Monday, September 17, 2012

WLG principles and priorities – Darren Williams


WLG principles and priorities Darren Williams

Darren circulated, and commented on, a short discussion paper that sought to reaffirm WLG’s political principles and set out some priorities for the coming months (this follows in the discussion section below, together with some other contributions). The idea was to stimulate some discussion and thereby better inform the decisions that would need to be made at the AGM.

We are socialists in the Labour party

·        We believe in the possibility of an alternative that is more equal, democratic and sustainable, where the economy is driven by need not profit and people have control over their own lives

·        We’re committed to working within Labour because we believe that it is the only party capable of representing the interests of ordinary people at the level of (British) government
Labour government – at all levels – should be about transformation, not management
·        Winning elections is a means to an end, not an end in itself

·        The worst Labour government is better than the best Tory government – but a Labour government that simply wants its turn to operate the status quo is not worth having

·        Our responsibility is to do more than get Labour candidates elected and to defend those who have been elected – we should be scrutinising their work, holding them to account and actively lobbying for the policies we think they should be carrying out (& for openness/engagement with citizens)

·        As an organised left, we have to challenge those in Labour who subordinate social & political change to electoral expediency, or who deny the need for change altogether
Austerity isn’t working anywhere
·        Cuts are a political choice not an economic necessity

·        Political & economic elites are applying the ‘shock doctrine’ – using the crisis to restructure economy & society in the interests of the rich

·        Official Labour policy is ‘austerity lite’ – not good enough

·        Credible alternative policies – and demolitions of Con-Dem policy – have been set out clearly & repeatedly – e.g. TUC, PCS, Compass, M. Drakeford etc  - we should do more to publicise and argue for these alternatives

·        Anti-cuts movement needs a principled but constructive voice
Our allegiance is to working people, the poor and the oppressed everywhere
·        We stand for international solidarity, not putting Britain (or Wales) first

·        We have to defend those scapegoated by the right – benefit claimants, economic migrants, asylum seekers, etc

·        We should promote (& where possible, organise) practical solidarity with people in Greece & elsewhere

·        We must continue to oppose imperialist military, economic & diplomatic policies – & support climate justice & debt cancellation
Devolution (& our political traditions) means Wales has something worthy defending
·        Welsh Labour’s record is an example to promote at a British level

·        We have to defend it from austerity & from innovations that undermine its accomplishments
We’ll never have socialism without democracy
·        Labour hasn’t broken the anti-democratic habits it acquired in the Blair years

·        We’ve had warm words but – virtually no appreciable change to ‘Partnership in Power’ regime
We still have control-freakery over selections etcUnions can be part of the problem – most of them need democratic reform too.

The following comment for the discussion was too long to go in the 'comments' section so is added here:

A response stimulated by Darren’s draft ‘where we stand’: a number of questions – Len Arthur
Darren has started to produce a list of basic tenets that try to define and describe what for WLG being ‘left of centre’ may mean. In the earlier blogs, and possibly in a more abstract manner, I’ve attempted to sketch out issues and processes that the left in the UK should be engaging with. Perhaps, behind both initiatives, is an understanding that we appear to be living through times where the domination – hegemony – of the neo-liberal paradigm of ever freer markets is beginning to unravel under the evidence of its own contradictions. At the same time, the ruling class is fast running out of options to manage these contradictions, and is increasingly reliant on printing money and attacking the working class in every conceivable way: they face the potentially fatal contradiction of destroying both the economy and society at the same time.

Now, this narrative could be wrong: perhaps the system will muddle through and the crisis and history will continue unperturbed. First question: what do we think about this, as left of centre socialists in the Labour Party? Can we muddle along with piecemeal reforms or do we seriously, and quickly, need to address how we challenging the power of the ruling class?
WLG has been very successful in pulling together members of the Labour Party from a wide range of left traditions. Meetings have allowed speakers to go beyond their usual LP script and discussions have been open and creative, certainly helping members to cope with the general absence of this level of debate in the official LP organisation. Building WLG has been aided by evidence of a coherent trajectory of ‘clear red water’ in the policies of Welsh Government Labour administrations - up until recently, a period that also experienced increased public spending. In a sense these two factors provided a ‘comfort zone’, enabling the wide range of left traditions within the LP to work together with a large measure of civility.
Changing gear, to place emphasis on a wider challenge to the power of capital, will mean linking action with the outcomes of discussions. It will mean that the outcome of discussions might not be as comfortable, as the issue will constantly arise about what are the conclusions? To what extent can they be seen to be socialist and the challenge transgressive? What, and when, will be the action that WLG members will take as a consequence? Those members who hold office in various organisations could find their actions being challenged and, as a consequence, have to think their actions through very carefully with other WLG members.
For all of us as LP members, defensive direct action, and actions that are transgressive, will involve engagement and coordination with people who are not members, and are possibly to the left of the LP. So how do we balance working within the LP with the need work and act with other who are not?
The statements listed by Darren start the process of linking a position with consequent action. I would argue that we need to initiate a process that links issue analysis, position, policy and subsequent review. For example, Darren mentions a list of possible plan ‘B’ economic alternatives. I suggested in the two discussion pieces on the economy, that the evidence of a Marxist understanding of the current economic crisis is increasingly compelling. What role should such an analysis play in developing a plan ‘B’?
Coordinating left motions for conferences can itself be daunting. It is, however, the easy bit when compared the type of decisions faced by councillors, trade union officers and others in a situation of financial cuts, or where it is difficult to mobilise the power of members. Should we try to establish ‘lines in the sand’ that no socialist councillor should cross, such as never supporting compulsory redundancies? Should we specifically help WLG members faced with these difficult situations by arranging specific and open discussions about how we should respond before a decision is taken? How do we cope with Labour group discipline and decisions to break the whip? Would it help if those in WLG who are trade union officers engage in similar discussions? If there is a continuation or unity between action and theory, then increasingly if the tension becomes too much it creates problems for other socialists in defending the outcomes. Should it be an issue for WLG to avoid this if at all possible?
Finally for us in Wales there is the Welsh Government. Could it be doing more to sustain ‘clear red water’ despite the minority and financial position it finds itself in? There is a consultation out on the NHS, does this provide us with an opportunity to respond and develop our thinking in this regard? As in the previous blogs, I would suggest looking for transitional actions and demands.
The questions are difficult and there are no easy answers, but in my way I’m suggesting that the current economic and political situation requires WLG to move out of its current ‘comfort zone’. With quite a number of tweaks, I support the list and the direction in which Darren is proposing we move, but I’m also suggesting that if the current crisis of capitalism requires this shift of gear, then it requires a more substantial one and I’ve suggested some questions that we may need to ask ourselves if we agree to go down that road. Finally, a practical way to take the discussion forward might be to start at the other end, taking issues or areas of activity - such as being councillors or the NHS consultation mentioned above - and exploring how alternative demands and actions can be specifically developed.


  1. Comments from the meeting:
    As noted above, the paper is intended to stimulate some discussion and thereby better inform debate at the AGM. Initial comments at the Newport meeting included the following:
    • it needed to be acknowledged that Labour can potentially represent the interests of ordinary people in government but that this isn't necessarily the case in practice;
    • the build-up towards war in the Middle East should be highlighted;
    • the point could be made that even a bad Labour government is bad in a different way from a Tory government;
    • we should be wary of the tendency towards rivalry between Labour-led local authorities and the Assembly, which had re-emerged since the May elections; we should emphasise more strongly our commitment to the Labour party.

  2. Comment from Peter Rowlands

    It's a good idea to try and set out some guiding principles and policies for WLG, so here are some thoughts to add to those of Darren and Len.
    We are socialists in the Labour Party(LP) because we consider it the only party in the UK with the potential to win an election with a radical left wing programme.We are in favour of promoting a broad centre left current in the party as the only way of achieving the move to the left that will be necessary to win the LP to such a programme. We therefore have no precise policy platform, and some issues, like PR, are likely to remain controversial. However, broadly we agree on measures to promote greater equality and democracy, better provision of public services including housing, more regulation and public ownership of enterprise including banking, transport, utilities, oil and defence, and the promotion of peace and democracy and the interests of poorer states internationally. However, there will not necessarily be agreement on the policies necessary to achieve those goals or the degree to which we should within a given time frame advance towards them.
    We are not, at least collectively, Leninists. We do not seek to build a vanguard revolutionary party, a'party within a party', but rather an open current that seeks to promote left wing ideas and policies.However, we are quite prepared to work with Leninists, some of whom are very active in the labour and trade union movement.
    We do not support the aim of Plaid Cymru for Welsh independence, partly because we do not think it achievable, but we do support devolution, and more of it, we are in favour of working with and maintaining links with Plaid, particularly as their new leader is very clearly on the left,and of supporting a nationalist and Welsh linguistic/cultural dimension toWelsh politics.
    We remain affiliated to the LRC, the only broad pressure group for the left within the LP ( CLPD have a particular focus, Compass are no longer LP based ) but are disappointed at recent divisions within the LRC which the left in the LP just cannot afford. We will not move the LP to the left unless we are united.