Left Unity: code of conduct or a safe spaces nightmare?
How to vote at conference- Mike Macnair explains the Communist Platform’s recommendations for November 15-16
Proposed policy would entangle LU in endless internal disputes
According to the Institutes (533CE), an introductory law textbook enacted by the late Roman emperor, Justinian (reigned 527-565CE), “A statute is the type of law which the Roman people used to make on the motion of a senatorial magistrate: for instance, a consul. A plebiscite is the kind which the plebeians used to enact on the motion of a plebeian magistrate, such as a tribune.”
As this passage indicates, “the Roman people” - or “the plebeians” - had no say on the law when they met in the comitia or voting meeting, apart from being able to vote yes or no to it. Any discussion of the statute or plebiscite could only take place at an earlier informal public meeting (contio), called at the discretion of the proposer; real, operative discussion, and amendment, could only take place in the Roman Senate, the assembly of ‘the great and the good’.
This is the meaning of ‘plebiscitary democracy’. All the actual policy decisions - bar one - are made elsewhere. The one decision which is left to ‘the people’ is that of a rubber stamp, with which they can endorse or reject the proposal, without discussion.
We saw a modern textbook example of this method at work in the referendum on independence for Scotland. The British government refused to put options like federalism or ‘devo-max’ on the ballot paper. So there were only two choices: independence or the status quo. But, as soon as the unionist parties thought there was a risk they might lose the vote, ‘devo-max’ was at the last minute put on the table - without any opportunity for discussion of what, in detail, was on offer, or its merits or demerits. It is the method of ‘plebiscitary democracy’ itself which produces results like this. Discussion of details and amendment of proposals has to take place somewhere;the method of plebiscites, referenda or referendum-like forms of decision-making means that this discussion is undemocratically organised behind the scenes.
The alternative idea in principle is ‘deliberative democracy’, where real discussion, rather than the mere aggregation of votes, is essential to the political authority or ‘legitimacy’ of the decision reached. Communists do not usually describe ourselves as practitioners of ‘deliberative democracy’, but our methods are considerably ‘deliberative’ in orientation. The Weekly Worker is open to debate. Our aggregate meetings try to discuss few topics, with substantial periods allowed both for introductions and contributions. We are flexible about deadlines: that is, if a good point emerges in discussion, brief amendments can be put from the floor of the meeting to improve the motion under debate. Conversely, if it is clear that there has been insufficient discussion to achieve clarity about disputed issues, we can and do defer votes to a future meeting.
Left Unity, by way of its standing orders committee (SOC), has de facto adopted a policy of ‘plebiscitary democracy’, in the form of agendas (both for conferences and for national council) which are so overcrowded that no real discussion can take place, and deadlines for motions, amendments and compositing, which aggravate the problem by coming too late for much effective discussion in the branches and on too tight a timetable for effective compositing. Hence, like Roman plebeians, or like the voters in referenda, the members attending LU conferences have mostly nothing to do but to vote on nearly unamendable proposals.
The second LU policy conference will be meeting on Saturday and Sunday November 14-15. As in November 2013 and March 2014, its agenda is again grossly overcrowded. Five major topics - environment, crime and justice, social security, education, and international - are to be dealt with on Saturday between 11am and 5pm - five hours or less, allowing for the usual delay in starting and a lunch break. Seven agenda headings are to be dealt with on Sunday between 11am and 4pm (even less time): party and constitution (including highly contentious issues), equality, election strategy, fighting austerity, miscellaneous, constitution and democracy, and housing.
Four days before the conference (November 11), the SOC has presented us with the final motions and amendments. They come to either 108 or 140 pages, depending on the format you choose. This is a ‘big ask’. At the university where I teach, the faculty expects students to read this sort of volume of text, or more, and then blag their way through a tutorial at the end of the week. But the students are not working for a living at the same time, and we certainly hope most LU members are.
The SOC has been guilty of some pretty arbitrary decision-making. The movers of the ‘safe spaces’ policy, for instance, have been allowed to rewrite it after the deadline for motions. Good, if the rewrite makes the document better or even merely less bad. The disputes committee offered an alternative proposal before the deadline; the SOC rejected it on the ground that the DC had no standing to present a motion (it announced this after the deadline, so that DC could not produce a mover and seconder). Supporters of the DC proposal then put it in as an amendment and the SOC rejected this on the ground that ‘delete all’ amendments are not accepted. This is anti-democratic, denying the membership the right to a choice which they should have.
