Top-down politics is finished, says McDonnell
The old, top-down style of political party was a thing of the past, shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the Croydon Assembly at the weekend while explaining how Jeremy Corbyn had won the Labour leadership election.
Report by Paul Feldman
A wide range of community, trade union and campaign and political groups took part in the third Croydon Assembly which broke into groups to discuss a draft manifesto to campaign with locally and to form part of the national debate on policy.
McDonnell said many of the policies in the manifesto had been voiced by the thousands who came to Corbyn’s campaign meetings and reported that the new generation felt “betrayed” by previous generations, especially when it came to the cost of education.
“The solution is straightforward,” he told the Assembly. “Abolish tuition fees, bring back the maintenance grant.”
While he acknowledged there was a “bit of a disconnect” between Labour’s rank and file and the parliamentary party, he insisted that experiences made during the campaign and since in the shadow cabinet, proved that politics had changed.
People would no longer put up with old-style, top-down parties. “The old system doesn’t work any more. People are not willing to tolerate the Big Leader, appointing everyone, handing down every policy on a plate. We are moving towards a much more democratic party. We’re becoming a movement again as it was when the Labour Party was founded.”
He said that the party had to be driven by its membership. “Of course, the leadership has a role but at same time it has got to have a respect for our rank and file.” He said there were enough “existential threats” to unite the movement against the Tories.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, condemned the Tories’ new anti-union bill. “Why have they introduced it now? Because crushing the trade unions is clearly unfinished business for the Tories and because it’s the trade union movement and their allies in social movements who stand between working people, public services and utter destruction.”
Blower said the legislation was “born of malice”, with the threat to political funding of the Labour Party and the undermining of trade unions by blocking the practice of deducting subs from pay.
She warned: “If it’s nearly impossible to organise industrial action in any meaningful way, then we will go from collective bargaining to collective begging.”
Blower attacked the way schools had become “exam factories” while new legislation which would prevent parents and communities from opposing the creation of Academies in their area was a denial of their democratic rights.
“The government’s agenda is about making education something that can be ‘delivered’ on the cheap.”
Ted Knight, Croydon Assembly chair, said we had seen the impact of “change politics”. The enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign, with 600 people flooding into Ruskin House was just one example.
People wanted more than just a call for an end to austerity, he told the Assembly. They wanted “a new society, to break the grip of the global corporations”.
The Assembly’s draft manifesto was not aimed at “patching up a broken system” but at replacing the system and building the confidence of working people that change can happen.
Ellen Clifford from Disabled People Against Cuts condemned the attacks on welfare aimed at the disabled, while Ellen Lebethe from the National Pensioners Convention outlined the demands of older people. Candy Udwin, who was sacked as PCS shop steward in the fight against privatisation at the National Gallery, explained how the public had rallied round their struggle. She was later reinstated.
Andrew Fisher exposed the “Tory lies” over austerity with a contribution based on his book, The Failed Experiment. The Tories, he insisted, had made political choices when it came to the cuts and they had decided to slash spending on welfare and services.
9 November 2015