1990s >> 1992 >> no-1053-may-1992

Story of an election

In the end the workers voted for the devil they knew. Kinnock, whose readiness to sell his soul and any physical parts of his anatomy to the devil as the price for power, finished with neither principles nor power. Ashdown, the shady middle man, ended the day firmly in the middle of the wilderness. dealing cards in a game which nobody needed to play with him.


The Greens suffered what future historians may decide to call The Fate of Kinnock: after a heated Conference debate as to whether they should be pragmatic and voter-friendly or say what they meant, the opportunist majority won, but the workers refused to offer the Green politicians the remotest lick of power. The Natural Law Party, created in 1992 with the backing of hippy millionaires and the ability to buy their way on to TV stations which have refused electoral broadcasts to socialists since TV started, proved that you can buy a few hundred votes in a few hundred constituencies if you have enough money and enough voters with enough madness.


It was a dull election which was dominated by media rambling and boring polls which proved to be wrong. It is too unkind to wish that the pollsters, together with the now obsolete kremlinologists, enjoy a short while on the dole queue followed by a long while doing something useful with their lives?


The essence of the election was negativity. The Tories did not win; indeed, most voters opted for parties other than Major’s. The Tory election campaign, backed by nearly every newspaper, was designed to scare workers against voting Labour. The Labour Party, wedded to the market and virtually the same in policy terms as the Conservatives, used most of its fire attacking the wicked Tories and presenting slick, sick ads with film stars and no ideas. As ever, the Liberals played it dirty. The most interesting poll of the election showed that negative motivation amongst younger voters outnumbered positive reasons for voting choice by three to one (Guardian, 12 March).


The socialist campaign


The Socialist Party decided to contest the London seat of Holborn and St Pancras. The campaign, organised by Camden branch, owed its success to enthusiastic support from many people, both members and supporters of the party. Manifestoes were printed by the party printers on our own presses and delivered free by the Post Office. Thousands of posters and stickers were printed and displayed. Open-air meetings were held in Camden Town. Kentish Town. Brunswick Square and Lincoln’s Inn. A loudspeaker car toured the constituency blasting out somewhat different messages from the other parties. Three different types of leaflets, in addition to the manifesto, were printed and delivered across the constituency. One thousand extra copies of the election issue of the Socialist Standard were distributed and so were many more back-issues. An eve-of-poll rally in Conway Hall had standing room only and was followed by a less formal gathering in a nearby bar where those interested met and talked with us. It was hard not to notice us in the area: the campaign is but a beginning of our serious work in Camden where we are determined to make the Socialist Party a force that the defenders of capitalism will be unable to ignore.


It was not all cheer and beer. The campaign had its down points and these told us a thing or two about how the capitalist system works. This party, which is hostile to both the market and to the rule of bureaucrats, was more than once the victim of both.


First, the market and the election. For the days after the election was called we roamed the constituency looking for an election office to rent. There was no shortage of empty shops in prime sites, but a combination of ridiculously high rents and lousy premises kept us out in the cold.


Finally, we found a shop which was affordable and more than half decent. The price was fixed with the agent and we arrived on the first Friday of the campaign (three weeks from the election day) ready to set up for action. A complication had arisen, said the agent: a well-known property company was the owner of the shop and was uncertain about letting us use it for “political reasons”. No Socialists Wanted Here. This is called democracy. We were told to wait for the directors to think further on the matter, but gently suggested that they jump somewhere where the water is less than fresh, and by that same Friday evening we moved into a shop in the less convenient area of Chalton Street, off Euston Road. The election office was transformed from a slum into a pleasant environment and was used efficiently for the three-week campaign.


Bureaucratic interference in our campaign came from the Post Office who told us that our manifesto, which had been stamped and approved by them, could not be delivered because it advertised our election rally. We pointed out to them that our last manifestoes had advertised meetings, and that the Post Office stamp of approval was placed right next to the rally announcement. They accepted that they were in the wrong, but not before wasting two days when the manifestoes could have been distributed by them. We are now in dispute with the same bureaucrats concerning several thousand manifestoes which they failed to arrange to distribute in the Kentish Town area.


Honest Politics


As ever, we made it clear to our fellow workers that while it is in their interest to vote for our candidate, we did not want their votes unless they were socialists. We asked the workers not to vote for us unless they agreed and they obliged: we won 175 votes.


Little can be said about our vote, but, for the psephologically-minded, here are a few points worth thinking about—“just for fun”, as the man with the silly swingometer might put it. Firstly, 175 votes equals 0.4 percent of those who voted, or four voters out of every thousand. It is a higher percentage of the vote than any national election we have contested for over twenty years, and since we were up against the Greens, the Natural Law Party and a Leninist outfit, as well as the big three parties, we may presume that our votes were not all mere protest votes but represented genuine support for our unequivocal socialist manifesto.


