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.