Liaising in Brum
On Saturday February 20, just over 100 comrades, perhaps half of them from the Socialist Workers Party, took part in a day-long working meeting in preparation for the general election. There was literally only a handful of Socialist Party comrades present, including SA national chair Dave Nellist.
The meeting was originally scheduled as a Liaison Committee meeting. However, in view of the time schedule before the expected general election date, it was expanded to include candidates, agents, treasurers, etc. Technical aspects of their various roles during the election campaign took up the bulk of time.
The Socialist Alliance election campaign will kick off on Thursday March 1 with a morning press conference in London and similar lunchtime events around the country. More election information will shortly appear on the new Socialist Alliance website (www.socialistalliance.net) and those with existing or planned local SA websites are being asked to send the addresses of these to 'email@example.com', so they can be linked to the national site.
While the exchange of election information was all well and good and should ensure comrades avoid the worst traps set by legislation, this extended discussion squeezed the important proceedings of the Liaison Committee proper into the last hour in the afternoon.
It was quickly decided that the March 10 policy conference should definitely go ahead in Birmingham (not Liverpool, as some comrades wanted). Comrades then went on to consider a report submitted by Steve Freeman (Revolutionary Democratic Group), who chaired a programme commission charged with handling and disseminating submissions (meetings were attended by representatives of the AWL, CPGB, ISG, Workers Power and the RDG - but not SP or the SWP).
The programme commission proposed agenda for March 10 would have given over the whole of the morning to policy submissions and discussion. "Key issues" would "inform later debate". This would have been followed by afternoon sessions dealing with amendments to the Socialist Alliance's '80-20' platform and deciding five or six key slogans for the election campaign.
Comrade Freeman thought that this would be the most satisfactory and democratic means of producing policy which would underpin the election manifesto.
His report did not, however, meet with the approval of Rob Hoveman (SWP). The comrade thanked the commission for its hard work but disagreed with its proposal: "We're all very busy now ... and only have part of a day to have this debate in ..." In short comrade Hoveman insisted that the "actual 80-20 document won't suffice ... to update it will require many amendments."
Accordingly, comrade Hoveman suggested that the executive committee produce a composite document based on the 80-20 platform and that this be then circulated to all Socialist Alliances for amendment.
Comrade Hoveman did, however, concede a major point floated in advance by the CPGB in the Weekly Worker. Each local SA will be allowed to submit both majority and minority amendments, which a conference arrangements committee would then composite.
Against Margaret Manning and other determined localists - who dismiss the need for a rounded political vision - John Bridge (CPGB) declared that we in the Socialist Alliance "most certainly do need a national policy".
He welcomed comrade Hoveman's suggestion that minorities from local SAs should be allowed to put forward their views. However, the comrade pointed to the paradox of socialists who stand for the self-liberation of the working class yet leave decision-making on vital political questions such as programme to closed negotiations and acclamation at rallies.
This is the method of Labourism, not socialism. It is essential that enough time be allocated for full debate.
He added that the policy conference was not about writing the manifesto, since "an individual or small group of individuals" was always going to be responsible for doing that. Updating was therefore a red herring. What Birmingham is about is politics and principle.
Dave Church (Democratic Labour Party) was the concluding speaker in the debate; only six comrades were able to take part. He was critical of the electoralist approach that states: "Never mind the policy; it's votes that count".
He reluctantly agreed with comrade Bridge. The vote-chasing attitude of the SWP, in particular, reminded him of his 30 years in the Labour Party. He too felt it was vital to allow a full input into the discussion.
Time was our enemy. Comrade Freeman was hardly given time to reply and the vote was forced through (by an "enlarged Liaison Committee", according to some grumbling at the end).
It was a straight choice between comrade Hoveman's proposals and those of the programme commission, but the large SWP representation ensured that the issue was never in doubt. Comrade Mark Hoskisson has since penned the draft (see 'Our principles').
Amendments to the executive committee's document will need to be in by March 3. So local Socialist Alliances will have to move quickly if they are to take up their entitlement to put forward amendments.