Meanwhile, the new motions and amendments document, compared with the original, shows that the SOC has allowed through a large number of amendments to the LU constitution after the deadline for motions. Presumably this is because they are ‘amendments’. This is as if I was to say, ‘There’s a mouse on my desk’ (attached to my computer), so ‘Call the rodent exterminator’. Proposals to amend the constitution are not “amendments”, in the sense in which “amendments” are given a deadline after that for “motions”, but are themselves “motions”. From the point of view of democratic discussion, constitutional amendments need more careful consideration than ordinary motions. This is because they can easily have unexpected and undesirable side-effects, which are not obvious without careful reading, without placing them in the context of other provisions and without thinking through hypothetical applications of the proposed rule. This is not an argument for the super-majority rule for amending the constitution, which was proposed and rejected in November 2013. It is an argument for the non-relaxation of the motions deadline for such proposals.
In the ‘International’ section, there are a number of overlapping motions on Islamic State and Kurdistan, and some long and complicated amendments to them. Clearly compositing has not taken place. My guess as to how this happened is that the SOC sent all the motions and amendments on international issues to a single e-circulation for ‘compositing’ (I know this happened, because I was on the e-circulation in question). The SOC should have ‘concentrated people’s minds’ by sending the IS/Kurdistan motions and amendments only to those who had put forward motions and amendments directly concerned with that issue; the same applies to the Europe amendments, and so on.
Housing has rightly been placed last on the agenda. But the SOC should simply have told the movers of motions on this issue that their proposals were off the agenda for this conference, since we discussed the topic and voted through an elaborate composite only eight months ago at the March conference. The ‘Miscellaneous’ section of the agenda is also redundant: Communist Platform’s proposal on the standing army and the people’s militia, moved by Mark Lewis and seconded by David Isaacson, is a proposal about the British constitution and should be grouped with the other such proposals; Barnet’s proposal for an LU campaign for the eight-hour day belongs either in ‘party and organisation’, along with Philip Clayton’s and Kieran Crowe’s proposal for a party slogan, or in ‘Fighting austerity’. The ‘crime and justice’ commission’s proposals are largely too vague to be worth voting on - Communist Platform could live with the whole section being dropped to save time and all the proposals remitted to the commission, even if that meant that our own more concrete policy proposals (in the name of Sheffield LU, already submitted to the March conference) were also deferred.
Even these changes would only marginally assist a severely overcrowded agenda. The conference needed political decisions by the LU leadership about what would, and what would not, be discussed this time. Such decisions could be challenged and debated if necessary; but they would have had some chance of producing a conference which had more than utterly token ‘discussion’ before coming to a vote.
It did not happen. Adding an extra day, without taking real political decisions about a workable agenda, has left us with another referendum-style voting conference. What follows is therefore recommendations for voting. These are based on discussions by a Communist Platform supporters’ meeting on November 2, followed by a CP steering committee meeting on November 10; I say ‘based on’, because the final motions and amendments document only came out on November 11, and on some proposals I have had to make a provisional recommendation myself.
On a good many proposals Communist Platform is recommending abstention. This calls for explanation. Several proposals, particularly those of the policy commissions, display a combination of (1) good general principles which are ‘motherhood and apple pie’ for socialists, followed by (2) concrete proposals for micro-reforms within the framework of the immediately current general regime: ie, that created by Thatcher’s ‘reforms’. Only relatively few proposals - like Nottingham’s call for support for the ‘NHS Reinstatement Bill’ - grasp the nettle that what is needed for serious reform in working class interests is a fundamental break not just from Cameronism, but also from Blairism, Thatcherism, and from some of the ‘reforms’ of Wilson-Callaghan in 1974-79, which continued Heath’s policies. Even for ‘reforms’ what we need is, to use a phrase from 1640-41, proposals for root and branch change. And this is not on offer. Moreover, the interrelation between the different policy commission proposals is not satisfactorily addressed: for example, how do proposals on housing fit with welfare proposals, economic proposals, and so on?
The combination of good general principles plus more or less OK micro-changes reflects partly on the fact that a large part of LU’s leaders and members have internalised Thatcherism to the point where they cannot see it - for example, in relation to LU’s own use of directly elected officials by postal or online ballots: a Thatcherite innovation. It also and more importantly reflects the aim of a “broad left party” promoted by the Left Party Platform for the founding conference and adopted there, which leads to nervousness about making ‘unrealistic’ concrete proposals. This in turn then clashes with members’ aspirations to fundamental change, which finds expression in the good general principles.
