From the March 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard
Our election campaigns in East Ham South and Paddington North were carried through with the same enthusiasm and devotion by members and sympathisers as on the two previous occasions when we contested North Paddington alone.
We issued in both constituencies an Election Message, containing a general examination of the worker’s position in modern society, a briefer Candidate’s Address, covering the same material (which the Post Office delivered free to each voter), and a Broadsheet in newspaper form containing criticisms of the main political parties, as well as other matter dealing with war, the implications of Socialism, and so on.
The Election Message and the Broadsheet were delivered by helpers to every address in both constituencies; the Broadsheet was also given away at meetings and railway stations.
Members and sympathisers have gathered at Head Office night after night to do the routine job of folding and sticking labels on. Both branches secured good election rooms; Paddington’s was large enough for a good deal of folding to be done there.
Separate reports from the two areas are as follows:
EAST HAM SOUTH
Long before the election date was announced members were out on the “knocker,” arguing, explaining, driving home their points and obtaining regular orders for the Socialist Standard. As for outdoor meetings, they had been outside the “Cock” Hotel for eight months of every year since the middle of the war, and last Summer they opened a fresh station at the “Boleyn.”
And when the date of the election was announced the campaign began in earnest. An empty shop was rented in the Barking Road and soon its windows were neatly decorated with attractive literature. It became a hive of activity. All day long people were in and out, distributing literature, and sharing all the other tasks that a Parliamentary campaign entails.
The weather was far from perfect and the first outdoor meetings were flops, but to compensate every household was informed of three meetings at the Town Hall and one in a school in every ward. It was advertised in the local press that all other candidates had been invited to put their case in opposition. Those who came to see the fun were sorely disappointed. The Communist was “engaged”; the Tory who had previously expressed his willingness to debate became suddenly “too busy,” and the famous Labour “cock o’ the walk” advanced some incomprehensible excuse with regard to election expenses. Apparently his willingness to “discuss and reason” did not stretch as far as the S.P.G.B. However the three hundred people who had braved the bitter weather heard a case unlike any they had heard before. They asked questions, took part in discussion. The second meeting was less well attended, but the third was the best of the three. Members were highly satisfied.
Meanwhile every house had received a copy of the Party’s Election Message. Again it was a case that could not logically be disputed. It made no grandiose promises nor perversions of fact but merely explained the cause of the workers’ problems and the long hard road to their solution. Many workers were given something to think about. This was clearly demonstrated at the schools, where average audiences of twenty-five not only listened to the Party’s case, but also asked questions directly appertaining to the Election Message or the posted Address which arrived later.
In the last week the weather improved and the outdoor platform came out. Ours was the only party to appear on the street comer, and on the Saturday before the poll an audience of over a hundred was held for more than seven hours. Speakers from all over London gave of their best, dealing with every conceivable type of question. An eve of poll meeting at the “Cock” attracted an audience of two hundred. During the week meetings at factory gates had been well received, and propaganda was extended to the docks. Dockers expressed surprise at the solidity of the Socialist case after the drivel of the Communists. These meetings will continue.
Unfortunately the whole of the constituency was not canvassed. Forty people cannot work miracles. A third piece of literature in the shape of a broadsheet was freely delivered. It dealt with every aspect of current events, and copies have been retained for future reference.
Thus, mainly for the first time, the workers of East Ham South came into contact with the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Most of them were not convinced, but many will remember what this organisation has told them and when the capitalist system takes its usual course into a slump or war they will stop to think again. When the other parties’ talk of peace and full employment has gone by the board, the Socialist position will remain firm.
Cold and wet weather made it difficult to hold outdoor meetings at the beginning and attendances were poor. The same is true of the indoor meetings. The position vastly improved towards the end. On Sunday, 19th February, an excellent meeting was held at the Metropolitan Theatre. No reference to this meeting was made in the Press. We sent letters to the Daily Express, the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard and the News Chronicle, drawing their attention to the omission, but without result so far. The following is a specimen of one of them:
21st Feb.“I notice that your paper, along with other morning and evening papers, has given space to a meeting at Paddington Town Hall last night addressed by Lady Astor. Paddington Town Hall holds only 200 people and even an overflow would not greatly increase its size. Last Sunday evening we held a Mass Election Meeting at the Metropolitan Theatre, Edgware Road. The theatre was packed with 2,000 people, the doors had to be closed and a number turned away.“We invited the other four candidates to come and present their case from our platform. Mr. A. Seabrooke, the Liberal Candidate, and Mr. D. Cohen, the Communist Candidate, accepted, and each had twenty minutes on our platform. Mr. L. Turner, the Conservative Candidate, declined, stating that he did not speak on Sundays; Mr. W. Reid, the Labour Candidate, also declined, on the ground of prior engagements. The meeting commenced at 7 o'clock and ended at 10 o'clock, the last part of it being devoted to questions. The audience was interested, attentive and orderly, apart from some rather wild heckling by some small groups of Communist Party sympathisers after Mr. Cohen had left the platform.“We suggest that this type of meeting is unique in election campaigns, is well worth while to help voters to assess the programmes and policies of the various parties and was a practical illustration of our 46-year claim that we stand by the freedom of everyone to express their opinions without fear of evil consequences to themselves.“We are giving you these details, which you can check by a ’phone call to the two opponents who participated, because neither you nor the other morning and evening papers mentioned so much as a whisper about what was probably the largest meeting held in London during the present General Election. Are we to take it that your interest is only in the prominent people who support privilege, and that you are indifferent when 2,000 working men and women voters gather to hear other working men and women put their case?“I wonder what the people of North Paddington, most of whom know what happened, think of your silence?”
One singular thing we noticed this time at our meetings. Almost all the questions were about the future—what would Socialism be like?
The result of the poll, as far as we are concerned, was as follows: In East Ham our candidate received 256 votes and in North Paddington 192 votes—less than at the By-Election and nearly 300 less than at the 1945 General Election. We received a very favourable hearing this time, many workers said we were right and they agreed with us but—“ after all, bad as the Labour Party is, the Conservative Party is worse; we must keep them out and a vote for you would be wasted.” One day the workers will learn that there is no “worse” and their only sound action is to vote for Socialism.
The notices in the National Press on this occasion showed that we have at last succeeded in getting our candidates described as candidates of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. So one element of confusion has been eliminated. They also recognised our candidates as just tools of a socialist electorate and not “leaders.”