Tag Archives: CLPD

Hoist by its own petard

The right has given us a gift and we have used it. Charles Gradnitzer of Labour Party Marxists recalls how it all came about.

This article attempts to explain the previous left challenges to the leadership position and why they failed; the old electoral system and the manufactured scandal that changed it; the current state of the Labour left; and the opportunities a Corbyn victory presents to the left and the grassroots membership of the Labour Party.

As most people are aware, Tony Blair won the leadership election in 1994. He was standing against John Prescott and self-professed “moron” Margaret Beckett, so it is safe to say that there was no left candidate. In 2006, anticipating that Blair would be stepping down the following year, John McDonnell announced that he intended to stand as the leftwing candidate in order to ensure there would be a debate within the party and not simply a ‘coronation’ of Gordon Brown as Blair’s successor.

In 2007, a few months before Blair set a formal date for his resignation, Michael Meacher announced his intention to stand. Meacher had been in the Socialist Campaign Group with McDonnell until 1983, when he was expelled after he joined the shadow cabinet. He was a minister for 20 years (and even voted for the invasion of Iraq) until he fell out with Blair and returned to the backbenches in 2003. After this he began to move back to the left and attack Blair over Iraq.

So in 2007 we arrived at a situation where the left was fielding two candidates in a leadership election – presumably to make up for the failure to stand anyone at all in 1994. But with two days to go before the close of nominations Meacher stepped down and asked his supporters to back John McDonnell, who was relying on nominations from Meacher’s supporters and those of the centre-left deputy leadership candidate, Jon Cruddas. However, much of Meacher’s support came from MPs who did not see McDonnell, a rebellious backbencher, as a credible candidate and the Brownites subsequently pressured 14 of Meacher’s supporters not to nominate McDonnell. Cruddas supporters also failed to back him and in the end he fell 16 nominations short of the 45-MP threshold. This meant that Gordon Brown, with a total of 313 nominations, was elected unopposed and the leadership conference was reduced to the coronation McDonnell had predicted in 2006.

When Brown resigned as both prime minister and leader of the Labour Party after the 2010 general election, which resulted in a hung parliament, the Miliband brothers and Ed Balls declared their intention to stand, while comrade McDonnell also announced that he would stand again. But once again there was a second left candidate – Diane Abbott, a fellow member of the Socialist Campaign Group – and this time McDonnell dropped out, asking his supporters to back Abbott. However, she went out in the first round, having received the lowest vote of any candidate from the parliamentary and constituency sections of the electoral college (though she did head Andy Burnham and Ed Balls in the union and affiliate section). So it was ‘Red Ed’ who won the leadership election in 2010, narrowly beating his brother, David Miliband, thanks to the “pernicious influence” of the trade unions – a truly bizarre claim, given that the vote of a union member was worth 0.13% of that of an MP.


What was interesting about the 2010 election was a little noticed experiment conducted by John Mann in his Bassetlaw constituency, the outcome of which would go on to drastically alter the course of Labour Party history.

Mann, convinced that there was a need to “widen democracy” and open up the leadership election to the public, identified Labour supporters in his constituency and conducted a ‘primary’ to determine who he should vote for in the leadership election. At a cost of several thousand pounds he worked with the Bassetlaw CLP and other volunteers to conduct a postal ballot of over 10,000 people who were said to be Labour supporters.

Writing for Progress magazine in July 2010, Andy Burnham – who was, of course, standing as a leadership candidate – praised John Mann’s primary. In his article he stated that membership fees were a barrier to participation, that he wanted to create an affiliate membership (ie, ‘registered supporters’), and that as leader of the Labour Party he would look to include registered supporters in future internal elections and selections. (To Burnham’s dismay Labour supporters in Bassetlaw voted for David Miliband in the primary and John Mann cast his ballot accordingly.)

Stephen Twigg, the chair of the rightwing Progress group from 2005 to 2010 and its current honorary president, wrote a contribution to The purple book, published by Progress in 2011. In his chapter, entitled ‘Letting the people decide: redistributing power and renewing democracy’, he stated:

“In 2005 only 1.3% of the electorate was a member of a political party, afallfrom4%in1983…The fall in membership has resulted in fewer people being involved in selecting Labour’s MPs. The average constituency Labour Party has around 300 members. This equates to a very small percentage of the local population. When candidates were selected by large memberships 50 years ago, it was easier to see how they reflected the wishes of the local population.

“How, then, could Labour seek to increase the influence of ordinary people over the decision of who represents them? One way would be to introduce closed primaries …”

He went on to advocate ending the automatic affiliation of union members in favour of an opt-in system; and abolishing the electoral college in favour of ‘one member, one vote’ (Omov) – “opening up access to the Labour Party and how it operates should be an important organisational goal”, he said.

When Ed Miliband became leader in 2010, he immediately set about reviewing the party structure – as Blair had done in 1997 – through a bogus “consultation” known as Refounding Labour. Party units and individual members were asked to make submissions to this review, but when the recommendations were published it was clear that the party had, at best, cherry-picked submissions – in all likelihood the recommendations were a foregone conclusion and the submissions were mostly ignored.

The end result of this review was the introduction of ‘registered supporters’. These did not have to pay a fee, but were largely election fodder. They were not involved in internal party selections – if they were involved in the party at all.

The Labour left saw straight through Refounding Labour: it was a step towards achieving the rule changes Progress wanted to make. Writing in Left Futures, Jon Lansman predicted that registered supporters “could be given votes in leadership elections as if they were affiliated members”.1 This prediction was not entirely hard to make, given that Progress had been pushing for primaries, using Mann’s Bassetlaw experiment as a case study on widening political engagement with the party.

Falkirk and Collins

With Progress gunning for opt-in affiliation and Omov to reduce the “power of the unions” in the Labour Party, the executive committee of the Unite union adopted a new political strategy in 2011 to “reclaim Labour”. The strategy consisted of three major goals: maintaining the union link; increasing the number of trade union or “trade union-friendly” prospective parliamentary candidates; and increasing the number of trade unionists in constituency Labour Parties in order to secure the success of the first two goals.

Though Progress had failed to get primaries, opt-in affiliation and Omov into the Refounding Labour recommendations, its opportunity finally arrived in 2013, when Unite’s political strategy blew up in its face. In July that year, Eric Joyce, the disgraced former Labour MP for Falkirk, accused Unite of rigging the selection process.

The Unite convenor at Grangemouth oil refinery, Stephen Deans, had become the chair of Falkirk West CLP shortly after Joyce had resigned after nutting a Tory MP in the House of Commons bar. Deans began to implement Unite’s political strategy in Falkirk, recruiting union members from Grangemouth into the CLP. While Deans was chair the size of the CLP doubled from fewer than 100 members to over 200.

Falkirk West had agreed to have an all- women shortlist, which would exclude the Progress candidate, Gregor Poynton. However, when it was discovered that the trade union-friendly Katie Myler was Unite’s preferred candidate, Progress went apeshit, with Peter Mandelson warning Miliband at the 2013 Progress conference that the unions were trying to “take over” the party.

In March 2013 the Labour NEC created a subcommittee to investigate claims that Unite had signed up and paid for members without their knowledge and the report was published in June that year. As a result both Katie Myler and Stephen Deans were suspended from the party and Falkirk was placed under “special measures”. The report was handed to the police in the hope that Unite would be charged with fraud, but Police Scotland concluded that “there are insufficient grounds to support a criminal investigation at this time”.

In one of the most infuriating examples of the pot calling the kettle black, the report revealed that the Blairite candidate backed by Progress, Gregor Poynton, had paid party subscriptions for 11 new members, which was actually against the party rules, whereas the report exonerated Unite of any wrongdoing.

In spite of the report and the police investigation, former Labour Party general secretary Ray Collins was asked to head a review to make recommendations for party reform. Collins, who had been assistant general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union until 2008, recommended most of the policies Progress had tried to push through in 2011: the abolition of the electoral college, the introduction of Omov, mandatory opt-in affiliation of union members, new rights for registered supporters, including the right to vote in the leadership election. In order to appease the Parliamentary Labour Party, Collins recommending raising the threshold for leadership nominations from 12.5% to 15% of Labour MPs.

The Collins review was put to a special conference, to which I was delegated in 2014. The Labour left vociferously opposed the recommendations, while they were supported by the centre and the right. In the run-up to conference delegates received numerous letters from Ed Miliband urging them to vote for the reforms. One such letter told the story of Paul, a lifelong trade unionist and figment of Miliband’s imagination, who finally joined the Labour Party after the reforms were announced – on the basis that “until now the party never felt democratic. It never felt like one I could join.”

The event itself was a stage-managed stitch-up. The first sign of this was that it turned out there had been no conference arrangements committee and therefore no CAC report. A number of CLPs had submitted emergency motions which were not on the agenda and, when this was pointed out to conference, Angela Eagle assured delegates from the chair that the CAC had met in January. But if it met in January it would not have been able to consider submitted motions or actually do any arranging, because the Collins review was not published till February.

The conference went on as planned. General secretary after general secretary stood up to denounce the reforms, but in the end it was all hot air. When it came to the vote, 96% of the unions (with the honourable exception of the Bakers Union) and 74% of the CLPs voted for the reforms, giving a total of 86.29% in favour and 13.71% against. The experiment conducted by John Mann in 2010 had borne fruit.

Labour left

In 2015 the Labour Party suffered a crushing defeat under Ed Miliband. In Scotland the party was all but wiped out. This defeat had major ramifications for the political composition of the PLP. Seven sitting Campaign Group and Left Platform MPs were wiped out by the Scottish National Party, and five Campaign Group MPs stood down and were replaced by candidates that are not leftwing.

The 11 left ex-MPs would have been enough to put Corbyn on the ballot without any nominations from MPs who later regretted it. In addition to this 18 Left Platform PPCs were stood in Conservative strongholds, continuing a tradition of parachuting centrist and right wing candidates into Labour strongholds while sticking socialists in unwinnable seats.

One of the most striking things about the Corbyn campaign has been that it reveals how badly the parliamentary party reflects the views and wishes of the membership and the unions. This is the result of NEC interference in constituency selections and the fact that the Labour right has been well organised for years. There is very little organisation of the ‘hard left’ or even ‘soft left’. There is no leftwing membership organisation that regularly meets, holds press conferences, tries to win important internal and parliamentary selections, and produces economic policy documents. In short the left has nothing analogous to Progress. A leftwing proto- Progress exists in the sense that the left does some of these activities, but it is not organised into one organisation.

Luke Akehurst, the secretary of Labour First, produced an interesting article on what he calls the “hard left” for his blog. The situation he describes is basically right: the ephemeral left organises through “networks” of Facebook groups, email lists, phone calls, and meetings of various established groups. However, his claim that these “networks” are an “experienced and highly motivated machine” is grossly exaggerated.

The Labour Representation Committee, set up in 2004, is not capable of organising anything on the scale that is needed. It has its conferences and some of its comrades sell Labour Briefing at meetings, but beyond that it does not really do a great deal. It is haemorrhaging members and looks like it is on the verge of collapse.

Andrew Fisher, who was joint secretary of the LRC with Pete Firmin, started the Left Economics Advisory Panel, which, as the name suggests, produces ‘leftwing’ (ie, neo-Keynesian) economic policy documents and press releases. Fisher has also written a book called Austerity: the failed experiment.

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy tends to concentrate on internal party matters: electing people to the conference arrangements committee, the NEC, the national policy forum; submitting soft-left contemporary motions to conference and rule changes aimed at making the Labour Party more democratic and accountable to the membership.

A group not mentioned by Luke Akehurst is Socialist Action. Few people know who is in SA because when it split from the International Marxist Group it began to pursue a ‘deep entryist’ strategy. It is so secretive I would wager there will be members of Socialist Action who do not know each other. It does not organise openly. You can sometimes guess who is in it – if they once worked as advisors for Ken Livingstone when he was London mayor, for example, or today they talk about deficit reduction through investment rather than public-sector cuts.

Membership of these groups tend to overlap and they mostly stand for various positions under the banner of the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance. A fact that did not go unnoticed by Akehurst, who points out how undemocratic this arrangement is. He notes that the name is ironic, given that one of the main groups in the CLGA is the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. The CLGA also has a website that carries reports from the CLPD about NEC and NPF meetings, conference, and other Labour Party internal affairs.

The Centre for Labour and Social Studies is also worth mentioning because when it was launched it was described in The Guardian as a “leftwing antidote to Blairite pressure group Progress”. Owen Jones describes it in similar, though less hostile terms, as the left’s answer to Progress. Considering it has Sally Hunt from the University and College Union and Sir Paul Kenny on its national advisory panel, I would question whether this think-tank could really be considered leftwing. The advisory panel also includes the former leader of Respect, Salma Yaqoob, so it is not really even part of the Labour Party.

In addition to this there is the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs of which Corbyn is a member. It was set up in 1982 as a split from the Tribune group after Kinnock and other members of Tribune abstained in the deputy leadership election in 1981, costing Tony Benn the job. Amusingly, Corbyn’s refrain that his candidacy is “not about personalities, but about policies” is exactly what Benn said in 1981 when he stood against Denis Healey for deputy leader.

Two other ‘groups’ worth mentioning are the Left Platform, which was actually the name used for a statement put out before the general election, signed by sitting Labour MPs and PPCs. The second consists of the 10 newly elected Labour MPs who, after winning the election, wrote an open letter committing themselves to anti-austerity politics. Among the list of signatories are Corbyn supporters such as Richard Burgon, Clive Lewis and Kate Osamor.


The Left Platform is worth mentioning because its post-election meeting put the dire state of the Labour left into perspective. On May 12, it met in London to discuss the prospects of standing an anti-austerity candidate. John McDonnell, having failed to get enough nominations in the last two leadership elections, immediately ruled himself out. Comrade McDonnell and other MPs thought that they could get at most 16 nominations, due to the 2015 wipe-out of the Campaign Group and the lack of new socialist MPs.

At first there was a campaign to get Jon Trickett to stand. There was even a change.org petition to put pressure on him, but once it became obvious he was not going to put his name forward, the left started searching for an alternative. Some wanted Michael Meacher to stand as the anti-austerity candidate, given that he was one of the initiators of the Left Platform, but he had already indicated that he was going to back Andy Burnham. It was then that comrade Corbyn took up the mantle.

The best anybody on the Labour left was hoping for at that point was that Corbyn would get enough airtime to put forward an anti-austerity position before the nominations closed, but after his Facebook page exploded a campaign was mounted to secure him enough nominations to get on the ballot paper. The campaign argued that the inclusion of Corbyn would widen the debate and enfranchise thousands of members who would otherwise not engage with the leadership election. Elements of the centre and the right – including Luke Akehurst – supported his inclusion on the ballot in the hopes that Corbyn would be humiliated during the leadership debate and the “hard left” would be crushed and demoralised.

Tens of thousands of Labour members and supporters bombarded MPs via email and social media in order to get him on the ballot. It was clear from some of the responses that this pressure from the grassroots accounted for at least some of the support. Other MPs clearly nominated Corbyn in order to shield Burnham from claims that he was too leftwing and in the pocket of the unions.

The morning that the nominations closed it did not look as though he was going to make it onto the ballot – in spite of the optimistic editorial in the Morning Star and assurances from his campaign team that they had enough support from MPs. But that morning there was a last- minute surge of nominations and as the clock struck 12 he had made it onto the ballot.

The first sign that Corbyn was reaching out to people beyond the notoriously insular world of online leftism was at the Newsnight Labour Party leadership hustings on June 17. During the hustings Corbyn had the most audible support, even though he did not capitulate, as the other candidates did, to one particular chauvinist in the audience.

In July YouGov dropped a polling bombshell: Corbyn would win in the final round with 53%. At first this poll was dismissed, but to the terror of the centre and the right such findings kept on coming in. Poll after poll was putting Corbyn in first place. In addition to this the supporting nominations from unions and constituency parties were also rolling in. In the end Corbyn had the support of 36 MPs, two MEPs, six major trade unions, 152 constituencies, and two affiliated socialist societies, putting him ahead of the other three candidates.

The campaign has exceeded the wildest expectations of many comrades. He has been speaking to packed-out meetings across the country and the party has doubled in size. 160,000 people registered as members, affiliates, or supporters in the last 24 hours before the registration closed.


There are, as I see it, two opportunities here for the left: the first is democratic reform of the Labour Party to undo the damage Tony Blair did. The second is a serious regroupment of the left within the party.

To grasp the first opportunity, we must first understand what is undemocratic about the Labour Party. In 1997 the annual conference adopted Tony Blair’s changes to the way the party programme and manifesto were developed. This was known as Partnership into Power and it remains in place to this day. The changes introduced six policy commissions, the NPF and the joint policy committee, and used these new bodies, along with ‘contemporary resolutions’, to reduce the role of conference in determining the party programme.

The policy commissions – which comprise 16-20 members representing the government, the NEC and the NPF – produce policy documents for the national policy forum and the joint policy committee (JPC) to discuss. The JPC acts as a steering group for the NPF, and is made up of representatives from the cabinet, the NEC and the NPF itself. It determines what policy the NPF will debate and when. The NPF is made up of 194 representatives from all sections of the party – CLP members and trade union delegates have the greatest representation, but it also includes the entire NEC.

Each year the NPF produces a report and presents it to the annual conference. Conference votes on the document as a whole, which is several hundred pages long. Each report represents one of three stages of the policy development process: stage one is a single document that considers the “big challenges” of the day; stage two outlines specific policies to tackle them; stage three produces the draft ‘final year policy’ document. Once the draft FYP document is passed by conference, the party is then asked to submit amendments to it. These are taken to the final NPF, where they are debated, and the final version is agreed by consensus. This document is taken to the annual conference, and once it is rubber- stamped it becomes the party programme.

At the annual conference the unions and constituency parties are able to submit contemporary resolutions, which can only address matters that the NPF could not discuss in its reports, so they have to pertain to events that have occurred in the three months between the last NPF meeting and the conference (hence the name ‘contemporary resolution’). They are only added to the programme if they receive two-thirds majority support.

Once this bureaucratic process is complete, a ‘Clause V’ meeting is held, where various delegates from the cabinet, the unions, the backbenches, the NEC and the NPF select which bits of the programme will go into the party manifesto. It is widely know that much of the FYP documents and almost all of the contemporary resolutions are left out or, if they are included, they are often reworded. This has yet to be quantified, but the CLPD has commissioned a report in order to identify all the differences between the party programme and last year’s manifesto.

This process was supposed to widen participation in drafting the manifesto, but in reality it has shut members out of that process even more. Most delegates to conference do not know what is going on, and this lack of knowledge is compounded by the fact that the speeches in favour of the FYP document usually do not correspond to the contents of the document. And, even if delegates do understand what is happening, I would wager that only a tiny minority have actually read the FYP document. In the unlikely case that they have and they disagree with it, the only option they have is to vote for or against it: it cannot be amended or taken in parts at annual conference.

Neither is the national policy forum itself transparent or accountable. Nobody knows what goes on at the NPF: it is not live-streamed or minuted, and delegates do not give report-backs, so you cannot know how your delegates have voted. You do not know which amendments were even considered or on what basis they were accepted or rejected; nor do you know who voted for or against them. Even if you did, the Clause V meeting which determines the manifesto renders the entire exercise of creating a party programme redundant – the participants are appointed, not delegated, and the meeting is not exactly transparent.

This entire process has to be changed and Corbyn must commit himself to doing this. As previous leaders have done, he could organise a review – similar to Partnership into Power or Refounding Labour, only less reactionary – in order to simplify the process, as well as making it democratic and transparent. I am not sure that going back to cobbling together often contradictory policy from party conferences at a Clause V meeting is the best approach, but a simplified, accountable, transparent, representative body – with recallable delegates – that is responsible for drafting the party programme and manifesto would be a good start; the role of the party conference should be to debate, amend, insert and delete sections of the party programme and manifesto.

There is a whole raft of other measures that I would like to see: the abolition of trigger ballots, the ability of constituency parties to recall sitting MPs and councillors, the end of NEC interference in parliamentary selections, a serious campaign to get all trade unions and other socialist groups to affiliate to the party, and an end to bans and proscriptions of socialist groups.

The second opportunity is a serious regroupment of the left. Hundreds of thousands of people have flooded into the party since the general election. As many as two thirds of these people have joined in order to support Jeremy Corbyn. Currently a small proportion are meeting at phone banks in order to canvass for him. They are also gathering at meetings of local Red Labour groups, which were recently established and largely existed on social media until they branched out into the real world.

It would be an absolute disaster if the left failed to turn the waves of Corbyn supporters flooding into the party from an amorphous mass into something more concrete.


1. www.leftfutures.org/2011/07/refounding-la- bour-attacks-union-influence-and-will-disap- point-members.

2. The Guardian August 16 2012.

Wishful thinking rather than hard truth

Stan Keable was at John McDonnell’s Labour Left Platform roundtable discussion on February 7

An air of desperation and self-deception hung over the 200 or so left activists, MPs and ‘policy experts’ gathered together in the big hall at the University of London Union at the invitation of leading left MP John McDonnell, under his Labour Left Platform umbrella. Simon Hewitt, a young member of the Labour Representation Committee’s Labour Briefing editorial board, expressed this desperation: “Labour will be dead in five years if we don’t sort ourselves out.”

The fragile nature of the lowest-common-denominator (ie, undemocratic) consensus type of left unity achieved was illustrated when former Lambeth anti-cuts councillor and Unite activist Kingsley Abrams announced that he had resigned his Labour Party membership and defected to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in disgust. He had taken a stand against cuts on Lambeth Labour council in line with Unite policy, but Unite did not fight his suspension from the Labour group, which was now implementing cuts. The ‘emergency budget’ anti-austerity motion to Labour’s national policy forum had been voted down by the affiliated trade union delegates. And, to cap it off, Unite had just made a £1.5 million donation to Labour’s election fund, on top of its affiliation fees.

Comrade McDonnell remarked that he had handed the microphone to Kingsley because “several others have done the same” (eg, Warrington anti-cuts councillor, Unite activist and LRC national committee member Kevin Bennett also defected to Tusc recently), and, ominously, “we do talk about the philosophical question whether to be in or out of the Labour Party”. Since the meeting we have learned that RMT president Peter Pinkney has joined the Green Party and will be standing as a Green candidate for Redcar in the general election.1

Can the left persuade Labour’s front bench to adopt an alternative, anti-austerity economic programme, in the short time available before May 7? Or will Labour continue alienating good class-struggle fighters with its austerity-lite commitments, promising to make the working class carry on paying for capitalism’s crisis? Given the haemorrhaging of Labour votes to the Scottish National Party and the Greens, both posing to the left, against austerity and Trident, an absolute Labour majority now seems unlikely, but, with the Tories losing support to the UK Independence Party, Labour may well end up with the most MPs. Comrade McDonnell’s plan is to make the left into a coherent force which can then negotiate as a player in any post-election coalition negotiations.

In the Marxist tradition of ‘telling it like it is’, I have to say to comrade McDonnell that this wishful thinking is delusional. Unfortunately, if we are to change the world, we must first be truthful about where we are at. Our class is in a weak condition at present – confused, disorganised and disorientated; and so is the left itself. There is no quick fix for this condition, no short cut, no easy road to socialism. A protracted struggle must be undertaken to democratise and rebuild our movement and re-educate our class in socialist ideas and politics before it can deliver effective solidarity to anyone, let alone approach the question of taking state power away from the capitalist class.

Much more than a simple majority of MPs is required: socialism cannot be delivered from above by an enlightened elite. A genuinely socialist government in Britain (not a Miliband/Balls Labour government trying to run an imagined ethical capitalism) implementing its minimum programme of immediate measures in the interests of, and empowering, the working class, could not survive the inevitable counterrevolutionary efforts of capital, unless it was based on the active, conscious support of a substantial majority of working people. Nor could it last long on its own, if the workers’ movement in Europe had not also matured to a similar level, capable of delivering real solidarity action to a socialist government here, under attack.


A notable lacuna in the left’s “alternative narrative” (comrade McDonnell’s words) was the omission of any demands for democratisation of the state. The three themes were austerity, rail nationalisation and trade union rights. It was left to the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory (promoted by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) to proclaim, on its leaflet, the abolition of the monarchy and the Lords, a federal republic, and a worker’s wage for MPs. These demands may not be doorstep vote-winners today, but they are indispensable conditions for the working class to overpower capitalism.

Commendable though it is to attempt to bring the weak, divided, disorganised and rudderless Labour left into the same room – “the first time in a long while that all of the left organisations in the Labour Party have come together”, in comrade McDonnell’s words – this gathering was evidence, to any objective observer, of the palpable weakness of the left and of the workers’ movement as a whole, not our strength.2 As Aslef national organiser Simon Weller remarked, the speeches complaining about anti-working class coalition government policies amount to “preaching to the choir”. Privatisation of public transport has been going on for 40 years, he said – in other words, under Labour as well as Tory administrations. The question not being answered was, “How do we set about changing the Labour Party? – and it is not through the national policy forum!”

The key to developing an effective workers’ movement, and to transforming the party and the unions, is democracy – and democracy starts at home, in the organisations of the left. The ineffective, pretend unity of fudged consensus ‘decisions’ made without transparency, motions, debate and voting, will not do. We need organisational unity in action, based on freedom of discussion and acceptance of majority decisions.

Comrade McDonnell, opening the meeting, said: “People understand that they are being ripped off, and are desperate for a real Labour government”, but they are “not seeing a display of real Labour politics”. The purpose of the Left Platform, as stated on its website, is to “demonstrate practically what a Labour government could do in office”, and “to consolidate a common left policy platform that can give people hope”.3

But fostering hope in a Labour government under present realities means setting people up for disillusionment. History shows that Labour governments running capitalism undermine and disempower the workers’ movement, setting the scene for more rightwing Tory governments. The ‘official communist’ programme (Britain’s road to socialism) of a series of increasingly leftwing Labour administrations is a pipe dream. Our movement must be built in opposition to whatever capitalist government is in office, and the task of transforming the trade unions and the Labour Party into vehicles for socialism, of “breaking the stranglehold of the bureaucracy”, as Brent and Harrow LRC activist Steve Forrest put it, will be hindered by Labour taking government office. We need socialist MPs elected, to give a voice to the workers’ movement. But we need a Miliband Labour government like a hole in the head.

