This article is featured here at Socialist Unity – comments welcome
It’s fair to say the left in Britain is in a pretty sorry state. The sheer number of miniscule, bickering left-wing groups indicates the scale of the problem. The left’s crisis is reflected throughout Europe – France and Germany’s ‘New Anti-capitalist’ Parties have come to little, nominally social democratic governments have been ejected from office in Portugal, Spain and elsewhere, and in Britain, the Labour party – again social democratic by name – refuses to reject the cuts consensus, while Trotskyite sects argue at the side-lines.
Until Galloway’s election in Bradford, there was just one electable social/ist democratic party – the Greens. In Brighton, the Green council have rejected privatisation and spent months consulting unions and community groups on the first Green budget, which though not uncontroversial, is impressive in its participatory nature and the fact that it had strong union support against attacks from Labour and the Conservatives which saw over £3m worth more of cuts forced onto it through rejecting a council tax increase. The introduction of a Living Wage and pay ratios show what left-led local councils can do even when faced with massive central government funding cuts.
And yet in May – if Labour lose a number of seats to Respect – Brighton could be potentially joined by as a left-led council by a Labour/Respect coalition in Bradford. Unlikely, of course – yet then again so was the election of a Respect MP until just a couple of weeks ago. Even if Labour still firmly hold the council, which they no doubt will, they may well have a number of vociferous socialist councillors to contend with in the council chamber, and could be pressured to implement progressive policies – like the Living Wage, reinstating EMA on a council-wide basis (as, somewhat surprisingly, Cornwall Council appear to be doing) and building resistance to the cuts. It’s not impossible off the back of a huge electoral victory that come May, a sixth of Bradford council could be Respect seats. Sweeping gains may not be a pipe dream.
Yet there is a problem. 127 candidates are fighting for 30 seats – and among them, competing left candidates. Socialist Labour are standing against Green councillor Martin Love who leads the Green Group and has over the past few years pushed for renewable energy for new housing and won for Bradford millions of pounds in green investment. Respect are standing against Green candidates in Heaton, Manningham and elsewhere. I’m a biased observer as a Green activist – but anti-cuts activists opposing elected anti-cuts activists seems like a strange tactic and a clear example of the Pythonesque Judean People’s Front/People’s Front of Judea politics that has not helped the left one bit – except to spruce up splinter group paper columns.
To consider the solution we first have to accept a few facts. A Labour council is in general better than a Tory one. A Green council would be (and is) more progressive still – and perhaps likewise for Respect. But where left candidates stand a good chance of being elected, I think we must accept that party allegiance should be put aside.
In short, we need an electoral alliance. We cannot have absurd situations like the Socialist Party standing against John McDonnell MP back in 2001, or Socialist Labour standing against Caroline Lucas in 2010. And that’s without even mentioning the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.
The prospects of a left alliance look bright post-‘Bradford Spring’. Such an alliance might consist of candidates standing aside at the next election to allow whoever out of Respect and the Green Party previously got a higher percentage of the vote to stand – and if possible, cross-party activism and public support. It might be uncomfortable, but under First Past the Post, it may be time to realise that it’s also necessary. In sum, we have to accept what Dawud Islam– the Green candidate for Bradford West and now Respect council candidate – has said: ‘Caroline Lucas MP and George Galloway MP [should] agree some sort of electoral pact between the parties in the future, as I certainly view the Green Party as a progressive party of the left.’ Though in Parliamentary terms the parties are now equal, it must be remembered that before Galloway’s election Respect had less than 700 members nationally.
There is clearly a high degree of overlap with both parties – both promote ‘investment not cuts’, nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from Afghanistan and NATO, strong public services, rail renationalisation and an end to anti-union laws. The difficulty, though not a significant one, is environmental policy – but it’s hard to see Respect rejecting environmentalist concerns.
After the May elections, Respect and the Greens – and TUSC, for that matter – should seriously consider an electoral alliance of some kind. It has been done with success before, though not apparently in England. In France, the Left Front are making huge headway in the polls, and present a situation that should be aspired to here, where they are forcing Hollande’s moderate Socialists to support measures like a 75% top tax rate. More relevantly, the Socialists have offered a number of seats where they will not stand against the Greens, in return for broad cross-Parliamentary support.
Predictions, as Bradford showed us, generally fail. So I only make the suggestion – to pragmatically accept party overlap, and support electoral alliance as the best chance for overall success. Because truly, none but the most dogmatic can deny they were cheered by Respect’s success in Bradford as setting an alternative to the austerity agenda. So it’s time to adopt that painful but often successful tactic which has for too many decades been ignored – alliance.