Dead Men Left

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Spencer Fitz-Gibbon

The London Green Party must be sorely disappointed. Coming in behind the BNP and Respect on the mayoral poll, as well as losing a GLA seat, are both significant defeats, elements of which can be explained by the party's attitude prior to polling day. Like everyone else in Respect, I would like to see the two organisations form some sort of electoral pact: the Greens have a well-established name, and an appeal to certain groups of voters; Respect can pull in quite different blocks of progressive opinion - so this talk of "splitting" the anti-war vote is not quite right - and the eminently logical thing to do would be to stand on a common platform. This option, when suggested by Respect, was rejected before the elections - without any consultation of their membership - by the Green's leadership, who appear to have concentrated their efforts on attacking those who should be their closest allies: both Respect and, in London, Ken Livingstone, failing to call for a second preference vote for him. It has to be hoped that self-defeating sectarianism dies a death in the Green Party before it strangles the entire organisation, but contributions like the statement on their website do not bode well. Spencer Fitz-Gibbon, the Green's "media chief" (apparently), offers a rather demented account of the Green's extremely poor London showing. Fitz-Gibbon's "media chief" role consists in a large part of penning sectarian, red-baiting letters to outposts of the liberal media like the Guardian; I don't think his attitude reflects the Green membership's, but let loose on their website, Fitz-Gibbon truly excels himself:

The (dis)Unity factor

Some Greens had been concerned about Respect: The Unity Coalition, which claimed to have arisen from the anti-war movement and was expected to split the anti-war vote. The Greens had expressed concerns that Respect may pick up votes from people who didn't realise either that the Green Party was a member of the Stop The War coalition with as strong an anti-war track record as anyone, or that Respect was dominated by the fundamentalist Socialist Workers Party, which had managed to make an alliance with a Muslim organisation which probably didn't realise it was aligning itself with hard-line communists. Spencer Fitz-Gibbon commented:

Oh yes! "Fundamentalist... hard-line communists." I do love the condescension of the Green Party presuming to lecture Muslim organisations on who they may or may not form alliances with: the poor, ignorant brutes just didn't realise what they were getting into.

"A quarter of Respect's votes came from one constituency alone, so I think we've witnessed the impact of some highly disciplined Muslim politics here, with what looks like a large block vote being given to Respect thanks to the efforts of the Muslim Association of Britain. Elsewhere in the country it seems Muslims have been as likely to vote LibDem, or in many cases Green.

So both politically ignorant, and "highly" politically organised. What devilry is this? Where Respect stood in the local council elections - and it was a very few wards - Muslim voters appear to have rejected the Greens in droves, but the situation may be different at the national level.

"I think Respect has had the counter-productive impact that a lot of Greens expected. I'm sure most of their voters didn't realise they were voting for the SWP's commitment to the Trotskyist "broad front" tradition. I'm sure also that many people who voted for Respect because they opposed the war would be disgusted to learn that Respect's policy on Iraq is simply to withdraw the troops and leave Iraq to its fate, which would almost certainly mean prolonged chaos and violence. It's hardly the sort of thing a supposedly anti-war party should advocate. The Green Party of course wants a UN peacekeeping force made of of troops from countries more likely to hold Iraqis' trust than the invading forces can hope to.

I've been a Trotskyist almost my entire political life and I have absolutely no idea what this "'broad front' tradition" refers to. A popular front? A united front? Who knows? Those quotation marks do make this innocuous (if ambiguous) phrase look very sinister, though. I'm sure the Greens were quite sensible in rejecting perfidious calls for unity from those allegedly professing to form "broad fronts". (Mysteriously, the Stop the War Coalition, established from an SWP initiative, is a perfectly acceptable "broad front", which the Greens eventually joined and membership of which they now claim as providing them with impeccable anti-war credentials.) Speaking of Iraq: quite why the Greens think an occupation by the UN would be any more popular than the current US/UK occupation is not made entirely clear. This is the organisation that - on its own count - killed more than 500,000 Iraqi children through its sanctions policy; which is a terrible shame, since dead children aren't able to throw flowers over heroic UN liberators in the approved fashion, though no doubt the Iraqis - a simple, innocent people, much like those poor Muslims in league with the SWP - would welcome the UN's help in running their country for them, once they'd got over a few minor issues.

Respect made it major point of differentiation - stressing it repeatedly on our literature - that we were in favour of immediate withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq, assuming it to be a popular and principled demand. Having earlier and not unreasonably berated the Liberal Democrats for their lack of anti-war credibility, the Greens end up by adopting a near-identical pro-occupation stance. Take up the white man's burden... and keep away from the nasty Trots.

"It's very unfortunate, but the (dis)Unity factor may have caused the London Assembly to lose an anti-war seat while allowing a far-right UKIP gain for no better reason than to satisfy the ego of George Galloway and the SWP's opportunistic desire to advance the shady politics of Trotskyism.

"When I say shady, I'm referring to that part of the Trotskyist tradition that encourages the communists to use and manipulate more moderate elements. When you consider how the SWP took over the more diverse Socialist Alliance, then prevented it from contested seats this year because the same SWP had now set up a new party called Respect, you'll see what I mean."

"Diverse" is used in the Fitz-Gibbon sense of "fragmented" or "fissiparous", rather than as in "representative of London's diverse communities", for example, though it is possible he confuses the one with the other. This might explain quite why the Greens chose to field so many all-white candidate lists. The Socialist Alliance was fifty-two breeds of Trot squabbling like cats in a bag: a turgid, depressing organisation with the smell of the 1980s and defeat clinging to it like the dredgings of a stagnant pond. This internal culture was reflected by its external achievements: notwithstanding the efforts of large numbers of SWP members, who provided the bulk of the Alliance's membership, the SA received average votes of 1% (if we were lucky) on the back of frequently dour campaign material and campaign slogans that seemed more designed to appease those dearly-held and decidedly bourgeois ideas about proletarian "virtue" nourished by some comrades than it did to produce a credible left-of-Labour electoral alternative. Such fleetings successes as it enjoyed - the election of a solitary councillor, Michael Lavalette in Preston - was based largely on the strategic line and efforts of SWP members like Lavalette himself, who now sits happily as a Respect councillor for his ward. All those who yearn for the Judean People's Front/People's Front of Judea glory days of the Socialist Alliance now have the option of joining the Democratic Socialist Alliance; this consists of those who demand the fulfilment of their historic destiny to lose deposits by continuining to stand in unwinnable elections to the indifference, if not derision, of all. Particularly noticeable when campaigning for Respect has been the absence of such unpleasant sectarianism, amongst people of nominally far more "diverse" political backgrounds: ex-Labour members, ex-Greens, left Muslims, longstanding Labour voters, SWP members, anti-capitalists - a broader spread of political opinion than the Socialist Alliance ever managed to contain, yet with a greater willingness to discuss disagreements amicably, and with a much greater sense of common purpose.

Spencer Fitz-Gibbon concluded: "In the circumstances the London Greens have done very well. Darren Johnson has been an excellent mayoral candidate, whose vote was squeezed by the fact that the Tories were doing well. I think a lot of people who prefer Green policies have voted for Ken simply to help make sure they wouldn't have a Tory mayor. If anything, this highlights the point the Greens have always made, that the office of mayor has far too much power compared with the more broadly representative Assembly."

If the Greens had been a little clearer about second preferencing Ken, it is just about possible that - like Lindsey German - many of their supporters would have voted Darren Johnson first, Ken second, significantly improving their result. As it is, they adopted a ludicrous position of being indifferent between Ken Livingstone (improved public transport, congestion charging, appointed Green Deputy Mayor, etc) and the Tory Steve Norris (Jarvis, Jarvis and Jarvis); this decidedly infantile posturing may have cost them dearly. All things considered, the elections ought to give the Greens a major wake-up call: despite the favourable press, despite the explicit calls in the national media for their vote, despite their anti-war credentials, the Greens have signally failed to make the advances they could have done, and have even fallen back a little in London. Dump Fitz-Gibbon for the crazed sectarian he is, and we'll see if we can't get a proper Red-Green alliance up and running by Christmas.