Socialist Alliance: A Real Alternative in Brent

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The decision taken by the Socialist Alliance at its annual conference in May to explore the possibilities of building a broader and more credible political coalition has provoked fierce debate in some quarters.

But the perspective of the 'task group' of national executive members charged with giving this project national leadership is very clear.

We intend to continue with the process of seeking to build the Socialist Alliance while actively exploring any possibility of boosting the general project of creating a left alternative to Blair. This means engagement with members of the Muslim community radicalised by the war, community activists and trade unionists.

As part of this strategy the Socialist Alliance initiated a convention of the left in Brent East to try to find a credible socialist candidate. As a result Brian Butterworth is standing as 'Socialist Alliance Against War and Privatisation'. Brian has lived in Brent for over 20 years, he is chair of Brent Stop the War Coalition and secretary of the largest local trade union, Brent Unison.

This by-election, now set for 18 September, is of course a severe test for Blair. His credibility, already severely damaged by the 'dodgy dossier' and the aftermath of the war on Iraq, is taking another pounding in the Hutton inquiry.

The Liberal Democrats, third last time with just 10 percent of the vote, smell blood. They are pouring resources into the constituency and have just produced their seventh separate leaflet or tabloid. Although they hope to pick up on the disillusioned anti-war voters as the most sceptical of the major parties (something they have managed to do elsewhere), Labour and Liberal Democrats are involved in a dogfight which is going headlong towards the right. Lib Dems have attacked Labour over crime and the Livingstone-backed Labour candidate Robert Evans has produced a glossy leaflet announcing the setting up of an 'anti-yob' freephone hotline.

This drive to the right opens up a space for the Socialist Alliance. Our aim is to generate a sufficient presence through leaflets, campaigners and canvassers that ex Labour voters in some numbers will begin to see Brian Butterworth and the Socialist Alliance as their preferred choice. We have already had a good reception at two big local mosques where Muslim voters, traditionally strongly Labour, are not only deeply disillusioned about the war but also resentful of the failure of the local Labour Party to select their preferred candidate Shahid Malik.

We are planning a series of days of action in Brent, seeking to mobilise our members and supporters across London and beyond. We have a big rally planned in the middle of September with civil rights campaigners Eamonn McCann and Louise Christian, Linda Smith of London FBU and journalist Paul Foot already confirmed. With Labour and Liberal Democrats monopolising the press both locally and nationally and mobilising their resources, the Socialist Alliance risks being squeezed. But if we mobilise our activists effectively we have a good chance of ensuring that a principled socialist alternative gets a good hearing in this election.