On May 23rd a social media announcement was made under the heading, ‘Statement on the Change of Relationship between the People’s Alliance of the Left (PAL) and TUSC’, effectively excluding the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) from the series of zoom meetings that have been held under the name of PAL since May 2021.
A report on this development, drafted by the TUSC representative at the PAL meetings, was presented to the TUSC All-Britain Steering Committee meeting held on June 15th, which agreed to publish it as a statement of record.
Report on TUSC and the ‘People’s Alliance of the Left’
On May 23rd a social media announcement was made under the heading, ‘Statement on the Change of Relationship between the People’s Alliance of the Left (PAL) and TUSC’, by three of the five core organisations of PAL – the Northern Independence Party, the Breakthrough Party, and Left Unity – effectively excluding TUSC from the series of zoom meetings that have been held under the name of PAL. This followed a decision taken by the TUSC steering committee earlier this year to agree observer status for the Workers Party of Britain at our meetings.
The statement recognised “that TUSC is a coalition of different organisations and individual socialists and trade unionists who in their great majority do not share the politics of George Galloway and the Workers Party”. But, it went on, the various constituent components of TUSC “are prepared to critically collaborate with the Workers Party as they (TUSC) consider it to be an organisation with origins in the labour and trade union movement”.
That is not the approach of the Northern Independence Party, the Breakthrough Party, and Left Unity, who view the Workers Party as being outside of or even hostile to the labour movement. So TUSC was excluded from PAL meetings along with the fifth core organisation, Resist, who, while being part of the TUSC coalition, have also been attending the PAL meetings in their own right. The left-wing former Labour MP and Resist founder Chris Williamson was removed from the PAL WhatsApp group on May 26th.
What is PAL?
Since May 2021 a series of zoom meetings have been convened by another former Labour MP Thelma Walker, who had served as John McDonnell’s parliamentary private secretary from 2017-2019, to discuss, in her original call-notice, “thoughts on the way forward for a progressive alliance”. Thelma herself had resigned from the Labour Party following the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn in November 2020 and stood in the Hartlepool by-election in May on behalf of the Northern Independence Party, finishing eighth (out of 16 candidates) with 250 votes (0.8%).
As the TUSC national election agent I attended the initial meeting on behalf of TUSC and all eleven meetings since. At the December meeting this network was formalised as the ‘People’s Alliance of the Left’ (PAL), agreeing that PAL itself would not participate in electoral politics nor make electoral endorsements so that those still in the Labour Party could be part of it (although no minutes have been taken or presented at any of the meetings). To be clear, at this point, PAL is not registered as a political party with the Electoral Commission and cannot, therefore, contest elections in its own name.
Alongside the Northern Independence Party, the core participants in the PAL discussions have been the Breakthrough Party (a registered party who finished sixth out of eight candidates with 197 votes, 0.5%, at the Chesham and Amersham by-election in June 2021); Left Unity (also a registered party, but who have not contested elections since 2015); TUSC; and Resist. The Breakthrough Party and the Northern Independence Party stood, respectively, two and eight candidates in May’s local elections, polling a combined total of 1,189 votes. More information, along with the results of the 271 candidates who stood under the TUSC umbrella in May – polling 29,169 votes – can be found in the results report on the TUSC website at https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/472.pdf.
In addition the Compass and Cosmos political think-tanks were regular attendees at PAL meetings in 2021; the Peace and Justice Project established by Jeremy Corbyn in January 2021 have zoomed in to three of the eleven meetings; the BFAWU president Ian Hodson has attended two, as has the Lancaster city councillor Andrew Sinclair (part of a four-strong Eco-Socialist group in a ruling coalition with the Greens on the council); and one meeting apiece has been attended by Anna Rothery (a Liverpool Community Independents councillor), Howard Beckett (the former assistant general secretary of Unite), the Newham Socialist Labour Network group, Steve Walker from the Socialist Telly YouTube site, and Crispin Flintoff, host of the Not The Andrew Marr Show YouTube show.
None of these latter organisations or individuals have attended the ‘business’ part of the PAL meetings, including the discussion on whether to exclude TUSC or not, which, as a matter of record, was a decision of the Northern Independence Party, Breakthrough and Left Unity representatives.
Different conceptions of unity
The decision to exclude TUSC from the PAL discussions was not unanticipated, following one of the closed business meetings held on February 8th to discuss PAL membership.
TUSC has always been conceived from its foundation in 2010 by Bob Crow and others as an inclusive coalition around the goal of building a working class political alternative to, at that point, Tony Blair’s New Labour, now Sir Keir Starmer’s. A broad coalition, rather than a closed one, would inevitably have to involve collaboration – and robust debate – between organisations and groups within the working class movement holding often sharply different views.
But participating organisations, and individual candidates, are accountable for their own positions not those of others, except where they depart from the agreed common core policy platform. A genuine coalition should be a ‘united front’, marching separately but striking together under the same banner at the ballot box.
This, however, has not been the conception of what unity means held by the representatives of the Northern Independence Party, Breakthrough and Left Unity who have attended the PAL meetings, as their decision to exclude TUSC and Resist demonstrates.
The discussion at the February meeting was reported back to the TUSC steering committee where it was agreed that I would continue to participate in PAL meetings on behalf of TUSC – if permitted to attend by the host – but would not be authorised to accept any restrictions prescribed by PAL on the activities or political positions of any component part of TUSC, nor of the coalition itself without the approval of the steering committee.
Implications for future electoral co-ordination
While it is disappointing to be excluded from the PAL discussions it need not have much practical impact on TUSC’s goal of attempting to secure the greatest possible electoral co-ordination of left-wing forces standing against Starmer’s new New Labour.
I would recommend, for example, that the practice that we introduced for this year’s local elections, of circulating the cover-pages of the TUSC candidate application reports (the councils, the ward names and the prospective candidates’ names) to the electoral officers of the Northern Independence Party, Breakthrough and Left Unity before our formal meetings to approve candidates, should continue, if they wish it.
I would also propose that we still strongly encourage the three organisations to join in local TUSC groups with the TUSC constituent organisations and others, to participate, for example, in local People’s Budget campaigning, and as the first point of contact to discuss their electoral activity.
No doors should be closed in the struggle to build the alternative that the movement needs.
TUSC National Agent
15th June 2022