If the April-May 2010 issue of the left-wing magazine Red Pepper is anything to go by, a much-mooted option among the bien-pensant left for the coming general election is to vote Green or Respect.
Red Pepper rehearses all the obvious facts about the neo-liberalism of all the main parties; doesn't have the possibility of a fight within the unions to shake up or "reclaim" Labour on its radar; gives the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, run by the SP and the SWP, only a passing, "benevolent", but uninterested editorial mention; and doesn't mention other left candidates, like the AWL's Jill Mountford in Camberwell and Peckham, at all.
Red Pepper columnist Mike Marqusee (a former editor of Labour Briefing, then briefly a fellow-traveller of the SWP) says it's basically "a no-choice election". He favours voting Labour where the candidate is left-wing, or in marginals, but sees the main hope in getting one or two Green or Respect MPs elected, Caroline Lucas or Salma Yaqoob.
The radical lawyer Mike Mansfield has the same view: vote Green or Respect as the best way of challenging the neo-liberal consensus.
From a point of view where your vote on polling day is a "thing in itself", not part of a systematic and continuing chain of political activity, I suppose there is some rationale for this approach.
SCSTF makes sense only as part of ongoing activity within and focused on the labour movement.
Judging from its launch rally and its website, the candidates of TUSC will not have a markedly sharper socialist or working-class message in their leaflets - except maybe in code-words which tip off the cognoscenti - than Respect or the Greens, who are also against cuts, etc., and surely have a better chance of winning seats. (And some of the things which TUSC candidates think make them more left-wing than the Greens - support for political Islam, for the SWP; or the No2EU message for the SP - actually make them more right-wing).
The trouble with the "gesture vote", of course, is that a systematic and continuing chain of political activity is necessary to bring serious change.
Marqusee himself writes lucidly about why boosting and building up the Green Party is not a road to working-class emancipation.
"Its record in office, and its nature as a party, is mixed. In Leeds its councillors sustained a Tory-Lib Dem coalition and gave no support to last year’s successful bin strike.
"On the London Assembly Jenny Jones has acted as an apologist for the Met. The party... seems to have little interest in mass campaigning of any kind. Many Green cadre are hostile to the left and the unions and wedded to their own form of middle-class managerialism".
He could have added in the record of the Greens in Ireland, where they have sustained a ferociously-cutting government. The Greens won 15% of the vote in Britain in the Euro-election in 1989, but their political profile is so blurred that the startling success had no lasting effect at all.
In short, the Greens do not have a defined activist social base that can give leverage to the left-wing things they sometimes say, not even to the degree that the Labour Party has a base of that sort in the unions.
The telling thing about Respect is that both Marqusee and Mansfield cite Salma Yaqoob as the prime Respect candidate, and write as if George Galloway - Respect's MP, probably its best-chance candidate this time round - does not exist.
But he does - complete with his record of friendship with Saddam Hussein's deputy; admitted financing of his political enterprises by Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Pakistan; etc. And, to judge by the anguish of Respect members who thought differently from him about tactics in this general election, he has unchallengeable sway as leader of Respect.
Some SCSTF supporters will vote for left-of-Labour candidates if they can, especially in non-marginal constituencies. But as a general approach, SCSTF makes sense as the tactic best integrated into ongoing activity within and focused on the labour movement.