Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Socialist Alliance's funds -national secretary responds
Following the earlier post about the remaining balance of £2500 of the former Socialist Alliance’s money that remains unaccounted for, I have now received a response from Rob Hoverman, former national secretary of the Socialist Alliance, and who seems to now work for Respect.
Rob responds: “the public will surely have been waiting with bated breath. Why Heather and I have been singled out for a response I do not know, and care less. You were a complete tosser the last time you flickered on to my radar and clearly nothing has changed. Now flicker off.”
I should point out that under the terms of the closing motion of the Socialist Alliance the former national executive elected in 2003 stays in office until the funds are dispersed and the bank account closed. This situation was not intended to last, but due to failure of the officers to close the account, we still have a moral responsibility to provide scrutiny. I wrote to Rob not only in my own capacity as a (former) national executive member, but after consultation with several other members of the (former) national executive
So the issue here is that the national secretary of an organisation, responsible for disposing of the funds in accordance with the democratically expressed wishes of a formal conference refuses to answer to members of the national executive of that organisation about why he has failed to do so, and where the money has gone.
This is not a question of simply crying over spilt milk, because the issues of trust and accountability go to the heart of building socialist organisations.
Despite the Iraq war and ten years of neo-liberalism from Blair’s government, we have signally failed to build a credible alternative to the left of Labour. Indeed the left is weaker now than we were when the Iraq war broke out in 2003.
Now that Respect has also failed to become any sort of broad and inclusive alternative, it is a relevant time to reassess some of the reasons that the Socialist Alliance failed. As I wrote previously:
Although the Socialist Alliance made good early progress, its character changed over the last few years because it suffered the loss of many of the original ex-Labour people who got the local SAs going from the early/mid 90s onwards and who piloted the discussions with the SWP, locally and nationally which led to the SWP joining the SA, and the SA extending into London. However a very important question is why the thousands of activists who used to promote a left social democratic agenda within the Labour party, did not gravitate towards the SA. To a certain extent the issue of distrust towards not only the SWP but also historically the Militant probably played a part. Certainly the SA project suffered over the last two years from the defection of the Socialist Party and a rupture with some of the most significant Labour Lefts in the national (and in some cases, local) leadership.
The most prominent example was the resignation of Liz Davies, a former Grassroots member of Labour’s NEC as national Chair the SA in October 2002. Slightly later Mike Marqusee, former editor of Labour Briefing left the SA. For the socialist, activist community around the country, Liz and Mike were more significant recruits to the SA and represented more than an individual maverick like George Galloway MP, so their loss was deeply felt. A collapse of trust was cited by both Liz and Mike as their reason for disengagement. There is a need to consider this matter with some sensitivity as not just political differences but also personalities are involved, and many who were politically sympathetic to Liz Davies’s position felt that she used a dispute over an organisational issue as a pretext for resolving a political problem
In light of this current dispute over what as happened to the SA’s funds, and Rob’s refusal to be held accountable, it is worth recalling his role in the events surrounding resignation, which was fully described by Liz and Mike themselves. “It was a sustained course of deception and financial impropriety engaged in by experienced individuals occupying major positions of trust and responsibility. It was an offence not only against the SA officers, but the SA as a whole, all those who had paid dues to it and all those who had offered it support. It betrayed a shockingly cynical contempt for essential democratic procedures and rudimentary principles of accountability. ”
The failure of the officers of the socialist alliance to carry out the terms of its closing up motion can only be explained by understanding the events of the year leading up to that final conference.
One might have thought with that the launch of Respect the SWP would have wished to ensure that the maximum number of SA members transferred over to the Respect organisation, and to wind up the SA in the most efficient way possible. In fact after the March 2004 SA conference that voted to support respect in the June European elections, the SWP generally disengaged with the SA structures. At a local level there were examples of SA branches being shut down by in such a manner that the SA members were simply dispersed, this being done by the SWP packing SA meetings.
At the national level the SA national executive could have played a constructive role that year in handling the transition between the Socialist Alliance and Respect, ensuring the best possible continuity of SA members bringing their experience to Respect, and ensuring that fraternal relations were maintained with those who decided not to join Respect. The independent members of the SA exec not in the SWP wanted to ensure that there was an early conference for the SA members to decide on whether to wind up the organisation.
However, throughout this period Rob Hoverman disrupted the SA exec from operating, and as national secretary failed to carry out democratically decided decisions of the exec. Meetings were cancelled at short notice on spurious pretexts, and the chair of the SA, Nick wrack, did not tell any of us that he had joined the SWP. For the December 2004 meeting Rob failed to book a room and we ended up meeting in a crowded bar in ULU. That December meeting decided that the January 2005 meeting would be the conference arrangements committee for the closing conference, but the SWP majority at the January meeting overturned that decision. If you want understand the casual contempt they had for the other SA exec members a good example is that my train was delayed 20 minutes for the January, and I texted the comrades to ask they delay the start by quarter of an hour, instead they rushed through the meeting so that it as already over when I arrived.
Strangely although the SA had sufficient funds to pay for a crèche for the closing conference, and that was the expressed wish by e-mail of several national executive members, Rob (acting as a one man conference arrangements committee0 did not organise a crèche.
The experience of SA exec meetings accords with the experience described by Mike Marqusee:“Many will have had the experience of attending a meeting ostensibly to discuss or organise an initiative or campaign only to find themselves faced with a block of SWP members who have arrived with a pre-determined line and set of priorities. The non-SWPers present may hold a variety of views or doubts, but these end up rotating around the axis established by the SWP. It's a lop-sided and ineffectual discussion because a key participant - the SWP - is playing by a different set of rules, and not engaging openly and fully with the debate as others see it”
If we understand how gruelling and awful the last year of the SA’s formal existence was, and in the absence of more than two or three branches still existing, then we can see why it was correct to close down the SA. (It is still not clear to me why the SWP attempted to block there being a formal closure of the SA through Rob’s war of attrition – their preferred resolution seems to have been that it simply withered away)
What is more the experience might explain why the treasurer, Heather Cox, failed to attend the final conference, and seemingly was never informed by the national secretary, Rob Hoverman, or the chair, Nick Wrack, what had been decided. The final conference decided to honour a debt of £3000 to Walsall Democratic Labour Party (DLP), yet this bill was not paid for months and months and months, and none of the officers would reply to correspondence from the DLP. It was only after non-aligned former members of the SA exec issued an open letter that this was paid.
Several members of the national executive expressed the view that the records of the SA should be bequeathed to a museum of labour movement history, and had found somewhere that would take them. Instead the records were destroyed – even though the destruction cost as much as the transport to the museum. Bear in mind that the SA had ben an organisation involving thousands of activist at one time or another, had stood nealry 100 candidates in the 2001 general election, and had for the first time brought nearly all the left of labour groups in England into a coopertive relationship - surely worth keeping a historical record?
Does any of this matter? Well, compared to the big events like the war in Iraq, or New Labour’s attacks on welfare, then obviously not much. But at another level, the failure of the left to build a viable alternative does matter, and the collapse of trust, and the abuse of position that caused the collapse of trust will make it harder to build such a project in the future, unless we root out these bad habits from the movement.