TUSC campaigners in Medway, 18 April 2015

TUSC campaigners in Medway, 18 April 2015   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

TUSC v broadcasters and banksters

Sarah Sachs-Eldridge

“I have been looking for a party I could believe in and become a part of (I have wanted to get into politics for a long while but didn’t trust the parties available) but after tonight’s broadcast I think I’ve found it, TUSC. I was a union rep for Unite before and I am still a union member.”

This is one of the responses received by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition following transmission of its first Party Election Broadcast (PEB) on Friday 17 April.

In four minutes and 40 seconds TUSC rejected the austerity lies, made the case for a socialist alternative and showed that working class people are central to the fightback – and it struck a chord with thousands of people.

Of course TUSC’s 280 seconds is not enough to answer all the right-wing propaganda. That will come with the development of a mass workers’ party and the experience of big struggles.

Even this statutory minimum of airtime from the BBC, alongside some coverage of the TUSC manifesto launch, gives a glimpse of how socialist and working class participation in political debates that chimes with people’s experience and desire for change would have a huge impact.

Its long absence results from the move to the right by the Labour leaders, rendering the working class politically voiceless, and from the pro-establishment BBC and big-business owned media.

Broadcast hurdles

The first battle was to get a broadcast. The threshold criterion is standing in one-sixth of the parliamentary seats.

Standing a candidate means raising a £500 deposit, collecting nominations and filling in paperwork. So a broadcast requires £53,000, 10,600 signatures on 106 forms and so on.

The cards are stacked against those without fat chequebooks and an election machine behind them. But across Scotland, Wales and England, TUSC’s supporters: workers, trade unionists, socialists and other campaigners, overcame all of those obstacles and got 135 names on the ballot papers, not to mention over 600 council candidates, to form this historic anti-austerity working class challenge.

The next task was putting together a draft script. This was done through an elected sub-committee of TUSC’s national steering committee.

TUSC is a coalition of different organisations with a federal structure. The constituent organisations have a right of veto on the steering committee which means decisions can only be made by consensus. This organisational method was used to produce the script.

For instance, the draft initially included the following reference to Russell Brand who has become a point of reference for many young people and workers in struggle:
“Lots of people agreed when Russell Brand said there was no one worth voting for – but he also said: ‘A system that serves the planet and the people. I’d vote for that.’ Well, TUSC stands for a democratic socialist society to rationally plan our wealthy society in the interests of the millions, not the millionaires.”

The Independent Socialist Network, created to represent individual members of TUSC on the steering committee, disagreed with quoting Russell Brand in a TUSC broadcast and he didn’t make the final cut.

TUSC campaigners in Milton Keynes, 18.4.15

TUSC campaigners in Milton Keynes, 18.4.15   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Other hurdles to getting the broadcast aired emerged. The guidelines state that: “Where candidates are included in a party election broadcast there should not be any explicit visual or verbal reference made to their constituencies.” And the script complied with that.
However, ITV said that Tony Mulhearn, a leading figure in Liverpool’s socialist Labour council of 1983-1987, now standing in the Liverpool Riverside seat, was not allowed to even utter the word ‘Liverpool’ when he made the point that Labour-led councils like in his city were passing on Tory cuts. So the line was removed to ensure transmission.

Later Channel 4 queried Tony’s subtitle, “one of the Liverpool councillors that defeated Thatcher”, for the same reason. They backed off when it was argued that it was clearly historical and that there are five ‘Liverpool’ constituencies.

How much these ‘compliance’ issues are related to the magnificent record of the socialists in Merseyside we may never know.

And then there was the demo. TUSC’s 100% anti-austerity challenge is like no other and needed a PEB like no other, one which put the working class at its most powerful to the fore. So the broadcast starts with footage of a massive trade union march against austerity. This inclusion of a display of working class organisation and strength was queried and partially gagged.

C4 said permission was required from the leaders of Unison and Unite who everyone knows are tied to Labour.

This was a public demo filmed by a TUSC supporter. There was no guideline transgression in the inclusion of this footage.

In fact, the BBC accepted and transmitted it. And yet there was a challenge. Given the closeness in time to the transmission date, TUSC offered to blur the footage to ensure the PEB was accepted by the deadline.

