CLPD held its Annual General Meeting, its 41st, on Saturday 29 March at Conway Hall in central London. Over 80 CLPD members and supporters attended, with a noticeable increase in younger members, and there was much discussion and debate on the way forward for the Labour Party (LP).
Chair Lizzie Ali introduced Kelvin Hopkins MP as first speaker. Kelvin opened the meeting by paying tribute to those lost in the last 12 months, including Tony Benn, who was due to speak at the AGM, Bob Crow and Jim Mortimer. Kelvin expressed disappointment at the Collins Report and decision of the LP special conference on 1 March. He said we need more trade unions to affiliate to the LP and strengthen the Left. The LP leadership was still pandering to the Daily Mail. Another disappointment was the benefits cap vote, with only 12 Labour MP’s voted against. Popular polices for the Party should include re-nationalisation of the railways, with 80% in favour and a definite vote winner, and state ownership of the energy sector. Labour needs to be bolder and Kelvin acknowledged the problems with getting across to the media democratic socialism and its history. The current housing bubble was driving the mini recovery and this will move the country to a debt crisis. We have the worst housing crisis in Europe and Local Authorities should be given authority to build thousands of council houses. This crisis was forcing people into private housing and thus increasing housing benefit payments.
Secretary Pete Willsman reported on CLPD activities over the last 12 months and drew attention to our website, Left Futures at http://www.leftfutures.org/ and Grassroots Labour at https://www.grassrootslabour.net/ for regular information and views on CPLD. Information on our LP National Executive Committee (NEC) candidates for 2014 can be found on these websites. Pete said along with contemporary motions and eleven CLPD’s model rule changes had been distributed widely ahead of LP conference. The Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) elections at last year’s LP Conference had been subject to interference in the ballot from LP officials and Left candidates Katy Clark MP and Pete had narrowly lost. On the Collins Report, Pete said all the unions, except bakers’ union BFAWU, had capitulated to the leadership. Finally, he said LP members have until 13 June to submit amendments to the eight National Policy Forum (NPF) documents and CLPD will be circulating draft amendments.
NEC member Christine Shawcroft gave the NEC and NPF report. On Collins, Christine said on the NEC only Dennis Skinner MP and she had voted against. She voiced the opinion that Party needs to reduce the LP membership fees to attract more members, along with putting forward policies agreed by LP conference which are known to be popular with the electorate. Christine highlighted the upcoming NEC elections and NPF meeting in July. Her NEC report was on the Left Futures website. Christine said the LP leadership had no idea of the effects of the coalition cuts on ordinary people.
Incoming chair Gaye Johnson opened the afternoon session with NEC member Ken Livingstone discussing the future for the LP. Ken felt uncertainty about the LP direction. Whilst Britain is still the fourth richest country, we are slipping into a low wage, low skill economy. The economic crisis Labour will face if elected is worse than that faced by Wilson in 1964. Ken’s view is that if the Tories win in 2015 there will be worse cuts and that it will not maintain the NHS. At present, 10% of income is lost in tax evasion and avoidance. Ken looked to the USA where corporations pay a third of tax than 50 years ago. Labour will need to close these loopholes with legislation. Labour should build on Ed Milliband’s energy freeze proposals and include transport and rent freezes. Labour needs to build 150,000 houses and commence a massive extension of the transport infrastructure. Investment in high tech, high skills jobs and re-balancing workers’ rights should be in the manifesto. In the next election, the most important in 25 years, four billionaires owning 70% of the media will seek to demonise Ed Milliband. Ken said we need to follow the strategy of the 1945 Attlee government.
Martin Mayer, Unite union NEC member and chair of United Left, and Kate Osamor, lay member of Unite and LP NEC candidate, addressed the issue of building the unions in the LP. Martin spoke of the Unite strategy to get trade unionists elected as MP’s. He said Labour should be making more impact in the polls against a coalition government that is privatising the NHS and privatised the Royal Mail. Depressing workers’ earnings means you depress income and spending. Voting with the coalition on the benefits cap meant Labour would be associated with this policy. Labour needs bold policies like investing in council housing, creating green jobs, spending on public transport and a return of trade union rights. Martin pointed out that workers were £1,600 per year worse off than in 2010. Kate spoke of how communities felt disconnected with Labour and the party needs to work harder to make gains in the upcoming local elections. Unite is working with local councillors to achieve this. Kate said we need clear, alternative policies in the general election and the LP, with the unions, is the only alternative to the Tories.
Claire McCarthy from the Co-op Party spoke of the relationship with the LP stretching over 100 years. Ed Milliband was right to challenge the energy market. Britain has been failed by the energy companies. The Co-op is working with rail union ASLEF and Claire pointed out the massive shareholder profit in the railways since privatisation 20 years ago. The Co-op was making the case for a people’s railway and putting employees and the public in charge. Private enterprise can be done in a fairer and more democratic way. The Co-op sponsors 32 MP’s and 17 peers. The 700 Co-op academy schools are an antidote to the forced academy agenda.
Nine resolutions were put to the meeting with the first one, on the creation of a trade union party linked to the LP similar to the Co-op Party link, creating much debate. The AGM decided to refer the issue to the CLPD executive to study the proposals further.
Eight other resolutions were passed but before this, Dominic Curran, Conrad Landin and Max Shanly updated us on Young CLPD. They said in Young Labour the Left had won a number of positions on their committee and had put a motion opposing zero hours contracts to LP conference. A Young Labour Trade Union Network has been established as a counterweight to Labour Students. Young CPLD was trying to re-claim Young Labour for young workers’ issues and not be dominated just by students and aspiring career politicians. The LP Youth Conference took place in February and, after a vote taken three times, 109 votes to 107 had opposed the Collins Report.
Earlier in the day Jim Mackechnie had given a report on activities in Scotland, highlighting the success there in pressing CLPD model rule changes, and the meeting ended with reports from around the regions.
Mike Loates, CLPD Press Officer