Sunday, May 01, 2016

Ken Livingstone and John Mann

 
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.

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" by DAVID STEAD



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

Jeremy At His Best - That EU Speech

 Image result for Jeremy Corbyn EU
"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

Jeremy's Tactics

 
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.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Housing In Crisis


ILP Seminar at Leeds on 5 March, 2016 on “Housing In Crisis”. A Report.


These are notes I took from the day's talks and discussions, plus my own thoughts.

A. Dr Quinton Bradley – The Housing Crisis Weaponised.

The 'Housing and Planning Bill, 2015-16' is currently in its late stages in the Lords. See -

There will be no more affordable houses, instead houses for home ownership or privately rented.

With “affordable” legally set at £450,000 in London and £250,000 elsewhere.

There will only be “starter” houses by Local Authorities and public grants via Housing Associations.

Shared ownership” is stressed, which is a most unpopular form. But it is a main prospect by 2020. This gives a 25% share of the ownership, with a subsidised rent on the remainder. It puts the holder of the “remainder” in control to what is to be done within the property. This approach has led to crisis. From 2008, it moved many people into pure renting. It is also a transfer to people on higher incomes who are not in financial need.

40% of “rights to buy” end up in the private rented sector.

There is a forced sale of council houses in high value areas. In London Boroughs this is 90% of Council Houses. 2.5 million houses have been lost via “Right to Buy”.

See also http://england.shelter.org.uk/support_us/campaigns/council_homes

Only 7% of Council Tenants are either on or above £40,000 in London or on £30,000 elsewhere. There is an end of security for Council Tenants. New tenancies are limited to 5 years, but can be renewed, except where a partner has died and a smaller house is seen as being “needed”.

There is a right to buy for Housing Association Tenants, so the Association then needs to purchase and find a replacement.

Two and a half million Council Houses have been sold off.

In the Autumn Statement, housing benefit can only go to 30% of those who are on private sector rents.

There will be no more supported housing.

There will be reduced incomes to Housing Associations, so they will make cuts in their operations.

There will be a transfer of house building from areas of need to higher value areas.

There have been reductions in Housing Grants from the early 1990s.

In 2008 Labour's Caroline Flint ended secure tenancy for Council Tenants.

He mentioned what he called the 1972 Heath “Fair Rents Act” (This was the
Housing Finance Act” which Clay Cross rebelled against.).

In 1970 nationally there were 30% in Council Houses, this collapsed from 1983.

Yet there is a decent European-wide model. In 2011 they had the following Council Housing – Holland 35%, Austria (next or the same HB) ), Denmark 19%, Sweden 18%, UK 17%, USA 3%.

The EU anti-competition rule of 2010 hits Council Housing.

There is a rise in house prices due to the collapse of Council Housing.

There is also a decline in home ownership. In 2003 it was 71% and is 65.1% today. Many of the full owners are pensioners. The private sector rents have risen. There is a 40% increase in profits by Barratts, although they build less – concentrating on where they can make money.

B. Fabian Hamilton MP for Leeds North East – Building Homes For Britain.

He spoke to his publication entitled “Building Homes For Britain” (published November 2015). A summary can be found here -

The full report can be found via a link contained at the end of the above summary. I did not take notes from this session as I obtained a copy of the report, for which I have provided the above link. It is a very important document.

In answering points raised from the floor of the meeting Fabian Hamilton was supported by Simon Jose who had researched and edited the report.


I also decided I would subsequently re-examine the following link which contains points I had previously drawn from Labour's appropriate Policy Forum Report. Especially see points 4 to 8 on housing-

Debates on the current “Housing and Planning” Bill, with John Healy MP as Labour's spokesperson are also of relevance. Here is a repeat link which leads to these -.

C. Ellen Robottom of the Campaign for Decent, Secure and Affordable Housing.

This is her organisation's web-site which is entitled “Hands Off Our Homes - Leeds”
http://handsoffourhomes.org.uk/ It contains six important sections to link into.

Much as the organisation's considerable efforts have centred around giving advice and regular assistance over the impact of the Bedroom Tax which has effected 13,000 households in Leeds. Those effected are in more isolated areas than almost anywhere in the country, which has produced a range of mental and other diseases. Help has mainly been provided as a result of regular door-knocking activities. Many homes having been visited at least three times.

Case work covers many essential activities which should have been undertaken by the Council, but was not being covered by them.

Concern was expressed that at the key time when the Housing and Planning Bill was in front of the Commons, the media gave the issue little or no coverage. This was not helped by the fact that Labour was undertaking its headline grabbing Shadow Cabinet re-shuffle at this crucial time.

There is a considerable need to place developments around the Bill at the top of Labour's Agenda. There is a clear need for those of us who are active in the Labour Party to ensure that this matter is pushed to the top of Labour's agenda.

In my own case, my Constituency includes Clay Cross which was at the centre of the struggle against the Housing Finance Act back in 1972, see - http://threescoreyearsandten.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-clay-cross-rent-rebellion.html

In fact the first item I ever wrote for the ILP was for “Labour Leader” on the issue of the Clay Cross struggle, which was still a major item then in October 1975. Even in 1977 and 1978 our Constituency Labour Party was still able to force the Clay Cross issue as a key item onto the Labour Party Conference Agenda.

It should also be noted that the one big success of the first minority Labour Government in 1924 was the housing legislation introduced by John Wheatly of the ILP.  It gave a considerable boost to the building of Council Housing which was picked up by Labour controlled Councils which were growing significantly in that period. We could do with that history repeating itself. See -  http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/towncountry/towns/collections/labhousing1/housea2/ (unfortunately this link needs to be pasted as it will not work for me as a direct link).


We and others now need to get the current situation to the top of Labour's agenda. The content of this ILP Day-School needs to stimulate us all into action. Let us get into a position where we can follow its lessons on such an important matter. 

Corrections from those who attended the Seminar are welcome. As are comments on where we go from here. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Labour : Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

 
"Labour Leader" 13 July 1895.

Gilbert and Sullivan's "Iolanthe" was first performed at the Savoy Theatre  on 25 November 1882. One of their songs includes the words - "...every boy and every gal that's born alive, is either a little Liberal or else a little Conservat-ive!"

This sentiment reflects the state of parliamentary politics in that era. The results in the two preceding General Elections were - 1874 : Conservatives 350, Liberals 242 (Prime Minister - Disraeli) - 1880 Liberals 352, Conservatives 237 (Prime Minister - Gladstone). The only MPs from outside these camps were those elected as Home Rule candidates from Ireland,  60 of them in 1874 and 63 in 1880. For Ireland was not to gain its full independence from the United Kingdom until 1921.

Given the dominance of Con-Lib politics, the feasible avenues which those with socialist and labouring interests should then pursue was very unclear. Here were some of the alternatives they employed.

1. The avenue with the earliest element of success was via labour movement activists working with and through the Liberal Party.  The above 1874 figures for Liberal MPs include Thomas Burt and Alexander MacDonald, both of whom had trade union and mining backgrounds. In 1880, they were joined in the Commons by the Secretary of the TUC’s Parliamentary Committee, Henry Broadhurst. These were known as Lib-Labs.

In constituencies where working class men formed a good percentage of the electorate, the Liberal Party were at times willing to run such candidates. For the workers could deliver votes. The extension of the franchise in 1884 to wider groups of working class men who lived in rural areas (including many more miners) added to this trend. As did a fairer system of constituency structures in 1885. So by we reach 1906, 24 MPs were elected as Lib-Labs. But when the Miners' Federation finally voted to affiliate to the Labour Party, 14 of the Lib-Lab MPs from their Union followed this line and moved over into the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1909.  Lib-Labism then went further into decline as the Labour Party grew.

2.  In 1881 Hyndman founded the Democratic Federation, which became the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1884 which then had an explicitly socialist platform.  Hyndman having written a work called "England for All" which was based on Marx's "Das Capital". The SDF had a chequered history. It joined with TUC, the Independent Labour Party and the Fabian Society in 1900 in the formation of the Labour Party: which from 1900 to 1906 was known as the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). But it then left LRC quickly and did not even appear at the LRC Conference by 1902.

In parliamentary elections between 1885 and 1918, it ran 46 parliamentary candidates. The only two of its candidates who ever came near to being elected were those it ran in 1900. The General Election fell in the short spell when the SDF was affiliated to the LRC - so these were also really LRC candidates. One was Will Thorne who stood in West Ham South with a vote of 44.7%. The other was George Lansbury with 36.7% at Bow and Bromley. These were hopeful performances as the LRC only took its first two seats at that election. Yet the SDF then left the LRC in August 1901 and thus any real hope of electoral success.


Although it had a chequered history, many who continued on the SDF route ended up in the Communist Party of Great Britain when it was founded in 1920.


3. The Fabian Society was founded in 1884, with Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw coming to exercise a considerable influence over its approach. At a time when labour interests were making only a marginal parliamentary impact, they adopted a policy of seeking to permeate their views via any avenue they judged to have political influence or power. This meant socialising (in deep political debate) with prominent Liberals and even Conservatives. And working from 1888 via the Progressive majority on London County Council. They were also, however, keen to influence fellow socialists and would readily meet with labour movement activists such as Keir Hardie. They also became part of the LRC from the time of its formation. As Labour progressed, Sidney Webb became more deeply involved with the Labour Party. In 1918 he shaped Labour's former Clause 4, which committed it to the "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". He also had a major impact in drawing up Labour's 1918 election manifesto and in propounding his socialist views on the "inevitability of gradualism".

4. William Morris had been a member of the SDF, but soon in late1884 he broke away from them to set up the "Socialist League" which advocated revolutionary international socialism and had an anarchist tendency. He decided the Fabian Society had too many middle class values for him to move to them. The Socialist League only lasted until 1889.   

5. The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was founded in Bradford in 1893. Keir Hardie was a major driving force behind its formation. He was one of three "Independent Labour" MPs who had been elected to parliament in 1892.  The idea in using the term "Independent" was to show that the ILP rejected the tactic of Lib-Labism and were entirely separate and opposed to the Liberal Party and its approach. The word "Labour" was used to indicate the class it was part of and whom it was making its appeal to. Although it saw itself as a socialist party, it did not wish to use that term in its title in case it frightened off working class support. For it might get confused in workers' minds with bodies such as the SDF. Then the ILP's socialist approach was not Marxist, but had more in common with the radical wing of the non-conformist tradition.  It has often been said that British Socialism had more to do with Methodism than Marxism. It fought for matters such as work for the unemployed, the eight hour day, healthy homes, fair rents and democratic government.

The ILP's parliamentary start was not promising. None of its candidates were successful in 1895, not even Keir Hardie.

6.  But then the ILP worked through the Parliamentary Committee of the TUC to help set up what later became the Labour Party. In 1900 delegates from the ILP, the Fabian Society, the SDF and (dominantly) a large number of Trade Unions met to establish the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), which became known as the Labour Party from after the 1906 General Election.  

In the 1900 election itself the LRC took two parliamentary seats. Keir Hardie winning at Merthyr and Richard Bell at Derby. Although he was the initial Treasurer of the LRC, Bell later developed strong Liberal links. But the sign that the Labour project was firmly on the road came in 1906, when Labour took 29 seats and elected Keir Hardie as the first leader of its Parliamentary Party.

Current Labour Party members who look back on the five options above are likely to identify themselves with the formation of the Labour Party itself and perhaps with the early role of the ILP.  Some may see themselves as also being in the Fabian tradition. But if we could somehow transport ourselves back to those times, the choices in front of us would then have been rather confusing. For we would by no means have been certain as to which approach would be the most successful.

In time, the above Gilbert and Sullivan song would merely be a matter of history. For in 1951 with a turnout of 82.5%, no less than 96.8 % of the electorate voted either Labour or Conservative. Labour winning marginally more votes, but the Conservatives taking more seats. It then seemed that "every boy and every gal that's born alive, is either a little Labourite or else a little Conservat-ive!"

But what of today?  At the last General Election some seven million people were missing from the electoral registers and that figure is likely to get much worse under the new arrangements for individual electoral registration. Then we only had a turnout of 66.1% in 2015. Within a climate of widespread non-registration and much non-voting, the Conservatives and Labour only managed 67.3% of the vote between them. With non-registration and non-voting, voting for the two "main" parties has now become a minority sport.

So what should a democratic socialist do today?  Here are some options.

a.  Plod on in the Labour Party. But if so how? At one end of the spectrum there is now Momentum and at the other end there is Progress. If neither attract us, then do we need to bang their heads together ?  Or should we work for some sort of synthesis which takes the best from the two extremes, whilst ditching the worst?  Then, perhaps working through groups such as the Fabians and the today's ILP (Independent Labour Publications) can help us maintain our sanity.

b. There is also the Co-operative Party - whether we also hold a Labour Party Membership card or not.  That may depend on the depth of our co-operative views.

c. Or should we look for other avenues ? What of the Greens, Ken Loache's "Left Unity", the Socialist Party as the successors to Militant, the Socialist Workers Party, Respect, the SNP if we live in Scotland and so on and on ?

d. Then there is the alternative (or the addition) of participating in forms of pressure group politics. There is the Trade Union Movement, 38 Degrees, We Own It  and over a 100 others listed on this link. We are all likely to have some connections with some of these and with local alternatives. But should we now opt for this avenue as our main approach and get out of Party politics? 

e. And what about international links ? Should they not be a key part of our agenda ? The European Union has the the Party of European Socialists with 33 full members in 27 of its 28 nations, plus Norway. Yet as the world becomes more interconnected and conflict driven, we often seem to fall back into our own shells.

Democratic socialists in Britain seem to me to be in the type of dilemma which they faced in the late 19th Century. What is the best path forward ?  But whilst we can survey the past and work for the future, we can't be sure which avenue (or any) will deliver.

At the moment I am for sticking with the Labour Party and working for a possible synthesis between its extremes as a means of tacking and manoeuvring in a democratic socialist direction, whilst encouraging avenues for pressure group politics and international agendas. But if I look as if I have got it wrong, please let me know the best alternatives.   

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Why Labour Lost The General Election

 
In the Labour Party Report "Learning the Lessons from Defeat" (by Margaret Beckett) there is an important section which states "for  all  the  strength  of  our  policies,  much  of  the  evidence  we  have  received  speaks  of  a  lack  of  public  awareness  of  much  of  their  content.  We  have  also  heard  of  a  perception  that,  while  individual  policies were  often  sound  and  popular,  we  lacked  the  early  adoption  of  a  consistent  overarching  narrative  or  theme,  which  could  be  simply  expressed  and  conveyed  on  the  doorstep,  or  in  the  studio."

Unfortunately, this point is not then elaborated upon and is not pushed to the top of the Report's analysis. It has been missed from most of the recent commentaries on the Report.

Yet Labour (especially via its Policy Forums) developed a comprehensive set of policies in the run up to the General Election, which should have been distilled and pushed for a considerable period before voting day. There were umpteen platforms that could have been used for this purpose. These platforms included the European Elections, the Scottish Referendum, the 2014 Labour Party Annual Conference and during the months running up to the fixed period of the General Election. In the circumstances (as time ran out) Labour was even late in publishing its General Election Manifesto. I wonder who ever even read it?

Whilst this was a collective failure of those at the top of the Labour Party and especially by Ed Miliband as our leader, it was a specific and direct failure by Douglas Alexander. He was Chair of Labour's Strategy for the General Election. Little wonder he then lost his own parliamentary seat in Scotland.

Labour had a mass of relevant policies for the General Election, which hardly ever saw the light of day. I listed 180 of Labour's proposals over 16 items on this blog between 8 and 20 November 2014. They can be found via this link.  These clearly needed distilling into a set of easy to handle points.Whilst this can technically be said to have been done in a ten point set of proposals which was eventually circulated on a single occasion, opportunity after opportunity was missed when contacting and organising Labour's membership. All that Labour was after was our money and canvassing activities, which had no real political script. Except, of course, for the big policy idea of that one off slab of concrete. Whoever looked at what that said?

I have made the above claims on various occasions and to Margaret Beckett's enquiry. See, for instance via this link.