Penny Hicks interviews Michael Lavalette about why he is standing as an independent in Preston at the General Election

How did the nomination come about?

At the first demonstration in Preston against the attack on Gaza, back in October, a few people were telling me to stand in the upcoming election! At the time it wasn’t remotely on my radar, but gradually more and more people were asking me. In November, there was a very big meeting organised by a few activists in the Muslim community themed around ‘who should Muslims vote for’. Then, when the local Labour MP (who had put a bounce-back response to emails saying ‘if you are contacting me about Gaza, I support calls for a ceasefire’) voted against the ceasefire motion, the discontent with our sitting MP spiralled.

Whether I should stand or not was a common point of discussion on our coaches – usually with me being the one voice saying, ‘I’m not sure’ or ‘no’! We have also had some very large public meetings with Jeremy Corbyn, Lindsey German, John Rees and others speaking to large audiences, and the question of us standing a candidate just became a louder and constant theme.

By the time George Galloway had won in Rochdale, it was obvious that there was a clear and significant demand to stand a candidate.

So a group of activists in the constituency – all deeply embedded in the Palestine solidarity movement – decided we should hold a constituency-wide, open public meeting to discuss whether we should stand a candidate and, if so, who we should select.

We gave three weeks’ notice of the meeting and advertised it widely. We also invited nominations from anyone interested in standing. To be nominated, you had to have ten people from the constituency nominate you and had to write a 200-word outline of who you are and why you should be selected.

Tell me about the hustings – who came, how did it work?

The public meeting was run very formally. The chair opened the meeting and there was a short speech from a local activist about why we were considering standing. There was then a formal vote on whether to stand and a unanimous vote in favour.

The meeting itself was packed. There were people standing outside the room listening and contributing, others were sharing seats! There were 142 people in the room. The room drew people from all backgrounds. About half were from the Muslim community (even though it was taking place during Ramadan), the rest were local trade unionists, Palestine activists, students and former Labour activists and supporters.

After the initial vote, the meeting moved on to take the form of a hustings.

There were two candidates who had at least ten nominations (actually 184 people sent me their details asking to nominate me!). Each was given ten minutes to introduce themselves and what they stood for. After that, questions were taken from the audience and each candidate was given one minute to answer each question (both candidates had to answer all questions). Finally, each candidate was given two minutes to sum up their case.

After the summations, it was time for a vote. The other candidate got six votes, and everyone else voted for me.

You are a revolutionary, why are you standing?

I’m a socialist. I don’t believe that we can bring about fundamental social change, establish socialism, through parliament. The real power in society exists outside Westminster. Their power is embedded in the state (which is much, much more than government and parliament), in the industrial-military complex, and in the ‘power of capital’ owned and controlled by a tiny minority in society. Our power, on the other hand, rests on our collective strength in the workplaces, in our communities and on the streets; it’s here that we have the strength and ability to forge a better world.

But that doesn’t mean that what goes on in parliament isn’t important, or that it is a place we should ignore, or that it is a forum that we cannot use to deepen our struggles and our movements.

I was a councillor for ten years in Preston. I didn’t fundamentally change Preston City Council, but I was able to bring motions to the council, raise politics in a way that challenged the status quo, and use the council chamber as a platform to speak on behalf of our movement and some of that has had long-lasting impact. In 2004, I brought a motion to twin Preston with Nablus. I lost! But in the run-up to the council meeting on twinning, we had two large pro-Palestine meetings, we had a picket of the council, there was a debate in the local paper. Although we lost, we built really strong roots for Palestine solidarity in the town. Each time there has been an attack on Palestine over the last twenty years, Preston has had large, militant demonstrations and large meetings. This hasn’t come out of thin air. It is the fruits of twenty years of labour, but the starting point was a motion around the twinning issue.

Now scale that up! Having a revolutionary socialist as an MP would mean we have an opportunity to shift the debate, to have a voice in parliament and someone in parliament committed to, and on behalf of, our social movements on the streets.

What are the criteria for standing, do you think?

Arising out of the Palestine movement, there are a lot of ‘independent’ candidates standing. 

Historically I think ‘independents’ have stood on the basis that they (as an individuals) should be selected to go to parliament to speak as they see fit on issues. Being an independent like this is actually quite undemocratic. It’s a reflection of the ‘great man or woman’ of history approach. We are expected to just trust them because, in some way, they are part of the good and great acting on our behalf. But on a day-to-day basis, who are they accountable to? How do they engage with local movements? How can we trust them?

I don’t think we should have much truck with this – the ‘great’ man or woman parachuted in, or self-declaring, to represent us. There has to be some notion that candidates represent parties or groups of local people.

But at the present juncture, I think ‘independent’ means something else. The demand for ‘independents’ has grown out of the Palestine movement.  It’s a reflection of our disgust at the mainstream politicians and parties. It’s an assertion that we are ‘independent’ of the mainstream parties and the political establishment. But we are not independent of the movement. We have grown within and are part of the great movement for Palestinian freedom.

So those standing can’t just ‘self-declare’. They should be selected to stand by the movement, to represent the movement, and to challenge the political establishment in whatever way we can.

And there is one final thing.

We must be committed to running a campaign that is ‘Palestine plus’. Palestine and the genocide in Gaza are central, of course, but we can’t run a single-issue campaign if we want to win. We need to argue around the other issues that shape our communities. The cost-of-living crisis and the welfare crisis, for example (and of course, these things are linked – why is there always money for war, but never money for our NHS or education system?) we have to ask: Why have the richest in Britain trebled their wealth over the fifteen years of austerity, whilst the vast majority of us are worse off in real terms?

What if the strategy lets the Tories in?

The Tories are haemorrhaging votes. Recent polls suggest they might get less than 100 seats. Reform is standing against them and that will reduce their vote. Some estimates suggest Labour will get more than 400 seats – and this isn’t from a positive pro-Starmer position, just ‘they aren’t the Tories’.

So there is no way left candidates are going to let the Tories in.

But also, if you listen to Starmer, McFadden, Reeves and the rest of them, it’s hard to see what Labour will do that is significantly different to what we have had over the last decade. They have ruled out the nationalisation of water and other utilities and services, ruled out abolishing student fees, ruled out any change in foreign policy (including arming Israel). Will we notice a significant difference? It seems unlikely.

Given all this, actually, this is the best time to vote left. The louder our voice, the better position we will be in to fight the battles ahead. And if one or two of us can win, we can start to have real discussions about how we can start to change politics.

Can standing candidates help build grassroots movements?

Absolutely. General Elections are very political periods. We need to engage with that and do so with a vision of building and strengthening our movements in the present and for the future. We want to engage in elections, win people to our positions and, if we can win some seats, use those elected to amplify what we do on the streets, in our communities and in our unions. We need to fight everywhere and anywhere to deepen our movements for the challenges ahead.

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