Saturday, June 30, 2007

The ABC Of Brown's Government

The full list of Government members appears here.

What are its key characteristics? I take the headings from Alec Glasgow's "The Socialist ABC".

"A is for Alienation"

As a start towards what Gordon calls a "Government of all the talents" , he has given prominent positions to five members from outside Labour's ranks who are given Peerages to enable them to have a "legitimate" parliamentary presence. When you add to this the fact that at least two Lib-Dem Peers have been given the role of advisers, then we are starting out on the road towards building a National Government. This is added to by the fact that we are still looking for further defections from Tory MPs.

"B is for the Boss"

Big Business (but certainly not the Trade Unions) are given seats at the table, with the establishment of a Department of "Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform". In order that we can have no doubt as to what this is about, Sir Digby Jones the former boss of the Confederation of British Industry has been made second in command. Furthermore, he has also been given an overseas economic role at the Foreign Office. On top of all this a Business Council for Britain has been established which includes Sir Richard Branson and other top bosses. The Prime Minister and Ministers with economic responsibilities will attend its deliberations. If Thatcher had gone as far as this we would all have screamed blue murder.

"C is for Capitalism"

There are also several new faces at Junior Ministerial level, plus those who have been re-cyled such as John Denham into a Cabinet position. Yet the bulk of appointments are re-appointments, who have mainly be shifted into fresh positions. This gives huge advantages to Gordon.

First; as nearly everyone has to knuckle down to new tasks they are unlikely to be able to give much thought to Gordon's overall plan. By they get round to being in a position to think things out, it will be too late and they will be sucked in.

Secondly; The Labour members with appointments are mainly Blairites and Brownites. There will be little trouble from the former, especially when they see that Gordon's set-up is an even more dynamic form of "New Labour" than anything Tony ever got around to. We are now into Capitalism with a big "C".

"X,Y and Z, me dear daddy said, will be written on the street barricades"

X. There is only one possible hitch which I can see for Gordon's project. Some of the Brown camp who criticised Blair may have assumed that Gordon was (at least) a few degrees to the left of Tony. They now face reality. It is Gordon who is the political thinker and was the major architect of "New Labour". The first two moves of New Labour in 1997 were Gordon's. The establishment of the independence of the Bank of England and the announcement that we would stick with Tory spending limits for the first two years.

Will reality finally be seen by some of those close to Gordon, such as the former Bennite we used to call Red Dawn? And will they react? There are Trade Unions which should, at least, be alerting Labour MPs to the dangers of Gordon's project.

Y. The only good sign is that Jon Cruddas has had the wit to refuse what seems to have been the offer of a Regional Minister's post and Deputy Chairmanship of the Party - for the latter should, of course, be an elected post. Perhaps he and others linked in with Compass can at least press for the leftish shift which some Brownites had been dreaming about.

Z. The democratic socialists who remain in the Labour Party, need to appreciate just how bad things are. We can't just tuck behind John MacDonnell in campaigns which make us think that given one more bound, we will be free. Yet there is nothing we can feasibly build or associate ourselves with outside the Labour Party. Let us face it, we are in for a long and difficult haul. In a Deputy Leadership contest which gave us a final option between Harriet Harman and Alan Johnson, we saw the state the Party and the wider Movement are in.

As democratic socialism is so weak in the Labour Party, what should we do? We can't beat Gordon and company at the game of manipulating agendas and fixing votes. All we can do is what we should always do. Convert people to democratic socialist values. It is back to appreciating basic understandings of our values and having a commitment to "political education, political education, political education". Let us concentrate our efforts, where we should have our strengths.

Friday, June 29, 2007

There Is No Stopping Gordon - Unfortunately

Stinking Fish

In appointing two further Lib-Dems from the Lords as advisers and four other non-labour people as Ministers, Gordon Brown has fully confirmed the fears I expressed yesterday.

The disgraceful appointment of Sir Digby Jones is not merely non-labour, it is solidly anti-labour as this former chief of the Confederation of British Industry has shown in his repeated attacks on trade unionism and on even mild labourite aspirations.

Gordon's Government is looking more and more like an embryo-National Government. I did well to call him Ramsay MacBrown.

Improving The Positioning Of The Deck Chairs

The only semi-decent move he has made in his appointments so far, is the establishment of seven Ministers for the English Regions. This will, of course, only work reasonably if Select Committees and a separate Parliamentary Question Time are provided for each of these, so that each Region's back-bench MPs can openly pursue the local concerns of their constituents. Such provisions might emerge in a statement Gordon is due to make in the Commons on Monday.

Unfortunately, anything positive that comes out of this is seriously overshadowed by Gordon's life threatening blows to labourism.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Gordon's First Five Days

Although Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Prime Minister yesterday, he took over Tony's former role as Party Leader five days ago on Sunday.

So far, the democratic socialists who remain in the Labour Party have seen a worrying pattern develop.

Five Days, Five Failings

1. He started out by placing himself firmly in the New Labour camp and sort to detach himself from Labour's heritage with the words "there will be no return to the failed approaches of the past".

2. He quickly moved to propose a downgrading of the role of the Trade Unions within the Labour Party, undermining what used to be known as the "Labour Alliance".

3. He floated the notion of an alternative form of alliance which would draw in Liberal Democrats and others. It is early days, but he has arranged for Shirley Williams who vigorously attempted to divide and destroy the Party in the past to take on the role of an adviser. He has also provided an opening for non-Labour people to attend Cabinet Meetings by giving Malloch Brown a government post.

4. He gleefully accepted the strange Tory MP, Quentin Davies into the Labour Party. Then quickly, he promoted a past Tory deserter Shaun Woodward into the delicate post of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

5. His Cabinet is made up of a mixture of people from the former Blair and Brown camps. No effort has been made to cast the net wider, with the possible exception of the appointment of John Denham who rebelled over the issue of invading Iraq.

What Next?

Tomorrows appointment of Junior Government posts is likely to be used to illustrate the general thrust of his administration. It is unlikely to make any serious effort to incorporate left-leaning Labour MPs in its ranks.

I will comment further when I have seen the names and will access what scope is likely to remain in the Gordon Brown Labour Party for democratic socialists.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Telling Photography From Baghdad

I have just discovered some priceless and expert photos of Iraq which were posted between October 2005 and June 2006 by a young Iraqi woman in her early 20s. She has since moved to the USA. In the main they are of Baghdad where she originates.

They range from an old photo of the outskirts of Baghdad in 1904 to modern scenes of explosions. From present day Iraq, we have pictures of black market petrol sales, a curfew, football, voting in elections, schools, Court scenes from Saddam's trial and a suicide attack on a bus. From an older Iraq come photos of poets and of Marsh Arabs.

Then there are timeless matters (if they are not now damaged and destroyed) of Iraqi Art, Babylon and Monuments.

If you want to understand why Iraqis love their country even (or especially) when forced into exile, then click here.

Quenton Davies As A Local Labour MP

Give a thought to active Labour Party members in the Grantham and Stamford Constituency (which covers part of the area previously contained in the Stamford and Spalding Constituency) who have been opposing this hideous Tory MP for up to 20 years and now find that he represents them in Parliament and will be entitled to participate in their activities. It is more than flesh and blood can bear thinking about.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Harriet Where Art Thou?

As Harriet Harman has been elected Deputy Leader by the Labour Party in place of John Prescott, she should now be given his old post of Deputy Prime Minister. Apart from the Jon Cruddas camp, that is what we saw the contest as being about.

This is about the rights of the membership of the Electoral College. Whether Harriet is any use is a secondary consideration.

Nor should Deputy Leaders (whether Deputy Prime Minister or not) also Chair the Labour Party. No-one can neutrally Chair meetings and even give a deputy-lead.

I am no Harriet fan, but I accept democratic decisions - until I can democratically help to change them.

Come on Harriet, insist on your rights. After all you have a full democratic mandate which is more than can be said for Gordon. And resign as Chair, for it does not mean that you will lose your elected post (whatever it might be).

Report Of Sunday Morning's NEC Meeting

For information : this is has been circulated by Ann Black, NEC Member

Hi all

Below is a report from Sunday morning’s NEC meeting, and some
notes on the consultation document on further changes to party
structures and functioning, now available on the party website –
please read and respond.

All good wishes

National Executive Committee / Leadership Conference, 24 June

Gordon Brown was warmly welcomed by the NEC, meeting in
Manchester on the morning of his confirmation as leader. He spoke
to each of us in turn and emphasised how much he valued both the
NEC and the party membership. At his request the NEC readily
approved Douglas Alexander as campaign manager through to the
next general election, but despite press speculation I do not believe
that this is imminent. Rather it recognises the need to prepare, to
campaign and to fundraise over the coming years, alongside the
work of developing policies for a fourth term.

The leader-in-waiting had clearly given much thought to the future of
the party. His first announcement was that the deputy leader,
whoever he or she might be, would take the role of party Chair, with
power to appoint assistant Chairs to help them. This is not a
downgrading of the deputy’s position, as some have suggested. In
fact several of the candidates, notably Jon Cruddas and Hazel
Blears, stressed the priority of party revival over prestige, and now
we have a Chair elected by the members instead of one appointed
by the leader.

He also tabled a paper aimed at addressing two urgent concerns:
that members do not feel sufficiently involved and valued, and that
local parties are not always in touch with their communities. This is
now available on the party website, with a deadline for comments of
14 September. If necessary I can forward it in pdf format, but as
responses must be made on-line, it would be better to get to grips
with your individual MpURL. I have asked how constituencies submit
collective views, and am assured that these will be identified as such
if they come from the registered secretary.

I hope everyone will read and reply to the full proposals, but have
listed some key themes below, with a few initial comments. As
always I welcome your thoughts, if possible before the next NEC
meeting on 17 July, and will take account of them in my detailed

Bullet Points [and comments]

- more encouragement for constituencies in holding local policy
forums [good in principle] and involving all their members in policy-
making [including those without internet access];

- better feedback on policy submissions so members can see how
their concerns have been discussed, backed up with more resources
[very welcome. May need to demonstrate this first and up-front, to
persuade constituencies that more forums will be worthwhile];

- support for local parties, including Labour groups, in engaging
with their communities [also welcome. Forums work well at local
level where there is a clear connection between input and agreed

- strengthening the national policy forum (NPF), with the joint
policy committee (JPC) acting as its executive [needs more analysis
– could make it more effective, or more remote. Also the JPC needs
greater accountability and better constituency representation];

- ensuring that ministers engage actively with the NPF [good];

- giving members direct access to their NPF representatives
[excellent – have been asking for this since I was elected. Hopefully
NPF representatives will also be given direct access to members];

- adding twelve more NPF members, six from constituencies and
six from affiliates, to be elected directly by annual conference [cannot
see the point. The 55 constituency representatives have always
been elected directly by conference and most activists still cannot
name them. Prefer one-member-one-vote, or groups of
constituencies electing one of their conference delegates to the

- ending the right to send contemporary resolutions to
conference. Instead, constituencies and affiliates would submit
general policy areas, and a ballot at conference would decide which
of these should be priorities for the NPF. The policy commissions
would then examine them in detail [controversial. Some argue that
motions are a safety-valve, others that ritual confrontation does no-
one any good. Recent development of housing policy is held up as
an alternative, with a policy commission sub-group said to have
made real and consensual progress. However almost no-one has
seen any of its work since September, and more openness is needed
to win this argument];.

- submitting the final policy documents agreed by the NPF to a
one-member-one-vote ballot [not convinced. Postage is costly
unless we disfranchise people without e-mail. The ballot on the draft
manifesto in 1996 involved tremendous efforts, including telephone
banks and mailshots, to get a respectable response rate. And
referendums provide a way for people to let off steam rather than
answer the question posed, especially when asked to say Yes or No
to lengthy, complex and unamendable documents. I think there are
better uses for very limited resources.]

Any Other Business

Gordon Brown assured us that despite the rumours, conversations
with Paddy Ashdown had been limited to issues around security and
investment in Northern Ireland, given his role as Chair of the parades
commission and his longstanding experience. There was no
question of him joining the cabinet, and though we needed to draw in
everyone who shared our values, Gordon intended to lead a Labour
cabinet and a Labour government.

Finally some members suggested reopening our decision that Ealing
Southall should select its next parliamentary candidate from an all-
women shortlist, following the sad death of sitting MP Piara Khabra.
Traditionally, by-election candidates are chosen from open lists, a
process which has overwhelmingly favoured men. However in this
case, with the normal selection procedure imminent, and Piara
Khabra’s own expressed wish that he should be succeeded by an
ethnic minority woman, I hope that the NEC will keep its nerve or that
we will at least have a chance to discuss any change.

High Drama

Moving on to the main event, Labour proved that it can prevent leaks
when it tries, to the extreme annoyance of the media. At half past
one the six candidates for deputy were locked in a room, deprived of
their BlackBerrys, told the results, and given a brief time to compose
themselves. The audience waited in ever-increasing impatience
while the NEC Chair Mike Griffiths and general secretary Peter Watt
welcomed us to Manchester, still a Tory-free zone, emphasised the
inclusiveness of the process, praised the conduct of the candidates
and the quality of debate and thanked all those involved, especially
the party staff who have worked without a break virtually since

At last the suspense was ended, with less than one per cent
separating the winner and the runner-up in the final round, and
individual party members proving decisive. (The full breakdown was
published in Monday’s Guardian.) Turnout was 99% among MPs
and MEPs, 53% for individual members, but only 8% in the affiliate
section, maybe depressed by some ballot papers arriving just days
before the deadline. The hustings showed that all the candidates
had much to contribute, and I am sure that Gordon Brown can find a
use for all their talents without resorting to the LibDems. After warm
applause Harriet Harman made a polished speech, Tony Blair took a
final curtain call and graciously introduced his successor, who sent
members away with renewed hope, enthusiasm and determination.

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, /

Monday, June 25, 2007

See "Last-Of-Iraqis"

Political Bloggers wishing to find out what life in Baghdad is like should link into this blog which is run by Mohammed, a 25 year old dentist.

It has only been running since 18 May and to date he has only posted 17 items. This means that everything is up-to-date and can be trawled through with little effort in order to pick out matters of interest.

As a starter, I recommend his video of 15 June, entitled the "Neighborhood of Sorrow" which shows the unhappy road to Adhamyia which is the District of Baghdad which is now hemmed in by a wall.

Don't miss "Going to school in Baghdad" on 2 June. It shows a photo of a dead suicide bomber in his exploded car, with a mother taking her son across the road in front of it on their way to school. The body has not been taken away by the authorities and the couple are ignoring this everyday type of incident.

Mohammed's main think-piece was posted on 20 June and is entitled "The Complete Story of Muqtada and Al Mahdi Army". It is a serious and carefully worked piece on the al-Sadr phenomena.

But everything is not all despair and Mohammed points out that it would be even worse if it wasn't for the fact that so many Shia and Sunni are intermarried and that there are still many shared communities of both sects in Iraq. See his "Restraining Factors for the Sectarian War" on May 26. Unfortunately, todays item "Vengeance of a Madhi-Commander" points in the other direction.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What Did You Make Of Gordon's Speech?

1. Was It Just Blairism Without Blair?

In his Labour Conference Speech today, Gordon Brown seemed to give us a vision for a re-vitalised New Labourism. At least, he labelled himself "New Labour". This would mean that after a palace coup, he has ended up firmly in line with Tony Blair's approach of seeking to reconcile free market practices with certain moves to social justice.

So we were given calls for -

(a) A property-owning democracy plus a renewal of social housing.

(b) A marriage for educational purposes between businesses and trusts on the one hand and schools, colleges and universities on the other.

(c) A world of open, dynamic and flexible markets plus the strengthening of the humanitarian role of the Department of International Development.

(d) Charities to work with public bodies to ensure that no child grew up in poverty.

To ensure the free market will continue to wag the tail of social justice, he promised "no return to the failed approaches of the past". That is really Blairspeak for no moves to either progressive taxation nor to increases in social service provisions.

2. Or Instead Was It Closet Socialism?

When Gordon said that education was the "great liberating force of our generation" was he just repeating Tony's mantra of "education, education, education"? For Tony's formula worked out to be more about "training, training and re-training" to equip people for new roles under the impact of the technological revolution. Yet this is not what the "liberating" of people's minds should be restricted to.

So were Gordon's promises of education or apprenticeships for all up to 18, plus significant new expenditure per pupil indicating a shift? Does he want an open world of education which will enable people to follow in his own footsteps and work on a thesis out of pure intellectual stimulation?

Then what of all those other bits and pieces he dropped out, such as protections for vulnerable workers, devolving power to parliaments and the people, having citizens forums and citizens juries, renewing the NHS, tackling racism and xenophobia, acting to tackle climate change and even the municipal socialists' dream of the communal control of assets?

Can the free market alone produced these? And does Gordon know they can't?

So Where Does Gordon Really Stand?

Is he merely trying to appeal to two audiences? In (1) above we get the arguments that will appeal to the World of New Labour. Whilst in (2) is he looking to residual socialists to give them a nudge and a wink?

If so, which side is he really on? Or is he just trying for an easy life? The problem, of course, with sending out crossed messages is that New Labour might believe he is really a socialist, whilst socialists will be convinced he is New Labour.

At the 1997 election, Labour stood on a platform which included "no income tax increases". Afterwards I asked Tony if he felt it would be possible to move to a progressive income tax agenda at the following General Election, he replied "Harry, we can't go into a general election promising tax increases." Later, Gordon's answer to the same question was that nothing is set in concrete. I wonder if either (1) or (2) above, or neither are set in concrete.

I rather suspect that Gordon's tactic is to keep us guessing about his ideological stance until he finally hands over the Leadership. At least we knew where we stood with Tony.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Divide And Destroy

The last thing Iraq needs is official encouragement for social structures which help to divide people from each other. So this report on Maliki's Government seeking to stimulate and use tribal structures within Iraq, is highly disturbing. It follows the methods used by British controllers from the 1920s and by Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War.

It is bodies which came out of earlier industrialisation and urbanisation which should be turned to in order to link together divided people. These include trade unions, civic groupings, secular political parties and student and women's organisations. In pursuing their interests, they unite people who are otherwise divided by ethnic loyalties, tribal links, religious sects and gender.

If this sounds as if I am advocating the advance of class interests to counter those of tribal interests, then I would point out that in Iraq the depressed overwhelmingly form what Saint-Simon called "the class of the most numerous."

Friday, June 22, 2007

Which Is The Spoof?

Gordon Brown has an article in today's Tribune entitled "My Passion, My Priorities, My Vision". In only 11 paragraphs it contains the words "I", "me" and "my" no less than 22 times.

I am now awaiting his appearance on the steps of 10 Downing Street after his return from Buckingham Palace to tell us "We are now Prime Minister."

He also makes 17 uses of the terms "our", "we" and "us". As in -

"Labour is the only party committed to social justice, fairness and equality. Our party is the only party that will stand firm for Britain's hard working families, the only party focused on better public services and the right educational opportunities for our young people"

Which is a bit inconsistent with his invitation to Lib-Dems to join his Government.

Alongside Gordon's article is a hilarious one by Chris Proctor on Gordon's coming coronation at Labour's get-together at Manchester. This includes -

"The leadership coronation will be run on traditional lines. Entering on a Roman chariot and bearing aloft his trade-mark budget briefcase, Il Duce will be borne on a chaise longue to the main podium by the chairman of Asda with his "Grateful for the minimum wage" button badge, MediCare shareholders sporting their "Yes to NHS Reform" logos and the Arms Trade Sinfonietta singing - and meaning - Oh! What a lovely War!"

The way things are going perhaps it was Gordon's article that was the spoof and not the one from Chris.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ramsay MacBrown

Is it only the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives who are upset about Gordon Brown's offer of Government posts to Paddy Ashdown and via Ming Campbell? I suspect that those Labour Party members who spend a great deal of their time struggling for Council, Assembly and Parliamentary seats against an often two-faced Liberalism are also squealing? The media will, of course, need time to find them as most of the accessible members of the Parliamentary Labour Party are captives in Brown's camp.

Perhaps Gordon should re-read something he once wrote -

"The second Labour Government had ended in disaster. Ramsay MacDonald was now leading a Conservative-dominated Coalition Government. The Parliamentary Labour Party, which had supported the rightward lurches of MacDonald until the day of his defection, was in disarray."
Page 225, "Maxton" by Gordon Brown (Mainstream Publishing, 1986).

Prime Minister MacBrown has defected even before he has got going. As I once heard Don Mintoff say about a new Nationalist Prime Minister in Malta - "He has barely started, he has only farted"

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Communist Congress Held In Baghdad.

Despite the serious security situation, the Iraqi Communist Party(ICP) held its Congress in Baghdad between 10-13 May. This is the first Congress it has been able to hold in the Iraqi capital for 31 years. Recent Congresses have been held in the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan and were established with the co-operation of the ICP's sister Party - the Kurdistan Communist Party.

The fact that some 250 delegates and observers were organised to attend this 4 day event is no small achievement in present-day Baghdad.

Here is a translation of an interview with Salam Ali of the ICP's Central Committee about the Congress, which the journal of the Iranian Tudeh Party published earlier this month.

My own 4 part history of the ICP can be found as below -

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

God Save Me From This Fellow Atheist

A.C.Grayling is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College. A good selection of his books can be found on the ever-shrinking Philosophy shelves at Waterstones and Borders. Unfortunately, a recent book of his entitled "Against All Gods"(Oberon Books, 2007, £8.99) is a setback for atheism.

Lacking Both Quantity And Quality

The book is only some 10,000 words long; which is only the length of my last nine blogs. Yet it could be a pleasing (if still expensive) short read, if it wasn't equally short on quality.