Unfortunately, sectarian divisions amongst the Labour left are every bit as alive as between the left groups outside the party. True, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy had signed up amongst the Labour Left Platform sponsors, and I spotted its secretary, Pete Wilsman, in the hall. But there was no sign of its leading light, Ken Livingstone, while Christine Shawcroft only ventured as near as the pavement in Malet Street, as the brave lone seller of the so-called ‘original’ Labour Briefing – in competition with the one produced by the LRC, whose sales team was out in force.4 Comrade McDonnell alluded to these difficulties when he commented that the event had “showed that we can work together”.

The next step, said comrade McDonnell in his summing up, is to “ask every Labour candidate” to support the Labour left’s “alternative narrative” of “what needs to be done”, which had been the achievement of the event. And we will reconvene in the first week after the general election to take the campaign forward, as that is the time, he claimed, when a new Labour government (if that is the result) will be most susceptible to pressure from the left.


1. See www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/rmt-union-president-im-standing-8598307.

2. See also Jon Lansman’s useful summary of what was said in each session, and his pertinent criticisms of the left: “While the Labour left continues to work in the amateurish manner described above, the right has little to fear” (www.leftfutures.org/2015/02/reflections-on-the-left-platform-meeting/#more-41075).

3. http://leftplatform.com.

4. When the 2012 AGM of the Labour Briefing magazine voted to merge with the LRC, Jenny Fisher, Christine Shawcroft, Richard Price and three others, instead of accepting the democratic decision, turned the merger into a split. They set up Labour Briefing Cooperative Limited and launched a rival magazine entitled the original Labour Briefing.

Not in the Weekly Worker

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists attended the AGM for Greater London 

Accountability was at a minimum at the Greater London Labour Representation Committee annual general meeting on December 13. Minutes were not available of the previous AGM, nor even of the previous meeting. There was no annual report of work, no reports from those who held posts during 2014, and no summary of facts and figures about membership and branches.

However, I understand that the Brent and Harrow branch is still holding weekly discussion meetings and is busy campaigning on housing issues, as well as mobilising people in protests against zero-hours employers. Although it was previously said that Brent and Harrow was the only functioning branch within London, I am pleased to note that Hackney branch has surfaced again: Jeremy Corbyn MP recently addressed a meeting there of nine on international issues – hopefully a step towards a more consistently active branch.

Greater London LRC itself is more like a branch of the organisation, rather than a regional committee of delegates from across London, as had been the aim back in 2010. Efforts to build a network of local branches failed: a number were formed, but quickly withered away. So the meetings still consist of individual members, not representatives.

Consequently, the AGM was in fact open to all LRC members in the Greater London area, who would have had a vote if they had turned up – but, given the low level of advanced publicity, many of them may have been unaware of the meeting, or may not have realised that it was open to them, rather than for delegates. The email circular did not explain this, and I never saw the meeting even mentioned on the Left Views Facebook page, nor on the London LRC email discussion list. In the event, there were 18 comrades present, if we include the single Young Labour activist who dropped in for part of the meeting.

Perhaps worst of all with respect to accountability, no report was given of the deliberations of the first national committee meeting since conference – despite the presence of several leading NC members: namely Graham Bash, Andrew Berry, Mick Brooks, Michael Calderbank, Simon Deville, Norrette Moore and Mike Phipps. Given the stressful battles over the election of London officers (see below), which occupied most of the three-hour meeting, one could be forgiven for thinking these comrades had turned out more for the purpose of preventing the election of LRC bête noire Graham Durham as London organiser and fellow oppositionist Judith Atkinson as London delegate to the NC than for building the LRC in London or advancing the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory, which conference voted to support.

Unfortunately, I was unable, for personal reasons, to attend and report on the December NC meeting – its first since the November national conference. So, like most of the several hundred LRC members in Britain, I am in the dark about the alleged ‘complaints commission’ (or whatever its correct name is) set up by the NC to deal with disciplinary matters and the “bad behaviour”, which is supposedly “driving people away” from the organisation. Or whether the NC set about systematically allocating tasks to implement conference decisions – an acknowledged failure of the 2014 NC. The customary NC report of work was missing from national conference too.

The one thing which was reported from the December NC meeting was its decision to sponsor John McDonnell’s February 15 pre-general election conference of the Labour left, and to seek sponsorship from individuals and other organisations, such as the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, in order to give the call for Labour left unity around socialist policies the “broadest” possible basis. That is a self-defeating method, of course, as trying to get the party ‘centre’ on side in order to defeat the right wing necessarily means watering down a socialist programme.

As I said in discussion, we need socialist MPs to act as ‘tribunes of the people’ to give leadership to the coming mass struggles against capitalism, but a capitalist Labour government will be counterproductive for the struggle to rebuild the workers’ movement and to re-educate it in the politics of socialism. Our fight must be to end capitalism – which necessarily requires socialist organisation across Europe at the very least – not for tried, tested and failed Keynesian capitalism.

Very bad

I would like to thank all those comrades who have assured me that the bureaucratic “LRC culture” proposals put before conference by the NC, but ignominiously withdrawn before the vote, were “never about you, Stan”, and had not been intended to curb my reporting or my alleged “misrepresentation” – a baseless accusation which, needless to say, has never been substantiated or made specific. But neither has it been withdrawn. So, one must assume, Andrew Berry still believes that my report of the November NC meeting in Liverpool was a “deliberate attempt to undermine the LRC”. Perhaps the comrade doesn’t take his own words seriously, and believes such an irresponsible accusation can be irresponsibly forgotten.

If the clauses forbidding, on pain of expulsion, “wilfully misrepresenting the views of the LRC, its elected national bodies or officers,” etc were not aimed at curbing reporting of LRC meetings, perhaps they were aimed at excluding comrade Graham Durham – about whom some NC members continually complain in email and Facebook discussions. In that case, apart from being a proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut, the attempt to eliminate the opposition on the basis of generalised accusations of bad behaviour has spectacularly backfired. Graham has now been elected London organiser.

Although the censorship proposals were withdrawn, the desire for secrecy still festers. Some leading comrades still behave as if socialist politics are about secret, behind-closed-doors decisions by those who know best, rather than the transparency and openness necessary to draw the masses – or even the members – into our work. What else am I to think when, at the end of the London meeting, I was approached by Graham Bash and Mike Phipps and told, like a naughty child: “If any of this appears in the Weekly Worker that would be …” (pregnant pause while Mike considers what to say next) “…very bad”. So, thankfully, there was no actual threat of disciplinary action; but evidently Graham and Mike would like London LRC to be as secret and unaccountable as the first NC meeting. Why on earth? Both comrades are undoubtedly very hard working and self-sacrificing. Political secrecy undermines their effectiveness. I believe their opposition to openness is a self-inflicted wound.

