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Ann Black’s report from Labour’s March executive

Inside Labour ann black from NECNational Executive Committee, 15 March 2016

Ann Black reports on Labour’s national executive committee meeting which took place this month.

This was a shorter meeting than January, only five-and-a-half hours. Glenis Willmott MEP opened with her European report, pleased that the government had finally applied for flood relief funds after Labour lobbying. Talks with Turkey were aimed at alleviating the refugee crisis, and Labour MEPs would ensure that any money was used for humanitarian assistance. Turkey’s possible accession to the EU was a long way off and would require real progress on human rights, and short-term visa arrangements would apply only within the Schengen area, not to Britain. On the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) she promised that Labour would continue to oppose any deal which threatened public services, and to demand transparency in dispute settlement procedures. She stressed that in the coming referendum Labour was backing Britain at the centre of a social Europe, not David Cameron’s very different concept.

Leader’s Report

Jeremy Corbyn was campaigning hard in the Scottish, Welsh, London, local, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections. Labour had led the government defeat over Sunday trading, and he paid tribute to USDAW’s campaign. Copious leaks were helping to prepare for the budget debate: four-fifths of the cuts would disproportionately affect women, the poor would suffer most, and the £1.2 billion cut in personal independence payments for disabled people was disgraceful. He had met the party of European socialists, and praised Germany and Greece for their efforts to help people driven from their homes by wars and disasters. He hoped that new talks could bring peace to Syria, but the refugees were here, now, and needed support. He had given the Keir Hardie memorial lecture, and summer would bring the centenary of Harold Wilson’s birth and the great labour movement festivals of Tolpuddle and the Durham miners’ gala.

I asked for a strong, visible pro-European campaign, with MPs and the leadership working alongside Alan Johnson. Jeremy Corbyn recognised the value of a Europe based on unity, solidarity and internationalism and thought that Labour had a coherent message but refused, I believe rightly, to share a platform with David Cameron. The BMA had thanked him for supporting the junior doctors in their continuing dispute. He also responded to comments on the lower minimum wage for under-25s, the select committee review of laws around prostitution, the importance of engaging with people from all ethnic and religious groups, the SNP’s false claims to be a party of the left, and international women’s day, when he took the shadow cabinet to Dagenham. He welcomed the unprecedented numbers of new members and their knowledge, ideas and enthusiasm: if ground down by bureaucracy and bored by meetings they would leave, and we should all mobilise around radical policies on housing and workers’ rights. The NEC urged MPs, again, to stop squabbling as they were undermining hardworking candidates.

Election Roundup

Jon Trickett MP said that Labour’s theme would be Standing Up Not Standing By, contrasting our strong principles against the Tories as the party of privilege. Most voters thought the Tories were handling the economy badly, and John McDonnell was starting to rebuild Labour’s economic credibility. Other messages would focus on housing, crime and policing, and the NHS. Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle city council and newly-elected leader of the local government association’s Labour group, highlighted the disproportionate impact of Tory cuts on Labour councils. Central government was also interfering with local decisions on investment, and disrupting good relationships with trade unions. He suggested looking to Labour councils to demonstrate economic competence in action.

Local government representatives again thanked Jon Trickett, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn for their letter explaining that councils must set legal budgets. Nevertheless Labour councillors were doing all that they could to protect the most vulnerable. They were urged to support demonstrations which laid the blame at George Osborne’s door and to explain how a Labour government would have protected services.

Some were concerned about the impact of the Euro-referendum on council campaigns, but I supported Glenis Willmott in arguing that Europe cannot wait until 6 May. The best opportunity to collect voter intentions on Europe is while canvassing in the next six weeks. A quarter of all local parties were already doing so, and regional directors would be asked to encourage the others. Tens of thousands of jobs were at stake, and leaving would be a catastrophic blow from which it could take a decade to recover.

Chancellor in Waiting

John McDonnell reported on the work of his economic advisory council. He was planning a national economic conference on 21 May, and would circulate the women’s budget group analysis. The strategy was twofold. First, dismantle George Osborne, who was failing even on his own terms. He was selling the furniture at knock-down prices to pay the rent, and wasting £1.5 billion on competition between academies. This was not a long-term plan for the country, but a short-term plan for his own political ambitions.

Second, restore Labour’s credibility through fiscal rules which would reduce debt, balance spending and allow for long-term investment in skills and infrastructure, all overseen by an independent body. He supported zero-based budgeting to ensure that all money was spent wisely. NEC members agreed that austerity was a political choice, not an economic necessity, and highlighted the potential of “green” jobs.

Rearranging the Deckchairs?

The NEC returned to its own terms of reference, and trade union representatives produced a list of changes which they had agreed privately with the general secretary. The only disagreement was whether the NEC should be defined as “the governing body of the party” as per the website, or “subject to party conference, the NEC is the administrative body responsible for the governance of the party” as the general secretary preferred. We ended up with a compromise, and when I get the minutes I will know what it is.

I was most interested in policy-making, where NEC functions now include “acting as the custodian of Labour party policy”. This is supplemented by “as far as is possible, new policy positions are only made following consultation with the appropriate policy commission and with leader’s office agreement” and “the joint policy committee (JPC) is responsible for the oversight of the national policy forum and policy commissions in producing a rolling programme for submission to party conference and its work will be reported to the full NEC at its meetings.” This leaves most of the NEC with less say in policy than when I was first elected 17 years ago, but at least we can empathise with ordinary members.

