Bad results for the left

Submitted by AWL on 11 May, 2005 - 9:43

All comment on new possibilities after the election is mere wistfulness unless we also register just how bad the election was, and just how badly the left did.

Independent socialist candidates did worse than in 2001 almost everywhere. Within the Labour Party, the Campaign Group of left MPs claims that its people suffered a smaller swing against them than the general run of Labour candidates. However, the difference — 4.4% as against 5.1% — is not statistically significant. Jeremy Corbyn, the most rebellious of left Labour MPs, suffered a larger-than-average swing to the Lib Dems in his Islington North constituency.

The Lib Dems have moved to the right since 2001. Yet bizarrely they have established themselves as “the left-wing party”. For the first time ever, there were lots of voters who would describe themselves as socialists and yet voted Lib Dem, for preference and not for “anti-Tory” tactical reasons.

The Green Party gained only slightly, with an average of 1401 votes over 202 constituencies (3.4%) as against 1172 over 135 in 2001.

Many voters stayed with Labour as a “lesser evil”, slightly less nasty than the Tories in full “nasty party” mode against migrants, asylum-seekers, travellers, and unruly school kids. Doorstep conversations indicated little left of the old positive “class vote” for Labour. Other people told us on the doorsteps: “I’ve always voted Labour. But this time I don’t know — except that I won’t vote for Blair! And of course I’d never vote Tory”. Evidently most of them voted Lib-Dem or abstained.

The big anti-war mobilisations of 2003 have not strengthened the left. Probably they never could have done so on a mass scale. The thought that Blair is a liar, or more of a liar than other ruling-class politicians, is bland enough to be “appropriated” by the Lib Dems — who got most of the “anti-war” vote — by abstention, or even by the Tories.

Gains smaller-scale, but significant, in the strength of the left must have been possible if large enough left-wing forces had attempted to present and maintain a consistent working-class socialist argument. Instead they chose to court the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Association of Britain.

The dog that didn’t bark in the mainstream election campaign was what used to be called “the social question” — the question of rich and poor, bosses and workers, property and labour, unions and wages and jobs. New Labour claimed to be “competent” on the economy — on the basis, mainly, of having legislated removal of the Bank of England from elected control, i.e. ostentatiously letting someone else, unelected, control key economic levers. The “social question” was “de-politicised”, put “outside politics.”

In a Britain of increasing inequality, increasing inequality of opportunity too, working-class voters know that the “social question” has not gone away. It is not that people are lulled into conservative voting, or not bothering, by the feeling that things are good and continued improvement is assured.

On the contrary. Plenty of voters on the doorstep are receptive to socialist ideas. What puts them off voting socialist is not a confidence that capitalism will bring improvements — but a lack of confidence than anything will bring improvements. Social pessimism is the dark weed growing in the waters of social discontent, defeats, and disappointment.

How different the election would have been if the pensions strikes in March and April — due to be the biggest strikes in Britain since the General Strike of 1926 — had gone ahead, and been followed up by the unions with further industrial action calculated to win!

A renewal of the trade-union struggle for pensions is still possible. But, for the election, not only the main union leaders, but also much of the organised left — the SWP and the Socialist Party in the civil service union, PCS, for example — helped take the social issues off the agenda.

Result: in Glasgow, for example, where the Scottish Socialist Party has an established profile and a long record, its vote went down from 7 to 10% in most constituencies in 2001 to 3 to 5%.

In England and Wales, the Socialist Alliance, which contested 98 seats in 2001 — scoring mostly mediocre results, but nonetheless making some visible independent socialist challenge — had been forcibly liquidated by its majority faction, the SWP, as the SWP rallied to George Galloway and set up the Respect coalition.

The nearest approximation to a Socialist Alliance re-run we could assemble was the Socialist Green Unity Coalition, which contested 27 seats. It did poorly. Dave Nellist of the Socialist Party, a former Labour MP with an established electoral base in his area, saw his vote drop from 7% to below 5%. Aside from Nellist, only four socialist unity candidates got over 2.5% — Rob Windsor in Coventry, Pete Glover in Bootle, Celia Foote in Leeds, and Pete Smith in Walsall.

