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Labour Left stuck in cul de sac?

Andy Newman

 

Swindon South have just completed selection for their candidate for the next election - a current Labour seat.

This follows the announcement earlier this year by Julia Drown MP that she was renouncing the seat at the next election. She claims this is to spend more time with family, but we speculate it is really because of the war. (Statement from Swindon Stop the War Coalition: http://freespace.virgin.net/swindon.stopwar/julia_drown_2004_05.htm)

This contest was very interesting in the light it throws on the Labour party, the voting membership of the constituency is just 250 . As Mick Rix of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) conceded in a recent interview in "Communist Review" (CPB quarterly publication): "the constituencies are very moribund at the moment. .. Many CLPs are not meeting at all, or are comprised of a very few elderly people."

At the final wire, there were two main candidates in Swindon ,Christine Shawcroft (left) and Anne Snelgrove (Blairite - pro-war). All sorts of dirty tricks were played by Milbank to get other right-wing candidates to back down, and Snelgrove's campaign was up and running, canvassing members weeks before the membership lists were handed to the other candidates. One member reports Snelgrove popping round for tea, writing several letters, and several phone calls.

But the left campaign? Shawcroft did  virtually nothing. Her being from outside the area made no difference, and indeed it is hard to think of a credible left candidate that could have been put forward from the West Country. Shawcroft  was invited to my GMB branch and didn't bother coming. In the event she only got the backing of the CWU, and all other unions backed Snelgrove. She held no campaign meeting, she made no effort to contact the left in the town.  For example the Stop the War Coalition had a policy of trying to get an anti-war candidate selected . Naturally this had to be done sensitively as many leading individuals in the StWC locally are prominent members of the Greens, Socialist Alliance or Lib Dems. But we put on Alan Simpson public meeting under the joint banner of StWC and Labour Against War, and personally invited everyone we knew in the Labour party, we also wrote to all Labour members we knew.

This was a reasonable success and there were about 10 Labour Party members there who are not usually in the orbit of the anti-war campaign, including two councillors. We also leafleted a Labour Party "big conversation" meeting . But Shawcroft didn't contact us. Had she done so we would have helped  organise the canvassing of the 250 members,  which we could have done by mobilising support from people who we know are Labour Party members, or prominent ex-Labour Party members not affiliated to any other group. Shawcroft didn't contact the trades council either. Also in the control of the left.

The Milbank campaign was nationally resourced, and she was helped by apparatchiks from London all the way. There was no input from the Labour Left from outside Swindon for Shawcroft. At the very least why weren't the 250 members divvied up amongst Labour Briefing supporters for telephone canvassing? Why didn't Shawcroft even get her supporters together for a meeting? (the first time they met was after the vote).

As it stands Shawcroft got 38 votes, and Snelgrove 120 plus. This is a big defeat because Snelgrove did not pretend to be anything other than a  very right wing supporter of Blair, PFI and the war.  Already there is talk from some local union branches of not supporting Snelgrove as "she is not a real Labour candidate".

The actual strength of the Labour left in the constituency? Shawcroft only won the backing of one ward, and that ward is not reliable as they selected an extreme right winger as their council candidate last year, (and she is also now Constituency secretary). Although there may be a dozen Labour members with a social conscience, in terms of how you would understand the Labour left historically there are only two people in the constituency (arguably two more than in Swindon North).

One of Shawcroft's biggest supporters was seeking to organise a meeting inviting the 38 left supporters, but nothing came of this. There is no ward that they could hope to select a left Labour candidate for council in the foreseeable future, nor is there even a ward where they have a working minority that can try to influence things. 

The question should therefore be posed that if the Labour left cannot even mount a decent campaign to get Shawcroft selected then what hope do they have of making any advance against the Blairites? Not only did Labour Briefing fail to act in any way to support Shawcroft, but Mick Rix concedes in Communist Review (Autumn 2004) that the actual strength of the LRC is smaller than its July launch conference would suggest. A number of leading party activists attended the launch but are unprepared to be actively involved, and the LRC has little active support from the trade union leaders. What adds to the crisis is the recent revelation that many of the "awkward" MPs, including Alice Mahon, are expected to step down (or lose their seats) at the next election.

 

January 2005

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