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The ‘Respect’ Coalition and the United Front: A Debate

This polemic arose out of a "Convention of the Left in Camden", held in December 2003, which launched the local organisation of the "Respect" Unity Coalition supported by George Galloway, the Socialist Workers Party and others. The first two pieces reproduced here first appeared as letters in the Camden New Journal, in the 18 December 2003 and 2 January 2004 issues. The third piece was also written as a letter to the paper but was not published. Even the CNJ, it would seem, has (understandably) a limited tolerance for leftist polemic – a position which is not, of course, shared by What Next?

Ken Loach’s Left Coalition Could Let the Tories In

YOUR REPORT of the recent Convention of the Left in Camden (CNJ, 11 December) didn’t mention an issue which was the subject of some dispute at the meeting, namely the new coalition’s plans to contest the London Assembly elections in June next year.

It might make some sense for a left-of-Labour alliance to stand for the top-up list (though personally I doubt they will poll the 5% necessary to get a candidate elected to the Assembly), but they have the proverbial snowball in hell’s chance of winning any of the constituency seats, which are decided on a first-past-the-post basis. However, in some seats they could take enough votes off Labour to let the Tories in.

This is of particular concern locally, as the Barnet & Camden seat is highly marginal. In May 2000, the Tory candidate Brian Coleman won it by a very narrow majority, gaining 41,583 votes as against 41,032 for the Labour candidate, with the Socialist Alliance candidate getting 3,488. If the new coalition contests this seat next June, it could well tip the balance in favour of the Tories again, just like the Socialist Alliance did last time.

The Labour candidate for Barnet & Camden, Lucy Anderson, took a clear stand against the war on Iraq – a position she shared with both Camden constituency parties and with our two MPs. And, as John Gulliver reported in last week’s CNJ, her candidacy enjoys strong trade union backing.

It seems almost inconceivable that any political grouping claiming to represent the "left" could stand against Lucy, knowing full well that they can’t possibly win and that the only consequence of their intervention would be to allow the Tories to retain the seat. Yet, judging by some of the comments at the Convention of the Left in Camden, that is what some of them want to do.

As Ken Loach appears to be the leading local supporter of the new coalition, I’m sure CNJ readers would be interested in hearing his views on the matter. Does he share the opinion, voiced by some of those at the Convention, that it makes no difference to the people of Camden whether they are represented on the London Assembly by a particularly obnoxious Tory right-winger or by a Labour member with progressive politics? Or would he agree that the only politically responsible course of action for his coalition would be to refrain from standing a candidate in Barnet & Camden and call for a Labour vote?

Bob Pitt

Voters Need a Left Alternative Not Another Career Politician

BOB PITT is quite dishonest to suggest the Convention of the Left in Camden featured debate over whether to vote Labour (‘Ken Loach’s Left Coalition Could Let the Tories In’, December 18). In truth one person (Bob) suggested we should, and many vigorously disagreed.

Moreover, Labour did not lose the Camden and Barnet seat at the last Greater London Authority election because of the Socialist Alliance. They lost because they could not get enough people to vote for them. That’s democracy.

Why shouldn’t people want something better than New Labour offers? We got rid of the Tories in 1997, and where has it got us? Multiple foreign wars justified by lies, more privatisation, private-finance initiatives in schools and hospitals, public-private partnership on the Tube, sham local democracy, more unelected quangos than you can shake a stick at, Almos, scapegoating of refugees... Need I go on?

People are sick and tired of this rubbish. That’s why people stay away from the polls in droves, and the Labour vote collapses. Remember the Haverstock ward by-election? (Labour collapse.) Or Brent East? (Labour collapse.)

Bob will have to do better than scare us with the Tory bogeyman to get the votes of thousands of disillusioned, ex-Labour voters. New Labour have insulted our intelligence enough. Shabby blackmail won’t work.

Nor will people vote for New Labour’s candidate, Lucy Anderson, just because Bob says, "Trust me, this one’s better." We’ve heard it before. You say she opposed the war. Well, she must have done it in a small room, among friends, because it’s not on the CNJ website archive. I checked in case I’d missed Lucy’s brave stand.

It’s easy to say you were against a war when it’s over, once the career’s safe. We want to vote for people who oppose war loudly and on principle, no matter what the consequences. And what about Almos? Any serious candidate of the left couldn’t fail to speak out against this nasty piece of New Labour back-door privatisation. Any word from Lucy? The council tenants of Camden report no new champion.

And could this be the same Lucy Anderson who is quoted elsewhere in the same CNJ boasting of the council’s use of anti-social behaviour orders? Banging the law-and-order drum? Sounds totally New Labour to me.

We’ve seen too many New Labour career politicians. We don’t need another one. I look forward to the chance to vote for a left alternative.

Simon Joyce

On Tactics

SIMON JOYCE (‘Voters Need a Left Alternative not Another Career Politician’, 2 January) claims that I told the recent Camden Convention of the Left that they should "vote Labour" in the London Assembly elections this coming June, and that no one there agreed with me.

I confess that as a Labour Party member I do indeed hold the view that people should vote Labour. However, it would have been a bit pointless to argue this at the Camden Convention, given that it had been called to organise local support for the new "unity coalition" initiated by George Galloway, Ken Loach and others, which has the specific aim of standing candidates against the Labour Party.

Rather I argued – and I received support from another speaker on this – that the unity coalition should at least show an elementary sense of tactics in the way they go about standing their candidates. So while I raised no objection to them contesting the top-up list for the London Assembly, I tried to persuade them not to stand in Barnet & Camden, as it is a marginal seat where they might well take enough votes off Labour to allow the Tories in again.

Simon Joyce’s ignorant attack on Lucy Anderson, Labour’s Assembly candidate for Barnet & Camden, is really beside the point. The fact is that Labour supporters are convinced that we have an excellent candidate, who enjoys wide support across the labour movement, and if she loses because of a sectarian intervention by Simon and his friends we will regard the "unity coalition" as little better than scabs and agents of the Tory party.

At the Friends Meeting House rally in October that launched the coalition, one of its leading figures, John Rees of the Socialist Workers Party, said: "We are not turning our back on Labour supporters. There are millions of them, and we understand that the only sustainable left in this country can be built by winning those millions who have not yet been won."

Rees’s advice should be heeded by his followers in Camden. They should ask themselves: will it really assist them in winning a hearing among Labour supporters if they wage a divisive electoral campaign that hands this London Assembly seat to the Tories?

The unity coalition can stand for the Assembly if they want, both on the top-up list and in non-marginal constituencies. They are even welcome to put up a candidate for London Mayor, as long as they advocate a second preference vote for Ken Livingstone. But they should refrain from standing in Barnet & Camden, and back the Labour candidate.

This will unite the local labour movement against our common enemy, the Tory Party, and will enable the unity coalition to maintain a political dialogue with Labour supporters. That way, we all gain. How about it, Simon?

Bob Pitt