Angela Eagle’s review may pick this up, and contributions can be made at www.labour.org.uk/ourparty or sent to policymakingreview@labour.org.uk. Policy commissions are up and running, and the national policy forum may meet in July. Other party reform groups are also meeting, though the elections and the referendum are higher priorities for many. I have passed on numerous requests to update the website.

Finance Matters

Iain McNicol gave an update on Tory moves to bankrupt the Labour party through cuts to Short money, paid to opposition parties, and the trade union bill. Labour peers had worked tirelessly, building cross-party alliances in support of reasonable compromises. Membership continued to be strong, though the 2015 surge were now coming up to their first anniversary. This is when people decide whether to stay or leave, especially those who join with one-off payments, and every effort should be made to keep them.

I and other constituency representatives drew attention to the pressure on local parties. The NEC development fund, which holds a large chunk of membership subscriptions, attracted few bids by the February deadline, and many of those were from richer and better-organised applicants. There were no bids from the south-west or from Scotland. Part of the 2011 Refounding Labour deal was that election insurance, Contact Creator, the Euro-election levy and one conference delegate pass would be paid centrally for all constituencies. I have proposed adding NationBuilder and an allowance for conference accommodation to this list, and would be interested in views on how this fund should best be used.

Young Labour

Disturbing allegations have been made recently about behaviour within Oxford University Labour Club and around the election of the NEC youth representative. Baroness Jan Royall has been appointed to examine all of these, and I urge anyone with evidence to send it to her via Iain McNicol. The 11 regional representatives on the young Labour national committee were elected in online one-member-one-vote ballots with no complaints, though a turnout of just 3.5% shows that online voting is not a magic bullet.

Deputy leader Tom Watson had drafted a statement on safeguarding issues. For local parties the most common concerns will be over their young members canvassing or attending conferences, and there are now 10,000 aged between 14 and 18. Occasionally more serious issues of child sexual exploitation may come to their attention. Guidance will be circulated soon, outlining the party’s responsibilities.

Selections Past and Future

I have fed back critical comments on selection procedures for police and crime commissioner candidates. Looking forward, the boundary commission has now published its timetable for reducing 650 constituencies to 600. I am a member of the panel which will consider its recommendations, due in September 2016, and agree the party’s submissions. The panel will work in the collective interest of the whole party, and support Labour MPs through the process. Procedures for sitting MPs seeking to stand will be exactly as defined in the rulebook for the 2010/2015 cycle, with the dates rolled forward.

As usual please feel free to circulate this report, and to contact me with any comments or questions.

Ann Black, 88 Howard Street, Oxford OX4 3BE, 07956-637958, annblack50@btinternet.com. Previous reports are at www.annblack.co.uk

31 Comments

  1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    “If I were mayor, I’d invite everyone to have free boat trips on the river and free balloon rides over the city. I’d let the elderly in residential homes wander free.”

    Jane Birkin

    1. John P Reid says:

      MYor of London or Mayor of tower hamlets,and a labour one too, doesn’t matter if you’re not a labour Mayor, Ann Black will still endorse you if you stand in Tower hamlets.

  2. Verity says:

    Commenting on just two themes from the report:

    1. McDonnell’s economic policy of, “….balancing spending and to allow for long-term investment in skills and infrastructure…” was inevitable given the pressure for him to meet arguments about Labour’s credibility and McDonnelll has done much to formulate an understandable and believable policy. However it requires much more work to become an economic strategy. I would be much happier if I thought the NEC had alerted itself – even if not me and others at this stage – to the fact that it is not a fully formed ‘long term economic plan’. The newly aroused activists are considerable energised by local campaigns against closures of libraries; against closures of SureStart Centres; in favour of restoring the number of Police Offices; investing in the retention of fully equipped Fire Engines; increasing entitlement to the most needy and increasing expenditure to deal the large number of migrants in need of financial and social and mental services and housing; and with increased spending in areas of Life where long term returns can be shown to save – Adult Social Care for ‘bed-blocking’ restoring future cuts to e.g. disability allowances and so many more. If you balance the books on current expenditure then you get the resources from withdrawal from other public expenditure or you increase tax. Of course we may gain some tit bits from the Googles, Amazons, and Starbucks who may develop a conscience for not paying tax. There needs thought given to how to explain to newly enthused as to where we can balance this high expenditure need, given only a margin will be saved from the loss of Trident.

    2. Whilst only a marginal issue for the Labour party as such, there is one area of clarity required about ‘one -off – payers’ (Momentum) that has emerged – they joined the Party, there remaining a loosely associated fan base is hardly likely given the absence of an organisational framework. This is encapsulated in the statement, that, “… those who join with one-off payments …. every effort should be made to keep them”, i.e., join, or we haven’t thought about anything else. A more fully formed open strategy should be encouraged by those with an interest, since big changes have now taken place on the ground. Supporters and Affiliated Supporters are now longer receiving the invitations to Labour Party meetings as they were once courted. The big Corbyn meetings that attracted and invited such meetings now longer do so (in the case of those by McDonnell). If they are to be quietly buried than it would be better to now be open instead of later becoming surprised by the effect that the detachment now brings.

