Ryan Boyle reports on standing for the YCL and CP in the recent Govan By-election
Looking back on the campaign, one of the first things that surprised me was the level of collective effort required to make any kind of impact. The introductory leaflets, election addresses, the campaigning strategies, the public meetings, etc. all of these things had to be grounded out and acted upon at an early stage to give us a decent chance of getting our message out. If it wasn’t for the commitment of other comrades, the communist campaign wouldn’t have seen the light of day.
There was never any real belief that we would win, the Communist Party have rarely won electorally. Yet it was never about that for us. Our goal was to convince people that there was, and is, an alternative to the neoliberal paradigm that has imposed such harsh austerity measures on some of the most vulnerable people in society. We wanted to let people in Govan, and further afield, know that there are organisations and people who refuse to accept the unfair hand working people have been dealt and who want to see fundamental change which could radically improve their lives; a message that wasn’t really on offer from any other political party.
What I found striking about the campaign was the level of political disaffection among Govanites. Those I spoke to while canvassing and on public stalls said the same thing again and again; the current system has failed them and they no longer wish to engage in it. Why vote when all that is on offer is more of the same?
And right enough. The area has one of the worst rates of child poverty at 40%, household poverty is well above the national average at 42%. When canvassing, I saw housing (mostly private rents) which should have been condemned 30 years ago. Successive councillors and MPs (of all political stripes) have failed to fix the problems and Govanites have been left to take the brunt of it. There were horror stories about the bedroom tax, ATOS assessments and the general demonisation of benefit claimants (the overwhelming majority of whom were desperate for employment). For the 7th richest nation on the planet, it is utterly shameful how incapable we are at maintaining the basics; eradicating poverty, providing affordable housing, stable employment, protecting public services, etc. Successive governments have failed to achieve aims which were fought for long ago. It typifies the limitations of a system which puts profit before people.
The eventual turnout of 20.06% is an example of how ineffectual most people feel the political system is. There is no attraction in a system which ignores your needs. There has to be a systemic change in order to truly address the issues that people face in Britain today. That goal is far out-with the scope of local councillors, yet it is still a point that was worth making. The election offered that chance. Those who wouldn’t normally be exposed to communist ideas were. If even one person took that message on board, and I know some did, then that itself is a small success on the road to effecting progressive change.
On a personal level, the election developed my own skills in public speaking and organisation. A learning curve which will help me be more effective in campaigning on behalf of the party and advocating an alternative to austerity. I thank other comrades and the Communist Party of Britain not only for the opportunity to stand as a candidate but also for the level of political education which made it possible for me to do so in the first place. While I polled a low 35 first preference votes, I am happy in the knowledge that at least some people were receptive to the ideas which is all I could have hoped for. What was more encouraging was that people weren’t hostile to the ideas and in fact, many felt that after the recent failures of the capitalist system, it may be time for something different. It is up to the Communist Party and the YCL to tap into this disaffection and anger, and alongside other progressive organisations, offer a genuine alternative to the problems that plague our society.