Friday, 30 November 2007

The Criris (reposted from 'Labourhome'_

It is time for us to be pretty blunt and self-critical as a party, and some big decisions and changes are necessary. The crisis in the party and the government has reached a critical point, and waiting it out is no longer an option.

Let us be absolutely frank about the origins of this crisis.From 1994 onwards, people in the Labour Party have sought to move away from our traditional reliance on money from our members and from trade unions (money that is clean, democratic and public) to money from wealthy individuals (money that is too often dodgy, questionable - at best - and secretive). The reason for this move has been political and ideological. Part of the New Labour project was always to break the link with the unions, and the Blair team felt that replacing a reliance on union funding with a reliance on private funding was the future. Becoming a party that, like the Tories, was funded by wealthy individuals, would help it distance itself from its past and its position at the heart of the labour movement, into being a new, one-nation party, friend of big business and capital.
This caused problems for us from the outset. Remember Bernie Ecclestone? But in Blair's early period the memory of Tory sleaze and the Teflon Tony phenomena meant that the mud didn't stick. It is only in the context of policy errors and disasters that this fundamental ideological funding error has begun to prove disastrous for us as a party.As confidence and trust in the government was shaken by a series of events - Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction; the breaking of manifesto pledges (just how had we "legislated to prevent" top-up fees?); an increasing number of blunders and competence questions - the spotlight was thrown on funding and first the cash for peerages, and now the dodgy donations scandal have left the Labour government we have spent our lives working for in very serious danger.
Even if it were to be shown that people acted in good faith in this business, and nobody knowingly broke the law (something which it is actually quite hard to believe) it is the culture at the centre of the party which needs to be revolutionised if we are to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again.There needed to be a much more fundamental change at the end of the Blair era. As such it was an historic mistake - one which the PLP must bear responsibility for - to avoid a leadership contest and facilitate the much-yearned-for 'dignified handover' - a process which signalled to people inside and outside the party: 'business as usual'. That's in the past and cannot now be put right, but there are things that can be done:A cap on spending at elections is essential.
A very low cap on individuals' donations should be examined very seriously as well.
Jon Mendelson and anybody else associated with this big money culture needs to go.
Any undeclared issues about funding must come out now, and not be allowed to drip out over the coming weeks. There does not have to be a general election until 2010; this situation CAN be recovered, but it is not going to be easy, and there may have to be more bloodletting before we can start the rebuilding.
As for the rebuilding - this can't just be on party funding issues. Brown has got to put a stronger and more diverse team around him: if he continues to be the only dominant figure in government then he risks bringing the whole government down every time he opens his mouth. We have a much greater reservoir of talent on the Labour benches than the Tories or the Liberals have, but we are currently using it very ill. A major reshuffle is required.
We can't afford too many more weeks like the last few.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Which way forward for the left?

There has been a serious debate going on about an aspect of last Saturdays Labour Representation Committee conference (17th November in Holborn, London).

The question has arisen over the support of non labour candidates at future elections.

My view is that this really is the type of storm in the tea cup issue that mars the development of many left wing organisations and therefore I would like to demonstrate my particular view and adding a few other thoughts.

People may or may not be aware that the LRC is open to non labour party members. Non LP members of the LRC have voting rights at LRC conferences .The proviso being that it is agreed not to stand against Labour at elections. A LP member campaigning against the Labour Party would get expelled.

All Labour lefts want to preserve their position that the LP will once again be the voice for working people and social change even though the climate at the LP top over the last 20 years has been one opposed to this view. The low to non existent level of workers participation in the CLPs, the drop in over 200’000 members since 1997 and the virtual elimination of democracy in the party, have given the right wing Labour Party bureaucracy an incredibly strong position.

Therefore ‘Reclaiming’ the party, a sensible demand put forward notably by some of the awkward squad of TU leaders and previously pushed by many on the LP left, is not on the agenda at this stage.

The appraisal of the work of the Labour Left, expressed in the LRC, the Grassroots Alliance and the Campaign Group needs to begin now and a realignment of how they organise and orientate themselves with a view to reaching out to the huge layers of discontent amongst our natural allies in the UK working class. It will be a long and patient process.

Once the working class starts to challenge the power that the bosses have built for themselves in the last period, we could then see a shift that could develop the LP into a fighting organisation.

The organic link to the Trade Unions in this case has to be preserved in order for the effect of class struggle in the workplace to echo in the LP. Incidentally this process has historically happened before and there have been frequent filling up and emptying out of the mass Labour party with the pressure of workers pushing the party to the left.

It will be a slow process ,but while the debate on workers representation develops there seriously is a case for cutting the money supply from the TUs to the LP while protecting the affiliation and bringing TU sponsored MPs to account to implement their Unions policies. Simply leaving the party would be a disaster.

The direction of the LRC and demonstrated by John McDonnell in recent Morning Star articles is that the left should look outside of the structures of the Labour Party as it stands now, to reach out to broad based campaigns over environmental, trade union and local community issues. This is an entirely laudable and sensible approach with the huge potential of uniting large sections of the left from both inside and outside the LP. It will focus attention on the issues that matter to working people rather than the tired old method of trying to form a ‘new electoral initiative’ that in every attempt over the last 15 odd years has failed to gain votes or imploded into sectarian division.

My view is that we should unite and campaign around the serious issues that unite us 99% of the time and work separately the 1% of the time, in this case at elections, where we have disagreement over the role of the Labour Party.

This is not a contradictory position. I fully respect the Socialist Party or the Socialist Workers Party or any other group, in their attempts at forming new workers parties. Many good socialists and trade unionists have chosen this route and again I respect that.

I am not a syndicalist and totally support participation in elections where the vast majority of working people demand it and participate in it but I am tired of the debate that surrounds this issue of standing in elections, especially at a time when the interest in elections by working class people has fallen and will continue to fall, to an all time low. Consider the turnouts at local elections. Is it worth all that work?

I’ll tell you what. Can we agree to disagree and get on with the real task of supporting our communities, our public services and fellow trade unionists in their struggle against the dominant neo liberal agenda.

If the RMT, an affiliate of the LRC, choose to stand a candidate at the London local authority/ Mayor election that will be up to them. It shouldn’t be an issue that divides the LRC. There will probably be some LP members that will vote for ‘the socialist candidate’ while not outwardly campaigning for them. Similarly would the non Labour left support progressive socialist MPs like John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn where they stand because of the excellent role they play as socialists in Parliament. Would they campaign for them?

The class struggle doesn’t and shouldn’t stop at election times.

You can follow all aspects of the debate here at these excellent blogs.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Labour: A Broad Church and A Good Thing.

In conversation at the Labour Students political weekend, I had to dispel some misunderstandings about the Labour-left, which ranged from a prosaic idea that we hadn't changed our policies since 1983 to the more interesting canard that John McDonnell was a member of the AWL!

But the biggest question I was asked was what incentive I had to support a party which wasn't implementing policies anything like those I would choose for myself. There are a number of reasons, which I will try to lay out here:

First, my answer must be tempered with political pragmatism, since if I wasn't seriously interested in changing anything I would join or start a micro-sect, and be perfectly happy calling for the heads of MPs from my party newsletter.

Secondly, the longer I am in the UK, the more Labour members I meet - both activists and people who are fairly inactive members - and the more I learn about why or why not they support this or that policy; why they believe in or feel comfortable stuffing envelopes and knocking on doors for the party. And you know what? Even in the most stalwart Blairite lies a pure heart. A desire for good change; a need to know that the party's policies will produce better results for the least well-off and the most marginalised in our society.

I have spent most of my life outside the Labour Party, and now I'm inside it, I haven't stopped criticising its policies or talking about political scandals on our side of the fence. Politics is a game where even a slight change in legislation or policy can make an enormous amount of difference, and the party democracy of the Labour Party allows good people who believe that progressive change can be exacted in all different kinds of ways to remain within it with clear consciences and to try to campaign for a better future.

Thirdly, this is more than just a feelgood project where everyone must agree - as a party we want to hold power in order to exercise it for the good, and the new ideas required to stay in power will always come from the margins, whether they're the party's left, right, liberal or radical margins. If we want to have a party which stays in the same place and never innovates, we may as well get that micro-sect started.

Finally, I think we all like to see the Tories getting a good kicking now and again, don't we?

"Labour is the place where the greatest impact can be had today. I remain convinced that it is a workers' party and that it is the job of any socialist to be a member and fight for it." - Tami Petersen

"So here's vow number one: holding a Labour Party card won't shut me up." - Dave Osler

"No, I still think the Labour Party offers us the opportunity of a mass workers' party. But at the same time my campaign was completely non-sectarian, working across political campaigns and that's the future. We want to see a broad united front on a whole series of issues and industrial struggles will be part of that." - John McDonnell