It is a tribute to the strength and determination of the tiny band of founder members that in 1906, only two short years after the formation of the Party, Socialist candidates contested wards in Battersea and Wandsworth Borough Council Elections. A total of twelve candidates were put forward—nine in Battersea and three in Wandsworth—and although the votes cast for us were small (Craske and Moody topped our list with 117 each), it was an encouraging start to the electoral activities ranging over the whole of our existence. Particularly is this true when one considers the circumstances then, as outlined in the December, 1906, Socialist Standard: —
All the candidates fought on the election manifesto published in our October issue, a few were distributed in each ward. They had no programme of ear-tickling, side tracking, vote-catching “palliatives” and did no canvassing. The candidates were practically unknown and had not climbed into popularity on the backs of the working class, by posing as “leaders” of unemployed deputations, “right to live” councils and similar confusionist conglomerations.
Incidentally, it was following the Battersea elections that the Executive Committee ruled that only Party Members should sign our candidates’ nomination papers, and this was embodied in a Party Rule which stands to this day.
1908 saw the Burnley branch fighting Gammon and Whittlefield wards. Although the two comrades polled only fifteen votes between them, the Party was by no means discouraged by the results, because around the same time, three candidates polled sixty, fifty-eight and fifty-six votes in one ward at Tooting.
Parliamentary contests were still a long way off for the Party, but, nevertheless, 50,000 manifestoes were distributed during the 1910 General Election. As always, we posed the straight choice of Capitalism or Socialism and exposed the anti-working class policies of the other parties. In the same year, Tottenham Branch was busy, with Comrade Stern fighting High Cross.Ward, and Anderson and Rourke in St. Anns Ward of the local Urban Council elections. The voting was: Anderson 143, Rourke 67, Stern 63. They were the last S.P..G.B. candidates to contest municipal elections for many years.
By 1928, our organisation had recovered sufficiently from the war to think once again about putting forward Socialist candidates, and in February of that year a meeting of members declared overwhelmingly in favour of entering (the Parliamentary lists. But national elections are much more expensive to contest than local ones and with only £21 1s. 2d. in the kitty, a proposal to fight North Battersea in 1929 had to be abandoned. Despite this, however, Battersea branch ran a very successful challenge meeting which the Tory and Liberal candidates attended. There was an audience of about nine hundred, so this first gesture of ours in the Parliamentary field was not entirely a disappointment.
One of the East Ham constituencies was earmarked for our attention in 1937. We obtained committee rooms, meetings were held and comrades did a great deal of door-to-door canvassing. Once again, however, our hopes were dashed, this time by the outbreak of the second world war.
The Party was able to do only a small amount of active work during the war, but 1945 presented us with an opportunity we were quick to seize, and Comrade Groves fought North Paddington for us in an atmosphere of tremendous enthusiasm. The good Summer weather enabled scores of members to canvass our literature and plenty of outdoor meetings were held. But the grand climax to our efforts came with the rally at the Metropolitan Theatre in Edgware Road. Packed from top to bottom, it was a thrilling milestone in Socialist Propaganda.
We fought North Paddington again in the by-election of 1946 and in the General Election of 1950, this time with Comrade McClatchic as our candidate. We also put up H. Young in East Ham South. In yet another by-election we went again to North Paddington in 1953, with W. Waters as our representative and filled the Metropolitan Theatre with an eve-of-poll rally. Sadly, the last one, because the Metropolitan Theatre is no more.
Six years were to pass before we did electoral battle again. A leaflet was distributed during the 1955 campaign but no candidates stood. It was a period of some heart searching by many members on whether the time was ripe for us to enter the ring. Maybe this pause was just as well, for by 1959 we were again ready with a candidate, this time W. Read in Bethnal Green. The district had been canvassed for two years before and the campaign was indicative of reviving enthusiasm for electoral activity. Eight hundred and ninety-nine votes were cast for the Socialist candidate.
Since then, Glasgow Branch have swung into action with both municipal and Parliamentary campaigns. In May, 1962, they fought North Kelvin ward with Comrade Mulheron as their candidate. Even though only seventy-six votes were cast for him, the effort was well worth while, much of our literature being sold and the candidate appearing on Scottish T.V.—surely something for us to write home about! The valuable experience gained in this, their first effort, served the Glasgow members well when they fought the Woodside constituency by-election in December of that year. Some really hard work was done in bitterly cold weather and they were not disappointed with the 83 votes polled. “We are 83 politically mature people,” said candidate Vallar in a press interview.
Perhaps by the time you read this article, the opening shots will have been fired in the 1964 General Election. Comrade Vallar will again be standing in Woodside and Comrade Grant in Bromley South, which just about brings the record up to date. No account of this sort is quite complete, however, without a word or two of tribute to the self-effacing and modest Parliamentary committee, working steadily in the background year after year, and in fact to all those members who have unstintingly helped in this great task over the past sixty years. Their hard work and experience will stand us in good stead in the struggles that lie ahead.