What happened at Labour conference 2022? An overview

At the conference the Starmer leadership largely got its way. The left in Constituency Labour Parties has fallen back significantly; but the decisive factor was a lack of stroppiness and political strategy from the union leaders.

• Read Labour Left Internationalists’ bulletins at Labour conference 2022 (24-28 September, Liverpool) here.

• At the conference the Starmer leadership largely got its way. The left in Constituency Labour Parties has fallen back significantly; but the decisive factor was a lack of stroppiness and political strategy from the union leaders.

• The impact of growing working-class struggle in the UK was visible in the conference, in that it did pass some quite good left-wing policies (see below), mainly from the unions – whose motions could not be bureaucratically carved out as many left-wing CLPs motions were. But the unions voted to passed left-wing motions and did little else to shake things up, despite numerous opportunities. Unless we shift things, the leadership will continue to ignore those policies.

• In advance of the conference, the unions did not challenge the expulsion and suspension of delegates, ruling out of motions, etc. In the conference itself, unions voted to avoid controversial issue areas, did not challenge manoeuvres to exclude demand that the leadership found inconvenient – notably public ownership of energy – and did not organise or back up challenges against ignoring of existing conference policy.

• More broadly, unions did little to “make a fuss” at the conference. To take one striking example: Liverpool dockers were on strike during the conference. Left activists and MPs went to their picket lines; but the Unite delegate did not organise a visit; and when the dockers came to the conference, far from mobilising people to join their protest, did not even join it themselves (or organise to take the dockers into the conference).

• The Labour left was weakened by demoralisation and by a wide range of bureaucratic stitch-ups, but the dominant forces on the left also lack strategy and drive. Momentum did little to get left-wing motions submitted or organise delegates. It actively discouraged protest when Starmer had the conference sing “God Save the King”, with the result that there was almost none (LLI protest in its main bulletin and to the best of our ability on conference floor).

• You can read all the motions submitted and the composite motions passed here.

• Some of the text unions put to the conference was typically vague, but some of it was quite clear. The conference voted for:
– Pay rises at least in-line with inflation.
– “Unequivocal support to all UK workers taking strike action” and for joining picket lines, including “all Labour MPs” doing so
– A £15 minimum wage
– Opposing privatisation, academisation and outsourcing; bringing services back in house; public ownership of the railways and Royal Mail specifically and of “essential services and utilities” generally (to give credit where due, that last phrase was from Unite)
– A free, publicly funded and publicly provided social care system
– “Proper needs-based funding for local government”, ie an implication of reversing the cuts
– “To return all privatised portions of the NHS to public control”
This builds on left-wing policies passed in 2021, including public ownership of energy and repeal of all anti-union laws. The issue is the weakness of campaigning for these policies and to demand Labour commits to them.
With motions for public ownership of energy and the broader Labour for a Green New Deal kept off the agenda, the composite passed on climate change was extremely bland. Ditto the composite on childcare.

• The conference voted overwhelmingly for strong solidarity with Ukraine, but the composite unfortunately included right-wing CLP’s support for NATO and GMB’s for higher UK “defence” spending. It also dropped the positive proposals for actually mobilising members put forward in the National Union of Mineworkers motion.

• Unlike last year, when the unions voted down a CLP majority for proportional representation, this year both sections of the conference voted for, along with a call to abolish the House of Lords. We should push forward these demands as part of a wider programme to defend and extend democracy, while not treating PR as some kind of panacea or opposing Labour entering coalitions with parties to its right.

• There were no motions on Brexit, on policing and criminal justice, or on international issues except Ukraine.

• The leadership showed some small shifts to the left, with promises or nods on a publicly owned energy company, more council housing, tenants’ rights, nationalising the railways, insourcing and workers’ rights, among other things. However Starmer also pitched to the nationalist right (quite explicitly in fact) by promising a “points-based immigration system”. The leftish policies the leadership did put forward are extremely limited even compared to the Corbyn years, and without much greater pressure and the establishment of some degree of accountability over the leadership, they will surely be watered down, not firmed up.

• Leadership spokespeople said nothing to support strikes or about repealing anti-strike laws, except Angela Rayner saying Labour would reverse any new ones Liz Truss brings in.

• Corporate lobbyists and the like were a greatly increased presence at the conference. The media reports Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves have had 250 meetings with CEOs.

• In addition to distributing our bulletins, Labour Left Internationalists helped organise fights on conference floor and in compositing; mobilised people to support the dockers; also supported trans rights and anti-racist protests outside the conference; and worked with organisations including the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, Free Our Unions and the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign to promote their events at the conference.

• With Labour now high in the polls, the Labour right will be triumphant. The socialist left should not be intimidated, but step up our work to promote class-struggle, internationalist policies and campaigns in Labour, seeking to pull as much as possible of the wider labour movement into this fight.

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