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
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace