21 Sep 2008

Convention of the Left

I enjoyed visiting yesterday, although weary from going to Manchester and back in a day.

There is clearly huge electoral space on the left, with the Lib Dems moving right ward, there is no clearly articulated alternative to the madness of the market. Creating an electoral alternative is vital but difficult, clearly the Green Party when compared to the rest of the left in England is doing something right, we have elected councillors, MEPS and GLA members...the Ken-green coalition nearly beat Boris, everywhere else Labour unsurprisingly saw a huge drop in support.

Nonetheless the Green Party is not quite poised for Westminister government, although with some hard work we could pick up three MPs at the next General Election.

The trade unions continue to support New Labour, the bad experiences of the Socialist Alliance, Respect, the Socialist Labour Party mean that creating a left of Labour party does not look easy.

However I think on the 90% we do agree, we can at least be working locally...there have been unity projects...think for example of the Chesterfield Socialist Conference in the 1980s.

The convention was lively, certainly Tony Benn, John McDonnell and Lindsey German had interesting things to say when I listened to them, at least some links are being made.

It's very rare for me to praise a speaker from the SWP like Lindsey but I thought what she had to say was apologetic, positive and modest....I am hoping the far left can start being more plural and less dogmatic, we shall see...the SWP have a bad reputation for trying to take over everyone's campaigns....Martin Empson who I know and is also from the SWP was also excellent, talking about how in Manchester Greens/SWP/campaigners in general work together and noting how although the media was obssessed with bankers losing their jobs, no press for 850 (!) council workers facing sack in Oldham...generally the discussion was good.

It was very nice to chat to Tony Benn and John McDonnell....the Labour Party is firmly on the neo-liberal right but there are still some lovely people in it!

I was warmly greeted by the guy who edits Workers Power and by Mark Fischer of the CPGB, both organisations are bit outside my political orbit, although I did debate with John Cornford of the CPGB/Weekly Worker last summer...particularly good to bump into Andy and Chris from Green Left and lots of Green Party members and Diana Raby whose book 'Democracy and Revolution' I am encouraging people to take a look at.

Here is a report from the Morning Star...and I am back on wednesday night in Manchester, hoping to get to Roberto Perez's meeting in Friends House where the Convention is being held...before I debate with George Galloway, Lindsey, etc.

Uniting to find a new way forward
(Sunday 21 September 2008)

LOUISE NOUSRATPOUR hears the Left's plot to rally together an alternative to Labour.

The aim of the Convention of the Left is to unite against a resurgent Tory Party and a growing BNP, filling the vacuum left by new Labour's abandoning of the working class.

With delegates from across the left debating issues of peace and socialism long abandoned by new Labour, the event is intended to offer a stark contrast to the official Labour conference taking place just down the road in Manchester.

That point was driven home by a banner on display after Saturday's 5,000-strong anti-war demonstration.

It bore two clear messages - one reading "war," with a blue arrow directing people to the Labour conference in the GMEX Centre, and the other saying "peace," with an arrow pointing to the convention hall in Friends Meeting House, where convention delegates joined a lively debate on practical policies to counter new Labour's agenda of war and neoliberalism.

Opening the session, event organiser John Nicholson said that the four-day convention was about "developing practical policies through discussions and contributions from all, not just a panel of the usual suspects."

He stressed that the aim was not to form yet another left party but to unite the movement around the big issues agreed by all.

As the global economy took a nosedive last week, the bourgeois media was nervously asking whether "the end of capitalism" was near.

But a Respect activist pointed out: "Capitalism will not collapse on its own accord because the state will always step in to rescue the system at the expense of the working class.

"We have to bring it down and this convention can be an important step towards that direction."

Indeed, only a few days ago, the US government effectively nationalised AIG for $85 billion in public money and Britain has pumped billions into the finance sector to bail out City gamblers.

While governments use taxpayers' cash to fund bankers' greed, the fat cats are busy sacking workers, cutting wages and slashing pensions lest the self-made crisis eat into their profits.

John McDonnell MP warned: "In my constituency in west London, unemployment is already rising, wages are being depressed, homelessness is at a crisis point and more and more refugees are being deported.

"Enough is enough. We have a historic opportunity to recreate the left and put progressive policies into practice."

Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German also said that, rather than debate "whether to create a new workers' party," the convention should focus on "practical solutions to help the working class defend itself against the economic crisis and imperialist wars."

Andy Smith of Permanent Revolution said that the convention must analyse the reasons why Respect collapsed "or we run the danger of repeating those mistakes."

One activist, only introduced as Tariq, said: "I've just come back from Pakistan, where bombs are going off all the time.

"It is the duty of the left in this country and internationally to unite, because we cannot have peace here when bombs are dropped on sleeping children elsewhere."

Green Party representative Derek Wall summed up the meeting with a quote from an anarchist song: "Even though we disagree, we have a common enemy and that is capitalism."

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