Socialist Party
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12 May 2010

General election 2010: TUSC results and the need for working class representation

BESIDE THE events in Greece the general election in Britain seems a mundane affair. Nonetheless, it opens up a period of instability which will, at a certain stage, lead to 'Greece coming to Britain'.

Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary

It may be days, or even weeks, before the political stripes of the next government are known - but it is already certain that it will jump to the tune of the markets - that is capitalism - and will carry out brutal attacks on the public sector and the living conditions of the working class. Cuts, as Alistair Darling put it, "deeper and tougher than Thatcher" are our future.

For this reason the Socialist Party argued that it was vital to have a socialist challenge in this election as preparation for the mighty struggles ahead. We helped to found the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which stood in 41 general election seats across Britain.

TUSC declared opposition to all cuts in public services and put the case for a socialist alternative to capitalism.

Everywhere TUSC candidates stood we had enthusiastic support - particularly from young people and public sector workers. TUSC election meetings were successful - with significant numbers of people coming along because they had picked up a leaflet and wanted to find out about a socialist alternative.

At the largest, in Coventry, 110 people attended, around half of whom had never been to a socialist meeting before.

Although TUSC candidates got some creditable votes - notably Dave Nellist's 1,592 votes in Coventry North East, 1,057 for Jenny Sutton in Tottenham and 931 for Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow South West - TUSC's support was not generally reflected in the votes it received. In part this was because of the capitalist media's virtual blackout of TUSC. This made it difficult to establish a national profile in the short time between it being founded and the election being called.

However, the major factor, as we predicted, was that many workers who would have voted for us felt they had no choice but to vote New Labour in order to stop the Tories.

The memory of the brutal class war that Margaret Thatcher and the Tories carried out against the working class runs deep. Workers, including some who had not voted New Labour for two general elections, came out and voted for them through gritted teeth. The resulting squeeze affected all other parties beyond the 'big two', even the Liberal Democrats.

There were, however, a few candidates that managed to stand against this trend. Green candidate Caroline Lucas won the parliamentary seat in Brighton Pavilion. Salma Yaqoob, standing for Respect in Birmingham Hall Green, did well, winning over 12,000 votes in the general election, and was re-elected to the council.

The general trend, however, was for smaller parties to be squeezed by New Labour and the Tories. This, combined with the higher turnout created by the general election taking place on the same day as the locals, meant that the four Socialist Party councillors who were up for re-election all lost their seats, despite maintaining or even increasing their votes.

In Coventry St Michaels ward, where Socialist Party councillor Rob Windsor was defending his seat, Rob got the highest ever vote for the Socialist Party in the ward, with 1,783 votes - 580 up on last time he stood.

In Lewisham, our councillors also got 600 more votes than the last elections - 1,362 for Ian Page and 1,216 for Chris Flood, plus 877 for Jess Leech who was seeking election to the council.

In Kirklees, Jackie Grunsell was also defeated despite getting an excellent 1,472 votes. In all three areas the loss of their socialist councillors has acted to shock many of our voters into action. We have been inundated with offers to help make sure that our councillors are re-elected at the next elections.

Tasks ahead

The increase in New Labour's vote in some areas did not represent support for New Labour, but the hope that the cuts would be a little gentler under a Labour government. As we have explained, while the timing of cuts might be a bit slower under New Labour, there is agreement between the three big capitalist parties on the need to carry out the biggest cuts in public spending since the 1920s.

The task of socialists will be to argue for a mass united working class movement - starting with a massive national trade union led demonstration against all cuts in public services.

This must be linked to building a positive, political alternative. The struggle to create an independent political voice for the working class - which stands for a socialist alternative to the profit system - is a crucial part of our tasks. TUSC is a modest, but very important, step towards such a goal.

While still only early beginnings, the number of trade union organisations that backed TUSC is significant.

Branches and regions of the FBU fire brigades union, the CWU communications workers' union, the POA prison officers' union, and the RMT transport workers' union, have supported TUSC candidates.

Twenty TUSC candidates were officially backed by the RMT national council of executives. National trade union leaders, including Bob Crow RMT general secretary, Chris Baugh PCS assistant general secretary, Brian Caton POA general secretary and Nina Franklin president of the NUT, sit on the steering committee of TUSC.

It is important that we continue to develop TUSC beyond the general election. To do this successfully means recognising the early stage of development of this formation, which still has a limited number of activists.

However, it also means understanding that the most significant aspect of TUSC is that it has involved sections of militant trade unionists, and is therefore a real step towards independent working class representation.

It is the federal, inclusive approach adopted by TUSC that has made this possible. All future developments will need to build on this method.

Click here for the TUSC results