The Friends House public meeting on June 15, sponsored by London Labour Left (LLL), Tribune and the London region Fire Brigades Union, was the first open manifestation of the campaign to get London mayor Ken Livingstone re-admitted to Labour Party membership.
Diane Abbott MP set the tone of duplicity - or at best self-deception: "I believe Ken was wrong to stand against the Labour candidate." This loyalty declaration, hardly the most aggressive or confident way of fighting for Livingstone's reinstatement, drew not a gram of criticism. In the Labour Party under the Blairites such crawling is necessary for any MP who wishes to secure reselection.
Livingstone's victory as an independent was "a significantly damaging event for London Labour", for which it "will pay a price in the general election," she went on. But Labour leaders "subordinate their hatred of Ken to the greater interests of the party". Not, of course, quite the same thing as "the greater interests of the labour movement", which she tried to pose as the motivation of the campaign.
Mick Shaw of the Fire Brigades Union was more forthright: "Unlike Diane, the FBU does not think Ken was wrong to stand. This was the only way we could get the candidate we wanted, and for Londoners to get the mayor they wanted." It was right that "Ken did not let the cheats at Millbank win". The FBU has submitted a "contemporary motion" - the only category of motion still considered legitimate at Labour Party conference - calling for Livingstone's readmission to membership.
The LLL model motion for Constituency Labour Parties, "in the interests of Party unity ... calls upon the national executive committee to review selection procedures so as to ensure that Labour's individual membership and affiliated membership are never again denied the right in such elections to choose who Labour's candidate shall be."
Anni Marjoram - formerly a management committee member of the Morning Star, and ally of Mary Rosser against the 1998 Star journalists' strike - spoke as a Labour-loyal philistine and representative of the Labour Women's Action Committee - "the original modernisers," she claimed. Without confessing her own Socialist Action affiliation, she successfully intimidated into silence the various revolutionary freelancers and groups present, who made no intervention during the short period for discussion near the end of the meeting: "I want another Labour government; I want Tony Blair in Downing Street; and if people have 2,000-word statements from their central committees, I'd rather watch paint dry."
Labour had suffered two wounds: in the ballot box and in the party, she said. Members were leaving, not renewing their subscriptions and "going out to get a life". Paradoxically, there was "a big thirst for real progressive policies, for a real big tent", and "now is the time to join the Labour Party."
Christine Shawcroft, a member of Labour's NEC as well as the 'London Board' - New Labour's name for its London regional committee, recalled how its 1998 biennial conference "almost unanimously" adopted a democratic procedure for selection of the mayoral candidate by membership ballot to be contested by those obtaining a 10% level of nomination.
The board, consisting almost entirely of Blairites, had worked against this policy from its first meeting, and the NEC view had been that Livingstone "must be stopped: he is a vote loser". The next conference is planned for November 2000, but "I bet any money they will cancel it" - even if the pretext is "a by-election in John O'Groats".
Mark Seddon, Tribune editor, took up the common theme of the meeting when he remarked that it is the New Labour clique in Millbank, not the left, which "organises election defeats". People vote against what they do not like, and in May 1997 the electorate wanted the Tories out. Livingstone had exposed the New Labour myth of invulnerability: "We've put up with these people too long; they can't organise a piss-up in a brewery." Proposing a reconciliation committee along South African lines to heal wounds, he called for a democratic socialist general election manifesto. "We'll get the democracy first, then we'll get back to the socialism."
During the brief discussion period after the platform speakers, comrade Noel Hayes of Walthamstow brought a touch of reality into the room, warning of the "implacable opposition" which can be expected against the readmission of Livingstone "because of the many other cases it would reopen, going back to Dave Nellist" and the "bans and proscriptions over the last 15 years". The campaign to readmit Livingstone, he said, should be combined with the "major campaign which is developing over trade union rights".
Quite right. The fight for democracy is much broader than the Labour Party.Ian Farrell