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Review: Sussex LRC launch

27/06/2011
by

In the week that the Archbishop of England attacked the Tory-led coalition over savage cuts while the media went berserk over alleged ‘splits’ in the party, the launch of Sussex LRC was a breath of fresh air. It was a refreshing and inspiring meeting which showed all socialists a united way forward.

The Chair welcomed a packed hall of people from all parts of Sussex, including Lewes, Uckfield, Hastings, Worthing and Midhurst, who were were able to mix and chat over refreshments, and also meet delegates from GMB national conference coincidentally in Brighton that week.

This fostered a feeling of strength and solidarity which many had mislaid when the general election turned back the tide on twenty five years of Labour gains in Sussex.

It was emphasised that  the LRC wants to unite the Left and welcomes non-Labour Party members who do not oppose Labour candidates in elections.  It was stressed, however, that anyone can fight the Tories, but it is only possible to fight the Tories and win from inside the Labour Party.

John McDonnell MP spoke first, stating his agreement with Alastair Darling that the current recession has been as bad as the 1930s, which led to World War 2.  John reflected that after the war the Labour Government created the welfare state, which the Tories had opposed at every stage and sought to undermine ever since.  Then Labour had built 400-500,000 council houses a year to high Parker Morris standards and ensured mixed communities; now the Coalition’s current Localism Bill will end council housing and introduce fixed tenancies of only 2-10 years.  Further, whilst Labour then created the NHS, the Tories with the Lib-Dems connivance now plan for £20bn cuts and NHS privatisation.

Whereas education was once one generation’s gift to the next, now it has been turned into a commodity.  In John’s constituency food parcels are being issued as poverty increases – in the UK, the 6th richest country in the world.  On trade union rights, John noted that if Tory proposals on strike ballots were applied to the election of MPs, only 35 current MPs would be classed as validly elected.  Further, the Coalition has cut legal aid whilst simultaneously criminalising squatters and student or worker occupations, such as the successful Vestas protest on the Isle of Wight.  The IMF likes these cuts, but then it did nothing to stop the banking crisis.

What are we to do? Resist!

John described the NUS/UCU protests as magnificent with students, such as Ed Woollard, being unfairly victimised by the courts.  John cited UK UNCUT as another ingenious example of targeted protest, plus Black Triangle with the occupation of Atos offices by disabled people.  On 30 June 2011 PCS, NUT, ATL and, perhaps, some other trade unions will come out in the largest act of solidarity since 26 March.  John called for the TUC to take responsibility and act now – we need to act together to prevent individuals being picked-off.  The Labour Party should be committed to peace and we must mobilise now!

Luke Cooper from Workers Power and Sussex University NUS spoke in detail about the Student Movement, drawing parallels between the situations of students and workers.  Luke illustrated how the student protests had taken the Coalition by surprise and acted as a game changer, encouraging other sections of the population to actively protest rather than passively accept the Coalition’s propaganda.  Luke reminded the audience that students from all sectors are still out on the streets every week to confront the Act – only the press coverage has faded, not students’ anger.  From the general feeling of revolt Luke foresaw the opportunity for socialist ideas to become widely accepted again.

Katy Clark MP agreed that the Coalition government has no mandate for cuts and that the Labour leadership has been too timid about speaking out against inequality and cuts.  Labour should have been bolder in Government but, now, the electoral defeats have depressed us all, making co-ordinating events such as this launch and linking groups like Sussex LRC all the more important to get up and running.  On the Terrorism Bill then being debated in Parliament, Katy commented that with a proposed 2 year time limit, the Coalition’s new Control Orders might prove marginally better than those Labour had introduced, but they remain a repressive tool to be opposed in principle.

Christine Shawcroft founded Labour Against the War and has been elected by Labour Party members to the Party’s NEC for the last 10 years.  She wants to see cuts – but to Trident, troops in Afghanistan and other foreign wars, not to Surestart centres and our children’s education.  Christine reflected that even under Thatcher the rich paid more tax; however, the Labour frontbench seem to be afraid to look too left-wing, so dare not suggest such a measure to counter the Tory argument that the crisis can only be solved by cuts in public spending.  Christine identified Alastair Darling as having lost Labour the election by saying he would cut harder than Thatcher.

Short contributions were then invited from the audience.

Phil Clarke, NUT Branch Secretary, said whilst 60-odd delegates come to the anti-cuts meetings in Brighton and 2,000 attended the local demonstration against the cuts, there is a lack of Labour involvement and a Party speaker only said Labour would cut less, not oppose the cuts.  Phil asked how can we change the Labour Party?

Tony Dines, from West Worthing Labour Party, also asked for advice as to how ordinary members can re-democratise the Labour Party after the changes brought about by Blair.

Joy Hurcombe, from Labour CND said that peace and democracy issues should be the main platform of the Labour Party with cuts to Trident and spending on wars.  Joy felt sure that welfare rather than warfare policies would attract mass support.

Francis Tonks, from Brighton, spoke-up for pensioners, now 1 in 4 of the UK’s population.  Francis presented the perspective of a lifelong Labour Party member, even after a period of expulsion.

Warren Davis, from Hastings, criticised New Labour’s education policies, particularly academies.  He had attended the “Refounding the Labour Party” conference but felt that it merely seemed to want to refresh the brand image of Labour rather than actually take note of Labour members’ views.  Warren felt that the LRC needs to win the respect of the grassroots and the anti-cuts movement.

John McDonnell, Katy Clark and Christine Shawcroft responded to the points raised before leaving the meeting.  Urging those present to give support, get involved and engage in debate.  John McDonnell reminded us all that, in a time of struggle, people will look for representation.  This is where trade unions play an important role, as does the Labour Party as the movement’s parliamentary wing.

Following a break for refreshments, those remaining resumed in 5 area groups – Brighton & Hove, Lewes & Eastbourne, Bexhill & Hastings, Worthing & Littlehampton and Mid-Sussex.  Tempting chocolates were provided to encourage the discussion along.  Attendees were asked their views on what are the main issues in their local areas, what they would like to see the LRC campaigning on, how often they would like to attend Sussex LRC meetings and what the balance should be between meetings in the local area groups, all-Sussex meetings (likely to be in Brighton) and all-Sussex or local activities (in any area).  Feedback was collected by the meeting organisers and those attending were also encouraged to provide further feedback and contact details via an information/feedback form.

Andrew Fisher, joint National Secretary of the LRC, summed-up the evening’s discussion before the floor was taken by Tony Dines who, in fine voice, led a crowd of about 40 in a hearty rendition of all four verses of The Red Flag.

It was good to hear national Labour Party figures – John, Katy and Christine – put across a socialist alternative to the cuts which is within Labour’s tradition and reaches out to the anti-cuts & student activists.  It was great to meet other people from all over Sussex, to hear their views and to realise that we are not alone in the deep South!  The anti-cuts movement would like to see more involvement from the Labour Party and this will now be encouraged – some had been along to all the local demos but not to any of their meetings.

Sussex LRC supporters will now return to their own local groups and Labour Parties to enthuse local members to work to support socialist policies.  Ed Miliband can be bolder in opposition to bring socialism – the hope of the world – back to the Labour Party and to defeat this Tory Coalition Government as soon as possible.  Perhaps most of all it was wonderful to finish by singing the Red Flag – another socialist tradition we shall be working to restore, especially within the Labour Party!

With thanks to Anne Barry, Brighton Kemptown CLP

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