Wednesday, June 22, 2016
I have completed a quick read of Richard Seymour's new book "Corbyn : The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics" (Verso, 2016). As Seymour runs the well-known blog "Lenin's Tomb", I attempted to submit the following for his relevant comment box - here. But I found that I did not have the skills to break into his system. When my grandchildren aged 11 and 8 next visit me, they can no doubt show me what to do. In the meantime, here are my brief comments. But I doubt whether Seymour will ever see them, unless some kind person forwards him a link.
"I was given your book as a Father's Day present and have read it over the last three mornings, for it is highly readable for anyone with political interests. I feel, however, that its title is somewhat misleading. For although Corbyn's name (which will have helped you to sell the book) appears regularly in chapters 1, 4 and 5; the matters you cover in these are much more related to your sub-heading of "The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics" than they are to your main title of "Corbyn".
Corbyn is presented as little more than a symbol which (especially) newly signed-up Labour Party members have supported in the hope that this will move Labour in a socialist direction. References to Corbyn then mainly disappear in Chapters 3 and 4 as these are centred on Labour's hsitory of socialist shortcomings - shortcomings which you also extend more widely even to the ideas of people such as Stuart Hall and Eric Hobsbawn. The radical hopes which you feel new Labour members share are evidently not fully your own, as you have not become one of them.
Do you feel that these new members are suffering from socialist illusions? For Corbyn (even as a regular rebel) has been active via the Labour Party since his early days in Labour's Youth Section. He has, of course, supplemented this with a wide range of outside campaigning activities. But you cover little about his record in the Labour Party outside of very recent events. Yet parliamentary and other records could have been used by you to spell out his approaches throughout his political life. There is actually much more on such matters just in his Wikepedia entry - here. Do you feel that until his recent lucky break emerged, he was essentially mistaken in sticking with a membership card which you yourself reject? Or has his election as leader shown that it was worthwhile to keep going within the Labour Party, as all that effort might just break in a person's political direction sometime?
You argue that many of Labour's recent Corbynite recruits are young and enthusiastic, and are from working class backgrounds (page 193). This impression may have arisen from the mass meetings during Corbyn's election campaign. But from my own area, it is pattern that is not in operation. The growth in membership is stronger in middle class Tory dominated areas and at its lowest in working class areas. Few new members are young enough to qualify to be Young Socialists. And the small minority who can be attracted to attend Party activities are often elderly. The smallest membership growth is clearly in traditional working class and Labour areas.
(On a minor point : there is a misprint on page 132 where the year 1982 should read 1992. Was Major's "victory in Baghdad" on that page the removal of Kuwait from Saddam's control and the carnage on the "road to Basra"? Or are you referring to something else? "
Friday, May 20, 2016
Friday, May 13, 2016
On Monday INEOS (see here) held a meeting at the Speedwell Rooms, Staveley on their plans for Fracking in North Derbyshire. They and/or similar firms have identical plans across wide areas of South Yorkshire and North Notts.
They had invited Parish and Town Councillors from the North Derbyshire area. I wangled a place.
Some 50 attended, but a dozen or so of these were from INEOS itself – these were high powered people within their operations. I had a talk, for instance, with their chief geologist. We were in front of a map which showed the licences INEOS held in the area. One of the few places that was excluded was around Chatsworth. For the Duke of Devonshire himself holds that licence.
Outside the meeting was an anti-fracking demonstration (see above), involving the Chesterfield Climate Alliance, Chesterfield Trades Council and a number of anti-fracking bodies from Barnsley, Doncaster and other areas.
INEOS pointed out that they are the largest chemical company in the UK. They operate six plants, the largest being at Grangemouth in Scotland, which is a crude oil refinery. They have 65 plants in all operating in 16 countries and plan to move their headquarters to the UK from Switzerland. Separate information from the recently published “Sunday Times Rich List 2016” shows that Jim Ratcliffe owns 60% of INEOS and is the 30th richest person in the UK currently owning £3.2 billion – almost 10 times the personal wealth of the Queen.
