We’re the alternative we were looking for…….

After what happened with NO2EU and Peter Cranie during the Euro election, the question of “left unity” has become ever more important. A group calling itself the Manchester Alternative is meeting today, with the strap line, “Come to plan a left alternative at the next local and national elections”.

In the upcoming election I believe that people are desperate for an alternative to the status quo. We can plainly see that the ‘credit crunch’, the recession, rising unemployment and climate change are the direct result of government which prioritises profit over people. People are acutely aware that the big brand parties are more likely to cut funding to education than rein in the corrupt bankers’ bonuses. It is for these reasons that I am standing in the general election for the Green Party in Manchester Central and in the locals for Hulme; and this is why I will do what I can to support a real alternative that truly brings together groups on the left. We have already worked with some of the people involved in the Manchester Alternative on different campaigns; Their intentions are honourable and I wish them well, but it would be disingenuous of me to ignore my concerns.

To begin with, it is unlikely that they will get the success they want in such a small timescale. The local elections are just five months away and the general election could happen as early as March and it must happen by mid-June. The first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system we have means that small parties generally have little or no chance of breaking through. Nevertheless, after thirty years of hard work it looks as if the Greens will finally get our first MP in 2010 (Caroline Lucas in the Brighton constituency). Any group expecting to make substantial gains cannot just spring up three months before an election.

The Manchester Alternative can offer people a left option or an anti-establishment vote – if it manages to generate a high profile – and I can see the sense in this if it helps move people out of apathy. But they wont get a seat in either election. In Manchester there are only two non-mainstream groups that are likely to take seats in the local election and they are the Greens and Respect. These are two established left-wing groups whose policies are at least 80% similar to the Manchester Alternative platform; to undermine the chances of the Greens and Respect can only lead to a continuation of the status quo. If the Manchester Alternative really wants to do what it says on the tin then it should put its principles first, ahead of branding and ego, and try not to undermine these groups.

So far the Manchester Alternative have made very little effort to speak with the left groups already campaigning in Manchester. But maybe – hopefully – this is planned for the future? The Convention of the Left, which acts a forum for local left groups to campaign together, seems like the perfect forum for these conversations.

Finally, every time a group claiming to be a ‘left alternative’ group does badly it reflects on all of us, and continues the process of undermining of the left that the centre and right wing groups relish so much. We have a chance to really challenge Labour in this election; people are angry and fed up with Labour keeping the seat warm for the Tories. We can push an alternative agenda, but only if we tackle the perceptions that have held us back and offer people a credible and consistent option.

For the local and general elections we need to have a common strategy with a long-term view. There is the possibility of a hung parliament, and this should be one of the best hopes we have for electoral reform and releasing ourselves from the choking hold of FPTP, and the best chance of getting left groups a voice in future elections. The upcoming elections could help the Left re-establish itself as a credible alternative to the big brands. But those conversations have a sell-by date and require real insight and consistency, not just tribal identity politics.

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2 responses to “We’re the alternative we were looking for…….

  1. Interesting stuff Gayle and I agree with your assessment. It feels like scattergun politics from an organization with 'limited' electoral experience. The attempts to create new electoral platforms for left wing groups that have no established electoral base or identity carries significant dangers. No2EU was disastrous for the left in the North West and it should never have stood. The Left List was a similar disaster in London where it polled 0.67%. Both share the ignominy of being cobbled together six to eight weeks before the election in question. The tea leaves for the 'Manchester Alternative' are not good. Respect only found out about the meeting by accident, yet the MA wanted to stand in the very areas that Respect has selected candidates and launched campaigns. At the meeting, it was clear that there is no unifying strategy behind the initiative, simply a desire to stand against Kaufman in Gorton and some local candidates. The meeting attracted 20 people with very few without political affiliation. When Respect noted its current campaigns, there was a palpable sense that the SWP (the force behind the meeting) was confused. This was further exemplified by the highly sectarian attacks that followed Respect's offer of the use of its name to any candidate from the MA. This crystalizes the problem for the SWP. It wants to stand in the General Election as part of a left platform yet has the record of destroying two such projects in the last ten years. Trust is a premium for it and yet it still tries to call meetings and organize platforms without reference to better placed left forces.Consequently, I would be very surprised if this initiative has a future, which is not to say that nothing came of the meeting. The two independent speakers were excellent with some great ideas which should be developed such as a local candidacy in Moss Side and creating a wider umbrella body Manchester Against the Cuts to prepare for the austerity onslaught that is around the corner.

  2. "So far the Manchester Alternative have made very little effort to speak with the left groups already campaigning in Manchester."That's an important point. One of the big problems with these sorts of initiatives is that they are conceived by a self limiting group and they present everyone with a fake choice about how they can get involved.