by Nick Wright
The Left Unity project exists now as a party, with an official name, ‘Left Unity Party’ and the beginnings of a programme aiming to ‘fill the space’ to the left of Labour.
The pre-conference debate – conducted on a lively and lightly moderated website – paraded, in opposition to the proposals of the founding group, a range of political platforms drawn up with varying levels of self delusion by a parasitic phalanx of tiny trotskyite sects.
At the conference itself, the cautiously framed platform of the Andrew Burgin/ Kate Hudson leadership, named the Left Party Platform and broadened to include more explicitly ‘socialist’ formulations moved by Ken Loach for the Camden group, easily dismissed the self-described Socialist Platform moved by Nick Wrack which went down 216 to 122 with 28 abstentions counted and more simply not voting.
The amended Left Party Platform gained 295 votes to 101 with 12 abstentions. However, in a vote that demonstrates a certain lack of clear thinking on the part of some delegates, an amendment from the Lambeth London group – designed to underscore a parity of status for the contending platforms and thus formalise the ‘factional’ character of the organisation – and by the way, defining the the winning platform as merely a platform, rather than the organisation’s statement of aims, gained 173 votes to 121 with 46 abstaining. Thus, by default, it lent greater status to the more wooly formulations embodied in the constitution.
Nick Wrack, like many of the other leading figures, is a veteran of the many similar projects that have risen and fallen over the past two decades and was uncharacteristically unpersuasive before an audience that consisted largely of refugees from existing political formations of the left.
This may be because his forceful style did not resonate with the sensibilities of his audience but he was fatally compromised by the unsavoury associations of some of his co-signatories to the Socialist Platform which seemed to have attracted a full spectrum of the most parasitical, disruptive and sectarian.
This illustrates a defining feature of many of the people who have joined Left Unity, a reluctance to reinvent the unsavoury internal regimes of the various ultra left sects they have abandoned and a dislike of grand programmatic gesture, charismatic leaders and rhetoric.
Discussion on campaigning priorities and electoral strategy was deferred as, despite some heroic chairing, the agenda overran although some fierce constitutional battles were won and lost.
Opponents of a constitutional provision for committees to include at least 50% women were driven to ignominious defeat.
In a very sensible move, and after clear anti-imperialist arguments, the conference decided not to organise in Northern Ireland
A constitutional amendment to directly elect national council members to sit alongside regional representatives elected by postal ballot won with 125 votes to 113 with 47 abstentions. A provision to allow individuals (not just groups) to table motions in was carried. A proposal for a ‘federal council’ made up of representatives from the three dozen local branches rather than postal-ballot reps from regions was lost wit 115 votes to 142 with 33 abstentions.
Approximately 500 individual paid-up members, plus a fair number of observers took part, about half of the existing membership and one tenth of Left Unity’s Facebook likes.
Deferred and remitted matters and, presumably, actual policies will be on the agenda for a conference in 2014. In the short term the party has a hard task to get noticed. A short piece on BBC 4’s World at One, a Russia Today piece and a smattering of coverage in the fringe left wing blogosphere is all that the conference attracted.
On previous form the parasitical elements who made the conference so unproductive will stick around until something more promising comes along or until they calculate that they have gained as much factional advantage as they can.
A bigger problem is the Labour Party and the forthcoming election. As was pointed out on this site some months ago the political space to the left of the Labour Party is filled by … the Labour Party.
If Miliband takes heed of the success that flowed from his adroit manoeuvring around Cameron’s bid to start a New Labour style war on Syria and the impact of his energy price freeze plan then the potential to make electoral inroads on Labour’s left flank will be much diminished.
Left Unity’s chaotic internal regime, lack of media and press presence, shortage of money and the presence of fissiparous tendencies will inevitably limit its ability for a while to conduct ground breaking local campaigns notwithstanding the many capable people in its ranks.
The real potential for a broadly based campaign against austerity is being rapidly filled by the trade union-based People’s Assembly which is already drawing unprecedented numbers of people into effective action and itself is unfavourable terrain for any political organisation to project itself.
In the longer term the organisation will need to clarify its strategy and tactics in ways that reflect its ideological position. This may run against the deepest desires and unspoken fears of many of its adherents but an organisation with socialist aims, no matter how imprecisely formulated, and one that aims to represent the working class, no matter how attenuated its connections with that class, needs to make sure that its policies and practices correspond with its goals. It needs an ideology.