(fwd from Nigel Irritable) Re: The Socialist Party and the Socialist Allianc

Edward George ebgeorge at hotmail.com
Thu Dec 6 12:28:15 MST 2001


Further on the British state Socialist Alliance. Although I rather agree
with Domhnall's comments regarding the rotten nature of the CWI, I have to
say that I was always of the view that the Socialist Alliance project was a
non-starter, at least in Engalnd and, in a different way in Wales, in any
case. I never thought that there was, or, with the reservation that I've
been living in Spain for the last two years, that there is now a
radicalisation outside of the framework of social democracy on which such a
project can be based (however desirable it might be here to be wrong). My
view is that with or without the SP the SA is still something of a
non-starter. Thinking along these lines, in July I wrote a letter to
Socialist Outlook, the paper of the ISG, the British USEC group, disagreeing
with their assessment of the recent British state general election. The ISG
had been a fervent supporter of the SA project from about two years ago, and
at the disputed confrence voted with the SWP for the constiution that led to
the SP walk-out. (I should point out that when I was living in Britain I was
a member of the ISG). I don't know if they published the letter since I now
only read the paper on-line, and the on-line version doesn't seem to include
the readers' letters bit, but the article to which I was responding can be
read at <http://www.labournet.org.uk/so/46newlab.html>.

Agur,

Ed




Tuesday, 31 July 2001

Dear Comrades,

I was interested to read Alan Thornet's assessment of the June general
election results ('New Labour: a government with no mandate', SO 46), but I
have to question some of his judgements.

In the first place, while I agree that it is indeed bizarre that Labour's
landslide was founded on only around a quarter of the electorate, I think it
is difficult to go on to argue that there is anything in the figures that
vindicates the decision to run the Socialist Alliance campaign.  Outside
three constituencies in which special factors came into play, the overall
average percentage poll of under two per cent (in an election in which the
turnout was staggeringly low anyway) hardly indicates the emergence of
anything like a significant layer within the workers' movement breaking from
labourism to the extent that they are prepared to vote against it.  These
kinds of numbers are what one comrade memorably called a 'BT vote'-i.e.,
'family and friends' (of the candidate).  So while the degree of
co-operation among the groups of the far left may be gratifying, the actual
content of the joint work rather seems far less so.

But this in England.  In Scotland, on the other hand, the level of the vote
won by the SSP does seem to have passed some kind of threshold.  Here it
really does look like there is a different process underway-reflected this
time round by the vote to the left of Labour, but building on patterns
already evident in the way in which the SP and SWP in Scotland have evolved.
  Politics in Scotland seems to be moving at a different rhythm than in
England, a significant fact that socialists in Britain have to be able to
understand and work with.

And what of Wales?  Here the situation appears different again.  Comrade
Thornet can only note the poor performance of the Alliance, and the fact
that Plaid Cymru 'did a lot worse than expected'.  One is tempted to ask
expected by whom?  By some within Plaid I expect, but when did a small party
not do as well as it expected?  The very same point could be made about the
Alliance.  In fact, by any standards, Plaid did in fact remarkably well
indeed, if a comparison is made with the last British state general
elections in 1997.  Looking at the total votes cast for the main parties in
both elections, we see that not only was Plaid the only party to increase
its vote in Wales, but it increased its vote by a whopping twenty-one per
cent.

Why was this so?  Who were these new Plaid voters?  Looking at the figures,
it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they are former Labour voters
fed up with the current direction of the Party, especially when it is borne
in mind that the biggest swings from Labour to Plaid (again calculated using
actual numbers of votes cast) tend to be clustered in the traditional Labour
bastions of the south Wales coalfield. That this is so can be largely
explained by the fact that Plaid's policies are in general not only to the
left of Labour's, but also appear to be more in line with the aspirations of
the latter's own traditional supporters.  With regard to privatisation, for
example, Plaid is both critical of the Private Finance Initiative and in
favour of the renationalisation of the railways.  For many Labour voters, it
seems, a vote for Plaid is seen as a vote in defence of the welfare state
and public services:  Plaid's appeal to Labour voters would seem to lie in
the popular perception that Plaid are better defenders of traditional
'labourist' interests-are, in fact, better 'Labourists'-than New Labour
itself.

This is of course exactly the same pattern of voting that we saw in the
Welsh Assembly elections in 1999, save the fact that this time round it has
been on a much smaller scale.  The reasons for this are obvious: the Welsh
working class is not stupid, and for the time being it is going to take the
question of Westminster government seriously.  But the pattern that we saw
in 1999 is exactly the same, only this time with smaller numbers.  There is
a real process here, different to that in both England and Scotland.

And this is the real point I want to make.  Since the 1970s, the unitary
political system in the British state has been breaking down, and the fruits
of this process are what we can discern in the June results.  The
consequence today is that in England, especially in metropolitan England,
there is no significant radicalisation occurring outside of the
organisational or political confines of Labourism.  In Scotland, following
on from the poll tax movement and the impact of the national question, there
is a genuine large-scale radical current that is beginning the break from
the dominant current of British working class politics.  In Wales, a
different process is taking place, with a small but significant shift in
political allegiance from Labour to Plaid.

Aside from all debate on the merits or otherwise of the performance of the
Socialist Alliance, therefore, the real point is that a British political
outlook which does not recognise that England is not Scotland and Wales is
not England is not going to be able to address the real political
developments taking place within the British working class movement.

Comradely,

Ed George



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