Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Dissecting No2EU

The results are in and the debates on No2EU have begun in earnest. The platform's 153,236 votes (one per cent of total cast) is well within the percentage range one can typically expect from a far left challenge in Britain. Taken together with the vote achieved by the phantom SLP, the SSP, SPGB and Peace Party 2009's 350,339 votes (2.3%) is barely any progress on 2004's 343,424 aggregate votes (2.1%). A factor complicating the picture is the character of the No2EU vote. We've already discussed the complexity of the vote for unambiguous socialist organisations and the same will be doubly true of No2EU. Because of the slate's relative lack of profile, it is quite likely a fair proportion of voters put their cross next to us on the basis of our name while being ignorant of the politics of the coalition. Therefore it is difficult to say if No2EU has much of a 'base' to build on.

This problem is directly traceable to how No2EU came into being. I first got wind of talks with the
RMT in February and it wasn't until 18th March the coalition was formally announced. Then there was another period of waiting before the candidate lists were arrived at, which didn't help the already tiny campaigning window, and more waiting for national material. It was all very ad hoc and quite amateurish up until the last few weeks before the election, but even then it continued to creep in - for example No2EU's web presence wasn't utilised to the full, which is unforgivable when you consider its prominence in the election broadcast and claims it was attracting 10,000 visitors a day. Much effort was put in but the rushed last minute launch was a big mistake. If you want to be serious about electoral politics you have to play the long game.

The other down side of No2EU's genesis was its top down nature. The
Socialist Party was only invited in after the name and the substance of the platform had largely been predetermined. One can understand why the RMT and Communist Party weren't keen to have the SWP and sundry ultra-lefts on board after their behaviour over the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike (though to be fair to the SWP, their position was more nuanced than some of its online advocates would have you believe), but it was a mistake in my opinion - especially when the RMT and CPB held all the cards and there was zero chance of No2EU being hijacked. What would have been lost by the addition of hundreds of activists, more resources, and Britain's highest circulating socialist weekly giving No2EU their support?

There was another political price to pay for its top down nature: it unnecessarily alienated many among the hundreds of active independent socialists across Britain. You can undersatnd why large numbers of them would question why they should get involved when they have very little say over the campaign's strategy and policies.

Politically, if you compare No2EU to previous far left electoral coalitions it did not differ too much, though one could see the impression left by the CPB's
British Road to Socialism. But all that could be lived with. The most serious political mistake was the stated refusal of elected No2EU representatives to take their seats. The call for a workers' representatives on workers' wages is a good populist point at the best of times and would have helped differentiate No2EU from the rest had the expenses scandal not broke. But to stubbornly cling to the initial position, leaving the SP and Solidarity to unilaterally declare that their No2EU candidates would take their seats but not the full salary when it was the big story of this election was an utterly unnecessary own goal. It probably wouldn't have made much difference to the outcome because of the pinched campaign, but it certainly would have if the coalition had pulled together earlier and had already made the workers' wage a clear plank of the platform.

The No2EU experience was not all negative. Despite political weaknesses it did represent a left wing critique of the European Union and did manage to get its message into millions of homes. In many areas working relationships between comrades from the RMT, CPB and SP were established where previously there were none, and these proceeded without the rancour and the bickering that bedeviled the old Socialist Alliance. For a layer of workers disillusioned with
Labour and were preparing to vote UKIP or the BNP out of protest, No2EU provided a left alternative. But most significant of all was the fact Britain's most militant trade union took those vital first steps into electoral politics. The SP were absolutely right to accept the invitation to join No2EU, despite its problems and disadvantages, if only to assist the RMT. And it is a decision that has paid off - already Bob Crow has indicated here and elsewhere the RMT's support for unified left action and electoral activity in the future. There is talk of a convention coming together soon to discuss this issue in which unions, left groups and interested others can decide how to proceed in the run up to the general election.

Judged on votes counted alone, No2EU was a failure. But it was never just about the votes, it was part of the process of refounding and renewing working class political representation in Britain. No2EU was the vehicle through which the RMT became committed to that project, and that ultimately is how it will be remembered.


Dave Riley said...

Irish SWP call for left unity after Joe Higgins elected as MEP

Phil BC said...

Just thought I'd sneak this comment in from Jacqui about the No2EU campaign in Medway (originally posted on Socialist Unity):

well, in Medway- where the socialist party hasn't stood in an election in 15 years- we did pretty well. The greens beat us by a long way, but we polled ahead of the SLP.

For us it was about bringing the groups involved in the coalition together at local level and laying a foundation for the future.

We polled 3 times the RESPECT vote in the area for 2004, which i think is significant- we had no MPs, no money, we had been in existence for a matter of weeks and most of us had not been involved in an election campaign before.

For us locally it was relatively successful- and i think nationally the initiative has opened up concrete debates within the trade union movement about working class representation which goes beyond the level of discussions which have taken place before.

Michael said...

"The most serious political mistake was the stated refusal of elected No2EU representatives to take their seats. "

The bans and proscriptions left-nationalism and lack of democracy were the most serious political mistakes! This whole marxists pretending to be Old Labour thing is just awful. What did marxists used to say abour our absolute opposistionalism being our first strength?

Its interesting that ever since the fall of the stalinist states the differences between the Stalinists and the Trots are now fundamentally nil on so many important questions. I.E they're all agreed that the last thing we need is a serious united marxist party, and instead tail the labour bureaucracy, flit from one single issue to then next, imitate Old Labour in elections and call for new labour parties.

Charlie Marks said...

No2EU suffered the same problem as Respect in the 2004 Euros in that it was not established well in advance - and so there was something of a rushed feel about it. Two steps forward, one step back.

In my view a greater impact could have been made if the SP, the CP, and the RMT had engaged in a tactical campaign of backing the Greens, who had a chance of doubling their tally of MEPs and thus blocking the BNP. I'm not saying No2EU was responsible for either failure, mind.

The experience of people who are mostly in agreement working together will hopefully leave a lasting impression on people - it's something that in future must be done more broadly.

skidmarx said...

Hopefully any coming together of left forces in the future might be less top-down than NO2EU.
Looking at the previous thread, it seems clear that differences on the nature of the far-right and how to fight it are going to continue to remain noticeable between the SP and SWP. Hopefully if there are any unity-styley developments, those differences can be addressed in a comradely way, because they aren't just going to vanish. As it happens I happen to agree with the SWP's perspective on this but don't have the inclination to rehash it all now, go and find someone in the SWP and discuss it with them politely if that is your wont.

bob said...

Good posts, lots of food for thought.

The refusing to take a seat issue most certainly was not the biggest problem. The biggest problem electorally was without doubt the lack of brand recognition due to the ridiculously late launch - you can't get a serious electoral force going in little more than 2 months.

Politically, the Eurosceptic name might have gained a few votes from confused UKIP types, but that's a more crowded electoral market than socialism, so I don't think that helped. (Leaving aside the reactionary Little England implications that put off many lefties...)

On election day, as we were going to vote, I asked my other half, who is not political but does listen to the Radio 4 news most days and glance over the newspaper headlines, what she thought of No2Eu. To my suprise, she'd not even heard of it. And we live 2 streets away from one of Lewisham's Socialist Party councillors.

Phil BC said...

Hi there Michael, how is that project of building a simon pure revolutionary party with ever so correct principles coming along?

Phil BC said...

I know where you're coming from, Charlie. I'm all for making links with the Green Left inside the party and those other socialists outside it, but (and there's always a but) I know other comrades might not be so keen for a variety of reasons.

Skidders, there is a difference of approach in this question between the two organisations, but I don't think the bridge is insurmountable. I remember an unnamed comrade on an unremembered blog discussion likening the political approach of the SWP on this as trying to create a broad shield to fend off the fascist blows. But what we lack is the sword so we can successfully strike back. That sword is building a socialist alternative, which has been the approach favoured by the SP. The two can work together.

Tbh I'm sure most SWP comrades know that building don't vote Nazi campaigns won't see the BNP off. Likewise most SP comrades would accept that has its place.