Friday 24 July 2009

No2EU: What Next?

The bones of No2EU have been picked over by practically everyone on the far left (except for the Socialist Workers' Party, who've maintained a conspicuous silence about it). But what's going to happen next? Will the coalition be scattered to the four winds, leaving each of its components to sort out their own arrangements for the general election? Or, as was hoped, No2EU would result in a commitment to working together to produce something that can be a pole of attraction for all the left?

Thankfully, the news Dave Nellist brought from Monday's national steering committee meeting to the West Midlands gathering of No2EU on Tuesday night was very positive.

At the steering committee all the components of the coalition endorsed further action. The
Communist Party said they were preparing to stand candidates as part of their Unity for Peace and Socialism alliance with members of other 'official' CPs domiciled in Britain but wanted to work with its No2EU partners and others.

In the immediate term the steering committee appointed a working group that will report back in September. Its remit is to come up with an alternative name and a basic programmatic document that can be added to later. In addition, another union besides the RMT will be present at the September meeting and committee members will be talking to the leaderships of a further four unions about their participation.

Dave finished his report by noting that our electoral challenge needs to be properly organised - we cannot afford to adopt a cavalier approach to these things. What is certain is millions of voters will be afloat thanks to the collapse of Labour's electoral support. If we are to claim some of that and start building a mass alternative we have to get out into communities with our socialist message now.

Unsurprisingly there was a good deal of discussion. Yours truly welcomed Dave's report after fearing the worst (I had heard mutterings the RMT were only going to be prepared to endorse certain candidates from the sidelines) and asked if the SWP had been approached or were in contact with No2EU. Pete McLaren of the rump Socialist Alliance felt enthused about the developments. He also called for the SWP to be involved because they are significant and said we should debate out the programme on the basis of a mutually acceptable platform. Its guiding method should be on the 80 per cent the far left agrees on and not let the 20 per cent or so we disagree about be a barrier to working together.

Dave Church of Walsall Democratic Labour Party argued we were in danger of going around in a circle if we just chase after elections. We need to be more consistent and seek roots in our communities. He also added that we need to be modest. We all know we'll be fighting to keep deposits rather than seats, but we need also be clear that regardless whether Labour or the Tories win the next election, the working class will lose.

Dave Griffiths of Coventry Socialist Party argued we need to be patient when we're working together. An open debate about the nature of the coalition and its programme is necessary and all left groups should be drawn into the process. But at this stage its
de facto federal character should be preserved, so no one component can dominate. Dave was also cautious about the SWP - in light of what happened in the SA and Respect, he hoped to see some more signs of cooperative intent from them first.

Replying to Dave, Clive from Coventry SWP said the presence of himself and another member showed their serious intent. Because Labour is dying on its feet, there is a degree of urgency to all our unity proceedings. He thought there was a wind of change blowing through the trade union movement and what we need to do is give it an electoral expression that in turn can feed into workplace struggles. Alastair from Birmingham SWP said his party found the No2EU name problematic but that our enemies are a greater danger than we are to each other.

Summing up Dave Nellist said the SWP and No2EU had not spoken directly, but bilateral talks between them and the SP had started. On the question of programme, the CPB signaled that the
People's Charter would be pushed by them as the core programme for the coalition (a programme few but only the most chemical pure "revolutionaries" would have problem with as the basis of a left alliance). Dave also said he would like to see the coalition sit down with localised defenders of public services who already have some representation - people like Wigan's Community Action Party and the Socialist Peoples Party in Barrow. But they're only going to come on board any sort of left formation if they feel they have a say in its development. For example, back in the (mark one) Socialist Alliance the SP took a maximum of 40% of its leading positions, despite having the numbers to run it as a straight front group. If we try to hector and dominate localised campaigns when they become part of the coalition, they'll be out the door in five minutes. Therefore we need to exercise self-denying ordinance.

In sum, it's certainly looking positive. There will be something concrete on the table by the end of the Summer, which will be open to debate and modification. There is a commitment to having a more open coalition. The RMT are still on board and at least one other union is interested.

No2EU may not have set the world of electoral politics alight. But as has been constantly pointed out on this blog from the beginning, regardless of its faults it was part of a process that was going to go beyond the European elections. What this meeting did was to offer a glimpse of the far left realignment to come. There have been better times to be a socialist, but the one we live in is going to get more interesting.


Proper Tidy said...

Excellent news!

Simon said...

