Open Letter to Socialist Party members in Unite: you have crossed a line by standing candidates in marginals

February 26, 2015 at 1:49 am (elections, labour party, posted by JD, Socialist Party, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Socialist Party logo

From the United Left’s email list:

Dear Comrades,

This Coalition government has been responsible for attacks on our class  that go far beyond anything Thatcher would have dreamed of. Their austerity  policies have been targeted on the poor and vulnerable in our society. They  have lined the pockets of their Hedge Fund backers and speculators in the  City with billions of public money. They have been responsible for attacks on the organised labour movement and have been open in their support for  even more draconian legislation if re-elected. New proposed laws which
would make effective trade union action virtually illegal-The Tories are  not campaigning in this election as the Hug- A-Hoodie, party that can be  trusted with the NHS, they are back as The Nasty Party fighting on a class  war programme.

While Unite policy is to support Labour, in fact to do all we can to elect a Labour Government, your organisation has decided to stand candidates in  the forthcoming general election. Of course that is your right; we are a  trade union not a political party, we do not have any disciplinary means to  force you to support union policy and rightly so.

Within the UL there is then a clear political difference; on the one hand  the majority, working for a Labour victory who are also intent on developing the left within the Party and your goal, of standing candidates in the election as part of becoming the political alternative to Labour. In our view a big claim for some 1,000 -2,000 people, whose track record in elections is derisory.

While we know we can’t dissuade you from standing candidates we consider you have crossed a line by standing candidates in marginals. We would ask you to withdraw your candidates from the 100 Labour must win marginals. In our view standing in these seats is a breach in a working class front against the Tories.

You are not a rival to Labour. While Labour are standing to win every seat and form a Government, you know very well you will not win one seat let alone form a government. Rather your goal is to recruit to, and make propaganda for your organisation.

By standing in marginals you are not just ‘building the party’ you are also taking votes from Labour – those who vote for you, and those you influence not to vote Labour. While the numbers you convince will be small, in such a tight election where every vote counts you must realise it may mean Labour losing seats, in effect allowing seats to be won by the Tories or their partners in crime the Lib Dems.

The logic of your position goes further; it is to argue, where there is no SP candidate, workers should abstain. If of course we have misunderstood your position then why are you fielding candidates in marginals Labour can win?

The only rationale for this cavalier attitude is because you believe there is no difference between Labour and the other capitalist parties. This is blind sectarianism, yet Labour is supported by nearly every union, and unions are the mass organisations of workers, do the unions not count for anything?

We urge you then as fellow UL members to reconsider standing in marginals and so not breaking the front against the Tories.


Tony Woodhouse UL, Chair Unite Executive Council

Mark Lyons UL, Vice Chair Unite Executive Council

Martin Mayer Chair Unite UL

Terry Abbott UL, Chair North-West Regional Committee

Dick Banks UL, Chair North-East Regional Committee

Liam Gallagher UL, Chair Unite Ireland

Mike Jenkins UL, Chair Unite Wales

Jim Kelly UL, Chair London & Eastern Regional Committee

Gordon Lean UL, Chair South-East Regional Committee

Kev Terry UL, Chair South-West Regional Committee


  1. Mike Killingworth said,

    Which Tory/Labour marginal has the SP adopted candidates in?

    • Jim Denham said,

      • Mike Killingworth said,

        Well, Jim, I come from Lincoln and Lucy Rigby is exactly the sort of candidate Labour shouldn’t be putting up anywhere. Mind you, Lincoln CLP has a good deal of previous at that kind of thing as a quick look at Wikipedia will confirm.

      • Geraint Thomas said,

        Except of course that Elaine Smith’s not an SP member.

      • Harry Hutchinson said,

        These Unite members have illusions that the labour party have a different agenda from the Tories/Lib Dems. They forget the banking crises arose from Labour reforms, along with massive debt and squandering of public funds.Former Labour leader, Tony Blare is wanted for war crimes. Labour is a capitalist party of the rich.
        Trade Unions need to build an alternative to Labour.The problem is the Socialist Party wrongly believe they can be that alternative.
        The Peoples Assembly offer an alternative, a party Unite is involved in, yet hypocritically also support Labour.
        The illusions of these Unite members must be challanged and a campaign to disassociate from Labour must begin.

      • Mike Killingworth said,

        Ah, perfectionism!

        Harry, do you believe that TU consciousness is enough? Clearly not. So: you want a new Party which will include all and only those you regard as socialist. Do let us know what the maximum income of any its members is going to be. Do let us know how it proposes to seize political power, because, as dear old uncle Vladimir noticed a while ago, power has to be taken by force.

        You remind me of those 1980s feminists who were unable to give any account of how women benefitted from men having the vote, yet still, bless their hearts, wanted us chaps to be able to keep the franchise nonetheless.

  2. john r said,

    Here is a list of present TUSC candidates and seats (Feb 4 2015)-

    The first seat on this list (Harlow) had previously been a Labour seat and went to the Tories in 2010. With a reasonable swing from Tory and Lib Dem, I’d hope to see Labour get in but… it could be tight.

    TUSC have never stood there before.

    Another seat (Swansea West) has a Labour majority of 504 over the Lib Dems but I’d hope that Labour could increase their vote here. TUSC have stood there before and came last.

    There are probably a few more on the list if anyone feels like having a look but with the SNP thrown into the mix, I’d think it’s fair to say almost every Labour seat in Scotland is presently a marginal. TUSC are standing 9 candidates there.

    • Mike Killingworth said,

      I specifically asked about Tory/Labour marginals. As to Harlow, that surely depends on whether the Kippers appeal more to Labour voters there or to the seat’s abundant supply of lower-middle class Tories.

      • Redshift said,

        At the moment TUSC have a candidate listed in the hyper Labour-Tory marginal of Lancaster & Fleetwood. To make it worse, Labour’s candidate is very much a left-wing one.

        Fortunately, the RMT have taken issue with the SP and SWP on this one and backed the Labour candidate, which I’m guessing will mean TUSC don’t stand in the end BUT don’t pretend you don’t intend in standing in marginals or where there are left-wing Labour candidates

    • Ben said,

      Swansea West: The Labour MP Geraint Davies votes for war and the TUSC candidate is a solid trade union candidate. I know which one I prefer.

    • Tracey India said,

      We stood 2 county council candidates in wards in Harlow in 2012, The Labour party parliamentary candidate has ignored our requests for a meeting to discuss her position on cuts and austerity, had she responded and pledged to stand on an anti cuts platform we would have supported her. We are standing a candidate and make no apologies for offering Harlow residents an alternative to the Labour party pledge of “better our cuts than Tory cuts”. I am not a member of The Socialist party, but am proud to belong to The trade Union and Socialist coalition and Unite.

  3. Steven Johnston said,

    Utter rubbish, austerity is not the fault of any government, its capitalism that is at fault! Changing the government will not alter this fact. Just ask those in France, Spain, Ireland, Iceland, Greece…

  4. Andrew Coates said,

    This a pretty heavyweight statement.

    Though I doubt if it will make much difference to people who’ve already made their minds up – they are already working with pretty flimsy premises.

  5. Steven Johnston said,

    I agree it does not matter, Thatcher spent more on the NHS than any other PM before her. The parties in power may change but they have little overall control on how much they spend or on what they spend it on.
    You don’t subvert the system, it subverts you.

  6. Jim Denham said,

    “While the numbers you convince will be small, in such a tight election where every vote counts you must realise it may mean Labour losing seats, in effect allowing seats to be won by the Tories or their partners in crime the Lib Dems.”

    This applies, even more so to the Greens: time for an Open Letter to “left wing” Green supporters, perhaps?

  7. Aaron Aarons said,

    If you’re so concerned with elections, why haven’t you and other Labour-is-the-Lesser-Evil folks been campaigning against the undemocratic, almost-as-bad-as-the-U.S., U.K. electoral system, and in favor of a system that allows minority representation, rather than trying to convince people, including principled anti-imperialists, to vote for one of the major parties of British imperialism?

    • Aaron Aarons said,

      I should add that campaigning against the anti-democratic nature of the electoral system has the important, perhaps primary, benefit of helping to undermine the legitimacy of the government that results from any election, thus making it somewhat easier to mobilize people for extra-legal action against the actions of said government. Voting for Labour and losing has a demoralizing effect, while voting for Labour and ‘winning’ gives legitimacy to the pro-capitalist, imperialist actions of a Labout government.

  8. dagmar said,

    I suspect that under a proportional electoral system, a lot of the supposed leftists who will vote Green this time wouldn’t bother, as they don’t really want the Greens to ‘get in’ and know they won’t – they want to give Labour and the LibDems a slap in the face but without any proper consequences (or at least not the consequences of getting more than one or maybe two Green parliamentarians).

  9. februarycallendar said,

    I agree entirely with Aaron that this blog’s antipathetic indifference even to the moderate reformism of Alternative Vote back in 2011 is a stain on its reputation.