INEOS said that they are not yet producing shale gas from fracking processes in the UK, but are seeking to become the major operator in the country. In the meantime they will make use of imported shale gas and oil.
In Scotland, they have held 57 events similar to the one they were holding at Staveley. When asked, they promised to run future meetings in our area for District and County Councillors, the Chesterfield Trades Council and the public. Matters on which they need to be pushed.
Over the next two years they hope to (a) identify local sources of shale gas and oil, (b) enter into negotiations and agreements for operations, (c) obtain planning permissions, (d) drill and (e) commence hydraulic fracturing. The fracking operations will be at its height in the early years of its productive operations, (probably 24 hours per day) but will be likely to operate in all for 20 years.
They will start their seismic collection of data from this summer.
After sinking each vertical well, it will take 30 days to establish a horizontal well. This involves the use of 98% water, 1.5% sand and 0.5% chemical additives. They indicated horizontal work would take place at levels of 3,000 feet (ie. 914 meters) to 4,000 feet (1,219 meters). This was according to their senior well engineer. (See later, technically in law they should not operate normally until they reach 1,000 meters).
They said that when hydraulic fracturing takes place it can effect the land for 125 metres upwards. A point which Councillors were worried would cause greater disturbances than that especially in former mining areas, (where the bulk of INEOS's interests are and mining used to cover nearly all of North Derbyhire at different times in its history). Pilsley, for instance, was pointed to as having suffered from mining subsidence.
INEOS said that 6% of the revenue they spent would go to landowners, homeowners and communities. But there was no clear answer as to how much of this would go to Town and Parish Councils. (Just how much of this money will need to be used to compensate people whose properties are damaged during fracking operations ?)
They claimed that lessons had been learned from experiences of fracking in the USA and that our regulations were tighter than theirs. (Yet fracking is banned in France, Bulgaria and the State of New York; with moratoriums which could lead to full bans operating in Germany and New Brunswick in Canada).
The Councillors who asked questions did not adopt a particularly hostile stance, but they displayed some clear knowledge about the problems they could be faced with.
I raised two points in a similar tone. (1) I said that my understanding of the legislation which provided for fracking was that the Government had initially wanted this to be allowed at up to 300 metres, but that this had been amended in the legislation to 1,000 metres (which is a bit deeper than an INEOS figure mentioned above). Although the Government does have power to vary the depth in special cases. (2) I also pointed out that on the other side of the Speedwell Rooms where we were sat was an Industrial Estate and if they undertook fracking from there, they could easily then operate under the very centre of Staveley itself. (The geologist had earlier told me that horizontal underground fracking operations could run for two kilometres “or more”. How close will any of us live the such sites?)
It is clear from the power point presentations they gave and the leaflets they issued, that the sites which they would come to operate from will become major industrial sites requiring access by numbers of large vibrator and transport trucks (which they misleadingly downgraded as being just like bin lorries). The great bulk of North Derbyshire (and much beyond) are subject to INEOS (and some other) investigations which could lead in two years to full scale fracking operations. It is not a matter that we can sit back upon.
See here for one initiative being pursued to protect the interests of the public.
And see here for a Common's Report on "The Environmental Risks of Fracking" which called for a moritorium on its development.
And see here for a Common's Report on "The Environmental Risks of Fracking" which called for a moritorium on its development.
Sunday, May 01, 2016
Ken Livingstone and myself were first elected to Parliament in 1987. He stood down as an MP in 2001 and I went on until 2005.
Not only were we Labour MPs together for 14 years, but for most of that time we were also members of the Socialist Campaign Group which normally met weekly when the Commons was in session. Furthermore for a period we had adjourning desks in a place called the Cloisters and later for a few years we came to share a small office. It only had room for our desks, chairs and filing cabinets.So not only did we regularly talk to each other, I also heard him talking a great deal to others on the phone – often to his constituents. I never once heard him say anything anywhere which could have been interpreted to being anti-Semitic. Quite the opposite, he was consistently anti-racist.
