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Left Unity's June National Council (just about) discusses 2015 General Election – without reaching any conclusions

REPORT FROM LU NATIONAL COUNCIL 07/06/14

Compiled by Pete McLaren – with notes from Colin Piper (Emergency resolution taken late Saturday, and Sunday) – for the Independent Socialist Network

Chairs: Mathew Caygill (Leeds) and Liz Davies (London)

There were 51 elected members present.

The meeting began, as such left events do, with a number of procedural questions. Matthew Caygill, in the Chair, announced that the Disputes Committee was in on-going discussions with Glasgow South LU, and that therefore their motion on a certain lack of democracy within the LU in Scotland, calling for a meeting of all Scottish LU members, should be deferred. There was also a dispute as to whether the Glasgow branch had been formally set up. Matthew Jones, from Glasgow, argued that the motion needed to be dealt with now, as the next NC was not until September. As the Scottish referendum question was part of the issue, that would be too late. It was agreed by 30 votes to 12 with 9 abstentions to defer the motion.

The next issue was a motion on Steve Hedley’s comments on Fb brought as an emergency motion by 15 individual women LU members. Its preamble reported a supposedly unjustifiable Fb attack on labour movement survivors who report abuse. The motion called for LU to avoid approaching Steve Hedley, ensure LU’s Safe Spaces Policy supported survivors of abuse, and for LU to launch an internal campaign of political education and training to address violence and abuse within the labour movement. Trade Union Officer Oliver New pointed out that Steve Hedley was standing for RMT General Secretary with considerable support, and the motion was about more than what was in it. The Chair sought to ascertain whether this should be a priority item for today, and after debate that was agreed overwhelmingly.

AGENDA ITEM 1. Political situation discussion: including economy, class struggle, a political assessment of the recent elections and their impact on party strategy

a ) Euro elections and European political significance

Kate Hudson introduced this item by describing the rise of the far right in the Euro elections in France, Hungary, Denmark and Britain, and the significant gains made by the left in Greece, where Syriza had gone from 4% to 30%, Italy, Germany and Spain. In the discussion which followed, Terry Conway argued that our policy in defence of migrants should be stepped up, with LU the only organisation able to do that. We should reach out to migrant groups, she added. Others spoke in favour of this general position. An amended motion from Haringey, calling for LU to organise a speaking tour by Podemos and the United Left, was agreed without dissent.

b) Council elections and significance in pre-2015 period

Andrew Burgin spoke of the new landscape in Britain with UKIP on 27% in the Euro elections and 17% in the Council elections. UKIP was more than a media creation; its rise was also based on disillusion with the political establishment. They also picked up much of the fascist vote with the BNP down to 1%. UKIP had shifted politics to the right, with even Labour talking about new border controls. The whole left needed to work together to work out how to build a new Party of the left. Three-party politics had gone, and the space was there for a socialist alternative. Pete McLaren later on backed this up, reminding the meeting it was LU policy to help build the widest left challenge possible for the General Election, and he called for a Conference of the Left to start the process. Felicity Dowling described how working with the Green party in the NW had got rid of the BNP. The fascist vote had moved to UKIP. Labour did well for class reasons. Steven Hall outlined the election campaign in Wigan, where the BNP vote had also gone to UKIP. The Lib Dems had been wiped out and Labour’s vote had held up. We must have long-term consistent work, he argued. He was pleased TUSC had called for an electoral pact in Salford. Other points made in the discussion included:

§ We need to become much more diverse and multi ethnic

§ 70% didn’t vote: we must reach out to them

§ Election results showed the importance of having roots in communities.

