|Principal Speakers||Felicity Dowling |
|National Secretary||Kate Hudson|
|Founded||30 November 2013|
|Membership (November 2015)||1,500|
|European affiliation||Party of the European Left|
|Colours||Red Green Black|
Left Unity is a left-wing political party in the United Kingdom, which was founded in 2013 when film director Ken Loach appealed for a new party to replace the Labour Party (which, he claimed, failed to oppose austerity and shifted towards neoliberalism) and has been characterised as a hard left party.
Although Left Unity is based on individual membership rather than organisational affiliation, a number of leftist groups have encouraged their members to join as individuals. These include:
Individual members of the Labour Party and the Green Party have also joined Left Unity. According to the International Socialist Network’s Autumn 2014 Discussion Bulletin, it is part of Left Unity with members elected to the party’s national council.
The party’s primary aim is to
… unite the diverse strands of radical and socialist politics in the UK including workers’ organisations and trade unions; ordinary people, grass root organisations and co-operatives rooted in our neighbourhoods and communities; individuals and communities facing poverty, discrimination and social oppression because of gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexuality, unemployment or under-employment; environmental and green campaigners; campaigners for freedom and democracy; all those who seek to authentically voice and represent the interests of ordinary working people.— Left Unity, Party constitution
Left Unity was founded by Ken Loach, who believed that there was an “absence of a strong voice on the left” and that “the Greens are alone among the political parties in not standing up for the interests of big business”. Loach wanted a “UKIP of the left”, “a successful party to the left of Labour as UKIP appears to be a successful party to the right of the Tories”.
Left Unity is an anti-capitalist party, firmly opposed to “austerity programmes which make the mass of working people, the old, the young and the sick, pay for a systemic crisis of capitalism“, and believes that such measures protect bankers and not ordinary people. According to Loach, “an anti-austerity alliance is good, but the problem with [the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party is that] they’re mainly social democratic parties”. Nick Eardley wrote for BBC News, “Parties like his are needed to peddle a more radical message”.
Left Unity want to end zero-hour contracts and the privatisation of public services in education and health. The party advocates common ownership and democratic control of “the means of producing wealth” and the reversal of what it sees as 30 years of neoliberalism, aiming to “build international networks of solidarity to support any government introducing such measures within Europe and elsewhere”. It supports full employment “through measures such as reduced working hours for all; spending on public housing, infrastructure and services; and the public ownership of, and democratic collective control over, basic utilities, transport systems and the financial sector”, and opposes “the casualization of employment conditions and laws which restrict the right of workers to organise effectively and take industrial action.”
The party has been criticised by far-left political organisations, who say that the party has a “commitment to govern within the framework of capitalism” and its economic programme “is a left-Keynesian, reformist programme, which would leave more than half of the FTSE 100 companies still in private hands, despite phrases in it about a “strategic vision of structural change” and the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs“, lifted from the Communist Manifesto.”
According to Left Unity’s 2014 constitution, the party aims to build a society with (at least in the medium term) a private sector within the framework of a radical Left National Plan. It is committed to a mixed economic structure:
… a democratically planned economy that is environmentally sustainable, within which all enterprises, whether privately owned, co-operatives, or under public ownership, operate in ways that promote the needs of the people and wider society”. The 2015 pre General Election Left Unity Manifesto however appears to pursue a more far-left line, and refers to the needs for an economy “run democratically, not controlled by the few in the interests of 1% of the population. This means the principle of common ownership of all natural resources and means of producing wealth.
Ecological devastation, resulting from the insatiable need to increase profits, is not an accidental feature of capitalism: it is built into the system’s DNA and cannot be reformed away. Capitalism is increasingly demonstrating its total incompatibility with the maintenance of our ecosystem through its ruthless exploitation of ever scarcer natural resources, its pollution of the environment, the growing loss of biological and agricultural diversity and increasing climate change …
When the politicians propose using market mechanisms to limit carbon emissions, it is clear that they cannot see a more democratic or sane way out of the climate crisis. International policies like carbon “cap and trade” that allow companies to buy the “rights” to pollute, or an ecotax that end up punishing the poor, are all measures that will not work in the long term to save the planet – instead giving the rich and powerful nations and individuals the right to continue to pollute legally.
