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Labour's deflating balloons
THE LANCASHIRE Socialist Alliance (LSA) campaign for the Preston by-election is beginning to take off. On Saturday 4 November, candidate Terry Cartwright and a team of LSA activists put up our now regular stall on the Flag Market.
This week we shared the Flag Market with the Labour Party, who had a tiny stall manned by two glum-looking individuals handing out balloons, in every colour except red. They became glummer as the day went on. They saw queues forming at our stall to sign petitions calling for the renationalisation of the rail industry and to prevent half of Preston's bus station being shut down for the sake of a shopping centre.
They seemed even less happy when I started lambasting the Labour government. I asked how they had the cheek to turn up and ask for peoples' votes after giving the pensioners 75 pence.
Their misery was compounded as I reminded them of county councillor Colin Abbot's resignation from the Labour Party. He has resigned because of the selection of Mark Hendrick as the Labour candidate.
He explained why to the local press: "After almost 40 years supporting the Labour Party I feel I cannot continue to support a system in which I don't believe, nor can I possibly work alongside someone who I believe to be not only lacking in integrity, but seems also to be a person who is high on hypocrisy".
Several Labour Party members came to the LSA stall declaring that they had torn up their party cards. Some joined the LSA, one woman from South Ribble Labour Party explained over the loudspeaker that Labour was now the "New Right". The chaps on the Labour balloon stall looked at their feet.
The LSA had to make its final decision about whether to stand or not in this by election on 1 November. We had to discuss our response to rumours and press reports that Valerie Wise, former Left MPAudrey Wise's daughter, was thinking about leaving Labour to stand as an independent.
Some members of the LSA would have called for Terry Cartwright to stand down in favour of Valerie, if she had made a clear announcement that she was standing. Others, including myself, had argued that we should see exactly what her program and policies would be before we could make any such decision. Half an hour before the meeting, officers of the LSA heard it was quite unlikely that Valerie Wise would stand against Labour.
With less than a week before close of nominations we had to decide whether we should withdraw our candidate and risk there being no Left candidate, or whether we should stand and risk there being two Left candidates.
To their credit, everyone at the meeting understood that we had to bite the bullet and stand. Should Valerie Wise, or any other Labour left suddenly make the decision to stand as well, we would run a 'fraternal parallel campaign', similar to the friendly relationship between the LSA campaign and the Green candidate, where both groups work to maximise the socialist vote and avoid mud slinging.
At the time of writing there is no sign that Valerie Wise has decided either to leave the Labour Party, or to stand in the by-election. Naturally all the socialists in Preston would be happy to welcome Valerie or any other Labour activists sickened by the hypocrisy of the Blairites into the LSA, so that we can build a stronger socialist alternative to New Labour.
The stronger and more effective the LSA election campaign, the more likely it is that Labour Lefts will gain the confidence to leave Labour, and the louder the message to Tony Blair that the working class heartlands are sick of his pro-big business policies.
The LSA is conducting mass canvasses every Tuesday and Thursday, meeting outside McDonald's in the town centre at 12.00 noon. Anyone who wants to help build this campaign is welcome to come along. There is also a stall on the Flag Market every Saturday.
In The Socialist 10 November 2000: