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The Left and the May Elections

Martin Sullivan

THOSE WHO insist that the time is ripe for an electoral challenge to Labour were given a chance to prove their point on 6 May, when elections took place to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and to local councils outside London. If, as these comrades assert, a political space has opened up to the left of New Labour, it must be said that there wasn’t much sign of it in the election results.

The non-Labour left did best in Scotland, where Dennis Canavan, who stood as an independent after having been blocked from standing for Labour, comfortably defeated the party’s official candidate, while Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) got elected in Glasgow on the top-up list. None of the other SSP candidates did anything like as well as Sheridan, however, and those of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) polled around 2%. Interestingly, the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) which has hardly any organisation to speak of in Scotland did rather better than the SWP and no worse than most candidates of the SSP which, at least in Glasgow, does have some forces on the ground.

For the Welsh Assembly a far-left electoral bloc had been formed, involving the SWP, the Socialist Party, Cymru Goch and others. Its candidates polled the usual 2% or so. Opposition to New Labour in Wales took the form of a shift, not to the non-Labour socialist left, but to the nationalist Plaid Cymru.

The left fared much the same in local elections. In Liverpool, for example, a couple of oppositionists standing as "Ward Labour" were successful, on the basis of a personal vote. But Leslie Mahmood, standing for the Socialist Alliance, received a mere 52 votes compared with 676 for the official Labour candidate (who lost heavily to a Liberal Democrat), while sitting councillor Jimmy Routledge, whose defection from Labour was trumpeted at the last Socialist Labour Party conference, got 44 votes.

These results surely destroy the illusion that the rightward lurch of Labour under Blair has provided favourable conditions for building a mass-based socialist alternative, whether in the form of a "party of recomposition" or a looser electoral alliance along the lines of the Lutte Ouvrière/LCR bloc in France. Hopefully some lessons will be learned.