Friday, 28 September 2007

Break with New Labour - build a new party of the left

"The rule changes bounced through the conference this week removing the right of Labour members to determine the party’s policies at the conference mean the event is now little more than a trade fair and media platform for speeches from the leader and ministers."

John McDonnell MP - extract from his blog post 'Business as usual'

Surely now, after this year's party 'conference', the left still inside the Labour Party will finally consider making the break?

The Labour Party is now even more undemocratic, the unions have less influence, and Gordon Brown is moving the party yet further to the right in order to attract Tory voters ahead of a possible snap election.

So just what is the point of remaining within the Labour Party now? The faint hope that it will shift left in maybe 10 years time? Even this prediction would seem unlikely. Can we afford to wait another 10 years to find out?

The need for a new party is not just something for politicos and leftists to discuss and debate, its not just something that's a 'nice idea' in theory. Its actually something needed urgently to help organise and give political voice to the working class and socialist movement.

Without a party to organise around and campaign for, any defensive struggles against neo-liberal counter-reforms, imperialist war and occupation or environmental destruction are weakened. These struggles are then tactically restricted to strikes or direct actions, but with no real political strategy available.

The greatest example of this was the massive anti-war movement in 2003. With no serious left-wing party in existance, the Liberal Democrats were allowed to benefit from the huge anti-war mood. A party that in reality supported the war once it started, and that supported the war against Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia, was the main beneficiary. What a wasted opportunity for the left.

And now, with public sector workers facing what are in effect pay cuts (below inflation pay rises), and with industrial action looming, there is no party to support them, to take on the establishment parties, to argue the corner of the strikers, and no party for those involved in the struggle to join or support.

If a serious party of the left were to exist it would encourage workers in struggle. It would provide them with a more coherent set of political arguments as well as taking up the propaganda of the government and right-wing media.

The party nationally and in local branches could also organise solidarity and political campaigning is support of any struggle. The result would be a more confident and politicised working class as a whole.

John McDonnell and other left-wing MPs, together with those socialists still active within the Labour Party, could potentially attract tens of thousands to join a new left-wing party if they were to make such a call. Even if just a few of the left MPs were to make a break and launch a new party they could expect a huge response.

Undoubtedly many unions, either those which have disaffiliated already or those under pressure to do so from their membership, would respond possitively to a new party. Certainly the RMT, FBU and PCS could be won over - with more to follow as the new party took shape.

However, a party is far more than just MPs. A party with nothing at the base isn't really a party at all in fact. A new party of the left might not win MPs to start with, or it may just win a few. This purely electoralist argument is used by some on the Labour left to justify staying put.

This argument is totally false. Even with no MPs, a new party that brought together tens of thousands of activists, some entire trade unions, and both independent and organised socialists would have a huge impact. It would enable coherent campaigning by the forces of the left in all the major towns and cities. It would also attract much wider media attention than the remaining Labour left gets, helping a new party to become a household name in a short space of time.

A new party should not limit itself to just elections, but should campaign on all the major issues of the day, in support of industrial struggles and international solidarity appeals.

Elections, votes, MPs and Councillors are of course important. A few good votes, a few electoral victories, at any level, would give confidence to wider layers of the working class to support a new party. This would attract thousands of new members.

New elected representatives that acted in a principled socialist manner, resolutely standing up for the people who elected them, would bring credit to the party and gain even wider support still.

The aim must be to create a thoroughly democratic party with a massive activist base, a party where the base is in control of policy as well as the actions of elected representatives and party workers. A new party should aim to be an improvement on the Labour Party as was, not a direct replica.

The objective conditions exist for a successful party of the left to be launched, to achieve victories and to build itself. What's needed is a catalyst to create a new party, or at least the beginnings of it.

Those consistantly left-wing Labour MPs, and the left-led trade unions such as the RMT, PCS, FBU and others, have the most authority amongst the wider working class and within the socialist movement, and therefore, it's primarily down to them to act. They have the weight to bring together the widest and numerically greatest number of activists needed to acually launch a new party and start the process of building it.

If they cling on to the rotten corpse of the Labour Party they are neglecting their responsibilities as leaders of the workers' and socialist movement. They need to act now - and take the steps necessary to establish a new party for the working class and socialism.

Friday, 21 September 2007

RMT may initiate new party to contest London elections

Bob Crow, leader of the RMT, has expressed his view a number of times now that the Labour Party is finished for working class people and cannot be 'reclaimed'. Bob Crow is well known for his left wing views and as a militant union leader and so his comments are highly signifficant.

The RMT union has been disafilliated from Labour for a good few years now - oppening the way for the union to back other candidates or parties.

However, given the lack of any credible left-wing party to support - the RMT is considering standing its own slate in the London elections in 2008. This development should be welcomed by those who wish to see a credible new party of the left emerge.

A fighting union of 75,000 members deciding to enter the political fray could be a major step towards creating such a new party. This step would also help politicise the rank-and-file of the union as well as those in other unions and workers in general.

