George Galloway doubts the possibility of reclaiming the Labour Party

Many of the contributions at today's conference revolved around the questions you raise of the practical feasibility of reclaiming Labour. I've heard people describe you as a 'counsel of despair'. Far from it. I am one of the leaders of a genuinely mass movement. Far from despair, I have never been more confident in the determination of big sections of the British population to really change things in this country. Nor have I ever been more confident that they have the organisation developing to make a significant tilt at achieving that. I don't say we can change British society yet or anything like that, but we now have more people, more conscious and more organised in pursuit of that goal, than we have ever had. That opens up tremendous possibilities. I am not despairing, but those who accuse me of it are perhaps clinging to a false optimism about the possibility of reclaiming the Labour Party. If that could be done, it would be the best solution. I mean that. It still retains the allegiance of millions of working class voters, still retains the affiliation of millions of trade unionists and just in terms of 'branding' and 'product recognition' it would be much better. But we need to see evidence that it can be done and we need to see evidence quickly. We can't just sit here, as crimes are committed, and tell ourselves that we are going to reclaim the Labour Party at some point in the future. In this context, the People's Assembly was a very important development. The size of the event was slightly disappointing in some ways - it didn't reflect the broadness of the movement. Having it on a weekday may have been a tactical error. We should have another one - on a Saturday. We have to make greater efforts to make it a genuine alternative. A speaker from the floor here today said we've got to pay less attention to parliament, more to the mass movement. I spend almost no time in parliament; all my time travelling around the country talking to meetings. The People's Assembly idea could - with some refinements - be an alternative model of democracy that we should develop. Certainly, this mass movement in the country feels cheated and betrayed by parliament and they are right to feel so. Developments in the House of Commons are clearly a by-product of what we do on the streets. We mustn't foster illusions in the parliament "¦ or in the Labour Party, frankly." Alan Simpson chaired the conference. He offered his impressions during the lunch break Is this a small meeting or, as some comrades have suggested, a highly representative one? I would have liked the hall to be packed, but it is a legitimate point that there are more CLPs represented here today than you will get in the Labour Party conference. We have a phenomenal number of CLPs who have sent reps to take part in today's meeting at a time when it is becoming harder and harder to get them to send people to national conference. The bigger issue, however, is how we get people to go from here back to their CLPs to build an anti-war movement at the grassroots. To do that, it must be done in conjunction with the trade unions. Those trade unions that are openly opposing this war must get that to be reflected in their affiliations to local CLPs - their delegates must focus on building an anti-war base in every CLP around the country. That then will be the platform that allows us to require the Labour Party nationally to re-engage with what the vast majority of its members feel - that we should be actively opposing this war. But there is a tension that George Galloway has pointed to between Labour and the movement. Can that 'anti-war party' find any sort of meaningful organisational expression in Labour, given the restrictions on democracy - restrictions no one denies? Well, I don't see any other party for it to find reflection in. Those that suggest that this is a time to leave play to the agenda of the right. What we have is a very broad anti-war movement that I think is also a social justice movement and an internationalist movement. You have to say - where would that get reflection in a parliamentary context? Nowhere other than Labour. That for me is the absolute bottom line. However, the real challenge today has been to the trade union leaders. Half of Labour's national executive is made up of directly elected or appointed trade union representatives, barely one of whom reflects the views of the unions that put them on the NEC! So, my argument with many of the trade unions that are currently debating the question of disaffiliation from the Labour Party is that they should address the failings of their own democratic processes, in order to have their representatives actually articulating their own union's policies. That is the initial challenge - to make the trade union link work. Those who say they are just going to up stumps and go, for me that is a massive political irresponsibility. It ducks the fact Labour is in the mess that it's in because the trade union movement has failed to give a lead that the rest of the party can draw on. The failings of the Labour Party are the failings of the labour movement - and you can't walk away from that. At the same time, what George Galloway is pointing to is an extremely powerful fact. There were two million people on the streets. He is surely right that Labour rebellions in parliament are a by-product, a reflection of that huge movement on the streets. Where can those people find a political voice? Surely not in today's parliament, or even in the ranks of the parliamentary Labour Party? You're right. The issues are not being driven from parliament down. At best, parliament is only playing catch-up with what's going on outside. I am not doing meetings at CLPs during this period, for instance. One of the problems with them is that they have given up external campaigning. They will go vote-campaigning at election time, but they won't do issue-campaigning. We have to be a bridge to bring the issues that are involving millions of people - the war, campaigning for comprehensive education, the NHS - onto the floor of parliament. We have cease to be on the defensive about the Labour Party. We have to confidently make the case for reclaiming our party. It's much harder to start from scratch. If the party belongs to us in the first place, why not take it back?