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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

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Democratic Socialist and Labour Movement Arguments for a “Remain” Referendum Vote – Chartist Special.

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Special Chartist Referendum Supplement (available here)

Read Chartist Magazine.

Editorial.

Remain and reform together.

An historic decision will be made on 23 June.

Labour has come out clearly for remain and reform of the European Union. Jeremy Corbyn has nailed Labour’s colours to the mast of internationalism, cooperation and worker’s rights in Europe. While the Tory Party tears itself apart, Labour is mounting an independent united campaign to secure an in vote.

The spectre of narrow nationalism, xenophobia and fascism is once again stalking Europe. Within the EU, ‘warts and all’ and working with socialists and greens across the 27 member countries is the best way to combat this menace to our rights and freedoms.

We know there are problems with the EU, largely the result of the domination of neoliberal free market privatisers and a harsh austerity agenda being pursued most viciously in Greece. But the Syriza government and left critics are determined to stay and take the fight for an alternative, democratic road to the heart of Europe. This must be the British road as well.

In this world where global capital can move across borders to divide and rule, working in stronger regional blocks to curb and regulate their tax dodging and exploitation is the only approach with a hope of success.

A Brexit could also set the clock of social progress back years. Have no doubts that the Tory opponents of the EU and UKIP stand for untrammelled capitalism and a much harsher, meaner, dirtier, inhumane and divided Britain. Cooperation with our European brothers and sisters on issues from climate change, cyber crime, terrorism, human rights and economic justice is the internationalist way.

Vote remain to continue the fight for a democratic Europe. Vote remain for a socially just Europe that will tackle corporate greed and put people before profits.

Articles:

In for social solidarity  Frances O’Grady, General  Secretary of the TUC, says the way to equality, jobs and workers’ rights lies through the EU.

Julie Ward MEP on standing up for a Social EU.

Nature needs the EU too. Anita Pollack, former MEP and author of  “New Labour in Europe: Leadership and Lost Opportunities” on the environmental case for the EU.

Owen Tudor, TUC Head of EU and International Relations, Total reversal of workers’ rights?  On Michael Ford QC s opinion about the risks of Brexit.

Don Flynn , Director, Migrant, Rights Network. False promise on migration.

Ann Pettifor, member of the Labour Party’s  Economic Advisory Committee and Director: Policy Research in Macroeconomics (PRIME). Why I’m voting to ‘Remain’.

Mary Southcott, coordinator Friends of Cyprus  and a member of the Chartist EB. EU umbrella for peace.

Stronger in for jobs and rights. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP puts the case to vote to remain in the EU.

Essential reading!

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Michael Meacher MP on Labour’s Defeat – Chartist AGM.

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Michael Meacher MP Backs Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader.

The Chartist AGM was held on Saturday at the University of Westminster. Around 40 people gathered to discuss, as democratic socialists, “post election perspectives”.

The meeting began with Michael Meacher, the veteran (as they say) MP for Oldham West and Royton. He talked of how we are on the left are in a “very bad place” after the election defeat.

Why had this happened ? – Meacher asked. While there is a need to look at detailed analysis of the polls, which will emerge – there are some points, the MP said, that could be made now.

The principal point is that the evidence is that the party lost because voters were not “prepared to trust Labour with finances”. The Conservatives had, during the whole Coalition period, been hammering away at the claim that the legacy of the Blair and the Brown years had been economic incompetence faced with the banking crisis and its aftermath. They had left a massive budget deficit that, the Tories claimed, only they were capable of dealing with.

The Labour Party had not met this message, repeated and repeated. They had not clearly pointed to the flimsy foundations of the Conservatives’ claims to economic competence. The ‘recovery’ was already “fizzling out”, wages had not recovered, and more employment (largely confined to London and the South-east) was above all in the precarious and badly paid work. The Coalition had not even been able to meet their own claims to resolve their own favourite problem – the deficit. Instead Ed Balls and the team around Miliband had accepted the right-wing premise that austerity was necessary.

With Labour unable to challenge the grounds of David Cameron and George Osborne’s economic strategy, the electorate preferred to place their confidence in the outgoing Tories instead of a new government.

Meacher then outlined an alternative to austerity, and long-term measures to deal with inequality. Fiscal policy should be a form of modern Keynesianism. Against “market fundamentalism” strategic areas of the economy would benefit from public intervention and control. The poor services offered by the privatised utilities and transport, had to be tackled, and manufacturing promoted.

Through the tax system and inside companies measures should be introduced to reduce, by a long-term and determined effort, the gulf between the sky-high salaries of the super-rich and ordinary people. This would also help increase public revenue and provide increased revenue for public services.

The AGM then heard a valuable contribution on the Greek left government, Syriza, by Isidoros Diakides (Greece Solidarity Campaign and a Haringey councillor). He painted a picture of just how severe the plight of the Greeks people had become.

The day’s debates that followed these well-argued talks were wide ranging. Many different points were raised. Meacher’s principal explanation for Labour’s defeat – the feeling that Miliband was not to be trusted with the economy – received support. However appealing Labour policies on issues such as the living wage and increased workers’ rights were, they had not stood up clearly to the Tories in this area. Accepting tight fiscal policy, and the need to cutting back on public spending, was a principal problem.

Austerity had to be fought. This was one of the reasons why Meacher had now “switched” support in the Labour Party leadership campaign to Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet some new Labour MPs had managed to win by reaching out into the community. The undermining of the ground of social democratic politics was discussed. The view that British politics could melt down and prepare the way for a Syriza or a Podemos did not get much backing. The differences between Greek, Spanish and our economies and politics were underlined, from the scale of the economic disaster in Greece to the extent of corruption in Spain, which stimulated the rise of these parties, were mentioned. Problems with Podemos, such as its vertical structure, were mentioned.

For others there was the issue of Scottish nationalism and the high vote for UKIP (despite their failure to secure more than one MP). It was suggested that constitutional issues remained central. A candidate who had stood for the Bermondsey  Republican Socialists in London took the view that the whole electoral process had become irrelevant.

Somebody pointed out that the Republican socialist had received 20 votes in the General Election (0.0%).

We think we can guess who that somebody was.

There was panel on migration, racism and nationalism.

Don Flynn (Migrant Rights Network) warned the meeting of a new clampdown on migrants. ‘Illegal’ workers will find their wages treated as criminal revenue and confiscated. Tehmina Kazi (Muslims for Secular Democracy) spoke on the twin threats of prejudice against Muslims and the rise of intolerant Islam. Secularism, universal rights, was the alternative to both. She cited, as a young woman her inspiration: Southall Black Sisters and the beloved Gita Segal.

Andy Greeg (Race on the Agenda) outlined the issues involved in different ethnic or ‘race’ policies and the problems of politics which depended on ‘community leaders’. He mentioned that the Conservatives had actively sought support from Hindus. The election results showed that the Tories had scored well in this constituency, and amongst Sikhs. Labour could not take the Black and Minority Vote for granted.

A high-point of the day was a talk, “Cartooning against the Coalition’, illustrated by magic lantern, by the cartoonist, Martin Rowson.

It is hard to recall the name of the politician whose face he described as resembling a “balloon full of sick”.

We will leave it to readers to imagine who it is.

More on Chartist Magazine

Chartist AGM: the Pro-European Left.

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“Chartist was a very different animal when I took over as Editor in Spring 1974 .  The banner headline on the tabloid talked of joining a ‘joint command of revolutionary organisations and preparing for dual power’.”

Editor’s Report. 2014.

An exceptional Chartist AGM took place on Saturday the 14th of June.

The meeting began with a session of the Financial Crisis and Worker Democracy.

