Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Towards A Socialist Perspective (Part 1)

The following will appear in three parts.

A Socialist Conundrum

Since at least, the late 20th Century the world has been travelling through a period in which the technological revolution has gained momentum.

In many ways, the impacts it has produced have been quicker and more all-embracing than during the industrial revolution which started out in Britain in the late 18th Century. Yet because the world can seem just to be an up-to-date version of our industrial heritage, it is easy to underestimate the significance of the changes - at least as far as our overall political philosophy is concerned.

When travelling through a period of rapid change, it is difficult to adjust ones understandings, values and interpretations. During the industrial revolution, Adam Smith and Karl Marx came to interpret the changes around them in ways which wide forces responded to, or re-interpreted. In many ways, their alternative approaches still help to shape today's understandings; with Adam Smith's analysis on the need for free enterprise being very much to the fore.

The changes brought upon us by the industrial revolution produced a dramatic contrast with the nature of pre-industrial life. They gave a stimulus to the working out of innovative forms of economic and political analysis which tended to give individuals and movements a sense of direction.

Although the characteristics of the technological revolution is that it churns out academic treatises, popular theories, religious dogmas and blogging chatter in a logarithmic form of progression, it produces little that has universal forms of appeal. Yet it does plenty to feed the fantasies of differing sects throughout the world.

In particular, those of us (to use GDH Cole's past terminology) who feel that our understandings have been "Marx influenced" rather than pure Marxist, find ourselves facing problems in adjusting our understandings to meet current complexities. Even though our position has never been grounded in dogmatic certainty.

But if we take democratic socialism to be about the human values of co-operation, communal activity, democratic participation, collective action, social planning and the exercise of mutual respect for the civil rights of individuals and groups; then today's world can be seen to present a pattern of both fear and hope.

The late Royden Harrison used to point out that under the new technology, the objective means for establishing widespread socialism had never been better. The problem he pointed out, was that the subjective circumstances (of the mix of ideas which people carry around in their heads) had never been worse.

Royden's approach might give us a guide to how democratic socialists can best observe today's world and shape appropriate responses to what we see.

Be Aware And Beware Of Entrapment

The type of pattern of the world which I will now describe is shared (in differing degrees) by many people. It is because many socialists see it as a new form of common sense, that it helps to shape their political attitudes. These responses often, however, fall into three main and differing categories, which differ significantly.

Some seek to accommodate to what they see as the new reality. Others rebel against it and adopt a revolutionary or a nihilistic approach. Whilst others, despair completely and turn either to single issue campaigns or to complete apathy.

As I will show later, I disagree with all of these trends; yet I also believe in the significance of what I am about to outline. It is just that what I will present here, is merely a partial picture of the realities we face. In other words it is to me an accurate explanation of the world around us, but it is also only a partial picture resting an a one-sided diet of examples. Whilst these are truths, they are by no means the whole truth.

The World We Live In

(1) Divided Lives In A Divided World

To start with, we need to be aware that whilst many of us are inside the loop of the operations of the technological revolution, others are outside - although what is happening impacts upon them the most strongly.

The insiders are producers and consumers, whose roles facilitate the functioning of an interconnected world economy. The insiders own basic needs of food, warmth and (at least for the insides of) their shelter, are increasingly drawn from international markets.

With masses of people participating in this interdependent (but conflict ridden) world, others still live in impoverished and mainly self-sufficient village communities. Some such places may currently be relatively conflict free, as in Malawi. Others face massacres and flee war-torn lands, as in Dafur.

Furthermore, such deprived and exploited people have little or no opportunity to discover the hidden hands which influence the local plight they find themselves in.

Those of us who are firmly part of the modern inter-connected world, often have (at least) partial access to travel. Some moving as part of an international labour
market, others under the pressures of being economic migrants. Many are part of a world-wide communications system of the Internet and mobiles. Yet the influences these developments seem to provide are often doubled-edged as influential commercial interests nurture and feed back into such avenues.

(2) Capitalism At The Click Of A Key

Yet capital moves much more quickly than people can. As a result, multi-nationals help to impose their own form of rationality upon the world.

Given access to a labour force who can acquire basic skills, enterprises shift to new and cheaper localities in the global village. For instance, near the port of Maputo in Mozambique an aluminium plant has been established with ease of access to a worldwide network for its output. Apart from cheap and ready labour, it ships in its raw material from Australia and draws its energy needs from a further cheap labour market in terms of coal from neighbouring South Africa.

Yet even such movements of capital in setting up firms and their movement, is put in the shade by the speed of speculative capital. This is by no means confined to dealing in stocks and shares, for with the click of a key currencies are subject to mass speculative actions. This is far from being a lottery, with vunerable economies being destroyed in the process. The money changing hands in currency speculation outstrips that spent in international trade. It was part of the background to the initial break-up of Yugoslavia, for social turmoil follows hard on the heals of economic disruption.

(3) Meeting Created Needs

At the moment, effective and maldistributed economic demand for goods and services comes mainly (but not exclusively) from the Western World. It meets a mixed bag of needs.

In addition to catering for the essentials I mentioned earlier (to which we can add the requirements for most labour to travel-to-work), there are numerous demands which are shaped by advertisers and the norms of acquisitiveness. So our homes are filled with inessentials that are barely used (and can change with alterations in fashion). Then we often over-indulge in the basics. Obesity, drunkenness, wardrobes of barely used clothes and roads crammed unnecessarily with cars are part of the picture. So diseconomies of scale abound - as in road accidents.

Although increasingly we are given more and more choice in the "privileged" world; the choices that proliferate are mainly variations on limited and passing themes.

Worse still the demands being met by the sections of the world who can find the cash or the credit necessary, contribute forcefully to the over-use of the world's resources in minerals and energy; contributing to massive problems of global warming.

