By David Stamp, independent member of Birmingham Socialist Alliance
Whatever future the Socialist Alliance may have — and I’m no longer sure it even has one — it’s going to be an uphill struggle to recapture anything approaching a spirit of trust or unity within the Birmingham left following the antics on 1 July.
In a piece of electoral manipulation that would shame Dame Shirley Porter, the SWP managed to “pack” an AGM of the local Alliance with a tribe of clones, for no other reason than to oust Steve Godward, the sitting chair, along with anyone else on the executive brave or foolish enough to challenge the Gospel according to John Rees.
Steve lost the chair to the SWP’s Lynne Hubbard by 39 votes to 35. All other contested posts were won by the SWP and its supporters, by similar margins.
Yet, as Steve stated on the night, there was no question mark over his competence as chair. And as a widely respected trade union militant with strong community support in an area of Birmingham where the BNP has a foothold, his credibility with the working class should be a positive asset to the SA.
Furthermore, Steve has recently been the victim of a witch-hunt by the Fire Brigades Authority and, as a result, has had to fight attacks on his entire family, including his three-year-old son. Consequently the SWP’s contrived and premeditated action leaves a particularly bitter taste in many mouths.
On the night of the AGM, membership records produced by Will McMahon demonstrated that no less than 12 people had joined the Birmingham SA in the previous two days, while, in McMahon’s own words, “a lot” had joined in the previous week. These individuals were granted voting rights, despite the previous unanimous agreement of the Birmingham SA Executive — including an SWP representative — that SA members who were not members on the day preceding the AGM were ineligible to vote.
By strange coincidence, all of these new members, despite their brief introduction to the Alliance, seemed instinctively to know that any candidates for election who were either members of the SWP, or else nominated by members of the SWP, were ideal for the job.
To date, there has been silence from the London office over this clear abuse of the democratic process, although McMahon has forcefully denied any suggestion of collusion.
As a result of this stitch-up, Birmingham Socialist Alliance now has a membership secretary who cheerfully admits that she has no idea what the job entails, and who thinks that the Alliance could usefully strengthen its profile by looking for support from “local businesses”.
So there is no question of competence, or even political acumen. The “awkward squad” in the Birmingham executive has been purged simply to get rid of any “minority views”, which might jeopardise the SWP’s dream of an alliance with the great and good of Birmingham’s mosques by asking tricky questions about commitments to socialism.
Steve Godward compounded his sin of independence by defying the SWP’s will and participating in a Trades Council sponsored “teach in” some months ago. “Do as we say or we break you” is the unequivocal message.
The authoritarian, “top-down” approach adopted by the SWP precludes a platform for any independent or dissident voices and will prove disastrous for the Socialist Alliance, as for any other attempts at left unity.
Solidarity adds: members of Birmingham SA unhappy with the actions of the SWP have formed a caucus and will be meeting again at 7.30pm on 29 July at Bennets Bar, Bennets Hill. The group has called for democratic reform of the Birmingham SA.