The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 29th September 2017

Labour ready for government

by Daphne Liddle

LABOUR conference in Brighton this week has been a triumph for Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. They have transformed the annual conference into a genuine policy-making body involving members at all levels instead of the mesmerising rant of Blairite leaders who kept all the power to themselves.

There were contentious issues but they were debated without causing any major splits.

Right wingers from the Progress faction were bleating that they had been denied a debate on Brexit because the conference had agreed not to have a vote on the issue.

But there was no point in voting on an issue that was decided by the referendum last year. There was certainly a big debate on all aspects of the withdrawal process, which the vast majority accepted was going to happen.

On the issue of anti-semitism the amended version of the resolution submitted by the zionist Jewish Labour Movement was passed. But the right of the JLM to speak for Jewish party members was firmly challenged by a new group, Jewish Voices for Labour, who spoke passionately against the JLM’s “weaponsing” of anti-semitism to divide and discredit the party.

Conference made it very clear that supporting the oppressed Palestinians and describing Israel as an apartheid state are legitimate points and are not anti-Semitic. Some were disappointed that the leadership had not taken a stronger stand against this move to try to split the party over an issue of anti-semitism that has no substance.

Len McCluskey, leader of the giant union Unite, said that Labour does not have a problem with anti-semitism and those who believe it does are seeking to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

Asked whether he recognised suggestions that Labour still had a problem with anti-Semitism, McCluskey said any attacks on Jewish people would get “short shrift” at any meeting he attended.

Conference voted to support the proposal that a Labour government would recognise Palestine as a state and would support the human rights of the Palestinian people.

The mood of the whole conference was one of a party preparing seriously for government.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said in a fringe meeting that the party was preparing for attacks on the economy from the powerful banks and a possible run on the pound and Jeremy Corbyn backed him, telling reporters that the party was preparing for any scenario — and remembering the way the capitalist system moved to undermine the Labour government of Harold Wilson.

John McDonnell also made the key point that trade union members must work for simultaneous strike action against the pay cap as a means to challenge the Tories and he called on every socialist to campaign for that and join the picket line. The contrast with Blairite New Labour policies could not have been stronger.

Many important but uncontentious issues were backed virtually unanimously: the end of the Private Finance Initiative as a way of financing public construction projects; the granting of £500 million emergency funding to the NHS to support it through the coming winter; the increasing of taxes on the very wealthy and changes to corporation tax; measures to raise wages; the ending of anti-union laws; respect and better provision for people with disabilities; the scrapping of student fees and so on.

Corbyn and McDonnell were unable to promise to wipe out all existing student debt and they had planned not to promise to restore all welfare benefits to the disabled immediately. But on this issue they were forced into a successful vote from the floor demanding this section be referred back.

A speech from Canadian author Naomi Klein won a standing ovation after she compared Donald Trump to the fatberg in the London sewerage system and declared that the Labour Party is inspiring socialists around the world.

Meanwhile many of Corbyn’s former detractors, like London Mayor Sadiq Khan were rapidly reinventing themselves as his most vocal supporters. Corbyn’s speech on the final day was confident, relaxed, informal and one of a man ready after a lifetime of hard work and set-backs to enjoy leading his party to power — and all the new struggles that will bring.

The ruling class is powerful, ruthless and devious. We cannot say in advance how Corbyn will weather the storms ahead but he is certainly stronger now than he was two years ago when first elected as leader.

And for the first time in decades the Labour leadership and the unions are united and confident and have mass and growing support. That can only benefit the working class and strengthen it for the inevitable coming struggles in more arenas than just Parliament.