Tag Archives: Ed Miliband

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.

Out come the Blairites

As the results rolled in the ghosts of New Labour began to rise. Charles Gradnitzer of Labour Party Marxists reports

Since the general election there has been a constant barrage of rightwing Labour figures talking about the party’s failure to address middle class ‘aspiration’ and include ‘wealth-creators’ in its programme as part of a last-ditch effort to elect another Blairite leader and shift the party back to the right.

It is telling that these people have nothing to say about the electoral catastrophe in Scotland, the effect this has had on the English electorate, and the successes of the Left Platform MPs who publicly stood against austerity and won, some being returned to parliament with increased majorities. The rightwing Progress group is dead – one of its fringe meetings at the last Labour conference attracted only 15 people. Yet its spirit lives on.


On May 11 David Miliband gave an interview to the BBC in which he blamed the failure of Labour to secure a majority on its unwillingness to appeal to “aspirational” middle class voters.1 This was a clear attempt to smear the left by rolling out the ‘sensible’ brother ‘Red Ed’ stabbed in the back in order to lead the Labour Party to electoral ruin. There was no other reason to interview David Miliband. Once he lost the leadership election, he resigned as an MP, abandoning his constituents, to earn six figures in America – perversely as the CEO of a charity dedicated to helping the victims of the very war he voted for in 2003.

On May 10, Peter Mandelson put it more bluntly, claiming that Labour had spent too much time saying the poor “hate the rich, ignoring completely the vast swathes of the population who exist in between.”2 On the same day Chuka Umunna spelled out exactly what was meant by an “aspirational voter” when he said: “there was not enough of an aspirational offer there … I don’t think you can argue you are pro-business if you are always beating up on the terms and conditions of the people who make business work.3 But the most sick-making comment came from Ben Bradshaw, when he said Labour must “celebrate our entrepreneurs and wealth-creators and not leave the impression they are part of the problem.”4

Ben Bradshaw’s statement is both perverse and ironic. The “entrepreneurs” and the “wealth-creators” – or rather capital and the capitalists – are exactly the problem. It is widely accepted, even by the bourgeoisie itself, that the global economic crisis and recession was set in motion by the US subprime mortgage crisis. Moreover, the capitalist class is the problem because it violently perpetuates and maintains the very economic system that exploits the majority, all the while demanding that the working class pay for the crises that are intrinsic to capitalism itself.

It is ironic because Labour really has distanced itself from the actual “wealth-creators” – the working class – by repeatedly attacking the trade unions, weakening the union link and announcing that it would continue to punish workers with austerity, in a desperate attempt to court the capitalist class. On May 11 Mandelson spoke of the trade unions’ “abuse and inappropriate” influence over the Labour Party.5 It was the unions themselves that voted to loosen the historic link with the Labour Party in 2014. However, in a sense Mandelson is right when he claims the unions abuse their influence in the Labour Party, but this is not in the interests of the left or the working class. Instead union officials act as the enforcers of the right’s hegemony.

It is clear what the Blairites mean when they talk about appealing to “middle class aspiration” and “wealth-creators” – they are talking about capital. They want to finish their project of transforming Labour into a bourgeois party, ridding it of “trade union influence” and hoping working class voters will have nowhere else to turn.

Scotland and Ukip

The Blairites’ silence over the electoral wipeout in Scotland is telling. Scottish Labour’s credibility as a party that could represent the working class was seriously undermined by its engagement in the cross-class Better Together campaign in the run-up to the September 2014 referendum.

Labour was unable or unwilling to attack the Tories. In the August referendum debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, Darling was unable to respond to allegations that Labour were “in bed with the Tories” because they were. It also allowed Salmond to attack Labour from the left, promising to save the NHS and stop the welfare cuts if Scotland voted ‘yes’. It was during this time that Labour began to be known in Scotland as the ‘red Tories’. For the most part this moniker was probably well deserved, although in the case of Katy Clark and other the signatories of the Left Platform it was clearly untrue.

Another enormous mistake was the election of Jim Murphy as leader of Scottish Labour. This man is an unreconstructed Blairite. During his time as president of the National Union of Students he had one vice-president unconstitutionally suspended for simply attending Campaign for Free Education meetings, which opposed Labour’s introduction of tuition fees. His behaviour as NUS president was so bad there was even an early day motion submitted by Labour Party MPs condemning his “dictatorial” behaviour. The EDM was amended by Alex Salmond.6

Salmond and the rest of Scotland know exactly who and what Jim Murphy is and quite rightly found his claims that he would “end austerity in Scotland” absolutely risible. If he would not even oppose Labour policy when he was supposed to be representing the interests of students, how could he ever represent the interests of the Scottish working class?

