TORY LEADER Michael Howard was made to look a fool recently after sacking Boris Johnson for having an affair.
The private life of a politician carries few surprises for most people, and doesn’t rate on the same level as telling multiple lies to justify war.
The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) executive has made an even worse blunder than Howard’s. It has voted to remove its best known and greatly respected figure Tommy Sheridan as party convenor after allegations about his private life.
The obvious response would have been to say that Tommy has never stuck his nose into other people’s personal lives or lectured them on morality—unlike David Blunkett—so why should he be judged by the News of the World?
The story would have quickly died a death, and it cut little ice with tens of thousands of SSP voters.
But the SSP leadership panicked, and urged Tommy’s resignation. That panic derives from seeing things too much in terms of media perceptions rather than how grassroots party supporters view things.
The argument that the party cannot back Tommy because it cannot support a possible libel action brought by him does not hold up. You can broadly defend someone without being drawn into the details.
All this suggests that more is at stake than a panic about newspaper headlines.
There is an undercurrent about the war and the developing campaign by soldiers’ families for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
The campaign got underway at the initiative of Rose Gentle following the death of her son, Gordon. Like Rose, Tommy hails from Pollok, which he represented on Glasgow council before being elected an MSP.
The demonstration there calling for the troops to be brought home hit a nerve locally, across Scotland and across Britain. Rose and the families’ campaign have created turmoil among New Labour MPs.
New Labour likes to fight dirty and the Murdoch press is its chosen vehicle for a dirty tricks campaign. So the timing of a News of the World piece on Tommy was not surprising.
A motion from Livingston SSP circulated before last Saturday’s SSP national council argued, “We do not take lessons in morality from the Murdoch press. The central issue is the defence of a working class leader from attacks by the right wing press.”
The motion goes on to note that “throughout history, from Charles Stuart Parnell and Oscar Wilde in the 19th century, through to Martin Luther King in the 20th century, the ruling class have regularly used sex scandals as a means of trying to destroy its leading opponents, both socialist and anti-imperialist, and as a means of weakening social and political movements.
“The attack on Tommy Sheridan is also an attack on the SSP and on the anti-war movement.”
Tommy would not put himself on a par with King, Wilde or Parnell—but the point is correct.
The SSP has been an inspiration for the radical left across Europe.
The last time I saw Tommy he was at the European Social Forum in London campaigning over Iraq, speaking out in support of Respect, and enthusing about the size and vitality of the event and the demonstration with which it concluded.
Even now the best thing the SSP could do is to rally round Tommy.
Talk of the need for a collective leadership and saying that the party is not a one-man band misses out the fact that Tommy has inspired working class communities in a way few others have done.
I am sure Tommy will continue to build and develop the movement against the Iraq war, and the welcome being prepared for George Bush when he arrives at Gleneagles in July for the G8 summit.
Last June in the European elections the SSP slipped further behind the Greens in the polls.
Now there are voices in the party saying people won’t be interested in next year’s Westminster general election. Yet this election can bring pro-war Labour MPs to book over Iraq.
The SSP needs to ensure it is back in pole position as the radical voice of Scotland.