Sunday, June 30, 2019

Natascha Gets It Wrong Again

Image result for Zero Carbon Target

On 28 June the following item appeared in the Times newspaper from Natascha Engel the former MP for NE Derbyshire and former Shale Gas Commissioner. I then give my criticisms of her stance.         
Net-zero carbon target is reckless and unrealistic
natascha engel

As Theresa May takes to the G20 stage in Japan to urge her fellow leaders to follow the UK’s moral leadership on climate change, she should hope that their parting gift is, politely, to ignore her.

As impressive as the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 sounds, other countries will recognise the capacity it has to destroy UK plc for generations to come. The lack of scrutiny of what would be the most expensive and socially disruptive public policy since the Second World War is truly remarkable.

The announcement and cross-party self-congratulations last week were short on any ideas about how we get there and who picks up the tab. The chancellor has estimated that the cost would be more than £1 trillion. That’s £1,000 every second for the next 30 years.

That may please our international competitors but it’s unlikely to be a domestic vote winner. Given that the UK contributes just 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also unlikely to have any effect on climate change.

The problem with putting targets into law is that no amount of legislating can make magic happen. In fact, we have seen too often how setting a target distracts us from what we are trying to achieve and results only in the time-honoured massaging of statistics.

Recently the Department for Business published the impressive fact that in 2018 “total UK greenhouse gas emissions were 43.5 per cent lower than in 1990”. This sounds remarkably like we are on track (or very nearly) to meet the 100 per cent target.

A few days later, the Department for Environment published a less selective statistic which included the UK’s consumption emissions. These include, for example, the carbon emitted in the steel we now import from China after Redcar was closed (at a cost of more than 2,000 jobs) and our doubled coal imports from Russia, with a fivefold higher carbon footprint compared with coal mined in the UK. Added together, our actual carbon reductions since 1997 are 3.4 per cent.

So our carbon emissions over the past 20 years have dropped by less than 5 per cent — and we think we can reduce them by 100 per cent in the next 30 years?

About 80 per cent of the world’s energy use still comes from oil, coal and gas. If we want global emissions to fall we need to decarbonise, to capture and store carbon dioxide. Developing the technology and making it pay is what other countries might buy from us. Meaningless targets and virtue signalling, on the other hand, will simply be ignored.

Natascha Engel was the UK’s first commissioner for shale gas.

Natascha ignores the fact that the UK is in a key position to seek to lead the world in moving away from the considerable dangers of greenhouse gas emissions. And thus be able to press other nations (especially via international institutions) into following our proposed pattern. We can lead by example.

We have (a) a huge coast line for our size which experiences masses of tidal waves, (b) with numerous running rivers down to the sea, (c) persistent winds which are growing due to the results of the world's gas emissions and (d) periods of record sunshine. Under modern technology we are in a position to expand considerably on our use of such power sources.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions we are, in fact, in 17th position out of the world's 187 nations. If we take a lead in removing greenhouse emissions, we begin to be in a key position to influence developments in much large nations such China, the USA, India and Russia who because of their sizes are currently responsible for 53.6% of the world's harmful emissions.
We can take a lead towards climate change (1) by example (2) by doing our bit (3) in working on and with other nations to extend our objectives and (4) using pressures inside international institutions.

We can't just sit back and do nothing if we wish to save the planet. One item would be to drop the idea of fracking.

Added by Bob Street on the Coal Aston and Dronfield Against Fracking site -

Excellent Harry, thank you for this, but forgive me for saying I think you've missed a trick ... that the UK is currently in the forefront of developing new technologies for harnessing renewable energy and for battery storage. With the right kind of investment and encouragement from Government we have the potential to be world leaders in this field and to manufacture and market our equipment internationally for the benefit of our economy whilst helping to reduce global reliance on fossil fuels.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Suggested Priorities for Democratic Socialists

See my proposals on the Independent Labour Publications (ILP) web-site here, where subject to moderation comments can easily be placed.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

To What Extent Does Labour Have A Problem Of Antisemitism ?

2939105950                                                                                                                                                                       In my blog of 27 March (two items below this one) I put forward the case for people pursuing the "dialectics of debate" over political issues. For in a serious discussion which goes beyond mere point scoring, sometimes a third position can be reached which is more satisfactory and deeper than the initial two opposing sides to a case. Yet it can be more than just a compromise between two conflicting approaches. And will provide a deeper understanding.

This is an approach which I feel is essential for the current labour movement, but is seldom pursued. Instead people are too often given to sloganising from their own political perspectives rather than engaging in serious discussion and debate. This often leads to people making dramatic claims for their different stances, without giving due weight to other considerations.

An issue which would benefit from the form of detailed and comradely debate which I advocate is the matter of whether there is a significant and worrying problem of strands of antisemitism within the Labour Party - and if so how this can best be tackled.  It is (hopefully) within the spirit of the dialectics of debate that I will now test out aspects of a detailed and researched document by Prof Alan Johnson which claims that antisemitism in the Labour Party is indeed a major and serious problem.

He has produced a 105 page document to support his claims, to which are then added no less than 302 references many of which can be looked into by using the internet links which he is generous in supplying. I know of no more detailed and fully researched publication on the issue. Even though it is from one side of the case only. His work (as shown on the cover above) is entitled "Institutionally Antisemitic : Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party". It is a Fantham publication which can be found here.

It is a serious contribution, but I feel that it can nevertheless be questioned in numbers of areas and that some of its sources actually point in directions which the author does not share.

He presents no less than 134 examples of claimed antisemitic practices. Yet 12 of these in one section relate to left-wing avenues outside of the Labour Party, such as the Morning Star. So these are rather being used as quilt by association. Then some others show that the Labour Party has not really been guilty of ignoring the issue. For 43 items deal with people who have experienced suspensions from membership over the matter. These include 18 who were later re-admitted, 17 who seemingly remained suspended at his time of writing, 3 who resigned, 3 expelled and two barred as Council Candidates.

The remaining 79 examples are more complicated to summarize. Some are already in the public domain. These include Jeremy Corbyn's well known position over a wall mural, Tom Watson's non-detailed claim that he knows of 50 cases, Luciana Berger's generalized claims which due to her subsequent departure from the Labour Party may mean that these will never be fully presented nor examined, plus Margaret Hodge's claim to have sent an unpublished dossier to the police. Many such examples tend to be difficult to fully cash into.

Although Johnson points to antisemitic positions which have been taken place within the Labour Party dating back to remarks by Keir Hardie, he concentrates more on claimed recent developments. In drawing his conclusion he is especially critical of the role of Corbyn and of those close to him. For instance, Andrew Murray is highlighted. He only joined the Labour Party at the end of 2016 after 40 years as a Communist and was seconded by UNITE to Labour HQ for the 2017 General Election. Corbyn's links with Murray developed  especially from the latter being a Chair of the "Stop The War Coalition" which opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Corbyn was fully active via that body. 

As both Johnson and myself eventually came to clash with Corbyn and others on developments around this matter, I will now deal with our concerns. For they may still shape Johnson's current feelings about Corbyn. Whilst I initially participated with "Labour Against The War" who were a wing of the Stop the War Coalition and I joined in the mass demonstration that was held in London, both Johnson and myself later came to be highly critical of the line the Coalition took following the actual invasion of Iraq. For me, circumstances dramatically altered once the invasion had taken place. Whilst many of the practices of UK and USA operations in Iraq needed strong criticism (along with the fact that they were there at all), it was clear that the armies were not going to be pressed into upping sticks and leaving.  Circumstances alter cases. So both Johnson and myself felt that it was then necessary to press for feasible improvements in the internal conditions in Iraq. A key group who obtained our backing (and that of the TUC) was the quickly established Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).

The leader of the IFTU was Hadi Salah. On a visit to this country to build up practical support for their efforts he met with the TUC and I had the privilege to chair a meeting he addressed in the Commons. Later he returned to Iraq. Along with some other IFTU activists he was then murdered by reactionary Iraqis.

Johnson along with Abullah Muhsin then wrote a fine TUC publication entitled "Hadi Never Died : Hadi Salah and the Iraqi Trade Unions" - for Hadi's ideas lived on. Numbers of our Trade Unions supplied the IFTU with practical support. Earlier Muhsin had been an underground opponent of Sadam Hussain and had escaped from Iraq immediately upon voting against him in a rigged election for President. In this country Johnson, Muhsin and myself where amongst those who participated in a body called "Labour Friends of Iraq"  and supported the IFTU's development. Then on a visit to Iraq in 2006, I was presented with a prized possession - a certificate of honoury membership of the IFTU. It was in recognition of the supportive work of "Labour Friends of Iraq".

Unfortunately, the Stop the War Coalition (with Corbyn) did not see how circumstances and needs had changed after Iraq was invaded. They came up with the impractical and dangerous demand that "any methods possible" should be used to remove the occupying forces. This was just not effectively going to happen and was a harmful approach. Instead support and assistance for progressive elements in Iraq (and those working with them) was then the priority. Such was the line taken by Labour Friends of Iraq for whom I was a Joint President and which Mushin and Johnson had links with. As part of the dispute I placed an appropriate Early Day Motion on the Commons Order Paper, but Corbyn put down a hard line amendment in support of the Coalition's stance. (See here, you may need to click into the amendment at the close.)

In fact when Jeremy stood for the leadership of the Labour Party, I never voted for him (sending in a spoilt ballot paper on the second vote). There were other grounds for my actions, but when it came to the Arab world I felt that his judgment was often suspect. Although Johnson and myself have both been critical of many aspects of Isreali policy and have looked towards a two state solution to assist Palestinians, we both felt that in his own approach to such matters Corbyn had worked too closely and uncritically with bodies such as Hamas.

But Johnson and I part company in seeing Corbyn as being basically soft on antisemitism. I spent 18 years as an MP in the Socialist Campaign Group alongside Corbyn and although the situation in the Middle East provided scope for discussion, I never heard him (nor Ken Livingstone whom I shared an office with for a period) express antisemitic ideas. For instance, Corbyn fully and strongly condemned serious antisemitic actions such as the killing of 25 Jewish people and the injury of over 300 at two Istanbul synagogues in 2003. He did not choose just to ignore such hateful events. See here. 

 I also feel that in becoming leader, Corbyn has seen the need to to be much less cavalier about the avenues he uses on a whole host of issues, including tackling the plight of the Palestinian people. It is one thing having a regular go on issues in the Commons from the back benches for 32 years before he became leader and also tub thumping from public platforms. Suddenly to jump straight into the position of leader of the opposition is a massively different ball game. Corbyn had never before then seriously sort for even the most junior of Labour Government or opposition post.  The methods he now uses to further Palestinian rights need to be crafted to fit his new stance. He is in a stronger position to aid his cause, but has to work through the reality of where he now stands and try to hold the Parliamentary Labour Party together around his approach. He is now seeking to do this on some other issues. Such an approach can also help to clear away what some see as the remnants of elements of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Labour's collective attitude to the Palestine-Israel situation needs to draw from moves which happened in Northern Ireland to achieve (the still imperfect yet dramatic) move to peace and reconciliation between Protestant and Catholic communities. Such an approach requires us to press for collective and humane developments across the boards.

A matter which concerns me from Johnson's side of the case is his stress on the use of the 13 point International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. As a rough guide the definition can, of course, have its uses. But it must not be handled in such a way that someone can just argue gleefully "we have got you on item x".  It is only when you look at the wider context in which a person's remarks are made that you can work out how relevant an HRA point is to their general stance.

I feel that a dictionary style definition of antisemitism is enough for the basis of our use of the term. My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines an antisemite as "a person hostile to or prejudiced against Jews". Then Wittgenstein (the break-through philosopher of language analysis) pointed out that the meaningful uses (especially of judgmental words) each have their own family resemblance. This means that most of us using and understanding a dictionary definition of antisemitism and also acting carefully should be able reasonably to judge whether someone is saying something that is antisemitic or not. So whilst a list of 13 examples of forms of antisemitism by the HRA may have its uses in showing the depth of the use of a term, it may not even cover every possibility. Whilst the weight of a lengthy list can over egg its useage.  It is the context, stress, depth and use of a term which relates to its meaning in a specific context. On the danger that a 13 point list may even come to miss out on a particular instance, no lengthy list can cater for every possibility of the way a word can legitimately be used. Innovations of legitimate usuage are always possible. Discourse can be both creative and informative. Yet we should still be able to judge if a usage is legitimate or not. Words are not just restricted for use for those with encylopedic check lists.

