Assessing the 2010 Election Campaign

 

The Great Bankster Robbery

 

bigbanksbuildings

 

Never in the field of human enterprise
Has so much been owed by so many to so few

 

 

THE BERMONDSEY AND OLD SOUTHWARK

2010 GENERAL ELECTION

THE FIGHT GOES ON

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

I had the honour and privilege of standing in the 2010 general election in defence of London South Bank University and in support of trade unionism, democracy and socialism. One hundred and twenty trade unionists and socialists made financial contributions and a smaller number participated in our campaign activity. Standing as a candidate would not have been possible without their support and encouragement. So this is my opportunity to thank them.  

 

This review aims to summarise the political ideas and organisation of the campaign and assess its strengths and weaknesses. Some supported the campaign out of solidarity, others in recognition of the need to defend our university, and still others for ideological reasons. There is no intention to rewrite history and imply particular motives to any individual supporter or agreement where none existed. The aim is to build on what we have started. We live in a time of crisis when politics is set to take some surprising turns. The Con-Lib coalition government is the first but by no means the last.

 

Steve Freeman

Parliamentary candidate for Southwark and Old Bermondsey

 

 

  • 1.  WHY STAND IN THE GENERAL ELECTION?
  • 2.  A PEOPLE’S MANIFESTO
  • 3.  SOCIALISM IN THE WORKPLACE
  • 4.  DEFEND SOUTH BANK
  • 5.  BANKSTERS VERSUS THE PEOPLE
  • 6.  THE SOUTH BANK AND BERMONDSEY PARTY
  • 7.  END OF THE BEGINNING

 

 

1.   WHY STAND IN THE 2010 GENERAL ELECTION?

 

During the last ten years New York has witnessed two events of global significance. Each epoch-making event has had a major impact on the United Kingdom. On 11 September 2001 the destruction of the Twin Towers led to a shift in Anglo-US foreign policy and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Nine years later the UK remains bogged down in the costly unwinnable Afghan war. On 15 September 2008 a major financial crisis hit Wall Street. Lehman Brothers, a large US bank, went bust. A decade of cheap credit and easy profit had produced the sub-prime mortgage scandal and a mountain of bad debt. Lehman’s collapse triggered a banking crisis as the credit crunch spread to UK banks and the financial markets in the City.

 

The US, British and European governments stepped in to bailout the banking system. In the UK around £1 trillion was spent saving Northern Rock, Bradford and Bingley Building Society, Lloyds-TSB-HBOS and RBS. As crisis turned into recession, unemployment rose to two and a half million. Public spending was expanded to plug the gap in falling private consumption and investment. The UK budget deficit, estimated at £167 billion, was the highest since the Second World War. The 2008 financial crisis was a prelude to an economic catastrophe. This would ensure that May 2010 would be no ordinary general election.  

 

The special relationship between Wall Street and the City of London is the foundation for UK foreign and economic policy. But the impact on British people is through the prism of politics. Major global events and their consequences are shaped or mitigated by the actions of government. In the UK political power is concentrated in Whitehall and the executive. Parliament has little or no control over government. Parliament could not stop the invasion of Iraq. It failed to regulate the banks and the financial markets. In 2009 popular disillusion with parliament reached new heights with the MPs expenses scandal. People have little or no influence over parliament except momentarily, once every five years, in the polling booth.  

 

Should trade unionists and socialists fight?

 

A discussion document produced by socialists at London South Bank University in early April (1) begins “On 6 May 2010 the general election is expected and a new government will be elected – Tory, Labour or hung parliament coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The three parties are all committed to major cuts in public spending. They will spend the election campaign convincing the British people that there is no alternative than severe cuts. Whoever wins will claim a democratic mandate for cuts. Soon new Ministers will be in office and attacks on pay, jobs and pensions will commence. A possible crisis budget will bring more cuts carried out with renewed confidence and authority”.

 

The election was the first opportunity since the banking catastrophe for the electorate to consider the political options facing the country. What should be done about the Afghan war, the banking crisis and recession, government debt and public sector employment and the failure of parliament and global warming? What were the policies of the various parties on immigration or global warming? Which party should working people vote for? Did the trade union and socialist movement have any alternative policies? The central question, which the major parties did their best to steer away from, was that this election would be a prelude to a major attack on public services, pay and jobs.

 

Would socialists put up a fight? After the election at least one hundred and fifty socialist candidates were identified. This estimate includes twenty nine socialist Labour Party candidates and one hundred and twenty one candidates standing for eighteen different groups. (2) This does not include socialists standing as candidates for the Green Party. So a small but significant number of socialist candidates did enter the fray.  

 

However instead of one independent socialist party the divisions and rivalries across the movement conspired to keep socialism low down on the national political radar screen. In many constituencies there were no socialist candidates and in others, such as Peckham, there were three in competition with each other. In some place there was too much choice and in others the option was whether to fight, even though there was no chance of winning, or not to fight at all.

 

This lack of a trade unionist and socialist party faced activists in Southwark. In the few months before the election a new national initiative, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), was being set up. This prompted socialists to think about standing a TUSC candidate in Peckham (Southwark). A meeting was held but produced no decision. However this encouraged trade unionists and socialists to go on to consider the possibility of standing a candidate in Bermondsey (Southwark). A discussion document ‘The Case for Standing’ (5 April 2010) was produced and circulated.  

 

South Bank and Bermondsey

 

London South Bank University can be thought of as a ‘village’ within the constituency of Bermondsey. It has a long tradition of trade union organisation. In the last year the three unions (GMB, UCU and Unison) had been involved in a struggle to defend national pay bargaining and oppose a new scheme of so-called Performance Related Pay. The funding situation facing the university was about to get very much worse after the election. The fate of the university would soon be in the hands of the new government. It would need an ongoing political campaign to defend it.      

 

“A political campaign does not need a general election. However a general election is one of the best possible times to have such a campaign. It is a relatively limited time in which awareness and interest in politics rises. The struggle between parties is reflected in the media. People are drawn into the political debate. People take time to think more about fundamental questions on where the country is going and what kind of future we want. There could be no better time to run a political campaign when all politics is vying for a public hearing. The election gives us a platform and opportunity which does not normally exist”. (3)   

 

The ‘Case for Standing’ argues that a “political campaign to defend LSBU seeks to bring people together and unite them o n issues and policies regardless of whether they are staff or students, regardless of union membership or political affiliation……. Whereas trade unions tend to defend the existing terms, conditions and bargaining rights, a political campaign can go beyond saying “no” to an employer’s attacks. Instead of a narrow trade union focus on threats and dangers, a political campaign must identify the causes of the current crisis and who was responsible. South Bank is becoming a victim of the collapse of the banks and the failure of government and parliament to regulate or control them”. (4)   

 

However a campaign to defend South Bank is not viable as special pleading. It would be like saying we don’t object to the war as long as you don’t bomb our village. A general election requires a general defence of LSBU as part of defending the wider community.  Hence it was argued that “It is possible to conceive of two political campaigns in the general election. The first is focused on South Bank people and the defence of higher education. The second relates to many issues affecting the people of Bermondsey. The latter is a subset of people and issues affecting England, the UK and the world. If South Bank is not a parochial ‘parish pump’ campaign it must be linked to the wider politics. Most South Bank workers like Bermondsey residents face the same economic crisis and the same failure of parliamentary representation”. (5)   

 

Winning votes

 

Elections are a special kind of political campaign because the focus is on winning votes and seats in parliament. Votes are the main measure of the level of political organisation and popular support. It would be wrong to dismiss the vote or imply that our campaign did not want as many votes as possible. But votes were never the main consideration. We had a realistic assessment of our potential votes. The important thing was to run the best political campaign possible in the circumstances and not be derailed by the fear of being humiliated by a low vote.   

