Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Labour And The Island Of Ireland

 Ireland political map
The Irish Labour Party had a spell in politics when it was as successful in electoral terms as Sinn Fein has just now become. Sinn Fein having acquired 37 seats, which is the same number which Labour acquired in the 2011 General Election and when a Fine Gael-Irish Labour coalition was then founded. I give below a link to the Irish Labour Party's recent Election Manifesto, which seems to me to have attractive features. But Irish Labour have only now obtained six seats. There should be scope in the politics of the island for Labour Party activities to be aimed at establishing a good relationship between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. But although people in Northern Ireland can now join the UK Labour Party it has no similar constituency structure to the rest of the UK. When Dick Spring was the leader of the Irish Labour Party he pointed out that it was easier to unite one set of people living on two islands than to unite two sets of people living in one island. But as the majority of the people in Northern Ireland are not currently in favour of a united Ireland, two mobilised Labour Parties across the island could fruitfully work together to extend and improve relationships. This is especially required given Brexit, where within the EU the Irish Government needs to be pressed to work to overcome any future form of border controls. Given Sinn Fein's history and its hard line united Ireland stance, socialists should be looking instead for the alternative avenues I suggest. I need to find out whether any of the candidates for our Labour Leadership agree with me. See - https://www.labour.ie/manifesto/building-an-equal-society/
Hat tip: Geology.com - the source of the above map.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Labour and Life Long Learning

   In a speech to the Association of Colleges on 14 November 2017 Jeremy Corbyn said "Just as Nye Bevan created the National Health Service in the aftermath of World War 2, the next Labour Government will create a National Education Service. We will offer cradle to the grave education that is free at the point of use."  This was a huge and massively important commitment which Labour now needs to retain and develop for the future. When achieved it will help to transform and improve our society massively. Providing us with a seriously minded society (yet one that is more happy and fulfilled) and which uses its developing understandings to ensure that our political system will be fully democratized and meet the needs and requirements of masses in our society who are currently in depressed and deprived circumstances.
   The establishment of an appropriate system of Lifelong Learning will, however, be much more complex than setting up the NHS was. For generally a person (or their relatives and friends) will be aware whether they are in need of help from a doctor, ambulance or hospital services. Determining when someone is in need of forms of adult learning facilities (and whom they should approach) will require a more complex range of life-time openings.
   The Labour Party Manifesto at the recent General Election included a section which briefly spelt out Labour's intended direction of travel on the matter of Lifelong Learning. See the items entitled "Further Education and Lifelong Learning" which appear on pages 40 and 41, click here.

   Unfortunately, this was not an issue which was able to obtain much coverage during the General Election period itself. This was partly due to failings by the media, but it also arose from the fact that Labour's own work in shaping its approach was only reaching fruition when the election was on top of us.
 Image result for Labour Party Lifelong Learning Commission
   A "Lifelong Learning Commission" co-chaired by Estelle Morris and Dave Ward only issued its Interim Report in July 2019. It was then only able to come up with its final 85 page report containing more detailed  recommendations as we moved into the dissolution of parliament for electoral purposes in November. Click here.   A summary of its 16 major recommendations appear on pages 58 and 59 of the report.