Communist Platform proposes an alternative general approach. This is that LU should openly recognise that we aim for a radical transformation of the state and society in the interests of the working class, and that this is not a left version of ‘old Labour’, but a political alternative to Labourism in all its forms. We proposed aims on this basis in November 2013 and were defeated. We have put forward a range of concrete proposals to the March conference and to this conference: these are characteristically shorter and more general than the rival resolutions, albeit still containing specific alternative policy. Where our resolutions are on offer this time, we urge support for them. But, where they are not, we do not wish either to lend visible support to proposals constructed on what we think is an unsound basis or to be seen to vote against ‘motherhood and apple pie’ principles, or against the limited gains which would be represented if the concrete reforms proposed were implemented. So in these cases we urge a demonstrative abstention.
The Environment discussion contains two motions: A is the general policy commission report, plus an amendment A1 from Lambeth, and B a motion on factory farming. We urge abstention on both, for the reasons given above.
I have already mentioned the case for referring back the whole Crime and Justice discussion: the policy commission has not come up with sufficiently concrete proposals to justify voting on them at this date, and it is clear that more work is needed. Assuming, however, that this does not happen and the discussion and vote goes ahead, we urge abstention on A, the policy commission report, on A1, the Lambeth amendment to it, and on B, the Liverpool resolution on children.
We oppose C (Islington/LGBTQ caucus) on ‘fighting injustice, defending democratic rights’ (mostly uncontentious, but it contains a commitment to defend the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights), if it cannot be taken in parts to eliminate this element; and similarly oppose D (Islington) on defending the Human Rights Act.
Both resolutions in this respect defend the current evolution of the British constitution towards a US-style regime, in which courts are the ultimate arbiters of political disputes. The fact that right now the British courts and the Strasbourg court are at odds with Cameron’s Daily Mail populism does not alter the fact that the European Convention explicitly treats corporations as having ‘human rights’; that the right to private property is entrenched; and that the right to privacy has been used by judges in support of corporations’ secrets, as well as of victims of tabloid smear campaigns.
E (Sheffield) on crime and punishment is our own resolution and, though we would be willing to see it remitted if that happens to the whole item, we would urge a vote for it.
We suggest abstention on F on child sex abuse (merely a proposal for an academic conference, which LU is not best placed to act on and anyhow does not need an LU conference resolution) and G (Liverpool) on the criminal justice system, which, like the policy commission report, is descriptive and general.
We urge abstention on all the resolutions and amendments on Social Security for the reasons already given. This is particularly a topic where coordination with other policy areas is required, in order to arrive at proposals which make any sense.
In the Education discussion we would prefer for A, the policy commission report, to be referred back and the various amendments to it, and Islington’s motion B, ‘Educating for equality’, remitted to that discussion. The point is that even within the LU majority’s ‘terms of reference’ the text clearly needs a lot of work, since it is unclear that is contentious in the several substantial amendments. If this does not happen and the proposals go to a vote, we would urge abstention on all of them for the reasons already given.
There has been some compositing in the ‘International’ section, but not enough to achieve clarity. It would be better if sub-topics were ‘grouped’ on the agenda, but, as things stand, it is necessary to go through the motions and amendments in the order in which they appear.
We urge a vote against A, the policy commission report. The movers have accepted in compositing the weasel words proposed by Socialist Resistance supporters to water down the March conference’s rejection of left-Ukipite anti-Europeanism: “… we recognise that the EU is a bosses’ club, with the collective aim of increasing the exploitation of the European working class ...” - as if the United Kingdom is not also a “bosses’ club” - and, in addition, one of the prime movers of neoliberalism in the EU. And the commission report also promotes illusions in other ‘bosses’ clubs’: the United Nations and the states represented in it which are not (currently) imperialist powers or permanent members of the security council. A subsidiary point is that the movers have also accepted a longish amendment on the LGBTQ issue, which has an ‘unbalancing’ effect (overemphasis of a single issue), in the absence of (for example) a similar paragraph on gender issues in international policy.
Though we are urging a vote against, we recognise that the document is likely to be passed and within this framework have to look at the amendments to see if they improve or worsen it.
I would recommend that we vote against amendment A1 on Kurdistan and Kobanê, which has a similar ‘unbalancing’ effect; there are other motions on the table which address this conjunctural issue, without LU putting what happens to be on the order of the day into its general international policy.
Lambeth’s amendment A2 contains three elements: (a) on the EU question, replacing the current paragraph heading 1, is an improvement on the composite motion and should be supported; (b) deleting reference to unilateral nuclear disarmament and related matters, appears unsupportable in the absence of a motivation; (c), while formally addressed to paragraph 12, in fact proposes deletion of para 13 of the composite. This is supportable.
Liverpool’s amendment A3 contains two elements: (a) a welcome clarification of the introductory part of the policy commission report and should be supported; (b), on Europe, offers support to “the right of democratically elected governments” to refuse to implement austerity, and a commitment to promote working class solidarity across Europe. This again should be supported. The identical amendment is proposed as A5 by Ed Bober and Brian Green and the two must surely be composited by Saturday.
Fred Leplat (of Socialist Resistance) and Bel Druce propose, in amendment A4, (1) to delete the reference to staying in the EU, reversing the decision on this issue in March, and (2) to defer decision on whether to vote for withdrawal in an EU referendum to a special policy conference. This should be rejected: more evasive left Ukipism.
B concerns IS and western intervention in Iraq. Ba is proposed by Lambeth branch and by Matt Hale, and seconded by Tom Armstrong. Bb is proposed by Sheffield branch, and is, in origin, a version of Ba with certain points in it removed or amended. The two motions have a good deal in common and it is a pity that they were not composited, with points of difference appearing at conference as amendments. The substance of the difference between the two versions is that Sheffield’s ‘Conference notes’ part of the motion places more emphasis on the geopolitics of the British and US actions, and that Sheffield’s version is more sceptical about the leftwing or working class credentials of the Kurdish nationalist parties.
Amendment Ba1 from John Penney and Susan Pashkoff expresses a clear political difference with both versions. It contains three elements. The first is to replace the short comment that the invasion of Iraq and intervention against Libya destabilised these countries and substitute a longer and debatable analysis of the reasons for the 2003 invasion (eliminating reference to Libya). The second is to eliminate references to opposition to imperialist military intervention and replace them with the argument that the Kurds have the right to self-defence, and this includes calling for imperialist air support. The third is to add reference to the right of the Kurds to unify as a nation-state, but combining it with a restatement of the right to “secure weapons and air support from whatever source those doing the fighting think tactically appropriate”. This amendment should be rejected: it intentionally ignores the lessons of ‘the west’s’ previous military interventions in the Middle East and concludes that ‘this one is different’ - just as supporters of bombing Libya contended.
On the opposite side, amendment Ba2 from John Tummon and Mark Anthony France is a long, elaborate text on a counter-line of partial support for the idea of a caliphate as an ‘anti-imperialist’ project. If the SOC had been consistent in the political basis of rejecting ‘delete all’ amendments, it would have rejected this one, as it is clearly a counter-resolution masquerading as an amendment. Nonetheless, it should be discussed - since it represents the ‘anti-imperialism of fools’ common among a section of the left - and rejected.
Amendment Bb1 from Manchester to Sheffield’s motion would delete point 3.3 - “to stand alongside those sections of the working class movement that have not been tainted by either social-imperialism or false anti-imperialism” - and replace it with a phrase from Ba1’s 3.6: “to call for the building of a socialist and truly democratic society in Iraq, Syria and throughout the world”. Sheffield’s clause is clumsily expressed in a way which can appear sectarian; but it attempts to address the very real problem of socialists getting ensnared in the tangled geopolitical politics of the region through solidarity with what appear at first sight to be leftwing trends (thus, for example, the Iraqi Kurdish KDP government is deeply linked to Israel; several groups of left origin have lent their support for local reasons to western ‘humanitarian’ interventions) or ‘anti-imperialist’ forces, the line of the Tummon/France amendment. Manchester’s amendment substitutes for this imperfect formulation a piece of mere piety. It should be rejected.
If we have a choice between Ba (Lambeth) and Bb (Sheffield) we should vote for Bb, for the reason just given for rejecting Manchester’s amendment to Bb. The PKK is undoubtedly to the left of the KDP and PUK. But it remains a left-nationalist party, not a class party; and we have seen all too often what happens to socialists’ high hopes in such parties: see, for example, the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Parties of Iraq and Syria ... Ba does not draw a clear line against such illusions.
C on ‘War and Peace’, from Sheffield, is based on Communist Platform’s draft motion. It is also proposed by myself, Moshé Machover,Yassamine Mather and Steve Cooke. The motion offers a clear, long-term general policy on issues of war and peace. Both the amendment and the motion should be supported.
D from Waltham Forest, on support for Palestinian rights and boycott, divestment and sanctions I think repeats in a slightly different form policy LU has already adopted. However, in any event it is clearly supportable. E on Zionism, Israel and Palestine, proposed by Moshé Machover and seconded by Yassamine Mather, is from a Communist Platform draft and should be supported: it offers a clear long-term strategic perspective on this high-profile issue. Amendment E1 from Wandsworth and Merton is in effect a ‘delete all’ amendment. It is worse than simply an amendment in support of the traditional left line of a ‘democratic, secular state’ within the borders of mandate Palestine, since it “supports the existence of a homeland for the Jews in the Middle East”: ie, is explicitly Zionist (and passing it would set up a contradiction with paragraph 9, which it does not propose to replace). It should be rejected.
