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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
The Socialist Alliance quizzed

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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The Socialist Alliance is a left-wing party which aims to offer a "real alternative to the New Labour-Tory consensus". It is composed of individual members with no affiliated organisations

Their platform is for substantial increases in pensions and the restoration of the earnings link. They would increase taxes for the rich and end tuition fees. If elected any Socialist Alliance MP would agree not to take the full salary but accept only the equivalent of an average working wage.

Mike Marqusee, who co-wrote the Socialist Alliance manifesto and sits on their national executive, answered your question in a live Forum.


A transcript of the Forum appears below.

News Host

Hello and welcome to BBC's News Online election talking point forum. I'm Sean Curran, one of the BBC's parliamentary correspondents at Westminster and I'm joined by Mike Marqusee who is a leading campaigner for the Socialist Alliance which is fighting a large number of seats in this election. Let's start off with a question about your electoral prospects. This is from Andrew Curtis in Colchester. He says what percentage of the votes do you think would be a good result for the Socialist Alliance?

Mike Marqusee:

Well we have no idea, we have no benchmark. This is the first national general election we've contested. So we are in the dark and we are too poor to afford a psephologist so the questioner's guess is as good as mine. What's important to us is that we have waged a very intensive grassroots campaign. I'm quite confident the Socialist Alliance campaign on the ground in the constituencies where we're standing is without doubt the most high-profile of any of the smaller parties. We've already achieved a great deal. In the course of the campaign we've doubled the number of activists on behalf of the Socialist Alliance. For us the real gains will come after the General Election. We're looking for the council elections next year, the European elections after that and of course the London, Welsh and Scottish elections and we believe we will start winning seats in those elections. Though I can tell you we have no expectations of winning any seats in the general election.

News Host:

Well there's a question here from Michael Newbold in Oxford which really hits upon that point. If you're not going to win any seats why are you taking part in the election?. He says all you can possibly hope to achieve is to take away some Labour votes and help the Conservatives.

Mike Marqusee:

First all I don't think there's the slightest danger of that. Everyone knows that New Labour is going to win this election in a count. Let's be realistic. Therefore to add to New Labour's majority is really to waste your vote and our message to voters is quite straightforward. Now is the time for a protest vote. The most significant votes cast in this election will be the protest votes against the neo-Liberal consensus which is now embraced by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories. We believe there has to be a register of the dissent that is widespread against that consensus in this election. So we feel that justifies our efforts.

News Host:

So are you hopeful then at if a lot of people do vote Socialist Alliance this will somehow act as a brake upon Labour if they get into power?

Mike Marqusee:

Not just a brake on Labour, a brake on the whole political establishment, which is made aware that there are a growing number of people in this country who feel deeply alienated by the domination of our politics and indeed our public life by big major parties and the major corporations and who want an alternative. If that message gets through to the establishment, yes of course it will be a brake on things like the attempt to introduce big business and private property to the very heart of the health service, which appears to be Tony Blair's principal election pledge.

News Host:

Now there's another socialist party standing in this election, the Socialist Labour Party; some people will be surprised that in a way it looks like you're standing against them - that's going to split the socialist vote.

Mike Marqusee:

Yes, I understand that concern and the need for unity among all socialists. Among all of those of us who are to the left of the establishment, consensus is very important. The Socialist Alliance was founded on that awareness. We have sought, and we will continue to seek co-operation with the Socialist Labour Party, and with everyone else to the left of New Labour, but in the meantime we have run the broadest, most diverse and at the same time most united campaign on the ground and after the election we will renew discussions with everyone else who shares our priorities.

News Host:

Can you understand though that some people might be confused? There's been a suggestion that Ricky Tomlinson, the ex-Brookside actor and member of the Royle family cast, he appears to be supporting both parties.

Mike Marqusee:

Yes, he is. He's supporting both parties, a perfectly reasonable position, because we do stand for many similar ideas and similar priorities. I'd simply point out that the Socialist Alliance is much broader, much bigger and much more likely because of the campaign we've waged to be an effective vehicle for the protest vote.

News Host:

Okay, let's get onto the details of policy. Adam Boynes from Leamington on taxation. What will be the top rate of income tax that the rich would have to pay?

Mike Marqusee:

Well we'd certainly like to go back at least to the 60% which it was for many years under Margaret Thatcher. She was never known as a socialist and it's clearly not an extreme proposal. What we want to see is a steeply- progressive income tax. We want to see a shift of the burden of public finance away from indirect taxation - regressive taxation which hurts the poor and working people most - towards direct taxation on incomes and wealth. And we will look at every means available to secure the resources that we need. We are the fourth richest country in the world. We can afford the improvements the Socialist Alliance is campaigning for.

News Host:

And how would you define the well-off; at what point would people start to pay more tax?

Mike Marqusee:

No-one on average earnings would start to pay more tax, in fact under our proposals everyone on average earnings and below would pay less income tax and certainly less in the form of indirect taxes. The real burden has to fall on the top 20% who have benefited most under both the Tories and New Labour over the last 20 years. If we simply take back from them what was given by both Tory and Labour governments we will secure a large amount of resources which we can invest in our health service, transport and education.

News Host:

Okay. European policy. Chris Beckett from Bolton: what's your position on Europe and the pound. Is it to join wholeheartedly and lose the pound or refuse to be involved in Europe and keep the pound?.

Mike Marqusee:

We think that's a false choice and one of the reasons we're actually involved in British politics, not only standing in this election but afterwards, is that we are concerned about what appears to be a false choice between a narrow-minded old-fashioned nationalism as personified by William Hague and the Conservative Party, of which we wholly disapprove and a rather phoney modernism which simply consists of giving big business and the multi-national corporations complete licence to do as they please, which is represented by Tony Blair. The alternative is to reconstruct around human needs rather than private greed. That's the real choice. The pound versus the euro is a charade and I hope voters in Britain can see through that.

News Host:

But what is your position towards the European Union? Many people would argue that actually a lot of the social and economic policies agreed by the European Union are agreed on the basis that most of the member states will run market economies.

Mike Marqusee:

Without doubt the Maastricht criteria for monetary union effectively institutionalised what we in this country know as Thatcherism in the economic policy of all the European Union states. And that's why we are unequivocally opposed to the arrangements for the euro as they now stand. It's not because we have some problem about whose head is on the coin, it's the policies which go along with the change in the currency are unacceptable to us.

News Host:

So would you have a problem then with a single currency?

Mike Marqusee:

We have a problem with the banker's Europe, which we oppose. We want to see a worker's Europe. We are without question international and so we completely reject a nationalist critique of the euro, but we have our critique of the euro, which we hope people will listen to. Because if the arrangements agreed to support the euro are followed through it will means cuts in public spending, it will mean further privatisation of public services and it will enable big businesses to come and go as they please, across Europe, indeed across the world with terrible consequences for jobs and for communities.

News Host:

Okay, what about the structures of democracy in this country. A question from Salford: do you support proportional representation so that seats in a democratic Houses of Parliament would reflect the number of votes per party?

Mike Marqusee:

We certainly support the introduction of an element of proportionality in the electoral system. Without question the current first-past-the-post system heavily distorts the balance of opinion in this country. Of course there is a very complex debate about forms of proportional representation, which I don't propose to get into now, but the guidelines for us are clear. We want to see the diversity of public opinion in Britain fully represented at all levels, not just in the House of Commons. But we also want our MPs and all our other election representatives to be rigorously accountable to the electorate. Now we think we can combine those two things - and we think we have to - if we're going to have a real democracy in this country.

News Host:

A question about the protest movement from Gavin Brown in London. He says: events in Prague, Seattle and Quebec over the last couple of years have radicalised the large number of people in this country and across the world, but a lot of these anti-capitalist protesters are completely turned off by electoral politics. So what does that mean to you and the Socialist Alliance, because presumably these are the people you're hoping to reach?

Mike Marqusee:

Yes this is a very profound and important question and I won't pretend that anyone on the left has an immediate and simple answer for it. But the most important thing is this: the Socialist Alliance is committed for forming a bridge between the Labour movement and the anti-capitalist protesters, between electoral politics and non-electoral politics - the politics of mass demonstrations. We will be in Genoa in the next major anti-capitalist protests with the candidates who are standing in this election for the Socialist Alliance and many others. We're bringing a whole train-load of people there. We'll continue to support this. What we need to do is find a way to bring the various constituencies of protest and dissent together. Because we do share a common agenda, which is pushing the multi-national corporations out of the centre of our democracy. It is absolutely crucial to all our futures, so we have to work together By standing in the election we have given an electoral home to all those forces who protested on May Day and in many other protests. After the election we have to show that we're not just about electoral policies, that social change has to have a much wider agenda than that.

