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.

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi