First it was the North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll who announced that he would stand as an independent against the official Labour candidate for the new North East Combined Authority mayor in next May’s local elections.
Labelled by the media as ‘the last Corbynista in office’, he had been undemocratically barred from Labour’s selection process but wasn’t going to let that stop him from standing – a decision warmly greeted by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) all-Britain steering committee. (See https://www.tusc.org.uk/19466/19-07-2023/jamie-driscoll-should-stand-and-the-left-led-unions-should-back-him/).
Now the former Socialist Campaign Group Labour MP, Emma Dent Coad, has declared that she is also likely to stand independently, in her old Kensington parliamentary constituency in next year’s general election (see https://www.standard.co.uk/topic/emma-dent-coad). She too was excluded from the list of potential candidates to contest the seat in Labour’s rigged selection procedure and resigned from the party in April this year. (See https://www.tusc.org.uk/19102/01-05-2023/another-corbyn-era-mp-says-theres-no-place-for-her-in-starmers-tory-lite-new-labour-party/).
Meanwhile, although the official release of Labour’s latest audited membership figures are still pending from the Electoral Commission – the regulatory authority for political parties – it is certain that they will register another fall of tens if not hundreds of thousands from the 564,433 peak recorded under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in December 2017. And, of course, the cost-of-living crisis and the working class fightback against it have not gone away.
The ingredients are there for a significant challenge at the ballot box to Sir Keir Starmer’s Tony Blair-style ‘New Labour’ and its re-heated ‘fiscally responsible’ austerity politics. But to bring together the widest range of trade unionists, socialists of different organisations or none, and working class community and social movement campaigners in a common election campaign, needs a will to collaborate – and organisation, at the top and, as importantly, on the ground.
Steps to a united challenge
TUSC, having organised by far the largest working class left-of-Labour challenge at the last three sets of local elections, has consistently reached out to campaign groups and different socialist organisations to discuss their plans for the next general election (see our most recent letter at https://www.tusc.org.uk/19275/24-05-2023/tusc-makes-new-appeal-to-left-wing-groups-to-discuss-general-election-plans/). Hopefully recent events will encourage those who have yet to think seriously about the question to do so now. But individuals and different organisations accepting the need for an election challenge is only the first step. For a start there are election laws to follow.
An election campaign, or any new political organisation, cannot appear on the ballot paper overnight, or under any name that it likes. It has to register as a political party or coalition with the Electoral Commission and can only do so with a name, and a logo, not the same as or similar to one already registered. It has to choose and register legally responsible officers with the Commission and meet statutory financial reporting requirements.
Legally the media only has to give what is termed as ‘fair coverage’, including rights to a party election broadcast, to a registered party or coalition. And further, only to those whose candidates appear on the ballot paper under the party or coalition name or one of its ‘registered descriptions’ in one-sixth of the seats – 98 constituencies in a general election.
If individuals stand outside of a registered group they can describe themselves on the ballot paper as ‘Independent’, although with no logo or ‘emblem’ permitted to appear next to their name. But this makes it hard for voters to distinguish them from other ‘independents’, some of whom are well-meaning but many of whom are ex-Tories or former UKIPers hiding their policies.
It would not be a problem for Jamie Driscoll or Emma Dent Coad to make clear what they stand for with their name recognition in their local areas – or, of course, Jeremy Corbyn if he decides to stand as an independent in the general election. But it could be for others. Using the TUSC name or one of our other registered ballot paper descriptions – such as the straight-forward ‘Trade Unionist and Socialist Candidate’ description, or ‘Trade Unionists and Socialists against Cuts’ – is a way to overcome that.
Many groups and individuals will want to take on the establishment parties, with more reaching that conclusion every day. Good. But then we need to be serious about organising a co-ordinated election challenge to overcome these hurdles and make the maximum impact possible.
How to get unity? The TUSC model
TUSC was set-up in 2010 precisely to enable trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists of any party or none to stand candidates against the pro-austerity establishment parties under a common umbrella. It was co-founded by the then general secretary of the RMT transport workers’ union, the late Bob Crow.
TUSC is a federal coalition of equals with no one group able to dominate over others. The all-Britain steering committee is comprised of representatives of any trade union, anti-cuts councillors’ group, or socialist organisation which chooses to formally participate in the coalition, alongside individual executive members of other unions not affiliated who sit in a personal capacity. There are also elected representatives of individual members of TUSC who are not otherwise members of a constituent organisation.
