London Labour: the left wins, but what does it stand for?

By a London Labour conference delegate

At the London Labour Party conference on 2 and 3 March, the left slate organised by Momentum and others won an overwhelming majority of regional board positions elected by CLP delegates (the rest are chosen by affiliates, mainly the unions), losing only two places. Until now the right wing was in control.

(For a summary of who got what, LabourList’s report.)

The left winning good pretty comprehensively is good, obviously. The slate was more diverse politically than you might have feared given the forces behind it (Momentum, with all that implies, plus the Socialist Action-run London Labour Left group), and some of those elected are good activists. But it was very noticeable that the official left concentrated almost entirely on winning the elections. Most of it contributed little in terms of policies, proposals and campaigning.

Unlike a number of other Labour Party regional conferences, the London one does take motions (see here for the final composited texts). The effectiveness of this in terms of producing democratic control or lively political debate is limited both by the way the motions are taken, with no speeches against, no amendments and not even the right to delete parts – and by a culture in which people do not seek to draw out political differences and there seems to be little expectation motions will actually be carried out.

However, the basic fact of motions did produce some debate, controversy and, depending whether they are implemented, important decisions. But by and large that did not come from Momentum or its friends.

Much of the most interesting and important stuff at the conference came from the more radical left, in various forms – including The Clarion and various campaigns we are involved in.

Momentum did produce some, mostly bland, model motions, but given its weight seemed to have made little effort to get them submitted. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy ‘Yellow Pages’ bulletin for the conference was mostly election-focused, plus a short article essentially about how important various issues are and the brilliance of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies for tackling them.

So what did the more radical left, with our more limited resources but a much bigger and better stock of ideas, fight for? (For background see the article we published before the conference.)

Motions

London Communication Workers’ Union submitted an adapted version of The Clarion motion on workers’ rights, including calls for London Labour to support precarious workers’ struggles and campaign for “the abolition of all the anti-union laws introduced by the Thatcher, Major and Cameron Governments”.

In a warning shot that should be heeded, Unite’s London and Eastern Region Secretary Pete Kavanagh spoke in the debate to say something like “It’s not about repealing the anti-union laws, it’s about positive workers’ rights”. If I’ve got that wrong I hope Pete will write in to correct me.

Two Clarion-promoted motions in the ‘Local Government Austerity’ section, one on having a real campaign to reverse council cuts and the other on Labour councils and migrants/’No recourse to public funds’ (see below) were composited with other anti-cuts motions and passed overwhelmingly. The composite – which was opposed only by some fringe right-wingers from Vauxhall – passed overwhelmingly and commits London Labour to doing really quite a lot. Again, the question will be getting it carried out.

The more left-wing anti-Brexit motions, including the Labour for a Socialist Europe one calling for a special conference, were ruled out of order, but a more boring one which nevertheless opposed Brexit and call for a new referendum was passed with just under 80pc voting for and a lot of abstentions.

Two other motions caused more controversy:

The climate change composite included a commitment to “halting airport expansion” – which was not, please note, in the model climate motion promoted by Momentum. Unite and GMB opposed this on the conservative “trade unionist” grounds we’ve come to expect – anti-social counterposition of their members’ supposed interests to the wider interests of society and the planet, and tying themselves to the bosses of the industry rather than seeking workers’ control over what kind of work is done. Unison and smaller unions voted the right way, however, and the motion narrowly passed.

Two motions on violent crime, a reasonably good one from Camberwell and Peckham CLP and one from train drivers’ union ASLEF calling for more police, were composited. Since we were not allowed to take parts Raquel Palmeira from Hornsey and Wood Green rightly got up and opposed it for the reasons you’d imagine – the police exist to protect property, they target black people, migrants and youth, and at the very least Labour should focus on reversing austerity and providing decent jobs, homes and services, not on defending the policy. She got heckled but heckled back. Only about 10pc of the conference voted against, but it’s good the argument was raised.

Campaigns and struggles

The more radical left, again distinct from Momentum et al, also led the way on initiatives off conference floor.

Momentum did organise networking between left delegates and held a social in the evening. But it was all fundamentally self-congratulatory and apolitical. Even fairly “safe” campaigning like the comrades promoting the new project around Labour and homelessness was not organised by the official left.

RMT London Transport activists lobbied the conference about Sadiq Khan’s treatment of Transport for London workers, including London Underground’s outsourced, low-paid, terribly treated cleaners. The same comrade who made a fuss about the police challenged him about this from the conference floor and got a predictably crap reply. We should have organised seriously to oppose his renomination!

Maria Exall and Pete Firmin from the LRC held a lunchtime fringe meeting on democratising the Labour-union link and the issue of the anti-union laws.

Lewisham Deptford and Bethnal Green and Bow CLPs submitted a motion on Labour councils’ collaboration with the Home Office against migrants, particularly in connection to ‘No recourse to public funds’ policies. The Labour Campaign for Free Movement worked with activists from the two CLPs and with The Clarion to organise a very good fringe meeting on this, attended by 35 people despite the conference finishing extremely late. This brought together people from all over London and seems like it will lay the basis for stepped up campaigning. No doubt more soon.

The test of the left on the regional board will be what it does to help support these kind of initiatives, particularly those linked to policy passed by the conference.

I would urge Clarion-supporters and other radical socialists to stand for the conference next year. With more solid left organising among delegates we could have done more.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.com

1 Comment

  1. The article seems to be characterising a Regional as a mini national conference or the campaigns that would be organised by CLPs or local forums. It is not meant to replicate that which is appropriately addressed at national or local level but seek out attention for what it best addresses at the Regional level. We couldn’t have the barmy position of one region wishing to respect the referendum outcome and another rejecting it for example could we?

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