With the SNP landslide an absolute certainty, the Conservatives mobilised a section of the electorate against Labour with well-alliterated scaremongering about an SNP-Labour “coalition of chaos” that would “break up and bankrupt Britain”.7 This mobilisation is reflected in Labour’s failure to capitalise on the Liberal Democrat collapse by taking marginal seats from the Tories. In many of them the Lib Dem collapse saw a swing to the UK Independence Party, whose national-chauvinist rhetoric Labour proved incapable of countering. Labour’s anti-Ukip campaigning was couched in purely bourgeois terms about the economic benefits of EU membership and the net contribution of immigrants to the British economy.

Even when the party attempted to produce a policy that sounded as though it vaguely championed working class interests, such as the ban on “exploitative agencies”, it still engaged in fear-mongering about foreigners stealing jobs and suppressing wages. But for the most part it tried to out-Ukip Ukip, selling “Controls on immigration” mugs for a fiver on the Labour website. Mugs with which the totally delusional Ed Balls promised to toast a Labour victory.

Left Platform

The success of the anti-austerity Left Platform Labour MPs in the election should give everybody pause for thought. Barring the Scottish signatories of the statement, who were doomed to failure thanks to the Better Together campaign, 92% of the platform’s sitting MPs were re-elected.

John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Mearns, Michael Meacher, Ian Lavery, Grahame Morris, and Kelvin Hopkins all secured majorities comfortably above 50% – Corbyn, McDonnell and Morris won more than 60%. John Cryer, an initial signatory of the platform, enjoyed a 15% swing, which secured him a 58% majority. For his part, Chris Williamson failed to win his seat by just 41 votes, but he did manage a 3.5% swing to Labour.

The Left Platform reconvened on May 12 to discuss what to do next. John McDonnell told the meeting that the next queen’s speech would be the most reactionary the country had ever seen. He also pointed out that there would be no left candidate in the leadership election, given that a candidate now needs to be nominated by 35 MPs. An “unrealistic proposition” – especially now that the number of MPs that the Weekly Worker considered worthy of critical support has been reduced to just 15. With there being no possibility for a left candidate, comrade McDonnell, both in the meeting and in an article for The Guardian, argued that Labour needed to “return to being a social movement aiming to transform our society” and “link up with the many other progressive social movements that people are increasingly forming”.8

At the same meeting Ted Knight argued: “We’ve been marching. We’ve had the politics of protest and we’ve got a Tory government! We need to get people together – not to exchange horror stories, but to discuss how to take control of the economy, how to change society.” The problem, however, lies in transforming such rhetoric into concrete proposals and a concrete strategy.


1. www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32697212.

2. www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/10/miliband-made-terrible-mistake-in-ditching-new-labour-says-mandelson.

3. www.ft.com/cms/s/2/6ffcde0c-f6fd-11e4-99aa-00144feab7de.html.

4. www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/09/alan-johnson-labour-aspirational-voters-tony-blair.

5. www.itv.com/news/update/2015-05-10/mandelson-labour-must-end-unhealthy-unions-dependence.

6. www.parliament.uk/edm/1995-96/991.

7. www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/17/david-cameron-labour-snp-coalition-of-chaos.

8. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/12/forget-leadership-contest-new-labour-roots-social-movement-supporters-save-party.

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.

Labour: Democracy versus patronage

The stench of leader loyalty hangs over the Collins proposals to ‘mend’ Labour’s trade union link, writes Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists

Lord Collins’s proposals, to be put before delegates to Labour’s March 1 special conference, will not end the party’s trade union link, as the Blairite Progress faction would like, but they are the thin end of the wedge, and should be rejected outright. They have nothing to do with transforming Labour into a genuine party of the working class, for socialism rather than the illusion of ‘responsible capitalism’.

Where we need to break the domination of the union and party bureaucracy over the workers’ movement, Collins’s proposals are a rotten compromise made behind our backs – leaving the bureaucracies in control. Effective defence of the link requires a thoroughgoing democratisation and politicisation of both party and unions, and a fight to win all trade unions and all socialist organisations to affiliate to the party, making Labour a permanent united front of the whole class.

