Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Late Eric Varley

The group in this photo includes Eric Varley who died on Wednesday. He is second from the left and was 27 at the time it was taken. I believe that it appeared in the "Derbyshire Times".

Over a three-year period from 1957 he studied Industrial Relations, Economics and Politics on a Day-Release Course run by the Sheffield University Extramural Department. The photo was taken in Chesterfield and shows a group of Miners who attended the course, presenting miners' lamps to their two final year tutors.

The man holding his lamp up high is the late Royden Harrison. Although I was always very much his academic junior, I took his place in the Extramural Department in 1966 when he moved on.

By the time I emerged on this scene and from 1964, Eric was already the Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. Eventually I was to become MP for a neighbouring seat which almost encircled Chesterfield, but this did not coincide with Eric's time as MP. He and I were also full-time adult students at Ruskin College, but again at different times.

Given such shared experiences, we might have been expected to have met and communicated far more than we did. This distancing arose to some extent because we saw each other as belonging to different wings of the Labour Party and because our paths kept missing each other. I feel that this was my loss.

I did listen annually to his speech at the Chesterfield May Day, heard him address a Rally in Chesterfield for the "no" campaign in Chesterfield during the referendum on the Common Market and made the arrangements with him for his talk to our then local Fabian Society in Dronfield, which is situated between Sheffield and Chesterfield.

The period when we were both at Westminster at the same time was between his appointment to the Lords in 1990 and my retirement as an MP in 2005. But we did not move in the same circles and he was not a regular attender.

We did, however, travel together by train to London if we met by accident and always talked non-stop, he also came to sit next to me at a handful of events - including a Conference of the Regional Labour Party.

He was always keen to find out what I was picking up about politicking in the Chesterfield Labour Party and I was happy to tell him. His own past links seeming to have discontinued.

When he resigned as MP for Chesterfield, he triggered the 1984 By-election which led to Tony Benn's return to Parliament. He had every reason to dismiss the thought that his resignation would have such a consequence. At the time. the Labour Party in Chesterfield had no tradition of lurching to the left. That he had handed the seat over to the very Bennism he had fought within the Labour Party, must have come to him as a shock.

He had held significant front bench posts and had been Treasurer of the Labour Party, so it has always been a mystery in this area as to why Eric resigned from Parliament at that time although numbers of his critics would dismiss his move with the simple claim that he had "sold out".

I feel that we should consider two alternative factors which are not unrelated.

He had been an MP for 20 years. Enough can be enough. I was ready for retirement after my 18 years. On the other hand I was 68 years old. Eric was only in his early 50s, not much older than when I first became an M.P.

Then the political tradition that he was part of was starting to lose its leading role in the Labour Party. There were a couple of options which he would never associate himself with.

First, there was the breakaway by the "Gang of Four" to found the Social Democratic Party which seemed particularly dangerous. It was led by former Labour politicians who seemed to him to be hopelessly romantic pro-Europeans and were also cutting themselves off from what he had grown up with - connections to the Trade Union Movement. He was an NUM Branch Secretary at 23 and became the Chair of the Trade Union Group of Labour M.P.s.

Secondly, there was the Bennite Campaign which seemed to him to be impossiblist. He had himself started out as a left-winger and in his early days was the favoured son of Bert Wynn, ex-Communist and Secretary of the Derbyshire Miners. But by Eric entered the Commons at 31 his political commitments were still maturing. It should not be assumed, however, that he retained little from his Derbyshire NUM past. He saw his new found gradualism* as fitting in with their interests and values. If he was now more right-wing, he was still firmly a labourite. It is something which differs from the later New Labour coup.

My argument might seem to be confounded by the fact that Eric resigned when Kinnock had just become leader. But where did that put Labour in Eric's eyes? Kinnock (whom he seems to have distrusted) still had to battle to overcome Militant and the Bennite left, but it must have seemed that this would be at the price of a great deal of long-winded utopian socialist rhetoric. Eric had run Dennis Healey's unsuccessful campaign against Michael Foot. The consequences of that defeat seeming to Eric to be the electoral humiliation of 1983. It must have looked to Eric as if the next electoral victory (even with Bennism tamed) could still be a couple of decades away. And would it then (whether it was right-wing or left-wing) be recognisable as a labour platform?

I regret not having spoken to him more, perhaps there was something to understand about the feeling he had in his guts.

* = Note added 2 August. Eric would know all about the theories of the Webbs. His day-release tutor Royden Harrison was a leading expert on their (and other) socialist theories.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Miliband Notices Iraq

In his article in the Guardian David Miliband stated that amongst the key tasks facing Labour is a need for "better planning to win the peace in Iraq, not just the war." Gordon Brown should immediately take this to heart and ask David himself as Foreign Secretary to come up with an appropriate set of proposals.

Or does the fact that David came up with such a comment (as if he has no previous responsibility on this matter) indicate that plans he has already pushed behind the scenes have been blocked?

Exactly five years and a half year's ago and some seven weeks before the invasion of Iraq, the Commons discussed the need for a "Humanitarian Contingency Plan" for Iraq should the deed be done. Then numbers of us raised this issue during the period of the invasion itself - as well as often since then. If David wishes to draw up belated and improved plans for social, economic and political assistance for Iraq perhaps he should turn to bodies such as "Labour Friends of Iraq" who have always adopted his belated insight.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No Olympic Spirit Without Iraq.

Here is a fine article from today's Wall Street Journal showing why the ban on Iraq participating in the Olympics should be lifted.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Support Matombo And Chibebe

Here Is An Important Message Taken From The TUC's Web-Site.

"This is a photo mosaic of Lovemore Matombo and Wellington Chibebe, the President and General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). They were arrested on 8 May for speaking out about the state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe - or as Robert Mugabe's government put it "spreading falsehoods prejudicial to the State".

Lovemore and Wellington are due to appear in court on 30 July, to defend themselves against these charges. The mosaic is made up from the pictures of over 2,000 trade unionists from around the world, who have come together to make this public demonstration of support for the ZCTU leaders and all unionists in Zimbabwe.

Please take a moment to add your voice to this growing tide of support for these brave trade unionists at"

Friday, July 25, 2008

Confusion And Consolation

Sun Jihai (left)in his Manchester City days, who had a dominating game for the Blades against Sheffield FC yesterday evening.

Pre-season friendlies can be confusing, especially when it comes to non-league football. For whilst the media keeps us informed about the comings and non-goings of the Ronaldos, just what has been happening in the transfer market to the team who play just down the road?

When you turn up for a pre-season game (without an electronic score board to help you out), you have a job recognising who's who.

I watched my team Sheffield FC lose 2-0 to Tamworth on Wednesday and 4-0 to Sheffield United yesterday evening. Thanks to this web-site which contains reports of the two games, I have finally worked out that with the ample use of substitutes we used 20 players in the two games. 8 of these were entirely new to me: 5 being new signings and the others emerging from the Youth and Reserve teams.

Furthermore from my analysis of the match-day programmes, 7 of last years squad have gone. These include Lowton, a hero of our last competitive game when we beat Worksop Town in a Cup Final. It added to the confusion that he turned out for the Blades. But to be fair, he had been on loan from them last season.

Tamworth play 2 leagues above us in the non-league pyramid. From the comments of their supporters in a sparse crowd of 140, their make-up was also confusing with two trialists pulling out all the stops and leading us a merry dance.

I was with Dave and we made it to the Coach and Horses for a half-time pint, with Tamworth leading 1-0. When we returned to the game, we were only about a minute late for the second half kick off and we hoped for a second half equaliser. But it never came.

Imagine our surprise when the game was over and a loud speaker announcement told us that Tamworth had won 2-0! They had scored straight from the second-half kick off, unknown to Dave or myself. We would have to watch out for that next time.