    But I also agree with this post. Again and again and again.

    re. Swansea West; in all areas where the dominant tradition isn’t Tory, the Lib Dem vote is certain to fall, often very substantially, and Plaid Cymru are clearly a long way from doing what the polls are saying the SNP will. UKIP almost beat Labour in the European elections in Wales, but that was under PR, and it’s still hard to see there being anything other than an increased Labour majority in a seat which has been Labour in every post-war GE except 1959 (the biggest post-war Tory majority when the SDP weren’t splitting the vote).

    In the south-east, of course, the effect – within what I entirely agree is a fundamentally corrupt system – could be much more serious …

    • Jim Denham said,

      ” this blog’s antipathetic indifference even to the moderate reformism of Alternative Vote back in 2011 is a stain on its reputation.”: I honestly don’t remember. You may be right. Remind me, please.

    • Aaron Aarons said,

      I don’t have any opinion about any particular electoral reform that has been proposed in the U.K., but the value to the left of a system in which minor parties have a chance to win anything is that it opens up the range of political debate. OTOH, no electoral system is going to change the fact that capital always wins, even in situations where it appears to lose, as in Greece this year, where the “radical left” Syriza government has already, within less than a month of “winning” the election, capitulated to the banksters in every sense except for their “winning” some changes in terminology in their version of the surrender.

  10. CarolinePlebMolloy (@carolinejmolloy) said,

    Notice any particular categories of people missing from that list of names?

    • bombasticspastic said,

      Yep. No women…BAEM…disabled…

  11. greg said,

    Don’t know why unite Ireland have backed this, unite in the south have unaffiliated from Irish Labour, there is no Labour party in the north and in addition to this northern members are opted out of donating to Labour. Time for members to take back their unions.

  12. said,

    I am a socialist. This is why I can no longer support a Labour candidate. They are no longer even remotely a party of the left. They are almost as neo-liberal as the others. Look at their record on banks, multi nationals avoiding tax, even education policy shows little difference to the Tories. I’m surprised any socialist can vote Labour without being physically sick. I think the truth of the matter is Labour will take us back to the 30s, the Tories to the Victorian era. I do not want either of these.

    I accept I would prefer Labour to the Tories and Lib-Dems but only marginally so I will vote Green or TUSC (whichever candidate appears the most principled and left wing.) I am an unaligned socialist in case you were wondering not an SP member or anything else.

    I am an NUT member and my disgust at my own union’s lack of action (because we await a Labour government) is not only letting members down but also letting this government off the hook. Personally I would escalate action in schools making it clear to parents/voters that this will only increase if a Tory government is re-elected as we will have no choice when I right to take action comes under attack.

    I accept the point about trade union action being made near impossible under a re-elected Tory government, but Labour is hardly on the side of union action. Very few of their MPs show any public support for legitimate industrial action, in fact many have repeatedly come out against action and attacked the unions (Very socialist of them!). I suspect we as trade unionists would be forced into sustained action in defence of our right to strike and would do so until the policy were overturned. Many of us would rather be criminalised than lose our right to take industrial action (although I hope it is not necessary.)

    As much as I would like to feel I could vote Labour again (I used to deliver leaflets for them in the area) I am also a teacher, in the sector I work in Labour started Academy conversions which allowed Free-Schools and further forced academisation, cover supervisors began under their government, pay and pensions were attacked. In addition they did not abolish league tables, competition which had damaged the profession, reduce the standardised testing which is so massively detrimental to education of children, or abolish OFSTED. They had every opportunity improve education and reverse the damage done by Thatcher and Major. They did not act. In fact workload increased under Labour to a point where I became seriously ill in my late 20s/early 30s and can now only work part time. Until Labour’s policy on public services and welfare changes, I cannot vote Labour with a clear conscience. My MP was Minister for Schools under a Labour government so must be made accountable for his lack of action when in government and lack of principle on educational matters, which is why I didn’t support him last election either (as a former teacher he should know better.) If I didn’t vote Green or TUSC I would spoil my ballot paper in disgust at the choice being given. I would like either of these elected above Labour nowadays (I disagree with Dagmar’s assertion.)

    If you succeed in moving Labour to the left again I may vote for them in the future, but until that time I cannot join and give money or my vote to a neo-liberal political party ( I tore up my card and stopped my membership once they became one.)

    Maybe what we should be fighting for is STV (Single Transferable Vote) or a system so people like me can rank our choices and both our original vote and our general political position can be represented via the electoral process. Maybe even a proportional system so if 10% of the population vote TUSC they would have 10% of MPs. It would mean coalition but one in which the left had a voice to move policy that way. But of course Labour doesn’t really support electoral reform either because without it they can gain votes by saying a vote for anybody but Labour is a vote for the Tories and fighting with other mainstream parties for the neo-liberal centre right.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Comrade Robert,
      Your reasoned, lengthy and courteous response is appreciated. I intend to provide a fuller reply soon, but for now I’d just say this: with a single sentence you have, yourself, fatally undermined your own position: “I accept the point about trade union action being made near impossible under a re-elected Tory government, but Labour is hardly on the side of union action”

      “Hardly on the side of” is qualitatively different to “made near impossible.”