We all need to be free to employ normal language. It is not just for specialists. If someone points out that the way we have spoken could have antisemitic implications for some reason, then most of us would readjust what we have said to overcome any such danger. For with such refinements we should not be frightened to discuss Jewish issues or the activities of the State of Isreal. For we are otherwise in danger of avoiding subjects which should be solidly part of the dialectics of debate. Without discussions (which can avoid extremes) we avoid important avenues of understanding which we can arrive at via the dialectics of debate - although such debates tend to have no end.  This is all needed as much on the issue of anti-semitism as for almost on any other issue related to politics.

It is 62 years since I first joined the Labour Party where Manny Shinwell was my local MP and was of Jewish decent.  In all that time I have never (face to face) come across anti-semitic utterances in a Labour Party context. Some of this could arise from the fact my Labour Party activity at grass roots level has been in constituencies with no significant Jewish populations and I have not then heard an anti-semitic remark or concerns arising out of coversations.

In fact the only time I have came across such an anti-semitic comment face to face was in a South Yorkshire Miners Day Release Class which I was teaching. The adult student making the offensive comment was immediately challenged by another miner who had a Jewish wife. But there was no great ranchor between the two as everyone in the class were friendly with each other. Without my hammering the person responsible for the offensive remark, I encouraged a debate on the issue. Then although the person who had made the offensive remark never completely back-tracked, we finally all left for a coffee break and did the normal intermingling.  Perhaps openness and comradeship can help overcome such divisions. The person who made the offensive comment never repeated it again in our later meetings. And he was a good solid student on other issues.

Tackling antisemitism within a non antisemitic organisation should be possible via the dialectics of debate. The more Labour engages in internal debate and in the shaping of its overall policies, the easier it should be to transcend any pockets of antisemitism. But it does require people debating with each other. Some of this can be done via the internet if we move beyond its regular uses for point scoring. But the beauty of meeting and socialising is that debate can take place amongst comrades who can look into each others eyes.

I have an admiration for Alan Johnson's considerable efforts on the antisemitism issue (which we can all delve into), but I feel that his evidence and his general stance can be checked out and do not properly establish that Labour under Corbyn has become more antisemitic than during the years prior to his leadership. It seems to me to have usually been a slender problem. Any current problems which can be unearthed should, of course, be tackled. Yet (except in extreme cases) a sensitive approach might work and pull offenders away from such influences.  For the dialectics of debate can help overcome many remaining problems. It is a technique we should push for. Whilst there is always the backstop of discipline and expulsions for persistent and deep cases.      

Added 28 May.  Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission has announced that it is carrying out an enquiry into the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Its terms of reference state
"The Commission suspects that The Labour Party (‘the Party’) may have itself, and/or through its employees and/or agents, committed unlawful acts in relation to its members and/or applicants for membership and/or associates."
See the Commission's full terms of reference here.  

Added 21 July . See this lengthy Wikipedia item entitled "Anti-semitism in the UK Labour Party"  which at its close provides connections to no less than 439 items, one of which is Prof Alan Johnson's publication which I deal with above. Link here.   

Then there is also today's "Labour launches anti-Semitism guide to party members". Link here.

Added 3 August. See this telling article Link here. 



Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"Growing Inequality Threatens Democracy"

 Image result for Poverty UK
For key material on this serious situation see these three sources.

First there is this BBC News Item.

Then this report in the Guardian.

This is their source, from the Institute of Fiscal Studies.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Politics And The Dialectics Of Debate

 Derbyshire Miners Industrial Day Release Students 1983.

Especially concerning politics I have always had a commitment to the dialectics of debate.

Approaching my 21st birthday (and for the following four years) I wrote 29 letters to the Sunderland Echo and the Northern Echo in discussion with people such as the Chairman of Dorman Long on the issue of steel nationalisation and to the Secretary of the Durham Area Communist Party with a heading “Russia, with its privilege class, isn't Socialist”. Then some three months after my first letter I joined the Labour Party in order to participate in an essay competition on “Nationalisation” being run by Mannie Shinwell our local MP. I manage the second prize.

In the following year I became my local Labour Party branch Secretary and immediately arranged for them to have a speaker plus a debate at each alternative meeting. Soon afterwards a local Fabian Society was established and I became Secretary drawing in speakers such as Sam Watson the Durham Miner's leader. Our first speaker was the then General Secretary of the Fabian Society, Bill Rodgers. He was later to become part of the Gang of Four who set up the breakaway SDP. Many years later we met up as officers of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Strokes. So you can work with political opponents on specific matters.

I have always been keen to encourage and develop the holding of Labour Movement Discussion meetings.
At the age of 24 I went to study Politics and Economics full-time at the Ruskin College in Oxford, which in those days was for adults without formal qualifications. Lectures were followed by questions from students, seminars involving fuller discussions and weekly tutorials were held to discuss our written essays with tutors. After two years I then gained the qualifications to study Politics and Philosophy full-time at Hull University where similar methods of study took place. I came to appreciate the claim made way back by John Stuart Mill that the person who only knows their own side of the case, knows little of that.

Then for 21 years I mainly taught classes of trade unionists via the Sheffield University Extramural Department – especially coal miners, steel workers, railwaymen and classes of various shop stewards. The only shortcoming of these being that few women ever attended. A typical course would last over three years. A tutor would normally take a year's weekly class over 24 weeks, being with a class from 10am to 4pm each day. Sharing the coffee breaks and the lunch time period with students. The classes worked when the students were encouraged to involve themselves fully in debates and produced regular written work. Tutors got to know their students well and could draw people fully into debate as they came to appreciate their understandings and views on issues. It was fully the dialectics of debate. Any indoctrination by tutors would have been entirely inappropriate.

Depending upon their circumstances and commitments, numbers of such students went on to study at Adult Education Colleges such as Ruskin. Numbers of others became local Councillors, NUM branch officials, social workers or voluntary helpers for worthwhile causes. The very first class of South Yorkshire Miners I ever taught included a future MP, a future MEP and the NUM Branch Secretary at Cortonwood where the 1984 miners' strike emerged. It is a pattern we miss.

In time I also taught Philosophy on evening classes ran by our Department for adult students who had no formal qualifications, but were seeking places to study full-time in higher education especially at Sheffield University itself. Those who progressed via our range of classes were to achieve better degree results via Sheffield than the average normal intake. Our Department was also the only one with school inspectors and I was impressed when one of them took a full part in a discussion in one of the seminars I was running. I went on to become the Director for these courses, which unlike the Trade Union classes drew in a majority percentage of female students.

When I became an MP from 1987 to 2005, my pattern of the dialectics of debate came under something of a challenge. Procedural arrangements, whipping and Government control of the main agenda became the order of the day. This probably shaped my fairly regular rebelling against Tony Blair. But there were other openings for me to pursue. Select Committee work looks into different sided issues . I went for matters such as European Legislation and developments in Northern Ireland which gave plenty of scope for fully-fledged debates and are key areas today. Then parliamentary colleagues (some from other than the Labour Party) could be contacted to be drawn into official or unofficial meetings to discuss concerns about Derbyshire County issues, Civil Rights for Disabled People, Electoral Registration and other matters. Then there were plenty others initiatives by others that could be followed, such as concerns to protect remaining and former coal mining communities.

I have always been keen to arrange for Labour Party Discussion Meetings. Shortly after arriving in Dronfield 50 years ago I became the local Constituency's Political Education Officer. Then under different hats helped to arrange many debates in Dronfield under the umbrella of its Branch, a local Fabian Society and the modern ILP - Independent Labour Publications. I have just finished a 12 year period as the Dronfield Labour Party Political Education Officer covering over 130 discussions in that time – including one on the exact day itself  of the 120th anniversary of Keir Hardie and others meeting to found the ILP. Such meetings are now being continued by others.

I am very much aware that today we have a new technology where discussions take place on web-sites. There seem to me to be two problems we need to tackle. First, those using comment boxes far too often make crude opposing comments, rather than seeking to enter into genuine and meaningful debates. It is rather like people just farting at each other. Monitoring by the operators of web-sites can contain this type of activity, but only a growth of serious initial contributions and similar forms of responses can deliver their potential. And it is a potential that related discussion meetings (under the dialectics of debate) need adding to.

