Friday, 28 November 2008
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
Elsewhere on the net I have written a report on the LRC conference which I thought was a great success. The purpose of this short article is not to back-track on that in anyway, but to engage with some of the issues raised in the debate on 'motion 10' at the conference, and also respond to some remarks made elsewhere on the left regions of the web about the debate. I ought to point out first that I rather enjoyed the debate and I don't think it's ever a bad thing to have a debate and a controversial vote. I disagreed with Motion 10 - for the reasons I'll explain - and I disagreed with some of the points in the debate (on both sides) but that doesn't mean that I didn't welcome the discussion.
Briefly, on saturday, the debate was - as the motion seemed to suggest - about occasional local scenarios, where organised labour / socialists in an area might be presented with a right-wing Labour candidate and a decent socialist alternative - should they (and should the LRC) support the alternative? While I can't deny that at times in the past I have been tempted by just that situation, I agreed with the argument that won the day: that the LRC would eat itself were it to support - or even support the concept of supporting - anti-Labour candidates in elections. We have a real fight to get socialists elected into representative bodies in the UK and there isn't an easy route or a short-cut. Everybody at the LRC conference could stand as independent candidates around the country; we'd have a lot of fun, and we'd lose a lot of elections and waste a lot of money in deposits that could be better spent elsewhere. No, we have to take the difficult path: we have socialists in council chambers up and down the country and in parliament; we have people getting selected as PPCs; it's hard but it can be done. Standing as the New Socialist (Marxist-Leninist) Communist (Provisional) Party (Fourth International) Group is no answer to that struggle. It would be easier to get selected as a candidate, but harder to get more than a derisory vote. I apologise for the parliamentary focus of this - but then that was the focus of the motion in question.
But actually, the real debate wasn't about that difficult, occasional, local choice - it was about the breaking point. It was about moving on from Labour. One of the speakers in the debate made that point when they argued that those who opposed the motion had a 'shaky' view of history, suggesting that - had the original LRC responded in the way we did - the Labour Party would never have been formed and unions would be bound to the Liberal Party. Leaving aside the history for a moment, the clear implication is that this is an 1899/1900 moment, when 'a new party' might be formed, seperate from Labour. In other words, Workers' Liberty were echoing the calls for a 'New Workers' Party' (even though the loudest of those calls have tended to come from that organisations sectarian opponents).
Personally, I disagree with two contributors to debates on saturday (two people whom I agreed with on pretty much every other point) when they expressed feelings of despair in relation to the Labour Party today. Perhaps I am a hopeless optimist, but - as a historian of the labour movement - I am a long way from despair. Indeed I am more hopeful about the centre of gravity in Labour making a decisive leftward movement today than I have been for a very long time. I think the growth of the LRC represents something that actually hasn't been previously seen in our history. The closest match would be the extra-parliamentary Bevanite organisation of the 1950s (and we can and should learn some lessons from that) - but the LRC is a much more activist-led venture and is increasingly becoming much more organised. It is so much more interesting and exciting than previous groups that have been so centred around parliament.
The John McDonnell leadership campaign should not be seen as a cause for despair but a cause for hope. We could muster nothing of the kind in 1994. I recall comrades from Workers' Liberty telling me off (!!) for campaigning for a Ken Livingstone candidacy because it would split the left vote for John Prescott! Such paucity of ambition is completely alien to the Labour Left today.
We are not only winning the battle of ideas - we have won. The battle of spin, the struggle against neo-liberal and 'third way' hegemony in the media is another battle which will be much harder, but all the interesting ideas are coming from the left, along with all the common sense.
I am absolutely in favour of working in common cause with people outside the Labour tent when we can work together. But I make no apologies for saying, in the long run, my aim is to return a Labour government and to ensure that that government enacts socialist policies and redistributes wealth and power. That does not just require unity in terms of not tearing lumps out of each other - it requires unity of purpose.
I commend all the organisers of the conference at the weekend (especially those who I've just mildly criticised!) and I also commend everybody who spoke in the debates. I think we conducted ourselves in a good spirit and we shouldn't be afraid of debate.
I have some other things to say about communication and getting our message out, but I think I should probably wait until the bullets stop flying from this one!!
Thursday, 6 November 2008
As some of you will be aware I am standing for LRC Vice-Chair. You can also read my supporting statement on-line but there is only so much one can say in 100 words .
Those attending and voting at the AGM might find more information helpful. So here it is. Firstly, thanks for the nominations received, which include Socialist Youth Network, Greater London LRC and West Yorkshire LRC.
I have been a Labour Party member for over 30 years and an NUJ activist for 24 years. I have held many officer positions within the Party, and am currently Branch Secretary of my local Party and a member of the Calder Valley constituency executive.
For the past five years I have served as a Town Councillor , and am currently Hebden Royd Council Chair and Town Mayor. I have also stood as a candidate for the Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council and am Chair of the Calderdale NUJ.
In recent years I have actively campaigned on a national basis for the Labour Left. Until last year I was a National Committee member of Save The Labour Party and support the Grassroots Umbrella network, which brings together all left groups within the Party at Conference. I have also been an active supporter of the Campaign For Labour Party Democracy . In May, I was elected to the Editorial Board of Labour Briefing and I am a regular contributor.
Last year I organised a successful launch conference in Hebden Bridge which was a springboard for all the regional LRCs and I have just been re-elected Secretary of the West Yorkshire LRC, which is now one of the biggest regional groups in the country. But the plain fact is that much more needs to be done to build the LRC into a truly national organisation.
One of the key tasks when the LRC was founded was to try and re-claim the Labour Party for socialist values. That is still a task which I regard as absolutely fundamental. As I have said many times on this blog, I do not believe anything can be achieved by leaving the Party other than political oblivion.
But I also strongly believe we must build bridges with those who stay outside the Party for reasons of disaffection and disillusion. That's why I got involved in the Convention Of The Left - a very loose coalition of socialists who managed to forget faction-fighting and organise a tremendously successful event in Manchester to counter the official Labour Conference.
What divides left activists inside and outside Labour ? The truth is very very little. We can stand shoulder to shoulder with them on issues ranging from the economy, trade union rights, climate change , and peace . That work must go on.
We need an active Vice-Chair who puts in the work required over the next 12 months to build the LRC and raise its profile . If elected, I promise to do that. Within the Labour Party but also outside it in the wider labour movement.