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IS THE Labour Party a mass movement that can win elections and transform society in the interests of working people? Or is it just a vehicle for careerist politicians to exert control and climb the political ladder?
This is the choice we face at Labour Party Conference this week. In every vote, from policy motions to rule changes, the same issue will be at stake.
When Keir Starmer decided to give in to the Blairite clique that surrounds him and attempt to reintroduce the electoral college, he set us on the path to civil war. Labour has often been an incredibly fractious party in the last decade, but never before have we headed into a conference with such strong battle lines drawn between grassroots members and the party elite.
The attempt to reintroduce an electoral college system to elect Labour leaders could have huge implications for our movement. MPs could gain an effective veto over the future of our party – meaning that a tiny unrepresentative minority of professional politicians can overturn the decision of trade unionists and ordinary members. The stakes are very high. But whilst we don’t know the outcome of the vote in advance, two things are very clear.
Firstly, the membership and trade union rank-and-file still backs party democracy and the transformative platforms we stood on in 2017 and 2019. We know this because in every internal party-wide election since Starmer became leader it is the left who have won.
Sharon Graham’s recent victory in the Unite general secretary election, combined with a pitiful performance from the right’s candidate of choice, only further highlights to us where the grassroots are at.
We know our system is broken and we aren’t going to fix it with a hollowed-out and intellectually bankrupt party. As John McDonnell pointed out, if Starmer had been honest in the leadership election and said he’d fight for the grand sum of nothing at all and believe even less, he wouldn’t have got near winning.
And the elite at the top of our party know it too. That’s why they’re in such a hurry to stitch up the rules for electing a leader.
They know what they lack in grassroot support they can only make up for with top-down institutional power. It’s abundantly clear that none of this attack on party democracy is driven by electoral concerns.
This is entirely about narrow factional control and attempting to make sure that a movement like the one that mobilised around Corbyn can never exist again (regardless of how low Starmer’s or Labour’s poll rating falls in the process). Now, it’s our job to stop them.
But whilst we have the membership on side, what we lack is organisation. We need to build a movement that can shape the future of the party and that plays to our strengths: and that means we need to connect with social movements, take part in the class struggle on the front lines, and politically educate a new generation of leaders.
We can’t take big donations off multimillionaires and schmooze with MPs in the Strangers’ Bar – we have to use methods better suited to the strengths of our class.
Beating any attack on democracy at conference is a start, but we have to be in this for the long term.
When Corbyn became leader his opponents in the party didn’t simply leave, never to be heard of again, instead they got to work.
We all know what happened next. Remiss as I am to say it, we can learn from their example – the answer isn’t simply to walk away when things aren’t in our favour, but to get stuck in and take the long view.
As co-chair of Momentum I know our movement is in a unique position. We are the biggest socialist organisation in the UK and the strongest group on the Labour left.
We know that to transform society we need to turn Labour into a working-class party that takes on the ruling class and their broken economic and political system, and we know it will take all of us playing a part for this to happen.
To be successful we need to adapt to the situation facing us. Earlier this year we published Socialist Organising for a New Era, a document that laid out our strategy for the next four years.
As a result Momentum has been changing: from giving members more democratic powers than ever before to rewriting our constitution and shifting our organising model to put tools and resources in the hands of local groups.
By harnessing our greatest strength, our membership, we can create the kind of durable and powerful movement we need.
Our Future Councillors Programme takes inspiration from community wealth building models used in Preston and Salford, and is training a new generation of socialist councils that can transform their communities and rebuild the trust between our movement and the voters we’ve lost over many generations.
Meanwhile we have launched the Leo Panitch Leadership Development Programme, focussed on equipping future socialist leaders with the knowledge, skills, and networks they need. Nurturing leadership skills is crucial to the future of our movement, but too often in the past there was no outlet for leaders to develop in our movement. We are changing that.
The talent and energy of the members we are working with is exactly what those at the top of the party are trying to stifle.
Giving a single MP the same voting power as thousands of members won’t win back any votes, but it will continue to alienate exactly the people who have been our most loyal supporters.
Throughout the history of our class, the answer to alienation has always been to get organised.
If you’re not a member, you need to join right now. The right might be able to buy power thanks to their millionaire donors, but we have to come together if we’re going to have any power. Join now, and let’s make this conference a turning point.
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