Socialist Worker

Only days to go!

Issue No. 1750

Socialist election campaign

Only days to go!

By Mike Marqusee, member of the Socialist Alliance national executive

THIS HAS been the fifth general election in which I have worked as a full time volunteer. I know from experience that elections are hard work. There is always more to be done and always too much left undone.

I also know from experience that grassroots electoral efforts can make a difference, and that the opportunity to talk about politics with large numbers of working class people is inspiring and challenging. Socialist Alliance supporters now have only a few more days in which to make the most of this opportunity.

Of course, I took part in the four previous elections as a Labour Party member. Campaigning for the Socialist Alliance has been quite a contrast. It won't be news to Socialist Worker readers that we've had to build our organisation, locally and nationally, virtually from scratch.

We've all had to learn as we go along. But what strides we have made, despite limited resources, a hostile media and an unfair electoral system. Everything that has happened in this campaign has confirmed my belief that it was right and necessary for socialists to band together to offer an alternative to New Labour. New Labour has succeeded in turning this election into a stark choice. Stripped of the spin, Blair's second term agenda is now unambiguous-opening health, education and other public services to private profiteers, cutting corporation tax (again), attacking benefit claimants, restricting civil rights, stepping up the persecution of asylum seekers and signing up to George W Bush's National Missile Defence system.

The convergence of the major parties has become ever more transparent, as has the need for a radical alternative. Over recent months, and especially the last few weeks, Socialist Alliance campaigners around the country have succeeded in building a solid platform for an effective offensive in the final days of the campaign. We have achieved a degree of national and local recognition beyond our expectations.

Now let's maximise our impact by making sure every working class voter in the constituencies we're standing in knows there is a real choice in this election. Every minute of these last days of the campaign right up until 10pm on Thursday 7 June is precious to us.

The major parties wring their hands about voters abstaining, but in reality they are perfectly content with low turnouts. The only message not voting sends is that you can't be bothered, and Tony Blair will be delighted with that.

If people want to register their disgust with the political establishment, the only effective way to do so is by voting for the Socialist Alliance in England and Wales, and the Scottish Socialist Party in Scotland. The results? We're not psychics and we can't afford a pollster, so it's anyone's guess.

Of the total money spent on this campaign by all the parties, the Socialist Alliance accounts for just about one quarter of 1 percent. I'm willing to bet our vote will exceed that proportion several times over!


What's at stake?

By John Rees

THE SOCIALIST Alliance and Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) election campaigns have put socialism back on the political map in Britain. There have been few times in recent years when millions of working people have heard the broad socialist case put so widely and consistently as it has been during this election.

We cannot know what the vote for the Socialist Alliance candidates will be. The Socialist Alliance is new. But it has made a powerful start to a much bigger project. The election is a vital part of this, but it will go on long after this election is over.

That project is nothing less than the recomposition of the base of the British labour movement. The Socialist Alliance has been a striking success because it has united not only the far left, but also increasing numbers of former Labour Party members. The break-up of Labour's base is at a very early stage, but it is happening. Many former Labour Party members, prominent trade unionists and campaigners are joining the Socialist Alliance.

The most striking example of this process has been the creation from scratch of a Socialist Alliance in St Helens. Neil Thompson and a group of Labour Party members couldn't stomach Millbank's imposition of millionaire ex-Tory Shaun Woodward. They came together with others from the far left to mount the most high profile campaign of the election.

Also, in Newark the core of the Labour Party that was expelled by Millbank joined the Socialist Alliance after Liz Davies announced that she was backing the alliance. The Fire Brigades Union conference voted to allow the political fund to be used to support candidates standing against New Labour so long as they support FBU policy.

This has sent shockwaves through the union movement. A good vote for the alliance will encourage more of this kind of recomposition at the base of the labour movement as the Labour government embarks on its vicious privatisation programme.

The success of the Socialist Alliance is part of a wider recovery in the movement. The rise of anti-capitalism is another sign. And the embryonic revival of industrial struggle, for example on the London tube and in the Post Office, is a third indicator.

But any revival in working class combativity will run into the same obstacle that the great working class upturn of the early 1970s encountered. Despite destroying Heath's Tory government, that movement foundered under the 1974 Labour government.

The loyalty of a key layer of shop stewards and activists was with the Labour government. They lacked a political alternative to the IMF-inspired cuts and the Social Contract advocated by the union leaders and Labour ministers. The strikes of the 1979 Winter of Discontent were isolated. Demoralisation led to Thatcher's election.

The Socialist Alliance is a vital tool in ensuring that this history does not repeat itself. We can forge a layer of labour movement activists who owe their loyalty to the rank and file.

Socialist Worker supporters will certainly be a minority in any such movement. But our ideas and our strategy will be vital to ensuring that the Socialist Alliance provides a new home for Labour voters, but without all the old furniture of class compromise.

We need to put every last effort into making the success of the Socialist Alliance and the SSP as great as possible on 7 June.


Setting an example

THE LONDON Evening Standard newspaper ran a front page about Streatham's Socialist Alliance candidate, Greg Tucker, on Thursday of last week. The paper was trying to smear Greg, asking, "Where is the rail union official who could be sorting out tomorrow's South West Trains strike? Away picketing for postmen and standing as a far left candidate."

But it ended up as a great argument for why you should vote for the Socialist Alliance. The paper accurately described the Socialist Alliance as "an umbrella for those who think that the Labour government is not nearly left wing enough". The article showed that wherever there were workers fighting back, Greg was there:

"In the morning he was at Brixton College to support NATFHE lecturers in their demand for a pay rise. In the afternoon he went to the offices of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority offices in north London to discuss the government's privatisation plans with members of the public services union UNISON. He managed to get away in time to canvass parents at the gates of a school in Streatham. Before heading off to Nine Elms post office he spent the rest of the day knocking on doors and trying to sell the socialist message to residents in Streatham's suburban streets."

The article read like the ideal diary of a Socialist Alliance candidate. As the election approaches, all 160 Socialist Alliance and Scottish Socialist Party candidates and supporters are organising days campaigning like Greg. Every single supporter who takes part in the events will make a difference to the vote.


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Sat 2 Jun 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1750
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