Stan Keable reports from a recent LRC National Committee meeting
On Saturday June 29, the Labour Representation Committee’s four-hour national committee meeting in London was a friendly – and businesslike – affair. The venue was, once again, the boardroom at the headquarters of the Rail, Maritime and Transport trade union, one of the LRC’s affiliates.
Comrades were outraged at the capitulation of Labour’s front bench to government austerity policies. Jenny Lennox called it a “non-oppositional opposition”. There had been a “sea change” four months ago, according to Graham Bash, when the parliamentary party had voted against the Welfare Reform Bill, but now it had gone into reverse and rejected the principle of universal benefits.
Mike Phipps thought that Ed Miliband is listening too much to Peter Mandelson, trying to please the markets to gain so-called credibility, and is being pulled to the right by the ‘public opinion’ of an electorate influenced by the rightwing media – especially young voters who have never experienced a strong labour movement. Conclusion: we need an effective press officer (Andrew Fisher used to play this role well) to put across our policies, as “our ideas are popular”.
A series of suggestions followed about how the LRC could “use public opinion” to grow by publicising LRC policies which are already popular – like rail nationalisation, taxing the rich, a house-building programme, and so on. And to make our policies more acceptable, it was proposed, we should make a list of alternatives to austerity which are “easy to argue” and “things that don’t cost”. Extending this desperate logic into the field of Labour candidate selection, we had: “You are not going to get someone selected if they say what we believe.” And: “If candidates put themselves forward as LRC, they would not get selected.”
Everyone knows that the two Eds are promising continued austerity if Labour wins in 2015. When I argued that the workers’ movement will have to oppose any government that runs British capitalism, including the next Labour government, Jon Lansman countered (probably giving the view of most NC members), that we should “influence the next Labour government, not oppose it”.
With 13 committee members present, plus me as a non-voting observer (all LRC members are traditionally permitted to attend), there were at least an equal number of apologies, and comrades speculated that some may have absented themselves because of the unpleasant row at the previous meeting on April 13 (which I had been unable to attend).
Minutes of that meeting had not yet been circulated, and exactly what happened or what was decided was still unclear. However, we were told that Pete Firmin, then joint secretary, had prepared minutes, and they would be circulated that evening. (I recall a decision some two years ago that NC minutes would be routinely published on the LRC website, so I look forward to reading them.)
Not long after the April 13 meeting, comrade Firmin resigned his post, but without publishing his reasons, and a number of NC members complained about this lack of transparency – neither the LRC membership nor many of its leadership had been properly informed about the recent travails at the top.
Having been co-opted onto the editorial board of Labour Briefing – the version now “hosted by” the LRC – I have proposed that NC meetings should always be reported in the magazine – journalistically, not as minutes – so that LRC members can read about the decisions, debates and differences of their elected leaders in their own publication. But this was rejected by a majority of the EB on the grounds that it would be “boring”, “uninteresting” or would “put people off”. So much for transparency.
Pete’s resignation came on top of the withdrawal, on paternity leave, of the other joint secretary elected at conference, Andrew Fisher. Arrangements are in hand to divide and distribute the work previously carried out by the two, with responsibilities allocated temporarily until the November 9 annual conference elects new officers.
I made the point that the distribution of tasks and election of officers would be better done by the NC than by annual conference, so that the departure of individuals for whatever reason would not throw the organisation into crisis. Not only could absence due to resignations, births, deaths and illness be handled easily – instead of by crisis measures, as at present – but also the replacement of comrades who were tasked but failing to perform, or who had a political change of heart. However, such a change would require rule changes, so until conference it seems we will make do with a number of “acting” officers.
Meanwhile, despite the storms at the top, the LRC continues to grow, with a reported trickle of a few dozen new members in May. Our database now lists roughly a thousand paid-up members, a thousand “supporters” and another thousand lapsed members, many of whom may be persuaded to pay up and get active.
There was no sign at the NC meeting of anyone from the Socialist Appeal group. That is the wing of the old Militant Tendency which stayed in the Labour Party under the leadership of Ted Grant and Alan Woods. Peter Taaffe led the majority out of the Labour Party and went on to form the Socialist Party in England and Wales. According to current SPEW doctrine, Labour is no longer a workers’ party of any kind and what is needed therefore is a Labour Party mark two. Anyhow, I had noticed that the group’s monthly paper, Socialist Appeal, has recently carried nothing about LRC. One NC member advised me that SA had taken a decision 18 months ago to abandon LRC, but I had heard nothing of that. So that afternoon I made my way to the University College London Union in Bloomsbury, where Socialist Appeal was holding its third annual Marxist school, to find out. I will write about that next week.