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Local elections and London referendum

No Vote to Labour!

On 7 May, as local elections are held in many parts of England, the Labour Party has been administering capitalism from Westminster for just over a year. On many local councils, they have been doing so for much longer. The local elections are the first chance for voters to tell the Labour government what we think of them so far. We should build for a result that shows the widest possible class-based expression of dissatisfaction in the government. We can only do this by not voting for any Labour candidate.

There are of course many Labour councillors and candidates who have conscientiously represented their local areas and who say they are socialists, opposed to the New Labour ideology. But whatever their intentions, as Labour candidates they are tied to the Blairite machine and will have no prospect of implementing any kind of socialist politics. A vote for these comrades is a vote for the Labour Party as a whole. Instead we call on them to break with Labour and stand for election on a programme that will benefit the working class. Then they would be worth voting for.

Critical vote to Socialist Labour, Socialist Alliance and Socialist Party

Several organisations calling themselves socialist are standing in these elections: the Socialist Labour Party (which Marxist Bulletin supporters have recently left), the Socialist Alliance (a loose organisation largely made up of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and some former SLP members), and the Socialist Party (formerly Militant Labour) under its own name.

All these organisations have one important thing going for them. They are attempting to draw a class line – they claim to stand for the interests of the working class against the interest of the capitalists, unlike Blair’s New Labour. We call for a vote for these organisations against Labour and the bosses’ parties because we support the idea of the working class having its own needs and its own representation.

We should build for a result that shows the widest possible class-based expression of dissatisfaction in the government. We can only do this by not voting for any Labour candidate.

The programmes of these organisations, however, often fail to draw the conclusions of that class line, to get across the point that to truly meet the needs of the working class it is necessary for the class to take state power – or they make that point abstractly, posing it as a future possibility, divorced from the struggles of today. In the final analysis their programmes propose a reform of capitalism to make it nicer for the working class. Of course, Marxists support any reforms that better workers’ material conditions or our ability to struggle, but this must always be done as part of the fight to overthrow capitalist rule. Reforms are never secure under this social system that constantly generates exploitation, oppression, racism and, periodically, war.

The Socialist Party has a history of standing candidates against the Labour Party in parliamentary and local elections, and already has some local councillors. However, its ‘socialism’, particularly in local elections, tends to translate into a shopping list of minor demands (such as opposition to the building of an Ikea superstore in Bristol), which taken as a whole fail to comprise a full strategy for real social change.

In the case of the Socialist Alliance, there doesn’t seem to be one clear programme, rather individual candidates are standing on their own programme or that of one of the composite organisations. The CPGB has proposed a programme for adoption by the whole London Socialist Alliance – a list of demands which is to the right of their own programme (and of most of their partners in the Alliance), presumably watered down in an attempt to attract a larger following, or to appear as if they already have. The failure of this attempt at a common programme illustrates the differences betwen the groups involved in the Alliance. An organisation that cannot even produce a programme falls far short of the ability to determine a strategy to fight for the real needs of the working class.

The Socialist Labour Party has developed a manifesto for London, leading with the demand ‘for a fair and beautiful city’! Policies focus on fiddling with the tax system to pay for more social spending, and on reforming the (capitalist) police force. Socialism, once again, is consigned to never-never land. Although some local branches have improved on this to some extent, the programme of the leadership only confirms that the SLP is a bureaucratically deformed organisation in decline, much less worthy of support than it was a year ago when it at least retained some of its initial promise.

Despite these criticisms, we recognise the important step these organisations are taking in posing a working-class alternative to Labour and for this reason they deserve the vote of class-conscious workers. In wards where no such candidates are standing we advocate voting for none of the candidates, as a message that parties supporting capitalism are worthy of no support from the working class.

Blair’s mayor is no improvement
Spoil your ballot!

While voting for local councillors, Londoners will also have the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the future governing of London. This will ask the following question: ‘Are you in favour of the Government’s proposals for a Greater London Authority made up of an elected Mayor and a separately elected Assembly?’

In other words, we are not really being asked how we think London should be run, we are being given a choice between two options – the status quo and a specific set of new proposals.

In deciding how to vote we need to ask ourselves: Will the results of either option be to our advantage in the class struggle? Does either create a better, more democratic, framework in which to fight for the interests of the working class?

It would certainly be an improvement if the city did have a real unifying body that was elected by and accountable to Londoners. Thatcher’s disbanding of the Greater London Council (GLC) has lead to a situation where services are fragmented into boroughs and the level of provision (and of council tax) is very uneven. This fragmentation was a deliberate Tory policy to destroy a seat of opposition.

But Blair’s proposals are not for the return of the GLC. He is as reluctant as Thatcher was to provide his opponents with a potential organising base. We would not be electing an assembly that would then elect a leader. The mayor would be a powerful individual compiling budgets and policy, which would then be ratified (or rubber-stamped) by the assembly. This is considerably less democratic than a system where members of a directly elected assembly propose and determine policy.

This referendum is a sham. In the polling booths we should say so by spoiling our ballot papers and refusing to accept the narrow ‘choices’ they present us with.

The mayor would be a presidential figure, much like the mayors of large American cities such as New York. Already several prominent personalities such as Jeffrey Archer have put their names forwards. Among the contenders is Ken Livingstone, capitalising on his role as the last head of the GLC to present himself as the anti-establishment candidate – from firmly within New Labour!

So, should we vote against this proposal? Certainly we should oppose it and call for alternatives – a democratically elected London assembly with real power, controlled by those who voted for it. But voting ‘No’ in the referendum will not get us a real assembly, it will retain the status quo. That is what a no vote means.

Those dissatisfied with the status quo are being given no real alternative. This referendum is a sham. In the polling booths we should say so by spoiling our ballot papers and refusing to accept the narrow ‘choices’ they present us with.

Even in calling for a real assembly with power, we should be aware that this is only a minor reform. Such an assembly, even in the unlikely event it was dominated by the SLP, Socialist Alliance and Socialist Party, would be constrained by the framework of a city fully in the grasp of capitalist cash. Councils cannot fund education and other social services without central state funding. Attempts to tax big companies in the city will be met by powerful resistance. Municipal socialism is no answer; we should give voters no illusions that socialism can be built up borough by borough. Workers need state power, not city power!