2019 Labour Party Conference (21-25 September, Brighton) is an opportunity for socialists in the Labour Party to stop the political retreat that threatens to bring to an end the left-wing “Corbyn surge” which started in 2015.
The most pressing business is about Brexit. 90 motions have been sent in about Brexit. 81 of them call for Labour to take a clear Remain stance. Most originate with left wing Remain groups Labour for a Socialist Europe and Another Europe is Possible.
Yet a few days before conference, a small group of senior trade union bureaucrats met with Corbyn’s staff and tried to pre-empt Conference by declaring for a “Labour Brexit”.
The face-off between an overwhelmingly pro-Remain Party membership and a pro-Brexit clique influenced by the Morning Star ensconced in the towers of trade union officialdom is clear.
The fact that no motions to conference call for a Labour Brexit makes strategy of the Morning Star axis clear.
Unable to win the membership to their right-wing, nationalistic position, they will instead fight at conference for a fudge to allow Corbyn’s office to sidle towards their preferred option after conference, by means of policy announcements or anonymous briefings from unelected advisers.
In short, pro-Leave bureaucrats want to keep matters out of the membership’s hands.
To beat them, left wing delegates will have to insist on clarity instead of vagueness. We should not flinch from forcing contentious votes, even if we calculate that big union block votes make it likely we will lose them. The voice of the rank and file must be heard, not buried in applause for fudged read-it-either-way formulas.
On freedom of movement and closing detention centres, too, it appears that the leadership is trying to wriggle out of letting firm policy commitments be put to the vote. Internationalist-minded Labour supporters from a number of CLPs have submitted text calling for freedom of movement and the closure of detention centres. But through a procedural trick the Conference Arrangements Committee is trying to keep this text off the order paper, by refusing to composite similar motions together.
A year of the leadership using weasel words and misdirection to overcome calls for more consistently internationalist policy from the membership has scattered and demoralised Corbyn’s base.
We’ve had silence or evasion on migrant rights and detention centres, endlessly confusing to-ing and fro-ing on whether to hold a referendum on Brexit or whether to back Remain, and a lack of clear left-wing leadership over other issues like antisemitism has sapped the zeal of the people who won Corbyn’s two leadership elections. Many of them, in fact, voted Green in the 2019 European elections.
One measure of the problem is that the turnout for the Conference Arrangements Committee elections this year was down on the previous vote in 2017, even though the poll was as hotly contested as then.
This time left candidates Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes got 53,606 and 43,763 votes, as against 28,116 and 24,620 for the right-wing candidates. In 2017 it was 109,763 and 92,205 vs 55,417 and 50,439. In 2015, the right won, 109,888 and 100,484 vs 80,193 and 37,270.
One encouraging sign of revival was the lively way that Labour members threw themselves into demonstrations against Johnson’s coup. Hopefully that renewed political vigour will make itself felt at conference.
Much of the problem lies with a left that has failed to hold Corbyn to account. Momentum nationally abolished its own democratic structures in January 2017 in order to prevent those structures from being used to exert leftward pressure on Corbyn. The idea that the role of the Labour left should be to give Corbyn a “blank cheque” is still widespread, and represents an unhealthy inheritance from Blairite days.
It is important that the Labour Green New Deal campaign does not fall into the same mode of thinking. The campaign has topped the chart of motions submissions to conference, with 128.
The Green New Deal makes much – rightly – of the need for a Labour government to make substantial inroads into the rule of profit in order to face up to the climate crisis. It has enjoyed much support from leading Corbynite Labour MPs and among the broader membership. But to make good on its promise, the campaign must not fall into the trap of the Labour left in recent years, of letting the leadership oppose radical policies obliquely, by burying them in vagueness or silence.
Supporters of Workers’ Liberty have promoted a version of the Green New Deal motion that includes calls for an end to airport expansion, scrapping the anti-union laws and nationalisation of energy and finance. It is important not to shy away from such policies, even if they prove to be inconvenient to the Labour leadership.
Conference is an opportunity for delegates to force the leadership to take a bold stance on internationalism, migrant rights and climate change.
And through the discussions at The World Transformed and around the conference centre, we will work for a new Labour left can emerge which is not afraid to challenge the leadership on these issues.