Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The ghost haunting Blair

As publicity launches go, it did not get as much news coverage as the organisers may have hoped. On Sunday 24th September the bereaved relatives of British servicemen and women killed in Iraq launched their new SPECTRE political party.

There was a short article in theScottish paper, the
Herald, in the previous week that quoted Peter Brierley, whose son Shaun died in Iraq three years ago, explaining why they had launched the party: "We have called ourselves Spectre because we intend to hang over the government until they listen to us. We will definitely get votes and hopefully we can win some seats,"
Despite Mr Brierley’s optimism that SPECTRE may win parliamentary seats, the launch of SPECTRE did not even make the pages of the Morning Star, although they did find space to report the launching of a
new political party by former Punk singer Captain Sensible. The only report I found of the launch event was in the Turkish newspaper, Sabah.

As I wrote
before the launch, SPECTRE is being formed to pose the single question of the war at the ballot box, but will therefore presumably also be standing against other anti-war parties? The Green party? The Scottish Socialist party? Respect? This is further complicated by the fact that the political basis of SPECTRE is problematic. They say: “We would like to stress from the outset that we are not anti-military and we do indeed support our troops wherever they may serve as they have to fulfil their duties without question.”

Most left wing and peace movement activists will strongly disagree with the need to support the troops “wherever they may serve as they have to fulfil their duties without question.” With parachute regiment soldiers still at liberty despite their perpetrating a massacre on the streets of Derry in 1972, can we really be expected to support that statement? Left and progressive candidates cannot be expected to stand down in favour of candidates who are so uncritical of the role of the armed forces.

The choice of name seems eerily similar to RESPECT. In so far as RESPECT sought to be the political expression of the anti-war movement the very existence of SPECTRE suggests that RESPECT has failed in that objective. What is more the relatively right wing attitude of SPECTRE to the military illustrates the degree to which opposition to the war has not led to wider radicalisation. The only previous example of a political party based upon expressing the views of serving soldiers, sailors and airman, the Common Wealth, which won the 1943 Eddisbury by-election and the Chelmsford by-election in 1945, was an explicitly socialist party.

Will RESPECT be standing aside for SPECTE, and have the membership of Respect any opportunity to express a view on this? Is SPECTRE the electoral expression of the Military Families Against War, or is it a separate initiative? If it is part and parcel of the MFAW campaign, then the involvement of socialists like Andrew Burgin and Chris Nineham with MFAW sharply raises the question of what approach socialists should take to SPECTRE.

There is a difficulty in bringing this single issue campaign to the ballot box, where it inevitably compete with other political viewpoints and organisations that would otherwise be wholly sympathetic to the anti-war movement – even more so as these elections will be conducted under first past the post, and other organisations or parties may have candidates with better local standing that the bereaved families. By posing a single issue electoral challenge there is a danger that SPECTRE could actually prove divisive to the anti-war movement.

4 comments:

noel said...

The choice of name seems eerily similar to RESPECT. In so far as RESPECT sought to be the political expression of the anti-war movement the very existence of SPECTRE suggests that RESPECT has failed in that objective. What is more the relatively right wing attitude of SPECTRE to the military illustrates the degree to which opposition to the war has not led to wider radicalisation.

Why does the setting up of SPECTRE by some of the people within MFAW mean RESPECT has failed in it's objective? In times like these you'd expect a number of different initiatives to be happening (as they are) and for the dialogue between those to continue as the Labour party and establishment politics continues to decompose.

It also seems silly to me to argue that the war hasn't led to a wider radicalisation, it has and continues to have, one part of the evidence of that is the increase in trade union involvement since 2003.

AN said...

Well Noel, had RESPECT actually become the natural political expression of the whole anti-war movement, then Spectre would be redundant. Certainly the appeal of Respect is far narrower than we all hoped when it was founded.

My point about radicalistion is that it is pefectly possible to oppose the war in Iraq and Afghanistan without that leading to a generalised critique of capitalism - as Spectre provides evidence of.

What is more, although there may be an increase in formal affiliations to stop the war by trade unions, there has been no measurable impact of the anti-war movement on shop floor militnacy or trade union radicalisation.

If you have nay evidence to the contrary, I would be very interwsted to hear it.

noel said...

Well Noel, had RESPECT actually become the natural political expression of the whole anti-war movement, then Spectre would be redundant. Certainly the appeal of Respect is far narrower than we all hoped when it was founded.

yes but the process isn't over is it? But nor would anyone ever expect it to be an expression of the whole anti-war movement seeing as the movement includes tories, and liberals.

There has been an impact of both the anti-war movement and anti-capitalist movements on trade unipn militancy, in an number of ways, whether it's the influence of younger people coming in and driving what militancy there is, or the general interest in wider political questions and the way the post CWU, T+G etc have been involved in things like the ESF.

At the moment there is a lag between the economic struggles and the political ones, pretty specfic to the UK, partly because of the legacy of Thatcher, but that often happens as Engels noted over 100 years ago, that is not the fault of Respect or STW. Attempting to break the stranglehold that Labour has on the labour movement here will not happen overnight, but again will be a process of arguing and convincing people, which is why Respect is doing things like the conference for fighting trade unions which will be another little link in that chain.

From the links on your site, and the bit of sniping here and there, that I've read I think it's more that your 'unity' group want to see it that way because you don't agree with Respect as a formation.

AN said...

Noel

First of all the Socialist unity Network are just that - a network - not a group. We don't have a "line", nor all think the same.

Nor I would hope is their sniping against Respect - more a genuine desire to debate what is the best way foreward.

However, Respect is clearly not developing in the direction of becoming an inclusive natural home for left of labour activists. The lack of democratic structures to be involved in, and the hostility to open debate at the ladt two conferences have led to a lot of the non-aligned activist leaving.

With regard to the inplact of the anti-war movement on trade union militancy, I think there needs to be more evidence. Is it you expereince that younger people are coming in and driving militancy? That is not my experience. In our reasonably successful GMB branch we have had a number of sipites over the lats few years, and they have been driven by older, relativley established, activists. In which specific workplaces and unions is this influx of young militants happening? or is it wishful thinking on your part?