Organising Group: Our Report to LLA conference, August 22/23

The past six months since the LLA’s February 2020 launch conference have presented us with some extraordinary challenges: The bad result of the general elections in 2019, Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation, the luck-lustre campaign and subsequent defeat of Rebecca Long-Bailey and the election of Keir Starmer have led to a rapid change in the party’s orientation. We don’t know how many Corbyn supporters have left the party, because of their anger at the actions of the new leadership – but it must be in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. There is also deep demoralisation and disappointment that more hadn’t been achieved in those 5 years. This is a serious problem, as in most cases, members are simply dropping out of politics. We are working hard to stop this fragmentation of the Labour left.

In addition, the COVID-19 crisis has made this a challenging and incredibly fluid, but also very interesting time to build the LLA. An enforced period of exclusively online organising has been a steep learning curve, but has also led us to begin organising in ways that have greatly improved our efficiency and accessibility to members who would not be able to regularly attend physical meetings. 

We think we have organised in a highly democratic and transparent way. The Organising Group has met for a four hour meeting on a monthly basis (more than the quarterly requirement) with a usual attendance of delegates from 25 to 30 groups. Thanks to all of those who have participated in such a comradely and constructive way and for making it through the huge amount of business that has been dealt with. All minutes from the OG are being made available to LLA supporters. We are working on redrafting our website to make them fully and easily accessible to all LLA supporters (as well as the email bulletins we have been sending out regularly – the archive is here).

The Steering Committee, elected by the Organising Group at its first meeting in March, has usually met weekly on Zoom, while also being in ‘permanent session’ on Facebook. We have built up a good team but have not filled some key positions –  including national and regional organisers – which has limited our work in some areas. We need more people to share the workload more equally when it comes to building the LLA. We feel strongly that the new Steering Committee should be made up of comrades who are prepared to invest at least a couple hours of work a day, are able to take political initiatives and make proposals to the rest of the group.

Some of the key decisions we have taken and campaigns we have organised in the last six months:

1) Education

We identified collective political education as a key to the success of our movement. Since April, we have organised a minimum of one educational webinar per week, alternating current debates and discussions with our highly regarded series on ‘Learning from Labour’s History’, presented by Kevin Bean

2) Our orientation to the Labour Party

a) We have clarified  our position on membership of the Labour Party, and not everyone is happy about that. At our February Conference, there was a long debate which concluded it was critical that LLA members remained part of the Labour Party, but recognised the impracticality of this being a rigid requirement, for example because of those unjustly expelled. We instead emphasised the explicit requirement that our members must not support individuals or organisations that stand candidates against the party, which would undermine our key aims, as does encouraging others to leave, which we made clear shall not be permitted. This was important when resignations were increasing in reaction to Starmer’s election, including from many that still supported our aims, so we believe that was the right way to go – otherwise many comrades would have been excluded. 

b) We maintain that we need a strong strategic orientation towards the Labour Party, in the understanding that because of the affiliation of the major British unions, it remains what Lenin called a “bourgeois workers party”. The Labour Party, whatever its shortcomings, remains a hugely important arena of the class struggle. In the last four and a half years, this is where the war between capital and labour has been fought most openly and most viciously. Because of the undemocratic first-past-the-post system, any parties forming on the left tend to be small and often descend into political sects –  we believe the Labour Party should become a workers party.

c) Tactically, that means we should fight and campaign inside and outside the Labour Party – and in cooperation with other groups when and where it makes sense.    

  •  Click here to read the statement proposed by the LLA steering committee, which was approved by the LLA Organising Group meeting on May 16 2020.

3) NEC Elections and Left Unity

a) Following from the motion passed at the LLA’s launch conference, we pursued a strategy of ‘left unity’ with the key groups participating in the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance, in order to convince them to set up a more democratic method to choose more left-wing candidates for elections. Back in March, we approached Jewish Voice for Labour, the Labour Representation Committee and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. We did not approach Momentum at that time, because it was still under the control of Jon Lansman. The three groups replied eventually, thanking us politely, but did not take up our offer for an online meeting to discuss this further. We now know that the LRC and JVL were then already engaged in setting up ‘Don’t Leave Organise’, which we  applied to join, but we have still not been admitted. We also had our request to affiliate to the LRC rejected. We did approach Forward Momentum with our plans, but again, the response could better be described as ‘polite’ than positive. 

b) The sudden decision to proceed with the NEC elections, and the change of electoral system, presented us with a significantly changed situation, which required the strategy agreed at our February conference to be modified slightly. When we were told that the CLGA would be meeting with the participation of all the groups we had been corresponding with, despite our misgivings we sought immediate affiliation to the CLGA, with the intention of referring any negotiating position or potential agreement to the OG and our membership for ratification. Momentum even broke its pre-electoral pledge to involve its members in the candidate selection. We argued throughout that there was no rush to agree a slate – and would have argued this point inside the CLGA, had our request for affiliation been accepted or even properly discussed; we have still not received any acknowledgment. The two people who seem to be running the CLGA, Russel Cartwright and Norette Morris, are apparently not there on behalf of the organisations they used to represent – the CLPD and the LRC – but seem to be acting as unaccountable individual bureaucrats, kept in power chiefly by the CLPD. This ridiculous state of affairs needs to come to an end. 

