Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/261/24664
Tower Hamlets by-election: Socialist Alliance Provides No Alternative
A SOCIALIST ALLIANCE (SA) candidate polled just nine votes in the Blackwall & Cubitt Town council by-election in East London's Tower Hamlets borough on 27 June.
The Socialist Party left the Socialist Alliance in December, after the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) used their majority to push through an undemocratic constitution, and we take no responsibility for this poor result.
Unfortunately, however, the by-election vote will be used against all socialists, in the trade unions and elsewhere, who are arguing for an alternative to New Labour.
There were some factors peculiar to this by-election that would have made securing a substantial socialist vote a difficult task. A large part of the ward is in the Isle of Dogs, the old Millwall ward where the BNP's Derek Beackon was elected as a councillor in 1993.
The BNP leaflets referred to that victory but also to their more recent successes in Burnley to claim that they had a realistic chance this time. In fact they polled just 87 votes (3.96%) but their presence had some effect in shoring up the Labour vote.
Another factor was the 'Islanders first' independent candidacy of Terry Johns, who polled 252 votes (11.48%), mainly from disgruntled Labour voters.
Terry benefited from the decades-long record of community campaigning of his father, Ted Johns, a former Labour councillor. (In 1970 Ted was elected 'president' of the Island when community groups declared 'UDI'; during the anti-poll tax struggle he spoke alongside the Militant [now Socialist Party] MP Dave Nellist to publicly back the non-payment campaign).
Although the Socialist Alliance candidate was a local community centre worker, she did not have the same profile.
Nevertheless, how the SA campaign was conducted must have had some impact on the result achieved. Although the candidate is not a member of the SWP, the bulk of the SA campaigners were.
Sixty promised votes were picked up from canvassing and extensive leafleting but the inescapable conclusion is that the SA were unable to convince those 'identified supporters' to come out and vote for them. The turnout overall was only 24.6%
Socialist Party vindicated
THE SA's recent electoral performance further affirms the decision of the Socialist Party not to participate in the Socialist Alliance as it is now constituted.
The Tower Hamlets result follows another by-election in Luton on 13 June where, in the safe Labour ward of Challney, the Socialist Alliance polled just 18 votes (0.85%), compared to 814 for the winning Labour candidate.
The Socialist Party, however, has shown that it is possible to win electoral support for socialist ideas. In May's local elections, our candidates averaged 296 votes per candidate (11.48%), with two councillors elected.
Before December's SA conference, the Alliance had a 'federal' structure which allowed supporting organisations such as the Socialist Party, within a common framework, to run election contests with their own campaigning methods and political ideas.
Yet at the conference SWP speakers made it clear that this arrangement would end. Using their numerical majority they would dictate to candidates from other organisations within the SA the politics and campaigning methods.
This was unacceptable to the Socialist Party, a more successful electoral organisation, and the recent results once again show why.
Of course, electoral success is never guaranteed, even with the right policies and approach. The early pioneers of the labour movement, such as Keir Hardie and James Connolly, in their own time suffered electoral debacles.
But if nothing else, such experiences should at least puncture the conception of the SWP that the SA under their domination is the only alternative to New Labour, which all other groups and organisations should defer to.
In The Socialist 5 July 2002: