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Marxists and the British

Labour Party

For The Scottish Turn: Against Dogmatic Methods In Thought And Action


Majority Document


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The Lessons of Walton

166. Our campaign for the Marxist Broad Left candidate in Walton, in June 1991, was a continuation of the struggle we have waged in Liverpool since 1983. In the eyes of the advanced workers in the cities, the by-election battle was a direct extension of the fight to defend the gains of the 47 [The Liverpool 47 Labour Party councillors who led an heroic battle against Thatcher -ed]. Kilfoyle personified the drive of the right-wing Labour council and Rimmer to carry through cuts, privatisation, and mass redundancies. To have given Kilfoyle a clear run would have been seen as an ignominious retreat. Our bold campaign, on the other hand, which reached wide layers of workers, provided a platform for socialist policies, opposed Rimmer's cuts, called for the democratisation of the Labour Party, and raised the call for the return of a Labour government on a socialist programme. The balance sheet of the campaign entirely justifies our decision to support an independent Marxist candidate.

167. The Minority refers to the balance sheet in the theoretical journal. However, they merely take up one incidental point (The New Turn - a threat 112), which we have already dealt with. They make no attempt whatsoever to answer the case for standing. Instead, the Minority constructs its own version of Walton - a straw man set up for easy demolition.

168. We were swayed, they claim, by an emotional mood of anger against Kilfoyle. We failed to stand up to the pressure of the activists who were pushing for a Broad Left candidate. We were therefore dragged into an ultra-left adventure of standing a candidate and taking the road of an independent party. (See The New Turn - a threat 36, 144). This is the false picture painted by the Minority.

169. The decision to stand in Walton is presented as some kind of 'original sin' which "represents the beginning of an ultra-left turn which could culminate in the new turn." (The New Turn - a threat 34). However, earlier on (The New Turn - a threat 4), it is said that:

"Walton clearly showed that the advocates of the turn had something else in mind - the establishment of an open organisation, putting up independent candidates against the Labour Party. Now this is being extended with the Scottish turn."

170. However, the proposal to discuss a new turn in Scotland was first proposed on the NEB in April 1991. The question of standing in Walton was posed by the death of Eric Heffer on 27 May. We did not choose the timing. Nor was it raised as part of a new, open electoral tactic. The proposal to support an independent candidate arose out of the particular situation in Liverpool, and the need to continue the struggle which we have led over a period of years.

171. Even though there was not much time, the decision to stand was not pushed through. It was never posed as a "matter of principle" (The New Turn - a threat 144) that we should stand against Kilfoyle. Nor was standing ever "posed as a vote of confidence in the Liverpool comrades." (The New Turn - a threat 54) Nor was the decision to stand pre-empted by a decision of the Broad Left. (The New Turn - a threat 37)

172. The EC met with Merseyside full-timers for a thorough discussion of the situation and to weigh up the pros and cons of standing an independent candidate. The NEB was held in Liverpool, not as part of a campaign of "irresponsible hype" to "stampede the NEB into supporting the decision," (The New Turn - a threat 53) but partly because leading comrades were in Liverpool for Eric Heffer's funeral. Moreover, because holding it there was the best way to enable the NEB members to assess the situation for themselves. Leading Liverpool comrades made it clear that, despite the fact that they favoured standing, they would accept whatever decision was taken by the NEB.

173. The overwhelming majority of Liverpool comrades were in favour of standing. This was not because they had been pushed by the Broad Left. Their position was based on the assessment of the position in the Labour Party, the situation on the council, the mood of the activists, and the mood of different sections of the advanced layers of the working class, especially in the local authority trade unions. The overwhelming majority of the NEB had the same view.

Kilfoyle's role

174. The case for standing against Kilfoyle was not based on "subjective feelings and emotion." (The New Turn - a threat 36) It was never part of the case that Kilfoyle was a "qualitatively different" right winger (The New Turn - a threat 38). Of course, there are many others in the Parliamentary Labour Party of the same ilk. The difference, however, is in the situation in Liverpool and Kilfoyle's role in the last period.

175. The Minority (The New Turn - a threat 39) appear to implicitly accept that it was correct to stand six Broad Left candidates in the May council election. Incidentally, only three of the candidates were sitting councillors. According to the Minority, the six "were seen as real Labour because official Labour Party candidates were imposed undemocratically" and they "were guilty of voting for cuts, poll tax and redundancies." This implies that Kilfoyle was in some way more 'legitimate' than the imposed council candidates.

176. But Kilfoyle too was imposed undemocratically. Long-standing delegates were bureaucratically excluded from the selection process. There were many irregularities, which were taken up with the NEC. In the selection ballot in February 1990, Kilfoyle was declared the winner with 50.68 per cent of the votes in the electoral college as compared to Lesley Mahmood's 46.48 per cent. However, this result was based on the votes of the Ford T&GW branch, which account for 3.47 per cent of the electoral college, being allocated to Kilfoyle. At their branch meeting on 17 February 1990, the members of branch 6/562 were told that the branch committee had already sent off the ballot result on their behalf! If the members had been allowed to vote there, their votes would have been allocated to Lesley. This alone, leaving aside the other fiddles, would have given her a majority of 49.9 per cent compared to 47.2 per cent for Kilfoyle. Moreover, when Lesley Mahmood and Kilfoyle actually appeared before the Walton party members, and outlined their programme and answered questions, 93 of the HO members present voted for Lesley.

177. As regional Labour Party organiser, Kilfoyle had been responsible for rigging his own selection in Walton. He was responsible for the purge of the District Labour Party and Liverpool constituencies. It was Kilfoyle above all who ensured that the right-wingers who "were guilty of voting for cuts, poll tax and redundancies," were installed as councillors and were able to dominate the Labour Group. To try to draw a distinction between right wing council candidates and a right wing parliamentary candidate is completely artificial. The parliamentary campaign was a continuation of the council election campaign.

178. As explained more fully in the theoretical journal, we were against standing independent candidates in Liverpool in 1987, when the 47 councillors were removed by the government's auditors. The 'shadow 47', which included comrades and Broad Left councillors, were able to continue the struggle to defend the gains achieved under our leadership prior to 1987. However, the counter-revolution intensified, with a combination of the Tory government's financial squeeze on the city and Labour leaders' witch-hunt against the left. In April 1990, 16 left councillors voted against the poll tax and were subsequently suspended from the Labour group. In May 1990, the soft-left leader, Keva Coombes, was replaced by the right-wing Rimmer. In November, Labour's National Executive suspended 29 Liverpool councillors, making them ineligible to stand in the local elections. Once again, the District Labour Party was closed down.

179. In April 1991, Rimmer proposed a new cuts budget, including 1000 redundancies. This was voted through by 27 Labour councillors together with the Liberals and Tories, with 40 Labour councillors opposed. The right wing completely dominated the Labour Group, and there was virtually no possibility of left candidates standing as official candidates in the local elections. The six Broad Left candidates stood on a platform to oppose the cuts, privatisation, and redundancies. The election of five of the six candidates was a victory, but in itself could obviously not block the cuts going through.

180. At that stage, the campaign of the local authority unions and the labour movement activists continued. When Eric Heffer died, the question was posed: should we accept the official candidacy of Kilfoyle, who was clearly identified with Kinnock and Rimmer, or put up an independent Broad Left candidate opposed to the cuts and standing for socialist policies?

181. The situation is different in Liverpool because of the mass struggles fought under our leadership over a period of years. What Kilfoyle stood for and the role he had played in Liverpool was widely understood by workers. Moreover, a crucial factor in the by-election campaign was the industrial struggle of the council workers, fighting to defend jobs in the city's biggest 'industry' - the city corporation. The bosses they were up against, in this case, were the right-wing leaders of the Labour group. Kilfoyle had all along acted as their agent, and to allow him a clear run, especially at such a critical stage of the battle, would have had a demoralising effect on the advanced layers of the workers.

182. There is, undoubtedly, a hatred of the Tories among workers and a desire for a return of a Labour government. But there is also a feeling of disgust at the role played by the Labour leaders, and even a hatred of Kinnock personally. The purpose of our campaign was to appeal to the advanced layers with socialist policies and a programme for fighting the cuts locally, while making it clear that we stand for the return of a Labour government on socialist policies. The correctness of our approach was confirmed by the large degree of sympathy amongst workers on the street and on the doorsteps. There was no trace of ultra-leftism on the part of our comrades. We adopted a sympathetic attitude to Labour voters. There was little hostility to our campaign, apart from a small minority of right-wing Labour supporters, even amongst those who voted Labour.

183. The Minority have tried to pour scorn on the 'derisory' vote. However, the difference between the success of five council candidates in May and the 2600 votes in June was not because of any "fundamental" or "qualitative" difference between council and parliamentary candidates. The crucial difference was that a few days before polling day the struggle of the local authority workers against privatisation and redundancies was decisively defeated. This undoubtedly affected the mood of many workers. Many abstained from voting Labour, and many who had promised to vote for Lesley also stayed at home.

184. However, the result actually confirmed our analysis of the mood of the working class. The Tories were annihilated. The Liberal candidate only picked up about half the disaffected Tory voters. The Labour vote slumped massively from the last general election, and we gained the vote of a significant minority who went out to vote consciously for socialist policies, a fight against cuts, and an alternative to the right-wing leadership of Kinnock and Rimmer.

185. The Minority claim that the capitalists were delighted that we stood in Walton. However, the unprecedented barrage of propaganda, for instance, with several pages of the mass-circulation Daily Mirror devoted to attacking us on polling day, was motivated by the capitalists' fear of the tendency and its influence. Their thinking was spelt out by Heseltine, as explained in the theoretical journal. They bolstered Kinnock and the right-wing Labour leadership in Liverpool against us because they saw it as the best way of trying to break the movement in Liverpool and carry through their counter-revolution. The Minority argue that we should have stepped aside and given them a clear run.

A balanced assessment

186. Moreover, there is also the factor that, if we had not supported a candidate, a section of the Broad Left would have fielded their own candidate in any case. This was not the main reason for standing, but was a factor which had to be weighed up. With a non-Marxist Broad Left candidate, we would have had the worst of both worlds. They would have been branded as a representative of the tendency, and yet we would have not had full control of the campaign.

187. What would have been the position of the Minority in this case? They do not say in their document. But the leaders of the Minority made it clear that, in the event of a non-Marxist Broad Left candidate standing, they would have advocated support for Kilfoyle! That is the logic of their position. Had we followed such a course in that situation, the name of the tendency would have stunk in the nostrils of Liverpool's labour movement activists and the advanced workers.

188. We never had arty illusions that we could win the seat in Walton. The Majority resolution to the July NEB (paragraph 6) explicitly acknowledges an electoral defeat, draws up a balance sheet of our campaign, and underlines the gains of our intervention in the by-election. Undoubtedly, it is true that (as AW related in a report of our Spanish comrades' 1984 election campaign in Alava) "in the course of a campaign hopes were raised by the excellent response of the workers..." Naturally, on election night, many comrades were disappointed that we hadn't got more votes. But the vote was anticipated by the comrades leading the campaign, and the reasons were explained at our election rally. The result was not proclaimed as a "victory" in the paper (The New Turn - a threat 18) or anywhere else. That is another distortion by the Minority. There was a balanced assessment in the paper (12 July, 1991) and a full assessment in the theoretical journal (issue 46). Letters published in the paper reflected the enthusiasm of workers for the stand that we had taken.

189. Our tendency engaged in an unprecedented dialogue with the masses, far more intense than in any previous campaign. We made our mark on thousands of workers and left an important marker for the future. Our own comrades involved in a campaign learned enormously. At the election night rally in Liverpool, there was an enormous sense of confidence at what we had achieved in the campaign and a determination to build on it in the future.

An Independent Labour Party?

190. Since the by-election, a section of the Broad Left leadership opposed to the tendency have declared the formation of an Independent Labour Party. In a statement (18 August), one of their leaders said: "We see no future for people of our persuasion, on the left, within the Labour Party." In effect, a tiny minority have declared an independent party counter-posed to the Labour Party. They have even proposed a constitution declaring members of other organisations "ineligible for membership" of the Independent Labour Party! We are opposed to such a move. Immediately following this declaration, the Liverpool City-wide Broad Left issued a statement (see the paper, 30 August 1991) saying that their decision was a mistake. The Broad Left was forced to organise outside the party because of expulsions, suspensions and disbandments, "but [for the Independent Labour Party] to set up an alternative party, to turn their backs on Labour and to encourage others to leave the Labour Party is a completely different question... Our aims have always been to reclaim the Labour Party for democracy and socialism and to gain readmittance of all expelled socialists."

 

 

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