Dave Nellist (right) & supporters, photo Chris Williamson
Dave Nellist (right) & supporters, photo Chris Williamson

Nick Chaffey, Socialist Party national committee

In a very short time, led by Socialist Party members in Birmingham Erdington, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) mobilised an enthusiastic army of activists that managed to touch the entire constituency. We spoke to over 5,000 voters offering a bold, socialist alternative to the establishment parties.

Many responded to our canvassers with the view: “They’re all the same”. It’s difficult to cut across this understandable disillusionment with establishment politicians in just a few weeks.

But our candidate, Socialist Party member Dave Nellist, a former socialist MP on a workers’ wage, was able to begin to offer a real alternative to the gravy train of the Westminster political elite. We enthused a layer we met with our anti-austerity message.

Many took window bills and our election flyers to read. Hundreds bought a copy of the Socialist that featured reports of the by-election campaign each week, and a four-page special for election day.

Cost of living

The cost-of-living crisis dominated the campaign. This squeeze on already squeezed pockets bears down on working-class families.

Labour offers nothing to fundamentally challenge failed Tory policies. Our arguments for a pay rise for all, a £15-an-hour minimum wage, rent control and the nationalisation of the energy monopolies got an enthusiastic response.

Over 50 attended the eve-of-poll rally to hear Dave Nellist, alongside Bakers’ Union president Ian Hodson, argue the case for socialism and the need for a new mass workers’ party. The latter could mobilise the mass discontent in working-class communities into a fighting force for real change.

New people at the meeting were keen to speak about their concerns. We need to build on the by-election campaign – TUSC candidates are coming forward to stand in the May local elections. Convinced by our arguments, new members have signed up to join the Socialist Party and back TUSC.

On election day, teams set out from 7.30am to leaflet bus and train stations, then on to schools, before beginning the mammoth task of knocking up all those we had canvassed in the previous weeks.

Low turnout

The turnout of just 27% showed what a challenge that was for our small team. But many of those we met on the day reaffirmed their support for Dave and TUSC’s socialist message. It shows how important these founding footsteps are, laying the basis for future class battles that are looming around the corner.

Many may doubt that socialists can conquer the battleground of Westminster and local council elections. But as workers move into mass struggle to defend their living standards, it is certain to find its reflection in the electoral arena, as they look for a political alternative to the deepening crisis of capitalism and the horrors it throws at us.

All the hard work carried out in Erdington will get its reward, as will that of all TUSC candidates this May, pioneering the case for independent working-class political representation.