If Parliament can restart, so should the Labour Party

By Mohan Sen

Parliament is set to reopen virtually on 21 April, as Keir Starmer among others has demanded.

That’s good: it will subject the Tories to more, badly needed, scrutiny. But if Parliament can meet, why can’t the Labour Party start having meetings again too?

In general Labour’s response to the crisis has been to shut down as a party, including by stopping pretty much all meetings and activity. Beyond some muted encouragement for local mutual aid groups at the start, the Labour Party as such – as opposed to many Labour activists – has played little role in struggles during the pandemic. There is a similar problem in many, though not all, trade unions.

We should try to change this. Whatever the physical difficulties, now more than ever we need political structures to keep people connected, facilitate discussion and debate, and express demands to deal with the crisis. Not that the difficulties are that great: Labour Party meetings can easily be held by Zoom or similar, and in fact many are being held, informally.

We should push for Labour to allow and indeed encourage CLPs and branches to restart formal, decision-making meetings. Labour’s National Executive should meet by Zoom and report its deliberations. Meanwhile local parties (and union branches) should organise get-togethers of various sorts, including political discussions, speakers and online social events.

The aim should be to raise members’ spirits, encourage political discussion and education, pull as many as possible back into collective organisation, and re-enable democratic control over what the Labour Party says and does.

At least some Labour Parties are doing this already, or starting to. On 21 April, the day Parliament reopens, Ouseburn branch in Newcastle is holding a widely-advertised Zoom meeting about the Covid-19 crisis, with a member involved in organising a local mutual aid group speaking.

Ouseburn chair Ed Whitby explained: “We wanted to bring members together to discuss the issues and get the branch going again. It has had a great response and I’m really looking forward to seeing my Labour comrades at the meeting. This is definitely something other Labour Parties should try.”

Raise this idea in your local party or union if you haven’t. Let us know about your meetings and events: theclarionmag@gmail.com

We should also discuss possibilities for campaigning. All kinds of campaign groups and networks have organised campaigning activity during the lockdown, some of it quite effective. Stalls and large, clustered demonstrations aren’t possible at the moment, but many other forms of activity are.

Waking up the Labour Party and labour movement is necessary to bring greater pressure to bear on the government and inform and shape public opinion as the disastrous nature of its Covid-19 policy (all its policies, in fact) becomes more glaring.

As part of that, it is also necessary for pushing the Labour leadership out of its bland quarter-support for the government and onto the path of at least minimal struggle.

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

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