    Both issues are elements of the maintenance and generation of a mass support movement deemed to be at the heart of the new leadership vision for change.

    1. Pat Holmes says:

      I’m 65 years old, an active member of the LP for some years, I voted enthusiastically for Jeremy Corbyn, I attend Momentum meetings – only LP members can attend meetings. Our priorities are supporting ‘at risk’ candidates in the May election and to stay in Europe. It’s a sub group where our ideas can be discussed freely- I’m lucky to be in a clp where I can voice ideas, but many are not and need the support of like minded LP members.
      We will work with other groups on the left for specific campaigns like the debate on Trident.
      There is a lot of nonsense being put about re Momentum. The rules are clear, the priorities are clear. Now get on with opposing the Tories – please!

  3. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    America in the 20th Century

    James T. Patterson

    “The fact was that large numbers of ordinary voters-citizens who had regularly cast ballots in state, local and national elections in the late 19th century and whose eligibility was in no way questioned-were no longer showing up on election day.”

    “A number of broader explanations have been offered for this curious and worrisome phenomenon.

    “One is that new forms of mass entertainment, notably moving pictures, the automobile and spectator sport, gradually succeeded in replacing politics as a source of popular attention.

    “Another explanation is the rise of huge corporations such as US Steel greatly increased the power of big business in politics, thereby discouraging-perhaps even alienating- many working class voters. Why bother to participate in a political system dominated by the rich and well born?

    “A third explanation for the decline in voting was the realignment of political parties following the depression of 1890’s and the demise of populism.

    “Voters left with little choice became apathetic, perhaps even alienated, except concerning sensitive cultural and religious issues.

    “Whatever the cause of this decline in turnout, it is clear that the Progressive era, far from attracting Americas into an increasingly broad based democratic system, witnessed the growing non-participation of millions.

    “No other aspect of state politics revealed more clearly that progressive reforms failed to engage the masses.

  4. David Pavett says:

    It is very good to have not just one by two reports on the last NEC. That helps to build a fuller picture. So thanks to both Ann B and Peter W

    I don’t find Glenis Wilmott’s assurances over TTIP very reassuring. The problem with TTIP is not just about public services but about government regulations even those applicable to private companies. Also Labour had said it would oppose ISDS and now seems to be saying that it wants it to be transparent. I don’t want three “independent judges” to determine government policy if the process is transparent. We need far more information about Labour’s position. And why is Labour not campaigning against the secrecy of the negotiations and the key documents involved?

    Ann asked for a strong and visible Labour EU campaign, which it certainly does not have at present. She appears to have been given no clear answer on this.

    Clearly, Labour Council’s have to protect the most vulnerable from the cuts as best they can but if they do this without Local LPs leading a campaign against the cuts they will in effect be co-operate in the reduction of the idea of public service to a safety net (like the USA).

    The weak position of the NEC and the Party at large with regard to policy formation continues to be alarmingly weak. It is absurd that it is essentially in the hands of bodies controlled by MPs It is worth following Ann’s links on this. The papers linked should be subject to discussion and response by branches and CLPs.

    1. John Penney says:

      Good points, David. TTIP has no good features at all, and the Investor/State Disputes process will hand multinational companies the opportunity to challenge every feature of national legislation that protects citizens from the complete freedom of capital to make profits. Yet most of the PLP are completely signed up to it – Labour specifically supported TTIP completely uncritically in the 2015 election Manifesto if I recall correctly – as a huge “job-creating” opportunity !

      The Pacific Area version of TTIP and the US/Canada variant, have seen huge numbers of (often successful) challenges by multinationals to a huge range of socially desirable legislation – even Australia’s decision to demand plain packaging for cigarettes !

      At present it seems that Labour is essentially becalmed and adrift policy-wise – with the Right majority in the PLP clinging tightly to the old pre-Corbyn era crap policy bundle, which justified supporting Austerity . There will be no decisive new detail policy formulation until the (I hope) decisive shift Leftwards in policy at the November Conference. If this clear Leftward Conference-led policy shift happens – on Trident and a myriad of other key policy areas – the battle with the PLP majority (who will seek to simply ignore Conference – again, as of old) will really get into full swing as Jeremy and his team at last have a clear Left policy platform to operate with.

      On the EU campaign , I suspect that the majority of the newer membership in particular are actually as hostile to staying in the EU as I now am, after the Troika’s assault on Greece – and the imminence of the dire TTIP deal. I certainly don’t believe that either Jeremy or John have any real enthusiasm to stay in either – but are trapped in a “Stay in and fight for progressive change” position because of the PLP majority for the “Stay” (with no concept of any progressive reform at all of course for most of the PLP ) position. I doubt very much whether many Labour Party members would go leafleting for the “Stay” Campaign. I certainly wouldn’t. Any Campaign with the ghastly Alan Johnson in charge can have no progressive features.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        I find that I largely agree with almost everything in your post above, which somewhat surprises; me and in good way for a change.

        Labor needs to reassert itself as a socialist party and your point about what happened to Greece despite the clear left consensus and mandate there will not be lost on anyone here.

        However it’s all very well citing the possible views, (you don’t actually seem to know what their views really are,) of a few thousand, “new,” members whist still completely ignoring the million or more former Labor members and supporters who were completely marginalized and aliened by Blair and his odious cronies and who have found scant comfort or reassurance even from JC despite my initial guarded optimism.

        When I voted for JC I as I’m sure many other people did as well, I had expected then, that shortly after that we would all be jointing the Labor party, unfortunately subsequent events, such as JCs tragic and cynical defeat on the vote about opposing further attacks on Syria and events within my local constituency such as the nomination by our CLP of yet another right wing sticky fingered local government careerist, (Jim McMahon,) to succeed, (“succeed,” being the right word; this is an ultra safe labor seat,) whilst our other MP is perusing own her own commercial agenda and seem to have little interest in anything beyond that and so on.

        I didn’t expect miracles and as I say I grew up with local politics, (in different and probably a better time and political climate; to the point of being almost sick to death of it sometimes,) so on reflection some of my nastier comments about our CLP have been a bit harsh or perhaps just unrealistic about human nature and about the nature, motives and temperaments of the kinds of people, (all too human like the rest of us,) who go into local politics.

        But so far I see absolutely nothing going on here, that would make me vote Labor again let alone join the party; and too much that actually repels me, (the pro EU position, Labor ignoring of both the out of control and completely uncountable privatization programs, the consequences of TTIP, the tacit endorsement of the vicious Tory attacks on the unemployed and particularly on the disabled, (which McMahon was only to happy to join in with,) and so on….)

        1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          One final bugbear of mine are these, (un) elected Police and Crime Commissioners, (just a way of privatizing the Police force by the back door,) that no one really votes for, no one ever wanted or asked for and that nobody really supports and which have turned out in practice to be just another sinecure in the gift of the consistency parties of whatever hue, (as exemplified by the dire and catastrophic failures of a seemingly typical local government careerist like Sean Wright in Rotherham, for example,) the power and authority should be returned to the chief constables as soon as is practical, under the oversight of the properly elected local councilors.

      2. Peter Rowlands says:

        Yes, I also agree with David’s points. However, although he has pointed out that policy making is dominated by MPs, you seem to think that a raft of left wing policies will miraculously appear at conference this autumn.This is now doubtful.
        On the EU referendum, while your views are, I am sorry to say, representative of the left in the party, and of its leadership, they are profoundly wrong.They are passive and abstentionist. They can only be right if it doesn’t matter if we vote for Brexit, which is now a distinct possibility. But Brexit would be a disaster for the left.UKIP and all they stand for would have won.It would herald the advent of a much more right wing government than now, whose actions would be justified by appeals to flag waving patriotism and imperial/Battle of Britain nostalgia and the supposed recovery of sovereignty under which ordinary people would be hammered and xenophobia and racism encouraged.There is no future for the left in such a situation. The only way forward is to fight alongside left parties in the EU for the reforms that can challenge the domination of global capital and begin to develop a socialist society, because it is only the EU that is big and powerful enough to do this in Europe. Abstentionism makes Brexit more likely. Labour should campaign strongly to remain in a reformed and social, and eventually socialist , EU.

        1. Peter Rowlands says:

          My piece above is a reply to John Penney.

      3. David Pavett says:

        I agree with Peter about the EU. I am no more an enthusiast for the EU and the way it works (especially after the shocking treatment of Greece) than I am for our Parliament. Both suffer from a severe democratic deficit and both work within an overall logic of pursuing the interests of capital. However, that does not lead me to reject Parliament but rather to call for its democratic reform. Anything else, in current circumstances seems to me to amount to a rejection of real politics. The same reasoning applies to the EU and that is what I think Peter is saying.

        Rather than Brexit leading to a more isolated nation state more able to resist big capital it would have the reverse effect. Moreover, for most practical purposes, we would, through our trade with the EU be bound by the same agreements but without any chance of influencing them. Corbyn has started a programme of discussions with left and centre-left parties about EU reform (Miliband never got round to that) and I think that is the way to go. To will Brexit is to will the break up of the EU and for all its grievous faults we must ask if that would make a Europe which serves the interests of working people better (think about the social chapter, environmental regulation, holding back some of the excesses of giants like Microsoft …….). I really can’t see that as likely.

        What those favouring Brexit fail to do, in my view, is to spell out what would change and what would not. Even exiting would not and could not disentangle us from the EU. Just what would those entanglements look like. Brexit supporters need to explain that.

        1. Verity says:

          We have now strayed away to a side channel from the report, but I could not helped pointing out some flawed logic. The fact that a national parliament is (marginally) not democratic should not be an argument for accepting further tiers of the grossly undemocratic. Basically you cannot compare an institution like a national (and essentially, visible and comprehensible) democratic parliament with a non transparent multi-tiered, consortium like the EU.

          The second point about influence and consultation has become a part of the Labour’s meaningless rhetoric which is abstract and formal – lacking any real substance. If you ask a Labour MEP about this ‘consultation and influence’ as I have done, you will get a long silence before receiving a contrived, ‘pre-prepared’ shallow reply. International trade is rarely constrained for long by the issue of standards given WTO role. The EU does trade with ‘external’ nations when it suits dominate interests.

          I would suggest that the ‘will to Brexit’ would cause a shock wave that will fast forward major treaty introductions and a major reformulation of this set of paralysed Institutions – not a European ‘break up’ (whatever that means). I would also suggest that Brexit would not be anywhere near as revolutionary as the election of Corbyn was for the Labour Party. The EU could not carry on the facade without the UK (and then also possibly others – Denmark?). In time (two years) there could feasibly be produced radical reformulation of a European arrangements. I would suggest that the fact that I cannot specify the form it takes, is like saying do not vote for Corbyn as the Labour Party leader because you cannot say what effect it will have on the Labour Party. All radical change is by its nature radical and therefore lacks the predictive detail of conservative’s star – gazing model.

          1. David Pavett says:

            @Verity. The logical flaw is, I think, not mine.

            I said that the EU’s democratic deficit is not a sufficient argument for leaving it any more than the democratic deficit of our own Parliament (which, unlike you, I regard as much more than “marginal”) is an argument for dropping out of Parliamentary politics.

            You have read this as me saying the UK parliament has a democratic deficit so what is the problem in being in the EU which also has one. A second reading should show you that this is not at all what I said.

            Logic form. My point is that if the democratic deficit of the UK parliament is not a sufficient reason to turn our backs on it then it cannot be a sufficient argument for rejecting the EU.

            Contrary to your reading, what I am actually saying is that just as we should work for a more democratic UK Parliament we should also work for a more democratic EU. This is almost the opposite of what you understood in terms of political action.

            Further logical point: a “will” cannot produce a “shock wave”. Only the actions which take the will as a stimulus could do that.

            You say that the EU could not carry on the facade (can you “carry on” a “facade”?) without the UK. You do not explain why not even though it managed without the UK for decades.

            Finally, you predict a radical (if unpredictable) reform of European arrangements in the next few years. This hardlys sound like a good argument for the UK being outside the framework of the EU.

        2. David Ellis says:

          The only reason socialists participate in parliamentary politics is in order to use the platform electoral politics gives us to denounce the bogus nature of the democracy on offer, the impossibility of achieving socialism through it, its corrupt nature, and to help us to organise for the revolution.

          UKIP do the same with the European Parliament but of course they retain their illusions in the UK Parliament. We have no illusions in either.

        3. John Penney says:

          Peter ,your position was also pretty much my position too – for many years – until the appalling behaviour of the EU and IMF to cynically and decisively crush the (rather naïve in its Euro-enthusiasm one has to say in retrospect) Syriza government and the democratic will of its people, and the reality of the dire implications of TTIP on our national sovereignty, changed my mind .

          All the bright, hopeful, but very vague, verbiage about “working with out sister parties and European trades unions” to change the EU to a “workers Europe” , is, I’m afraid – simply empty rhetoric. With the current increasingly Far Right drift in the make up of the individual governments of the EU (outweighing the recent Leftward shift in Greece, Portugal, by a considerable degree), the thoroughly, bone-deep neoliberal purpose of the post Mastrich Treaty EU is set in stone for a considerable period. This utterly neoliberal EU simply WILL sign up to the disastrous TTIP deal, and work ceaselessly to impose privatisation and “full marketization” right across Europe.

          Regardless of the airy promises “to work with sister parties for a workers EU”, effective political action, and self-identity by workers across Europe, is still entirely built on the political “platform” of the individual nation state. I wish this wasn’t so – but it is. The EU is an entirely undemocratic institution. The European Parliament is a purely powerless figleaf, to conceal the real power of the neoliberalism enforcing bureaucracy.

          A decision to “Brexit” would be a “political tectonic plate shifting” event in the UK. The Far Right would not be marching on the streets the next day – or the Tory Rightists free to tear up all the civil and workers rights that too many in the Labour movement quite wrongly, (and ignoring our history of workers struggle underpinning all our gains) , claim are the gift of the EU ! In fact the class struggle will continue as before – but with a UK with a newly empowered UK Parliament actually able to decide on whether to sign up to TTIP type deals on the “political platform” of national politics that the overwhelming majority of workers actually relate to.

          Lastly – if Jeremy Corbyn became prime Minister of a Left-leaning Labour Government in 2020 almost every policy required to shift the UK from its current disastrous neoliberal path would be blocked by our remaining EU membership. So we would have to leave anyway. That is simply the reality for the Left, in seriously pursuing even a mildly radical socialist or even Left Keynsian agenda. So staying in the EU is simply not an option in the longer term, whatever the outcome of the in-out Referendum.

          1. Peter Rowlands says:

            A better argument for Brexit than most, but ultimately misconceived. Yes, the appalling treatment of Greece reminded us allof the strength of reactionary forces within the EU, but that does not mean to say that they completely predominate.I prefer to see the EU as a battleground between left and right, and in this sense defeat in a skirmish is no reason to forsake the field. Iknow that you now see the EU as unreformable, which if so would of course mean that a Corbyn government would have to leave, but I do not accept that this is so. No set of institutions is unreformable, or have the parties grouped within the Party of the European Left, all of whom oppose the EU’s neo liberal approach, completely misunderstood this? I think not.Neither is it the case tat the EU has become more right wing. Yes, Poland and Hungary are, but France and Italy less so.
            You are right in saying that class identity is primarily on a national basis, but not completely so, and to seek to extend it is surely a challenge for the left which we should not dismiss. This is simply because a separate UK, or separate European countries if the EU was to disintegrate, which Brexit could well hasten,would be much less capable of standing up against the power of global capital then a body the size of the EU,( after we have reformed it ).That would certainly be true of the UK post Brexit, in ways I have described, with the Labour movement significantly weakened through massive job losses. Much of the completely foreign owned car industry could leave, as would many other foreign owned concerns.
            Brexit would be a disater for the left. We should campaign strongly to remain. It’s as simple as that. I hope therefore John that you revert to your previous position on this.

          2. C MacMackin says:

            This is more of a reply to Peter Rowlands than John Penney:

            I don’t know that the EU is much of a battleground, to be honest. The structure of the treaties requires neoliberalism. In particular, the requirement for the free movement of capital would make any leftwing project difficult. It’s all very well to say that we should reform these treaties, but that requires unanimous agreement of the member states, which is not going to happen. I would never go so far as to say that reform of the EU is impossible, but it seem incredibly unlikely. I think a better strategy would have to be to campaign for a refoundation, somewhat along the line of Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 campaign. However, that would probably require splitting Europe into a new, democratic, EU and the rump of the existing one, if it were to have any success.

            Now, granted, we certainly do need to be working to build a European working class. I think that this is something which should be done whichever way the referendum goes. In fact, I would go farther and suggest that there should be a pan-European (hell, a global) party. If the Party of the European Left is serious about its left-Europeanism then it really should be looking at becoming a single European party with national chapters rather than the alliance which it is now. I also agree that a body the size of the EU would have much greater capacity to face down international capital. However, that is something of a moot point given that the current arrangement of the EU means that it has no interest in doing so and it is very near impossible to change those arrangements so that it would. In any case, I suspect it would take a much more centralized federation (closer to Canadian federalism) than currently exists for an entity such as the EU to be an effective opposition to capital, even if it wanted to be.

            To be honest, I don’t foresee either outcome of the referendum being good for the left, which simply reflects the fact that, despite Corbyn, the left remains weak. If the left and the labour movement were strong then we could probably build on either a “leave” or “stay” vote, but as is either result will likely end up feeding right-wing narratives. It’s just a matter of whether they are technocratic, globalization, competitiveness-centric ones or nationalistic, xenophobic, racist ones. Ultimately, though, I think that any left government would have to leave the EU as currently formulated, hopefully attempting to build a new European federation with any other left governments who have come to the same conclusion.

            PS: Since I’m a Canadian who has only been in the UK since October, season my arguments with salt to taste.

          3. Danny Nicol says:

            Peter Rowlands, your arguments don’t stack up. You concede that there are right wing governments in Poland and Hungary etc. You also seem to think we can reform the EU to the extent that it will stand up against the power of global capital. Yet you conveniently ignore that the direction of the EU can only be altered by agreement of all 28 Member States (revision of the Treaties, discarding TTIP, repeal of liberalisation directives). We have already seen a capitalist, David Cameron, secure pitiful “reforms” on the basis of a threat to Brexit, a threat which Labour has said it won’t make. I see scant prospect of substantial socialistic reforms given that, in the nature of things, the chances of a complete absence of neoliberal governments among the 28 are remote.

  5. David Ellis says:

    Thought I’d share this comment under a Guardian story about the boss of Wetherspoons signing up with 250 other capitalists for Brexit:

    This is more than just a split in the Tory Party this is a split within the British capitalist class itself and it is fundamental. Big corporations and finance houses want to stay in the EU whilst smaller and domestic capital has had enough of it and cannot any longer compete in the neo-liberal market. Both sides want state support but one wants it to compete in the wider world the other for protection at home whatever the rhetoric about even bigger open markets.

    The labour movement should be taking maximum advantage of this schism in and paralysis of the ruling class and using it to push its own radical, socialist agenda. If only it had one. The timing of Corbyn’s election to Labour leader could not have been more timely. Forty years of principled opposition to the neo-liberal EU and its predecessors meant it was in a great position to lead a labour movement Leave campaign whilst pushing a radical programme for a post-Brexit Britain and Europe that had little in common with those of the Tory right and UKIP whose rancid politics are likely to hand Cameron a victory. Unfortunately Corbyn caved into the party `moderates’ and agreed for the sake of unity with these useless people to campaign for a Remain vote. This is an about-turn analogous to the German social democrats voting for war credits in 1914 and will be disastrous for the working class. It more-or-less hands victory to Cameron and virtually guarantees that the disintegration of the Labour Party that Corbyn’s election had so dramatically halted and reversed will probably recommence especially when New Labour gargoyles including Blair himself are all over the media as the official voice of Labour campaigning for Bremain. As in Scotland where Labour were wiped out after collaborating with Cameron in another of his referendums the effect for Labour in England and Wales is likely to be the same. Unlike in Scotland however Labour are likely to be replaced as the opposition to the Westminster Establishment by the far right imitating the situation in every other European country with an absentee left.

    But it is not too late. Corbyn could still reverse his position and put Labour back at the heart of British politics by reversing his position and launching a labour movement Leave campaign that recognises the EU as an obstacle to a socialist Europe and Britain. His vision for a post-Brexit Britain and Europe could include a continent in which workers are not expected to chase each others’ tails from country to country in search of ever crappier wages and ever more meagre welfare. A Europe with a regime of full-employment in each member state paying the minimum of a trades union Europe-wide living wage. A Europe that no longer has an aggressive imperialist relationship with Africa and the Middle East based on theft of land, resources and people and the support of tyrants but on co-development and democracy.

