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Socialist Party youth rally
OUT OF the comfort of the boardroom came a familiar sight to viewers of Question Time (but not so much to an audience at a Socialist Party youth rally!), a representative of the Tory party – Mark Clarke, chair of Conservative Future, the youth wing of the Tory party.
Ian Slattery, Huddersfield
Alongside him for the closing Sunday afternoon youth rally of Socialism 2006 were some alternative views from the Young Greens (Aled Dilwyn Fisher), the Labour Representation Committee (LRC - Owen Jones), International Socialist Resistance (Sarah Sachs-Eldridge) and Socialist Students (Matt Dobson).
Each were given three minutes to answer questions posed by members of the audience: on education, the Iraq war, young workers and the environment. As the Liberal Democrats Youth and the Labour Students had failed to appear, Mark Clarke was alone in defending the policies of capitalism – as he admitted, an embarrassing position to be in at an event like Socialism 2006. The representative from Respect also refused to attend.
However, if Mark Clarke thought that was going to let him off the hook he was rudely awoken. Question after question threw up incredible claims by Clarke that were immediately disqualified by any of the other four speakers. Emotions reached a peak when, to a huge cheer from the audience, Socialist Students national organiser Matt Dobson ripped into Clarke after Tory-boy had the audacity to proudly claim that he fully backed the war from the beginning. "Your party has funded murderers for the last 30 years by selling arms across the world", Matt exclaimed, followed by heckles of "accessory" from the crowd. Clarke sat smiling, but killers are killers and our disgust was real.
The first question set the tone of the debate as Clarke argued that "education is never free, someone always pays," before claiming, "one couldn't knock on a door, perhaps talking to someone not too well off, and tell them that they are paying extra taxes to fund education for people they don't even know." Needless to say all other speakers spoke above that embarrassingly patronising level, putting forward concrete ideas as to how to fight for the cost of education and its future funding.
Matt spoke of Socialist Student's campaign to defeat fees and the need for a united struggle involving all student groups, including those on the platform. Aled from the Green Party continued along those lines, describing a "conveyer belt" system from universities to jobs.
Sarah from ISR pointed out that the Green Party's position in Brighton (where they supported the setting up an ALMO – a form of housing privatisation) seemed to contradict the anti-privatisation rhetoric of Aled. She also drew inspiration from the movements in Chile, France and Greece - mass campaigns of students fighting alongside workers against education cuts.
The fiery war debate followed. Sarah dealt with the position of those who argue that the UN should have intervened in Iraq, pointing out that the war was over "oil, prestige and power", so any UN-backed approach would have still had the same goal.
Matt again showed the hypocrisy of the Green position by pointing out that on their website they support an alternative to NATO, the OSCE, which is a free market organisation.
By this time Owen from the LRC had arrived. He immediately attacked the Labour Party himself, pointing out that "this war showed the complete lack of democracy in New Labour." He also began his 'vote John McDonnell' campaign immediately, stating his strong anti-war stance and pledge to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq.
Clarke continued toeing the Tory line with the next question about the minimum wage, arguing that "if we put wages up then the number of jobs available will go down"!
Sarah pointed out the importance of trade union involvement in low pay campaigns and that it is the most militant unions, like the PCS, who are gaining the most ground on the issue of raising wage levels. She added that young people are now so put off by Labour that by having 'Vote Labour' on their leaflets, unions like USDAW lose a large layer of youth.
Owen pointed out that the RMT and FBU both help fund the LRC, saying that "it would be easier and more likely for trade unions to support John McDonnell than any Campaign for a New Workers' Party." Easier perhaps, but that doesn't address the far more important issue of which would be more productive to support! Unfortunately Owen failed to develop any of his apparently socialist or left ideas enough to prove how they would work inside a party that has shown contempt for such policies and ideas.
The final topic of the environment still failed to help Aled prove to the crowd that his opinions were not just his own but reflected the party as a whole - his speech about the problems of capitalist parties sounded as naïve as Owen's points about the lack of democracy in New Labour.
Most in the audience were hoping for a uniting of the four socialists on the platform, but it became obvious that while they were united in their derision of the 19th century Tory policies put forward by Mark Clarke, socialism is the idea of a minority inside both the Green Party and the Labour Party.