England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Who should the left vote for in the General Election?

The General Election seems certain to bring an end to one of the most hated governments in British history. But its replacement with a Starmer-led Labour administration offers little to inspire working-class people. So how should those seeking a left alternative vote in the coming election? 

By Connor Rosoman, Socialist Alternative Political Committee

Most will ‘hold their nose’, voting to get the Tories out, but with few illusions. But even as many vote Labour for this reason, a wave of independent and left-wing challengers have emerged on the ballots. And no wonder: for those of us who have marched for Gaza, stood on picket lines against the cost-of-living crisis, and fought back against the Tories’ vicious attacks on marginalised groups, supporting a Labour Party that has stood on the same side as the Tories on every key issue is simply not an option. 

These candidates represent a growing mood that, with the Tories all but out of office we must think beyond 4 July, towards a struggle to challenge Starmer’s government, including building a left alternative. This is particularly crucial given the new prominence of Farage and Reform UK, which shows that reactionary right wing forces are preparing to pose as “the real opposition” to Starmer.

What do the different left candidates represent in this election? Who should those of us looking to build a left opposition vote for? And how do we continue building on these campaigns beyond 4 July? 

Corbyn

Some of the most high-profile left challenges have come from ex-Labour figures who were blocked by the party’s right-wing leadership from standing in this election. In London, Faiza Shaheen and, most prominently, Jeremy Corbyn are running high-profile independent campaigns that pose a real threat to Labour in their respective seats. A victory for either of these candidates would provide an important platform for struggles, and send an important message that we can stand against Labour and win. Socialist Alternative supports a vote for both of these candidates and is participating in their campaigns. 

A victory for either Corbyn or Faiza Shaheen would provide an important platform for struggles, and send an important message that we can stand against Labour and win.

However, recent polls have shown that even Corbyn, up against the weight and resources of his old party, is by no means guaranteed a victory. This highlights the urgent need to further strengthen our struggle.

Socialist Alternative have made the point previously that a Corbyn campaign could mobilise thousands of workers and young people behind a programme to renationalise public utilities, save the NHS and fight the cost of living crisis – the same sorts of pro-working-class policies that, while limited, generated mass enthusiasm in 2017. Instead however, the campaign hasn’t organised itself with a sufficiently bold and clear profile so far.

Corbyn delayed for too long in deciding to stand against Labour. As soon as he had the Labour whip withdrawn, he should have publicly declared his intention to stand and called on others to join him. His delay and prevarication on this issue, and timidity around breaking with Starmer’s Labour has dented his chances of winning. Elections are rarely won in just a few short weeks, especially when up against the mainstream parties. 

Despite calls from activists over the last five years to launch a new party, Corbyn has limited himself to his ‘Peace and Justice Project’ – essentially a non-profit advocacy platform, rather than a democratic mass organisation. The political approach of the campaign too, while highlighting the progressive policies Corbyn stands for, has been extremely timid. Rather than posing a direct challenge to Starmer’s Labour, and acting as a lightning rod for the anger that exists on a national scale, the campaign has restricted itself to fighting simply to keep Corbyn’s seat. This has limited the potential of the campaign thus far.  

A much greater mobilisation could be built still, based on trade unions like the RMT which have nominally supported his campaign, the Palestine solidarity movement which Corbyn has consistently stood with, as well as climate activists and others with an interest in defending these seats. This would also mean building a campaign that takes up a platform of bold demands to take these movements forward. But any attempt to bring forces like these together for such a campaign raises the urgent question of the need for serious organisation – in other words, a new political party. 

This would make it possible to coordinate resources and activists, expand the campaign, and develop a programme that can mobilise wider sections of workers and youth to fight back. A glimpse of this can be seen in the electoral campaigns built by International Socialist Alternative historically, mobilising hundreds of activists and winning real victories. This was only possible due to the existence of a political organisation and unapologetic socialist policies. 

Left independents 

Alongside Corbyn and Faiza Shaheen, a wave of other left independents are standing. This is a promising step, and shows the real scale of revulsion with Starmer. What’s more, many of these candidates are independents only on paper – in fact standing on behalf of a number of groups and campaigns to build a left challenge more widely. 

This includes the network ‘Collective’, which is supporting a number of other left independents around Britain, with the stated aim of laying the foundations for a new political party. Jamie Driscoll, former North of Tyne Mayor who won 126,000 votes as an independent left Mayoral candidate for the North East in May, will not be standing in this election, but has announced plans to launch a new project of his own following the elections. Other groups will be standing left candidates of their own. This is positive, but it is crucial that these campaigns are expanded, and that they build links with those fighting beyond the ballot box. 

The numbers active in such campaigns have tended to be small so far. In contrast, the 100,000s of people who have struggled against this Conservative government represent a huge well of energy and anger, which is already being directed at Starmer’s Red Tories. In the mass movement of solidarity with Palestinian people, chants like “Keir Starmer, you can’t hide, you’re endorsing genocide” are enormously popular. Andrew Feinstein’s pro-Palestine campaign, against Starmer himself in the London seat of Holborn and St Pancras may tap into some of this mood. 

This should be built on nationally, including by other Collective candidates, whose campaigns have often been limited to a small layer of preexisting, ex-Labour activists. We support the campaigns of candidates under these banners, which can play an important role in galvanising the forces necessary to make the kind of left party that we need a reality. But the elections in two weeks’ time must not be the end of this struggle. Instead, consistent work, building strong roots in all the movements of workers and youth, will be a key task for developing any kind of viable left alternative over the coming months and years. 

“The elections in two weeks’ time must not be the end of this struggle.”

Greens

In many constituencies, it is clear that the Green Party is expecting to make big gains. Polling indicates that it is likely to win a second seat in Bristol, a landslide once again in Brighton Pavilion, and further potential gains elsewhere.

The rise in support for the Greens is a positive expression of the search for an alternative to Labour, and the frustration with many over the complete lack of serious response to the climate crisis put forward by the mainstream parties, reflecting a certain ‘protest vote’ against them. Their programme to tax the rich, scrap tuition fees, nationalise the railways and introduce rent controls will, for many people, represent the only left-of-Labour option on the ballot. 

However, these manifesto points are at odds with the track record of the Greens in practice, who have quickly abandoned their commitments to green policy and progressive reforms each time they get a whiff of power, both in Britain and internationally. They have repeatedly shown their willingness to sacrifice core principles in the name of coalitions with parties of the capitalist establishment such as the Liberal Democrats, seen most clearly in their recent coalition with the pro-capitalist SNP government in Scotland. 

The growth in support for Greens shows the desire for a left choice, but their growing support for militarisation and lack of a struggle-based approach puts a limit on their ability to provide a working-class alternative.

The escalating drive to war internationally has also left its mark on the Greens, who have shifted to the right on this question. Crucially, their manifesto for the upcoming elections drops their previous support for Britain leaving NATO, and gives unqualified support to the UK’s arms shipments to Ukraine. In the context of a new age of inter-imperialist conflict, socialists and internationalists must stand on the side of the working class around the world, rather than taking the side of different imperialist blocs.

The Greens’ failure to stand consistently against imperialism and war – itself one of the most polluting industries in existence – is testament to their unwillingness to clearly challenge the institutions of the current system. We need a left, anti-war party that stands completely independent of the other parties of the capitalist, imperialist status quo. It is not enough to simply have a seat at the table in the management of this system, as the Greens aim to do despite some progressive policies. We need to overthrow it entirely. Ultimately, although a strong Green vote shows the support that exists for a political alternative, we should have no illusions that they represent that alternative themselves.

What about the Workers Party? 

For many others, the Workers Party of Britain (WPB) will represent the clearest ‘protest vote’ option. Standing 154 candidates nationally, they are perhaps the most high-profile campaign in many areas that describes itself as ‘socialist’. But their horrific and backward stances on social issues propagate division, making them unfit for the task of representing the whole working class in its diversity.

The WPB’s programme makes calls for investment in public service, calls for a referendum on NATO membership and opposes the genocidal attacks on Gaza. The party’s manifesto calls for the renationalisation of the NHS, and hints that monopolies and utilities be “considered” for re-nationalisation or nationalisation.

This has been echoed by George Galloway in recent speeches, often with caveats about what he considers to be necessary and unnecessary to nationalise. In reality, any kind of socialist transformation of society would by necessity have to involve the nationalisation of all the monopolies, big corporations and banks, to take the wealth out of the power of the capitalist class, and put it into the democratic control and management of the working class. Ultimately, there can be no ifs and buts on this.

George Galloway’s populist rhetoric picked up on the existing anger at the main political parties in the Rochdale by-election earlier this year, and he may well be able to defend his seat this time around. But as we said at the time, Galloway’s reactionary rhetoric about the family, “grooming gangs” and being “for the workers not the wokers” is a roadblock for building a genuine workers’ force. An even clearer illustration of this came in a recent GB News interview where Galloway called for Royal Navy boats to be mobilised to stop illegal immigration: in his words, to “defend his majesty’s realm”.

“Galloway’s reactionary rhetoric about the family, “grooming gangs” and being “for the workers not the wokers” is a roadblock for building a genuine workers’ force.”

Rather than basing itself on independent working-class, socialist politics, Galloway’s ‘Workers Party’ is, ironically, rooted more in populist appeals to the middle class and small business owners. Its nationalist, union-jack-touting leanings, social conservatism, and its timidness around nationalisation (despite calling itself socialist) reflect the communalist, cross-class politics that Galloway really bases himself on. Nevertheless, their share of the vote will reflect a genuine anger over British imperialism’s role in Gaza, and the desire to reverse the economic gutting of Britain over recent decades. 

Following the elections, Socialist Alternative has raised the call for conferences of resistance to bring together the different currents of struggle: trade unionists, activists in the Palestine solidarity, climate, refugee rights and feminist movements, and those campaigning for left alternatives in the General Election. It will be necessary to discuss fully and democratically what kind of new left party we need, what kind of programme it should have, and how it can be built. We do not think the WPB represents that party already, as it claims to be.

However, we would encourage its supporters to take part in such discussions and debates, in which we would strongly challenge the reactionary social policies of Galloway and the WPB. We argue for a socialist programme that takes up the struggle against all forms of oppression, and challenges the reactionary culture war propaganda of the pro-capitalist right wing, rather than leaning on it. That is the only way we can mobilise the working class as a whole, and direct our struggle at the real roots of this system.

Building a mass struggle under Starmer

Given the complete lack of faith of many in Labour, it is likely that left and independent candidates will receive some strong votes in these elections. Some campaigns may even see some victories, with Corbyn, the Greens, and potentially others far from ruled out in some areas. 

However it is clear that we are still lacking the kind of political organisation needed to prepare a fighting resistance under Starmer. The seeds of further initiatives and new left-wing political formations are already being sown, and will likely grow under a Starmer government, as Labour fail to deal with the crisis of British capitalism, and in the face of the growing threat of the right, under Nigel Farage, themselves looking to falsely pose as an ‘anti-establishment’ alternative. 

But for any new initiative to be a successful it will need to be first and foremost a vehicle for mass struggle, rather than merely for elections. Voting is only ever a limited form of struggle, on a playing field that is far from friendly territory for those fighting for socialist change. While a resolute challenge to a Starmer government will be necessary at election times, a new party will need to be able to mobilise the thousands of people necessary to win real victories on the streets, in the workplaces and in society at large all year round. 

Most importantly, it will need a clear socialist programme, rooted in independent working-class politics, standing against the traps of lesser evilism, instead standing for a clean break with the current system. This would mean fighting to nationalise – alongside the railways, NHS and utilities – the big corporations and banks, and placing them under democratic workers’ control and management. That would open up the possibility for mass investment in green energy and infrastructure, an immediate end to arms exports to the Israeli state, to fund a pay rise for all workers to reverse the last decade of lost wage growth, and much more.

It is only on that basis that a new party will be able to build a real challenge to a Starmer government and bring an end to the endless crisis of the system they, the Tories and Reform UK represent. 

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