Lack of honest reporting and commentary, about the discussions and decisions in the meetings of our leading bodies, is an important factor inhibiting the involvement of the LRC rank and file and the growth of the organisation. Comrade Lois from Hackney expressed her frustration at not being privy to the real political differences of opinion underlying the hostility that was evident during the election of officers at the London AGM. There was plenty of friction, she said, but the political arguments were not out in the open. So any newcomer, or someone like herself who had not been attending recently, could not fathom the underlying hostility. And, she added, “it always seems that only a small group makes the decisions”.


Although the email announcing the meeting set a deadline for nominations, this innovation was set aside by chairperson Judith Atkinson (with no objections), and nominations for all posts were invited from the floor. First to be elected was Judith herself, who was the only nominee for chairperson. A job-share was agreed between Graham Bash and Norrette Moore for the key job of London secretary, and it was agreed to drop the post of treasurer as superfluous – the London organisation does not normally handle money and has access to central funds when necessary.

When it came to the post of London organiser, there were two nominees: Graham Durham versus retiring 2014 organiser Steve Ballard. Comrade Durham asked that each candidate present their views before the vote, which chair Judy agreed, and – as in Labour Party councillor selections – we were invited to ask questions, so long as the same question was put to each candidate. It was all about aspirations for the future, as no-one could point to anything concrete that London LRC had done during the past year – and, obviously, comrade Ballard’s year in post had not made a difference to that. Comrade Durham, on the other hand, was able to point to the lively Brent and Harrow branch, which he had helped to build, and promised to promote active branches which will “campaign on the street against the coming destruction of adult social services and children’s services, and the record levels of cuts and closures coming this year, after the general election”. He added: “There should be at least 10 London branches, and 20 nationally.”

Then we had question time. Michael Calderbank kicked off, asking the candidates to “give an undertaking not to campaign against LRC policies” – to which Steve answered “No”, he could not give such an undertaking, while Graham simply said “Yes”. Norrette Moore, who has played the role of moderator of the LRC’s online discussion, asked if the candidates accepted her role. Both candidates replied negatively. Graham answered that she had refused to circulate details of specific campaigning actions which he had posted, and Steve said she should not have been placed in a position to make such decisions.

In turn, I asked two questions: “Are you a member of the Labour Party?” and “Do you agree that the LRC should campaign for all socialists to join the Labour Party in order to change it?” It emerged that not only is Steve not a member, but he regards the struggle to win socialist policies in the party as a lost cause, while Graham has been a member for 44 years and is committed to bringing socialists into the party: “I know many people who want to join the Labour Party, but will not come in so long as Tony Blair is still a member.”

From the candidates’ replies in these hustings, Graham Durham was clearly the best candidate for London organiser, in the interests of building the LRC and raising its profile. But the vote was tied at five each (with several abstentions), with several – not all – of the leading NC members desperately voting for comrade Ballard, simply to defeat comrade Durham at all costs. But Judy Atkinson resolved the tie in favour of comrade Durham by using the presiding chairperson’s casting vote – her second vote for comrade Durham. This controversial decision was upheld after Rail, Maritime and Transport union veteran (and now vice-chair) Carol Foster confirmed that this was standard practice in the RMT. A motion from Andrew Berry declaring “No confidence in Graham Durham” was declared “not competent” (after all, he had just been elected, and objections to his candidacy could have been made during the hustings session), and a motion from Simon Deville and Andrew Berry of “No confidence in the chair” was then defeated when the meeting voted 9-4 in favour of next business.

‘Next business’ was the election of two vice-chairs, for which there were three candidates. However, Steve Ballard decided to withdraw, after which Labour Briefing editorial board member Simon Deville and Brent and Harrow activist Carol Foster were unopposed.

Next came a surprising controversy over the election of London’s representative on the LRC NC. Chairperson Judy Atkinson claimed that she had been elected London rep at a previous meeting and was already in post until the next AGM; she therefore ruled that the post was not up for election. Whatever may have happened at a previous London meeting a couple of months ago (sorry, I do not know the facts), this was an intolerable infringement of democracy. Understandably, Michael Calderbank’s motion of “No confidence in the chair” succeeded this time, by eight votes to three, and vice-chair Carol Foster took over for the rest of the meeting. Andrew Berry was then elected NC rep by seven votes to Judy’s five, and comrade Keith Dunn was elected unopposed as deputy NC rep.

At the end of the meeting, the thorny procedural question – whether a vote of no confidence can unseat a chairperson permanently, or can only challenge the ruling in hand – remained unresolved. But Judy Atkinson was reinstated as London chairperson by six votes to five.

Frustrating as these shenanigans may be, nevertheless a difficult meeting resolved all issues through discussion and votes and, importantly, the acceptance of majority decisions – essential if the LRC is to survive and flourish.


Stage-managed spectacle

This year’s Labour conference confirmed once again that the union tops work hand in glove with the party bureaucracy. Charles Gradnitzer reports

Conference got off to a democratic start, with 65 out of the 132 contemporary motions being ruled out of order before it had even begun.

At least seven of these motions noted the August Care UK strike in Doncaster and committed a future Labour government to implementing a living wage for NHS workers. One might be forgiven for thinking that these motions were ruled out of order due to the machinations of New Labour or Progress types. However, there are five union officials on the seven-member conference arrangements committee (CAC).
Obviously the majority of the CAC’s members do not think a motion that commits the Labour Party to immediately bringing in the living wage should even be allowed on the priorities ballot (although, of course, even if it had been timetabled for discussion, it would likely have been gutted during a compositing meeting).

This depressing beginning set the tone for the conference, which, as most people on the left will be aware, is a well choreographed, stage-managed spectacle. Smarmy speeches are delivered by shadow cabinet ministers; prospective parliamentary candidates are called to speak, one after the other, by a chair who pretends not to know their name; and on those rare occasions when one of the plebs is allowed to go to the podium the regional director is on hand to help write their speech.

The good

On the first day of conference the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty had organised a lobby to highlight the arbitrary rejection of motions on the national health service and to demand that the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy model motion was included in the priorities ballot.1

The NHS, having come out on top in the ballot, was scheduled for debate and the CLPD model motion emerged from the compositing meeting totally unscathed, with all its demands left in place. Unfortunately, however, the motion was quite unambitious, aiming to “end extortionate PFI charges” rather than abolishing PFI altogether and writing off PFI debt, as other motions on the NHS aimed to do. What exactly constitutes an “extortionate” charge is left open to interpretation.

The health and care composite was carried, but, as with the NHS motion that was passed unanimously in 2012,2 it is likely that the motion will be ignored by the Labour leaders, who have no intention of taking privatised services back into public ownership unless they are “failing”.

All three of the CLPD’s rule changes received the backing of the NEC and so were approved by conference. The first ensures that no member of parliament and no shadow minister can be elected to the CAC, the second stipulates that two of the CAC members should be directly elected by the membership of the party, and the third lays down that the ‘three-year rule’, which has historically been used to stop CLPs submitting rule changes, now only applies to rules that have the same purpose rather than the entire section of the rule book.

