Tooting Branch Report. Fighting a bye-election

When this Party was formed and we announced our intention of giving honesty in politics a fair trial, many were the prophets who predicted a straight course for us so long as we confined our efforts to ordinary propaganda work, but the zig-zag path as soon as we indulged in electioneering.

We were, and are, of opinion that Socialist political action must avoid compromise, eschew promises that cannot be carried out, and scorn to catch the votes of the politically ignorant by any means whatsoever. Honesty in politics demands that as a minimum.

For the second time in our history as a branch we in Tooting have been put to the test of our political convictions by participation in an election (to fill a vacancy on the Borough Council)—once again to come through the ordeal, not only with our reputation unscathed, but with it considerably enhanced.

Of a truth, if ever an election offered facilities for the accumulation of a large number of votes by means of the sacrifice of a large slice of principle, this one did. The Conservative Assocn., who have a fairly strong hold of the Tooting Ward, put up as their candidate a local builder, one equally noted for the quality of his buildings and the quality of his wages bill. It was, of course, purely an accident that the first item on this builder’s election address dealt with a better and cheaper tram, train, and tube service. This, making Tooting more get-at-able, would create a demand for more houses, enhance rents, and give local builders and landlords ”a leg up.” It appeared to us that items 2 and 3 dealing with roads, cleansing, lighting, and public conveniences also gave scope for builders’ profits, but then we Socialists are biased, and the builder candidate with the above on his programme is not.

The remainder of this gentleman’s address was devoted to the usual “efficiency with economy” gag, without which no vote-catching programme is complete ; but the humour of this portion was made apparent when, three days before the election, a public meeting was held on this candidate’s behalf. His speech, expounding his position and explaining bis views on matters local, was fully reported by the local Press—in one inch of space ! For economy—of words—it certainly beat anything previously heard in Tooting from a candidate, but its efficiency suffered sadly by contrast with the speech of the gentleman imported to fill in the very large gap existing by reason of the inability of the candidate.

The Progressives very nearly let us in for the “straight fight” (beloved of H. Quelch [Southampton] and others) between Capital and Labour, inasmuch as their candidate declined at the eleventh hour, and although they announced their determination to find another, he did not materialise. The situation was now one we did not desire, for there are many who would give their vote to us rather than to a Conservative, though by no means in agreement with Socialism.

However, a third (and independent) candidate appeared, whose election address told us he was secretary of the “Workmen’s Car Petition for Tooting,” a body which had been trying for two-years to get an extension of 37 minutes for workmen’s cars—so far without result. Very promising for lovers of “something practical.”

That this candidate had no intention of frightening away possible supporters was obvious from the “non-partisan” character of the remainder of his address. For instance, this on “contracting out”—”The system as at present constituted is not what I would desire.” This was inserted perhaps, as proof positive that this “independent” candidate was independent of any clear idea of what he wanted.

In the foregoing situation there was scope for a smart candidate with a judiciously worded election address, a forceful criticism of the other candidates, and a large stock of specious, promises, to poll a fairly heavy vote, even though, much daring, he called himself a Socialist. But such is not the way of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We know that votes, to be of any value to the Socialist, must be based upon a knowledge of what Socialism means, and also a recognition of the strict limitations under which a Socialist labours, even when he does arrive upon the local body.

When the workers begin to poll heavy for Socialism, the extension of the time for the last workmen’s car will be among the least of the “sops” that the capitalist class will throw out to them, in order to stave off to the last the day of their exit.

Out of about 1,200 votes cast the Socialist, candidate, H. Joy, polled 94.


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