(4) Conflict and Confusion

In developing its economic power during the industrial revolution, the West was involved in a scramble for Africa and for Empires on which the Sun would not set. Many colonial nations had their boundaries determined through deals finally struck (often after conflict) amongst Imperial Powers.

Ethnic, tribal, religious and other established communal links were ignored. The subsequent struggles against colonialism, meant that forms of independence were established in which home grown (or imposed) power-elites often came to the fore. These had an interest in holding onto the then established national boundaries (for instance, in opposition to the wishes of the great bulk of the Kurds in contiguous areas of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey).

Where international financial and trading pressures led to economic and social dislocation (as in Rwanda) then the old tribal loyalties came to have new, distorted and horrific consequences.

With the growth of the technological revolution being mainly under the drive of Capital (as exemplified in the free-market roles of the World-Bank and the IMF), new conflicts came into the fore in place of the former Cold War. Although it must always be remembered that hot versions of Cold War hit nations such as Angola.

Economic and military pressures in areas such as the Middle East have intensified modern developments of the ethnic, tribal, communal and religious divides I mentioned earlier.

Whilst Nation States (such as Israel) and Coalitions of States (as over the invasion of Iraq) have furthered their perceived interests and concerns by hi-tech methods of conventional warfare, they have confronted a mixed-bag of combatants formed into a variety of sects. These latter resort to a wide range of methods for struggle, from the intifada and suicide explosions to modern rocket attacks. These struggles can be directed against occupiers, civilian targets, each other or what are seen as Satanic Powers. Numbers organise on a transnational basis and in a loosely inter-connected fashion. Traditional Western-style military (and related) tactics are poorly structured to tackle the new forms of insurgency and disruption.

We also need to be aware that the mixed bag of sects throughout the world who involve themselves in terrorist-style activities are themselves a reflection of a world-wide move into cultural loyalties to sects, from support for football teams people have only ever seen on television to group-identities of race, sex, sexual orientation and general cultural preferences. Whilst not all of these need to be seen as harmful, they need to be seen as a new significant form of social reality.

At the back of all of this complexity there are the dangers of nuclear conflict; which is significantly added to by the proliferation of these weapons and political instability amongst their custodians.

(5) Knitting Together A View Of The World

The news media, much of our literature (fact and fiction) and our general culture often seem to be dominated by the type of drama which appears in a disaster movie - and was exemplified in the events of 9/11 and now in the daily news from Baghdad. Information on these both sells easily and stirs the imagination of the opinion makers. It is thus easy to feel that we live in (or on the verge of) the worst of all possible worlds.

My question now is "how do such feelings and thoughts impinged themselves upon socialist understandings?"

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What If Gordon Brown Went Under A London Bus?

It Almost Happened Once

I once had a brief conversation with Gordon Brown as he moved from the Commons on to Bridge Street to cross the road. As he swung round on the end of the pavement after our brief chat, he all but ended up under the wheels of a double-decker bus.

I know that as Prime Minister he will never have to navigate the London traffic in that way, but has anyone given any thought as to what would happen if he otherwise died in office? When John Smith died as Opposition Leader, he was succeeded by Margaret Beckett who had been elected via Labour's Electoral College to the Deputy Leadership post. Later fresh elections occurred and Tony Blair took over.

But presumably as things stand , the Deputy Prime Minister will be expected to take over the Prime Minister's role for (at least) the interregnum until fresh Party elections can take place. It might place the interim Prime Minister in a strong position in the nomination and ballot stakes.

Jon Cruddas Gives Us A Problem

If Jon Cruddas wins the Deputy Leadership battle, he will refuse to take on board the Deputy Premiership role, which is quite reasonable given that he hasn't got any experience as a Cabinet Minister. So the Deputy will then be Gordon's nominee. Would Party members be happy with, say, Jack Straw becoming the interim Prime Minister, without them having had a say in his election?

Perhaps Jon Cruddas is doing us a disservice by doing away with our rights to determine who will be Labour's Parliamentary Deputy if we plump for him. Is it too late for him to pull out of the race?

Sleeping Dogs

On the other hand, we managed with John Prescott being only a heart-beat from the Premiership for 10 years, so perhaps I am worrying about nothing.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Leadership Question

Tribune's Tribulations

This week's "Tribune" is good fun on the Labour Leadership issue.

Taylor's Trantram

Robert Taylor has a good moan and groan about the failure to produce a contest for the Leader's post itself. It is enjoyable knock about stuff. He only seems to miss one ploy. He fails to have a go at the Deputy Leadership candidates who showed that they did not have the guts to take on Gordon for the top job.

Anderson's Analysis

Alongside Taylor's article is one by Paul Anderson which seeks to undermine's his colleague's line. Paul writes -

"Every time the top post falls vacant in any of our major political parties - and in Labour's case, when the deputy leader goes - the cry goes up that there must be a contest to ensure a debate on the party's future. Then there is a lot of huffing and puffing (HB -Robert Taylor Style!) about how the absence of a contest means that debate has been stifled, or else there's a contest in which all the candidates welcome a chance for debate which the contest offers. What rarely if ever happens is any actual debate."

Candidates' Non-Contest

Paul's final point is then confirmed when we turn to a set of six articles elsewhere in Tribune from the Deputy Leadership candidates. They remind me of looking for a programme on a multi-channel Television when you have some time to kill. There are umpteen alternatives, but it is hard to distinquish one from the other. A more limited but real choice would be welcome. So we have to distinguish between -

1. Hilary (I am a nice guy) Benn.
2. Hazel (I want us to win the next election) Blears.
3. John (I only want half the job) Cruddas.
4. Peter (I was a nice guy 30 years ago) Hain.
5. Harriet (I am a woman) Harman.
6. Alan (I don't need to say anything) Johnson.

Editorial Initiative

Having gathered together all the above thoughts and non-thoughts, the editor of Tribune then decided that it was time to try and enliven matters. The editorial states -

"So while the hustings rumble on until June 24, we are seeking to liven up the debate, with the help of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, by publically asking the candidates the following questions relating to both the Labour Party and the policies of the Government".