It's not yet clear what the RMT leadership intends, and less so what will eventually be decided. To stand a single-issue 'Campaign Against Tube Privatisation' slate, a campaign which exists only for the elections, and does not draw in broader forces, would be a missed opportunity to put it mildly. Such a narrow campaign, with no real structures at the base, would not involve as wide a layer of activists and would not be as likely to attract support.

Hopefully the RMT will avoid this mistake and decide to actually launch a new political party. Fighting against privatisation, and for the renationalisation of the railways and the entire public transport network should of course be key policies. A range of other policies, such as trade union freedom, withdrawl of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, new affordable council housing etc. etc. should also be developed to give the new party broad working class appeal. (See Neasden RMT Branch ammendment below which makes this point very well).

If the RMT do launch a new party, and appeal to wider forces to join it, then potentially it could draw in left-led unions such as the PCS and FBU (both unaffiliated), thousands of left-wing union activists, ex-Labour Party members, community and NHS campaigners, independent socialists, the Campaign for a New Workers' Party, the Socialist Party and other socialist groups.

Given the current state of the Labour Party such a new formation could also attract sections of the Labour Left and potentially even some Socialist Campaign Group MPs such as John McDonnell. Bob Wareing MP, recently deselected by his CLP, could also be attracted to the new party.

If the RMT do initiate a new party, then all those who want to see a new party of the left created should get involved and help to build it - not just in London, but across the whole country.

If a new party adopts democratic and inclusive structures, and develops a manifesto of key labour movement and socialist policies, then it can succeed in becoming a major pole of attraction for the millions of socialists, workers, trade unionists, ex-Labour members and others who have been abandoned by New Labour.

Motions to RMT's London Transport Regional Council on 27th September.

Preamble passed by Neasden RMT branch:

This branch believes that changes in both the policy and internal structures of the Labour Party over the last decade and a half have been a major set back for working-class political representation in this country; and that in this situation, it is left to the unions to begin to reconstruct a working-class political force.

We therefore advocate that the RMT takes the initiative in the creation of a slate of independent working-class candidates in the upcoming GLA and London Mayoral elections, to give working-class Londoners a chance to express their opposition to the various political representatives of business and vote for a positive alternative.

Section passed by both Neasden and Camden No 3 RMT branches:

To be effective, such a slate would need to

a) Draw in, or at least attempt to draw in, broader forces than just the RMT, by approaching other unions, anti-privatisation and cuts campaigns, tenants' organisations, socialist groups and so on.

b) Develop a manifesto which speaks to the many different issues facing workers, working-class communities and oppressed groups in London, such as education, the health service, housing, a living wage and trade union rights - while of course making the demand for a 100% publicly owned, democratically controlled, integrated and cheap public transport system central. A broad focus will make the challenge stronger.

This branch therefore asks that the union issue a call for such a slate of candidates and approach other unions and campaigning groups in London.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

New Labour 'conference' may become even more pointless

Evidently the New Labour leadership under Brown can't tollerate the prospect of facing any defeats (or even debates) at future party conferences.

The leadership have been defeated a few times in recent years, Foundation Hospitals, renationalise the railways, earnings-pensions link etc. Of course these decisions were promtly ignored anyway, but they did embarass the Government and give the left some encouragement.

New Labour did 'avoid' a debate on Iraq though, evidently some issues are just 'no go' areas.

If the rule changes that are proposed go through, then everything is set to become a 'no go' area!

If the changes pass, then motions on comtemporary political issues will be banned. Some of the affiliated unions are not even going to oppose this. Effectively they are reducing themselves, even more so, to being lobbyists, not affiliated organisations with a powerful influence on the party and government. These union leaders talk ocassionally about 'reclaiming' Labour - but they backed Brown for leader, and in reality they act as collaborators with New Labour - holding back the workers' movement in the process.

If these changes to the conference are accepted it will be yet another key moment in the rightward drift of New Labour. Maybe even a decisive qualitative change, a moment that might just force some on the left, and maybe even a few of the more militant unions, to decide that enough is enough - and break with the new New Labour Party. The GMB have recently threatened disaffiliation it should be noted.

As the name of the blog suggests, I think the left and the unions should break with New Labour. Of course, many fine socialists still within Labour will disagree with me on this, and I respect their views and discuss and debate with them frequently.

But in my opinion, the party is firmly in the grip of the right wing -and crucially, hundreds of thousands of socialists, trade unionists and working class people, millions in fact, will not be persuaded to join or rejoin the New Labour Party - only to then enter into a war of attrition against the right, to become demoralised or be bureacratically blocked. This is especially true of younger people who have only ever known New Labour.

All these people are politically homeless and without a voice. They could only ever be persuaded to join a new party, to make a fresh start in a genuinely democratic socialist party.

Such a party, with the backing of the more militant unions, and hopefully some of the well respected left Labour MPs, could be a major pole of attraction, drawing towards it the politically homeless to fight for a better, fairer and more equal socialist society.

Read My last real conference? by Tony Benn from today's Guardian (extract below).