    If that does not happen socialists know that it is not possible to vote for neo-liberalism, austerity and Cameron’s anti-working class `reforms’ that take us even further away from the Europe we claim to want to see without losing credibility. It is necessary to continue to campaign for Brexit and for our programme. The fundamental split in the ruling elite will not go away whatever the result in the referendum and we can rebuild a principled political leadership in the labour movement despite the disaster bequeathed to us by the right and left opportunists.

  6. Verity says:

    As continuing reply to David Pavett above. (Apologies for accepting the diversion from the NEC report)

    Thank you. I see your argument about conditions being expressed as sufficiency. Surely a condition has to be something, if not exact and precise, at least well understood for the test to be applied. If you define your ‘condition’ as an indeterminate scale then you can rarely be disproved or challenged. A condition defined as ‘democratic deficit’ gives you huge scope to claim that wherever there is any democracy whatsoever, no matter how negligible and deteriorating, then we should be a part of that cabal. The deterioration I refer to in this instance being TTIP, imaginative versions of TTIPs and the necessity for ever-larger union (in order to act as a buttress to NATO membership), and providing expanding markets at lower costs and the ever-increasing costs of future EU ventures. Economic bribes from the increasing membership fees being used for national pet projects and other cajoling being the established working methods to help override supposed ‘veto’ rights). Surely a better condition to introduce would be to say that we do have some minimal levels of expectation of democracy in order for us to justify signing up. It is here that we may disagree. I see the democracy with the UK (or any other) national parliament as being categorically different to the obscure tiers and webs of the EU. You seem to think the democracy is more comparable between the two. At least people do believe they can see and believe there is some influence in the form of democracy in their national parliaments, hardly anyone understands or could feasibly be expected to understand the EU decision-making processes. National parliaments have shown the potential for democratic reform, I suggest this is absent from the EU. I believe the EU falls below the minimum standards and this is why I would argue for Brexit and that it is our very planned withdrawal, which is one of very few sufficiently profound mechanism to become the catalyst for complete reconstruction of cooperation and internationalism that has been intimated by Corbyn in his tentative European ‘Socialist Party’. Continuation of the same old, same old and deteriorating is the message that the foundations are secure and delivering. – just needing tweaking here and there to avoid resentments.

    A second argument employed is that the EU will carry on as before after a Brexit. So better we are there with our ‘vast influence’. Whilst the UK has not always been a member of the EEC I think you are factually incorrect when you the EU has existed without the UK and therefore the ‘same old’ will continue as the ‘same old’. I will not argue it here, but I find it so difficult to see that a Brexit can result in anything more than wholesale treaty change proposals in order to restore a project of sorts. It is surely in the act of disengagement that we have the influence to create something of the new. We would surely be the most welcome non – member at the ‘table’. The UK is a considerable finance contributor to this enterprise and the ‘old EU’ would have to curtail its bribes for cooperation (fatal bribes) without UK contributory funding. The message we surely must make is that the EU falls well bellow standards for our participation and needs revolutionary restructuring to gain UK cooperation for newly reconstructed ventures. I cannot see how staying in, the hope of a better future, will do anything to bring about change. The winning proposition and plans for withdrawal I suggest will.

    1. David Pavett says:

      @Verity. Of course it is not the case that I am arguing that “wherever there is any democracy whatsoever, no matter how negligible and deteriorating, then we should be a part of that cabal”. You really do need to look at what I actually wrote and try not to fit it into some preconception of what you think I am saying. My argument means no more or less than is actually stated. I said that it cannot be a sufficient argument against EU membership to point out its democratic failings if that is not also an argument for shunning Parliamentary politics. That is all.

      Yes, of course, if one gets down to details then it would be possible in principle to argue that the democratic deficit of the EU is so bad that it cannot be redeemed whereas, one might argue at the same time, this is not the case for the UK Parliament. But then that is also really my point: the Brexit case from the left is remarkably lacking in such detailed analysis. If you don’t agree perhaps you could point me in the direction of such a case.

      You say “At least people do believe … there is some influence in the form of democracy in their national parliaments, hardly anyone understands or could feasibly be expected to understand the EU decision-making processes”. You must know that millions of people in the UK do not have that belief. Also the idea that voters here generally understand our Parliamentary decision making process is far-fetched. How many, for example, understand the role of Statutory Instruments?

      You say also “National parliaments have shown the potential for democratic reform, I suggest this is absent from the EU”. This untrue. Thus the EU Parliament has, over time managed to win more powers for itself vis-a-vis the Commission.

      You hope that Brexit will lead to EU treaty change although you do not say how or why in what direction. What you do not do, in common with most Brexiters, is consider to what extent we would still be subject to EU regulation, the likely loss of some major financial institutions to the EU. It is not written in the stars that London must be the financial capital of Europe and there are others keen to compete.

      You suggest that I am factually incorrect about what you take to be my prediction of likely future events. It is not possible to be factually incorrect about events which have not taken place.

      Finally, you do not consider joint action with other left and centre-left parties to reform the EU even though you think it would change radically as a result of Brexit. That seems to me to be both strange and to put too little weight on the importance of joint action with socialist, left and centre-left parties and groups on an international scale.

