Guest post from Liam Mac Uaid on why he argues Respect Renewal should campaign for a first preference vote for the SWP candidate for London mayor.
The absence of a clearly identified left of Labour candidate in the London mayoral elections will disenfranchise all those who can no longer support the three major pro-capitalist parties. This is a significant constituency which comprises many of those who have dropped out of Labour Party membership in the last decade, Labour voters who can no longer give political support to a right-wing, pro-war, pro neo-liberal programme, large numbers of anti-war protestors, younger people who are starting to radicalise due to climate change and increasingly sections of public sector workers on whom Gordon Brown is imposing pay cuts.
The timing of the election is lucky for those of us trying to create a class struggle, socialist party. Northern Rock, Société Générale, rising food and energy prices, sub-prime mortgages in the United States and the lack of social housing provision in London are all strong agitational issues on which to fight a left of Labour campaign. With the right candidate and the right sort of approach it is possible to run a campaign which serves as a pole of attraction in working class communities and organisations for those who are starting to suffer the effects of inflation, pay freezes and financial insecurity.
No left of Labour candidate is going to win such an election. At this stage that is not the point in standing. Without an explicitly socialist candidate, one who supports workers’ struggles and self-activity, there will be nothing to slow the move to the right in London’s politics. Livingstone’s anti-imperialism sets him apart from most prominent Labour Party figures. But that sort of rhetoric does not cost him anything politically these days. There is nothing in anything either Johnson or Livingstone has said recently to suggest that they will support restrictions on police powers, roll back the pervasive surveillance of London or commit to build the necessary numbers of social housing stock. A solution to London’s housing shortage requires precisely the sort of class-based attack on property developers that neither candidate has the stomach for. As for the police, Livingstone’s defence of Ian Blair shows where he stands. Even this thumbnail sketch of Livingstone’s current positions indicates how the absence of a countervailing pressure from the left will free him to shift ever closer to the New Labour mainstream.
Is it possible, as several supporters of Respect Renewal maintain, to call for support for Livingstone while arguing the need for an independent presence on the Assembly which will be able to back Livingstone against the Tories and Lib Dems when he is right, and put pressure on him from the left when he is wrong?
Declaring that your organisation is unwilling to stand against him because he is the only alternative to the Tories is an admission of your own redundancy. Unless an organisation is willing to take an independent stand, even when it is in a minority, a figure like Livingstone will always be able to use the Tory demon as a reason for not disagreeing with him. As an option for building an independent left of Labour Party that is a strategy with serious flaws.
Livingstone is not so much its weakest link as New Labour’s strongest electoral card in London. If the party stood any other mainstream Labour figure identified with the its largely neo-liberal programme the Tories would definitely win. Whose responsibility is that? This goes some way to explaining why, as Andy has pointed out, a minority of Respect’s 61 371 first preference voters actually did give a second preference for Livingstone in 2004.
Most of the arguments in favour of supporting Livingstone could be used in the United States to justify voting for the Democrats. They are marginally less vile than the Republicans. They are supported by the overwhelming majority of progressive opinion and the represent the political consciousness of much of the trade union movement and the working class electorate. The result is that the Democrats are the major obstacle to a working class party in the US.
There is a process of political recomposition taking place in Britain at the moment. Respect Renewal is its most recent development. By abdicating the right to stand a credible candidate opposed to those of the three pro-capitalist parties, even one with as contradictory a record as Livingstone, we would immediately be putting limits on Respect Renewal’s development. If the Labour candidate were someone with a real commitment to class struggle, like John McDonnell the issue would be completely different.
In the real world the question is whether or not a credible left of Labour candidate exists. According to her website “Lindsey German, the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, was selected last year at a meeting attended by over 300 London Respect members to stand as Respect candidate for London Mayor. She will be battling the mainstream parties once more to establish a London wide left wing alternative.” Credibility can be a little bit tricky to define but you usually know it when you see it. Lindsey German’s credibility as an election candidate rests more on her leading role in the anti-war movement than on any laurels earned in Respect. For those of us who are keen to see a serious socialist challenge to Livingstone’s New Labour politics comrade German’s campaign will have to quickly establish itself as being one which is inclusive, actively seeking to build alliances on the left and with working class organisations and which can persuade those who want to vote for her that it wants to be more than a three month bout of hyperactivity. An obvious first step is to start assembling a range of supporters and endorsements from outside the rather narrow field it currently appears to have.