A fightback at Labour Party conference

Alan Davies says the Labour left may be battered and bruised but the recent party conference was a reason to be optimistic.


Both reports of Labour Party conference on this site – by Neil Faulkner and Veronica Fagan –are, in my view, far too negative.

Neil Faulkner’s summation: “Every one of Starmer’s dull platitudes earned enthusiastic endorsement. Nothingness was what they wanted to hear” is a wrong reading of a conference that that was positioned well to the left of anything Keir Starmer expected, and one that challenged his agenda throughout. It was hard to believe that he was talking about the same conference that I observed.

He correctly notes that “a left-led Labour Party took 40% of the popular vote in the 2017 general election”. Yet he goes on to conclude from this that “new activist networks founded on the concept of red-green revolution from below” are urgently needed to replace a mass party which got that result despite constant mendacious sabotage from its own MPs and universal press hostility. Such a party cannot quickly be replaced by a vanguard of ecosocialist activists.

I’m all in favour of revolutionary optimism but it has to be based on what is happening at a mass level. Neil Faulkner is trying to conjure this new leadership out of little more than thin air.

Veronica Fagan also argues that the conference was a disaster for the left – although I am not sure her report supports such a conclusion since it is studded with examples of strong interventions and gains made by the left.

In my view the conference was confirmation that despite being battered, bruised and the ongoing witch hunt the Labour left is alive and well and is developing a fightback against Starmer.

Big gain on Palestine

The conference adopted – as Veronica Fagan recognises – its strongest ever resolution on Palestine including its characterisation of an apartheid state. This was not only a big step forward but a big snub to the witch hunt.

It called for a £15 minimum wage and sick pay at the level of a living wage, in confrontation with the platform. CLP delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour of electoral reform, though it was lost on a card vote. The conference voted for a Green New Deal – though the most radical version, moved (very well) by Matt Wrack from the FBU, was lost on card vote.

Most of Starmer’s constitutional reforms – designed to block the election of another left leader – went through, again on a card vote with CLPs voting against. Even then it was close, with UNITE against and Unison in favour – which apparently swung the vote. Starmer had already been forced to withdraw his most dangerous proposal – a return to the electoral college system – when it became clear that even on a card vote it would fail.

All this – in my view – more than reaffirms the importance of an orientation to Labour wherever it is possible to do so. There is a fight-back taking place inside Labour and we need to be a part of it. This would not (and does not) stop us supporting struggles and campaigns outside – in fact it puts us in a better situation to do so. We should fight the witch hunt at every stage and defend those victimised by Starmer. We need to work inside and outside Labour, whilst seeing Labour as our primary orientation wherever that is possible given the witch hunt.

This is not because we have concluded that Labour can go beyond reformism – something which has yet to be adequately tested – but because it is the most effective place to locate ourselves for the foreseeable future. 

The alternatives, in any case, are not good. The idea of building new parties to the left of Labour, which has reared its head once again since the defeat of Corbynism – should be rejected. They are not going to happen. A combination of the first past the post voting system, the sectarianism of the radical left, and the discrediting nature of previous attempts build such parties, more than rules it out under any predictable circumstance.

Nor is global ecosocialist revolution likely to explode onto the scene ‘like a dormant volcano erupting’, with dual power on the streets, as Neil Faulkner has suggested. This is delusional and dangerous. The current global relationship of forces rules it out. We only have 10 years to avert environmental catastrophe and can’t build socialism on a dead planet. This means building a movement that can force the capitalist elites to make major structural changes, here and now, including the complete decarbonisation of the global economy and its replacement by renewable energy as a driving force for a future ecosocialist society.

Labour, meanwhile, remains a mass party with 400,000 members with a large radical left within it. In fact those left within Labour is bigger than any other section of organised radical left in England, and is still bigger than when Corbyn was elected leader.

Our stance inside Labour is clear. We should be to support the fightback against the right-wing agenda and to promote environmental issues as strongly as possible. This means defending an ecosocialist world view and making the environment our number one task. There is a big opportunity to do this inside Labour working through Red Green Labour and SERA and Labour for a Green new Deal

Labour Party membership is complementary to building support for movements and campaigns outside such as BLM, Palestine solidarity, for social justice and human rights and in support for trade union and industrial struggles.

This means (crucially) defending Corbynism – the most important radical left movement in Britain in a generation – against a right-wing and the media that are determined to rewrite history in order to destroy it. They tell us that the 2019 election was Labour’s worst defeat in modern times and that Corbyn was responsible – neither of which are true.

As far as the right-wing and the media are concerned, the whole of Corbynism, including its mass rallies, the popular and radical manifesto, and its huge support amongst young people in both 2017 and 2019 must be eradicated from the collective consciousness. This does not mean being uncritical of Corbynism, but it does mean consistently defending it against those who are out to destroy it. Every time someone on the left declares that Corbynism is dead, blames Corbyn for his own defeat, or declares the Starmer has now won the battle inside the party they strengthen the right-wing cause. They want to demoralise us and force us out. We mustn’t let them.

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