Friday, July 15, 2016

Hard Labour

 Image result for Corbyn, Eagle, Owen Smith

Labour Party members whose email addresses are correctly recorded by the Labour Party should now have received a communication from their General Secretary saying that normal and scheduled CLP (and Branch) meetings are postponed until after the completion of the leadership election – which takes us to the eve of the start of the Annual Labour Party Conference. Whilst I think that this overall move is a democratic disgrace, how can Labour Party members make the best of a bad situation ?

For the General Secretary also says that as an exception to the above rule we can have CLP meetings to (a) support a nomination for the leadership (which I assume can only take place after the close of nominations themselves at noon on 21 July) and (b) for essential Annual Conference Business. From (b) I assume that we can seemingly have a meeting to submit a contemporary and/or emergency resolution to Conference. But we then have a problem, where would the contemporary and emergency resolutions come from, unless they have already been submitted to a CLP ? Not from branches or from a CLP’s EC as these seem to have been closed down until 24 September. Perhaps they could come from affiliated bodies only – which I grant is rather unlikely to happen. Could Contemporary and Emergency motions, however, be moved from the floor of the above form of specially convened Constituency Meeting? Would we even be allowed to mandate our Conference delegate if we could somehow find out what is on the Conference Agenda?

Perhaps a Constituency meeting restricted to considering support for a leadership nominee and to consider the above Conference issues could be authorised by the local Regional Office of the Labour Party – under the complexities of the General Secretary’s ruling. Yet given that we are into a holiday period, such a meeting might not be able to be called until early September.

But we should clearly make use of the limited avenues of inner-party democracy which remain open to us up to Party Conference. The lessons of the current shambles then need to shape future constitutional and political changes in the Labour Party – given that if by then Labour still remains a feasible avenue for the advance of “democratic” socialism.

Added 18 July - This is the line I am trying to peddle with the leadership candidates and some of their supporters .............
"The candidates for the leadership should be pushed to come to an agreement to stand by Labour Party Policies as these have been (and will come to be) agreed by Labour Party Conference. This does not unreasonably bind them. They should be free to suggest changes that they would like to seek in future Conference's policies, whilst sticking by what has been established in the meantime. Furthermore leaders and the PLP can still have a say about the priorities, timing and the detail when acting on Conference decisions. They also will often have to act on new and passing items, without having specific Conference guidance at the time. This is currently the case (until the coming Conference ?) on  policies over the leaving the EU. 

Most of current Conference policies formed the basis of our last election manifesto. Any alterations, additions or elaborations (e.g. on Syria) have only emerged so far from last year's Conference.  Most of Conference policies arise (of course) from the work of the Policy Forums. Prior to the General Election, I summarised these in a number of blog items. These can be found via links to this item.    They should form the basis of Labour"s current parliamentary approach until subject to later Conference alterations.

It is also possible for candidates to press for the further democratisation of the Labour Party. It is also a difficult approach for candidates to argue against when facing the votes of the membership in a leadership contest.

I hope that you can press such a line. It could be a position which any candidate could find it difficult to reject in current circumstances. If the argument is that we have just lost a General Election on these overall proposals, then I am afraid they are the policies as they exist at the moment. If changes are sort, then the Party's internal  procedures will need to be pursued."

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Labour Needs To Agree A Concordat

 Image result for Corbyn and Eagle
Easier said than done, but both the parliamentary Corbynites and their opponents amongst Labour MPs need to make an accommodation. Namely, that parliamentary policy should be based on the Manifesto which we stood on at the recent General Election, as drawn from Labour's Policy Forum procedure - plus any adjustments made at the last Party Conference. Positions should then only have to be adjusted as the policy shifts (perhaps under new procedures) at coming Party Conferences. This need not mean that Corbyn and others should not in the meantime recommend changes in direction, but that until there are any changes in party policies achieved via Conference they all need to vote in parliament in line with established party positions. New issues (such as the response to tomorrow's Chilcott Report) can be left as unwhipped positions – until a line is later taken by Party Conference.

If Corbyn’s critics force a leadership contest, then we need to press this concordat upon all the candidates. Those who do not agree should not get Labour Party members votes - even if this means members being obliged to make positive abstentions.  Then if Corbyn remains leader without a contest, this is also how we (and he) should continue to act - with various ex-members of the Shadow Cabinet then accepting current vacancies under these conditions.

Problem solved.

(See here for Labour"s Manifesto and here for links to 180 of Labour's current policy forum positions.)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Party of European Socialists

See the Party of European Socialists' reaction to our decision to withdraw from the European Union - click here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

For Lenin's Tomb


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 history 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

Lessons on Fracking from the USA


Here is an American TV programme on Fracking which is well worth examination. It is only likely to be available for viewing in the near future - CLICK HERE.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Fracking Plans For North Derbyshire


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. 

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.

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.