Prem Sikka from Essex University  gave an overview of the part accountancy, to most people one of the most  boring subjects ever invented, had played in neo-liberalism. He illustrated his case by showing how the rules of accountancy underpinned the banking crises, and the ‘outsourcing’ of state functions. This did not mean that the state, viewed in terms of spending public money, had shrunk. It has been “restructured” – to give ever greater subsidies to the private firms who now carry out many of its functions. The present privatising regime had created widespread poverty, not only for the unemployed, but for those working under ‘flexible’ zero hours contracts.  Sikka set out a list of reforms that would bring the banking and financial sector under greater public control, increase transparency,  and end widespread fraud and short-term profiteering.

Janet Williamson, Senior Policy Officer of the TUC, made the case for looking again at the proposals for worker representation in companies, last brought up by the 1970s the Bullock Report. She argued that having a voice for workers in firms decisions was essential, not just for justice, but for better wealth production and long-term stability.

In the discussion that followed  the issues of socialising the banks, the disciplining of the reserve army of the workless by workfare, and whether ‘voice’ was sufficient for socialists who wish employees to have fuller control over their working lives. The ‘shrinking’ of the state was questioned when the transfer of its functions to private companies living off tax-raised funds  had real effects on accountability and workers’ conditions.

After lunch John Palmer (former European Editor – the Guardian) spoke of What now for the left after the European elections? Palmer began by talking about the rise of the xenophobic right, particularly in the UK (UKIP) and France (the Front National). They were joined by other hard and far-right parties in Greece (Golden Dawn) and Hungary. Social Democracy, above all in france, had done very badly. Their left competitors, the Front de Gauche, had stagnated. The British Labour Party had got solid results, but had lost the lead to UKIP.  Palmer, however, pointed to the good results for the left in Southern Europe, notably Greece (Syriza), Spain (Podemos and the Izquierda Unida). From the floor Italy was added, where the centre-left Democratic Party (Partito Democratico), did well and the further left alliance (L’Altra Europa con Tsiprasre-entered the European Parliament.

Palmer explained very clearly that it was up to the Left to promote a federalist agenda as the only way to unite Europe’s left into an effective force that could shape the European Union in a different, social, direction. We need to change the terms of debate.  He cited Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century as a milestone on this journey.It had brought back inequality onto the agenda, showing how rewards to capital has grown at the expense of wage. The left’s agenda needed to centre on the European Parliament. He finished by pointed out how far Britain was isolated in its opposition to Jean-Claude Juncker. By contrast to the British Labour Party, which shares this hostility with the Liberal-Conservative Coalition, the left should be building alliances to fight austerity across the continent.

Chartist has long stood for a pro-European left. Debate and questions raised the problematic stand of some (including Palmer) who back the break-up of Britain yet want a federalist Europe. It was also noted that Picketty’s book came at a time when France’s centre-left was rediscovering the important of fighting inequality. (see The society of equals: Pierre Rosanvallon 2004.  French Edition: La Société des égaux, Le Seuil, 2011). Whether Europe, and the EU,  had played a negative role in backing US-interference the Ukrainian crisis and interventions in the Middle East and Libya was discussed.

Reports indicated that Chartist has continued to attract a wide-range of democratic socialist contributors. The Editor Mike Davis, stated that the journal is supportive of the Labour Party and progressive forces within it, and the majority do not see the way forward in independent electoral left initiatives. But the publication  also attracts Greens, the Left Unity Party,  and independent socialists. The magazine backs the People’s Assembly and has played a significant role in the Labour Assembly Against Austerity.

There were two resolutions. One called for support for the Yes campaign for Scottish Independence, and the other for Chartist backing for a London rally calling for Scotland to break away from the United Kingdom.

From the audience concern was expressed at moves to separate people on national grounds. It was also pointed out by another Chartist supporter that the mover of the resolution’s own party, Left Unity, did not endorse these views, that Chartist is not a directly campaigning group with a ‘line’ and that it was said that Alex Salmond was so vain that he drank his own bath water. We might guess who made the latter comments.

The resolution fell, supported only by its two movers.

The Chartist Magazine is now fully on-line.

The new site is up and running.You can access it here.

It is seriously worth reading.

There was a great get-together in the pub afterwards and an excellent meal in a Greek Taverna.