THE NEXT general election is already dominating political debate. Some reports suggest the election could be as early as 29 March. The mainstream media presents us with a single choice. On the one hand are William Hague's right wing Tories, deliberately playing the race card and whipping up nationalism over the euro.
On the other hand is Blair's New Labour government, following free market policies of privatisation, flexibility and low pay at work. So it is little wonder many people see politicians as unprincipled and out for themselves, and that disillusion with official politics is at an all-time high. But there is a completely different alternative in this year's general election.
In at least 120 seats across Britain those who feel totally excluded by New Labour will have the chance to vote for socialists who are challenging the pro-market consensus of the main parties.
In England and Wales socialists will stand in at least 50 seats. Many of these will be part of the Socialist Alliance, which has brought together various left wing groups, trade unionists, both former and current Labour Party members, anti-capitalists and community activists. The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) intends to stand in all 72 seats in Scotland. Socialist Alliance candidates have already been selected across London, Manchester, Luton and elsewhere. And many more will be selected in the coming weeks.
The Socialist Alliances and the SSP do not have unlimited access to the heads of the BBC or the editors of national newspapers as the main parties do. They are run and financed by ordinary working class people. Their message of a positive left wing alternative needs to get out to as many people as possible.
The task is urgent, with possibly just weeks to go to the election. The danger otherwise is that people will fall into apathy or, worse, be taken in by Hague's lies over race and crime. That is what happened when disillusion set in with the last Labour government in the 1970s.
Labour lost solid seats to the Tories in a series of by-elections, and the Nazi National Front pushed the Liberals into fourth place in some elections. In 1979 Labour lost the election to Margaret Thatcher's Tories.
Today there is a completely different political situation. Disillusion with official politics is sky high, but at the same time there is a more favourable climate for socialist ideas than there has been for decades. Millions of people want to see policies far to the left of anything Tony Blair is offering.
They want taxes on the rich, renationalisation of the railways, a much higher minimum wage and more rights for workers. Millions have taken inspiration from the global protests against Third World debt and capitalist institutions like the IMF and World Bank. The audience for socialist ideas was shown by the successful and energetic campaign conducted by the London Socialist Alliance in the Greater London Assembly Elections in May last year.
And Socialist Alliance candidates got over 5 percent of the vote in parliamentary by-elections in Tottenham and Preston. In the recent Anniesland by-elections the Scottish Socialist Party won over 7 percent. That is a great start, but socialists cannot be complacent. People's anger needs to be channelled into a much wider left wing challenge to Blair.
Every socialist needs to throw themselves into building the widest possible support now for the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliances. That means building up support and membership, involving Labour members who feel abandoned by the leadership, along with trade unionists, community activists and others.
It means imaginative campaigning and activity to build maximum publicity for the socialist alternative. The Tyneside Socialist Alliance had a huge success when it organised a day of leafleting in favour of rail renationalisation at stations in the area, with many people signing up to get involved in the election campaign.
Ford Dagenham worker and Socialist Alliance candidate for Dagenham Berlyne Hamilton went down a storm when he spoke at a rally in Luton against the closure of the Vauxhall car plant. The campaign is not just about getting votes. It is about building a mass left wing alternative that can begin to fight for the socialist principles that New Labour has abandoned.