Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Secret State and Socialism: An 80-year war against the British left (Part 2)

B5b and F Branch

If you decide to conduct a war against a section of your own society you need soldiers. One area of fertile ground for finding people serious enough about 'anti-communism' to engage in such matters is amongst fascists.

It was amongst fascists that Vernon Kell - an early central figure in MI5 - found Maxwell Knight (or 'M'). Knight joined the British Fascisti in 1924, inspired by Mussolini, and determined to counter the growth of the Labour Party and the trade union movement, he quickly established himself as the organisation's Director of Intelligence. In that role Knight handled fascist cells in the trade union movement, engaged in 'counter espionage'. However his work came to the attention of Vernon Kell, he was soon recruited to carry out a similar role for MI5, organising against the General Strike in 1926 and, in the 1930s, he was put in charge of B5b, the unit in charge of countering political 'subversion'.

Amongst the subversive politics Knight found himself having to deal with were student pacifists (the Oxford Union motion, "this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country" was considered beyond the pale) as well as the British Communist Party and other left-wing organisations. Many of Knight's recruits were members of the main right-wing, fascistic organisations of the day, and he sent them into the left groups to counter subversion. Amongst his recruits were some whom the security services later had to turn on, such as Lord Haw Haw.

Knight also recruited left-wing agents. Tom Driberg - who would later be a charismatic Bevanite MP - was recruited in the 40s (while a communist party member) but was exposed and expelled from the party.

Increasingly, after the second world war, the security services saw that the labour movement itself could perhaps be its most effective enemy and, by infilitrating every left-of-centre organisation in the country, they could win a great victory against the left. F Branch particularly sought to recruit people from student unions, the Labour Party, Trade Unions, peace groups, etc. They were encouraged to sound as left-wing as possible in the hope that they might even be attractive to KGB recruitment agents. Quite how successful this was one day we may know. Just how many left activists were really working for the security services is a point of great interest to historians of this war on the left. Were some well-known figures in the labour movement really organising against it all along?

Well, certainly some were.

But we'll leave that little cliff-hanger there for the time being. The next section will consider the most bizarre chapter in all of this: the Wright and Wallace allegations about the Wilson plot and related events.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The Secret State and Socialism: An 80-year war against the British left (Part 1)


This is the first in an occasional series of articles on the role of the British secret services in trying to undermine the left in Britain over an 80-year period. Starting shortly after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, I will evaluate events including the Zinoviev Letter, the alleged attempted coup against Wilson, operations against trade unions in the 1970s, the black operations intended to link a Labour government to the IRA also in that decade, the now infamous operation against the NUM during and after the 1984/5 strike and the framing of George Galloway. In some of these cases, the role of the security services is no longer a matter of doubt or debate, in others a variety of conflicting allegations exist. I will make use of publically-sourced materials only; as such do not expect any revelations, although I hope the discussion will make some new connections and raise new questions.

Before the Zinoviev letter

In the immediate aftermath of the Russian revolution of October 1917, and while war was still raging across Europe, the British security services took an immediate interest in Russia and the impact of Russian politics on British public opinion and the left in Britain. Left-leaning war correspondent Arthur Ransome, who wrote articles for the Daily News and later the Manchester Guardian, arguing for recognition of the Soviet government (and also opposing western intervention in the Civil War that followed) found himself the subject of intense security service interest, including an arrest in 1919 (when he was questioned by Sir Basil Thompson) and a good deal of innuendo that he was a Soviet agent. Russian documents exist that appear to show that Ransome and his wife (Evgenia Shelepin - former private secretary to Leon Trotsky) had smuggled a quantity of Romanov valuables out of Russia to raise money for 'Bolshevik causes' in the UK (the documents may be genuine or may have been a forgery). Although not a classic example of what was to follow in this protracted war - Ransome was not a Labour activist, though some of the characters in his story feature in other inter-war stories - his story does at least feature one (and possibly two) of the classic tactics employed by the secret state against its perceived enemies: the Soviet agent tactic (undermining somebody's arguments by suggesting that they are being made because of attachment to - and possibly financial reward from - a foreign state rather than genuinely-held views or principles) and the forged document tactic.

At the same time as Arthur Ransome was attracting great interest from the security services, a more definitively Labour and leftist figure was also under investigation: Fenner Brockway. As the editor of the Labour Leader, he had been investigated since receiving a letter from Lenin in 1915, and was continued to be investigated through the 1940s and 1950s (Ransome, at least, was removed from MI5's blacklist in 1937 - by which time he was probably the nation's favourite children's author!)

But security service interest in undermining the work of the British left - and employing it for clearly political purposes - emphatically got under way with the so-called Zinoviev Letter; the scandal that was to contribute to the premature end to the first Labour government, in 1924.

The Zinoviev Letter:

Many of the classic hallmarks of security service attacks on the left were present in that first major assault on the British left: the forged Zinoviev Letter. The letter, which was alleged to have been sent in 1924 from Zinoviev - then head of the Comintern - to British communists, recommending an increase in seditious acts to precipitate a British revolution reached British newspapers with extraordinary timing. The Times and the Daily Mail published the letter just four days before the General Election, and at a time when Ramsay MacDonald was arguing that the British government should enter into a new treaty with the Soviet government, which would include a loan of £40 million to promote trade and economic growth in the country following its long years of civil war and famine. Essentially this would have been the political realisation of the campaign that Ransome had been fighting in 1919 - but the Conservatives were swept into office in 1924 and the treaty vanished.

Some later security-service forgeries were very poor efforts. The alleged documents produced by the 'Clockwork Orange' campaign in the 1970s such as a 'Vote Labour' pamphlet advocating assassinations, another pamphlet, "Economics: Master or Servant of Mankind" attributed to Tony Benn, Denis Healey and Stan Orme from Autumn 1971, calling for revolution, and a forged letter from a pro-IRA group in the US, thanking leading Labour politician Merlyn Rees for an (imaginary) donation to Republican causes on Labour's behalf all would surely stretch the credibility of anybody who read them. The association of established Labour politicians - including some on the party's right, like Healey and David Owen - with extremist and violent political views were smears beyond all credibility. In contrast, the Zinoviev Letter was convincing enough to be believed by many - both in the public and in official circles. Ramsay MacDonald himself would appear to have thought it credible.

Research since that time appears to confirm that a number of UK spies were involved in the forgery. Sydney Reilly who, in the best traditions of the security services had been dispatched to Russia to assassinate Lenin, was one of the alleged forgers, alongside Arthur Maundy Gregory. A top SIS spy, Reilly, interestingly enough, met Ransome in 1918 and produced one of the first secret service reports on him (probably the one that concluded that Ransome was 'in the hands of the Bolsheviks'). Offiical connections between SIS and Reilly were allegedly severed in 1922, before the Zinoviev forgery. Gregory was recruited by Reilly, but his work had mainly been in the area of spying on UK politicians, compiling information about scandals. His own scandal was that of selling peerages, firstly on behalf of Lloyd George, and later for a Conservative government (for which he was imprisoned and, after his release, paid a £2000-a-year pension by the Conservative Party). While some research has raised questions about the identity of the forgers, pointing to the possible assistance of pro-White Russian emigres, it was undoubtedly leaked to the press with the full knowledge of senior people in MI6 (Desmond Morton was involved) and MI5, agent Major Joseph Ball was a key player - he went on to work for the Conservative Party as a spin doctor.

