Correspondence: A sectarian election analysis?
9 May 2019
I felt you were sectarian in your response to PbP's gains in the local elections. The candidates said that their success was due to anger on the doorstep about the growing austenty in the North. Shouldn't we take them at their word? Isn't there the opportunity for a new workers party or at least for a new movement against austerity?
..And our response
The analysis of the election results offers some support for your view for the PbP in Derry but not in Belfast. In Derry the candidates who were not elected scored respectable votes, indicating the possibility of a movement being built. The problem in Derry is that a new movement would involve an alliance with the large militant republican layer and PbP have not got that perspective.
In Belfast the main factor seemed to be visibility. In west Belfast, where they topped the poll, PbP have an MLA and have been contesting elections for years. Their third councillor in North Belfast, as with the majority of the other PbP candidates, achieved a relatively low level of 1st preference votes and depended very heavily on transfers and the key here was to avoid any sharp critique of other organisations. A fair number of transfers came from the SDLP and others from the DUP and PUP. This is claimed as cross community support, but as north Belfast is one of the major sectarian cockpits, tactical voting, rather than a sudden swing to socialism, seems a more likely explanation.
That is not to say that austerity is not an issue, Rather the growing impact of welfare reform was part of disenchantment with Sinn Fein and a fraying of their vote rather than the beginning of a new independent movement of workers,
In any case the PbP manifesto is itself an obstacle. Opposition to austerity went along with toned down criticism of Sinn Fein and a total absence of any acknowledgement that the trade union leaderships had accepted, and continue to accept, the imposition of the"Fresh start” austerity programme.
A new drive against austerity would be welcome, but the PbP campaign was utterly electoralist, consisting solely of smiley-faced posters and doorstepping with leaflets.
This electoralism led to the insane proposal that the housing crisis could be resolved by giving sectarian councils control of housing.
The basic advice about a fight against austerity is; “ If I wanted to go there, I wouldn't start from here!”