The steering committee only takes decisions by consensus, as outlined in the How TUSC Functions rules (available at https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/How-TUSC-Functions-September-2022.pdf). This does not mean that there have not been disagreements on the steering committee during TUSC’s history. When the RMT was an official component of the committee, for example, its representatives used the consensus rule to stop candidates standing against members of the RMT’s parliamentary group of MPs. But the rule does create a dynamic towards looking for agreement, rather than fighting to win a contested majority vote against minority views.
Nothing can be agreed in the name of the coalition unless everyone agrees, while everyone retains the right to present their own ideas and policies in their own name. From where we are today, is there a better method of recognising the different views that exist but achieving unity in action at the ballot box?
Local general election planning committees
So how could this inclusive approach be replicated at a local level, in establishing a constituency, or district or county council area-based steering committee to organise for a general election campaign?
Nobody needs permission to get a local TUSC general election planning committee up and running, if there isn’t one already established in their area. But any organisation or individual that does so must make every effort to involve as equal partners the different components of our coalition – and others not currently involved. As the How TUSC Functions rules say, “local groups should also operate by consensus” too.
The obvious first step is to contact the local representatives of the participating organisations and local TUSC individual members and agree a date for an initial meeting – as soon as possible!
Contact details of the organisations currently participating in TUSC as full committee members or observers are available below. And details of any individual members in your area should be available from the current TUSC Individual Members’ representatives on the all-Britain steering committee, Pete McLaren ([email protected]) and Tom Allen ([email protected])
In Scotland and Wales, Scottish TUSC and TUSC Wales have their own autonomous steering committees under the How TUSC Functions rules, with the contact details also listed below.
Involving trade unionists
Exactly how local trade unionists can participate as equal partners will vary, not least because of the different rules each union has on political activity. How TUSC Functions says that provisions should be made for “the representative involvement of trade unionists” including the suggestion of “locally-organised TUSC supporters’ groups in unions where formal affiliation is not possible”.
Additionally, like the NEC members on the all-Britain steering committee, individual union branch officers or local reps could participate in a personal capacity. They have their own constituency that they are accountable to as elected union leaders. A recent new member of the all-Britain committee for example, sitting in a personal capacity, is the UNISON Female Black Members’ NEC member April Ashley. She was elected to her position in the union with 26,836 votes, more than many MPs poll to win their seats.
But the main point to make – at the all-Britain level and locally – is that TUSC is their coalition to shape as much as the organisations formally involved.
The TUSC all-Britain committee has produced a Campaign Pack, Organising for the General Election, which is available both as a PDF at https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/General-Election-Campaign-Pack-July-2023.pdf, and in Word format at https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/General-Election-Campaign-Pack-July-2023.docx. Included in the pack is a model letter to trade union branches inviting them to join a local TUSC general election planning steering committee – along with the concrete proposal that they join in delegations to the local Labour prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) in their area. The Word version of the pack allows for local adaptations to be made.
A number of existing TUSC committees involve locally-based organisations who are not part of the all-Britain steering committee; or individual members of national organisations who are not yet engaged with TUSC. The 2023 local elections, for example, saw candidates participating under the TUSC umbrella who were individual members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Anti-Capitalist Resistance, and the Northern Independence Party even though these organisations – although invited to be so – are not part of TUSC.
Since autumn 2022 TUSC has written to over twenty radical campaign groups and socialist organisations to discuss their plans with us for the next general election: from Enough is Enough, Don’t Pay UK, Just Stop Oil, The People’s Assembly, and Acorn; to socialist groups like the Breakthrough Party, the Socialist Labour Network (the ‘Labour-in-exile’ group), the Northern Independence Party, Left Unity, the People’s Alliance of the Left (PAL), International Socialist Alternative UK, the Liverpool Community Independents, the Socialist Labour Party, the Communist Party of Britain, and the Socialist Workers Party. Approaching the local representatives of these and other groups might not produce any practical results – but it might, and can anyway only reinforce the need for us all to take a serious attitude to planning for the general election.
With the inclusive approach that has characterised TUSC election campaigns, hundreds of candidates have felt comfortable to stand using one of the TUSC descriptions on the ballot paper. Combined, they have polled just under half a million votes in total since the coalition was formed. TUSC did not contest the 2017 and 2019 general elections, with Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, but in 2015 stood 135 candidates. (The party election broadcast can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3RTnYvl). Coming from a variety of different organisations and none it showed what TUSC can offer this time too: an ‘umbrella coalition’ that works.
Want a united socialist challenge to Starmer at the ballot box? Then let’s organise, at the top and on the ground. ■
Organisations currently participating in TUSC as full committee members or observers:
The TUSC Individual Members all-Britain steering committee representatives:
The Scottish TUSC steering committee:
The TUSC registered officers: