Tuesday, 2 October 2012

CONFERENCES-Busy doing nothing....

On Sunday last BBC Radio 4 did the nation a great service.It presented a new version of that 1968 classic play by Alan Plater 'Close the coal-house door'  with music by  Alex Glasgow.
It was the story in words and music of the Durham miners, and featured the song 'the Socialist ABC'
If you are unfamiliar with it, find it on the BBC or just google it, I promise you it will be worth it if you have the slightest twinge of socialist ideology left in your battered social democratic body!
For those that remember it, I give you the final verse:
"W's for all willing workers,
And that's where the memory fades,
For X,Y,and Zed,'my dear daddy said,
Will be written on the street barricades.'
Now that I'm not a little tiny boy,
My daddy says to me,
Please try and forget those things that I said,
Especially the ABC.'
For daddy is no longer a union man,
And he's had to change his plea.
His alphabet is different now,
Since they made him a Labour MP.

Thyev song reminded me what instinctively I always knew, and just publishing the biography of my uncle who fought with the Internationals in Spain has reinforced the ideology that I have always held.
When in 1972 Marie and I came to Northampton it seemed a political wilderness after the heady times of Hackney and Islington.
In Hackney we had co-edited the 'Stoke Newington Peoples Paper', we were founder members of Islington CARD(Campaign against racial discrimination) we had be courted by the International  Socialists and were members of a tiny group called Theoretical Practice(based on the work of Althusser)
Northampton had no revolutionary ferment and we were getting older.The only game in town was the LabourPparty, and our neighbour then was the widow of a castle Ward Labour Councillor and the doyen of the local party branch.
We decided to give it a whirl,but set ourselves five years to change the party or escape to indolence.
That was of course the early 70's, within a year i was a castle Ward Councillor and the Labour party was in ferment.Of course we acknowledged that it would never be a full blooded socialist party,but there seemed then the possibility of a thriving social-democratic party that would create some change,some progress.

Of course time passed and we got seduced by the comfort zone that the Labour Party provided, small incremental gains seems possible, and there was always the challenge of debate and discussion, and battles aplenty at GMC,District party, regional and national level.

Being a Labour Party member in the difficult 80's was no picnic,but we battled on with a growing anger that how much longer would people put up with Thatcher and the accursed free market ideology.
Come 1997 we were all so tired of banging our heads against the obdurate brick wall of reaction that the merest possibility of a change in government allowed us to be seduced by the siren voice of Blair and New Labour.
We should have known, they stopped calling it a party and talked about 'the project', they cut the party loose from it's history-no clause 4,no ending the Tory proscriptions of Trade unions,and the willing continuation for two years of the Tory financial programmes!
We should have known then that it would all end in tears, we should have known that Trident would float on undisturbed and cruel tragedies like Iraq would happen.
the signs were all there, we just allowed the euphoria of winning to blind ourselves to the fact that the Labour Party was not even a social democratic party any more.
What exists now is a hollowed out shell, a vote gathering machine that really does not understand what its gathering votes for.In a Times editorial last week it was pointed out that in many parties fifty people can select amongst themselves 20 or 30 councillors.Instead of selection conferences in each ward,the process is self selecting.There are often more seats around than candidates-such is the poverty of experience.
Worse still MP's can be selected by aggregate meetings often of less than a hundred! So any old retread,even one with a dodgy dossier of fiddling expenses can get back.
That is of course true of all the parties,but the problems appears to be at its worst in the Labour party,where in the absence of political theory,the machinery of 'democratic centralism' appears to be order of the day.

Fifty odd years ago I was expelled from the Youg Communist league because I found myself at odds with the democratic centralist model.One of the reasons I remained for so long in the Labour Party apart from inertia)  was the sense that real debate happened in Charles Street and progress could be made.

We all looked forward to conference and fought hard,ward by ward,union branch bty union branch to get our resolution,first through the GMC and then to conference.
How many resolutions were discussed at Northampton South this year?
How did the mandating meeting for the delegate go? Was Northampton South following the National Executive line or opposing the centre?

1 comment:

  1. John, we used to sing the Socialist ABC in the Albert pub at the Labour MP's Christmas dinner, but only half of those there knew the words!

    As to the party, funny enough a blogger called me a fair weathered friend the other week, suggesting I breezed in in 1997 and got out when it got tough! Well you post reminded me of plenty of reasons why the party was no easy ride during the 80's

    I am attending my conference next week a day and a half in Smith Square with the Independent group! I guess there may be more democracy in those two days than in all three party conferences combined!