Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Left Wing ‘Alternatives’ to Labour in the May Elections.

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A number of small left wing groups are running their own candidates in the May elections. They include the Communist Party of Britain, The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), and the Northern Independence Party (NIP). One would have expected that anybody trying to create a new left force, with an electoral presence, would have referred to the chequered past experience of the Socialist Alliance, and George Galloway’s Respect Party. That the last figure is now at the head of the red-brown ‘Workers’ Party of Britain, and is in alliance (“all for unity”) with Tories in Scotland, should merit at least a comment.

Sadly they have not. Amongst a sour list of gripes against Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party nobody seems to be able to offer an alternative organisation to the Labour Party. There is nothing wrong with criticising Labour’s policies from the left. But many of these people seem too wrapped up in the culture of complaint that they have not considered what alternative they can offer or what structures and vehicles they could build to do so.

Look at the state of the Canary chief,

The Socialist Alliance, formed in the late 1990s and active electorally the turn of the new millenium, involved the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party, smaller left groups, and independent radical leftists. It also attracted some Labour Left wing people disillusioned with Tony Blair’s leadership and the ‘Third Way’. It was designed to form a proper socialist party, with a green and feminist message.

Let us see how it worked out.

A certain Andrew Coates wrote in What Next?

The Socialist Alliance: A Regional View 2001.

“In The Retreat of Social Democracy John Callaghan suggested in his conclusion that the dropping of socialist policies by social democratic parties may eventually lead to the “recruitment of significant cohorts who subscribe to the new values”. He went on to state that this development becomes “path dependent”: “parties are changed permanently”.2 It is hard to deny that this is exactly what is happening with New Labour. It is difficult to gauge who reads the drivel pumped out by Millbank, and even Blair fans routinely bin the videos of the Leader’s speech that are helpfully sent to all Party officers. Yet they have gone along this far with the Project, and they are going a lot further at a swift speed. The Labour Party has mutated in directions far from its origins. The category of a “bourgeois workers’ party” cannot cope with the 21st Century Party proposals to end delegate structures and constituency links with the unions.3

Having lost over 100,000 members since the last election, the Party is increasingly dominated by a small number of professional politicians – able in many parts of the country to make a full-time living as councillors. Branch meetings are minuscule (my own last one, of a branch which comprises in theory around 180 members, had three people present, one a full-time regional official). Members’ Forums provided an excellent means of channelling discontent, until people realised the futility of sending in contributions that disappeared in final Party documents. The manipulation of the National Policy Forum was obvious to all but the most naïve. The purge of Grassroots Alliance supporters from that body is well underway. In local government, socialists and working class councillors – both a shrinking and ageing group – are marginalised by the Cabinet system.


The ability of the left of the Labour Party to mount any kind of serious resistance to these changes is severely limited. Seddon back on the National Executive won’t make much difference. The NEC has few powers and, as Liz Davies described it, is frozen in an ultra-Blairite time warp. Union General Secretaries may protest against Bush’s Missile Defence plans but they are caught up in the “new unionism” of John Monks and the TUC.”

The author expressed optimism that the British left could unite into Continental European style radical left party and win electoral representation.

In late 2001, the Network of Socialist Alliances was transformed into a one-member-one-vote political party called the Socialist Alliance (a title already registered for electoral purposes).

The Socialist Alliance was riven by political disagreements. The Socialist Party left the Alliance in 2001 (after the conference that adopted one member one vote) largely because they would subordinate their own ‘party building’ and attempt to replicate the traditional labour movement’s structures in a phantom form around their own party. while Workers Power left in 2003. Labour Left wingers faced repeated clashes with Leninists, and there were arguments about cheques, and a range of practices by those who put the interests of their own democratic centralist bodies above anything else. In short there was a deep cultural divide between democratic socialists, and variety of radical green leftists, and those from the larger Trotskyist, or in the SWP’s case, State Capitalist Leninist, groups.

