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4 May local elections
TUSC's anti-cuts message finds positive response
Election balance sheet
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stood 78 council candidates and two mayoral candidates in last week's elections, winning a total of 15,407 votes.
There had been a more extensive debate than previously within TUSC on whether to contest the local elections this year.
Ever since Jeremy Corbyn's Labour leadership victory in 2015 the TUSC national steering committee, which has the final say on approving election candidates, has been determined to support him against the Blairites and build the anti-austerity struggle that lay behind his success.
TUSC has still contested local elections against right-wing Labour councillors who oppose Jeremy Corbyn and who are carrying out Tory cuts. But since September 2015, local groups have been required to attempt a dialogue with the Labour candidates to find out their position before a decision is made to stand.
So what to do in 2017? The Conservative-dominated English councils with elections on 4 May were not the most favourable terrain. When these seats were last contested in 2013 TUSC had a modest intervention. Was there a case not to stand at all this year?
These issues were debated throughout the autumn and at the TUSC conference in January. There a resolution was agreed, with five votes against, supporting candidates standing where they were "part of a serious campaign against cuts to local public services and will strengthen the battle against the right wing in the Labour Party and the unions".
This meant no TUSC candidate on 4 May contested seats in which the Labour candidate backed Jeremy Corbyn in last year's Labour leadership contest. There were also no TUSC candidates standing against Labour candidates who would vote for no cuts budgets in the council chamber.
The 2017 campaign was more limited than in the 'Before Corbyn' years - but still sending a message to politicians from any party that, if they vote for council cuts, they should not expect to be unchallenged at the ballot box.
A May surprise
The TUSC campaign made a good start. A recent report by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) found that just a quarter of local electors held central government responsible for declining council services.
TUSC's message that local councillors have a choice and that they don't have to implement austerity, fitted in with working class people's expectations.
And it got support from some surprising places too. Responding to the revelations earlier this year of how the government had literally bought off opposition to its cuts from Surrey county council, an article by Matthew Turner in the Independent referenced TUSC's campaign document, 'Preparing a no-cuts people's budget', as a model that could be pursued by Labour councils.
The idea of supporting Jeremy Corbyn but fighting against Blairite Labour backers of austerity could clearly find an audience in a local election campaign.
But then, on 18 April, Theresa May made her surprise general election announcement. It was obvious that whatever the TUSC candidates did then this would cut across the council contests.
Driving the Tories out on 8 June and electing a Corbyn-led Labour government would clearly create the best conditions to defend local public services. While the pitch could be made that a TUSC vote in the council polls would be a declaration of support for Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity message, there would inevitably be a polarisation on national party lines.
And that's what happened. In Doncaster both Labour and the Tories put on ten thousand votes compared to their performance four years ago. In the Mersey metro-mayor contest Labour won comfortably in all six boroughs that constitute the Liverpool City Region but the Tories were second, even in Liverpool itself.
The Tory candidate, Tony Caldeira, had stood for mayor of Liverpool twice before, in 2012 and 2016. On both occasions he was outpolled by TUSC but, on the back of Theresa May's general election move, it really was a case of third time lucky!
But while coming sixth overall, it was significant that TUSC was the fourth party in Knowsley, ahead of Ukip and the Greens, and outpolled Ukip in Liverpool itself. This is the third time that TUSC has beaten Ukip in Britain's eighth biggest city - surely now there should be at least one BBC Question Time appearance for TUSC?
After May's announcement TUSC released a press statement by the national chairperson, Dave Nellist, welcoming the chance to drive out the Tories. But this included the recognition that "a general election intervention is different to building a campaign against local Blairite councillors, and in a hastily called snap election especially so".
Now there is a new political situation which will potentially throw all 'established political facts' into question. That includes whether Jeremy Corbyn remains for long as leader of the Labour Party after 8 June - even if Labour wins - and what that would mean for working class political representation.
Including this year's elections, around 2,400 candidates have appeared on the ballot paper under the TUSC umbrella since its formation in 2010, polling over 360,000 votes. Whatever lies ahead, TUSC, and the model of an inclusive coalition it has provided, will be a player in the events to come.
In The Socialist 10 May 2017:
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