c) In order to politicise and democratise this contest, we put our proposed NEC political platform to all left-wing candidates, to enquire if they would be prepared, amongst other things, to produce regular, detailed reports of NEC meetings; if they would campaign for a sovereign party conference and the overturning of the Labour Party’s commitment to the IHRA’s mis-definition of antisemitism; and if they would try to stop the implementation of the Board of Deputies’ 10 Pledges, which demand lifetime bans for Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and Tony Greenstein, while threatening with suspension all those who protest against the comrades’ mistreatment. We believe these are the kind of important political issues that any NEC candidate who wants the support of the left should fight for. To help members make an informed choice, we published all answers on our website.

d) We also produced a graphic, which accurately reflected the candidates’ replies to us (where we did not receive a written answer, our score was based on their performance in our online hustings on July 25 – video here). We gave every candidate ample opportunity to respond to our graphic.

e) Initially the CLGA 6 did not reply to us, but in response to having received an early draft of our graphic, one CLGA candidate sent us the collective statement of all 6 CLGA candidates. We didn’t believe it dealt with many of the issues in our statement, but we did our best to accurately reflect the official platform of the CLGA 6 in our graphic. Jermain Jackman did not reply at all, but we still decided to feature him, as some people seem to think he is on the left. We made it clear to all candidates that we were happy to change the graphic if they confirmed to us in writing that they were prepared to openly campaign for the important political questions contained in our platform.

f) Our internal LLA ballot is designed to find the best candidates that we want to push in the nominations process (which ends on September 27). It will help to inform how and who the LLA will support by the start of the election.

g) The LLA ballot concluded in the following order:

1 Roger Silverman
2 Laura Pidcock *
3 Chaudhry Qamer Iqbal
4 Carol Taylor-Spedding
5 Alec Price
6 Yasmin Dar *
7 Mish Rahman *
8 Ekua Bayunu
9 Ann Henderson *
10 Gemma Bolton *
11 Steve Maggs
12 Nadia Jama *
13 Lee Wood
14 Crispin Flintoff
15 Cameron Mitchell

h) Labour Left Alliance supporters are encouraged to consult with others in their CLPs to put forward nine of these candidates for nomination. Those marked * have already secured the five nominations (as of 22nd Aug) required to appear on the ballot in October.

i) Taking account of nominations received and any candidates who withdraw, LLA will draw up a voting recommendation in September. LLA will discuss with the candidates above whether they wish to be part of an LLA-backed slate. Because the STV voting system almost entirely removes the necessity of tactical voting, we will recommend voting for any LLA slate first before also ranking the entire CLGA slate and other candidates in order of preference.

j) The LLA will invite all nominated left wing candidates (CLGA inclusive) to a discussion during the weeks between the close of nominations and the start of voting. The purpose of the discussion is to seek agreement on which candidates go forward to the vote, how many candidates go forward to the vote, the politics of the candidates going forward, the tactical order of preference to maximise votes.

k) The LLA should also canvass and publish responses for candidates seeking nomination for treasurer and disability positions on NEC

4) Moving Forward

a) We need more volunteers! Where? Everywhere please, but there are four key areas:

  • National and Regional Organisers and more local organisers.
  • Education – people to give talks and take part in debates
  • Grievance Complaints Council – we need people who have experience of disciplinary procedures to become members of the GCC. If that’s not for you maybe you know of other comrades who could take that on.
  • A social media team that produces quality, regular output for the public LLA pages on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms

b) We need more LLA supporters taking political initiatives, even if they are not on the SC. 

c)  After conference, we will start a new education series with the working title ‘Back to Basics’, where we will discuss some basic Marxist concepts like dialectics, alienation as well as feature introductions on what we understand by socialism and communism – and how we get there! No doubt, there will be plenty of different views – but that is not a problem from our point of view. It is important to air those differences rather than sweep them under the carpet. Again, we want to intersect those educational events with more current debates and meetings.

A message from our Treasurer

We have around £1,000 in the bank – that’s after paying £357.58 to cover our half of Zoom expenses since the February conference in Sheffield (we share an account with Labour Against the Witchhunt). Zoom webinars are expensive: they cost £134 a month.

We’re very grateful to all those who donate through PayPal and direct to our bank account. However, If members are able to set up standing orders – just £5 or £10 a month – that does make it possible for us to plan for future events and activities with a greater level of confidence. Details of our bank account can be found on the website here.