There are also educational needs to incorporate the type of avenues I stressed above into our modern era of a changed technology.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Labour's Problems.

Image result for 7 Labour MPs

Labour's current parliamentary turmoil is reflected in the fact that 16 of its MPs have now either defected or have been suspended since the last General Election. And they may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Amongst these, how can numbers of former Labour MPs (such as the seven above) desert the very Constituency Labour Parties who adopted and nurtured them as successful parliamentary candidates for periods of up to 26 years ?

Constituency Labour Party activists should have been rubbing shoulders with these MPs for ages. Receiving regular reports back from them about their parliamentary and constituency activities, supplying organisers and activists for their parliamentary campaigns and being an avenue for passing on local problems which needed to be pursued via parliamentary avenues.

With such friends, associates and contacts these rebellious MPs could have discussed their concerns about the operations of the Labour leadership, eventually announcing their intentions to stand down at the next General Election whilst then facilitating re-selection procedures for their replacement as future Labour Party Parliamentary Candidates.

They could even have stood down as MPs and created by-elections, deciding whether they would seek to be candidates and under what labels. If any forms of Constituency Party comradeship ever operated during these MPs' years in parliament, surely it should not recently have just counted for nothing.

I served as the Labour MP for North East Derbyshire from 1987 to 2005. In that time I issued 121 written reports for delegates to its Constituency Labour Party meetings. These were supplemented by verbal reports and questions and answers, The mid-term report No 61 was 15 pages long, including copies of relevant press reports and extracts from Hansard. My verbal report at that meeting centred on a Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) discussion concerning our overall strategy arising from a debate in the PLP introduced by Tony Blair when he was then leader of the opposition.

Under Blair's eventual Government there were some key moves which I gave my active backing to, such as the peace process in Northern Ireland and the introduction of the minimum wage. But there were also many matters over which I rebelled, including the invasion of Iraq and the ending of public payments of student's university fees. The academic Philip Cowley showed that I rebelled against the Labour Whip 72 times between 1997 and 2003 – there were more to follow in my remaining two years. Yet Jeremy Corbyn outstripped me substantially, with 151 rebellions in Cowley's six year period.

I did, however, keep my Constituency Party fully informed of my voting practises. Did the recently departed MPs do the same ?


 Image result for Labour and Brexit

One of the main reasons given for the formation of the new Independent Group of MPs was their support for a fresh referendum on Brexit. The Labour leadership having since their departure edged closer to the same position.

This is not a stance I favour for the Labour Party, as it is in conflict with the strongly expressed views of the bulk of our traditional working class in the referendum. I feel that it would be a massive error for us to detach ourselves from the very people whose wider interests we should be working to advance.

There have, of course, been dramatic changes over time in the make-up of the working class. At one time they worked and shared interconnected life styles in areas such as those dominated by coal mining, cotton and steel production. Being drawn into related trade union membership and engaging in collective forms of industrial pressure to further their well-being. Voting Labour added to their general interests in delivering the welfare state and other ranges of social provisions – whilst also pushing for such values when in opposition.

Today, working class employment is often only temporary or subject to disruptive zero hours contracts. And often poorly paid. The social networks which formally existed for the working class have been destroyed in an era of a changing individualistic technology. There is, for instance, a desperate need for deprived people to be drawn together in socially progressive avenues such as lifelong learning.

But if Labour loses the support of people from such damaged backgrounds, then these people's desperate needs are in danger of slipping off our agenda.

It is unfortunate that we ever had a referendum about leaving the EU, but as the decision to leave had solid working class support Labour should now honour it. Yet without going for the extreme dangers of a fully fledged hard Brexit, we need a genuine departure from its operations. If we could overcome the backstop problem which is contained in Teresa May's current deal, then this would give us a genuine EU departure and not a sham one. It is also just about as far as the EU is likely to go to accommodate our interests. We need a proper departure and not a sham one, such as still having EU controls over the operations of our links with them via its own form of Customs Union.

