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TUSC’s exercises in self-deception

TUSC propogandaUnder-appreciated they may be, but local elections are a vital component of any party-building project. UKIP certainly accept this wisdom. They know that a base in local government can give them a foundation on which to build. And theirs is an ambitious project. It’s not about taking Britain out of the EU, but replacing the Tories. As such, their 161 new councillors give them a start for 2015 and beyond. The far left have cottoned on to this too. In addition to haphazardly standing in the European elections as No2EU, the Socialist Party-led Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition stood in 554 council seats – apparently, a record for a left-of-Labour challenge. How did it do?

According to TUSC’s official report, 12% of all council seats were contested by the coalition, up from five, four, and two per cent in 2013, 12, and 11 respectively. This was also an electoral challenge with social weight.

There were 53 candidates who were members of the RMT transport workers’ union, one of the constituent organisations, of course, of TUSC. But then there were 19 Communication Workers’ Union members who were candidates, 18 members of the National Union of Teachers, 16 PCS members, and 20 members of the University and College Union. From the big Labour-affiliated unions, there were 74 Unison members standing for TUSC and 130 members of Unite.

TUSC polled 68,152 votes and saw its anti-cuts councillor, Keith Morrell retain his seat in Southampton. According to Hannah Sell, the SP’s deputy general secretary, this represented the anger of an “important minority of workers” ignored by the media. Nevertheless “the achievements in this election – particularly the breadth of TUSC’s local election challenge – mark an important step on the road to building such a force” that can challenge Labour and stand up for working class people.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition, but to achieve something you have to appraise where you are and how you might meet your destination. An honest reflection on TUSC’s results would set it in the context of labour movement weakness, the – unfortunately – wide indifference to austerity, the ongoing restructuring of the British labour market, the crisis of mainstream politics, and the continued acceptance of neoliberal common sense.

It also means having a sense of history – where does TUSC sit in relation to and how does it compare with the preceding regroupment projects of the previous 20 years? Has it developed any since it was founded in early 2010? It has to ask discomfiting questions such as why does it continue to poll less than spectacularly, why did the comrades who formed Left Unity give TUSC a wide berth, and why do Labour-affiliated unions remain stubbornly Labour loyal?

It has to ponder on where the new party SP/TUSC want to see is likely to come from, and how their coalition is a step toward it. To answer these questions, to perform an analysis that takes all this in requires honesty. Alas, the official line coming from the SP/TUSC is fundamentally dishonest.

Take the victory of Keith Morrell in Southampton, for instance. This was one of the few areas TUSC or, to be more accurate, Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts, ran candidates in all wards. All wards that is save one: the Coxford seat. Coxford happens to be the ward which won. See for yourself – he was down on the ballot paper as ‘Independent’. You might say it doesn’t matter – the significant point was that his “bold stand” was rewarded by the electorate.

Nevertheless, it does require an explanation. Did Keith think the TUSAC label would have weighed him down like a corpulent albatross? Were TUSC happy to have one of their few “star turns” spurn their label? Why have the SP/TUSC kept mum about it – is it because Keith winning can be read as legitimation of their strategy? As he himself puts it, “this result … shows what is possible. Other significant results across the city for TUSC candidates show the potential that exists for a new party that stands up for working people.” These “significant results” were coming last in all but one ward, and polling between the 15 of them just 40 more votes than what Keith received alone.

Let’s have a look at the national “significance” of the TUSC result. 68,152 votes split between 554 candidates is an average of 123 votes. Not bad by far left standards. But putting that in perspective, the Labour Party’s 95 candidates in May’s by-elections got 72,754 votes. Across the local elections as a whole it won the popular vote with 2.9m votes, or just under 36%. In contrast, TUSC won 0.8%.

To be fair, you might say TUSC were hampered by standing in far fewer seats. That much is true, but this comes with a caveat. Given the very limited resources available – and going from previous experience – TUSC go for seats they think are particularly favourable, and these tend to be Labour-held seats. If they consistently perform badly here, they will consistently perform badly everywhere else. If these results are genuinely about putting down a marker, those seats have to be worked repeatedly. Alas, if past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour only a very small number of those wards will be so worked, and then it will – in the vast majority of cases – be as the SP, until TUSC/TUSAC is dusted down for the next set of elections.

As for the rest, well. Let’s just say cherry picking the least worst results is as embarrassing as it is silly. For example, while noting TUSC chair Dave Nellist got a “very good 974 votes” and coming second, it “forgot” to mention this was once a ward where the SP had all three councillors and that, unfortunately for Dave and his comrades, his vote share is in decline. Across Coventry too, once something of a crown jewel for the SP, in the 13 clashes with the decrepit and near-extinct BNP, the fascists outpolled TUSC in all but three of them. While it might be keen to talk up how in Birmingham 1,766 votes  were won (lower than what the LibDems polled in a number of single wards), where’s the chin stroking and furrowed brows over the 12 votes here, and 19 votes there. What point is an analysis if it fights shy of setbacks and disappointments?

What about the social weight, the dozens of trade unionists and community campaigners that decided to stand for TUSC? After all, didn’t Lenin once note that elections were the lowest form of class struggle? For those turned on politically by such things, the beauty pageant of candidates with union membership by their names sounds impressive. However, the one significant set of initials missing from the bulk of prospective councillors was (SP). All party members are expected to be members of their unions and certainly, the SP pulled out all the stops, urging as many members as it could to stand. This is your real reason for the preponderance of trade unionists on the list – it is factually accurate, but does not represent large numbers breaking with Labour which, of course, is the intended impression it wants to convey.

No one is naive enough to think the SP leadership are interested in a sober analysis of where its flagship project stands. Their treatment of TUSC’s results are exercises in self-deception. It’s fodder to keep the troops marching, to demonstrate to them that the campaign was worth it and that real successes were made. Sure, TUSC was squeezed by UKIP mania and there was a media blackout but 68,000 votes represent a real echo among the class. Etcetera, etcetera.

More importantly, however, the SP desperately need to keep the RMT on board. With a crunch election coming in 2015, whoever wins September’s ballot, the new boss will be under pressure to back Labour next May, a pressure made all the stronger when there are clear, discernible differences between it and Dave’s hapless, vicious Tories. Talking up TUSC’s “achievements” and the absence of any kind of open, critical reflection has to be seen in this context. The SP and its eternal general secretary knows as well as I that if the RMT goes, not only will the TUSC project be sunk but it will have a profoundly demoralising impact on a whole layer of party activists. In short, it would be a disaster and back to square one.

Over all, contrast the SP’s analysis and commentary with the heavy load of words expended by Labour people looking at last Thursday’s results. One set of comment has been asking searching questions about their partys levels of support – whether it’s enough to win next year, whether the electoral base is fraying, whether it too is prone to UKIP’s predations. Meanwhile, the other content themselves with a self-satisfied mangled marriage of boosterism and excuses. It is, yet again, another symptom of an avowedly Trotskyist organisation unable or unwilling to use the categories they lay claim to make sense of their own position. What’s going on when the sell out Labourites are more Marxist than the Marxists?

This article first appeared at All that is Solid



  1. Andy Newman says:

    One area where a sense of perspective is entirely missing is that TUSC’s results are no improvement on those achieved by the Socialist Alliance a decade ago, and considerably weaker than that achieved in its strong areas by Respect in its hay-day.

    But a more fundamental problem is the conceptual one that if TUSC seriously hopes to gain the support of trade unions, then it needs to be credible, in which case it would become exposed to all the same electoral pressures as the Labour Party.

    Assuming that TUSC were miraculously to win a majority on a council, then they would find as the Greens have in Brighton, that opposition is easy compared to power.

    Surely, the Socialist party cannot believe that in the alternative universe where major unions like GMB, UNite or UNISON might affiliate to it, that the leadership of those unions would continue to allow the SP to run it?

  2. Chris says:

    These people never learn, do they?

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