European elections 2009: No2EU, yes to populism?
It’s unusual for me to weigh on the question of electoral tactics, but a considered article by Phil at AVPS and a reading of Hannah Sell’s justification for the Socialist Party’s support for No2EU compels it. I received notification that I’m on the electoral register and of the whereabouts of my local polling station, so I shall be turning out to vote; the question of who for remains an important one. The No2EU candidate is Dave Hill, and I’d be all for his election, bearing in mind the alternatives. However, I wouldn’t like to see Caroline Lucas, an actual MEP, squeezed out down here.
That said, there have to be other grounds to query ones vote beyond merely the candidate. When we vote, we vote for parties and party platforms – and as both Phil and Hannah Sell acknowledge, there are great deficiencies in No2EU’s platform. For example, their solution to the present economic turmoil is essentially national and protectionist-capitalist. I don’t agree that ‘only nation states…and their governments can control the movements of big capital’ – in fact I think completely the opposite. Whatever happened to internationalism?
Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t think the Green Party is anything special. I certainly don’t think it amounts to the electoral representation of independent working class interests. I’m just not sure I can get behind an organisation whose analysis is so blatantly and persistently populist that they have effectively talked themselves into running on a “states’ rights” campaign, despite the many fair points they raise about workers’ rights, the unaccountability of the European Commission and so forth.
What disturbs me particularly is Hannah Sell’s article in defence of No2EU. While Hannah is honest enough to mention some of the glaring problems with No2EU, such as the endorsement of Steve Radford of the Liberal Party, her defence of such a move reads like her heart isn’t in it. “All electoral blocs require some compromises. Some, of course, would be unacceptable and would lead to a break-up of the bloc. [Endorsing Radford], however, is an acceptable compromise.” I do not understand why it is an acceptable compromise.
In the days when Militant was part of the Labour Party, there was at least a nominal commitment to socialism. Even today, the commitment to democratic socialism is printed on the membership cards, for what it is worth. Radford is not a socialist – not even within shouting distance of being a socialist. The Liberal Party is intrinsically free market capitalist. The resultant picture of No2EU is not, therefore, a particularly inspiring one. What seems to have caught the imagination of the Left to some degree is the involvement of the RMT.
Hannah Sell plays this up: “It is the first time since the formation of the Labour Party that a trade union has taken an electoral initiative on an all-Britain scale. The transformation of the Labour Party…has left the working class without a mass party for well over a decade. The absence of such a party has been a central factor in holding back the confidence of workers to struggle in defence of their pay and conditions.” The omission here is that there is absolutely zero indication that No2EU is a milesone along the route to such a mass party.
Everything else, in that neatly crafted piece of rhetoric, is therefore just filling. In his attempted rebuttal of views that No2EU is a creature of the RMT executive, even Phil is a bit hamfisted.
“Firstly the executive has the license to make important strategic decisions in between conferences. As a democratic and accountable body, if No2EU is deemed a failure by the membership then they will be punished for it. However there’s scant evidence of internal opposition to the move. Second, how does the RMT’s relationship with No2EU differ in kind from the “organic link” the big trade unions have with Labour, an arrangement that has long justified far left endorsements of the party of Blair and Brown?”
In reply, I would say that if we’re using Labour as the benchmark, we’re going to get ourselves into trouble very quickly – and I could give a stuff what the groupuscules of the Left say. More importantly, I would say that the only measure of an electoral alliance from the point of view of socialists is how likely it is to engage workers in consideration of their own class interests. With the political programme so blunted, even compared to Old Labour, I don’t see how that is going to happen to quite the degree some seem to hope.
I would also add that ‘scant evidence of internal opposition’ is not quite the same as saying that RMT members are voicing full-throated support for the move. I live beside an RMT member who had never heard of the initiative. When told of it, he wasn’t especially excited and may well still vote for one of the right-wing anti-EU parties. From this can we extrapolate that No2EU is a popular alliance type venture akin to different PCF endeavours in the 1980s, or to Respect in the 2000s? The honest answer is, I don’t know.
Since No2EU is an electoral group rather than an attempt at a Party, it’s difficult to see how its strategic position amidst the working class will ever be tested beyond a mere show of hands at election time. I can’t effectively gauge the support for No2EU of either RMT members or other advanced sections of the working class – but nor does electoral success distinguish between such people and a socially more vague ‘Left milieu’.
With these things in mind, it’s also difficult to see how the Socialist Party’s position is not opportunist. I concur that it’s important to establish working class representation – absolutely. On what basis, however? The platform is not ideal; the No2EU framework will not evolve into a political party that can co-ordinate strategic efforts to combat capitalism – and even if it does develop into a political party, there’s no evidence that this strategic role is what it will aim for, rather than being another Respect, to capitalize on a classless Left discontent.
Does this mean I won’t vote for them however? If I lived in Scotland, I think I’d rather be flayed and dipped in vinegar than vote for Tommy Sheridan, who is their candidate. Dave Hill, top of the list for south east England, I only know by his wiki page, though that looks promising enough – despite his inability to make up his mind, first Respect, then No2EU. Similarly, elsewhere, I’d vote for Dave Nellist in a heartbeat. I think our conclusions at this point need to be, what’s done is done. No2EU is a fact and deserves at least qualified support.
Where the candidates have a better record than the Greens on issues of major importance, vote for them. Whilst I might share some of the sentiments expressed at Shiraz Socialist, I don’t think it’s right to oppose No2EU at every turn. Nor do I subscribe to the sectarian banter that goes on over at Socialist Unity. I think it says something that few enough of the (readable) blogosphere have come out to support No2EU, and of those that have, the key issue is that of the European Commission, as though the elites of Westminster are more accountable.
Proof of the pudding, one supposes, will be in the eating – we’ll see whether or not the whole thing is justified not merely in the elections but afterwards, in whether or not the initiative does spark renewed interest in disaffiliation from Labour and the creation of some sort of strategic committee for co-ordinating activism on the part of other trades unions.