Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Building a new electoral base for socialism will have to be done, but will take time, patience and ingenunity

This excellent post i found on the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition website highlights the tasks for a new socialist electoral base which does need to be built and the need for it is greater than ever i feel. I talk to people on the internet alot who feel no party truely represents them. Well TUSC is what is missing i think. A true new workers party with socialist roots and appeals. Under neath i have posted a excellent article that many may or may not find interesting. I know i certainly did.

This article comes from Will Mcmahon a TUSC representitive helping to promote its message.

Over the last decade or so many socialists living in Britain who come from a variety of different political traditions have reached the conclusion that the route for socialism has been cut-off through the Labour Party and we have to begin again by building a new socialist party.

Electoral battles are but one front in an on-going battle with the ruling-class and will for a period involve many more electoral defeats than successes. Ultimately, electoral outcomes will be governed by waves of class struggle, union strength and working class confidence. However, irrespective of the ongoing level of class struggle, working people are asked, and are asking themselves, on an almost annual basis, which party are they going to vote for?

In England, the Walsall Democratic Labour Party and the Socialist Alternative in Coventry have demonstrated that local bases for socialism can be built and sustained for a number of years. While a local vote for a local socialist is a good answer to some local political questions, most political questions in the electoral field are, in the end, answered by voting for national governmental alternatives.

The long run survival of these bases ultimately depend on a national political formation to replicate their success in other areas. The question for socialists is how do we build this national political alternative and what vote is a good enough indication that the project is making headway?

Some argue that the target of five per cent (the percentage vote needed to retain your deposit in a constituency election) is the threshold by which success and failure can be measured. This is not a view I share. Nor is this view shared by those who have built minority parties that have had an impact on national politics over the last two decades.

The tables below show how these parties have developed their presence as national force. Note the low votes that they have had to endure while they have been building their electoral machines for future challenges. Rather than taking the view that it is not worth standing if the vote is likely to be less than five per cent, they have stood ever further and wider into what sometimes seem completely hopeless areas. They have adopted this strategy for one simple reason: it has enabled them to spread and deepen their roots and consequently to develop their national organizational strength.

In less than two decades, UKIP (with a constituency mainly based on and to the right of the Conservative Party) have broadened their base by standing more and more candidates across the country. Rather than being troubled by the five per cent threshold, or even some much lower votes, (eg 0.53 per cent in seats targeted in 1992 and 1.06 per cent in 1997 when UKIP saved just one deposit out of 194 candidates) they have pressed on in the belief that their core political message has political resonance. After 20 years and five general elections UKIP have built an electoral base that has begun to alter the electoral arithmetic and are now close to a million votes.

Year Candidates Number of Votes Seats Deposits Saved % Total Vote % Vote in Contested Seats
1992 17 4,383 0 0 0.01 0.53
1997 194 106,028 0 1 0.34 1.06
2001 428 390,563 0 6 1.48 2.16
2005 496 605,973 0 38 2.20 2.80
2010 572 920,334 0 99 3.10 3.45

The Green Party has followed a similar strategy. According to the five per cent rule, the Green Party should have stopped standing a wide numbers of candidates in elections long ago and simply concentrated on their heartlands. But they didn’t; once again, convinced that they had a national political constituency constituency, they stood widely. Note that the experiment they conducted in 1997 of standing fewer candidates was quickly abandoned.

Year Candidates Total votes Average votes per candidate % of total vote Average % of vote per candidate Saved Deposits Number of MPs
1979 53 39,918 753 0.13 1.46 0 0
1983 109 54,299 498 0.17 1.04 0 0
1987 133 89,753 675 0.28 1.35 0 0
1992 253 170,037 672 0.51 1.27 0 0
1997 89 61,731 694 0.21 1.34 0 0
2001 145 166,477 1148 0.63 2.75 10 0
2005 182 257,758 1416 1.04 3.29 22 0
2010 310 265,187 855 0.96 1.81 6 1

Finally, look at the votes of the BNP, built on a growing economic crisis that has impacted on some of the most depressed areas abandoned by Labour in its search for the hallowed middle ground of politics:

Year Number of candidates Total votes Average votes per candidate Percentage of vote Change (percentage points) Saved deposits Number of MPs
1983 53 14,621 276 0.0 N/A 0 0
1987 2 553 277 0.0 0.0 0 0
1992 13 7,631 587 0.1 +0.1 0 0
1997 56 35,832 640 0.1 0.0 3 0
2001 33 47,129 1,428 0.2 +0.1 7 0
2005 119 192,746 1,620 0.7 +0.5 34 0
2010 338 563,743 1,668 1.9 +1.2 73 0

It took the BNP a bit longer to work out that by focusing on a few areas in the hope of maximizing a local vote the party had cut itself off from all those whom might vote for it nationally. By 2005 the penny had dropped in the Griffin bunker and by 2010, in the space of just three general elections, the BNP had gone from 47,129 votes to over half a million.

As suggested above, there are political, social and economic reasons for the rise of the fascist vote, but the determining electoral factor was that the BNP stood widely across the country so that they could collect up as many votes as possible from their core constituency and develop roots in those areas. Fortunately, the BNP’s response to almost tripling its candidates and votes between 2005 and 2010 has been to implode into internecine strife. However, the far right will regroup and continue to exploit the vacuum left by the absence of a socialist alternative in areas abandoned by Labour. The fascists understand that 1.9 percent nationally – or half a million votes, is not to be abandoned without a fight.

The tables above show that a small national party can make enough inroads to create an electoral block that begin to change the terms of the national political debate if it stands widely enough to express a level of political strength. The lesson is don’t stand in just the few seats where it is possible to get above five per cent – this will only serve to cut you off from the overwhelming majority of your core support; and don’t let low votes limit your electoral ambitions – to build a national party stand as far and wide as possible. What we all know is that building a new electoral base for socialism will have to be done – but it will take time, patience and ingenuity.

Building a political home for your core support to live in

By standing as widely as possible TUSC would be able to advertise its presence to as wide a layer of its core support as possible and invite them to join. The most reliable estimates suggest that despite the growth in their aggregate electoral vote, all three parties discussed above have quite small party memberships. UKIP has about 10,000 to 14,000 members (depending on how you count); the Greens have around 10,000 members and the BNP have between 6,000 and 8,000 members. In rough terms this means that at the last general election the Greens have one member for every 25 votes received and the BNP and UKIP one member for every 60 votes. (Labour was one member for every 50 votes).

If TUSC were to make a broad challenge at the 2012 and 2013 local elections and 2014/15 general election then merely by advertising its presence and presenting itself as a national political party it could draw more potential members into its orbit and build the platform for a core membership organization. If TUSC was ambitious and aimed for two per cent average vote in core seats in England at the next general election then, assuming TUSC actually built a membership campaign and structure alongside the election campaign, the number of people joining would increase and bring more resources and people for the future battles to come.

By core seats I am thinking of those seats that Labour won in 2010 in England (191) – although TUSC could stand much wider than that number. For example, if TUSC were to average 1000 votes across 200 constituency seats it would win 200,000 votes. To put this in perspective, TUSC and allies stood 180 candidates in about 170 council wards in 2011 and got 25,000 votes. This was, proportionally, about six times more than the 12,000 votes that TUSC got in around 500 average council wards it stood in as part of the 2010 General election. (Incidentally, even though TUSC was late off the blocks for the 2010 General Election, you will see if you revisit the tables at the start of this article, even that vote is comparable to UKIP/Greens/BNP when they first stood.)

General Election England 2011
Party Seats Seats
change Votes % %
Conservative 297 +92 9,908,169 39.5 +3.8
Labour 191 -87 7,042,398 28.1 -7.4
Liberal Democrat 43 -4 6,076,189 24.2 +1.3
Green 1 +1 258,954 1.0 -0.1
Speaker 1 0 22,860 0.09 -
Turnout: 25,047,355 65.5

So 200,000 votes in England is not beyond the realms of the possible if it was decided as a plan of action to stand 200 general election candidates. (The Greens stood 200 candidates, almost half in the more prosperous South East and got over a quarter of a million votes.) It is out of such results that a national party can be built. At a Labour Party votes to membership ratio (1/50) this would produce a possible membership of 4,000, or the Green party ratio (1/25) it would be 8,000.

It is for this reason that it is the aggregate vote (rather than the low vote in particular areas) makes a difference over the long run. A national presence, even on a low percentage vote, can translate into a party membership that in itself can build a local election campaign presence in areas where they did not previously exist. Rather than shun the low votes TUSC should stand widely to accumulate more of them – because they are the raw material out of which a nationwide socialist presence will be built. Put simply, in order to rally to a flag you have to be able to see it in your locality.

The aim would be to create a virtuous circle of standing widely, and out of the contacts made building a national membership and resource base, then using this national membership and resource to build a local electoral interventions to reach more people. Out of this strategy, combined with an ongoing presence in working class communities and trade union campaigns, some local strongholds would emerge and be sustained. Then rather than being embattled out posts these areas would be the advance guard of a growing nationwide electoral challenge. This is the lesson of the Green Party and, unfortunately, even UKIP and the fascists.

Electoral politics can be brutal.

The count can feel quite an uncomfortable place to be when you know that you are going to come last (as I have done twice since February this year). Especially after you have trod the streets week in and week out leafleting and knocking on doors trying to winkle out the socialist vote, when your party is new and the potential voter may not have heard of it or your candidate. As can standing next to Labour Party members who may have won, many of them councillors who have recently voted to cut local services to working class communities.

If the thought of a low vote feels like a rebuff from the class then it is perhaps worth considering the 33, 45 or 96 working class people who saw the election name ‘Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – against the cuts’ and in the ballot box decided to vote for you or the candidate you have worked for. They were sending a message: ‘I am a trade unionist and a socialist and I agree with you’. This is the kindling of a new socialist party and alone is a reason to stand and to begin the process of building a new party that can represent the working class; but this will only be worthwhile if it done as part of a national project that those voters they might later consider joining.

In 2011 for every Sheffield, Coventry or Preston there were other TUSC votes that were just below or above one per cent. It is important to get all votes into perspective. For new small national parties this range of votes is normal, especially with small financial resources and finite numbers of people to call upon and, it has to be said, a relatively late election campaign. However, what is important about the TUSC results was not those at the top or the bottom of the range of votes, but those in the middle two quarters – the middle 50 per cent. The voting range in the middle is between 2.2 and 5.4 per cent (perhaps a welcome surprise to some of those who stood for the first time) and more than respectable for a new party standing it is first local elections. Not at all disappointing, but in fact something to build upon and comparable with other new parties in Europe who have the benefit of a much more proportional system. For example, The United Left Alliance in Ireland received a mid range vote of between 1.5 and 9.2 per cent.

We have a base – but we have yet to reach them

Between 1997 and 2010 the Labour Party lost over two million working class votes. While some of these voters decamped to other parties, the majority have simply stopped voting because they have no party to vote for. Then there are those left wing voters who do vote Labour because there is no other credible left alternative available. These are the millions that TUSC can reach but only if it has a strategy bold enough and wide enough to reach them.

Will McMahon, a member of the TUSC Independent Socialist Network 24 May 2011

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