These 12 questions then follow, with Tribune promising to publish the replies it receives. The editor, however, has the wit to tell as not to hold our breath in waiting for them.

Perhaps he should not be too septical, for I tried a similar ploy in the 1992 contests. I limited myself to five questions in an article in the "Morning Star". And I did receive answers to each from the winners, John Smith and Margaret Beckett. They were duly published. I hope that the current candidates feel that this means it pays to respond! This was, however, 15 years ago and before the birth of the policies and practices of New Labourism. Perhaps we should not really hold our breath after all.

Friday, May 25, 2007

One Up On Gordon Brown

Seeing Off John McDonnell

I once achieved something which Gordon Brown's camp ensured he would not have to do. I defeated John McDonnell in a Labour Party ballot.

It was back on 12 January, 1986. The North East Derbyshire Constituency Labour Party held a selection meeting to appoint its Prospective Parliamentary Candidate. It was held at the Derbyshire Miners' Offices in Chesterfield.

Those Were The Days : Different Shades Of Red

The shortlist of candidates were Reg Race who had previously been a hard left MP in the Campaign Group, John Dunn the Miners' nominee who had played a key roll locally in the 1984 Miners' Strike and at that time was a supporter of the Militant Tendency, the late Ted Fearn who was the Constituency Party Secretary, John McDonnell and myself.

Apart from John McDonnell and Reg Race, it was a local and fairly incestuous affair. Although Reg had recently moved in to a neighbouring area.

I had taught John Dunn on the Derbyshire Miners' Day Release Courses which had at one time been held in the very room in which the five of us were seated whilst we awaited our turn to appear before the Selection Conference. He was an active member of the Constituency Party in which I had held several different posts and I knew him to be a highly able and forceful character. He had been adopted as the Miners' nominee (at least in part) because of the role he had recently played in the Strike.

Ted Fearn like myself taught politics and he was a member of the same Branch of the Constituency Party. We had worked amicably together on a whole number of Labour activities. He was at the Sheffield Poly and I was at the University.

When we were all together, John McDonnell sat staring into the electric fire. It turned out that he was not speaking to Reg Race, whom he later claimed had crossed a picket line when a full-time NUPE officer in the south of England. John had been nominated by the Wingerworth Labour Party, who I viewed as being one of the more moderate Branches in a fairly left-wing Constituency which included Clay Cross, where more than a decade earlier their 100% Labour Council had been involved in a famous rent rebellion against the Tory Government. But John only bagged Wingerworth votes!

Not What You Know, But Who You Know

From what I picked up John was the the most effective speaker that day, but under the old delegatory system votes tended to be tied up before the proceedings started. So John MacDonnell and Reg Race were eliminated on the first ballot. John Dunn went out on the second ballot as (a) the NUM had lost a slice of its past delegates strength due to pit closures and (b) Labour only had a majority of 2,006 in the seat and numbers were scared of losing it if they ran a candidate with known Militant links.

So the final vote was determined between Ted Fearn and myself. I probably made it in the end because of my links with the NUM via my Industrial Day Release teaching. They had earlier decided to opt for me if John Dunn's nomination fell.

So John McDonnell once more had the cards stacked against him. The following day I went with my wife to talk to the Wingerworth Branch of the Party to smooth over their temporary addiction to his charms!

What Might Have Been

But if John had finished top of the poll instead of bottom, he would have arrived in the Commons ten years earlier than he did. Just think of how much that would have advanced his cause. He would probably, at least, have cleared the recent nominations hurdle to face Gordon Brown. So it looks as if in the end, I was to blame for doing Gordon Brown a good turn!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In Defence Of The 1994 Margaret Beckett

Here is a criticism of those of us on the Labour Left who supported Margaret Beckett in the 1994 Labour Leadership election campaign. Below, I give my response.

Why A Margaret Beckett Ticket in 1994?

(1) Unless someone had foreknowledge, the pros and cons of Margaret's actions since the 1994 Campaign are irrelevant to this assessment.

(2) Overwhelmingly in her favour - she was not Tony Blair.

(3) There was no-one to her left who could have obtained the nominations, unless the 1994 John Prescott (who also stood) is considered to have occupied that position.

(4) If anyone to her left had by magic gained the nominations, they would not have been able to mount a feasible campaign. The bulk of the Party members did not wish to upset the apple-cart after 15 years in opposition.

(5) As Deputy Leader under John Smith then Leader after his death, she first followed and then sustained his stance. Although John Smith was no left-winger, he was in the Labourite tradition and he did not seek to ditch Democratic Socialism and Labourism as being illegitimate parts of the Labour tradition.

(6) She had a sound grasp of the Democratic Socialist case. Including -

* In 1970 she became a Researcher to the Labour Party on Industrial Policy and worked closely with Judith Hart and Stuart Holland on the proposals which emerged in Labour Programme of 1973 and the 1974 General Election Manifesto which reflected and included Tony Benn's famous formula of making "a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families".

* When looking for a left-wing candidate in 1973, the Lincoln Labour Party first approached Margaret (then known as Margaret Jackson) at the Labour Party Conference. In February 1974, she stood against their former candidate Dick Taverne - the right-wing dissident.Although she lost, she took the seat during the later October General Election of that year. She moved straight into Government positions, but was seen as being on the Left.

* She lost her seat at the 1979 General Election, but she was successful as a left-wing candidate for the National Executive Committee in 1980 and actively supported Tony Benn's famous but narrowly unsuccessful campaign for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party (against Dennis Healy) in 1981.

* She returned to Parliament in 1983, as MP for Derby South. She joined the Socialist Campaign Group and only resigned in 1988 over Tony Benn's counter-productive decision to stand for Party Leader against Neil Kinnock, the incumbent. Three other women MPs resigned with her and the Group became more isolated than ever.

(7) Although she moved away from the Hard Left from 1988, within the confines of a front-bench position she had a good democratic socialist record as Opposition Spokesperson on (a) Social Security (held since 1984 to 1989) (b) Treasury matters (Shadow to the Chief Secretary 1989 to 1992) and (c) Deputy Leader 1992-1994). Although I was one of those who remained in the Socialist Campaign Group, I never considered myself to be part of either the Hard or (what used to be called) the Soft Left - but I attempted to work on both elements to show them that there was (and are still) socialist alternatives. Although confined by office-holding, I felt that Margaret had a similar approach.

In assessing whether it was reasonable for the Left to back Margaret Beckett those 13 years ago, we must remember that this was a decade before the invasion of Iraq (and many other mistaken New Labour moves.) I happen to think that few of these major errors would have occurred if she had won that Leadership vote, even though I am sorry that she stuck so closely to office from 1994.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Beyond Our Ken

John McDonnell's Role Model

John is not the first member of the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) to fail to gain sufficient nominations to stand for the Leadership of the Labour Party. Ken Livingstone went down that path in 1992.

After Labour's defeat in the 1992 Election, Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley bounced the Labour Party into elections for Leader and Deputy by their premature resignations, which gave the Party little time to give the matter much thought.

We can hardly plead that we were unprepared this time - although what is happening is again devoid of questioning and analysis.

Trying To Talk Ken Out Of Standing

As soon as Neil and Roy announced their intention to resign, SCG weekly meetings were dominated by how we should respond. Opinions differed strongly, with some keen to push Ken Livingstone's candidature. After all, Ken enjoyed a high media profile.

Yet there were strong voices arguing against running any candidate. For a while no-one sort to test the water by moving for a vote on the matter. But time started to run out and those supporting Ken needed to move. This was done at a poorly attended meeting which was held as a parliament was either moving in or out of recess - I forget which.

There were only seven MPs present for the crucial meeting. These were Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Ken Livingstone, John Austin (who was newly elected and was then known as John Austin-Walker), the late Bernie Grant, the late Bob Cryer and myself.

Crunch Time

At that time, Ken and Bernie had been at loggerheads over the best way to pursue anti-racist activities. Ken was fully involved in the work of the Anti Racist Alliance, whilst Bernie was active with the Anti Nazi League. Ken and Bernie barely seemed to be on speaking terms.

It was, therefore, something of a surprise when Ken informed us that if he stood for the leadership he was in favour of Bernie standing as his running mate for the post of Deputy. Thankfully for Ken, Bernie liked the idea.

Dennis Skinner and Bob Cryer were strong supporters of the notion that the Group should run candidates, so they supported the proposal for a Ken-Bernie ticket.

Tony Benn was probably chairing the meeting, as he did not vote. John Austin-Walker and myself opposed the proposal, as we felt that it would be counter-productive both inside the newly elected Parliamentary Labour Party and throughout the wider movement.

Otherwise tied at 2-2 (Skinner and Cryer vs Austin-Walker and Barnes), the outcome was determined by the votes of the would-be candidates.

Needless to say without Ken and Bernie even having widespread support amongst the missing members of the SCG, they failed badly to obtain the required number of nominations from Labour MPs.

Tony's Contribution

The last time the SCG moved successfully to secure a nomination for the Labour Leadership was in 1988 when Tony Benn challenged the then incumbent Leader, Neil Kinnock. Tony obtained only 11.4% of the vote. (This contest is not to be confused with his famous narrow defeat by Dennis Healy for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party in 1981, during the high-water mark of Bennism.)

Before Tony's name went forward, there were again lengthy weekly debates in the SCG. I remember Red Dawn's reaction (i.e. Dawn Primarolo) in particular. She was a strong supporter of Tony Benn's political position and initially she argued forcefully in support of him standing. But when she discussed the situation with left activists in her Bristol Constituency (the very people who she thought would support her line), she was shocked to find them repeating the same warnings that some of us were putting to her at SCG meetings. She then changed her stance. Perhaps this was the start of her move into the Gordon Brown camp.

An immediate consequence of Tony's failed candidature in 1988 was that the Labour Party raised the hurdle for MPs' nominations beyond the then 10% level - a move that was unhelpful to John McDonnell in the long run.

Yield Not To Temptation

The SCG and the left generally need to learn the futility in current circumstances of running their own candidates for top Labour positions. It takes activists to the top of the hill and lets them roll down again - as will be seen in John4Leader's comment box and on many a blog.

It was the above reasoning which led me to press for Peter Hain to stand for Leader and not just for Deputy. I judged that for the left he was a plausible candidate who would clear the nominations hurdle, run a campaign we could associate ourselves with and give us an opportunity to have a marginal influence on the future direction of the Party. I did not expect him to win, but to have some influence on Gordon Brown via his campaign.

As Peter did not stand for Leader (and few saw the significance of pushing him to stand), I eventually moved at the 11th hour to support John McDonnell - as (given the eventual lack of choice) I would have nominated him if I had still been an MP. Which is more than I did for Ken Livingstone in 1988.

But none of us should be placed in such a position. When it comes to issues as key as the Leadership of the Labour Party, the left and its MPs should make coherent moves to seek out feasible candidates. Unfortunately, that position has never won through in the SCG - except as below.

1988, 1992, 2007 Or 1994?

Although I know what went on in the SCG over the 1988 and 1992 Leadership contests, I'm not privy to what happened this year. But I am keen to find out.

There has, however, been one Leadership election where the SCG adopted the approach I favour. In 1994, I actively campaigned alongside Ken Livingstone and others for Margaret Beckett in the contest which Tony Blair won. Margaret might not seem to be a standard bearer for "left of centre" politics in current circumstances, but she did in 1994 (and for periods afterwards). At the least she would have maintained the Labourite stance of John Smith and would not have propagated a New Labour line - she was the Peter Hain of her time.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Democratic Essential

This argument to say that Labour MPs' nominations for the Leader of the Party should have been kept secret, is dangerous.