Our own Pete Radcliff, a member of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty standing as the Socialist Unity candidate in Nottingham East, suffered not only the general trend but also a special squeeze from leftish local Lib-Dem and Green candidates. He got 1.2%, a third of what he scored in 2001.

The victory for George Galloway and the relatively good results for the Galloway-SWP coalition Respect in one Birmingham constituency (Salma Yaqoob) and on Galloway’s coat-tails in some constituencies near his Bethnal Green and Bow, do not disprove the trend. They were not victories for the left. They were victories for a tactic whereby socialists turned themselves into leafleters and apologists for a demagogue capturing Muslim votes on a communalist basis.

George Galloway as the representative of the left in Parliament! The horror! It will soon be clear to any still undeceived that Galloway is — as he himself has bluntly told the press — “not as left-wing as you might think”.

Already he has pointedly “tested” his independence from the socialist foot-soldiers in Respect by making a public show of friendliness to the Bangladeshi bosses’ federation and stands against abortion rights, for immigration curbs, for freeing Saddam Hussein’s deputy Tariq Aziz, against the Lib-Dems as “soft on drugs”, and so on.

He must be satisfied that his captive socialists have dared no bleat of protest. He will become even bolder on the same lines. That may help the cause of socialism if it sobers up some Respect supporters and SWPers and pushes them back towards principled politics, but in no other way.

Where they could not capture a “Muslim vote”, Respect did poorly, often worse than the Socialist Alliance did in 2001. About the only exception, where the Respect vote could be reckoned to include a substantial “left” element, was Janet Alder’s 6.4% in Tottenham.

We have paid a heavy price for the left’s failures in the anti-war mobilisations and in the pensions battle. Those who think that left revival will be easy and smooth will collapse. Those who think the task impossible make themselves part of the problem. Those who know all the difficulties, and yet work at it without tiring, will shape the future.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/05/2005 - 10:31

so RESPECT only did relatively well!!!! talk about bullshit. Salma's result was stunning as even the right wing would concede- to go to 2nd place and be only 3000 odd votes behind is fantastic. If one of your candidates got this it would be plastered as the best thing since sliced bread. You appear bitter and twisted. But then you did support the pro war, pro privitisaytion, pro buisness candidate in Oona King.

Submitted by Janine on Sat, 14/05/2005 - 10:50

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

... and in other places got less than 1%, and in most places somewhere between these extremes. In my constituency, Respect got virtually an identical vote to the Socialist Alliance at the last General Election. So overall, mixed picture, "relatively well" sums it up quite nicely.

Mind you, the SWP is a habitual user of superlatives. Everything it is involved in is brilliant, stunning, fantastic, earth-shattering, a sea change in British politics etc.

Come on, when was the last time SWP/Respect reported that one of its events/intiatives was "OK", "not bad" or "reasonably good"?

Oh, and even if Respect's election results are "relatively good", or even "stunning", it doesn't make the politics right.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/05/2005 - 10:52

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

In 2001 the Socialist Alliance stood in two constituencies in Tyneside and a four or five more seats in the region.

This time Respect stood in one place in the region. The resources of the SWP and ISG who were the two candidates in newcastle last time could be focused in one place, and with support from outside the region.

In 2001 the Socialist Alliance got 485 votes (1.9%) and the Socialist Labour Party got 533 votes (2%) of the vote. In total 1018 people voted for a candidate calling themselves socialist.

In 2005 Respect appealing for votes on a more communalist basis got 440 votes (1.6%) of the vote. 40% of the vote for socialists in 2001.

Whereas the BNP who had not stood in 2001 now got 1072 votes.

Socialists in 2005 did not try and offer working class voters an alternative to the capitalism, they did not challenge the BNP in white working class areas? Because the target for their campaign was a communalist block vote. I wonder if Respect and BNP leaflet different streets.

The said thing is what we started in 2001, in a very limited way could have really been an opportunity to challenge the BNP in working class communities in newcastle with a political 'socialist' alternative. Respect went for a artificial quick fix to get communal votes.. with a few exceptions it generally didnt work, but worse still in has set back independent working class politics another 5 years.. Thanks George and Lyndsay.... but do it properly next time and lash up with the Lib dems (you've already dropped the word socialist from your election campaigning )and be done with it, then those who want to can start building "the socialist alternative"

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/05/2005 - 12:35

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I wish people would follow an argument and reply on the basis of having followed the argument. The article said:

"The victory for George Galloway and the relatively good results for the Galloway-SWP coalition Respect in one Birmingham constituency (Salma Yaqoob) and on Galloway's coat-tails in some constituencies near his Bethnal Green and Bow, do not disprove the trend. They were not victories for the left. They were victories for a tactic whereby socialists turned themselves into leafleters and apologi sts for a demagogue capturing Muslim votes on a communalist basis."

Some Respect candidates did very well according to their own lights, their own campaigning strategy — appealing to voters, pretty much, on a communalist basis. We don't think very much of that, so we are not going to get very excited about it!

For us it is about deciding what you think is in the best interests of the working class — that's the working class as a whole by the way. Appealing to an oppressed working class community on the basis of their "special interests' as Muslims, as Respect did, is not socialist. Relating to people as members of the working class people, who will have to fight a capitalist system, to win a better life, is a better way to advance the interests of a poor working class community and to unite the working class. It also happens to be in the socialist tradition, something that the SWP leadership seem to have conveniently forgotten.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/05/2005 - 18:29

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Have any of you "socialists" ever thought about the meaning of the term "communalist"? It implies that all Muslims (in this case) will do whatever they are told, without minds of their own.

So what are you saying?

Galloway, a defender of the rights of minorities, struck a chord with many Muslims in the area. But, as someone who canvassed, I can tell you that it was NEVER "OK I'll vote for you like the Mosque told me to", but instead an in depth debate about privatisations, workers rights, the selling off of the local fire engine, environmental destruction and so on. The main issue was, of course, the war, but not in itself. And it's worth noting that there was a very positive reaction from the non-Muslim voters, black, white, Irish, Jewish, and every other minority group.

If you people got off your high horse about Galloway you'd understand just what we have achieved, and what we are achieving. If you don't want to associate yourselves with where the movement against war and capitalism is, then try and do it on your own and miss out on this unique opportunity in history.

Whatever you think, it's amazing that we came third in Poplar, second in East and West Ham and Birmingham and, of course, got the first left-of-Labour MP in over half a century elected. You must at least be a little surprised that the likes of the SWP's Lindsey German came second in Respect's FIRST general election...?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2005 - 15:00

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

don't forget bernadette devlin! ... and is g.g. left-of-eric heffer or left-of-tony-benn or other left labour mps? I don't think so.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2005 - 16:41

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Communal from Oxford Dictionary online...

2 (of conflict) between different communities, especially those having different religions or ethnic origins.

so ... if you choose to stand in the main constituencies of the country which had the largest muslim communities, to adapt your politics and views of what are important issues to appeal to this community, rather than to appeal on the grounds of class or class struggle...

then that i suppose is what is being meant by communalist...

if you are trying to say Galloway and Respect are not communalist, and instead stood on a working class socialist platform.. then say this .. and counter the arguments..

it is an achievement for respect to have won a seat for Galloway.. the question is in what way is Galloway a socialist or pro workers rights

.. in iraq he was other with Saddam rather than the workers of iraq or the kurds

.. in parliament he was not an opponent of blair other than over the war as many other labour MPs and lib dems were..

.. he made the SWP drop the Workers Wage platform and much more from the respect platform (because he needs £300,000 a year to operate .. his words in the scotsman.. no mine)

.. he is against secular education in the UK

.. he has and not denied used funds from undemocratic governments around the world to support his work and fund his travel..

so yes... you got him elected.. so what? you ditched the Socialist Alliance, put back left unity, dropped socialist politics... and are not misleading layers of young activists?

or is Galloway's politics now the politics of the SWP?

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