Socialist Labour Party report on the General Election
7 June 2001,
by Arthur Scargill, SLP General Secretary
[This is a summarised version of the original report]
The General Election of 7 June 2001 took place after four years of a New Labour Government. It was held against a background of reductions in public services expenditure and in the knowledge that the new government had operated the Conservatives’ economic policies during its first two years in office.
In the years between 1997 and 2001, we had seen systematic attacks on our health, education, housing and transport services by a Government which not only refused to take back into public ownership the industries and services privatised by the Tories but actively pursued a programme of further privatising services itself.
The 2001 General Election saw New Labour’s vote slump by over 3 million votes whilst the Tories whose vote had already collapsed in 1997 by 4.4 million saw a further drop of 1.25 million, and the Liberal Democrats’ vote slumped by over 420,000.
The Scottish Socialist Party which did not contest in the 1997 General Election saw its vote fall by 1% compared with its result in the European Parliamentary Election in 1999 – more important, its vote was 40% below the support projected in the Scottish Socialist Party’s General Election Manifesto.
The Socialist Alliance formed a year ago in a blaze of publicity with the aim of opposing the Socialist Labour Party not only failed miserably in that aim but according to the journal Tribune, which had given it substantial publicity, the Socialist Alliance simply ‘bombed out’ in the General Election, and completely failed in its bid to become ‘the major minor party’ in UK politics.
The Socialist Labour Party, on the other hand, not only secured an increased vote and an increased percentage of the vote compared to 1997, but in contesting 114 seats, the SLP contested the largest number of constituencies ever by a single ‘Left’ party in the history of elections in Britain.
It was no surprise that the 2001 General Election turnout – 25,554,809, 59% – was the lowest in living memory, and New Labour in winning secured the lowest vote – only 25% of the electorate – since 1918. Indeed, the combined vote of New Labour and the Tories represents less than half the electorate – scarcely a mandate for government.
It is essential that the Socialist Labour Party and others analyse the overall results and (more important) identify how our Party performed compared with the General Election in 1997, the European Elections held under a form of proportional representation in 1999, and also take into account the local and Greater London Assembly elections held last year.
It is important, for example, that we examine what effect – if any – other Left parties or alliances had in terms of our performance in 2001 and, equally important, examine what they achieved or failed to achieve, particularly in light of their declared expectations.
There are those on the Left in Britain who claimed that an alliance of ‘Left’ political parties/organisations in a Socialist Alliance could win substantial electoral support in a UK General Election, yet it has to be said that those who argued to establish such an Alliance, involving at least 15 separate political parties or organisations cannot seriously have believed that such a body, with its disparate policies, could make significant electoral impact.
In the 2001 General Election, the Socialist Labour Party contested 114 seats, more seats than any other single Left political party in the history of elections in the United Kingdom,
In 1997, the Socialist Labour Party secured 52,516 votes, 0.16%. In the 1999 European Elections, our Party, contested on a UK-wide basis involving all 641 constituencies in 11 Regions, securing 86,749 or 0.86%, on a turnout of only 23%. An accurate comparison therefore can only be made between what the SLP achieved in the General Elections of 1997 and 2001, with some reference to last year’s Greater London Assembly and Metropolitan Borough elections.
In the General Election of 2001, the Socialist Labour Party secured 57,497 votes, or 0.22%, thereby increasing both our share of the votes and our percentage. The fact that our Party was able to increase its vote by nearly 5,000 compared with its result in 1997 represents a major achievement and has confounded our critics.
In this Election, unlike that of 1997, we were faced with a direct challenge not only from the Tories, New Labour, Liberal Democrats, UK Independence Party and the Green Party but from a Trotskyist Socialist Alliance involving at least 15 separate political parties or organisations. The Socialist Alliance stated in their Manifesto that their aim in this General Election was to become “the major minor party”, an aim which they failed to achieve.
The combined Socialist Alliance vote of 57,304 is in fact lower than the Socialist Labour Party’s UK-wide vote, and the SLP either maintained or improved its vote compared with our 1997 General Election performance throughout the UK. …
During the course of this Election campaign, our Party held some of the most successful public meetings we have seen since founding the SLP in May, 1996. We held packed rallies in London, Yorkshire, East Midlands, West Midlands, North West, North East and Wales. Two of them exemplify both the obstacles in our path and the potential support there is for our aims and policies: one in St. Helen’s, where our local comrades faced harassment from the Establishment, saw the meeting’s venue cancelled twice with no credible explanation and in the end the SLP was forced to hold the event out of town, where a packed rally heard our candidate, Mike Perry, SLP General Secretary Arthur Scargill, and Ricky Tomlinson deliver powerful contributions.
