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Swindon campaign hustings

Martin Wicks

The first hustings of the General Election campaign took place on April 12th, hosted by Swindon's World Development Movement, and recorded for BBC radio, chaired by Peter Heathcote-Jones. Extracts from the debate will be played on the radio over the next week. All the candidates North and South were present. There were about 60 people there, some Socialist Unity supporters came in late as we had been leafleting the Territorial Army with a leaflet about their right to be conscientious objectors.

New Labour's candidate for Swindon South, Anne Snelgrove, did not impress. We must have a discussion about ID cards after the election she said, neglecting to express an opinion about them. Pressed by the chair she expressed support for the cards, with the bonus of supporting the right of the police to demand to see them (not in fact part of the Bill)! The Tory candidate Robert Buckland spoke after her, decrying the government's attacks on civil liberties. "Which one's the Tory?" somebody asked from the audience.

On the Iraq war she tried to wriggle out of expressing an opinion too. People were angry, she accepted, but all that's in the past and now the government was going to give lots of aid to Johnny Foreigner, and jolly progressive they were. This was not well received by the audience. If she supported the war let her justify it now.

Snelgrove denounced the Tory proposal to provide half the cost of private treatment by way of a voucher system. What she neglected to deal with was the Blair government's policy of opening the NHS to the private sector. Julia Drown had assured us, when she was defending the private finance initiative, that all clinical services would remain in the NHS. But now the government is inviting in private health companies to carry out clinical work.

The only difference between New Labour and the Tories in this regard is that the Tories would give money to patients to hand over to private health companies, whereas this government hands it over directly to the private health vultures.

Green Party candidate for Swindon South, Bill Hughes, denounced the Blair government's privatisation of NHS service. Aneuran Bevan would be turning in his grave, he said. (Socialist Unity is calling for a vote for Bill in the South.)

Michael Wills, New Labour's incumbent MP, shifted his ground on the war. Now he does not know whether he had been right or wrong to support it. Time alone would tell. It was difficult to draw any other conclusion than his back-peddling was based on concern that defending the position he took would lose him votes.

On the trades unions Michael Wills told us he was a member of the TGWU. Very progressive. However, he did not mention the TGWU members in North Wales who were sacked by their management for being on strike even though they were engaged in legal action after a ballot. Such sacking is legal under this government because strike action is only protected for 8 weeks! It is the only country in Europe in which such an outrage is legal. The much vaunted Warwick agreement which New Labour has signed up to with the unions, does not make it illegal to sack somebody involved in legal strike action, it merely extends the protection for 4 weeks!

Ann Lubin asked a question about restoring the link between pensions and earnings. Michael Wills defended the Blair line of "getting the money to those who need it." Andy Newman, Socialist Unity candidate for Swindon North, denounced the use of the means test as degrading. He pointed out that even if the government did not raise tax levels for the super-rich to pre-Thatcher rates, raising the higher rate of tax to 60%, the level it was under Thatcher, this would raise significant sums which could provide a liveable pension. Why should the poor pay the same tax rate as the rich?

The Liberal Democrat candidates seemed almost left wing compared to the New Labour candidates. However, this is a party which has just voted at a recent conference to impose arbitration on public sector unions and to give a government the facility to ban strikes in the public sector,

All in all the New Labour candidates were on the defensive, Wills fearful of losing his seat, and Snelgrove of not getting elected.

The larger the vote for Socialist Unity and the Greens the greater the chance of building a radical left wing alternative to New Labour and the other mainstream parties. The debate showed them all as supporters of the 'free market' and privatisation of public services.

Can you help our campaign?

Socialist Unity does not have the resources of the main parties. We rely on volunteers. You can help our campaign by putting a poster in your window, helping us leaflet, giving out leaflets to your workmates, distributing our Newsletter and press releases, contributing whatever you can afford to help with the cost of the campaign. Contact us (details below) to offer whatever support you can.

We are standing in this election because we believe that a socialist alternative to New Labour is necessary. Our supporters are activists in the trades unions, community campaigns like Save Coate, the Stop the War Coalition and others. We want to maximise our vote. But we are not simply looking for votes. We are looking to involve as many people as possible in building a new movement which organises working class people and those who suffer the consequences of a crazy economic system which puts profit before human interests. Why not get involved?


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April 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism