The upcoming Stormont election has galvanised Eamonn McCann, the Irish SWP’s best-known public figure. Over the past few years Eamonn, via his vehicle the Socialist Environmental Alliance, has stood in several elections and pulled in a respectable if hardly earth-shattering personal vote in his home city of Derry. But Eamonn is not content with Derry, he has been mooting a left slate across all 18 constituencies. The limited resources of the SWP – a mini-branch in Belfast and frig all anywhere else – will clearly not do, and allies are needed. Therefore Eamonn has issued an appeal to the SWP’s deadliest enemies, the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland (P. Hadden prop.).
Up until now, the SPNI has reacted to such calls with lofty disdain. Partly this is due to historically different stances on the North – although both groups support the peace process, the SWP has a history of sucking up to the Provos, while the Millies have established themselves as the Marxist wing of Ulster unionism. So the last time Eamonn made a pitch for an alliance, SPNI spokesman Ciarán Mulholland responded with a long-winded article denouncing the SWP/SEA’s “left republican” programme. This immediately called to mind Jack Dee’s Happy Hour (“it isn’t happy and it doesn’t last an hour”). Likewise, Eamonn’s programme was neither left nor republican. The SPNI then added insult to injury by publishing election “analyses” that boosted their own tiny vote, pretended the apolitical Dr Kieran Deeney of Omagh was some kind of radical, and ignored Eamonn.
The excuse for a new lash-up is the imminent introduction of water charges in the North. The SWP and the SPNI have both been banging the drum for non-payment, although, despite total agreement, they still can’t bear to be part of the same campaign. But, in the light of the water charge issue, and bearing in mind the precedents of Tommy Sheridan and Joe Higgins, the SPNI have hatched a Cunning Plan. It goes something like this:
1. Peter Hadden won’t pay his water bill.
2. Peter will be sent to jail.
3. The broad masses will rally around Peter and elect him to Stormont.
The SWP also have a Cunning Plan. Can you tell what it is yet?
Like one of Baldrick’s Cunning Plans, the far left perspective is so shot through with holes it’s hard to know where to start. In the first place, if the election takes place on schedule, it will happen before the water bills start arriving. Secondly, a government resort to the Small Claims Court or the Enforcement of Judgements Office makes it unlikely anybody will be going to jail. Thirdly, proconsul Hain has been cute enough to introduce the charge in stages. In the first year, only a third will be payable, making £30 for the poorest households. Who, except for an ideologically motivated far-left activist, would risk jail for the sake of £30?
Most importantly, this election, like all elections in the Six, will be a referendum on the peace process. Both left groups, who are planning a single-issue campaign, reckon they can ignore this and turn it into a referendum on water charges simply by declaring it to be so. As if!
And will the unity call succeed? The most likely scenario is that the SPNI(PHP) will tell the SWP to feck off, as they usually do. There is however a faint possibility that they might agree to a paper alliance, as long as the SWP stay 70 miles away in Derry and the Haddenites don’t actually have to talk to them or work with them.
And where do I stand on this? Idly by is where I stand. I don’t take either of these sects remotely seriously, nor do virtually the entire population. I’m much more interested in the possibility of a dissident republican slate than a far left slate. In fact, I would go so far as to say that 500 votes in Derry for Gary Donnelly is worth 2000 for Eamonn McCann. I say that not to boost Gary or do down Eamonn – in terms of formal politics, I’m much closer to Eamonn – but simply to state that a dissident run would challenge the Provos. A single-issue run by the far left, either united or separately, won’t represent a challenge to anyone.