Whatever a Brexit departure eventually involves, Labour needs to develop a full and positive relationship with the Party of European Socialists to which it will still maintain full membership.


 Image result for Labour anti-semitism

The second reason given by former Labour MPs for joining the Independent Group of MPs is that we are riven with areas of anti-semitism. But even if a mass organisation like ours attracts unacceptable people now and again with extremist views, I don't see anti-semitism as being a widespread problem.

I initially joined the Labour Party back in 1957 due to an initiative made by the local Labour MP – Manny Shinwell. He had a Jewish background. I worked very closely with him and with many local Labour activists until I moved to Hull in 1963. In the Labour Party, I never once came across any references critical or hurtful about him or his background.

I am now approaching 50 years of activity within the Labour Party in North East Derbyshire, including serving 18 years as their MP. In parliament I shared an office with Ken Livingstone for a number of years and regularly came across Ken and Jeremy Corbyn together, especially at meetings of the Socialist Campaign Group. Middle East topics sometimes being on the agendas . But I have never personally came across anti-Semitic comments anywhere in Labour Party avenues throughout this full period – nor earlier or since..

I was, however, concerned that Jeremy seemed liable to link in too closely with Hamas and Hezbollah in criticising actions taken by the Israeli Government against Palestinians. I often, however, shared his criticism of various Israeli official moves. But I felt that some of those he associated himself with on such matters often went over the top. He has, however, moved to detach himself from such approaches under recent criticisms. His reformed stance on such matters (as on other items) is something I welcome. I would certainly have done the same with Blair had he altered his own stance on numbers of issues.

A leading claimant about anti-Semitic activity in the Labour Party has been the now departed MP Luciana Berger, the great niece of Manny Shinwell. She has recently claimed that six people have been convicted of threats against her (seemingly involving anti-Semitism) including two from the left, one of whom was a former member of the Labour Party. We could do with her providing greater details on such matters.

In fact, it is not easy to track down clear cut examples of anti-Semitic utterances being made by Labour Party members. Even from such a detailed source as a 42 page item by Wikipedia entitled “Antisemitism in the UK Labour Party” with it links to 288 references. The more one delves into claims about anti-semitism in the Labour Party, the less clear the overall pattern becomes.

I will only look at one claim of anti-Semitism that has been levelled against a former Labour member whom I once knew well – Ken Livingstone.

The statement which led to Ken's suspension from Labour Party membership (and later his resignation) was his claim that Hitler had "supported Zionism" when first coming to power in Germany "before he went mad and killed six million Jews". This is a very clumsy reference to a deal which the Third Reich struck with leaders of the German Zionist Movement on 7th August, 1933. Hitler engaged in the deal in order to remove many Jews from Germany. It was a prelude to events such as resorting to prison camps, Kristallnacht (and the like) and then to his fully fledged mass extermination programme. The words used by Ken to described the early start of such developments clearly needed to be have been adjusted.

For Hitler was "mad" in terms of the depth and nature of his anti-semitism (and on many other matters) well before the above deal was ever agreed to. For instance, Mein Kampf was published in two volumes back in 1925 and 1926 and contained clear anti-Semitic claims and attacks upon Judaism. It claimed that Aryans were the master race.

The 1933 development which Ken expressed briefly and badly is, however, contained in great detail in Edwin Black's book "The Transfer Agreement'. The introduction to the 1984 edition of his book stating that - "On August 7, 1933, leaders of the Zionist movement concluded a controversial pact with the Third Reich which, in various forms, transferred some 60,000 Jews and $100 Jewish Palestine".

Edwin Black is himself Jewish. His grandmother was murdered in Treblinka, having pushed her young daughter (who was later to become Edwin's mother) out of the train that was taking them to the camp. The young man who was to become Edwin's father escaping from a group of Jews who were being led to their execution by Nazis in Poland. Edwin's book is solidly researched and he is certainly in no way anti-Semitic. If Ken had stuck with its approach, he should not have upset the apple cart. Yet the fact that he badly expressed the nature of this significant historical arrangement does not by itself make him anti-Semitic. Nor can I find other evidence to substantiate this claim. But he should have conceded my point.

As the philosopher Wittgenstein pointed out, many of the words we use tend to share a family resemblance rather than just having exact, precise and rigid meanings. The broad meaning of a word is then discovered by examining the range of ways in which it is used. This does not, however, mean that usages of words don't also have rough and ready boundaries. Dictionaries are into the business of attempting to define words for us and, therefore, offer a precision which attempts to get to the heart of their use. My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines an anti-Semite as being "a person hostile to or prejudiced against Jews". Whilst Wittgenstein encourages us to go beyond such exact definitions for its interconnected usages, this does not mean that there is a need to substitute dictionary style and brief definitions for over-elaborate ones which then seek to capture the use of a word. Whilst there is nothing wrong with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance stressing its concerns about anti-semitism in its own elaborate statement containing no less than eleven categories, this does not make their statement THE definition of anti-semitism which anyone discussing the issue is obliged to adopt. Someone might wish to add extra items and rewrite others. As long as our approach has a wide ranging anti-racist stance which firmly condemns anti-semitism we are on the right track. People who stress different aspects of anti-semitism can still hold meaningful conversations on the issue, even if they are given to stressing diverse points. And we should always encourage the dialectics of debate – whilst avoiding extreme arguments.

But I do feel that if anti-semitism was a serious issue in today's Labour Party that I would have come across its depth by now. I am, of course, more than happy to seek to explore any specific charges and details about its current operations, having just discovered these claims made in the Spectator almost a year ago -


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Labour needs to tackle the above issues whilst getting on with pressing to overcome massive major problems such as climate change, wide scale impoverishment, social disruption and helping to deal with a mass of international disasters such as the situation in the Yemen. Yet we must also face up to what we can deliver as a hoped for future Government.  The power of international capitalism is massive. It holds powers to block and undermine social reforms. Many issues need to be dealt with on an international stage. A tactic of persistent gradualism is needed. So that as soon as any specific reform is undermined, action is taken to tackle such a development. 

Added 10 March : This past item indicates my general approach to the leadership of Corbyn. Click here.

Added 15 March : Further turmoil in the Parliamentary Labour Party over the Commons' vote as to whether there should be a second referendum on Brexit. The official line was to abstain. 202 did this or otherwise did not vote. 41 MPs broke the whip. 24 voting in favour of a fresh referendum and 17 against the proposal. As a consequence, five of those who voted against have resigned from their front bench roles in the whips office and elsewhere. If I had still been an MP, I would have been with them. Click here.   

Added 23 March : "Labour won't win power if we abandon working class LEAVE voters". Click here.
But so we don't go over the top in doing this and then smash the economy via an extreme Brexit, the best option is probably Teresa's deal. Especially if the Irish Government would help us to bring about the removal of the backstop. 

Added 2 April : I hope to return to this matter. On the issue of Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, Prof Alan Johnson has recently published a document giving 134 examples of claimed acts of anti-semitism arising from within the Labour Party. Although some of these refer to people who are also mentioned in earlier examples. Yet one example refers to some 50 cases. These need to be carefully examined to determine their nature, relevance, standing and significance. Click here. 
There is also this item which I have just discovered about Ken Livingstone to whom I referred to above on the anti-semitism issue . See.  
Then there is this from almost 3 years ago.

Added 12 April : I have just come across this detailed criticism of Ken Livingstone's stance on the relationship which he claimed existed at one time between Hitler and Zionism. It covers wider ground than that which I was aware of.   Click here 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Seven - But Far From Heaven (They can't wait there is now eight)

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How can seven former Labour MPs desert the very Constituency Labour Parties who adopted and nurtured them as successful parliamentary candidates for periods of over 8 to more then 26 years ?

For Constituency Labour Party activists should have been rubbing shoulders with these MPs for ages. Receiving regular reports back from them about their parliamentary and constituency activities, supplying organisers and activists for their parliamentary campaigns and being an avenue for passing on local problems which needed to be pursued at Governmental level.

With such friends, associates and contacts these MPs could have discussed their concerns about the operations of the Labour leadership, announcing their intention to stand down at the next General Election and facilitating a re-selection procedure for the eventual national contests.

If any local constituency comradeship ever operated during these MPs years in parliament, surely it should not now have counted for nothing.

But then less than 2 years is a short time in politics - click here.