Although, under the proposals, trade unions at present affiliated will retain their 12 guaranteed seats on the national executive committee and their 50% vote at conference, as insisted upon by Unite in its December submission to Collins, the five-year transition to ‘opting in’ will do its work of culling the affiliated membership (and affiliation fees), setting the scene for a further undermining of the collective political input of trade unionists.

The proposal is that, from the end of 2014, new union members who wish to have part of their union dues paid to the party will have to opt in, rather than being automatically affiliated with the right to opt out. Existing Labour Link members will have to opt in within five years if they wish to continue paying the political levy to Labour. Then, those affiliated members who wish to participate in Labour Party matters can choose to be “associate members” of the party, and get to vote in party leader and deputy leader elections, among other things. Levy payers who do not choose to become associate party members will lose their present right to vote. Significantly, the party will have direct contact with the associate members, not via their trade union as at present.

According to Jon Lansman, proposals “seen as the basis for … agreement between Ed Miliband and the trade unions” were circulated for discussion by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. The CLPD proposals involved “Meeting Ed Miliband’s aspiration” to impose individual opting in to affiliated membership, and “Meeting trade union aspirations for a continuing collective voice in the affairs of the party they founded, and sustainable levels of voting and representation.”1However a February 3 blog comment by CLPD secretary Peter Willsman clearly condemns the opting in system:

“In 1927, as a vindictive response to the General Strike, the Tories brought in opting in, in order to weaken the Labour Party and undermine the influence within the LP of the organised working class. In 1946 the Labour government repealed this anti-working class legislation. The Tories have always wanted to bring it back and, no doubt, so have many in the misnomer organisation which calls itself ‘Progress’. Sadly, what is being proposed is closer to the Tories in 1927 than Labour in 1946. CLPD will be sending a critique to CLPs, with suggestions (to be sent to Ed) that would make the proposals less of a gift for ‘Progress’. But, if the sham ‘consultation’ is anything to go by, Ed has a tin ear.”2

In my view, the right to opt out of the union’s political fund is a legally imposed right to scab, which should be overthrown, along with all anti-trade union laws.

The whole process of the Collins review has been an insult to democracy, to rank-and-file party members and trade unionists, and to the NEC. After 13 years of tolerating the packing of constituency selection meetings by Progress, a shadowy rightwing organisation heavily funded by Lord Sainsbury, Ed Miliband used the Tory media frenzy over Unite’s mobilisation of trade unionists in Falkirk to announce his project to refashion the party – without first consulting the NEC, which had to play catch-up. Then, instead of submitting concrete proposals to annual conference, the “spring conference” was announced to pre-date and circumvent the annual autumn trade union conferences, removing their opportunity to debate the proposals and submit their own alternatives.

Collins, in his “interim report”, then invited submissions along the lines of ‘How do you think we can fulfil Ed’s vision?’, up to the Christmas Eve deadline, after which he could cherry-pick the suggestions he (or Miliband) prefers. Party organisations and affiliates met for collective discussion, but with no concrete proposals before them which they could amend. When the Collins report was finally circulated to the NEC immediately before its February 4 meeting, it did not even contain a summary of the content of the submissions. What did the party tell Collins? We do not know.

So why don’t NEC members speak out against this travesty of democracy? Jon Lansman explains:

“If you follow LabourList, you will have seen in recent days arguments from front-benchers on right and left who are privately unhappy about key aspects of the Collins proposals as to why you should nevertheless back them. Be not persuaded by the arguments ritually presented by those who depend on the patronage of the leader! This is not free expression! This is merely a requirement of their position.”3

So there is another item for the CLPD to tack on to its list of demands aimed at democratising the party: Abolish the post of leader, and let us apply some republican democracy to the party: eg, all officials electable and recallable; all officials on a skilled worker’s wage.


1. ‘Labour’s reshuffle – and what it means for party reform’ Left FuturesOctober 8: www.leftfu­tures.org/2013/10/labours-reshuffle-and-what-it-means-for-party-reform.

2. ‘Seven reasons to be wary of the Collins pro­posals’ Left FuturesFebruary 3: www.leftfutures.org/2014/02/seven-reasons-to-be-wary-of-the-collins-proposals

3. Ibid.

Labour: Inching to the left

In view of Labour’s marginal shift, the new ‘broad left’ party proposed by Left Unity’s Left Party Platform is worse than useless, writes Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists

Labour’s recent minor moves to the left are aimed at winning back some of its lost core support. Putting more space between itself and the Tories may aid the election of a Labour government on May 7 2015 – but a Labour government committed to running British capitalism will not bring socialism a single step closer.

Nor will deflecting socialists from the vital task of transforming Labour into a real workers’ party. But that is the apparent aim of those like Left Unity’s Left Party Platform, which wants to see the establishment of a ‘broad left’ alternative to Labour, even though prospects for recreating old Labour in a new mass party – however unlikely it already was – will always be undermined by marginal shifts of the type undertaken by Ed Miliband.

Transforming Labour into an umbrella organisation for all trade unions, socialist organisations and working class bodies of all kinds – a permanent united front of the class – is the central aim of Labour Party Marxists.1Not an easy task, and one that requires the organised unity of Marxists, not our present organised disunity – the proverbial 57 varieties of competing, and therefore ineffective, revolutionary groups. In the unlikely event that Socialist Platform or the Communist Platform is adopted at the November 30 LU conference, the new party should set about this strategic task – in line with the aims, too, of the Labour Representation Committee, to unite all socialist and workers’ organisations in the Labour Party.

Ed Miliband is right to deny the Daily Mail’s gross exaggeration that Labour has “lurched to the left” (October 12). But the party has certainly inched in that direction. Blairite ‘triangulation’ – the cynical electioneering technique of tailoring policies to compete for the floating voter and the political centre – seems to have been put aside for the time being and, while the promise to continue economic austerity under Labour still stands, Miliband has announced a number of measures designed to motivate the party’s core working class voters to get themselves to the polling booth.

As well as his popular last-minute turn against endorsing a US attack on Syria, we have had pledges to build 200,000 homes a year, repeal the hated bedroom tax and freeze energy prices for 20 months – a hugely popular policy with the millions facing rising prices on fixed incomes or feeling the effects of years of public-sector wage freeze.

Although he rejects his ‘Red Ed’ label and denies the party’s “lurch to the left”, Miliband was seen on breakfast TV on his morning walkabout before party conference responding positively to what may well have been a planted question from a member of the public: “What about socialism?” With the Tory press asking whether his conference speech puts us back to ‘capitalism versus socialism’, Miliband is not afraid to say ‘yes’ in public to socialism – unlike the Socialist Resistance language police in Left Unity, who prefer to hide their socialist light under a bushel, so as not to frighten away timid supporters by using nasty words.

Elsewhere, of course, ‘Red Ed’ makes clear his commitment to so-called ‘responsible capitalism’ – a utopian illusion. Capital’s inherent drive for self-expansion, regardless of the consequences, can overcome all barriers except one – the working class, the class of wage workers which capital creates and reproduces, and whose work creates and reproduces capital.

But his energy price-freeze pledge shows that he is not worshipping the market, as both Blair and Brown did. They took working class support for granted, thinking we had no-one else we could vote for – and eventually five million Labour voters stayed at home and let Cameron into No10. Now Miliband is speaking out against the Tories and getting some people excited by the prospect of a few crumbs.

Whereas Blair courted Murdoch and the Tory press, Miliband is on the offensive to curb the excesses of the media, including harassment by phone-hacking, and has taken on the Daily Mail with a vengeance. The Mail has followed up its smear attack on Ed via his Marxist father, Ralph, with a similarly dishonest attack on Miliband and Labour via its newly adopted prospective parliamentary candidate for Chippenham, ‘Red Andy’ Newman, who it represents as an “apologist for Stalin”.2

In short, Miliband is working to a different agenda, almost certainly shaped by the deal being worked out behind closed doors to modify the Labour-trade union link, now that the Falkirk candidate selections showdown has subsided – a compromise designed to leave intact and unaccountable both the dominant Parliamentary Labour Party and the Brewers Green HQ, on the one hand, and the trade union bureaucracy which finances it, on the other. The compromise deal is being settled behind the backs or over the heads of the rank and file. The deal will be endorsed by the special party conference now planned for March 2014.

In Miliband’s October reshuffle, the three senior shadow cabinet ministers most associated with Tony Blair – Jim Murphy, Liam Byrne and Stephen Twigg – were demoted in what has been dubbed the “cull of Blairites” (but left MP Diane Abbott was ditched too, presumably for premature opposition to a military attack on Syria).