Climate change is now inevitable, the question is how much and for how long and how much damage will it do. For us, socialism is the best way to manage the resources of the planet and ensure their democratic distribution in such a way that we are not destroying the environment to make a profit – as the corporations and energy companies are. No more “business as usual” means ending business as the driving force of the economy and instead looking to human – and environmental – need not corporate greed. If we want to save the planet we need socialism and we need it soon.
LGBT equality and feminism
The party has been defined as a “radical socialist party with strong positions on ecology and feminism”, and “has a commitment to women comprising at least 50% of its leadership”. Speeches deemed as supporting male privilege have been received negatively, and it is claimed that “Left Unity is set to be a self-consciously feminist organisation.”
Immigration and xenophobia
Left Unity is opposed to xenophobia, and Luke Cooper of the Anticapitalist Initiative introduced socialist policies on immigration and racism. According to Cooper, there is no non-racist immigration control:
Left Unity completely rejects all anti-immigration arguments and rhetoric. We believe mass migration has had, and always will have, an overwhelmingly positive impact on society … challenge[s] ideas in the labour movement, and even sections of the socialist movement, that openly support or implicitly endorse the idea of “British Jobs for British Workers”. Immigration controls divide and weaken the working class and [are] therefore against the interests of all workers.
The party overwhelmingly voted in favour of this policy.
Left Unity has rejected leftist “Europhobic” policies such as No2EU (a broad left alter-globalisation coalition which offers an alternative to the perceived xenophobic and pro-capitalist policies of UKIP and Nigel Farage), a stance criticised by other far-left organisations.
At its conference in November 2015, the party adopted documents describing the EU as “a reactionary anti-working class unreformable institution”, but recognising that the 2016 referendum “can only produce a reactionary exit that would benefit only the xenophobic right wing of the Tory party and of UKIP”.
The party “stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle against oppression and dispossession”. It supports the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, calls for the return of Palestinian refugees and “resolutely oppose[s] any expression of antisemitism, whether within the solidarity movement or elsewhere”.
In 2014, Left Unity was criticised by media outlets worldwide after a motion which called ISIS a “stabilising force” with “progressive potential” was proposed by two members at the party’s annual conference. The motion received three votes (two from its proposers), and the conference overwhelmingly passed another motion that “the people of Syria including the Kurds of Syria have the right to defend themselves against the Assad regime and against ISIS … ISIS is a reactionary and gruesome organisation which has caused suffering and death to the civilian populations of large parts of Syria and Iraq”.
At its November 2015 conference, LU agreed a motion condemning Russian attacks in Syria, calling for an end to all foreign intervention, and opposing any British military intervention.
Local elections, 2014
In local elections on 22 May 2014, Left Unity stood 11 candidates in four districts: Wigan, Barnet, Exeter and Norwich. They received 1,038 votes out of 74,126 cast, or an average of 3.2 percent.[note 1] In Wigan West, party candidate Hazel Duffy received 8.8%. From March to May 2015, Left Unity had their first council seat (in Stoke-on-Trent) after a councillor defected from the Labour Party.
General election, 2015
Left Unity stood ten candidates in the 2015 general election on 7 May 2015, seven of which were joint candidates of theTrade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). A number of party candidates (some also with TUSC) also stood in local elections that day.
Following Labour leadership elections, 2015
Left Unity was profoundly impacted by the victory of the veteran left wing socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, in the Labour Party leadership election of September 2015. During the election of Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party, Left Unity opposed what it saw as a “witch hunt” against leftwingers who were not Labour Party members but were allowed to vote for Corbyn as leader, due to changed election rules under former leader Ed Miliband. However, it has been calculated that Corbyn would have won in the first round with 51% of votes, even without “£3 registered supporters”, having gained the support of 49.6% of full members and 57.6% of affiliated (Trade Union) supporters.
Corbyn’s surprise victory was marked by a massive influx of hundreds of thousands of new left-inclined members and supporters, shifting the political direction and membership base of the party significantly leftwards. In the weeks following the Corbyn leadership victory around three hundred Left Unity members, including many prominent leadership figures, resigned and joined the Labour Party. The November 2015 Left Unity Party Conference was dominated by the issue of what to do now that the Labour party was led by Jeremy Corbyn, a leader with radical left reformist politics very similar to those of Left Unity – and with a new mass membership of hundreds of thousands of socialists, compared to Left Unity’s then 1,500 members – down from its 2014 peak of 2,000. Following the Conference decision to remain as a formal political party but not stand in elections, one of its nationally prominent National Speakers – Salman Shaheen – resigned, citing the need for socialists to join the Labour Party.