Apart from its introduction, it consists of six self-proclaimed polemics against religion and a more positive six page essay which he grandly tells us is on "non-religious ethics".

These brief snippets "began life as journalist contributions". We aren't told where they were cut and pasted from and some repeat points taken from Karl Popper and from Grayling's earlier works.

My Polemic Against Polemics

He has two strange arguments for presenting us with these "brief and blunt" polemics. First; if we would like more detailed (and reasoned?) expositions of what he is saying, then he tells us we can consult three of his longer books. It was a pity I did not know that before I purchased the book under review - although I find that I have picked one of these books up recently as publisher's surplus.

Secondly, he feels that a "combative" tone is appropriate as there can be no "temporising" with religion over the matters he covers. This indicates that he is keen to take on the propaganda of religious zealots, rather than to face up to theology at its strongest and then cap it with reasoned arguments.

He is a most unphilosophical philosopher.

I will now respond to three of his polemics. If I tackled more, there would be a danger that my review would end up being longer than Grayling's book. I use his own chapter titles

1. Does Religion Deserve Respect?

He feels that religious people overwhelmingly expect and receive far too much respect for the views they hold. Whilst there are, of course, many cases where this happens, there are two important considerations which Grayling gives no thought to.

First, some religious people are aware that there are strong counter-arguments to their particular religious stance. Some have felt the need to try to overcome such "doubts". If we argue with them without rancour, then they (and any third party involved ) will benefit from the friendly dialectics of such discussions. I had hoped that a Professor involved with Adult Education would have held such a perception.

Secondly, whilst I believe that all religious belief in the existence of God is mistaken, I recognise that some people have come to the viewpoint I reject - yet they link it in with many of the "humanitarian" values which Grayling and I share. In challenging someone's belief in God, we should not do this in ways which will also dent such related value systems.

2. Can An Atheist Be A Fundamentalist?

Grayling finds the use of the term "atheist" to be a strange one, as it attempts to describe a non-belief or a nothing. More than once in his book he repeats his past argument that we don't feel a need to refer to people as "a-fairyists" because they don't believe in fairies. So he sees no scope for an atheist to be described as being a fundamentalist or otherwise. Atheism is just a non-acceptance of other people's claims about God.

But what if a person's non-belief in the existence of God is part of a wider-belief system in, say, historical materialism or evolution? Surely, we can have fundamentalists and extremists in such camps, who wish to ram their views down our throats in ways that refuse to grapple with any counter-claims. The strength of Darwin's position is that it has stood up to rigorous debate.

To me, atheism (along with any other belief and non-belief system it is part of) can be pushed by some in extremist and fundamentalist ways. I hope that it is an approach I normally avoid.

3. The Death Throes Of Religion

Grayling claims that religion is on its way out. The rise of extreme versions of Islam, faith schools and creationism are merely its death throes.

He claims that this is what happened in the Victorian Era and after the Counter Reformation. This is an interesting theory, but where is Grayling's proof that this seems to be happening now?

In fact, the above argument is the exact counter to the one presented by Alister McGrath in his book "The Twilight of Atheism" (Rider, 2005, £7.99). For McGrath, Atheism took off from the time of the French Revolution and has started to move into free fall with the collapse of the Soviet Union. As with Grayling, he offers no evidence for his claim - although it takes him 279 pages to develop his case, compared to 5 pages by Grayling.

I find it worrying that Grayling should adopted a similar non-methodology to that pursued by McGrath as a Christian Crusader.


A further problem with Grayling's book is that whilst his polemics sometimes repeat points, at other times they contradict each other. So that whilst in the above polemic he sees the coming triumph of atheism, in another he worries about a survey which shows that 30% of University Students believe in creationism and intelligent design. He then reads like a Daily Telegraph editorial as he attacks what he sees as the lowering of educational standards by the opening up of University access.

I have now had a go at two atheists who have "God" in the title of their books - Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling. I will, however, correct the balance in the future for there are some fine atheist writings for which I don't need God's protection.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

FBU Take Fire Engines By Road To Iraq

This should not be missed.

A Reply From Duncan On Iraq

Duncan McFarlane has produced this response to an item I posted back on 29 January which was entitled "A Reply To Duncan On Iraq".

The discussion we are having is about the nature, role and significance of the Iraqi Trade Union Movement. Duncan has produced a serious and well argued response, although I will dispute some of the grounds upon which he seeks to open up disagreements with me. In responding to him I face a further complexity, which I explain below.

Duncan's Wider Framework

His reply to me is only one item in a linked series of 12 articles about the situation in Iraq. These are introduced here. As I am mentioned in this introduction and links are then provided to my blog in three of his articles, I obviously need to respond to more than just the item that he presents on Iraqi Trade Unions. For the points he makes on Trade Unionism need to be seen through the prism of his wider concerns.

Because of his approach he has a tendency to link the views of Nick Cohen, the Euston Manifesto, Bush, Blair, Labour Friends of Iraq and myself together in some sort of loose alliance. Yet I am, of course, on record as being rather critical of the first four in this list.

So it might take me a little time to come up with a full response.

In The Meantime

I have, of course, posted many items in the past about Iraq's Trade Unions. My basic stance appeared last October 23rd and was entitled "Iraq: The Third Big Issue". The main changes that I would now make in that article are the claims about the size of the Iraqi Trade Union Movement outside of Iraqi Kurdistan. It seems to me that there are a number of factors which indicate that my past assessments were on the optimistic side.

Continuing legal bans on the operations of Trade Unions and on their funds, terrorist attacks on their members, emigration and mass unemployment will all have taken their toll. There is no doubt about the continuing strength of the Trade Union Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan, where legal restraints are not in place and where the other factors I have mentioned are less of a problem.

I have no doubts, however, that the Iraqi Trade Union Movement is worthy of our active support in its efforts to improve the conditions of life of the Iraqi people. No doubt, Duncan shares this position. But its within our wider frameworks towards reaching such shared conclusions that we are likely to reveal the differences in our approaches.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Who Is Using Whom?

Yesterday I thought that Jon Cruddas was playing a clever game. But now he seems to have gone over the top. He is billed as appearing on the platform at the Opening Plenary Session of a Morning Star Conference on 16 June entitled "Politics After Blair". He will be alongside the paper's editor, John Haylett.

Other speakers include Salma Yaqoob(Respect), Andrew Murray(Stop-the-War Coalition), Kate Hudson(CND), Rob Griffiths(Communist Party of Great Britain), Bob Crow(RMT), Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell.

Does Jon really want us to believe that he is part of this camp? And will those attracted by the Conference really believe that he has become one of them? His appearence does not worry me, but in moving to embrace the Hard Left is he not in danger of alienating some of his existing supporters who have not yet filled in their ballot papers?

Jon is in danger of losing his Compass.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fabian Frolics

One Person, Numerous Votes

So far I have received three ballot papers. For instance, as a national member of the Fabian Society I am entitled to participate in their ballot for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party.

My Fabian voting paper arrived along with a booklet containing essays from the six contestants. These vary in size from around 1,750 to 2,500 words.

I found them to be an easy read, aided by the fact that generally they vary in style and content. I had expected much of a muchness; hotch potches, making sweet noises but without making cashable recommendations.

But only Hilary Benn and Alan Johnson adopt this approach.

