THE INCREASING anger among Labour Party members at Tony Blair saw some 400 people gather at a conference on Saturday organised by the Labour left. The bulk of those at the 'Save Our Party' conference, called by the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, have spent many years inside the Labour Party. John McDonnell MP spoke of 'the level of discontent, disillusion and lack of trust in the New Labour leadership.'
Any speaker who attacked Blair over the war was interrupted with loud applause. The conference was about how to 'reclaim the Labour Party'. The strategy centres on the new left trade union leaders.
As Alan Simpson MP said, 'The rebirth of the party has to come out of the trade unions. Every time the grassroots make a stand they get picked off by the executive. The new generation of trade union leaders are not afraid to make a stand.'
The TGWU's Tony Woodley, Kevin Curran of the GMB, Billy Hayes of the CWU, Jeremy Dear of the NUJ, Joe Marino of the bakers' union and Barry Camfield, the TGWU assistant general secretary all spoke from the platform.
Kevin Curran said, 'This is a centre-right government. The only message of 'It's New Labour or the Tories' is a bankrupt message.' But Woodley said, 'It's not about walking away from the party - it's about staying in.'
However, the conference could not ignore the landmark decision by the members of the rail workers' RMT union to allow support for socialists who are not inside the Labour Party. RMT leader Bob Crow spoke at Saturday's conference.
He confirmed that the RMT's vote allowed for supporting left MPs like Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. 'But we've got problems,' he went on. 'Tell my members why they should vote for a Labour government when they go on strike over safety and the government is backing the train companies.'
Far from being shunned by the audience, Bob Crow got a good round of applause. Woodley and Curran also admitted that TGWU and GMB members had voted for a review of their unions' relationship with Labour.
John McAllion, a Labour MSP, said, 'In Scotland the Scottish Socialist Party and Greens did very well. We should be concerned about that vote.' For every four Labour voters there was one SSP voter.
George Galloway, facing expulsion from Labour for his anti-war views, received a standing ovation from the Labour Party members. The conference showed that members' commitment to Labour is being put under increasing strain by the government they fought to get elected.
For all the talk of 'reclaiming Labour', the proposals put forward were very limited. They included trying to get constitutional changes to increase democracy inside New Labour, and for MPs to have more control over the cabinet. But it also showed the weakness of the Labour left - a generally old group of activists in smaller numbers than in previous periods.
The strategy of 'reclaiming Labour' is not the only game in town, as shown by the left challenge of the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance.