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The LSA and the London Elections

Janine Booth is standing as a London Socialist Alliance candidate for the Greater London Assembly. She is a supporter of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and an activist in the RMT. What Next? asked her about the politics and aims of the LSA.

How did the London Socialist Alliance originate? What is its political character and which groups are involved?

The groups involved are the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, the International Socialist Group (Socialist Outlook), the Communist Party of Great Britain (Weekly Worker), Workers Power, the Independent Labour Network and the Socialist Workers Party. The Socialist Party [formerly Militant] are (sort of) in it too, but their relationship to the LSA is rather difficult given their hesitancy over supporting the LSA in the list section.

The LSA came together last year to stand a slate in the Euro-elections. Unfortunately, this was abandoned after the SWP decided to pull out in order to back Arthur Scargill's Stalinist sect, the Socialist Labour Party.

This time around, the LSA has begun to attract support wider than its founding groups. People and organisations beyond the far left have agreed to sponsor it, to stand as candidates, and/or have spoken at its events. These include: Christine Blower (ex-President, NUT), film director Ken Loach, a large CWU union branch, various RMT, UNISON and NUT branches, and supporters of campaigns for justice for victims of police brutality/racism (e.g. Harry Stanley and other campaigns).

These groups have a patchy history when it comes to political collaboration. What has brought them together now to contest these elections?

The division on the left has been inexcusable. The left, seeing action and debate as counterposed rather than complementary, has failed to understand that it is possible (indeed essential) to work together whilst openly discussing differences. I think this shows the persistence of Stalinist poison within the left and the labour movement.

I think one thing that has "broken the ice" is the 1997 General Election. Until that time, Workers' Liberty (quite rightly in my opinion) refused to support any "left" candidatures against Labour. The most important task facing the working class in Britain was to get rid of the Tory government and elect Labour: so we saw left anti-Labour candidatures as a sectarian, opportunist distraction. They also, generally, resulted from a particular group having given up on the Labour Party and deciding to declare itself to be the ready-made alternative – we weren’t prepared to go along with that.

Now, however, Labour is in government – and the party set up by the trade unions to give a voice to working people is governing blatantly (and enthusiastically) in the interests of the rich and capitalists. Working class people are being driven out of politics, so the priority now is to reassert that the working class is entitled to be represented in politics. Whilst Workers' Liberty believes that this fight must still be waged within the Labour Party, sometimes – where necessary and credible – it has to be fought against Labour. We have to go into the May 4 election offering working class people the chance to vote for candidates who will speak up for working class interests. (I think that it is better to present the LSA as a "workers' voice" rather than simply a "socialist alternative".)

So the issue of whether to stand in elections is not the obstacle to unity that is used to be.

I think the other factor is that the SWP have had an internal discussion, and those people who favour working with other left groups (as distinct from pretending that we didn’t exist, as has been their practice up to now) won the day.

So do you think the Labour Party is over?

No. I think I covered this in the answer above. Just to add: I think it is particularly important for the Labour-affiliated trade unions to put up more of a fight against the Blairites through their political structures. Union leaders have been pathetic in their collaboration with Blair's project.

Labour Party members who sympathise with the LSA's stand, but don’t want to get expelled, serve the struggle well by fighting for socialist policies within Labour, and fighting Blair's attacks on party democracy. And if you send the LSA a donation, we won’t tell anyone, honest.

What is the relationship of the LSA campaign to Ken Livingstone's independent candidacy for London mayor?

There is no formal link, although the LSA backs Livingstone. Livingstone is doing his best to distance himself from the LSA. On Newsnight he said "I'm not interested in the support of sectarian factions, I'm interested in the support of business". I have to say I found this extraordinarily ironic – in capitalist society, surely there is no more sectarian faction than business!

I don’t believe Ken Livingstone should be "independent" – the rigged Labour Party selection process showed that he is the London labour movement's choice to be mayor, so he should make himself accountable to the labour movement. I'm worried that he will end up disappointing many of his supporters – he's not really as Red as some on the left like to kid themselves. I think that people are supporting him in big numbers because he says he opposes Tube privatisation and because they want to deliver the two-fingered salute to the Millbank mafia. That's why he should be supported – but not trusted.

The LSA election posters and leaflets say "Vote Ken, Vote LSA", which would suggest to the average voter that the LSA and Livingstone were interlinked. Isn’t the LSA attempting to deceive the electorate by posing in some way as Ken's slate?

I think you'll find that those posters can’t be used any more because of election rules. I never was happy with the "Vote Ken" bit – sounds far too chummy. Still, if the LSA supports a particular candidate for mayor, we are entitled to say so, yes?

The LSA is standing for the Greater London Assembly in both the constituency and party list sections. Do you think you will get anyone elected in either section?

In the constituencies, no. In the list, maybe. The point is that, win or lose, we are giving working class people the opportunity to vote in their own interests, not just leaving them with a choice of bosses' parties.

By standing in a marginal constituency the LSA could take votes off Labour and allow victory for a Tory. Do you see this as a problem?

That's pretty unlikely, I'd say. If it happens, perhaps it's unfortunate. But nothing like as unfortunate as letting New Labour get away with its rampant Tory policies – and its blatant humiliation of the unions and of working class people – without an electoral challenge. A century ago, the first Labour candidates were criticised because they might take votes away from the Liberals and let the Tories in!

The London region of the RMT recently voted to support Ken, and the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation list for the GLA. As an RMT political education officer and prominent activist, why do you not stand by this decision?

I find the whole episode of the CATP and LSA very, very sad. They should have stood together – the LSA wanted to stand on a united list with CATP and I worked very hard to try to make this happen. But it was blocked by the refusal of a small group within CATP. They should never have had to be a choice between LSA and CATP. But given that there is, I chose to support the LSA. In the GLA election, we have to put forward policies on the wide range of issues at stake. I believe it is wrong to stand in this election (as CATP is doing) with nothing to say about policing, nothing to say about the fire service, nothing to say about schools, the NHS, nurseries, pensions, Section 28 or the anti-union laws.

Besides, the way London Transport Regional Council (not the London Regional Council – there are two other regions in London!) took this decision was highly undemocratic. The amendment proposing support for the LSA was ruled out of order by the Chair, and there was no separation of the decision on Livingstone and the CATP. Some branches felt they had to vote for the resolution to get support for Livingstone, even though they support the LSA and not CATP. This decision followed a concerted effort to suppress discussion of the whole issue in the branches.

In some cases – notably strikes – you have to stand by decisions you don’t agree with for the sake of maintaining your strength as a union in the face of a conflict with the employer. However, this is not about a Tube strike, it is about an election in which the whole of London's working class is involved. So no – I don’t feel obliged to go along with a sectionalist, single-issue agenda. My loyalty as a socialist and a trade unionist is to the working class as a whole.

What would you say to, for example, a member of the Hammersmith and City branch RMT? Their branch supports the LSA, their Regional Council supports CATP and their national union's rule book commits them to backing Labour. So which body should they be "loyal" to? Perhaps they will have to make up their own mind ...

Is the LSA just a temporary electoral alliance or will co-operation between its constituent organisations continue after the May elections?

If the left can unite for an election on May 4, then it can – and must – unite to fight Tube privatisation on May 5. And to campaign for the repeal of the anti-union laws. And to organise solidarity with strikes and other campaigns. I believe that those people who have been attracted to the LSA in this election will not forgive us if we fail to continue working together afterwards. And I don’t think they will forgive any particular left group that contributes to that failure.