News from Nowhere

The campaign blog for Socialists in Scotland campaigning in the Livingston by-election - uniting for world socialism.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Word From Our Candidate

What is apparent so far in this election is the extent to which all the parties try and manage the agenda for the election. They all want to encourage the debate to be round the handful of high-profile “flagship” issues where they feel on strong ground.
But its always phrased along the lines of “knocking on doors, we keep hearing that XXX is the real issue of the day”. Funnily enough, we don’t hear the Lib Dems, for example, say “recent canvassing returns indicate that voters actually don’t give a damn about our policies one way or the other”.
The assumption is that voters are stupid and can only remember 3 or 4 things at a time, so why give them more than that to consider.
What it all means is that the campaign may centre around a handful of issues only. That may appear to appeal to the Socialist Party. After all we are the ultimate single issue party - Abolish Capitalism. But while this is a single issue no-one is pretending that it is a simple case. Sure its not complicated, the case for putting human need ahead of profit, but soundbites don’t do our case justice.
We are also handicapped in the eyes of the modern voter by the fact that we are not in a position to make promises, and what’s more, we aren’t going to “do anything” for anyone. The other parties are falling over each other to be seen to be offering some immediate palliative.
What is important to recognise is that these so-called “local” issues that are high on the agenda at the Livingston by-election (such as the NHS, local schools, and fire cover) are pressing issues everywhere else. But these are not really local issues after all. Its just that many people (and all of our opponents) think the solution is usually a local one, so there is no point looking elsewhere for the answer. Unhappy with the plans for the local hospital (St Johns) ? Well don’t worry whoever gets elected will have a word with the local Health Board and try and clarify the situation. Concerned about fire cover at Craigshill fire station ? Don’t worry, one of the politicians will make sure you are consulted about it. Losing sleep over global warming ? No problem, I’ll just turn the thermostat down… (OK I made the last one up)
In fact the problem underpinning most of the supposed “local” issues is usually much broader. Its not just specific local problems (like poor quality consultation documents, or ill thought through proposals). The whole issue of provision of essential services such as health care and fire emergency cover is dictated by the level of resources allocated . And whether the by-election is in Livingston or Llannelli, the same picture emerges: social services are obviously extremely stretched. Public sector workers are under pressure to work harder, for less money (see NHS Agenda for change) and now, it would seem, for longer (see for example yesterday’s government announcement that the retiral age is likely to be increased).
Labour’s response is to provide selective statistics to prove that Labour has been investing heavily in NHS. This may be true recently, but follows a calculated starvation of resources in the earlier years of the “New Labour” administration. And anyway this has only been possible because the economy has been strong. The economic storm clouds are gathering which are likely to severely inhibit Prime Minister Brown’s room for manoeuvre.
Of course Labour like to take responsibility for the strength of the economy in recent years. The reality is that Gordon Brown chose his time to be Chancellor very well, and will be getting out at just the right time. In reality, the government is in control of the economy the same way a duck bobbing around on the ocean is in control of the tides.
Our opponents are making all sorts of promises to the voters of West Lothian. What will they do for the NHS ? Will they remove prescription charges ? Will they maintain adequate fire cover for the area ? What is a “fair“ wage for a nursery nurse ? Or for a bus-driver for that matter ? In so doing we’d say they are fighting over the crumbs from the rich man’s plate, rather than upsetting the whole table.

What is our response to some of the key issues raised in the campaign to date ?
Fire Cover at Craigshill station
A local community group the, Fire Reform Action Group, held an election hustings on Thursday night.
The local authority appears to be proposing a cut in the number of tenders available for weekend periods. This is likely to result in an increase in time for tenders to travel from other stations during busy periods. This is also despite an increase in fires in the area in the last year, and a projection that the population will continue to grow in the near to medium-term.
The Socialist Party’s view is that this is clearly a cost-cutting measure. it’s a blatant example of the merciless logic of the market system. The Fire Service is not a profit centre (in its early days of course it was - your house would burn to the ground if your payments weren’t up to date), but it is a cost to the capitalist state. It’s a cost that the state is prepared to pay on behalf of its paymasters (the UK capitalist class) - after all stopping a property from being burnt to the ground is usually a cheaper option than re-building it outright. (And the owning clas don’t want to have to do it themselves - after all, can you imagine Brian Soutar or the Duke of Buccleuch wanting to get their hands dirty).
But the capitalist class don’t want to pay any more than they have to; they don’t want a fire service that will be able to do anything more than the bare minimum. The reason ? - ultimately these costs come off the profits of UK Capitalism.
It was interesting to note that during the debate, all of our opponents at the hustings on Thursday night expressed the view that profit should not be put before people or public safety. Socialist sentiments lurk inside us all, often without us realising it. In the Socialist Party, we don’t just pay lip service to this basic principle though: for us its not just a nice idea - it’s the essence of our position. Only the Socialist Party has the practical case that is consistent with this idea.
Let’s be in no doubt, despite the politicians platitudes, the reality is that profit does come before public safety. Somewhere in the local authority or Scottish Executive or Westminster, there is an accountant doing a cost-benefit analysis on the fire service. They are working out how small a fire service can be maintained, and at what point the cost savings from this are outweighed by the costs of the additional deaths, which will surely follow.
As an example of the insane logic of the market system, last year West Lothian Council received £10,000 to help householders identify fire hazards in their home and to fit smoke alarms. In contrast every retail outlet in the Almondvale shopping centre has had smoke alarms, fire detectors and sprinkler systems in place for years. The message could hardly be clearer: the profit system would rather protect a rack of clothes in Top Shop, than a family home.
So, good luck to the organisers of last nights hustings, the Fire Reform Action Group of Livingston. They appear to have managed to avoid being taken over by the usual underhand and deadhand Leninist tactics of the SSP, and are a genuine grassroots community group. I wont be signing your petition: not because I don’t think the issue is important, but rather because I simply don’t think that petitions work.
You don’t need to be told not to place too much faith in whichever politician gets elected from Livingston - history would suggest that promises made before the election quickly get discarded when in office, and the pressure of trying to run the profit system in the interests of humanity become too difficult.
The Socialist Party advocates the abolition of buying & selling and money & wages. We want the replacement of the system where production is geared to profit, by a system where production is based on self-defined human needs. In the (admittedly) unlikely event that the Socialist Party was elected on 29th September, we would (after sobering up) very probably (ie as we are a democratic party it wouldnt just be up to me to decide) give our support to your reform demand, as we would any issue which we felt would advance the interests or conditions of the working class. But it is reasonable for us to not want to allow this to divert us from the mandate we would have been elected on, to push for a world where the satisfaction of human need is the first and last and only consideration of society.

Brian Gardner , The Socialist Party candidate


  • At 11:56 PM, Blogger Stephen Glenn said…


    I'm very glad to see that the SPGB have decided to fall in line behind Tony Blair's Labour Party and the SNP and attack the Liberal Democrats straight out of the bat. It shows that our Candidate Charles Dundas must be really making in roads.

    As for why you don't hear the Lib Dems say “recent canvassing returns indicate that voters actually don’t give a damn about our policies one way or the other” this is because we actually put out a very thorough residents survey asking people what they thought about a number of keys issues. This actually showed that a lot of people in Livingst do give a damn about these issues and
    policies and we out of all the parties have sought the opinion of the electorate.

  • At 12:57 AM, Blogger Brian Gardner said…

    eh...relax, Stephen - it was meant as a light-hearted comment about all the main parties. I used the Lib Dems as an example but it could have been any of them. Just a bit suspicious how all candidates seem to be claiming that their surveys happen to indicate that their issues are the ones resonating with the voters.

    The Lib Dem policy of listening to voters seems admirable on the face of it, but I have a quick question - if voters in Livingston and Cathcart were to give different answers to your survey, how do you decide which to go with, and what your policies actually are ? The compromise of course is for the LibDems to promise slightly different things to different sections of the electorate. While this would strike me as being very liberal, its maybe not particularly democratic?

    Brian Gardner


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