I will now confine myself to what has been my own specific interests in forms of adult learning, which is just the tip of the iceberg.
  My own commitment towards forms of lifelong learning developed after some of my early failures via school education and from later experiences starting from the time when I undertook my National Service as an 18 to 20 year old. My involvement with forms of lifelong learning being mainly restricted to the areas of politics, economics, industrial relations and philosophy. Labour's proposals go well beyond these matters. But I will now restrict myself to my own experiences.
  As an only child, I came from a solid coal mining background. My father and his five brothers all came to work at the same local pit and his only sister married a local miner. Only my Uncle Arthur finally moved away and joined the RAF. My mother's two brothers also started work in the pit, one then moving  into nursing. My mother and one of her three sisters also married coal miners. This meant that I had the advantage of being brought up in a tightly mining environment with close social bonds.
  But my shortcomings at Primary School were centered around extreme shyness and a serious inability at spelling. So I failed the then 11 plus exam and went to a Secondary Modern School and not a Grammar School. Then I had never read a book from cover to cover until at 12 a teacher took our class into the school library and made us borrow and read a book. I read John Buchan's "Mr Standfast" and was hooked. I later made it to Grammar School via an "occasional admissions" exam. But I was no success there when it came to the "O level" exams at 16, failing the key subjects of English Language and Maths. But in a post war period shaped by the Attlee Government there were lifelong job opportunities and I made it as a Railway Clerk. By then I was regularly into purchasing books such as H.G. Well's "Short History of the World" and visiting the local library, where my mother also borrowed serious novels.
   A key step in my own form of lifelong learning started when I undertook my National Service via an RAF Movements Unit at Basra, linking in with Iraqi State Railways. I was shocked by the harsh living and working conditions I saw many Iraqi people experiencing
   Then there was a book shop I visited in Basra which sold Rational Press Association books which challenged what had been my Methodist background. There were other books to buy and I also ordered works by writers such as G.B. Shaw, GDH Cole, James Joyce (recommended by a corporal), a volume of Shakespeare's plays and Tolstoy's "War and Peace".
   The man who ran the shop said that he had been stopped from my ordering Karl Marx's "Das Capital" when he checked the matter out with the local chief of police. But I also obtained the "New Statesman" weekly on rice paper, plus "Reynolds News" and the "Observer" which came by sea and were then two weeks old.
   I was finally demobbed at 20 in the midst of political turmoil around the British invasion of the Suez Canal and the Russian invasion of Hungary. It was a politically stimulating period. My initial avenue for expressing my developing political views were letters to the local press. Then a year after my demob I joined a body stimulated by GDH Cole called the International Society for Socialist Studies and even heard him addressed them. I also joined the Labour Party and after a few months became a local branch secretary and arranged for the meetings to rush through business each second month and then have a speaker and a discussion. A local Fabian Society was then founded at near bye Peterlee and I became their Secretary. I was into the dialectics of political debate.
   I then attended a Fabian Summer School held at Ruskin College in Oxford where I discovered that the College itself was for people like me, who had an interest in subjects such as Politics and Economics but no relevant "A" level qualifications as a pathway into such studies. I later made it into Ruskin College via references (one from Manny Shinwell my MP), writing an essay for them and attending an interview. My fees and living allowance being met by the Durham County Council. After 2 years full-time study, this led me to obtain an Oxford University Diploma in Economics and Political Science which enabled me to get a place at Hull University where I gained a degree in Politics and Philosophy.
    But that was only a leg up to my fuller involvement with Lifelong Learning. For from 1966 to 1987 I was a tutor in the Sheffield University Extramural Department (later called the Division of Continuing Education) taking Day Release Classes for Trade Unionists from areas such as the Coal, Steel and Railway industries plus classes for shop stewards. I mainly taught Politics, Industrial Relations and Student Skills. Numbers of my students also moved on to full time study at Adult Education Colleges, including Ruskin. Others became more fully involved in their Trade Unions and in areas such as Local Government.

