In response to Ben Lewis’s piece, ‘Taking Labour seriously’ in Weekly Worker, 21st January, I have contacted the general election candidates in Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
They include Diane Abbot, who is recommended on the Labour Representation Committee list (however erroneously) and is currently standing as the incumbent MP, and Matt Sellwood, who is the Green Party candidate in the same constituency. Matt is a Hands Off the People of Iran supporter, a trade union activist and Unite member, a self-described ‘eco-socialist’, and has been known to campaign for tenants’ and squatters’ rights in the area.
Ben Lewis recommended we confront LRC candidates with two specific questions that the CPGB considered to be suitably revealing. I have added a third question in order to draw a sharper line between candidates who merely oppose the most evidently obscene manifestations of capitalism and those who advocate working class politics.
Just a quick point before I leave you to the hopefully entertaining ‘compare and contrast’ exercise . At a recent CPGB aggregate, Nick Rogers suggested that we should consider a tactical vote for Green left candidates as well as Labour left ones, which was countered by claims that the Greens are fundamentally a petty bourgeois party and have until recently officially held ‘anti-human’, let alone anti-working class, politics.
While this roughly corresponds with my own impressions of the party and the green movement more broadly, I have yet to read an analysis of ‘eco-socialism’ and related green left currents in the pages of the Weekly Worker.
My first question to each candidate was: “With the proposed massive ‘slash and burn’ cuts that will be imposed upon us by either the Tories or Labour, will you oppose all cuts in services if you get elected into parliament?”
Diane Abbott responded: “There is no question that because of the money spent bailing out the banks there will have to be cuts to public services whoever wins the next election. But, as in the past, I will be voting to protect public services. My constituency is particularly vulnerable to cuts, not only because people use public services, but because the public sector is the largest provider of jobs in the constituency. Big cuts in public services represent a ‘double whammy’ for the people of Hackney. They will lose their services, but they will also risk losing their jobs. It is worth noting that more money has been spent in Hackney under a Labour government than under any other government. I have always pushed for more investment in Hackney and I will continue to do so if I am re-elected.”
Matt Sellwood responded: “I share the common Green Party view that cuts in services and investment during this time of recession make no economic sense, and would hit the vulnerable hardest. We are, instead, calling for a massive programme of investment in a Green New Deal – which would include improvements to public housing, renationalisation and improvement of the rail system, investment in renewable energy and the training of a new skill base in infrastructure design, development and maintenance. I can’t pledge to oppose all cuts in service because that is a bit of a hostage to fortune unless it is more tightly defined. For example, I would vote to end subsidies for nuclear power, the Trident nuclear submarine system, and so on, which, to some people, would be seen as cuts in service. They would lead to job cuts, although the impact of our programme as a whole would lead to new jobs, in sectors which are healthier for both society and the planet.”
My second question was: “Will you call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan as well as oppose any further imperialist ventures?”
Diane Abbott replied: “I voted against the Iraq war and against the war in Afghanistan. My parents were born and brought up in a British colony so I have no difficulty in identifying with imperialist ventures. Last year I visited the British army in Helmand province. On the one hand, I was very impressed by the bravery of our soldiers but, on the other hand, it confirmed my view that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won and, the quicker troops withdraw from there, the better.”
Matt Sellwood replied: “Yes. I am a long-standing anti-war activist, with a record of protest and direct action against both the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am implacably opposed to them.”
My third and final question was: “Would you call yourself a Marxist? And to what extent will class politics be on your agenda if you are re-elected to parliament?”
Diane Abbott wrote: “Class politics has always been on my agenda and my voting record proves it. For the record, I do not claim a second home, I live in Dalston and wholly support the prosecution of MPs who have taken advantage of the system. What concerns me is that many voters don’t realise that, if David Cameron gets elected, he will be the first old Etonian prime minister since 1964. Electing David Cameron would be taking this country back 40 years. We have come a long way since the 60s and have seen far more diverse people from different backgrounds, like myself, become party members.”
Matt Sellwood wrote: “Now there is a question with a long and complicated answer! My politics are informed by Marxism, although I am not an orthodox Marxist. I self-describe as an eco-socialist, and am a member of Green Left, the eco-socialist grouping within the Green Party. My politics are probably closest to those of Murray Bookchin and the social ecology school of thought, although I take influences from a variety of different sources, mostly around left-libertarian theory. I am significantly influenced by left Marxists such as Rosa Luxemburg.”