May Day Massacre, part 3: Perspectives for the left

And so we come to the question of what the election results say about prospects for the left. And the answer to that would be, not very much. But just about enough to be getting on with, if those involved can rise to the occasion.

The Respect results were solid enough – below what might have been expected, with Galloway not even coming close to that GLA seat, but far from being disastrous. Of course the split hasn’t helped, with the exit of the SWP meaning a loss of both resources and activists, and with both sides looking a bit like damaged goods, as usually happens in splits. On the other hand, 2.4% is not too bad given the circumstances, and the excellent vote for Hanif in City and East, plus the third council seat in Sparkbrook, show there is still critical mass in the party’s East London and South Birmingham strongholds. And, while some of the other results were poor, some were quite encouraging.

The problem is this – while Respect does have its strongholds, it’s very much a localised force. Even in London, Respect doesn’t exist in most of the city. And the prospects for expansion would have to be taken long-term – the Cheetham Hill result in Manchester, for example, shows potential, but you’d be looking years ahead to convert that into a mass base. That requires long-range planning and a fundamental break from the politics of get-rich-quick schemes.

But this problem of localisation is one for the left generally. The Socialist Party has a scattering of members nationwide, but in electoral terms it’s severely localised, and its implantation in the unions is also pretty sectional. You can also take a look at local formations with broadly Old Labour politics in places like Blaenau Gwent or Barrow, not to mention a whole raft of vaguely leftwing independent councillors. The left-of-Labour spectrum has very little traction, but there is a sociological space for a socialist alternative – it’s really a problem of organisation, of low levels of struggle and of atomisation.

What I think is this. None of these local formations are remotely likely to dissolve themselves into Respect – the most you can say for the moment is that, if Respect threw itself into non-sectarian networking in a serious way, as well as consolidating its own bases, it could be a centre of gravity for a smallish but significant left current. Also on the clár should be cultivating a dialogue with the Green Left, as well as keeping an eye on the LRC and Compass to see if there are any signs of life in the Labour Party. You can never tell where new forces will come from.

Obviously this poses a challenge for Respect. I’m not wildly enthusiastic about Respect as is – I’d like it to have a firmer socialist identity and more of an orientation to the working class than it does. The party also needs to get itself a bit of a sense of dynamism. Potentially, there’s a lot of good will out there towards the post-split Respect simply due to it not being the SWP, who have a serious track record of alienating their sometime allies. It would be a failure of massive proportions if that was allowed to dissipate.

As far as the SWP/Reespect/Left List is concerned, things are clarified a little. It should be pointed out that not all the Left List results were terrible – there is a fair base of support in Preston and Sheffield at least. We may point out that these results are based on long-term concentrated work that empirically goes against the grain of the SWP’s national practice. But then again, the key people are Michael Lavalette and Maxine Bowler, excellent comrades in many ways but also very very loyal to the SWP. While in principle there should be an opening to the Left List where it has a serious presence, in practice that poses a problem.

In London on the other hand, the results were diabolical. It may be that, with Galloway failing to win election to the GLA, the SWP has staved off the immediate danger of an exodus of members to Respect, as happened last autumn. But spending in excess of sixty grand to get results well below what the Socialist Alliance polled in 2000 is an embarrassment to say the least. Lindsey has never struck me as the kind of woman who would enjoy being spanked, so it’s no wonder she was the sole candidate not to appear at the mayoral declaration.

It puts the CC in an awkward position, doesn’t it? Some people were clear that the purpose of the Left List was to be a spoiler for Respect – hence the leaflets saying “Respect is standing as the Left List” and such like. But the membership were spun the idea that Lindsey was in with a serious shout of getting onto the GLA, that she was a national figure with mass electoral appeal, and that at the very least the Left List vote would run Respect close if not surpass it. None of these things have come to pass, for various reasons – an unknown name, yeah, but also an unbelievably sectarian mayoral campaign that, in the context of the Ken-Boris polarisation, aimed 90% of its fire at Ken and most of the rest at George. One may doubt if Cliff or Hallas would have got themselves into this position in the first place, but they certainly wouldn’t have run the sort of campaign their epigones did.

And so it is that John Rees, despite all his bluster, has cemented his reputation as the Rube Goldberg of revolutionary politics. The SWP’s few remaining allies in the Left List will have been given pause for thought. The three councillors in Tower Hamlets will be distinctly jittery. And, while I’m not expecting any move from inside the SWP leadership, if anyone is contemplating a coup against the Power Couple, now would be the time to do it. It’s hard to see the SWP playing any positive role in the broader movement while John and Lindsey remain in situ. Certainly, not many people will be falling over themselves to work with them any time soon.