        1983 Derbyshire Miners Day-Release Class

   Then my Department established an Access Course mainly providing openings into Sheffield University for adults without formal qualifications. I taught classes on Philosophy and then acted as Course Director. Those who successfully made it to full-time University Studies at Sheffield via our classes ended up generally with above average degree results.
   Then when I became an MP in 1987 three of my fellow Labour colleagues were former Yorkshire Miners whom I had taught on Industrial Day Release Classes and another Labour MP from that background had been a fellow student with me when I was at Ruskin. Dennis Skinner had also attended our Derbyshire Miners classes, then Ruskin. He was a day release student with us the year I arrived in Sheffield, but I was then teaching a different Derbyshire Miners Class.
   Although I studied and taught politics for 21 years before becoming an MP and then took many classes down to parliament on day trips, my parliamentary activity was also a huge learning curve. Not only was the range of parliamentary activity widespread, but constituents came forward with a complex range of problems which needed to be tackled. Luckily I soon learnt that if an issue was new to me, the first place of call to find out about a topic was the research staff in the Commons Library. For Conservative Government Ministers (at the best) would only answer the specific questions I asked them. Whilst a researcher would know that I was new to a topic and would explain what I really needed to know and pursue. The loss of their services are the main thing I have missed since retiring from the Commons in 2005.
  As an MP lifelong leaning was an issue I pursued, but circumstances dictated that this had to be in a  defensive capacity. Thatcherism struck at the work of Adult Education Colleges such as Ruskin and also ended payments of student fees. Next even Tony Blair (with my full opposition) removed University allowances for students for living purposes, thus adding further to their borrowing costs. These matters still need to be tackled.
   When I finally retired from parliament in 2005 I returned to an old habit of setting up monthly discussion meetings. This time as Political Education Officer for my local branch of the Labour Party in Dronfield where I have now lived for 50 years. I only passed on that commitment last year, but I still keenly participate in the group's discussions. In fact this item on Lifelong Learning arises because Bob Heath a former Sheffield University Extramural colleague of mine (whom I initially studied with at Ruskin College and then Hull University) discussed this very issue with us at our last meeting. Click here.   John Halstead who involves himself in both ILP activities and our local discussion group, being a further colleague from my Extramural days. He works closely with the Society for the Study of Labour History.  
   Then three other sources feed my attempts at my own form of continuing adult learning. First, I continue to read works in my areas of interest. Having found hardly any scope for fiction since I first turned up at Ruskin in 1960. Secondly, I scan the Internet for serious forms of information relevant to my interests - whilst seeking to avoid those comment boxes where people just fart at each other about politics. Then also there is the ILP.  Under the influence of Keir Hardie it was founded in 1893 and helped shape the Labour Party. But in experiencing a departure by Labour from its basic values, it set out on its own in 1932. It finally returned to the fold in 1975 changing its name to Independent Labour Publications. I then joined and participated with them in a wide range of Labour movement discourse.  

  Whilst I am for the forms of adult learning which I have stressed, Labour's recent publication correctly goes way beyond these matters, showing the wide number of areas where varying forms of Life Long Learning are very deeply needed. The whole issue should not just be an add on to Labour Policy, but needs to be at its heart.     

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Way Ahead For Labour

Image result for Drawings of Sidney Webb
   As a consequence of Labour's collapse at the General Election and the move towards  electing a fresh leader, a serious yet comradely debate is needed within the Labour Movement on what our future direction of travel should be - and who can best lead this. Even if this is unlikely to happen, some of us should try to push for it. 
   The Manifesto that we should have been fighting the general election on should now form a major part of our discussions in relation to our direction of travel. For apart from the section on Brexit which arose from an unsatisfactory attempt to reconcile conflicts inside both the PLP and the wider movement, it is a very important document. Although as a Manifesto it should really have honed-in on what could feasibly have been delivered within the lifetime of the new parliament. Yet it was so fully directed at overcoming the major strengths of the controls of capitalism, that many of its proposals would have been undermined by such very powers within the operations of a mere five year period.
   Sidney Webb in shaping Labour's old Clause 4 and planning earlier socialist programmes from near the end of the first world war, was so fully aware of the powers of capitalism that he stressed the need for care and gradualism. He was even depicted as walking slowly in front of a socialist steamroller holding a red flag. For when any specific expliotive power of capital is tackled, it is itself likely to turn to fresh devices that will then further need to be dealt with - and that slows up the process. We can't just wish away the powers of Capital. It requires steamroller type persistence and gradually mastering anti-social activities.
   Labour's recent Manifesto should not be seen as something which could ever have been delivered in the life of a single parliament, but as a general direction of travel. The Manifesto did, however, start out on a key item which needs to be a top priority (before we run out of time) - the need to tackle climate change via what it called a "Green Industrial Revolution." On this, the Manifesto covered the key areas of the economy and energy, transport, environment and animal welfare. It is a pity that its proposals were not given wider publicity - even by the Party itself. There was even a case for the Green Party pulling out of many parliamentary contests and joining in the support of Labour Candidates on this key matter.
   The other key sections of the Manifesto were on the need to "Rebuild Our Social Services", how to "Tackle Poverty and Inequality" and the need for "A New Internationalism". But as this was a Manifesto for a General Election in which we were seeking to become a Government for the next five years, it was not something we could democratically have fully hoped to deliver in that period. Yet there were few references in the Manifesto to time restraints. Apart from a time qualification which was made in saying that ''Labour will deliver free full-fibre broadband by 2030" and not by the likely next election in 2025.

