TUSC: Elephant in the room?

There’s an interesting article in the current Weekly Workerwait! Come back, I’m being serious – about the British left’s latest diffident descent into the soothing waters of unity, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

Actually, the article is ostensibly about the Communist Party of Great Britain’s (thoroughly disingenuous) application to join same, but that bit’s not remotely interesting; in fact, it’s tiresome drivel. No, what interested me was the collation and juxtaposition of statements from the shotgun bride and groom in this reluctant marriage, the SWP and the Socialist Party of England & Wales (or SPEW to their friends.)

With their major partners in the NO2EU coalition which contested the European elections (the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union) having said NO2TUSC as well, the Socialist Party have lurched from an alliance with a weak programme but a broad scope to one with a stronger programme and a narrower scope. Friend Of The Show Bob Crow (Gen Sec of the RMT) is bringing his pugnacious presence and 80s-darts-pro aesthetic to the party in a personal capacity, with sporadic localised RMT support also forecast.

Given the general clamour for left unity amongst activists of all flavours, surprisingly little fanfare accompanied the SWP’s tentative overtures and equally tentative admission to TUSC. Statements such as the following from the Socialist Party’s Clive Heemskerk, as quoted in the WW, may explain why:

“On the other hand, it was argued, the SWP’s record will not be known particularly to workers moving into struggle for the first time. They could be attracted to Tusc and would naturally want to see the widest possible unity. It is necessary not to do anything that could be a potential barrier to them. On balance then, it was felt that the potential drawbacks of the SWP’s involvement could be overcome.”

…which at least proves that, if TUSC does die a death, it won’t be from a surfeit of comradely good-will.

Manson’s article is also nicely caustic on the SWP’s stated rationale for entering the coalition:

According to comrade [Martin] Smith, Tusc is “a small but important step in the creation of a new, trade union-backed, socialist coalition that can provide the alternative that people crave”. Of course, Respect was specifically not a “socialist coalition”. In those days people craved a different kind of alternative, obviously.

Ouch, comrade. The above hints at another interesting aspect of the TUSC venture, and the SWP’s role in it; the apparent rapprochement with Respect. Smith makes clear that “TUSC will not be standing against left wing Labour or Respect candidates”, and Nick Wrack of Respect is a member of TUSC’s steering committee (in what capacity is unclear.)

The relevance of all this to our situation locally is somewhat tangential, but nonetheless significant. TUSC will not win any seats at the General Election. Tommy Sheridan may put up a good show. At a cursory perusal of the SP’s candidates, Dave Nellist is pretty much the only one guaranteed to hit four figures, and Cllr. Jackie Grunsell in Colne North will hopefully out-perform the BNP.

By contrast, an equivalent federal formation in Ireland, with the right campaign, the right degree of co-operation and a good trailing wind, could conceivably be looking at five or six seats. The comparatively bleak outlook for TUSC is, of course, partly attributable to first-past-the-post and the two-party Westminster tango, but the fact that the SP/SWP-based axis in GB is fairly clueless about electoral politics (NO2U was consistently out-polled by Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party) is a factor too.

In Ireland, for all our pessimism about the historically reactionary political culture, those problems aren’t as pronounced. The non-mainstream left has at least two figures of national standing (in Joe Higgins and, to a lesser degree, RBB) to its credit, while the likes of Clare Daly combine broad community support with explicitly socialist politics. An electoral alliance with a strong, if perforce limited, socialist programme has more serious prospects than anything the British left could dream of.


9 Responses to “TUSC: Elephant in the room?”

  1. blogtok Says:

    Socialist Party of England and Wales – anything to do with the Socialist Party of here ?

  2. dublindilettante Says:

    Yeah, their sister organisation. Formerly Militant Labour.

  3. Mark P Says:

    Oddly enough, I agree with most of what you say above dd. Although, the Socialist Party across the water is just called the Socialist Party. As indeed is the Socialist Party in Ireland.

    A socialist alliance here could potentially return a significant number of TDs. Of course only two of those seats are overwhelmingly likely (Seamas Healy and Joe Higgins) and after that they move from fairly likely (Boyd Barrett) to only possible if things go very well (eg Mick Barry). A solidification of anti-government sentiment behind an alternative government would, for instance, make things very difficult for a lot of potentially strong left candidates (Boyd Barrett, Daly, Collins etc).

