For the first time since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader, the left was in complete control of Labour’s conference.
In Brighton this week delegates cheered pro-Corbyn speeches and enthusiastically supported radical policies.
It was also a huge boost to see thousands of people, many of them young, gather for the World Transformed. The festival was organised alongside the conference by Labour left group group Momentum.
Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell put forward bold plans.
McDonnell won loud applause as he attacked the wasteful Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) that suck money from public services to private firms.
“Over the next few decades, nearly £200 billion is scheduled to be paid out of public sector budgets in PFI deals,” he said.
“In the NHS alone, £831 million in pre-tax profits have been made over the past six years.”
He told delegates, “As early as 2002 this conference regretted the use of PFI. We will go further—we’ll bring existing PFI contracts back in-house.”
He also said, “Building an economy for the many means bringing ownership and control of the utilities and key services into the hands of people who use and work in them.
“Rail, water, energy, Royal Mail— we’re taking them back.”
Earlier delegates and McDonnell applauded a speech by Unison union leader Dave Prentis.
He said scrapping the pay cap is “not enough” and there needed to be above inflation pay rises for all public sector workers.
“So this fight starts now,” he added.
“And if the time comes to strike I want to see all of you campaigning with us and on our picket lines.” But the detail of what Labour plans is less certain. An accompanying press release about the PFI policy said Labour would review PFI contracts and only take them back “if necessary”.
Seeking to explain the apparent contradiction on television the next morning, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said it was a “complicated” process.
He told BBC Breakfast that McDonnell “was very clear we have to review these contracts, we have to do what is in the interests of prudent management of the finances.”
Ashworth then claimed that only a “handful” of PFI contracts were causing problems for the NHS and said the review would not happen “overnight”.
That’s not enough. All the privatisers need to be driven out of the NHS, schools and other public services.
On pay, Corbyn told the BBC that public sector workers should have a “reasonable rise”. And he refused to back the unions’ demands for a 5 percent rise.
The left wing policies from Labour’s leaders are a boost to the whole working class movement. They can help to encourage resistance.
That’s why we want Corbyn in Downing Street. But there must be no backsliding on change.
Brexit fudge in Brighton
The debate over Brexit was missing at conference.
Labour Party members—including supporters of left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn—voted not to have a debate on Brexit.
It meant an important motion on defending freedom of movement for migrants from the European Union (EU) was not heard. The vote also blocked right wing attempts to tie Labour to defending the pro-big business single market.
Many right wing Labour MPs back the single market because it instructs governments to run market economies with open competition and privatisation.
Others back leaving because they want more immigration controls that make it harder for EU nationals to live in Britain.
Both positions are rotten. The left needs to take its own clear position to leave the single market and to defend the rights of all migrants.
Yet the left is also divided over freedom of movement. Eddie Dempsey of the RMT union’s national executive committee claimed migrant workers were a “reserve army of labour” used to drive down wages.
But writer Maya Goodfellow pointed to struggles by migrant workers at Soas university to raise wages. She added, “You don’t shift the debate by conceding ground to the right.
“We have to stand against that. That’s what you have to do if you want to be a truly radical, transformative government.”