We had our disagreements at times as when he once sort to stand for the leadership of the Labour Party. He never received sufficient nominations and I was one of those who refused to support him. On the other hand we once wrote an article together which appeared in the Guardian stressing that the European Union needed a democratic and social agenda. It was fully in line with the position recently argued by Jeremy Corbyn - which can he found here.
The most that can be argued against his recent comments on Hitler and Zionism is that they were badly timed and undiplomatic. They were in no way, however, fundamentally incorrect.
In 1984 Edwin Black wrote a key book on the matters referred by Ken. The work is entitled “The Transfer Agreement : The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine” (New York, MacMillan).
Edwin Black is the most unlikely person to have an anti-Semitic strain in his writings. He is the son of Polish Jews who were survivors of the Holocaust. His mother escaped from a box car that was heading for the Treblinka extermination camp when she was 13 years old. His father escaped when being led to a shooting pit. They both survived by hiding in the forests of Poland for two years; eventually emigrating to the United States. Edwin was born in Chicago and raised in a Jewish neighbourhood.
See Edwin Black talking about his book here. Sections of his book can be found via this web-site.
John Mann became an MP in 2001. So I came across him in the Commons only for a four year period. Then we tended to move in different circles. This would not just be a matter of us pursuing differing agendas. Unfortunately, the Commons is a bit like going to School or College. You get to know people best in your own intake – although shared political horizons and the pursuit of common concerns will draw people together. Yet I was often tucked away in the Northern Ireland Select Committee (which Ken had also served on) whilst John moved on to the Treasury Select Committee.
It was not until I retired in 2005 that he set up and Chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, which produced fine reports as shown here.
When the issue about elements of Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party gained national publicity, I had hoped that the work of people like John Mann on the All Party Committee would be used to show a different picture. For to me in confronting Anti-Semitism, Ken and John seemed to have more in common than in opposition.
But I was soon to be shocked by John's extreme reaction against Ken. It is not that I am uncritical of Ken, for he is clearly experienced and knowledgeable enough to realise that there are some issues in politics which grab people's emotions so strongly that they need to be handled with care. The same should, of course, also apply to John.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
HILLSBOROUGH ECHOES: DAVID STEAD (After Carol Ann Duffy)
Two small crowds in one pub that Saturday
in April eighty-nine. One shares its name.
The other mirrors their hope – to win the game.
“They kick off in two hours!” - two miles away.
But now the passing honours, now displays
of pride. First Merseyside’s young hearts that burn.
The Forests grin and bear it, wait their turn...
The Nottingham, that semi-final day.
And every one would have a memory
of how they met last year. “Will this year be
the Double, or Quits?” They all walked on, to see!
Stone-boxed, back home. Perched high on terraced edge
- my attic view: the Don; green park; that stadium
whose sound waves lap the Crescent auditorium –
from that shoebox crouched blue on my window ledge.
Sense kick-off. Hear those chants! Wait for that glorious
ground swell that hails attack; roars ecstatic –
cut off. To dead ball – not yet ominous...
Along the Mersey now it’s very late.
Phone-boxed mothers; children; partners; wives; mates - still cry.
For each of them, the clock will too long be
stopped dead at fifteen minutes after three.
For none of us can ever say ‘Goodbye’!” –
without the Truth and Justice we all wait.
Friday, April 15, 2016
"The people of this country face a historic choice on 23rd June whether to remain part of the European Union, or to leave. I welcome the fact that that decision is now in the hands of the British people. Indeed, I voted to support a referendum in the last Parliament.
The move to hold this referendum may have been more about managing divisions in the Conservative party. But it is now a crucial democratic opportunity for people to have their say on our country’s future, and the future of our continent as a whole.
The Labour Party is overwhelmingly for staying in because we believe the European Union has brought: investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment, and offers the best chance of meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century. Labour is convinced that a vote to remain is in the best interests of the people of this country.
In the coming century, we face huge challenges, as a people, as a continent and as a global community. How to deal with climate change. How to address the overweening power of global corporations and ensure they pay fair taxes. How to tackle cyber-crime and terrorism. How to ensure we trade fairly and protect jobs and pay in an era of globalisation. How to address the causes of the huge refugee movements across the world, and how we adapt to a world where people everywhere move more frequently to live, work and retire.
All these issues are serious and pressing, and self-evidently require international co-operation. Collective international action through the European Union is clearly going to be vital to meeting these challenges. Britain will be stronger if we co-operate with our neighbours in facing them together.
As Portugal’s new Socialist Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, has said: ‘in the face of all these crises around us. We must not divide Europe – we must strengthen it.’
When the last referendum was held in 1975, Europe was divided by the Cold War, and what later became the EU was a much smaller, purely market-driven arrangement. Over the years I have been critical of many decisions taken by the EU, and I remain critical of its shortcomings; from its lack of democratic accountability to the institutional pressure to deregulate or privatise public services.
So Europe needs to change. But that change can only come from working with our allies in the EU. It’s perfectly possible to be critical and still be convinced we need to remain a member.
I’ve even had a few differences with the direction the Labour Party’s taken over the past few years but I have been sure that it was right to stay a member some might say I’ve even managed to do something about changing that direction.
In contrast to four decades ago, the EU of today brings together most of the countries of Europe and has developed important employment, environmental and consumer protections.
I have listened closely to the views of trade unions, environmental groups, human rights organisations and of course to Labour Party members and supporters, and fellow MPs. They are overwhelmingly convinced that we can best make a positive difference by remaining in Europe.
Britain needs to stay in the EU as the best framework for trade, manufacturing and cooperation in 21st century Europe. Tens of billion pounds-worth of investment and millions of jobs are linked to our relationship with the EU, the biggest market in the world.
EU membership has guaranteed working people vital employment rights, including four weeks’ paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, protections for agency workers and health and safety in the workplace. Being in the EU has raised Britain’s environmental standards, from beaches to air quality, and protected consumers from rip-off charges.
But we also need to make the case for reform in Europe – the reform David Cameron’s Government has no interest in, but plenty of others across Europe do.
That means democratic reform to make the EU more accountable to its people. Economic reform to end to self-defeating austerity and put jobs and sustainable growth at the centre of European policy, labour market reform to strengthen and extend workers’ rights in a real social Europe. And new rights for governments and elected authorities to support public enterprise and halt the pressure to privatise services.
So the case I’m making is for ‘Remain – and Reform’ in Europe. Today is the Global Day of Action for Fast Food Rights. In the US workers are demanding $15 an hour, in the UK £10 now. Labour is an internationalist party and socialists have understood from the earliest days of the labour movement that workers need to make common cause across national borders.
Working together in Europe has led to significant gains for workers here in Britain and Labour is determined to deliver further progressive reform in 2020 the democratic Europe of social justice and workers’ rights that people throughout our continent want to see.
But real reform will mean making progressive alliances across the EU – something that the Conservatives will never do.
Take the crisis in the steel industry. It’s a global problem and a challenge to many European governments. So why is it only the British Government that has failed so comprehensively to act to save steel production at home?
The European Commission proposed new tariffs on Chinese steel, but it was the UK Government that blocked these co-ordinated efforts to stop Chinese steel dumping.
Those proposals are still on the table. So today I ask David Cameron and George Osborne to to start sticking up for British steel and work with our willing European partners to secure its future. There are certainly problems about EU state aid rules, which need reform. But if as the Leave side argues, it is the EU that is the main problem, how is that Germany, Italy, France and Spain have all done so much better at protecting their steel industries?
It is because those countries have acted within EU state aid rules to support their industries; whether through taking a public stake, investing in research and development, providing loan guarantees or compensating for energy costs.
It is not the EU that is the problem, but a Conservative Government here in Britain that doesn’t recognise the strategic importance of steel, for our economy and for the jobs and skills in those communities.
The Conservative Government has blocked action on Chinese steel dumping. It has cut investment in infrastructure that would have created demand for more steel and had no procurement strategy to support British steel.
A Labour government would have worked with our partners across Europe to stand up for steel production in Britain.
The European Union – 28 countries and 520 million people – could have made us stronger, by defending our steel industries together. The actions of the Conservative Government weakened us.
The jobs being created under this Government are too often low skill, low pay and insecure jobs. If we harnessed Europe’s potential we could be doing far more to defend high skill jobs in the steel industry.
And that goes for other employers of high skilled staff too – from Airbus to Nissan – they have made it clear that their choice to invest in Britain is strengthened by our membership of the European Union.
Of course the Conservatives are loyally committed to protecting one British industry in Europe – the tax avoidance industry.
The most telling revelation about our Prime Minister has not been about his own tax affair, but that in 2013 he personally intervened with the European Commission President to undermine an EU drive to reveal the beneficiaries of offshore trusts, and even now, in the wake of the Panama Papers, he still won’t act.
And on six different occasions since the beginning of last year Conservative MEPs have voted down attempts to take action against tax dodging.
Labour has allies across Europe prepared to take on this global network of the corrupt and we will work with them to clamp down on those determined to suck wealth out of our economies and the pockets of our people.
On Tuesday, the EU announced a step forward on country-by-country reporting. We believe we can go further. But even this modest measure was opposed by Conservative MEPs last December.
Left to themselves, it is clear what the main Vote Leave vision is for Britain to be the safe haven of choice for the ill-gotten gains of every dodgy oligarch, dictator or rogue corporation. They believe this tiny global elite is what matters, not the rest of us, who they dismiss as “low achievers”.
Some argue that we need to leave the EU because the single market’s rules are driving deregulation and privatisation. They certainly need reform. But it was not the EU that privatised our railways. It was the Conservative Government of John Major and many of our rail routes are now run by other European nations’ publicly owned rail companies. They haven’t made the mistake of asset stripping their own countries.
Labour is committed to bringing rail back into public ownership in 2020. And that is why Labour MEPs are opposing any element of the fourth rail package, currently before the European Parliament, that might make that more difficult.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is also a huge cause for concern, but we defeated a similar proposal before in Europe, together when it was called the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, back in 1998.
Labour MEPs are rightly opposing the Investor-State Dispute Mechanism opposing any attempt to enforce privatisation on our public services, to reduce consumer rights, workplace protections or environmental standards.
The free market enthusiasts in the Leave campaign would put all those protections at risk. Labour is building alliances to safeguard them.
We must also put human rights at the centre of our trade agreements, not as an optional add-on. We already have allies across Europe to do that. And the EU is vital for promoting human rights at home. As a result of EU directives and regulations, disabled people are protected from discrimination. Lifts, cars and buses need to be accessible, as does sea and air travel.
And it was the Labour Government that signed the Human Rights Act into UK law that transferred power from government – not to Brussels – but to individual citizens.
Climate change is the greatest threat that humanity faces this century. And Britain cannot tackle it alone. We could have the best policies possible but unless we act together internationally, it is worthless. Labour brought in the Climate Change Act, John Prescott played a key role in getting the Kyoto Protocols agreed. Labour has led the debate within Europe.
But despite David Cameron pledging to lead the greenest Government ever, Britain still lags far behind most of Europe in terms of renewable energy production. We have much to learn from what Germany has done in particular.
The Conservative Government has cut subsidies for solar power while increasing subsidies for diesel. It has cut regulatory burdens on fracking yet increased regulations on onshore wind. They say one thing, but do another.
Again, it has been regulations agreed in Europe that have improved Britain’s beaches and waterways and that are forcing us to tackle the scandal of air pollution which will kill 500,000 people in Britain by 2025, unless we act.
Working together in the European Union is vital for tackling climate change and vital in protecting the environment we share.
No doubt debate about EU membership in the next couple of months will focus strongly on jobs and migration. We live in an increasingly globalised world. Many of us will study, work or even retire abroad at some point in our lives.
Free movement has created opportunities for British people. There are nearly three-quarters of a million British people living in Spain and over two million living in the EU as a whole.
Learning abroad and working abroad, increases the opportunities and skills of British people and migration brings benefits as well as challenges at home.
But it’s only if there is government action to train enough skilled workers to stop the exploitation of migrant labour to undercut wages and invest in local services and housing in areas of rapid population growth that they will be felt across the country.
And this Government has done nothing of the sort. Instead, its failure to train enough skilled workers means we have become reliant on migration to keep our economy functioning.
This is especially true of our NHS which depends on migrant nurses and doctors to fill vacancies. This Government has failed to invest in training, and its abolition of nurses’ bursaries, and its decision to pick a fight with junior doctors is likely to make those shortages worse.
As a former representative of NHS workers, I value our NHS and admire the dedication of all its staff. It is Labour’s proudest creation. But right now, it would be in even greater crisis if many on the Leave side had their way. Some of whom have argued against the NHS and free healthcare on demand in principle.
And of course it is EU regulations that that underpin many rights at work, like holiday entitlement, maternity leave, rights to take breaks and limits to how many hours we can work, and that have helped to improve protection for agency workers.
The Tories and UKIP are on record as saying they would like to cut back EU-guaranteed workplace rights if they could.
A Labour government would instead strengthen rights at work making common cause with our allies to raise employment standards throughout Europe, to stop the undercutting of wages and conditions by unscrupulous employers, to strengthen the protection of every worker in Europe.
Just imagine what the Tories would do to workers’ rights here in Britain if we voted to leave the EU in June. They’d dump rights on equal pay, working time, annual leave, for agency workers, and on maternity pay as fast as they could get away with it. It would be a bonfire of rights that Labour governments secured within the EU.
Not only that, it wouldn’t be a Labour government negotiating a better settlement for working people with the EU. It would be a Tory government, quite possibly led by Boris Johnson and backed by Nigel Farage, that would negotiate the worst of all worlds: a free market free-for-all shorn of rights and protections.
It is sometimes easier to blame the EU, or worse to blame foreigners, than to face up to our own problems. At the head of which right now is a Conservative Government that is failing the people of Britain.
There is nothing remotely patriotic about selling off our country and our national assets to the highest bidder. Or in handing control of our economy to City hedge-funds and tax-dodging corporations based in offshore tax havens.
There is a strong socialist case for staying in the European Union. Just as there is also a powerful socialist case for reform and progressive change in Europe.
That is why we need a Labour government, to stand up – at the European level – for industries and communities in Britain, to back public ownership and public services, to protect and extend workers’ rights and to work with our allies to make both Britain and Europe work better for working people.
Many people are still weighing up how they will vote in this referendum. And I appeal to everyone, especially young people – who will live longest with the consequences – to make sure you are registered to vote. And vote to keep Britain in Europe this June. This is about your future.
By working together across our continent, we can develop our economies protect social and human rights, tackle climate change and clamp down on tax dodgers.
You cannot build a better world unless you engage with the world, build allies and deliver change. The EU, warts and all, has proved itself to be a crucial international framework to do that. That is why I will be am backing Britain to remain in Europe and I hope you will too."
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
However imperfect Labour’s internal democratic procedures are, in the run up to the last General Election it adopted a promising set of National Policy Forum Reports which shaped its Election Manifesto. The problem is that it did not make any effective use of its programme either with its own members nor at the hustings. I summarized its programme (selectively?) in no less than 180 briefly presented points shown for access here.
Whilst many of the points were (a) generalisations and needed to have harder edges and (b) still had gaps despite their size and scope; there is only a very small handful which I feel that any of us should have had serious reservations about. Would it not, therefore, be helpful for the Labour Party to stress that (until specific items are subject to change via Party Conference) these points should stand and shape its parliamentary actions? I don’t see any problems in Jeremy Corbyn adopting such a stance. This can be done whilst still suggesting which areas need to be clarified, what needs to be added and where possible changes can be made (subject to Conference’s agreement).
This approach could be adopted in ways that would make it difficult for right-wing critics of Jeremy to create a groundswell of opposition within the Labour Party and it might help to reign in over-the top tactics from the hard left. Yet it could give us a clear opportunity for Labour to start out on a programme which gradually and realistically stood a chance of placing what many of the electorate could come to see as being acceptable and relevant moves onto our agenda.