WeeklyWorker

18.06.2015
Kate Hudson: support Corbyn

Positive thinking on Labour

LU’s national council saw some mixed outcomes. Sarah McDonald reports

Last weekend’s Left Unity national council took place over two days, with the first day having speaking rights for non-NC members.

The opening session, introduced by national secretary Kate Hudson, dealt with the general election and the situation now. Comrade Hudson made some useful points about the Labour vote and the largely rightward conclusions drawn by the Labour leadership. She also raised the possibility of joining the Labour Party as associate members in order to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. A positive development in our view.

Interestingly, comrade Hudson noted the eclectic nature of the Green Party (a party that many, especially those in LU, wish to characterise as ‘of the left’). She acknowledged the political diversity of the Greens, and said we should be wary. In fact, in addition to a petty bourgeois wing it also has a bourgeois wing (ie, one that assumes capitalism as the norm). Nevertheless, given the statement from LU’s national officers, mere months ago, about the desirability of forming an anti-austerity alliance with the Greens, this is a step in the right direction.

The discussion on the Labour Party, especially in relation to Corbyn, was useful. LU’s attitude to Labour and Labour lefts is a discussion that needs to develop. Roland Rance felt it would be wrong for LU members to join Labour in order to influence the outcome of the leadership contest (to which there were heckles of “We wish!”), while Liz Davies said she had left the Labour Party when she felt it had become a purely neoliberal party under Tony Blair.

Steve Freeman brought up Scottish independence (in the name of which he stood against the LU-endorsed candidate for Bermondsey, Kingsley Abrams in the general election). While Luke Cooper and Tom Walker noted the rightward movement of Labour, Terry Conway made the point that the left has been mistaken to equate Labour with the Tories, but sadly we do not have the forces to influence the balance in the Labour leadership. She added that joining Labour would be impossible for her because you are expected to adhere to its values - war and austerity, according to the comrade.

Jack Conrad from the Communist Platform made the point that, from Brick Lane Debates to those who took part in the Occupy movement, people are looking for answers (some of the latter have apparently joined the Labour Party recently). He argued it should not be a choice between building LU and trying to influence developments within Labour: we can do two things at once. At the same time we should not spread illusions in the Labour Party’s past.

Worthwhile

Comrade Conway introduced the second session, ‘Lessons from our election campaign’, beginning with the idea that standing had been worthwhile and had strengthened us as a party. However, we were slow off the mark getting organised and too much was not properly planned. She felt that the mechanisms to promote women as candidates were not in place - and neither were the constraints on candidates to make sure they promoted the policies of LU. She also felt that standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, as did most LU candidates, was counterproductive - our profile was subsumed into Tusc.

Kate Hudson commented that it was not that the NC did not have a plan for the election so much as it did not enforce it. So when branches decided they wanted to stand - maybe in a constituency where there was a candidate that the leadership thought should not be opposed - the NC did not try to persuade them not to do so. I made the point that we needed to strategically consider not just how, but crucially why, we stand in elections - ie, to build LU and promote the idea of socialism. This could be done effectively in next year’s GLA and mayoral electors. However, a campaign that promotes Tusc is a diversion - it aims to establish itself as a Labour Party mark two (a stupid and illusory project). I also made the point that due to the absence of a centralised approach we ended up with some farcical situations, with decisions over whether to stand and who to nominate being reconsidered right up to the wire, such as in Hackney (or, in Bermondsey, where we had an LU member standing against an LU-endorsed candidate).

Jack Conrad argued that LU ought not to be localist in its approach, but that the NC should show leadership, whilst listening to the views of the branches. The idea that, left to branches’ own devices, “a thousand flowers will bloom” is evidently mistaken. There is a need for centralisation. Pete Green made the point that standing with Tusc had not been entirely negative: for example, Glynn Roberts in Tower Hamlets had promoted Left Unity.

The next session was on ‘Women’s representation in our election work’, introduced by Kathy Lowe. She commented that only one of our candidates had been a woman, which showed that the right mechanisms were not in place to promote women. Ideas such as “all-women short lists” were floated. Comrade Lowe, I can only assume, extrapolated from her own experience when she commented that many women in LU were experienced in feminist campaigning and academia, but not in the left (looking around the room at the women present, I would contest that claim). There was also talk of providing women mentors in branches to induct new female members and ensuring there was more discussion around ‘women’s issues’ like sexual abuse and care work.

Aside from being overtly patronising, most of this is just the wrong approach. As several women comrades argued, the reason why they did not stand was not because they “didn’t feel confident”. Tokenistic mechanisms do not work because they do not solve the underlying problems, which are in the first place societal.

The last session on Saturday - ‘Political and campaigning priorities’, introduced by Simon Hardy - was less contentious. There was some discussion around whether LU should prioritise one issue to campaign on nationally (ie, housing) or whether comrades should decide their own priorities. Our view would be that these things are not mutually exclusive. Comrades come with a wealth of interests and experience and these can be part of the campaigning life of LU. What would be useful is a central organ via the website or a web-based journal that is edited and can be used to educate and organise.

Contention

While Saturday was discussion based and took no votes, Sunday saw the NC take decisions. The first point of contention (for us, at least) came when Liz Davies presented the proposed standing orders. These were excessively technical and bureaucratic, going into fine detail about procedural matters that could more appropriately be dealt with by the democracy of any given meeting if facilitated by the chair: eg, how long speakers should have in every situation, and how we should show “respect” by not heckling ... We were a lone voice of dissent, however, and the standing orders were overwhelmingly accepted (not that the clause about heckling was universally observed, including even by comrade Davis in the chair).

