zondag, mei 08, 2005

Time for the Greens to join Respect

That pathologically constipated ex-Tankie whose sphincter is so tightly constricted he could shit diamonds, David Aaronovitch, is a bit put out: 'Since Thursday's election, every time I think about it, the result has looked worse to me. I can find nearly no comfort in the electorate's choices whatsoever.'

I rather think that there are very few ways in which the election, out of the range of realistic outcomes, could have gone better.

Labour's majority was cut to just about the lowest level that had been predicted without the Tories vote markedly improving; father of slain soldier Reg Keys and former ambassador Craig Murray both polled well, with the former offering up the moment that will forever be seen as emblematic not merely of this election, but of Blair's entire premiership: his concession speech in front of an ashen, blank-faced Blair expressing his hope that the Prime Minister at some point might apologise to the families of the dead and visit injured British soldiers; independent ex-Labour AM Peter Law overturned a 19,000 majority in Blaenau Gwent to win by 9,121 in what was supposed to be Labour's safest seat in Wales; the myth of the Shiraz-quaffing, bruschetta-munching middle-class war-botherer was exploded as opposition to the war was cited by voters as motivation for not voting Labour in exit polls across all regions and social classes; the hopes of UKIP and Veritas fizzled like a wet firecracker; Respect not only won in Bethnal Green & Bow, but managed some spectacular votes in Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Salma Yaqoob: 27.5 per cent/second place), East Ham (Abdul Khaliq Mian: 20.7 per cent/second place), West Ham (Lindsay German: 19.5 per cent/second place), and Poplar & Canning Town (Oliur Rahman: 16.8 per cent/third place), and managed to achieve, erm, respectable votes in the mid-single figures in seven other constituencies; and I'm even happy with the advance of the Lib Dems, expressing as it does not an endorsement of the party but a rejection of war and privatisation. Most of all, a consensus has rapidly developed in all quarters in the wake of the results that Blair must go, PDQ.

The night was not absent of disappointment, however, and I don't mean the completely unforeseen drubbing Mebyon Kernow received at the hands of every other party running against them. (I'm sorry - I'm being too harsh on the Cornish separatists. But I mean, really. An independent Cornwall? With an economy built on surfing lessons and pasties?)

Plaid Cymru has a leftish colouration in a way that the SNP doesn't, and has seen moderate success of late, but on Thursday their vote declined as the Lib Dems advanced; and Forward Wales, the Welsh socialist party, failed to make any impact at all, with their hottest prospect, Janet Williams, coming last in Wrexham with just 1.6 per cent, behind even the BNP's 3.0 per cent.

Although the Greens achieved a superb result in Brighton Pavillion - 22 per cent, it was not enough to put them over the top.

The Scottish Socialist Party's decline from 3.0 per cent in the last election to Westminster to a wretched 1.9 per cent can't be blamed on first-past-the-post. Even the Scottish Greens did better. I'm not on the ground in Scotland, so I can't comment with authority, but even from here in Brussels, it seems apparent that the Tommy Sheridan soap opera hasn't helped the party. I have an awful lot of time for the SSP, and, despite its growing capitulation to Scottish nationalism, the organisation is in my opinion a model example of the sort of centrist (in the Marxist sense) force that offers the best electoral prospect for the far left around the world. Let's hope the organisation's wet fart of a result is an aberration from their otherwise healthy growth over the past few years. I can't comment further on the significance of the SSP vote as I'm more than a bit out of the loop. I'm sure I'll get a sectarian, fragmentary view that contains a soupçon of accuracy from the CPGB's Weekly Worker next week, but I wouldn't mind a more honest assessment from somewhere else, and one that also doesn't overly depend on clever but ultimately vacuous football analogies (c.f. convenor Colin Fox's press debriefing). I would welcome reports from anyone who knows more about exactly why this has happened.

Lastly, there is the deeply worrying surge of the BNP in Barking.

Lenin, the pseudonymous proprietor of the top-notch blog, Lenin's Tomb, and active Respect campaigner, is understandably ecstatic about Respect's results from all of its contests, but particularly about the eager new mood that comes from a genuine, hard-won victory amid a period of seemingly endless defeats: 'If we have Respect tables out across the country asking people to join this weekend, people will join.'

If he's right - and I hope he is - then he has the right idea. Where regular electoral parties exist but for electoral contests, socialists view, or should view, elections as the lowest form of political activity, knowing that battles are not won or lost at the polling station, but long before, in the street and on the shopfloor and in the hearts of the oppressed and exploited. A movement on the ground that is confident enough can force any government to do its bidding, whereas even the most left of electoral successes will be undermined if there is not an extra-parlimentary force to defend and spread a government's undertakings. The other parties, whether having won or lost, will hibernate until the next contest like electioneering Yogi Bears. The fighting socialist party shakes off their hangover and immediately goes back out there to campaign against the next hospital closure or pension roll-back, or, most likely in this case and leaked not hours after the last election results had come in, a massive programme of building nuclear power stations, as well as the predicted acquisition of a new generation of nuclear weapons for Britain.

It would be a mistake for Respect to disappear from the political scene awaiting the next electoral skirmish. There are endless campaigns right away to get stuck into which will not only raise the profile of Respect and win it the esteem of local people and activists, but help build resistance to neo-liberalism and root it in local communities across Britain so that Respect becomes not a vanguard, but merely the electoral expression and 'resource centre' of a vibrant social movement and culture of resistance far broader than itself.

For this to happen, however, Respect must not be a tap that is turned on and off by its leading internal force, the SWP, at times opportune or less opportune for the recruitment of members of the SWP-proper, as it did with the poor, old Socialist Alliance.

There must also be a renewed effort to woo the Greens, although the ball is to a great extent in the Greens' court given Respect's excellent results, eclipsing the Greens as the most successful party to the left of Labour. The Greens failed not only to elect a single MP, while Respect did (although Respect did profit from Galloway's already-considerable profile), but failed to chalk up even one second-place result, where Respect managed three very strong second placings and an additional third-place result. The Socialist Unity Network website very quickly posted the Green's response to the results: a very frank assessment from the party's election co-ordinator for England and Wales, Peter Cranie:

'George Galloway's high profile and remarkable victory over Oona King is the headline of the night, but it is Respect's results in East and West Ham (either side of the 20% mark) that are undoubtedly impressive and have particularly caught my interest. There is certain to be strategic discussion within the Green Party about what this means for Green/Left political relations. I've already started this process on a political newsgroup as a way of finding out the views of grass root activists.'

The UK Greens, to a great extent, are a deeper shade of green than many of their continental counterparts - notably the neo-liberal, Castor-transporting and war-mongering Bündus90/Die Grünen of Joschka Fischer - and thus not an unnatural ally of Respect. If Cranie's comments are typical of Green thinking, a merger or at least some sort of electoral pact with the party should not be out of the question. Respect would also benefit from the many years of grunt work the Greens have put into developing their organisation at the local level.

There remain concerns about Respect, most of which I have mentioned previously, so I don't think I need to repeat myself. Red Pepper, by the way, has a very balanced article by James O'Nions of the Radical Activist Network appraising the organisation. His views on Respect are not dissimilar to mine and I certainly recommend you have a read of the article.

Nonetheless, the success of Respect in Thursday's election exceeded my expectations. They have more than proved themselves and done an enormous service to genuine progressives in shattering the myth that any project to the left of Labour in England is a hopeless proposition, incapable of electing MPs. Now, for all Respect's imperfections, it is only sectarianism that keeps others on the far left from joining.

Respect's task now is to consolidate the gains they have achieved. All hands on deck.