Do you know who this "other" union is? The FBU perhaps? It's excellent news anyway.

Charlie Marks said...

Good to see that SP comrades see their role as enabling a coalition of campaigns - 'leading by obeying' as it's known in parts of latin america.

Something tells me that the CPB, having one foot in the Labour party, will be more focused on the People's Charter which is non-party in focus.

I think this is the correct focus - I don't see the structure of a new workers party emerging within the next few months, and if (as is likely) the core demands of the charter will be adopted by this new formation.

There's no mention in yr article of Respect or the Green Left. I assume this is not deliberate?

Simon said...

As a member of the CPB, I certainly look forward to developments over the next few months. There is definatly a grouping within the party who would oppose the formation of any permenant new party/coalition on the grounds of opposing a split in the labour movement. However, if multiple unions are considering their involvement in the coalition their position will become much less stable, as the split is inevitable whatever position we take.

Dave Riley said...

Is No2EU an original? What history exists for electoral left coalitions -- as distinct from parties -- in the UK?

However, given the plethora of groups and No2EU's history -- with the coming together, whose likely to be frozen out?

Eddie Truman said...

I spent 13 years as a member of Militant from 1983 and one of our principles was democracy in the movement, an end to stitched up deals and agreements by leaderships behind the backs of members.
Where is the democracy in No2EU ?
There is none, it is entirely in the hands of Bob Crow and the CPB with the Socialist Party thrown a few crumbs, channelled of course via... your own leadership.

Mark P said...


I realise that on this subject as on many others you aren't remotely serious in your questions but are acting primarily as an embittered, factionally motivated, hack. However, other people may be interested in your question or misled by your portrayal, so its worth answering.

No2EU was a coalition of organisation, temporarily around an election campaign. Its organisational structure was exactly that: a coalition of organisations. Its internal democracy was the internal democracy of those organisations. Which of course varies between those organisations. It was not intended as a permanent political party and in fact it was born just barely before the elections it was intended for. In those circumstances its structure was entirely appropriate - and indeed about the only one possible.

What comes out of that process is a different issue. The organisations which were involved in No2EU have every right to discuss their future plans together, which is what is going on at the moment. Those organisations have some recent record of working together on a common project and they are, rightly, interested in seeing what their No2EU allies see as the way forward.

The Socialist Party is of the view that a more permanent, more politically rounded out, alliance should be the next step. If such a project is to emerge, it will certainly have to have a different structure to that of No2EU. It should still be federal in nature - as the groups involved will in all likelihood be very different from each other - but there shouldn't be bans and proscriptions and a fully democratic grassroots involvement will have to be nurtured.

Not that any of this should concern you anyway, Eddie. No matter what structure is adopted, or what policies, you and the rest of the pathetic, embittered, SSP rump will refuse to be involved on the simple grounds that Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement will be there.

Phil said...

I'd best not say who the unions are at this stage, Simon - not sure if it's info that needs to be quiet at this stage, so best err on the side of caution.

Charlie, Respect did get a brief mention thanks to a contribution from a Socialist Resistance supporter. I hope they become part of the coalition - watch this space. As for the Green Left they were not mentioned by name - I think that relationship will have to be visited when things are more concrete. I'm sure those comrades will be watching developments.

Dave, you could argue the SA and Respect were coalitions, albeit coalitions with a life - to varying degrees - independent of its organised components. For a coalition formed to just fight elections, there is the Socialist Green Unity Coalition which had a steering committee and very little else. This involved the SP, AWL, rump SA and a few others. But I don't think a comparison of that with No2EU can be sustained.

Neil Williams said...

Well this all sounds very positive, especiely the union involvement. The Peoples Charter clearly is a good starting point that almost all on the Left can agree around.

Its important that things get moving and an agreement made for the early autumn as the name and programme needs to be established against the expected media blackout we normely see.

I can assure you that many in Respect (even if not all) are waiting for such a development as this (its what we were set up for in the first place)so please do invite us formely to the planning meeting so that details can be reported back and voted on at the Respect National Council (there is a motion about this to be voted on at the September Respect NC which was postponed from the July meeting).

For myself I think it is essential that the SWP are part of this from the beginning. The more united we are around a basic programme such as the Peoples Charter the better.

Neil Williams
Respect National Council

Eddie Truman said...

Mark P, people don't need to take my word for the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of No2EU, here is Tommy Sheridan's press officer Hugh Kerr on the matter;
"For a slate that had Yes to Democracy as part of its platform this initiative was launched in a remarkably undemocratic manner. A small group of like minded anti-EU individuals and groups came together with, crucially, Bob Crow of the RMT. This group proclaimed their platform and their title in February and invited a few more small socialist groups who were happy to get involved and excluded anyone who raised awkward questions about the title or the programme or the tactics."
You can read is astonishing demolition of the platform here...

As I said previously, I think the most astonishing thing about the CWI's involvement in No2EU is the extent to which they have ditched decades of principle regarding democracy in the movement in favour of a shortcut, a major error.

Dave Riley said...

Actually , despite my distance I have learnt a bit from monitoring the No2EU project and I think it has relevance to what may unfold here in Australia.

Given the nature of Labourism and where trade unionism is at in imperialist countries in the era of neo liberalism -- as unions break from the Labour Parties they are more than likely pursue formats like No2EU rather than something more open, democratic,accountable and partyish. Here, trade unionism has been turned into a sort of corporatist exercise these last 25 years and even the ranks don't have much say over what goes on just as the shop steward networks have collapsed as union coverage has fallen.

So despite the discontent with the Australian Labor Party, break outs are likely to be controlled and selective exercises engineered to pressure Labor in key seats while also backing non ALP campaigns such as Greens and Socialist Alliance candidates(as happened at the last federal election).

Despite that, what does the left do when a trade union or trade unions seek an alliance for electoral purposes or seek to run their own candidates? You can't turn you back on it and say well stuff you, it's not good enough.

So how do you turn what may be draw backs into a tactical advantage? But an advantage to what ends? What does this socialist left want -- an ab hoc electoral coalition engendered as a knee jerk to the BNP trotted out as needed or a new party it can begin to merge with?

You tell me. I'm just an onlooker.

Here we have decided to support trade union initiated candidates and relate actively to any campaigns that may be instigated. The complication is that you really want these campaigns to succeed as it suggests a direction towards more independent political action. You also want these campaigns to be engaging and involving so that the socialist left can work along side trade union activists -=- especially any drawn out of the Labour milieu by the campaign. But what future has such a partnership if the exercise is top down -- regardless of what may be possible electoral success?

This is where the British and Australian left can be stymied if it remains caught up in its separate existences. While an exercise like this may function as an excuse to regroup outside the ranks of individual affiliated organisations it has to serve more than that but won't if that's all it remains.

So I gotta identify with the conundrum the SP may be facing over this in regard to the opportunity and the prospect despite the present format. But as I say, if the SP panders to proscriptions what may be a 2010 advantage will soon enough loose its sheen. Australian electoral and unity politics has been littered with the wreckage of proscription clauses.

Denzil said...

I've just taken my first look at the People's Charter: its good, but I'm not sure about 'free heating for pensioners'. It doesn't sound very green, as its would probably lead to waste. Perhaps, a better policy would be for an immediate increase in the state pension to reduce fuel poverty.

Mark P said...


The Socialist Party has said expressly and repeatedly that it is not in favour of bans or proscriptions against any genuine left or workers organisations.

Paul said...

Of course the alternative argument, Phil, is that you should all join the Labour party now, and take it over in lots of places.

You know your history.

The time to join the Labour party was in the late 1970s when it was both needing renewal and wax open to it. Now is that time again, but you need not make the mistakes of the 1970's/early 80s entryists, not least because you know your history, and understand the primacy of class.

I don't expect you to agree, because you will say the LP is too degenerate to bother with, but take a moment to look at it, its infrastructure, its remaining membership, and remember that thinking about entryism in 2 years time, as you may do, may be two years too late.

Dave Riley said...

Mark P: The Socialist Party has said expressly and repeatedly that it is not in favour of bans or proscriptions against any genuine left or workers organisations.

Aren't we all? But when push comes to shove what do you do? Pull out?

I guess my point is that if what was at stake was indeed moving in a unity direction you don't put all your eggs in the one basket.

Because if this project fails or it develops in a warped direction you're stuck with wearing the consequences.

The root problem in the UK -- as
John Nicholson reminds us -- is not absence of opportunity.

Communist said...

Left unity around the People's Charter would be a positive step and I think it's achievable, certainly among the main "marxist" left groups, and with the right "pitch" it could win strong trade union support too.
But would the Greens back it? As a longstanding political party in their own right - and one which is more electorally successful than the marxist left - what's in it for them?
Maybe the best that can be expected vis-a-vis the Greens, might be some kind of "non-agression" deal?

