Monday, September 22, 2008

A convention of the unconventional

Sadly, I've not made the Convention of the Left taking place in Manchester - posing itself, in a modest way, as an alternative to the Labour conference elsewhere in the city. I'd had every intention of going but I've been rushing about quite a bit of late and it seemed like my life needed a bit of a space in it - so I've stayed at home and caught up on my sleep. At least I have the good grace to feel a bit of guilt, if not actual regret, about the decision.

Anyway it sounds like it's going very well and the various texts and emails I've had from participants have all been very encouraging - and these are by no means the most positive people on the planet saying these nice things! Although having said that I've had mixed messages about how worthwhile the anti-war demo was, so it's nice to know there's always something to moan about.

As an initiative the convention is a very welcome step trying to create non-aligned spaces where the left can come together and actually build up proper working relationships with each other without having to defend entrenched organisational points or give up their own perspectives. To get members of the hard left, peace movement, the Greens and Labour Left (for instance) in the same room together you really can't start by saying the purpose of the exercise is for everyone to give up their current grouping - even if that would be a welcome end point.

The Red Pepper blog devoted to the convention has some really interesting pieces, like enough of elections already which makes the point that the left needs to be able to co-exist in the same room as each other before contemplating more formal alliances. I'm all for a process that brings left wing, progressive activists together but I doubt that the time has come for a set of motions that sound good on paper but simply are not going to happen in reality.

One suggestion to come out of the convention is the setting up of independent, unaligned forums in every town where the left can come together and talk to each other like civilised human beings. Now, that shouldn't be a radical idea - but in the context of the UK left it's essentially something that has rarely happened without these spaces becoming battle grounds for various tediously dogmatic agendas. Personally, I put more faith in building up relationships without the need for worthy motions and that this can lead to the possibility for more structured cooperation later on, where appropriate and possible.

Whether that's in the electoral field, on joint campaigns or simply by producing more fertile ground for interesting political discussion it seems to me that all those to the left of Labour could benefit from a healthier, less ideologically pedantic atmosphere. I know some see the point of the exercise to create a new Marxist Party (thereby excluding most left wing activists), or the refound the left of Labour (thereby wasting good socialists' time and effort) or to promote their own organisation (which rather goes against the spirit of recognising that different parts of the left have a valuable contribution to make) but for me I think more modest aims might well sow greater rewards in the long run.

Alliances formed without genuine agreement on crucial issues are doomed to die early deaths and quite possibly produce long term divisions within the left. Far better to develop a political friendship that lasts than a rushed marriage that ends up with sterile and stupid arguments about who gets to keep the cat.

Selected posts I've spotted elsewhere; Salma Yaqoob, Scribo Ergo Sum, Liam Macuaid, Derek Wall, Serge's Fist, Lenin, Infantile and Disorderly. I'll add more when I see them, if they add something to the debate.

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