UK: Forward to a broad party of the left?

20 June, 2013 — Socialist Resistance

Phil Hearse reports on the first meeting of Left Unity’s National Co-ordinating group which  took place in Doncaster on Saturday June 15.

This was highly successful in preparing the ground for the foundation of a broad left party in November. However there are some important political differences that will undoubtedly lead to animated debates running up to the conference. As you would expect there was an obvious great diversity in terms of political outlook and experience evident in the debates.

There were 43 voting representatives present at the meeting, of whom 36 were from local groups and 7 of the 10 directly elected from May 11. 14 local groups sent apologies, 18 groups have not yet met the criteria to be represented ( this varies between groups in fairly substantial places eg Coventry and Oxford who are holding their first meetings this week to smaller, often rural places who have as yet only small numbers of supporters. There were 16 women amongst the voting representatives.

Given the location of the meeting, probably groups in the north of England and the Midlands were better represented than those further south (for example there was no one from the very large group in Brighton).

Here I have listed main decisions of the meeting, but not given a tedious and incomprehensible account of who proposed what and how original resolutions were amended, composited etc:

  • A proposal by Dave Stocking (Workers Power) that the September conference should adopt a basic platform for the organisation was rejected as pre-empting the decisions of the national conference in November.
  • The September conference/national meeting will not be a voting conference but discuss papers proposed by the national commissions. It was agreed that commissions can involve campaign activists and trade unionists who are not members of LU.
  • Local groups will be able to send resolutions to the national conference. Positions with 10 or more supporters will be able to form ‘platforms’ inside the organisation: the formulation ‘tendencies, factions and platforms’ was dropped. A significant number of those present opposed the proposal for platforms.
  • The national conference will focus on the following major items: a) Statement of aims b) campaigning priorities c) Participation in Elections (including Metropolitan and European elections next year) d) constitution. It seems obvious from the contributions yesterday that the issue of standing in elections is controversial and some of the contributions were quite skeptical about this.
  • A proposal from the Socialist Party, following a discussion between Dave Nellist and Ken Loach, to have an early meeting about an electoral non-aggression pact was accepted, although no decisions can be made before the LU national conference. There will probably be a difficult discussion in LU about what attitude to adopt politically in the European elections, given the poisonous role this issue plays in national politics and boosting racism and chauvinism.
  • A category of ‘founding member’ was adopted as the basis for voting and participation in the national conference. In essence this is open to people who support the aim of a broad left party and who pays dues on a minimum scale to indicate commitment. People who have standing orders etc to local groups can be automatically converted to the status of ‘founding member’
  • A resolution from Islington re racism and Islamophobia was put on the table as pre-empting policy decisions, but obviously the spirit of the resolution, re the importance of mobilising against the fascists, racism and Islamophobia was universally agreed.
  • Two resolutions concerning the prompt circulation of material to all NCG members and the posting of minutes, documents etc on the website were passed, but about these see below.
  • The decision of the group of 10 directly elected members of the NCG to produce a four page broadsheet for the People’s Assembly was endorsed (see final point of this document).

The unfortunate downside of the  meeting

The immensely positive and constructive day was marred by a complaint at the beginning of the meeting that the agenda to be proposed at the meeting had been decided exclusively by the group of 10 directly elected members and not the NCG as a whole. Moreover group of 10 had met twice since the last meeting and taken a series of interim decisions off its own bat. This was raised in an aggressive and accusatory manner as if fundamental breaches of democracy had taken place. [My emph. WB. And why not have the agenda decided by the majority instead of by the usual tiny clique? It sounds no different than my experience of the CP of yore.]

In my view there was absolutely no substance in these accusations. It hardly seems credible that a committee of 45 (or more) from all round the country could have met twice…to prepare a meeting of 45 people from all round the country! As Kate Hudson pointed out, if the directly elected members of the NCG had not met to prepare the full national meeting they would have been accused of dereliction of duty. Indeed, why exactly did the last meeting decide to elect 10 members directly? It is not a minus but a plus that the 10 directly elected members of the NCG took the initiative, inter alia to prepare the very important intervention of Left Unity in the People’s Assembly. And the last national meeting explicitly gave the directly elected group of ten the task of preparing yesterday’s meeting! [Eh? This neatly bypasses the fundamental issue here, namely is it to be the ‘usual suspects’ who determine the way forward or actually the broad Left of the title who appear to have been left out of the proceedings? WB]

Regrettably a number of people at the meeting took this stunt as good coin. The delegate from Walsall, Dave Church, made a highly emotional speech and then stormed out of the meeting. Given that there was a session on transparency in the afternoon where we had to have the whole discussion again, it was very regrettable that the day started on such a sour note, which undoubtedly left a bad taste in many comrades’ mouths. Doubtless a lot of people though “here we go again with left squabbling over nothing”.

Nick Wrack and Will McMahon who were amongst those complaining most loudly about these matters have their own political position for a narrower kind of party than that envisaged by many others participating in the project. There is no doubt they will form their own platform in preparation for the conference. This is perfectly legitimate and they have every right to do it. It would be better if they stuck to the political debate about that difference of political orientation.

Peoples’ Assembly

The final item of the day introduced by Andrew Burgin stressed the importance of the People’s Assembly  to getting the name and ideas of Left Unity known. “This is our audience” said Andrew. Up to 4000 people will be there. The Assembly starts at 9.30am and the Left Unity stall outside the conference will be distributing the broadsheet from 8.00am. We need all hands on deck.

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