It is, of course, essential that the electorate should have a secret ballot when voting for MPs and others. But how can we ever hold those we elect to account if we are not given a record of how they vote and act on our behalf, whether this is done in a parliamentary or a related setting ?

The problem which "Labour Home" raises could, of course, have been dealt with if the names of the MPs concerned had only been published at the close of the nominations. But our chance to check upon who did what is a must.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Back To Basra

It is over 50 years since I undertook my National Service in Iraq. I was stationed at a small Movements Unit in Basra on the banks of the Shatt-al-Arab river.

My main work was liaising with Iraqi State Railways (I had been a railway clerk before my call-up). In Iraq, I undertook arrangements to move troops by rail between Basra and Baghdad, and also saw that RAF equipment which had arrived in the docks in Basra was moved by rail to Baghdad. From Baghdad, personnel and materials were moved on to the large RAF base at Habbaniya.

I regularly rang the railway station to make arrangements via Abdul Sahib. He would respond to me in Arabic, until he quickly reflected how I had initially pronounced his name.

Abdul Sahib's children and grandchildren could well be amongst today's railway workers at Basra, who are currently on strike for a review of their pay and also want back-payments of bonuses they are entitled to. They certainly deserve to win this tussle to attempt to improve their quality of life.

The Shortest Campaign In The History of the Blogosphere?

At 2.53pm yesterday, I posted this item in which I finally came out in support of John McDonnell's campaign for the Leadership of the Labour Party. The Labour Party then revealed that by 6pm, John had only received 27 nominations and still required a further 18 to qualify as a candidate - almost 40% of the few who had not been through the procedure.

So unless rabbit's are about to be pulled out of hats, John's campaign has bitten the dust. If he pulls out of the contest now in favour of Michael Meacher, then I will not join in. Michael has no credibility or emotional appeal for me.

So it is looking as if I will be returning to my normal state of the pessimism of the intellect after just over a 3 hour bout of the optimism of the will.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What Happened At Sunday's Meeting Of Labour's NEC

Here is an important report from Ann Black about Sunday's meeting which set out the rules for electing a new Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Ann is a member of the NEC and produces these personal and invaluable reports

National Executive Committee, 13 May 2007

The main business was to finalise procedures for electing a new
leader and deputy, though as the principles had been fully
discussed at previous meetings, all that remained was to fill in
the dates. Key events are listed below, and full information is
available on the party website. Now is the time to get to grips
with your MpURL, to follow the progress of candidates and to
register for hustings and the climax in Manchester on Sunday 24
June - go to, and ring Computing for
Labour on 0207-783-1291 if there are any problems. Now is
also the time to recruit new members and bring back former
members before the deadline of 1 June, so they can vote.

Countdown to Change

Monday 14 May to 12:30 p.m. Thursday 17 May - MPs
nominate candidates. A candidate needs 45 MPs to go through
to the ballot stage.

Monday 14 May to 12:30 p.m. Friday 1 June – constituencies
can, if they wish, make supporting nominations at general
committees or all-member meetings. The draft procedure was
circulated in March, and the final version is on the website.
Nominations will be listed in the ballot booklet.

Tuesday 15 May onwards – at 6 p.m. the first list of MPs’
nominations will be posted on the website, after which the list of
MPs and supporting nominations will be updated daily at 1 p.m.
and 6 p.m.

Friday 1 June – deadline for members to join or renew, to take
part in the ballot.

Wednesday 6 June to Friday 8 June – ballot booklets and
magazine posted to all members.

May/June - the party is organising hustings at the following dates
and places:

Sunday 20 May – Coventry
Sunday 27 May – Bradford or Sheffield
Wednesday 30 May (black and ethnic minorities) – Leicester
Saturday 2 June – Glasgow
Saturday 9 June – Cardiff
Sunday 10 June (youth) – Oxford
Saturday 16 June - London

The unions are organising the following additional hustings:

Saturday 26 May – Bristol
Sunday 3 June – Newcastle
Wednesday 6 June – London

Thursday 21 June – trade union ballots close
Friday 22 June – individual members’ ballot closes

Sunday 24 June, Manchester – leadership conference and
announcement of results.

Individual members can register online for party-organised
hustings (£10 each) and the leadership conference (£50) – first-
come first-served for all. I asked for the times of events to be
published, taking into account the state of the rail network at
weekends, and Pete Willsman pointed out that many members
would be unable to get to Manchester until the afternoon (the
first train from London is supposed to get in at 12:30 p.m.).

There were requests for additional hustings in the north-west, for
women, and for other aspects of diversity. The officers would
consider these, but stressed that it would be difficult to squeeze
more into a very packed timetable. There will be a special
edition of Question Time during the campaign, and the hustings
will be open to the media, so hopefully everyone will be able to
see something of all the candidates before deciding how to vote.

3rd May and After

The scheduled May NEC and subcommittee meetings have been
postponed, with any essential business, such as parliamentary
selections, conducted by telephone. But while recognising the
immense workload for staff, we do need to capture what
happened in the May elections before memories fade. I would
be interested in feedback from all parts of England and
especially from Scotland and Wales, which are not represented
on the NEC and which have increasingly divergent electoral
systems and political dynamics, so please mail with your
thoughts and experiences.

