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LRC conference preview

This coming Saturday, the Labour Representation Committee will meet for its annual conference. It does so at a crucial juncture in the trajectory of the Labour left, of the Labour Party itself and the wider labour movement. What role the LRC plays will, of course, be largely determined by the direction it takes now. One of the good things about the conference is the fact it’s a working conference as opposed to a rally and this is reflected in a vast array of motions for delegates to debate and discuss. Broadly speaking these resolutions fall into two categories; shaping a response to cuts and a debate about the LRC’s role within Labour and the wider Labour left.

My feeling about the first category is that the motions themselves represent something of a patchwork quilt with some going into fine detail about the policies they want to see and others, like the motion from the Communication Workers Union, merely wanting the LRC to mobilise the wider Party in the fight against the cuts. This is a problem as it is going to hamper the drafting of coherent policy. It would have been far better had we previously agreed, for example, on the principle of campaigning for Labour councils to adopt a social budget and then given a body the task of drafting this document and then submitting it to the democratic judgement of the conference. This reflects the problem that the LRC remains at an embryonic stage of organisation.  As it is, my fear is that the LRC won’t have anything coherent to say come the local elections.

On the second question there appears to be more coherency with two motions calling for the LRC to take a leading role in trying to establish a unified platform of the Labour left (from Leeds LRC and Islington LRC). This is an especially important task especially with the disintegration of Compass. Compass is trapped between being an inner-party fraction and an outside campaigning group, and there are some signs this tension may be inherent within the LRC in a motion coming from Lambeth and Southwark LRC which argues that:

We recognise the slogan ‘rebuild the party’ may be relevant to the activities of LRC members in the Labour Party. However, it is not appropriate as a slogan or campaign for the LRC as a whole given the nature of our membership. We want to unite the left in the labour movement and this will not be achieved if we alienate organisations such as the RMT, FBU and PCS who do not support the Labour Party.”

Not only are these tensions potentially explosive when an organisation reaches a certain size, weight and relevance (as Compass has demonstrated) but they are potentially fruitful grounds for our opponents who would smear us. It’s true that I don’t think the LRC has reached the position where this tension cannot be contained but it is certainly already exploited by the likes of Luke Akehurst to bash the LRC. It’s something that I feel its better to decide on sooner rather than later. On balance I take the comrade’s point about the trade unions but my feeling is this; them leaving the field of battle within Labour has weakened the left and that is not a good thing. We have to seriously argue this point with these comrades in a comradely but firm fashion.

Had the unions in question been undemocratically driven out of Labour and given no choice but to stand alone, that would have been a different matter but they weren’t so we have to ask them to recognise the fight that is going within Labour and engage in it. This is especially true given the elevation of Len McCluskey to the leadership of Unite. A McCluskey led Unite, fighting alongside the PCS, FBU and RMT would be a potent political force within Labour and the wider labour movement.

Looking beyond the future of this government we can see that it is likely (though by no means inevitable) that it will eventually be replaced by a Labour government with a mildly reforming mandate but that is subject to much greater expectations than its manifesto will necessarily suggest it is capable of. On the left we are prone to histrionic overstatement; it is what has sustained us through tough times ( a habit, incidentally, the Liberal Democrats now seem to be sharing).  However, it is no overstatement to recognise that there is a germ of something new in the air and that this presents the opportunity (not the inevitability) of winning some of those radical changes we all desire. If we are honest though our organisations; our theory isn’t up to the challenge as things stand. The problems that afflict the LRC basically boil down to it having not moved beyond being a sum of its distinctive and somewhat diffuse parts.

Hopefully, Saturday will be a small step in the right direction towards changing that…..

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