Sunday, October 29, 2006

Labour Left Briefing AGM

In my ultra-left yoof I used to describe Labour Briefing as Labour Boring (and I used to sell it as part of the trot group I belonged to). Anyway, 20 odd-years on I found myself purposefully attending the Labour Left Briefing AGM yesterday. After all these years I still subscribe to it (along with International Viewpoint) as it is an institution though I kinda respect the mag and people actively involved. It has been a permanent fixture on the left, which is a good thing. The main reason for attending I wanted to hear John McDonnell and he had to say about the campaign.

Unlike Jon Rogers (who sprinted all the way from the National Shop Stewards Network meeting to attend the afternoon session…) I was able to attend the whole day.
First up to speak was Tony Benn who spoke about John McDonnell needing enough nominations to get on the ballot form. It is also about democracy as ordinary members will have a say who the next leader of the LP will be. This alternative will have a considerable impact on the expected outcome being the so-called smooth transition from Bliar to Brown. Benn spoke about people being disillusioned with the whole parliamentary process. And how the McDonnell campaign will be a chance to challenge the status quo.

John McDonnell spoke about how the campaign is a collective campaign against New Labour. It is about democracy and representing LP members as at the moment there is no collective voice, structure or accountability. With the campaign hotting up members are turning up and talking about politics. It is about reclaiming the LP. He spoke about the Trade Union Freedom Bill, Campaign for Tax Justice and the campaign against privatisation. There will be cut backs in the NHS and the civil service. Issues around pensions in Local Government and pay overall as well. The PCS have said they will be involved in continuous industrial action against these cuts. McDonnell called it the “spring of discontent” revolving around jobs, cuts and privatisation. Therefore the McDonnell campaign is vital as socialist policies are the objective. If we don’t do anything then Labour will sleep walk into the loss of the next election and will probably be in oblivion for the next 15-20 years. McDonnell spoke about the media “blackout” and how there has been hardly any reporting in the papers. This needs to be challenged.

The discussion was thrown open and people spoke of disaffected and disillusioned LP and ex-LP members and that we shouldn’t underestimate the problems. One comrade spoke of just because you are a LP member doesn’t mean you endorse New Labour and that you are a dissident you in your party. On practical issues it is important to get John to speak at LP and TU meetings.

Harriet Yeo (member of TSSA and the Labour NEC) spoke about 7 million trade union members which represents more than LP members (140 trade union members for every LP member). She pointed out that General Secretaries are re-elected every 5 years while LP leaders aren’t! One aspect of her speech I found interesting was about pensions where she said that under British Rail is was one pension. Now since privatisation each train company has their own pension fund and they are pretty lousy...

Jeremy Corbyn spoke from an international perspective. He informed the meeting that there will be a debate in Parliament next Tuesday about the legality of war in Iraq, which will start at 7pm. He discussed Blair’s subservient role to the USA. Margaret Beckett… how shall I put it, a piss-poor Foreign Secretary…? And the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq was looked at with NATO running the place in Afghanistan and the devastation of Iraq. He made the links between the uncritical support given to Israel by the west and the continued occupation of Palestine. He made reference to the bombardment of Lebanon and how New Labour was incapable of uttering the word, “ceasefire”. He further remarked about how important he saw the role of the World Social Movement (WSF) and touched briefly on Chavez and Venezuela. Prioritisation should be given to continuing to oppose war in Iraq and support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Jon Rogers (Unison) and Gary Heather (CWU) spoke about the continuing attack on public services and privatisation, single status in local government (there was more but I have lost most of my notes for this session……!). Jon advertised the Lobby of Parliament to defend the NHS on Wednesday 1st November.

There was the election of the LLB editorial board and I got elected, which surprised me as I only went along to hear speakers and didn’t intend to stand for anything. Anyway, it gives me something to do and not constantly watch crap telly…... Thanks comrades for persuading me!

My overall assessment of the meeting was the importance of building the McDonnell campaign. Is this the last best hope for the left? I dunno. It was solid and dependable speeches all around by everyone but… but… but… I just can’t help being a depressing pessimist. Though this doesn’t stop from me building the campaign, far from it, but I think we have to be realistic and not underestimate the problems we will encounter. But we also have to show commitment and support the McDonnell campaign ‘cos not to would be one big missed opportunity. So, if you are LP member, get John to speak, support his candidature, nominate him from your union and so on.

It does feel like the end of something but the process can still be used to spread ideas and mobilise people. So something new can come out of this, which is what happens when you do spread ideas. The potential to build new campaigns and alliances are out there.

Afterwards some of us went for a swift half. Jon, I hope your blog is working ok now (looks like it is), Mike come over and say hi and to Simon D. do get blogging.....