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22 red pepperoct/nov2007

three councillors have no organised political background – left or right – whatsoever. The softly spoken Clare Kent explains what inspired her to get involved. ‘I was always a Labour voter up until my children started haranguing me in 2000 about them having nothing to do. So we did a petition. I was invited by the local MP, Andrew Smith, to join the tenants’ association and the area committees. I could not believe how our local Labour councillor would say one thing to the committee and then go and say another thing in the council. Anyway, I phoned up the MP, Andrew Smith, and said, “You’ve got to get rid of this councillor,” and he said, “Oh no, he’s a wonderful councillor.” That finished me with the Labour Party. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the IWCA, but a friend of mine in Blackbird Leys said I should get in touch with Stuart Craft.’ After a short period of involvement, Kent stood as an IWCA council candidate and was elected. Highly localised and practical politics is what makes the IWCA so effective. ‘We do a lot more ward time on our estates than the other parties, because that’s our reason for existing. Attending council meetings is just the necessary evil really,’ explains Craft. Success in the wards is vital because, in the end, that is what will get them re-elected. Yet the IWCA councillors are highly principled. Their aim is securing a decent future for the people of their wards and it matters more than anything else to them. Clare Kent describes what she has achieved since 2004. ‘We’ve got play schemes running, the return of the youth club to the estate, and a sports centre is being built.’ But she is also well aware that there is still plenty to do.

Tackling drugs Stuart Craft talks earnestly about the continuing need to tackle hard drug dealing on Blackbird Leys. ‘We’ve done everything from community patrols to picketing drug dealers’ doors alongside the residents. The local community centre bar was run by a couple who were harbouring drug dealers. Within months of us campaigning, we forced the closure of the bar and the crack house closed down. Today, of course, there’s still drug dealing. We haven’t the power to affect national policies, and the drugs are going to be there until the government change their drugs strategy. All we can do is manage the problem.’ ‘Recently, the police put out a press release stating that people in Blackbird Leys have said that the quality of life has gone up and they don’t perceive crime as a big problem anymore,’ Craft

locally based detox centres, the establishment of a social contract with users for the proper disposal of needles, and GPs to be allowed to prescribe heroin in order to administer dosages safely’. But the IWCA has no real national profile. Its members aren’t seen on London demos carrying banners and placards – something that most left parties regard as important. Instead they concentrate on their successes in Oxford, seeking to turn them into successes elsewhere. There have been the signs of a breakthrough in other areas. In Bunhill, a socially deprived ward in Islington, the IWCA claimed 22 per cent of the vote in 2006. In May this year, they contested an election in Thurrock, where the BNP is also looking to win protest votes. Dave Amis, who stood in Thurrock, is upbeat about the vote they achieved, although they only contested one out of the 16 wards and gained 7 per cent. ‘It was the first time round, so quite hard work, but we got a very good base.’ Stuart Craft believes that ‘with a standing start, the IWCA could beat the BNP in working-class areas every time’. If they could, this would be a significant reversal for the BNP, but as yet neither the IWCA nor the other larger parties to the left of Labour are seriously competing against the BNP at the ballot box.

Against multiculturalism In defeating the BNP in council elections, Craft identifies the issue of multiculturalism as central. In diverse communities like Thurrock and Blackbird Leys, this would appear to be the obvious alternative and positive policy. But controversially the ICWA does not take the traditional left position. Instead it argues that any initiatives that privilege one religious or ethnic group over another are unfair and divide the working class. In Oxford, Labour has branded the IWCA as racist. Craft vehemently denies this and instead claims, ‘I think we’re the only anti-racist organisation on this council.’ The IWCA manifesto spells out its belief that ‘the state funding of social projects purely on the grounds of race can only foster an “us and them” scenario, with the result that instead of being united by anti-racism, the working class can just as easily be divided by it.’ When Craft first became a councillor, he proposed a motion against multicultural youth facility programmes,