    It remains to be seen whether there will be an alliance, of course. The Socialist Party has proposed one, but plenty of people have proposed such a thing on plenty of occasions without one materialising.

  4. dublindilettante Says:

    Oddly enough, I agree with most of what you say above dd.
    You say that like I’m usually wrong or something! 😀

    They certainly style themselves Socialist Party (England & Wales), whatever their registered title.

    Actually, I’m a born pessimist and would consider more than two seats unlikely. Healy should be safe, but Joe has the disadvantage of being in an all-celeb bunfight and is not home and hosed by any means. Nonetheless, I’d expect him to make it.

    I think RBB will be some way off; Collins is more likely to come up trumps for PBPA in Dublin. I’d have to study the result last time out a bit more carefully, but if Daly doesn’t get in this time, I don’t think she ever will.

    I’m not sure the Irish electorate is particularly coalition-minded; remember, it was a massive collapse in Labour’s support that brought down the relatively popular Rainbow administration, and it was Labour that let down Inda last time. As such, I think tactical voting for alternative government candidates is likely to be a limited threat to the left. Not least because Gilmore, at the back of his mind, is considering whether he might not squeeze more concessions from a battered and beleaguered FF than a confident and resurgent FG.

    All this might seem like a rather footling exercise with an election potentially two years away, but I don’t think the government will last the year. This five-year gap business is a load of bollocks. Come the revolution, I presume it will be abolished?

  5. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    “This five-year gap business is a load of bollocks. Come the revolution, I presume it will be abolished?”

    Hopefully so, with participative democracy as an alternative to representative democracy?

  6. dublindilettante Says:

    Obviously, although there’d still be a place for a directly-elected national parliament (albeit with instant recall procedures and major bills put to referendum.)

    I still like Myles na Gopaleen’s proposal. Put a massive sail in Athlone, a rudder in Kinsale, and the parliament in Cóbh decides where to steer the country.

  7. Mark P Says:

    They certainly style themselves Socialist Party (England & Wales), whatever their registered title.

    Their official title is Socialist Party. When they need to distinguish themselves from other parties I’ve seen them styled variously Socialist Party (CWI in England and Wales), Socialist Party of England and Wales, Socialist Party of Wales and England and Socialist Party (England and Wales). Amonst other descriptors! Just to confuse matters further, for electoral purposes they stand under the registered name Socialist Alternative!

    As far as the electoral chances of the left are concerned, if an election was called now I would expect Healy to win in South Tipperary unless he starts biting the heads off kittens in the centre of Clonmel. Higgins would be very likely in a context where Dublin West has gone up to the four seats it should have had last time. To lose, he’d have to be beaten not just by Varadkar, Burton and the FF candidate, he’d have to lose to a second candidate from one of those parties too. Of course, if the election is years away a lot can change.

    As for the rest, well there are four others with some sort of viable chance – Collins, Daly, Boyd Barrett and Barry. All topped the poll in their local election wards (as did Higgins and Healy). None are guaranteed but I would be disappointed if at least two of them don’t make it.

  8. dublindilettante Says:

    If Dublin West is being upgraded to a four-seater, he’s a shoo-in alright. I suppose it would be tempting fate to chance bringing Coppinger through as well? I’m not that sanguine about Boyd Barrett, the loss of the fifth seat might kill him off. Cuffe should get the chop, but I reckon there’s two seats for Labour there, with Gilmore’s present popularity.

  9. Mark P Says:

    Dun Laoghaire isn’t exactly the most obviously fertile territory for the left, but the local election numbers certainly put Boyd Barrett in with a very good shout. He really did get a big vote and at the same time Hugh Lewis brought in a sizeable number in the other end of the constituency. It’s one of the constituencies where a lot may come down to the degree to which anti-government votes fall in behind Labour or Fine Gael.

    There has to be a Fine Gael seat there and Gilmore will top the poll. You’d have to assume that Fianna Fail will hold one of the three government seats – Cuffe is toast. At the moment, I don’t think that either FG or Labour have second candidates in place with a high local profile but that could change.

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