Saturday 13 June 2009

Branch Meeting: Election Analysis

Stoke Socialist Party met last night for a post-match analysis of Sunday's European election results. It fell to me to present the lead off, which was heavily based on this blog's three previous posts. The ensuing discussion was quite wide ranging and might be of interest to readers and Socialist Party watchers.

On the
No2EU vote, Brother C thought that setting it against the 940,000 polled by the BNP there is not really a like for like comparison. From the 1999-2004 period the BNP's vote rose from 102,647 (1.1%) to 808,200 (4.9%). The latter result was after 22 years existence as a party. No2EU went from nothing to 150,000 in only three months of existence, despite the political weaknesses, refusal to take seats in Brussels and lack of media coverage.

On the point of taking up seats, A thought this was a bigger issue among SP comrades and other lefts than the general public. Going by the work we did on stalls, this was not mentioned once - even by people who knew a bit about No2EU. Regarding the BNP and why so many voted for them, the reason why this question represents no mystery to our comrades is because of our consistent street activity. Over the years we've spoken to thousands of workers, some of whom have told us why they're willing to give the BNP a go. There is a thrashing around for a political alternative and at the moment it appears the BNP's populist message chimes with their experience. On votes themselves, A argued we should avoid parliamentary cretinism - votes are not the be all and end all. Election results are a snapshot of history and indicate some of the processes going on in the depths of society.

N drew attention to the content of the BNP's campaign. They placed extra emphasis on nationalisation, jobs and expenses - while pushing the usual racism and xenophobia. In effect the fascists fought part of their campaign on the left's policy platform and undoubtedly won some votes on that basis. Turning to No2EU, he talked about how he was originally uncomfortable with the name but had changed his mind as the campaign wore on. The European Union represents the interests of an ascendent fraction of European capital and have to remember that its internationalism is nothing to do with ours. We seek to unite workers across borders in the fight for our class interests. The EU's internationalism seeks to turn workers against each other by playing off different nationalities.

Brother F noted the tendency of the liberal left to view the BNP vote in moralist terms - far better to write nearly a million people off as incorrigible racists than ask tough questions about the liberal left's inability to connect with them. On
Hope not Hate, it appears at every election, makes a big fuss about the fascists, ends up campaigning by proxy for a Labour vote but at the same time purges mainstream anti-fascism of politics. It does nothing to fill the vacuum the BNP have been successfully exploiting these last 10 years. Also, F thought it's worth remembering that our collective experience shows us only a minority of BNP supporters are hardcore racists. Most may espouse casual racism, but then again such attitudes were not uncommon among the miners - who are often held up as Christ-like figures by some on the left.

Returning to the name again, C argued that No2EU's name may have rubbed well-meaning and liberal left people up the wrong way, people who identify with some of the positive discourses and values that have begun to accumulate around the EU. Anyone approaching the campaign for the first time without prior knowledge could be forgiven for thinking it a crude and simplistic europhobic platform along the lines of
UK First.

In sum, my reply to the discussion touched on three areas (with an aside on the
SLP. The first of these were No2EU's name - I agreed with Brother C's comments and suggested the name was always going to see us placed with the eurosceptic populist right. And on top of that, the name was completely naff too. Second on the European Union, again our message was too simplistic. The EU is a proto-state and therefore it would be a mistake to merely write it off as an instrument of capital. After all, the UK state is a bourgeois state but that doesn't mean our party raises demands to 'smash the police' and 'dispand the army'. Democratic demands are about weakening the hold capital has over political authority to create more space for socialist politics, which is why, among other things, we call for the abolition of the Lords, the scrapping of the monarchy and fixed short term parliaments. We should extend this method to the EU. Finally, the one thing the BNP teaches us is that unity and consistency reaps political capital in the long run. The left should take a leaf out of their book instead of turning up at major elections in a different guise every time.


Charlie Marks said...

"The left should take a leaf out of their book instead of turning up at major elections in a different guise every time."

Exactly. Look at the Greens. Their vote was up.

skidmarx said...

When you say "dispand" the army, does that mean to stop treating them like cuddly-looking bears from China?

J.B said...

That Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP) did marginally better at just over 1 per cent, despite it being a moribund organisation with a small base of support in isolated areas says something. While formed only two months prior to the campaign, its frenzied activity wasn't surely translated into the kind of results expected. That is not to suggest as the SWP has that there is "no space for a left political alternative" at the time being, but rather that the tactic of tpitching the new initiative around "simplistic" opposition to the EU and the ditching of a wider programme of change has failed to translate into electoral support. I look forward to seeing the Socialist Party's response to any new initiative that emerges out of the SWP HQ.

ModernityBlog said...

"votes are not the be all and end all. "

Certainly not, but in this case it might well lead to the BNP getting 100s of 1,000s of extra funding, if not millions.

Th EU elections provide access to money and that is needed for political organization and campaigning.

I doubt the BNP leadership have any illusions about elections or the nature of bourgeois democracy, rather they use it as a means to an end.

Which is what the Left should do, revise tactics, do more training: how to argue lucidly, media skills, etc

Bottom up skills, not top down.

Phil said...

JB, I think the SP's response to the SWP's unity call will be luke warm - like much of the left's. More significant is what the RMT decide to do, along with the PCS and other non-affiliated Labour unions. Also, John McDonnell's been making encouraging noises again. I don't think a unity project with the SWP at the centre will be much of a goer - the SWP as part of a wider process is what I'd like to see.

Re: Mod, I agree. Votes ultimately mean representation, platforms and resources. It's another arena we have to wage the struggle for socialism. But in the context of our branch discussion where not all our comrades are old hacks, I think it was right to warn against fetishising results. On the rest of your points I completely agree - the left in this country has much to learn from how the Irish comrades did the business (NB the Irish SP knows how to use Twitter too! lol)

KrisS said...

I don't think a unity project with the SWP at the centre will be much of a goer - the SWP as part of a wider process is what I'd like to see.

That's very much what I'd like to see too, Phil. I hope we can work together towards that situation.