The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 30th September 2022
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
THE LABOUR PARTY conference has been taking place in Liverpool this week with delegates in fine voice lustily singing the revised national anthem and by all accounts managing to get the words right, which is more than they normally do with the Red Flag at the end.
This set the tone for the conference and it was to demonstrate that the right was firmly in control, despite some progressive motions being passed. When he campaigned for the leadership Sir Keir Starmer KC claimed that he would be a more effective advocate for Corbyn’s policies than Corbyn himself. Now Starmer is unembarrassed about quoting Tony Blair, and Peter Mandelson has given him the stamp of approval.
Labour is doing well in the polls at the moment, with one suggesting it could win a 56-seat majority in the Commons (so long as one ignores fine print about ‘don’t knows’). This is not surprising, at the moment it has very easy targets such as the Chancellor lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses to take pot shots at.
Things could easily change at an election however, which is unlikely to happen until the term of office expires in two years. Whilst the Daily Mail faithfully reported Starmer’s conference speech in full, during an election it will turn its guns on Labour as it did against Corbyn. At times like these Labour needs its activists on the street and they are now much thinner on the ground than they used to be. It should never be forgotten that economic melt-downs, or even continuing hard times, do not automatically send people to the left, but a move in the opposite direction is always a possibility as we can see this week from Italy.
There was also a rival event entitled “The World Transformed” (TWT) that took place in a neighbouring disused church. This was addressed by some leading left MPs such as John McDonnell. Amongst those attending were left-wing Labour members and those who had been expelled or suspended from the party for such serious offences as attending a picket line or daring to suggest that the Israeli government has not always acted from the most humanitarian motives at all times since its foundation. The numbers of those expelled, suspended, or voluntarily resigned in disgust under Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership created a large potential attendance. Amongst them was former leader Jeremy Corbyn who was not present at this event.
In many respects TWT replaced many of the left-wing fringe events, which is of course a sign of weakness. One leading right-winger, Wes Streeting, cruelly suggested that Momentum ought to change its name to Inertia such was the decline of influence of the left in the post-Corbyn era.
Another cynic has observed that the main conference hall was carefully curtained and partitioned in order to give the impression of a massive attendance despite a post-Corbyn decline in membership. Attendance was about 2,000, which was a quarter of what it was under the previous leadership. On a more positive note, one right-wing journalist noted that the standard of canapes served at receptions was greatly improved due to more business lobbyists attending and sponsoring fringe meetings.
With regard to the actual business there were some positive signs. On Monday, the shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said that if Labour wins the next election it would bring the railways back into public ownership as contracts expire and would give communities the power to set bus routes and fares.
This was the result of a joint motion from TSSA and ASLEF that opposed the mass closure of ticket offices, called for public ownership and also supported “all Labour MPs attending picket lines until an outcome is reached”. It was passed overwhelmingly.
Manuel Cortes, TSSA’s General Secretary, unsurprisingly welcomed the move, saying: “There will never be any compromise on rail safety and the Tories’ cuts to the railways are a direct threat. I’m delighted to have a firm commitment from Conference that our party understands the fight our rail unions are in for the future of our railways.”
All well and good, but the leadership was anxious to avoid any serious discussion on the possible re-nationalisation of energy firms and Royal Mail, and so it is possible that the Starmer leadership thought it best to let this go through on the nod to avoid a battle. The Labour leadership has a long history of ignoring motions it does not like.
In addition, the leadership frequently allows conference to pass agreeable sounding motions such as supporting a £15 per hour minimum wage, which keeps delegates happy, but takes care not to do any serious campaigning about them and if in government, refuses to implement any such policies that would upset the big business interests it sees as partners.
Needless to say, under Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership nationalisation remains another ‘N word’ even when it is popular with the voters.
But Ed Miliband, the former leader now Shadow Climate and Net Zero Secretary, has made a vague noise about the party “continuing to look at common ownership across different areas, including energy” and that “there is an openness to thinking about all of these issues”.
A new party report, Stronger Together: A Fairer, Greener Future, stated that “Labour is pragmatic about public ownership where privatisation is not working”. This is hardly a revolutionary statement as capitalists always like to have their unprofitable businesses taken off their hands. For instance, the nationalisation of the steel industry and the railways by the post-war Attlee government took place because they were knackered, and owners were eager to start talking about how lavish their compensation would be.
Miliband said: “We should think creatively about how the wealth fund thinks for example about conditionality when it comes to governance and the role of workers,” a statement which can mean many things without commitment to any.
In true Labour conference tradition however, a motion calling for a Green New Deal that included a call for “democratic public ownership models across the economy, led by national public ownership of key sectors” was ruled out of order for the sin of covering more than one topic.
This puts a very different gloss on the centrepiece policy of Starmer’s keynote speech, which was to set up a publicly owned “Great British Energy” renewable green energy company to build new wind, wave and solar projects. This would also invest in privately-owned renewable schemes as well. This will be modelled on the French-owned EDF.
Starmer also played the Yellow Peril card by claiming falsely that “The Chinese Communist Party has a stake in our nuclear industry”. There is of course no such body, there is instead the Communist Party of China, but an agreement between Britain and the state-owned China General Nuclear to harness Chinese expertise was signed in 2015.
Traditional Tory policies rather than Labour ones were on show in his housing policy, which was to pledge to increase the proportion of Britons owning their homes to 70 per cent, from the present 65 per cent. This is good news for the banks, who are of course the real owners for decades of ‘privately owned’ housing stock.
As if anyone needed any reminder, Starmer’s Labour is firmly in the NATO camp and that unconditional support for the Ukrainian fascists whose slogan he parroted will continue unabated.
It is also significant that the fake allegations by the right wing of anti-Semitism, which has seen many Jewish members expelled, were once again brought up by Starmer. Unlike last year there were no protests from the floor.
not a winner
On the Brexit question, Starmer knows that his hopes of re-joining the EU are not an election winner and claims that now he only wants to “make Brexit work”. At the same time, it is clear that Starmer wants a de-facto non-aggression pact with the fanatically pro-EU Liberal Democrats. Whilst he explicitly ruled out a pact with SNP, tellingly he failed to mention the Lib-Dems.
Other silences included any offers of support for workers fighting for higher wages or opposition to further anti-trade union laws.
To amuse themselves delegates also voted to change the Westminster voting system from First Past the Post to one with proportional representation (PR). Presumably they think that this will help them win elections. This came about when both Unison and Unite finally came round to supporting it.
Some lefties dream that this will see a more or less permanent Labour government in some sort of anti-Tory coalition with nationalists and the Liberal Democrats, and allow people to vote for far-left parties and left social democratic parties without splitting the left vote. They forget the right can also play that game.
But, as with all Labour conference decisions, it remains to be seen if it makes the Manifesto. Should Labour win the next election under the present arrangements, as is likely according to the opinion polls, naturally it will speedily lose interest in the intricacies of proportional PR.