Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ta ta for now

The start of life as a blogger on becoming three score years and ten ; with Ann, Stephen and Joanne.

This blog was set up for me by my son, Stephen. Unknown to me, he undertook a test run for it on 4 May 2006 using the text of a letter of mine which the New Statesman had published. He then added the preface I had written for the TUC publication "Hadi Never Died : Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Union Movement" by Abdulah Muhsin and Alan Johnson. He placed the blog upon the screen of his own computer for me to see for the first time on my 70th birthday.

This is the third anniversary of the blog being given to me. This is the 479th item to appear.

Halfway through its current life, my daughter Joanne decided that I needed a scanner to improve its presentation. She had to show me how to scan and I first made use of the scanner with this greeting on Christmas Day 2007.

After 3 years I have decided to place the blog on hold for a while so that I can concentrate on some other tasks. I have, therefore, also closed down the comment box for now.

One of my alternative tasks is to concentrate on making contributions to the alternative blog which I am linked to entitled "Dronfield Blather". It is administered by Blogger Brader and is the blog of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group. There is a debate to initiate on the thorny topic of the future of the Labour Party.

I will, of course, be able to make passing comments in other people's comment boxes and can always return to using this blog when confronted with a matter of great importance. But I will attempt to resist the passing temptations of this blog for a while.

I am, of course, old enough the remember Mrs Mopp on Tommy Hanley's 2nd World War wireless programme "ITMA". She always ended her spot with the comment "TTFN" . So it is "ta ta for now".

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How To Fry A Snowball

Today the Daily Telegraph carry an obituary for the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski (see below). They point out that he came to dismiss the idea of democratic socialism seeing it as being as "contradictory as a fried snowball". For he pointed to the dangers of the development of unrestricted power entering the hands of an omnipresent bureaucracy.

It seems to me that we can indeed fry the snowball as long as we perpetually provide checks and controls against the very dangers which Kolakowski feared - and we use a wok. But we must always be on our guard. We don't want the snowball to fall into the fire. Below I give my recipe.

1. Regular elections and full enfranchisement for local, national and supra-national legislative bodies.

2. Written constitutions which safeguard devolved powers, democratic rights and civil liberties.

3. Separations of powers amongst legislative, executive and judicial bodies.

4. Extensions of public ownership to incorporate democratic controls for producers and consumers.

5. Elected representatives to have their sole or main place of residence in the communities they represent.

6. Political parties to operate under internal democratic structures.

7. No individual nor any company or institution to own more than one media outlet.

8. Open opportunities for lifelong learning which extend well beyond re-training schemes.

9. Moves to social equality with maximum and minimum earnings and ownership rights.

10. Avoid taking shortcuts to socialism by always using and advancing the democratic pathway to social change.

July 22, Essential Update : I missed out an important section from the above recipe and also add necessary covering clauses -

11. The restoration and development of Individual Ministerial Responsibility, Cabinet Government (instead of Prime Ministerial Government) and a public service ethic throughout the Civil Service, Public Services and Nationalised Industries.

12. Regular debate and discussion throughout society to ensure that the principles underlying the above recipe become living truths and not dead dogmas.

Monday, July 20, 2009

At Last

The Committee on Standards in Public Life who are conducting an enquiry into MPs' expenses have finally published the submission I sent to them on June 2nd.

They have received some 682 submissions. At an average of just over one submission per constituency, this is hardly a grand inquest of the nation. Even then, to date the Commission have only got round to publishing a maximum of 214 of these - although in the lists they produce there is some double counting with David Blunkett's submission appearing twice.

The Committee is playing catch up. But what it has published so far about its hearings and the submissions it received can be found via this link. As no one seems to have discussed my proposals, I suppose that is that. But it will allow me to say "I told you so" when things go wrong next time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More From the Iraqi Communist Party

See this video clip of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) celebrating the 51st anniversary of the 14th June 1958 National Democratic Revolution which led to a period of social improvement and hope under the Government of Abd al-Karim Qasim whose portrait is seen being carried by the demonstrators.

Unfortunately a counter-coup against the regime took place in February 1963 involving the Ba'thists when the ICP saw that what was needed instead were democratic reforms.

This item provides links to my four-part history of the ICP which towards the end of part 1 and throughout part 2 covers the Qasim era. Whilst this item is also of relevance to this important period in Iraqi History.

