A demonstration against privatisation of the NHS in May 2013. Photo: Getty
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Labour must watch its left flank in months to come – new party Left Unity is on the move

Left Unity, the new party founded in November with the support of Ken Loach, held its first national conference in Manchester this weekend.

Left Unity is the hottest thing on the left right now. In a few short months, it has attracted more than 1,800 members. With a new member joining every 10 minutes over the weekend, the party is going from strength to strength.

On Saturday, Left Unity held its first national conference in Manchester. After a day of open, democratic debate around a series of motions sent in by branches and members around the country, the party agreed that it would launch its challenge to the Tory-led government and weak Labour opposition by campaigning against austerity, poverty pay, zero-hour contracts and privatisation.

Left Unity is committed to introducing a mandatory living wage and a 35-hour working week with no loss of pay to support people struggling with their work-life balance.  

It will campaign to bring the railways and the energy companies back into public ownership, policies that big business-backed Labour will not even consider even though they are supported by the vast majority of British people. The best Miliband is willing to offer, despite rightly pointing to a cost of living crisis, is a temporary price freeze on energy bills. But neither the energy companies nor the railways – which could only ever be run as monopolies in private hands – have delivered the promised and overly vaunted choice and competition that the deified ultra free market philosophy would have us believe gives the best deal for consumers. Bringing them back into public ownership would not only allow such companies to be run in the interests of their workers, but also their consumers, the poorest of which are being crippled by soaring costs.

The party committed itself to defending the NHS from creeping back-door privatisation, to campaigning against the bedroom tax and campaigning to build a million new affordable, spacious social homes while reigning in rocketing private rents.

Conference supported a push not only for many more green jobs, but many more purple jobs as well. The term refers to jobs in the caring sectors which are being remorselessly cut by local authorities as a result of national government reductions in their funding. Left Unity not only wants to reverse those cuts, but significantly expand the public sector, ensuring that labour necessary for society no longer faces low wages and increasingly casualised and precarious conditions of employment. These are jobs which are critical to support disabled people, the sick and the rapidly growing numbers of older pensioners. They are also jobs in childcare, which the party agreed should be provided free to all those with children below school age. Fundamentally, the purpose of purple job creation is to free women from primary caring responsibilities which have led to their concentration in part-time work, discontinuous labour, and involuntary underemployment. Ending segregation of the labour market where women are consigned to low pay and underemployment to enable them to provide care for children, sick, disabled people and the elderly, these jobs will enable men and women to work in this sector. This is a step towards ending women’s unpaid personal labour at home, allowing their full participation in employment and their access to education, personal development and economic independence.

Left Unity is opposed to fracking. As yet, the evidence for the safety of pumping chemicals into the ground to extract gas from shale is sketchy. And even if, in the fullness of time, fracking is proved safe, it ties us into further exploitation of fossil fuels, hampering efforts to bring carbon emissions down and distracting us from the need to be massively expanding renewable energy.

Now that Left Unity has agreed a core set of policies, the hard work of campaigning can begin. The party has had an encouraging start for an organisation that emerged from nowhere to be built from the bottom-up by independent activists fed up with the political status quo. But for Left Unity to succeed, it will now have to turn outwards. It will need to campaign on the streets, in the workplaces and in the unions. It will have to support – not hijack – local campaigns across the country to save hospitals and libraries, to shut down fracking sites, to oppose the bedroom tax and to stop the racist EDL. Only when Left Unity has done all of these things, when it has actively tried to make a difference to the lives of poor, vulnerable and oppressed people, will it have the right to ask for their vote.

Ukip may be making the headlines as we approach the European elections next month, threatening to steal thousands of votes from the Conservatives and forcing them to watch their right flank. But Labour will have to watch its left flank in the months and years to come. Because Left Unity is on the move.

Salman Shaheen is a Principal Speaker for Left Unity

Salman Shaheen is editor-in-chief of The World Weekly, principal speaker of Left Unity and a freelance journalist.

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David Osland: “Corbyn is actually Labour’s only chance”

The veteran Labour activist on the release of his new pamphlet, How to Select or Reselect Your MP, which lays out the current Labour party rules for reselecting an MP.

Veteran left-wing Labour activist David Osland, a member of the national committee of the Labour Representation Committee and a former news editor of left magazine Tribune, has written a pamphlet intended for Labour members, explaining how the process of selecting Labour MPs works.

Published by Spokesman Books next week (advance copies are available at Nottingham’s Five Leaves bookshop), the short guide, entitled “How to Select or Reselect Your MP”, is entertaining and well-written, and its introduction, which goes into reasoning for selecting a new MP and some strategy, as well as its historical appendix, make it interesting reading even for those who are not members of the Labour party. Although I am a constituency Labour party secretary (writing here in an expressly personal capacity), I am still learning the Party’s complex rulebook; I passed this new guide to a local rules-boffin member, who is an avowed Owen Smith supporter, to evaluate whether its description of procedures is accurate. “It’s actually quite a useful pamphlet,” he said, although he had a few minor quibbles.

Osland, who calls himself a “strong, but not uncritical” Corbyn supporter, carefully admonishes readers not to embark on a campaign of mass deselections, but to get involved and active in their local branches, and to think carefully about Labour’s election fortunes; safe seats might be better candidates for a reselection campaign than Labour marginals. After a weak performance by Owen Smith in last night’s Glasgow debate and a call for Jeremy Corbyn to toughen up against opponents by ex Norwich MP Ian Gibson, an old ally, this pamphlet – named after a 1981 work by ex-Tribune editor Chris Mullin, who would later go on to be a junior minister under Blai – seems incredibly timely.

I spoke to Osland on the telephone yesterday.

Why did you decide to put this pamphlet together now?

I think it’s certainly an idea that’s circulating in the Labour left, after the experience with Corbyn as leader, and the reaction of the right. It’s a debate that people have hinted at; people like Rhea Wolfson have said that we need to be having a conversation about it, and I’d like to kickstart that conversation here.

For me personally it’s been a lifelong fascination – I was politically formed in the early Eighties, when mandatory reselection was Bennite orthodoxy and I’ve never personally altered my belief in that. I accept that the situation has changed, so what the Labour left is calling for at the moment, so I see this as a sensible contribution to the debate.

I wonder why selection and reselection are such an important focus? One could ask, isn’t it better to meet with sitting MPs and see if one can persuade them?

I’m not calling for the “deselect this person, deselect that person” rhetoric that you sometimes see on Twitter; you shouldn’t deselect an MP purely because they disagree with Corbyn, in a fair-minded way, but it’s fair to ask what are guys who are found to be be beating their wives or crossing picket lines doing sitting as our MPs? Where Labour MPs publicly have threatened to leave the party, as some have been doing, perhaps they don’t value their Labour involvement.

So to you it’s very much not a broad tool, but a tool to be used a specific way, such as when an MP has engaged in misconduct?

I think you do have to take it case by case. It would be silly to deselect the lot, as some people argue.

In terms of bringing the party to the left, or reforming party democracy, what role do you think reselection plays?

It’s a basic matter of accountability, isn’t it? People are standing as Labour candidates – they should have the confidence and backing of their constituency parties.

Do you think what it means to be a Labour member has changed since Corbyn?

Of course the Labour party has changed in the past year, as anyone who was around in the Blair, Brown, Miliband era will tell you. It’s a completely transformed party.

Will there be a strong reaction to the release of this pamphlet from Corbyn’s opponents?

Because the main aim is to set out the rules as they stand, I don’t see how there can be – if you want to use the rules, this is how to go about it. I explicitly spelled out that it’s a level playing field – if your Corbyn supporting MP doesn’t meet the expectations of the constituency party, then she or he is just as subject to a challenge.

What do you think of the new spate of suspensions and exclusions of some people who have just joined the party, and of other people, including Ronnie Draper, the General Secretary of the Bakers’ Union, who have been around for many years?

It’s clear that the Labour party machinery is playing hardball in this election, right from the start, with the freeze date and in the way they set up the registered supporters scheme, with the £25 buy in – they’re doing everything they can to influence this election unfairly. Whether they will succeed is an open question – they will if they can get away with it.

I’ve been seeing comments on social media from people who seem quite disheartened on the Corbyn side, who feel that there’s a chance that Smith might win through a war of attrition.

Looks like a Corbyn win to me, but the gerrymandering is so extensive that a Smith win isn’t ruled out.

You’ve been in the party for quite a few years, do you think there are echoes of past events, like the push for Bennite candidates and the takeover from Foot by Kinnock?

I was around last time – it was dirty and nasty at times. Despite the narrative being put out by the Labour right that it was all about Militant bully boys and intimidation by the left, my experience as a young Bennite in Tower Hamlets Labour Party, a very old traditional right wing Labour party, the intimidation was going the other way. It was an ugly time – physical threats, people shaping up to each other at meetings. It was nasty. Its nasty in a different way now, in a social media way. Can you compare the two? Some foul things happened in that time – perhaps worse in terms of physical intimidation – but you didn’t have the social media.

There are people who say the Labour Party is poised for a split – here in Plymouth (where we don’t have a Labour MP), I’m seeing comments from both sides that emphasise that after this leadership election we need to unite to fight the Tories. What do you think will happen?

I really hope a split can be avoided, but we’re a long way down the road towards a split. The sheer extent of the bad blood – the fact that the right have been openly talking about it – a number of newspaper articles about them lining up backing from wealthy donors, operating separately as a parliamentary group, then they pretend that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, and that they’re not talking about a split. Of course they are. Can we stop the kamikazes from doing what they’re plotting to do? I don’t know, I hope so.

How would we stop them?

We can’t, can we? If they have the financial backing, if they lose this leadership contest, there’s no doubt that some will try. I’m old enough to remember the launch of the SDP, let’s not rule it out happening again.

We’ve talked mostly about the membership. But is Corbynism a strategy to win elections?

With the new electoral registration rules already introduced, the coming boundary changes, and the loss of Scotland thanks to decades of New Labour neglect, it will be uphill struggle for Labour to win in 2020 or whenever the next election is, under any leadership.

I still think Corbyn is Labour’s best chance. Any form of continuity leadership from the past would see the Midlands and north fall to Ukip in the same way Scotland fell to the SNP. Corbyn is actually Labour’s only chance.

Margaret Corvid is a writer, activist and professional dominatrix living in the south west.