The Labour Left at its worst

Submitted by Matthew on 11 July, 2012 - 1:02

About a hundred people gathered in London on Saturday [7 July] to determine the future of Labour Briefing, whether it should remain an independent magazine or become the house journal of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) of which John McDonnell is the chair.

It decided, by 44 to 37 votes with a few abstentions, to go with the LRC. Although the debate was surprisingly cordial and everyone behaved well on the day, it was an old fashioned faction-fight with people on both sides seething with anger and bitterness.

London Labour Briefing, as it was called at its inception, arose as the mouth piece of the alliance which made Ken Livingstone leader of the Greater London Council in 1981, and saw the left sweep to power in town halls across London the following year. Cuts in council income and spending saw its base narrow amidst recriminations after the collapse of the campaign against rate-capping and bitter divisions between Ken and his then deputy, John McDonnell...

There are different views on why it has disappeared under the wing of the LRC. Some argue that the real cause was a falling out between personalities [in Briefing] which escalated and led to the withdrawal from its editorial board of Graham Bash, who had been a mainstay since its inception...

Some other longstanding supporters believed Briefing could not (or perhaps should not) survive his departure, and argued that it needed to link with the LRC and precipitated the “merger” or “takeover” (depending on your perspective)...

The matter was inevitably contentious within the LRC too... Of the advocates of merger, some wanted to see the LRC hosting a journal which would be genuinely independent, while others wanted the LRC to have a magazine which would promote the LRC as an organisation...

Others... thought that even if the LRC could use a journal rather than just a much better website, the journal it needed wouldn’t look much like Briefing. What was the point of taking over a magazine that needed a hefty subsidy, and which they couldn’t afford to send to all their members, most of whom don’t currently subscribe.

When it came to the vote, there was an unholy alliance between ultra-Lefts like Ted Knight who are, in practice, actively hostile to Labour (even if they are still members of it) and those who believe that Labour Party activity must take absolute priority.

Graham Bash sees it differently. He points to political differences between those within Briefing who look towards CLPD [Campaign for Labour Party Democracy] as the more effective and worthwhile organisation, and those who choose to prioritise the LRC even if they are members of CLPD. The proposed merger reflects the latter perspective. This certainly contains some truth, but may amount to rationalisation after the event rather than an explanation of the motivation of either side.

The structure of a Labour Briefing AGM is open to some abuse. There are no members and any reader is welcome to attend, even if they are a member of some other faction. Those who favour independence point out that members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which produces the Weekly Worker, attended to support the LRC takeover... The CPGB members didn’t help their case by trying to overturn the agenda. They said they had only come for the vote on the future of Briefing and didn’t want to have to sit through the invited speakers first!

After the vote, everyone listened politely to a flawless and impassioned speech from Owen Jones, who’d abstained in the vote. There was applause but not much unity and we must wait to see how much comradeship remains.

* This is an abridged reprint of a report on the Left Futures website. There has indeed been fall-out: Christine Shawcroft, a Labour Party National Executive member and former vice-chair of the LRC and chair of Briefing, has resigned from the LRC.

Briefing was originally a split from Socialist Organiser, a forerunner of Solidarity, on the issue of whether Labour councils in the early 1980s should confront the Tories or sidestep by raising rates (property taxes). Despite that, over the years supporters of Solidarity have often sought, and sometimes achieved, collaboration with Briefing on issues where that’s possible.

We opposed the merger because we saw it as a “double coup”. On the magazine, it would copper-fasten the hegemony of those who were Labour-loyal but committed to a rather downbeat, “propagandist” course in the Labour Party, rather than the more interventionist, organising course associated with CLPD. In LRC it would — by default of the magazine’s editors deciding the chief public profile of LRC month by month, and even if we assume no illwill or bad faith — establish the hegemony of the same strand, against both the CLPD-minded and those around Ted Knight (whom we do not think “ultra-left”!).

After such a close and acrimonious vote, and one where the majority may have depended on people who have had little to do with LRC or Briefing, there is a clear case for LRC reconsidering the whole thing.

It could consider an alternative proposal put by LRC committee member Vicki Morris: that LRC should ask all papers circulating in the Labour left — Solidarity, Socialist Appeal, Tribune, as well as Briefing — to give it a page each month.

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Submitted by martin on Wed, 18/07/2012 - 11:20

http://www.christineshawcroft.co.uk/node/32

Labour Representation Committee and Weekly Worker combine forces to close down Labour Briefing

On Saturday, 7th July, members of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) – aided by members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which produces the Weekly Worker – attended the AGM of Labour Briefing and forced through a vote to close down Labour Briefing after thirty-two years of publication. The LRC now intends to launch its own “house journal”, using the same name – Labour Briefing.

Labour Briefing, as a magazine, does not have members and its meetings have always been open to all readers, including those who are members of other groups on the left. Labour Briefing has always relied on goodwill from other groups, on an understanding that they would not use the price of a subscription to close the magazine down at the expense of genuine Labour Briefing readers. This mutual trust, which had lasted for thirty-two years, was broken by the LRC, in a hostile takeover which is tantamount to political asset-stripping.

Many longstanding Labour Briefing readers spoke passionately about their commitment to the left having a non-aligned magazine which is open to all. Veteran Labour CND member Walter Wolfgang referred to the takeover as an essential magazine which could not be replaced and stated “To make it a ‘house journal’ would be to murder it.” Those readers who have been robbed of their magazine are now the human collateral damage in the LRC’s turn to empire building.

Those LRC members who were behind the takeover move broke two norms of labour movement democracy.

When the Labour Briefing Editorial Board (EB) began to plan the AGM, EB member and LRC Co-Secretary Pete Firmin appeared to offer to draft the usual EB statement to the AGM on the year ahead. He was in fact intending to put a resolution that Briefing agree to the LRC takeover, but did not reveal his intentions to the EB. He circulated his “takeover” resolution two days before the subsequent EB meeting: this head start left EB members with the opposing view little time to respond.
The supporters of the “takeover” resolution used their “head start” to spread misinformation to other Briefing readers in a campaign which began before and continued after their intentions became public within Briefing. Among the misinformation put forward by the supporters of the “takeover” resolution were:
the “takeover” was endorsed by the majority of the Briefing EB;
the “takeover” was generally supported within Briefing, was a “fait accompli” and just remained to be nodded through at the AGM.
Another key element of misinformation used at by supporters of the “takeover” was that the LRC’s magazine, using the name “Labour Briefing”, will be a pluralist magazine, open to its readers and the outgoing Briefing EB. The LRC National Committee (NC) had in fact decided to co-opt the outgoing Briefing EB to its own magazine’s editorial board on an interim basis, until LRC Conference in November. After that, however, the LRC’s magazine’s editorial board will consist of six people elected at LRC conference and six elected by the NC. It had initially been thought that the LRC’s editorial board would be composed of leading LRC members, but speakers at the Briefing AGM clarified that the LRC’s NC could use its six places to put on to the editorial board any independents who had not been able to secure election at the LRC Conference. The notion that the LRC can “choose independents” is nonsensical: the word for any non-LRC member selected by the LRC in that way would not be “independent”, it would be “stooge”. Why would a non-aligned, genuinely independent person on the left, who either felt only critical support for the LRC or did not want to join it, want to be part of producing an LRC magazine? In any event, as the LRC proposes that its editorial board would only meet quarterly, with the option for individual members to email the editor in between meetings, the editorial board itself is a fig leaf rather than a meaningful entity.

Those LRC members who supported the takeover did so from different motivations. Some wanted to see the LRC hosting a journal which would be genuinely independent, while others wanted the LRC to have a magazine which would promote the LRC as an organisation. The LRC NC has agreed to take over the magazine and has decided its structures but, bizarrely, has not discussed the content, policy and focus of the new magazine. Inevitably, some LRC members will find they are not being delivered the journal they were expecting: how the LRC deals with this disappointment remains to be seen. In any event, those LRC members who had thought the LRC was genuinely offering a new style of open and democratic politics must be gravely disappointed to hear that these old-style factional manoeuvres have resurfaced.

Speaking during the debate at the Briefing AGM, John McDonnell MP, founder and Chair of the LRC, said “Whatever happens in this room, whatever the decision, we leave here as comrades.” Christine Shawcroft, Chair of Labour Briefing, commented, “Comrades are people who don’t stab you in the back. The actions of LRC members at the Briefing AGM have made it quite clear they were not acting as comrades, but as fair weather friends.”

For more information, contact:
Christine Shawcroft, 07771-638 329, christineshawcroft@btopenworld.com
Jenny Fisher, 07977-566 519, jennyfisher@phonecoop.coop

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