"If the new proposals - now endorsed by the NEC and apparently some major trade unions - are accepted, delegates will only be allowed to identify issues they want looked at by the policy forums, and the manifesto that emerges will be put to a referendum of party members to accept or reject in full, with no possibility of amendment. This would complete the New Labour project under which the conference becomes a platform for ministers and a few handpicked delegates - and, of course, a big trade fair. There would be no point in joining the party locally or affiliating as a union in the hope of discussing policy."

Tony Benn

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Bob Wareing MP to stand as independent - media links

“The party leadership (under Blair and Brown) have regarded me as a thorn in their side as I rebelled against their betrayal of the basic principles of the Labour Party.

“Anti-Labour policies, such as privatisation, tuition and top-up fees for students and the stock-transfer of council houses, with the threat that no repairs would be carried out if they remained under council control, forced tenants to concede to New Labour’s wishes.

“Worst of all has been the disaster of the invasion of Iraq, an illegal war in defiance of the United Nations.

“I was proud to march, with nearly two million others, against that policy.”

Bob Wareing MP

Media reports:

Rejected MP Bob Wareing vows to stand as an independent, Sep 17 2007, by David Bartlett, Liverpool Daily Post

Stephen Twigg ends career of another political stalwart, Sep 18 2007, by Nick Coligan, Liverpool Echo

Monday, 17 September 2007

Bob Wareing MP to stand as independent

With this de-selection it's the right that have inflicted yet another defeat on the remaining left inside New Labour. But this defeat can be turned around if it's used to rally the forces of the left to fight back.

Bob Wareing's decision to stand as an independent should be supported by all socialists. He is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, an opponent of New Labour and the war on Iraq.

Whilst it was an enforced decision, it could potentially be a very signifficant one. His independent candidacy could become a rallying point for the left on Merseyside and even nationally, for trade unionists, socialists, anti-war activists and others. His election as an independent socialist MP in the next general election would be a huge victory against the right-wing New Labour machine who have de-selected him.

As Bob himself commented "The party I joined 60 years ago is not the same party I have now resigned from."

Yet the need for a genuine Labour Party, in the sense of a party for the working class, remains as strong today.

Therefore, having drawn this conclusion, and having been effectively thrown out of the new Labour Party, Bob Wareing could potentially play a major role is helping to launch a much needed new party of the left.

Discussions could be opened up immediately, not only with those on Merseyside, but nationally with figures such as Bob Crow of the RMT, Mark Serwotka of the PCS, Matt Wrack of the FBU and other leading left-wing trade unionists, with socialist groups, with the anti-war movement and with former and current left-wing Labour members. These discussions could potentially lead to collaboration in order to lay the basis for a new party of the left.

Undoubtedly if a left wing MP, together with other prominent individuals from the trade union movement (or even entire trade unions) were to issue a joint call for a new party it would be greeted with enthusiasm by many thousands of workers, socialists, ex-Labour Party members and others on the left who currently have no political home.

Rebel MP Bob Wareing axed by Labour

Rebel MP Bob Wareing axed by Labour

Sep 17 2007 by Ben Turner, Liverpool Echo

VETERAN MP Bob Wareing today said he was “liberated” after being ditched by his consituents after 24 years.

The 77-year-old yesterday lost his nomination for the safe West Derby seat to New Labour poster boy Stephen Twigg – the man famous for beating Michael Portillo in the 1997 General Election.

But Mr Wareing today said he was relieved to quit the party he joined 60 years ago and vowed to stand as an independent in the next election.

He described the decision to ditch him as a reaction to his constant opposition to government policy.

Mr Wareing said: “The party I joined 60 years ago is not the same party I have now resigned from.

“I thought long and hard about this, but I will not stand by and let the people of West Derby, who I have represented for 24 years, be taken over by the New Labour Mafia.”

But sources in the West Derby constituency party told the ECHO he had been heavily defeated in the vote.

It took three rounds for Mr Twigg to get the required 50% plus one vote he needed, but he got three times as many votes as Mr Wareing.

Mr Twigg said his first task was finding a house.

The 40-year-old, who lives in London, said: “I will be moving to Liverpool immediately and will be looking for a house.”

He said gun crime, in the wake of the shooting of 11-year-old school boy Rhys Jones, was among issues on top of his agenda.

The Oxford graduate said: “Bob gave a very magnanimous and gracious speech after the result and I am sure I can work with him and work in the best interests of the party.”

Sources revealed Clubmoor ward councillor Roz Gladden also got twice as many votes as the sitting MP.

Mrs Gladden said: “Finishing second to a former education minister is not bad. We must focus now on taking over from the Lib Dems at the council.”

Mr Waring claimed his high-profile opposition to the Iraq war and votes against the government on key issues prompted efforts to replace him with a New Labour “yes man”.

But now Mr Waring faces the prospect of working with his replacement as he will officially remain MP until Gordon Brown calls a General Election.

City Labour leader, Cllr Joe Anderson said: “I can imagine Bob will be disappointed, but the constituency has made a democratic choice and felt they wanted someone fresh.

“I hope they won’t be any friction or animosity –the Labour party comes first and the most important thing is improving the outlook for the people of West Derby.”