The left challenge in Brighton

Submitted by martin on 14 September, 2021 - 8:07 Author: Martin Thomas
Protest at Labour conference, 2019

The victory of left candidates for the constituency reps on the Labour Party’s Conference Arrangements Committee, announced on 13 August, suggests that the left, in the broadest definition, still has some majority in the constituencies.

The recent Unite and GMB elections have brought in new general secretaries who are ambiguous or evasive about how those unions should tilt their weight within Labour’s conference and National Executive Committee (NEC), but who yet may, given pressure from union activists, swing left on issues.

And Unison’s NEC now has a left majority for the first time ever - and the left has a good chance of winning a majority in Unison's Labour Link structure.

Workers’ Liberty activists will be working at Labour Party conference (25-29 September, Brighton) with Momentum Internationalists and other groups to maximise a visible left rearguard action, with motions, fringe meetings, and street stalls.

Unite’s Executive Committee has voted to refuse to confirm Starmer’s appointee David Evans as general secretary. The platform will probably try to rush through the confirmation “on the nod”: much will depend on how assertive the Unite delegation is.

17 Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) have submitted a rule change making the Parliamentary Labour Party accountable to conference. A proposal is also tabled to remove Labour’s “three-year rule”. Neurodivergent Labour will seek to refer back the National Policy Forum report.

Momentum Internationalists has motions on “Build Back Fairer” (social policy for the Covid emergency and reconstruction) and climate. It has also supported the Labour Solidarity with Hong Kong/Uyghur Solidarity motion on struggles in China; the Labour Campaign for Free Movement motion on migrants' rights; and the Free Our Unions motion on repealing anti-strike laws.

144 CLPs from both left and right have submitted motions for PR. PR is more democratic than First Past The Post, but in the focus on PR there is (to our mind) some escapism.

On social care as on climate, there are many motions, some bland, some amended to be left-wing. We have no clear picture of how Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, and Labour To Win have done with their long lists of recommended motions.

Young Labour has tabled a motion on Israel-Palestine backing “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (thus cutting against links with pro-Palestinian-rights groups like Standing Together in Israel, and support for battles by Israeli workers, both Jewish and Arab, organised in the Histadrut). It poses the general answer as “return” by the scattered Palestinians to “their homes”, implying though not stating a reversal of Labour’s “two states” policy.

The Labour right has a model motion on Israel-Palestine reaffirming “two states” but suggesting no solidarity with forces on the grounds fighting for that, and oddly calling for the Hamas regime in Gaza to be “removed” with no indication of solidarity with democratic and secular forces there. A new book by Daniel Randall, Confronting Antisemitism: Arguments for Socialists, will be released at conference, seeking to clarify the issues.

The conference will choose 20 policy areas to debate.

Since October 2020, and faster since the NEC in July 2021 voted for summary exclusion of even loose associates of any of four named groups, the Starmer-Evans regime has suspended or expelled hundreds of members. Recently it overreached with a message telling Young Labour chair Jess Barnard she was “under investigation”, and had to apologise. The NEC will bring rule changes to conference for a new complaints procedure, presented as a response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on antisemitism and Labour, but in fact a stitch-up.

A strong vote against those changes will be important for the future. The NEC may also try to ram through changes to make it easier for MPs to avoid “trigger ballots” for open selections, and to increase the nominations threshold for Labour leader elections.

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