  1. Briz Blogger said,

    May 9, 2008 at 9:04 am

    “Lindsey has never struck me as the kind of woman who would enjoy being spanked”

    – I hope you realise that image is likely to stay with me for a very, very long time. And not in a good way!

    Chz, BB

  2. Doug said,

    May 9, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Same old Swappies who’ll never, ever, learn. Before the election people like Richard Seymour were doing their usual ‘talking up’ and wildly exaggerating their prospects. And, inevitably, afterwards there was the hand wringing and genuine disbelief and despair from the deluded rank and file who believed the bullshit (again).

    I am curious to know how the LL got such a good vote in Romsey, Cambs, seemingly difficult territory i would have thought.

    On the subject of Karl Rees and Rosa German – there’s no way they’ll be removed . The cc will close ranks (as any good bureaucratic clique would) and weather any possible storm, a storm unlikely from the automatons they’ve recruited down the years, who’ll follow the cult wherever it takes them.

  3. Madam Miaow said,

    May 9, 2008 at 9:39 am

    “Lindsey has never struck me as the kind of woman who would enjoy being spanked, so it’s no wonder she was the sole candidate not to appear at the mayoral declaration.”

    So the Grand Old Duchess of York marched the troops up to the top of the hill but bottled out of marching them down again. Nuthin’ like having the courage of your convictions, innit?

    £60K for a spoiler op while Boris and the BNP sneak in. A dictionary definition of sectarianism? No, comrade: another triumph for socialism! Arm in arm the workers march ever onwards to their magnificent destiny! All praise the Glorious Leaders!

  4. Snowball said,

    May 9, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Ah yes, the rise of Boris and the BNP in London is all the fault of, er, the few thousand members of the SWP because of their supposed sectarianism. What a brilliant analysis.

    But if the SWP really are as sectarian as you suggest, then why would it have played a key role in organising the 100,000 strong LMHR Carnival in the run up to the election? As for Lindsey German’s mayoral campaign, it was the democratic decision of Respect before the split to stand in the elections with her as the candidate – it was Galloway’s and Salma Yaqoob who broke from the democratic will of the Respect membership and decided to uncritically support the ever rightwards moving Livingstone (who even decided to enlist Tony Blair for advice on winning elections!) It is worth saying that there is still no democratic structure inside of Respect Renewal – perhaps this might be an issue at some point for those who still hold onto some labour movement traditions?

  5. Snowball said,

    May 9, 2008 at 10:11 am

    So the rise of Boris and the BNP is all the fault of a few thousand SWP members? Brilliant analysis, comrades.

    As for sectarianism, why were the SWP key to organising the 100,000 strong Love Music Hate Racism Carnival during the elections?

    It might also be worth remembering the decision to stand Lindsey German for London Mayor was not taken by a power-crazed SWP central committee but a democractically convened special meeting of Respect before the split – and approved by the likes of GG and Salma Yaqoob before they decided to ignore the democratic will of the Respect membership and uncritically throw their lot in with Ken Livingstone…

  6. Clive said,

    May 9, 2008 at 11:15 am

    some very sensible points made. You are right about Respect having some way to go to be anything other than a small localised current. Our bases in east London and south Birmingham need to be used to spread out from not retreat into. There is no doubt there is lots to do and there are never going to be any ‘get rich quick schemes’ that pay off. I hope we can be a pole of attraction within the debates going on post-the-elections but until we fully resolve and place the outstanding isssues of the split behind us, create some more functioning and welcoming branches, deepen our roots in both trade unions and working class communities, etc. we will not be that attractive as ‘the’ alternative – nor should we seek to pose ourselves as such.

    Lots of work to do.

  7. May 9, 2008 at 11:24 am

    […] May Day Massacre, part 3: Perspectives for the left « Splintered Sunrise […]

  8. Anon said,

    May 9, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    The Left List results in Preston were good as a national result, but by no means locally encouraging. ‘Respect/Left List’ were the clear favourites to win the ward in Town Centre. Over 1,200 electors voted for Michael last year, and though Mukhtar could have won two years ago with the 750+ votes he attained this time round, Labour still raked in just under a hundred vote lead (increasing their vote for the third year running). Mukhtar should have won. Labour were expecting to lose. That didn’t happen.

    It should be pointed out this occurred for several reasons; Mukhtar didn’t stand as ‘Left List’ [i]or[/i] ‘Respect’ – leaving his ‘title’ completely blank. Also, no where near as many local recruits were galvanised into the campaign (last year 300+ people overrall campaigned for Michael, this year I imagine it was closer to 30). Even still, these trends would suggest more of a battle than had previously been expected for the area.

