Election looming

Ian Parker asks how should we vote to get rid of the Tories and fight for a real alternative?

 

What remains of the left inside the Labour Party is putting energies into supporting the few candidates who can be trusted, the Green Party will include some left candidates who may make a difference, there are socialist alliances to the left of Labour that are aiming to make a showing, and there are local attempts to put communist politics back on the agenda. This is a mess, and the question is how we can make the best of this divided left opposition during the election and build an ongoing challenge to a new Tory government or a Tory-lite Starmer regime.

First principles

However bad Starmer is, however efficiently he has filleted the Labour Party, through broken ‘pledges’, expulsion of activists and the parachuting in of apparatus-loyal candidates, the ousting of the Tories will make a significant difference to the conditions in which we struggle. Getting rid of the Tories will boost the confidence of those who have been battling for their livelihoods and rights, and, whether we like it or not, many will vote for and look to Labour as an alternative. Either that will be in desperation or include illusions that the party will change things; whatever, it will be a minimal step forward.

It is very likely the Labour Party will win the next general election, but that win will be a hollow victory if we are not ready to put demands on Starmer, and that means building an alternative well to the left of the Labour Party leadership now. For that, we will need to maintain links with the few remaining pockets of resistance to Starmer inside the Labour Party. It will not be good enough, however, to simply argue that we should ‘vote Labour with no illusions’, or imagine that we can pressure Starmer to shift to the left.

Whatever votes we deliberately choose to give to Labour candidates must be conditional; that is, we may vote for a local Labour Party activist who genuinely and openly challenges the Starmer agenda. If there is really no other candidate to the left, we will even so vote for the least worst candidate against the Tories. That does not mean voting for the Liberal Democrats, a party with a record of coalition and support for Tory cuts. It may, in some cases, mean voting for the SNP in Scotland or Plaid Cymru in Wales in order to put an end to the fiction that we live in a ‘United Kingdom’. So, our watchwords here will be ‘Vote Left of Starmer’ and ‘Build opposition to Tory and Tory-lite governments now’.

Alternatives

The valiant attempts to cobble together socialist alliances of the left in the election or to argue for communist politics as a tactic by standing local candidates will give us many opportunities to vote left of Starmer and build the opposition we need if the Labour Party is elected or, heaven forbid, the Tories get back in. Some of those ‘left’ alternatives will be less appealing than others, and some will include reactionary elements, but the overall message of a combined vote to the ‘left’ will be a message of strength of struggle, continuing and more confident struggle under a Starmer government.

There are risks, but we need to work our way through this in order to turn those risks – fragmented, isolated and unlikely bets on the possibility of a radical vote – into opportunities. There is the danger, of course, that some pretend ‘left’ candidates will pander to reactionary ideas to get votes, and there is a danger that some good revolutionary candidates will look like cranks, simply scooping up the random ticks on the ballot paper. Campaigns that are clear that the election is a mere tactic to get across propaganda will also risk looking like Jehovah Witnesses on the doorstep when they ask people to build communism in their communities now.

Nevertheless, the very visible existence of these alternatives will pose a challenge to the attempt by the Labour Party to treat this all as a done deal and to hope to turn silence about policy in the run-up to the election into a smooth transition into a business-as-usual administration with business-as-usual austerity and cuts to services. We cannot wish away the divisions on the left, and we need to be willing to acknowledge that, if there are 57 varieties of alternative, then, ok, the more the merrier, vote and build, turn the yearning for alternatives into combined action. So, our watchwords here will be ‘Combine the left alternatives after the election’ and ‘This election is about more than a vote’.

In struggle

An election opens a window in which people are, in however limited a way, willing to think about politics, and there is an openness to talk about alternatives that we need to be part of. That will mean, in some special cases, working in or alongside a ‘left’ candidate, but it must also mean supporting our comrades in other parts of the country who are pursuing this path through other means. Whether it means clear solidarity with one particular candidate or calling for a vote for them, it also means that revolutionaries must have their own arguments about what we are building and how to build it.

So, whatever canvassing or door-knocking we might get involved in, that means taking with us information about ongoing struggles and sources of support, whether that is about tenants unions or trades unions, asylum and anti-deportation networks or solidarity initiatives. Use this time to make the point that this is about more than voting and that we need to build on whatever opposition there is to the Tories to continue opposition and self-organisation after the election.

This must not all be focused on who gets into parliament, and there will be extra-parliamentary action that is crucial now, during the election and after it. An election and the casting of a vote is small part of the process of building different forms of anti-capitalist resistance. So, our watchwords here are ‘Two, three, many alternatives to the Tories’ and ‘Elections are not enough to change the world’.


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Ian Parker is a Manchester-based psychoanalyst and a member of Anti*Capitalist Resistance.


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