Open up London ESF bid

Another week, another secret meeting to discuss the proposal to host the European Social Forum 2004 in London. Tina Becker was there

So far, the main initiators of the bid, the Socialist Workers Party/Globalise Resistance, have refused to either organise or attend any public forum to discuss the bid in front of the left and workers’ movement in Britain. All the while, a de facto leadership seems well advanced: Mick Connolly from the South East Region TUC (Sertuc) has been appointed “honorary treasurer” by GR’s Chris Nineham. Comrade Connolly will apparently be supported by a “fundraising team” that has already started working - in the GR office. Comrade Nineham and his comrades have, however, given in to pressure from some of the NGOs involved and widened the circle of those invited to attend the organising meetings of the bidders.

Needless to say, neither the CPGB nor any other groups of the revolutionary left were invited to the latest meeting, which took place on Friday October 10 in the TUC’s Congress House. As is usual with secret meetings, they normally do not stay secret for very long. More than one little birdie sung to us beforehand - despite comrade Nineham’s thinly disguised threats. He apparently told all those invited not to talk to anybody about the meeting and that “people without official invitation will not get in”.

Once we were there, however, Mick Connolly, who officially convened the gathering, had “no problem at all” with admitting us. He was very friendly throughout and did not seem to be centrally involved in the bid (or the conspiracy to keep it secret).

The numbers attending were pretty small, with only a few newcomers. The core consists of Chris Nineham and Guy Taylor from GR; Kenny Bell from Unison in Newcastle (and a close, though critical, associate of the SWP); and Kate Hudson from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, who told us that she “recently joined the Communist Party of Britain” (the Morning Star’s CPB is not yet a sponsor). Redmond O’Neill, representative of mayor Ken Livingstone, sent apologies.

This inner circle is not dissimilar to the factional alignment which runs the Stop the War Coalition, where the SWP, CPB and CND form a solid bloc - only this time Ken Livingstone and Socialist Action are involved too. Action are a tightly knit group of deep entryists who have the same organisational origins as Alan Thornett’s International Socialist Group. Apparently nowadays Action members more or less run Ken Livingstone’s office, besides controlling some key Greater London Authority departments. It is unlikely that any pressure to open up the London bid process will come from that quarter. Bureaucratic structures and back-room deals suit Action and Ken Livingstone. Certainly Livingstone’s chances of re-election in 2004 would not be served by allowing initiative and control to slip into the hands of open, democratic meetings.

The newcomers consisted of Oscar Reyes from Signs of the Times and a member of the London Social Forum (though not officially representing the LSF); Stuart Hodkinson from Red Pepper (standing in for Hilary Wainwright); Dave Timms from the World Development Movement (WDM); and Naima Bouteldja from Globalise Resistance and the Progressive Muslim Network. Although we informed Workers Power, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and the International Socialist Group/Resistance, none of them sent anyone.

Both the narrow range of representatives and the discussion itself give reason for concern. It lasted only 55 minutes and was dominated by comrade Nineham going over technical details about the bid. And it is a hell of a mess. It currently seems to owe more to wishful thinking than reality. Take, for example, cost. It is based on 50,000 participants paying an “average £20 entrance”. That would come to one million pounds - well short of this year’s budget for the ESF in Paris, which is currently estimated at €7 million.

Some other comparisons:

Also, while the comrades have checked prices with big venues like the Royal Albert Hall, they have not actually asked if they will be available next year. A rather big oversight. Many of these venues are booked a good 12 months in advance for concerts and so forth.

Then there is the problem with supporting the bid - ie, who is actually prepared to help financially and organisationally? Quite a few organisations have agreed to allow their names to be used, but this does not seem to come with much commitment. According to Mick Connolly, Sertuc could not guarantee any funding, as “our money will be very stretched in 2004”, given the European elections and other events. According to Connolly’s report, some trade union officials have given the nod to the “idea” - similarly the Workers Beer Company, which has “expressed an interest” - but none of them are yet officially on board. The leadership of Unison has still not supported the recommendation of its international department to support the bid.

Another interesting insight into GR’s cavalier attitude was provided when Teresa Hoskyns from the LSF gatecrashed the meeting halfway through. She gave out leaflets and complained about the secret nature of the meeting. Kate Hudson, officially chairing, tried to explain that this was only “a meeting for those putting the bid together”. At this point Dave Timms made clear that his organisation (WDM) was not supporting the bid, despite Chris Nineham announcing this a number of times. “How can we support a bid that we have not even seen yet?” comrade Timms asked. It looks like GR still has not made public the document it distributed in a secret meeting during the last ESF assembly (see Weekly Worker October 2). In view of this, we have decided to make it available through the CPGB website.

Comrade Timms was clearly unhappy when Chris Nineham said he “was led to believe” that WDM was supporting the bid. An argument ensued, which seemed to give other people the courage to speak out against GR/SWP underhand methods. Oscar Reyes quite rightly lambasted the idea of getting cultural figures involved when we do not even know about the bid yet. Stuart Hodkinson said that “every different sector should be approached and asked to work together to brainstorm on funding, venues and other details”. He said the bid should be opened up “as soon as possible” to allow everybody’s input.

These - rather mild - criticisms were greeted with lots of understanding nods or, at worst, silence. But there are no concrete plans to go public and the date for the next meeting was not even announced.

Surely now is the time to bring all interested organisations and individuals on board. More input is urgently needed to make sure that the ESF 2004 does not collapse because of SWP control-freakery.

Public debate

The first public meeting to discuss the bid, hosted by the London Social Forum, will be held on Sunday October 19. So far, only Kate Hudson from CND has agreed to speak and answer questions. Chris Nineham, Redmond O’Neill and Mick Connolly have been invited.

There will also be a number of international visitors, who have - undoubtedly for their own reasons - been very keen on attending. Hugo Braun, a member of Attac Germany and the German Communist Party (DKP), will present the position of the German Social Forum, which “decided on Sunday unanimously to support [the] London candidacy for the ESF 2004 - only [with] the precondition that the preparatory process will reflect the broad political spectr[um] of the British civil society and will be transparent and will not exclude anybody from the left”. Interestingly, even the members of the SWP’s German section, Linksruck, seem to have supported the resolution.

Bruno Paladini is a prominent member of the Italian delegation to ESF meetings and will represent the militant trade union, Cobas. He is also very close to Rifondazione Comunista, which is known to be extremely concerned with the SWP’s behaviour. The Greek Social Forum and a member of the Hungarian ESF committee have also expressed their interest in attending.

Jean-Pierre Beauvais will present Attac France’s retrogressive proposal to make the ESF “less gigantic” and decrease the frequency of the ESF by making it biannual. Attac has been very keen to influence the main organisers of the London Social Forum - unfortunately, the SWP’s sectarian behaviour in refusing to cooperate with LSF plays into their hands. Hopefully though, Jean-Pierre will not find much support at Sunday’s meeting.

Many Europeans are seriously concerned about the future of the ESF. “If the SWP carry on dominating things in such an obviously undemocratic way, they will jeopardise the whole future of the ESF,” an angry delegate from the Italian Social Forum told me at the last ESF assembly in Paris. He feared that people would not travel all the way to London to support “what looks like an SWP stitch-up”. If the ESF in London ends up considerably smaller than in the previous two years, this could also play into the hands of Attac, which would be in a much stronger position to argue for a further scaling down.

A number of organisations and individuals will be putting forward a draft resolution to the London meeting that welcomes the bid, but makes some concrete proposals as to how it can become the property of the whole movement in Britain. It argues for the details of the bid to be made public and sent to “all civil society groups, organisations and movements”, so that it can become “open to consultation and amendment”. Any decision-making body must represent “all relevant sectors, including trade unions, NGOs, campaign groups, cultural and community organisations, social movements and forums, political parties and left press”. The body must meet in public, with meetings advertised in advance and observers allowed at all times.

As we cannot rely on any of the organisations so far involved making the bid more transparent, surely this is the right way to go. A wide range of individuals and groups from across Europe are already prepared to sign up to the proposal, which has already been dubbed the “rival London bid”.

ESF in London?

Public meeting, Sunday October 19, 3pm, Room H216, Connaught House, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, Aldwych, London WC2 (entrance through main building). Question and answer session and lots of time for debate. All welcome.

Hosted by London Social Forum: www.londonsocialforum.org