John Rees and bourgeois legality

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Plenty of people will already have noted the discussion on Socialist Unity about the SWP-Reespect’s “Left List” for the London elections. I don’t intend to get into the “Left List” as such, except to note that the SWP is now declaring an affinity for Die Linke in Germany. Given that until relatively recently the SWP weren’t all that fond of the PDS/Die Linke – I vividly remember a Chris Harman speech where the Renaissance Man made an attack on the PDS that was spectacular in its mendacity – this is a bit cheeky. It’s also ironic in that, back in the far-off 1990s, the PDS launched the Linke Liste as a means to broaden their base by having non-party candidates on the party list. The extraordinary narrowness of the SWP’s new “Left List” makes for an interesting contrast. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the post-split Reespect, where non-SWP people are like black delegates at the Republican Convention in the US – loads of them on the platform, but that doesn’t fool anybody.

Anyway, what interests me is the way the Swops have been whinging about a “loophole” preventing them from running under the Respect banner. This loophole being the Electoral Commission’s determination that Linda Smith remains the Respect nominating officer, and that an official Respect candidate must be approved by Linda. This fits in, by the way, with a persistent whinge in recent months about the EC, as well as lots of chest-beating on the blogs (in connection with the dodgy Dubai cheque) about how real r-r-r-revolutionaries don’t allow themselves to be constrained by bourgeois legality.

Let’s go over this again. The relevant piece of legislation is the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Apart from revealing in its title that the British political class have lousy Latin, the Act lays down the ground rules for political parties to operate and which the Electoral Commission is charged with enforcing. In the first place, parties have to register their name and details, including a leader, nominating officer and treasurer. For example, two days ago the Left List was registered, with Oliur Rahman as leader and nominating officer.

There are a number of restrictions on parties as well. One of the most obvious is that a party must have a name which does not lead to confusion with another party. This is what may be termed the Richard Huggett clause, after the notorious prankster who used to run as a “Literal Democrat”, and is designed to prevent spoiler candidates. Members of the Socialist Party (the ex-Militant version) will be able to tell you in great detail how they have to stand as “Socialist Alternative” because the EC ruled that the Socialist Party of Great Britain had prior ownership. And that is why the SWP can’t employ some creative variant of the Respect name.

The EC also has oversight of party accounts and donations, notably in terms of “permissible donors”, with anyone donating more than £200 having to fall into that category. Unless your party is headquartered in Norn Iron, donations from outside the UK are not allowed. That rules out donations from Jersey or the Isle of Man, never mind Dubai. This was the point about the dodgy Dubai cheque – a foreign donation to Respect would have been totally illegal, and (in re Rees’ solicitation of the money to defray debts from the OFFU conference) elementary steps to separate OFFU from Respect had not been taken. Galloway knew this, which is why he instantly suspected a provocation.

This is not, I must emphasise, a question of cringing before the capitalist state and its laws. Some of the more excitable Swops really need to go and read what Lenin (the real one, not Seymour) wrote in Left-Wing Communism. It’s really a basic question of professionalism. You want to run for election? Fine, there is a legal framework for you to do so. Even an amateur should know that. And, since the Electoral Commission is a quasi-judicial body with executive powers, which is very good at uncovering dodgy practices and takes such practices very seriously indeed, you would have to be either an adrenaline junkie or a complete idiot to even think about trying to hoodwink the EC.

So, if you’re looking to run for election, there’s no point in you bellyaching about how awful the Electoral Commission is. There are rules. You are made aware of them in advance. You have to abide by them. Even if it is an awful system, that doesn’t exempt you from the rules, no matter how revolutionary you are.

There are two further points worth making. One is that, when New Labour or the Tories fall foul of the EC for dodgy donations, you don’t hear the left complaining about the oppressive nature of the EC. In fact, when the Abrahams scandal broke, Prof Callinicos was positively crowing over New Labour’s embarrassment in Socialist Worker. That affair ended, of course, with the general secretary of the Labour Party falling on his sword. We need have little fear that Rees will follow him – even if we get past Rees’ habit of getting other people’s fingerprints on his work, the hierarchy has steadfastly protected him.

This leads me to another interesting point. While Respect is a registered political party, the Socialist Workers Party is not. This conveniently exempts the SWP from having to make any declarations to the Electoral Commission. In fact, the SWP’s status in law is that of a private club. A bit like White’s, only the food isn’t as good and the chairs are less comfortable. And to those familiar with the SWP leadership’s MO, a private club is kind of fitting.

21 Comments

  1. Phil said,

    March 12, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    lousy Latin

    Actually, no – ‘referendum’ is a gerundive, meaning ‘thing to be referred’. ‘Referenda’ would be multiple things-to-be-referred, possibly in a single plebiscite. Compare ‘agenda’ (things to be done).

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 12, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Yeah, but all the same, ‘referendums’ does grate. And can I put in a plea for ‘conundra’?

  3. Phil said,

    March 12, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Where do you stand on rhinoceroi and chrysanthema? As for ‘conundrum’, it’s not really Latin, so I’d suggest ‘conundrii’.

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 12, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Where do you stand on rhinoceroi and chrysanthema?