News Host:

Is it right for people to assume though that you are standing for election so therefore presumably you buy in to the concept of parliamentary democracy?

Mike Marqusee:

We buy into the concept of democracy without question and want to see a much more democratic society. One of our objections is that this country isn't actually ruled by parliament at the moment. It is ruled by big business interests. One of the very first things that Blair and Brown did was to hand over the power on interest rates to an unelected, unaccountable group of very, very wealthy people and we would reverse that. But parliamentary democracy as it stands now is not sufficient. We want to enhance our democracy. What's happened to local democracy, local government in this country over the last 20 years is an absolute tragedy and that's got to be changed as well.

News Host:

In the event that you did win a seat, or even you have seats on councils, is it possible for you to actually work with other councillors and other elected people to do anything?.

Mike Marqusee:

I think it is. As we come to elect more public representatives, that will be a test for us. But I think without a doubt on specific issues - opposition, say, to private finance initiatives for a particular hospital, opposition to privatisation of the London Underground e there is a very large number of people, mainly outside political parties, who agree with us. We'll work together on that. We want to maximise our forces on each specific issue while at the same time we do have a broader philosophical view, a socialist view that we also want to promote.

News Host:

A question about Star Wars from Guy Hatt in Harrogate. What steps do you think workers should take to prevent the use of bases in this country as far as the national missile defence system?. We should point out of course that Tony Blair hasn't actually officially agreed that America can make use of any bases.

Mike Marqusee:

Tony Blair hasn't agreed that but Alistair Campbell did explicitly tell the press corps that after the election the government would sign up to this - another example of parliamentary democracy undermined. What we have to do is build a broadly- based social movement against Star Wars, against nuclear escalation, aiming ultimately for nuclear disarmament. Part of that I believe, and the Socialist Alliance believes, should be direct action at Menwith Hill and Fylingdales by everyone who is concerned about this issue, to put a stop to the use of British resources and British territory for a madcap and dangerous scheme.

News Host:

But a lot of people are suggesting now that it may not happen.

Mike Marqusee:

Well, we hope not.

News Host:

President Bush did send a representative round various European capitals to consult on this and most of the reaction was pretty cold. I mean are you setting a false demon to knock down?

Mike Marqusee:

I don't think so at all. The NMD project has been boosted by key Labour supporters, key Labour advisers. They've made this an issue not us. It was Alistair Campbell who announced they were going to sign up to it, not us. But of course if Blair backs down o we welcome that and that is a victory for common-sense and it's a victory for the popular pressure that's already been exerted. There have been quite a few demonstrations again NMD in the course of this election and the Socialist Alliance has taken part in all of them.

News Host:

Okay, one last question now, about the BBC, but perhaps you might talk about the media generally. Tony Port in Wrexham: how are you going to be able to achieve any degree of electoral success in circumstances where the BBC (it's always our fault isn't it!) and others fail to provide you with a reasonable level of air-time? How can you possible connect with an electorate who don't know who you are?

Mike Marqusee:

The criticism of the media is important, and I will omit the BBC specifically at your request, but there is no question that overall the coverage of this election in all the mainstream press and broadcasting media has been excessively focussed on the consensus between the main parties. And it's not just you've excluded the Socialist Alliance, it's by excluding the Social Alliance and others you have precluded putting to the electorate a broader range of options on specific policies including the health service, education and so forth. However, there is no question that the questioner is correct. It does pose a difficult problem for us but the answer to it is this: communicating with people at a grassroots level. Yes we want more media coverage, we think we are entitled to more media coverage, but we're not waiting for it. We have delivered eight million leaflets on the ground to voters in this election. Our name is being recognised not because of a few interviews like the one we're conducting at the moment, but because we have had a high profile on the council estates and in the streets and in the shopping centres and so forth. There is no substitute for anyone who wants to change society, there is no substitute for direct communication with large numbers of people and we're very proud that in this election we have made the effort through a vast army of purely volunteer labour to communicate to millions of working class people to let them know that they do have a choice and there is an alternative.

News Host:

Well we have no alternative, we have run out of time. So that's it from me Sean Curran and from Mike Marqusee of the Socialist Alliance.

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