By Colin Foster
Stay at home and curse at the TV? Go to the polling station and write something left-wing on your ballot paper, in the hope that you get a message across at least to the individual who counts your vote? Vote for the Lib-Dems, on the grounds that at least they criticised the Iraq war, however queasily and weakly, and gains for them will punish Blair?
Do any of those, and you’re just giving another turn of the wheel to the political processes which have brought us to the current low point of working-class electoral choice in Britain.
We cannot raise ourselves up from that low point in a single leap. To raise ourselves, we need organisation.
What we can do in this election is to convince more socialists, and organise workers more broadly towards socialist ideas.
Given the grim policies of Blair’s New Labour, and the grim dearth of political life inside the Labour Party engineered by Blair over the last eleven years, it is right for socialists to stand under our own colours and offer our own ideas to the electorate in as many areas we have the resources for.
The Socialist Green Unity Coalition is doing that in 24 constituencies in England, and the Scottish Socialist Party is doing it in Scotland. AWL member Pete Radcliff is standing for the Socialist Green Unity Coalition in Nottingham East.
We do not have the money or the numbers of organised activists to stand in a larger number of constituencies. So what do we do elsewhere?
Before and after the election, we base ourselves on the struggles for better wages and conditions; for publicly-owned and democratically-controlled public services (against privatisation); for trade-union rights and civil liberties (against the Tory anti-union laws and the “anti-terror” legislation); for peace and international solidarity; for open borders and against racism.
It is in those struggles, and others like them, that the organisation, the confidence, and the awareness will be built which can create a better world — and, as a first instalment, give us better options in elections.
Even in the present miserable half-dead condition of the Labour Party, far more of the forces for those struggles are in the ambit of the Labour Party than in any of the other parties. The trade unions, the biggest of which are still affiliated to the Labour Party and still have great potential strength in the Labour structures, are the bedrock organisations of the working class.
Even at MP and parliamentary candidate level, there are more people within Labour (opposed to Blair) who stood against the Iraq war than in the Lib-Dems. There are people who oppose privatisation and want the Tory anti-union laws repealed. Among the Lib-Dems? You must be joking! Last month Lib-Dem spokesperson Malcolm Bruce demanded restrictions on strikes in public services: “as a last resort that the Government should impose compulsory binding arbitration where key national services and infrastructure are threatened by industrial action.”
If we can organise in the unions sufficiently to get them to use their weight in the Labour Party structure to push their proclaimed policies hard, we can turn New Labour upside down — rallying the unions and the people loyal to working-class interests, and probably forcing Blair, Brown, and the New Labour hard-core into a split and a link-up with the Lib-Dems.
That will not happen tomorrow. It may never happen tidily and comprehensively. But there is a struggle going on in the unions now, already. In one union conference after another this summer there will be arguments — feebler here, stronger there — about what the union is doing with its political voice. The Communication Workers’ Union, the Fire Brigades Union, and the railworkers’ union RMT have already decided to sponsor the Labour Representation Committee, a body campaigning to restore working-class politics inside the Labour Party.
Socialists need to be involved in that struggle. And that is why we say: where we haven’t got the resources and forces to propose a socialist candidate, vote Labour.
Don’t vote Respect!
The Respect coalition of George Galloway and the Socialist Workers’ Party presents itself as a left-wing alternative in this General Election. But it is not.
Its leftish policies — against privatisation and so on — are all encased in a framework of promoting personalities like George Galloway and Yvonne Ridley and appealing for Muslim votes on a communalist basis.
In its appeal to Muslim voters — a big proportion of the electorate in many of the small selection of constituencies where Respect has chosen to stand — it operates in alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain, British offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood (the biggest Islamic-fundamentalist organisation in the Arab world).
Galloway, the public leader of Respect and its best chance to win election, has already been an MP for 18 years. Over most of that time he has been at best a Labour “soft-left”, rebelling rarely, distinguished from the rest only by his unabashed fondness for the old USSR and his close links with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.
Electing him to Parliament would be a shame, not a victory, for the left.