    Not really on my agendum at the moment…

  5. a@b said,

    March 12, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    While not disagreeing with much of what you say, I must point out that “since the Electoral Commission is a quasi-judicial body with executive powers, which is very good at uncovering dodgy practices and takes such practices very seriously ” is very wrong. The EC is badly organised, passive, and fails to police political parties, generally – altho’ they did weigh very heavily, and quite unfairly on UKIP for a donation (so there is an argument that the EC likes to have a go at smaller parties while letting bigger ones alone)

  6. You couldn't make it up! said,

    March 12, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    It appears that Rees’ hapless side-kick Elaine Graham-Leigh is now writing to Respect candidates telling them that they cannot stand as Respect and to councils telling them to ignore the nasty Linda Smith. Having decided to go it alone under the banner of ‘The Left Lists’ surely some may see this as signs of a sinking ship.

  7. charliemarks said,

    March 13, 2008 at 1:09 am

    My copy of Left-Wing Communism was stolen, would you believe. So I consulted my copy of the Daily Express. I’m not sure, but I think they’re backing John Rees on this one…

  8. andyinswindon said,

    March 13, 2008 at 10:15 am

    The EC was actually very lax in letting the BNP off last year over a forien donation to a front organisation. But I think the BNP, unlike Elaine GL, had the good sense not to antaogonise the EC with a belligerent attitude

  9. WorldbyStorm said,

    March 13, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Hmmm… strokes chin thoughtfully… private club fitting… in what way?

  10. Johnny said,

    March 14, 2008 at 1:48 am

    “My copy of Left-Wing Communism was stolen”

    What strange burglars you have round your way. And I thought having a Morrissey t-shirt knicked off my clothes line was bad. As for the private club remark, at least the Royal Antediluvian Order of the Buffalo wouldn’t humiliate you in front of your mates by forcing you to stand outside McDonald’s on a Saturday selling a crappy newspaper.

  11. charliemarks said,

    March 14, 2008 at 2:37 am

    Stealing a Morrissey t-shirt! Have these people no respect for Moz?

  12. Doug said,

    March 14, 2008 at 11:14 am

    If the thief has any self respect he’ll burn it – pretentious reactionary tosspot

  13. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 14, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    I don’t have a problem with paper sales – they come with the territory. In terms of the private club, I was thinking more of the permanent leadership’s attitudes…

  14. WorldbyStorm said,

    March 15, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    My pesky literalism… re paper sales. Never entirely sure one way or another are they a good or bad thing. There certainly is something punitive about them sometimes (and hierarchical but that’s another story), but when one looks at the form of political activity it’s hard to think of alternatives…

  15. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 15, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Yes, the paper may be a dying medium but it’s hard to see the alternative… Though that’s no excuse for having papers with their style stuck in the dim and distant past…

  16. WorldbyStorm said,

    March 15, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Good writing is part of the solution, isn’t it? And, and this one is tricky, a degree of unpredictability. Style, very true but I’m not even sure how to address that. I was going through Dublin city centre the other day and was struck by the latest SWP poster advertising talks on Womens Rights and Socialism… in one way the posters weren’t bad, but in another they were very standard issue. Same with their current anti-War one. The usual sort of near Constructivist photomontage. In one way good. In another way boilerplate. And yet they probably serve a purpose to the internal audience as much if not more so than the external…

  17. charliemarks said,

    March 16, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Doug: how dare you call Morrissey a pretentious reactionary tosspot. It’s an outrage. He is most certainly not a tosspot 😉

  18. Liam said,

    March 16, 2008 at 10:35 am

    His Greatest Hits compilation is well worth the money and very funny in parts.

  19. tadpole said,

    March 17, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    The loophole is that the law does not allow a properly constituted conference to change a party’s nominating officer without that person’s consent. Which seems like a serious and genuine enough grievance to me. You may not agree that the Respect conference was legitimate, but that’s beside the point as the electoral authorities have not been called on to consider its legitimacy or otherwise.

  20. Phil said,

    March 17, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    The loophole is that the law does not allow a properly constituted conference to change a party’s nominating officer without that person’s consent.

    Think it through: under what conditions will the consent of an outgoing officer not be required? Realistically, the only situation I can think of that would qualify is the officer being incapacitated (an eventuality covered by the EC’s rules). If an organisation is so factionalised that its Chair doesn’t recognise the conference that elects the Chair, it’s no business of the EC to endorse one faction or another.

  21. March 21, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    It’s also ironic in that, back in the far-off 1990s, the PDS launched the Linke Liste as a means to broaden their base by having non-party candidates on the party list. The extraordinary narrowness of the SWP’s new “Left List” makes for an interesting contrast.

    But they’ve come full cirle and “Die Linke” has now (less than 1 year old) basically banned non- and other-party candidates from being on their lists. Obviously this doesn’t apply to members of the German SWP franchise, as they’ve all gone and got themselves Die Linke membership cards, got a few people on it’s NEC, run its student section, run a good proportion of the MPs parliamentary offices, and already have at least one regional member of parliament. I also haven’t noticed them defending the member of the DKP (Germany’s ‘official’ CP) who got elected on a Linke list, and was promptly expelled/thrown out of her parliamentary grouping by the leadership (when they gave her a place, they weren’t expecting enough votes that she’d actually get elected – they just wanted to secure the votes of people who’d otherwise vote DKP, and get a few DKP members to do some leafleting). Also, she was honest about her party political affiliations, quite unlike those IST/SWP members who stand for Die Linke in elections. This whole business led to the leadership telling the DKP to “stop freeloading”; there’s no-one else who the Linke leadership let stand on their lists anyway (and no-one else wanted to either).


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