Fun With Hazel And Peter

Hazel Blears and Peter Hain are much more fun. They have disguised snipes at each other. Moreover they both have themes, which sharply differ. Admittedly, their themes are predictable, but that is better than there being absent.

Hazel is the New Labour warrior, convinced that we have done a damned good job and need to press on down a similar way. She recognises, of course, that as part of a moderniser's agenda, we never step into the same river twice. But if we keep the faith, we will surely win another General Election.

Peter wants to stress both the advances and shortcomings of New Labour. This gives him the opening to hint at some radical new ground rules, which all fall under his theoretical appreciations of the values of "libertarian socialism".

Mould Breaking With Harriet And Jon

But Harriet Harman and Jon Cruddas adopt surprising approaches. They present think pieces, each around their own distinctive single topic. There is no rushing at break-neck speed through climate change, making poverty history or health and education.

Instead, Harriet deals only with family matters. This, of course, is intended to highlight the role and needs of women. So it fits neatly into Harriet's campaign theme of "I'm a woman". But it does show that there is a substantial agenda here and with Harriet up front it might re-connect us with the female vote.

Jon The Clever

The biggest surprise, however, comes from Jon. His piece reads as if it was produced for an academic journal. There is nothing about his plans for democratising the Labour Party, nor does he point out that he does not want a Cabinet post. Quite correctly, he assumes that we know that by now.

Instead, he realises that Fabian's like to think of themselves as thinkers. So he gives them a piece examining what has happened to the working class. As he concludes that it is still as prominent as ever and needs to be courted, he also says things that John McDonnell's camp love to hear. So he seeks to capture two birds at once - Fabian thinkers and Hard Left ranters.

In the spirit of the dialectics of debate, I merely suggest that he takes on board some points about changes is working class life which I feel he has missed. They are here, see the final section entitled "The Working Class".

But I am beginning to think that Jon is a smart cookie. On TV today he was asked who he would like to see in a Labour Cabinet and came up with the name of "Neil Gerrard". That is a clever choice. It will appeal like mad to the Hard Left, yet will not upset others. Neil always pursues his corner soundly and without rancour. Pity he is retiring at the next General Election.


So do I now move Jon above Hilary in my list of choices? And what of Harriet? Then look at this goody from Alan. This voting lark is really getting confusing and I thought I knew the characters concerned. Still Peter-the-first and Hazel-the-last, still stand.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Is This A Male Chauvinist Ticket?

My ballot paper as an individual member of the Labour Party arrived today. As things stand (unless I can be convinced by strong countervailing arguments), I intend to place the only two women in the contest for Deputy Leader in the last two places.

Here are my order of preferences and the reasoning behind my choices -

First Choice - Peter Hain

Although he has involved himself in all the compromises of being a member of Blair's Governments, he seems to me to have a greater understanding and belief in the case for libertarian socialism than anyone else who is likely to achieve office in the current state of the Parliamentary Labour Party. His Governmental record also shows him to have pushed the boat out further in a democratic socialist direction than anyone else. And at last he has spoken out.

Second Choice - Hilary Benn

There is a sharp drop in the curve after my first choice. With Hilary, I am influenced by the fact that he has a decent record as the Minister for Overseas Development. On the other hand, it is easier under the normal confines of New Labour to make a reasonable fist of this job than of any other. What would he be like elsewhere?

I don't go for the way he tries to use his loose Bennite connections, as when he says "Labour values are in my blood". For one thing, I am myself an old Bevanite and feel that Bennism was often over the top. This criticism can't, of course, apply to Hilary, but I doubt whether he would match up in Bevanite terms either. I only go for him here because he looks better than the following choices.

Third Choice - Jon Cruddas

I am not grabbed by the argument that he doesn't wish to be Deputy Prime Minister. For I would like my vote to influence the determining of who is offered that post; especially when I am not allowed to have a vote to determine who will be Leader/Prime Minister.

And although Jon is the only candidate who is from outside the Government and has been free from the restraints of collective responsibility, what did he ever do from the freedom of the back-benches before he announced his candidature? He only edges in front of my next choice because he finally hit on the usefulness of a platform which contained the advancement of internal Labour Party democracy.

Fourth Choice - Alan Johnson

It is now getting more and more difficult to find anything positive to say about my final choices. Alan's saving grace is that there is one issue he carries over from his Trade Union experiences. He believes that it is right for our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland to be able to choose to be full participants within the Labour Party. Such an approach attempts to cut across the Catholic-Protestant political divide, especially in working class areas. It is an approach that is neither Green nor Orange, but Red.

He had the guts to go to Belfast and press this line, a 100 years after the very first Labour Party Conference was held there (previous Conferences were summoned by the preceding Labour Representation Committee). So unlike Blair, he does at least have a sense of history.

But otherwise, he has been so tucked in with the Blair agenda (especially on education) that I can give him no additional defence.

Fifth Choice - Harriet Harman

Harriet is next, but only because it is Hazel that remains. And she only has the edge over Hazel because of her own incompetence. Hazel is a tough, hard-line and able Blairite. With her as, say, Deputy Prime Minister, the chances of moving beyond the Blaitite agenda are diminished. Having Harriet in the post would be even less dynamic than continuing with John Prescott in situ. She is then less of a danger than Hazel.

Admittedly, Harriet has picked up some of Jon Cruddas programme on inner-party democracy . Yet he knows what he means.

Last Of Them All - Hazel Blears

She is the most Blairite of the candidates and willingly grabbed the appointed Party Chairmanship when it was offered to her. She is a loyalist to the hilt. More dangerous still, she is an able loyalist. Give her a script and she will ram it down your throat.

Waiting For Ms Godot

A great disaster of the Deputy Leadership Elections is that it contains no female candidate who has any democratic socialist instincts and ability. Yet there are numbers. My favourite would have been Yvette Cooper. She has a record of studying difficult problems and coming up with worthwhile solutions. These go beyond her seeming entrapment in the Gordon Brown camp. With a brave campaign, she could well have been my first choice.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

It's Poom, It's Poom .....

As England succumbed to a last minute equaliser against Brazil last Friday, they had better watch out that this isn't repeated or capped by Estonia tonight.

In particular they need to watch out for a tactic of the Estonian goalkeeper Poom, which can be accessed here.

Poom was in goal for Sunderland at the ground of his former club, Derby. Sunderland went down 1-0 towards the close of the game and against the run of play, then obtained a corner in the dying seconds. Poom rushed up the field and headed a dramatic equaliser.

I was with the Sunderland supporters, waiving my walking stick in the air in delight. We all went crazy, singing-

It's Poom, its Poom,
It's Marty, Marty Poom,
He got the ball.
He scored the goal,
It's Marty, Marty Poom"

Watch out for the Estonian version. On his day, Poom is also capable of keeping a clean sheet. His last minute header could be the winner this time. McClaren, you have been warned.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Towards A Socialist Perspective (Part 3)

What Is Now To Be Done?

In Parts 1 and 2, I attempted to analyse the significance for democratic socialists of the impact of technological change across the world and inside Britain. I also indicated that there are three possible socialist responses based on a deep seated pessimism, which we should try to avoid. These are (a) a surrender to New Labourism, (b) a fight directed at the overthrow of western imperialism which associates itself (however loosely) with various new forms of fascism who have set their face against what they see as the great Satan and (c) a retreat into apathy or into isolated single issue campaigns.

Although I am not a wild-eyed optimist, I feel that socialists should align themselves with those who seek to further democratic freedoms and display socialist values of mutual help and assistance. To me, this involves a recognition that the world is highly complex and that in particular situations there will be a need to seek to overcome the powers and influences of new forms of fascism, whilst at the same time tackling the impacts of modern capitalism and imperialism. In conflict situations where, say, fascism and imperialism face each other and we can't meaningfully tackle both at once, then we may be called upon to make difficult choices. Yet we will have plenty of insights from the past. George Orwell, for instance, faced up to both totalitarianism and imperialism.

What follows can not be logically watertight conclusions drawn from my analysis, for that would turn my whole work into some lengthy tautology. My suggestions which follow are I feel consistent with my arguments - although some may feel that whilst they are consistent they are not convincing.

Ten Suggestions - Not Ten Commandments

1. Socialism and Democracy

For democratic socialists, the commitments to the concepts of democracy and socialism only make sense if they are intertwined and reinforce each other. Democratic provisions in which everyone shares in decision-making, are both a means of building socialism and are part and parcel of the form of socialism we seek to establish.

We can, of course, be placed into circumstances where even elementary democratic arrangements are absent, as in totalitarian societies. Then we can face problems in societies where mass forces abuse democratic methods by using its openings to destroy its very safeguards. There are no prior answers to determine how we should respond in such problematic situations, apart from saying that whatever means are followed they should be pursued in ways that will not destroy the very ends we seek. We have too many lessons from the Soviet Union of the opposite.

Luckily in the UK today, no such limiting factors currently apply and there is no reason to find substitutes for the democratic method - in the way for instance Sinn Fein did over the armed struggle in Northern Ireland.

2. Classless Appeals

Everyone needs to be given the opportunity to share in the democratic arrangements of their society and to be encouraged to seek its democratic advancement. Likewise, the case for social justice needs to be given a similar universal appeal.

This presents a problem for those socialists who seek to direct their case exclusively to the interests of working people and their families. The impact of the technological revolution has, however, seriously dented the plausibility of such a tactic. For the working class no longer has the cohesion and homogeneity it experienced in the past. As a class, workers should no longer be seen by socialists as holding the "efficient secret" to unlocking the way forward to social and socialist change.

This does not mean that socialists should abandon demands for a whole range of social improvements for the more deprived in a society. Instead such appeals should be directed towards everyone on the basis that they are humane objectives and are necessary for the furtherance of the social bond.

Likewise, of course, our case should not be distorted as under New Labour so that middle England and the middle class as prioritised. We also need to appreciate that the making of a generalised across-the-board appeal has its difficulties in today's societies which are fractured into many bits and pieces and display a wide mix of loyalties.

3. Economic Democracy

A major shortcoming of normal democratic arrangements is that they are generally limited to establishing elected chambers from which different levels of governing personnel are appointed. Democratic Socialism should seek widespread participation in the operations of society, but not only in what are normally perceived as legitimate areas for political activity.

Whole aspects of our lives are shaped by economic influences over which we have little or no say. Trade Union negotiating rights can give their members a limited impact in this sphere. But democratic arrangements in the running of our economic life via avenues such as co-operative forms of production are also necessary for the advancement of serious areas of participation. Yugoslavia under Communism operated a form of economic democracy that was undermined by its absence of a viable political democracy. It is where political forms of democracy are firmly established as in Britain, that the condition for economic democracy could (if adopted) best be guaranteed.

Yet there is a problem with such forms of economic democracy (even just the limited form of having better Trade Union rights) which we need to be aware of. Specific Trade Unions and Co-operatives can themselves come to absorb the loyalties of their members and create sectional interests. This can run counter to the appeal to the general good that I stressed the need for in point 2 above.

It is only in a climate of mutual respect, social equality, sharing and with an intellectually alive population that such potential conflicts can satisfactorily be resolved.

4. Market Socialism

Whilst it will be seen from the above that I view co-operative forms of ownership as a key part of a vision for the operation of a feasible form of socialism, I don't wish to use their advocacy as a new "efficient secret" for the means by which societies can be transformed. However, co-operatives of consumers and producers can play an important role in the furtherance of socialist practices and can give us a vision for the future. They also illustrate that market forms of socialism have a considerable relevance to our understandings.

Without developing the concept of competitive forms of socialist markets, we are driven into an advocacy of centralised forms of state operations. As we should have learnt from the history of the Soviet Union this advances extreme forms of bureaucratic abuse.

And whilst market forms of socialism have the sectional dangers I have already mentioned, there are means of squaring the circle. For just as Keynesianism demand management was used in the post-war mixed economies to override market pressures of the twin evils of inflation and unemployment, so can more direct controls of socialised economic levers ensure that socialist market economies aren't distorted by the equivalent of co-operative oligopolies.

5. Free Opinion Formation

We also need to recognise that having the freedom to exercise votes and express opinions is only one side of the democratic coin. We also need to be able to form our attitudes free from duress and manipulation.

Whilst everyone's opinions are influenced and shaped by their environments, we need to appreciate that there is a distinction between influences which are stultifying and those which are liberating. A culture which is educative in the sense of broadening minds and leading to inquisitiveness and questioning, enables the exercise of freedoms which propaganda and sophistry can't.

The quality of our democratic input is as important as its quantity.

6. Inner-Party Democracy

The democratic project as outlined in the above points, is essential for the operation and functioning of the institutions of the Labour Movement. If we are ever to begin to make the case for democratic participation in our own society, then the internal life of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Trade Unions, Labour's Annual Conference and that of the wider extra-parliamentary Party will need to act in conformity with the views we propound. Otherwise we will be seen to be guilty of hypocrisy.

Indeed in terms of where we should now concentrate our efforts , then a concentration in the internal life of the Labour Party is probably our key and most practical starting point.

7. The New Trade Unionism

Trade Union membership has declined and displays changed internal characteristics which go beyond that of the growth of amalgamations. It has a changed form of membership, with a significant rise in the percentage of women and of the middle class. This means that some of the characteristics of its appeal and its operations are under change. The cross-class appeal of the form of democratic socialism which I have outlined can fit in well with these alterations, rather than a "workerist" approach.

It strikes me that there is a Trade Union appeal which could make a considerable impact upon the best aspirations of the general public. This relates to their work in the international sphere. This is not just a matter of our Trade Unions furthering their own negotiating links, but of giving practical and moral support to brothers and sisters who are involved in harsh overseas struggles to gain the most basic of Trade Union rights.

The TUC and various individual Trade Unions have a solid record in such areas. These are actions which have the potential of a wide area of appeal to many young people and to those who share humanitarian aspirations.

8. Popular Taxation

There is a great deal of empathy (especially amongst young people) for the well being of the world's poor and exploited. It finds life in campaign's such as "Make Poverty History", tackling climate change and in opposition to racism, sexism and homophobia. We need to show that democratic socialism can knit these aspirations together and can further practical programmes to tackle these concerns.

One area in which the Labour Movement could take a valuable lead would be in the advocacy of an international tax on rampant currency speculation (a matter I dealt with earlier). It could both help to dampen down the harmful impact of this activity and/or raise massive resources to begin to lift the impoverished of the world out of their plight. It would be a popular tax on an unpopular activity and is generally known as the Tobin Tax.

9. What Is Left Of The Left

I have indicated roles that the Labour Party, Trade Unions and Co-operatives can play in advancing democratic socialist aspirations. But in furthering such an agenda, what can the Left itself do?