F on nationalism from Glasgow is by no means perfect, but makes sound points against widespread left illusions in nationalism. It should be supported.
G on Ukraine is also supportable, even if it is somewhat slanted towards characterising the pro-US Kyiv regime as “far right” without mentioning the role of the Russian far right in the rebel regions in the Donbass. However, amendment G1, proposed by Richard Brenner and seconded by Kady Tait and Dave Stockton, would increase the slant and commit LU to supporting what is in effect a pro-Putin front. It should be rejected and, if it is passed, the motion as a whole should be rejected. If it fails, the principal motion can be supported.
H on Latin America helpfully emphasises solidarity with the struggles of the working class in that continent. It should be supported. I on Nato merely duplicates what is already in the policy commission document, and is in any case - on its own - a pious wish. We advise abstention. J on ‘internationalism and solidarity’ purports to offer an orienting framework for general policy distinct from the policy commission’s. But it is a hopeless mishmash of fashionable ‘left’ ‘issues’, covering merely opposition to imperialism, Palestine, national self-determination, nuclear weapons and ‘against sectarianism’ - nothing like a developed internationalist policy. For this reason, though more leftwing thanthe policy commission document, it is actually weaker than that document. It should be rejected. Amendment J1 from Anna Fisher and Susan Pashkoff would be more useful (though it is not very useful, being completely sectional in its approach) as an amendment to the policy commission document than to this one. An abstention is appropriate.
Ka (Marcus Halaby and Dave Stockton) and Kb (Adriano Nerola Marotta and Alia Al Ghussain), on solidarity with Kurdistan, should be composited together, and with Ba and Bb before Saturday if possible, so that common ground can be passed as common ground and differences voted on in the form of amendments. If this is not possible, Ka should be supported; Kb is already out of date and explicitly promotes illusions in the PKK and PYD, and should be rejected. In relation to Hackney’s amendment KB1 abstention is appropriate.
L on solidarity with Venezuela promotes illusions in the Chávista regime in that country (contrast H). It should be rejected.
Party and constitution
Sunday morning begins with issues about the Left Unity constitution, presumably starting with the debate on A, the ‘safe spaces’ policy. As I said above, this has been redrafted yet again, with some slight resulting increase in clarity. It retains, however, the fundamental vices of the original text: (1) that it mixes up disciplinary arrangements with equalities policy, which is likely to turn all ‘intersectional’ disputes into disciplinary disputes, producing expanding witch-hunts; (2) that the concept of ‘safe spaces’ is misconceived; and (3) that it involves an elaborate disciplinary procedure involving compulsory mediation (now renamed ‘conciliation’), which, as I have pointed out before, tends to favour the powerful over the powerless. It should be rejected.
B, ‘An alternative to “safe spaces” document’, proposed by Tina Becker and seconded by Robert Eagleton, is supported by Communist Platform. It does not pretend to offer a solution to everything, but proposes a minimum, short, transparent and workable disciplinary code and procedures, alongside a separate, short ‘Equalities Policy’. It should be supported.
As I indicated above, the SOC was in my opinion wrong to reject as out of order both the third alternative proposed by the disputes committee (‘Brief guide to party solidarity’, Tony Aldis and Gioia Coppola, ‘Disallowed motions and amendments’, A and B) and the Liverpool amendment to the ‘safe spaces’ policy (same, E). These proposals should be heard - but in both cases should be rejected. The DC alternative has at the end of the day the same vices as ‘safe spaces’ except the misconceived general concept. The Liverpool amendment would worsen rather than improve the SS document.
According to the motions document, the next item is the Disputes Committee Standing Orders and Procedures (Aa-Ad). This document should be rejected, because the DC has failed to grasp that the fundamental role of such a body is that it exists to provide a quasi-judicial forum to deal with disputes that cannot be handled otherwise: hence the DC draft’s insistence on confidentiality; its “dispute resolution approach” to matters that do not meet the threshold for a recommendation for suspension to NC; and its assertion that it “reserves the right not to intervene”. The DC should be told to go away and redraft on the basis that their job is quasi-judicial and not anything else.
In spite of this, some of the amendments would mitigate the problems. Amendment A1 from Sheffield would do away with ‘confidentiality’ and substitute a right of the accused to be informed. It should be supported. A2, from Phil Pope and Mike Thomas, does a similar but slightly more extensive job, tackling some other weaknesses of the document, and should also be supported (perhaps the two could be composited before Saturday?). A3, from Anna Fisher and Brigitte Lechner, also has the merit of turning suspension into a sanction for the most serious cases, and obliging the DC to decide how much investigation is needed on a ‘case by case’ basis. It should also be supported.
