The ILP’s ‘Conversation of the left’ was held in Leeds on 8 May 2004. Martin Cook reports.
This meeting was a deliberately low key ‘conversation’ with no big name speakers and a set of themes on the future of the left and our attitude to the Labour Party. The organisers seemed a bit disappointed by the turnout which was in the 20 to 25 region, better than we normally get to a Chartist AGM.
The ILP has a core of actual members plus a ‘Friends of’ category of associate members – which it would be a good idea if some of us could join I would think. It’s links to the original Independent Labour Party of Hardie and Macdonald are by now pretty tenuous of course.
The attendees were 75 per cent male, mostly ‘north’ of 40, mainly from West Yorkshire with a few from elsewhere in the north and one from Gloucestershire. None were from ethnic minorities. Some were more politically experienced and articulate than others, in particular three or four long-term leaders, or theoreticians, whose stuff we used to read in the 1980s – Eric Preston, Barry Winter, David Connolly, Ernie Jacques. Gary Kent, who is also an ILP member, was not there.
The day was split into two workshops and plenaries. The discussion was much as you might imagine given that there really isn’t a cigarette paper’s difference between the Chartist consensus and the ILP consensus on most issues. Sharp criticism of the Blair regime was mixed with realisation of the difficulties facing any left project or left of centre government and reviving an effective left movement. The fact that groups such as Save the Labour Party are themselves pretty lacking in support and that many activists have dropped out of Labour Party involvement without going anywhere else was noted.
Chartist was mentioned favourably as having similar perspectives. It was agreed that it would be a good idea to hold a conference to discuss the way forward with us and any similar bits of the ‘thinking left’, maybe Compass or Catalyst (I suspect Catalyst would not be interested).
I sold several copies of the magazine, four to one person (including two back issues and one for a friend). It would be good to get a few contacts and subscriptions out of this contact with the ILP, not so much for the money as for the possibility of reaching folk in different areas, having some of the ILPers write for us, etc. Their existing quarterly Democratic Socialism is not publicly distributed on the grounds that it is not of sufficient quality – just being an internal discussion bulletin. In the past they had tried to produce a ‘proper’ magazine but did not have sufficient human resources.
Martin Cook is a member of Chartist.