..but SWP’s sectarian decision could damage chances
It has been confirmed that it is the intention that Socialist Workers Party member, Councillor Brid Smith would be a People Before Profit Alliance candidate in the European Elections next May for the Dublin constituency. When this information initially appeared a few days ago via social media, it caused bewilderment and shock.
This is an irresponsible decision and should be rescinded. It strikes a blow against the struggle to build a genuine Left and Socialist alternative by making it more complicated for Paul Murphy to retain the European Parliament seat. If proceeded with, it would rank as a crass example of political sectarianism.
A very tight election
Of course political groups on the Left have the right to stand in whatever elections they wish. That is not the issue. They also have the responsibility to judge whether it is correct to exercise that right against the specific political background prevailing at the time and the ramifications that flow from their decision.
Facing into the European elections next May, Paul Murphy is a sitting MEP. Over the last two- and- a- half years he has consistently used that position, and the platform it provides, in an excellent way on many issues to the benefit of the working class and socialist movement in Ireland and internationally. It is very important that Paul is elected next May, but for that he needs all the support he can get as this is a very tight election.
It is true that there is a significant shift against the Government but it is also undeniable that the political terrain is becoming more complex and fragmented. The mood of working class people has been knocked by the consistent and serious betrayals of trade union leaders and the imposition of the Property Tax. There is the potential new right-wing forces could be launched, something that is openly being spoken of, and different forms of populism have also emerged, which partly reflects people’s hope that there is an easier way forward than the fundamental changes that are necessary and outlined by the Socialist Party and others on the Left.
There are only three seats in the Dublin European constituency. Apart from the existing parties of the establishment and Sinn Fein, it is likely that new forces will emerge which could have a significant impact over the next months. In the European elections, with a crowded and perhaps confusing array of candidates, we need to give people looking for an alternative the confidence that there is a real purpose to them turning out to vote for a serious Left candidate who has a real chance of taking a seat. Otherwise, there is a real danger that working class people can stay away. In this context, standing one Left candidate in Dublin is crucial.
The latest opinion poll gave Fine Gael 26%, Fianna Fail 22% and Sinn Fein 23% nationally. In Dublin Fine Gael are on 17% and Sinn Fein are on 21%. It is very likely Sinn Fein will make considerable gains in next year’s Local Elections and may well regain an MEP in Dublin. The political similarity in the core base of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail means it is almost guaranteed that between them and other right wing candidates, they will have enough to win one seat. In fact it couldn’t be ruled out, notwithstanding the anger that exists, that parties or candidates of the right could challenge for two seats given the volatility and confusion that exists at the moment. In this environment, the benefit of having one Left/socialist candidate should be obvious to all.
Any attempt to justify a People Before Profit Alliance candidate on the basis that the ‘far left’ needs to have more ambition and go out with the aim to win two out of the three seats reflects either incredibly bad political judgement or is simply blatantly disingenuous. Close to 50% of the first preference vote and very good transfers would have to obtained to make that possible.
This is building up to be a massive battle between many forces/candidates, probably for one seat, and the PBPA throwing their hat in the ring could endanger Paul Murphy’s chance of retaining that seat.
Not a question of principle
It isn’t an issue of principle that groups of the Left can’t or shouldn’t stand in the same constituencies; proportional representation by single transferable vote can help facilitate that. But each situation needs to be looked at specifically and the different factors weighed up – what’s the recent history, candidates political record, what base of support exists and what are the prospects? What should be a principled consideration is that groups shouldn’t act in a way that damages the struggle and the working class movement.
False comparisons shouldn’t be thrown in to muddy the issue in this particular instance, such as the fact that the Socialist Party stood a candidate in the same constituency (Dublin Mid West) as an elected PBPA councillor in the 2011 General Election or that Joe Higgins stood in Dublin West in 1992 where Tomas Mac Giolla TD of The Workers Party was also standing.
In Dublin Mid West it was clear neither candidate had a chance of being elected, so there was no question of the Left losing a potential Dáil seat. In 1992 Tomas Mac Giolla lost his seat because The Workers Party was in the process of imploding and he lost nearly 6,000 votes compared to the 1989 General Election, not because Joe Higgins stood and got 1,400 votes.
Any idea that in this election it makes no difference if there are two candidates of the left, once there is a transfer of votes between them, is simply wrong. Increasingly, parties have less and less ability to control who their vote transfers go to.
In the 2009 European Election campaign, the fact that Joe Higgins was the sole left candidate was a very important factor in him getting ahead of the main Fianna Fail candidate and Sinn Fein and ultimately winning the seat. A number of factors came together that resulted in that historic result but an important aspect was the specific record of Joe and the Socialist Party. Electing Joe, who is seen as a fighter, in the context of the economic collapse that he had warned was inevitable when in the Dail, caught hold as an idea. It is doubtful any other figure on the left could have successfully tapped to the same extent the sentiment that existed.
While Joe’s campaign was underway, there was some speculation that Richard Boyd Barrett of the People Before Profit Alliance was also going to announce his candidature for the 2009 European elections. It is clear that if he had stood, it would have undermined the momentum behind Joe Higgins.
Momentum is a key factor in elections. The first opinion poll at the start of the election campaign in 2009 put Joe at 5%. That was ok but lower than we had hoped and he was still in a bunch with many other candidates. Fine Gael. Labour, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein were well ahead.
A second poll was due to come out a week or so before the election and it crucially indicated that Joe had emerged from the bunch — otherwise, while people might be supportive they may have considered that a vote for Joe would not make a difference, that he didn’t have a real chance of being elected.
The second poll put Joe at 7%; he had emerged but crucially others had also fallen back. The election itself a week later, where Joe got 12.5% of the first performance vote, indicated that from the second poll to the end, the momentum had actually developed further, with the second poll itself being an important factor. In terms of first preference party votes, Joe was behind Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail (both candidates combined) but he emerged and took the third seat on the basis of transfers. That Joe was ahead of Mary Lou MacDonald on first preference votes was vital. If Richard Boyd Barrett had stood, the likelihood is that he would have taken some percentage points off Joe in the opinion polls and undoubtedly that would have affected the course of the campaign and the outcome. The net result would have been a loss for the left/socialist movement. The same danger exists this time too.
In the coming campaign where it is likely there will be a whole range of candidates with some support, it is important that Paul Murphy is clearly identified as the candidate on the left and as a result of that is seen as a focal point and gets a real chance of bringing momentum into play.
Transfers will be crucial in this election. But in order to benefit from transfers you need to be ahead of the bunch, otherwise you run the risk of being eliminated. It is very important that Paul gets as strong a first preference vote as possible.
It is speculative supposition, and nothing more, to say that any votes that Brid Smith gets that otherwise might have gone to Paul, will inevitably go to Paul in the event Brid is eliminated. This simply does not take account of the reality of how people vote down the ballot paper. Between candidates of the same party, a 50% transfer rate would be typical. When you are dealing with the broad mass of voters and real mass support is what is necessary to win seats in Euro elections, people don’t tend to vote along rigid political lines, left or right all the way down the line.
Large numbers of people choose their main candidate to support, that’s their principal statement and then their preference votes can be random, following the ballot paper down stopping at the next candidate who is least offensive or for other such flimsy reasons. But there is no question that significant potential support leaks away in the process of transfers. There are many examples of Fianna Fail, Labour and other parties receiving a first preference vote that should resulted in them getting someone elected but didn’t because the vote didn’t transfer among the candidates.
This happened in the Dublin European elections in 2009 where Fianna Fail got 18.3% and were the third party, but because their vote was split and they had a transfer rate of 50%, they lost the seat. Whereas if they had stood just one candidate their vote would have been concentrated in one candidate and they probably would have been elected. In that sense, not only would a second candidate split the potential first preference vote, but also runs the serious risk of dissipating and fragmenting the left vote by bringing the transfer process into play.
The argument has also been raised by some that Brid Smith is a more ‘credible’ candidate than Paul Murphy. While Brid has a record and has a relatively high profile as a Councillor on Dublin City Council, this line of argument itself lacks credibility. Paul Murphy is a sitting MEP and there is no question that as a result of his work as an MEP, Paul Murphy has a significantly higher profile and is widely acknowledged to be a strong candidate and the best equipped to challenge the capitalist establishment.
In Ireland, he has used the position to assist a whole number of campaigns, from the Shell to Sea campaign to the campaign against home taxes and many workers facing issues. He initiated a letter from over 50 MEPs demanding abortion rights in the aftermath of Savita Halappanavar’s death, which assisted in raising awareness of the issue internationally and pressurising the government. He launched the ScamBridge.ie website which has helped to build the growing opposition to JobBridge.
Paul played a leading role in the campaign against the Austerity Treaty and was described as “probably the most articulate advocate on the No side” by the Irish Times’ Deaglan De Breadun. Paul has used the MEP position consistently to oppose oppression and fight for workers’ rights internationally and in Ireland.
Unlike other MEPs, Paul has actively fought on the issues here and has concretely helped build the movement against austerity. Paul spoke at many public meetings on the Household and Property Taxes for many different campaigns and played a particular role regarding the legal questions that the campaign had to deal with. In our view, he generally deserves the support of working class activists and of the left.
Fighting oppression worldwide
Paul has also been very active and outspoken on vital international issues and struggles. He has highlighted the oppression of the Palestinians, repeatedly raising the issue in the Parliament and participating in the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ in 2011, as a result of which he spent a week in Israeli prison. He has played an outstanding role assisting striking oil workers in Kazakhstan fighting against a dictatorial regime, for which the Kazakhstan government declared it reserved the right to declare him a “persona non grata” and refused any future visas. As a result of his work in and outside the Parliament highlighting the massacre of 40,000 Tamils by the Sri Lankan government and exposing the oppression of the Tamils, he has also been repeatedly denied access to Sri Lanka.
Within Europe, he has used the position of MEP to give support and strengthen the struggle against austerity. He has made repeated visits to other countries on the periphery, including Greece, Italy and Portugal, and throughout the continent, to assist campaigns and striking workers and to appeal for common action across Europe against austerity.
The Socialist Party played an important role in helping to bring ordinary working class people and left activists and groups together to help develop a fight back against austerity through the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT). We also hoped that the ULA could constitute an important step forward in the task of the political reorganisation of the working class.
The absence of a significant number of new people stepping into consistent activity was in an overall sense a very important factor in undermining both these initiatives. On top of that the change of tactics to deductions at source by Revenue dovetailed with people’s lack of confidence and was the basis upon which the Property Tax was imposed. It was always the case that without significant fresh forces the ULA couldn’t move forward; its demise as a credible left/socialist alliance last year was ensured through damaging political associations and mistakes. However, the Socialist Party is committed to continue to work with others towards the building of a new mass party for the working class and we hope that the Anti Austerity Alliance, which is open to all to get involved in and is contesting next year’s local elections, will contribute to that goal.
In a principled way we are also trying to popularise a class, left and socialist alternative even when the conditions are difficult, as shown by the principled position we took in supporting the abolition of the undemocratic and elitist Seanad while condemning the Government and its austerity at the same time.
Specifically, in relation to this battle in the Dublin European Constituency, there is no question that for the Left the issue is whether Paul will retain the seat, and what needs to be done to achieve that. It is clear that it will be a battle but it is achievable. Talk of the possibility of two seats by members of the SWP for the far left is an attempt to prettify or camouflage what would be a deeply sectarian move that will damage the struggle and could well result in giving a left and socialist seat to the right-wing.
A major mistake
This article has necessarily gone into some detail in order to answer false justifications that will be promoted to justify the People Before Profit Alliance candidate. We ask the members of the Socialist Workers Party and the People Before Profit Alliance to urgently re-discuss and to reconsider this issue before a major mistake is made.
However, whatever they decide, we are confident that Paul’s candidature will be actively supported by many over the coming months and in the election itself by those who recognise the important role he is playing and can play in the future and the need for a strong and fighting socialist force that points a real way forward for working class people.
For more information, or to get active in Paul’s re-election campaign, check out PaulMurphyMEP.eu