The End of an Era

This turned out to be Tony Blair’s and John Prescott’s last
meeting, and the Chair Mike Griffiths marked the historic
occasion on behalf of the NEC, on the day after the 13th
anniversary of the tragic early death of John Smith. He paid
tribute to John Prescott as first and foremost a Labour party man,
a key figure on the NEC since 1988, and a moderniser in
persuading conference to accept one-member-one-vote. And he
praised Tony Blair for making Labour electable, for getting
world leaders to confront moral issues, and for bringing reasoned
and thoughtful analysis to the NEC. John Prescott thanked the
party for the privilege of allowing him to serve and emphasised
that Kyoto and much else would never have been achieved
without the prime minister. However he regretted that the
position of appointed party Chair, and its relationship to the
deputy leader, remained unresolved. Tony Blair thanked the
NEC for being understanding in difficult times, and said he
valued the range of views expressed, recognising that they
reflected currents within the party even where he didn’t agree
with them. He would be 100% loyal to the new leadership, and
wished the party well. And after a few further contributions
from individuals, it was over. We shall miss them both.

Questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for this
to be circulated to members – and supporters - as a personal
account, not an official record. Past reports are at

Ann Black /

Presented with Ann Black's permission.

See also here

Then Comrades Come Rally

Peter Misses Out

I kept pressing for Peter Hain to stand for the Leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that he was a closet Libertarian Socialist who could come forward with a feasible left-leaning platform that could stimulate a much needed debate in the Labour Party. I felt that he could have given Gordon a good run for his campaign money.

But it is not to be and Peter will only be a candidate for Deputy. I will give him my vote, as I hope that he can use the position as a launch pad in a future Leadership campaign - if, for instance, Labour lose the next General Election.

John Benefits

Given that the only possible Leadership contest now seems to be between Gordon and John, then I have no difficulty in making my mind up between them. I am not New Labour and reject the powers and freedoms of the market. So I can't support Gordon, even if he is developing a leftish form of New Labourism.

I am all for the debate for the leadership providing a democratic socialist challenge to New Labour. John who has ability, conviction and a pleasing personality; will certainly fly this red flag. I might be being carried away in a wave of emotion, but I will now join with my former comrades in the Socialist Campaign Group and give John my full and active support. If all else fails, at least I will enjoy myself.

'Another World Is Possible"

The above is the title of John's Campaign document. His Campaign operates from and See here.

My own statement for use in his Campaign is -

"John has wide ranging abilities, understandings and commitments. When dealing with issue after issue, he invariably thinks through sets of serious proposals and pursues them with determination and dedication. Without John as a candidate for Leader, there will be no debate in the coming key weeks inside the Labour Party about whether its future can rise beyond the confines of New Labour and embrace the norms of democratic socialism."

If I am now guilty of an emotional spasm, then long live red emotional spasms.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Observing New Labour

Correct Analysis. Mistaken Values

Articles in yesterdays' Observer by Will Hutton and William Keegan seem to me to provide a sound analysis of the nature of New Labour, the strength of its impact and the strong possibility of its continuing development.

Hutton examines the key role of Tony Blair in shifting Labour to this new ground, whilst Keegan's article is centred on Gordon Brown's commitment to a leftish version of the same form of politics.

My point of departure with Hutton and Keegan is that I am not a supporter of the moves they describe and feel that Labour Movement politics has headed in the wrong direction by dismissing its traditional mixture of democratic socialist and labourite values.

In particular, I feel that moves towards social equality and the development of a public service ethos are essential to transcend the unjust, selfish, divisive and competitive values of the market place. One of the keys to developing a society which is responsive to the norms of social equality and to a commitment to the general well-being, is a move to public forms of ownership operated under democratic controls.

An Extract From Will Hutton's Article (Observer page 31)

(a) quote

"...Blair has invented a new strain of British politics - liberal Labour.

In this respect, I think Blair is going to be as important to the Labour Party as Disraeli and Macmillan have been to the Tory Party. They were politicians of the right who set out to appeal to the centre not as a political tactic, but because the values of the centre sat where they wanted to be, and so they invented liberal conservatism. Blair has made the same choice. He wants to associate his party and its values with the values of the British centre....

Blair will leave an indelible mark on the British left. Liberal Labour will become as important a political tradition within it as Methodism, trade unionism or socialism."

Hutton goes on to describe Gordon Brown as "...the now-converted standard-bearer of liberal Labour..."

(b) comment

We can have our quibbles about Hutton's analysis. Liberal labour isn't something new in British politics. It is as old as the Lib-Labism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which the Labour Party was founded to challenge. Then, Margaret Thatcher did much to dent the Disraeli/Macmillan tradition in the Tory Party. Above all, the "centre" of British politics is not a fixed tradition, it shifts and moves with circumstances, such as those of the second world war.

But I feel that Hutton is correct in stressing the significance of Blair's ideological contribution to the development of labourism. There is certainly a clear danger that (if we don't watch out) liberal Labourism will dominate Labour's future horizons.

I only wish that those who want a liberal centre in British politics would devote their attention to liberal Liberalism, rather than to liberal Conservatism or liberal Labourism. But I realise that no-one is going to give my form of politics an easy ride,

An Extract From William Keegan's Article (Observer, Business Section page 8)

(a) quote

"...I promise you I read the whole of Gordon Brown's Selected Speeches 1997-2006. They contain many clues to the future. After all, these are the speeches he wants you to read, not the ones he wants you to forget.

If there is an underlying theme, it is that our future Prime Minister has travelled a long way from the Red Gordon days. His conversion to 'the market economy' is genuine, as is his admiration for the US entrepreneurial culture. But so is his belief in the limits of markets, especially with regard to healthcare, and his realisation that there is an urgent need to do something about what is undoubtedly a major housing crisis in this country.

...There is scope, on the evidence of this book, for a less-Red Gordon to be a lot less blue than New Labour, his joint creation with Blair, has been in practice."

(b) comment

I grant that the prospect of left-wing New Labourism under Gordon will be an improvement on what we have seen so far and it might even give some scope for democratic socialists and traditional labourites to re-emerge on Labour's stage. But there is also a clear danger that such an approach will help to consolidate what Hutton calls liberal Labour. To re-establish even a rhetorical commitment to democratic socialism and labourism in the Labour Party, we must seek to move beyond Gordon's conversion to the market economy and the entrepreneurial culture.

