A Time For Optimism?

Mike Phipps wonders if the LRC AGM fully grasped the exciting opportunities that have opened up for socialists inside the Party

“We are preparing for government now,” declared John McDonnell at the start of Saturday’s Labour Representation Committee AGM. “The Tories are in office, but not in power, divided on a range of issues, not just Brexit. We don’t know if they will go out with a bang or a whimper, clinging on as John Major did, but we are getting ready.”

“The 2017 general election manifesto,” he said, “was drafted in a hurry, but it drew on many of the debates we have had on the left and in the LRC over the previous decade.” He went into detail about the need to democratise the economy, reintroducing sectoral collective bargaining across the economy and ensuring the representation of workers in the management of industries, such as rail and energy, that we plan to bring back into public ownership.

To fund Labour’s plans, an extra 5% on income tax, reversing the cuts in corporation tax and the introduction of a Tobin tax on financial transactions would be introduced, along with some reversals on inheritance tax, a review of the corporate welfare for big business and a crackdown on tax avoidance. “This way,” he said, “we’ll get real tax justice.”

“In health, he said, “we’ll end the privatisation and PFIs and bring services back into public control. In education, we’ll end the cuts and ensure free education from cradle to grave, bringing in free childcare, reversing the cuts in Surestart centres and investing in further and higher education and lifting the burden of tuition fees. Never again will we have a foreign policy that is not based on ethical considerations and human rights.”

“It’s a time to be optimistic,” he concluded. “We have a socialist leader and we came from 24 points behind at the last election to pull level. We’ve come a long way and we need absolute determination going forward.”

John spoke at length about the work the LRC had done in the past that helped shape debates today as Labour prepares for government. Sadly, the LRC today is a pale shadow of its former self – I say this as a member since its foundation – with 128 attendees present and an ageing demographic. This seems odd at a time when the Party membership has trebled over the past four years.

The LRC is struggling to reach these layers. It does attract a rather unrepresentative fringe, however, who hog a lot of speaking time with sometimes misconceived amendments to the LRC executive’s detailed statement, which was passed as usual by an overwhelming majority. The result is a strange discussion – lots of repetitive contributions on anti-semitism, but barely a word on Brexit and the current constitutional crisis it has produced.

For me, the highlights were Fire Brigades Union Matt Wrack speaking passionately about the failure to draw lessons from the Grenfell Tower disaster; Jennifer Forbes, prospective parliamentary candidate for Truro and Falmouth, talking about how Labour canvassers are taking socialist ideas to parts of Cornwall for the first time in living memory; and contributions from those on the receiving end of the Party’s  organisational measures, including Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt whom an NEC panel rejected as South Thanet’s parliamentary candidate, despite any investigation, in what appears to be a denial of natural justice.

Most importantly, significant time was made available for a discussion paper from Ben Sellers, appealing for a network of the left to bring together people already in a range of left groupings inside the Party. The left certainly needs organising – but beyond that, we need to reach the hundreds of thousands of new members who joined the Party to help get Jeremy Corbyn into power.