The Trade Unionist and Socialist (TUSC) all-Britain steering committee has welcomed the announcement by the current Mayor of the North of Tyne Jamie Driscoll that he is planning to stand as Mayor of the North East Combined Authority in the elections for the new post that will take place next May.
At its latest meeting on July 19th the steering committee agreed that it would not accept any application to stand as a TUSC candidate in the mayoral election as long as Jamie remains as a declared candidate.
Jamie Driscoll’s exclusion in June from Labour’s mayoral selection process – of someone regularly referred to in the establishment media as ‘the last Corbynista in office’ – was another example of how ruthless Sir Keir Starmer has been in his efforts to re-make the Labour Party as a safe alternative for the capitalist establishment, after the shock they all suffered during the period of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Jamie has still not been formally informed why he was excluded, as a sitting mayor. “I do stand on picket lines, I was on a picket line this morning with workers who are in dispute. Perhaps that’s it, but honestly I do not know”, he told the BBC (June 2nd).
Now, after appeals made on his behalf were ignored, including an open letter signed by eight left-wing trade union general secretaries – from ASLEF, BFAWU, CWU, FBU, POA (personal capacity), RMT, UCU (pc), and the URTU – Jamie has decided to stand as an independent against the recently announced official Labour candidate, the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuiness.
Resigning his membership of the Labour Party, which he had joined in 1985, he wrote that Starmer has “U-turned on so many promises: £28 billion to tackle the climate emergency, free school meals, ending university tuition fees, reversing NHS privatisation” that the list is “too long to repeat in this letter”.
Jamie’s decision to stand poses questions for the trade union leaders whose appeals to Starmer were rebuffed. Unite too publically criticised his exclusion from the prospective candidates list, calling it at the time another example of the party under Starmer “only selecting nodding dogs”. (https://www.unitetheunion.org/news-events/news/2023/june/jamie-driscoll-mayoral-omission-a-major-error/) So what should be done now?
This year’s annual conference of the RMT transport workers’ union agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn if he decides to stand in the next general election, including as an independent candidate. (See https://www.tusc.org.uk/19429/05-07-2023/rmt-conference-defies-starmer-and-backs-jeremy-corbyn-to-stand-in-the-next-election/). So why not Jamie Driscoll? With transport one of the devolved functions of the new North East Combined Authority, including franchising powers, a mayor committed to public ownership and defence of workers’ terms and conditions and union organisation, would be an important gain for the union.
A Jamie Driscoll victory, with the type of policies contained in Labour’s 2017 and 2019 manifestos now banished by Starmer, would be an important gain for the other unions who backed him too, including those – ASLEF, the CWU, FBU and Unite – still affiliated to the Labour Party. Would that mean they had to disaffiliate? No, it wouldn’t. ASLEF, at its conference in early 2003, backed Ken Livingstone when he was still the independent mayor of London (before he was re-admitted to Labour in January 2004), suggesting at least that political support for such candidates would not mean the automatic exclusion of an affiliated organisation from the party.
Of course supporting Jamie Driscoll today would incur the wrath of the Starmer leadership. But acting against trade unions backing Jamie would be Starmer’s political calculation to make, not the unions.
There can be an alternative
Most importantly, the phenomenal display of support for Jamie’s stand – raising £90,000 from individual donations to his campaign in just over 24 hours – shows that an alternative could be built to Starmer’s revived Tony Blair-style New Labour party.
TUSC strongly hopes that, before the election, a new vehicle for working class political representation will have been established by more authoritative forces than those currently involved in our coalition or any other currently existing party or alliance – which means, above all, the trade unions who have been organising the workers’ fightback, along with individuals like Jeremy Corbyn and Jamie Driscoll standing independently of Labour.
But the TUSC steering committee is also clear that, for as long as the only choice remains between two parties that put the interests of the establishment and their system first, we will get on with organising a ‘Plan B’ – to get the biggest possible number of candidates fighting for trade union and socialist principles on the ballot paper. ■