Secondly, election matters carried forward from Saturday were agreed. Very positively, a proposal from comrade Hudson was passed. It read: “If Jeremy Corbyn is on the ballot paper LU will support him via a press statement in discussion with his campaign. Individual members may want to support him in any other way.” Of course, many in LU will want to take out associate membership of Labour in order to do so and we would encourage this.

There was more discussion on what stance LU ought to take on an EU referendum. The majority position (and that passed by conference) is that we do not want to join those calling for a withdrawal from the EU, promoting, instead, ever stronger ties with the left in Europe. Some comrades, such as Oliver New, urged caution, arguing that it was wrong to present the EU as something progressive in itself, while it is backed by the ruling class across Europe and acts as a fortress against non-EU migrants. Tom Walker made the point that having the position of ‘no withdrawal’ is not the same as a ‘yes’ in the referendum - there are those (including ourselves in the CPGB) who will in all likelihood call for an active boycott. It remains to be decided what position LU will take, but it is likely to be one of the key debates at this year’s conference.

Following this, Matthew Jones introduced a discussion on LU’s Scottish conference. This was more heated, with those who backed the Scottish nationalists in the Radical Independence Campaign, such as Matthew Caygill, accusing comrades in Scotland of creating a “sectarian ghetto” - in other words, we must unite with the left (nats). Comrade Caygill was incensed that Matthew Jones and others in LU Scotland had handed out a leaflet at the RIC conference headed “Socialism or barbarism”. Myself and Jack Conrad spoke vehemently in defence of our Scottish comrades, who took a principled stance against the left’s collapse into Scottish nationalism. Those in Scotland who see Scottish independence as a step towards socialism ought to have the courage of their convictions and join the Scottish National Party (as much of the RIC now has). Those who believe in working class unity, in left unity, ought to be fighting tooth and nail against nationalism.

Next up, the NC considered the motion proposed by Jack Conrad, Yassamine Mather, David Isaacson and myself on the continued suspension of comrade Laurie McCauley by his branch in Manchester. Jack Conrad moved the motion beginning with the importance of the right to criticise, the right to hold minority views and the fact that political differences can be openly debated within LU (unlike so many other organisations). In contrast to this generally good culture, comrade McCauley was suspended from his Manchester branch because he wrote an article in the pages of this paper. Our motion called on the NC to urge Manchester to overturn this suspension.

Comrade Joseph Healy (a former member of the previous - very overworked - disputes committee) said that the constitution does not allow branches to suspend members and therefore the comrade’s suspension should be lifted. Almost all comrades who spoke felt that it was wrong that comrade McCauley had been left in limbo for a year and there must be a swift resolution of the matter. Some felt that he had been partly to blame for his prolonged suspension because he had not been able to meet with the DC on one occasion, but comrade Conrad assured the NC the Communist Platform (including comrade McCauley) would cooperate with the new DC in resolving this matter promptly.

Openness

What was, in our view, the most worrying thing to come out of the discussion was the notion that there should be a ban on the reporting of meetings. There was the idea raised by John Devine: branch discussion should be the property of the branch. In other words, there should be no reporting of branch meetings.

Others commented that some people might be reticent to state their views if they thought their words might be reported. Are we not in politics? Should we not be about openly discussing and promoting our ideas? No-one is suggesting that the remarks of newcomers should be published as an act of humiliation. There was a related concern that people should not be named. Some people would not wish their political identities exposed at work, etc. I made the point that some comrades use cadre names in those circumstances - Liz Davies had never heard the like in all her days in politics (has she never heard of Trotsky, Lenin, Stalin or even Tony Cliff and Ted Grant?).

It was correctly stated that sometimes there is a need for confidentiality. I can see this may occur in certain extreme circumstances, but this is not what we are dealing with here. Comrade McCauley did not make personal comments about other comrades’ private lives or put at risk their security. What he did was criticise the political views of experienced comrades. What is more, there is no need for confidentiality in this dispute - in order for justice to be done, it must be seen to be done. When comrade Conrad made a comment about secret trials he was berated and heckled by many at the meeting, especially Matthew Caygill, despite the best efforts of the chair. Sadly, the NC voted against our motion, with 11 for, 23 against and six abstentions.

Following this, there was another area of contention, when Felicity Dowling moved her motion on developing a ‘safe spaces’ policy on how members of LU should behave internally in order to protect ‘vulnerable’ members. Of course, LU has voted twice now not to adopt her ‘safe spaces’ proposals, yet she continues undeterred. Eve Turner correctly pointed out that, while there were three motions on this issue at the last conference, the majority did not support any of them (though the Communist Platform’s code of conduct got the biggest vote). I took issue with the whole notion of ‘safe spaces’ - a patronising concept that is often used to cower and intimidate. But comrade Dowling was adamant that we needed such a policy to prevent abuse - “Look at what happened with Jimmy Savile,” she argued. Of course, ironically (given the previous discussion), a culture of openness is the best way of preventing abuse, not secret trials and bureaucratic minefields.

Comrade Dowling’s motion was not carried - there were 17 votes for and 17 against. But somehow I feel that will not prevent the ghoul of the ‘safe spaces’ policy rearing its head at a future conference.

Following this, there was a discussion on the mobilisation for June 20 and then the NC closed with some debate on the one-day constitutional conference that will be held over the same weekend as our normal annual conference in the autumn. Some felt that this should not be a priority, while many argued that the question was important. It is now widely recognised that the existing constitution is not fit for purpose - although it goes without saying that comrades like Felicity Dowling have a rather different idea from ourselves on the changes that need to be made.