Friday 30 April 2010

Some Reflections on the Leaders' Debate

1) Unlike the Punch & Judy farce of Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, the debates have been about policy. Unfortunately, because the parties differ in degree rather than substance on key issues (economics, cuts, foreign policy, immigration) the terms of the debates were tightly circumscribed. When one candidate broke with the consensus - i.e. Nick Clegg on an amnesty for "illegal" immigrants, not renewing trident - his opponents conspired to pooh-pooh the positions and swing the debate back to the safe centre ground.

2) They may have shone a spotlight on policy, but ironically media comment has consistently reduced the debates to beauty contests. Millions of words have pondered Clegg's eye contact, Cameron's smoothness, and Brown's clunking delivery. Press spin - particularly the Tory press and Sky News - has been exposed as unashamedly partisan and propagandistic, aided and abetted by a slew of instant and easily manipulable polls.

3) Despite this, there is some evidence the debates have (temporarily) arrested the decline of mainstream politics. This was most dramatically demonstrated by the poll surge for the LibDems, but also the
big rise in voter registration. Most significantly, large numbers of the group least likely to vote - the under 25s - will apparently turn out for the first time ever next Thursday. It would appear the debates have short circuited the disconnect by replicating the (TV) audience participation of the likes of Big Brother and The X-Factor. Both shows establish a relationship with the viewer by constructing participants' personalities and putting their fate in the hands of the viewer. The effect of TV votes are immediate and visible. While you can't press the red button to elect the most telegenic government (yet), the majority of people who don't normally follow politics have had their voting decision influenced by their view of the debates.

4) I have spoken to more than one person during this campaign who've said their vote was conditional on the outcome of the debates. So the genie is out of the bottle: woe betide future party leaders who elect not to participate in the Leaders' Debate. The problem now is the tendency toward personality politics is strengthened. The era of politics being showbiz for ugly people is over: the pressure to find pretty faces to front parties is almost irresistible.

Thursday 29 April 2010

I'm Not Racist, But ...

Guest post from Brother G

One week before a General Election, arguably the most important and controversial election in many years, one might expect the airwaves to be awash with analysis, speculation and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flurry of policy detail, rally reports and grave-sounding public statements on everything from ash clouds over Iceland to storm clouds over Greece.

Imagine my surprise then, when I turned on BBC News last night and instead of being confronted with the usual fare of George Osborne looking like a rabbit caught in a headlight, or Chris Grayling firing off inaccurate crime statistics like some sort of shit Rain Man, I was treated to 45 minutes of rabid journalists huddled around a closed front door in Rochdale.

The discerning and well-informed readership of AVPS will obviously know all about BigotGate by now. In fact even my mother had heard about it within the first hour, a sure sign of media saturation if ever there was one. In an attempt at damage control, Gordon Brown has since made a formal apology, not just to the ‘bigoted’ Gillian Duffy but to the entire Labour Party membership. But does he have anything to be sorry about?

Dave at Though Cowards Flinch has produced a
good piece on the issue where he talks about the way in which such behaviour demonstrates the disconnect that exists between the political class and the electorate. But is that disconnection really unique to the political class, and does such a disconnection justify the ignorant stance on immigration displayed by Ms. Duffy?

The truth of the matter is that Gillian Duffy’s attack on Eastern European immigration was bigoted. Given that, is Brown not justified in calling a spade a spade? Why should someone feel obliged to apologise for the hurt feelings of someone whose words would, for many people, be much more offensive than an off-the-cuff remark by Gordon Brown? Likewise, this occasion certainly wouldn’t be the first (or last) time that campaigners (myself included) have had a good rant about the electorate on the campaign trail. The truth is we are all prone to outbursts against those we disagree with, especially when we think noone is listening. If dismissing people who say racist things as racists is evidence of disconnection, I must confess that I have fallen into the trap myself on occasion, despite the evident oversimplification that such a view demonstrates.

That said, there are two issues here that need to be confronted. The first is that if Gordon Brown is so vehemently opposed to this sort of anti-Immigrant vitriol, why did he not confront it head on? There have been many occasions, on stalls and on the doorsteps, where I’ve been confronted with individuals saying far nastier things than Ms. Duffy. In many cases, explaining the genuine issues around immigration and dispelling the illusion that it is migrant workers who are the guilty party causes these individuals to rethink their position. Even in those instances where the individual turns out to be a hard-bitten racist, you can still take pleasure in the fact that you put forward your argument and stood your ground. In refusing to do this, Gordon Brown took the coward’s way out.

This gives rise to the second issue. One of the reasons why reactionary attitudes like this are so prevalent is that the Labour Party, in its position as the main ‘progressive’ force in British politics, has consistently failed to lay out a positive argument for immigration. Time and time again the three main parties have pandered to the nationalist sentiments of the right-wing media, a fact that can be seen with nauseating clarity in the first leadership debate in which Brown and Cameron went toe to toe in order to prove who could punish foreign people more. The truth is that for all his apparent disdain for bigotry, Gordon Brown has played a fundamental role in its rise.

If the Labour Party really wants to end this ‘bigotry’, we need to be prepared to fight our corner when it comes to immigration. If we continue to let the Right dictate the state of play, the result can only be more intolerance and fear. We should be prepared to confront all those, both inside and outside the Labour Party, who would seek to scapegoat foreign workers for the problems caused by the system in which we live.

It remains to be seen what impact, if any, this event will go on to have in the election. While we can undoubtedly look forward to a plethora of front-page headlines it is likely most people will see the event for what it is, a minor gaffe in an election where there are big consequences to be had. And besides, it wont be the first time we’ve had bigotry plastered all over the front page of
The Sun.

But if today’s events do cause an upset in the polls, I might have a few choice words for the electorate myself.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Stoke Central Hustings

The Public and Commercial Services union is one of the largest unions not affiliated to the Labour party. Instead of asking members to vote one way or the other, through its Make Your Vote Count campaign the PCS aims to facilitate political discussion by quizzing candidates about its policy priorities (in this election, it's the union's five public service pledges). To this end the PCS organised a Stoke Central hustings on Monday night that, despite a lack of publicity, attracted 29 people. This probably explains why only three of the eight eligible candidates turned up - Norsheen Bhatti for the Tories, Labour's Tristram Hunt, and Matt Wright from Stoke SP/TUSC (quite rightly, as a trade union it will not give a platform to fascists, which means our Nazi parachutist Simon Darby and "reformed character" Alby Walker).

The opening speeches of each candidate set the tone for what was to come. Norsheen basically regurgitated the Tory party manifesto, substituting 'Britain' for 'Stoke'. She was full of how Labour's let down "our families, city, and community". Voting for change (i.e. her party) will see action on debt, regeneration, work toward making Stoke Britain's most family-friendly city, etc. etc. Matt's opening dwelled on how the SP campaigns week in, week out and not just at election time. If elected, he planned to take only the average wage of a Stoke worker and that he, like any other TUSC candidate, would use parliament as a platform to fight against the attacks to come on the public sector. Tristram's introduction focused on regeneration. He argued that elsewhere regeneration has concentrated on infrastructure and pretty buildings, but real regeneration requires investment in people. The opening of Sure Start centres and new schools and colleges are a step in this direction because, ultimately, investment from outside will come if the work force is better educated.

I don't want to spend time on the nitty gritty of every question, so I'll stick with those that will be of most interest to readers. Like many towns and cities devastated by the hurricane of deindustrialisation a great deal of the local economy is dependent on the public sector. One comrade asked if cuts here in Stoke could derail the regeneration process, and ultimately benefit the BNP? Matt replied we needed more public sector jobs, not less. If cuts were to come the axe should come down on trident and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cuts would further fuel the racialisation of Stoke's problems. Tristram conceded the latter point, but added that no one would invest in a BNP city. This is a serious issue because, ultimately, the solution to Stoke's problems lies in more businesses and more employment. Pressed on Labour's records, he flagged up the coming 50p tax band and the possibility of global taxes on bank transactions. He said that, unfortunately, the City has the county over a barrel because of the proportion of GDP it provides. If taxes hit the finance sector any harder, he believed there was a danger of reducing overall receipts. Norsheen stuck with the Tory line on efficiency savings, but seemed to think cracking down on public sector fat cats (i.e. top earners) would save three billion!