In 2003, the SWP, supported by the ISG, led the SA into an alliance with George Galloway and other figures involved in the Stop the War Coalition, to form the Respect Coalition. A minority of the SA objected to the way this decision was carried out and argued that the SWP were using their block vote to push their line. Many of these dissidents objected to Respect on principle and all objected to the way the decision to join it was carried out, many forming the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform.

That went well…

Bob Pitt was, alas, right when he had observed that, (What Role for the Socialist Alliance? 2021),

Firstly, “the development of the Alliance into a new multi-tendency socialist organisation, with the SWP at its core, would give the SWP leaders nothing but headaches. Not only would they gain little in terms of numbers from a fusion with the other, much smaller groups who make up the Alliance, but they would be confronted with a state of permanent factionalism in the new “party”, with tightly organised far left sects competing with each other and with the former SWP to promote their own political agendas. Having encouraged Sean Matgamna and his friends to join the International Socialists (the SWP’s predecessor organisation) during another, ill-fated attempt at “left unity” back in the late ’60s, and having suffered a couple of years’ continuous political disruption as a result, the SWP leadership is hardly going to risk repeating the mistake today.

Secondly, “he revolutionary socialist groupings behave like this all the time! Stupid sectarianism runs through the far left like the letters through a stick of Blackpool rock. It’s all-pervasive. Their sectarian outlook lead them to indulge in propagandism designed primarily to advertise, and gain adherents to, their own group – they’re not actually interested in winning anything in the real world. Because of this, they show an almost complete inability to organise any effective campaigns, whether of an electoral or non-electoral character.

Finally, …the problem with the groups comprising the Socialist Alliance, as I say, is not that they have made some isolated error in connection with the general election; rather, their blundering over electoral strategy is part and parcel of a false political methodology. What we have on the far left in Britain is a number of groupings who, under the banner of Marxism, are engaged in building precisely the kind of sects which Marx and Engels spent their lives fighting against. If the Socialist Alliance is to have any positive outcome, it will only be if some of the more serious comrades involved with it reassess that approach, renounce sectarianism and resolve to return to the methods of Marx and Engels. But, frankly, I’ll believe it when I see it!”

TUSC is the vehicle for the Socialist Party, with the connivance of the RMT Trade Union, and some (not very visible) backing from red-browner Chris Williamson. There are 300 candidates standing under the TUSC umbrella, comprising of three regional lists and three constituency candidates for the Scottish Parliament elections; all the regional lists for the Welsh Senedd; a regional list and three constituency candidates for the Greater London Authority assembly; two city Mayoral candidates – in Bristol and Liverpool; and 285 local council candidates contesting seats in 90 local authorities.

Here is Williamson at work, railing against the ‘Israel Lobby’ and its power:

This is their modest ambition, (The Socialist).

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was set up as a vehicle to enable trade unionists, community activists and socialists to stand up and fight at the ballot box against the austerity measures being put forward by all the establishment parties. As such it can be a step towards a future new mass workers’ party.

The Communist electoral campaign is they say, the biggest for years: “the party is actively campaigning in over 40 seats for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd, London Assembly and various English county and district elections.” With a gravitas barely equally the Whippet Northern Independence Party they add, The East will be red

“Nowhere more clearly shows the renewed vigour of the Communist Party than the mobilisation of effort and energy by its eastern district for the local elections.

District secretary Phil Katz said: “The east of England is normally written off as one big Tory stronghold. Yet the region suffers as badly as others in terms of expensive and substandard housing, insecure jobs, poor public transport, environmental degradation and an education system that fails working-class students at every turn.”

In spite of no communists having stood in the area for generations, the party is fielding three highly respected activists this time around: Mark Jones (Felixstowe Coastal) and sitting CPB town councillor Darren Turner (Bury St Edmunds Tower) for Suffolk County Council and Marcus Kearney (High Town) for a Luton Borough Council by-election.”

They conclude,

Steve Handford who is standing in the Heaton ward of Newcastle City Council said, “It’s our time now. The elites had their go and what a mess they’ve made of things. The CPB will transform society for the common good, so that every day the workers win.”

Both the CPB and TUSC are hard line Brexiteers. The Northern Independence Party view on Brexit is not clear, but like the two other ‘alternatives’ to Keir Starmer and Labour they are also, by definition, a more borders party. They therefore will attract neither the internationalist left nor many young people with left-wing views.

None of these groups or their candidates are in a serious position to win national political power they are either marked by the faults outlined by Bob Pitt, or, in the Whippets’ case, by the heavy responsibility of making political gestures in conditions beyond their ability to grapple with. TUSC/SP have been building for a future mass workers’ party for several decades….The SP’s most recent split, after a damaging international feud and the splintering of its ‘international’ the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), occurred only few years ago in 2019. Sections of their group set up their own rival local body, Socialist Alternative.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 5, 2021 at 2:24 pm

13 Responses

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  1. A reasonable analysis of the situation from you Mr. Coates compared to your usual output. We await with interest Trev’s scintillating contribution to the debate.


    May 5, 2021 at 4:53 pm

  2. Nobody cares if NIP are for or against Brexit. It’s a dead issue and irrelevant to internationalism when it was a live issue. What NIP are doing is addressing the regional divide even if you don’t like their solution. You will get nowhere in your criticisms of them if you don’t address this issue. But then you are tied to the Labour Party and Labour have a strict policy on not addressing anything.


    May 5, 2021 at 6:13 pm

    • I do not live in London but in East Anglia. I know what regional issues are. Suffolk has its own own (still just about alive) dialect which I lay a hefty wager many would not understand. An elderly bor said to me a couple of days about growing exotic veg on his own plot, “aut of devilment itself”. I could go on about how local government finance works.

      This is not what we are talking about.

      It is the shift from voting Labour or left parties to backing the bosses’ national populists.

      Do you think it is only self-pitying Northern Tory and Brexit backers who have made that shift? I have cited too many times to go on about, about former Miners and workers in the North of France, places like the Pas-de-Calais. who once backed Socialists and the Communist Party and now back the Rassemblement National of Marine le Pen. Here in East Anglia we have Yarmouth and Jaywick where the poor also doff their caps to the toffs and vote Tory.

      Andrew Coates

      May 5, 2021 at 6:37 pm

      • Yes, of course there has been a move to national populism on behalf of sections of the working class, but that doesn’t mean that everything that superficially looks like it might be part of this tendency really is. The world is not divided into a simple binary of good and bad, globalist and nationalist. That very view is exactly an inverted version of the radical right’s national populism.

        The issues addressed by NIP are economic not cultural. Chronic lack of investment and one of the most extreme examples of economic centralism in the world. This is stuff you would know about if you had bothered to examine the thing you are attacking. This has got nothing to do with Le Pen.

        You think in very broad strokes. It’s the same internationalist youth you get excited about, not the “self pitying” old workers (good grief btw) who are looking for “more borders” – cf. Scotland’s independence referendum. And it’s the Labour Party of ultra remainer Keir Starmer who are the main proponents of left(ish) national populism. Reality is so much more rich than your outlook allows.

        Let’s not forget that the Labour Party is and always has been one of the bosses parties, and that the remain campaign was very, very much the bosses (mainly the Tory’s) campaign, and campaigned on issues relating to the national interest. It should go without saying that neither the bosses remain campaign nor the bosses leave campaign were interested in what was happening to Greece under the bosses anti-democratic protectionist union. If people are shifting allegiances from Labour to the Tories, part of the reason for that is that it’s not a big shift.


