Friday, 1 October 2010

Labour Conference 2010: Where did the vision go?

Monday 27th September, 19:30-21:00, Mechanics Institute

At a fringe meeting hosted by the Socialist Campaign Group, Kelvin Hopkins MP championed Diane Abbott’s leadership campaign as shifting the area of debate. Hopkins declared that “Ed Balls changed his view on the economy because of Diane’s presence” and suggested that Ed Miliband’s victory over his brother can be attributed to Diane’s intervention.

Katy Clark urged the left to draw strength from Ed Balls’ assertion that there doesn’t need to be a timetable for deficit reduction and use it as a springboard to build bridges across the party. Hopkins noted that people on the street agree with left-wing policies – such as cancelling Trident, taxing the rich and protecting public services – but they do not recognise them as socialist. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the left to formulate and package these policies and this, as John McDonnell asserted, can only be achieved if the left “engages in dialogue and discussion in non-sectarian way” – even with those responsible for 13 years of New Labour.

The Campaign Group understand that the deficit cannot be ignored but, as Hopkins argued, “unemployment is the problem, not the deficit”. The Labour left needs to concentrate on winning the debate within the party and this needs to focus on growing the economy through investment – in jobs, housing, transport and renewable energy – and reducing the deficit by tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance.

Socialist stalwart Tony Benn described the Campaign Group as the “real opposition to the Tories” in parliament and urged Ed Miliband to work closely with the group as there is a real sense that there is a growing gap for socialist policy. The parliamentary Labour Party has been distracted by the leadership contest but, as former Campaign Group member Alan Simpson noted, inertia has also resulted from relief that the general election result wasn’t as bad as anticipated. Furthermore, as Simpson argued, there is a consensus that the coalition should be allowed to fight itself because, if the Labour Party is vocal and provocative, it could lose votes. The danger with this analysis is that the Cameronite Tories and Lib Dem right are fairly solid and it is the Conservative right which is really agitated – particularly as their ministerial positions have been taken by fluffy liberals. As Simpson recognised, however, if the coalition does fail and there is a snap election, the only people who could afford to fight another election would be the Tories.

There is a real opportunity for the left to formulate new ideas and policies. John McDonnell outlined some ideas on how to do this at the Labour Representation Committee but there are cracks emerging in the upper-echelons of Labour. At the Campaign Group meeting Jeremy Corbyn declared that “never again must there be a Labour government that takes the country into the illegal war” – and the next day Ed Miliband said Labour’s decision to invade Iraq was wrong. Time will tell whether Ed’s admission was a cynical attempt to attract Lib Dem voters or a genuine shift to the left.

No comments:

Post a Comment