The Socialist Unity Network

Why do we stand in elections?

Jim Jepps


Its not that long ago that many on the left assumed that we never stood in elections. There is no parliamentary road, meant we never use parliamentary elections. Now the assumption has flipped the other way. Not only does everyone believe that we must stand in elections, but there is very little questioning of why we might be doing it.


I want to take a quick look at what a socialist election campaign is meant to achieve - and the kind of thing we should attempt to avoid.


Obviously for socialists we see elections as an opportunity to advance socialism and persuade people over to left wing arguments on a whole host of questions.

We hope that by standing in elections we can raise crucial questions that no one else will raise and can help build campaigns in the estates and on the streets that fight for social justice, often uniting with people who fall well outside of 'socialist'.

A socialist campaign should try to least to reflect the principles that launched it. Team work, democracy, fraternal discussion and working class politics need to be crucial threads running through those campaigns.


We don't avoid certain questions or adapt our answers because we think they might be vote losers. Nor do we go out of our way to bludgeon people with a full list of socialist demands, or pick out what think might be our most unpopular demands.

None of this means that we never compromise, that we always stand no matter how bad the vote might be or anything like that. Tactical questions are important to make sure we don't end up finding ourselves stepping backwards, but it's this overall picture - the real reason for standing in elections that we should not forget.


A socialist election campaign needs to draw new people in and give those with less time the opportunity to do a little on this special occasion. There are a whole layer of progressive people across the country that simply will not become 'activists' attend meetings and regularly support demonstrations - but they will, once a year say, go out and leaflet and stick a poster up in their windows. We need to find ways of going to them rather than expecting everyone to be head banging activists.

This layer is particularly important because we should be striving to give them as much democratic input as possible so they feel this is their movement and when they go to work or are waiting at the school gates they are confident to put the arguments of the movement.

If activists and supporters are to give their all they must feel they are part of the  campaign, they have a say in decisions and that it represents their views - rather than simply supporting someone that they think will do a good job. In short it must be accountable to the supporters on the ground rather than a top down plan by the 'leaders' of the movement.


All of this raises the question of the difference between our democracy and theirs and it all points us in a very different direction to the careerists and opportunists that pollute the Labour Party. Protests are not simply good opportunities to get your face in the paper - they are the essential building blocks of the struggle for a better world. Elections and elected officials are worth only what they add to this fight.

We do not stand to get elected, but we do hope to get elected to win greater support for the left and gain a profile for our ideas that we could not otherwise achieve. The press will always suppress information on minority candidates, particularly socialist ones, but we can twist their arms if we prove ourselves to be news and to ignore us would clearly smack of censorship.

However even when we get a hearing, we should never expect that we get a FAIR hearing. Despite all this the media is a crucial tool in any modern campaigning work.


Whilst those socialists who remain in Labour may conceivably argue that a fight inside Labour may push it to the left - there is no Labour election campaign (for instance at the June 10th elections) that can be said to be a real fighting expression of the anti-war movement, or that connected with the local population on a socialist basis, no matter how left wing the candidate.

For the Labour Party power is an end in itself, and protest is useful only where it enhances the vote - for socialists political power is only worth bothering with if it gives the movement more confidence, shifts the population to the left and strengthens our ability to fight. Socialists never say 'we will do this for you' what they must say is that 'no one but yourselves will protect your interests, rise up and fight.' And in this unity is strength.


July 2004


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