The March 2014 Left Unity (LU) Conference agreed that the party should open discussions with other left groups, coalitions and parties to avoid electoral clashes and move towards electoral pacts – with the initial aim of creating the largest ever left challenge in the 2015 General Election. The motion had been opposed by the leadership but was passed by a significant majority on a hand vote. As a national officer of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), I was delighted that the policy I had moved at conference had finally been adopted, having been arguing for left electoral unity since LU’s inception. However, my pleasure was short lived!
The LU leadership spent the whole of spring, summer and early autumn 2014 making sure this policy was not enacted. LU failed to open up any discussions with other left groups, coalitions or parties to avoid clashes and move towards electoral pacts. An Elections Sub-Committee was set up, but its terms of reference ignored the resolution on electoral unity passed at the March Conference. It has never met face-to-face. Six weeks after it was set up it did start discussions by email. As one of two of the Independent Socialist Network (ISN) members on the Sub-Committee, I regularly mentioned the omission of any reference to the conference resolution on the left General Election challenge. LU secretary Kate Hudson made it clear that LU needed to go on to that phase only after it had discussed its own approach to targeted standing – but only to discuss clash avoidance.
TUSC on the other hand was determined to do all in its power to build the largest ever united socialist challenge, offering twice in writing to form a newly named wider umbrella coalition between TUSC and LU for the General Election if that helped. Responses from LU made it clear LU was ‘not planning to enter into any electoral coalitions’, despite the fact that no one in LU had ruled that out. TUSC had made it clear that an initial meeting would not make any decisions, but could help clarify what needed to be done to build “the most effective challenge possible to the establishment parties, in 2015 and beyond.”
Incensed with this lack of democracy and rightwards political direction, the ISN promoted a motion on electoral unity which was eventually moved by Rugby and Coventry LU at the September National Council. It called for the party leadership to facilitate a debate on the potential for intensive and structured collaboration between serious forces on the left at the 2015 elections. It also called for local branches to determine how that unity could be built locally “in order to present the most united and strongest possible socialist challenge at the 2015 elections”. The Motion was defeated 24 – 8 with 7 abstentions
Joint Left Unity and TUSC candidates
Despite that, Left Unity finally agreed to meet TUSC on 27 October. In what can only be described as a very welcome semi about-turn, Left Unity agreed to register a joint LU-TUSC description with the Electoral Commission. This would allow Left Unity members and branches who wanted to work with TUSC to do so, whilst also helping TUSC achieve sufficient candidates get to the thresholds necessary to be guaranteed national media coverage. Finally a breakthrough!
Since then, LU has endorsed just nine General Election candidates. TUSC has authorised 123 candidates – that total is more than enough for the media thresholds needed to obtain a television broadcast, an incredible achievement with four weeks to go before nominations close. Significantly, all but two of the LU candidates have chosen to stand as LU-TUSC, a victory for grassroots democracy and socialist unity.
An alliance with Labour and the Greens
So, you would have thought, some degree of common sense was prevailing within Left Unity. There would not be a united left coalition for the elections, but at least local LU branches could stand jointly with TUSC, and that in itself could lead to future co-operation or, dare we suggest, more. Until suddenly in February we get a new thunderbolt. Under the heading “Appeal for an alliance against austerity”, Left Unity officers posed a question: ‘How can we present the biggest and most united opposition to austerity possible in the coming general election?’ Their answer was that LU “would support any candidate, whether they are from the Greens, the Labour left or a smaller party committed to equality, who states clearly that they will never vote for austerity and whose record leads us to believe that they are sincere. Not only will we not be standing against these candidates, we will actively campaign for them where possible.”
This policy statement has never been discussed within any of LU’s internal structures. It has not been put in front of an NC or EC. It lacks any democratic mandate. Support for the Greens was actually overwhelmingly rejected at Conference. This is a leadership initiative lacking any base of party support.
This latest political ‘mistake’ clearly shows the real politics behind LU as it is run at present. No mention of TUSC, even though grassroots LU members are happy to work alongside it. No reference to the conference decision to be part of the largest ever left challenge in the 2015 General Election. Instead, Left Unity is calling for an anti-austerity alliance with parties that cut, cut and cut again. Labour went into the last General Election wanting £51 billion cuts, £5 billion more than the Liberal Democrats. Labour is going into the 2015 General Election demanding the same level of cuts as the Tories in the next parliament – more poverty, fewer public services, more privatisation. Labour councils have been implementing Tory/Lib Dem cuts without a whimper, let alone a fight.
The Green party is no different despite it’s supposed anti austerity stance. Green councillors in power have implemented cuts in a number of towns including Brighton, Bristol and Norwich. The Green led Brighton Council has, to its shame, also attacked its workforce, cutting wages and jobs whilst also passing massive cuts budgets. The national leader of the Green party, Natalie Bennett, has confirmed in a TV interview that Green MPs in a future Parliament, would, if pushed, support Labour rather than Tory cuts. How is any of that anti-austerity? And any Labour or Green councilor who says they will oppose cuts today will simply not be allowed to do so by their whips and party leaders. Ask the handful of Labour councillors who have been expelled for opposing cuts, most of whom have since joined TUSC.
The policy the LU leadership has adopted is politically dangerous. It has already been used to try and prevent Nick Wrack from being adopted in Southwark by LU as a joint LU-TUSC candidate because it meant standing against the Green party and the National Health Action party – a well-meaning single issue party with an excellent position in defense of the NHS but, by its own admissions, nothing much else.
So what guides Left Unity electoral policy?
Left Unity’s electoral strategy is clearly confusing at best, and in reality totally sectarian. We – the left – had a real opportunity to use the 2015 elections to announce our arrival as a serious united socialist force capable of taking on the right – and the far right. That is why the Socialist Alliance, of which I remain National Secretary, agreed to spend most of its recent £100,000 legacy on funding the deposits of those candidates committed to socialist unity. Left Unity could, and should, have been part of an electoral coalition which was able to use that cash, but its leaders chose otherwise. As a result, the left remains fragmented.
Left Unity is where it is. It has developed a range of attractive socialist policies. But its leaders remain opposed to building a unified mass based socialist party, thinking Left Unity is itself that party. They distrust the rest of the socialist left but make overtures to the Labour and Green ‘left’. The consequences of that sorry state of affairs are that the left remains divided whilst the right marches on. Will we ever learn?