While these are small victories, compared to the mammoth task the CLPD has set itself of restoring Labour Party democracy and handing power to the members, they nonetheless put the left in a better position to make further democratic gains in the future – you never know, we might actually get to debate leftwing policy at conference.

The bad

These gains were more than outweighed by the speeches of various shadow ministers. Ed Balls was booed and jeered by some when he announced that he would be raising the retirement age, means-testing winter fuel allowance and capping child benefit, but this soon gave way to rapturous applause when he announced that a Labour government would restore the 50p top rate of tax and introduce a ‘mansion tax’ on properties worth over £2 million.

Most of these announcements were nothing new – they were contained in the ‘final year policy’ document, which had not only been available online from the end of July and had been physically mailed to delegates, but, just to make absolutely sure, was handed out during delegates’ regional briefings at the start of conference. However, while the FYP document pledged to raise the retirement age, what was new in Balls’ speech was the announcement on winter fuel allowance and child benefits. In this way the policy-making process, which had been going on for the last five years, was totally bypassed and the proposals could not be voted on.

By far the most sick-making speech of conference was delivered by the shadow defence secretary, Vernon Coaker.3 Coaker began by telling conference that Britain stood for progressive values, such as humanitarianism and internationalism, before thanking his team for campaigning for our “successful and developing” defence industry. He cited the occupation of Afghanistan (responsible for the deaths of some 21,000 civilians) as an example of the UK’s progressive, humanitarian and internationalist role in the world. Britain, he claimed, had helped to improve women’s rights and bring stability to Afghanistan. Other examples of Britain’s humanitarian role included dropping aid in Iraq “alongside US air strikes” to stop Islamic State – “a brutal terrorist organisation which poses a threat to Britain”.

Taking identity politics to the point of absurdity, he confirmed that Labour would introduce an Armed Forces (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill in the first parliament after its election. This would make “discrimination” against or “abuse” of members of the armed forces a crime on a par with racism and sexism. He ended by informing us that Labour is “the patriotic party, the party of Britain”.

He was followed by shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, who implicitly compared Russia to Nazi Germany by claiming that “no country had seized the territory of another European country by force since 1945”.

The ugly

Awkwardly delivered, full of cringe-inducing anecdotes about various people he had met and containing very little we did not already know, Ed Miliband’s speech was inoffensive and unsurprising. With the exception of the windfall tax on tobacco companies, it did not reveal any policy that had not been included in the NPF document, which had been publicly available for two months.

As everyone knows, the leader was widely criticised for forgetting the section, in his carefully crafted and endlessly rehearsed speech, where he was meant to deal with the deficit and the economy. What was more telling, though, was that he failed to mention the policy on immigration contained in the NPF document. While wrapped in empty platitudes about immigration being good for the economy and promises not to engage in a rhetorical “arms race” with Ukip, Labour’s policy is to “bring it under control” by introducing a “cap on workers from outside of the EU” and prioritising “reducing illegal and low-skilled immigration”. Moreover, Labour plans to do “more to tackle illegal immigration” by introducing “new powers for border staff”. At present, the “situation is getting worse, with fewer illegal immigrants stopped, more absconding, fewer deported and backlogs of information on cases not pursued”.

Neither Miliband nor any of his shadow ministers talked about this aspect – hopefully they would have been booed off the stage had they done so. Mind you, since the policy document runs to some 218 pages, few would have actually read it.


This parody of a conference is not just an indictment of the Labour Party, but reflects the dire state of the unions and the wider labour movement.

The unions have 30 representatives on the national policy forum – which, among other things, pledged to increase the retirement age, give more powers to the UK Borders Agency, make being rude to members of the armed forces a crime, and continue to spend billions of pounds on Trident. They also comprise more than 70% of the CAC, which, as I have already noted, blocked more than half the motions submitted by constituency Labour Parties. Finally, the unions have half of the votes at conference and typically vote en bloc, meaning that they could, if they wanted to, prevent a lot of this policy from going through.

This demonstrates the futility of any strategy that calls on the unions to break from Labour in order to … forge a second Labour Party. The unions are not simply complicit in passing reactionary policy through conference: they sit on the committees that produce these policies in the first place and act as enforcers for the party bureaucracy to prevent even moderately leftwing policy from being discussed.

We need to be ambitious. The best outcome of the May 2015 general election is not a Miliband-Balls government that carries out Labour cuts, as opposed to Con-Dem cuts. Such a government can only but demoralise Labour voters and create the conditions for an even more rightwing Tory government.
Better to fight for a transformation of the unions, the co-ops and the Labour Party so that they can become weapons in the class war and vehicles for socialism. Meanwhile, let’s stop pretending that a capitalist Labour government is preferable to a capitalist Tory government l


1 . www.leftfutures.org/2014/08/time-to-get-your-contemporary-motions-in-for-labours-conference.
2 . http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/labour-conference-votes-to-restore-the-nhs.
3 . http://press.labour.org.uk/post/98135471954/speech-by-vernon-coaker-mp-to-labour-party-annual.

Trip down memory lane with the hopelessly hopeful

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists gives his assessment of the 40th AGM of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy

ONE COULD NOT HELP FEELING ADMIRATION for the dogged persistence of the 80 or so (mostly) ageing Labour Party comrades who packed into the Brockway room at Conway Hall for the February 23 CLPD annual general meeting. Where other leftwingers have been driven out of the party or given up the ghost in the face of New Labour’s hollowing out of party democracy, or resigned in disgust at Blair’s participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, these Labour socialists had stuck with their party and their key aims: “a real policy-making annual conference”; “an effective and accountable NEC”; and “defence of the trade union link” (www.clpd.org.uk).

But along with admiration came pity. Tenacity has long since morphed into stubbornness and blind faith in an illusory clause-four state socialism which never can and never should exist. The welfare state, with its council housing and national health service, its bureaucratic management and patronising style, was not generously delivered gratis to a grateful working class, courtesy of an enlightened, socialist Labour government. It was part of the social democratic settlement across western Europe – a concession to placate the post-war working class and keep it from socialism. A concession financed by an ascendant US superpower with its Marshall Plan. In World War II, Stalin’s bureaucratic ‘socialism’ had vastly extended its territory into eastern Europe, and mass communist parties existed in the west, constituting a potential threat to capitalism.

These conditions do not exist today, and are not about to be replicated. In particular, the US, although still the top-dog capitalist power, is in decline (along with the decline of the capitalist system as a whole), and is not in a position to finance a recovery like the post-war boom.