In British circumstances I see no plausible avenues outside of the Labour Party; yet the Left within the Labour Party will be ineffective if it suffers from illusions about its strength and possibilities. Let us look at two alternative groups and their approach.

(a) The Socialist Campaign Group and its related bodies seem to me once more to be at a crossroads. They are suffering from disillusionment as a result of John McDonnell's failure to gain sufficient nominations to enter a possible Labour Leadership contest. They are, however, seeking to continue to press ahead with the demands John set out. These are reflected in the impossible set of 118 proposals which he came forward with in his last alternative budget proposals.

Each Leadership campaign the Group pursues, leads to a loss of its Parliamentary membership. For instance, a minority of the current Group did not go along with the tactic of John seeking to challenge for the leadership, favouring an outsider's challenge. So it looks as if they will again fail to influence the mood of the rest of the Party by failing to re-connect with it.

(b) Compass is developing a left-wing form of New Labourism. From a democratic socialist perspective, their shortcoming is to fail to put their views within a framework of there being an eventual need to replace the dominations of capitalism. An advance would be for them to take on board some of the rhetoric of democratic socialism in formulating their sets of recommendations. This is, for instance, open to them in relation to an equality agenda they are currently pressing.

Currently, however, Compass is open enough to provide a meeting place for other current and specific interest groups on the Labour left. This approach should be encouraged and made use of in order to encourage dialogue.

10. Political Education, Not Politicking

For those of us who wish to spread the types of socialist viewpoints I presented here, then I feel that we should concentrate with the Labour Movement upon encouraging debate and discussion. The priority should be upon forms of socialist political education and the making (and re-making in some cases) of democratic socialists. Inner Party activity should be seen in this light, rather then in manoeuvring people into office or politicking to win the day at poorly attended meetings - well I can say this now I am no longer a Labour MP!

An Acknowledgement

"The ILP, Independent Labour Publications, was formed in 1893 as the Independent Labour Party. It was a co-founder of the Labour Party. Today the ILP is an educational trust, publishing house and pressure group committed to democratic socialism and the success of a democratic socialist Labour Party"

From : "A Socialism For Our Times - The ILP Perspective" (ILP 2003).

The ILP are due to hold a week-end discussion around the reasons for the decline of socialism and whether there are hopes for its resurgence. They are looking at these matters in the light of key characteristics about the modern world and how Britain has respond to these. Their analysis as contained in the above 2003 publication will also be under examination.

I can't make the discussions as I have a prior commitment. So I wrote this 3 Part analysis instead and I am forwarding it to them.

When I retired from Parliament in 2005, I joined the ILP's Friends' Network. Whilst for 12 years prior to my becoming an MP in 1987 I worked closely with them, as I shared their overall approach to democratic socialist politics. In the Commons in 1993 I helped to host a centenary celebration of the ILP's initial formation as a political party by Keir Hardie and others.

Whilst I feel that I share many of the current ILP's horizons and believe that what I say relates closely to their perspective, what appears above is my own viewpoint and is a contribution to their discussions. The ILP are more than capable of speaking for themselves and they do that.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Towards A Socialist Perspective (Part 2)

Is This The Worst Of All Possible Worlds?

If indeed the world was dominated only by the negatives which I outlined in Part 1, then our response as socialists on the way forward would need to be based upon an extreme form of pessimism. I will argue later than there are other important (and more optimistic) factors that we need to take into account. But for now just let us concentrate upon where the above tale of unqualified (yet real) miseries leads many of our comrades.

As I mentioned earlier there seem to be three main entrapments which we can fall into. I am not claiming that these are conscious moves by those concerned, but they seem to me to explain much of what has been taking place.

(a) Accommodation

First, there are those who have attempted to accommodate to what is seen as the new reality, confining their socialist vision to nibbling at the edge of developments. As free enterprise is correctly seen as being at the cutting edge of world activities, then the best some come to hope for is to moderate its excesses and dangers. In British terms, socialists are then driven into seeking an accommodation with a New Labour approach which seeks to marry the freedoms of the market with attempts at social justice. Whilst this approach isn't seen as ideal, it is felt that there is little more that can be done.

I feel that this is at least a partial explanation as to why much of what used to be called the soft left in Labour Politics accommodated so readily to many of the norms of Blair's third way. This development should not just be explained in terms of the careerist interests of Labour's politicians and fears of returning to the electoral wilderness of the years before 1997. There was also a sea change in aspirations.

(b) Smash and Grab

Secondly, there are those who in despair look for a dramatic means of breaking out of the mess they see the world as being trapped into. As the forces seen as creating the depth of the new problems are globalised capitalism and western imperialism, these need to be smashed in order to remove the blockage on socialism. The problem is then one of finding urgent and dramatic means to achieve this aim.

The tactic is then either to support or at least not to fail to oppose, countervailing forces whose rage and interests lead them to engage in conflict with the twin powers of capital and imperialism. Militant Islamic fundamentalists, Milosevic and his former regime, along with anti-Zionist terrorists are all viewed in this light.

Furthermore, it is felt that a serious crack in the controls exercised by the twin powers will open the opportunity for the left to come out of the sidelines of politics. It is like siding with the Ayatollah in order to smash the Shah, in the hope that a third form of politics will somehow emerge. For once there is a break through, then it is assumed that the scales will fall from the eyes of working people and their families as in the dislocation socialists grab the microphones.

Whilst this type of approach keeps a form of socialist vision alive, it also strangely turns a blind eye to the anti-democratic, nihilistic and destructive nature of those forces who are given an open cheque. It is an approach in which a "left" is willing to countenance political space for forms of fascism.

(c) Into Apathy

The third response is that of apathy about politics generally. If the world is seen to be in the grip of the forces I described in Part 1, then some feel that nothing can be done about this in terms of an effective overall strategy. This approach can influence those who see the weaknesses in (a) and (b) above, but who see little more. Many former activists have slipped into this form of coma.

At best, they see isolated single issue campaign's as perhaps bringing some temporary aid to destitute people. As many see there is a threat from global warming, efforts for a green agenda can then be put to the fore. For we can't ever begin to advance a wider vision, whilst the norms of existence are felt to be under threat.

An Extra Dimension

Whilst I grant that the grounds for the above forms of pessimism are strong, there is another side of the coin that is important for us to consider.

The forces of international capital and western imperialism have a complex relationship to the operation of democracy. It is a notion which has a form of attraction to them for two main reasons. First, the checks and balances of democratic operations are often seen as a political equivalent to the competitive economic forces, and are seen to act as their guarantor. Secondly, democracies which can be cajoled into running market systems provide a means of sharing out the spoils of such operations.

Yet even dodgy democracies offer openings for countervailing forces. So there is a way into social transformation for socialists - it is called democracy.

The Democratic Road

Democratic practices, a concern for civil liberties, acts of human compassion, comradely actions, respect for intellectual rigour and empathy, all make their impact daily upon how the world functions. Indeed more nations than ever lay claim to the operation of democratic regimes. Whilst in an interconnected world we could not survive for a day if we could not trust the skills and dedication to duty of those we depend upon when travelling, shopping, being entertained and even blogging.

There are, of course, numbers of mainly sham democracies, as is very much the case with Nigeria today. Just as there are minorities of crooks and twisters. Whilst even recognisable democratic systems limit their operations at best to political checks and balances and ignore the need to extend democratic arrangements into the economic sphere. But just because we have shortcoming does not mean that we should dismiss achievements - such as the struggles for numerous civil liberties.

At least many nations (especially in the much maligned West) provide a market place for political mobilisation, argumentation and struggles for the people's vote. This is the ground on which to campaign and struggle for more of the same and to defend what has been achieved. The power of nations such as America can certainly be used to distort the conditions under which poorer and dependent nations operate. Yet the franchise, freedoms of expression, the separation of powers and rights that can be defended in Courts can all reign in and contain such abuses of power. If this isn't done sufficiently or well enough, then it involves rights which daily people use against those who abuse them.

International institutions from the European Union to the United Nations have their own inbuilt democratic deficits, but they also provide avenues to seek to overcome their shortcomings.

Throughout the world, bodies strive to gain the rights to assemble, organise and be part of their political nation. These include women's rights organisations, youth structures, trade unions and masses of other interest groups pressing for improved rights and keenly using what they have struggled to acquire. Even in the midst of the daily horrors of Baghdad, we see people rush to help the injured and to comfort the bereaved. Iraqi's join Trade Unions, march in May Day Rallies, participate where possible in cultural and sporting events and even attend Communist festivals. Even if too few are able to do these things, it strike me that they should have our admiration and backing. The alternatives are apathy or a misguided "understanding" of the causes of their murderers.

In the more affluent West, people readily help famine relief programmes and red nose days. Even if they tend to need the media and entertainers to alert them to specific problems and often fail to link their charitable actions to the world's major shortcomings, they reveal the humane and human potential which exists in the world and can be developed.

Whilst financial and commercial interests find it easy to switch resources and gain power by a click of the keys, socially progressive interests seek to further and fashion countervailing powers. The unsung and (in media terms) unseen international network of Trade Unions in mutual help, being a case in point.

When it comes to giving practical and moral support, I have no doubt that it is the bodies I mention above that should have our collective support and not those who seek to kill and destroy them, via terrorist and nihilistic activity. And even if the pessimists case is strong and is felt to outweigh the above case, then I still have no doubt as to which side socialists should be on.

When Weaknesses Become Strengths

Socialist and Labour Movements have always developed alongside the very areas of authority which they have attempted to challenge and transform. So in Britain struggles took place for the franchise, Trade Union rights, Labour to subsume Lib-Labism (which was an early version of the New Labour ideology) and in struggles for full employment and a welfare state. Through the exercise of countervailing powers to those of capitalist interests, there was a period in which the wider Labour Movement came to gain ground in the political and economic system to significantly influence some of the powers that had at one time been operated roughshod over its interests. The very strengths that at one time were exercised over it, came to be used by it for the general benefit.

Today, the technological revolution has turned many powers towards serving the interests of capital. Earlier I describe ways in which this is done. But the very technology which is often used for exploitative purposes, could also come to be used for the purposes for which socialists strive. These include - interconnected planning, the sharing of resources, speed of communication, modern variants of direct face-to-face democracy (at least on screens), knowledgeable societies, clicking into quick action for those in need and developing computer technology for mutual support.

Yet first, we need to use the democratic avenues I described earlier (especially the possibilities of economic democracy) to build up countervailing powers within the operations of the new technology. But the new technology can not just be handed over for socialist purposes just by the click of one of its switches. We are in for what Raymond Williams used to call a "long revolution".

Our Own Backyard

(a) A Matter Of Meaning

Given the pessimistic scene I covered in Part 1 and the more optimistic arguments I have put forward above in Part 2, I will move on in Part 3 to relate these together in arguing what I see as being the best way forward for modern day socialism. But before I do this, I need to describe a further change which the technological revolution has brought to Britain as it seems to me to have an important impact upon the conclusions I will draw.

The technological revolution has had a considerable impact upon the nature of working class communities. But first let me explain how I am using terminology about social class.

I am not using the term to categorise people essentially by their relationship to the means of production. Under this form of categorisation, people are divided into those who own the means of production and those who are obliged to sell their labour power to operate the means of production. People are placed into the latter category irrespective of whether the labour power they sell is muscle power, a manual skill or is termed "brain power".

In a society in which the relationship to the means of production is fairly clear cut, so that one group dominates wealth, educational opportunities and a privileged social background and the other group lacks these; then the above form of categorisation has its use. But whilst there are still clear distinctions around us today , there is a great blurring in the middle as some people (after a life long mortgage) own their property, others may have savings which may be invested and others have acquired good educational qualifications along the way. Also top management may have a considerable say over the running of an enterprise without being involved in its ownership.

So it is probably as well not to be so precise about the boundaries of social class, but to recognise that wealth (which can come basically from earnings), social background, power and educational connections and life styles, all contribute to the making of such categorisations.

When, however, we normally use the term "working class" we are referring to those who fall at the more deprived end of my above loose categorisation.

(b) The Working Class

Prior to the technological revolution, the working class on the whole lived in settled and closely knit communities. The paid workers were mainly men and they often were able to walk to work at their local pit, shipyard, steel works or factory. Their leisure pursuits were shared with others in their locality; be it at the local chapel, the workingmen's club or in playing and watching a nearby football team. Local shops catered almost exclusively for local people.

With the closure of many of the above areas of employment, this pattern changed dramatically. Men (and now women) normally travel to work and for many of their leisure and shopping activities. Whilst jobs are less likely to be set up for life.

Friendship networks often now develop outside of local living areas. These tend to link in with new work patterns, holiday acquaintanceships and in shared leisure interests. Or they are replaced by a well of loneliness as families and friends move out into an increasingly rootless society.

Communal, co-operative (sometimes literally) and sharing values dominated the old environment. Labourism and socialism had natural homes in such circumstances and were often self generating. Much of this is now (at best) residual.

At the very time that Bennite socialism was making its appeal for the soul of the Labour Party, technological change was starting to bite. The defeat of the Miners' Strike in 1984 and the subsequent continuing decline of the Coal Industry were symbolic of the move away from this traditional form of industrial and political struggle.

The working class did not disappear as some academics more or less predicted, but it did change its behaviour patterns and its norms of behaviour. When Tony Blair became Labour's Leader, he appreciated that his Party's electoral victory could no longer be based on an appeal to the old form of working class communities as these were rapidly being transformed.

His mistakes from a socialist perspective were (a) to brutally aid the change they were experiencing instead of easing forms of transition by, for instance, slowing down factory closures and (b) to appeal to cross-class interests at their lowest common denominator, rather than raising across-the-board aspirations for the development of a socially just society based on common humanitarian values.

Unfortunately, no significant Left Labour trend emerged either to challenge the New Labour philosophy nor to transform the shrinking Bennite tendency. The latter even offered a cover for the activities of the Provisional IRA in ways which later reflected a hard left accommodation to Islamic terrorism.

With New Labour being a form of what Will Hutton has recently called "liberal Labour", the old visions of a labourism resting on methodist forms of morality, trade union collectivism and gradualist socialism, were too readily subsumed. Whilst New Labour made no effort to raise people's nobler aspirations. Its appeal was to self-centred improvement. This meant that social well-being (when space was found for it) could only be furthered by stealth. This did not carry people along with such processes, nor inspire them to press for more.

But as I will argue in my concluding Part 3 we should neither despair, nor look for easy options.