Presumably also under this agenda item come the matters listed by the SOC under heads 13, Party and Organisation, and 14, Constitutional Amendments. Under head 13, A (Glasgow South) proposes that the national council should make available postal distribution of documents to members without internet access. This actually affects less than 3% of LU’s current membership, and in our view it should in most cases be dealt with at branch level.
B on ‘Social media strategy’, from Hackney and other branches, Alison Treacher and Tom Armstrong, proposes an entirely worthy object - that LU should develop a social media strategy - with the concrete proposals amounting to the setting up of a team for this purpose, which is to report to the national council, but it is unclear whether it is to be set up by the NC or how it is to be constituted. Points 5-7 under “We resolve” deal with the moderation of “offensive” posts and those deemed to be “personal attacks”. Sheffield proposed an amendment (‘Disallowed motions and amendments’, C) to delete the “We resolve” element and replace it with the immediate creation of an LU Facebook page open only to members under recognised identities; this would deal with trolling and moderation issues by eliminating anonymous and pseudonymous posting. The amendment has been rejected by the SOC as a ‘delete all’ amendment; in our opinion this is wrong. If the amendment is allowed to be voted on and passed, the motion is supportable; as unamended, it should be opposed.
C, ‘Slogan’, from Philip Clayton and Kieran Crowe, objects to “meaningless PR slogans” but then proposes that LU adopt one. It should be rejected.
There are 17 separate Constitutional Amendments, of which 11 were received before the deadline for motions and circulated in the initial motions pack. As I have already argued, those received after the motions deadline should be ruled out of order for this conference. However, assuming that this does not happen:
A. Stockport proposes to divert funds from the centre to regional committees. Since most regional committees are not functioning, due to lack of bodies rather than lack of money, this should be rejected. B, ‘Constitution tidying’, from Phil Pope and Sam Williams, proposes, as its name suggests, a number of minor changes to the existing constitution. It should be supported. There are two amendments to it. B1, from Tom Walker and Guy Harper, is a (misconceived) attempt to make elections involving gender quotas work better by procedural means and should be rejected. B2, from Christopher O’Neill and Guy Thomas, would eliminate a contradiction in the existing constitution and should be supported.
C (Rugby) would put branch representatives onto the NC, making this body even more unworkably unwieldy than it already is. D from Brighton and Hove, amending section 12, would have similar effects. Both should be rejected. Brighton and Hove’s motion also postpones to November 2015 the requirement for delegate conferences - supportable, but too minimal, since LU seems unlikely to be organised enough at branch level to have delegate conferences soon; and tinkers with the composition of the EC. An abstention is appropriate here, if Brighton and Hove’s motion can be taken in parts; if not, the whole should be rejected.
E, ‘Freedom of speech and public reporting’, is proposed by myself and Jack Conrad. Support. It is difficult to overstate how important this issue is: the culture of secrets on the left is also the culture of disasters like the SWP’s ‘Delta’ case.
F, ‘Composition of conference’, proposed by Nottingham, would make non-delegate conferences permanent, but provide for online conferences once membership reached 10,000, and demand rotation of conferences round the European parliament constituencies. Amendment F1, from Tom Walker and David Stoker, proposes a more rapid movement towards online “policy crowdsourcing”. Both the motion and the amendment to it are committed to ‘plebiscitary democracy’ and should be rejected.
G, ‘Minutes of NC’, proposed by Nottingham, would replace the current requirement of publication of NC minutes within a week with publication within seven working days, and require video recording of NC and EC meetings. Amendment G1 from Crouch End tinkers with the latter part of Nottingham’s proposal with a view to internal publication and keeping some matters confidential. Abstention is an appropriate response to both motion and amendment.
H, ‘Left Unity membership in Northern Ireland and Gibraltar’, from Nottingham branch, would (a) give any LU organisation in Northern Ireland the famous ‘loyalist veto’ on Irish reunification, and (b) commit LU to organising in Gibraltar and the other British overseas territories and crown dependencies around the world. It should be rejected.
I, ‘Composition of NC and EC’, from Hackney and Tower Hamlets, and amendment I1 (Crouch End) consists of more tinkering with the NC and EC structure. An abstention is appropriate. The same is true for Ja (Brighton and Hove) and Jb (Ed Huxley and Ian Llewellyn), which tinker with the branch model standing orders in the attempt to solve the problematic fact that many branch meetings are inquorate.
K, on the powers of the appeals committee (Camden and Islington), is more tinkering - and inappropriate, because it makes no allowance for the need of members of the appeals committee to recuse themselves from particular cases in various circumstances. It should be rejected. L, on ‘unruly and disruptive behaviour’, would replace the power of the chair of a meeting to exclude people who are ‘disruptive’ with that of any member. It is a recipe for chaos and should be rejected.