In Hartlepool, a second packed rally was so large that people had to be turned away; here, Arthur Scargill and Ricky Tomlinson made a passionate call for people to vote for all Socialist Labour Party candidates, in the process winning at least 15 people into membership of our Party.
The Party had originally intended to concentrate its Election propaganda – including Election Addresses – in a handful of constituencies. However, such was the enthusiasm of our CSLPs and Regions that the majority of our candidates produced leaflets, including Election Addresses, posters, stickers and other campaign material.
Everyone involved in this vital General Election campaign, conducted in quite difficult circumstances, should be proud of what was achieved and what they have all accomplished.
Some of the dirty tricks deployed against our Party by the Establishment itself may never come to light, but a few were fairly obvious. We do know that in a number of constituencies, including Leicester, Sedgefield, Hartlepool, Normanton, Wakefield, Brent East and Holborn & St. Pancras, our Election Addresses were not all delivered throughout those constituencies by the Royal Mail, despite our comrades meeting all specifications and deadlines set by the Royal Mail.
In Sheffield on Election night, our candidates for Sheffield Brightside and Sheffield Central were actually barred from participating in the Count; protests against this blatant and unlawful discrimination were met with a contemptible attitude. The Party has of course registered an official complaint.
As for the media, we’re well accustomed by now to being ignored, ridiculed or having our views utterly distorted. We had plenty of all three in this campaign – although it must be pointed out that several national newspaper interviews with the General Secretary (including an article by him commissioned by the Mail on Sunday) published in early/mid-February did give us some coverage – as did Ricky Tomlinson’s principled and courageous involvement in our Election campaign, including his presenting our Election Broadcast both on television and radio.
But overall, the situation was disgraceful, highlighted, for example, by a Channel 4 News feature on Hartlepool screened the weekend before the General Election in which every candidate other than Arthur Scargill was profiled campaigning in the constituency. When we complained, Channel 4 claimed, falsely, that Arthur Scargill had not been in Hartlepool on the day of filming; its spokesperson had no answer to the point that not only had the SLP with its candidate been out and about throughout the whole of that day, but had been followed by a troupe of journalists and television crews.
Then there was the example of the media misrepresenting our policies; on Saturday, 19 May, BBC’s CEEFAX carried a summary of our Manifesto, running over several pages – all well and good, except that it falsely reported our Party as supporting the concept of a European Army, something to which we are totally opposed, as our Manifesto makes clear. A telephoned complaint through to CEEFAX did bring a fairly swift correction – but just over a fortnight later, and only a couple of days before the General Election, our Vice President discovered that CEEFAX was, again, running this lie about our Party’s policy. This time, in addition to phoning through, we sent a letter of complaint, but the mistake was not corrected while the coverage of our Manifesto was being carried, thus rendering somewhat hollow the written apology we later received from CEEFAX.
Party Election Broadcast
Previous experience prepared us for the conduct of those who control the transmission of Party Election Broadcasts, but their discriminatory actions in the 2001 General Election surpassed what we have known before.
In addition to assigning our Party a transmission date (21 May) prior to the closing of nominations and allowing us only an extremely limited amount of time in which to arrange for shooting and editing separate film and radio broadcasts (for England, Scotland and Wales plus a Welsh language one), the broadcasters’ liaison group made a decision regarding the Socialist Alliance which completely contravenes legislation and its own guidelines.
The Socialist Alliance, which is only registered as a political party in England, was allowed a UK-wide broadcast, at the end of which its name appeared together with that of the Scottish Socialist Party, a separately registered Party only in Scotland.
This bizarre ‘dispensation’ angered not only ourselves but the Green Party and even the UK Independence Party. We have written to the broadcasters’ liaison group in the person of the BBC’s Chief Political Adviser Anne Sloman and to the Home Office requesting an explanation as to why current legislation appears to have been breached by granting one UK-wide broadcast to two separately registered parties, each a conglomerate of a number of separate organisations which has been registered as a political party for the purposes of an election broadcast only.
We have demanded that the question of a political party’s registration should be clarified and that there should be no arrangement which allows groups or alliances of political parties and organisations (some of which are not registered) to be regarded as one party for the purpose of a Party Election Broadcast.
Our Party’s Election Broadcast was transmitted on 21 May, not only before nominations closed, but more than two weeks before the Election. New Labour, Tories and Liberal Democrats were not only allocated between three and four broadcasts each, but had broadcasts screened in the week before the Election itself; even the Green Party was allocated its broadcast in the week before the Election. There was no reason why all seven political parties which stood on a UK-wide basis, including ourselves, should nt have been given a broadcast each in the seven days prior to the Election.
The political hand controlling the broadcasters could also be seen in their failure to provide the televised debating situations which we had been told would be arranged during the campaign, in which all parties contesting seats could be represented in any debate even if all candidates would not or could not participate.
We had looked forward to such debates in Ashfield, Hartlepool, Sedgefield, Sheffield Brightside, and Blackburn among other constituencies; but none of them was arranged. Our candidates were able to take part in a few constituencies such as Hull and put across our policies; but these were exceptions which shamefully highlight the broadcasters’ overall collusion in preventing the electorate from learning of the alternatives to the Tories, New Labour and Liberal Democrats, acquiring information that will spur them to take part in the electoral process. The broadcasters bear a heavy burden of responsibility for the public’s disillusionment and apathy as manifested by the fact that 41% of the electorate did not vote at all.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The turnout in the 2001 General Election was the lowest in living memory, with 41% of the electorate abstaining. This large section of the electorate contains some of the most vulnerable in our society, and those who are disillusioned with political parties and see no purpose in voting.
This is an issue which must be addressed by the Socialist Labour Party, because this is one section of the electorate that could and should be won for our policies.
New Labour’s vote of 42% was Labour’s second-lowest vote since the end of the Second World War, but even this figure tends to mask the fact that Labour secured the vote of only 25% of the total electorate. If Britain had a fair system of proportional representation, Blair’s New Labour Party, on that vote, would be holding no more than 277 seats, or 42%, out of a total of 659.
It is significant that 58% of voters opposed New Labour in the 2001 General Election; even more worrying for them is the fact that 75% of the British electorate either opposed them or abstained from voting altogether.
When the Labour Representation Committee contested its first election in 1900, it secured 1.8% of the vote, and it made no significant breakthrough until 1918; indeed, it did not win a majority of votes until 45 years after its foundation. It is against this background that our Party’s results must be viewed.
Our Party’s performance in the 2001 General Election has to be analysed against the background of its results in the 1997 General Election and the 1999 European Election. Our result in the 2001 General Election is an improvement on our performance in 1997, whilst the SLP’s vote in the 1999 European Election – 86,749, or 0.86% – was the highest ever vote for any ‘Left’ party standing on a UK-wide basis in the history of the United Kingdom.
In six of the 10 Regions where the Socialist Alliance was standing against our Party, our Party polled more votes and a higher percentage than the Alliance.
More important, however, is the fact that in all 11 Regions – including Scotland and Wales – our Party either increased its percentage of the vote compared with 1997, or maintained its share of the vote: a performance which is a tribute to the dedication and hard work of all concerned.
It is essential that our Party begins preparing now for the local authority elections in 2002, proceeding immediately to build on the what we have achieved in our General Election campaigning. Our aim must be to contest in every seat we can.
We now have four Councillors, and it is essential that we are seen to be the same credible force in local politics that we have become in national politics in 1997, 1999 and 2001.
To this end, all regions and CSLPs should develop a campaign of public work which not only includes at least one public meeting a month, but weekly sales of our publications, and these should expand in the immediate future to include leaflets proclaiming our policies, so that in every constituency, borough and community people become aware of what we stand for and the alternative we offer.
There needs to be an increase in sales and distribution of our paper Socialist News which conveyed much of our Manifesto to the electorate during the General Election campaign. At the same time, we must continue to sell the Manifesto itself: it was designed not just for the 2001 General Election but as a means of presenting our policies on an ongoing basis.
Individual membership of our Party is now at its highest ever level, whilst our affiliated membership has been maintained and there is the prospect of other unions affiliating in the future. We have 11 Regions, including Scotland and Wales, and more CSLPs than at any time since the Party’s formation in May, 1996.
As General Secretary, I would like to pay the warmest tribute to all Party members including our candidates and agents who did so much work during our Election campaign. Warm thanks as well to Ricky Tomlinson who not only presented our Election Broadcast but spoke at rallies and donated very generously to our Election Fund.
Finally, a very special thank-you to Paul Hardman, Zane Carpenter and Nell Myers who together ensured that each stage of our national Party’s campaigning proceeded successfully, and whose work has been invaluable in preparing and presenting this report.