Dublin or Quits?
OUT: PAUL MURPHY, Socialist MEP. And setback for prospect of left unity.
GOOD CANDIDATE BUT WRONG CONTEST. Why did SWP decide Brid Smith should stand?
UNLIKE Britain, where Socialists to the Left of the Labour Party are used to coming nowhere when they decide to stand under their own colours in elections, Ireland's capital Dublin had a sitting member of the European parliament until the weekend.
When Irish Socialist Joe Higgins relinquished the seat he had held since 2009 to take his place in the Irish Parliament, the Dail, to which he was elected in 2011, he was able to hand it over to the man who had been his adviser, Paul Murphy.
Both of them belong to the Irish Socialist Party, a sister party of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, indeed almost like a twin, notwithstanding the different history ad conditions in the two countries. Higgins and a dozen other members of the 'Militant Tendency' in the Irish Labour Party were expelled in 1989, and decided to form Militant Labour, which went on to become the Socialist Party. Like its namesake in Britain it belongs to the Committee for a Workers International (CWI).
Both men have taken part in a number of campaigns on community and wider issues, Joe Higgins earning respect fighting for the rights of Turkish migrant workers as well as opposing the breach of Irish neutrality by US military using Shannon airport on their way to the Middle East.
During one Dail debate Justice Minister Michael McDowell declared "I do not take lectures on democracy from a Trotskyite communist like Deputy Joe Higgins." That's an accolade worth having!
Unlike UKIP MEPs and others who have gone to Brussels to collect their salaries and expenses while doing nothing in return, Paul Murphy sat as a full member on the European Parliament Committee on International Trade and as a substitute on the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, and Committee on Petitions. He was also a full member of the South Asia Delegation and a substitute on the Central Asia delegation.
Outside parliament, in 2011 Paul participated in Freedom Flotilla II which attempted to breach the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip. In August 2011, he visited the "No TAV" Italian campaign against the Turin-Lyon High Speed railway. A supporter of the Shell to Sea campaign, in August 2011 he and others were forcibly removed from Erris by Gardaí.
In early November 2011, the Dublin MEP was taking part in another humanitarian aid flotilla when Israeli forces boarded the ship on 4 November and imprisoned him and others. Undaunted by this experience, in June 2013, he travelled to Istanbul to speak with Turkish freedom and environmental activists taking part in the occupation of Taksim square.
Although I've not met Paul Murphy, he sounds like my idea of a socialist MEP!. I did hear Joe Higgins when he was guest speaker at the National Shop Stewards Network conference a few years ago, and I think it is fair to say having these two voices raised has been a boost to left-wing morale whatever one's particular shade of leftism.
However, seems the possibility of left unity in Dublin was too good to last. As one commentator informed us towards the end of last year,
"In an act of blatant sectarianism the SWP in Ireland have decided to run a candidate in Dublin in the European Elections against sitting Socialist Party / CWI MEP Paul Murphy.
Paul Murphy is in a four way fight for three seats in Dublin with Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. The SWP candidate Brid Smith (who will stand under the SWP front name of People Before Profit) has no hope of winning a seat.
This act is clearly part of the SWP engaging in a wrecking ball strategy - take enough votes from Paul Murphy to ensure he doesn't retain the seat - raise the profile of Brid Smith and then run Brid Smith as a general election candidate against socialist Member of Parliament, Joan Collins, in the hope of unseating her and winning the seat for the SWP.
Despite this intervention Paul Murphy will likely still be in a position to fight it out for a seat in the European Parliament - but this action demonstrates that the SWP have no interest in 'left' unity' unless they can dictate and control the 'left'. Furthermore they are likely to dumb down their political programme further in an attempt to engage in populism in order to win extra votes.Others suggested the aim was just to hit the Socialist Party by depriving it of the funds brought in by its MEP, which help to maintain full time workers.
In response some SWP or People Before Profit supporters argued that the Socialist Party and Paul Murphy "do not own the seat", that it was only handed over to Murphy by Joe Higgins, that they had as much right to stand as anyone else, and that anyway, their Brid Smith was the better candidate. Anyway there were three seats to be won, so maybe both of them could get in?
Brid Smith, it must be said, has an impressive record of campaigning, on issues from prisoners' rights to housing, and her election leaflet from People Before Profit gave full details, though curiously it does not mention the Socialist Workers Party.
Polls were said to show electors favouring Brid Smith over the sitting MEP. Supporters argued therefore that Paul Murphy was taking away her votes, rather than her stealing votes from him.
But what was it all about? Were the SWP's differences with the Socialist Party, for instance supporting reform of the upper house in parliament, the Seanad, which the SP wants abolished, that important or relevant to a Europoll? Surely it has not got anything to with past theoretical disagreements over the class nature of the now bygone Soviet state? If there were serious political issues that had to be raised, how come Brid Smith's party affiliation was not mentioned, but just People Before Profit?
Whatever the reasons, the outcome of the election was that on the first count, Paul Murphy got 29,953 vote, or 8.5 per cent, well below the Sinn Fein candidate who topped the poll, but ahead of Labour. Brid Smith got 23,875, that's 6.8 per cent.
So neither of them made it into the first three, and Dublin no longer has a Socialist MEP, nor does it offer any encouragement for the hope that the Left can get its act together, aven to confront the looming menace of the far Right in Europe.
Whatever the point was, comrades of the SWP (whether in Ireland or here in Britain) was your effort really worth it?
And what do you have in mind next?