Forward to a broad party of the left

Phil Hearse reports on the first meeting of Left Unity’s National Co-ordinating group which  took place in Doncaster on Saturday June 15.

This was a highly successful in preparing the ground for the foundation of a broad left party in November. However there are some important political differences that will undoubtedly lead to animated debates running up to the conference. As you would expect there was an obvious great diversity in terms of political outlook and experience evident in the debates

There were 43 voting representatives present at the meeting, of whom 36 were from local groups and 7 of the 10 directly elected from May 11. 14 local groups sent apologies, 18 groups have not yet met the criteria to be represented ( this varies between groups in fairly substantial places eg Coventry and Oxford who are holding their first meetings this week to smaller, often rural places who have as yet only small numbers of supporters. There were 16 women amongst the voting representatives.

Given the location of the meeting, probably groups in the north of England and the Midlands were better represented than those further south (for example there was no one from the very large group in Brighton.

Here I have listed main decisions of the meeting, but not given a tedious and incomprehensible account of who proposed what and how original resolutions were amended, composited etc:

  • A proposal by Dave Stocking (Workers Power) that the September conference should adopt a basic platform for the organisation was rejected as pre-empting the decisions of the national conference in November.
  • The September conference/national meeting will not be a voting conference but discuss papers proposed by the national commissions. It was agreed that commissions can involve campaign activists and trade unionists who are not members of LU.
  • Local groups will be able to send resolutions to the national conference. Positions with 10 or more supporters will be able to form ‘platforms’ inside the organisation: the formulation ‘tendencies, factions and platforms’ was dropped. A significant number of those present opposed the proposal for platforms.
  • The national conference will focus on the following major items: a) Statement of aims b) campaigning priorities c) Participation in Elections (including Metropolitan and European elections next year) d) constitution. It seems obvious from the contributions yesterday that the issue of standing in elections is controversial and some of the contributions were quite skeptical about this.
  • A proposal from the Socialist Party, following a discussion between Dave Nellist and Ken Loach, to have an early meeting about an electoral non-aggression pact was accepted, although no decisions can be made before the LU national conference. There will probably be a difficult discussion in LU about what attitude to adopt politically in the European elections, given the poisonous role this issue plays in national politics and boosting racism and chauvinism.
  • A category of ‘founding member’ was adopted as the basis for voting and participation in the national conference. In essence this is open to people who support the aim of a broad left party and who pays dues on a minimum scale to indicate commitment. People who have standing orders etc to local groups can be automatically converted to the status of ‘founding member’
  • A resolution from Islington re racism and Islamophobia was put on the table as pre-empting policy decisions, but obviously the spirit of the resolution, re the importance of mobilising against the fascists, racism and Islamophobia was universally agreed.
  • Two resolutions concerning the prompt circulation of material to all NCG members and the posting of minutes, documents etc on the website were passed, but about these see below.
  • The decision of the group of 10 directly elected members of the NCG to produce a four page broadsheet for the People’s Assembly was endorsed (see final point of this document).

The unfortunate downside of the  meeting

The immensely positive and constructive day was marred by a complaint at the beginning of the meeting that the agenda to be proposed the meeting had been decided exclusively by the group of 10 directly elected members and not the NCG as a whole. Moreover group of 10 had met twice since the last meeting and taken a series of interim decisions off its own bat. This was raised in an aggressive and accusatory manner as if fundamental breaches of democracy had taken place.

In my view there was absolutely no substance in these accusations. It hardly seems credible that a committee of 45 (or more) from all round the country could have met twice…to prepare a meeting of 45 people from all round the country! As Kate Hudson pointed out, if the directly elected members of the NCG had not met to prepare the full national meeting they would have been accused of dereliction of duty. Indeed, why exactly did the last meeting decide to elect 10 members directly? It is not a minus but a plus that the 10 directly elected members of the NCG took the initiative, inter alia to prepare the very important intervention of Left Unity in the People’s Assembly. And the last national meeting explicitly gave the directly elected group of ten the task of preparing yesterday’s meeting!

