Pete Radcliff, an AWL member, stood in Nottingham East under the banner of Socialist Unity. He got 373 votes, or 1.2% of the poll, about a third of his score in 2001. He writes about the lessons of the campaign
The result was disappointing, but there were many useful things about this socialist election campaign other than the final tally of votes: we put across a working-class socialist message; we held together at least a portion of the socialist vote from 2001, as a base which we can build on in the future.
The score in Nottingham East was partly due to being squeezed by the Greens (who did not stand in 2001) and by a strong and demagogically “anti-war” Lib Dem campaign (the sitting Labour candidate John Heppell lost 13% of his vote, 9% going to the Lib Dems). Both the Green and the Lib Dem candidates were leftists of their sort, people who had been around the Socialist Alliance in 2001.
But the question remains for me: why were the Lib Dems, here and elsewhere, able to exploit the anti-war vote within the Pakistani community?
And why was the left which has had more contact through anti-war agitation with the Pakistani community than any other time in the last 20 years not able to exploit it?
The common view on the SWP-influenced left was that if you were “anti-imperialist” i.e. against the war, then you were essentially nearly socialist. But anyone who knows anything of politics in the Pakistan community knows that the “anti-imperialist” claims of some Muslim activists are not the same as the anti-imperialist politics of socialists.
There is an argument in the Pakistani community about whether the horrors of the Iraq war are the result of a war “against Muslims”, requiring a campaign to defend Islam, or a war for capitalist/imperialist oil profits, requiring a campaign to fight for Iraqi and Iranian workers’ democratic rights. The left — certainly the SWP/StW — has not pursued that debate.
The left has also beeen hampered by the practice of working through senior and religious figures in the community, rather than with the mass of the Pakistani community.
Many senior religious and political figures in the community are keen to keep socialists at arms’ length, so it is no surprise that they are used as Lib Dem cannon-fodder come election time.
Unfortunately, locally, the non-SWP left’s response to the anti-war movement was spasmodic, divided, and of a scale that made it difficult to relate to the Pakistani population independently of the SWP.
There are parallels with the Black Sections movement of the mid-80s in the Labour Party in which members of the AWL took a prominent part. At that time the desire for a voice, by a generally poor and oppressed section of the community, was coupled with strong career objectives of some Pakistani business politicians who pretended to be left-wing socialists. We thought their difficulties in mobilising their followers in the community were organisational.
They weren’t — they were political. They never really intended to allow serious socialists to have access to their community, although we were occasionally allowed to hold socialist discussions for the Pakistani youth.
The Lib Dem campaign started with a narrow base, but they allowed their apparatus to be rebuilt as a de facto political voice for Pakistani anti-war activists. Their candidate, Issan Ghazni, was not the most popular man in the Pakistani community, but he would have appeared more “respectable” than a Respect candidate.
Elsewhere in the country the Lib Dems have been backed by the Islamist Muslim Association of Britain (MAB).
Although MAB isn’t particularly active in Nottingham, there are softer strands of communalism that undoubtedly shelter within the Lib Dem success.
The political agitation in the Pakistani community has to be related to.
We need to argue for campaigns for equal health, education and housing and against poverty. We need to win Pakistani workers and youth to a class analysis of society rather than a religious one. We need to avoid compromises or silence on the sexist and homophobic agenda of the Islamists.
There is likely to be a campaign by New Labour to rebuild their support in Nottingham’s working class communities. They will be promoting policies and doing deals based on reactionary ideas like the calls for greater religious and gender segregation.
We need to find a way of building an active political current in the trade unions, to present an alternative. Some trade unions supported our campaign and we can build on that too.