Social Justice Party councillor elected in Eastfield – a Hardy Left Report

Asa Jones in conversation with Tony Randerson

At around 6pm on Thursday 25th May, I put my last “Remember to Vote” card through the final letterbox and after turning away to head home a person appeared in the doorway and a voice called out “Have you just put this through my letterbox?”. I shuddered in anticipation of a furiously antagonistic individual. I turned and answered in the affirmative, fully prepared for a barrage of outrage as I had so often experienced whilst canvassing as a Labour Party member in the past. Yet the response I received was “Oh thank you, I didn’t realise I could vote until 10pm. I’ll be sure to go and vote for Tony.”

That, alongside so many short and cheerful conversations had with passers-by whilst out leafleting on polling day, summarises perfectly the mood in Eastfield on polling day this May. Only a year on from electing Tony as their Labour councillor with 70% of the vote (more than any other Labour councillor by a country mile) the people of Eastfield were more than enthusiastic to re-elect their beloved local representative now standing as a socialist for the embryonic Social Justice Party.

So enthusiastic in fact, that the turnout at the by-election was slightly higher than that of last year’s regular election. A feat near-unheard of when – for example – at the Mayfield by-election last year turnout was almost halved compared with the regular election in 2019.

But Tony’s victory isn’t just important because it persuaded more people in an area with infamously low-turnout to get out and vote. The Eastfield by-election is yet another piece in a slowly developing puzzle of ex-Labour councillors standing as independents or for other left-wing parties who have defeated their old party at the ballot box. Comrades standing for the Liverpool Community Independents and the Greens across Merseyside’s many authorities alongside so many others elsewhere have produced some astonishing victories in traditionally strong Labour areas.

So, given that it is well known how personally popular Tony is in Eastfield, SJP members could’ve been forgiven for thinking that Tony’s victory was a near sure-thing. But the reality on-the-ground was that this by-election was always going to be a hard fight. As Tony made clear when I spoke to him after the election, when left-wing councillors commit themselves to the communities they serve, they find a level of commitment from their constituents which surpasses any party affiliation:

“Practically, this victory isn’t just for myself, it’s a victory for all those on the left who are sick to the back teeth of one-party politics. Starmer has stated ‘Labour are the new conservatives’ which confirms what we all really already knew. I had no idea what support I would attain when I decided to stand again. The fact that I had 10 years under my belt most certainly will have had a massive effect ultimately on the votes I received.”

I remember the day I found out about Tony’s decision to leave Labour. I was sitting in the bath getting ready for work when I come across an article on Facebook titled something along the lines of “Eastfield Councillor resigns from North Yorkshire Council and the Labour Party”. I was as confused as I was ecstatic. And going to Tony’s personal page I read that he had resigned over Starmer’s appalling leadership and was taking time to consider whether he would leave politics or stand again. It turns out the decision had already been made for him by the people of Eastfield:

“Personally, when I resigned, I had no intention of seeking re-election at all. It was down to the goodwill comments which I was inundated with from Eastfield Constituents that I decided to stand.”

And glad we were at the SJP that Tony made this decision. The Social Justice Party had barely started holding meetings and attracting members in the Scarborough area by the time Tony made his decision, but we were keen to support a solid socialist and devoted community representative and approached him to see if he would join us and be our candidate. At the Scarborough & Whitby SJP Branch meeting in April, we voted to approve Tony as our candidate for the Eastfield by-election and the rest is now history.

The question now is ‘what’s next?’. Our party is so new and our commitment to the democratic process of agreeing a constitution meant that we were unable to stand Tony as our official candidate at the time of the election. Similarly, the rules guiding the relationship between the party and our councillors have not yet been laid out. I asked Tony about how he would approach developing this relationship and ensuring we operate more effectively than he had experienced being a Labour councillor:

“I intend to work extremely closely with the SJP branch in Scarborough & Whitby. This is going to be an equal two-way partnership. I feel it will be fantastic to move good, solid socialist policies at council, these will come from discussions at branch of course. Ok, we may not get the support for them, but it is important that we make the county know we are alive and kicking as a socialist party. In the past when I have attempted to get support from the Labour Group it has been a case ‘if they are not nationally agreed Labour policies, we can’t move them’.” from the Labour Group it has been a case ‘if they are not nationally agreed Labour policies, we can’t move them.”

During the campaign, false reports of the idea that Tony intended to caucus with the Labour group on the council were being published by various news outlets. As Tony has outlined previously, it was the leader of the Labour group on NYC who invited Tony to caucus with their group before he resigned, something to which Tony never agreed. I asked Tony what his relationship with other parties and groups on NYC be:

“With regard to “caucus”, I am reluctant to form any kind of alignment to the Labour Group due to the way they conducted their campaign. Alignment with any party or group would be with the understanding and agreement of Social Justice Party members. As always, if good, solid policies that I could see benefitting the people I serve are forthcoming I would be keen to support them. It is not in the best interests of those I serve to do anything but give due consideration to such policies, irrespective of party politics.”

Beyond the immediate relevance for the SJP, I also asked Tony about the wider effect of his victory and those of other socialists this May on the future of the left. There are hundreds of socialist Labour councillors and even Labour MPs who see Keir Starmer’s leadership for the pro-status quo, racist, big business and out of touch coup for what it is, and yet remain as representatives of that party. There may be some who think they couldn’t win independently from the Labour Party, or those who can’t leave for personal reasons or even those who believe they can still make Labour better from within. I asked Tony, as someone who had made that jump, what he would say to people in this position.

“If those current sitting councillors or even MPs are feeling the way I did when I resigned then it is incumbent upon them and those they represent to likewise resign and join the masses of socialists across the country – north, south, east and west – in ultimately forming a new socialist party to challenge the Tories and Starmer’s Blue Labour. There are no practical reasons not to do this. If your principles are being put to that ultimate test, look to your hearts, comrades! If it is screaming at you to abandon Starmer’s Party then do so, and worry about the consequences later. Going against our principles will simply put into power the best of a bad bunch for ever and a day, and achieve zero for all those we care about in our society.”

Despite the clear evidence that the left’s strength currently resides in its committed, community representatives, it has to be admitted that it also produces a problem for us. The problem revolves around how we create the next generation of socialist representatives when success seems to be limited to those with a history of public service. I asked Tony how he thought budding young councillors and MPs could best prepare themselves for election time and public service:

“Get out into the community, not weeks, but months and years before they are due to stand. Take part in community events, have that visual presence, show that they care and genuinely like people. A visual continued presence is so vitally important, gain that degree of trust from day one. If they can attain that they are half way already in becoming a councillor or MP.”

Perhaps what displays this philosophy best, is when Tony simply takes walks around Eastfield. Not leafleting or knocking on doors, simply walking and speaking to people as they go about their day. The left will win very few votes by simply standing under a party logo or identity. The heart of our success will be years of hard work and commitment and I know for a fact that Tony’s guidance in this will be crucial for the Social Justice Party.

Tony also reflected on the campaign successes from the Eastfield by-election which could help socialists elsewhere:

“I asked – well, demanded – a positive honest, open and transparent campaign because I was sure that would pay dividends in Eastfield. People are sick of bundles of promises from candidates that can probably be never delivered, people are tired of candidates criticising opponents in order to win a few votes, people are fed up with smear campaigns and endless leaflets pouring through their letter boxes. Most people are not stupid and can make their own minds up. People like to be able to question the candidate on the door step and not one of his or her team, if at all possible. So, in summary, I strongly suggest this transparent, open and honest route for any Independent socialist candidate in the future.”

Conservative control at North Yorkshire Council current rests on a knife edge. If they lose a single councillor – for any reason – they will lose their majority. It this scenario, which seems increasingly inevitable, even as a lone socialist, Tony will wield significant power.

The next battle for the socialists will be the next General Election. As polling stands right now, it seems like Labour is destined for a super-majority, but we all know how quickly things can change in politics. Going into the Eastfield by-election, there was close to zero chance of the Conservatives winning the ward which in a sense made fighting that campaign easier. But come the General Election, the SJP – and socialists across the country – will be competing in constituencies (like those along the Yorkshire coast) where either major political party could win and a strong socialist presence come polling day could have a serious effect on that result. I asked Tony about if the chance of letting a Conservative candidate win would have affected his decision to resign and how he thinks it should affect the actions of socialists going forward:

“This is a difficult one and strangely enough I had a lengthy conversation in Town today on this subject. The fight-back has to commence at some point, and indeed this will be on a national scale at the next general election. This argument about splitting the vote comes from those who have most to fear from Parties such as the SJP. I don’t see it as a spoiler effect at all, more a rallying call to all those thousands of disillusioned socialists who joined the party when Corbyn ran for the leadership. We have to attract them in order to form a united left socialist party, irrespective of what it will eventually be called. We justify our politics by our transparency within our manifesto. No lies or half-truths, just solid socialist policies that so many thousands will grasp so eagerly.”

Ultimately, we don’t need Tony or any socialist to make the point because – as Tony referenced – Keir Starmer himself has made this very clear: There is no difference between Labour and the Conservatives. Labour is the new Conservative party. We must make the case for a just society for working class people and against the destruction of the earth, and fight for that cause continuously at the ballot box, in our workplaces and across our communities. Tony’s victory makes it clear to all socialists that you don’t have to wait for someone like Jeremy Corbyn or Mick Lynch to take the initiative.