By Nick Wrack
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stood 174 candidates in the local elections in England on 5 May 2011.
It’s always important to have a sense of proportion. When dealing with election results, it’s vital. It’s easy to exaggerate election results; to put a favourable gloss on them in order to bolster the morale of your supporters. Elections are brutal. You can’t argue with the results. But how we interpret them must include looking at them in context.
Overall the results are a good initial foray into the local elections. Given the difficulties that the socialist left has had working together to present candidates in elections over the last decade, it was a success to be able to put forward 174 candidates, representing the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers’ Party and independent socialists and trade unionists, with the significant backing of RMT general secretary Bob Crow and other senior figures in that union. In addition the Walsall Democratic Labour Party stood under its own name but endorsed the TUSC programme.
TUSC was standing on an explicit ‘No Cuts’ platform. Whilst there is massive opposition to the cuts, as shown by the massive TUC demonstration on 26 March, there is still a large section of the population that believes that some cuts are necessary. That argument still has to be defeated.
Labour has undoubtedly benefited from the anti-Con-Dem coalition mood. The Lib-Dems were trounced because of the way they betrayed those who voted for them in last year’s general election. Those opposed to the cuts will have voted overwhelmingly for Labour, even though Labour is implementing the cuts at a local level. In most places, it has to be remembered, there were no ‘No Cuts’ candidates to vote for, even for the minority of people who, at this stage, would be prepared to cast their votes for a new, unknown party putting forward that position. In the face of the Con-Dem attacks on public services and the welfare state Labour is seen as a line of defence; as being better than the Tories.
At the moment, most voters think Labour is opposed to the cuts. Many do not realise that Labour in government would implement similar cuts, albeit more slowly. My own experience campaigning in Peckham was that most traditional Labour voters did not know that the Labour-run Southwark council had implemented £33 million cuts with a further £18 million cuts to follow next year. Others thought that there was no alternative to the cuts and that Labour would protect services better than the Tories. There was a section who weren’t going to vote for any party as ‘they’re all the same’. There was another group who were interested in what we had to say and we persuaded some of those to vote for us.
Over the next year, as the cuts begin to bite, the harsh reality of Labour cuts at local level will lead many Labour voters to question their loyalties. Whether they stop voting Labour and whether they cast their votes for socialists depends to a large degree upon what socialists do. The process of Labour voters breaking with Labour will be a slow and uneven process and socialists can only win the votes of those who do decide to break with Labour if they present an alternative for them to support.
In the limited number of wards where TUSC did present an alternative to the cuts programme supported by Labour, Lib Dems and Tories, the results were encouraging.
13 candidates polled over 10%, with three receiving over 30% and a fourth getting 28%. A further 31 candidates polled between 5% – 10%; 56 polled between 2.5% – 5%; 44 polled less than 2% but of those, only 5 got less than 1%.
We are commenting here on generally small votes and low percentages. That is to be expected for a party that has no real national or local profile. In most, if not all, areas where TUSC stood, the voters will not have heard of TUSC until the last few weeks before polling day. And most voters will have received only one or two leaflets. We do not have the forces, at this stage to do much more than this. In this context, some of the votes are quite good.
Clearly we need to address the issues of profile and publicity and find ways of raising our profile and inserting ourselves into the public eye.
Where TUSC candidates stood against a background of previous work, where there was a knowledge and recognition of what the candidate represented, some very good results were obtained.
It was extremely disappointing to lose sitting councillors Michael Lavallette in Preston, Ray Holmes in Bolsover and Pete Smith of the Walsall DLP but their votes were very good, winning 39.8%, 28.2% and 34% respectively. Rob Windsor, a former Socialist Party councillor in Coventry, polled 30.3% in his attempt to win back the seat he lost last year. Former councillors George Tapp in Salford and Jackie Grunsell in Kirklees won 16.1% and 14.8% respectively.
Elsewhere, Maxine Bowler polled 14% in Sheffield and Tom Woodcock polled 12% in Cambridge. Both have stood for election before and have built support in the local electorate. Other notable TUSC results include winning 7% of the vote in four wards in Carlisle and in two in Gateshead.
In Rugby TUSC stood in seven wards and polled an average of 7%, with high points of 16.2% and 12.1%. Candidates included the regional chair of the FBU and the secretary of Warwickshire Unite. They raised £2,000 in donations, including a personal donation of £500 from FBU general secretary Matt Wrack. There is now a local TUSC branch with links to local trade unions.
Where there has been consistent work, the results are better. The lesson is obvious. If socialists want to get better election results we need to stand regularly and campaign consistently in between elections. But even the lower votes polled by TUSC candidates confirm that there is a constituency for a working-class party putting forward socialist policies.
One point is obvious but is worth making. You can only get votes for your programme and party if you stand candidates. Otherwise, the people who might have voted for you will either vote for another party or won’t vote at all. A large number of people do not vote – 35% at the last general election. Many don’t think there’s anyone worth voting for.
If TUSC had been in a position to stand candidates in every ward in England its vote may have been small in percentage terms at this stage but the aggregate vote would have been significant. I do not have figures for the number of voters in these recent local elections but in last year’s general election just over 25 million people voted in English constituencies (65.5% turnout). An average vote of two percent would mean half a million votes. That’s not a bad place for a small socialist party to aim for. But it means developing the profile, resources and supporters to be able to stand candidates on a much wider basis than we were able to do on this occasion.
This will take a lot of patient hard work and determination but it is an achievable target. How quickly we get there depends on many factors, not least what happens in terms of class struggle over the next few years and how TUSC responds.
When we stand in elections, we prefer to win. Having elected representatives like Michael Lavallette and Dave Nellist is a great advantage to the socialist cause. Nobody like losing. But standing without winning is an inevitable but necessary part of the process of building support for socialist ideas. The more regularly we stand and the more widely we stand the greater the accumulated support will be. We have to stand to get votes.
In the context of the number of local elections contested on 5 May, 174 candidates is a very small number. But it is a start. The TUSC initiative has the potential to develop into something very significant. We need to discuss how we can build on this start and map out a strategy for the future.