A new party of the left comes one step closer

Salman Shaheen of Left Unity, the group supporting Ken Loach’s call for a new left party in Britain, reports from its first national meeting
16 May 2013

When Ken Loach launched an appeal to discuss founding a new party to the left of Labour in March, it sparked a wave of enthusiasm. Within a few weeks, more than 8,000 people signed up and around 100 local groups were established across the country.

It isn’t hard to see why. Austerity is devastating Britain. While the Conservative-led government is giving tax breaks to the richest individuals and biggest corporations, it is driving the most vulnerable people in the country deeper into poverty with public service cuts and the bedroom tax, which tragically claimed its first victim when Stephanie Bottrill committed suicide because she could not afford the £80 a month charge. Labour’s response to the Tories’ ideological assault on the poor has been weak, and its abstention on workfare a betrayal. The need for a new party to represent the interests of the working class, which have been ignored far too long by the three main parties, has never been greater.

On Saturday, Left Unity held its first national meeting, bringing together around 100 elected delegates from many of the local groups that have sprung up over the last few weeks in answer to Loach’s call. Some came from small towns where groups had only a handful of members. Others, such as the delegates from Brighton, spoke of vibrant and big meetings – Brighton already has a signed-up membership of more than 200 people.

Sitting in the same room together, these were no longer names on a signature sheet, but passionate activists from a vast range of left-wing traditions. Many of the familiar old alphabet soup far-left groups were represented. But there were also young campaigners from Occupy and UK Uncut, anarchists, Greens, trade unionists, disaffected Labour supporters and dozens who had never been involved in any party before, but wanted to change the world all the same.

With such a diverse group coming together for the first time, there were inevitably going to be disagreements. It proved too difficult to agree a statement of principles in such a short space of time, for example. But the meeting voted to move towards a founding conference in November and overwhelmingly supported the idea that a new party of the left should not be a patchwork coalition of far-left groups hastily thrown up as a temporary electoral front, but should be an active campaigning organisation built around the basic democratic principle of one member one vote.

‘We have been through some bitter experiences and we need to learn from the past,’ Loach said to the meeting. ‘We absolutely need to be a democratic party and I support the principle of one member, one vote. We’ve had groups trying to take projects over, we’ve had manipulations behind closed doors and we don’t want that again.’

‘Just like we don’t want one dominating group, we don’t want any charismatic leaders,’ he added, clearly expressing his desire not to be an unaccountable figurehead for the new party. Indeed, despite Loach’s appeal, much of the hard work has been done by the local groups, which have grown organically with their own ideas and ways of working, and Left Unity has been built from the bottom up. This must continue over the coming months as Left Unity moves towards its founding conference and the beginning of a vital new party of the left.

For too long the left has been divided and weak, its energies exhausted on sectarian splits. And absolutely no one in the real world cared. If, as Loach said, Left Unity is to learn from the mistakes of the past, it must be transparent, open, inclusive and democratic. If, as so many people at Saturday’s meeting said, we want to make a difference, we must first put aside our own differences.

The time for Left Unity is now.



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Pat 17 May 2013, 20.46

Seems good but I give it a month before the SWP or AWP the try to take it over, in which case I look forward to buying copies of the Socialist Worker of them.

If it does survive attempted I hope it does well, sets up a branch or nine in Ireland.

Also Multi-tendency would be nice, might stop the “I’m not working with you’re lot,” arguments that have destroyed every left wing movement of the last 80 years.

Robert the cripple 22 May 2013, 22.03

I would like to see another Party to get in and be a force, because right now the Tory Labour, Labour Tory one is in power one is in opposition has seen New Labour and now Newer Labour sit back and work with the Tories and the Tory swing voters.

Miliband is a very very poor leader and I cannot for the life of me see him do much for the people except I suspect ask Blair to come back

Michael Daniels 23 May 2013, 15.47

You wouldn’t know how many years I’ve waited for something like this! All my life, even as a teenager, I’ve been a supporter, though never a member, of the Labour Party for for years have been disappointed by it’s lack of a left wing agenda, principles and strategy. Let’s hope this really takes off.

Jaynel62 29 May 2013, 07.18

Intrigued to read this in the same weekly round up as the interview with Owen Jones re The People’s Assembly; I only hope the two groups work closely together otherwise this will split the left even further?

Salman Shaheen 29 May 2013, 14.29

Jaynel62, I hope so too. There’s certainly some cross-over with some of the people involved. I suspect Owen Jones will be backing Labour. And while I hope Left Unity will work with the Labour Left on campaigns against the cuts, LU is aiming to provide a left-wing alternative to Labour, which has been fairly weak in its Parliamentary opposition to austerity.

Will Podmore 11 June 2013, 10.13

Sorry guys, yet another doomed attempt to recreate ‘the Labour Party on socialist principles’, yet another broad church.
Have you learned nothing from the failures of the Mensheviks, of all the social-democratic parties, the New Lefts (1 and 2) etc?
Without a Marxist-Leninist party, rooted in the working class, the working class is doomed to perpetual feeble opposition.

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