The 2010 Election Campaign

 

THE CASE FOR STANDING IN THE 2010 ELECTION

 

South Bank after the General Election

 

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.

 

Government pressure on the Governors and Vice Chancellor to implement cuts will rise significantly. The growing threat of redundancies will force the unions to acquiesce to these various measures. Given the size and scale of the cuts the Governors will support an increasingly authoritarian style of management. If London South Bank University goes down this road we may end up like British Airways where the very existence of trade unions comes into question. We are some way from that scenario but trade unionists cannot be too complacent in the present economic climate.

 

The future is bleak for LSBU. Massive cuts will divide the university and have a serious impact on staff morale. The quality of educational provision will deteriorate. A weakened, divided and demoralised university could become a prime target for merger or closure. There are rumours that one London University may be axed. This is not expected to be the current LSBU. But if the university was seriously undermined by cuts, redundancies and low morale it could end up in the firing line. We could become another London Met enduring a similar kind of trauma. 

 

A political campaign to defend South Bank  

 

London South Bank University has 2200 workers and 26,000 students. It is a trade union organised workplace. In the last year the three unions (GMB, UCU and Unison) have been engaged in partial struggles to defend the academic contract and ensure that LSBU appointments and negotiating procedures are adhered to. LSBU has uniquely been pulled out of national bargaining and denied the 0.5% national pay award. LSBU now has its own distinct pay scales and pensions. The ‘Corporate Plan’ intends to introduce Performance Related Pay taking the pay issue into the managers’ offices. National bargaining is to be replaced by local bargaining.

The general election raises these questions on higher level. Will the policies of the Corporate plan be overturned or reinforced by the new government? It seems highly likely that after the election the current policies will be strengthened. Redundancies, PRP and an end to national pay and pensions will be extended across the sector. We will be bombarded with arguments about the necessity for cuts in the public sector and university sector. Should trade union members simply sit out the election and wait to see our fate sealed?

 

The general election is a political cross road. The future may not arrive as predicted. Sometimes the unexpected happens. It depends on what people do during the election and how this changes the situation afterwards. LSBU must be defended during the election if it is to be prepared for the new struggles under the next government. Trade unions are not equipped for political struggle. At LSBU they tend to represent different sections of the workforce, technicians, administrators and academics. Students have their own organisation. Some unions support the Labour Party and others do not. Members hold political allegiances from all parties and none.

 

A political campaign to defend LSBU seeks to bring people together and unite them on issues and policies regardless of whether they are staff or students, regardless of union membership or political affiliation. A political campaign transcends the existing sectional divisions. 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.

 

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. It would be a big mistake to miss the political train when it is about to leave the station       

  

South Bank and Bermondsey

 

LSBU is one of the largest workplaces in the constituency of Bermondsey. The historic links go back over a hundred years to the foundation of Borough Polytechnic. Many staff and students live in the constituency. A political campaign to defend South Bank connects with the economic interests of people in Bermondsey. South Bank could be considered a workplace ‘village’ at the edge of the ‘town’ of Bermondsey. A campaign to defend the ‘village’ will be more successful if it reaches out the townspeople and to other local public sector ‘villages’.  

 

It is possible to conceive of two political campaigns in the general election about the future for local people. 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.  

 

Take an issue like pensions that affects everybody at some stage in their lives. All people need a decent pension. Public sector workers still have pensions but private sector workers have had their schemes abolished. Private sector employers, politicians and the media are waging a campaign against public sector pensions. They are crying crocodile tears for private sector workers without pensions. It is divide and fool. The real injustice is private sector employers getting rid of their pension schemes to save money for shareholders. Meanwhile they are guaranteeing the most gold plated pensions and bonuses for themselves. This is an issue for South Bank and Bermondsey.

 

WILL SOUTH BANK FIGHT?

 

Will South Bank fight the general election and if so how? The unions have been campaigning on a variety of issues. Will they project their campaigning into the political arena? There are three necessary conditions. First is there anybody willing to stand? Second is there a programme of action or a South Bank plan? Third is there sufficient broad support and are there enough staff and students prepared to be active in the campaign?

 

If the answer is positive then there is a viable campaign within LSBU. Not everybody will support the campaign and no doubt there will be opposition. But the aim is to win a majority of staff and students during the election campaign to support our policies. We must win the support of South Bank ‘public opinion’. If a candidate meets the above criterion and is on the ballot paper then South Bank is saying it is ready and willing to fight.      

 

A SOUTH BANK CANDIDATE

 

If South Bank is going to fight back it needs a candidate or a party. It is not just a matter of electioneering. It is a process of education. The election rouses people to think about politics and to vote. The energy of South Bank staff and students should focus on using this time to develop and propagate a South Bank plan. A South Bank candidate standing in Bermondsey does not have to be a South Bank employee. As a socialist and trade unionist I have offered to be the candidate. But there are others who could do as good or better job than me. At the end the day it is policies not personalities that count.

 

The right candidate should have some characteristics

i)  He or she should be a South Bank worker (i.e. who is a teacher, researcher, administrator or technician). We need somebody at the coal face. They should not be Governors who are the university’s ‘bosses’ since they will have to implement government policy. Neither can we rely on managers, some of whom oppose the cuts but are compromised by their role.      


ii)  They should be an active trade unionist (GMB, Unison and UCU) since they have shown commitment to defending the staff and students. This includes student candidates active in NUS. 
iii)  Candidates need to have some experience of struggle because an election is like a battle and candidates have to be able to deal with what is thrown at them. They have to be in the words of Lord Mandelson “Fighters not quitters”. But they have to have a certain realism about what is and is not possible.  
 
In conclusion the election poses a big question for staff and students. Will South Bank unite? Will South Bank fight? By May 5 before Bermondsey votes are even cast or counted South Bank will know the answer. We will find a candidate we can support or we will not. With a South Bank candidate and a good campaign the morale of staff and students will rise. Then we will know the answer. South Bank will unite. South Bank will fight. South Bank is ready for battle.

 

THE COST OF THE SOUTH BANK CAMPAIGN   

       

i)    £500 deposit.
ii)   Time and effort of the candidate, election agent and campaign activists.
iii)  The funds for an election address to 2,200 workers and 26,000 students and other incidental expenses.
iv)   Three possible events. A 2010 election Teach In, a Defend LSBU meeting, a hustings meeting with local candidates.
v)   Local demonstration ‘South Bank goes to the Blue’

 

A  BERMONDSEY CAMPAIGN

 

In 2009 four major issues grabbed people’s attention and giving an indication of where we might be going. First was the economic crisis and rising government debt. Second was the crisis of democracy around the MPs’ expenses scandal and the ‘arrival’ of the British National Party. Third was the mounting toll of dead and wounded in the Afghan war. Last but not least was the failure of the world’s governments to deal with climate change, highlighted by the UN conference in Copenhagen in December.


The three major parties have very similar policies. All support major cuts in the public sector. All were mired in the expenses scandal. All have called for minor and largely cosmetic parliamentary reforms. All support the continued war in Afghanistan. All support a “green” agenda but have achieved little or nothing. The parties have lost considerable credibility in the eyes of the electorate. Many voters disillusioned with the established politics are looking for an alternative.       

 

The BNP are standing Stephen Tyler in Bermondsey. They have been building a base presenting themselves as an alternative the three ‘establishment’ parties. The economic crisis and the failure of parliamentary democracy have given the BNP new opportunities for growth. It is not known whether the Green Party will stand. It is very important that voters alienated from the three main parties have an alterative to the BNP. There should be an independent trade union and socialist candidate on the ballot paper.    

 

In the worst case scenario we fight our parliamentary campaign at LSBU but cannot extend it into Bermondsey. The candidate would appear on the ballot paper as an independent trade unionist and socialist. A South Bank campaign which builds the unity of staff and students and strengthens trade union organisation depends on the active support of workers and students at the university. However without the support of the local trade union and socialist movement it will not be possible to mount any real campaign in Bermondsey.

 

Standing as an independent trade unionist and socialist or with the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition

 

When I first announced an intention to stand it was my aim to become a candidate for the newly forming Trade Union and Socialist Coalition. This was being set up with the support of Bob Crow (RMT general secretary) and the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party. They now have 42 candidates. When I secured the support of 50 South Bank trade unionists from all three unions I was then endorsed by the Socialist Alliance. The SA national secretary asked TUSC to adopt me as one of their candidates. Unfortunately this request was turned down.

 

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. The consequences of not getting TUSC backing is that a South Bank trade union and socialist candidate is barred from sources of funds and wider support. 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. 

 

PROSPECTS FOR BECOMING THE SOUTH BANK MP FOR BERMONDSEY

 

To enter the House of Commons as MP we need to overcome a few hurdles. First we need £500 deposit. Second we need the nomination of 10 Bermondsey residents. Third we need an election agent to run a lawful campaign. Then the prospective candidate will be on the ballot paper. In addition we win the seat we would need the necessary funds to campaign in Bermondsey such as a leaflet in the free post to all households. Fifth we would have to win a majority on 6 May. Finally the victorious candidate would have to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown.   

 

As a result of the TUSC decision the door is closed on necessary funds and support from the wider trade union and socialist movement. There will be not enough funds to mount a serious, or even any, campaign in Bermondsey. In any case to win the election a South Bank candidate would have to defeat the three major parties and their tried and tested election machines. We would have to defeat the sitting MP Simon Hughes who is well known and by all accounts reasonably popular. We would have to do this without a party or party machine behind us, without a base in the constituency and as a totally unknown candidate.

 

There would have to be a political earthquake of unimagined proportions to win this election. If a revolution happens before Election Day an independent trade union and socialist candidate might be in with a chance. But we haven’t had one of those since 1649. Evidence suggests that an unknown candidate would get less than 1%. Saving the deposit would be an historic achievement. The candidate will have to suffer the humiliation on election night of getting a vote equivalent to the Monster Raving Looney party. It would be exhausting to get even that.

 

If before polling day a revolution or some political earthquake catapults me to the door of the House of Commons there is one final hurdle to be overcome. If I am elected I will not swear an oath of allegiance. It is right to say this from the outset and explain why. Republicans believe in the sovereignty of the people. We do not believe in any other higher authority. My allegiance as an MP would be to the people who elected me and them alone. I will swear no oath to get into the club to get a “seat” to enjoy its privileges. In 1869 Charles Bradlaugh was elected MP for Northampton three times because he wouldn’t swear an oath on the Bible. Each time he went back to his constituents and his majority increased.

 

Since I have no chance whatsoever of being elected on 6 May the question of oaths is the least of my worries. On May 7 I will be at South Bank facing the same attacks on pay, jobs and conditions as the rest of the staff. I will not be sitting on the terraces of the House of Thieves drinking my G&T and wondering what South Bank workers are doing slaving away across the river to keep people like me in my new life of luxury, trips abroad and various expenses. 

 

HOW CAN WE RUN A SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN?

 

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.

We therefore have to set ambitious but realistic and achievable goals. In South Bank we might be able to launch a South Bank plan. We could organise a teach-in and public meetings. We could publish and circulate a manifesto. We could encourage a trade union recruitment drive.

 

In Bermondsey the goal of a free post to all households would be very ambitious and probably unachievable. But if we can begin to build a functioning trade union and socialist organisation in Southwark that would be a major step forward. The election is a moment when most socialists recognise that despite our differences we need to work together. The election is an opportunity to come together and co-operate.  

 

The high point of our campaign will not be the vote. It will be the possibility of organising a demonstration from South Bank to the Blue. LSBU was born in this community. It has educated generations of local working people. It has become a university for the modern global age, reaching out to students from across the world. Yet it retains a place with its roots in Bermondsey and its people. With all the threats and dangers we face, it is the unity of people and education which is one of the keys to a brighter future. We should invest our greatest hopes in our young people. South Bank should unite with the people of Bermondsey in demanding free higher education for all who can benefit.

 

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