The “Radical Left” in the British General Elections

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The British elections ended with the predictable result: Labour had significant losses, the Tories significant gains although not as many as they had expected. The LibDems on the other hand – who had thought they could cash in on a media-generated “Cleggstasy” failed to turn this phantom into reality. In the end they however managed to make a deal with the Tories and are now in a coalition government with them.

After three terms of Labour rule, and amidst a fierce economic crisis, the electorate was expected to turn against New Labour, but if they would want to turn to the Conservatives or the LibDems was a given only in terms of the existing three party system in the UK.
It would have seemed to be a perfect opportunity for those on the “radical” left who are still fetishising electoralism to present a “left of Labour” alternative. Unfortunately this seems to be the rule with the exception of anarchists and left communists who reject the participation in elections on principle.

An electoral “left of Labour” project has been on the agenda of many of the “radical” parties and groups for many years. The most “promising” outcome so far has been the Socialist Alliance which stood candidates in the 2001 general election. This coalition of AWL, CPGB, SWP, SPEW, Workers Power and several other groups was de facto wound down by its strongest member, the SWP, when they – thinking they could generate political capital out of the anti-Iraq-war movement – entered into a new alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain (the British section of the Muslim Brotherhood) and the notorious George Galloway under the name Respect the Unity Coalition. In the following general election Galloway won a seat for Respect.

When the SWP and the Galloway wing of Respect finally split apart the situation of the far left electoral fronts didn’t improve. The credibility of any such project had suffered considerably by the reactionary opportunism of the Respect project. The SWP tried to salvage the situation by an apparent move to the left (or back to basics), and internally this was instituted by the ousting of John Rees from the Central Committee. While Rees was no doubt a leading figure in the Respect debacle, the other members of the CC were just as guilty and it appears that he was supposed to serve as the sacrifice that was going to re-identify the SWP with itself.

In the meantime a “Left of Labour” front was created by SPEW, Bob Crow (RMT), the CPB and others on a left nationalist (“eurosceptic”) ticket for the 2009 election to the European Parliament as “No2EU – Yes to Democracy”. Of course nationalist bigots don’t need such a party, they might as well vote BNP (who had two MEP’s elected, No2EU had none).
In the run up to the 2010 general election there was much talk in the papers and discussions of the various small parties and sects about forming another type of Socialist Alliance, with the fear being widely expressed that it could just turn out to be a “Son of No2EU”.

This became partly true with TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which was dominated by SPEW and included the SWP, support from the RMT, but did not include the CPB. It also did not include the various smaller far left groups such as the AWL, CPGB (Weekly Worker), Workers Power, Permanent Revolution etc.

Prominent members Dave Nellist and Tommy Sheridan came out of the election with modest results of 3.7% and 2.9% respectively. But with very few exceptions most candidates were hovering around the 0.5% mark. This is a lot less than what the Socialist Alliance had achieved in 2001. TUSC was a failure.

Respect was also standing some candidates and did better in some districts, although they failed to win any seats (Galloway was standing in a different district than the one he was MP for and came third). The Socialist Worker (SWP paper) website interestingly featured the Respect results under the results for “socialist” candidates, but not the results of other far left groups. What is supposed to be socialist about Respect is unclear, except that possibly the SWP wants to keep a back door open for future alliances.

There were some other parties with questionable reputation such as the Socialist Labour Party, which was standing 24 candidates, and the Workers Revolutionary Party, which was standing 7 candidates.

Three of the smallest, more radical groups were also standing a candidate each:

Workers Power candidate Jeremy Drinkall (standing under “Anticapitalists – Workers Power”) came second to last (out of 9) in Vauxhall with 109 votes, only beating the candidate of the Animal Protection Party (96 votes).

Alliance For Workers Liberty candidate Jill Mountford came last in Camberwell and Peckham with just 75 votes (Turnout: 46,659), clearly beaten by two other “far left” candidates from the WRP and the SLP (211 and 184 votes respectively).

In Manchester Central, the Socialist Equality Party were standing their candidate who received an appalling 54 votes and came last behind the WRP candidate who received 59 votes (Turnout here was 39,927).

To call these results “poor” would be flattering.
It simply documents the tragic-comical situation that these groups fetishize the system of bourgeois democracy enough to use it to display their impotence, when the reasonable alternative would be to build a communist movement not participating but denouncing and fighting politics.
But living in their Leninist cloud cuckoo land these organizations are unwilling, incapable and generally unable to make the necessary steps to become revolutionaries. Their lip service to communism only does damage to the project of universal emancipation as they time and again prove that all they are capable of is to act as the “left wing of capital”.
Those sincere revolutionaries tied up in these sects should leave them as soon as possible and contribute to a regroupment that leaves the mystifications of Leninist bourgeois politics behind.

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  • 1 Darren // May 18, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    “Workers Power candidate Jeremy Drinkall (standing under “Anticapitalists – Workers Power”) came second to last (out of 9) in Vauxhall with 109 votes, only beating the candidate of the Animal Protection Party (96 votes).”

    The SPGB also put up a candidate in Vauxhall.

    Friends and foes alike could say many things about the SPGB, but they don’t fall into the category of the “left wing of capital”.

    Maybe that’s why they didn’t merit a mention.

  • 2 History is Made at Night // May 19, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Yes, the ‘far left’ vote was very poor. My sense was that they weren’t even trying, in this election a lot of left minded people were mainly preoccupied with trying to prevent a Conservative victory. Many people voted Labour not out of any real support for them, but because they viewed the Conservatives to be a more immediate threat to them since they had promised to make deep, immediate cuts in public spending. In this context smaller parties generally did even more badly than usual as many people felt that they couldn’t afford the luxury of voting for them if this risked Tories winning.

    The effect was carried over to the local council elections held on the same day. In Lewisham, where I live, the Socialist Party had two councillors and the Green Party six. After the election the SP had none and the Greens one – Labour took all these council seats.

  • 3 datacide // May 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    To Darren: The SPGB isn’t one of the Leninist groups I was aiming to criticize in particular, however I guess I should have mentioned them as well as I can’t see any revolutionary use of their participation in elections either. Their result was only marginally better than that of Worker’s Power. (I wasn’t being really complete anyway – there was a candidate of a group called Communist League somewhere else who just got 48 votes, which I think was the worst far left result in the GE)

    I consciously used the term “left wing of capital” in quotation marks and as a polemical device (borrowing it from the ultra-left).
    Even within the Trotskyist field there are quite different groups, some more reasonable, others pretty wretched. But even the more reasonable ones (and that’s a small minority) are caught in an ideology of the past which is a nostalgia for Bolshevism and Old Labour at the same time. The terrible debacle of this election should make them critically analyze their own impotence, but it’s more likely that they will just repeat their mistakes and think it’s a triumph for the working class if they get a few dozen more votes next time (or if they call for a Labour vote and Labour wins).

    To HIMAN: Writing this from a (geographical) distance I can’t judge how hard the various groups tried in their respective districts. I would have thought they would focus their organizations “might” on the few places where they stood.
    I think your comment is correct if we look at the whole country – that the far left apparently wasn’t even trying, and that many of their potential voters chose Labour to keep the Tories out – however most far left groups stood candidates in safe Labour seats and still got appalling results. I assume that – e.g. – Vauxhall and Camberwell & Peckham were chosen because the organisations thought they could achieve respectable results without endangering a Labour victory. But if they used it as a microcosm/biotope then they certainly failed, and if they just stood candidates for the sake of it, then they failed too.

  • 4 Disliker of individualism (N London) // Jun 29, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    As someone in strong sympathy with the libertarian communism discussed through datacide, as well as considerable weariness and skepticism with both the SWP and Labour, I must take strong exception with your slamming of the No2EU coalition, and ask you to explain what you mean by it further. I voted No2EU, not because it is easier to spot on the paper than BNP as you seem to imply, but as an anti-capitalist protest vote, a million miles away from the racist politics of UKIP, Tories and the Labour right. If the European Union is not a right wing, anti-worker platform then I don’t know what is. (Having said that, if that election ran again, I admit I wouldn’t have bothered)

    I understand that Datacide represents an anti-election ticket and respect your opinion, but I must take exception to the macho posturing that equates the CPB to the far right.

    I reckon you’ve probably been listening to too much rubbish Breakcore and should stick to the Detroit sound!

    Seriously though, your commentary is unsatisfactory and I would appreciate a less cynical and nihilistic explanation of your perspective.

  • 5 Disliker of individualism (N London) // Jun 30, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Having re-read the article I now feel a bit silly as I have badly misinterpreted what it said, however the point remains that it’s doubtful from my point of view that the No2EU coalition had an immediate aim to siphon off votes from far right sympathisers.

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