Simon said...

The Greens have been reluctant to hold themselves to any electoral pact in the past.

Neil Williams said...

"But would the Greens back it? As a longstanding political party in their own right - and one which is more electorally successful than the marxist left - what's in it for them?"

Now this is very questionable depite the "big up" that you may read on certain web sites. The Greens did not do as well in their first Euro election as did NO2EU in its first, in the 2009 Euro election which was not quite such a bad result considering the few weeks it had to get organised and with such an aweful name.

The Greens failed to stop the BNP in the North West in the Euro elections (despite much talk of how well they were going to do)and came 5th in the Norwich North bi-election (despite talk from the Greens of a clear 3rd or even 2nd place). On both occasions the traditonal Labour voters did not turn to the Greens as an alternative (they stayed at home)and I dont think they ever will. They have no MP's and I doubt they will win any on thier own in 2010 whatever you may read about Brighton, Norwich etc. Yes they have Coucncillors but thats as far as it goes - so do other Left parties.

The Greens have become a depository for a "new Liberal" protest vote by some and even an "anti politics" vote by students hence their support in student towns such as Brighton, Norwich and Manchester. Their support and active base is time and again over estimated by some on the Left (who should know better and do more research)who are attracted by a Socialist perpective inside the Green Party rather than the Greens being part of a wider Socialist coalition/alliance.

Do the majority of Greens consider themselves Socialists? I think not and so far the Greens have never stood aside for another party and nor are they showing much interest in Left unity other than other parties standing aside for them that is.

This over estimation of the Greens and their prospects is a very dangerous current of thought amoungst some on the Left as its implies we do not need a new Socailist Party to replace Labour nor do we need Unity of the Left to achieve it - all we need ot do is build the so called progressive Green Party (just look at their record in Ireland and Germany when in power). The Greens are not socialists have no intention of being socialists and never will be a socialist Party despite some very good people who may be current members.

Charlie Marks said...

"Do the majority of Greens consider themselves Socialists?"

Voters, probably not - activists, certainly.

"The Greens are not socialists have no intention of being socialists and never will be a socialist Party despite some very good people who may be current members."

Can I borrow this crystal ball, Neil?

Neil Williams said...

"Can I borrow this crystal ball, Neil?"

At my pleasure Charlie. All the current evidence of the Greens in power across Europe has been a disaster as far as consistent Socialist policies are concerned. Just take a look at the Greens in Ireland as the nearest example.

Like the Liberals they can anything you want them to be when not in power but in power they act and are no better than another Liberal Democratic Party (who also claim to be anti war and have Green policies. The eLibrals also claim to be anti academies but support them all over the country just as the Greens have on Lewisham Council)

Charlie Marks said...

But Neil, we could easily point of avowed socialists who have sold out and become sneering traitors, telling us that our socialist values are bunk. Look, they say, how socialism has failed.

We can't be deterministic. I fear that your line of reasoning might lead you to the opposite of believing the Greens to be the new vanguard - that is to say, that there's no use in approaching this party as part of a coalition of the left.

Green leader Caroline Lucas has said that what we need is something of a campsite approach, rather than a coalition - which, even if opportunistic rather than non-sectarian, signals that the party's leadership now see it in their interest to enter into electoral agreements with the Labour left, Respect, etc in order to advance their party. We already know that the Green left are willing to work with socialists of all parties and none....

Communist said...

But Charlie, the Labour Party stands candidates everywhere, so there's no scope for a Green/Labour left electoral pact.
And I can't see what the Greens would gain from a deal with the non-Labour left, because at the moment we have nothing to offer, while they are doing well in relative terms - compare the total non-Labour left vote to that of the Greens.
Yes, Respect stood down for the Greens in the Euros in a couple of areas, but will the Greens reciprocate?
I'd say only if there is something in it for them - that's not intended as an attack on the Greens as such, I'm just saying that's politics.
My view is that the Greens see Respect as potential members rather than long-term partners.
For us on the non-Labour left, we should be looking at achieving the realistic goal of electoral unity among ourselves first.
Moving any further than that - i.e. asking for "unity" with far larger and more established political forces -is unrealistic at the moment and would simply result in us being either ignored or swallowed up.

Dave Riley said...

On the Green Party of England and Wales: The ready penchant for sectarian kneejerks infects the English left especially on the question of the Green Party.

