The Socialist Unity Network

For a flexible, fraternal approach

John Nicholson

"The success and sustained activities of the anti-war movement have raised an important question for all socialists living in England. In our imperfect democracy, what is to be done with all the energy and enthusiasm that has developed through the anti-war activities, so evident in the two million people who took to the streets a year ago?

The last huge protests in England (against the poll tax in 1990) did lead to regime change - up to a point. Thatcher was swapped for Major. The poll tax was replaced by the council tax. Enough said. But the Militant, in England, which was a big force within the anti-poll tax movement, went into rapid decline.

This time, Blair was not (quite) swapped for Brown, the bombs were replaced by an illegal and self-defeating occupation, and a raft of anti-libertarian terror and asylum measures at home have further cultivated the ground for the fascists.

But, this time, there is an electoral alternative. Following the gains in Scotland, there will be socialists and greens contesting the Euro, London and local elections in England in June. The development of Respect - the Unity Coalition gives socialists the opportunity to take the energies of the anti-war movement into a widespread contest for Euro and Greater London seats. Both of these elections involve proportional representation, as is the case with the Scottish Parliament.

Of course, we should not put all our faith in elections. And the Euro-elections have always been the most boring, least relevant, and unlikeliest to galvanise the attention of the left and its natural electorate. So we have to continue to take direct action as well. Anti-war demonstrations and related actions have continued since February 15th 2003 - and there are more to come (Manchester March 13th, London March 20th). And fighting the fascists has to take place on the streets, not just at the ballot box.

But for the Socialist Alliance, there is no argument against contesting elections. This was decided, nationally, in 2000, before the last Westminister Election. Local elections had already been fought in several areas of the country.

The question facing us today is simply whether we want a socialist presence at all levels, locally, regionally and nationally, in the mega-vote on June 10th. The only arguments against this are the possible confusion of message and the fear of diversion of resources. Neither should be accepted.

First, Socialist Alliances locally should be able to stand in the local council elections, which take place outside London, if they decide to do so, on the explicit basis that they are required to call for a vote for Respect in the Euro (and London) elections on the same day. There is no confusion of message and indeed there is encouragement for the socialist vote at each level. We can only gain from this.

Second, the socialists campaigning locally will do so in areas that will contribute to electioneering for the Euro-seats. Respect will never cover all households, in all regions outside London. Locally socialists can politicise the parts that others cannot reach. Standing in both local and Euro elections will maximise rather than diversify resources.

It should then be up to the local alliances to decide whether they would prefer to stand under the banner of Respect (to link with national elections) or of the Socialist Alliance (for continuity if they have stood on this ticket in previous years). This choice can be approved by the National Executive of the Socialist Alliance, as outlined in the resolution submitted by the Task Group to the Socialist Alliance Conference of March 13th.

This is no different to socialists supporting independent campaigners, such as those opposing hospital closures. We would not contest seats against these, at local level, but nor would we insist that they have to stand only if they bear our name.

Finally, there is one possible side-benefit. Although no great hopes can be held out for it, there is the lingering issue of negotiation with the greens. Nationally it is unlikely that the latter will shift from their intransigent position of standing everywhere and not sharing their slates. But locally the Green Party has not the resources to stand everywhere and it may be that local deals can be struck with socialists. In any case, it is better (for Respect and the Socialist Alliance) to show that we tried.

So rather than seek any one simple answer to the question of "what is to be done", we should all encourage all forms of protest, ranging from direct action through to formal electoral opposition, and at all levels of election - and we should make sure that we are linking these together - in order to defeat Bush, Blair and the BNP."

Resolution for Respect Executive

1. We note that Respect has decided to stand in the Euro and GLA elections
in June 2004.

2. We recognise that local activists (out of London) may want to stand in the local council elections at the same time. We encourage local activists / branches who are considering standing to liaise with any other local organisations, in order to maximise an anti-war, anti-racist, anti-fascist approach, especially in those areas where there are "all-out" elections (i.e. where there are 3 votes for all council seats).

3. Where Respect activists decide that they wish to stand locally, the National Executive Committee of Respect will delegate its regional organisations (Regional Executive Committees / Steering Committees / etc) to consider these requests, to make arrangements, and to authorise as appropriate.

4. In agreeing to stand itself in the local elections, Respect will at the same
time support other organisations or individuals standing in the local elections where Respect is not standing - who stand on a platform against the war, against racism and fascism, against cuts and privatisation - on the basis of seeking their reciprocal support for Respect in the Euro (and GLA) elections.


John Nicholson




March 2004