got a good vote in Hartlepool coming 5th in a field of 14 candidates.
This is the first by-election where Respect has stood as well as the
Greens and the SLP. At the beginning of the campaign Respect had 3 or 4
supporters in Hartlepool now there are 30-40 Respect activists in the
optimistic tone was adopted on Respect's web site, commenting on the
"From a standing start in a
crowded field of 14 candidates and massive and unprecedented resources
poured into the constituency by the major parties, Respect and its
candidate John Bloom did exceptionally well. We gained a clear fifth
place and established Respect as the largest and best organised left
challenge to the establishment, gaining well over twice the vote for the
Now honesty is
important in politics. Part of the cynicism we all feel about the
establishment parties is the way they spin to pretend disastrous results
are really god ones. This is really part of a moral corruption where we
are all so habituated to politicians lying that we don't even think it
is odd any more.
One of the
encouraging aspects of the Socialist Alliance was the way there was a
serious and honest attempt to analyse the bad results as well as the
good ones.. So although the SA vote was often disappointing, that wasn't
fundamental to the project - it was another opportunity to learn and
develop. The long term project was to start to change the established
political terrain to reflect the widespread mood of radicalization that
had no expression within the existing party structures and voting
much of the discussion about Respect seems to be based upon the belief
that there is a pre-existing opposition to be "hoovered up" into almost
inevitable electoral success. Of course ideological opposition exists.
But it does so in a fragmented and contradictory way - it doesn't yet
exist in any form coherent enough to support a major reconfiguration of
optimism about the electoral prospects in Hartlepool can be clearly seen
from the local Respect web page, that wrote (before the poll):
Victory in sight? - It's now up to us! Could Hartlepool-Respect
Register another victory. To win in Hartlepool would be a truly
magnificent coup, and shake the foundations of parliament to the core as
well as capturing public imagination all across the country. This is the
greatest opportunity yet to bury New Labour's shameful policies, and to
silence Lib Dems' insincere posturings."
And even more
confidently on eve of poll:
"Latest unauthorised statistics
show that Respect is just about leading the popularity stakes. By
registering your vote for Respect in the up-coming by-election, local
campaigner John Bloom can ensure an amazing win for all, and finally
ensure that Hartlepool gets the MP, town and environment it truly
was expecting a breakthrough, but many people were expecting a better
result than John Bloom actually achieved. This is well summed up by one
Socialist Resistance supporter, who wrote: "I
didn't think we would get as high a percentage of the vote as Birmingham
or Leicester but I was hoping Respect would pick up near 5%."
A more sober
assessment of the prospects was given on the Socialist Unity web-page
back in July: "The difficult
challenge for Respect is that this is both a very unfavourable contest,
and one that is hard to avoid. In the 2001 general election Arthur
Scargill stood against Mandelson and scored a creditable 2.4%, getting
over 900 votes. At the time most of us were a bit disappointed by this
performance, but in hindsight it was quite good. Hartlepool is a small
working class town (population 88000, electorate 67000). According to
the 2001 census 98.8% of Hartlepool's population describe themselves as
white and only 0.4% are Moslem. Undoubtedly left organisation in the
town is relatively weak, although this is one of the few towns where
Respect stood candidates for the local elections. This is the sort of
town where Respect polled very badly in the Euro elections on June 10th
right across the country, and in Hartlepool they polled only 1.0%.
Remember, in many parts of the country Respect polled no better in the
Euro elections than Scargill's Socialist Labour Party (SLP) did in 1999.
However, the 2.4% vote for the SLP in 2001 shows that there is an
audience for a socialist alternative in Hartlepool. What is more, the
fact that Mandelson personifies the New Labour ethos means that there is
a crying need for a left challenge in the by-election. The difficulty
for Respect is that if it doesn't contest this election then many on the
left will accuse them of walking away from white working class
constituencies. But if Respect does contest the election and performs
worse than 2.4% then this will be a very sobering reality check."
reality check is indeed what Hartlepool represents. But a reality check
requires there to be some analysis, and a discussion about what the
result means for the future. Unfortunately there was no discussion in
the following week's Socialist Worker, and the SWP's internal party
notes said it was a good result! In fact I couldn't find any mention of
the Hartlepool result at all in the following week's Socialist Worker:
Nor is the
failure to face facts limited to the SWP. Another Respect supporter
wrote: "I'm not looking at it
through rose tinted glasses or making excuses but I think there are some
positive things to say about it ( and I am just talking locally here ).
We got a lot less than the Tories in fourth place but it is significant
that we came fifth. I think the top five here were perceived as being
the serious parties and the others as being the marginal and mad ones."
So RESPECT are
left with two consolations. that they came fifth, and that they have
recruited 30 or 40 new members.
But someone had to come fifth, and the spread of votes shows that there
were just four serious contenders, who got thousands of votes, 9% or
more. And then there was a spread of disastrous votes for all the other
10 candidates - who got just a few hundred votes, all below 2%.
given that relatively large campaigning resources were put into this
election by Respect then voters were aware of them and made a conscious
choice to vote for someone else. That does not mean the result is a
disaster, 1.8% is not much worse than the early results gained by the
Scottish Socialist party, or the Portuguese Left Block: we can build on
1.8%. However, Hartlepool suggests that in traditional working class
towns it is going to be a long haul to build an alternative to New
Labour. The triumphalism of Respect gets in the way of the serious work
that needs to be done.
It is of course
good that a reported 30 or 40 people (by which we can understand les
than 30) have joined Respect. But if they joined on an understanding
that John Bloom would get a good vote surely many of them may be
It is worth
quoting from Tony Cliff's biography concerning the disastrous Grimsby
by-election in 1977: "The euphoria
among our members, both new and old, was astonishing. It was natural.
Paul Foot was interviewed on the BBC ... The SWP public meeting
attracted a larger audience than the Labour Party meeting addressed by
Michael Foot. After the pathetic
vote we won was announced the demoralization was extreme. Of the 50 new
members we recruited during the campaign not one turned up to the branch
meeting a couple of days after the election. Of the original 5 members ,
two left immediately and soon afterwards the branch collapsed."
the SWP went wrong in 1977 was by not declaring: "The
SWP got a good vote in Grimsby coming 4th in a field of 6 candidates.
This is the first by-election where the SWP has stood as well as the
Sunshine Party and the Malcolm Muggeridge Fan Club. At the beginning of
the campaign the SWP had 4 or 5 supporters in Grimsby now there are 40
to 50 SWP activists in the town.""