Unifying the Left in the Labour Party?

I went up to London to attend the Labour Representation Committee Special General Meeting. The original LRC was the fore runner of the Labour Party, but today it is a left-wing pressure group and it called a special meeting mainly to discuss strategy after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Party. The most important debate would be the LRC’s relationship with Momentum as Momentum regularises its position within the Labour Party. The meeting was opened by John McDonnell MP who reprised the previous nine months and then followed by the debate which shows the Left are as conflicted as the Right about the new members and renewed interest in the Labour Party.

The conference was opened by John McDonnell who thanked the LRC as he stated that Jeremy Corbyn would not have been on the ballot paper without the pressure placed upon MPs by the party at large and that the LRC and its members had been a big part of this. He stated that the majority of the PLP were now on board with the leadership and the priorities were to

  1. Rebuild the movement, (beyond the 375,000 members)
  2. Rebuild policy development capability
  3. And to rebuild the party’s democracy

It was a priority to fight and win the election campaigns ahead of us, but there must be

Respect for Dissent.

The meeting was then addressed by members of the national committee and guests including speakers on behalf of the Junior Doctors and Pl ane Stupid. Liz_Davies spoke to the meeting celebrating her return to the Labour Party and the achievements of the PLP under Corbyn’s leadership. On writing up these notes, it reminded me that Ed Miliband was often described as the most powerful post war Leader of the Opposition but that was when he articulated a left wing position, (Palestine, Syria and Leveson); it also reminded me of the way in which the new labour rump continually pulled him and the Party to the right, particularly on macro-economics and immigration.

Liz was followed by another voice from the past, Hilary Wainwright, who spoke of the Unions turning up the pressure on Corbyn over Trident to defend jobs, and contrasting that with the eighties when the Lucas Aerospace workers produced an alternative business plan; she suggested that we should be arguing for a Defence Re-purposing Agency which should be led by the workers in those industries. She spoke of broad campaigns and the need and opportunity to build a social movement, although more accurately it’s a civic movement. I think that sort of ambition and organisational capability has gone from the Unions. There were muttering about whether Hilary was in the party from where I was sitting, which made me think that the Labour Party may have forgotten how to do broad campaigns. It may have been that she’s just too clever for that meeting but I agree and believe we need new answer to what seems to be old problems.

The morning was closed by Ian Hodson from the Bakers Union, who in a speech probably originally written in the eighties and spoken in the style of a UCATT shop steward, spoke of the need for

Boldness and Clarity

The afternoon session was the debate about Momentum. Momentum’s key role seems to be to offer the commitment shy the opportunity to be active. In this way, it’s a good thing. In the Thanet group, they reported they work by consensus and that the unpleasant are asked to leave. The big question asked by many people present is does Momentum seek to or accidently replace the Party. This is an allegation made by the right but it’s obviously a concern across the Party since despite the bravery of one attendee in repeating the statement that the 1983 manifesto was “the longest suicide note in history”, the LRC is part of Labour’s Left but retains a tribal loyalty which it shares with much of the Right and the attendance of members of other political parties bothers many in the LRC as much as it does the Right, ( and me). One critical point made during the debate is that while most branches are now much larger in some case between three and five times larger, branch activity is not growing at this rate. This might be to do with the Compliance Units prohibition on involving registered supporters and the refusal to enlarge General Committees to match the increase in membership in 2016, on the other hand it could be the inability of the old guard, which would include me, to adapt their practice to the needs of the newly engaged; at least they’re not leaving yet. To my mind it proves the need for new forms of organisation and conversation, the old style resolutionary socialism, with the promise that branch policy can get to Conference and thus to Government may not excite and motivate the newly engaged.

If Momentum didn’t exist, it would need to be invented. Amongst other things, its much more interested in Politics. The old guard need to watch our own tribalism, and learn from both the newcomers and returners.

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