   There were, however times, when the Manifesto went over the top in its claims. Such as - "We will adopt an ambitious Vision Zero approach to UK road safety, striving for zero deaths and serious injuries". Well that is not going to happen as long as we have road transport - although actions could significantly reduce such killings and injuries.
   Then the section sub-headed "Ministry for Employment Rights" contains the need for no less than 30 key items. It is difficult to see these getting onto the statute books within a five year period - unless we adopt a Militant-style Enabling Act. Which is more a revolutionary socialist technique than a democratic socialist approach.
  Yet the direction of travel in the Manifesto (except over the matter of Brexit which is now mainly outside of Labour's control) is something which we fully need to press for. Which candidate for the Labour leadership will now see that this is the type of approach (given a sensitive form of gradualism) that needs to be retained as a basis for its agenda? 

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Labour's Key Policies

The Web-site of Independent Labour Publications is running a really important pro-Labour article in relation to the current General Election.


The writer Barry Winter covers Labour's proposals to tackle a range of massively important social problems. These include - (1) Poverty and Low Pay. (2) 200,000 children living in absolute poverty. (3) School and Youth Services being pushed past breaking points. (4) Wide areas where those over 65 are also seriously hit. (5) Many private tenants being trapped in squalid slum houses. (6) An NHS with serious staff shortages. (7) 25,000 annual deaths linked to the effects of pollution.

The article is a must for democratic socialists and also needs to be more widely absorbed. It can be found if you link here.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Easington Colliery - aspects of its past.


Crowd waiting for news outside the pit at Easington Colliery following its 1951 pit disaster. I was 14 year old at the time. My father was in the pit when the disaster occurred. He survived as he was working in a different seam from the explosion. He later helped with the salvage work. I also had four uncles and a number of cousins working at the pit then. None were killed. Many escaped by being on different shifts to those who were killed.  All were deeply devastated.

Four articles of mine concerning aspects of the history of Easington Colliery can be found via the links below. They all appeared in annual publications of the journal of the North East Labour History Society called "North East Labour History".

They can be accessed fully via the following links. Just click into the top one and scawl for the rest.

Pages on this link are 47 to 57 as double pages. Those in the journal being 88 to 108.  

Pages on this link are 78 to 96. Those in the journal now on single pages being 76 to 94.

Pages on this link are 106 to 124. Those in the journal being 104 to 122.

Pages on this link are 83 to 91. Those in the journal being 81 to 89.

Also see the item below this one on this blog. There also is a link at the close of this for 30 items on "Easington".    




Wednesday, November 13, 2019

My Early Life At Easington Colliery

Image result for Easington Colliery photos

 See the penultimate paragraph below for reference to the above.

 I was born at Easington Colliery in 1936 and it was my home base for 27 years until 1963 when I married and my wife and I moved to Hull where I was then an adult student at their University.
    However earlier I spent spells away from home. Between 1954 to 1956 undertaking my National Service in the RAF. For the bulk of 1955 and 1956 I served in Iraq. Then I later became a full-time student at an adult education college in Oxford from 1960 to 1962, returning to Easington for the vacations.
   I next studied at Hull University from 1962. For my first year there I again returned to my home to live at Easington during the vacations. I then married Ann in the summer of 1963 and we rented a flat in Hull for two years. She originated from nearby Shotton Colliery. Both of our fathers being local coal miners. My dad being down the pit at the time of the 1951 disaster, but in a different seam to the explosion. He later helped with salvage work.  
    After my graduation at Hull my new employment as a lecturer took Ann and myself to Worksop for a year, then to Sheffield for three years until Ann and I moved next door to Dronfield in North Derbyshire just over 50 years ago. Where I eventually became the local MP between 1987 and 2005.
    Ann and I returned to the North East on a regular basis whilst our parents were still alive. My mother living the longest until 1999. We have made occasional visits to the area since then.
    In fact until I was called up to undertake my National Service in 1954 I had never travelled anywhere further south from Easington than York. I did a day trip to there at 16 when I was interviewed for my first job as a railway clerk. My employment as a Railway Clerk whilst living at Easington taking me no further away than work at Stockton to the south and Sunderland to the North. My first two years being spent at the neighbouring Horden Station.
    So despite my moving away from Easington Colliery 56 years ago at the age of 27, it has always been a pull for me. I had three articles about its history published in the annual journal of the North East Labour History Society in their 2011, 2012 and 2013 editions. These covered the period from the initial efforts to sink its coal mine in 1899 up to 1935. I would have liked to have continued with these articles in order to finally cover at least the period up to the closing of the pit in 1993. But when the 2013 edition was published I had reached 77 years of age and was walking badly. Nor do I drive a car, yet I had been travelling regularly to Durham as my main research required me to make visits to the Durham Library research facilities via public transport. Unfortunately it was all getting beyond me. I also, however, wrote a more personal piece about my Easington background for the Labour History journal for their 2017 edition. The following provides a link to search for these articles - http://nelh.net/the-societys-journal/previous-issues/
    I also wrote a forward for Mary Bell for her fine book “A Chronicle of Easington Colliery” which was printed by Amazon in 2014. It is a publication that everyone interested in the area should read. Amazon also printed her fine book of poems entitled “Where the Pits Were”. Another telling publication is “Easington Throughout The Years” by Eileen Hooper. See here for avenues of access to these three publications - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chronicle-Easington-Colliery-Mary-Bell/dp/1501025481
    My blog was established on my 70th birthday, hence it is called “Three Score Years and Ten”. Its thread on “Easington” now shows 30 items which can be trawled back to. These items have attracted above average readership. See -

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

63 Years Ago Today At RAF Habbaniya in Iraq

The photo shows what was its HQ.
On 5th November 1956 Britain and France invaded Egypt in what became known as the Suez Crisis. The Iraqi Government then had Nuri al-Said as Prime Minister and were under British influence having signed the Baghdad Pact in 1955. Immediately riots broke out against the Suez invasion in areas such as Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Najaf, Kafu and Hilla. These could be seen as triggers which eventually led to the Iraqi Revolution of 1958 under Qasim.

At the time of the outbreak of the unrest I was in Iraq. I had undertaken the bulk of my National Service in the Royal Air Force at a Movements Unit in Basra. But as I was due to be demobbed I had been moved to the RAF camp at Habbaniya to await a plane to take me back to Britain. So I did not directly experience the unrest, being stuck in the camp.

But on 5th November a flight in front of mine set of from Habbaniya to Cyprus on the first leg of its journey back to Britain. But as it was approaching a fighter base in Syria permission was withdrawn for it to fly over that country. So it had to double back to Habbaniya.

Whilst having a meal in Habbaniya I listened to the BBC News over the loud speakers telling us that there were no British troops in Iraq ! Plans were then made, however, for RAF flights to and from Iraq to be made via Ankara in Turkey. And I was given a place on the first of these. Although we were intercepted by Turkish fighters who made signs to us that we would be shot down if we did not return to Iraq. Luckily they must have received radio information confirming that we had permission to proceed, as they then flew away.

As reservists who had completed their National Service were at the time being called up to help with the fight in Eqypt, I was worried that I would not be demobbed and be caught up in the conflict. But I only had clerical experience working with Iraqi State Railways and Shipping lines. Pen pushers such as myself (filling out Arabic forms in English) were not what the invasion needed.

Unfortunately, my life was then taken over by my being demobbed and returning home to my previous job as a railway clerk. So I never discovered exactly what turmoil faced my former RAF colleagues at Basra. I had served there for 20 months and had never experienced any problems whatsoever from the local community; yet I moved almost daily around areas such as its railway station, good yards, docks and the Basra town centre. Then Iraqis worked as clerks and labourers on our camp. But this peace and tranquility are likely to have changed a great deal after 5 November. I had avoided any problems by the skin of my teeth.

For what was happening in Iraq at the above time, the following is a useful source – pages 115 to 117 of “Iraq” by Adeed Dawisha, Princeton University Press. I refer to the first paperback version published in 2009.

It was, however, my experiences in Iraq and the Suez Crisis which drew me into subsequent political activity. I have since attempted to make up for my failure to reconnect with RAF Basra personnel at the time of my demob and now hold a proud certificate of honorary membership of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions – who surfaced in 2003. 

For more on Iraq follow the link below