On schools and academies, Brother I from the trades council asked if candidates thought schools should be democratically accountable as opposed to being at the beck and call of private sponsors. Looking at the record of academies he said 59% of them are currently in the 'challenged' category. He also asked if candidates would promise to vote against the "free schools" in Sweden that Cameron is threatening to introduce in this country. Bro I said these lay claim to 'parent power' but are in reality fronts for multinational companies. Completely oblivious to what he had just said, Norsheen thought free schools were a wonderful idea because it gives parents power. Matt said he was opposed to the creeping privatisation of schools - instead of winding down state schools and shoveling money into the academies' gaping maw why not redeploy that cash in more democratic, accountable schooling? Tristram thought there was nothing wrong in principle with outside groups getting involved in schooling, such as FE and HE institutions, but he would draw the line at evangelical and fundamentalist groups.

Brother A from the SP used his question to return to regeneration. He said he had a
Sentinel centre spread special on regeneration ... from 1983. Given that we're still talking about it 27 years on, the growing gap between rich and poor, and that a decade of economic growth has passed Stoke by, what hope for it? On the issue of cuts, he said whoever gets in after the election will be trying to make workers pay for the crisis. This means massive levels of struggle, much of it directed through the trade unions. So which candidates are for repealing the anti-trade union laws? Once again Norsheen must have misheard the question as she dwelt exclusively on encouraging new jobs and tackling the benefits culture. Tristram disputed A's claim on the wealth gap but conceded the government could have probably done more. However, he maintained a lot had been done considering the context of globalising capitalism. He said the decline of manufacturing has been a common feature among most Western countries and argued it wasn't the government's place to roll back the automotive processes that have made many jobs redundant. On unions Tristram thought labour laws had gone far enough, but wouldn't necessarily be positive about rolling them back. He did however criticise the recent court decisions against Unite and the RMT. Matt felt the boom contained the seeds of the bust in its lop-sided character, and while there has been a bit of trickle down and a raising of living standards, the rich have accelerated well in advance of the rest. He would like to see a massive rise in the minimum wage, on which he'd lived on most of his adult life.

Summing up, Tristram welcomed the PCS-sponsored hustings and thought the political ecology of the city could do with more meetings like it. But on the election, there is a choice on May 6th - and that's between the "repugnant figure" of the BNP. Even if they don't win, a significant vote will damage the Potteries. The only credible alternative to this is Labour. Norsheen said that the contest in Stoke was open, and that the Tories were the only united party focused on the city. Lastly, Matt said he was addressing the meeting as a fellow trade unionist. There were battles ahead and the labour movement need to be ready for them: a voice in parliament would greatly aid this process.

Overall the hustings was well worth it. It was a shame it hadn't attracted wider publicity or drawn in the other candidates, but nevertheless many thanks to the PCS comrades who organised it.

In front of a trade union audience a Tory can never expect an easy ride, so even though it's doubtful she won many (if any) votes at least Norsheen's presence was appreciated. I thought Tristram acquitted himself well. He didn't try and hide his position on cuts and the deficit, which would have been tempting in front of this left audience. Instead he spoke plainly. For this (at least from chatting with PCS activists afterwards) he went down well, even if it wasn't what the comrades wanted to hear. I think Matt turned in a good performance too - I can't remember another occasion where two representatives of the main parties had to respond seriously to socialist critiques and positions.

This hustings was very much a debate about policies, which itself is a refreshing change from the policy-lite farce of the general election campaign.

Monday 26 April 2010

10 Years of the UK Left Network

How did that happen? Is it really ten years since a cpgb-supporting supermarket worker sat down in front of a university computer, loaded up and launched the UK Left Network discussion list onto an unsuspecting and uncaring world? Yep, it really is.

As with all things on the left, the UKLN (clunky looking initials if there ever were any) was the result of a split. The far left is not noted for harmonious relations between its constituent groups and rival activists, and this was as much the case among the few late 90s internet-traveling Trots as it is today. After graduating from uni in 1998 I spent a year on the dole unsuccessfully trying to land low paying casualised work to fund my first Master's. With a head full of ultra-left Weekly Worker-leaning politics and a heart pumped up with rage, I was drawn into the seamy world of internet Trotskyism.

Back then Yahoo had a pseudo-bulletin board platform called Yahoo Clubs. As you might expect the interface was primitive and very limited. You could post short pieces (probably about 250 words all told) in the clubs you were signed up to. After shillying about the then biggest left clubs on Yahoo - Red Square and Internet Promotion of Socialism - I fell in with a Californian comrade called Adina Storm who ran a small and not terribly active club called Commielove. What initially united us was our disappointment with the moderating team of Red Square who had allowed an anti-communist troll of alleged Cuban descent to mess up what was a promising leftist community. Adina and I decided Commielove would become a "safe space" for lefts to debate among ourselves, so she made me co-founder and very quickly - a few months - the club became the largest left forum on Yahoo with several hundred members and a respectable posting rate of between 100-200ish posts a month.

But like all tales of Trotskyist organisation, a serpent soon crashed the revolutionary garden. As the club grew Adina moved to London after being in touch with the International Marxist Tendency. Like the Northites/SEPtics of WSWS, the IMT back then were quick to realise the openings the internet offered revolutionary politics and had built an impressive and comprehensive website. You would often find youthful Grantites popping up in clubs, ONElist/Egroup discussion lists and the like to preach the gospel according to Old Ted. For whatever reason my fellow founder was drawn to their brand of Trotskyism and ended up moving to Brussels to help renovate an office/communal flat(!) for the IMT's Belgian section. Over a drawn out period we began to fall out. As a self-identified cpgb I was always of the opinion (still am) that differences between socialists should, where possible, be discussed openly. The tradition of the IMT has a rather different attitude. They may not be Scientologists, but Ted Grant doesn't do a bad job as their L. Ron Hubbard and Alan Woods manages a fair turn as chief operating thetan. Over a period of time Adina co-opted a few Grantites onto the Founders' committee and gradually discussion became more and more "guided", despite my open protests and public criticisms. I knew enough was enough when they intervened to try and stop an interesting discussion between an AWL comrade and a supporter of the Maoists in the Philippines on the role of the peasantry in socialist revolution. It was arbitrarily announced that henceforth "Stalinists" (i.e. anyone not subscribing to a Trotskyist critique of Soviet-type societies) would be banned. I publicly registered my opposition and the ban thankfully didn't happen, but I knew the writing was on the wall.

At the same time as all this, I was a member of an Egroup discussion list called the Cyber Communist Party. It was much smaller and basically consisted of the two "members" of the semi-comedic, semi-spartoid American Generic Trotskyist League (40% Off), and a few others including Ian Donovan and Owen Jones of Ian Donovan and Owen Jones fame. The debates were very much of the 'my position is more revolutionary than yours', but to my eyes it demonstrated the potential for something not too dissimilar based in a UK context. I remember canvassing the opinion of other Britain-based lefties I'd met via the CCP and Commielove, and on 26th April, 2000, the UK Left Network was born.

The legend that greets you when visiting the UKLN's corner of the internet is more or less unchanged from the day I wrote it. It reads:
This is a forum where communists, socialists, and other left-wingers who either live in the UK, or are interested in UK politics can meet and discuss. This forum recognises that no one left group has the monopoly on the truth, and that Marxism will only be developed if we are able to discuss our differences openly, and not behind the backs of our class. Comrades from all traditions, of any organisation or none, are welcome.
And the first post of the ensuing 111,191 reads:
Greetings Comrades

Welcome to the UK Left Network, a place which hopefully will come to be an important resource not only for leftists in the UK, but comrades internationally who have an interest in UK affairs. All solidarity info is welcome regardless of country, and every member can feel free to promote their organisations and publications.

Though I loath to set down 'rules', there are but a few to be kept in mind and almost go without saying;

1) Racist, sexist, and homophobic comments will not be tolerated and will result in instant expulsion.
2) No platform for fascists. These filth have no place here.
3) No flames. Debate should focus on political issues and not the alleged personal habits of any particular member and the like.

