Labour Against the War is organising a "recall Labour Party Conference" - a delegate conference of Labour members and affiliates - on Saturday 29 March. Jill Mountford reports.
Alan Simpson MP, Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group described the LATW initiative as a "battle for the soul of the Labour Party" at the press launch on Tuesday 4 March. Simpson urged members not to leave the Labour Party in disgust and despair at Blair's partnership with Bush and the Government's haste to war on Iraq. He argued that "No struggle is ever won by those who walk away from it." And invited people to join the Labour Party and make the case for a pro-peace movement inside it.
For months Solidarity has been campaigning for a recall Labour Party conference around the firefighters' dispute and the growing new mood of militancy in the labour movement. The war drive on Iraq makes a recall conference even more urgent.
Supported by the Socialist Campaign Group and the CWU, a Labour affiliate, this conference has been called to discuss the war. It is open to constituency Labour Party delegates, individual Labour members and affiliated trade unions and organisations. Simpson said, "...every Labour MP in the country is fearful of a haemorrhaging of the membership as Blair signs up for Bush's war. We say, don't leave, just make sure you let them know you want to retain your membership or you want to join the Labour Party on a pro-peace basis." He finished by saying that the recall conference was "... about shaping Labour's policies and campaigning within the party for a set of international policies that will ensure peace and stability, instead of the tragic prospect of leaping from one regional war to another."
Harry Barnes, retired Labour MP, acknowledged the significance of the huge anti-war movement that has spread across the globe, but he said, "We need organisation beyond demonstrations - we have to help transform the whole of British politics and we can do this by reclaiming the Labour Party."
Following that theme, Tony Benn said, "We have to draw into active political involvement the millions of young people who have demonstrated against the war - into the struggle for political representation and to restore the role of Parliament." Benn said that "This recall of Labour Party conference is absolutely essential in reclaiming the Labour Party - it is on that scale of importance."
Jeremy Corbyn talked about the new mood across the country "... that mood of opposition is not because people fell soft on the regime in Baghdad, it is because people feel a very genuine and huge sympathy with ordinary Iraqi people who are about to be bombed to death... this is a mood of genuine internationalism." George Galloway and Alice Mahon also spoke.
When asked if the recall conference would be pushing to deselect pro-war Labour MPs and calling for a challenge to Blair's leadership, Simpson's response was sober, acknowledging the difficulties the membership face after years and years of constitutional changes inf favour of Blair and his cronies. He made an analogy, much to the dismay of George Galloway, with Saddam the dictator, saying "we now have an Iraqi style regime in the PLP." He said the battle for the soul of the Labour Party was not just about peace, it was about policies on social spending and how Labour has lost the plot.
When asked if it would be an act of solidarity to millions of ordinary Iraqi people and a sign of true working class independence for the campaign to adopt the slogan of "Labour Against the War, Labour Against Saddam," Simpson replied, it's not about slogans!
On that question he is wrong, but that takes nothing away from the importance and significance of this recall conference. Harnessing the new mood that's spreading against the war and in opposition to attacks on pay and public services is crucial if we are to make a real, more long term difference. This conference could be the beginning of a long, long overdue fight back inside the Labour Party. Good socialists should make themselves central to that fight.
Even if we believe that Blair's regime makes fully "reclaiming" Labour utopian, even if we need to continue independent activity in the Socialist Alliance, we should - through affiliated trade unions, especially - give full support to the "recall conference".