Secondly, even if we assume that not all the votes were as sound as we would like them to be, even if we halved the number of votes and then projected it across the country (assuming that socialist consciousness is not innately higher in Camden than elsewhere) we would have had 50,000 genuine socialist votes. If such a calculation is reasonable, it is amusing to think that there are already twice as many socialists in Britain as there arc millionaires!


Thirdly, the tactic of Leninist opportunism has been discredited by our result. Standing against us was the Revolutionary Communist Party, a disreputable Leninist sect. Being opportunist tricksters, they employed the old tactic of standing under the name of a front organisation: “Workers Against Racism“. Yet, despite their reformist campaign and their efforts to appeal to populist single issues, the Socialist Party’s undisguised principles won more votes than them. This was not only the case in our constituency: the Socialist Party won more votes than any of the Leninist candidates standing in London constituencies. In times past parties like the Communist Party told us that appealing to the workers on the basis of tactical reformism was the only way to win votes. It is gratifying to note that honesty was respected more than tactics.


As for the other Leninist sects, their position in the election was just as disgraceful. Their call was to vote Labour. Workers News, the paper of the “Workers International League (Leninist-Trotskyist Ten- dency/Britain)” had as its election headline: “Kick Out The Tories! Vote Labour . . . But Reject Kinnock’s Cowardly Policies”. The election headline of Workers Power stated “Vote Labour—But Organise To Fight!”. Rather like telling workers to jog on the M1, but remember to take some bandages.


As ever, the barmiest Leninist nonsense came from the SWP whose 4 April issue of Socialist Worker (the paper for those students who can only achieve a Leninist level of consciousness) had the following headline: “Major Out. Vote Labour. But Build A Socialist Alternative”. Of the Labour Party, which they urge workers to waste their votes on, the same issue states that:


  the word socialism is not used once in labour’s election manifesto. Labour leaders have hardly uttered it throughout the campaign. Labour’s priority in recent years and in its manifesto has been to appease big business and the bankers. (Our emphasis)

So, here is a so-called socialist organisation bemoaning the fact that Labour never speaks about or stands for socialism and instead supports the interest of the class enemy and therefore workers should vote for them.


In order to diagnose the symptoms of this political insanity (as well as put socialist leaflets into the hands of workers attracted to it by the pseudo-socialist title of the SWP), we attended their rally in our constituency where they were urging workers to vote for the party of “big business and the bankers” against the Socialist Party. Their speaker, one Alex Callinicos, a politics lecturer from York University, declared how delighted he was that Labour was ahead in the polls and how workers must be persuaded to vote Labour in order to learn that a Labour government will attack them just like the Tories!


SWP meetings are stage-managed and most of the “questions” from the audience take the form of pre-arranged harangues from members of the cult. The SWP is a party of confused capitalist reformism and urges workers to vote Labour “without illusions”. Interestingly, the rather less confused. but equally non-socialist Financial Times came out on election day with exactly the same recommendation to vote Labour but without illusions.


In place of leaders


Our candidate did not stand as a leader or potential leader. What he called for was a democratic socialist mandate. All of the other parties called on the workers to follow rather than think.


The manifesto of the Natural Law Party informed its readers that “our candidates have demonstrated greater orderliness of brain functioning, indicated by EEG coherence; and greater command of Natural Law, indicated by improved mind-body co-ordination—Yogic Flying”. On the basis that these self-styled superbrains can fly through the air in ways that would have left Lamont and Smith standing in silent awe, it behoves the floating voter to examine the economic section of the manifesto of their local floating candidate: “The Natural Law Party upholds the principle of free-markct economy”.


Not to be outdone by such spectacular activities, Frank Dobson, the elected Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras, performed the much-admired circus feat of The Disappearing Man: he ran no meeting in the constituency throughout the campaign and appeared on BBCTV on election night saying that he had spent the best part of the campaign touring Britain.


Should he ever extend his tour into the constituency which political ignorance has made his, he might like to consider that there are two as yet unacknowledged challenges to debate awaiting him from the Socialist Party and there are 175 local voters who would like to see him respond to the genuine case for a socialist transformation.


Steve Coleman


Election Result
Abstentionists 23.863:
Dobson (Lab) 22,243;
McHallam (Con) 11,419:
Horne- Roberts (Lib-Dem) 5.476
Wolf-Light (Green) 959:
Hersey (NLP) 212;
Headicar (Socialist Party) 175;
Lewis (Trot) 133.