      • Robert Illingworth said,

        I disagree, I have stated one policy difference regarding trade union ballots, which although true and important to me, does not undermine my overall position. This is that Labour are a neo-liberal party and the difference between the two parties is minimal. I cannot vote neo-liberal whether blue, yellow or red. I hope to be able to vote Labour again in the future, but under its current leadership, with its current policies I cannot do so with a clear conscience.

        I look forward to reading your fuller response Jim.

  13. Robert Cossey-Mowle said,

    At Burston last year I asked Jeremy Corbyn MP to leave the Labour Party as he basically was a prisoner of the existing Capitalist Labour Party that is beyond reform.Transformed from a working class based political party with Trades Union support into a New Labour/SDP Party by Kinnock and Blair . Years of Blair Madelson and Brown have forced the left to look at Marc and Trotsky in regards to the new Right Wing party of Capitalists and dominated by midle class lawyers doctors and ex Public School 1% eneterists and tories who decided to modernise but forget the 99% we don’t need them anymore? This has caused the Establishment to set up UKIP through Labours betrayal and the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars ! Comrades no way can you reform the Labour Party read your history books and come over to TUSC like I did after serving as a Labour Party Councillor in Islington for 8years under Hodge watching how she and Blair started to dismantle The Labour Party from Richmond Terrace.Some Left Comrades are under a form of loyalty to LP even when their Councils are savagely cutting for the Tory/Liberal Government . Wise Up Comrades I did and all my family and friends so did BOB CROW. RIP

    • Jim Denham said,

      “read your history books “: yup, I recommend, for starters, Lenin’s “Left Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder.” Have you read that, Robert?

      • Aaron Aarons said,

        Lenin’s Left Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder is not a history book. It’s a polemic. And I’ve noticed over the years that right-opportunists refer to it because they like the title, not because they are interested in having a serious discussion about its contents.

      • Jim Denham said,

        Actually, Aaron, I agree with you about LWC-AID, and the way it’s sometimes been used by rightists, but that doesn’t mean that Lenin was wrong in his polemic, or that his essential message (the need to intervene in the existing, reformist, labour movement) doesn’t remain correct.

    • Mike Killingworth said,

      I was under the impression that Corbyn remained in Parliament in order to pay off his child support to his ex-wife. But that was a long time ago. Surely he must have paid it off by now!

      When I served on Haringey Council with him I gained the distinct impression that was just a careerist (not that I was any better, merely far less effective).

      Hopefully the SP is not standing any candidates who are graduates. Not one of us can be trusted an inch!

  14. harlowtucDavid Forman said,

    If the derisory votes that the SP usually get are enough to stop Labour winning in marginal constituencies, then I would say that says more about Labour’s ‘as little as they can get away with’ manifesto.

    As the attack from the Tories reflects the serious nature of the economic crisis and replicates their policies from the 1920’s, one should realise that the response should be just as historical and radical, such as the New Deal.

    One should consider that Labour in office have historically ‘paid the piper’ in attacking living standards and union organisation: Winter of Discontent and In Place of Strife. Nor did they do anything to dismantle Thatcher’s laws in their 13 years in power up to 2010.

    Labour’s programme is too timid to demand any loyalty.

  15. Les Kent said,

    I am a Unite member ( retired members section ) a life long socialist and trade unionist ( over fifty years Labour Party membership ) – Please comrades , lets stay united , particularly in the marginal seats ! – Vote for Labour candidates .To close the door on the anti trade union / socialist alliance . Represented by other parties !

  16. Jim Denham said,

    Graham Stevenson writes (on the United Left list):

    This group says that their main motivation is that, despite Labour’s commitment to neo-liberalism, “many workers may still vote Labour as a defensive measure against the feared Tory attacks”. Extraordinarily, therefore, they “conclude that it is vital for socialists to stand together and make the largest possible impact on the General Election”. Further, that since the purpose of SA has been consistently to aid a “process of creating a new left party …. some of the legacy be used to … support the largest ever co-ordinated left challenge in the 2015 General Election”.