And that's all there is to it. I look forward to all future discussions.
Comradely Greetings
Phil Hamilton

List Moderator
It wasn't long before number three was torn asunder by the development of the list. I think it was a bit of trolling by a Stalin salutin' scribbler who went by the nom de plume of James Tait that led to the UKLN's first bad-tempered exchange (our James, naughty man that he was, sent the predominantly Trotskyist membership into apoplectic rage by suggesting a then recently-deceased former high ranking Stasi agent was a working class hero). That more or less set the tone for the list. To say I was out of my moderating depth was an understatement. Trotskyist clashed against Stalinist. Left nationalists faced down "Brits". Former CPGB'ers rose against contemporary cpgb'ers. SA supporters rounded on SP members. And toward the end of the UKLN's "golden period", comrade turned against comrade as the SSP/Solidarity split played itself out on the list.

The UKLN was a bear pit and no mistaking. It was my fault for letting it get that way and being afraid of consistently rooting out the trolls. Part of the reason for that was by the end of 2000 I had finally joined the cpgb, but was concerned with being seen to be scrupulously neutral. That wasn't easy considering most of the disputes on the list at the time were often about what the Weekly Worker had said or done. But balance was something I managed to my own satisfaction and eventually - after about three years(!) - the list settled down into a gentle equilibrium. Most trollers had slunk off to pastures new and comrades who were once the bitterest of internet foes found a grudging respect for each other, which then became genuine affection. The moderating team moved at about this time from being just me to including well-respected Exeter anti-fascist Dave Parks; "celebrity" cpgb catch from the SP, Harry 'H' Paterson; Mick Hall now of Organized Rage and SSP activist Jim Carroll.

As internet forums go, the UKLN was pretty rough and I do occasionally wonder if it ever put casual subscribers off socialism for life. But despite this, the UKLN has proven to be important for the far left for two reasons. First, it showed the far left off warts and all (mainly the warts). Apart from the incessant polemic (often with unpleasantness running at an order of magnitude higher than the most fractious Socialist Unity threads), one UKLN experience has always stuck in my mind as a clear demonstration of the far left's faults. Back on September 11th, 2001 I broke the news on the list about the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Over the coming hours, days, and weeks the disorientation and shock of this event was felt in a slew of anti-imperialist 'the bastards deserved it' polemic (one contributor went as far to call for "One, Two, Many New Yorks"). Conspiracy theoroids began turning up ("the jets were clearly holograms, and not very good ones at that"); and in our collective confusion debate turned away from the necessity to build a new anti-war movement against an attack on Afghanistan to ... the class character of the USSR. So yes, the UKLN was a petri dish that concentrated all of the British left's problems.

But more importantly was the overlooked role the UKLN played in bringing the far left into contact with one another. While members of Trotskyism's 57 varieties have always been welcome on the list (as have the few Stalinist fossils knocking about), from day one the biggest contingent of members and regular contributors were the non-aligned. Whereas in the past refugees from left groups might drift into the Labour party, trade unionism or back into private life, the UKLN meant former members could still do that - but keep their connection with the goings-ons in the far left. This might not seem a big deal now but before the UKLN there wasn't really a dedicated internet space Brit-based Trots and troublemakers could go to. To prove it, the UKLN casts a long (but often forgotten) shadow over the left's online community today. All the following bloggers are UKLN alumni and have at some stage actively contributed to the list. There might be a few surprises:

A Very Public Sociologist
Dave Osler
Harry's Place (Yes, founder Harry Hatchet and Brett Lock!)
Inveresk Street Ingrate
Islamophobia Watch
Labour of Love
Madam Miaow
Martin Wicks
Organized Rage
Owen Jones
Ragged Trousered Philanthropist
Random Pottins
Socialist Unity
Tendance Coatesy
The Daily (Maybe)
The Rotten Elements
Tony Greenstein
Union Futures

Apologies if I've missed anyone off.

There are a couple of mysteries around the UKLN that have never really been cleared up. One was the almost total absence of SWP contributors. That is apart from Geoff Collier from Leeds, who'd rarely engage in debate but often pop up with a snarky comment or two. Contrast that with SP/CWI members who were all over the list like a rash. Was the SWP's mid-90s ban on members participating in discussion lists the reason why they never showed up to the party?

Another was the irony that despite the UKLN name, there was a very Scottish flavour to the list. Comrades from the SSP were always frequent contributors, despite being formally committed to the break up of the UK state! I never understood why the Scottish left were over-represented - was it because they were largely free of the dead hand of sect discipline?

Here are some other UKLN facts:

* Dave Nellist was an avid follower of the list, despite only ever contributing the once.
* The UKLN was targeted by the forerunners of RedWatch and the bizarre (but definitely white supremacist) National Anarchist "movement", who used to take posts and email addresses and publicise them on far right lists and websites.
* Comrades from the UKLN exposed moves by two Green Party members to set up friendly debates with Troy Southgate of the aforementioned NA grouplet.
* Bad tempered exchanges probably contributed to Harry Steele/Hatchet (Simon Evans) setting up Harry's Place. I remember banning him for persistent trolling against the cpgb. When he finally set up HP in 2002 I remember looking over his blog and thinking "this will never catch on".
* The term 'UK Left' often bandied about on blogs and forums is derived from the UKLN.
* From the start there was a rare consensus around the need to fight the BNP politically rather than rely on 'dont vote Nazi'-style campaigning.
* I was a cpgb from late 2000 to early 2003. While it is true the UKLN remained independent from party direction (at one point I banned Ian Donovan, then also a cpgb member, for rudeness), discussion of its goings on were often a topic in the internal 'E-Caucus' party list (incidentally, it never had more than 32 members and mostly hovered around the 27-8 mark).
* All of the key developments in British politics, world affairs, and of course, the far left, received ample comment from 2000-2007. Therefore the UKLN, for all its faults, serves as an historical archive for what a group of (mostly) rank and file revolutionary socialists were thinking and saying during that period.

During its height list traffic used to be upwards of 1,000 posts a month. Having your inbox cluttered with 100+ UKLN messages over the period of a day weren't unknown. But now the UKLN is a shadow of its former self. These last six months traffic hasn't even passed the 200 posts a month mark. One reason for this is the supplanting of Yahoo Groups (Yahoo annexed Egroups in 2000) by blogging and Facebook (the UKLN is far from being the only political discussion list to have declined in this manner). And I'd like to think another is there are more opportunities for left wing activism now than when the list started out.

What future for the UKLN? Who knows? Though unlikely one should never rule out a UKLN renaissance - political predictions are notoriously unreliable. But should the list forever now bump along at a hundred or so posts a month, it more than fulfilled its purpose. It did bring together socialists from wide ranging backgrounds and through the heat of polemic nurtured and facilitated networks between comrades that weren't there before. In its own way it contributed to the shape of online socialist activism today. If that is the list's sole positive contribution, then the UKLN should be saluted.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Labour's Manifesto on the Trade Unions

We all know Labour are in hock to the trade unions, right? If this thesis of the Tories and their press pack lickspittles is true, you can reasonably assume the party's Manifesto, A Future Fair For All is stuffed full of anti-business propaganda and warm words for trade unions. But wait! There's only one paragraph that mentions unions! It reads on page 22:
Modern trade unions are an important part of our society and economy, providing protection and advice for employees, and working for equality and greater fairness in the workplace. We welcome their positive role in encouraging partnership and productivity.
Of course, our friends the right aren't easily fooled. Behind the carefully weighted praise for trade unions lies a shadowy communist conspiracy itching to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy and send fearless freedom fighters like Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn off to the Hebridean gulag. It has to be the right explanation. Surely affiliated unions aren't happy to shovel over the cash for very little policy influence in return? It would never happen in the Tory party!

Blog Theme Tune

I can't believed I missed this meme which was knocking about a couple of weeks ago. The simple premise is find a theme tune that fits your blog. Tbh, this is much more difficult than it sounds. Originally I was tempted by this oft-overlooked camp classic, but AVPS has been there already. So, after much umming and ahhing I've managed to whittle it down to two: one old song, one new.

First up:

Second is number 20 in what was my hotly anticipated (yeah, right) Top 100 dance songs of the 00s. It's long, so if you can't be bothered to listen to it all whizz forward to 1:41 and stay patient for the piano at 2:40. Utter trancey brilliance:

So there you have two tracks. One that, erm ... is a protest against workplace drudgery, and another that evokes the sublime beauty of the socialist society to come. Yeah, yeah, I know - tenuous bordering on the arbitrary. So what theme tune should self-respecting bolshevist bloggers adopt? What would you have for your blog? Let's tag Darren, Louise, Jim, Dave, Paul and Family, Splinty, Stropps, Anna, and Red Maria.

Friday 23 April 2010

A Far Left Election Teaser

A lot of followers of far-left politics can tell you that Militant had three MPs. But how many can name the International Socialists’ (forerunners of the SWP) only MP?

I’ll give a couple of clues. He was only an MP with the International Socialists for a few days in 1966 before being expelled by the group. And he is accredited with championing a bill concerning the riding of motorcycles that caused great controversy.

Leaders' Debate, Round Two

The second leaders' debate last night was never really going to be a game changer where this general election campaign is concerned. In the first place, despite endless promotion in the media and being the only campaign calendar date of note for the pundits, audience numbers were always going to be much lower than than last week's because of the decision to screen it on Sky News and digital/cable platforms only. This attracted a comparatively paltry four million viewers as compared to just shy of 10 million a week earlier. In all the outpouring of coverage this second debate is getting, no one - at least as far as I've read - has criticised the decision not to use a terrestrial broadcaster. If the debates are, ostensibly, about improving Britain's political culture then locking it away on Sky and BBC News isn't going to do much to promote engagement.

Of course, it's a wonderful irony of history that Murdoch and his cronies were so keen to push the debates in the first place. Not only are they ultimately responsible for unlocking the surge in LibDem support, but the subsequent hysterical attacks from the Murdoch stable (and the rest) are demonstrating the waning power of the right wing press. I bet I'm not the only one heartened to know that in his twilight years, Murdoch is starting to see the influence and power built up over a life time slowly, but inexorably unravel before his eyes.

Again, the debate itself was no great shakes. Once more the leaders disgracefully tried to out-tough each other on immigration. There was more point scoring over Afghanistan and weapon supplies. Brown(!) probably had the best line of the night, characterising Tory policy as "the Big Society at home, but Little Britain abroad." But there were no knock out blows, no howlers. Clegg turned in a confident performance as did Dave and Brown. If I had to score it, Clegg edged it but Cameron and Brown weren't far behind. But serious questions have to be asked about YouGov's 'who won?' poll that appeared on Sky News not long after the debate had finished. Leaving aside the preposterous notion Dave outperformed the other two, there are serious issues of probity when a polling firm - YouGov - whose CEO is a Tory parliamentary candidate, produces a poll bigging up Cameron for a newspaper -
The Sun - who is cheerleading a Conservative victory. Conflicts of interest much?

Off the back of last week's debate there has understandably been much talk of a hung parliament. It's definitely got the Tories
worried. Thus the hysteria about the tanking pound and other fairy tales of economic apocalypse that have nibbled away at the Tories' threadbare collective sanity. As far as I can see a hung parliament scenario is preferable to a Conservative majority. And in many ways, a Lib-Lab coalition is pregnant with its own advantages from a labour movement perspective than an outright Labour win. This is quite apart from the obvious desirability of abolishing FPTP for Westminster elections and its replacement with a proportional system (preferably the Single Transferable Vote), and a reigning in of Labour's attacks on civil liberties. But such strategic musings are probably best left for after the election. But one shouldn't be complacent about this. A coalition between Labour and the Liberals in a hung parliament is no foregone conclusion. The right wing press and the Tories themselves will chew anyone's ear off about the evils of PR, but the Conservatives didn't become the preferred party of British capital by being sticklers for principle. A coalition between them and the LibDems - even if the price is STV - cannot be ruled out.

Whatever happens, in the event of a hung parliament politics in this country will be irrevocably changed. The restructuring of global capitalism these last 30 years has, in Britain, weakened the labour movement, broken up the old working class community solidarities, thrown back its political consciousness while affirming consumer-based individualities and emboldening middling status groups. The internationalisation and hegemony of finance capital has created new fractional divisions within the ruling class too. These processes have slowly, gradually, relentlessly worked there way into politics. Labour and the Conservatives are in long-term decline and new small political forces are making headway at the fringes of the party system. In fact, FPTP has greatly arrested the fracturing of the British party system. Without it British politics would probably be more continental in flavour and more accurately reflect the real divisions in society. That comes with its own dangers - parliamentary representation for the BNP could be a reality under PR, for example - but the opportunities are there for socialists to seize them.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Shit Through My Letterbox

It's not everyday Nick Griffin writes to me begging for cash, but that's exactly what he's done. This morning thousands of BNP leaflets polluted Stokie letter boxes with their usual mix of lies and hate.

As most readers will be aware, the posties' union, the CWU has agreed a conscience clause with Royal Mail management that allows postal workers the right to refuse delivery of offensive material. As a racist, fascist organisation that would like nothing better than to see "Marxist" trade unions ground beneath the jack boot, the BNP have always fallen foul of the conscience clause. To get round this, the BNP have bundled their pathetic pleas for cash in an unbranded envelope featuring a glum, elderly couple and the legend "Ay up duck, thar's sum rate gud stuff fer Stokies in 'ere" (pictured). Don't be surprised if they use a repurposed envelope elsewhere.

There's no need to dwell on the begging letter itself, except to say Nazi Nick must think Stokies are as thick as his minions if he wants us to swallow the whopper that "tens of thousands of pensioners freeze to death in winter,
even here in Stoke" (underlining theirs).

NB: The BNP have provided a free post envelope with their material. I'm only sayin'.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

LRC Endorsed Candidates

In this general election the Labour Representation Committee are endorsing 29 Labour candidates. These aren't necessarily members of the LRC, but are those "who are (or would become) members of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and those who backed (or would have backed) John McDonnell’s leadership bid in 2007." The LRC group of candidates are worth considering apart from the rest of the far left for two reasons. First despite the LRC being regarded as "mental" by some in the Labour party, not all of them are that left-wing - Diane Abbott and Michael Meacher immediately spring to mind. Second, because they're official Labour candidates their vote goes well beyond the traditional far left ghetto of one or two per cent.

So here's the list. It uses the same format as the previous one, except a * indicates where the candidate or a retiring Labour MP is the incumbent. Where applicable the current majority size is also listed.

Ashton-under-Lyne - David Heyes* (2005, 21,211 votes (57.4%); 2001, 22,340 (62.5%); maj vs Tories 13,952)
Batley and Spen - Mike Wood* (2005, 17,974 votes (45.8%); 2001, 19,224 votes (49.9%); maj vs Tories 5,788)
Blyth Valley - Ronnie Campbell* (2005, 19,659 votes (55%); 2001, 20,627 votes (59.7%); maj vs LibDems 8,527)
Bolsover - Dennis Skinner* (2005, 25,217 votes (65.2%); 2001, 26,249 votes (68.6%); maj vs LibDems 18,437)
Bury St Edmunds - Kevin Hind (2005, 14,402 (27.4%); 2001, 19,347 votes (38.5%))
Clwyd West - Donna Hutton (2005, 12,776 votes (35.9%); 2001, 13,426 votes (38.8%))
Dundee East - Katrina Murray (2005, 14,235 votes (36.2%); 2001, 14,635 votes (45.2%))
Gower - Martin Caton* (2005, 16,786 votes (42.5%); 2001, 17,676 votes (47.3%); maj vs Tories 6,703)
Great Grimsby - Austin Mitchell* (2005, 15,512 votes (47.1%); 2001, 19,118 (57.9%); maj vs Tories 7,654)
Hackney North and Stoke Newington - Diane Abbott* (2005, 14,268 votes (48.6%); 2001, 18,081 votes (61%); maj vs LibDems 7,427)
Halifax - Linda Riordan* (2005, 16,579 votes (41.8%); 2001, 19,800 votes (49%); maj vs Tories 3,417)
Hayes and Harlington - John McDonnell* (2005, 19,009 votes (58.7%); 2001, 21,279 votes (65.7%); maj vs Tories 10,847)
Isle of Wight - Mark Chiverton (2005, 11,484 votes (17.2%); 2001, 9,676 votes (15.2%))
Islington North - Jeremy Corbyn* (2005, 16,118 votes (51.2%); 2001, 18,699 votes (61.9%); maj vs LibDems 6,716)
Kettering - Phil Sawford (2005, 22,100 votes (39.7%); 2001, 24,034 votes (44.7%))
Leyton and Wanstead - John Cryer* (2005, 15,234 votes (45.8%); 2001, 19,558 votes (58%); maj vs LibDems 6,857)
Llanelli - Nia Griffith* (2005, 16,592 votes (46.9%); 2001, 17,586 votes (48.6%); maj vs Plaid 7,234)
Luton North - Kelvin Hopkins* (2005, 19,062 votes (48.7%); 2001, 22,187 votes (56.7%); maj vs Tories 6,487)
Midlothian - David Hamilton* (2005, 17,153 votes (45.5%); 2001, 15,145 votes (52.7%); maj vs LibDems 7,265)
Newport West - Paul Flynn* (2005, 16,021 votes (44.8%); 2001, 18,489 votes (52.&%); maj vs Tories 5,458)
Oldham West and Royton - Michael Meacher* (2005, 18,452 votes (49.1%); 2001, 20,441 votes (51.2%); maj vs Tories 10,454)
North Ayrshire and Arran - Katy Clark* (2005, 19,417 votes (43.9%); maj vs Tories 11,296)
North West Hampshire - Sarah Evans (2005, 10,594 votes (20.7%); 2001, 12,365 votes (25.4%))
Pendle - Gordon Prentice* (2005, 15,250 votes (37.1%); 2001, 17,729 votes (44.6%); maj vs Tories 2,180)
Rutland and Melton - John Morgan (2005, 12,307 votes (25%); 2001, 14,009 votes (29.8%))
Stroud - David Drew* (2005, 22,527 votes (39.6%); 2001, 25,685 votes (46.6%); maj vs Tories 350)
Tunbridge Wells - Gary Heather (2005, 8,736 votes (20.6%); 2001, 9,332 votes (23.2%))
Wansbeck - Ian Lavery* (2005, 20,315 votes (55.2%); 2001, 21,617 votes (57.8%); maj vs LibDems 10,581)
Yeovil - Lee Skevington (2005, 5,256 votes (10.5%); 2001, 7,077 votes (14.7%))

This list clearly shows people can be selected for parliamentary elections, despite being on the left - though it would be interesting to compare these numbers to 2005's roster of Left Labour candidates.

Monday 19 April 2010

The Far Left and the 2010 UK General Election

Here's the list of candidates everyone hasn't been talking about: the combined electoral intervention of the far left in Britain. Just a few things need mentioning before you feast your eyes on what will, after the event, be dubbed the best election campaign socialists have ever been involved in. Firstly the far left here is defined as a group that lays claim to some form of Marxist heritage and/or identifiably fits in with left-of-Labour campaigning. This does not include Plaid Cymru or Mebyon Kerbow who are primarily nationalist parties, albeit ones that are not afraid to use left and social democratic-sounding language; nor the strange formation that is the Pirate Party. The Labour Representation Committee falls outside this definition too because of the thousands of votes the comrades can expect from standing as official Labour candidates. But the Peace Party and Alliance for Green Socialism are definitely in.

Second, this list is a work in progress. For example, the ever idiotic Workers' Revolutionary Party
calls for us to vote WRP while building for socialist revolution, but without telling us where they're standing. Duh. I've managed to track down one seat that's being contested, but rumour has it there are seven more. Has anyone spotted this revolutionary vanguard of the working class? Likewise the Scargill's Socialist Labour Party aren't saying much. Their appalling website still features material from last year's European election campaign. They didn't even try to make hay with Ricky Tomlinson's decision (later withdrawn) to stand against Labour parachutist Luciana Berger in Liverpool Wavertree. Still, at least they managed to find a candidate to replace him. I wouldn't be surprised if Scargill can come up with the readies for a few dozen paper candidates, most of whom will no doubt stand in constituencies where there's already another far left candidate.

A note on the format. Each organisation is listed with the candidate's name, and the previous combined far left vote in that constituency (where applicable) from the 2005 and 2001 general elections. This does not count results from by-elections or other 'second order' elections.

Alliance for Green Socialism
Kensington - Eddie Adams (N/A)
Leeds East - Mike Davies (2001, SLP 419 votes (1.4%))
Leeds North East - Celia Foote (2005, AGS 1,038 votes (2.5%); 2001, SLP 173 votes (0.4%))
Leeds North West - Trevor Bavage (2005, AGS 181 votes (0.4%))
Scarborough and Whitby - Juliet Boddington (N/A)
Vale of Clwyd - Mike Butler (N/A)

Alliance for Workers' Liberty
Camberwell and Peckham - Jill Mountford (2005, SLP + WRP 245 votes (0.9%); 2001, SA + SLP + WRP 736 votes (2.9%))

Communist League
Edinburgh South West - Caroline Bellamy (2005, SSP 585 votes (1.3%))
Hackney South and Shoreditch - Paul Davies (2005, Respect + CPB + WRP 1,729 votes (5.4%); 2001, SA + CPB + WRP 1,803 votes (6%))

Communist Party of Britain
Cardiff South and Penarth - Robert Griffiths (2005, SocAlt 269 votes (0.7%); 2001, SA 427 votes (1.2%))
Croydon North - Ben Stevenson (2001, Socialist Alliance 539 votes (1.3%))
Glasgow North West - Marc Livingstone (2005, SSP + SLP 1,387 votes (4.2%))
Newcastle East - Martine Levy (N/A)
North Devon - Gerry Sables (N/A)
Sheffield South East - Steve Andrew (N/A)

Direct Democracy (Communist) Party
Nusret ┼×en (2005, Respect + CPB + WRP 1,729 votes (5.4%); 2001, SA + CPB + WRP 1,803 votes (6%))

Left Independents
Bermondsey and Old Southwark - Steve Freeman (N/A)
Blaenau Gwent* - Dai Davies (2005, PV 20,545 votes (58.2%), maj 2,488)
Bromsgrove - Mark France (N/A)
Islwyn - Dave Rees (2001, SLP 417 votes (1.3%))
Leeds Central - Dave Procter (2001, SA 751 votes (2.8%))
Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford - Gareth Allen (N/A))
Northampton South - Tony Clarke (N/A)
Stockton North - Frank Cook (N/A)
Stockton South - Yvonne Hossack (2001, SA 455 votes (1%))
Stoke Central - Gary Elsby (2005, SocAlt 246 votes (0.9%))
Torfaen - Fred Wildgust (2001, SA 443 votes (1.3%))
Wakefield - Mark Harrop (2005, SocAlt + SLP 420 votes (0.9%); 2001, SA + SLP 1,175 votes (2.8%))
Worcester - Peter Nielsen (N/A)

Peace Party
Guildford - John Morris (2005, PP 166 votes (0.3%); 2001, PP 370 votes (0.8%))
Horsham - Jim Duggan (N/A)
Woking - Julie Roxburgh (N/A)

People Before Profit
Foyle - Eamonn McCann (2005, Socialist Environmental 1,649 votes (3.6%))
Lewisham East - George Hallam (2001, SA 464 votes (1.6%))

Bethnal Green and Bow* - Abjol Miah (2005, Respect + CL 15,839 votes (36%); maj 823)
Birmingham Hall Green - Salma Yaqoob (N/A)
Blackley and Broughton - Kay Phillips (N/A)
Bradford West - Arshad Ali (N/A)
Brent Central - Abdi Duale (N/A)
Croydon North - Mohammed Shaikh (2001, SA 539 votes (1.3%))
Enfield Southgate - Samad Billoo (N/A)
Garston and Halewood - Diana Raby (N/A)
Manchester Gorton - Mohammed Zulfikar (2005, WRP 181 votes (0.6%); 2001, SLP 333 votes (1.2%))
Oldham West and Royton - Shahid Miah (N/A)
Poplar and Limehouse - George Galloway (N/A)

Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
South Shields - Roger Nettleship (2001, RCPBML 262 votes (0.9%))

Scottish Socialist Party
Aberdeen North - Ewan Robertson (2005, SSP 691 votes (1.9%); 2001, SSP 454 votes (1.5%))
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East - Willie O'Neil (2005, SSP 1,141 votes (2.9%))
Dundee East - Angela Gorrie (2005, SSP 537 votes (1.4%); 2001, SSP 879 votes (2.7%))
Edinburgh South West - Colin Fox (2005, SSP 585 votes (1.3%))
Glasgow Central - James Nesbitt (2005, SSP + SLP + CPB 1,445 votes (5.2%))
Glasgow East - Frances Curran (2005, SSP 1,096 votes (3.5%))
Glasgow North East - Kevin McVey (2005, SSP + SLP 5,438 votes (19.1%))
Livingston - Ally Hendry (2005, SSP 789 votes (1.8%); 2001, SSP 1,110 votes (3.1%))
Paisley and Renfrewshire North - Chris Rollo (2005, SSP + SLP 1,090 votes (2.7%))
Paisley and Renfrewshire South - Jimmy Kerr (2005, SSP + SLP 896 votes (2.4%))

