Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Enough of elections already!

Some are keen to launch yet another unity party out of the convention. They're missing a much better idea

September 21, 2008
4 min read

When the Convention of the Left’s organisers decided to put their ‘statement of intent’ to the vote, John McDonnell knew what would happen. ‘It’s always dangerous to put a statement up,’ he joked, ‘because there’s always some tosser who wants to amend it.’

And his prediction proved accurate: Diana Raby of Respect went ahead and tried to propose an amendment. ‘We aren’t taking amendments, comrade,’ the chair told her. ‘Then I’ll read out the text of the amendment I would have put,’ she replied, to applause.

She wanted to insert a call for the creation of ‘a viable electoral alternative, to the left of New Labour’ that would stand candidates in the next general election (a move that would force McDonnell to either drop his support for the convention or break with Labour, because of Labour’s rules on support for opposition parties).

‘Enough of elections already!’ a heckler shouted – and I couldn’t help but agree.

Many of the groups present at the convention are keen to set up a new electoral party (the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, Workers’ Power and remnants of the Socialist Alliance were the most vocal about it), and they’re not afraid to badger McDonnell and the left union leaders about it endlessly. It’s as if they think there’s some great shortage of political parties and coalitions – as if the years since the dawn of New Labour weren’t littered with the corpses of the Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alliance, Respect and the rest. They seem to think that all we need to do is to get the Labour left and a few unions on board and all our electoral problems will be solved.

After a speaker told Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union that if he believed in a new party he should ‘put his name to it and do something about it’, Wrack spelled out his objection: ‘There have been too many false starts and I don’t want to see another. It’s not as straightforward as union leaders putting their name to something.’

One of the signs of madness is that you do the same thing over and over again but expect a different result – and setting up yet another socialist(ish) party to stand in elections would fall right into that trap. Much as I’d support this hypothetical Union Party if it did somehow come into being, I wouldn’t want to see the Convention of the Left hijacked to that end. The statement as written contains a far more worthwhile proposal that hasn’t already been tried a dozen times: to set up local left forums across the country.

Bill Jefferies, moving the statement, said: ‘We want to create an open forum where people are free to express their opinions and ideas. We’ve moved away from the top table telling people the line.’

These forums would be open to the broadest left possible – from the Labour left and the Greens all the way to Marxists and anarchists – to allow people from all the different traditions to work together and link up their campaigns. They could do everything from coordinating strikes to giving grass-roots activists the chance to share their stories and tactics. Some contributors pointed to similar local initiatives that have already had some success, such as the Cardiff Radical Socialist Forum, while others drew inspiration from the united strikes on 24 April that saw teachers, lecturers and civil servants take to the streets together.

I think the local left forums idea is one that has to be given a chance, without being loaded down with the expense and heartbreak of fighting unwinnable election campaigns – and in the end, the room seemed to agree with that sentiment. Remarkably, the statement of intent passed near-unanimously, with no-one voting against and only three abstentions. There also appeared to be consensus that we should try to unify the many disparate ‘ten-point charters’ the left has produced over the past few months into one, and organise a united campaign on the increases in fuel prices as autumn turns into winter.

A speaker from Huddersfield put it this way: ‘I’ve come to this today and I feel it’s different. There’s no platform, no central committee. The power I feel here today is the power of ordinary people.’

As John McDonnell said: ‘There’s real potential, but we’ve been here before. Let’s not fuck it up again.’

You can read the convention’s statement of intent at http://www.redpepper.org.uk/Convention-of-the-left-statement

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee