The appearance of Tommy Sheridan in Celebrity Big Brother, the television ’reality’ show, will have disappointed many people who know of his role as an uncompromising fighter for the interests of the working class over the past 25 years.
The Socialist Party (CWI England and Wales)/International Socialists (CWI Scotland) and CWI shares this disappointment. We believe that Tommy’s decision to take part in CBB is a mistake that will damage his standing in the socialist movement and among many class conscious workers, trade unionists and young people.
At a time when capitalism is being engulfed by the most serious recession in more than 70 years, with a cascade of job losses and attacks on workers rights, Tommy’s involvement in the so-called "celebrity" edition of the Big Brother programme will jar with many.
Tommy Sheridan, members of his family and other leaders of the party Solidarity have undergone an unprecedented witch-hunt over the last two years. The police inquiry into alleged perjury following Tommy Sheridan’s 2006 civil defamation victory over Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World has now cost well over Ł1 million and has used up thousands of hours of police time in this politically motivated vendetta. Like other socialists and working class fighters before him Tommy Sheridan has been a target, inspired by the hatred of the capitalists and their mouthpieces in the right-wing media who will stop at nothing to try and effectively destroy an individual who has opposed their class interests.
Seven people including Tommy have been charged with perjury and are still waiting to hear if a trial will take place almost one year after being indicted. The consequences financially for Tommy and his family have been dire. It has proved impossible to find paid work and undoubtedly these difficulties and other associated financial pressures have played a key role in his decision to take part in CBB. We understand these pressures but it would have been better, via the large support that exists in the socialist and trade union movement for him, to find an alternative solution. When the Liverpool 47 councillors were surcharged and banned from office for the "crime" of standing up for the people of Liverpool in the1980’s an appeal to the Labour movement raised more than Ł100,000.
Tommy Sheridan as a spokesperson for Militant, Scottish Militant Labour, the SSP and now Solidarity and has been a thorn in the flesh of big business and the capitalist establishment for many years. He played a leading role in the momentous anti – poll tax struggle of the late 80’s and early 90’s that culminated in the removal of Margaret Thatcher from power. Tommy was subsequently elected from his prison cell to Glasgow Council in 1992 and then in 1999 to the Scottish parliament where he served as a socialist representative on a workers wage for 8 years. He took on and defeated the News of the World in a defamation case in 2006 and is still by far the most widely recognised socialist in Scotland. Our opposition to Tommy taking part in CBB was because this largely positive view of him as an anti-establishment fighter by big sections of the working class could be undermined by his involvement. George Galloway’s reputation has still not recovered politically from his appearance in CBB in 2007.
It is true that CBB will get a large TV watching audience. But this programme is widely criticised for its format which seeks to denigrate and humiliate those who take part while revelling in and encouraging personal clashes and conflict inside the BB house. As a platform for advocating socialist ideas it is a fruitless exercise as to all intents and purposes political views are almost always edited out before broadcast. This is in keeping with the big business interests that dominate the production and corporate sponsorship of the programme. Moreover, the tabloid media and especially the Murdoch press – who are still involved in legal action against Tommy Sheridan – will probably devote a huge proportion of their newspapers to covering CBB and will clearly have already marked out Tommy Sheridan as public enemy No 1.
The International Socialists/CWI have worked alongside Tommy Sheridan in the building of Solidarity since its launch in 2006. We, with the support of the CWI and its sections internationally, have been to the forefront in defending Tommy Sheridan against the vendetta being carried out by the Murdoch empire and sections of the police and legal establishment. Despite our differences with Tommy over this issue we will continue with this vital campaigning work. It is to be hoped that this episode will not be a barrier to the plans to take a broader left initiative in 2009 involving leading figures in the trade union movement in Scotland as part of the urgent task to strengthen the voice of the working class and socialism. We will strive might and main to ensure this does not happen.
Capitalism is being exposed as a reactionary and brutal system before an audience of hundreds of millions internationally. The murderous actions of the Israeli ruling class in Gaza which has produced an outpouring of anger across the world also proves the utter dead-end that capitalism and imperialism means for the poor and the oppressed internationally. 2009 will see the best opportunity to build the forces of socialism that we have seen for many years and it is to that task that we need to turn all our energies to in the months ahead.
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