Next time was yesterday evening.

The game against Sheffield United boosted the crowd eight-fold to 1,103. The Blades included a number of experienced players including Ugo Ehiogu and Lee Hendrie who both starred with Aston Villa. Whilst Nick Montgomery has 250 games with the Blades under his belt, David Carney is an Australian International and the impressive Sun Jihai has been capped 66 times for China and used to play for Manchester City.

So our team did not see much of the ball and it took heroics from our first-half goalkeeper Hernandez to keep the score down to 1-0 at half-time.

It was my turn to get the drinks in, so with a large crowd in the ground I left 5 minutes before half-time. As I closed the gate to the ground behind me I heard someone shout "Go on, beat Harry Barnes to the bar". But no-one did.

I was with Martin as well as Dave on this occasion. But you can guess what happened, when we quickly made it back to the ground we were told that the Blades had scored a second goal. At least we knew the proper score this time.

In the end the professionalism, experience and skill of the Blades told and they triumphed 4-0. But never mind, it was a fine evening in more ways than one, and five of us ended up sitting outside the Coach and Horses putting the world right - which in particular included a discussion about Kenya and Zimbabwe. What more could you ask for - except the influence to help overcome their problems?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

TUC Protests to Iran and Iraq


TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has written to the Iranian authorities protesting about the sentencing to death of Iranian Kurdish teacher trade unionist Mr Farzad Kamangar (see photo), urging the government to re-examine his case and commute his death sentence. He states

"The Trades Union Congress, representing British people at work through our 58 trade unions and their 6.5 million members, is deeply concerned about trade union repression in Iran, as my frequent letters to you demonstrate. I hope that you will register with your Government the concerns of British trade unionists about the case of teacher trade unionist Mr Farzad Kamangar, and urge them to re-examine his case and commute his death sentence...

We understand that Mr Kamangar was sentenced to death on 25 February 2008 by the Tehran Revolutionary Court on charges of 'endangering national security.' Aged 32, Farzad Kamangar has worked for 12 years as a teacher in Kamyaran. He was member of the Kurdish Teachers Trade Association and was in charge of public relations for the teacher union until it was outlawed. Farzad Kamangar was also active in defending human rights, minority rights and women's rights."

For full details see here.


Brendan Barber has also written to the Iraqi Minister for Labour and Social Affairs expressing concerns about the state of trade union law in Iraq as it operates outside of Iraqi Kurdistan. His concerns include (a) Iraqi Government moves to manipulate elections within their Trade Union Movement,(b) the confiscation of Trade Union funds by the State and (c) the continuation of Saddam Hussein's ban upon Trade Unions operating within the major public section of the Iraqi Economy.

For full details see here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Iraqi Comrades Come Rally

As explained here by "Labour Friends of Iraq", the Iraqi Communist Party have played a major role in the country's recent public celebrations (e.g. opposite) of the 50th Anniversary of the 1958 Iraqi Revolution which led to a 5 year period of both social improvement and high hopes for the future. Unfortunately, in 1963 the first coup involving the Ba'thists took place, setting seeds which led on to the eventual excesses of Saddam Hussein.

The first half of my own 4 part series on the History of the Iraqi Communist Party shows why they see the 1958 to 1963 period as being of such significance. See here for Part 1 and Part 2.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Don't Forget About Mansour Osanloo

See this fine video about Mansour Osanloo (left) the President of the Bus Workers Union in Tehran who is still in jail a year after his last brutal arrest. The International Transport Workers Federation, the International Trade Union Confederation and Amnesty International have put out this combined statement reminding us of his plight.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Car Crazy

On the minus side, the excessive use of private cars brings widespread congestion, choking pollution, serious accidents, parking mayhem, the concreting over of the countryside, an addiction to acquiring high powered status symbols and what E.J. Mishan in a telling book he first had published in 1967 showed were "diseconomies of scale". He pointed out that all the costs linked to private car usuage for policing, hospitalisation, road building and upkeep, licencing and other services are shown in economic statistics as if they were entirely positives towards the well-being of our society, when the end result often turns out to be counter-productive.

I am not denying that there are also plus sides to private car ownership, but the above type of factors need to enter our understandings. I for one have managed to spend an active life without ever owning a car nor knowing how to drive. Even for 18 years as an MP with a Constituency the size of Malta to represent, plus journeys back and forth to London and elsewhere, I managed mainly using public transport and taxis. I was, of course, grateful for lifts from my Agent and others. For no-one can detach themselves from the norms of the society around them. My wife (who also can't drive) and myself were grateful yesterday evening, for instance, for lifts to and from a local Labour Party meeting. Whilst the destruction of formerly tightly-knit mining, steel and manufacturing communities has presented people with new travel-to-work needs.

Additionally my own carbon footprint would have to take into account a good number of air miles - although I never had a private jet!

But when all is said and done, we do need to put the current media hype on behalf of the private motorist into some sort of perspective. A reduction in car miles and petrol consumption (along with a move to the use of smaller cars) can't all be a bad thing.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The East Glasgow Question

Does Geoff Hoon (left) know what he is doing? A new matter arises following the fiasco of his letter to Keith Vaz - never mind his earlier role as Minister of Defence during the invasion of Iraq.

As explained here, why will Glasgow East be without an MP for over 10 weeks after its bye-election? It is now confirmed that the vote will take place on 24 July, following the issuing of the parliamentary writ (moved by Geoff Hoon as the Government Chief Whip) on 1st July and shown here from that day's Hansard -


That the Speaker do issue his Warrant for the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough Constituency of Glasgow, East in the room of David Marshall, who since his election for the said Borough Constituency has accepted the Office of Steward or Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Manor of Northstead in the County of York .—[Mr. Hoon.]"

As Parliament goes into recess on 22 July which is two days before the Bye-election, the newly elected member for Glasgow East will not then be able to officially be sworn in as MP (and will be restrained as acting as such) until Parliament finally re-assembles on 6th October. Did Geoff Hoon know this when discussing the technicalities of the situation with David Marshall in the run up to the latter's resignation?

The way round this is for Harriet Harmen to make a Business Statement delaying the start of the recess for a week or so. If this would prove to be unpopular amongst MPs, then the alternative is to recall Parliament soon for a short session. Yet acting in such a way for no serious political purpose (outside of the needs of Glasgow East) could upset the Speaker and disrupt the normal summer-time programme of cleaning and re-building directed at stopping the building from dropping to bits.

I was always one of those who argued that Parliament should not have lengthy recesses, as it means that all MPs are placed at a disadvantage in being unable to use Parliamentary Procedures for the pursuit of their constituents interests. The cleaning and re-building argument was always used against this argument.

Perhaps the East Glasgow Question will came to shadow the West Lothian Question and help sort this nonsense out. But I doubt whether Geoff Hoon had this mind when he moved the writ. If David Marshall's resignation and the issuing of the writ had taken place a week earlier, then this would have resolved matters as the Bye-election could have taken place on 17 July, five days before Parliament goes into recess. Given David's reasons for resigning, he can't be blamed for the situation. But a Chief Whip is supposed to know what a Chief Whip is supposed to know.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Was Milosevic A Democrat?

In December 1992 I was one of the international observers at the Presidential Elections in Serbia, which Slobodan Milosevic (left) won against six other candidates. His main opponent was Milan Panic who received 32.1% of the votes to Milosevic's 53.2%. The turnout was only 64.1%, partly due to the fact that the bulk of the Albanian's in Kosovo abstained. If they had voted against Milosevic this would probably have led to a key run-off between Panic and Milosevic, with the latter having lost his aura of invincibility.

On 26 June, Neil Clark had an article published in the "Morning Star" in which he claimed that the system under Milosevic was a "vibrant multiparty democracy". This is, however, a wild exaggeration of the situation. The 1992 election had many pros and cons and could at the time have been viewed as a possible move towards democracy which was suffering from some major teething troubles. But once it confirmed Milosevic's authority, matters continued to deteriorate.

Yesterday, the "Morning Star" published a letter of mine in response to an article by Neil Clark. The letter appears below, using the newspaper's heading-

Yugoslavia was hardly a model democracy

Even if matters were not as blatantly undemocratic as is currently the case with Mugabe in Zimbabwe, it is still a wild exaggeration for Neil Clark (M Star June 26) to claim that "a vibrant multiparty democracy was in operation" in Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milosevic.

Milosevic's practices included strict controls over state TV which was the dominant media outlet especially outside of urban centres, the use of the ethnic card to galvanise support in the face of a growing economic crisis and placing party officials into key roles in the electoral system to help influence outcomes.

As time went on, the democratic shortcomings in Yugoslavia could not just be dismissed as teething troubles.

It is revealing that Neil should stress that, after 2000, many members of the so-called Socialist Party of Serbia moved over to join the Serbian Radical Party with its neofascist ethnic stance.

This is hardly the response of a set of comrades who have been members of an organisation which Neil believes subscribed to democratic socialist values and practices.

Harry Barnes, Dronfield.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Iraq Today And Tomorrow

Here is an interesting and well research item on the way forward in Iraq taken from the other "Harry's Place". It also supplies valuable links to over 20 serious bloggers concerned about Iraq.

Crudely put his thesis is that action has to be directed to protecting and aiding the Iraqi public, whilst kicking terrorist activity up the bum and providing openings for those of its leaders who aren't brain dead to enter the political nation as the only feasible way of continuing to try and pursue their ends. It sounds familiar and could get us to a (perhaps unwritten) Baghdad or Basra equivalent of the Belfast Agreement. See, for instance, my "Iraq's Gerry Adams?" - i.e. Muqtada Al-Sadr (above).

The Struggle For Basic Rights In Iran

After 40 days over 3,000 workers at the Hafttapeh Sugar Cane Company in Iran (on the left) have suspended their strike for 15 days to see what the management will now deliver following promises that they will address the workers' demands. These include the need to pay wages, which are now three months overdue. For details of the dispute see here.

Then there is Mashad which is the second largest city in Iran and is a centre for protests against the Iranian regime's economic, financial and political corruption. Railway workers and students have led recent protests against the lack of basic rights. See this video and Azarmehr's coverage here and here. He provides much more on this key issue.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

My Life As A Stalinist


Charles Elwell died in January. He worked for MI5 prior to his retirement in 1979, but he continued his work against those he saw as being subversives. He came to edit "British Briefing" a clandestine document which ceased publication in 1990. This newsletter was printed by the anti-Communist Industrial Research and Information Service (IRIS). It claimed that copies were circulated to certain "political leaders, MPs, journalists and others", who were requested to treat it as confidential. It is said that "British Briefing" was funded to the tune of £270,000 over a three year period by Rupert Murdoch (see here and trawl down to the item entitled "The Campaign Against Labour").

I was first elected to parliament in 1987 and the above source states that in Charles Elwell's publication "Derbyshire MP Harry Barnes was labelled as 'quite a vigorous Stalinist underminer of British parliamentary democracy'." I operated my Constituency Office from our home and came to believe that over this period my phone was tapped, following a need to have it repaired after I dropped it on the floor. I always felt sorry for those who listened in as the case load must have sounded very boring.

I was in good company alongside other exposed "subversives" who included Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman as well as organisations such as Shelter and the World Council of Churches.

My letter written to the "Northern Echo" planted back in October, 1957 entitled "Russia, with its privileged class, isn't Socialist" in reply to the Secretary of the Durham Area Committee of the Communist Party, obviously didn't fool British Briefing. They knew an anti-Stalinist Stalinist when they saw one!