ASIANS WHO have traditionally voted Labour, already angry about the war on Iraq, privatisation and the demonisation of Islam, are even angrier after being snubbed again. The Labour Party has narrowly selected the Blairite MEP Robert Evans instead of Shahid Malik as their candidate for Brent East. The election may be as early as September.
Malik had the support of Brent's sizeable Pakistani community. The Socialist Alliance has initiated a convention of the left on Thursday 31 July. The aim is to build the widest possible support for a socialist candidate who will oppose war and privatisation, fight racism and engage with all those who feel none of the major parties represents them. This, along with Blair's growing crisis, was the backdrop to a meeting of the delegate-based Socialist Alliance national council in Birmingham on Saturday.
There was a significant polarisation within the national council. On the one side there were those who understand we have a unique opportunity to build a serious socialist alternative to Blair. To do this requires at the very least broadening the Socialist Alliance and making it more credible. That means relating positively and openly to all those Muslims radicalised by the war and opposed to Blair, as well as many others. These include trade unionists, those who have left Labour or are thinking of it, members of campaigning groups and community groups. All of these desperately want a left alternative to New Labour.
On the other hand there were those who in one form or another reject what it will take to build that more credible alternative. An extreme form of this argument was reflected in Nick Cohen's article in last week's New Statesman magazine. His wild allegations include accusing the Stop the War Coalition of being determined 'to support the British cheerleaders of the Ba'athist tyranny above all else'. He goes on to say that the Socialist Workers Party is 'giving up on socialism to form an alliance with Islamic fundamentalism', and is ready to make pacts with anyone to get votes for the Socialist Alliance.
The council voted to reject various motions that were critical of reaching out to Muslims. But the very small Workers Power organisation took the opportunity to declare they were leaving the Socialist Alliance because it was 'a reformist swamp'. More positively, the council did receive a variety of reports of very successful initiatives taken by local Socialist Alliance members to push the project forward.
In Chorlton and North Kent Socialist Alliances have called successful meetings against SATs from which broader campaigns have been launched. In Wood Green, Haringey, a very successful public meeting was held with Louise Christian on the question of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
This is due to be repeated in Birmingham, where there has already been a 300-strong public meeting with George Galloway, Salma Yaqoob from the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition, Dr Nazim from Birmingham Central Mosque and John Rees for the Socialist Alliance.
In Lancashire Socialist Alliance councillor Michael Lavalette has launched a tabloid newspaper with an editorial board representing many of the major towns in Lancashire, and including members of both the Socialist Alliance and the Communist Party of Britain (connected with the Morning Star newspaper). Although the Communist Party nationally has initially turned down the idea of a broad coalition to contest next year's Greater London Assembly elections, the council emphasised the importance of working with Morning Star supporters and Communist Party members.
Initiatives are also being taken at the European level to try to forge a common platform for the elections next year.
The Socialist Alliance might become part of a coalition of forces including Rifondazione Comunista in Italy and the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire in France.
The opportunity to create a more credible socialist alternative to Blair and New Labour depends on Socialist Alliances taking the initiative locally to engage with the huge number of people who continue to oppose the war and the Blair agenda as a whole. We have to persuade them that if we come together, we will succeed.