The results are in and the debates on No2EU have begun in earnest. The platform's 153,236 votes (one per cent of total cast) is well within the percentage range one can typically expect from a far left challenge in Britain. Taken together with the vote achieved by the phantom SLP, the SSP, SPGB and Peace Party 2009's 350,339 votes (2.3%) is barely any progress on 2004's 343,424 aggregate votes (2.1%). A factor complicating the picture is the character of the No2EU vote. We've already discussed the complexity of the vote for unambiguous socialist organisations and the same will be doubly true of No2EU. Because of the slate's relative lack of profile, it is quite likely a fair proportion of voters put their cross next to us on the basis of our name while being ignorant of the politics of the coalition. Therefore it is difficult to say if No2EU has much of a 'base' to build on.
This problem is directly traceable to how No2EU came into being. I first got wind of talks with the RMT in February and it wasn't until 18th March the coalition was formally announced. Then there was another period of waiting before the candidate lists were arrived at, which didn't help the already tiny campaigning window, and more waiting for national material. It was all very ad hoc and quite amateurish up until the last few weeks before the election, but even then it continued to creep in - for example No2EU's web presence wasn't utilised to the full, which is unforgivable when you consider its prominence in the election broadcast and claims it was attracting 10,000 visitors a day. Much effort was put in but the rushed last minute launch was a big mistake. If you want to be serious about electoral politics you have to play the long game.
The other down side of No2EU's genesis was its top down nature. The Socialist Party was only invited in after the name and the substance of the platform had largely been predetermined. One can understand why the RMT and Communist Party weren't keen to have the SWP and sundry ultra-lefts on board after their behaviour over the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike (though to be fair to the SWP, their position was more nuanced than some of its online advocates would have you believe), but it was a mistake in my opinion - especially when the RMT and CPB held all the cards and there was zero chance of No2EU being hijacked. What would have been lost by the addition of hundreds of activists, more resources, and Britain's highest circulating socialist weekly giving No2EU their support?
There was another political price to pay for its top down nature: it unnecessarily alienated many among the hundreds of active independent socialists across Britain. You can undersatnd why large numbers of them would question why they should get involved when they have very little say over the campaign's strategy and policies.
Politically, if you compare No2EU to previous far left electoral coalitions it did not differ too much, though one could see the impression left by the CPB's British Road to Socialism. But all that could be lived with. The most serious political mistake was the stated refusal of elected No2EU representatives to take their seats. The call for a workers' representatives on workers' wages is a good populist point at the best of times and would have helped differentiate No2EU from the rest had the expenses scandal not broke. But to stubbornly cling to the initial position, leaving the SP and Solidarity to unilaterally declare that their No2EU candidates would take their seats but not the full salary when it was the big story of this election was an utterly unnecessary own goal. It probably wouldn't have made much difference to the outcome because of the pinched campaign, but it certainly would have if the coalition had pulled together earlier and had already made the workers' wage a clear plank of the platform.
The No2EU experience was not all negative. Despite political weaknesses it did represent a left wing critique of the European Union and did manage to get its message into millions of homes. In many areas working relationships between comrades from the RMT, CPB and SP were established where previously there were none, and these proceeded without the rancour and the bickering that bedeviled the old Socialist Alliance. For a layer of workers disillusioned with Labour and were preparing to vote UKIP or the BNP out of protest, No2EU provided a left alternative. But most significant of all was the fact Britain's most militant trade union took those vital first steps into electoral politics. The SP were absolutely right to accept the invitation to join No2EU, despite its problems and disadvantages, if only to assist the RMT. And it is a decision that has paid off - already Bob Crow has indicated here and elsewhere the RMT's support for unified left action and electoral activity in the future. There is talk of a convention coming together soon to discuss this issue in which unions, left groups and interested others can decide how to proceed in the run up to the general election.
Judged on votes counted alone, No2EU was a failure. But it was never just about the votes, it was part of the process of refounding and renewing working class political representation in Britain. No2EU was the vehicle through which the RMT became committed to that project, and that ultimately is how it will be remembered.