According to Atul Hatwal on the Labour Uncut website, the appointment of Jon Trickett as ‘deputy chair’ to lead on party reform tells us that Miliband is not going to appeal “over the heads of union leaders to the rank and file”, but “wants to do a deal with the union bosses”. The “reform pill” which the unions must swallow if Miliband is not to lose face is “the requirement for trade union levy payers to opt in to paying some of their political levy towards Labour”.3

In exchange, “the union block vote at conference will remain, the unions will retain a separate electoral college in the leadership election and the union reservation of 12 places out of 33 on the NEC (compared to six places reserved for CLP members) will stay”. And there will be “an extension and entrenchment of the electoral college at CLP level”, justified by “parallel management and voting structures”.

Writing on the Left Futures website, Jon Lansman reminds us that this kind of rotten compromise was circulated for discussion months ago by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy “as the basis for just such an agreement between Ed Miliband and the trade unions”. The CLPD proposals involved “Meeting Ed Miliband’s aspiration” to impose (my word – SK) individual opting-in to affiliated membership, and “Meeting trade union aspirations for a continuing collective voice in the affairs of the party they founded, and sustainable levels of voting and representation.”4

This manoeuvre, politely described as “delinking the collective representation of trade unions in the structures of the party from the involvement of individual trade unionists in the life of the party”, may be a happy compromise between entrenched bureaucrats, parliamentary and trade union, who function as masters, rather than servants, of our labour movement. However, it leaves them as unaccountable as before, and sets up collective representation for further erosion. 


1. www.labourpartymarxists.org.uk/aims-and-principles.

2. Daily Mail October 12.

3. www.labour-uncut.co.uk, October 8.

4. ‘Labour’s reshuffle – and what it means for party reform’: www.leftfutures.org, October 8.  

Labour Party: Safe for capitalism

Calling Miliband ‘Red Ed’ is a joke, writes Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists

Listening to Ed Miliband and Ed Balls dispensing policies from above at party conference tells us all we need to know about the hollowed-out condition of Labour Party democracy. Conference should be the highest authority in the party, where delegates from constituency parties and affiliated organisations decide policy that is binding on representatives, on local councils and in parliament. Instead, we have a media rally, in which delegates are reduced to fawning acolytes of the leader and shadow cabinet members in a disgusting display of undemocracy.

Not only has the straightforward process of members submitting motions for conference through their local party organisation been supplanted by the opaque system of policy commissions, but this perversity itself is kicked aside when the leadership decides to announce a new policy.

And in the face of the ongoing decline and crisis of the capitalist system, what miserable policies they offer. A few crumbs and soundbites, wrapped up in firm promises of continuing cuts and austerity should Labour be elected in 2015.

As Ed Miliband put it, “It is going to be tough. We are going to have to stick to strict spending limits to get the deficit down.” Likewise, Ed Balls promised “economic responsibility and fiscal rigour”, which is somehow different from the policy of “this out-of-touch, Tory-led government”. “Labour will always make different choices. We will combine iron discipline on spending controls with a fairer approach to deficit reduction.”

Nevertheless, the rightwing press is already announcing the return of ‘Red Ed’ because of the policy changes he has announced. In place of Tory tax cuts for 80,000 large businesses, Labour will cut business rates for 1.5 million small businesses. The minimum wage has been falling in value (but so have all our wages!), so Labour will “strengthen” it – ie, restore it to its original magnificent value, and increase fines against employers who pay less – in order to “make work pay for millions in our country”. Labour will “reset the market” and “freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017”. The bedroom tax will be repealed, and by 2020 “we will be building 200,000 homes a year”. To facilitate this, private developers who “just sit on land and refuse to build” will be told, “Either use the land or lose the land”. Lastly, voting rights will be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds to “make them part of our democracy”.

Ed Balls announced a “compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed”. Oh, good, you might think – employers will be forced to provide jobs. Unfortunately the “compulsory” applies to the worker, not the employer: “And we will work with employers to make sure there will be a paid job for all young people out of work for more than 12 months and adults out of work for two years or more, which people will have to take up or lose benefits.”

In his conference speech, Ed Miliband said not a word about Syria. It was left to Balls to proudly emphasise Labour’s imperialist war credentials: “It is the Labour leader,” he said, “who on Syria had the courage to stand up and say that if the case was sound and the United Nations was properly engaged, Labour would support military action … No Labour government will ever stand aside when terrible atrocities are committed and international law is broken.”