Socialist Equality Party
Manchester Central - Robert Skelton (2005, Independent Progressive Labour + SLP 565 votes (1.9%); 2001, SLP 484 votes (1.9%))
Oxford East - David O'Sullivan (2001, SA + SLP 982 votes (2.5%))

Socialist Labour Party
Barnsley Central - Terry Robinson (2001, SA 703 votes (2.6%))
Barnsley East - Ken Capstick (N/A)
Birmingham Perry Barr - John Tyrell (2005, SLP 890 votes (2.3%); 2001, SLP + SA 1,709 votes (5.3%))
Blaenau Gwent - Alyson O'Connell (2005, PV 20,545 votes (58.2%))
Brighton Pavilion - Ian Fyvie (2005, AGS + SLP 340 votes (0.7%); 2001, SLP 573 votes (1.4%))
Camberwell and Peckham - Margaret Sharkey (2005, SLP + WRP 245 votes (0.9%); 2001 SA + SLP + WRP 716 votes (2.9%))
Camborne and Redruth - Rob Hawkins (N/A)
Central Ayrshire - James McDaid (2005, SSP + SLP 1,288 votes (3%))
Edinburgh North and Leith - David Jacobsen (2005, SSP 804 votes (1.9%); 2001, SSP + SLP 1,593 votes (4.8%))
Glasgow North East - Jim Berrington (2005, SSP + SLP 5,438 votes (19.1%))
Liverpool Wavertree - Kim Singleton (2005, SLP 244 votes (0.7%); 2001, SLP + SA 708 votes (2.2%))
Liverpool West Derby - Kai Andersen (2005, SLP 698 votes (2.3))
Manchester Central - Ron Sinclair (2005, Independent Progressive Labour + SLP 565 votes (1.9%); 2001, SLP 484 votes (1.9%))
Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney - Alan Cowdell (2005, SLP 271 votes (0.9%); 2001, SLP 692 votes (2.2%))
Newport East - Liz Screen (2005, SLP 260 votes (0.8%); 2001, SLP + CPB 593 votes (1.9%))
North Ayrshire and Arran - Louise McDaid (2005, SSP + SLP 1,083 votes (2.5%))
Plymouth Moor View - David Marchesi (N/A)
Plymouth Sutton and Devonport - Rob Hawkins (N/A)
Pontypridd - Simon Parsons (2005, CPB 233 votes (0.6%))
South Derbyshire - Paul Liversuch (2001, SLP 564 votes (1.1%))
St Helens North - Steve Whatham (2001, SLP 939 votes (2.5%))
Thurrock - Paul Mannion (N/A)
West Dumbartonshire - Katharine McGavigan (2005, SSP 1,708 votes (4.1%))
Wolverhampton North East - Shangara Singh Bhatoe (N/A)

Socialist Party of Great Britain
Vauxhall - Daniel Lambert (2005, SPGB 240 votes (0.6%); 2001, SA 853 votes (2.6%))

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Bootle - Pete Glover (2005, SocAlt 655 votes (2.6%); 2001, SLP + SA 1,643 votes (5.9%))
Brighton Kemptown - Dave Hill (2005, PP + SLP +SocAlt 448 votes (1.1%); 2001, SLP 364 votes (0.9%))
Bristol East - Rachel Lynch (2005, Respect 532 votes (1.3%); 2001, SA + SLP 769 votes (1.9%))
Bristol South - Tom Baldwin (2001, SA + SLP 746 votes (1.8%))
Cambridge - Martin Booth (2005, Respect 477 votes (1.1%); 2001, SA + WRP 777 votes (1.8%))
Cardiff Central - Ross Saunders (2005, Respect 386 votes (1.1%); 2001, SA 283 votes (0.8%))
Carlisle - John Metcalfe (TUSC-backed independent) (2001, SA 269 votes (0.8%))
Colne Valley - Jackie Grunsell (N/A)
Coventry North East - Dave Nellist (2005, SocAlt 1,874 votes (5.04%); 2001, SA 2,638 votes (7.1%))
Coventry North West - Nikki Downes (2005, SocAlt 615 votes (1.4%))
Coventry South - Judy Griffiths (2005, SocAlt 1,097 votes (2.7%); 2001, SocAlt + SLP 1,889 votes (4.7%))
Doncaster North - Bill Rawcliffe (N/A)
Dundee West - Jim McFarlane (2005, SSP 994 votes (2.7%); 2001, SSP 1,192 (4.1%))
Edinburgh East - Gary Clark (2005, SSP + CL 905 votes (2.3%))
Edinburgh North and Leith - Willie Black (2005, SSP 804 votes (1.9%); 2001, SSP + SLP 1,593 votes (4.8%))
Gateshead - Elaine Brunskill (N/A)
Glasgow North - Angela McCormick (2005, SSP 1,067 votes (3.8%))
Glasgow North East - Graham Campbell (2005, SSP + SLP 5,438 votes (19.1%))
Glasgow South - Brian Smith (2005, SSP + SLP 1,569 votes (4.1%))
Glasgow South West - Tommy Sheridan (2005, SSP + SLP 1,809 votes (5.9%))
Greenwich and Woolwich - Onay Kasab (2001, SA + SLP 833 votes (2.6%))
Huddersfield - Paul Cooney (2001, SA + SLP 582 votes (1.7%))
Hull West and Hessle - Keith Gibson (2001, SLP 353 votes (1.2%))
Inverness Nairn Badenoch and Strathspey - George McDonald (2005, SSP 429 votes (1%))
Leicester West - Steve Score (2005, SocAlt 552 votes (1.7%); 2001, SA + SLP 671 votes (2.1%))
Lewisham Deptford - Ian Page (2005, SocAlt 742 votes (2.4%); 2001, SA 1,260 votes (4.3%))
Liverpool Walton - Darren Ireland (N/A)
Manchester Gorton - Karen Reissman (2005, WRP 181 votes (0.6%); 2001, SLP 333 votes (1.2%))
Midlothian - Willie Duncan (2005, SSP 726 votes (1.9%)); 2001, SSP 837 votes (2.9%))
Motherwell and Wishaw - Ray Gunnion (2005, SSP 1,019 votes (2.7%); 2001, SSP + SLP 1,321 votes (4.4%))
Portsmouth North - Mick Tosh (N/A)
Redcar - Hannah Walter (2005, SLP 159 votes (0.4%); 2001, SLP 772 votes (2%))
Salford - David Henry (2001, SA 414 votes (1.8%))
Sheffield Brightside - Maxine Bowler (2001, SA + SLP 715 votes (2.8%))
Southampton Itchen - Tim Cutter (2001, SA + SLP 466 votes (1.1%))
Spelthorne - Paul Couchman (N/A)
Stoke Central - Matt Wright (2005, SocAlt 246 votes (0.9%))
Swansea West - Rob Williams (2005, SocAlt 288 votes (0.9%); 2001, SA 366 votes (1.1%))
Tottenham - Jenny Sutton (2005, Respect + SLP 2,277 (7.2%); 2001, SA 1,162 votes (3.7%))
Walthamstow - Nancy Taaffe (2005, SocAlt 727 votes (2.1%); 2001, SocAlt 806 votes (2.3%))
Wellingborough and Rushden - Paul Crofts (2005, SLP 234 votes (0.4%))
Wythenshawe and Sale East - Lynn Worthington (2005, SocAlt 369 votes (1%); 2001, SLP 410 votes (1.2%))

Unity for Peace and Socialism
Leicester East - Atvar Sadiq (2005, SLP 434 votes (1.1%); 2001, SLP 837 votes (2.1%))

Workers' Power
Vauxhall - Jeremy Drinkall (2005, SPGB 240 votes (0.6%); 2001, SA 853 votes (2.6%))

