TUSC conference 2017

Comrades, I’m speaking to move the Socialist Party motion which you’ve all got on the pink sheet in your registration pack and I’m extremely hoarse so I’m going to try and talk more quietly the normal so I last the 15 minutes. I will begin by saying that we understand that this is a complex and multifaceted issue. Clearly Jeremy Corbyn’s election and re-election as labor leader has changed the political landscape as compared to when TUSC was founded in 2010. After all if you look at why most of us involved in the foundation of TUSC did it, it was because we felt it was vital to enable trade unionists, socialists, community campaigners to stand under a common socialist and anti-austerity banner and that was because trade unionists, socialists, community campaigners – more broadly the working class – had been left voiceless by the triumph of New Labour and Blairism. So of course Jeremy Corbyn’s victory against the Blairites is of enormous significance and all socialists should be campaigning to defend him against the attacks of the right wing and consolidate and extend that victory. In our view it’s clear though, when you look at the concrete situation facing the workers movement in Britain today, one important part of that struggle is that in the local elections taking place this May, TUSC should continue to be available as a banner under which anti-austerity activists can stand against pro-austerity, anti-Corbyn Labour councillors. Why? The movement to support Corbyn shows without doubt, and many doubted it, the potential for a mass anti-austerity, socialist party in Britain today. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed up to the labour party in order to defend Jeremy Corbyn, making Labour today – at least on paper – the biggest political party in western Europe. But we would make a big mistake, if we think that those people signed up because of their loyalty to the Labour Party. Many of them are people who had left the Labour Party in disgust! They signed up in order to defend Jeremy Corbyn because they saw the possibility in the main of an anti-austerity party being formed. If you look at the polling that took place by YouGov during the coup attempts over the summer, there were a whole number of very significant results given. They polled people voting in that leadership election. Fifty-four percent of people who said they were Corbyn supporters also said that if Corbyn had lost the leadership election and left the Labour Party they would have gone with him to found a new party. forty-nine percent of all trade union voters, affiliated voters, participating in that election said the same thing. So we should take huge confidence from this attempt – thats what it is – of significant layers of working-class people, radicalised middle-class people, young people to create an anti-austerity political voice. But of course we’re realists, we also look reality in the face and as Paul made very clear, Labour at this stage is not an anti-austerity political party. On the contrary, its two parties in one. A potential anti-austerity party in formation around Jeremy Corbyn, and a capitalist party. And the parliamentary Labour Party, the undemocratic Labour party machine, the vast majority of Labour councils – they are part of the capitalist party that still dominates within the labour machine. You’ve only got to look at the Stoke central by-election. We do not buy what the media have said from the beginning, that UKIP have that by-election in the bag. A left Labour candidate fighting on a socialist programme, for a workers’ internationalist brexit would be able to win a resounding victory. But of course we don’t have a left candidate. Let’s be clear that leaves a vacuum which UKIP might step into. TUSC, at this stage in our view, just so that I don’t set any hares running, is not able to step into that vacuum in a parliamentary sense by standing in that by-election, but the selection of a right-wing horror – I don’t like to swear but i’m quoting him – he described brexit as a crock of shit and he’s not been much more polite about Jeremy Corbyn. An avid Owen Smith supporter, that goes raise the danger of UKIP managing to win the by-election. But for the right having their candidate is more important than winning the by-election and of course if Labour loses they won’t hesitate to blame Jeremy Corbyn despite the right-wing character of the candidate. Having spectacularly failed to remove Jeremy Corbyn over the summer most of the right wing at the moment seemed to be reluctantly resigned to staying in place – not all of them some of them are resigning as we speak over the article 50 issue – but staying in place and constantly working to push Corbyn to the right, to undermine him, to carry out what Tom Watson called in that leaked memo the Anaconda strategy where he said very clearly every concession by JC will be used to tighten the grip and that is what they’re doing and they’re not just doing it on their own behalf. This is not just about a few Blairites and their careers. This is about the interests of the capitalist class who want Labour to go back to New Labour who are terrified of the idea of a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government because however modest his program it could awaken enthusiasm in the hearts of millions which could then push him further to the left and even to threaten their system. Anyone who doubts how much the capitalist class still want rid of Corbyn only has to look at the General Secretary election taking place in Unite at the moment. Read the lead editorial in the Financial Times – about a union election! – in which they say is vital to back Coyne because if McCluskey is replaced the dynamics of the whole labour movement would shift. And they make clear what they mean by that as it would give them an opportunity to remove Jeremy Corbyn. That’s why – I mean this is not something TUSC can or should take a position on – but in our view it is absolutely correct to give critical support to Len McCluskey because this is a battle between the bosses class and the working class effectively taking place in the trade union movement. Now it’s true of course that the class struggle takes place on many fronts. The industrial struggle, the anti-racist struggle, and many more, but the battle taking place in the labour party is one front in the class struggle at the moment and it’s an important one, potentially, which you could see the development of an anti-austerity workers party coming out of it. So in our view we have to do all we can to aid the anti- austerity forces in the Labour party to defeat the Blairite machine. We don’t think what we consider the view of the comrades in the SWP to be that we should just give general support to Corbyn and wait for the process to play out. We think we have to actively intervene – that the RMT was a hundred percent right to maintain their political independence but he gave support, including financial support, to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid. We in the Socialist Party at each stage put forward a program of what we think is necessary to defeat the Blairites. That is why 75 of us – expelled from the Labour Party, including myself – applied to join the Labour Party. We did that not because we were expecting Tom Watson and Iain McNicol to say ‘oh yes, come in’! we were expecting them to foam at the mouth just as they did. However, we wanted to make the point that the left should be fighting for the readmittance of all of the expelled socialists, the re- democratisation of the party and the foundation of the Labour Party on a clear anti-austerity basis. Unfortunately, at this stage at national level – it’s different in some local areas – but at national level that is not a preparedness to do that. Now let’s be clear, we don’t accept for one minute the argument that it isn’t possible to transform the Labour Party because of the human material and their weakness, the people who have joined to support Corbyn, that they’re not determined enough, that they’re at the level of clicktivism. That may be true of some, but again go back to that YouGov survey during the summer. Sixty-nine percent of Corbyn supporters said they support the immediate introduction of mandatory reselection. At the time of the coup there was a real determination to transform the Labour Party by removing – demographically removing – the Blairites, relieving them of their positions and driving them out of their positions in the Labour Party. Hundreds of thousands would have been prepared to campaign for that. But unfortunately the message they’ve been given its compromise with the right, and cling on until 2020, accept the idea that Labour is a broad church, even though what that means is a church where the majority of the parliamentary Labour Party are on the side of the devil, to put it broadly, on the side of the one percent rather than the ninety-nine percent. And that has inevitably led to an ebbing of the enthusiasm of those who put Jeremy Corbyn back into the Labour leadership, turning away from Labour Party meetings where they initially attended. That can change on the basis of future developments but it’s the case at the moment. Look at Momentum, the recent membership survey which was used to justify the undemocratic maneuvering, show 20,000 members – 8,000 of whom bother to reply to the online survey, 3,000 of whom were attending meetings. Now that’s a force you could do something with if it was organised and determined, but it’s a very small force compared to the numbers who voted for and supported Jeremy Corbyn. And that is an inevitable consequence of, rather than acting to defend Corbyn and organise against the Blairites, the Momentum leadership seeing themselves as the police of the left, which in reality the role that they have attempted to play. Now in this battle for the creation of an anti-austerity workers party, local government is an essential front. Of the 7,000 Labour councillors we all know, only a very few hundred have even given token support to Jeremy Corbyn. It’s not for nothing that when Mandelson was looking around desperately for the forces around which he could organise the right then he thought that local councillors were one of the only reliable forces for the right wing, because it’s accurate. We all know that councils have seen their budgets cut by forty percent and that is only the start. Local government is being destroyed. The Tories are sending us back to the pre-Poplar era, when councils were entirely reliant on their local funding, and unfortunately Labour councils are implementing it. You know it’s bad when you get the Tory leader of Surrey Council – hardly the poorest part of the country – saying it’s impossible to make any more cuts without doing any serious harm to vulnerable people. Of course his solution is a fifteen percent increase in the council tax and, given that I think a hundred people nationally have been jailed for being unable to pay their council tax, that would also do harm to vulnerable people. But local government is being destroyed, and unfortunately this is one of the numerous issues where Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have retreated under the pressure of the right. First we saw the passing of that rule change at Labour Party conference which bans councillors from voting against Labour cut budgets. Let’s be clear what that means is if a Durham County councillor have found the courage to vote against the budget which included cutting the pay of teaching assistants by twenty-five percent then they would be facing expulsion for breaking the rules of the Labour Party. And in NEC meetings since, not being challenged by the left, unfortunately the importance of taking that position has been repeated by both the right and the left and what that allows is councils like my own, Newham council, 161 million pounds in its general reserves laying off a huge swath of the workforce and re- employing them on worse terms and conditions. It means bin workers are going to lose around 4,000 pounds a year and now they can claim, ‘the left aren’t opposed to this, Jeremy Corbyn’s not opposed to what we’re doing’ because a clear stance has not been taken. If there was a battle at the moment within the Labour Party to select anti-cuts Labour councillors there will be a legitimate argument for us to say maybe this year TUSC shouldn’t stand, but should back up that fight. But unfortunately at this stage that is not happening. So yes, we do have to oppose cuts at a local level by every means and whether we stand or we don’t, we should lobby councils, we’re lobbying ours on Monday night. We should organise people’s budgets, we should support and organise strikes where we’ve got a basis in local government, but in our view it’s a mistake to not also use the additional political weapon of threatening to stand in the elections. Now if we agree this motion today, as Paul has made clear that does not mean that a single candidate has been agreed. Every candidate will have to go to the TUSC steering committee and we will scrutinise the application, asking questions to ensure that we’re focusing on right-wing anti-Corbyn councillors – for example the 210 that are standing, I’m not saying we should stand against them all, who backed Owen Smith in the leadership election. But we are confident on that careful basis, us standing will be understood by the big majority of those who support Jeremy Corbyn, and by some will be enthusiastically supported. It can play a role in encouraging people within the Labour Party to actually fight for anti-cuts councillors. We don’t know what votes we will get. Historically TUSC has had modest votes and we had modest votes last year which was after Jeremy Corbyn had been elected. But actually they were modest and better than the previous year, before Jeremy Corbyn was elected. We polled over a thousand votes in 10 councils, we got 5.1 percent in the vote for the Liverpool Mayor, beating the Tories. And what it showed is that anti-austerity voters – many of them – distinguish between Jeremy Corbyn at the top and their rotten Labour councillors. And their anger at their libraries being closed, their pay being cut, their jobs going, will go somewhere. In Labour areas they will not vote in many cases for Labour councillors – some will, holding their nose – but others won’t do. They can vote for the Greens, they can vote in Wales for Plaid, they can even vote for UKIP, and in our view we have a duty, where we can, to offer them an opportunity to vote for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. And by doing so, we can aid the development of a mass working-class, workers party in this country with a socialist program from whatever means it arises.

  1. It's a shame the Labour Left weren't prepared to pursue closer cooperation with anti-austerity forces outside the Labour Party. At the same time councillors, whatever rosette they wear, shouldn't be given a free run at the ballot box if they cut pay for council workers, slash jobs and services. There needs to be a candidate putting the alternative to cuts and job losses.

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