        May 5, 2021 at 7:43 pm

  3. Andrew Coates

    May 5, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    • There is a speech by Williamson at a SWP Marxism event a few years back. SWP boss Charlie Kimber was fawning all over him and basically insinuating that the campaign within Labour against him and by extension Corbyn was a Zionist op with no basis in reality. Just Anti Semitic dog whistles by Kimber. Vile.


      May 6, 2021 at 2:32 am

  4. The CPB’s line’ on voting Labour is all over the place, even where they’re not standing their own no-hope candidates. The CPB mouthpiece, the Morning Star (on Monday) in an editorial on the Welsh parliamentary election, called for “a Labour vote in the constituencies and a Communist vote in the regional list.”

    If the CPB are serious (and honest) about wanting Labour to retain control of the Welsh parliament, then this simply makes no sense: Labour currently have 29 of the 60 seats, and the CPB’s tactics might mean that Labour’s number of seats is reduced. The CPB have no chance of winning any representation (their votes in 2016 were a few hundred in each regional seat, 0.2 to 0.3% of the vote and usually the lowest polling in each regional list, and less than TUSC).

    Labour have never won an outright majority, but have won 30 seats twice. Their worst result in 26 in 2011. It is thus both a question of whether Labour can squeak an outright win or how broad a coalition they will need to form (although PC have the balance and can only support Labour).

    I note that the editorial states “the destructive anti-socialism of of leading English and Scottish Labour figures is not a major characteristic of the Welsh party. Anger at Labour’s Westminster leadership is not a good reason to deny Welsh Labour a vote” (ie it *is* a “good reason” in England and Scotland).

    Politically, this simply doesn’t make sense, unless you serious believe that Welsh Labour is qualitatively to the left of English and Scottish Labour – and there is simply no evidence for that. So what is the CPB playing at?

    Jim Denham

    May 5, 2021 at 7:45 pm

    • One of the points is Jim is that they expect people to take this seriously, the other is that the Morning Star is financed by the trade unions, notably UNITE.

      Now TUSC can pursue its own project, which strikes many as a British version of the doomed Lambertist strategy of the Parti ouvrier indépendant) (POI) now split with the Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique .(POID).

      Both claim to be Corbyn’s best friend (truer in the Morning Star’s case).

      But why should trade unions indulge these mythomanes?

      Andrew Coates

      May 5, 2021 at 8:53 pm

  5. Sniffing the air as your enemies roast? Isn’t that what the Nazis did? How strange to find satisfaction in the cruel destruction of sentient beings. Let’s cut the crap…this is all about Iran, though why so many on the ‘left’ think a theocratic medievalist dictatorship is a good thing I can’t imagine.

    Sue r

    May 6, 2021 at 9:17 am

  6. Andrew Coates

    May 6, 2021 at 10:12 am

  7. I’m getting seriously pissed off today by various ex-members of our local CLP’s gloating about how they have not voted, split their vote or spoiling their papers. They seem incapable of realising that their relative social entitlement was built on the threadbare remnants of social democracy which LP members a generation on for them, struggled to maintain and defend against Thatcherism. A lot seem to see their behaviour as a kind of surreal contribution to a re-run of a dream Corbyn / Starmer shoot out, with victory not by (to them) harsh neo-liberal constructs like votes, bur FB ‘likes’ and new hits.

    David Walsh

    May 6, 2021 at 1:17 pm

  8. Sadly the world has changed. I don’t know how the Left can come back from this.

    Sue r

    May 6, 2021 at 1:53 pm

  9. The left needs to undertake a serious reassessment of what’s been going wrong, not just recently, but over decades. That must certainly include a highly critical look at Starmer’s leadership and the recent direction of the party. But the problem cannot simply be ascribed to Starmer and the answer most certainly isn’t a return to Corbynism. The irresponsible abstentionism (objectively, support for Johnson) of sections of the “left” and their unseemly gloating over these results, is sickening: such people have no role to play in rebuilding Labour on a socialist basis.

    Jim Denham

    May 7, 2021 at 7:59 am

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