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Minutes of AWL National Committee Meeting, 7.11.99

Tom: (Motivated the EC’s position.) Supporting Livingstone is not pleasant. But we should give critical support. He has given limited support to the Underground unions. We should take the opportunity to put him on the spot with working class audiences. A victory for L would loosen the grip of the Blairites. But we need to be critical. His notion of socialism is bourgeois and elitist; he is factional; his role in the GLC was bad.

These things flow from his character and his career ambitions. But he enjoys broad support – and from core trade unionists and some youth. We are trying to set up an SCLV [Socialist Campaign for a Livingstone Victory] – implying we think he’s not a socialist. We must counterpose the idea of a workers’ London to what L wants. We must raise the issue of the City’s wealth and set it against his policy of tax breaks.

What about the policy of L standing as an independent? If he loses at the panel selection stage we should advocate he stand as an independent. It is not clear if he will do this. We’ve always said – e.g. in the discussions about the Labour Party NEC slates – that if L has a movement behind him we’d have to back him. Maybe there’s not a movement now, but there is a groundswell and a possibility of change in the situation.

Elaine: We shouldn’t give in to the pressure to support him. The leaflet we have produced is soft and affirms him as the left’s leader rather than showing him up to be a charlatan. We shouldn’t help L. If L is elected and becomes trapped in a hostile GLA it will help his left credentials and give him an excuse for not acting.

Matthew T: Key idea is the united front and this is how we expose hostile elements in the labour movement. Put them on the spot and educate people as we go through the process with them.

Mark S: L has mass support. We’re not going to convince people overnight not to back him. We are not going to push him by supporting him. But we can use our support to get a hearing for our criticisms: that he’s a liar and sectarian who says he opposes Tube privatisation but won’t. His victory would make a difference in the LP. If he wins he’ll be central to the left in the unions for a long time. We need to put down a marker about what he’s really like, now. The opposition from Blair is forcing L to look left. A real irony.

Sean: Cannon was surprised when Trotsky advocated support for Browder [US Communist Party presidential candidate], despite the viciousness of the Stalinists. But the CP had taken a "left" turn. Trotsky wanted to talk to the CP’s workers. There is big support for L. We can stand apart and make propaganda. Or we can be part of it. Original SCLV [Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory] had to back the LP, but couldn’t support it politically.

Bruce: It is an overdue decision. If we’d made it a while ago the ground could have been better prepared. We are not in a position of strength, but we have to keep in touch with the left behind L. Elaine proposes a campaign of literary exposure. This proposal seeks to organise the left and prepare for the point at which it is let down. We will be accused of opportunism for supporting him and sectarianism for criticising him. We must involve others in this campaign and make it attractive to those with doubts about L.

Matt moved an amendment to the EC’s position: Move parts, delete point 6, the section which demands he stands as an independent if excluded by the panel, and 7, which advocates he stand as an independent if blocked by dirty tricks.

Mick: There is another amendment. It was accepted at the EC, and not printed in the motion as you see it, that we should advocate L stands as part of a public service slate.

Matt: My understanding of the conference decision is that we experimentally stand in the Euro-elections on a suck-it-and-see basis for left unity. L case is separable. There are two reasons for backing L: opposition to privatisation; to force a crack between Blair and the rest of the labour movement. I think only the second reason is really important. But if L stood as an independent it would not force a wedge between Blair and the left. If he stood as an independent the Blairites would like it. The left would leave the LP. If L stood as an independent it would emphasise everything wrong with him: poor politically and unaccountable to any structure.

Mike: Agree with much of what Matt says. Also Elaine. We have to grit our teeth and support him in the LP. L has a lot of support; but unlike Browder it is not heavily organised support. Call for him to stand as independent could fracture the London LP and labour movement. Many may leave the LP and we are left with L as mayor. Unless we more sharply counterpose our ideas we will be dragged by L. Even Dobson as LP candidate is a better form of working class representation than L.

Mick: Leaflet could be harder.

M.: Everyone accepts L is a left; we can’t do anything about this. It is clear he is in opposition to Blair. Disagree with Matt: stakes are high for Blair and an independent labour candidate would shake things up.

Jill: Is there a danger of making L the head of a movement? The reality is that he is already there. To oppose him would set us up as loony sectarians. We need to find a way to put demands on him. I don’t think the leaflet is soft, it relates to people where they’re at. To tell people bluntly that L is a shit and we have the answers would hardly get us a hearing.

Matt is wrong: L standing as an independent would be a massive problem for Blair. We are in a no lose situation: if he refuses to stand independently some people will draw the right conclusion.

Ed: The EC’s motion says we should warn the broad labour movement about L, but the leaflet does not do this. Perhaps we should call our campaign "Campaign for a Workers’ London"?

Nick: One leaflet is not a campaign, so we can say more. We must engage with what’s there, what’s happening. We can’t make our own conditions and slot L into our picture. Campaign for a Workers’ London? It’s unreal; if our first leaflet does not relate to what people think, they’ll throw it away and dismiss us. All outcomes – L winning, L running as an independent etc – leave us in a better position than before.

Kate: SCLV is a good idea, and even if no-one else gets the irony. The whole L campaign is based on personality; it doesn’t seem to matter what he says. The SCLV is to make socialist propaganda. We should put the case in terms of what needs to be done, what he should say, rather than what’s wrong with him. The idea of him standing as an independent flows naturally from the campaign and refusing to bow to the Blair machine.

John: Matt’s contribution was terrible – we are in favour of fracturing the labour movement over working class representation! You want to let L off the hook after he is carved out. We should demand he stands, organises a democratic independent labour campaign. Comrades shouldn’t get frightened by the leaflet. How can we say everything all at once?

Paul: The EC motion is good, the only other options are backing Dobson or putting ourselves forward. These are not answers.

Pete: Worried about the prospect of having to back Blairite candidates in the general election or having the alternative of backing joke candidates. There is an urgent need for a real break, even with L at its head. The first steps are likely to be led by unsavoury people.

Mark: Agree with comments made against Matt and Elaine. We must get a hearing, in the first instance. Many activists are angry about the undemocratic carve-up, this should be the starting point of speeches, leaflets. The Blairites’ arrogance has pushed them into making idiotic mistakes.

The SCLV is an attempt to stake out distinct political turf. It also allows us to pressure other left groups who are going along with the bandwagon. Propaganda must not be limited to the Tube and other narrow "GLA" issues (free education, union laws etc). Promote idea of a workers’ government for London as what we need. Take up the issue everywhere, not just London.

Elaine: Comrades expect great things from this and are getting carried away. The left just collapsed behind Scargill in the London Euro-elections. If candidates are blocked from standing we can defend their right to stand, but that doesn’t necessarily imply backing them. This is not necessarily a step towards realignment. Not backing him does not mean leaving the LP.

Matt: 1. Delete "advocating" L stands. If he stands as an independent and there is a movement around him we can reassess. 2. Conference policy: L is close to the criteria in our policy for not supporting a candidate. 3. Yes, we favour a split on the issue of labour representation, but will backing L as an independent do this? We might have to face the election with no better alternative that New Labour. We can’t just wish a new situation into existence. 4. "Any change is a good change" is one argument which has been used. No doubt falling off a cliff is a change – but not good for the person falling. 5. Can an external force open up the labour movement? History suggests changes come from within. We should be cautious.

Tom: Can’t believe Matt and I live in the same city. Matt proposes to live by rules set by the New Labour sect. Poll suggests that L would beat Dobson into third place if he stood as an independent. Blairites have been panicking. Working class representation implies a challenge to the Blairite sect. The leaflet has ten clear points in it which cut across what L says. But critical support has to offer some measure of support!

Matt’s amendment – defeated; EC resolution – agreed.

From What Next? No.15 1999