REPORT FROM LEFT UNITY EXTENDED EC/NC MAY 6th 2017

There were 19 members present including one observer. Six were female. The status of the meeting within LU’s constitution was not made clear, and all 18 EC/NC members present were able to vote. It was generally a very positive meeting, with a particularly useful discussion on how socialists should respond during the General Election, although, like the way the constitution is interpreted, and the discussions later in the day on the Stockport motion to stand in a local by-election, and about a member who resigned then wanted to re-join, there is still work to do in terms of the way we treat each other and, on occasions, keep to existing policy

STATEMENT FROM THE ALLIANCE FOR GREEN SOCIALIASM (AGS)

The AGS had written asking LU to discuss support for a statement they had sent. It wasn’t available at the meeting, and it was agreed to circulate it. It was also agreed to put the statement on our web site, and offer to exchange conference speakers

DISCUSSION ON GENERAL ELECTION STRATEGY

This, Scotland and the General Election (GE), and the Stockport motion on standing a local by-election candidate, took up most of the meeting.

Leading LU Officers had put out the following statement on the General Election:

LEFT UNITY’s INITIAL PRESS STATEMENT

General election: Left Unity calls for a Labour victory

Theresa May has today called a general election for 8th June.

Left Unity calls for a victory for the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The Corbyn-led Labour Party is the only party which has the policies to regenerate the British economy through an investment-led programme, to unite the country in defence of our diverse communities, and to defend and extend the welfare state. A Tory victory will give free rein to extreme neo-liberalism, divide and rule politics, and the implementation of a hard Brexit which will destroy our hard won rights and protections.

Left Unity National Secretary, Felicity Dowling, said:

‘The weakness and instability of May’s Brexit vision has produced this general election. This general election represents an opportunity to defeat the Tory government and their destructive policies – to win with Labour and defend the NHS, the jewel in the crown of the welfare state

‘It offers a chance to campaign for an end to sanctions, to cuts to social security and disabled people’s benefits, and to child poverty. It gives a chance to defend workers’ rights and support our schools, to end the waste of nuclear bombs and to protect free movement of people. Internationally, it offers the chance to oppose the dangerous and divisive politics of Trump and the rise of the far right that he stands for.

‘Left Unity calls on all progressive forces to mobilise in support of a Corbyn-led Labour Party.’

LU Secretary Felicity Dowling opened the debate. She began by looking at Thursday’s local election results. Labour had done poorly, but no worse than under Miliband. It was clear the Labour loyalty vote had been broken. Labour was split. The Labour right remained in charge. It was struggle that turns people, she continued – people will back campaigns but that does not automatically translate into support for Corbyn. Life will be terrible under a right wing Tory government with an increased majority. We need as good a vote as possible for Corbyn. Membership officer and previous Treasurer Andrew Burgin added that we needed a strategic understanding of the whole political situation. We must support Corbyn on his policies, although we must also accept that Labour party is unlikely to win the GE. The Tories are swallowing up UKIP because they have swallowed their policies. LU has a role to play in building support for Corbyn. We must give Corbyn critical support. It was disgraceful that Andy Burnham was refusing to be seen with Corbyn.

Former secretary and Media officer Kate Hudson explained why the press statement was put out. The key was our support for a Corbyn led Labour party, emphasising the role of Corbyn. We had at every point supported Corbyn and his policies, even though he is a left social democrat. We need to think post-June 8th and put out our alternative clearly whilst avoiding splits on the left

The following were amongst points in the discussion that followed:

v The working class who voted Brexit voted Tory and will do so in the GE

v Labour councillors have made cuts and then lied about it. People see through that

v Large parts of the working class are turning away from Labour, and not just in Scotland

v There is much difference between Corbyn’s policies and the Labour party’s policies

v We need to promote open borders and the needs of immigrants in our GE work

v LU will not have a big impact on the GE

v We should target the Tories on Brexit and strong leadership whilst promoting democracy

v Whilst supporting Corbyn we must attack those who undermine him

At this point I motivated my Paper which was objecting to the leadership’s statement on internal constitutional grounds – it wasn’t LU policy to call, unqualified, for a Labour victory – and on political grounds as a vote for Labour was not a vote for Corbyn’s policies, unfortunately. It was important to differentiate between the two and instead call for Corbyn to fight the GE on socialist policies.

We should not be calling for a Labour victory without qualification. The Paper outlined exactly why Labour could not be expected to deliver on a range of policies, how Labour has actually moved to the right since Corbyn was elected, and how Momentum had virtually imploded

Additional points made in the discussion, which continued both sides of lunch, included:

v There is little enthusiasm for campaigning for Labour: we should instead campaign for the NHS and education. LU could organise hustings on such topics

v We should encourage members to campaign for left Labour or Green candidates

v The Labour party is unlikely to split even if Labour loses heavily.

v Corbyn may go after June 8 – what do we do then?

v We must oppose May’s dictatorial approach and the Tories generally

v We must be imaginative with our campaigning with stunts, boards on vans and banners from bridges

The following motion from South London branch had been moved during the debate by Richard Farnos:

Left Unity believes that this could be one of the most crucial General Election in years. Although called for narrow sectarian interest of Theresa May and the Tory party, it could possible determine the direction of politics in Britain for decade or more with a real prospect of the election of extremely right-wing Government that will unpick what left of worker’s rights as well as human rights, health and safety regulations etc.

Left Unity does not have the capacity to run a full election campaign, and nor does it see any value in standing candidates in this election

While under no illusions that Corbyn, even if he was victorious, would be allowed to implement his manifesto, Left Unity sees it is vital to work to endeavour to prevent or minimise the Tory majority. In England and Wales this is best achieved by voting Labour.

In our electoral work, we need to keep the message simple and clear without raising false hope in the Labour Party.

There should be three parts to our strategy:

a) Our literature should principally focus on attacking the Tories – under the slogan “Vote for May, and regret the day!”

b) We should raise our ideas through the production of leaflet of “10 Questions to ask your candidates”

c)We should encourage our members to canvas in marginal Labour and Green constituencies where there is left candidate standing.

The motion was agreed, in spirit, but with a changed slogan in part one, unanimously. No new wording was agreed for that slogan! There was no vote on anything else, including the points I had raised in my Discussion Paper. A motion from members in Liverpool was remitted back to the branch because it had not been agreed by the branch. This called on

“a) LU to stand candidates, where local branches have the possibility to stand in the general election.

b) LU to immediately write TUSC seeking agreement to call a national conference that is open to all workers and the left that want to fight austerity and all cuts, select candidates to be decided democratically to build a TUSC-LU alliance to stand candidates and approve an anti-austerity, socialist and internationalist programme.

It is interesting that the constitution is felt important to stop members forwarding motions, but not when it comes to policy statements from the leadership! Never was this more apparent than in the next debate, on a motion unanimously passed by the Stockport branch, asking for the NC, as per constitution, to endorse a LU candidate for a Local by-election on June 8th. Comments made in the discussion included:

v If we stand we will look as if we are parachuting a candidate in

v The Labour candidate is soft left and not the enemy

v We shouldn’t be wasting time on this – we should be concentrating on Labour marginals

v If the local branch wants to stand we should enable it

v We would support the application if it was any other day than June 8th

v Is there any point in LU if it is not prepared to stand locally where there is clear evidence the Labour candidate does not oppose austerity? LU must show it has an independent existence

v Stockport branch have gone through procedures correctly and made a genuine approach to the Labour candidate

v LU is based on the importance of local autonomy – the branch has made its decision

v Standing would be a distraction which could do ourselves harm

v We could acknowledge the branch’s right to stand, but inform them the EC/NC meeting think that would be a mistake

v Our constitutional position is that the final decision lies with the NC, not the branch

v People won’t trust us if we stand – it will kill our relationship with the left

The motion was defeated by 14 to 3 with 1 abstention

The meeting then discussed a Paper from Steve Freeman on LU and the General Election with reference to Scotland. It suggested LU would not stand, but would support RISE and the SSP if they did. The central question in Scotland was seen as the right of the Scottish people to remain in the EU and hold a second independence referendum. Left Unity would oppose most Unionist candidates (originally it was all of them). A paragraph calling for Labour to be criticized for supporting the Union was deleted.

The Paper ended by summarizing LU’s policy as total opposition to the Tories and their anti-working class Brexit policies, opposition to the right wing of the Labour party in England (“and all unionist parties in Scotland” was deleted). During the discussion it was noted there had been no real input from Scottish comrades. It was accepted the Paper broadly reflected agreed policy, but further discussion was needed. It was agreed to put the original Paper on the web site for discussion, and email it to LU’s Scottish members.

MEDIA AND WEB SITE

It was agreed to use the Fb page to recruit, and to ask branches for reports of activities for the web site. It was also agreed moderators were needed for the LU Fb Discussion Group. Kate Hudson suggested some ideas for a press strategy, including press releases and statements. She also suggested improvements to the web site to promote LU activity. At this point, it was agreed Bianca Todd and Bob Wiliams-Findlay would be co-opted onto the EC

LU ANNUAL CONFERENCE

The revised dates of June 24 and 25, at the Imperial Hotel, Russell Square WC1B 5BB, were agreed. Deadlines for motions would be June 14th. Volunteers agreed to join the Conference Arrangements Committee. Susan Pashkoff, Lesley Mahmood, Doug Thorpe, Kate Hudson and Richard Farnos were suggested as chairs, with others to shadow them. The post-election aspect of the conference would be stressed.

DATES FOR EC AND NC MEETINGS

The following were agreed:

Extended EC meetings – Sunday June 11th and Saturday August 12th

NC Meetings – Saturdays July 15th and September 16th

MEMBER WHO RESIGNED, THEN WANTED TO RE-JOIN

This was discussed at length. A particular individual, AW, had resigned recently after complaining certain officers were pushing their own agenda regarding General Election policy and unqualified support for the Labour party. The member subsequently, through John Pearson, asked to be re-admitted as a member pending the General Election and LU conference. It did not appear AW had access requirements as had been suggested.

The following were amongst points made in the discussion: (There were a number of references to John Pearson’s role during the discussion which I objected to)

v As long as the request to re-join is long term, and not just up until conference, we should welcome it

v AW should be asked to go through a reconciliation process with Felicity Dowling and Kate Hudson

v We should ask all members not to be abusive, including on Fb

v We should accept the resignation and welcome AW back with no conditions attached

The following courses of action were agreed:

1) AW’s resignation was accepted

2) AW’s application to re-join was also be accepted, but not for any elected posts

3) An attempt at reconciliation as discussed should be attempted in addition

4) Any complaints should be made by members individually to officers

CONCLUSION

The meeting demonstrated that Left Unity does indeed still have an independent existence of its own, despite a few officers wanting to effectively disappear LU into the Labour party for the General Election period. It is clear, however, that EC members are generally uncritical of the leadership even when not consulted on an important political event like the General Election

On a more positive note, it does seem to be recognized and accepted that there will be a new political situation for socialists to relate to post-June 8th. However, in refusing to even discuss the call from members in Liverpool for LU and TUSC to organize a conference of the left, Left Unity still has a lot to do to live up to its name. That remains a frustration despite so many positives.

Pete McLaren 15/05/17

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