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banner Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Labour's activist left regroups
Labour's left regrouped on the closing day of the party's conference at a Campaign for Labour Party Democracy/Labour Reform fringe meeting.

Opening the discussion on "The way forward after conference", chair Ann Black - who takes up her seat on Labour's national executive committee on the formal close of conference - ran through some of the challenges facing the party's left.

She observed that she had been coming to Labour conferences for the past five years or so, but when it came to the left activists "I see the same people but fewer of them each time".

New blood was needed.

Another reality that had to be faced was that Labour's left had no common position on several key areas, including Europe and proportional representation.

The activist left had to continually guard against "walking down a cul-de-sac, one that is deliberately designed as a trap", and ensure it spread itself about the party rather than "spend more and more time talking to fewer of ourselves".

NEC member Christine Shawcroft complained at the meeting about the "flat-out lies" being spun in the press about the previous day's conference shenanigans over pensions.

She also attacked the way NEC members had been treated throughout the day, saying they had been repeatedly completely misinformed as to what was going on in the backroom negotiations and attempted arm-twisting between the party leadership and union leaders.

The pressure put on constituency Labour party delegates not to support the motion seeking to restore the link between pensions and earnings was similarly attacked.

"People have their loyalty to the Labour Party used against them" she said.

CLPD veteran organiser Pete Willsman, mindful of the group's self-appointed role as watchdog of the party grassroots' rights, rattled off some of the transgressions of the rule-book that party chiefs appeared to have got away with.

They included

  • "a delegate being lied to on the rostrum",

  • "stuff from Stephen Twigg and Yvette Cooper" - two Blairite MPs running for seats on the party's conference arrangements committee - "being given out at official meetings, which is a contravention of the rules",

  • "seven platform plants, pathetic weaklings going to the rostrum during the pensions debate"

  • the clapping in the auditorium "from Millbank staff clones, which I saw from the passes they had on, not proper delegates", and so on.

    More than 200 local parties were not at conference because "they don't think it's worth it", he went on.

    The left must beware: "Unless we make the progress on the ground in the constituencies, we will get nowhere."

    He denounced as "utterly pathetic" the fact that on conference's key pensions vote, lost by the party leadership, it had been the unions' votes that had carried the day rather than constituency parties' votes.

    Tribune editor and outgoing NEC member Mark Seddon told the meeting he had started conference week "despondent". But he had cheered up by the end of the week, and was now "more optimistic than I've been for a very long time".

    Not only had an opinion poll that morning resurrected Labour's opinion poll lead, but the party leadership seemed to have realised things could not go on as they had been: "We're fed up of New Labour and want the Labour Party back".

    Party managers must "start allowing the politics back into the conference".

    Labour's left could take some heart from the events of the week; there were grounds for optimism.

    "The fear factor has gone. The control freaks cannot control."

    "I detect a mood in some of the constituencies that the time of New Labour is over - that's very clear this week.

    "So let's get our Labour Party back."

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