Core of Newark Labour joins Socialist Alliance
By Hazel Croft
A CORE section of the Labour Party in Newark, Nottinghamshire, has joined the Socialist Alliance. Within a week they have selected a candidate to fight the general election, held a public meeting and made front page billing in the local paper. Key supporters include the former leader of the district council, the former mayor and the former deputy leader of Newark Town Council.
Such widespread disaffection is not unique to Newark, but exists in Labour Party branches everywhere. New Labour leaders suspended Newark Labour Party three years ago following controversies over election expenses.
But as Andy Stanton, a former Labour councillor and deputy leader of Newark Town Council, told Socialist Worker, "This isn't about personalities or the suspension of the branch. This is about disillusion with New Labour. The issue which has enraged us more than anything else is the sell-off of the whole of the public housing stock to Nottinghamshire Housing Association. We were horrified when we realised this was government policy, and started campaigning. We realised there wasn't any regular forum to discuss these issues, with the Labour branch suspended. So before Christmas last year we set up the Newark Reform Discussion Group. There were 15 of us at the first meeting. Our discussions developed to thinking that Labour isn't going to come round by itself. Labour's core constituency are fed up, and they need a vehicle to leave the party in. When Liz Davies resigned from the Labour Party, I e-mailed to congratulate her and she put us in touch with the Socialist Alliance. We feel the Socialist Alliance can be a political home for rock solid Labour voters and ex-Labour members. The Socialist Alliance feels like the political group with the policies that were the reason I was in the Labour Party for all those years."
Ian Thomson is Newark's Socialist Alliance prospective parliamentary candidate for the general election. He joined the Labour Party in 1977 but let his membership lapse two years ago. "The leadership has treated all of us with contempt," he says. "Not only Labour voters but members too. When you've been with a party so long it's agonising to leave. New Labour is the lesser of two evils, but that's all it is. It is not the party I want to be in power, it is not the party I voted for and was a member of for over 20 years. For me democracy and socialism are the same thing, and the Socialist Alliance is about democracy. It's about giving people the option to vote for a socialist candidate."
Newark Socialist Alliance held its first public meeting last Saturday, with Liz Davies as guest speaker. Sixteen people came along-all through word of mouth and with just a few days notice.
Most people there were either members or ex-members of the Labour Party. One Labour member came to argue for people to stay in the party. But everyone else was enthusiastic about the Socialist Alliance. Jill Dawn, former leader of the district council and a Labour Party member for over 20 years, told Socialist Worker, "I'm tremendously excited. I feel it is almost like the creation of a real Labour Party. There are many, many more Labour members who couldn't come along today, but who are totally behind us."
Beatrice Beadling, a Labour member, says, "I'm so pleased I don't have to spend the election doing nothing. I can campaign for the Socialist Alliance." Christine Little says, "I find it astonishing that all the issues on the Socialist Alliance posters-for renationalisation, for comprehensive education-are not Labour policy."
And Joan Witham, who was very active in the 1984-5 miners' strike, but who left the party eight years ago, says, "People like me need a new home. I'm hoping the Socialist Alliance will be it."