What we think

Why a socialist candidate for Birmingham Erdington is vital

Dave Nellist with other TUSC candidates at the 2015 manifesto launch in London's Canary Wharf, photo Paul Mattsson

Dave Nellist with other TUSC candidates at the 2015 manifesto launch in London’s Canary Wharf, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The Erdington by-election is taking place as the living costs of the majority soar, and the Tory government drowns in cover-ups, corruption and lies. The contrast between Dave Nellist, ‘the MP who gave away half his pay’, and Johnson and his cronies could not be greater.

As anger against the Tories reaches boiling point, Starmer’s New Labour has finally managed to take the lead in national opinion polls. But all it has to offer is another version of pro-capitalist, pro-austerity politics.

It is no surprise that Tory MP Christian Wakeford – with his record of voting for benefit cuts for the poorest and against measures to limit tax avoidance by the richest – is welcomed with open arms into Labour. His ‘moderate’ approach to politics fits right in with Starmer’s ‘pro-business’ programme, which includes zero pledges to nationalise anything!

Meanwhile Labour’s National Executive Committee voted last week by 23-14 to continue to refuse to let Jeremy Corbyn sit as a Labour MP. In response Labour left Laura Pidcock resigned from Labour’s NEC.

She rightly attacked the Labour leadership for just wanting “small tweaks to the status quo” in society, while being “noticeably determined when it comes to rule changes that alienate the left”. She concluded that when “poverty is endemic” lefts should stop “giving our energy to people who want to block fundamental positive change.”

This, however, raises the urgent question of where socialists and trade unionists should put their energy. If Jeremy Corbyn had responded to the NEC decision by refusing to be gagged, and publicly announcing his intention to contest his seat at the next election outside of Labour, it would immediately have raised enthusiasm for the possibility of creating a left electoral alternative to Labour. As yet he has not done so, however.

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of workers are having to strike to demand wage rises that keep up with inflation, students are organising national action to fight for free education, and community campaigners are fighting against a tidal wave of evictions. But these struggles and others need a political voice. We cannot accept a choice between different brands of big business politicians: the working class needs its own party, putting forward socialist politics.

The Socialist Party participates in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in order to campaign for steps towards such a party. TUSC brings together the transport workers’ union, the RMT, and leading trade unionists from seven other unions, along with ourselves, Resist (established by the former Labour MP Chris Williamson), and independent socialists. It is an umbrella, which exists to allow trade unionists, socialists and campaigners to stand in elections on an anti-austerity programme.

One indication of the increasingly urgent discussions in the trade unions on working-class political representation is that speakers at the TUSC national conference on 6 February will include an official representative of Unite, the biggest Labour affiliate, as well as Ian Hodson, President of the Bakers’ Union, which recently disaffiliated from Labour.

The Birmingham Erdington by-election comes at a crucial moment, where debate is growing about the need for a working-class alternative to Starmer’s Labour, but no mass force has yet taken decisive steps to found one.

Labour’s candidate is a longstanding Birmingham councillor, who has been a Cabinet member when two groups of council workers – in refuse and home care — were forced to strike in order to prevent the council slashing their pay and conditions.

Supporting the Birmingham refuse strikers, Howard Beckett, representing Unite at the 2017 Labour Party conference, told Birmingham City Council “if you behave like Tories we’ll treat you like Tories”. To then leave workers in Erdington with no choice but to vote for the red Tories — or the yellow Tories or blue Tories — would be a huge wasted opportunity.

Dave Nellist’s candidature offers an opportunity to vote for a socialist alternative, and in the process to popularise a socialist programme and speed up the development of a mass workers’ party. Already hundreds of trade unionists and socialists have been in touch asking to support Dave’s campaign.

We appeal to all readers of the Socialist to follow suit, by doing what you can to help in the campaign (details left). Don’t leave it there, however. On 5 May over 6,500 council seats are up for election. A fantastic follow-up to Dave’s campaign would be to get 1,000 or more trade unionists and socialists to refuse to accept a choice between different brands of pro-cuts councillors, and instead stand in the elections themselves.