But a return to Clem Attlee’s 1945 Labour government and the myth of Keynesian-managed capitalism is what the CLPD comrades hopelessly long for – and they imagine this to have been a first step in the implementation of Sidney Webb’s pseudo-socialist clause four, for the nationalisation of the “means of production, distribution and exchange”. Clause four was cunningly inserted into the Labour Party constitution in 1918 to keep workers inspired by the 1917 Russian Revolution within the safe limits of parliamentary socialism. Significantly, the “immediate cause” of the foundation of the CLPD “was Harold Wilson’s rejection in 1973 of the proposal to take into public ownership some 25 of the largest manufacturing companies, covering the main sections of the economy” (http://home.freeuk.net/clpd/history.htm).

Kelvin Hopkins, MP for Luton North, opening the meeting, claimed that CLPD had “saved the soul of the Labour Party” by stopping “Blair mark two” – ie, David Miliband – from becoming party leader. CLPD influence had been decisive. Comrade Hopkins was campaign manager for the left’s first choice, Diane Abbott (he omitted to say: after John McDonnell had been betrayed), but CLPD also campaigned, successfully, for second-choice votes to be cast for Ed Miliband. The Blairites are “not the force they once were”, he claimed; and, with touching naivety: Ed Miliband is “not yet a man of the left”. We’ve “got to get the Labour front bench to reject neoliberalism”, give up their “‘too far, too soon’ nonsense” and emulate the public service spending and growth of – wait for it – Ecuador. “Let’s have 1945 all over again”; the 1945 election manifesto was a wonderful thing (forgetting Labour’s imperialism). “If it wasn’t for one or two mistakes in 1951,” he mused … And then: “If we collected a fraction of the taxes due, we could pay for all the things we need, and the debt would start to come down.” So much for socialism; managed capitalism will do fine, comrade Hopkins imagines.

In the afternoon we were treated to similar well-intentioned misleadership from comrade Ann Pettifor, an economics expert who, in the 1970s, had been a member of “the Alternative Economic Strategy group”. The present crisis was not one of international capitalism, she said, but of British capitalism. The trouble started with deregulation of the banks, which began in 1971. The 1944 Labour Party pre-election policy document is “as relevant today …” What must be done is to “reposition finance as servant to production – and labour”. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. It is that beautiful, mythical, managed capitalism again. To top it off, Cathy Newman announced that Ken Loach’s new film Spirit of 1945 is in the cinemas from March 15. But is it a documentary or fiction? She did not say.

The comrades were buoyed up by the presence of a lively group of younger members preparing to make a socialist splash at the Young Labour conference (Leicester, March 2-3), as they did last year. The Blairites who run Young Labour “make up the rules as they go along”, claimed Conrad Landin and Dominic Curran. YL has no independent rules – “just a chapter in the Labour Party constitution”.

Other signs of hope were mentioned. The numbers attending CLPD fringe meetings at the 2012 party conference were up, and treasurer Russell Cartwright reported that individual membership in 2012 reached 218, including 17 new members – evidently a small turn of the previously outgoing tide, and already in the beginning of 2013 a further 17 new members had joined. Alongside the individual members, there are also a few affiliates: 18 CLPs and nine other organisations, including four national trade unions.

Chris Mullin was unable to attend, so his prepared speech, entitled “A trip down memory lane”, was read out by Jon Lansman, who added his own potted history of the organisation, as did Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth. We were reminded of the major achievements of the organisation in advancing party democracy. Mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates before each election was achieved by 1980, so Labour MPs no longer had a seat for life. Election of the party leader by the whole party, not just the MPs, was achieved in January 1981. The CLPD had originally campaigned for election of the leader by conference, but the system adopted was an electoral college of three parts – MPs, Constituency Labour Parties and trade unions. The demand that every parliamentary short list must include a woman was achieved by 1988. As comrade Gary Heather commented, this rule had been “used and abused politically, but was nevertheless the right thing to do”.

So the CLPD can chalk up some ‘successes’, it seems. However, for Labour Party Marxists, the post of party leader is an anti-democratic abomination, with its corrupting power of patronage, dispensing jobs and prospects to careerists in and outside of parliament (labourpartymarxists.org.uk/aims-and-principles).

Labour Party NEC member Christine Shawcroft highlighted the frustration delegates felt at the 2012 party conference when the chair ignored perfectly valid calls for card votes, after they had obviously announced the wrong result on a show of hands. “Unite [the union] is angry about card votes,” reported Jon Lansman. So the CLPD included this in its Charter for a Democratic Conference, which the AGM adopted and “launched” – overwhelmingly, on a show of hands. “Calls for card votes must be respected,” it says. I wonder if the 2013 conference chair will comply … The charter sets out a wish list of improvements in the way conference is run. The conference arrangements committee “must restore its own influence (regaining control of conference from party bureaucrats, meeting without officials)” – bravo! – “and restore the role of conference as the party’s sovereign body”. More than 50% of conference time should be reserved for delegates speaking in policy debates – limiting the misuse as a public relations exercise. The criteria for motions and rule changes should be “more flexible and fair”, and voting procedures must be “fair and democratic”. Apple pie, surely? Lastly, “conference decisions and all papers should be available to party members on Membersnet” – but, strangely, there is no demand for them to be available to the public – an obvious requirement if we want to transform Labour into a mass workers’ party.

Now, an organisation which campaigns for democracy must itself be a model of good democratic practice, an embryo of what it is campaigning for in the party. But I had mixed feelings about the relaxed, easy-going consensus which prevailed at this meeting. The atmosphere was certainly friendly and inclusive, and anyone who wanted to speak had only to raise their hand and the chair allowed them to comment on the business under discussion. No time was given over for real debate on the motions, however, and almost every proposal was quickly voted through – on the understanding, it seems, that the EC would be free to amend and embellish the text where it thought fit. That was certainly the case, for example, with respect to the charter: although a text was voted on, comrades were invited to send in any further ideas for inclusion by February 28, in time to be considered at the first EC meeting.

A similar inclusiveness prevails with respect to the EC itself. Although a list of EC nominations was voted through with no discussion – and no scrutiny by the AGM as to who the comrades were or what exact politics they stood for – the longstanding secretary, Peter Willsman, blithely announced that “all are welcome on the EC” who are “willing to work hard for the organisation”. Incredibly, for an organisation of 218 members (the 2012 total), 188 of whom were, so far, paid up for 2013 (the treasurer announced), the EC nominations list which was adopted wholesale showed 43 postholders, not to speak of the 18 regional organisers (for 11 listed regions), along with representatives of the various affiliates.

The conference, then, seems to have functioned as a willing rubber stamp for the politics and proposals put before it by its trusted leadership – politics which, as I have shown above, are, to put it mildly, badly flawed.


This article also appeared in Weekly Worker No 951, February 28 2013:  http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/951/clpd-trip-down-memory-lane-with-the-hopelessly-hopeful