ALL THE main political parties were rejected in three out of the four mayoral elections announced on Thursday of last week. Independent candidates won in Stoke, Mansfield and Bedford. The media reported that the Nazi BNP grabbed a significant vote in Stoke, but almost entirely missed the spectacular success for the Socialist Alliance in Hackney, east London.
Socialist Alliance candidate Paul Foot came third with 4,187 votes, 12.7 percent of the poll. He beat the Lib Dem and Green candidates, as well as two independents and the Hackney First organisation.
Paul Foot came within 315 votes of beating the Tory and going into the final run-off to determine who would be mayor. Adding together the Socialist Alliance and the Green vote gives 22 percent. Although not everyone voting for the Greens is left wing, the Greens did run a generally left wing campaign. One of the independents was also a focus for some on the left.
This means the left of Labour vote was 20 or 25 percent of the total. The Socialist Alliance performance represents a significant electoral breakthrough in one of Labour's heartlands. It shows that the Socialist Alliance can become a real force in British politics.
In less than two and a half years the Socialist Alliance has moved from being a new organisation to become the main left opposition to the ruling Labour Party in Hackney. In the Greater London Assembly elections in May 2000 the Socialist Alliance won 4.3 percent in the north east London region that includes Hackney.
Then at the 2001 general election the alliance got 4.6 percent in the Hackney South constituency. Earlier this year in the council elections Socialist Alliance candidates gained an average of 8 percent in the wards where it stood. Last week's 12.7 percent vote in Hackney matches the best results of the Scottish Socialist Party.
Paul Foot provided a campaigning focus for everyone in the borough who wanted to protest against the international, national and local policies of New Labour.
Paul Foot said, 'This vote will give heart to all those who have supported the firefighters, tube workers, teachers and local government workers who are fighting to defend their livelihoods. It shows there is a new home in the Socialist Alliance for all those who are fed up with New Labour. It was a vote for a campaign which was clearly against an attack on Iraq and against the government's policies on refugees.'
The campaign featured three very successful meetings with Turkish and Kurdish people. Paul spoke to groups of workers and strikers. The Socialist Alliance successfully brought together people from many local campaigns.
They included campaigners against closures of nurseries, schools and swimming pools, against the council's decision to take transport passes away from disabled people, and against the attacks on libraries and on the council workforce. Scores of people who have never done anything before with the Socialist Alliance were actively involved this time.
Arch Stanton, one of these 'first time' campaigners, says, 'I think it was a brilliant result for an organisation that has only existed for a couple of years. While I was campaigning I met many people who were going to vote Labour with a very heavy heart. That means in slightly different circumstances we could have got 20 percent or even more, and there are great opportunities for the future. Our campaign connected with people who were angry about education, NHS privatisation and so on. It made socialist solutions real to people. The question of the war was also very important.'
With further turmoil coming for Labour members and supporters over the war on Iraq and the firefighters' strike, the alliance has a great chance to grow strongly.
A COUNCIL by-election has been called in Downham ward in the London borough of Lewisham on Thursday 7 November. Lewisham Socialist Alliance has selected local pensioner and housing activist Jean Kysow as the candidate. Downham is a big ward of some 10,000 houses and there is a Nazi candidate. The Socialist Alliance is appealing for assistance.
Proud campaigner against the war
'I HAVE been involved in campaigns to save nurseries. I'm bloody angry at what the Labour council has done and what New Labour has done in government. But the main question for me was that Foot was against the war. I'm proud I helped leaflet for Paul Foot and argue with people around me to vote socialist. Like everyone else involved, I firmly believe that I got the two votes which beat the Lib Dems!'
How they voted in Hackney
Jules Pipe Labour 13,813 41.9 percent
Andrew Boff Conservative 4,502 13.6 percent
Paul Foot Socialist Alliance 4,187 12.7 percent
Ian Sharer Lib Dem 4,185 12.7 percent
Crispin Truman Green 3,002 9.1 percent
Bruce Spenser Hackney First 1,543 4.7 percent
Terry Edwards Independent 1,253 3.8 percent
Errol Carr Independent 441 1.3 percent
Warning from Stoke
Nazi candidates try to feed off despair
THERE WAS good news from Hackney, but a warning from Stoke. In the mayoral election there the Nazi BNP took 8,213 votes, over 18 percent. Labour polled 9,752 and independent Mike Wolfe 9,356. After the second preference votes were counted Mike Wolfe moved ahead and was elected mayor.
The fact that the BNP could con so many people into voting for it shows that, like the rest of Europe, there is a polarisation between left and right going on. The centre of politics is under increasing strain. The large majority of people in Stoke are certainly not far right supporters, let alone Nazis.
The BNP grabbed votes by offering false solutions of hatred and scapegoating to real problems. People in the area have experienced a string of major closures including the pits, the Shelton steel works and many of the pottery factories that once dominated the city. Stoke also has poor housing and low wages.
Unfortunately there was no strong left organisation locally to put forward a real solution to these problems. Nobody should underestimate the threat the Nazis pose. But their rise is not inevitable. Nazi parties, or parties that are potentially evolving in that direction, can count on around 10 percent of the vote in several European countries. In May the Dutch anti-immigrant party the LPF took 1.6 million votes and won 26 of the 150 seats in parliament.
The LPF, headed by Pim Fortuyn until he was killed during the election campaign, entered the governing coalition. Last week this coalition resigned amid bitter feuding among the LPF leaders. But the present chaos in the LPF does not mean the Dutch far right are finished. The Nazis in the LPF will seek to regroup around harder politics.
It is a similar story in Austria, which will see a general election next month. The Tory and far right coalition government has collapsed.
It was formed over two years ago after the far right Freedom Party of Jörg Haider came second to the Tory People's Party in elections. The Freedom Party included a range of right wing forces from Thatcherite businessmen to hardened fascists.
Over the last two years the Freedom Party cabinet ministers have tried to sound little different from the Tories who dominated the governing coalition. That has meant they have faced increasing hostility from workers across Austria, where unemployment is now higher than at any time since 1945. That pressure cracked open the Freedom Party. The Thatcherite wing wanted to move towards being a mainstream party.
Haider, however, wanted quite consciously to move sharply towards the fascist right. He held a secret meeting in July with leaders of the far right Vlaams Blok in Belgium and of the Northern League in Italy. He is heading towards the elections with much reduced support in the polls - about 18 percent - but with the hope of hardening the Freedom Party into an anti-immigrant, far right force.
Across Europe the left has to fight the Nazis and their policies of hate and division. But where there is a rooted socialist alternative it can give a positive lead to people who are rightly angry at the failure of the mainstream parties.