Towards A New Left Party In Wales?

JOHN MAREK was the RMT-sponsored Labour MP for Wrexham from 1983 to 2001 and has been its Assembly Member since 1999. He was in John Smith’s Treasury team from 1987-92.
A Labour Party member for 35 years, he left the party this year and stood as an independent, retaining his seat in the Welsh Assembly elections. The RMT conference recently decided to authorise its support for other organisations, such as the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), in addition to the Labour Party.
This marked an important development in the struggle for a new mass workers’ party, which the Socialist Party has been campaigning for. Now John Marek is organising a conference in Wrexham on 9 August to discuss plans for a possible new party.
JOHN MAREK spoke to the socialist.

Why did you leave the Labour Party?

When John Smith [ex-Labour leader] died in 1994 it was clear that the Labour Party was desperate to get into office and that the person who would win the election for us was Tony Blair.

However, clearly he was of a different philosophy to Labour leaders of the past. So in 1999 I put my name forward for the National Assembly in Wales.

Since then the Labour Party has moved further to the right and there is now room for a party of the left.

I fell out of sympathy with a lot that the Labour Party was doing, or not doing. They did nothing about the railway system which went from bad to worse.

They kept the Tory spending limits for the first two years from 1997.

It led to arguments with the local Labour-led council and I was de-selected in February 2002 by 84 votes to 80. If that was a fair de-selection I’d have said: “fine”, but it was a de-selection with an anonymous letter full of lies.

I decided to fight.

What kind of support did you find in your independent election campaign?

We had a lot of support, a lot of meetings and I won with a 1,000 majority. Wrexham was the only constituency in Wales where the total vote went up.

The FBU and RMT trade unions (with the leadership of Bob Crow) were very supportive and quite a few union members supported me.

Labour is now in a parlous state. In 1998 Wrexham Labour Party had 560 members.

Now they have probably less than 200. Not that I’ve asked people to leave the Labour Party – such decisions are up to them.

But I am not sorry that I’m not a member largely because of the party’s actions in the Iraq war. They led the country and certainly the MPs by the nose into this war.

Could your kind of campaign be widened to the rest of Wales?

I think so. There are expelled councillors in Anglesey and in Rhyl.

We have been in touch and there is a feeling that Labour has occupied the One Nation Tory position of Harold Macmillan. Of course, the Tory party was led up the garden path by Thatcher and has been trying to find its way back and found the Labour Party there.

What do you think of the Socialist Campaign Group call to reclaim the Labour Party?

I don’t think that’s possible under the current Labour leadership. Just as Thatcher changed the Tory party by getting her friends selected as Tory MPs, Blair’s got all his cronies in as MPs.

The nature of the Parliamentary Labour Party has changed, so Labour cannot quickly go back to representing working men and women and the traditional aspirations of a left-of-centre party.

What do you think of unions disaffiliating from the Labour Party?

I think the thing to do is what Bob Crow from the RMT is doing, by deciding each for themselves to support those candidates who believe in the programme of that particular trade union.

There is no point in paying money to a Labour Party like the Communication Workers Union are doing if the Labour government intends to abolish the Post Office’s monopoly and make 20,000 postal workers redundant.

If Labour wants to move forward with us to represent working men and women then that’s fine. But at the moment I do not see that happening.

What alternative do you propose?

Whether we call it the Welsh Socialist Party, along the lines of the SSP, I don’t know – the political development of Wales has always been different to Scotland.

I would call it the Red, Green and Radical Party.

Our programme in the election was firstly for a minister for North Wales. Secondly, we wanted to bring the railway system back into public ownership and thirdly, the defence of public services.

For example, we don’t support PFI. That’s not for any doctrinaire reasons, but none of us have actually seen a PFI that’s actually in the interests of the people it is supposed to benefit.

I have been passed a letter where Wrexham council are trying to cut the wages of cleaning and catering staff – if the workers don’t agree to their proposals they’ll sack the lot of them and re-employ them at the lower level.

This is the Labour-run council I have been having an argument with.

How do you hope a new party will develop?

It has got to be tolerant. A good example is Europe.

We all agree that the EU is a club for the capitalists’ benefit as opposed to that of working men and women. Some of us believe that given the opportunity we should leave tomorrow, others of us believe we should stay there and enter the Euro eventually.

I think we should see if we can turn it for the benefit of working men and women and address the democratic deficit. But I don’t see the point of constantly arguing about it.

The Left has not always got on together well and has not got the conditions right. The Welsh Socialist Alliance has not taken off.

But we need to do something. We should concentrate on basic issues like the NHS, education, university top-up fees.

And we must be electable.

What do you think of Socialist Party Wales’s idea that we should set up a committee in Wales involving trade unionists and left parties for a new workers’ party?

It depends what you mean by a committee. It must be a committee that unites.

If it tells everyone what to do it will not work. If you mean a liaison committee to work together then that’s fine.

Campaigning is very important, but we have to win elections as well. If not we won’t carry out our policies.

To be electable we have to widen our policies to get support.

At our gathering on 9 August we will be quizzing the SSP. There will be a number of people up from South Wales and from different parties.

It has got to be a party where people from different parts of the left come together.

We have got to get some of our members elected, and where there’s a proportional system such as the National Assembly for Wales, we can have a voice in the shaping of policies in Wales.

We should keep our campaigning. We should aim for one of our people to be elected from each of the five Welsh regions in four years’ time.

We need a wide membership to take off. We have some councillors in North Wales who are joining and some disaffected councillors as well in South Wales.