The impact of the letter was extraordinary. It was not to be the last time that elements in the security services would try to bring down a Labour government.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Unite to oppose the welfare 'reforms'

The current set of right-wing so-called welfare reforms - really the latest round in the sustained Thatcherite assault upon the welfare state - has to be opposed, and opposed in every possible way.
We on the left have not been anywhere near vocal enough in our opposition to these proposals - proposals that have long been talked of and have indeed been 'sweetened' somewhat in recent weeks. It is our duty to defend the welfare state, defend our rights and the rights of the unemployed, the low paid, the sick and disabled and of lone parents. It is our duty to protect the most vulnerable in society against attacks from whichever angle those attacks come - even when it is from our own government. Indeed, as party members with at least an illusory role in its policy-making procedures, the duty on us to act is even stronger than when the Tories launched similar assaults.
I have been appalled reading comments from some on the left who have talked about 'parasites' and having to develop a new strategy for the 'lumpenproletariat'. Good God, to collude in the blatant division of the working class, and the horrendous demonisation of sections of the working class in this way is quite shocking. Those who will be effected by these proposals are not just the semi-mythological 'Shameless' benefit cheats - even the real, nuanced versions of those tabloid caricatures represent a tiny minority of benefit claimants; no, we are talking about a wide array of people. This is not some homogenous group of 'cheating' 'parasites' as comments seem to suggest, but disabled people, sick people, parents of young kids, people who have committed the terrible crime of living somewhere where there are no job vacancies.
And let's be clear, the proposals have not seen the light of day at a time when new vacancies are emerging to absorb these people who are to be thrown off their benefits. These proposals are here at a time when more people are joining the ranks of benefit-claimants; when jobs are scarce and are being lost. This is Tebbit; this is 'on your bike'; this is at the heart of why we hated Thatcher and all she stood for. So let's stand firm.
Making people work for their benefits? 'Sounds reasonable' - so I've read from Labour supporters in the blogosphere. Reasonable? For the government to become a poverty-pay employer? To make people work for less than the minimum wage? Because that is what we're talking about here. The proposals were always wrong: wrong-headed, philosophically-flawed, pathetic dog-whistle, headline-seeking crap. But in the current economic climate they are worse even than that: wielding a stick when there is no available, realistic or accessable way to comply with what is demanded is not cruel kindness, it is abuse.
Oppose this, we must. How we do it, let's discuss it in the comments. But we should not stop short of what we would have done if this were Peter Lilley instead of James Purnell. They're two sides of the same coin. I'm a tribal labourite, always will be; but party politics can't guide our actions here. This goes to the heart of why we came into socialist politics and we shouldn't rest for a moment.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Labourhome editor being sued

Labourhome editor, Alex Hilton, is being sued over the content of an article published on Labourhome (written by another user) which was immediately pulled after a complaint was raised, and a right of reply was offered and declined.

It is important to try and maintain forums like Labourhome and keep them as open and free as possible, and this sort of action threatens that. As such I'm providing this link to Alex's Labourhome article about this, where he asks for assistance with the excessive legal costs.

I know this is unlikely to be a time when many of us have free cash to hand around - and if we did this might not be our number one priority, but if you can help out - or publicise the link - please do. Whatever you might think of Labourhome, or Alex's personal political position within the party, this is the sort of case that can really damage open debate on the broad left of the blogosphere.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Why Labour?

Elsewhere on the net I have written a report on the LRC conference which I thought was a great success. The purpose of this short article is not to back-track on that in anyway, but to engage with some of the issues raised in the debate on 'motion 10' at the conference, and also respond to some remarks made elsewhere on the left regions of the web about the debate. I ought to point out first that I rather enjoyed the debate and I don't think it's ever a bad thing to have a debate and a controversial vote. I disagreed with Motion 10 - for the reasons I'll explain - and I disagreed with some of the points in the debate (on both sides) but that doesn't mean that I didn't welcome the discussion.

Briefly, on saturday, the debate was - as the motion seemed to suggest - about occasional local scenarios, where organised labour / socialists in an area might be presented with a right-wing Labour candidate and a decent socialist alternative - should they (and should the LRC) support the alternative? While I can't deny that at times in the past I have been tempted by just that situation, I agreed with the argument that won the day: that the LRC would eat itself were it to support - or even support the concept of supporting - anti-Labour candidates in elections. We have a real fight to get socialists elected into representative bodies in the UK and there isn't an easy route or a short-cut. Everybody at the LRC conference could stand as independent candidates around the country; we'd have a lot of fun, and we'd lose a lot of elections and waste a lot of money in deposits that could be better spent elsewhere. No, we have to take the difficult path: we have socialists in council chambers up and down the country and in parliament; we have people getting selected as PPCs; it's hard but it can be done. Standing as the New Socialist (Marxist-Leninist) Communist (Provisional) Party (Fourth International) Group is no answer to that struggle. It would be easier to get selected as a candidate, but harder to get more than a derisory vote. I apologise for the parliamentary focus of this - but then that was the focus of the motion in question.

But actually, the real debate wasn't about that difficult, occasional, local choice - it was about the breaking point. It was about moving on from Labour. One of the speakers in the debate made that point when they argued that those who opposed the motion had a 'shaky' view of history, suggesting that - had the original LRC responded in the way we did - the Labour Party would never have been formed and unions would be bound to the Liberal Party. Leaving aside the history for a moment, the clear implication is that this is an 1899/1900 moment, when 'a new party' might be formed, seperate from Labour. In other words, Workers' Liberty were echoing the calls for a 'New Workers' Party' (even though the loudest of those calls have tended to come from that organisations sectarian opponents).

Personally, I disagree with two contributors to debates on saturday (two people whom I agreed with on pretty much every other point) when they expressed feelings of despair in relation to the Labour Party today. Perhaps I am a hopeless optimist, but - as a historian of the labour movement - I am a long way from despair. Indeed I am more hopeful about the centre of gravity in Labour making a decisive leftward movement today than I have been for a very long time. I think the growth of the LRC represents something that actually hasn't been previously seen in our history. The closest match would be the extra-parliamentary Bevanite organisation of the 1950s (and we can and should learn some lessons from that) - but the LRC is a much more activist-led venture and is increasingly becoming much more organised. It is so much more interesting and exciting than previous groups that have been so centred around parliament.

The John McDonnell leadership campaign should not be seen as a cause for despair but a cause for hope. We could muster nothing of the kind in 1994. I recall comrades from Workers' Liberty telling me off (!!) for campaigning for a Ken Livingstone candidacy because it would split the left vote for John Prescott! Such paucity of ambition is completely alien to the Labour Left today.

We are not only winning the battle of ideas - we have won. The battle of spin, the struggle against neo-liberal and 'third way' hegemony in the media is another battle which will be much harder, but all the interesting ideas are coming from the left, along with all the common sense.

I am absolutely in favour of working in common cause with people outside the Labour tent when we can work together. But I make no apologies for saying, in the long run, my aim is to return a Labour government and to ensure that that government enacts socialist policies and redistributes wealth and power. That does not just require unity in terms of not tearing lumps out of each other - it requires unity of purpose.

I commend all the organisers of the conference at the weekend (especially those who I've just mildly criticised!) and I also commend everybody who spoke in the debates. I think we conducted ourselves in a good spirit and we shouldn't be afraid of debate.

I have some other things to say about communication and getting our message out, but I think I should probably wait until the bullets stop flying from this one!!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

LRC Vice-Chair Election- Why I Am Standing

LRC members can now download their election booklets from the website and I am glad to see there will be healthy competition for the National Committee and some officer posts.
As some of you will be aware I am standing for LRC Vice-Chair. You can also read my supporting statement on-line but there is only so much one can say in 100 words .
Those attending and voting at the AGM might find more information helpful. So here it is. Firstly, thanks for the nominations received, which include Socialist Youth Network, Greater London LRC and West Yorkshire LRC.
I have been a Labour Party member for over 30 years and an NUJ activist for 24 years. I have held many officer positions within the Party, and am currently Branch Secretary of my local Party and a member of the Calder Valley constituency executive.
For the past five years I have served as a Town Councillor , and am currently Hebden Royd Council Chair and Town Mayor. I have also stood as a candidate for the Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council and am Chair of the Calderdale NUJ.
In recent years I have actively campaigned on a national basis for the Labour Left. Until last year I was a National Committee member of Save The Labour Party and support the Grassroots Umbrella network, which brings together all left groups within the Party at Conference. I have also been an active supporter of the Campaign For Labour Party Democracy . In May, I was elected to the Editorial Board of Labour Briefing and I am a regular contributor.
Last year I organised a successful launch conference in Hebden Bridge which was a springboard for all the regional LRCs and I have just been re-elected Secretary of the West Yorkshire LRC, which is now one of the biggest regional groups in the country. But the plain fact is that much more needs to be done to build the LRC into a truly national organisation.
One of the key tasks when the LRC was founded was to try and re-claim the Labour Party for socialist values. That is still a task which I regard as absolutely fundamental. As I have said many times on this blog, I do not believe anything can be achieved by leaving the Party other than political oblivion.
But I also strongly believe we must build bridges with those who stay outside the Party for reasons of disaffection and disillusion. That's why I got involved in the Convention Of The Left - a very loose coalition of socialists who managed to forget faction-fighting and organise a tremendously successful event in Manchester to counter the official Labour Conference.
What divides left activists inside and outside Labour ? The truth is very very little. We can stand shoulder to shoulder with them on issues ranging from the economy, trade union rights, climate change , and peace . That work must go on.
We need an active Vice-Chair who puts in the work required over the next 12 months to build the LRC and raise its profile . If elected, I promise to do that. Within the Labour Party but also outside it in the wider labour movement.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Not The End of Capitalism.

The crisis of finance capital continues with the nationalisation of Bradford and Bingley this morning, but it seems unlikely that the system itself is under threat. The left has nothing to gain from becoming a series of millennialist sects, in either case.

What is clear though is that there have been several important developments in how capitalism in the US and UK is being administered. First, it is now difficult to deny the conclusions of John Gray and others who say that free markets require strong, interventionist states to keep them artificially afloat. Second, a precedent has been set by the 700 billion dollars about to be spent to that purpose: when companies "too big to fail" gamble at long odds or cook the books to maximise their short-term profit and are discovered, it has now become the state's responsibility to bail them out. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the wave of nationalisations and state investment into finance gives the state a renewed corporatist aspect. If these companies were too big to fail when it was only workers' jobs and management salaries at risk, imagine the future profits to be made from investing in a company partially owned by the state, with an almost infinite stack of chips to cover its lost bets.

This aside, look at how this bubble has worked: at ground level, assets were significantly overvalued, ridiculously high and undersecured loans issued and a fat margin was taken by all the participants, as when Lehman Brothers paid their executives 70 million dollar salaries. Ultimately, when it turned out that the emperor was wearing no clothes, the prices of these assets plummeted and suddenly none of the banks found that they had money to lend each other. Short-termism paid off, however, because taxpayers are going to be paying for it.

Of course, there is no possibility of UK or US taxpayers actually paying anything in the short term, because it is unserviceable: any significant increase in taxation on the rich or their companies would be uncompetitive and would lead to capital flight. So the cycle continues.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Death of Capitalism?

This was posted on Labour Home, and it might be interesting for those of us on this forum to discuss just how the left can offer prgressive steps out of the current situation - and how we can encourage moves to ensure that we never allow capitalism to regain such unrestrained irresponsibilty again...

The Death of Capitalism?

The writing was on the wall for so long!
The current economic crisis has been predicted by some of us for several years now, and the only real surprise is that it has come as quickly as it has.It is the product of a failed experiment in giving the gamblers who play the global betting shop - sorry I mean the global markets - increasingly free reign over the past 15-20 years to speculate and gamble without proper regulation or control.New Labour endorsed this approach when Blair took over, and have failed to protect the British Public from the inevitable consequences of handing over financial control to a small group of money-drunk gamblers.And as usual, when the rich get it wrong they rely on the state to bail them out, and whilst they protect themselves, it is the working and middle classes that feel the pain.Free reign capitalism has constantly promised next week today, encouraged reckless spending and debt so that the rich get their hands on our money before we even earn it, and has manipulated the media and advertising to the extent that noone who follows the trends can ever feel happy with their lot, but are constantly bombarded with new 'must-haves', upgrades, and other ways to spend the money they do not have.At the same time, they have managed to mangle the worlds resources, exploit ever new Labour markets, and cause untold damage through climate change.The capitalist experiment has failed - just like the state-capitalism of the Soviet Block.It's time for true Socialist policies to be given a chance!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

New Labour New Leader?

The die is cast. It doesn't really matter what David Miliband says on the Politics Show, Gordon Brown will not win the next election as Labour Prime Minister.

Why not? Either he won't be Prime Minister, and it will be somebody else's job to win or lose; or he will be a bloodied, beaten Prime Minister, waiting for an election defeat so he can shuffle off stage. I've never been a Gordon Brown supporter, but his career doesn't deserve that sort of conclusion. Indeed, his career shouldn't be coming to an end at all. We need to find a Labour way out of this, and I think - earlier in the summer - John McDonnell spelt out what that way should be.

What can't happen now is for everything to go back to normal, the leadership issue to quietly go back in its box, Gordon to have an effective relaunch, and maybe - with a following political and economic wind - win in 2010. We might get that following political and economic wind, but the leadership issue won't go back in its box, therefore things won't go back to normal, therefore the relaunch will be anything but effective.

Without something happening very quickly, there will just be a steady drip-drip of opposition to Brown all Autumn. It has already been enough to ensure any 'relaunch' at conference will be drowned out by shouting about nomination forms, legal challenges, resigning junior figures.

So something has to happen. What can that something be?

John's compromise proposal early in the summer seems like the best bet, and it has to be said that Siobhan McDonagh used very similar language in her television interviews on the subject, despite coming at this from a completely different direction:

Let's have an election. An open election: anyone who thinks they could be the next leader should stand and put forward a manifesto. We have an honest, open debate, and our preferential electoral system comes up with the leader. I was going to say new leader, but of course, it might be that Brown is re-elected. I can't pretend that I don't think it would be better if somebody else won. Indeed I will be enthusiastically supporting John McDonnell. But this is not an attack on Brown, or a challenge to Brown - he should see this as an opportunity and play a full part in the process. There is no reason why he shouldn't remain a key player under a new leader.

This won't be easy. It will raise any number of questions: is it a distraction from running the country? Will we have to go straight to a general election? Will it hand ammunition to the Tories?

But answers present themselves: no, it won't be a distraction from running the country. A campaign can be short (and we managed to carry on running the country a year ago) - and the policy debate will be essential for ensuring we run the country BETTER. No, there won't have to be an immediate general election; but if a new leader gets a bit of a bounce we may not have to leave it to the last possible moment. And - it might hand ammunition to the Tories, but they don't really need any more. Not doing this - and having these stories appearing slowly day-by-day - will provide them with much more deadly ammo.

In conclusion - while the left should have no truck with some 'uber-Blairite coup' - it probably is the case that we've reached last chance saloon. As such, I think we should back the McDonnell plan - a plan that, in words at least, seems to have been embraced by McDonagh - and call for an open, comradely, friendly leadership election with a wide range of candidates from across the party's political spectrum.

Let's see it done.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Cynicism, Kynicism and Poverty in Britain

A new word which I've sighted on a few blogs recently is "kynicism", a word coined by philosopher Peter Sloterdijk in order to separate out the concept of political cynicism into two opposing ideas. Kynicism is the progressive half, in which, for example, people mock George Bush for acting like a peacenik when it comes to other countries' wars, or are sceptical of any statement by Zimbabwe on human rights. The conservative half he calls cynical reason, and this is what people express when they say that, for example, there will never be peace in the world or that no one can change the Zimbabwean human rights situation. In short, cynical reason is a philosophy of inaction whilst kynicism is a shrewd caution in assessing the actions of those in power.

However, I'm not sure I necessarily agree with this characterisation. For one thing, it is impossible to find out where one cynicism ends and the other begins. Cynical reason, deployed effectively, is an incredibly effective propagandist tool - e.g. the conviction of some of America's working and lower middle classes that new taxes and unionisation will just bring about more misery and unemployment has led to a weak labour movement. But will experiments in kynicism not bring about similar results? If we convince the public that the Conservatives are not concerned about being green or helping the poor, then we are not using the logic of cynical reason, which might be that of climate change denial or trickle-down theory, but we do end up with a situation where the Conservatives can commit terrible crimes against the environment or the poor and not be thought to be hypocrites, since no-one believed their rhetoric in the first place.

The central question must be how to characterise authorities or powerful people and organisations that have agendas we oppose in order to evoke the maximum of active resistance rather than passive cynicism. What forms that resistance takes is a second question.

Fig 1: Something to be cynical about:

Despite the economic boom days, the poorest in Britain (primarily the unemployed) have actually seen their real income go down. Both inside and outside the Labour Party, we can resist policies which have caused this (among them the removal of the 10% tax rate and cynical reforms of the unemployment benefit system).

(Courtesy of the BBC's page of credit crunch graphs).

Monday, 11 August 2008

Libertarians Against Free Speech

Most people by now will be familiar with a system of political ideas which goes by the name of libertarianism. This ideology is fundamentally concerned with the freedom of the powerful to fully exercise their power. However, as a sideline, many libertarians argue that their ideas will allow for more personal liberty: for example, that freedom of speech will be respected in a place where government is not able or willing to restrict it.

It is worth noting that libertarians aren't just some of the loudest people on the internet. Many of the most influential internet entrepreneurs claim to be persuaded by this political perspective. And it is from them I want to take our lesson today.

Peter Thiel is one of these new band of ideologues. He was behind PayPal, intending to undermine governments' abilities to collect tax through the creation of a web-based currency (1). Now he owns a large chunk of Facebook and an even larger chunk of other sites like Slide, LinkedIn and Friendster. It's safe to say that, even without consulting his book attacking multiculturalism, he isn't a natural friend of the left: "You can't have a workers' revolution to take over a bank if the bank is in Vanuatu" (2). As source 2 claims, the other directors of Facebook are venture capitalists sharing similar opinions, one closely linked to the CIA.

Libertarians being in favour of freedom, we would expect to see all ideas being freely expressed in the fruit of their endeavours, Facebook. There was the perhaps understandably American lacuna in the "political viewpoints" tab which excluded Socialism and merely left open the spectrum from "Very Liberal" to "Very Conservative", plus, of course, "Libertarian". But recently allegations have spiralled all over Facebook that the Cameronite "Nudge" policy has been replaced with something harder. Groups which were in favour of Lenin, the FARC and Fidel Castro and against Boris Johnson (!) are among the known casualties. In this 'public' sphere controlled by private corporate interests, the libertarian response is to stifle dissent in favour of their own ideology.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia (the non-profit arm) and Wikia (the for-profit arm) is also very open about his ideology. He calls himself a libertarian and credits Hayek for the inspiration which led to Wikipedia's founding (3). His entire project is aimed at creating a great encyclopedia by adding together the free speech of all, and yet he has been compared to a tyrant for occasionally exercising his unlimited control over the site (4). Overall, the "Neutral Point Of View" (NPOV) policy on Wikipedia has kept the political opinions of its founder more or less under wraps. But his new project, Wikia, will be more evangelical. "He calls it the “uncyclopedia” because he hopes to use wiki technology to build “the rest of the library”—books, articles about health and hobbies—with no presumption of neutrality." (5) - and no doubt there will be tranches of moderated opinion on politics as well.

Our final famous and potentially dangerous libertarian is one whose internet presence is perhaps only secondary. But in owning and all the websites of News Corporation, he is a big player nonetheless. Rupert Murdoch claims to be a libertarian: "What does libertarian mean? As much individual responsibility as possible, as little government as possible, as few rules as possible. But I'm not saying it should be taken to the absolute limit." (6), but he also shows an unhealthy contempt for free speech. refuses to let people link to certain anti-Iraq War websites (7) as well as making it difficult for users to link to YouTube. If that was not bad enough, his newspapers have been engaged in a long campaign of slander against internet competitors such as Facebook (8). See also.

One of the greatest dangers of the internet is that social websites and others with large audiences can begin to censor opinions and try to manipulate politics. It's well worth noting how few hands a large percentage of pageviews rest in, and how much power those few are beginning to have. This blog post was written on Blogger, owned by Google, who censor their content in China.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Questions of Leadership

Westminster correspondents love to reduce everything to a personality contest. It's all about Brown v. Miliband (just as before it was Blair v. Brown). Their concerns are not those of Labour members, trade unionists or socialists. And yet too often we allow those correspondents to set our agenda and the parameters of our debates. Think back 12 months. To many in the movement there was no alternative to Brown. One reason for that was that the media deemed it so. Any suggested alternatives were based around personal grudges rather than around real differences in policy ideas. For that reason, the correspondents refused to take the left challenge seriously until the last minute: there just wasn't a personal angle. The very fact that McDonnell said it was about policy and not personalities rendered it a non-story for the lobby press pack.

Yet, the truth is that we can't entirely avoid the question of personalities. Indeed the upper echelons of the party made personality more central by wresting all real influence on policy away from party activists. The depressingly remote nature of the NPF at Warwick and the closing down of all voting at conference has meant that elections are all that are left to us. So NEC elections (which most members choose not to participate in) and leadership and deputy leadership elections (which are very few and far between) are really the only opportunities left for members to participate in the life of the party (other than at a local, associational level).

So for all that we say - quite rightly - that it's all about the policies rather than the personalities, we now have slightly more (potential) influence over personality than policy. No wonder the Labour blogs are full of leadership speculation.

Be that as it may, the truth is still as it ever was, that the personality of the leader is an entirely trivial matter if it is not associated with policy, principle and direction. The reason why Brown was the wrong choice for leader last year was not about his personality, his leadership skills or his Scottishness. All of those things were perfectly acceptable to party and electorate last summer when Labour was riding high in the polls. The reason why Brown was the wrong choice was because, in terms of policy, he did not represent a new direction for the party following the Blair era. He was the wrong person because he did not present a clear direction - he no longer had a clear idea of what the purpose of a Labour government should be.

That is the reason why we are in the difficulties we are in now. Of course the credit crunch and other trends outside the government's control haven't helped, but Brown's reputation as an Iron Chancellor might have made him seem the man for a crisis if he been spear-heading clear, socially-just policies with clear benefits for people, rather than playing silly games with tax thresholds.

What upsets me is that people say we should bide time for two years and the changes can happen then. People say the PLP will be smaller then, the choices will be clearer, etc. I think back to my student days, dreaming of a Labour government. Even two years of a Labour government would have been a glorious thing. The idea that we have two years now and we should do anything other than make the most of them is abhorrent. So is the idea that we should resign ourselves to the return of the Tories.

The only options can be ones where we seek to make the most of being in government and try and encourage people to vote for us again in two years' time.

That means, if Brown is to stay, it has to be with a radical and emphatically-Labour policy agenda: a clear two-year plan. The NPF was a massive missed opportunitiy, as far as the next manifesto is concerned, but the possibility of a decent relaunch is still there. That means dumping the idiocy of right-wing policies of the Purnell type, and embracing a real Labour agenda. I have to confess that I feel that that potential future has almost disappeared.

If, however, Brown is to go - and a coalition of Blairites and journalists seem to have decided it must be that way - then it is essential that there are no more coronations. There must be a full range of candidates including a real left candidate to put forward our arguments and a genuine alternative to the sorts of policies that are likely to emerge from Miliband and other potential candidates.

Of course the debate will start again about who that should be and the debate ends up back where we started: personalities.

For me, it isn't a difficult question. The candidate would need to have some legitimacy, in terms of the backing of left groups; the candidate would need a clear, collectively-formulated policy agenda; the candidate would need to have some profile, be a good public speaker, comfortable in the media, and would need to have a principled record. That candidate, therefore, is John McDonnell. Of course there are other talented parliamentarians on the left who tick some of those boxes (although some of the ones that would immediately present themselves are standing down at the next election) but none who are likely to get the backing of the LRC, Campaign for Socialism, the various union broad lefts, etc. I would suggest, therefore, that McDonnell is the only potential candidate who could be said to transcend the individual, personal, popularity contest and be the figurehead of an activist campaign.

So, if there should be a contest - and I'm not calling for one - I hope very much to see a John McDonnell campaign, and such a campaign would receive my 100% support.

Monday, 28 July 2008

When a Capitalist speaks more sense than New Labour

Dont know if anyone read this article in the Observer on Sunday. I suppose articles like this would slip under the radar after the kind of week most Labour activists have had. Firstly we had the Glasgow East disaster and then the missed oppurtunity for Labour to reconnect at the Warwick NPF.

Now I am not one to talk up a member of the establishment especially the Building Industry establishment. This Industry has been blighted with poor health and safety, bogus self employment and the use of poorly paid migrant labour.

Mr Snook , in the article, does though speak alot of sense. I find it unsurprising to be honest that a pro capitalist Labour Party will listen to every rich spiv under the sun yet when one talks intelligently about current issues, for example, in the Building Trade, New Labour walk the other way.
The points I find interesting is Snooks view on property ownership (from someone who knows), his view on the current problems on building sites and how many building companies cut corners.

He sounds, dare I say it, like a decent employer. Makes you think doesnt it.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Workfare - A Quick Note

The more desperate the government gets, the more it appears to be striking out at random in the faint hope of one day hitting the jackpot with a policy that people support. Maybe the focus groups are beginning to become unfocussed. The new "workfare" policy looks like a classic example - aimed squarely at the tabloids, completely bereft of ideology or any political grounding other than a vindictive Little Englander mentality.

Either way, if the monumental climax of over a hundred years of British Labour Party history is the re-introduction of the Poor Laws, you can count this blog out.

Monday, 30 June 2008

The problem for the left? We just aren't sufficiently organised!

We know it really. We don't talk about it very often. It's something we whisper about, rather than shout. But we can't escape it: socialist politics is all about organisation, but organising is something people on the Labour left are traditionally pretty hopeless at!

It's not hard to see why. We're mavericks. If we weren't mavericks we'd have either somehow reconciled our principles with New Labour, or we'd have left and joined some sectlet. To borrow from Tony Benn, we dare to be Daniels. But Daniel wasn't overly organised!

But you can be a dissenting voice and be organised. That's the whole point of a labour movement and of trade unionism. Our dissenting voices only start to be heard if they are in chorus.

The extent of our disorganisation came to me in a flash today when I received my regular copy of 'Progress' Magazine. I assume I receive this because I am a CLP officer (I'm guessing not all party members receive it, though that's an interesting question!) It is clearly paid for by union sponsorship (the back page is a Unite advert) and slipped in the front cover is a flyer for the Labour First slate for the NEC elections.

For too many Labour Party members this is the voice of Labour. It comes just as the old Labour Party magazines used to arrive - as if this were the voice of the Party. Yet it is campaigning stuff: Alan Milburn on public sector reform, John Hutton on going beyond the small state/big state debate, Denis MacShane on pro-European politics since the Lisbon Treaty, and an editorial on the continued case for New Labour.

By contrast, how many Labour members see Socialist Campaign Group News or Labour Briefing? We couldn't even organise to link Labour Briefing clearly with the LRC, let alone get union funding to send it to every CLP (with a CLGA leaflet in the front cover)!

Yet, until we do, we continue to talk to ourselves and we maintain our position as a healthy minority in the party.

I believe that, on a huge number of issues, the left speaks the language of the membership in a way the right couldn't hope to. But too few members hear us speak.

The challenge is clear - how do we go about meeting it?

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Navigating through the gossip and nonsense!

Well the weekend papers have gone to town, as they were always bound to. Depending on what you were reading this morning, you'd now be thinking that almost any MP was on the verge of some stalking-horse or serious challenge.

The Observer has it that Brown will be urged to bring potential rivals (Miliband and Purnell are named) under his wing, appointing a Deputy Prime Minister alongside, presumably, some sort of reshuffle. Comment in the same paper suggests Miliband, Purnell, Straw, Johnson - even Cruddas - as potential challengers.

The Independent takes the unlikely Cruddas story further, suggesting that he has been approached by Charles Clarke to be a stalking horse, supported by 'left' (sic) and right. The paper reports Cruddas turning down the offer, but leaves a hint that he might change his mind. They have Cruddas at 10-1 to be the next leader (behind Balls at 8-1). They still have Miliband as the favourite. They also report Denis Healey comparing Brown with Michael Foot, and there is a dreadful piece by John Rentoul praising those few MPs who nominated neither Brown nor John McDonnell and suggesting that the likes of Miliband and even Blair betrayed the true path of Blairism by nominating Brown when they did. He ends up listing the usual suspects (all of whom nominated Brown) as the potential saviours.

The Times, in contrast, reports that Miliband is 'ready to go' but doesn't want to wield the axe himself. (Perhaps this ties in vaguely with the Independent story - Cruddas, if he were to accept Clarke's invitation - being Miliband's stalking horse after delivering the MPs of the 'Compass Group').

The Mail gets into more fanciful territory still: Cruddas to stand as Balls' deputy, and so and so on.

All of this doesn't get us very far. All the papers also include every single one of these stories being denied by all parties.

Are they all rubbish? I don't suppose so... There'll be a crumb of truth here and there. What I think it mainly shows is what lots of backbenchers and parliamentary researchers are prepared to say to journalists off the record, rather than what the various people mentioned are really doing and saying themselves.

But it all comes across as so shallow and pointless. In many ways it compounds the problems of the last few weeks and could confirm in people's minds that we're not serious and don't have the answers to their concerns.

All this personality stuff, the plotting, the whispers, is rubbish. It's about the policies or it's about nothing at all. Any sort of alliance-of-convenience with Clarke would be ridiculous. Indeed, any action that seems to obsess on the personality of the Prime Minister would be a dereliction of duty.

We need to spend the next two years bringing in decent, progressive, LABOUR policies. I also think it's the closest we have to a fightback strategy; but that isn't the reason to do it. We should do it because it's the right thing to do. Maybe Brown can't deliver those policies; on that basis and that basis alone should any discussions about the leadership be conducted.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Partnership in Power - some amendments from the experts!

Thanks to Mike Ion for posting Comprehensive Future's proposed amendments to the EDUCATION AND SKILLS document, on Labourhome.

They are:

Page 9

There are two alternative amendments we suggest - both for line 47 following 'Code' They are - We now intend to go further and ensure no child has to face selective entry tests for secondary education (except banding) by ending selection on ability and aptitude.


However many English children continue to face overt selective entry tests on ability and aptitude in order to transfer to secondary education. We intend to commission a wide ranging study on how this affects children, families, schools and educational attainment.

I recommend trying to get the first one passed (I'd be tempted to lose the 'except banding' bit...) and go for the second one if necessary.

Please also use the Defend Council Housing amendments (even though there are hundreds of them!) in preference to my earlier attempt. I know it's virtually impossible to read them at the top, so try here for a Word document, or here for pdf.

If you submit amendments based on those of Defend Council Housing, can you let them know here?

Monday, 12 May 2008

LEAP Conference - Sat. 24th May

On Saturday 24th May, LEAP will be hosting its first conference ‘Beyond the Market Economy – socialist solutions to the economic crisis’. This is the Left Economic Advisory Panel, a group launched by the LRC, that has very successfully looked at how to fund socialist policies for several years now.

There will be platform speeches from John McDonnell MP and Tony Benn - and their experience in socialist economic policy (John from his days at the GLC and Tony from his days in the Cabinet) will be of enormous value - but the real point of the conference is the participation of party members. There will be four sub-plenaries on housing, global finance, social ownership and workers’ rights: hugely important issues for all socialists at this point of time and very relevant to many of the discussions that we've been having on Labour Left Forum.

You can find more details, and register online at at the LRC website.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

How is Socialism paid for?

Many on the New Labour right through this question back at Socialists in the party. Here is a reply I put to a New Labour blogger.

An important political reality is the fact that real political power is held by businesses and corporations and not the electorate. It is a failure of New Labour to realise this considering the facts are glaringly obvious. We have falling voter participation in elections which has been brought on by a belief that all governments and therefore all parties are the same.
At the same time we have a shrinking pot of money that governments have to try to utilise to bring in reforms; therefore you have political leaders not promising anything at election times. (its interesting though to point out here that there always seems to be enough money for Iraq, Trident,anti Terrorism, bailing out banks, struggling rail companies and failing PFI stunts, but still what do I know.......)

In the background you have an electorate increasingly aware at the obvious class divisions in society. For example you have super rich city businessmen flaunting their wealth while the employee class is struggling with food price and fuel and utility bill increases. This increase in poverty will affect the very few people that New Labour concentrated on in the marginal seats, middle England.

Labour has wasted their eleven years in power compared to what the Tories achieved in 18 years. The reforms, (ie minimum wage etc) that they did bring in are now hardly noticed by the electorate. The truth is voters vote against a government and not for a government. That was apparent in 1997 as it is in 2008.We are on the brink of another period of Tory government kept in not by so called ‘unwinnable’ left wing policies but by the very same philosophy that won Labour the election in 1997.

Where do we go from here?

The current status quo is unmanageable, unacceptable and unwinnable. Difficult decisions have to be made but in order to halt and reverse the growing class inequality. You say companies will desert the country. Well ask them to close the door behind them then and we will have to run the companies.

It’s simple really. Governments have a duty of care for the electorate and that includes their economic well being. It just needs a bit of 21st century thinking , a 21st Century Socialism.

That is why I think people like John McDonnell MP need to be listened to. No one is listening to New Labour any more.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Prosperity and Work: Proposed amendments

You can read the 'Prosperity and Work' policy document here.

My proposed amendments:

Page 13 Line 39.


"We will reinstate the exemption for people with severe disabilities to continue to receive the higher rate Disability Living Allowance so that they can pay for their care."

(Robert - could you check this and re-word if you think necessary. Also there is stuff in there about Remploy, etc. which I feel could be effectively amended, but I'd prefer someone who had look at this in more detail to recommend the wordings. I will amend this section of the post accordingly in the near future).

Page 21, Line 43


"We will introduce a Trade Union Freedom Bill which will make provision for the law relating to the rights and freedoms of workers and of trade unions, the regulation of relations between employers and workers, protection of employment in lawful industrial action, and remedies
in trade disputes to bring Trade Union rights in the UK in line with those in other modern democracies."

Page 22, Line 7


"The government will continue to work to seek an agreement in Europe on an agency workers
directive that offers appropriate protections while maintaining the flexibility of the UK labour market which has helped deliver record employment in recent years."


"The government will introduce a Temporary and Agency Workers' Bill
to provide for the protection of temporary and agency workers and to promote the rights and enforce the principle of equal treatment of temporary and agency workers."

(Again with these sections - experts in the field please sort out my wording - this stuff comes more-or-less from the bills).

Building Sustainable Communities - amendments

You can read the 'Building Sustainable Communities' document here.

These are my proposed amendments:

Page 17, Line 40.

"We are working with fourteen local authorities to develop
Local Housing Companies which offer new ways of realising our ambitions for a new
generation of social housing"


"We will legislate for direct investment in decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing, to provide housing needs for that large proportion of people who are unable to get onto the ownership ladder. We will enable local authorities to improve all council homes and start the necessary programme of building new council houses to meet housing need (allowing councils to ring-fence rents and capital for investment in housing stock). In this way we will ensure respect for tenants' choice, stimulate the economy, enable democratically elected local authorities to get on with their job and meet our 2005 election manifesto commitment to ensure that all social tenants benefit from a decent warm home with modern facilities by 2010."

Page 17, Line 44



Page 10, Line 13


"We will bring the railways back into public ownership."

Back with more soon!

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

"Partnership in Power" - time for action

You can now access the policy consultation documents from Membersnet, here.

You will need to log in. I'm looking into how easy it might be for me to direct-link to the documents from here, as it's important that members of affiliated unions who aren't party members can access the documents.

They are, at present, the worst kind of woolly nonsense, characterised by imprecision and vagueness.

We need to make a concerted effort with proposed amendments. John McDonnell's May Manifesto is a good starting point. I shall try and work out what should go where (in terms of which document) over the next few days. Then as soon as your branch or CLP sends in an amendment, could you post it as a comment here too, that way we can follow what's been said and by whom?

You will, of course, need to ensure that you have a meeting in time to make the submissions before 20 June. There are guidelines on Membersnet about how to make the submissions (they should be specific amendments, i.e. page 20 line 6 remove 'compulsory homework for pensioners' and replace with 'nationalise the banks', etc.)

Okay I'm going to be adding links to the documents from here too (it might take a while to get them up). This first one is on Crime, Citizenship and Equalities, and includes anything on constitutional reform, etc. as well as some of the human rights-related proposals (e.g. ID cards, etc.) This is here?

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Two important jobs!

Hi all,

Two important jobs for us to do. The first is to sign John McDonnell's petition for a new, socialist manifesto:

John McDonnell MP launches 2008 May Manifesto Petition
In the light of Labour's election defeat last week, John McDonnell MP is circulating a manifesto petition to Labour Party members, trade unions and MPs to gain large scale rank and file support for a new policy programme for Labour to bring about a radical change in political direction for the Laboour Government.

John McDonnell MP said:

"After the serious rejection of New Labour at the polls last week assurances that the Government is listening are simply not going to be enough to restore any sense of belief in the Labour Party. What is needed is a radical change of political direction.

"We have to demonstrate that change by introducing a new policy programme that specifically and very concretely addreses peoples' concerns raised on the doorstep. This May manifesto petition is launched so that all our supporters can have a say in pressing for the changes we need."

We believe that Labour can win back the support of our people by adopting a new 2008 May Manifesto, which should include:
Nailing the 10p tax mistake by the introduction of a fair tax system removing the low paid from taxation and ensuring the wealthiest and corporations pay their fair share
An increase in the basic state pension, immediately restoring the link with earnings, lifting people off means tested benefits and providing free care for the elderly
An immediate start on a large scale council house building programme and assistance for those facing repossession
Immediate end to programme of local Post Office closures and liberalisation of postal services
An end to the privatisation of our public services
A new pay deal for public sector workers to protect their living standards and tackle low pay
Abolishing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants for all students
Scrapping ID cards
Introduction of a trade union freedom bill and measures to protect temporary and agency workers
Rejecting the proposals to renew Trident


To sign it, send an email to the LRC with 'petition' in the subject heading and with you name and CLP/Trade Union. Go for it, folks!


Get along to Labourhome and contribute to their survey of Labour grassroots.

Together we can save the government, and save it as a socially-progressive government worth saving!

Friday, 2 May 2008

Policy consultation - time for radical new legislation on social housing

Since writing the last post on workers' rights, the results have come in. We've all had a terribly disappointing day. The London results are still coming in as I type, but they are not looking promising.

The one glimmer of light I can see is that lots of people in the movement are saying the same thing: we need to come back fighting, and we need to do that through having a raft of radical policies that will have a clear impact on the lives of our voters who have sent us such a clear message in the last 24 hours.

We have an opportunity to promote these policies through the policy consultation. As well as the workers' rights proposals, we should be able to build a massive consensus around the 4th option re: council housing, which is the agreed policy of the Labour Party and the TUC and was supported by a broad array of MPs in parliament. I've taken a proposed text from an EDM:

The Labour government will legislate for direct investment in decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing, to provide housing needs for that large proportion of people who are unable to get onto the ownership ladder. We will enable local authorities to improve all council homes and start the necessary programme of building new council houses to meet housing need (allowing council houses to ring-fence rents and capital for investment in housing stock). In this way we will ensure respect for tenants' choice, stimulate the economy, enable democratically elected local authorities to get on with their job and meet our 2005 election manifesto commitment to ensure that all social tenants benefit from a decent warm home with modern facilities by 2010.

I would welcome comments from people - especially those involved in the Defend Council Housing campaign to improve that text. Then let's get as many CLPs and union branches as possible to propose it.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Policy Consultation - time for radical new legislation on workers' rights

As I write, the polling stations are just shutting up and down the country. We don't know what the results will be. Fingers crossed that excellent Labour councillors up and down the country won't be unceremoniously flung out of office and replaced by feckless Tories, Lib Dems or worse. Fingers crossed Ken has held on in London.

But whatever the result, Gordon Brown has said that there is going to be a wide-ranging, genuine policy consultation in the party, giving CLPs and union branches the chance to submit full amendments to policy documents before they go to the NPF, and giving us the chance to have a real discussion about policies. People from all areas of the party seem to agree that the time is more than right to get some genuinely radical policies on the agenda. I started off a discussion at Labourhome (and got some interesting responses) and I know other Labour blogs are going to get involved with the discussion too. While there a wide range of interesting reforms being discussed (especially proposed constitutional reforms, etc.) I think we on the left should make a particularly strong push on the issue of trade unions and workers' rights. This is particularly in the light of recent comments by Osborne and the Tories.

We all know there have been policy consultations before, and we all know many have been nothing more than expensive PR exercises. But if we make a concerted effort on this, I think we could push some of this legislation to the top of the agenda, and - if nothing else - make it much harder for the government to talk out future private members' bills in these areas.

The two key pieces of legislation in this area, proposed in recent years, are the Trade Union Freedom Bill and the Temporary and Agency Workers Bill. I think we should use this consultation to make a strong case for the government introducing a Workers' Rights Bill: a synthesis of these two excellent bills, with full government support. Let's try and put in place some fundamental and irreversible protection for working people.

I propose that we come up with a form of words that clearly states that we want this legislation in place; take the words to our CLPs, union branches, etc. and publish here which organisations have proposed the amendment. We could disperse the amendment via the networks of the LRC, STLP, CLPD, Compass, etc, also via Labour Briefing, Tribune, the Chartist, etc. and through various Labour blogs. The temptation will be for everyone to put their own set of words in, and on some issues that will undoubtedly happen. But to have a big effect we should organise and work together.

Let's put our internal democracy to the test: let's try and get a set of proposals with overwhelming trade union support and strong parliamentary support and clear support among party members established as clear PARTY POLICY and then challenge the government to implement it.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Tories to attack the right to strike

The question we really should ask is when wouldn't a Tory party attack the right to collective action?

George Osborne's latest gaffe as some are calling it reveals the true agenda of the Conservatives. They have always fought hard against the right of workers to combine in order to improve and defend their hard earned terms and conditions. After 11 years of a Labour government you would have thought that workers would have cast iron legislation to protect them from the worst excesses of national and international capitalism.

Sadly workers I believe are in a much weaker position economically now then they ever had been in the last 30 odd years.The original laws set in place by the Tories to curb the power of organised labour plus the breakdown of industry and working class communities by their policies, has created this flexible world where workers are at the complete mercy of employers. The Tories know this and with Labour languishing in the polls its time to go for the jugular.

What is to be done?
Calling for the formation of a new workers party, while a bold and noble suggestion, is not going to stop Osborne getting his way at the next general election which will be within the next couple of years. It completely unrealistic and will take valuable activists away from the struggle to keep the Tories out.

Asking for left Labour MPs to break from the Labour Party and to be some kind of 'beacon' to attract votes is unrealistic either. For a start the non labour left themselves struggle to find enough activists as it is and unfortunately are seen as much too divided. The net result of left MPs splitting away would be that we lose these voices in parliament as they are crushed by the main parties.It wont stop Cameron and his clowns.

Currently the only show in town are the Trade Unions themselves and their political voice , the Labour Representation Committee. As as much as it pains me to say it, especially when I hear people like Hutton, Brown, Blears and Miliband etc, Labour has to be kept in if only to play for time while trade unions build up their strength to oppose the Bosses economically and to strengthen their voice politically. Workers must use the power they have through the Unions in their affiliation to the Labour Party, to fight for their policies even if it is through the National Policy Forums.

If that battle ground is what at the moment is what is left of the Labour Party, and yes it is in a sorry state, then so be it.

Just remember if the Tories do get in we could see the wheels taken off the current resurgance of working class militancy. If they do get in it will be if nothing had changed since 1997.

Think Australia, Howard and his Work Choices but without the effective campaigning which eventually kicked him out because the Tories would have pushed through legislation tobreak the link between the TUs and is political wing.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Supporting the Calder Valley rule change

A proposal will be before this year's Annual Conference to change the rules governing leadership elections. It is a modest proposal. It will only have an impact when there is a vacancy for the role. But, small though it is, it is of the utmost importance.

There are members who could have been in the party for nearly 15 years who have never had the opportunity to vote in a leadership election. What happened last year was not just bad for us, bad for supporters of John McDonnell, bad for the left - it was bad for the party, it was bad for all party members, it was bad for Gordon Brown. It is very important that it cannot happen again.
There are other ways to ensure a contest.

You could take the Tory approach - so the membership always get to choose between two candidates. But why restrict our role so greatly?

Some will say - it shouldn't be difficult to find a candidate who can persuade an eighth of the PLP to support them; they should endear themselves to their colleagues, etc, etc. Fine. Fair enough. But why should it be just up to MPs to decide who that endearing, 'credible' candidate is? The whole reason we have a preferential voting system is so the voting itself makes that decision, not cabals of powerful men. Those who make this point would presumably have preferred a different left candidate for the leadership. Well the only part of the system where 'splitting the vote' is a problem is the nominations: otherwise why not have multiple candidates and let the various rounds in the college decide which is 'credible' rather than twenty-or-so MPs?

Look at the leadership election of 1976. It was bad for many reasons: it didn't involve members, it didn't involve trade unionists. What it did have were six candidates, representing really quite nuanced differences of opinion in our movement. Tony Crosland only got 17 votes in the first round (about 5% of the MPs who voted). Was Crosland a maverick without support who should have been frozen out at the nominations phase? I don't think so. Denis Healey only got about 9% in the first round. Imagine if that election had gone to an electoral college? People would have been musing on whether to give their first preferences to Benn or Foot, Healey or Callaghan, Jenkins or Crosland. It would have given members a real boost, it would have given whoever was successful (and I suspect it may still have been Callaghan, though it isn't certain) a real flavour of what opinion in the party was. It would have involved the unions. Who knows it may even have won us the '79 election?

So, when thinking about this 'little', modest change, you should also think about the potentially enormous difference it could make. Push for your conference delegates to support it!

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Cameron to speak at the TUC????

I have just posted this on my blog but thought it worthy of discussion here.

I must admit being not at all surprised that Cameron, forever the opportunist, actually fielding such an idea.
It is insulting to think that a representative of a party that set as its main priority the destruction of the Trade Union movement back in 1979 would even be considered to address TUC conference. While it comments that one third of trade unionists support the Tories it is highly unlikely that these trade unionists are activists who would serve as delegates to TUC conference.The report though should be seen as a warning.

Cameron's march for the so called 'middle ground' which both he and New Labour worship, will see the Tories attempt to mop up the anti Labour mood amongst the Unions.

There are a few suggestions to stop Cameron in his tracks; give public sector workers decent pay; introduce the Trade Union Freedom Bill; stop the privatisation of our public services; build and stop the sale, of council houses and re-nationalise the companies sold off during Thatchers reign of terror. Most of all break this servile relationship the UK has with US foreign policy.

The Unions affiliated to the TUC would rally behind a workers Labour Party committed in this way. Cameron would disappear back into the hole he come from.

My wife has just asked the question; whats the difference between Blair speaking to the TUC and Cameron doing it?

Answers on the back of a postcard please.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

British Values Under Fire: Oafs of Allegiance.

It is common subject-matter for both broadsheet and tabloid journalists nowadays to try to define what makes Britain "British". Gordon Brown's speech to Labour Spring Conference referred repeatedly to "British values" without defining them. Now Lord Goldsmith's report on citizenship has recommended several important changes which will surely leave us feeling more British than ever.

What does make Britain "British", and why? Well, opinion polls regularly come up with the same few virtues which Britons consider themselves to embody: tolerance of others, politeness, fairness, modesty and a sense of humour. Tony Blair defined explicitly what he meant when he talked about British values: "[F]air play, creativity, tolerance and an outward-looking approach to the world."

I see history being responsible for this: the spirit of the Blitz, the Somme, Trafalgar and Agincourt have traditionally been said to have moulded the national character, for example. The fact that for over a hundred years Britain sent its intolerant megalomaniacs to govern places like Rhodesia and Burma into the ground might also have been a factor.

Anyway - my point is clear: where is the tolerance, politeness, fairness and modesty in Lord Goldsmith's proposals? Is the idea of schoolchildren pledging allegiance to some inbred hereditary billionaires his way of giving the British sense of humour some new material to work with? Since when have masturbatory nationalistic rituals fostered "an outward-looking approach to the world"?

I'm in favour of a voluntary citizenship ceremony/party/pish-up, perhaps to mark the time when incoming Britons and native Britons first exercise their right to vote. This is on the grounds that very occasional liminal rituals create a sense of belonging and can be good fun. But forcing children to make pointless and fake pledges throughout the time when they are just beginning to question and rebel against authority is the best possible way to impart nihilism to a new generation.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Still a lot of work to be done

Hat-tip to Organised Rage for this one....

What’s the problem?

If I lived Birmingham, I would happily campaign for Salma Yaqoob, the Respect Renewal councillor. If I lived in Preston, I would happily do the same for councillor Michael Lavalette, from the other side of the Respect divide. In Coventry, I’d be with the Socialist Party and in Brighton with the Greens. There are Scots Nats as well as Scottish socialists [on both sides of the Tommy Sheridan split] who I’d be glad to knock on doors for. And of course there are still plenty of good Labour councillors and even a few MPs who I would be pleased to have representing me. I’m obviously far from being alone or none of these people would ever have been elected.

My question, in relation to the continuing inability of the left to unite in pursuit of a common purpose is this: If I and people like me have no problem with such a diversity of elected representatives, why do they all seem to have such a problem with each other?

Carol Winter


Any thoughts?

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

One law for the finance house...

...another for us.

A friend of mine has just attended a meeting about pensions at his new job. Out of the money he (and his company) will contribute, the finance house will deduct:

a service charge - amount unknown; calculation unknown
an insurance premium - amount unknown; calculation unknown.

He doesn't want insurance - but they won't stop the deduction.

He is told he can choose the type of investment - high risk or low risk - but the amount he may lose or win is of course "unknown". He has no control over these investments or indeed over the bonuses the finance house will pay out to their staff. They also take his Serps (or equivalent) and use only that as the basis for his protected rights. In 20 years time they will probably say sorry - the stock market is iffy we can't pay you any more than you would have got with a state pension. But within those 20 years they will of course continue to pay bonuses and dividends.

WHY CAN'T I FILL MY TAX RETURN IN WITH "AMOUNT UNKNOWN - CALCULATION UNKNOWN"? It is time that finance houses are forced to be completely transparent in their dealings with ALL customers, especially the worker.

This robbery has got to stop.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Astrology for Libertarians.

Imagine the utility we could derive from a market in markets. What we'd do is to create a market where people could trade in futures contracts about the future value of other markets. No longer would we have to appoint specialist advisors to warn us of potential crashes or booms: we could just sit back and let the market predict. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 surely would have been predicted by our market of markets, and so we could have avoided all of the deleterious effects with a little forward planning.

How about a market in disease? No longer would doctors have to spend millions of taxpayers' money to vaccinate entire populations: we could use the invisible hand of the market to predict which individuals would get SARS or AIDS, and then target them before the disease even has the chance to spread.

I'd like to see a market in people being struck by lightning. Even though relatively few people get struck by lightning, it would be useful to know when, where and who lightning will strike so that we can plan in advance to place mobile lightning-rods nearby: this is another market which will save countless lives.

So overall, I endorse wholeheartedly the plans of some of our tenured libertarian friends to construct an earthquake market so that we can predict earthquakes before they happen. I also find particularly interesting and useful the suggestion in the comments that seismologists should be banned from this market for having "inside information". As the Thatcherite/New Labourite/Cameronite project for markets in everything rolls on, I hope they will take into account the almost untapped predictive power of markets shown here.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Northern Rock Nationalisation: Statism, not Socialism.

So the government has made its move: Northern Rock is to be nationalised.

What are we to make of it? The (most recent) Tory line is that Labour dithered and dithered, costing taxpayers millions whilst making up their minds. But what seems to have happened is that the Labour Party were unwilling to nationalise Northern Rock if a buyer could be found on reasonable terms, but the jokers at Virgin wanted a ridiculously good deal, including protection from risk in case of the firm collapsing again.

In the government's favour, we are not simply socialising the risk and privatising the profit: instead both will now be placed in a half-way position. Commercialisation at arms-length is basically the same deal as devolution in Scotland: the firm does the business and we pick up some of the cheques at the end of the day. It's not socialism, which would demand that working people both within and without the company would have control over it. It's simple statism, and in the circumstances probably a good solution to a difficult problem.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Selection battles

So, where are we at in terms of increasing or decreasing left representation in the PLP after the next election?

One near to home for me was Walthamstow where unfortunately left candidate Laura Bruni had to withdraw for health reasons and the candidate will be Stella Creasey, about whom nothing really needs to be said...

Frank Cook has just lost his battle for reselection to some PR schmuck.

Wareing deselected.

Simpson retiring.

Someone please give me some good news.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The problem of slates

An interesting debate is emerging about the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance and the extent to which it can depend on the votes of those whom it hopes to represent. Discussions have been taking place on Labourhome and at Grimmerupnorth, largely as a result of John Wiseman's decision to stand for the NEC.

I am very far from making a decision about this myself, but it is certainly something that we should be discussing on Labour Left Forum.

On one side of the argument, the CLGRA has served us very well, more-or-less since the inception of New Labour and, by bringing left and centre-left together in an, at times, difficult unity, maintained a significant left and centre left representation on the party's executive committee. Excellent NEC members, such as Christine Shawcroft, have owed their position thanks not just to the votes of their natural supporters on the left, but to the wider votes secured by standing as part of a slate with centre-left candidates. I have been a supporter of the approach from the beginning, and indeed proposed expanding the same approach to other aspects of internal party politics (many moons ago!)

On the other side of the argument, no slates in internal elections have such a mandate that they can demand the loyalty of party members - especially party members who have not played any part in the choosing of such slates. Any member is entitled to stand for the NEC. Any CLP can nominate that member. Any member can vote for any candidate. With that in mind, what do people on the left do when presented with a candidate who ticks all the boxes but is not on the CLGRA slate? Without in any way meaning to attack or criticise anybody on the CLGRA slate this year, because of basic issues of political principle, I find John Wiseman a more appealing candidate than some of them. John has made the point that he is standing not just as a grassroots candidate (though that is clearly a major part of his bid) but also more specifically for the younger grassroots, and there is certainly an argument that there is a gap there (and one that can not, at least without a concerted effort from SYN or something similar, be filled through Young Labour rep.)

The debate at Grimmerupnorth has also moved on to another area - which I would like to keep seperate from the issue of whether left-wingers should nominate/vote people outside the CLGRA - whether the GRA needs to be completely restructured in the future. The CLPD and STLP do very important work in the party grassroots, but there is certainly a case to be made that an opportunity to involve a far greater number of activists could be developed in the GRA, were the LRC and Compass to play a part in the organisation. I don't know whether LRC and Compass organisers have expressed any interest in this, nor whether both groups' membership criteria could pose difficulties regarding such a role. But the GRA slate would certainly be representative of a very significant tranche of party opinion if those groups were to be incorporated. Furthermore, there would be a real momentum for developing such organisation into areas such as the National Policy Forum, etc.

So - two debates, really! One - what to do about the admirable Mr. Wiseman! Two - how to deepen and improve the CLGRA for future years.

I look forward to reading the debate!