continues. ‘We attribute

that to being directly linked to our efforts.’ The isolation of drug dealers by the community is one of the IWCA policy objectives on drugs. The IWCA supports the decriminalisation of cannabis, but says that managing the problems of drug use is also of paramount importance. Its manifesto lists among its policy objectives ‘the proper provision of

which he

claimed benefited one group

above another. ‘The limited resources we’ve

got should be spent on facilities that are open to all and nobody should be barred for the colour of their skin. The council didn’t even debate the motion. It’s amazing. Everybody was against it, but nobody could actually explain why.’ Clare Kent adds, ‘On my estate all the young people are talking about this issue and people wonder why we’ve got a British National Party! Nobody’s willing to address this issue.’ Craft is equally incredulous. ‘It’s hardly rocket science, but in the council chamber when we raise this it’s like we’ve come from another planet.’ oct /nov2007 red pepper

23

The IWCA and the left Craft is convinced that the ICWA’s approach will win it votes over the BNP. And he is scathing about other left parties. ‘We see the white working class as our constituency, though not just the white working class. The rest of the left see the white working class as the BNP’s constituency. I think the left drive working-class people into the arms of the fascists, whereas we’re there to coax people the other way.’ For a party that has recorded such a success in Oxford, with the same number of councillors as the far larger Socialist Party and not so many fewer than George Galloway’s Respect, the rest of the left does seem to be wilfully dismissive of the IWCA. Pete McClaren, of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party,

Blackbird Leys IWC Acandidates 2006

Stuart Craft agrees. ‘The Greens are the only party that are motivated for the right reasons. I’d say, whether we agree with them or not on a policy, they are genuine people and they’re in it because they want to change things.’ The two parties worked together recently on a council motion supporting striking postal workers, but they have nothing like a coalition. It’s not so much that the IWCA are localists. What really marks them out is that they have given up on the rest of the left. The IWCA was originally founded in 1995 by Red Action, a splinter group from the SWP, but after ten years they have developed their own political positions and style of organisation largely divorced from this background. Craft describes the journey: ‘The Left might turn up on a demonstration, go home and then do nothing for six months. We don’t dance to that leftist tune anymore. We set our own agenda and if we decide that a demonstration we’re holding that day against a prolific drug dealer on the estate is more important than turning up on some march organised in London then that’s our business, isn’t it? I’ve never apologised for that. ‘We don’t really recognise the term left anymore, because looking around I don’t see any of the

admits he knows very

little about the IWCA. ‘We have

worked with them a bit, but they’re not forthcoming and don’t tend to advertise themselves. They are a bit of a mystery to me.’ Sue Tibbles, a member of the Oxford trades council, is similarly dismissive. ‘They are not very visible. They don’t come to any trades council meetings. They have a crappy newsletter and haven’t stood up for normal socialist things.’ The Oxford IWCA and the local Green Party have also had a prickly relationship during their five years on the council together, with the Greens holding eight seats in wards very different demographically to the council estates of Blackbird Leys and Churchill. Oxford Green councillor Matt Sellwood admits their tensions were ‘mostly around class. The IWCA assumed that all Greens were middle class and therefore untrustworthy, but now they have come to understand that when we take a progressive stand, we tend to mean it.’

people

that profess to be left or

socialist as actually pro-working class. I

think it wouldn’t be very clever to hitch up in the short term with a load of groups that don’t actually stand for the working class just to boost our numbers. We’d rather grow slowly, picking up decent members, genuine people.’ It’s a politics of the long haul, which will only work if they can turn small successes into bigger ones. There’s a fierce pride among IWCA members in what they’ve achieved so far on Blackbird Leys, with meagre resources and absolute commitment. The terrain of British politics isn’t about to be shaken by an IWCA earthquake, but the IWCA’s success in Oxford at least deserves serious comparison with the relative lack of success by much bigger left challenges to Labour from Respect and the Socialist Party. As the Westminster parties cluster ever closer together, there’s a rumble in the margins from left and right, which has all the signs of getting louder and more troublesome. Take note of the IWCA – it is as good a place as any to start thinking about possible outcomes.

www.iwca.info