Workers' Revolutionary Party
Camberwell and Peckham - Joshua Ogunleye (2005, SLP + WRP 245 votes (0.9%); 2001 SA + SLP + WRP 716 votes (2.9%))
Enfield North - Anna Athow (N/A)
Feltham and Heston - Matt Linley (2001, SLP 651 votes (1.8%))
Luton South - Frank Sweeney (2005, Respect + WRP 823 votes (2.4%); 2001, SA + WRP 378 votes (1%))
Manchester Central - Jonty Leff (2005, IPL + SLP 565 votes (1.9%); 2001, SLP 484 votes (1.9%))
Norwich South - Gabriel Polley (2005, WRP 85 votes (0.2%); 2001, SA 507 votes (1.2%))
Streatham - Paul Lepper (2005, WRP 127 votes (0.3%); 2001, SA 906 votes (2.4%))

I make that 135 candidates fighting over 120 seats. While that's an all-time low for fratricidal contests between sections of the far left, it's still incredible. With almost 600 other constituencies to fight over, why must there be any clashes at all? For those dying to know, socialists are fighting socialists in Camberwell and Peckham, Croydon North, Edinburgh East, Edinburgh North and Leith, Edinburgh South West, Glasgow North East, Hackney South and Shoreditch, Manchester Central, Manchester Gorton, and Vauxhall. Clashes to watch are Camberwell and Peckham where there's a three-way scrap for the lowest vote between the AWL, SLP, and WRP; and Manchester Central which is a handbags at dawn face off where the Healyite WRP vs the Healyite/Northite SEP. 'citing.

The three seats to watch are of course Respect in Bethnal Green and Bow, Birmingham Hall Green, and Poplar and Limehouse. I would be surprised if the comrades came away from this election with nothing to show for their efforts. The two TUSC contests that should prove to be their nearest to a break through (i.e. saved deposit and respectable vote) will be David Henry of Hazel Must Go in Salford, and Dave Nellist in Coventry North East. While it is true Dave's vote has been declining from general election to general election, I think there's a good chance of the SP/TUSC bucking the trend this time thanks to standing elsewhere in the city AND fighting all 18 council seats that are up for election. Widespread challenges of this kind does grab the local media's notice and can give candidates a bounce - as Green and BNP challenges at council level testify.

Another interesting feature of the electoral data is that despite coming back to elections under a different umbrella each time (especially in England and Wales), there is a dogged consistency to far left challenges. 37 of the seats were contested in 2001 and 2005, but this doesn't take into account the slew of new constituencies that have been drawn up for this election. Most of the N/As next to Respect candidates denote new seats, and it is very likely some of their support from predecessor seats will be bundled up into the new creations.

All in all, in a handful of cases the far left is poised to transcend its usual deposit-losing one or two per cent, adding more colour to an election that has suddenly become a bit more interesting.

I will update candidate information when I get it.

Tuesday Update
With thanks to
Jim Jepps and Tom (in the comments), I've included Eamonn McCann (Foyle) and George Hallam (Lewisham East). Coincidentally they're standing under the banner of People Before Profit but lack, as far as I know, any links with one another.

I've also managed to track down the mysterious Unity for Peace and Socialism candidate - Atvar Sadiq in Leicester East.

Also included are two left wing independents. First is Mark France (Bromsgrove). Comrades might remember him as the job centre worker who was victimised for leading a campaign against sitting Tory MP Julie Kirkbride over her expenses. Strangely he resigned from Respect while he did so fearing his membership would be used against him. Second is Valerie Wise in Preston. Former Labour leader of the council and daughter of the late left wing Labour MP Audrey Wise, she has pledged to fight this seat, but there is no news on whether her candidacy has been confirmed.

Still no sign of those WRP and SLP candidates.

But there is confusion over the Communist League. According to a piece in yesterday's
The Militant, they're all set to unleash Paul Davies on Hackney South and Shoreditch. Yet according to a piece just one week earlier they were about to pile into Bethnal Green and Bow off the back of a book stall they did at an anti-EDL mobilisation. What is it to be comrades?

Wednesday Update
Finally the WRP's list of candidates are available
here. Confirming Jim Jepps' earlier tip off, Ian Fyvie is standing for the SLP in Brighton Pavilion. Also, Margaret Sharkey is going into bat for Scargill in Camberwell and Peckham, where she faces stiff competition from the aforementioned Healyites and the AWL. Who will come nearest to reaching treble figures?

Thursday Morning Update
At long last the SLP candidates are starting to trickle through. Of the three new additions, surprise, surprise, two are standing in seats where there's already a socialist candidate (Edinburgh East and Edinburgh North and Leith). The third is in Birmingham Perry Barr, which the SLP have traditionally contested. Also thanks to Liamm and Anonymous in the comments for letting me know about a new TUSC candidate in Doncaster North, and the Direct Democracy (Communist) Party in Hackney South and Shoreditch.

Thursday Afternoon Update
Some more additions this afternoon. I've received the details for the SLP in the West Midlands and the South West. In the WestMids there's Birmingham Perry Bar (see this morning's update) and Wolverhampton North East. In the South West the SLP will be contesting Camborne and Redruth, Plymouth Moor View and Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport. Eagle-eyed readers will spot that two of the candidates are called Rob Hawkins and are domiciled at the same address. This isn't a crafty SLP plot to stand one candidate in two places (though I wish it was, I could do with a scoop). The comrades are in fact father and son.

In other news, despite Valerie Wise pledging to stand as an independent in Preston, no papers were filed with the returning officer. I bet the SWP wish they'd stood a candidate there now to capitalise on the respectable vote it has built up for Michael Lavalette.

Thursday Evening
And the SLP candidates are coming in thick and fast! Have the complete lists now for Wales and Scotland - check 'em out! Interesting the SLP has stood in Blenau Gwent - will they take more votes off Labour or People's Voice? Also Glasgow North East has now become a three way TUSC/SSP/SLP slap fight. Comrades will also be interested to learn that one of the SLP contacts who've supplied me with the candidate lists said their constituencies were "carefully targeted". I'd love to see the criteria.

Friday Update
Two more SLP candidates have been added - both in Barnsley. I'm told the party can only afford to stand in 25 seats, which is way down on previous interventions. With 18 down there are just seven more to find!

Saturday Update
It's done! What you see before you now is the *definitive* list of far left candidates in the UK general election. Added since last night is the RDG's Steve Freeman standing under 'no description' in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, and the remaining SLP candidates (their official list is available here). There's been additions thanks to tip offs in the comments box under Left Independents (which now include Blaenau Gwent's Peoples Voice and Gary Elsby of Stoke Central fame), and a candidate from the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) - a group with surely less members than it has initials. That gives us a final tally of 135 candidates in 120 seats which, going off the top of my head, is a wider spread challenge than 2005.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Socialist Blogging and the Labour Party

In a recent thread, I said to Modernity that my drop in blogging output has had a lot to do with switching from the Socialist Party to Labour. By the standards of the far left, the SP is a sizeable organisation that punches above its weight, particularly in several trade unions. But compared to the mass parties of mainstream politics, they are tiny and marginalised. And given the ongoing recomposition of the working class, the defeat and decline of the labour movement, and the self-defeating sectarianism of the far left, it could not be otherwise. Nevertheless fighting the (small) corner of the SP via blogging certainly gave me the inspiration and psychological foundation to keep on going.

The mass media is institutionally biased against socialist ideas and politics, and that finds its reflection in blogging too. But nonetheless by virtue of the DIY nature of the medium there is more of a level playing field. It is possible for socialists, and by this I mean *proper* socialists, to build a following over time through excellent writing, thought provoking argument, and sheer bloody mindedness. Rankings from
Wikio's and Total Politics' top 100s, and the Orwell Prize shortlist show it can be done.

Part of this blog's initial appeal was rooted in my being a SP member (three and a half years ago there was hardly a preponderance of SP bloggers), but also in the reflective style of writing I developed. I think it's fair to say readers got a good glimpse of what life was like in the party thanks to the never ending stream of branch meeting, internal events, and SP activism reports. I'd also like to think my blogging showed that contrary to received opinion about life in Trotskyist groupings, I was never one for groupthink and that such cult-like behaviour was not a property of the SP's political tradition or organising practice.

