MOST OF THE MEDIA thought we had a good conference. Most delegates thought we had a good conference. The threatened disruption from the right over Brexit and ‘antisemitism’ didn’t happen. The only contrary views I’ve heard on the left are from those who only want to concentrate on the rule changes, and those who think we concentrated too much on rule changes to the exclusion of policies which directly affect peoples’ lives.
There were good discussions on policy, with speakers and resolutions often correcting the failings of documents produced by the National Policy Forum (which were often devoid of clear policy), whether on housing, health, green jobs and much else. Even where resolutions weren’t very clear, speakers made this point very ably. So, on Universal Credit (UC), the resolution on the welfare system said reform UC, but many speakers made clear it should be scrapped completely (as part of the agreed complete overhaul of the welfare system). And John McDonnell has, since conference, made clear he thinks it should be scrapped. The problem lies in no one being sure what is Labour’s policy on issues, with conflicting views being put forward.
Some of us have serious issues with what is seen as McDonnell’s most radical policy - workers on boards and workers’ shares. This buys into the ideology that there is a shared interest between capitalists and workers. Yet at the same time, McDonnell must be applauded for his support for every struggle, such as the hospitality sector workers on 4th October. I wonder if he noticed, though, that some of those on strike had been offered shares instead of a pay rise.
Six hours were spent putting together one composite motion on Brexit, and the extent to which it was all things to all people was obvious in the debate, where delegates with very different views supported the motion. Overwhelmingly supported, the motion leaves all options open, including a referendum on any deal, but with the preference of a general election. Pretty much where we were before conference.
The importance of the motions on Windrush and Palestine should not be understated. Labour’s hostility to May’s ‘hostile environment’ was made as clear as possible, and not just in relation to the Windrush generation, but all migrants and refugees. The motion on Palestine committed the party to an arms embargo on Israel, opposition to the blockade of Gaza and recognition of the importance of the Naqba. This, together with the show of Palestinian flags (described as a “hate fest” by some Zionists), was important in terms of party policy, but also as a signal to the inhabitants of Gaza (they have seen it) and a rebuttal to those who want to restrict discussion of Israel/ Palestine in the party.
One of the many contradictions of conference was the standing ovation given shortly afterwards to Emily Thornberry, a known supporter of Labour Friends of Israel. In her cleverly crafted speech, after saying that the Labour Party mobilised against Mosley at Cable Street and supported the International Brigades fighting Franco in Spain (it did neither), she implied opposition to the “evil antisemites” in the party was part of the same anti-fascist struggle.
The Democracy Review, released to delegates at conference, is a good read. Unfortunately, what was put in front of conference for voting did not reflect this. There was much to support, such as the massively improved structures for BAME, disabled and women members and members’ rights and the widening of conference to discuss 20 policy resolutions rather than eight ‘contemporary’ ones.
There were also setbacks. Everything relating to local government was shelved for another year, parliamentarians retain their 10% veto on nominations for leader, and the procedure for deciding on different proposals on parliamentary selections was rigged to the detriment of open selection.
The last two caused a lot of resentment at what was seen as a stab in the back by “the unions” (with honourable exceptions), although it seems likely that the party leadership also wanted them. The left needs to decide whether it pushes for positive change even if it is against the will of the leadership. Personally, I think it should, the movement is more important than one individual, even one as good as Jeremy.
This was Momentum’s dilemma at conference – it encouraged delegates to vote for the reformed trigger ballot (effectively against open selection), and gave no recommendation on the criteria for nomination for the leadership, even though it had explicitly campaigned for change. It actually only gave recommendations on a few of the reference backs of the National Policy Forum report, yet eleven of the twelve were passed overwhelmingly. And a very large proportion of CLP delegates (around 70%) ignored its recommendations on the contentious rule changes. In conclusion, conference was like the curate’s egg – good in parts, bad in others. It showed what can be achieved in taking policy forward, but also showed what still needs to be done on several levels, both on clarifying policy and fighting for democracy across the movement, in the unions and Momentum as well as the party.