One percent of the vote is hardly something to write home about – but this is the reality of the situation facing the majority of the left of Labour candidates across the country. It is not easy to accept – however we must and we must ask ‘Was it all worth it?’
The 2015 election was the first time Left Unity ran in Stockport, we stood a parliamentary candidate and two candidates in the council elections, of which I was one. I stood in Brinnington and Central which is a working class ward in Stockport. It has the highest rate of social housing in the borough with 46% of residents in social housing and life expectancy in the ward is 14 years lower than the most affluent ward in Stockport. Considering this demographic the local candidates based our campaign on the need for more social housing, opposition to the bedroom tax, cuts to welfare and the need for an increased minimum wage.
The campaign consisted of the usual ritualistic weekend stalls, leafleting, canvassing, a public meeting and our parliamentary candidate attending local hustings. John Pearson, who stood in Stockport Central, did a fantastic job and consistently got the loudest applause. Often at hustings we were speaking to the already engaged but no one had heard of Left Unity. This was the first time they had and manifestos flew off the stall after the NHS hustings put on by 38degrees.
On polling day we decorated cars and drove around the wards speaking of social justice and change. This was great until our Unity Mobile broke down right in front of the Labour club in Brinnington! Those were a very long two hours. As I paced about trying to distribute leaflets to jeering passers by I must admit the very thought ‘Is this worth it?’ kept popping into my mind. As I stood there waiting for the recovery lorry head in hands, peering at the Labour club contemplating the likelihood of sabotage a lady tapped me on the shoulder and took a closer look at my rosette. She said ‘ Oh I’m so glad to see Left Unity here in Brinnington. My sons and I have been discussing the two leaflets we’ve received from you around the dinner table’ (throughout the campaign we distributed over 50,000 leaflets). I must admit my heart lifted – imagining a young family discussing the prospects of socialism does that to a drained, sore footed sourpuss. I spoke with her about the rise of UKIP in Stockport and she talked about the displaced anger the community felt. She said that she and her sons had checked out Left Unity online and that she was pleased to see we seemed like a young party – exactly what she was looking for – something new, something different.
You can never see all the ripples of your work. I don’t know how many families were discussing our literature across Brinnington – probably just the one – but she felt heard, inspired and represented and in today’s climate of mistrust and stagnation in politics this is special. It shouldn’t be but it is.
What next for Left Unity?
Well the main thing is that we can not just go away. We need to build on our small base under the same banner. Parties of the left are always changing names and failing to be consistent in standing. This is frustrating and has to change.
‘Doing Politics Differently’ as a tagline is a blessing and a curse and I think it is important to consider what this actually means and if are we actually doing that. Countless times when I tried to speak with people on the street I was hissed at, that all ‘politicians’ were the same and not to be trusted. Before I got a moment to explain how living in a two up two down was hardly the same as inheriting a mansion in Cheshire, they were off shaking their heads in disillusionment. These are the people we need to reach, and this will not happen overnight. In Stockport we are currently training in advocacy i.e. filling in PIP forms and how to challenge benefit sanctions. This practical solidarity is what people will need if state services are decimated over the next 5 years – the introduction of the Care Act 2015 will remove this responsibility from local authorities. We are looking to start an unemployed workers’ drop –in centre, hopefully leading to a claimants union. This is the practical solidarity I think Left Unity should be concentrating on. Not charity but solidarity and there is a vital difference which the branch has discussed and will continue to discuss as our actions develop.
I think it is important that Left Unity continues to stand in elections but it is obvious that conventional ‘campaigns’ don’t have the staggering impact that we all hope for. What Left Unity needs to do is demonstrate how we are different by creating grassroots structures that will support people through austerity and offer a meaningful sense of connection. This is what is should be meant by doing politics differently.