An appeal to anti-austerity campaigners - help us build the most effective possible local elections challenge
Over 350 people have now put themselves forward to stand as anti-austerity candidates under the common banner of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in the local elections on May 22nd.
Congratulations are due to everyone who has been prepared to take such a stand. So far at least 69 councils, out of the 160 with local elections this year, will see a challenge to the establishment parties, and UKIP too.
Fighting these elections is important. Evidence emerges daily of how councils - Labour, Tory, and Lib Dem alike - are acting as local agents of the austerity agenda.
Council cuts of Â£770m to adult social care over the past three years mean that 168,000 older people are no longer getting help with essential tasks such as eating, washing and getting dressed, according to Age UK. At the other end of the age spectrum, one in seven Sure Start centres have been closed since 2010 while early years provision in many of those remaining open has been reduced by council cuts to "half a person and a bunch of leaflets", according to the Early Education campaign.
Protests, demonstrations, strike action by council staff - all are vital to try and protect our public services. But offering a challenge at the ballot box is also part of the struggle.
The question now, with a month to go before nominations close, is how can the broadest and most effective anti-austerity electoral campaign be organised for the May polls?
To be granted what the BBC, on behalf of the broadcasting authorities, calls 'fair media coverage', 15% of the seats up for election need to be contested by a party registered with the Electoral Commission. That means, for May's elections, 625 candidates standing under one banner, at least as it appears on the ballot paper.
TUSC, of course, although a coalition - involving the RMT transport workers' union officially and other leading trade unionists in a personal capacity, the Socialist Party, the SWP, Socialist Resistance, and individuals organised in the Independent Socialist Network - is a registered political party. And the fact is, with over 350 candidates already declared and more to come, it is the only anti-austerity and socialist registered party that could conceivably reach the 'fair coverage' threshold.
That is why the TUSC national steering committee, at its meeting on February 26th, agreed to approach other anti-austerity campaigners and parties to ask if they would participate in the TUSC candidate lists - with their full rights preserved - even if just for this round of elections.
Printed below is some correspondence with the Left Unity party, formally launched late last year, explaining our proposal. The same offer is there for other parties who may be standing candidates in May - such as Respect, the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Labour Party and the National Health Action party - who would be prepared to accept the minimum core positions of the 2014 TUSC Local Elections Policy Platform (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/policy ).
So far no formal agreements have been reached at a national level, although Left Unity - as their response to our letter explains - will be having further discussions at their forthcoming conference.
At the very least, the TUSC steering committee is committed to avoiding electoral clashes with other anti-austerity forces. But the opportunity is there to do much more, to break through the media boycott of the positive alternative to austerity.
Even if it proves impossible to agree formal arrangements nationally in the time available, individuals can still apply to appear on the ballot paper with the TUSC name, while promoting other compatible campaigns and organisations as they wish. The priority really must be to build the most effective challenge to the austerity consensus on May 22nd.
To apply to be a local election candidate using the TUSC name please complete the council candidate authorisation application form available on the Candidates page of the TUSC website at http://www.tusc.org.uk/candidates.php and e-mail it as soon as possible to Clive Heemskerk, the TUSC National Election Agent, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Letter from TUSC to Left Unity
To: Kate Hudson, Left Unity Acting National Secretary
2nd March 2014
Re: Collaboration in the 2014 local elections on May 22nd
I am writing on behalf of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national Steering Committee, following last year's discussions between TUSC and Left Unity, to see what agreement we might be able to reach in regard to the forthcoming local elections.
As was explained at the meeting between us, the different organisations participating in TUSC are striving to organise enough socialist anti-austerity candidates to contest these elections to meet the broadcasting authorities' threshold for 'fair coverage', namely to stand in 15% of the seats. For this year's cycle of local elections this would mean 625 candidates appearing on the ballot paper under a common umbrella. We are also anxious to ensure that unnecessary clashes between anti-austerity candidates are avoided.
The meeting we had with you was held, of course, prior to Left Unity's founding conference in November, before you had formulated your electoral strategy. It may be that you have now decided a definitive strategy that you would not wish to change.
But if not, to help achieve the goal of 625 candidates qualifying for broad media coverage, we would like to discuss with you the following proposal: that Left Unity and its members participate - on a one-off basis for these elections only, if you wish - in the TUSC 2014 local elections campaign. This participation would be on the same basis as the RMT, the socialist organisations whose members will be standing under the TUSC umbrella in May, and the individual trade unionists currently involved in the TUSC coalition.
How would this work? TUSC is based on agreement on core policies which every prospective candidate is asked to endorse. Attached for your information is the 2014 TUSC Local Elections policy platform, ten core policies which we believe that Left Unity would have no difficulty in supporting. On that basis, any Left Unity members who wanted to stand in May would be guaranteed to receive the legally-necessary 'certificate of authorisation' to appear under the TUSC umbrella.
This arrangement would guarantee the rights of Left Unity as an autonomous party. Beyond endorsing the core policies, candidates are responsible for their own campaign, as explained in TUSC's current rules (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/16861/14-11-13/How-TUSC-Functions ). The rights of Left Unity members who were authorised as candidates to produce their own material, to promote Left Unity as part of their campaign etc would be fully secured.
There would obviously be issues to discuss if Left Unity were to accept this proposal. If the broadcast threshold was reached, for example, the organisations involved in the election campaign, now including Left Unity, would need to agree how this 'federal approach' would operate for media appearances, for instance in regard to a party election broadcast. But these could surely be resolved.
We hope you will consider this proposal seriously. But even if Left Unity decides against participating as an organisation in the 2014 local elections on the lines suggested, we are committed to avoiding potential electoral clashes and to re-opening up communication between us.
We look forward to your reply.
Clive Heemskerk, TUSC National Election Agent
Letter from Left Unity to TUSC
23rd March 2014
To: Clive Heemskerk
Subject: Collaboration in May's local elections
Thanks very much for your message.
We appreciate your offer of participation under the TUSC umbrella in May's local elections. In line with our approach and policy discussions on electoral work so far, I don't think it likely that we will take up your offer. As you will be aware, we have a national policy conference at the end of this month which will have further discussions about our electoral policy.
However, following our initial discussion last year, we have no intention of conflicting electorally with TUSC, and following our conference, I am sure that the newly-elected officers would be very pleased to meet with you to discuss this matter further if you would wish to do so.
May I also offer my condolences to you and other comrades who worked so closely with Bob Crow. His death is a bitter blow to the movement.