English local elections Labour, the BNP and the left

Buoyed by the intense racist witch hunt of asylum seekers led by the Labour government and its media allies such as The Sun, Daily Mail and The Express, the BNP announced it would stand candidates in over 200 council wards in the 1 May council elections. It also sought to capitalise on local despair at Labour’s record. The reality for many on white working class ghetto estates is deepening poverty, neglect, Labour council cuts, corruption and incompetence. They can see how under Labour the gap between rich and poor has widened, and how levels of child poverty have increased. With so little, they envy any help that goes to asylum seekers and refugees, or to the minority ethnic communities, even though this help is also a pittance. To such people who have no one to represent their interests, the demagoguery of the BNP has a terrible appeal.

Labour’s response is to emphasise even more the racism of its own policies – how tough it is on refugees and asylum seekers, how tough it is on working class youth and how intolerant it is of all political protest. Labour are the official racists, the BNP the unofficial racists who can be used as an auxiliary arm of the state should it be necessary.

Rather than confront the racism of the Labour Party, however, the left chose to duck the issue and call for an ‘anti-Nazi’ vote. The Anti-Nazi League (ANL) issued a national leaflet headlined ‘Don’t vote Nazi’ – although its content had nothing to say to those who might contemplate supporting the BNP. Instead it was an appeal to Labour voters to turn out and vote for their local Labour candidate since there was only a handful of wards where the Socialist Alliance was prepared to battle it out direct with the BNP: ‘No matter what problems we face’, its opening paragraph argued, ‘the Nazi British National Party is not the solution. No matter how fed up we are with our local council and the government, we can’t let the Nazis pose as the respectable alternative. On 1 May, election day, we must turn out in massive numbers and vote against the Nazis’.

Nowhere did the ANL mention the Labour Party, even though it was clear that a BNP vote would be a protest against Labour. If we are to believe the ANL, then even if we are ‘fed up’ with our Labour council, ‘fed up’ with the Labour government, we must still dutifully turn out ‘in massive numbers’ to vote for the racist, anti-working class Labour Party so that it can carry on making us ‘fed up’. What a statement of absolute political futility!

The strategy of the ANL and the Socialist Alliance was a washout. In Burnley, a higher than national average turnout elected seven BNP councillors, giving it a total of eight and making the BNP the second largest party in the council. In Oldham, BNP leader Nick Griffin was amongst ten BNP candidates. None of them won, but most came second in their wards. ANL posters plastered around Oldham portraying Griffin as Hitler didn’t stop 993 people voting for him, second after the Labour candidate who got 1,684 votes. The Socialist Alliance itself stood four candidates; all got derisory votes. In the one ward where it challenged the BNP directly, Chadderton South, Socialist Alliance came last with 30 votes whilst the BNP was second with 773 votes. In Burnley the Socialist Alliance stood two candidates: both faced BNP candidates and both came last with 38 and 96 votes respectively. Nationally the Socialist Alliance stood 161 candidates. Most received less than 100 votes. In one Manchester ward, Meriden, it managed only 14 votes, in another, it got just 12! Out of 161 candidates, only one Socialist Alliance candidate won; only one other polled more than 20% of the vote.

FRFI has consistently argued we cannot fight racism and the rise of fascist ideas if we do not confront British imperialism, the racism of the British state and the Labour Party. Any other strategy is doomed to failure. It is the Labour Party in government and running local councils that is in reality creating the conditions for the rise of fascist support. The BNP portrays itself as being against the corruption of Labour at local and national level. The pro-Labour Party strategy of the Socialist Alliance reinforces the BNP’s credibility as anti-establishment and capable of fighting in the interests of the white working class.

On 15 February, two million turned out to demonstrate against war on Iraq. Ten weeks later, the electoral achievement of the Socialist Alliance is just one council seat! What a spectacular achievement! Tied to the Labour Party, the left has completely squandered this historic opportunity. This has not prevented Socialist Worker from speaking of ‘breakthroughs for socialists’ and ‘socialist election successes’ in its analysis of the elections. The fact is that the electoral strategy of the SWP and their left allies is a complete farce and reveals their political bankruptcy. They are more interested in relating to the interests of sections of the Labour Party than to the interests of the working class and oppressed, and in consequence will build nothing.

The alternative won’t come through electoral politics but through the creation of an anti-racist, anti-imperialist and anti-Labour movement, a movement that can represent the interests of the poor, working class and oppressed and link their struggles here with the struggles of the oppressed worldwide against imperialism. The only choice for the left during the elections was to say no to Labour, no the BNP, and to organise the fightback.

Bob Shepherd

Scottish elections
SSP refuses to challenge Labour

On 1 May, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) won six seats in the Scottish parliament, one less than the Greens. The election saw Labour’s vote fall as it lost six seats, ending up with 50. The SNP too was a loser, down eight seats to 27. With only half the eligible voters taking part, the SSP received 128,026 votes in the regional lists which are derived from the ‘second vote’ system of proportional representation, or 7.68% of the total.

Although at first sight the SSP’s result was impressive, the fact is that at no point in the election contest did the SSP campaign on the principled basis of demanding a ‘no’ vote for the Labour imperialists – the only basis on which any electoral intervention by socialists and anti-imperialists would have been acceptable. Far from it: the SSP deliberately avoided such a challenge by encouraging Labour voters to vote for the SSP with their second vote. Thus its leader Tommy Sheridan urged ‘every Labour voter in Scotland to give us their second vote’ (SSP website 30 April). He went even further, saying ‘I would appeal to Labour voters: even if you want to vote for your local MSP, give us your second vote, as a second vote for Labour would be wasted’.

In Dundee the SSP candidate withdrew from the election in favour of a sitting Labour MSP, John McAllion, getting a free run in a marginal constituency. He was described by the SSP as a ‘socialist’ who, because of his anti-war stance, merited this selfless leg-up from other socialists. As evidenced above, the SSP do not actually oppose Labour. They were in the business here of flogging Labour bundled together with the Scottish Socialist Party. The electorate could have it both ways: vote for the war party and the anti- war party at the same time!

On 15 February, as part of the massive wave of international protest against war, 500,000 people marched on the Scottish Labour Party conference in Glasgow. This was 10% of the entire Scottish population, and an even greater proportion of the potential electorate. However, what is clear from the election results is that Labour’s support for the war did not alienate its voting base amongst well-off workers and the state-employed middle class. The refusal of the SSP to take up the challenge to Labour was crucial in letting Labour off the hook. The SSP’s endorsement of Labour has set back the struggle for socialism, central to which is complete opposition to imperialism and, in this particular and violent context, complete opposition to British imperialism and the Labour Party.

By contrast the Lothian Muslim Voting Committee was explicit and forthright in urging Muslims to vote tactically to oust Labour MSPs in protest at the war, whilst a pre-election FBU poll in Scotland showed that only 1% of members would vote Labour as compared to 63% in 1999 (quoted in Socialist Voice 24 April). This shows how sections of the working class were more advanced than the SSP in their understanding of the Labour Party. The SSP is now completely committed to a parliamentary strategy; it hopes to win 150-200 seats at the next council elections, ‘helping us to sink deep roots in every community in Scotland’. New Labour in Scotland will have its own Old Labour opponent: an SSP for whom anti-imperialist principles are to be sloughed off whenever it is an electoral necessity.

Michael MacGregor

FRFI 173 June / July 2003


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