Despite the promised crumbs, the ‘next Labour government’ under the two Eds – if it happens, which is by no means certain – will be a government of British capitalism, not a government of the working class. It will be an anti-working class government because its political programme is to run British capitalism. Like previous Labour governments to date, it will be able to attack the working class ‘in the national interest’ all the more effectively because it is ‘our government’.

Socialist programme 


The Labour Representation Committee, which has its annual conference on Saturday November 23,1 aims to transform the Labour Party into a real workers’ party, into an umbrella organisation of all working class and socialist organisations, to fight for working class interests and socialism. It also aims for the election of a Labour government. But it needs to put these two aims in the right order.

As Labour Party Marxists argued in a motion two years ago, “A Labour government which runs capitalism will be counterproductive for the workers’ movement.” The motion continued: “History shows that Labour governments committed to managing the capitalist system and loyal to the existing constitutional order create disillusionment in the working class.” Consequently, “the Labour Party should only consider forming a government when it has the active support of a clear majority of the population and has a realistic prospect of implementing a full socialist programme”.2

Getting socialists elected to parliament, from where they can champion the movement, is a good idea. It is running a capitalist government, or joining one, which is counterproductive. The movement can only be re-educated in socialist politics and rebuilt into a mass movement in struggle against any capitalist government, whatever its political colour, until the working class is capable of sweeping the system away. It cannot be built by sacrificing socialist principles and selling out working class struggles for the electoral success of political careerists.

Seen in this light, the two Eds are clearly part of the problem, not part of the solution. That is why I take issue with comrade John McDonnell’s “verdict on Ed Miliband’s conference speech” on the website of the Left Economics Advisory Panel, which displays unwarranted hope that a Miliband government might be a stepping stone towards socialism. I have not seen this “strategy” spelled out before, so I will quote it in full. It goes a long way to explain the ambiguity of the LRC’s political behaviour:

“Since Ed Miliband became leader, the strategy of the left has been to make issues safe for him by building support within and outside the party issue by issue. Only when it’s safe is he confident about moving on an issue. Today’s speech demonstrated that we are setting the agenda, but there’s so much further to go. A major house-building programme is needed, but it needs to be public housing alongside rent controls to stop landlords profiteering from housing benefits.

“Challenging the scapegoating of unemployed and disabled people needs to be made a reality by scrapping the rigged capability tests associated with Atos and abolishing workfare. Time-limited price controls won’t end the rip-offs. A clear commitment to end privatisation is needed, especially in the NHS, and to bring rail, water and energy back into public ownership, plus, if it goes ahead, Royal Mail.

“To tackle low pay, we need to make the minimum wage a living wage by right, re-establish trade union rights and restore a commitment to full employment. People already suspect this is a recovery for the rich and ongoing recession for the rest. This is exactly the time when people want more radical action. Make today’s speech a beginning.”3

Such faith in Ed Miliband’s socialist potential is quite touching, but I must remind you, John:we are talking class struggle and socialism; Ed Miliband is talking ‘one nation’ class-collaboration and capitalism – including imperialist war, as Ed Balls made explicit.

Union link


Harriet Harman opened the ‘debate’ on the interim report by Lord Ray Collins published immediately prior to conference, entitledBuilding a one nation Labour Party – perhaps an appropriate title for a process designed to weaken the Labour-union link and bury the class struggle.

“You could not have anyone better than Ray,” she told us, “to listen to everyone’s views and to draw them together.” And there, in a nutshell, is the method of Labour Party ‘democracy’ today. You get to express your views, as in an employer’s suggestion box. Those above “listen”, so you feel grateful and wanted. Then they cherry-pick the ideas they want, and tell you it’s what you have collectively chosen.

Lord Collins stressed how proud he was to be a trade unionist and told us not to worry – Labour should “retain the constitutional collective voice of the unions”. Ed wanted to “mend the link, not end the link”, he claimed. But it has to change, so that it is “open and transparent”.