    As a result of this, it is clear that something like 100 candidates are standing for TUSC in the general election and very many hundreds in local elections. Adherents of this policy have already decided that an attempt to reclaim Labour, or to reclaim the working class, failing this, must also fail and that the refounding of a new workers’ party that aims to be a mass electoral vehicle is what is needed.

    It is legimate in a democracy to put such a point of view but it is not one that the Communist Party shares. Rather, all the lessons of history are that it is to the extent that a united working class enagages in mass action to defend and extend working peoples’ rights that a party like Labour will be potentially emboldened and even driven to the left. It is the CPB view that the ConDem government can only be electorally beaten by Labour and that a Labour government offers more of a chance for trades unionists and working people to make progress. To work to damage that chance is to give comfort to the class enemy in our view.

    Of course, all independent political parties have the right to engage in independent electoral activity in the absence of an agreed formal electoral front. But how we conduct ourselves in this process is critical. As a longstanding member of the Communit Party, I have no problem with the decision of the CPB EC to contest 8 seats in the coming general election, contests such as we have chosen to do consistently throughout the 95 years of our existence.

    Of course, such an intervention on our part is to fly the flag, publicise our party, and generally recruit and promote. Each contest has been carefully chosen so that left-wing candidates for Labour (of whom there are significantly larger numbers this time) and no winnable seats for parties other than Labour are contested. The Labour candidates we are standing against are people who should never be Labour candidates.

    To justify the extraordinary scale and high purpose of the SP/TUSC electoral intervention – of replacing Labour as the electoral vehicle of the working class – by attacking others in an attempt to cloud unjustifiable disunity, as Rob does by pointing to one Communist Party of Britain contest, is clearly uncomradely.

    It is also inaccurate. The seat I will be working in – Birmingham Hodge Hill – has been selected for contest by the CPB precisely because it is held by Liam Byrne and it is his appalling record in politics we will slate: Liam Byrne – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. His majority is over 10,000. This is par for the course with all CPB contests.

    It is not a mark of integrity, in criticising us to defend the SP/TUSC position, to isolate one single contest – Sheffield Central – to claim that the CPB is in the same character as TUSC/SP. The so-called slim majority inherited from 2010 is because the Liberal Democrats then polled 40.3% of the poll. “Sheffield Central has the highest proportion of students of any seat in the country, it includes Sheffield University just to the west of the city centre and both campuses of Sheffield Hallam University – around a quarter of the population are in full time education.” [UK polling report] This student factor was critical in 2010 arising from the issue of student loans. It is widely understood that this is no longer a marginal, as the LibDem vote has collapsed almost entirely due to their stance on this issue in government, and while the Greens will pick up some voters very many will simply return to Labour.

    It is only for this reason that our leadership sanctioned the contest at the last minute since we are sure that this is not in reality a marginal constituency.

    I would prefer that comrades seeking to justify their own stance look to their own house rather than knocking the quality of others.
    As readers of the Morning Star will know, its editorial has supported the open letter from UL comrades – see below.

    Graham Stevenson

    Disunited Left
    EVERY political party has a right to stand in elections and a vibrant democracy should provide for the blooming of a thousand flowers.
    But the undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system in Britain effectively limits the formation of a government to a two-horse race.
    The reality is that the May general election will deliver a single-party government or coalition led by either David Cameron or Ed Miliband.
    The United Left grouping within the Unite union is correct to engage its Socialist Party comrades in debate and to make the case for not standing in marginal constituencies where the party’s electoral vehicle, the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition, could tip the balance for Tory and Liberal Democrat candidates.
    Simply repeating the mantra that the main three parliamentary parties all back an austerity agenda doesn’t make them indistinguishable.
    The first priority for the labour movement has to be defeating the conservative coalition.
    Without that initial step, proposals for an alternative political programme, an effective mass party of labour or a more democratic electoral system are doomed to failure.

  17. caseypurvis said,


    • Steven Johnston said,

      LOL…true, they won’t find it under capitalism which is in recession at the moment. Unfortunately they belong to the capitalist left which confuse workers by telling them that a change of government can make things better. As they have found out in Iceland, Spain, Greece, Italy…etc it can’t!
      The money tree for them is taxes, they think that by taxing more you can raise more money, well you can for the government but any £1 you raise by taxes is a £1 less than private individuals have to spend so the net gain is, well bugger all.

      • Mike Killingworth said,

        It’s not quite that simple, Steven. Imagine a wacko religious sect whose members believed in burning money. Would not the Government do well to take their money from them first and spend it on, say, paying nurses – or even soldiers?

        And there are different economic consequences from spending money on imports such as wine or cannabis, on the one hand, and investing in roads or railways on the other.

        I could go on at some length, but I think you’ve got the drift…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: