Britain: Left Unity leader on creating a new party for the left

October 26, 2014
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras with Left Unity national secretary Kate Hudson.

Left Unity is a new political group in Britain created out of a call last year by filmmaker Ken Loach for a new party to the left of Labour, which has moved rightwards in recent years and supports anti-worker austerity measures. The call was supported by thousands of people and Left Unity held its founding conference in November last year.

Green Left Weekly's Denis Rogatyuk spoke with Left Unity's national secretary Kate Hudson, a veteran campaigner who is also general secretary of the campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Left Unity’s platform consists of socialism, feminism, environmentalism and anti-racism, among other features. How was this platform conceived? What was the decision-making process behind it?

The origins of the Left Unity project came in November 2012 out of the common struggle across Europe against austerity. There was a coordinated general strike across Europe on November 14 and we wanted to participate in that in Britain.

For the first time, the Trade Union Council supported the initiative, although a general strike was not launched in Britain.

Many of us began pulling together people on the left in an effort to create a party in Britain that operates on the same basis as the various left parties throughout Europe that were taking the lead on the common work against austerity. In particular, parties like Syriza in Greece, which came to prominence through its anti-austerity work in that country, as well as Die Linke In Germany and the Left Front in France, among others.

These are the kinds of “New Left” parties across Europe, and we felt that the Labour Party has moved so far to the right, there existed a big space on the left. Why shouldn’t we have one in Britain?

We began this as a new and open project, holding meetings throughout the country. We were also very fortunate because Ken Loach was just in the process of bringing out his fantastic new film [The Spirit of '45] around March last year about the origins of the NHS.

This had a fantastic reception and he took the opportunity to promote Left Unity as a vehicle for having a debate on “Do we need a new party on the left?”.

From then on, we started working closely with Ken and a wide range of left-wing intellectuals, academics and activists to form a debate about forming a new party. This debate was essentially the first phase of moving towards a party.

In the run-up to our founding conference, we had an open, democratic process, whereby individuals and groups could organise platforms and put forward platform statements regarding the type of party we, as a collective, would like to be founded.

There were two main political platforms put forward. The first one was “The Left Party Platform”, which expressed the type of policies and politics of parties like Syriza. These are socialist, feminist, environmentalist and possess a new and openly democratic way of working.

The second platform was the so-called “Socialist Platform”, which had a more traditional approach to socialism, seeing the ideology as something to emphasise on its own. In this way, other movements would logically follow as part of it.

These two platforms represented a debate between the traditional forms of socialism, and the more contemporary European “New Left” socialism. The “New Left” Party platform eventually won overwhelmingly at the “Left Unity” party conference and became the founding basis for the organisation in November 2013.

What about the first layer of activists who joined Left Unity after its November conference? What was their background? Was it mostly disenfranchised members of the Labour Party, or perhaps members of the other far-left groups?

Well you could say it encompassed almost everything on the left. There were many who have been active all their lives in far-left groups. For instance, I come from the communist tradition, while there were a large number of individuals from the Trotskyist traditions and former Labour Party activists, including councillors.

The former Labour Party activists, in particular, do come from the layer of members who feel disenfranchised and by how far to the right the party has moved, as well as its lack of organisational democracy.

At the same time, a lot of our new joiners were people who have never been in a political party, nor been political activists before. But they were inspired by the anti-austerity cuts movement. They have wanted to fight back against policies such as the bedroom tax.

Generally, the vast majority of them simply want justice, fairness and decent lives for ordianry people.

It sounds like Left Unity is a multi-tendency political party. Do you foresee the group continuing on the same trajectory?

We are an individual-membership party and do have affiliation from groups and other parties. The Left Unity conference clearly defines us as a broad-left, anti-austerity party, rather than a revolutionary one.

We include people with revolutionary politics, but we also include those who consider themselves left-of-Labour. Everyone is welcome, but we don’t want people trying to make it something that it is not.

Looking at the program and the policies of Left Unity, it appears to put equal emphasis on social and economic issues. Also, unlike most political parties across Britain, except for the Green Party, it emphasises work around issues of environment, climate change and feminism. What is the reason for this?

We do not see them as separate issues. Take environment for example ― the vast majority of the British left, as well as our party as well, recognise that if we do not resolve the problem of climate change and sustainability, we won't have a planet left to try fight for socialism and feminism.

As such, we believe that it would be impossible to separate the idea of a “red-green” economy from pursuing social equality and justice in the areas like women’s rights and LGBTI rights.

Also there is the issue of war. In September, Left Unity was active around the anti-NATO protests in Cardiff. In our founding party principles, we have a commitment to being anti-imperialist and anti-war, as well as anti-nuclear power and anti-nuclear weapons.

We also have a strong commitment to feminism within our principles. Our constitution also maintains the need for an organised Women’s Caucus, as well as a number of other caucuses for oppressed groups or members of society.

As such, in addition to that, we also have a disabled members caucus, black members caucus and an LGBTI caucus, who have voting rights and are entitled to automatic representation within the party.

We are also in the process of developing an online branch, particularly for those members who are geographically unable to participate in the regional branches.

On education and organisation of members, does Left Unity prioritise explaining the various political and economic theories of anti-capitalism or anti-austerity movements?

Not yet, as we are still in the process of developing our branch structures. We are currently prioritising developing various branches, as well as organising members within those branches.

There are now more than 50 Left Unity branches across the country, and this number is growing. We do provide them with all the required organisational materials, such as leaflets, pamphlets, policy papers and information about Left Unity, as well regular party broadsheets for various caucuses for external uses.

We do not currently have an internal education program. The nearest we have to regular education are our policy conferences and the policy commissions.

As such, we have a process for internal dialogue and debate about policy, but we do not have centrally organised education classes. We do have an organising day school to help branches grow.

As such, the emphasis is on practical organisation and ideas for involving new people in the party.

What is the nature of Left Unity’s campaign work? What particular campaigns has Left Unity been most active in?

Left Unity tends to operate on both national and local issues. Our members have been very active in the anti-bedroom tax campaign.

We have also played a major part in organising the anti-spikes campaign, which was targeted at the homeless in London. We succeeded in having the spikes removed.

We have also been active in the campaign in defence of the National Health Service throughout the country, as well as in defence of social housing.

Anti-war movements have also been prominent, as well as the recent demonstrations in support of Palestine. The range of our issues is defined mainly by our broad anti-austerity and anti-war focus.

What kind of relationship has the Left Unity been establishing with other political forces on the British left?

In regards to the Green Party, we cooperated with them a lot at the time of the European Parliament elections. In particular, we supported the Green candidate for the North-West, Peter Cranie.

Rather than standing our own candidate in the area, we pledged our support to Craine in exchange for his agreement to stand as an anti-austerity candidate to the EU parliament and support initiatives led by trade unions.

With regard to your international work, what sort of connections have you been making and seeking to make with other left-wing political forces in the future?

We have been taking quite a few steps towards establishing a working relationship with the European Left Party, including attending a number of their meetings and conferences. At our next policy conference, we will debate whether to apply for observer status.

Syriza has been a great inspiration to us on the international level. We are hosted a tour of Podemos [from Spain] and Syriza speakers.

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