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Stop the War is dead, people tell me. Well, yeah, granted, there weren’t anywhere near a million people protesting outside the Labour Party conference today. But the protest was a reasonable size, and it illustrates a question that is going to be central to the Convention of the Left – whether the left can achieve anything by working inside Labour.
After all, many well-meaning lefties and worthy campaigns believe that it is better to work within the system than to ‘stand outside with a placard’: that we should be ‘realistic’, not combative; that we should send nicely-designed postcards to our MPs, not picket their offices. This is the logic that led a ridiculous number of NGOs to politely stand out the entrance to Labour conference today giving out ‘attention-grabbing’ little toys, as if politics was some kind of exercise in direct marketing to the influential.
But if Stop the War had set itself up that way, going to see Labour with marquees instead of marches and free pens instead of placards, would it be any more likely to get the troops out?
Labour delegates will have no chance to vote on anything of consequence – their ‘conference’ is nothing but a supporters’ rally. Any of them who might want to someday taste actual ‘power’ will have to toe the line all the way from local council level to the cabinet, in a process designed to weed out the awkward squad. The small-c conservative bureaucracy is self-replicating, moving quickly to stifle anyone with a real opinion.
No matter how much our friendly, lobbying anti-war group wined and dined the top bods, they’d be pretty unlikely to change their minds – not least because arms traders can afford champagne and caviar where we could only offer bangers and mash with a side of lager. So we’d be left with nothing to do but vote them out in a couple of years … only to find that they’ve been replaced with doppelgangers from the opposite benches and the wars are still going on. ‘Working within the system’ requires you to spend your life begging for attention from people who are never going to listen.
The majority of British people – perhaps even the majority of Labour Party members – are anti-war. In a situation where ‘democracy’ somehow allows desperately unpopular wars (not to mention desperately unpopular leaders) to ‘go on and on’, what can we do but grab some pots and pans, stand outside Labour’s heavily-fortified conference centre, and shout and scream at the government?
Well, there is something else we can do. After the speeches, when everyone would usually have turned around and gone home, many of the marchers stuck around to check out the Convention of the Left. In the next post I’ll write about what happened at its opening session.