Sunday 6 December 2009

Branch Meeting: Stoke SP and the General Election

At a branch meeting a week last Thursday, Stoke Socialist Party had a discussion about our general election plans. Shortly after the No2EU campaign in June, the branch committed itself to stand a candidate in the Stoke Central constituency. But these plans have and continue to be heavily conditioned by what's happening with No2EU's successor coalition, which has been variously dubbed son of No2EU (for want of a better name).

It was with developments on this front that Brother A began his lead off. He began by noting how he can understand how some comrades and others who were supportive of No2EU are frustrated with the pace of events. But the
ad hoc steering group have agreed to a number of things. Son of No2EU will definitely be of a federal character, which would allow each component organisation to supplement official material with their own (a policy that seemed to work well during the European election campaign). The coalition also plans to stand against cabinet ministers - but whether this will be all 20 elected full members or just a handful of high profile figures remains to be seen. The steering group has also agreed some critical core policies, and the end document will apparently have a 'socialist clause'. The coalition has also agreed that whichever party is strongest in a particular locality will lead the campaign there, but with full rights for minority components to make available their own propaganda.

A number of issues remain unresolved. First the RMT, the key union backer of No2EU in June, has yet to decide whether to formally support the new formation. This decision will be made at its January 7th executive. However, Bob Crow, the RMT's general secretary, does remain 100% committed to the project and will continue to support it come what may. The steering group is scheduled to meet on December 17th and on the agenda is a decision over the alliance's name.

There followed a short discussion over the prospects for the coalition and what guarantees exist that won't see it go the same way as other broad left formations these last 15 years - and of course there are none. But unlike the SLP, Socialist Alliance and Respect, its federalism means that whatever problems bedevil the coalition, heavy handed authoritarianism won't be one of them.

There was also a debate about the branch's decision to stand in the general election. Brother P raised some concerns he'd been having around the logistics of the campaign, and particularly the wider ramifications of it. This latter objection deserves looking at as it's something left candidates (whether son of No2EU or not) elsewhere might have to deal with. He said that Labour will easily win the seat, despite it being a priority target of the BNP. For readers not familiar with the political topography of Stoke-on-Trent, Stoke Central constituency has six of the city council's nine fascist councillors. P argued that even though experience has taught us we're just as likely to take votes away from the BNP as Labour, contesting the seat might damage the standing of the Socialist Party and the coalition in the wider labour movement - especially as sitting MP, Mark Fisher, is considered (by some) as a left winger. He advocated standing aside on this occasion.

Replying, A argued that where Fisher's record is concerned, he doesn't really have a reputation as a left in the same way MPs like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have, nor has his attendance been noted on the various picket lines that have appeared in Stoke in recent years. Furthermore he will be standing on the New Labour manifesto. Second, there is a record of electoral support in Stoke Central that the campaign can draw from, which is something the branch didn't have when it stood in 2005. Lastly, the political period now is different. The growing fragmentation of politics and increasing abstention at elections suggests that there is a space for an alternative to mainstream politics. This might not necessarily be an explicitly socialist space - as the support for the BNP and UKIP demonstrate - but nevertheless there is potential for socialist ideas to be able to intersect the amorphous anger, bitterness and frustration the recession has been stirring. Brother R also added that standing gives us a platform at a time when most people are thinking about politics. Failure to do so can lead to our party being ignored.

The meeting reaffirmed the branch's intention to stand, whether under the son of No2EU name, or, if the coalition comes off the rails, as Socialist Alternative. Whatever happens and whenever the general election takes place, the voters of Stoke Central
will have the opportunity of putting their cross by a socialist candidate.


JimPage said...

My undertanding is that the BNP are stronger in Stoke South than central?

Congradulations to the SP for taking them on here with BNP candidates for the GE appearing all over the place , a line in the sand needs drawing somewhere at some point, to argue for left politics, and as the saying goes "if not now, when?"

Anonymous said...

Stoke would have had a BNP major by now. The council decided it would be better to not have one at all. The goal posts can only be moved so many times. Especially when we have M.PS in 2010.

Phil said...

I didn't know the city council had the power to confer military rank.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a difficult decision but the correct one.

I agree with JimPage. The BNP's vote has been growing for a decade and this is unlikely to change in the future. If not now, when?

I don't think there's much danger of the BNP winning a seat in Stoke, or anywhere outside Barking and Thurrock for that matter, and the SP is as likely to take votes from the BNP as from Labour, if previous elections are any guide.

Jim Page said...


Not exactly on topic- but these are the BNP midlands seats confirmed so far - Burton, Nuneaton, Coventry NW, Leicester West , Charnwood, Bosworth, Loughborough, South Derbyshire, Leicestershire South, Nottingham South, Gedling, Corby, Ashfield, Nottingham North, Derby North, Amber Valley, Erewash, Derbyshire South, Boston & Skegness, South Holland & the Deepings, Grantham & Stamford, Kettering and Northampton North

Not sure of the level of SP Organisation in these areas but you might want to inform any East Midlands SP members of this lot- SP stood in Leicester West in 2005

Duncan, you will probably know that Copeland and Whitehaven at very least being stood down your way

Anonymous said...

I've known for a while Jim!

Whitehaven and Copeland aren't two different constituencies by the way, Whitehaven is part of the Copeland constituency.

So far, the only other Cumbrian constituency with a BNP candidate is Workington where Martin Wingfield is standing.

It's unclear whether Carlisle will have a BNP'er on the ballot paper as the likely prospective parliamentary candidate, and local organiser, quit last week in unclear, acrimonious circumstances.

JimPage said...

Sorry Duncan, you are right here, Workington and Copeland. As to Carlisle, they have plenty of other candidates to stand other that Barbour.

They also said they would stand in Westmoreland and Lonsdale a few months back- but this seems a less promising bet than Carlisle. They will not be fighting paper candidates anywhere- so they may stick with 2 seats

Prinkipo Exile said...


Interesting discussion.

But can you explain to me how the concept of how "heavy handed authoritarianism" is automatically not part of federalism? I've been struggling with this since it first came up in the Socialist AllIiance around 1999-00.

Perhaps I can explain my scepticism by way of an example ...

Suppose I live in Stoke Central and support the still as yet unnamed "Son of No2EU" campaign, but am not in the SP and have no intention of joining. Let's say the Stoke SP votes by 6 to 5 to stand Comrade X in Stoke Central. A meeting is held of Son of No2EU, I and 9 of my independent minded friends attend the meeting and we discuss standing a candidate. All 11 Stoke SP members attend. I and my 9 friends are a bit unsure about whether standing is the correct tactic, because of the risk of the BNP, Fisher being on the left on some issues etc ... But we are told that Cde X is supported and endorsed by the SP, and as Son of No2EU is a federal organisation in which the SP has been allocated a reasonable quota of candidates, Stoke Central being one, we have little choice but to support Cde X standing as the candidate of Son of No2EU and of the Socialist Party.

We are welcome to help support Cde X but have no real say in whether they stand and their endorsement by Son of No2EU.

I don't really see this as democratic, and in fact if push came to shove and the SP members followed a line, they would have a local majority anyway even though 15 out of 21 people involved were sceptical about the value of a candidate.

In case you think this is unrealistic this is exactly what was presented in the North West Euro elections over the Liberal Party. I am quite convinced a majority of No2EU supporters and activists would have voted not to include them, but they had no say in the matter. Similarly in the 2001 General Election campaign some supporters of the Socialist Alliance were denied a say in choice of candidate because the SP announced the seat as their choice to stand in, in effect their "patch". "Federalism" can become just as authoritarian as other forms of organisation you criticise.

Now I appreciate this is a more subtle form of "authoritarianism" than the tactic of turning up with enough people to pack the meeting but really I prefer the one member one vote form of democracy in the longer term. Federalism isn't really a form of organisation that's supported by the left, even in the trade unions there is a strong need for collective democratiaction action - for example the left poured scorn on the rights of the Notts miners to use it to justify scabbing on the strike for example.

This example isn't meant to say that I'm against the SP standing against Mark Fisher by the way. If the plan of the SP is to build a long term broad based left wing electoral alternative to both New Labour and the BNP, then like Jim Page I'm generally in favour of that, though final decision would depend on how many forces would be mobilised and how they would be organised in future - just recruiting to the SP is not acceptable by the way, you have a responsibility as the leading left force to establish something broader and longer term.

Phil said...

Federalism is problematic, but if the far left is to come together I do not see how it can proceed any other way. In the short to medium term the SP will not subordinate itself to a unitary organisation unless it has some real social weight. And even then it would do so with caveats.

True, this leaves party-less independents out on a limb, but does federalism really make them any less voiceless than was the case with the old SA when it was dominated by the SWP's majority? I don't think it does.

Re: the hypothetical situation you outline, here majorities have the right to be majorities - even if the majority are members of the same organisation. Let's switch it round, is it democratic for a minority's wishes to override those of a majority? Obviously in the event of such a meeting the SP would approach it tactfully and sensitively because the SP would want to work with these others in future.

Prinkipo Exile said...

Thanks for responding Phil. Yes the "partyless" independents have their rights trampelled over in your federal organisation model; so my point is that this is just as much a case of "heavy handed authoritarianism" as the faults you claim in the other models that you criticise.

And you've missed my point about voting to stand a candidate. In the example I quoted, a majority were not in favour of standing - the only reason that won out is because the main left wing organisation operated a centralist policy on a minor tactical difference. This was always the criticism of the way the SWP operated in Respect from those who still constitute Respect. When Galloway made a few minor criticisms this was taken to be an attack on the whole SWP.

A more enlightened and supportive organisation would allow its members to operate more as individuals in a broad party and not as a disciplined phalanx or bloc, guaranteed to put off other organisations and individuals and lead to a disregard for their democratic rights.

This flexibility is undoubtedly one of the main reasons for the success of organisations such as the Left Bloc in Portugal, the Red Green Alliance in Denmark and the NPA in France, where the highly influential Fourth International sections were prepared to let the broader organisation have an internal life of its own.

The SP needs to let go of the model it operated when it controlled the LPYS 25 years ago, and try out some different tactics.