Following the regrettable suspension of local Labour Party organisation in Brighton and Hove between July and February, it was good today to Chair the first meeting of the General Committee of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party since we elected our Executive last month.
The well-attended meeting started with a detailed briefing on the Tory Budget from Constituency Secretary, Claire Wadey, whose expertise on tax enabled her to explain the context of the much debated changes to National Insurance contributions for the self-employed.
As someone whose everyday experience of “self-employment” is of highly paid interim managers in local government, your blogger was reminded of the estimate that more than three quarters of the self-employed live in poverty, and that many are self-employed because they have been excluded from mainstream employment.
The budget briefing was a useful prelude to campaign activity across the Constituency in the afternoon, at which we shared the national Party’s message that the Tories’ Spring Budget is built on unfairness. As Claire pointed out in our briefing, the decision to increase the threshold for higher rate tax means that the well-off benefit from the budget’s changes to tax allowances by five times as much as basic rate taxpayers.
In the face of this grotesque unfairness from a Government propelling our economy lemming-like into a “hard Brexit” whilst doing nothing to address the declining living standards of so many working class people, the Pavilion GC demonstrated the large majority support for the socialist politics of the Party leadership which exists within the local Party.
A small minority of delegates who appeared less than entirely happy with the direction we are taking was given a very fair and generous hearing by the majority who showed commendable tolerance and good humour. Under socialist leadership our local Party will continue to provide a welcoming home to all shades of opinion within Labour’s broad church.
There was no consensus about how to respond to the proposed boundary changes, and we didn’t have the time to make up for the fact that the Labour Party had closed down our local organisation when we would first have had the opportunity to respond to the barking mad plans to put Hove Park in Brighton and Central Brighton into Hove. Labour Party members are quite free to respond to the current consultation as citizens (and as Constituency Chair I have not been notified of any Regional or national “line” on this).
There is a view that we should consider nothing other than Party advantage when responding to proposals for boundary changes, but it seems to me that such a transparently self-serving partisan approach (as adopted by the local Tories) is not simply unappealing in a Party that aspires to lead our community but is – from a purely pragmatic point of view – daft because it is impossible to see into the future and know which areas will vote which way into even the medium term.
I was particularly pleased that the GC overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to reduce the frequency of meetings, which the Executive had proposed should take place monthly, and not only because that would have deprived me of the opportunity to chair the meetings.
A regular and frequent cycle of meetings is the sine qua non of democratic lay control of any membership organisation and the large number of delegates recognised that, whilst we may not all be able to attend every meeting, it is in our interests that such meetings should take place. As a member of the Executive, I am very pleased that the GC agreed that it shall meet frequently to hold us to account.
I hope that comrades up and down the country will take heart from our experience in Brighton (and Hove) and will commit to consolidating the position of socialists within the Party. Jeremy Corbyn shows great resilience in the face of a media firestorm, fuelled in part by those within our ranks who do not support a socialist leadership, and we need to show equal resilience in the fight for socialist politics within and through the Labour Party.
It is not the role of the Labour Left to be a fan club for anyone – if you have had the misfortune to read this blog before you will know, for example, that I am entirely opposed to the approach which the Party leadership has taken to the ill-judged decision of those who voted (in an advisory referendum) to leave the European Union. I think that the very idea of a “People’s Brexit” is delusional.
The referendum result was a vote in large part about immigration and the victorious side was the side supported by bigots and racists (albeit of course not all “leave” voters fall into either category). The resurgence of racism in everyday life which has been accelerated since the referendum result underlines the importance of a Labour Party in which those of us for whom socialism comes first can shape policy.
What Corbyn’s leadership represents is not the ascendancy of an individual, or even of a team around that individual, but rather the ascendancy of socialist ideas within the Labour Party. Socialists must move swiftly to consolidate this ascendancy, with a clear focus on organisation within the Party, if we are to ensure that the people of this country are offered a socialist alternative to the carnival of reaction which is all around us.
This outcome is neither settled nor certain, and we face a fight over decades (and not simply until the next electoral challenge) against not only an establishment (and a ruling class) which abhors a socialist Labour Party but also against those entrenched within our Party who sincerely believe that the modest, temporary and invariably contingent amelioration of the worst excesses of capitalism is all that we can ever hope for.
Today in Brighton we took some tiny steps along the long road ahead of us.
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