§ It is possible to welcome migrants whilst opposing the EU in its present form

No decisions were taken. The Chair, Liz Davies, in answer to a question about motions to the NC, explained there were no Standing Orders for the NC and for this meeting only she would allow motions from individuals as well as branches. This was accepted by the meeting

c) Performance of LU candidates and lessons for future inc. motion from Mike Scott “That those who stood could be requested to write an analysis of their campaigns”.

d) Election strategy for 2015, including targeting seats etc (inc. report from Tim Nelson – attachment)

e) Towards our manifesto

These items were sort of taken together, although it was not always clear what the meeting was addressing. The Chair began by saying she would be recognising proportionately more women speakers to re-address what had happened in the morning session. The first two to speak were however men! Pete Green gave an economic overview. There had been a huge loss of output but the Tories were trying to gloss over that. Any recovery was only for the few – 10%.

Unemployment was falling but zero hours contracts and low paid agency work were rising. The Government had delayed further obvious cuts until after the election, when they would be severe whichever party won it. Points made in the discussion included:

§ Massive attacks on the working class continue

§ Women are disproportionately affected by austerity

§ The state was being dismantled with privatisation of even the NHS

§ Our campaigning should make the necessary links to show people cuts are wrong – eg we should ask those in work whether they want their taxes to fund workfare

§ We need to give examples of how the worst is yet to come

§ There is a fight back: pupils recently locked the school gates to protest against it becoming an academy, and the school used G4 to defeat the protest

Oliver New then gave a trade union report, highlighting the importance of work based LU caucuses. He had circulated a written report which included a break down of the TU membership of LU members. Kate Hudson suggested the link between Labour and the trade unions was breaking up, providing fresh opportunities for LU. Points made in the discussion included:

§ We need to know how active LU is in local TUCs

§ We must work with local TU branches

§ We need to push TUs to the left to put pressure on Labour to move to the left

At this point a number of people queried the relevance of all this to the agenda, and the Chair responded by asking Tom Walker to provide a LU local elections report in the absence of the Nominating Officer. Tom Walker outlined the results of the 12 LU candidates, the highpoint being the 252 votes, at 8.8%, achieved in Wigan. He described the low point – 14 in Bolton – as a “TUSC vote”. It was branches that had decided to stand candidates, he continued. Locally, the media had given LU some publicity. Conference policy had meant clashes with TUSC had been avoided. There had been an election pact with TUSC in Exeter but he was not convinced that had worked. One of the reasons for LU’s success in Wigan had been the absence of Green candidates. He concluded by querying whether LU should stand in relatively wealthy areas like Barnet where LU got only 107 votes despite much hard work.

Mike Scott moved his motion which called for candidates to write an analysis of their campaign. This was agreed unanimously before some of the candidates spoke about their campaigns. Hazel Duffy was pleased that 50% of Wigan had heard the LU message. They had also made good use of Facebook. Karen Michael explained why it had been important to stand against the Greens in Norwich for supporting public spending cuts.

2. Election of executive (and additional proposals from the National Secretary including two Elections Sub Committees)

Kate Hudson had circulated a number of additional proposals, including the establishment of an elections sub-committee and a manifesto sub-committee – both were agreed without dissent. She asked for volunteers: Colin Piper and Pete McLaren were amongst those to do so for the Elections Sub Committee. Colin Piper then asked if we were now going to discuss our electoral strategy for 2015 as per agenda: Kate Hudson explained that Sunday’s agenda included it, and the Elections Sub Committee would report back to the September NC. It was pointed out that local LU branches might want to start organising before then. It was agreed both Sub Committees could meet through Skype as well as formally.

Kate Hudson next explained that we need 10 of the 15 directly elected plus one from each regional cluster on the executive. It was not made clear how that would happen- it was left up to the groups concerned. As a directly elected member, I said I would be happy to rotate, as did Colin for the SE region. Kate Hudson’

S Paper suggested that the executive would meet monthly except in a month when the NC met. Dates were proposed for NC meetings – Saturday’s September 20th; December 13th; March 14th, with a national policy Conference on Saturday November 15th. The next internal elections would be concluded by March 28th 2015 and the next national conference would be considered in light of the general campaign. There was also a motion from Brighton calling for agendas of national meetings to be set in such a way so as not to presuppose elections as an organisational priority, which I would have spoken against as there will be times when the opposite could be the case. I am not convinced any of this, including the schedule of meetings, was actually put to the meeting for approval!

Emergency resolution

Joana Ramiro moved an emergency resolution on behalf of 15 women comrades who had signed it. The resolution included a quote from a Facebook post of Steve Hedley that they claimed was “an unjustified attack on labour movement survivors who report abuse”. The motion called for LU to avoid approaching Steve Hedley, ensure LU’s Safe Spaces Policy supported survivors of abuse, and for LU to launch an internal campaign of political education and training to address violence and abuse within the labour movement.

It turned out that the resolution was a response to a post by Bianca Todd on Steve Hedley's Facebook page. He had bemoaned the fact that there wasn't a left organisation that was democratic, open etc. and she had responded that there was, Left Unity. The movers of the resolution had seen this as an invitation to him to join and Bianca Todd saw the resolution as a personal attack on her.

There were a number of contributions from comrades who explained how they were effectively disenfranchised from taking part in a discussion based on a document they hadn't had time to read in advance, and others commented that they didn't know who Steve Hedley was or the details of the case.

We were never actually invited to vote on whether the resolution was in fact an emergency or not and the mover didn't really explain why it was. After a lengthy discussion, it was remitted.

Sunday Chairs: Eve Turner and Doug Thorpe

Membership, communication and branch development report

Terry Conway and Barbara Segal spoke to their written report. This work is currently done by volunteers and it is clear they are finding it difficult to cope. It was agreed after some discussion to move from standing orders to direct debits because of the workload created by the former.

It was also agreed that responsibility for contacting new members should move to the branches.

1. Strategic planning: inc. campaigning priorities to 2015 election; branch development

There was a discussion about our campaigning priorities over the next year or so. The Wigan comrades proposed that we should try and coordinate a united response of the left to the Queen's speech proposals in relation to fracking. A number of specific events and campaigns were mentioned and votes taken to support them: a lobby of the NATO summit, A No Glory event, Mothers 999 NHS March, People's Assembly demonstration etc.

There was an excellent contribution about the importance of standing in the general election, but the speaker was accused by one member of “hijacking the discussion”. She was roundly criticised but Colin Piper made the point that others, including him, had thought the General Election was going to be taken as a separate item. In the event the discussion was extended by half an hour but very little was said about next year's elections. Tom Walker said that we should stand in safe Northern Labour seats where we could not be accused of letting the Tories in and where turnouts were traditionally low. So much for an electoral strategy then!

2. Reports and motions

Various reports were given including: The Disabled Caucus, The Internal Elections Report Policy Commissions, Finance and Disputes Committee.

The motion from Leamington Spa on the internal elections was defeated. It had called for the elections for further West Midlands regional reps to the NC to be re-run because of constitutional irregularities. It was agreed to refer the issue of online branches to the first EC meeting.

3. Tower Hamlets motion: A case for a better use of the Internet and New Media

This called for Left Unity to improve its online presence through a better use of social media, including the webpage. It proposed a professional upgrade to the webpage, hiring a professional web designer to create a tailor-made Wordpress theme and integrated database. It also called for social media outlets to be updated more regularly, and for a community manager to be employed, working under the supervision of Media Officer Tom Walker. The motion was agreed with an amendment to delete specificities related to hours worked.

Conclusion

Overall, the meeting was relatively positive, and the leadership has started to listen to political arguments put forward by the membership. There was a good debate about the local and Euro Elections, with well-researched and interesting introductions from Kate Hudson and Andrew Burgin. However, there was very little discussion about the General Election, despite Andrew Burgin’s call for the left to get its act together and Pete McLaren’s suggestion of a Conference of the Left. The motion about Steve Hedley was unnecessary, not well thought through and time consuming. Overall, the weekend was reasonably positive – with reservations!

Pete McLaren and Colin Piper 14/06/14

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