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Socialist Alliance conference
Building a socialist election challenge
AT A time when New Labour are unpopular as never before, the need for the widest possible socialist challenge at the general election is clear.
On 30 September, the Network of Socialist Alliances will be coming together in Coventry at a conference to discuss a general election strategy. In addition to ourselves, the conference will involve several local socialist alliances, the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), and various small left-wing organisations.
As Dave Nellist (Socialist Party councillor and chair of the Socialist Alliance) explains in his report to the conference: "The general election represents an opportunity to mount a far wider socialist election campaign than we have yet achieved."
Unfortunately, the real possibility of a significant, united election campaign is being endangered by the attitude of the SWP and others.
The majority of Socialist Alliance Officers, including the SWP, have agreed a General Election protocol which will, if implemented, lead to the breakdown of the Socialist Alliance general election electoral challenge.
Again, as Dave Nellist explains: "The majority proposals represent an extreme centralisation of the alliance structures, they are designed for a party not for an alliance.
"Since our beginnings in the early 90s, the Socialist Alliances have seen our role as attempting to enable individual socialists, and different socialist, environmental and direct action organisations to work together towards common objectives.
"We have recognised that there were political differences between the constituent parts of the Alliance, but realised that these need not prevent us working together provided it was on a democratic federal basis.
"I believe that it would be a major error to change this approach now, without discussion, under the pressure of the impending election campaign."
Unfortunately, the majority protocol commits the "major error" that Dave Nellist describes. It proposes that the officers of the Socialist Alliance form a small eight-strong Election Committee. It then demands that:
"In proposing candidate(s), the local Socialist Alliance/ group/ campaign concerned will be asked to demonstrate the following requirements [to the Election Committee]:
Substantial level of activity / activists
Ability to raise finance and to take on responsibility for campaign expenses
Credibility of candidate(s)
Appropriateness of local circumstances
Local agreement to the chosen candidate(s)
And any other criteria as set by the SA conference / Election Committee" (Majority Protocol Point 4).
On the basis of these criteria: "The Election Committee will thus formally endorse local candidates, agents and treasurers." (Majority Protocol Point 5)
This proposal is utterly unworkable. The Socialist Alliance is still a fairly small, relatively untested, organisation. It involves organisations from many different backgrounds, some of which are working together for the first time. It is totally unreasonable to expect them to allow their seats, candidates and agents to be decided by a small, national, and possibly unrepresentative Election Committee.
BY CONTRAST the Socialist Party are proposing a continuation of the federal, democratic approach that the Socialist Alliance has taken up until now.
The aim of the Socialist Alliance should be to encourage as many political organisations, groups of trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners as possible to take part in the Alliance election challenge. This means putting as few obstacles as possible in their path.
We should encourage all organisations to put the name "Socialist Alliance" on the ballot paper, but it should not be made a condition of taking part in the election campaign.
The Socialist Alliance should agree, on the basis of the widest possible consensus, a minimum Election Programme. Any organisation which agrees with this programme, and is prepared to make their support for the Socialist Alliance campaign clear on their election material, should be welcomed on board.
If we are to draw in new, fresh forces that are not currently involved in the Socialist Alliance, it is vital that we take this open inclusive, approach.
Even an election campaign involving only the existing forces in the Socialist Alliance will be endangered by the majority proposals. The Socialist Party is the most experienced of any organisation within the Alliance at running election campaigns.
Initial figures suggest that the constituent parts of the Socialist Alliance are currently thinking of standing in 45 seats, (hopefully this figure will increase). Of these seats 18 will be contested by the Socialist Party (this includes Dave Nellist, the most nationally high profile candidate in the Socialist Alliance, standing in Coventry).
By contrast the movers of the majority proposals (Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance) are intending to stand in one or two seats, and their primary backers, the SWP, are intending to stand in around four. Yet, if the majority proposals are adopted, these organisations will have effective control over our election campaigns. This is unacceptable.
THE SOCIALIST Party takes the Alliance project seriously. We are keen to take part in a united Socialist Alliance election challenge. We believe that such an election campaign could have a significant impact.
If it succeeded in inspiring a layer of workers and youth it could play an important role in speeding up the development of a new workers' party. Such a party will primarily be forged out of events and struggles, nonetheless, campaigning for it is a key task for socialists today.
If a new party is formed, involving tens of thousands of workers, the Socialist Party will throw ourselves wholeheartedly into building it. In the course of steps towards a new party we would discuss with others what further organisational forms would be necessary, as we were keen to do when the Socialist Labour Party was launched.
However, the Socialist Alliance is currently, although it includes a number of important local campaigning organisations and alliances, primarily made up of members of existing political organisations.
Therefore, we believe it is vital that the Socialist Alliance continues to organise on the principle of the united front. This means that we continue to unite the participating forces on the basis of a common socialist platform, while allowing organisations, groups, and individuals the right to uphold their own political positions.
This is the best way, at this stage, for achieving an effective election campaign of the existing socialist forces. We appeal to all members of the Socialist Alliance to take this position on 30 September.
In The Socialist 22 September 2000: