Many socialists, trade unionists and campaigners who would usually vote Labour are thinking of supporting Respect, the Green Party or the Lib Dems as an alternative to Labour in the coming general election. We examine the manifestos of these parties to see whether they deserve such hopes being pinned on them.
Respect's manifesto, "Peace, Justice, Equality", was launched on 17 April. An alternative title for it might have been "For good stuff, against bad stuff".
The booklet cover (green circle on a red background) bears a strange resemblance to the Bangladeshi flag (red circle on a green background). No doubt the design is intended to symbolise Respect's rotten lash-up - the socialist red with the Islamic green. But a second layer of opportunism exists - to blag a few extra Bengali votes in Tower Hamlets, where Respect leader George Galloway faces Labour's Oona King.
A pity they couldn't work in some brown on the cover, to symbolise the stain of George Galloway.
Inside we are treated to a list of pretty good things. And the problem - as in the SWP dominated and now defunct Socialist Alliance - was the inability to tie such a list to the need for working class political representation; to conceive of such a programme being fought for by a workers' party.
Mark Fischer, writing in the Weekly Worker, claims that the manifesto "explicitly sets itself the aim of solving ˜the deepening crisis of working class representation'." In fact the point is exactly that Respect does not "set itself the aim of solving¦" Respect's manifesto simply notes the existence of a crisis in working class representation as a way of bashing New Labour and appealing for the votes of trade unionists.
On Iraq the manifesto claims: "The issue is not¦ democracy against dictatorship, it is one of democracy verses occupation", and demands the immediate withdrawal of the occupying forces. Such a statement is a backhanded way of calling for the victory of the fascistic Iraqi "resistance". And we are asked to believe that this would be the victory of democracy?
The manifesto makes no mention of the new unions in Iraq or the need to defend democratic and women's rights in Iraq.
The manifesto makes a number of nasty little fudges and omissions that should not go unnoticed. For example, out of the blue, in a page 4 bullet point, the manifesto states, "defend a woman's right to choose". There is no mention of defence of abortion rights in the article leading up to the demand (or elsewhere in the manifesto) - which is what the "right to choose" would normally mean on the left. But to Galloway and Muslims who oppose abortion this demand-fudge can be presented as the right to choose to wear the hijab. If it is true, as Fischer reports, that Alan Thornett from the International Socialist Group is responsible for this manifesto, he should be ashamed of such a dodge.
The Lib Dems do not represent working-class people or stand up for our interests. They have a radical image, but in some ways they are even worse than New Labour. Some examples from their positions on national issues:
- They opposed the creation of a National Minimum Wage and described raising it to even £4.85 an hour as a "dangerous precedent".
- Lib Dem industry spokesperson Malcolm Bruce has demanded powers for Government to ban strikes in "key national services and infrastructure" and impose "compulsory binding arbitration" on rail workers, postal workers, telecom workers, firefighters, etc.
- The Lib Dems want to cut more than £12 billion a year from the civil service, destroying thousands of jobs and ruining services.
- The Lib Dems support New Labour's privatisation mania, including the use of private finance in the NHS.
- The Lib Dems think that "Government needs to impose far fewer burdens on the business community" and say new Labour isn't pro-business enough!
The Lib Dems' record at a local level is very similar.
- In councils up and down the country the Lib Dems have pushed through the same policies promoted by New Labour: cuts, privatisation of services and housing, and attacks on workers' pay and conditions.
- In Oxford, the Lib Dem-run council proposed privatising the city's leisure facilities.
- In Swansea and Liverpool the Lib Dems provoked major strikes by staff.
- In Islington the Lib Dems denounced caretakers opposing redundancies as "skivers" and closed pensioners' clubs.
- In Kirklees the Lib Dems invited Jarvis, the company responsible for the Potters Bar rail crash, to get involved in running local schools.
This list of local Lib Dem "successes" could go on and on. The Lib Dems make left-wing noises to win votes, but vote-catching is all it is.
The Green Party has won a few local councillor seats around the country. Those councillors have done deals with the Lib Dems (Oxford) and even the Tories (Leeds), supporting right-wing policies in return for a few token gestures on the environment.
In their stronghold of Brighton the Green Party have supported moves to semi-privatise council housing (ALMO), despite opposition from tenants.
Green Party policy is to make travel expensive (they oppose free travel even for pensioners), not the socialist solution of free, top-quality public transport to reduce our dependence on cars.
The Green Party manifesto shows that they are more concerned with the interests of small businesses than with the needs of working-class people.
The Green Party does not have a record in national politics in Britain. In France and Germany, where the Green Party's sister parties have been more active and radical than in Britain, they have usually wound up as coalition partners in Blair-type governments, imagining that they can "green" those governments and not worrying much about anything else.
In Germany, the Schroder-Fischer government's drastic cuts have brought much more revolt in the ranks of the Social-Democratic Party there than in the ranks of the Greens.
Because of the Greens' lack of a working-class base, they drop many of their leftish policies when pushed to it without a backward glance.