Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Should Respect challenge Ken?

There has been a very interesting exchange of views in the Morning Star recently about the wisdom of Respect standing a candidate against Ken Livingston for mayor in 2008.

On 12th April, an editorial argued: “On both domestic and international issues, the mayor of London has provided a progressive base around which socialist, environmentalist and other progressive forces have been able to unite. At the last mayoral election, the Respect candidate polled 4.67 per cent, with just 26 per cent of her second preference votes going to Mr Livingstone. In the event of a close-run contest next year, such a tally of more than three missing percentage points could prove decisive in working out whether we have a progressive mayor - warts and all - or a disastrous return to the discriminatory and divisive policies associated with Tory rule. The left cannot afford to indulge in the luxury of division. A unified popular movement, shattering the narrow confines of new Labour neoliberalism, could deliver a Livingstone victory and open the way to further successes based on unity of the left.”

The Morning Star is nominally independent of the CP, but there is no doubt that it is the party speaking here. They make the excellent point that this will be a dirty election. “Tory leader David Cameron has told the Jewish Chronicle in a recent interview, which proclaimed that "my values are Jewish values," falsely accused the London mayor of "borderline anti-semitism." And the Standard, which monopolises London's evening newspaper market, carried five substantial articles attacking the mayor's policies in a single fortnight. These included Mr Livingstone's links with Cuba and Venezuela, including the exchange of cheap Venezuelan fuel for expertise and advice, which London Tory leader Angie Bray misrepresented as a one-sided deal to benefit one of the world's most prosperous cities at the expense of Venezuelans struggling below the poverty line. The Standard also slated the mayor's transport policies, including free travel for under-18s in full-time education, free travel on buses and trams for under-16s and free travel on Tube and Dockland Light Railway for under-11s in the company of an adult. Such policies are generally popular in London, but there is a clear intention by Mr Livingstone's opponents to carry out a drip-drip incessant campaign to distract the public from the essence of his policies and to convince voters that he has character defects that will reflect badly on their city.”

Of course they also recognise that: “Although seen largely as his own man, he may still lose some votes on the basis of his party affiliation, as part of the rising tide of dissatisfaction with new Labour. And some issues - such as the envisaged contracting out of the East London Line that was forced on Transport for London by the government as a quid pro quo for bringing the North London Line under TfL control - have angered the trade unions and risk losing him some support.”

This isn’t a clear cut issue, and on Monday 23rd, Lindsay German and George Galloway replied , reminding us that the Respect candidate came fifth in the last Mayoral election, beating both the British National Party and the Greens.

They argue that: “The electoral system for London mayor actually makes it very hard for the vote to be split, since it operates on the basis of transfers - all candidates bar the top two have their second preference vote distributed to eventually determine the winner. Respect's candidate was the only one to call clearly for transfers to Ken in 2004 and more than a quarter of those voters responded - a relatively high proportion. … Not to stand for mayor would put Respect at a disadvantage in relation to these other parties, especially with regard to the list for the assembly, where, last time, we narrowly missed the 5 per cent that would have got us elected. … Without a mayoral candidate, the party has no access to the booklet which goes into every London household, no chance of appearing at hustings, little media exposure and no television and radio broadcast. That would mean Respect standing with one hand tied behind its back."

They also make the good point that the prospects of the Tories coming up with a serious candidate who can beat Ken are looking remote.

They stress the advantages of a left campaign: “it is important that a strong left voice is heard round many of the issues facing Londoners - the acute housing crisis, which is not being dealt with, the transport system, which is both the most expensive and one of the worst in the world, the privatisation of the East London Line and the business agenda, which is making London a worse place for many of the poor to live. “

Respect are correct to point out that Livingston has a flawed record on delivering services to working class Londoners, and his. “popularity …. tends to be over those issues where he differs from the Labour government - his anti-racist and anti-war stances, his support for countries such as Venezuela and his commitment to equal rights. ….. Ken has a year to bolster his own support by stressing these elements of his programme and further distancing himself from Blair and Brown. Many Londoners are dissatisfied with the record of new Labour in government and will not turn out to vote Labour in the numbers that they once did. A vote for Respect by these people will help the left and can help Ken by lifting the left vote overall from people who might otherwise abstain.”

They also argue that a “good vote for Respect will also help to keep the fascist BNP off the assembly. More votes for new Labour will not keep the BNP off the assembly, because the proportional representation system favours the election of smaller parties. So, the only way of keeping the BNP off is to vote for a left-wing, smaller party.”

This last argument was also used by Respect in the North West constituency in the Euro elections in 2004, and is based upon an incorrect understanding of how the d’Hondt voting system works. There is a good discussion of the argument by Pete Cranie here . Basically, this is only true if Respect get more votes than the BNP, but a lot has changed since the 2004 mayoral elections and the BNP are much stronger now in London. What is more, a tactical vote in the London regional list to keep the BNP out would be better placed for the Greens, who are the minor party most likely to get more votes than the BNP.

But the big issue is not the BNP, but the strategic task of building opposition to neo-liberalism, and an alternative to New Labour.

The key point to grasp here is that the progressive base of the Labour Party, its working class electoral constituency, and its reservoir of support from the unions is largely intact, but the party itself has irrevocably moved away from that base towards neo-liberalism and an authoritarian agenda of social conformity.

But building an alternative to fill the space vacated by Labour, will perhaps require a long process of patient work. I was at Southern Regional Council of the GMB last Friday (which covers London south of the river), and although we decided to support Peter Hain for deputy leadership, when I talk to the other delegates it is clear that dissatisfaction with New Labour is extremely high. But this key layer of movement activists are not ready to break with Labour, rather they want Labour to be better than it is.

It is essential that any attempt to build a left alternative to Labour simultaneously works to strengthen the hand of our friends and allies who are still in the Labour Party. Most union activists will not abandon hard won ground within the Labour party until they have exhausted their options of trying to move the Labour party closer to an agenda in the interest of working people. Now in reality, the right within the party have decisively defeated the left and unions, but many trade unionists (perhaps due to the triumph of hope over experience) have not yet acknowledged that. For all his faults, Ken Livingston is someone who socialists can build a progressive campaign around, both inside and outside the Labour party, and inside and outside the unions, which consolidates the progressive base for future battles.

Of course, part of this argument is that the last four years have not seen Respect develop towards being a party that established labour movement activists would join or support. It is widely seen as undemocratic and an SWP front, and Galloway’s standing is in tatters after Big Brother, his low profile in the constituency and general reputation for being self serving.

Lindsay German is a good mayoral candidate for the left, a talented woman, a dedicated activist and a good speaker. But the interests of the left, including the long term interests of building a left alternative to labour, are not best served by a Respect mayoral challenge next year. Paradoxically, the best way in the long run to build an electoral challenge to Labour may be to back labour for mayor.


Richard Marchese said...

A couple of points:

Firstly, the link to the discussion of the d'Hondt system appears to be broken.

Secondly, I'd be very interested to hear you (Andy) expand on your final point - namely that the best way, in the long run, to build an electoral challenge to Labour would be to back Labour for mayor.

Whilst I fully agree that leftists outside the Labour party should be working with the left within the Labour party insofar as is possible, I fail to see how you can draw this conclusion.

You appear to have conceded (please correct me if am wrong) that the argument that the tories will get in if respect stands is not credible. (Indeed the fact that most of her voters did put Ken down as their second preference surely raises the possiblity that these voters wouldn't vote for Labour anyway?)
You also appreciate that Lindsey is a good mayoral candidate.

It would appear to me that, part of building a left electoral alternative to Labour in the future, relies on such an alternative appearing a credible challenge to Labour today. Otherwise, it's perhaps tempting for left Labour voters to think "Well, I'm fed up with Labour, but they're all that's on offer."

Liam Mac Uaid said...

I was intending to write a piece along the same lines coming to the opposite conclusion. I probably still will.

Livingstone will be Brown's candidate. That's how many will see him and they'll probably abstain rather than vote for him. A Respect mayoral candidate provides an alternative. So do the GLA hopefuls. Though apparently the voting figures for the leadership endorsed slate were not announced on the night because they were a bit too Pyongyang.

Nick Bird said...

I also think the conclusion that the left should stand aside for Livingstone makes no sense. I don't see how it would help at all. Of course, if your argument is that Respect shouldn't stand because you don't like Respect, that's another matter.

The Morning Star has little interest in building an alternative to Labour (I note that after the editorial, the London Mayor's office placed 2 full page ads in the paper, no doubt due to its vast London readership...) and, as has been noted, a call not to stand in the mayoral election is also a call to effectively hobble Respect in the GLA elections.

Livingstone has a good record on many issues but has been pro-business and even called on RMT members to cross picket lines. The radical left needs a clear voice in the London elections and Respect should certainly stand, calling for second preferences to Livingstone just in case the Tories manage to find a candidate in the next year.

Phil said...

Respect's candidate was the only one to call clearly for transfers to Ken in 2004 and more than a quarter of those voters responded - a relatively high proportion

Relative to zero, maybe. I think a bit of soul-searching about where the other 70+% went would be in order.

It is essential that any attempt to build a left alternative to Labour simultaneously works to strengthen the hand of our friends and allies who are still in the Labour Party.

Exactly what we tried to do with the Socialist Movement. Why should it work any better now, when the Left inside and outside the party is so much weaker?

Anonymous said...

>I think a bit of soul-searching about where the >other 70+% went would be in order.

Umm..surely if the 70+% didn't vote Livingstone as 2nd pref, there is little evidence that they would have voted for him if RESPECT hadn't stood at all?

The entire point of an STV system is to allow parties such as RESPECT and the Greens to stand without letting the right in. I find this entire argument mystifying.


AN said...

The link to the article by Pete Cranie is:

I think the question is really where do we see a radical alternative to Labour eventually coming from.

The circumstances that are making this historically possible across Europe are the move of the traditional social democratic parties irreversibly to the right, so that they no longer reflect the basicaly progressive aspirations of their electoral base and trade union support.

This phenomenon is occurring in England in parallel with a dramatic decline in the level of individual left activism - as Phil correctly points out. And I more or less leave out of the equation individual members of the Labour party as playing a useful role, as they are presumably still in the LP becasue they are either i) right wing, or ii) so ideologicaly wedded to Labour they would require a cataclismic shift in the political landscape before they adjusted their perspective.

But - whether or not Livingston is in Brown's party, and whatever mistakes he may have made with privatisation and towards the RMT, he is an exemplar of what the progressive supporters of labour within the unions would wish labour was still like. Promotimg policy in the interests of working people not triangulating spin on issues around swing voters in marginal seats. What is more, Ken is generally not to the right of labour's electoral base.

Yes it does make a difference that Respect has squandered the opportunity presented by the Socialist Alliance and Respect's own early potential, because it has effectively killed off the possibility of a left alternative emeging to labour in England based upon left regroupment and reallignment.

If there is to be a new left political formation then it will probably only come about through the refoundation of a political voice of organised labour via the unions. That may be a long haul, but the higher political profile of the unions over the issues of migrant workers and private equity shows it is possible.

In order to win ground for that perspective we need to simultaneously push the unions to supporting the left in the Labour Party, supporting McDonnell, and supporting Ken Livingston.

Anonymous said...

Trouble is unions have a very conservative leadership.

Why support John McDonnell. Isn't any success by him just sewing illusions in reformism and the labour party. Why not say, "If your serious about the issues get out of Labour"

Old Labour and New Labour is smoke and mirrors. There is only one Labour party.

Mikael said...

"There is only one Labour party"

That's right - the mass Party of the working-class.

So, if you truly care about improving the lives of workers and their families, join the Labour Party and vote for John McDonnell!

Snowball said...

'The Labour Party - The mass Party of the working-class'.

Short memo to Mikael: some of us live in 2007, not 1957. And in 2007, the Labour Party does not look, feel or act like a 'mass Party of the working class'.

AN said...

And MIkael.

There is the minor detail that I can vote for McDonnell anyway as a member of the GMB,

what else can be achieved by labour party individual membership? At ward and constituency level what are you achieving?

Mikael said...


I suppose that you have some solid evidence to prove that, in 2007, it's the SWP and its RESPECT-front that has taken over the role of the mass party of the working-class. Do you??? I would love to see it! I have spent my share of time in the sects and they seem about as appealing to the working-class as the prospect of a new Maggie.

I have proof as far as Labour is concerned:

1) Union affiliation.

2) Fine MPs such as McDonnell and Corbyn.

3) Actual working-class membership, unlike the SWP and its pseudo-intellectual aristo-brat backers.

Having said that, NuLab is cancer -a small clique of middle-class carpet baggers - on the Labour movement; and as such it must be removed. The best way to achieve that and fight for Socialist policies is in the Party, the Unions and the Labour movement - not in some sect 1000 000 miles away from it. How sad that some prefer to remain in the SWP contemplating their own (certainly fascinating) navel for the sake of purity rather than taking up the fight. Self-deluded cowards is what I say!


At least you asked a proper question and deserve a proper answer!

As a GMB you can indeed vote for John, but your vote would be worth more should you become a member of the Party before the election. Just check out the list in this article for more info:


At ward and consticuency level you can, at the time being, bring up campaigns such as John's leadership bid as well as the concerns of trade-unionist. In a word you can try to have some, albeit limited, influence on the Party.

Unfortunately, I am abroad at the moment and have therefore not been able to get quite as involved as I would have liked! :-)

One last thing, I have heard many a good Socialist say that he would (re-)join the Party should John succeed- the tradegy is that the good Socialists in question do not seem to be gifted with enough foresight to understand that the best way of ensuring John's victory is join Labour NOW and not later!

Graham James said...

How can it benefit the working class to allow the Tories to become Mayor of London – and to knock off a progressive Mayor who has introduced important polices such as free travel for the under 18s??

That is the real risk: the Tories are stronger than a few years ago and the election could be very close. Evidence shows that people do not transfer.

Respect are adopting a very sectarian attitude to the interests of the working class a whole. Ken Livingstone had pushed forward a London living wage ( last week increased to £7.20), fought against tube privatisation, challenges the racist filth coming from the government and set a positive equalities agenda and , very importantly, been a prominent opponent of war and occupation in Iraq.

It is wrong in for a party on the left to risk this, for its own sectarian interests of winning an assembly seat. But, it also damages the chances of the latter happening.

It is not possible for the currents outside the Labour Party , for which there is a space, to move forward on a sectarian basis to other more mass left-wing forces challenging the Blairite agenda, whether they are inside or outside the Labour party. It will simply not be understood by wider layers why Respect is hostile to Ken and yet claims to stand for the same things, and why it is risking letting in the Tories.

Respect would be better served by a political line of backing Livingstone and calling for a vote for Respect in the Assembly.