The Socialist Unity Network

What happened?

Martin wicks

“On June 10th we will send a massive shock wave through the political system.”


So said GeorgeGalloway, who predicted his election in London, and the chance of two other candidates in other regions, winning seats. SWP members were expecting to win…at least one in London. What happened? They scored 250,000 votes in 10 regions. In none of them were they anywhere near having anybody elected. Even with Galloway at the top of the London list they were still 67,000 short of the Greens who got the last seat. In the West Midlands where Rees was top of the list because they thought they had a chance of getting him into the European Parliament, they polled 2.4% (34,704), 70,000 short of the BNP and a little matter of 160,000 short of the Liberal Democrats who got the last seat. All this added up to 1.7% in the 10 areas contested by Respect.


The SWP will point to London, and the Mayoral race to glorify the performance of Respect. Certainly the vote for Lyndsey German was pretty good, and obviously the vote in East London was excellent. But it should be remembered that the decision was taken to concentrate on the European elections because it provided, apparently, the chance of a political “breakthrough”; the equivalent of the election of MSPs to the Scottish Parliament by the SSP.


It was not only Galloway who was talking up the chances. On the Respect web site on the day of the elections a breakthrough was predicted; even “a sea change in British politics”. Yet the stark fact is that they got nowhere near such a sea change or electoral breakthrough. Galloway and the SWP surely have to face up to this reality? After all, not a single candidate of Respect was elected. Even Forward Wales managed one, and came close to winning two more. The best results were in Preston where Michael Lavallette was elected as a Socialist Alliance Councillor and he had a very high profile. But even here they did not win a seat.


But will the omnipotent Central Committee and the Red Professors test their theory against reality? Apparently not. The first internal circular of the SWP was full of flannel. A sober assessment of the score of 1.7%? No. Reality must be adapted to “theory”. Onward ever onward. No detours. No reverse gears.


“Together we have achieved something the left has waited for decades to achieve.”


“The correctness of the decision to launch Respect is shown by the contrast between our first performance and the pathetic performance of those who chose to stand aside.”


No hope I suppose of them checking their facts before writing this? What about the “pathetic performance” of Respect in the four Regions where it scored less than 1%, or the four other regions where it scored less than 2%. In fact, if you examine the results around the country you will find that there were often similar results whatever the label of those on the left. What about Democratic Socialist Alliance – People Before Profit (not a very snappy title I must confess) with 13% in one Sheffield ward and even the dreaded John Pearson scored 8% in his first outing in Stockport. In Swindon the Socialist Alliance scored nearly 12% in one ward (good God didn’t they know they were banned from standing!). The Socialist Party regained 2 of its three seats in Coventry, though this reflects the historical base built around Dave Nellist, who used to be a Labour MP, rather than the strength of the SP.


What did we learn from these elections? We learned that attempts to cobble together short-cuts do not get results. In his pre-election contribution on the SUN site John Nicholson said that it was a good idea to try and build a coalition out of the ant-war movement. I think this was mistaken. It was never possible to turn the ant-war movement into a political coalition. It was a very heterogeneous movement. Of course, there were people who were radicalised by this experience and could move in a socialist direction. But an “electoral alternative” to New Labour cannot be built in isolation from the class struggle and the stage of development of the workers movement (in its broadest sense).


The performance of Respect, overall, was not qualitatively better than other results. Given the fact that it was identified with Galloway who played a leading role in the anti-war movement it was no surprise to anybody that they scored better in London than elsewhere.


We knew before last Thursday that there was an electoral constituency of 5% plus for organisations to the left of New Labour. We also knew that where you do consistent work you can get 10% plus. And you can even, as the IWCA in Oxford has proved (what we think of their politics is another matter), get elected where you build a local base.


The strong side of the SWP is its campaigning activists. But its sectarian arrogance will blow up in its face. Respect, nationally, has been a failure. It was supposedly necessary in order to achieve a “breakthrough”. Well, it did not achieve a breakthrough. Yet the SWP leaders can blithely write that “on this showing we can act to Respect’s total of council seats if we start local campaigning”! Excuse me, but is it not a feature of the election campaign that Respect failed to win a single seat? Should this not be taken into account when drawing up a balance sheet? Unless I am mistaken Respect has two councillors in Preston; one elected as a Socialist Alliance councillor and the other leaving Labour to join it.


Like all sects, the SWP can attempt to inoculate its members against the contradictions between its ‘theory’ and analyses, and the real situation. But the more it does that in conflict with real life experience, the more sectish it will become, and the more it will demoralise its members. The more it ignores the real world the more the real world will club it over the head.


June 2004


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