Here's an example:" All the current evidence of the Greens in power across Europe has been a disaster as far as consistent Socialist policies are concerned." and "The Greens are not socialists have no intention of being socialists and never will be a socialist Party despite some very good people who may be current members."

Well blow me down!The Greens are not socialists! How profound.

But what about "some very good people who may be current members"? How come they've ended up in the Greens and not....the SP? What's the attraction of the Green Party that ensures to the left of Labour they hold the largest share of the alternative vote?

So what does the orgs on the British far left do? They work ever so hard to either ignore the Green Party or now and then rile against it.

I gather there's only one group, Socialist Resistance, who actively orientates to the GP in any considered way.

This is rather tragic because there's no attempt to explore in any considered Marxist way where the Green Party phenomenon internationally came from and what it represents both in terms of a radical ecology and as an alternative to Labourism especially at this particular Climate Change juncture. There's this political blind spot which presumes that the font of all alternative options to the British Labour Party rests on what can be sucked from the collective thumb of registered Marxist orgs.

But if you cannot relate to and understand the context of what's behind the ascendancy of Green politics where have you been for the last thirty years? As Raymond Williams pointed out, green politics is "the strongest organised hesitation before socialism. ..."

For some Green Party members, many of them Marxists -- such as the Green Left Current -- this is indeed a preferred vehicle in which to strive for socialism.

The whole ideological and tactical debate about dealing with the Climate Change emergency is something that the English left, in the main, seem content to pass on . So when it comes to a question of "left unity" the Green Party is expunged from the guest list because they embrace a different tradition. In the meantime while the British left umms and ahs it is the Greens that are identified as 'the strongest organised hesitation before the Labour Party, before the Tories, the BNP and...before socialism.'

Neil Williams said...

"So when it comes to a question of "left unity" the Green Party is expunged from the guest list"

Dave the Greens have been invited many times to the "Party" but each and every time including now have excluded themselevs.

My comments set out to address the illusions that some on the Left such as youself have in Green politics replacing the need for socialist programme and ideas. In large parts of the country the Greens only exist on paper and have no branch, meetings or active members (or where a branch exists are not active in any way).

The danger is that many on the Left (like Socialist Resistence)could just end up being the left part of a bigger Green Party who at best will replace the Liberals as the new party for the "angry middle class" and the "ant-politics" view of some students/young people.

Building a Socialist alternative to New Labour will not be easy but so many are writeing off the current Socialist parties as if they were history. I am confident that within the next five years we will have a meaningful new Soialist Pary/coalition of the Left that will offer working people hope - I do not see this coming from the Greens (who are welcome to be part of it but will once agin exclude themselves). Its clear that tradional Labour voters who are staying at home are not turning to the Greens in large numbers as a socialsit alternative. Its this socialist alternative that needs to be built and it is my view that this will not come from the Greens even if there are those who think otherwise.

Phil said...

The discussion about the Greens is irrelevant at this stage. They will continue to do their own thing simply because they are, electorally speaking, 10-15 years ahead. They will only seek out deals if we become a significant force and start taking activists from the Green Left wing of their party. As the man said, before we can start thinking about this we have to put our house in order first.

Re: Paul, you're right, I do disagree. I don't think handing out Labour leaflets pledging to "get tough" with immigrants is the best use of Marxists' time. And it's extremely unlikely Labour will be reclaimed. At the moment its operation is being kept afloat by Unite personnel - and yet what is the union getting for its support? Sweet FA. If under these circumstances basic social democratic policies can't get a look-in, then when?

Mark P said...


The GPEW is not a social force on the same order of magnitude as the Australian Greens. It has no representation in Parliament (unlike, say, RESPECT) and it has less activists than the far left.

Some local knowledge would probably be helpful before you go issuing tactical advice from the other side of the world.

Charlie Marks said...

communist: Obviously Labour stands candidates everywhere - it's the governing party and it's not likely that there'd be pre-election deals. In the event of the Greens gaining seats in parliament they would have to work with the Labour left (both social democratic and socialist), Respect, etc. In the event of a hung parliament, it's likely the Greens would back a Labour minority government.

Neil: you seem certain that the Greens will respond in the same way as in the past, let's see.

Phil: I don't think it's irrelevant to consider the Greens at this stage - most active members consider themselves as being "on the left" if not "far left".

Simon said...

Unfortunately now the CPB has walked out on the project.