Initially C4 demanded that the colours of the Unison and Unite balloons on the demo be changed too! This ridiculous demand was eventually dropped.

While awaiting written confirmation of a verbal ‘ok’ from ITV, a call came to say that they had heard from C4 and they had changed their mind and also wanted a fuzzy version.

In the end, no amount of blurring prevented the message getting through to those who saw the broadcast – TUSC is a step towards building the much-needed independent political voice for the working class.

Dave Nellist on ‘Daily Politics’

A campaign of regular press releases, on social media, by phone and more has not delivered more than a few mentions of TUSC in the national print and broadcast media.

We know they know about TUSC because they’ve namechecked the organisation – Brian Reade in the Mirror, Polly Toynbee in the Guardian – even calling TUSC the ‘long arm of the trade unions’ on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme in relation to rail renationalisation.

TUSC campaigners in Waltham Forest, 18.4.15

TUSC campaigners in Waltham Forest, 18.4.15   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Since its foundation in 2010, TUSC candidates have polled 187,523 votes. If half those votes represented people with responsibility for their household’s TV licence, the BBC has received £2.7 million pounds on average each year from TUSC supporters since 2010.

Does that represent value for money? Last year, although TUSC did not reach the threshold criteria for a broadcast Andrew Neil ‘interviewed’ TUSC national chair and former Labour MP Dave Nellist on the Daily Politics (DP). The interview comprised of questions about TUSC’s ‘small size’ and lasted five minutes and 22 seconds.

In this year’s DP interview Andrew Neil changed tack. In the aftermath of Syriza’s election in Greece and the rapid growth of Podemos in Spain, and even the transformation of the SNP in Scotland following the Independence Referendum, sneering at small parties is a dangerous game for any self-respecting political commentator. In the right circumstances they can grow quickly! Instead he spent seven minutes trying to undermine TUSC.

In response to questioning, Dave pointed out that there is loads of money to pay for the things TUSC fights for to improve the living standards of the 99% – free education, £10 an hour minimum wage, council homes, etc.

Dave pointed to the Bank of England ‘finding £375 billion down the back of the sofa’ through Quantitative Easing which shows that money isn’t the problem – it’s who controls it.

TUSC is committed to nationalising the banks. Andrew’s question was: “Would you expropriate the banks or buy them at market rate?” Dave did something almost unique in TV politics – he answered the question. He explained that the banks would be nationalised with compensation given on the basis of proven need. However, he was interrupted and his points were ignored.

With socialist nationalisation, bank shareholders complaining about the loss of the ‘market value’ of their shares would have the right to appeal for financial support – they would be asked to prove their need.

Office for National Statistics analysis of share ownership of UK quoted shares, which includes the banks, shows that over half the stock market is owned by ‘rest of the world investors’, with a big proportion held in ‘multiple-ownership pooled accounts where the beneficial owner is unknown’.

The less than one in 20 shares that are held by pension funds could be confident of being compensated. And the nameless, faceless oligarchs, the millionaires, the billionaires, would also have the right to show proven need.

If Andrew Neil wants to count that as ‘expropriation’ so be it – to most people that will be seen as a far fairer approach than the benefits sanction process where those struggling to find work are often denied income for months, or the bedroom tax that takes money out of the poorest pockets regardless of ability to survive.

TUSC campaigners in Lewisham, 18.4.15

TUSC campaigners in Lewisham, 18.4.15   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Increasingly people do not accept the lie that austerity is necessary – pushed by their experience of its intolerable impact and anger at inequality.

The TUSC challenge sets out to offer an alternative where the wealth of society is used to meet the needs of the millions, not to further enrich the billionaires.

The TUSC voice, unequivocally calling for the nationalisation of the banks under democratic public ownership and control will increasingly gain the ear of working class people as they move into struggle against the next pro-austerity, pro-capitalist government, whoever abides in Number 10.

Andrew Neil’s attempt to dismiss nationalisation won’t be the last, nor will it prevent the idea from gaining support.

This version of these articles was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 21 April 2015 and is longer than the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.