Camberwell and Peckham: what we achieved in the election, and what we failed to achieve

Submitted by martin on 7 May, 2010 - 7:11

Working-class socialists are as yet a small minority, Our ideas get a sympathetic hearing among wide circles of working-class people, but as yet it is a tentative, sceptical hearing.

It is a hearing made tentative and sceptical because of people's scepticism, shaped by successive setbacks, about the labour movement being able to mobilise to change society, and because of their disappointments about successive left-sounding political promises.

To establish our name, "Alliance for Workers' Liberty", previously absent from elections, as something solid and reliable enough to vote for in this general election was always going to be difficult.

The AWL candidate in Camberwell and Peckham, Jill Mountford, got a poor result: 75 votes, 0.2%. (To put that in context, the 2001 general election, standing as part of the Socialist Alliance, our candidates in Nottingham and Islington received 3.8% and 2.9%.) That does not mean that the election campaign was wasted effort. We explained basic socialist ideas to thousands of people; made new contacts and sympathisers; educated and trained ourselves in doorstep and street-stall discussions.

Unlike almost all other candidates, we argued the case head-on against the anti-immigration demagogy which filled papers like the Mail, the Express, and the Sun in the weeks before the election, and which the main parties all pandered to.

In short, we did a lot of the basic work of socialists: taking socialist ideas to working-class people. Whether people who sympathised with those ideas would vote for us this time was always going to be open to doubt.

Camberwell and Peckham was always going to be a difficult constituency to get a good left-wing vote in. Even in 2001, the Socialist Alliance did not do well in Camberwell and Peckham, despite a campaign in the constituency much more energetic than in most.

We chose the constituency for a "demonstration candidate" despite that, because of other advantages - a good local candidate, a central location, a heavily working-class constituency, a New Labour figurehead to oppose.

There was a radical shift in political conditions between our decision to stand an AWL candidate - in 2007, in conditions of strong working-class alienation from the Labour Party and little political differentation between Labour and the Tories - and the Labour/Tory electoral polarisation which took place in the weeks before this general election. That fundamentally limited us.

Beyond that, the result shows that we just did not have enough people on the doorsteps and on the streets, often enough, to establish a new political identity, lacking any national publicity, with the electorate.

Also, we focused our efforts on making political contacts, selling papers, and so on. That gives us a lot of contacts to be followed up by paper-sales and visiting in the coming months. But it had the flipside of making the campaign less ruthlessly focused on identifying, securing, and mobilising votes. In elections, that matters.

We will continue to be out and about on the streets and doorsteps of Camberwell and Peckham, advocating socialist ideas, and seeking to draw all those who supported or showed interest in our campaign into that basic work of socialist agitation and education.

Comments

Submitted by sacha on Mon, 10/05/2010 - 11:57

Hi Robin,

A problem with your analysis is about the nature of TUSC. It was set up in such a way as to exclude left groups other than the Socialist Party and the SWP - and indeed any input independent of these groups at all - and in fact went on to explicitly reject applications to stand candidates under its banner (eg Workers Power's Jeremy Drinkall in Vauxhall). Why would we want to have set ourselves up to be excluded in that way?

In line with this, it's not quite true that the RMT "rejected" support for Jill. The RMT's London Transport Regional Council, made up of delegates representing Tube and other TfL branches, voted to support her candidacy - but this was vetoed by the national executive... on the grounds that she wasn't endorsed by TUSC!

We need a new alliance of socialists, but we won't get one by pretending that TUSC, at least as currently set up, is it or anything like it.

Sacha

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