Yes, it's back to provide a left Eurosceptic option for those who do not read the ballot paper properly and put their cross next to No2EU instead of UKIP. Again, just like 2009 it is a cobbled-together slate of the RMT, the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain and the Socialist Party. And no doubt the folks involved will be looking to get a better vote than last time. Five years back No2EU polled 153,236 votes - one per cent of the total cast. That's at the bottom of the 1-2% range far left challenges can typically expect at election time. Nonetheless it was a disappointing outcome for those of us who worked hard in that campaign. A cheeky cameo from Tony Benn in the party election broadcast, the endorsement of former Labour MP Alice Mahon and the hearty backing of Bob Crow did naff all. Even the name, which you might expect to be an asset among Eurosceptic naifs who don't follow politics, proved to be nothing of the sort.
Also, No2EU got a barracking from within the labour movement. Its vote share in the North West was greater than the difference separating Nick Griffin and the Greens' Peter Cranie. No2EU was made the whipping boy, the reason why the BNP won a seat. A case, in other words, of voting far left and getting the far right. That argument doesn't really stand up to scrutiny, though it's an easy enough supposition to make. It was also criticised by others on the left for its opportunism, its fossilised programme, its lack of seriousness. Remember, these elections came after the brouhaha of MPs' expenses. Perhaps the sharpest arrow in No2EU's quiver was ex-Labour Militant Tendency MP Dave Nellist, who won wide recognition in the 80s for refusing an MP's full salary and taking only the average wage of a skilled worker. Instead of running with something like 'a worker's MP on a worker's wage', No2EU pledged not to take up any seats in the European Parliament in the unlikely event of their winning. A bizarre own goal that fought shy of the public imagination.
Given the low vote, what was the point? At that time I was an enthusiastic and active SP member. For instance, here's me putting a brave face on the results. Nevertheless, there was a certain logic to No2EU from where I was then standing. The SP's immediate strategic objective remains the foundation of a new workers' party to replace Labour. This will come about not by cobbling together "the sects" but via trade unions breaking with and moving into independent electoral activity. Therefore, when the RMT and CPB approached the SP about standing with them on an anti-Labour, anti-EU slate the SP's exec jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity to influence the country's most militant union, deepen its break with Labour and demonstrate to other labour movement activists that an independent political existence was possible. The questions surrounding No2EU's politics (in all essentials no different from the official Communist Party's platform circa 1974) were spun by the SP as "not ideal" but the party was prepared to accept them as its participation was asked for "at a late stage".
The election came and went. A "marker was put down", "new layers of workers saw No2EU material", and it was "a step toward a new party". But how did the SP's perspectives bear out? There was immediate excited talk of a new project involving the SP's partners and other trade unions. If memory serves, these mysterious organisations were the FBU, POA and (leading SP members in) the PCS. However, very quickly the fading CPB dropped out and union backing did not materialise. So by the time the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition launched in January 2010 all that remained was the SP, Bob Crow with some leading RMT'ers, and a few senior people in the POA. Since then there has been progress of sorts. The RMT and SWP have formally affiliated, the coalition has contested quite a few elections - including a seminal beating by Elvis Loves Pets in the Eastleigh by-election - and, um. that's it. Also, TUSC are making a big effort at this year's local elections, but more about that once the votes have been counted.
In all essentials, No2EU fulfilled its objectives. It cemented a good relationship between the RMT, CPB and SP. It nicely slots into the SP's narrative of unions breaking from Labour, and paved the way for a successor organisation. So why is it getting another outing after five years of accumulating mothballs? Consulting my former comrades is no use. You could be forgiven for thinking the SP have forgotten they're affiliated. TUSC is everywhere on their website. No2EU, on the contrary, is conspicuous by its absence. There is no article justifying its existence. No explanation why it is just as provisional and amateurish as last time, despite having five years to prepare. Deputy general secretary Hannah Sell has served some warm-ups on the EU, but there is no linking of No2EU with an overall strategy, apart from a desire to "exit from the EU on the basis of socialist policies". But when No2EU's site can't be bothered to list its own candidates, why should anyone expect its affiliate to take up the slack?
Needless to say, I think it's all a waste of time. But if you're going to challenge Labour, at least be serious about it. As local council elections are taking place on the same day as the Europeans, every party has the opportunity to benefit from "double-ticketing". For instance, as UKIP are projected to do well they have stood as many council candidates as they can. They know people who will vote for them for Europe are likely to vote for them in the locals too. They are using one to leverage the other. And this, of course, is common practice. The splitting of the far left ticket into No2EU for the Europeans and TUSC for the locals won't make much of a difference to the usual poor results, but betrays a basic amateurism, if not incompetence. If you're the proletarian vanguard you do yourself no favours being seen to lag behind the "bourgeois parties" on political ABCs.
To be fair to the SP though, this is a matter of positioning rather than sound politics. There are some in the RMT leadership who, unlike most leading trade union tops, detest the EU. While the scepticism and critique of the EU's constitutionally embedded neoliberalism is widespread in the labour movement, there are leading RMT comrades who combine this with a left Little Englandism. This is reflected in No2EU's points on the repatriation of powers independent economic policies, unequal trade agreements, etc. As the SP historically has comparatively little to say about constitutional matters, and think stuff like sovereignty is so much flim-flammery (socialism is always the answer to such things), it is quite prepared to indulge their partners' proclivities to keep the show on the road. Since the sad passing of Bob Crow there is a fear the RMT might withdraw its formal backing from TUSC in the absence of good results. If carrying on with No2EU is a price to pay for continued good relations and influence, the SP will do what it takes.
There is a whiff of groundhog day about all this. But I suppose I ought to be grateful for No2EU. Despite the furious spin I gave it at the time, the experience did focus my mind on the problems of socialist strategy in Britain, and the relationship between Labour and the labour movement. It led me to conclude there is no political room for a mkII Labour Party. It also eventually dawned that Trotskyism and revolutionary politics are not just ill-suited to an advanced capitalist society like ours, but absolutely incompatible with a socialist strategy appropriate to it. If there are SP activists who get disillusioned because of No2EU's poor results, I hope they find alternative ways of building the labour movement rather than retreat into private life.
Image from the No2EU Facebook page.