The fourth public rally in Leeds in support of Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-austerity policies since the PLP’s attempted ‘coup’ took place in Leeds on Wednesday 24th August.
Leeds Socialist Party members
150 turned up to the Sheepscar pub in the North East Leeds constituency at a meeting oragnsied by Labour members in that constituency as a result of them being denied an opportunity to discuss the leadership election at a selection meeting.
The anger of local party members was expressed by a number of platform speakers, many of them local councillors in Leeds. Cllr Jane Dowson, highlighted Corbyn’s support for renationalisating the railways – saying that it should be “a service for the people, run by the people”. Cllr Mark Dobson spoke of the anger that party members felt that the challenge to Corbyn has allowed the Tories to seemingly escape their splits and divisions over Europe, and indeed suggesting Labour would win support by being more like the Tories, stating that “the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] has learnt nothing from 2015” when they lost the general election on that “me-too-ism” basis.
The keynote speaker, was Leeds East MP and Shadow Cabinet member Richard Burgon who in a passionate speech decried the attacks on Corbyn by the right of the PLP. He pointed out that the very people lecturing Corbyn on electability, are the same architects of Labour’s biggest electroal disaster, the virtual wipeout of the Labour Party in Scotland at the 2015 General Election.
Owen Smith’s attempts to overturn the EU referendum vote would threaten a similar disconnect with many working class communities across England and Wales. He also explained how Labour’s sister parties across Europe had suffered a collapse in support due to their implementation of austerity measures when in power, and in several cases have seen the rise of new anti-austerity formations. Speaking of a return to Blairism, he commented “There is no future in returning to the past.”
There was a lively debate based on points raised from the floor, with several contributions pointing out the frustrations of members with the suspension of meetings, a feeling of a lack of consultation in unions who had backed Owen Smith and several people raising the need for democratic control over selection of MPs.
Socialist Party Iain Dalton also contributed to the discussion welcoming the meeting, and calling to overcome the influence of the right-wing media (briefed by Corbyn’s PLP detractors) for campaigning to take the anti-austerity message onto the streets, estates and workplaces.
The most controversial point of the evening was when Iain pointed out the impending redundancies that a number of councils have now announced, including Leeds City Council suggesting it could make upto 2000 compulsory redundancies. He argued that the strategy of saying there was no alternative to Labour councils carrying out the cuts would undermine the anti-austerity message, and create barriers between an anti-austerity labour party and workers.
In response, Cllr Susan Press, from Calderdale, referred to the letter from Corbyn, John McDonell and Jon Trickett which suggested that if councils didn’t set budgets (which Iain had not suggested) then commissioners would be sent in and therefore they had no choice. Mark Fieldhouse, Unite’s Yorkshire region Political Officer, made a similar contribution, although he also suggested that more of a political challenge to the austerity measures needed to be made.
To do this, he suggested councils draw up alternative budgets, to highlight what they services they would have wanted to provide. This seemed to be put in the context of a propaganda offensive to highlight the difference between the Tories and Corbyn-led Labour being in power. But the Socialist Party would suggest, why not go beyond this and build a campaign to demand the money necessary to fulfil such a budget off the Tories in the here and now?
Iain had put forward some concrete suggestions as to some initial steps in developing such a campaign could be taken. He suggested that Corbyn supporting councillors, could get together with council trade unions to discuss how to oppose redundancies. He also suggested that Corbyn alongside the council trade unions could call a national demo against council budget cutbacks to mobilise pressure on the Tories, or even link up with the national demonstration over library closures on 5th November.
Cllr Susan Press did raise that there had been an attempt a few years ago to set up a councillors against cuts network, that had received little support. However, the Socialist Party believes that Corbyn’s election has transformed the situation. Thousands have attended rallies in Yorkshire in the past few weeks, which could be the basis of a mas movement of resistance to the Tories.
The Socialist Party hopes that such mass mobilisations could give Labour councillors, in particular those who support Corbyn, the opportunity to reconsider their position regarding local authority cutbacks. We would welcome the opportunity to work with any Corbyn supporting councillors in Leeds, along with the trade union movement, to resist these cutbacks and build on the discussions that took place during the ‘People’s Budget’ conference organised by Youth Fight for Jobs and Unite Community earlier this year.