A couple of weeks ago I took a day's annual leave to help out the Greens in the Norwich North by-election. I helped staff a polling station for most of the day ('a teller') in a very rural party of the city - which apparently is going to be hived off to another Tory seat at the General election. Not sure to what extent if at all my polling numbers were really used -I think I was simply their to pretend to give an appearance of a real 'knocking up campaign' which both the Tories and Lib Dem has done to some extent. The Tories spend a fortune (I thought their were restrictions on how much parties and candidates can spend in elections ?)and romped home in a previously reasonably safe labour seat -but this term is now no longer valid! An almost 17% swing saw a fresh faced Tory party apparatchik elected -apparently Cameron and his team are delighted that so many Tory grandees have been caught out by the MP's expenses scandal that he can stuff parliament with even more of his clones and yes people -very much in the mould of New Labour's tactics. The Greens did quite well in gaining more than 3,000 votes and almost 10% of the vote.
I have worked in a number of by-elections for socialist candidates where even saving the deposit is a real achievement. The real advances the Greens however have made in the city has been in Norwich South where they are breathing down the neck of the former homes secretary Charles Clark. The lessons for the left however is that solid local work in Council wards in supporting local people in their daily lives can start to pay results.
I have been studying with interest the work of the Independent Working Class Association in a number of 'pilot' areas they have chosen to focus their limited resources -especially in Oxford. Modeling themselves on a community politics approach from the Republican movement in the 6 Counties, they have run advice surgeries, produced a regular newsletter, helped organised community events, Saturday film clubs for children and more recently running a football festival. I am pleased that some Respect branches are starting to do similar things. The IWCA have gained a footing and level of trust and respect in a number of communities, especially where the local Labour Party has ceased to be active. This used to be the tactic of left, previously the CPGB, especially the old Independent Labour Party. I think this approach is the way forward, rather than trying to take a short-cut and announce a new left party from above. Its going to be a long slog but combined with the likely movement of the teutonic plates of British politics on the left, a new party of the left could take shape quickly.