 

The document assessed the situation. It says “The high point of our campaign will not be the vote…. Evidence suggests that an unknown candidate would get less than 1%. …We cannot win a significant vote. Any vote will be derisory. We are not strongly organised and will not get a strong vote. But it is the struggle that counts. We can still be ‘winners’ if our campaign makes a difference, educates people about the truth, raises morale and changes something that lives on after the election. Victory will be coming out of the election stronger than when we went in”.

 

The big danger for the campaign was putting too much weight on the result or making over-optimistic predictions. The latter is likely because any campaign will try to motivate its activists and voters into believing victory is possible. Our campaign did not fall into this trap. At every step we gave supporters a realistic assessment of the vote. It would be a very low vote. This did not put off our core supporters. They were convinced the cause was just and the message truthful. When our result was announced supporters felt that under the circumstances we had done better than predicted.

 

Our election aims

 

The conclusion can be summarised as follows: Trade unionists and socialists should stand a candidate in Bermondsey. We have to be willing to fight in the current situation. It was vital to put forward an alternative. We can only expect a low vote. But this is not the point of our campaign. The election is an important opportunity to make a case to defend the university and the people of Bermondsey. This was even more important when support for the extreme right had been growing. The BNP were presenting themselves as the alternative to the three main parties.    

 

We needed a set of ambitious but realistic and achievable goals. The ‘Case for Standing’ made some proposals. These included promoting a South Bank plan, encouraging workers to join a trade union, publishing and circulating a manifesto. It recognised our limitations noting that “in Bermondsey the goal of a free post to all households would be very ambitious and probably unachievable”. But the main aim concerned the situation after the election. It says “if we can begin to build a functioning trade union and socialist organisation in Southwark that would be a major step forward.” The election campaign was not an end in itself. It is about what comes next when the election is over.   

 

Notes

 

(1)   The Case for Standing  5 April 2010
(2)   Pete McLaren’s analysis 12 May 2010.
(3)   The Case for Standing 5 April 2010 
(4)   The Case for Standing 5 April 2010  
(5)   The Case for Standing 5 April 2010 

 

2.   A PEOPLE’S MANIFESTO FOR 2010-11

 

Our election manifesto begins “The policies we need already exist in the knowledge and experience of the millions of working people who make our economy and society function. People already know what works and what doesn’t. To find the best policy for the health service, the railways, education or building houses, then listen to the people in the front line who actually do the job. The real ‘People’s Manifesto’ is there. If that experience was organised and mobilised through co-operation instead of competition the world would be a much better place. But it isn’t. The world has to change”. (1)

 

The manifesto says “The last two years have highlighted some major issues facing the British people. The economic crisis, the failure of parliament, the war in Afghanistan, immigration, the environment and global warming are all different aspects of the same problem. Our world is organised and managed for the benefit of the few not for the benefit of the wealth creating majority”. (2). Global capitalism is the foundation on which a whole edifice of issues, problems and policies has arisen.

 

In the increasingly globalised world “corporate capitalism with its ruthless pursuit of profit as its single overriding imperative has brought the world to the brink of disaster. Profit and greed decides everything and corrupts everything. This is especially true for the banks in the financial heartlands of the City of London”. (3) More than any other sector the City represents and symbolises global capital. It has built itself unique position in the UK economy.
The City appears like a volcanic island of capital in a sea of people. Periodic eruptions shower all around with molten lava and clouds of toxic dust. It functions almost like a state within a state, with autonomous powers like the Vatican. In thirty years of globalisation and free market ideology it has “become the fastest growing destination for international tax avoiders. The world's super-rich and an elite cadre of financiers working in the Square Mile are increasingly using non-domicile tax status to sidestep paying tax on their fortunes”. (4) It has become Europe’s offshore tax haven – the Cayman Islands on Canary Wharf. 


The Banks and Parliament

 

The City and the major private banks have massive economic power. This is widely recognised. But the secret of their success is the enormous influence they wield over political institutions. This is not simply resisting interference by the UK government in their internal affairs. The City’s autonomy can only survive by incessant meddling in the politics of the country on its doorstep. This is felt in the Bank of England, the Treasury, over the political parties and into the heart of government. Political power is amenable to City interests not least because it is concentrated in Whitehall not Westminster.

 

The House of Commons is controlled by government not by the people. It serves as political theatre, keeping up the pretence of democracy. The British constitution and the sovereignty of parliament is camouflage for the autonomous power of the City and the banks. In constitutional law sovereignty is with the “Crown in parliament”. This gives legal sanction to the concentration and centralisation of power in the hands of Whitehall ‘Mandarins’ and Ministers of the Crown. It is not that parliament has no influence of affairs. But it is so circumscribed and limited by law, convention and culture as to be ineffectual. It is no match for the overweening power of the City.   

 

The central issue of the 2010 election was the bank bailouts, the recession and the mountain of government debt. Who should pay for the economic crisis - the people or the banks? A similar battle was being fought out in Greece. Organised Greek workers were protesting against being made to pay for the financial mess created by their corrupt politicians and ‘fat cat’ bankers. In the UK the bankers and financial speculators were determined to make the people pay. They already had the economic power and political leverage. Would the election secure enough votes to elect a stable bankers government?

 

In contrast a people’s government would set out to change the distribution of power between the banks and the people. Any genuine people’s election campaign must address two key issues – reforming parliament and reforming the banks. These changes are essential to change the unequal balance of power between the people and the banks. At the centre of our campaign are the demands for:
   

  • Radical parliamentary reform   
  • Public ownership of the banks 

Under the present configuration of economic and political power the people will have to pay for the banking crisis and recession with public spending cuts. The election is highly unlikely to change this. The struggle against cuts and redundancies likely after the election must become a political struggle for parliamentary reform and public ownership of the banks. In seeking to spread this message our 2010 election campaign raised three slogans on the website - “Put the People First”, “Make the Banksters Pay” and “For a people’s parliament not a House of Thieves”.

 

Put people first

 

The campaign slogan “Put People First” has a political and economic aspect. The political side concerns the demand for popular sovereignty - government of the people, by the people and for the people. The people must rule parliament and government and not, as present, the other way round. The UK is not a people’s democracy. The relationship between people and parliament must be turned upside down. As a political slogan “People first” means “People before parliament” or “for the People not the Crown”.

 

As an economic demand it has the same intent as the slogan “People Before Profit” promoted by the Socialist Alliance in 2001. The answer to the financial crisis starts by putting the interests of the people before the interests of the banks and the City. The needs and interests of the people must be our priority. Jobs, pensions, pay, health, welfare, housing, and the environment must not be sacrificed for the profiteering and greed of corporate bosses and the speculation, gambling, fraud and loan sharking of the bankers.

 

It is inevitable that whoever forms the next government will employ divide and rule tactics to justify their economic policies. They will target the alleged “privileges” of this or that section of people. Setting private sector workers against ‘privileged’ public sector workers is now a common theme. Younger people will be encouraged to resent paying for the ‘privileges’ of current baby boom pensioners. State benefits should be taken from ‘privileged’ middle classes and ‘concentrated’ on the poor. Meanwhile everybody will be encouraged to resent unemployed people, whose benefits are too high compared to the low level of poverty wages. At the same time everybody will be encouraged to resent the ‘privileges’ taken by immigrants and asylum seekers. 

 

“Put People First” is a call for popular unity. People must unite against the common enemy. We should not be drawn into scapegoating each other. This means fighting all attempts to divide the people. The working class and middle classes must unite in defence of democratic rights and universal social welfare. We need an alliance of workers and consumers to defend public services. The old slogan ‘the people united will never be defeated’ is still a powerful message. 

 

Make the Banksters pay

 

‘Bankster’ was a term used in the US senate in the 1930s to describe the powerful men who controlled Wall Street. It combined ‘banker’ with ‘gangster’ because of the gambling, swindling, fraud and other dubious practices that went on. The same kinds of people are in charge of the same kind of financial system in London and New York today. In the last twenty years free market ideology and neo-liberal politics have given the green light to speculation, profiteering, financial wizardry and risky loans. History repeats itself in the sub-prime mortgage scandal.

 

Today’s global banksters have a collective monopoly of finance which gives them the power to hold the country to ransom. Currently the UK is paying £42bn in interest payment to banks. This is expected to rise to £78.8bn by 2014-15. The screw is being turned ever tighter. The “Great Bankster Robbery” is the name for a secret plan by bankers and politicians to make working people pay the cost of restoring their profits and bonuses. How can the people “Make the Banksters pay”? The only serious answer is to take the banks into public ownership and put them under democratic control.

 

For a people’s parliament not a House of Thieves

 

A people’s parliament is a parliament based on popular sovereignty and the power of the people. Such a parliament puts the welfare, rights and interests of the people first. The 2005-10 parliament was a ‘House of Thieves’. This is not simply because of the expenses scandal. The corruption of parliament goes deeper than MPs expenses. The majority of MPs have been bought off by government which serves the banks and corporate interests. The House of Commons will remain a ‘House of Thieves’ and a rubber stamp for the ‘Great Bankster Robbery’ unless there is radical reform.

 

New England  

 

Our election campaign called for a ‘New England’. This slogan looks forward to England becoming a democratic country with new political institutions, constitution and national identity. New England is the people organised and mobilised as the sovereign power in the land. A new democracy founded on the power of the people – as a democratic secular republic. This would enable a sovereign people to establish better and closer relations with the people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the rest of Europe and the world. A new epoch of economic and social reforms would begin.

 

The project for ‘New England’ is not a demand for the House of Commons to reform itself. MPs are part of the problem not the solution. We must look to the people of England mobilising outside parliament in their localities. Real political change comes ‘from below’ by a mass movement for democracy. No such movement exists today. But the circumstances are ripe for its birth. The disillusion with parliament and the MPs expenses scandal has created a desire for political reform. It is now vested in the false hope that the Con-Libs will bring ‘new politics’.

 

The campaign produced a red, purple and green tricolour flag to symbolise the New England. We adopted red, purple and green as our campaign colours. The tricolour is a republican flag we associate with the ideas of “liberty, equality and solidarity”. The red stands for working people who produce the wealth. It recognises the importance of work and the welfare of the people in the social life of the country. The purple stands for equality in general and women’s equality in particular. Green represents the global environment and need for internationalism. 
 
The flag connects with important popular struggles in England’s history. The green was the colour of the Levellers the democratic party of the English revolution. The Chartists had a horizontal tricolour of red, white and green. The Suffragettes had a tricolour of purple, white and green. These three strands of English democracy connect our past with a future people’s democracy that will shape England’s social republic. 


Notes


(1)  Bermondsey Election Manifesto
(2)  Bermondsey Election Manifesto
(3)  Bermondsey Election Manifesto
(4)  Nick Mathiason The Observer, Sunday 8 July 2007
 

3.  SOCIALISM IN THE WORKPLACE

London South Bank University began life as Borough Polytechnic with its roots in working class communities around the Elephant and Castle. It was an “access university” before the phrase was invented. In the 1970s as South Bank Polytechnic it offered opportunities for bright and ambitious young working class people when the doors of universities were largely closed to them. Today South Bank is a world university still rooted in the local community. With over 2000 workers and 23,000 students, it is one of the biggest employers in Bermondsey.

 

Borough Polytechnic was founded in 1892 as a charitable project to support working class self improvement through education or emigration. The South London Polytechnics Institutes Act (1891) set the aim as "the promotion of the industrial skills, general knowledge, health, and well-being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes" and the "instruction suitable for persons intending to emigrate". (1) At the launch of the new Polytechnic one speaker hoped that "the Polytechnic would do its share towards perfecting many a valuable gem found in the slums of London". (2)

 

In Britain’s class divided society higher education has long been organised along class lines. Traditionally top universities, like Oxbridge, educated the elite for posts in the Empire, civil service and the professions. Before 1960’s the universities were still largely the preserve of the upper classes. They were organised as a non-profit making public service. There was a democratic component in their structure, for example, elected Chancellors, Deans, Academic Boards, Staff Governors and student representatives. These democratic, social and public aspects of upper class universities identify them as part of the architecture of ‘socialism for the rich’.

 

In the late 1980s government began to establish more central control over Higher Education. In 1988 the Polytechnics were removed from local authority funding and brought under central government. In 1992 the binary divide between the two classes of higher education, universities and polytechnics, was formally ended. South Bank became a university, legally designated as a Higher Education Corporation, under the newly formed Higher Education Funding Council. The sector was thus ‘nationalised’. Central government was now in the position to drive the major expansion of HE over the next twenty years. The class divide between rich and poor universities remained, however.

 

Since the 1960s HE has been transformed from a service for the elite into a major industry at the centre of the new global information economy. There are now an estimated one hundred million people in higher education across the world. (3). In advanced capitalist economies an average fifty six per cent of school leavers are being processed through larger Higher Education factories. In the UK successive governments have expanded student numbers in an effort to catch up with internationally competitive levels. Between 1988-1994 the number of 18-21 year olds in full time higher education rose from 15 to 30%. Ten years later thirty six per cent of 18-19 young people now enter HE (4).

 

Today the UK Higher Education industry generates over £16.9 billion in revenue. This includes £2 billion in exports as revenue from overseas students. It has a significant impact on other parts of the economy. An additional £25.6 billion of output was generated outside universities because of their expenditure. HE employs 330,000 people and generates around 276,400 jobs in other sectors. For every £1 million in Higher Education output a further £1.52 million is created elsewhere (5). In 2003/04 the volume of off-campus spending by international students amounted to £1.5billion. Cuts in university spending will have similar negative ‘knock-on’ effects transmitted to the private sector.

 

State corporatism and privatisation   

 

Higher Education is organised along ‘state capitalist’ lines. It is directed from the centre by government planning, state funding and regulation. Universities are public property. Each Higher Education Corporation employs its own wage labour. Management command and control operates through top-down bureaucracy. Trade union organisation provides a voice for the workforce and a means to influence decision- making. As publicly funded bodies there is a measure of democratic accountability through parliament.

 

A report from the University and College Union (6) describes the step by step ‘Americanisation’ of British universities. It shows “there is a now a dangerous cross party consensus over the fate of the UK universities which will lead to the privatisation of the university sector”. The aim is to transform it into profit driven, market orientated private business. Increasingly the criteria of profits and prices are creating a market place. Higher education has become a commodity sold to fee paying customers.

 

The future of Higher Education is being fought out between the ‘state capitalist’ and ‘free market’ models of organisation and funding. This is reflected in election campaigns and in day to day struggles between government, management, staff and students. Successive Tory and New Labour governments have embraced neo-liberal ideology hostile to public ownership and public spending. A steady extension of pro-market reforms has moved HE onto a new bureaucratic management agenda.
 
Monies from private sources now amount to 27% of all higher education income. This will increase significantly with variable tuition fees (7). The rise of market Corporatism has its own impact on universities. The invention of an artificial education market creates new bureaucracies in finance, debt management and marketing. The market brings new inefficiencies and bureaucratic costs. Whilst corporate management centralises power, the academic and support staff are transformed into a new increasingly alienated proletariat. The class divide is reflected in a widening pay gap and bonus culture. Disruptive serial reorganisations, cuts and redundancies are a deliberate strategy to police the hopefully cowed proletarians. 

 

London Metropolitan University provides a nightmare vision of the new corporate reality. Under the previous Vice Chancellor, Brian Roper, the senior management team were in the forefront of the onward march of market-corporatism. With unchecked power, fuelled by greed and sanctified by free market religion, LMU was left with £36m in debt to the government. Roper and the Governors were eventually forced to resign. As usual it was the ordinary staff that had to pay the price. Three hundred and fifty lost their jobs to pay for the management’s mess. World class courses were closed with enrolled students arriving to find their lecturers had gone.     

 

The same methods of management are spreading. It was reported that performance related pay worth £1m was paid out to senior staff. Max Watson chair of the Unison branch said “Staff are sick and tired of hearing about the need to tighten belts and make savings when our overpaid senior managers award themselves these banker-sized bonuses” (8). He added “our pay offer currently stands at a pitiful 0.4% with further cuts on the horizon and we’ve got our workload doubled to cope with the job losses last year”.

 

Across the Higher Education sector, government, employers, management and workers are engaged in a constant struggle over workloads, productivity, pay and conditions. Cutting costs, imposing redundancies and regular reorganisations have become the norm in university life. At LSBU the trade unions (GMB, UCU and UNISON) are battling to cope with these pressures and attacks on jobs, pay and conditions. Over the last year there have been struggles over the academic contract, appraisal and PRP, the pay freeze, the exit from national bargaining and redundancies.

 

Social and democratic university   

 

The choice between state or private bureaucracy is not the only future for Higher Education. There is a social and democratic (or socialist) alternative based on public ownership and funding combined with democratic and co-operative principles of organisation. Publicly owned universities should be financed from progressive taxation and public spending and organised as a not-for-profit service, free at the point of delivery. Access to a university education would be on ability to benefit not ability to pay. Co-operative principles transform the workforce into partners in public enterprise. Management at all levels are elected to serve the collective effort and not act as its masters. Bureaucracy is replaced with democracy.

 

In the struggle for a social-democratic future LSBU has much strength to draw on. It has a long tradition of providing valuable education for generations of young people. It has a public service ethos and dedicated and loyal staff. It has forms of participatory democracy and a tradition of recognised trade unions as an independent voice for the workforce. These social, democratic and co-operative values from the past must be mobilised to defend LSBU against cuts and redundancies. If not the employers will divide and demoralise the workforce and pave the way for eventual privatisation. Following the US ‘free’ enterprise model like American health care will prove very expensive.   

 

Socialists have no illusion that we can create ‘socialism in one university’. Higher education does not exist in isolation from the rest of capitalist society. But we live and struggle for democracy and socialism where we are, in life as it confronts us. The struggle between organising universities on market-corporatist, state capitalist or social-democratic lines continues. It is a battle within the university and in the wider national educational and political environment. It is a debate at election time in the educational policies of the different parties.

 

Whatever the immediate issues of the day, the future of LSBU and the kind of university it will become, depends on political decisions. These affect and are influenced by the struggle on the ground. The triumph of market-corporatism is by no means inevitable. The failure of the banks in the crisis of September 2008 has shaken faith in the theory that private greed leads to public welfare. American universities, which provide the model for British policy makers, are, like their health care system, facing serious difficulties.  

 

A socialist case to defend LSBU is distinct. It is not merely defending the existing rights of workers and supporting their trade unions. It is putting the case for an alternative future for higher education based on values of democracy, co-operation, public ownership and public service. It is providing answers to the economic and banking crisis and the failure of parliament, all of which impact on staff and students at LSBU. In making the case for an alternative to market corporatism and state capitalism, socialists strengthen resistance to the cuts. We do not simply have to go along with reactionary policies. There is always an alternative.


Notes


(1)  Geddes and M. Smith, The Origins of South Bank University.

 

(2)  F. G. Evans, Borough Polytechnic 1892 -1969.

 

(3) The world wide expansion of Higher educations in the 20th century Evan Schofer and John W Meyer stanford.edu  (date )

 

(4) hefce.ac.uk/news/hefce/2010/trends. (date)

 

(5) Universities UK - The economic impact of UK Higher Education Institutions economicimpact3. (date) These figures refer to 2003-4. The size of the sector is more than this but for our purposes it serves as the best estimate for today.

 

(6) Privatising Our Universities - UCU February 2010

 

(7) Universities UK - The economic impact of UK Higher Education Institutions economicimpact3. (date)


(8) Richard Garner Independent 21 August 2010.

 

4.   DEFEND SOUTH BANK

Our election leaflet addressed to South Bank staff and students says that “we are being robbed to pay for the greed and profligate behaviour of the banks and the abject failure by successive governments and parliament to control them. All the three major parties, Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats, are committed to doing what the banksters demand”. (1) These parties have been given “the job of getting us to vote for cuts. All are signed up, ready and willing to do the dirty deed. The new government will then claim a mandate for cuts plus whatever else they have hidden up their sleeves”. (2) Consequently “the future for banksters looks good. Bonuses will be rising and the champagne corks popping”.

 

“Defend South Bank” was the main slogan of our campaign at LSBU. It called on staff and students to unite and organise to defend the university. We therefore identified and sought to raise awareness of the main threats. By far the most serious came from the cuts in public spending. Our leaflets warned that “the consequences of cuts, redundancies and higher tuition fees will be severe”. This was not the only danger. The Governors Corporate Plan should not be underestimated. The growth of BNP support before the election could pose new dangers to a multi-racial university. The main points of our campaign to defend LSBU can be summarised:

  • Opposition to the cuts, wage reductions, redundancies and fee increases.

 

  • Opposition to the divisive Corporate Plan
  • Opposition to racism and the dangers of this during the recession.

 

  • For more investment in the expansion of HE to support young people during the recession. 
  • For a South Bank Plan – reforming governance along democratic, co-operative and social lines

 

Opposition to the Great Bankster Robbery

 

In a letter (26 March 2010) the Vice Chancellor warned staff “…we face challenging times over the next few years as a result of reductions in our funding from both HEFCE and the NHS… These financial challenges are potentially severe … These funding challenges are driven by wider issues arising from the ‘credit crunch’. These difficulties are not of our making. It is not a result of some failure on our part”. The prospects for LSBU are bleak. The university is likely to become victim of external forces it does not control through severe cuts and major redundancies.

 

Our campaign put emphasis on the ‘Great Bankster Robbery’. This made clear that the next government, whether Labour or Tory or a coalition, would cut public expenditure and hand the loot to the banks and speculators. The banking system, driven by greed and gambling, is at the root of the government’s debt crisis. The problem is not debt as such, but the power of the loan sharks and speculators to threaten any economy with bankruptcy. If the people don’t pay up in double quick time there could be a run on the pound. “Can’t pay, won’t pay” therefore doesn’t go far enough. The people need a government which will bring the banks under public control.

 

At the election hustings held at LSBU the candidates of the three main parties, Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrat), Val Shawcross (Labour), and Loanna Morrison (Conservative), avoided the financial crisis and the cuts in their opening speeches. They did not condemn the ‘Great Bankster Robbery’ or explain the plans of the City and the banks. They did not call for organised resistance. None of them had proposals to take power from those who ran the City and the banking system. Simon Hughes spoke about liberal values and civil liberties. Ms Shawcross spoke about how things would get better in the long run. All three candidates followed their party line in support of private banking.  

 

Opposition to the Corporate Plan

 

The 2009-12 Corporate Plan is the current strategic plan approved by LSBU Governors. Its main slogan “Students First” reflects a populist appeal to educational consumerism. Under the auspices of this Plan, LSBU has been removed from national pay scales and pensions. The management have reneged on 2009-10 national pay award by refusing to honour the 0.5% 2009-10 national pay award. LSBU staff are now on pay scales different from the rest of the university sector. The Governors are aiming to put staff on so-called Performance Related Pay in a move for localised and more personalised pay.    

 

The Corporate Plan is a comprehensive scheme to make LSBU more profitable. This will be achieved by reducing the wage bill through redundancies, local pay bargaining, cutting pensions and changing the contract of employment. New management methods boil down to new ways of getting more and paying less. Building up the hostility and resentment of staff is not a recipe for improving university education. On the contrary it will be divisive. This plan will divide staff from each other and from the students. It will pit one group against another. It is one of the most dangerous threats the university has had to face.

 

The election campaign took up cudgels against the Plan. An article on the website criticised the plan. This alleged that its ideological foundations were free market economics. This ideology had justified “corporate management with rigged markets and the bonus culture”. It had “failed spectacularly” (3) in the banking crisis. The banks had failed so disastrously in September 2008. The lesson was that corporate greed and the bonus culture had no place in a university. Free market ideology had been exposed. Its serious flaws made rotten foundations for any Corporate Plan.

 

‘Students First’ is a marketing slogan with little or no reality. In practical terms it meant ‘League Tables first’. Neither HEFCE nor management are going to give power to students. So in practice reducing students to consumers meant concentrating more power in management’s hands at the expense of staff. Under the rubric of performance indicators, the management have been struggling to introduce a performance management scheme. This is intended to provide the basis for so-called Performance Related Pay. More power will be concentrated at the top and more responsibility devolved to front line staff.  

 

An article on the election website criticising the plan brought a response from LSBU management. Their letter (4 May 2010) to our parliamentary candidate warned that particular statements criticising the Corporate Plan might constitute a “breach of trust and potential defamation issues” and could lead to disciplinary action. The management response highlighted the sensitive issues. These included criticism of ‘free market’ ideology and the corporatist agenda and a warning that savings from cuts might be taken “by senior management through increased bonuses". (4) Management objected to any suggestion that cuts and redundancies would “worsen the education service South Bank provides its students".

 

LSBU management took exception to “the suggestion that senior management would directly financially benefit from savings by way of "increased bonuses". The LSBU letter protested that no such thing could happen here. Suggesting a possible link between bonuses and savings “potentially amounts to defamation of character of members of the senior management team”. (Letter 4 May 2010) (4) Staff were comforted by these assurances. But many are aware that such practices are common in the business world. Sir Fred “the Shred” Godwin, the former boss of failed RBS was infamous for shredding jobs and boosting his bonuses. The thrust of national policy was to encourage the public sector to go down this road until the banking crisis turned it into a national embarrassment.   

 

The election campaign put this issue into the public arena. It was raised with the parliamentary candidates at the LSBU hustings. The move was to local bargaining was condemned by Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrat), Val Shawcross (Labour) and Steve Freeman (Independent). Ms Shawcross, speaking from her own experience in the role of local authority employer, explained the huge time consuming cost that local bargaining imposed on staff representative and employers. Shortly after the election campaign the UCU branch passed a resolution opposing the Corporate Plan.

 

Opposition to racism

 

There is no Chinese wall between LSBU and the local community. The university is central to the local economy providing jobs and attracting thousands of students and their spending power. In a recession this spending is needed more than ever. Yet economic disaster is the ideal time for organisations like the BNP to promote racism. The BNP is not alone in blaming foreigners, immigrants and Muslims for the problems caused by the banks and the recession. The major parties have added to the climate of fear, trying to out bid each other in appearing tough on migrants.

 

Any growth in a climate of racism threatens a multi-racial world university like LSBU. It will impact on relations between staff and students and within the student body. Limiting foreign students, to pander to fears whipped up by racist politicians, will damage HE’s revenues and increase costs. Acting as policeman for the Home Office imposes bureaucratic monitoring costs on LSBU. South Bank must mobilise against the danger of racism and not become its victim.   

 

Investment and expansion of Higher Education  

 

Education, including Higher Education, should be a right for all citizens. This right should not fluctuate with the capitalist boom and bust cycle. But it does. This is one reason why socialists want to end the rule of capital. Despite his boasting, Gordon Brown did not abolish capitalism’s fundamental ‘iron law’. Yet HE is a peculiar industry because it is ‘naturally’ counter-cyclical. When youth unemployment rises there is the possibility that more people will consider the option of higher education. From a social perspective this is far better for young people individually and society as a whole.     

 

In a recession whichever way you cut the cake there are not enough jobs to go round. When capital goes into reverse gear more jobs are being destroyed than created. HE becomes a socially useful way of minimising the dole queue. Governments are well aware of this and have used HE to massage the unemployment figures. However the logic of capital in a recession is to save itself by cutting jobs and investment and building a pile of cash. This permeates policy across the private and public sectors.   

 

Cutting or restricting HE places and opportunities for young people in a recession goes against any rational economic and social policy. It is reactionary. But it is the consequence of continuing to accept the anti-social system of capital, represented in its purest form by the gambling and greed of the banks, the City and international finance. The next government’s policy towards HE is one battleground in the struggle between the People and the Banksters.  

 

A South Bank Plan        

 

The election promoted the idea of a social and democratic university embodied in a South Bank Plan. The University of the future will be less hierarchical and bureaucratic and more co-operative as a partnership of staff and students. The production of knowledge benefits from an atmosphere of freedom and enquiry. This can be best achieved through public ownership combined with the values of co-operation and public service, harnessed through the energy and discipline of democracy. The aim is not making profit and corrupting commercialism but public service providing the best quality higher education for young people and mature adults.

 

A South Bank Plan would have to come ‘from below’ through staff and students working together. It would begin from a common policy to defend LSBU against the cuts. But we cannot be defended by simply saying “No”. LSBU needs progressive change, the kind of change that improves South Bank and does not weaken or destroy it. Staff and students have to fight for a university which serves the public, meets the needs of the workforce, and supports those who benefit from the teaching and research.  

 

South Bank Socialists

 

There are a small number of socialists amongst the thousands of workers and students at the university. Some are actively involved in the different unions. They do not organise together as socialists. In part this reflects the fragmented state of the movement and the decline of workplace organisation. The global crisis from September 2008 was a sharp reminder of the serious failings of market capitalism and the danger the system poses for working people. It was a wakeup call to revive independent socialist politics in the workplace or disappear as an irrelevance.

 

In LSBU socialist staff and students must begin to organise together as comrades and citizens, not simply as workers or students South Bank needs an organisation of socialists. This would be a socialist alliance not a party. It can and should contain members of different parties and no party, who co-operate under one umbrella. This was one of the aims of the election campaign. Socialist staff and students must unite to defend LSBU and make a case for the public sector, for democratic and social ownership and for democratic trade unions. We need a South Bank Socialist Society.       

   

Notes

1.   Election leaflet to South Bank staff
2.   Election leaflet to South Bank staff
3.   Article on the Website
4.   Letter 4 May 2010

 

5.   BANKSTERS VERSUS THE PEOPLE

 

“My Lord Mayor, Mr Governor, my Lords, Aldermen, Mr Recorder, Sheriffs, ladies and gentlemen. Over the ten years that I have had the privilege of addressing you as Chancellor, I have been able year by year to record how the City of London has risen by your efforts, ingenuity and creativity to become a new world leader”. (1) Gordon Brown addressed these remarks at Lord Mayor’s Dinner to the Bankers and Merchants of the City of London. Of course the subtext was ten years of New Labour.

 

Brown continued “Now today over 40 per cent of the world's foreign equities are traded here, more than New York, over 30 per cent of the world's currencies exchanges take place here, more than New York and Tokyo combined…… So I congratulate you Lord Mayor and the City of London on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London” (2). Thanks to New Labour’s ‘light touch’ regulation the City had prospered as the world’s greatest casino.

 

In many ways the City is the modern equivalent of a medieval monarchy. It is the ruling power in the country. Its palaces are monuments of glass and steel towering above the Canary Wharf skyline. For the kings of finance control money not land is the foundation of their wealth and power. Movements in interest rates, exchange rates and share prices make or destroy their fortunes. All subjects must pay homage in the court of banking. Every party with ambitions to govern must win ‘royal’ favour. Any government must be given the ‘royal’ seal of approval. Woe betides any party that threatens the monopoly power of money.  

 

Of course the City is not Britain’s official monarchy. This role remains securely in Buckingham Palace. This has been a great advantage of the British system. It draws attention away from the real power of money. But even the Windsors keep their financial secrets with Coutts, the City bank whose logo is ‘Three Crowns’. Whatever residual powers remain with the Queen, the monarchy symbolises political stability and hence the continued rule of finance. At the heart of the British establishment the City and monarchy are thus bound together by mutual interests.

 

Bankster parties

 

The power of the City over government is mediated through political parties. Those parties which support the City and become centre-right governments are identified as ‘bankster’ parties. Of course they must enjoy broader support from other economic and social interests. In the face of popular anger against bankers, these parties must reflect and appease public opinion. Empty rhetoric does not change fundamentals. No matter how critical the priority is to protect the City. To-day the litmus test is commitment to major public sector cuts - the “Great Bankers Robbery”.

 

Historically the Conservative Party was the party of the City, the landed aristocracy and business. In the 1980s the City was given a huge impetus by the Tory government’s removal of exchange controls, the “Big Bang”, the arrival of US and foreign banks and the profits from managing the major privatisation programme. By the mid 1990’s the Tories were a busted flush and little or no value to the banks. Something new was needed. The New Labour project was aimed at winning the support of the City for a Blair government. Blair met City leaders to woo and reassure them of the backing his government would give.

 

In 1997 one of the first acts of the New Labour government was to make the Bank of England independent. It was a popular move with the bankers. New Labour replaced the Tories as the banker’s government but with a popular mandate enabling them to implement the policies demanded by the City. Low inflation, cheap credit, favourable taxes and a minimalist system of light touch regulation fitted the bill. New Labour worked closely with the City throughout its term of office. After the crisis of 2008 New Labour delivered all bailouts the bankers required.

 

Liberal Democrats and the BNP

 

Liberal Democrats are the third leg of the three party system committed to the Establishment and the banks. But they presented themselves as a radical alternative to the other two Establishment parties. In their guise as a people’s party, they positioned themselves to the left. If the major parties supported the bankers, the Liberal Democrats claimed to be different. Vince Cable was most critical of the failures of the banks. Nick Clegg stressed his differences with the Tories and New Labour. Nowhere was this approach more cultivated than by Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey. As a ‘peoples’ MP he supported radical causes such as civil liberties, opposition to ID cards, and the war in Iraq etc. He has more in common with a left wing Labour MP but without trade unionism and socialism.

 

Before the election the influence of the British National Party was growing. Like the Liberal Democrats, the BNP claimed to for ordinary people against the Establishment parties. Fascist propaganda was traditionally hostile to banks which it associated with Jewish finance. The BNP is more cautious. Their manifesto said “The banksters cannot be let off the hook for their role in the current financial crisis”. But this boils down to “legislation to separate utility (high street) banks from the investment banking sector to prevent a repeat of the credit crisis”. (3)

 

Nevertheless the BNP pledges itself to the banks by offering “the reduction of the debt to GDP ratio of some 30–40 percent” (4) It supports major cuts. It does not want to fall out with the banks. It offers them a different kind of service. By fermenting “in-fighting” and race war the BNP aims to weaken popular and trade union resistance to the banks. It wants ‘street’ credibility with right wing financiers. The time for the BNP has not yet arrived. If the crisis is severe and the bankers’ main parties are unable to produce results, big money will go behind a party like the BNP to deliver some really nasty medicine.            

 

People’s Parties

 

‘People’s parties stand for popular sovereignty and the welfare of the people. They are invariably republican or semi-republican parties. They oppose cuts in public services. They are critical of the banks. The Green Party for example says “the government has acted completely irresponsibly. They have forced us, the tax-payer, to bail out the bankers. Yet they have failed to ensure that the same banks give desperately needed credit to families and independent businesses…. it’s unfair that these irresponsible bankers continue to earn extortionate salaries and bonuses, while 330,000 hard working people still earn less than the low minimum wage”. (5)

 

The Green Party is not fully republican. Its policy says that “the constitutional functions of the monarchy should be abolished”. (6). However nationalist parties, like Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein, have a national republican perspective, even though Sinn Fein is now incorporated into running Northern Ireland. The Scottish Socialist Party is another example of a people’s party, opposing public sector cuts and the war in Afghanistan. (7) However compared with the Scottish Green Party, the SSP emphasised working class and trade union struggles. In England, Respect and TUSC stood for popular socialism although neither is republican.       

 

Election campaign

 

Our election campaign in Bermondsey made three main points. First there should be no illusions in the Liberal Democrats. At the Southwark Pensioners’ election hustings, Simon Hughes argued his party was a radical party of the left. But we explained that all three parties were not to be trusted. All were united in supporting the bankers’ plan for public sector cuts. They were like rival squabbling factions of one big centre party. Experience in Southwark, where the Liberal Democrats had run the council, had shown this in practice. The chair of Southwark pensioners, supported by most of the audience, agreed with the argument. All three parties supported major spending cuts to the tune of £50billion or more.

 

The second main point was opposition to the Labour Party.As an inner city working class constituency Labour is the main alternative to the Liberal Democrats in Bermondsey. But New Labour is discredited in the eyes of socialists and many trade unionists. The Labour government has an appalling record. It supported privatisation and encouraged free market economics. It maintained and tightened anti-union laws. It supported the right wing Bush administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It attacked civil liberties and planned to bring in ID cards. Last but not least was its cosy relationship with the City which led to national economic disaster.       

 

A third point concerned the British National Party. Our leaflets called it the “Banksters Nasty Party”. This emphasises that despite its own propaganda the BNP is not a people’s party. It is a right wing party which backs the monarchy, the City, and armed forces. It flies the union flag. This is common ground for all bankster parties. When Gordon Brown called for ‘British Jobs for British workers’ he made a similar patriotic appeal to that made by the BNP. However the BNP is not an ordinary pro-banker party like Labour or the Liberal Democrats. It has its own purposes. It is an offer on the table. It is not a normal fascist street fighting party like the English Defence League. But it aims to make racist views respectable and create a broader base for a future fascist movement.

 

Hanging parliament  

 

The struggle between the banks and the people was highlighted by the issue of a hung parliament. The Financial Times (8) headline explained that “Investors fear the effects of a hung parliament”. Ten leading investment funds worth £4,570 billion were worried about an indecisive result. Investors were reported as largely indifferent as to whether this should be a majority Labour or Tory government. Both were committed to cut public spending. Differences over the initial size and speed of the cuts were not decisive. The Tory hare would go faster than the Labour tortoise. But the latter could still reach the bankers’ winning post first.

 

Public opinion took the opposite view. Polls conducted by ComRes and YouGuv showed that a hung parliament was the people’s preferred option. Nobody could vote for a hung parliament because this option was not on the ballot paper. But the outcome was possible because of the electoral system and the state of public opinion. Polls indicated that no overall majority was a real possibility. Many people wanted this for the opposite reasons to the banks. New Labour had lost people’s trust. But people feared to give any one party, especially the Tories too much power. The situation was ripe for the Liberal Democrats.  

 

Notes

 

1.   Speech to Bankers & Merchants Dinner Wednesday 20 June 2007 The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right Honourable Gordon Brown.
2.   Speech to Bankers & Merchants Dinner Wednesday 20 June 2007 The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right Honourable Gordon Brown.
3.   BNP Manifesto 20101http://communications.bnp.org.uk/ge2010manifesto.pdf. (date)
4.   BNP Manifesto 20101http://communications.bnp.org.uk/ge2010manifesto.pdf. (date)
5.   http://www.greenparty.org.uk/policies.html
6.    http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/policypointers/ppgovt&dem.pdf  (date)
7.    http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/new_stories/election2010/scotland-is-a-different-country.html  (date)
8.   Financial 19 April 2010

 

6.  THE SOUTH BANK AND BERMONDSEY ‘PARTY’

Standing as an independent trade unionist and socialist candidate in Bermondsey is not a desirable option. In many ways it goes against our traditions of collective, cooperative and democratic organisation. Socialists recognise the need for people to organize themselves for political aims, not for individuals to substitute themselves for the collective effort. In a society that promotes individualism and celebrity culture, independents may be presented in heroic light – like small shopkeepers taking on giant supermarkets. But for socialists this is at best a necessary evil. If it is to be justified it is because there is a need for a message of struggle in the absence of party.

 

In Bermondsey the electorate was not offered a real choice. They were given a phoney choice between parties which broadly agreed with each other. In the absence of real choice the rhetoric of liberal ideology replaced policy. Which party offered most freedom from the state? This “freedom” would mean privatisation and cuts, less democracy and the ‘freedom’ to join the dole queue. The missing alternative is worth considering in its own right. There was no republican party standing for the sovereignty of the people. There was no socialist party standing for democratic public ownership. There was no pro-trade union party opposing the anti-union laws or the war in Afghanistan.   

 

Over one hundred years ago the Labour Party was established by trade unions to support trade union rights and struggles. It staked its claim as the people’s party. Labour has long since abandoned that role. It became an establishment party. The New Labour brand only reconfirmed this. After 1997 the Labour government worked hand in glove with the City and banks. It supported the most draconian anti-union laws and tightened them. For thirteen years Labour was soft on the banks and tough on the trade unions. It did not support trade union rights or struggles. Labour had the backing of the City but lost the support of the RMT and the Fire Brigades Union.
  
There is a political vacuum on the left in England. In the last decade there have been a number of attempts to fill this space with a new party. This began with the Socialist Labour Party. Next the Socialist Alliance was set up and later Respect was launched. For a few years the Scottish Socialist Party established itself in Scotland. It made real progress in building a broad pro-trade union and popular socialist party. But it suffered a major set back when it split following the Tommy Sheridan court case. All these initiatives, in their different ways, were trying to solve the problem. Yet no organisation has won enough support to attract the forces necessary to build a new party.

 

In 2010 there was a new initiative for trade unionists and socialists to put up candidates in the general election. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has its origins in the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union expulsion from the Labour Party and campaigns over rail privatisation. This coalition, supported by various socialist groups, first emerged in the 2009 Euro elections under the banner “No2EU - Yes2Democracy”. Subsequently in 2010 a similar configuration of organisations formed TUSC. This is part of the wider political background to the decision to stand in Bermondsey.   

 

Deciding to stand

 

At the beginning there was no intention to stand as an independent. The aim was to see if there was sufficient local support to become a TUSC candidate in Bermondsey. The possibility of standing was being considered in late March 2010. The discussion document says that “to run a serious parliamentary campaign we need the support of the trade union movement. Labour supporting unions such as Unison and GMB are closed to independent candidates. But TUSC opens the possibility of financial support from RMT and other unions.” (1)

 

Three criteria were agreed. First we set a target of one hundred five pound financial pledges from LSBU workers. Second we would seek endorsement for a TUSC candidate. Third we had to be nominated by ten Bermondsey electors, a legal requirement to become a candidate. The first step was to gain support from the Socialist Alliance and a majority of the South Bank UCU branch committee. The Socialist Alliance was one of TUSC’s supporting organisations. Their national secretary wrote to TUSC requesting support for our candidature.

 

Unfortunately this request was turned down. This was the first setback. The discussion document says “without TUSC support any campaign will be much more limited. It weakens the possibility of trade unionists and socialists presenting a challenge to the major parties and the BNP in Bermondsey”. (2) The immediate impact was to divide our campaign just as we were trying to get off the ground. Some supporters felt this was a fatal blow and we should not carry on. Others wanted to carry on regardless saying that TUSC wasn’t decisive. Whatever the reasons for the TUSC decision it put a big question mark over whether to continue.

 

The TUSC decision had consequences. We would have to stand as an ‘Independent’ without any political description on the ballot paper. We then spent some time trying to get the TUSC decision changed. This proved to be fruitless. It slowed us down and created a degree of uncertainty about whether we would continue. This set back was mitigated by a local group of Respect members who got in contact and offered to give as much support as they could. Supporters now agreed we should stand an Independent candidate provided we could meet the other two targets.

 

The uncertainty delayed the start of our campaign proper. On April 20, the deadline for submitting nomination papers, we had over eighty financial pledges from South Bank workers. We felt we could soon meet our target of one hundred. With the signatures of ten local residents on the nomination papers a lunch time meeting of South Bank supporters voted unanimously to submit the papers. They were duly handed in before the 4pm deadline. Uncertainty came to an end. The actual campaign was just over two weeks long.

 

Bermondsey and South Bank 

 

There was no organisation in Bermondsey three weeks before polling day. Neither was there any possibility of building one in such limited time. We had only one supporter living in the constituency. Without party organisation there is no means of winning Bermondsey votes. The campaign in Bermondsey was no more than a token or symbolic effort. We leafleted ‘the Blue’ shopping area where the BNP held a regular stall. We leafleted the Rockingham estate at the Elephant. Despite having no base the Bermondsey ‘party’ won 120 votes.

 

However at South Bank we did have supporters. One hundred and seven workers contributed funds. The South Bank “party” had more reality to it. It had its roots in the South Bank trade unions including members of the branch committees, union reps and rank and file members. Working in Bermondsey but living in other constituencies meant we could win their votes. But in measuring our support the South Bank ‘party’ won 107 ‘votes’ from workers and students who contributed money and activity.

 

The South Bank ‘party’ had to construct some organisation from scratch. It was an almost impossible task. But we did make some progress by building a website, raising money and organising meetings. The website was built in double quick time. Work was done to build a system to email staff and students. Facebook and Twitter accounts were set up. We made an election broadcast video and put it on YouTube. After the election we did a radio broadcast to the Latin American community through a local Spanish speaking radio station.

 

How were our arguments put before the electorate? Two leaflets were produced and distributed mainly to staff and students. We considered using the free post to all households but we did not have sufficient time to organise it. The candidate spoke briefly at the Department of Health PCS branch committee. We were invited to two hustings organised by Southwark Pensioners Forum and the LSBU UCU branch. The issues were debated with Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrats), Val Shawcross (Labour) and Loanna Morrison (Conservative). Our candidate was interviewed by Southwark News, the main local paper and was profiled on the SE1 website. Overall our campaign was a steep learning curve. We learnt what was possible but did not have the organisation to fully exploit the opportunities.   

 

Election results

 

On 6 May the general election campaign ended. Votes were cast and counted. Forty six million electors split three ways. The three main pro-banker parties gained over 26.1 million votes. Sixteen million did not vote. About 35% of the electorate did not think any party was worth voting for. The people’s parties won 332,000 votes, compromising of the Green Party’s 286,000 votes and 56,000 votes won by eighteen socialist and communist organisations. This included Respect with 11 candidates and 33,000 votes, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition with 42 candidates and 12,000 votes, the Socialist Labour Party with 23 candidates and 7000 votes.

 

In Bermondsey the four ‘bankster’ parties won an overwhelming 97.8% of the votes cast. Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrats, took 48.4% of the votes, Val Shawcross, Labour, won 29.2%, Loanna Morrison, Conservative, who gained 17.1% and the BNP took 3.1% (1,370 votes). Standing in opposition to public sector cuts, redundancies and wage restraint was Tom Chance of the Green Party with 1.6% (718 votes) and our campaign with 0.3% of the votes. [There was another Independent with 0.3%]. The outcome of the election makes the Bermondsey result more significant in national politics than any of us could have foreseen during the campaign itself.

 

Notes
1.  The Case for Standing 5 April 2010
2.  The Case for Standing 5 April 2010

 

7.   END OF THE BEGINNING  

 

The 2010 general election was won by the City and the Banks. There is no other sensible conclusion. Soon the reactionary Con-Lib government was in office, presenting its ‘New Politics’ as progressive. The financial markets and banks secured a government committed to their aims. There would be no financial crisis triggered by a run on the pound. It wasn’t necessary. Simon Hughes was returned as Bermondsey MP. He was given a pivotal role for the Liberal Democrats. He would act as the official Lib-Dem critic of the government to placate their rank and file members. As the axe fell party members would be comforted by their own left wing leader warning the government it had gone too far this time!

 

The new government wasted no time planning the Great Bankster Robbery. The country would now be held to ransom. The financial markets would lose patience if we prevaricated. There was no alternative but to pay up and shut up. Of course people were anxious to find out how much it would cost. Ministers assured us that all the vulnerable people would be spared or ‘protected’. Nobody should have illusions in the protection rackets of the Banksters or the promises of Ministers.

 

Challenged on Radio 4 to justify the massive cuts Nick Clegg pointed to “an economic firestorm across Europe”. The banks and speculators had poured petrol over Greece, Spain and Portugal and were threatening to light a match. The UK was not in the same state but somebody had put the frighteners on him. Ominously he declared “the Markets are knocking at our door” (1) So a powerless and clueless ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ was going to open the door and invite the banks in to take away all the best furniture. 

“Robbed by the banks we own” declared an outraged Daily Mail headline. (2) The front page explained that “banks are fleecing their most cash strapped customers by charging massive overdraft rates”. The government has kept interest charged to the banks very low. Banks can borrow from the Bank of England at 0.5% and from each other at 1.4%. But they are selling at 19%. No surprise to find that bankers’ profits have shot up and now reached £15 billion.

 

The Independent Banking Advisory Service explained that “banks have been allowed to increase their margins despite bank rates being so low”. (3) Their spokesperson concluded that “the level of profiteering is completely out of control”. The opposite side of the coin can be found on page eight of the same edition. The headline proclaims “Workshy face another £4 billion in welfare cuts”. This was the tough message announced by the Con-Lib Chancellor. This was on top of the £11 billion announced in June’s emergency budget. Taken together the direction of the new government is clear.

 

The central message of our election campaign is powerful because it is true. People should not give in to blackmail. We have a duty to oppose all cuts inimical to social welfare. But opposition will not succeed unless there is a shift in public opinion and public action. At present opposing the cuts will be presented as mean spirited and selfish. If people think that sacrifice is necessary to make things better, they will queue up and offer what little they have. Ordinary people have a generosity of heart and spirit which reactionary governments always exploit.

 

In 1914 people marched to war in an outburst of patriotic fervour. People queued up to join the army to defend gallant little Belgium from the Huns. Within a year or two people understood the truth of war in the terrible slaughter on the Somme. Today the new government is trying to build some patriotic momentum for cuts. It has to pretend that this ‘war against public spending’ is ‘progressive’ and ‘democratic’ and our sacrifice is necessary to save the country. They may succeed in fooling some people for a while. But those in the trenches will soon discover the truth.

 

Of course the government claims the legitimacy of a democratic mandate. This carries great weight in the popular mind. It has to be challenged. The system of government and the distribution of economic power is neither democratic nor ‘fair’. It cannot possibly deliver a ‘progressive’ outcome that serves the people. Opposing the Great Bankster Robbery has to be more than just saying “No”. People must be won to the cause of radical parliamentary reform and public ownership of the banks. Socialists must be at the forefront of fighting against the cuts and fighting for reform at the same time.  

 

In Bermondsey we have our own lessons. We were right to oppose Simon Hughes, a relatively popular left leaning MP, who has now morphed into a key prop for a reactionary government. People who voted for him had no idea they would help to bring the Tories to power. We were right to reject New Labour, which was thoroughly bankrupt even in the eyes of its own supporters. New Labour was compromised by thirteen years in office which had left the country in such a mess. It was right to stand against and speak out against both parties regardless of how many votes we got.   

 

By the end we learnt, or rather confirmed, what we already knew. It is very difficult to mount a real challenge for votes as an independent or non-party candidate, and impossible if we start only a few weeks before the election. There has to be organisation rooted in the community. This cannot be built at the drop of a hat. An election is the culmination of a party’s political work invested months and years before the votes are counted. There is no point in socialists repeating our experience by starting to campaign a few weeks before the next election. Building a party in Bermondsey for the next election has to begin now. In this sense our election campaign did not end on 6 May. It just began.   

 

Notes      


1.  Radio 4 Today Programme 24 June 2010.
2.  Daily Mail September 10 2010.
3   Daily Mail September 10 2010

 

Our 2010 general election campaign began with a call to “Defend South Bank” against the major threats facing the university. It broadened out to demand the nationalisation of the banks and parliamentary reform through popular sovereignty. Here you can find the arguments put forward in support of our case. 

 

 

 

 

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