M, on national conferences (Crouch End), would postpone the use of delegate conferences until LU reaches 5,000 members. Kicking this issue down the field in this way should be supported.
N, on the length of motions (Terry Conway and Merry Cross), would restrict all conference motions to 500 words. It is an attempt to deal with a real problem, which I pointed to earlier - far too much text - but a stupidly bureaucratic one. There would have to be exceptions and how would they be decided upon? Reject. Lambeth proposes alternative solutions to the same problem with O and P on ‘National conferences and deadlines’: O would require 10 signatories to conference motions - in my opinion an acceptable proposal, provided it is clear. P would extend the motions deadline to 10 weeks before conference, with compositing by five weeks before conference and amendments two weeks before. Longer deadlines is not a stupid idea, but this is too rigid in its present form: reject.
Q, on disputes and appeals, from Liverpool branch would amend the constitution in relation to the disputes and appeals committees in such a way as (it seems) to eliminate the latter. Without motivation it is unclear what the point of this is.
10, ‘Equality’, contains three motions, without any amendments. A, Oppression of disabled people, from the disabled people’s caucus, is merely sectional ‘identity politics’ in character and we would recommend abstention. B, on recognition of carers, from Liverpool branch, should be supported, and so should C, ‘Work capability assessment’, from Tom Armstrong and Alison Treacher.
12, Electoral strategy, contains five motions, involving rather important debates. A (Nottingham) proposes joint candidacies with the National Health Action Party. Since NHAP representatives, when they attended the ‘unity of the left’ meeting organised by Pete McLaren a few years ago, described their party as “of the centre, not of the left”, this seems inappropriate and should be rejected.
B, proposed by Glasgow South and others, is a fairly elaborate motion, essentially calling for LU to form a coalition with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, as opposed to merely making stand-down agreements with Tusc. The problem is the sharply divergent policy on the question of the EU (Tusc stands for withdrawal) and that what is essentially proposed is to subsume LU within Tusc. Amendment B1, from John Tummon and Alison Treacher, would argue for the creation of a “People’s Democracy” coalition with Tusc and the Greens; it should clearly be rejected. Amendment B2, from Pete Green and Phil Pope, draws the sting out of the pro-Tusc motion by removing the commitment to go beyond stand-down agreements and the proposal to overturn the NC on the issue. This amendment should be supported and, if it is passed, Glasgow South’s motion is supportable; if it fails, the motion should be rejected.
C, proposed by Leeds and Lambeth, would commit LU not to stand candidates without a policy conference and a delegate conference on the final manifesto. This is an ‘anti-electoralist’ wrecking proposal to block electoral participation, since such conferences are impractical. Amendment C1 (Tom Walker and Pete Green) would substitute approval by the NC of a manifesto, drawn up on the basis of existing policy commitments from conferences. The amendment is supportable and, if it passes, the motion is supportable; if the amendment does not pass, the motion should be rejected.
D, ‘Against the endorsement of abusers as electoral candidates’, has an entirely supportable aim: it is clearly undesirable to endorse abusers as candidates. But this motion would commit LU (a) to treating all claims of abuse as if they were proved; (b) to the 1970s-80s radical-feminist ‘MVAW’ theoretical perspective without thorough discussion, and (c) to rejecting any electoral pacts with organisations which “include abusers” (meaning ‘identified’ abusers, not proved abusers) “as candidates”. This is a sectionalist witch-hunting project and should be rejected.
E, on electoral tactics where LU is not standing (Richard Brenner and Joy Mac), calls for a Labour vote in constituencies where there is no LU candidate or “working class and socialist candidates with real roots” - a very slippery expression - together with calls on Labour to implement a broadly Workers Power-type ‘action programme’. In spite of the serious weaknesses of this motion the Communist Platform steering committee thought it was supportable, offering a partial alternative to the ‘auto-anti-Labourism’ widespread in LU.
11, Fighting Austerity, contains four motions, again without amendments. A, ‘Welfare, not warfare’ (Crouch End), is acceptable enough, but it is not clear what it adds to policy already decided or to be voted on elsewhere. An abstention is appropriate. I have already referred to B, NHS Reinstatement Bill 2015, from Nottingham branch, as one of the few proposals which grasps the nettle of a radical break from recent legislation. It should be supported. C, ‘The fight against austerity and a social republic’, from Steve Freeman, Mark Anthony France and others, produces in the ‘social republic’ a direct analogue of the ‘advanced democracy’ stage of the old British road to socialism. It should be rejected. D, on libraries, from Liverpool, should be supported.