Regrettably a number of people at the meeting took this stunt as good coin. The delegate from Walsall, Dave Church, made a highly emotional speech and then stormed out of the meeting. Given that there was a session on transparency in the afternoon where we had to have the whole discussion again, it was very regrettable that the day started on such a sour note, which undoubtedly left a bad taste in many comrades’ mouths. Doubtless a lot of people though “here we go again with left squabbling over nothing”.

Nick Wrack and Will McMahon who were amongst those complaining most loudly about these matters have their own political position for a narrower kind of party than that envisaged by many others participating in the project. There is no doubt they will form their own platform in preparation for the conference. This is perfectly legitimate and they have every right to do it. It would be better if they stuck to the political debate about that difference of political orientation.

Peoples’ Assembly

The final item of the day introduced by Andrew Burgin stressed the importance of the People’s Assembly  to getting the name and ideas of Left Unity known. “This is our audience” said Andrew. Up to 4000 people will be there. The Assembly starts at 9.30am and the Left Unity stall outside the conference will be distributing the broadsheet from 8.00am. We need all hands on deck.

  1. You make the same mistake in your report as you did on the day. The reason the overwhelming majority of people at the Doncaster meeting thought the directly elected ten had over-stepped the mark was because they held the meeting without informing the branches and without producing minutes until the motions came in from Southwark and Cambridge protesting the situation. Yes it would have been reasonable to organise a full NCG meeting, no it was not reasonable to make dozens of decisions where the branches were not represented or even informed.

    If you think there should have been an executive you’ve so far missed two meetings to argue for one, why not bring it to the next?

    • Chris there is no way of knowing whether the overwhelming majority of people present thought the directly elected had overstepped the mark because no one put that to the vote. The motions were passed unanimously because everyone agreed with what they proposed but that didnt mean that everyone agreed with the motivation. Some of us said so – and most people didnt get the opportunity to speak.
      Nor is it true that minutes were only produced because of the Cambridge and Southwark motions. It was agreed that minutes would be circulated to the full NCG at the first meeting of the 10. The second meeting was 5 days before the NCG. For reasons of workload both sets were they were sent out two days before.
      Only one decision was made that wasnt then taken to the NCG for ratification – which was the date and time of the NCG itself

  2. It’s a genuine shame that you do nothing by way of trying to understand why the issue of agenda-setting might be important to people and go straight on the defensive (offensive?).

    Would it not have been more democratic to have given people the option to vote online which issues they would have liked to have seen on an agenda. There are technological solutions that are available that weren’t available before and we should take advantage of that rather than building centralised power-structures which shut people out of the decision-making processes.

    Hearing stories like this (and the way in which it was presented in this article) makes me want to stay away from Left Unity despite the fact I have a lot to offer.

    • The left has always opposed “distance” voting, be it on line or postal ballots, as it does not afford the best medium for political debate. Perhaps an example of the problem is your last sentence. Is that a threat to stay away, or a lament? In a meeting, we would know, but on line, we can’t tell.

      Of course, you have to have the culture that allows for meaningful political debate as well. That is a major issue LU will have to struggle for, as the experience of the last few years on this score is not good.

      I don’t think it is that democratic to have to turn up to a meeting for which no prior preparation has been made. As can be seen from the article and Terry’s comment, all the decisions of the “group of 10” (gang of 10?), apart from the date and time of the actual meeting of the National Coordinating Committee, were put as proposals to the NCC.

  3. “The left has always opposed “distance” voting, be it on line or postal ballots, as it does not afford the best medium for political debate.”

    Even if you are to accept that that is the case, is the best medium for political debate to have 10 people deciding what people are going to talk about (or not talk about, as the case may be)? I don’t understand the logic.

    I don’t need to have a debate with anyone to know what 10 issues I’d like on an agenda and I’m quite sure everyone else attending the meeting would have been able to come up with their own lists too.

    Asking people, as many people as possible, what their opinions are is democracy, electing a small group of people to represent a large and massively diverse group of people is definitely not.

  4. The report states with regard to my raising the issue of democracy at the start of the meeting that “This was raised in an aggressive and accusatory manner as if fundamental breaches of democracy had taken place.” I want to make two points about this comment:
    First, I was neither aggressive nor accusatory in addressing the issue. I simply and calmly said that I had a concern about the process, and specifically indicated that I was not raising an issue about the people involved. While people may not have liked hearing the point I made this does not itself indicate aggression or an accusatory tone on my part. My view is that this false accusation is made against me as an ad hom attack to avoid the central issue I raised.

    Second, I did not say there had been ‘a fundamental democratic breach’; what I did say that I had a concern about the democratic process that involved not knowing the meetings were taking place and not knowing that over 30 decisions had been taken in those meetings and only being sent the minutes a few days before the Doncaster meeting. By any standard these are fair points to make.

    If this project is to work then it is important that people are allowed and encouraged to raise concerns without being described as ‘demagogues’ and matters are taken on their merits. Phil fails to address the key points I was raising (as noted by Chris S above)but simply puts up a diversionary argument as a way of defending Socialist Resistance’s role of being involved in meetings that took place without the NCG being informed and thus to the exclusion of the vast majority.

  5. I am concerned to read that Dave Church from the Walsall Democratic Labour Party “stormed out” early on in the day. I have known Dave for many years and this seems out of character. He must have been really upset at the outcome of proceedings. It is vital that the WDLP are part of LU/LP and don’t get sucked into the dead end and blind alley of TUSC. The WDLP are a long established left break from the Labour Party, have real roots in Walsall and managed, after manay years to get Pete Smith elected to the council. WDLP get serious votes in their target wards and their politics owe much to my own political grouping in Lewisham -People Before Profit. Anti capitalist, pro worker, defend council housing and are anti privatisations. We must avoid a strict and confining Marxist socialist programme, platford and ‘socialist’ name in our title that the leadership of ISN seem to be promoting or we are going to end up, like TUSC, going to struggle to get 1-2% of popular support and we are going to be seen as no real threat to the Labour Party.

  6. It seems to me that Phil’s account of the dispute at the meeting has an overly defensive tone, and his glancing reference to Will and Nick’s motives was unhelpful.

    Yes, it was undoubtedly sensible for the 10 (London based I imagine) directly elected comrades to meet in order to deal with necessary housekeeping prior the the main meeting. However, I am surprised that Phil and Terry seem not to to agree that,in retrospect, it would have been better to circulate an email to everyone else (or at least, all the local groups) to let them know that the 10 were meeting, let them know what they were discussing and inviting anyone else available to attend. And frankly, to say that heavy workloads meant that minutes couldn’t be sent out within a day or two is just unacceptable – a note of decisions taken could and should have been done within the day.

    We must all realise that the experiences of many, many, comrades makes them hyper sensitive to the slightest hint of manipulation by ‘the centre’. At this stage of the project when it is at it’s most fragile, we must all be prepared to go to what in other circumstances seem to be excessive lengths to accommodate to those sensitivities. We should, in any case, always be prepared to recognise when things might have been handled better – and learn from that.

  7. I actually found this report of the national meeting more helpful than the others that I have read so far. I do not think that there has been any fundamental error or breach of democracy in the elected group having met and made some decisions, it is a red herring, and the people bringing this up seem to be using it as ameans to promote their idea of left unity as a more narrow organisation than it currently looks like becoming. I am concerned that platforms have been agreed: for goodness sake we have not even formed left unity yet and already those people in pre existing organisations are wanting to advance teir perspectives already. Wait a bit please before promoting tired old trotskyist lines/programs etc. The very act of wanting a platform at this stage makes me doubt their commitment to the project. I was at the first national meeting and the clear OMOV principle cheered me. I hope this decision is not being undermined. These concerns and problems mirror those in our group in Leeds. Personally I think the 10 elected persons are doing ok in difficult circumstances. Before we start promoting ISN or Workers Power et al let’s get Left Unity set up and functioning.

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