By Michael Elms
Many Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) are yet to decide their motions to Labour Party conference (25-29 September in Brighton) at meetings in August or more likely in early September. Many will have decided in July, and rule-change proposals were in by 11 June.
Momentum Internationalists were pleased that our own Build Back Fairer motion was backed by Momentum, about a plan for rebuilding the workers’ movement and society on a more equal basis in the pandemic and its wake. You can buy a pamphlet which expands on those ideas here .
There are several left-wing rule-change proposals: the two main ones on the order paper, so we hear, are for removing the “three-year rule” which blocks CLPs (but not the National Executive) from reopening rulebook issues within three years, and for accountability of the Parliamentary Labour Party to Labour conference.
For Starmer, the conference will be a test of his planned “relaunch” following universal criticism and poor performance this year. For the left it will be an opportunity to regroup politically and begin plans to rebuild – to rebuild a functioning left in Labour, but also to present a left-wing, alternative plan for rebuilding society in Covid times.
Since January 2020 Labour Party membership has gone down by 120,000 to about 430,000, the same figure as in November 2019. Anecdotally, many left-wingers have quit, and others are keeping their heads down in CLPs.
At the London Labour conference on 24-25 July, pro-Starmer candidates from the right-wing “Labour to Win” faction swept the elections for the regional board. We can expect that this rightward shift will also be reflected in the delegates being sent to conference. The crop of left-wing motions being sent appears to be much thinner this year, so far, than it was in 2019 (which was a left-wing high tide).
That doesn’t mean that Labour has simply been retaken by the right. The 430,000 membership is still more than double what it was in May 2015. Starmer’s attempted purge of hundreds of members of groups like Socialist Appeal and Labour Against the Witch Hunt, while outrageous and potentially demoralising, is unlikely to change this.
Opinion among the membership is still comfortably to the left of Starmer. While the London regional conference elections went to the right, motions were passed endorsing the 2019 manifesto’s “free broadband” pledge and calling for Transport for London to bring all of its staff and services back in-house. A motion on Just Transition and the climate crisis passed in spite of opposition from Unite and GMB delegates, who took issue with the motion’s call to end airport expansion.
Starmer’s recent policy announcements (really, re-launches of Corbyn era policies) on workers’ rights, including a pledge of worker status for spuriously self-employed gig economy workers, may be in part a recognition of this diffuse left-wing mood.
The left-wing party membership is poorly organised and still disoriented politically. Momentum nationally has been largely inactive this year. A bad, ultra-suspicious political culture and disdain for democracy hobbled the organisation for most of the Corbyn period. The new Momentum leadership elected in 2020 promised more democracy but has failed so far to reinvigorate local Momentum groups, in part because it has continued much of the top-down, office-led, NGO-style outlook of the previous administration; its “new strategy” document sheds little light.
Even given all the real difficulties, Momentum’s performance at getting its own recommended motions passed by CLPs looks poor thus far.