The alternatives to Labour in a local by-election


by Sunny
12th May, 2011 at 11:57 pm    

Last month I campaigned hard in central London. There was a by-election in Peckham Lane ward in Southwark, south London. There are always lots of stories to tell in such campaigns. I started recognising people who’s doors I had knocked on before. I remembered the first names of people we were trying to convince to go out and vote on the day. It was fun, but hard work.

It’s an area full of estates and social housing. And many of them are right next to leafy streets with middle-class residents. It’s a nice mix.

It’s also an area hit hard by cuts imposed by the central government, which the Labour-controlled Southwark council had to carry out. So surely Labour would have paid the price for imposing the cuts?

Rowenna Davis (Labour) won. In fact, by a landslide and a majority even bigger than before. The Libdem vote collapsed, naturally, and the Greens beat them to second place by one vote. The Tories came fourth. TUSC – the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition – got just over 100 votes.

Voters didn’t blame the Labour-run council for imposing the cuts; they were intelligent enough to know who was behind the cuts. They just wanted Osborne and Cameron out of power.

There are lots of people who constantly accuse the Labour party of betrayal over lots of things. Fair enough, that’s up to them. But I didn’t see any lefties come out and support the Greens nor TUSC there either. Peckham was in fact the only local-election in London in May. The TUSC had no support, no money and no activists. They didn’t even come close to making anyone else sweat on a platform of no cuts to local services. Even the Greens were starved of activists.

Now, obviously I wanted Labour to win and I worked hard for that. But it seems to me that if people are going to start talking about supporting alternatives to Labour, they should do so in practice too (exception for disabled people who can’t knock on doors easily of course). Even Sue Marsh campaigned hard – despite her illness – and got some amazing results for Labour. My utmost respect to her.

The other point is this. Lots of lefties seem to think it’s quite easy for a new party to spring up, win people’s trust, and get elected. But left of Labour is littered with failed alternatives. Of course they don’t have the money or the organisation. But they also under-estimate how difficult it is to win people’s trust, to become comfortable with them, and start worrying the more established parties.

This doesn’t mean I always support whatever the Labour party does. I don’t. I’d like Labour to win power in four years time but I’d like an engaged electorate that has plenty of choice. This is also why I campaigned for AV – it would have given people the opportunity to support smaller parties while making sure the vote wasn’t split so Tories get in. But we’re stuck with FPTP for the time being. The choice won’t be there.


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16 Comments below   |  

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  1. sunny hundal

    Blogged: : The alternatives to Labour in a local by-election http://bit.ly/jUw6La


  2. Sue Marsh

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The alternatives to Labour in a local by-election http://bit.ly/jUw6La


  3. Rustam Majainah

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The alternatives to Labour in a local by-election http://bit.ly/jUw6La


  4. Owen Blacker

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The alternatives to Labour in a local by-election http://bit.ly/jUw6La


  5. Church of Labour

    Further to his ministry work, HUNDAL reminds us that there is NOTHING OUTSIDE THE PARTY http://bit.ly/jUw6La


  6. Liat Norris

    RT @churchoflabour: Further to his ministry work, HUNDAL reminds us that there is NOTHING OUTSIDE THE PARTY http://bit.ly/jUw6La


  7. Alicia

    RT @churchoflabour: Further to his ministry work, HUNDAL reminds us that there is NOTHING OUTSIDE THE PARTY http://bit.ly/jUw6La




  1. Rustam Majainah — on 13th May, 2011 at 1:16 am  

    “Of course they don’t have the money or the organisation.”
    That, and national media coverage. If the Greens has state sponsored party funding and a bit more national media coverage and we’d have it made. Unfortunately the paradox is that we’d have to get into power to help change those things, and to get into power those things have to change…

    Having said that, the reason that the Greens were probably “starved of activists” is because many of us travelled down to Brighton, where it paid dividends to invest activist time (for those of you who don’t know, the Greens are now the largest group on Brighton council). Though we try and stand as many candidates as possible to allow voters an alternative to Labour, we only have the resources to target a few councils nationally each time. However, now that we have the trust you mention is so hard to get, hopefully a snowball effect will occur and people will have an alternative to Labour, which will in turn make Labour a better party as well (if only there were competition laws on political parties).

    And if our voting system was proportional…

  2. Ben — on 13th May, 2011 at 6:38 am  

    “… I started recognising people who’s doors I had knocked on before…”

    It’s “whose”, not “who’s”.

  3. Boyo — on 13th May, 2011 at 6:43 am  

    What do the Greens stand for, other than ecology? I had a look at the website and ooh, it’s a veritable sweet shop of nice things with echoes of the Lib Dems of yore, yet written in the confidence they need only appeal to their protest vote.

    People should not be deceived by the environmentalism, which is the traditional protest movement of the wealthy. Ever since farm workers depopulated the estates to work in the factories to the modern “get those oiks off my Easy Jet” the environment has been used as a totem to bash the poor.

    The Greens may present an alternative for faddish Brightonites but the last thing the people of Britain need is another self-righteous, posh-left alternative to split the vote and keep their pals in power.

  4. damon — on 13th May, 2011 at 10:50 am  

    It’s an area full of estates and social housing. And many of them are right next to leafy streets with middle-class residents. It’s a nice mix.

    Personally, I despair at this mix. It’s like apartheid.

  5. Optimist — on 13th May, 2011 at 11:28 am  

    ‘Voters didn’t blame the Labour-run council for imposing the cuts;’

    Well they should as the Labour run council has a choice – it could stick to the true principles of Labour – like the Poplar councilors did, as shown below:

    “Many of the powers and structures of local government have changed since 1921. The central point of Poplarism remains. Through consistent work to defend and promote the conditions of working people socialists can win electoral support and gain control of local councils. They can then use the position to promote the interests of those who voted for them, rather than bowing down to the rich, cutting or privatising services. As the struggle in Poplar showed, this is not an easy process and central authority can and will fight back. But the example of Lansbury and his fellow councillors in the early 1920s shows that it can be done.”

    http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=9426

  6. Arif — on 13th May, 2011 at 11:55 am  

    Sunny, you seem to assume that people who feel betrayed by two or three sets of politicians would continue to feel sufficiently hopeful about politics to want to campaign for another set.

    Talking of alternatives to Labour may not be a desire to put all one’s energy into fighting Labour and all the other parties to win seats from them against the large odds and difficulties in winning people’s trust that you mention.

    It may be a more passive desire to find someone to support that you genuinely believe in.

    You might say that if you want this alternative, then you have to fight to create it. But the reality is that people want a lot of things, including a life which is not overly devoted to lost political causes. Considering the level of commitment required to create such a new party being so much more than that of just moving in and out of supporting existing large parties, it is rational to opt out of active politics in this model (and a lot of other models) of democracy, and most people do.

    We all owe a debt to people who continue to breathe life into democratic politics, I am not denying that. Or maybe I am – how much are activists bending the truth and trying to get votes through mobilising fears and tactical considerations? Is it more like feeding our brains to a zombie than breathing life into a corpse? I don’t know. I just guess that if it wasn’t being done the chances are we would get something worse. And however bad we think things are, they can get a lot worse with a more totalitarian system.

    So well done for campaigning, but I won’t blame you if you ever feel sufficiently betrayed often enough to one day give up, become a more passive partisan or put your energies exclusively into non-party politics instead! :)

  7. anon — on 15th May, 2011 at 12:04 pm  

    “It’s also an area hit hard by cuts imposed by the central government, which the Labour-controlled Southwark council had to carry out.”

    I believe councils have the final say on what their funding from central government is spent on and more importantly what cuts they make.

    Perhaps these councils should explain why they, for example, recently decided to spend £12 million creating a new city centre park that will cost an additional £300,000 a year to run whilst at the same time cutting front line services such as essential services for the elderly, the disabled and children.

  8. earwicga — on 17th May, 2011 at 5:05 pm  

    Good points. Apparently the Greens did absolutely no campaigning for the WAG elections in North Wales because ‘we were targeting one region so falling behind in others was always a risk’ (as explained on Twitter.

    Meaning that even one email to members of the Green Party telling us who the candidate was was beyond the realms of possibility. There aren’t that many regions in Wales! Very poor.

  9. fugstar — on 17th May, 2011 at 6:16 pm  

    fptp sounds like an expletive.

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