Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Chartist AGM: Labour, Preparing for Power.

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A political earthquake in Britain has shocked the Tories. Labour made a huge advance in the June General Election while Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is now unassailable. What will happen next? Theresa May is a wounded Tory leader or ‘a dead woman walking’. The coalition of chaos is unlikely to last long. Another General Election can’t be far off. A hard Brexit and austerity look set to be ditched as part of the Tories survival strategy. So what are the likely scenarios? What must Labour do? What are the tasks for the Left?

Chartist, a journal of the democratic socialist left, held its AGM yesterday in the University of Westminster.

Around 30 people attended, including a significant group of younger activists from Tower Hamlets Momentum.

Buoyed up by the encouraging General Election results, a series of important, open-minded, discussions took place around the aftermath of Brexit. In everybody’s mind was the possibility of a future Labour government.

In the morning John Palmer, former European Editor of the Guardian and a veteran of the radical democratic left, outlined the problems that Brexit brings. From a pro-European stand – John evoked the goal of a social, socialist united Europe – argued that the ‘cliff edge’ strategy of the Theresa May government has reached an impasse. The voice of British capital, muted during the referendum, has begun to be heard, now loudly warning of the consequences of leaving the EU for the economy. How far Labour’s position on Brexit, recognising the result of the Leave vote, and letting the process of leaving proceed relatively unhindered, will be sustainable remains open, above all in view of the support of the majority of Labour members for Remain and the overwhelming pro-European views of young people.

Ann Pettifor, Prime Economics and an Adviser to John McDonnell, focused on Labour’s economic policies. She argued, drawing on her recent book,(The Production of Money. How to Break the Power of Bankers. 2017) that a Corbyn government should boost the economy.  Concerned that Labour appears reluctant to commit to a programme of increased public spending Pettifor explained money creation. Her views, summarised here, Could a Labour government safely borrow to invest and spend? are a programme for radical re-tilting of a left-government.

Speakers from the audience raised issues about the Labour Manifesto’s strengths, and weaknesses, were raised. Its cautious approach, marked in the refusal to challenge the benefits freeze, was, perhaps, it was said, the result of the short-time in which the document was prepared. But for the future much more detailed and thorough-going proposals are needed. Pettifor’s bold approach was, some argued, in need of elaboration and justification.

It is equally the case the role of right-wing, former Blair and Brown supporting MPs who are hostile to any left-wing policies, has played a damaging role in Labour’s attempts to strike out in a new direction, despite the growing popular support for Corbyn and his ideas, often, Pettifor remarked, in advance of the Party.

“On the Brexit issue the problem of Sovereignty remains a live one. The view was expressed that the ‘sovereigntist’ left, whilst only attracting a minority amongst Labour Party members, still retains influence. The reaction of expressed by one of the editors of the ‘flagship of the Western Intellectual left’, New Left Review, that Brexit was a welcome “Big kick up the backside” for the EU, or more overtly nationalist positions, have to be challenged.

Pettifor made the bold claim that it was the loss of democratic power in an earlier phase of globalisation which had led to the rise of the 1930s Fascism and Nazism. The post-War process of globalisation encouraged the rise of extreme-right populism today.

A couple of dissenting voices from the anti-EU quarter aside, Chartist supporters remained committed to the internationalist European project.

But how this can be carried forward remains an open question.

One theme emerged during the discussion, the need for Labour to engage in open policy debate and formation. It was a common thread throughout the day.

In the afternoon, Don Flynn, from a background in the Migrant Rights Network, raised a number of further issues about populism and argued that there may well be radical variants that the left can engage with. Don also expressed caution about Labour’s prospects, “we can still mess things up” he observed.

Julie Ward, Labour Co-Op for North West England made an impassioned speech in favour of the European Union, illustrated by her experience in being able to to promote progressive campaigns through through the Brussels and Strasbourg Parliament. Ward questioned the legitimacy of the Referendum, which had earlier been criticised  as an inappropriate means, in a representative democracy,  to deal with the issue of British membership. The MEP hoped that Brexit may not yet come to pass.

Puru Miah, from the Momentum national committee, described the work of the group’s activists. One feature stuck out, Momentum is in the process of developing a system of canvassing which does more than “register” the opinions of those on the doorstep, but tries to engage with the views of the public.

In the final session Mike Davis reiterated the issue of policy making. Many Chartist supporters are closely engaged in this process, on issues such as Housing, Welfare, local government and migrant rights. While not rejecting the existing system of Policy Commissions it was felt that more transparent ways, based on wider democratic participation,  of making decisions about what becomes part of the Labour Manifesto are a key to a radical reforming Labour government’s success.

One concern was aired: that not all of the Labour Leader’s advisers came from the democratic socialist tradition and were not always open to ideas from quarters outside their circle.

The day’s debates were ably chaired,  and this is not an exaggeration, the content was exceptional.

It is to be hoped that as a vehicle for a variety of democratic socialist, green, and feminist voices, Chartist will play a part not just in campaigning for a Labour victory but in shaping the party’s policies in a left direction.

The following recent article, by a comrade with great experience in the area, Duncan Bowie, comes highly recommended:

Grenfell fire – an indictment of government


4 Responses

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  1. I have a feeling that Corbyn reckons that the Tories are currently doing his job for him over leaving the EU. He’s part of the old Labour Left that was hostile to the Common Market from the start, and he’s surrounded by Tankies with the same idea on the topic. He thinks that adding a few riders about workers’ rights to the Tory plans is all that’s needed, not that the Tories would take any notice of them.

    It seems to me that the majority of the pro-Corbyn camp is against leaving the EU, largely on the basis that leaving it will be a disaster for the working class more than for any support for the neo-liberal regime in Brussels. There is thus a contradiction within the Corbyn camp on one of the most important policy decisions in living memory. How will this pan out if Corbyn endorses a Tory hard exit; or if — which is the more likely prospect — the Tories cobble up a Norway-style deal, and Corbyn opposes it from a hard exit standpoint?

    Dr Paul

    July 9, 2017 at 4:24 pm

  2. The internationalist left, which has so far supported Corbyn with varying degrees of reservations, are now going to have to confront him and his immediate (Stalinist) advisors over Brexit.

    Jim Denham

    July 9, 2017 at 7:05 pm

  3. Interesting that you say a large contingent of the fifty or so present were from Tower Hamlets Momentum. At the moment they are in bed with the former Islamists of disgraced mayor Lutfur Rahman to get rid of the incumbent mayor John Biggs. As with Respect they seem to have no principals in dealing with far right when it suits them.

    Dave Roberts

    July 9, 2017 at 7:43 pm

  4. I think Jim and Paul have singled out the important immediate issue.

    Obviously those who think the equivocal position on the EU taken during the election is going to stand up during the negotiations are clearly wrong, and the influence of the anti-EU Stalinists (who have frankly crank ideas that it is embarrassing to see influence the Labour leadership) and National Parliamentary Sovereigntists is not going to disappear.

    The internationalist left cannot sit back.

    We have to develop policies to deal with this, although we are a broad section of opinion, from the AWL to the ‘soft’ left. You cannot deal with ‘neoliberalism’ without some form of international structure, and the – childish – view of some, like the Socialist Party – that an ‘independent’ UK is going to confront global finance all on its own, with an eventual creation of a brand new Socialist United States of Europe – is a non-starter.

    This highlights the major gap in Labour’s policy on Europe, the absence of any consideration of what the European socialist and social democratic parties think, and the left parties of the European Left consider to be the way forward, for Another Europe is Possible.


    Andrew Coates

    July 10, 2017 at 11:29 am

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