The paradox is that even right-wing labourism would provide a more hopeful wicket for democratic socialists than will a leftist form of liberal Labourism.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I Had A Dream

It is not fair. There is speculation about the make-up of a Gordon Brown Cabinet, but I have not seen any speculation about the make-up of a John McDonnell Cabinet. Yet I can see it now through the ether and via an intelligent look at the make-up of the Socialist Campaign Group. The membership of the Group neatly fits the current posts.

Prime Minister...............John MacDonnell
Deputy Prime Minister........Jeremy Corbyn(1)
Chancellor of the Exchequer..Kelvin Hopkins
Chief Secretary,Treasury.....Mike Wood
Foreign Secretary............Bob Wareing(2)
International Development....Diane Abbott(3)
Home Secretary...............Neil Gerrard
Education & Skills...........Lynne Jones
Health.......................Ian Gibson
Environment..................Alan Simpson(4)
Trade & Industry.............Mick Clapham
Work & Pensions..............Katy Clark
Defence......................Harry Cohen
Justice & Lord Chancellor....Lord Marshall-Andrews QC
Community & Women............Ann Cryer
Culture, Media, Sport........Bill Etherington(5)
Social Exclusion.............Linda Riordan
Transport & Scotland.........David Hamilton
N.Ireland & Wales............John Austin(6)
Minister Without Portfolio...Dave Anderson(7)
Chief Whip...................Austin Mitchell
Leader of the Commons........David Taylor
Leader of the Lords..........Lord Skinner of Bolsover(8)
Lords Chief Whip.............Lord Cook of Stockton


1 = This appointment is on the assumption that Jon Cruddas wins the Deputy Leader vote and is committed not to take the linked post of Deputy Prime Minister. If someone else wins the Deputy Leader vote, then Jeremy will be appointed as British Ambassador to the United States.

2 = Bob's first visit will be to Belgrade.

3 = Diane is seen as the new Claire Short.

4 = As part of the deal under which Michael Meacher dropped out of standing for Leader in favour of John, he will job-share with Alan.

5 = Bill qualifies as Sports Minister because he is a Sunderland supporter and the Stadium of Light is in his Constituency.

6 = For John's past services to Sinn Fein.

7 = Dave's membership of the Socialist Campaign Group seems to have lapsed. If he pays his subscription he will be given a Portfolio.

8 = Dennis's appointment is in order to usher legislation to abolish the Lords through the Upper House. The nation will then be known as Skinnerville.


I hope that my former Comrades in the Campaign Group forgive the above. Some of the appointments would actually be rather good ones. And if we are given the choice, I will be voting for John.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The People's Flag In Baghdad

See here for a photo of the May Day Demonstration in Baghdad.

Meanwhile In Basra ....

And here, Hashimiya Hussein the President of the Electricity and Energy Workers Union and the first woman Trade Union Leader in Iraq's history leads their May Day March - with a special call for women to join their Trade Union Movement. I have met Hashimiya both at the TUC and at Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. She told me that she would be a year old when I myself arrived in Basra to do my National Service.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

13 Wasted Years

In The Beginning

Few of those who voted for Tony Blair in the Labour Leadership contest of 1994 knew or cared about his New Labour project. It was sufficient for the centre and right-wing of the Party that he was presentable and would not rock the boat as far as the electorate was concerned. After all, Labour had been in the wilderness since 1979.

Moderate labourites preferred Tony to John Prescott and Margaret Beckett who at that time both had an appeal for the left and centre-left of the Party.

The New Labour project was, however, to go way beyond moderate labourism. It was to nurture and develop the greater freedoms of the market introduced by Margaret Thatcher, whilst looking for schemes to redirect some of the newly created wealth towards socially desirable ends such as new schools, shorter hospital waiting lists and more job opportunities. Although it was occurring in a new historical context, New Labourism reflected the very norms of Lib-Labism which Keir Hardie and others had fought against when helping to establish the Labour Party itself.

Out Of The Blocks

Tony's first move to break Labour's mould came with his proposal to change Clause 4 of the Labour Party's Constitution, with its commitment to public ownership. Instead, Labour was now to be an advocate of a "dynamic economy" - an Aesopism for Capitalism.

He was now ready to make his appeal for Middle-England (meaning Middle Class) votes. Given the mess the Conservatives had got themselves into, Labour were almost bound to win the 1997 election. Tony's New Labourism was, however, structured to usher in a landslide.

He was now in control of the shop. The norms of full discussions and limited compromises in Cabinet meetings ended. The new wave of Labour MPs tended to be ultra-loyal, hoping that this would ensure their future re-election. The Constitution of the Labour Party was further changed so that the rank and file would find it almost impossible to work out how policies could be changed.

Many left and labourite activists began to re-examine their commitment to Labour. New Labour recruits were attracted in their place, whilst numbers of moderate labourites jumped onto Tony's successful bandwagon.

New Labour Survives A Blip

It isn't easy, however, to drum labourism (and even residual socialism) out of the Labour Party altogether. And immediately after the 2001 election, Tony was placed on the back foot. Although his approach had helped to deliver a second landslide electoral victory, the numbers turning out to vote collapsed. It was now a landslide victory by default. The Conservatives were still in a mess, whilst the past appeal of New Labour to Middle England was on the wane.

At the first meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party(PLP) after the election, Tony expected gratitude for holding onto the gains of 1997, but what he found was criticism from many of his past loyalists. A shift of direction was now being looked for towards better Party and PLP democracy, in order to alter some of the norms of New Labourism.

An uncomfortable Labour Party Conference was on the horizon, with the Trade Unions both reflecting and influencing the new mood of assertiveness amongst back-bench Labour MPs.

But Tony was then saved by what became his eventual downfall - the consequences of the 11 September attack on the Twin Towers. The Labour Party Conference was truncated and uncomfortable issues sidelined. Tony was now tucked in with the Bush Administration in America, leading to the fateful decision to join in the invasion of Iraq. He increasingly played the role of the National Statesman and was ready to use the votes of Conservative MPs to override the dissident views of increasing numbers of his own back-benchers.

His luck held when few of his Cabinet took the line of Robin Cook and resigned. It was mainly left to the back-benchers to rebel on their own, which they did in increasing numbers in the 2001-5 Parliament compared to that of 1997-2001.

What About Tony's Positive Achievements?

It is, of course, possible to draw up a list of substantial Labour achievements for the past 10 years. But there is a peculiarity about most of these.

Apart from items such as the introduction of the principles of the minimum wage and the praise I lavished on Tony yesterday on Northern Ireland, most of his Government's achievements have to be qualified.*

So that whilst disposable income has substantially improved, so have inequalities. Whilst University education has expanded, so has student debt. Whilst employment opportunities have risen, so has the closure of manufacturing industries. Whilst pensioners can often travel more widely with free bus passes, so workers are more often obliged to travel to work for lower paid and temporary employment. Whilst there has been a devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and now Northern Ireland, local authority functions has been taken away and centralised.

Almost every plus has its associated minuses. Then there are the pure negatives such as the culture of spin. The destruction of the old public service ethos. The downgrading of the role of Parliament (despite allowing a vote on the invasion of Iraq). And the failure to prevent "cash for honours".

The invasion of Iraq was the leading error, even though we can't just now stand back and refuse to offer help in overcoming its consequences.

Whither New Labour?

Will Tony's legacy be to leave us with a New Labour Philosophy? There is no reason to believe that there will be a change of tack from the centre under Gordon Brown, as he has been the economic arm of delivering the New Labour agenda. His clash with Tony has only been over pelf and place.

I have regularly spelt out why I think that Peter Hain should stand for Leader and not Deputy. He can't win, but he is capable of launching a feasible democratic socialist programme for change. But he now only has about 24 hours left in which to make this move. When this doesn't happen, I will have to come out in favour of John McDonnell who will (if he gets the nominations) be the only socialist in the game - surely it won't be Michael Meacher. I will then back Peter for Deputy in the hope that after a likely 2009/10 General Election defeat under Gordon, he will move in to seek to pick up the pieces. Yet he would be in a better position to do this if he stood for Leader now (and lost). We need a champion for now and not tomorrow or Labour Membership and support will go even further down the drain.

An Added Note, 11 May.

* = At this point I should have given a recognition to the important initiatives he took in seeking to tackle poverty in Africa, writing off certain third world debts, in tackling climate change and in moving forward on disability legislation. He could always, of course, have gone further on these and I was particularly frustrated by his unwillingness to advocate an international tax on currency speculation - known as the Tobin Tax. But at least on these matters, he headed in a very different direction to both Bush and the previous Conservative Government.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

In Praise Of Tony Blair

Admiration From A Rebel

I have never been New Labour. I disobeyed the Labour Whips 11.4% of the time in the 2001-5 Parliament. Yet I am full of admiration for the role Tony Blair has played in a matter which was always at the top of my political agenda in my period as an M.P. - the search for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland (NI).

I know that many others played their part, but a great deal of credit goes to Tony for the stage we have now reached.

Will Republicans Let It Work?

Sinn Fein (SF) have moved to a position where their whole future rests upon their making the new NI Executive work (or, at least, they must not be seen to be guilty if it collapses).

To start with, they can not return to the armed struggle without now looking like Al-Qaeda. They would then be finished as a Political Party who are dependent on significant electoral support.

Yet they have a political project open to them which will be greatly enhanced if they can contribute significantly to the success of the new NI set-up. If peace, prosperity and cross-border trade boom, then SF's electoral standing in the Irish Republic could grow significantly. For SF are firmly and traditionally an all-Ireland Party.

SF have a great deal to gain if they can help the NI Executive to function, but they will be struggling to hold onto what they now have if they are seen to let it fail. For the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) is waiting in the wings to re-capture its former support amongst Catholics if things go wrong for SF.

Will Unionists Let It Work?

Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have an image of intransigence. But they can claim that this has been intransigence for a purpose and that it has succeeded.

In legal terms, Northern Ireland is still firmly part of the United Kingdom. The arms formerly used by the Provisional IRA have effectively been decommissioned. It is SF that is obliged to participate in a NI Executive and not the DUP that has been forced into a United Ireland. SF has also accepted the general role of the Police Force in NI.

With what the DUP feels are its major guarantees in place, it has then become possible for it to play the leading role in the NI Executive by taking the posts of First Minister and Finance Minister.

Strong differences will remain between the DUP and SF, but these will be in areas which are the normal give and take of the parliamentary game. Hard fought compromises can be reached in areas such as education, agriculture and the environment. For all such compromises by their nature are temporary and changes can always be pressed for in the future.

I have observed three of the DUP's four new Ministers in action in the official and unofficial avenues of the Commons and believe them to be clear as to what they are up to. They feel that their intransigence has worked satisfactorily, so they now have a framework in which a more normal form of politics can work.

They also know that if they blow it, Reg Empey's Ulster Unionist Party might then reclaim sufficient votes from Protestants to take over the DUP's leading role.

Building The Current Framework

There was no inevitability about us reaching the current position in NI politics. Without a great deal of patience and skillful manoeuvring we would not have the current hopes. The first NI Minister to find a formula to draw SF into the thought of involvement was a Conservative, Peter Brooke. Whilst the Republic of Ireland, the USA and others played important roles. But there was no more important actor in all this than Tony and the use he made of a series of dedicated Labour Minister's in the Northern Ireland Office - including Peter Mandelson (whom I never otherwise have a good word for.)

None of us have any right to criticise our departing Prime Minister, unless we first of all acknowledge this great success.