Promoted by David Beale, 36 Pleasant View, Withnell, Chorley PR6 8SE on behalf of Martin Powell-Davies of TUSC.

Saturday 6 July 2024

TUSC - building a team ready for the struggles to come in Chorley and beyond

"Well Martin, what a strange election. We are all so proud of you standing up for us workers, and whilst [Lindsay Hoyle] got back in you showed there is a significant voice which is represented by you. I wish you all the best and if nothing else we stood side by side to do the right thing". 
Joe, Earlsway Residents Association.

This message - sent from just one of the many new points of support that we have made right across the constituency - sums up the roots that TUSC have put down in the last few weeks of campaigning. These are the roots that we will now build on in the struggles to come under the new Starmer-led Labour government.

After the last evening knocking on doors of voters in the streets of Chorley East, and a long night waiting for the vote to be counted at Chorley Town Hall, there were still smiles on our faces! Yes, we know that our 632 votes was a modest return for all of the hard work that we had put in. However, we are satisfied that we could not have done more to get our message across. No other party had been out at meetings, in the speaker-van, on the town centre stalls, on the doorsteps and on the council estates like we had. Our real reward was the TUSC team that we have built and grown over the campaign, a team that will be sticking together to campaign on all of the issues that we know the workers of Chorley feel so angry about - not least the cost-of-living crisis, the state of our crumbling NHS and public services, and the lack of genuinely affordable housing.

Finishing the last knocking up in Chorley East

Labour elected - but with under 10 million votes

In many ways it has been a 'strange' election. It's ended up with a supposed Labour 'landslide', yet one based on just a 34% share of the overall votes. In absolute numbers, Labour received just 9.6 million votes, lower than the 10.2 million Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour got in 2019, and far below the 12.8 million he got in 2017. Yes, the hated Tories were annihilated, but Keir Starmer is already regarded by many working-class people with suspicion, as just another career politician who has little to say for 'the likes of us'.

Because we've been out on the doorsteps and the streets of Chorley, we've had hundreds of conversations that have brought home to us that suspicion of Starmer. For some, particularly from the Muslim community, Starmer's support for the Israeli onslaught in Gaza has resulted in more than just suspicion, it's meant real anger. That anger helped mobilise the tremendous votes for Jeremy Corbyn and the four anti-war independent MPs elected on July 4th, but it was not such a significant factor across the whole of Chorley.

In Chorley, it was usually our wider programme - for action of homes and health, for a £15 an hour minimum wage, for a future for young people and a society run in the interests of the workers, not the wealthy - that was nearly always well received on the stalls and doorsteps. However, while we could convince a minority to show their anger against inequality by voting for TUSC, we could tell that most working-class voters were so disconnected or angry with establishment politics and politicians that they just weren't going to vote at all. And that was shown nationally - with an overall turnout of under 60% being one of the lowest ever recorded in any General Election.

The programme on our election leaflet delivered by Royal Mail

Many Chorley workers felt forgotten and disenfranchised

In Chorley, the turnout was even lower - at just 47%. The general disconnection with establishment politics was added to by real confusion as to whether you were allowed to vote against the Speaker at all! At the start of the campaign, we were having to constantly explain that, just because the main parties had done a deal not to stand against Lindsay Hoyle, that didn't mean that other parties couldn't - and that they still had a right to go out and vote. That message seemed to have got through after a few weeks in the town centre but, out on the estates, that confusion remained to the last. On the afternoon on Election Day, I was having to exchange messages with a voter, who had received our leaflet on the Collingwood Estate, to help him explain to his neighbours that, yes, they were allowed to vote in Chorley!

Many Chorley voters felt that they were effectively being disenfranchised. Being in the Speaker's constituency meant that they were left without the choice of parties available in other constituencies. Instead, they were being asked to endorse the return of a Speaker who could not speak up or vote for then in Parliament because of his supposedly 'impartial' position. In response, over 2,000 voters opted for the single-issue 'Democracy for Chorley' candidate and nearly 1,200 spoilt their votes, instead using a 'creative' (you'll have to use your imagination!) choice of drawings and slogans on their ballot papers to illustrate what a 'stitch-up' they thought it was for Chorley voters.

There's no denying that Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who has built up his base of support over many years, retained a substantial majority - with over 25,000 votes cast. In a strange way, in an election where voters wanted to show their anger at the main parties, Hoyle may have actually benefited from being seen as being more of an 'independent', not standing under any party label but just as the local candidate. However, for others, Hoyle was definitely seen as being just another establishment politician, making himself a nice career, happy to be seen glad-handing people around town, but delivering nothing for Chorley voters in reality.

As a warning for the future, it was also clear from the discussions we had, and from the spoilt papers, that there was a section of Chorley workers that would have voted for 'Reform' if they had been on the ballot paper. Some chose to vote for the right-wing 'English Constitution Party' instead. Unless a strong working-class trade union and socialist alternative is built, there is a real danger of right-populist, racist forces stepping into the vacuum as anger with the incoming Labour government grows - just like we are seeing in France and elsewhere.

Why Starmer's Labour will continue with Tory attacks - read more here

But our team of canvassers were ready to take on these arguments when they arose. More often than not they stemmed from a justified feeling that working-class people had been forgotten about by the 'politicians', and genuine anger about the state of housing and the NHS. However, they were then mistakenly falling for the simple arguments that it was refugees who were therefore to blame for that crisis, instead of the profiteers and privatisers who have been slashing public services for so long. And, of course, these arguments are being made by politicians like Farage who, in reality, serve the interests of that same wealthy establishment, certainly not the working-class.

For example, one group of lads on an estate in Clayton Brook were abusing our team and shouting 'Reform' at us. But we didn't back away, we went over to discuss. Explaining that we were a trade union-backed party got at least one of the lads to talk about how he was in a union at work and listen intently to what we were saying. Another angry truck driver in Chorley East was so abusive at me to start with that my fellow canvasser was worried that I was going to get punched. However, I held my ground, explained our position, and the fact that I was standing on a workers' wage, not the £171,000 that the Speaker gets paid. In the end, he was one of several voters who may have switched from wanting to vote 'Reform' to voting TUSC instead.

A mass workers' voice is urgently needed

If an election was decided by the amount of work put in by the parties on the ground, then TUSC would definitely have had a much stronger showing in Chorley than we achieved! However, of course, despite all our work, unless you have a team of mass canvassers like Jeremy Corbyn was able to assemble in Islington, you are still really just scratching the surface of a whole constituency. Our own stalls, door-knocking and leafletting could only touch a fraction of the overall electorate. One A5 leaflet delivered through the Royal Mail - and then not always received - will have only been read by a minority. 

Some did read our material, and were so pleased to read it, that they responded by getting in touch, putting up a poster in their window and becoming part of our new base in Chorley. Some already knew about TUSC through our stand in the local elections in May. But many looking for a vote to the left of Labour will have looked for parties with a bigger national profile - and so voted 'Green' instead. 

In Chorley, as in other towns and cities, many of the local Greens are 'Corbynites' who are looking, like us, to build an alternative to Labour. However, the Greens are not a workers’ party, with no democratic rights for trade unions within it. When actually elected to lead councils, they have failed to mobilise workers to demand the funding needed from central government but, instead, have implemented cuts.  They also stood, for example, against Jeremy Corbyn in Islington North. However, if the four new Green MPs would now be willing to act as part of a bloc of workers' MPs alongside Corbyn and the anti-war independents, then the Greens could help play a positive role in the fight for a mass party of the working class - or, at the very least to start with, help bring together a united workers' list with a strong national profile.

Read more here: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/party-media/

I and my party, the Socialist Party, have been campaigning for a new mass workers' party ever since Tony Blair first started to decisively turn Labour into just another pro-capitalist party, shorn from its previous trade union and working-class mass base. That's why, alongside building the Socialist Party, I and others have devoted so much of our energy into also building TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. 

We have always only seen TUSC as one step towards building a new trade union based mass party, armed with a socialist programme. That is the party that is going to be even more urgently needed as mass opposition starts to develop against a Starmer government driven to attack the working-class by the 'logic' of capitalism, a logic that will be so slavishly followed by Starmer, Reeves and the rest of the new Labour Cabinet.

In Chorley we will continue to do both* - to build that wider TUSC team as part of a wider campaign to build a new mass workers' voice to challenge the main capitalist parties, while also building the Socialist Party, bringing together the most determined trade unionists, youth and community campaigners to learn the lessons of the past - in order to win the battles of the future.

Martin Powell-Davies, 6th July 2024.

* We're meeting up to review and discuss what we do next at the St. Joseph's Club, Harpers Lane, Chorley on Tuesday 9th July at 7pm - before the football for anyone who wants to watch it there afterwards - so you're welcome to come and join us there!

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