      To relate back to Ann’s NEC report what I find alarming is the apparent lack of any detailed consideration of these questions or even a demand that they be given detailed consideration. Labour’s EU campaign has not even risen to half-hearted and the general ignorance about the EU is shocking. If we leave will do so with the great majority of those wanting to leave voting on the basis of myth, rumour and deliberate misinformation.

      P.S. I am by no means an EU enthusiast but it is for me a question of the balance of the arguments considered in our current context.

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        I have replied to John Penney, above, on the EU, but can I also support what David Pavett has argued on this. His point about the general ignorance of the EU is also true of the left, as instanced by Verity’s misunderstanding of the Party of European Socialists. No, it isn’t a Corbyn proposal, it is the umbrella body for social democratic parties in the EU, and what they have to say merits a read, as even more so does that of the more left wing Party of the European Left. It’s all online comrades.

  7. David Ellis says:

    THe people who know that the EU is a bourgeois conspiracy against the European working class and how awful it is but who still intend to vote for it are worse than those who actually believe it is a progressive alliance. Corbyn’s unenthusiastic support for the Remain campaign is the worst possible position. It means that even though he will be responsible for Cameron winning he still won’t get any credit for Britain staying in. A Labour Movement Leave campaign would have put the Labour Left at the heart of British politics and they would now have Corbyn by the balls.

  8. Danny Nicol says:

    The idea that joint action by socialist, left and centre-left parties in the EU will somehow change the EU for the better, relies on ignoring the Treaties themselves. They may only be revised by the common accord of the 28 Member States. This means that a single Member State can veto Treaty change either by voting against or even by abstaining. There would need to be a complete absence of neoliberal governments in the 28 countries. How realistic is that?

    1. Verity says:

      Whilst I agree with the general thrust of your argument that the institutional framework of the EU is constructed in such a manner that radical leftward change is at a very minimum, constrained and more likely precluded, we should not forget the contributory role that bribery plays in EU politics. It is important not to overplay the supposed role of vetoes. Indeed the whole expansion and growth of the EU into Eastern Europe as well as Spain was the effective bribes given for joining and maintaining the myths of membership. This is in addition to the personal rewards and kudos accorded by local politicians by their enhanced profiles given by EU inducements. Indeed in its early days much Labour support was built around this strategy. As an example I would offer an analysis of the Kinnock dynasty and the Welsh promotion of EU membership. I would speculate that this is a mechanism that will be attempted to hep Turkey’s accession against opponents. A major difficult for the promotors is income loss if major contributors play rough – especially, if some threaten to leave if they do not get more of what they require to enhance their domestic political status.

      Those who have personal experience of EU interactions can also vouch for the enormous levels of resources attached to EU symbolism, petty EU projects with exaggerated national benefits, self promotion and many activities, which amount to little more than ‘jollies’ for co-operative participants. Without this resource the EU would have had more difficulties with its promotion of its myths as the ‘Worker’s Liberation Movement which seems to have won over much of Labour and Trade Union in the UK. Contradictions do of course arise as expansion and the demands for more expenditure on ’empire building arises with dwindling income.

  9. Peter Rowlands says:

    C Mackin and Danny Nichol make much of the point that treaty revision would require unanimity.It would certainly require agreement among the larger states, but if we were to reach that happy position I hardly think that e.g. Latvia or Luxembourg is going to stand in the way of a socialist Europe.
    C Mackin says that that because the left is weak it doesn’t matter if we’re in or out. I disagree. It may not improve things if we remain in, but it would seriously disadvantage the left if we were to leave.

    1. David Ellis says:

      Given that we are weak it may not matter whether we are in or out but what does matter if we are ever to become strong is that we act on principle however irrelevant our action may appear to be. There is no way on this planet earth that anyone calling them self a socialist can vote positively or even abstain on the questions of neo-liberalism, austerity and Cameron’s `reforms’ without either losing their ability to call them self a socialist or dragging the banner of socialism through the muck.

  10. Bazza says:

    A good report by Ann and I agree that Jeremy shoudn’t share a platform with Cameron but I would like him to make a major speech on staying in but for a more Social Europe.
    From an excellent piece in the New Left Review I read how the EC was originally set up to counter the then perceived threat of the USSR, to promote capitalism in Europe, and from the original top down designers to give Europe a stronger voice in the World against US hegemony.
    In fact De Gaule of France was originally against Britain joining because he felt it would act as Trojan Horse for the US (which eventually happened) and the dollar was to soon dominate and hence I would add the desire from some for the Euro.
    But we should stay and fight for a grassroots, bottom up, participatory, left wing democratic socialist EC and we need left wing democratic socialist parties in every country to be fighting for similar things (and in every country) so we kick Neo-Liberalism out of the EC and our brothers and sisters elsewhere kick out Putin et al.
    I guess some of us are more ambitious globally for working class/working people.
    International solidarity!

    1. C MacMackin says:

      I wouldn’t say I’m any less globally ambitious. I just think that, given anti-neoliberal forces will not arise in all countries at the same time and that the EU permits relatively little room to enact even old-fashioned social democratic policies (let alone anticapitalist ones), it would be extremely difficult to maintain momentum for long enough to get all of the governments onside for the reforms you are talking about. I still favour a federal Europe (in fact, considerably more federal than some people would like), but I think that it will end up being necessary to split the EU to do it or to rebuild after it disintegrates.

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