John McDonnell Assesses Brown's New Labour Party at Bournemouth

Submitted by martin on 6 October, 2007 - 8:24

John McDonnell MP, who ran a left challenge for the Labour Party leadership earlier this year, has issued the following statement assessing the Labour Party's Bournemouth decision to shut down future Labour Party conferences by banning all "current" motions from unions or local Labour Parties.

AFTER the events at the TUC and Labour Party conference, it is time for the left to take a hard-nosed look at where we go from here.

First of all, we have to face up to the harsh realities of the new political world in which we are operating.

The historical path of the left stems from working people coming together in the workplace and discovering their strength through solidarity. Nourished by socialist ideas, they recognised that, if they wanted to exercise power beyond the workplace, they needed political representation. So the Labour Party was born.

Democratic party structures were established to develop the policy programmes to be implemented when power was achieved.

This week's vote to close down democratic decision-making at the Labour Party conference and Gordon Brown's first speech as leader demonstrated that the old strategy is largely over. The conference is now virtually irrelevant and its replacement, the National Policy Forum, is a behind-closed-doors exercise of centralised control of party policy-making.

Brown's speeches at both the TUC and Labour conference demonstrated decisively how much he fundamentally believes in the principles of neoliberalism - the dominance of the market, flexible labour and privatisation.

Even if there was the potential to use what is left of the party's structures to attempt to influence him, it is clear that the overall political direction of the Brown government is non-negotiable.

The left has the difficult task of accepting and explaining to others that the old routes into the exercise of power and influence involving internal Labour Party mobilisations and manoeuvres have largely been closed down. We have to face up to the challenge of identifying and developing new routes into effective political activity.

The contradiction is that the more undemocratic the Labour Party becomes, the more it cuts itself off from the real world at a time when new social movements are emerging.

People may be increasingly giving up on political parties, but they haven’t given up on politics. They still want to challenge the injustices they meet in our society and they are devising a multitude of mechanisms to do so, from independent media and climate camps to affinity groups organising direct action.

New social movements have mobilised on a vast array of issues ranging from climate change, asylum rights, to housing and arms sales. Many trade unions have also rediscovered their roots as social movements themselves in their new campaigns on everything from private equity to the exploitation of migrant workers.

New alliances are being forged and, where trade union leaderships have been incorporated as supporters of the status quo, rank-and-file activity within their unions is re-emerging and organising.

The difficult task for the left now is to appreciate that new strategies, new coalitions of forces and, above all else, a new dynamism are needed to deal with the new political environment where the traditional routes have been so narrowed.

The left needs to open itself to co-operation with progressive campaigns within our community, learning from them, treating them with mutual respect, rejecting any patronising or sectarian approach and, where needed, to serve as the catalyst to instigate and facilitate campaigning activity. Creativity is also needed to stimulate the analysis, debate and discussion of the ideas and principles which we may share in our wish to transform our society.

The main political parties are increasingly seen as irrelevant to the real-world issues facing our communities, resulting in declining participation rates and election turnouts and deepening scepticism.

This doesn't mean that people are apathetic. Far from it.

There is a growing radical nature to our times and an opportunity for a period of exciting, frenetic activity capable of creating a climate of progressive hegemony which no government could immunise itself from no matter how ruthlessly it closes down democracy in its own party.


Submitted by martin on Mon, 01/10/2007 - 11:31

40-50 there. 5 AWL, Socialist Appeal, PR, CPGB/WW. Most others local W. Yorkshire activists.

The meeting was chaotically organised but came down to a discussion about how to fight the BNP while waiting for speakers to arrive, speeches from MPs and Brian Caton, Gen. Sec. of the POA and then a discussion with McDonnell on the situation in the LP and where to go now. Caton's speech was interesting for our discussion of the POA dispute - I'll write something separate about that.

The discussion on the future of the LP was dominated by a clear line between those for whom last week's decision on LP Conference was a turning point (us, McDonnell, PR) and those for whom it was 'business as usual' (Soc. Appeal and many of the non-aligned activists). Socialist Appeal set the tone for the second group by just getting up and literally shouting 'You have to be in the Labour Party', without any indication of what it was possible to do there (other than taking positions in moribund Labour Parties).

McDonnell argued very strongly that last week was a turning point but rather than proposing anything practical to reverse it, seemed to say the game was up and "the old strategy was over.. and the idea of the unions reclaiming the LP had failed too." (This despite him saying he thought the left could have won at Bournemouth "if the trade unions had drawn a line in the sand.")

His contribution largely consisted of the position outlined in the document posted above, i.e. that we should go outside the LP to link up with all sorts of campaigns in building a sort of general counter-hegemonic movement for socialism. In this, the unions are just one social movement among many.

It occurred to me that this is probably in his head something of a re-run of the GLC of the 80s. The whole package was contradictory in that despite saying the left could do nothing effective in the LP, he didn't advocate leaving or an alternative. Rather he saw this action outside the LP as somehow creating an atmosphere such that the left inside the LP could no longer be marginalised despite the absence of democratic structures. The idea that these movements and the unions required political representation was totally left out of his speech - it obviously reflects the fact that he has discovered the 'anti-capitalist' movement.

Accordingly, he sees the role of the LRC as the structure that will bring together the social movements and LP activists and is intending to propose that LRC conference is thrown open to all the social movements however defined. Whatever the merits of this in the abstract, it amounts to a major de-focussing of the LRC from the practical steps it could take now to prepare a fightback against Brown's plan
and preparing the ground for an alternative in the event of our defeat.


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