6, Miscellaneous, contains two motions. The first, A, is Communist Platform’s own draft motion on the standing army and the people’s militia, moved by Mark Lewis and David Isaacson. I have already said that where this belongs is with the discussion on the British constitution. However, if we get a chance to vote on it under ‘Miscellaneous’ it should be supported. The standing army is an instrument of the imperial financial oligarchy, and the idea of political democracy without universal military training is illusory. In B Barnet branch proposes an LU campaign for the eight-hour day. This is an interesting idea, but needs more thought. It should be remitted to NC - if not, we would recommend abstention.
15, Housing, is the last item on the agenda and will almost certainly be lost for lack of time. I have already argued that the SOC should have disallowed these motions on the basis that we have already adopted a housing policy. If the discussion does go ahead, we should reject A, the Somerset and Wilts proposal, which would actually weaken the policy agreed in March; but support amendment A1, and motion B, both of which represent Bristol’s attempt to improve either the original policy or the Somerset and Wilts version, in ways which are broadly supportable.
9. Constitution and democracy concerns the British, rather than the LU, constitution. Placed second to last on the agenda, the item is very likely to be lost for lack of time. In one way this is unfortunate, since constitutional issues will certainly be to the forefront in the 2015 general election and it will be problematic for LU to have no agreed policy on the issue. However, A, the purported ‘Constitution policy commission report’, is actually a cut-and-paste draft by Steve Freeman, and the volunteers for the commission have only discussed it after the fact and agreed by majority that it be recommended for adoption as a draft.
Even more unfortunately, comrade Freeman has used this draft to try to commit LU to his ‘independence’ policy - which now takes the form of calling for an immediate campaign for the repeal of the Acts of Union (para 2.31 in the draft). The political meaning of this slogan is that in comrade Freeman’s view the right of self-determination can only be exercised after separation, and the proposal is therefore in substance to expel Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from the UK and allow them to decide afterwards whether to join a new federation on new terms (the legal effect of successfully ‘abolishing the acts of union’ without replacing them with alternative legislation would be rather different).1
I have argued on the constitution policy commission e-list that the document should be discussed, but referred back for further discussion. If it is nonetheless put to the vote, even “as a draft” - which is an undemocratic procedure - it should be rejected.
Amendment A1 from Camden and Islington has three parts: to delete the preamble; to add a rave review of the pro-independence campaign in Scotland; and to add at the end a list of specific demands (proportional representation, extension of the franchise, and so on). If this is taken in parts, the first and third parts are supportable, but we should oppose the second; if it is taken as a whole we should oppose it. Amendment A2 (Liverpool) proposes the right of recall of MPs. This is more difficult than at first sight it appears - how to avoid allowing the tabloid press to force repeated elections on MPs they dislike? In Communist Platform’s motion we have gone for frequent elections as the solution to the problem.
B (Wales Left Unity) calls for a campaign to win an equal degree of devolution with Scotland, to develop a Wales LU manifesto, and to “work in conjunction with other parties in Wales that share these aims”. The first two points are fine, but the third is the sting in the tail: does this mean turning Wales LU into a tail for Plaid Cymru? On this basis I would recommend that we ask for the motion to be taken in parts, and support points 1 and 2, but ask for remittal of point 3.
C is Communist Platform’s draft, proposed by Sheffield. We obviously support it: it gives clear general principles for constitutional change, rather than micro-details.
There are two amendments. C1 (Southwark) is a complex of amendments which would make the motion follow Steve Freeman’s line. There is no basis for taking these in any parts and they should be rejected en bloc. C2, proposed by Islington and Hackney, is more peculiar. First, it would remove the demand for the abolition of “MI5, MI6, special branch and the entire secret state apparatus” - why? Second, it would give a public right to call referendums, to propose a law if 800,000 signed a petition within 18 months; to “oppose a law passed by parliament” (whatever that means) if 400,000 sign within 100 days. This proposal would give The Sun, Mail and so on an effective veto - by gathering 400,000 signatures - over the legislative programme of a parliamentary majority, backed by - say - two million voters. Both proposals should be rejected. And if either amendment is passed, we should vote against our own motion as amended.
We do not want more ‘plebiscitary democracy’. We have too much of it already.
1. Repealing the Act of Union with Scotland, without further provisions, would immediately vest the crown of an independent Scotland in whoever is deemed to be the ‘Stuart pretender’. For Wales, it would leave the crown in control of Principality Wales (Gwynedd, Conwy and Ynys Mon) and cede the remainder of the country in the descendants of the various ‘Marcher Lords’ who had sovereignty in these areas in 1535. For Northern Ireland, it would leave the queen as sovereign of an independent Six Counties.