The interim report covers more than the union link, however. It sets out what ‘Ed wants’ in a renewed relationship with the unions, in which, Ray assures us, collective affiliation will not be touched; the development of standardised constituency development plans (more central control?); primaries, starting with the London mayor contest; and “fairness and transparency” in the selection of candidates. Each section has a series of questions along the lines of ‘How shall we fulfil Ed’s idea?’ Everything will be settled at the special conference in March 2014.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny, speaking on behalf of all 14 Labour-affiliated trade unions, organised in the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation (Tulo), said: “The removal or sale of our collective voice is not on the agenda. We are certainly not going to accept any advice on democracy and transparency from the people who brought us the ‘cash for honours’ scandals or whose activities are funded by cash from wealthy outsiders who refuse to give to the party, but prefer to lay cuckoos in CLP nests.”

He went on: “We think the real debate this week is about jobs, homes, living standards, employment rights, not irrelevant navel-gazing about internal party structures, which frankly the British public do not give a fig about … Now let us get on with the real business of winning back millions of voters to ensure we bring the hope and social justice the British people deserve.”

Eerily, this philistine approach of belittling the vital question of the struggle for real democracy – in our movement, as well as in society at large – is common to both the left and the bureaucracies of the trade unions and of the Labour Party. For the working class to liberate itself from capitalism, democracy in our own movement is a precondition. Only through a combination of open discussion and unity in action can we sort out our differences, develop class-consciousness and become capable of leading society out of the abyss of declining and crisis-ridden capitalism.

Transforming the Labour Party into an instrument fit for working class purpose necessarily means democratising the trade unions which form its base. The status quo, with unions dominated by entrenched bureaucracies, makes them ineffective as a means of defence. Democratising the unions to make the bureaucracies into servants instead of masters is “the real debate” – and will make all the difference in the world to the struggle for “jobs, homes, living standards, employment rights”.


1. See www.l-r-c.org.uk.

2. LRC AGM, January 15 2011. The motion was defeated.

3. http://leap-lrc.blogspot.co.uk.

STWC: Main enemy is at home

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists reports on the September 14 Stop the War Coalition AGM
Despite the war threat against Syria. Despite the temporary boost given to the anti-war movement by the August 29 parliamentary vote against a military attack on Syria. Despite David Cameron’s humiliation, attendance at the 2013 annual conference of the Stop the War Coalition at Westminster University was down to less than 100. This was compared to the 200-plus in March 2012 and over 300 at the 2010 conference. That was the first year in which the Socialist Workers Party no longer mobilised its rank and file to attend, after John Rees, Lindsey German and Chris Nineham split off from the SWP to form Counterfire.

The coalition has been suffering from a lack of foot-soldiers ever since, and the appearance of new faces on local demonstrations immediately prior to the parliamentary vote was not reflected in attendance at conference. Although the SWP’s Judith Orr chaired half of the conference, few SWPers were present and the organisation’s Party Notes circulated two days later made no mention of Stop the War.

The coalition’s lack of numbers, however, is now compensated for by its gain in prestige, with official recognition by the Trades Union Congress. In 2003, although the TUC had opposed the invasion of Iraq, STWC vice-president Andrew Murray explained, it had “stood aloof from the movement”. Now, in its September 11 statement on Syria, the TUC general council committed itself to “strongly oppose external military intervention” and to “work with civil society organisations, including … the Stop the War Coalition.”

As we know, Ed Miliband had agreed to back an attack on Syria, but had a very late change of mind. This, and the rebellion of some Tory MPs, can only be due to the anti-war pressure of public opinion, with sitting MPs fearing loss of votes. No doubt the campaigning by Stop the War over the years has played its part, but it is the transparent horrors of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq which have disabused public opinion of the illusion of humanitarian intervention.

“We stopped Cameron, but Obama still plans war,” proclaimed STWC’s August 30 statement. But by the time they reached conference, the ‘officers group’ had sobered up, tempered their triumphalism somewhat, and recognised that public opinion against an attack on Syria had other sources besides their campaigning. “What produced that vote?” asked comrade Rees. “We helped. But the mass experience of war did not match the media story. And the resistance over there played its part.” STWC had “mounted effective opposition”. It was “not just public opinion,” he argued. “Compare the privatisation of Royal Mail”, which is going ahead despite being very unpopular. And why did opposition break first here, and not in France, not in the US? “Because of the consistent campaigning of STWC,” he claimed.

There were attempts from the various STWC officers to characterise the significance of the August 29 vote. Jeremy Corbyn, chairing, said the vote had been a “mea culpa” for many MPs, who felt guilty about voting for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. “We are into a historical change in relations between the west and the rest of the world,” he claimed – but then hedged: “But not for ever”. Chris Nineham, in similar vein, spoke of “a breakthrough in the movement”. STWC had “mobilised thousands in last few weeks”, he gushed. “Lindsey now gets invited onto TV. We need clarity and unity, to unite all the forces against austerity and war.” All the forces? At last, I thought, Hands Off the People of Iran will be able to take its rightful place in Stop the War – not!

Guardian journalist Seamus Milne said that the western powers are in disarray – “but was this a body swerve, or a retreat?” Public opinion does matter, he said. The ‘war on terror’ had become “an orgy of torture, not human rights”. It had also “revealed the inability of the US to impose its will – the limits of the first truly global empire”.

The British ruling class always and everywhere does foreign policy in its own selfish, exploitative and oppressive interests – never in order to ‘save lives’. What a pleasure it was to see the arrogant bourgeois persuaders, after confidently pumping out their war propaganda, suddenly brought to a grinding halt on the buffers of obstinate public opinion. As Abe Lincoln said, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time”.

The famous aphorism of Clausewitz is that “War is the continuation of politics by other means”. In other words, war is a form of politics. But politics is always class politics. In war, the interests of one ruling class is pitted against the interests of another ruling class. The working class is mobilised in support of our own rulers, thereby strengthening their power over us. The independent politics of the working class means opposing the foreign policy and military adventures of our ‘own’ ruling class, preventing them from strengthening their hold over us by exploiting and oppressing others. The main enemy is at home.

So the struggle against imperialist wars, and to end war once and for all, should be seen as part and parcel of the political struggle of the working class to supersede capitalism and class society. The anti-war struggle needs independent working class politics . And working class politics can only be thrashed out through thoroughgoing democracy – freedom of discussion, unity in action.

Unfortunately, freedom of discussion is not the method of the bureaucratic clique which runs the Stop the War Coalition. It evidently prefers to keep conference – and local groups – free of sharp political debate. God forbid that political differences should be thrashed out openly. But their war on politics can only mean protecting their own politics from being challenged.

‘Guidelines for local groups’, submitted to conference by the ‘officers group’, waxed eloquent about the breadth of opinion in the coalition: “Stop the War represents the opinion of the vast majority of people in this country on foreign policy.” This is indeed a strange phenomenon, since it is led by a variety of self-styled Marxists.

Local groups must “work hard to ensure the widest possible participation in order to reflect this breadth of opinion”. Stop the War has “very wide backing, symbolised by the recent support from the TUC congress”. Groups must “get as broad a leadership as possible, always looking to involve new activists”.

Groups must “maximise the … impact of … our arguments”. While we should “encourage wide discussion”, public meetings should “focus on the key campaigning issues and on the main task of ending western intervention, not on potentially divisive political debates”.

Well, which political debates, I wonder, are not “potentially divisive”? And what exactly are to be “our arguments”, if not ones arrived at through “potentially divisive political debates”? And what if ‘ordinary people’ turn up to our public meetings, and start asking “potentially divisive” questions or expressing “potentially divisive” views?

Several speakers had raised issues which they thought should be linked to opposition to military attack: anti-austerity, anti-racism, immigration, defence of whistleblowers, freedom of information and the stifling of debate.

Chris Nineham, in moving the guidelines, said: “The left will have its political debates, but not inside Stop the War, because that would be divisive.” Matt Willgress from North London, under the rubric of teaching us ordinary folk ‘How to build a local group’, explained that “people would rather lobby MPs than debate about the Syrian left with the usual suspects”. Philistinism rules OK!

Nevertheless, Andrew Murray, agreeing with my assertion that “the main enemy is at home”, conceded that “No-one is saying we can’t debate differences, but we must keep our eye on the ball.”

Sami Ramadani urged us to “distinguish patriotic resistance from terrorism in Iraq (where I was born)”. The most popular platform speaker, he advised us to “celebrate a great victory – but do it quickly, as they will get back at us very soon”. He congratulated the British parliament “for listening to British people, for once”, and the US people “for not listening, for a change, to Fox News”. The more ‘peace president’ Obama preached war, the more the American people wanted peace, he said. And he happily dished out congratulations to the French people, the Syrian people (“Yes, there is a democratic opposition”), the Iranian people and the Egyptian people, who all “forced their government to oppose an attack on Syria”. Congrats to STWC too, he said: “Unity is the key to opposition to imperialist intervention, and support for the struggles of the people for democracy.”

So steer clear of “divisive” debates.