Party That Will
The party that will, or just a quirk?
By Mark Cantrell
"WE haven't seen anything for working class people," Shamshad Hussain
said. "My faith in Labour has been shattered, but the Labour Party is
not the Labour Movement -- it's time we moved forward."
Her words struck a chord with the small audience gathered in a meeting
room at Bradford Central Library. Socialists and revolutionaries, trade
unionists, ex- and current members of the Labour Party, they had all
had enough of Tony's dream that things could only get better.
As far as they are concerned, four years later and things have only got
Like many others across the country, they have come together to form
what they call a genuine socialist alternative to the mainstream
political parties: the Socialist Alliance (SA).
Bradford is a latecomer to the movement that has its origins with the
London Socialist Alliance and its fight at the London assembly
elections. However, the city's SA enjoys a certain historical symbolism
that is more poignant than most -- for it was in this city that the
Labour Party was born.
"We have had two parties in the past, the party that can't and the
party that won't. It's time we had a party that will."
Charlie Glyde uttered these words at the inception of the Independent
Labour Party -- the forerunner of modern Labour -- just over a century
ago at the Peckover Street Conference. For the SA members in the city,
they might as well have been uttered with them in mind.
History is coming full circle. The Labour Party was born out of a
wedlock of trade unionism and socialism, now the ideological
descendants of the party's progenitors are gathering to smother
Well, eventually. The SA isn't in a position to do that yet, but the
coming election is seen as merely a beginning.
At the last count, around 93 SA candidates will be contesting seats in
England and Wales at the general election. The Scottish Socialist
Party, meanwhile will be contesting every Scottish seat.
Results so far have been impressive for such a newborn political
outsider. Last May, in the London Assembly elections, the SA saved its
deposit in two constituencies. In the following Tottenham by-election,
the SA candidate saved his deposit and gained 5.4 per cent of the vote.
At another by-election in October last year, the SA gained seven per
cent in Newham. Further afield, at the Preston by-election in November,
the SA came fourth with a 5.6 per cent share of the vote.
In them themselves, these results are nothing spectacular, at least
from the perspective of the mainstream parties. For the Left, however,
this represents a significant growth of influence on the political
battlefield. Furthermore, the SA is confident that it will improve its
results still further.
In anticipation of securing election airtime alongside the big guns of
British politics, film maker Ken Loach is already working on an
election video. He has said: "Labour is now proud to be the party of
big business. The SA is doing what the Labour Party was to do --
understand and represent the interests of ordinary people."
Many alleged failures and betrayals are thrown at New Labour by those
involved in the SA organisations across the country. From failing to
restore the links between pensions and earnings, to failing to protect
workers from mass sackings, to continuing the policies of
privatisation, to stoking up race hatred with their policies towards
Tony Blair has merely continued -- and revamped -- the Thatcher project
into the New Century, the SA says, and in so doing betrayed the hopes
of millions who catapulted the party to power in 1997. Now they want to
provide a vehicle for those who can't stand the Tories, but can't
stomach the prospect of voting for the Labour Party and so might
otherwise stay away from the polling booth.
"There is real opposition in this country," says Ateeq Siddique, the
Bradford SA's prospective Parliamentary candidate. "The message we're
taking to Tony Blair is that we are going to campaign on the ground, in
the workplaces and within communities for a genuine socialist
alternative to Free Market policies."
By this he means that the SA is not merely an electoral machine. It is
not an entity that will wind down and merely tick over until the next
election. The SAs across the country aim to build support for a
disparate array of national and local campaigns; ones that actively
involve and are led by the 'rank and file'.
In standing at the coming general election with these aims, it is not
only challenging the main political parties; it is challenging the
entire political and economic framework of British society.
"The SA will within 20 years topple the hegemony of the Labour and Tory
parties," Siddique adds, "because both are the parties of Big Business.
The SA is an organisation for working class people. We have no
millionaires in our party."
Bold words for an organisation that formed from a small meeting, but
the Socialist Alliance is but the sum of its parts and it intends to be
greater than that sum.
Cynics might be tempted to write the SA off as a brief blip on the
political landscape, a novelty that might make the election a little
more interesting than most and raise a few eye brows in the process,
but which is nothing more than a short lived political quirk.
On the other hand, it might genuinely stand for a rebirth of the Labour
movement -- one that the Labour party will no longer be able to contain
and channel into constitutional safety valves.
We might just be witnessing the birth of something that has not been
seen since the dawn of Labour.
If that is so, then British politics are in for a rough ride in the
coming years, and Charlie Glyde's long ago uttered welcome to the
'party that will' might just become its epitaph.
4 May 2001
Copyright (C) May 2001. All Rights Reserved.