Left Unity conference rejects Socialist Platform

Submitted by AWL on 30 November, 2013 - 9:09

The conference on 30 November of the Left Unity group launched a year ago by Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson (after they quit Respect) voted to support the "Left Party Platform" and to adopt "aims" in line with it.

The explicitly working-class, common-ownership Socialist Platform was defeated by 216 to 122 votes with 28 abstentions.

Another comrade will write a proper report of the conference. Here are a few points.

• The dominant type in the conference, so far as I could judge, was the "ex-member" - of Respect, of the SWP, of Workers' Power, of Militant or the SP, sometimes of the Labour left or the Green Party or the CP.

• Those "ex-members" wanted, on social and economic issues, something "broader", less sharply left-wing, than their old organisations.

• The conference was a long series of votes after very brief debates on the rival political platforms and on many constitutional amendments. The Socialist Platform (which AWL backed) had the support of about one third of the conference, but got just one three-minute speech to explain itself.

• Despite the unsatisfactoriness of debate, I think the LPP victory represented a real political majority, rather than a stitch-up.

• The conference opened with an attempt to get it to endorse a 14-page "Safe Spaces" policy, circulated only a few days before, with a short speech for and no debate. Ruth Cashman of Lambeth Left Unity was able to challenge the standing orders committee, get a speech, and get an overwhelming majority to remit the policy.

• A move to elect a new National Coordinating Group fell by 110 to 228. The old NCG remains in office.

• The Left Party Platform was moved in a speech by Felicity Dowling which said nothing about the specific content or angle of the platform, but was very like the "general-socialist" speeches which she would have learned to make in her youth as a cadre of the Militant group (forerunner of the SP).

• The LPP's movers cannily accepted amendments to their platform from Camden LU, moved by Ken Loach, which incorporated many (not all) of the left-wing ideas from the Socialist Platform somewhere or other into their (long) text. They thus gave themselves an answer to people who will say LU is not clearly enough socialist. The LPP as amended was passed 295 for, 101 against, 12 abstentions.

• However, an amendment from the (left-wing) Lambeth LU group to designate the platform adopted at the conference as only a platform, not a statement of aims, had been passed by 172 votes to 167. This had the perverse result of giving priority to a statement of aims proposed as part of the LU constitution which codified all the least left-wing trends of the LPP and defined LU by a "belief in the benefits of cooperation and community ownership" and "a democratically planned economy… within which all enterprises, whether privately owned, cooperatives, or under public ownership, operate in ways that promote the needs of the people".

• Another statement of aims from Hackney and Tower Hamlets LU was also passed, 173 to 121 with 46 abstentions.

• The most vehement debate, mobilising sentiments which remain in the "ex-members" from their old groups, was on two constitutional amendments. Women who opposed a rule demanding at least 50% women for LU committees were denounced as echoing "far right" arguments and wanting to set up structures which would "ignore rape". The angry speakers, who won a big majority, had forgotten that the SWP Disputes Committee which dealt badly with (not ignored) rape charges had a majority of women. A constitutional amendment to bar LU from organising in Northern Ireland even if people there want to join was passed by a big majority after fierce denunciations of such organising as "imperialist".

• A constitutional amendment to have directly elected national council members in addition to representatives elected by postal ballot from (non-existent) regions was carried 125-113-47. One to have the council constituted by representatives from the 34 or so LU branches rather than postal-ballot reps from regions was lost 115-142-33. A clause to allow individuals (not just groups) to initiate motions in LU structures was carried.

• All debate on campaigning and electoral strategy fell off the agenda as the other debates overran. It is genuinely not clear what LU plans to do now - not even (though LU leaders see it as very much an electoral project) what it will do in the May 2014 elections.

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