Obviously, as a SP activist wanting to promote the party to other lefts, I had an interest in showing SP life in its best light. But this was not a matter of spinning an unpleasant internal regime. All of my blogging was an accurate reflection of how I experienced life inside. I know about all the scare stories circulating around cyberspace about the machinations and skulduggery found at the centre of the organisation, but I never fell foul of any of it. Perhaps it was because I was a lay member out in the provinces, but nonetheless the relationships between (most) members were genuinely comradely. At branch and regional meetings you'd have a laugh, discuss politics and strategy, and go to the pub and do much the same. I very rarely heard a cross word said about another SP member (I can count on one hand the occasions I did so during my four year membership). True, socialists outside the party's ranks used to get slated but because of their daft, sectarian behaviour or lunatic ways of working, not because they were gay, or overweight, or whatever. In other words, the reflection of SP life this blog projected was an honest portrayal of the calibre and character of the comrades involved.

Because I joined Labour out of
grim necessity rather than genuine enthusiasm, I don't feel the desire to fight Labour's corner by defending its awful record. When there's a massive media apparatus designed to do just that, why should bloggers fall over themselves to be on-message? It's not like we'll swing the election!

But I do think the best place to fight for socialist politics is in the Labour party. Blogging comrades who agree with this position however tend not to write much about party activism. You'd be hard pressed to find more scathing critics of New Labour than
Louise and Dave, but you get little sense of what life inside the party's like. Thing is, doing the whole reflective writing thing that I did with the SP is hardly an advertisement for joining Labour. I put it like this. Some members are still happy to address each other as comrade. But beyond a small minority, there's more than a few who crap on comradely values every time they open their mouths. Mutuality, respect, and solidarity are words uttered for expediency's sake. Discussion about politics is the exception - talk of who hates who, who's been shafted or is in for being fucked over, and who's "mental" is the norm. Casual racism, homophobia and distaste for trade unions aren't uncommon either. And that's before we start talking about shenanigans and stitch-ups.

Blogging reflectively about the SP showed it in its best light. Doing the same for Labour will bring out its worst.

In that case, some might say these are things better left unsaid. I don't think so. What I've seen in the last couple of months puts the worst Trot factionalism firmly in the amateurish shade. The culture of the Labour party is rotten from the constituency level right to the top, which is symptomatic of the neoliberal road travelled and its position as a ladder for local and national political elites. And because their political location is much the same, I doubt the story's any different in the Tories and LibDems. Exposure won't make this go away any more than the MPs' expenses scandal will have banished corruption once and for all from politics. Its well spring bubbles up from Labour being the political expression of the trade union bureaucracies, aspirational layers of the "core vote", parts of the middle class, and capitalists with a conscience. But exposure opens up this culture to scrutiny and challenge, and that is what's needed right now.

So no, I haven't left the SP to become an unpaid spin doctor for Labour. Being a socialist (and a blogger) in the Labour party means building the left, encouraging trade unions to make their affiliation work, promoting socialist ideas, and never sparing the party from criticism, however politically inopportune it may be. That is what I intend to use this limited platform to do.

Friday 16 April 2010

The Leaders' Debate

I didn't have high hopes, but the first prime ministerial debate between the leaders of the three main parties was better than I expected. That doesn't mean it was any great shakes or particularly inspiring, but it did stick to the issues without the yah boo sucks we've been long accustomed to at Prime Minister's Questions. Nor was it deadly dull.

Ultimately, the success or otherwise of the
The Leaders' Debate will be measured not by the after show polling figures or the numbers of points parties gain or lose on election day, but how it effects turn out. According to the Graun, 9.4 million tuned in, and it's probably fair to say a good proportion of them are not only undecided over who to vote for, but also whether they will vote at all. I'm pretty sure some enterprising political science-types are already trying to design research that will offer an approximate answer to that question.

It is fair to say Nick Clegg won the evening, but when all is said and done, regardless of the punditry puzzling over Brown's choice of shirt, whether Clegg was right to address the camera over the audience, and Cameron's hand gestures, it is the political fare that matters. Brown's strong suit was the economy and he played this hand well. Clegg's positioning himself as a slightly more radical alternative to the other two is what enabled him to win the night. And Cameron, well, it will come as no surprise to say I thought most of his policies were piffle. But what really came through is how fundamentally similar all three leaders' politics were. We had the disgusting sight of them competing to be the toughest on immigrants (which, sadly, probably went down well with a lot of viewers). On defence spending it was wrangling over the number of helicopters that should be in the field - Clegg showed the depth of the LibDems anti-war credentials by not once questioning whether the war in Afghanistan is right or just. But it was also Clegg who raised the case against Trident, to which the others could barely give a coherent rebuttal.

And so it was with policing, education, health, MPs' expenses - they were all pretty much singing from the same hymn sheet. Small wonder the pundits are obsessed with the form in which the arguments were delivered than their substance.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

V: The New Series

As long time readers know I'm a bit partial to the classic 80s sci-fi show, V. When I heard a remake was in the offing I was cock-a-hoop, and after what seemed like an age the re-imagined V premiered on UK television last night.

Those acquainted with the original can more or less guess the story, but if you're not there are spoilers coming. One day dozens of vast spacecraft move into position above the world's major cities. Contact is established (by means of vast screens on the ships' undersides) and the aliens, who look like humans, promise peace and advanced technology in return for raw materials. The Visitors - or Vs as they like to call themselves - are friendly almost to the point of insincerity. In a matter of weeks they've opened health care centres across the world offering universal coverage at the point of need (that this is considered a science fictional achievement says all you need to know about the poverty of American politics), taken humans on guided tours of their ships, recruited the young to their youth "ambassador" programme, and are busy lobbying governments for diplomatic recognition.

But all is not as it seems. FBI counter-terrorist agent Erica Evans (
Elizabeth Mitchell) notices that while monitored terrorist group internet chatter drops away when the aliens turn up, one sleeper cell activates and goes into overdrive. Meanwhile Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), a priest used to preaching to empty pews finds his church packed with people turning to religion in the wake of the aliens' arrival. He is suspicious of the spin, and finds his doubts confirmed when a dying paritioner sends him to an underground resistance meeting. Other main characters on the human side include Erica's son, Tyler (Logan Huffman), who becomes obsessed with the Vs and is rapidly inducted into their youth movement; ambitious journalist Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) who uses the arrival to boost his career; and Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut), a resistance fighter with a murky past. Facing them is Diana stand-in, Anna (Morena Baccarin - pictured) and youth movement leader Lisa (Laura Vandervoort).

The original series was pretty unsophisticated fare, though in many ways it was light years ahead of its contemporaries when it came to the depiction of the aliens. Yes, underneath the peel-off skin they were guinea pig chomping reptiles, but as characters they were as conflicted and complicated as the humans. There was none of the all-Klingons-are-up-for-a-scrap nonsense you would find in
Star Trek. However, the original series was let down by daft plots and recycled special effects (especially in the unwise and unlamented TV series). But in the context of the cold war, a show about jack booted alien reptiles preaching peace and friendship plugged nicely into anti-Soviet paranoia (allow me this aside, despite this you could make the argument that the show was Guevarist in inspiration - i.e. elite armed resistance groups face off against the invaders while a stupefied and cowed population looks on).

But the new series has junked some of the silliness of the original. Please note, I did say *some*. For starters, the producers have ratcheted up the paranoia and intrigue 21st century audiences expect from their sci-fi. It turns out the Vs have been living among us for many years, infiltrating governments, militaries, and religious establishments and destabilising things to make the ground more fertile for the moment of their arrival. As Father Jack quips in the pilot, "they're arming themselves with the most powerful weapon we can give them: our devotion" (it also raises the possibility that David Icke might have a point after all). So who can the heroes trust when anyone could be a V? This is complicated by the welcome inclusion of fifth columnists - undercover Vs who've turned against the nefarious plans of their government - who are also active in the resistance.

There's also less of a military aspect to the aliens. In the original series Diana and friends were transparently a fascistic military dictatorship with Nazi overtones, what with all the gun-toting lizard troopers milling about. But in the new series, Anna and co. have been swotting up on their Gramsci to affect a peaceful take over. It seems they leave the muscle to V equivalents of special forces.

And so, going on the first two episodes the new
V is shaping up to be an entertaining series. As long as it keeps sufficient distance from the original and Kenneth Johnson's shockingly bad V: The Second Generation it should turn out fine. But be warned, going by some spoilers I've accidentally read, it looks like we're in for a scientifically illiterate repeat of this.