Socialist election negotiations

THE SOCIALIST Alliance Liaison Committee met on 13 January to push forward with plans to contest the general election.

Clive Heemskerk

The outcome of talks that had taken place between the two main components of the Alliance, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), since the December executive meeting was the most important item discussed.

At that meeting the SWP launched an attack on the Socialist Party, demanding that our general election candidates should submit themselves to ‘selection conferences’ and have their campaign vetted by local or regional alliances.

The Socialist Party has never been afraid of putting its ideas before a broad audience. We have done so directly in elections (and more successfully than anyone else in the Alliance) and in selection meetings of activists in trade union broad lefts.

But that is not comparable with the situation in the Socialist Alliances, which are still overwhelmingly composed of members of existing political organisations, particularly the SWP.

Therefore, compulsory ‘selection meetings’ would mean ceding control of the Socialist Party’s candidates and campaign – and the finances to pay for it – to the SWP and their allies. This was not acceptable to the Socialist Party and, as we made clear at the December executive, was a crucial issue for the Alliance.

Faced with this reality, the SWP stepped back and began serious negotiations, the results of which were agreed at Saturday’s liaison committee.

The Socialist Party has made concessions in the interests of preserving the prospect of a united electoral challenge under the banner of the Socialist Alliance. To avoid a showdown with a few Socialist Alliance members who felt that no challenge should be mounted in seats held by Labour left-wingers – regardless of the strength of socialist forces on the ground and the potential for an election campaign to build up that strength – we agreed to contest two London seats under our own electoral name and not as Socialist Alliance.

This, and other withdrawals in the interests of unity, means that we will have 12 Socialist Alliance candidates rather than the 18 target we announced last summer. But an agreement has been reached, giving Socialist Party candidates political and organisational control in their seats, while working with other forces.

While this agreement does not resolve what the future character of the Alliance will be – a democratic, federal organisation or one subject to central control by the SWP and their allies – at least now the election campaign can begin.