    As for ‘weathering out the storm’ – I’d have to agree with Doug that the SWP neither has the internal democratic funtions necessary to instigate a revolt against the leadership, nor a sufficiently critically minded membership to do so. It’s already reached and breached the point at which in all but the smallest minority of ‘branches’ there is zero discussion of internal Party politics and future direction of the Party (that isn’t directly inspired by the leadership’s latest turn of opinion). A movement from amongst the membership capable of critically combatting the CC’s tactics would need to be built from scratch, as would an internal culture of critical analysis.

  9. electric.avenue said,

    May 9, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    “Lindsey has never struck me as the kind of woman who would enjoy being spanked, so it’s no wonder she was the sole candidate not to appear at the mayoral declaration.”

    Euurghhh – pardon me while I barf into the waste paper basket. You seem to imply that all women are masochists who enjoy being whacked about a bit. Keep your ruddy fantasies out of political analysis.

    I think here we have the reasons why so few women become involved in politics – when things go wrong they are attacked far more virulently, and with sexual undertones, than men are.

    I’m no fan of the SWP, but all of a sudden I feel empathy with Lindsey German.

    I’m old enough to remember Bernadette Devlin, and that she was also talked about in a similar kind of way by her detractors.

    If you wouldn’t say it about a man, then don’t say it about a woman.

    Equality is what socialism is all about.

  10. Doug said,

    May 9, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    I see Snowball still buys into the fantasy of the SWP having a ‘a few thousand members’. And then the SWP airbrushing of history – that ‘democratically elected conference’, which virtually all non-SWP Respect members ignored because it was the SWP ‘pack a meeting to get what you want’ scenario again. .Jeez, these people are unbelievable. Debate and discussion with SWPers seems to be an utterly pointless waste of time since you can’t even establish ground rules for it, so different appears their whole world-view and the place of the SWP and the rest of the Left in it. They really make Healey’s WRP look like a load of old hippies.

  11. tonyc said,

    May 9, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    “As for Lindsey German’s mayoral campaign, it was the democratic decision of Respect before the split to stand in the elections with her as the candidate”

    Snowball, like so many of your comrades, you’re choosy with your democracy. It was also the democratic decision of the old Respect to re-open the question of Lindsey standing if there was a serious challenge to Livingstone.

    If you’re gonna talk about previous decisions, why not talk about all of them? So, in the spirit of questioning self-reflection, can you let me know when the issue was re-examined and what democratic body decided to still stand against Livingstone?

  12. splinteredsunrise said,

    May 9, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    If you wouldn’t say it about a man, then don’t say it about a woman.

    Oh, I’d have no hesitation saying something along those lines about the Sherriff…

  13. Madam Miaow said,

    May 9, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    electric avenue: “… when things go wrong they are attacked far more virulently, and with sexual undertones, than men are.”

    And when things go right. Heaven forfend that the little wimmin should rain on the big boys’ parade.

  14. Andy newman said,

    May 9, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    and when thing go well, and a woman is responsible, there is usually a handy man near by to make sure he gets the credit, or can pass the credit on to girlfriend number 2.

  15. Phil said,

    May 9, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    It’s true, women never get the credit they’re due. Good point, Andy.

  16. May 9, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Yeah, thanks Phil. Good illustration.

  17. Anon said,

    May 10, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Wasn’t that an intentional joke?

  18. May 11, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Part of the problem for the SWP is there activists really don’t appear to understand how much animosity their organisation inspires in activist circles. See the comments on my post on a discussion we held on the SWP’s politics. I don’t know if SWP contributors to the thread were being disingenuous or, as Alan Sugar might put it, “didn’t have a bloody clue”.

  19. harpymarx said,

    May 11, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Phil: “It’s true, women never get the credit they’re due. Good point, Andy”.

    Only just come into this discussion but yep, Madam Miaow, that definitely is a very good illustration of ‘lets hear it for the bloke’ but not the same when a woman has been saying it for so long that her vocal chords get eventually tired……..and feels invisible….


  20. Phil said,

    May 11, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    that definitely is a very good illustration of ‘lets hear it for the bloke’

    Yes, I know. That’s why I did it. It was a joke. As jokes go it may not have been very funny, but I did think it was fairly obvious.

  21. harpymarx said,

    May 11, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Phil: Things are not always “fairly obvious” in the blogosphere as so much is lost, such as humour. Transmitting humour and irony over the net is very difficult and actually a lot of the time impossible. Hence misunderstandings and more misunderstandings.


  22. splinteredsunrise said,

    May 12, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Yeah, I fairly often have the experience of writing something with tongue in cheek and then having someone take it literally… maybe we need to stick in a 😉 for the benefit of of the more literalist reader.

  23. Madam Miaow said,

    May 12, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Oh no! No emoticons. Lefties should live or die by our sense of humour, comrades. Who says we we ain’t got one? (Good one, Phil. Just this once …

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