jobs campaign, our support for postal workers fighting privatisation and the Cambridge and District Trades Council’s housing campaign.
We must now organise to challenge in other seats in the area, and support and generate resistance. If this happens in more localities it could lead to a national electoral realignment.