If anyone can provide me with an English translation of the commentary on the video this would be most welcome.

Hat Tip - Labour Friends of Iraq.

Monday, July 06, 2009

In Memory Of My Father

It is 100 years ago today since my father Joseph Barnes (known as Joe) was born. He died in 1996.

The above photograph says a great deal about him. He is the young man in the centre of the back row. He is part of a locally organised football team of coal miners from Easington Colliery in County Durham. He was the goalkeeper and will be in his mid-teens when the photo was taken. Directly in front of him is his brother Bobby who was five years his senior and to your far right in the back row is his brother Arthur who was almost 2 years his junior. (Click onto the photo to enlarge it).

The team is sitting at the edge of an open field with a row of terraced colliery-owned houses in the background. This is Boston Street. Behind it is Baldwin Street which my father, mother and myself moved into some quarter of a century later.

Seven rows of streets further back is Bolam Street, where my father and Uncles lived with my grandparents John and "Polly" Barnes. These houses were part of a complex of almost 50 rows of terraced houses for miners which were clustered around the local pit.

The team are in their best suits, waistcoats and cloth caps. The man in the trilby is probably in charge of the team.

The photo explains the comradeship, spirit, commitment, family links, team competitiveness and football fanaticism of those times. It is likely to have been taken around the time of the aftermath of the General Strike of 1926.

No-one belonged more to Easington as a mining colliery than my father. He arrived there in 1912 before his third birthday as part of John and Polly's fully established family of seven children. Coal had only first been drawn at the local pit in 1910 and a community was rapidly being established on what had been farm and open land.

When my father died after 84 years at Easington, the pit had shut down just 3 years earlier. It was the final pit in County Durham to close.

My father's life, therefore, covered a distinctive era within a single tightly knit mining community. Not many people could have fitted Easington's mining existence so precisely.

In his 80s my father continued his daily walk down Easington's main road called Seaside Lane. He stopped to speak to friends and family. When my mother was moved into a nursing home (on the far side of the field shown in the above photo) he just walked further past long familiar territory to spend much of the day with her. The nursing home was the house of the former Colliery Manager.

Although Easington went through some tough pioneering years, by the time the 1931 economic depression broke and my father was 22 the population (of Easington Colliery and adjoining Easington Village combined) had reached 12,000. This meant that even with relative impoverishment it established a range of shops, cinemas, clubs, pubs, churches, chapels, schools and Miners' Welfare facilities. The Miners' Federation was committed to building Aged Miners' Homes and providing medical facilities. Whilst the Labour Council embarked upon Council House building.

It meant that although my father did not have an easy life, he had a full life. These fulfilments need to be appreciated if we are to put the harsh aspects of his life in perspective.

Tom and Polly had six sons and a daughter. The boys all became Miners on leaving school at 14 and Aunt Ada invariably went on to marry a Miner. Only Uncle Arthur finally deviated from this pattern when he moved out of the area to join the RAF in 1937.

( 3 of the 7 Barnes siblings who arrived in Easington Colliery in 1912. Uncle Arthur (left) was the only one of six brothers to move away from links with the local pit, when he joined the RAF in 1937 and then eventually retired to Eastbourne. Yet he often visited "home". Aunt Ada was the only girl and raised her own family living in the same Council House for over 60 years before moving into sheltered accommodation. They are with my father.)

The family went through tough times. In 1918 they were in the midst of a serious influenza epidemic, in 1921 the pit was subject to a 13 week strike, in 1926 the pit was at standstill for 30 weeks following the collapse of the General Strike, then the inter-war depression hit coal production at the local pit. In the midst of such developments John and Polly's children married and set up homes of their own. Even when post-war prosperity, full-employment and the welfare state helped to transform life; Easington experienced the terrible cost of coal when a mining disaster at its pit took the lives of 79 Miners and 2 rescue workers.My father was in the pit at the time, but in a different seam from the explosion. He later assisted with the salvage work. The extended Barnes family were lucky to avoid deaths in both the 1951 disaster and the earlier 1918 influenza epidemic.

My father then managed to engage in flying picket duties in the 1973 Miners' Strike before retiring the following year. He was then to share in the communal traumas of the 1984/5 Miners' Strike before witnessing the communal loss which came with the final closure of the pit in 1993.

He married in 1933 in difficult times (see here for my tribute to my mother). They spent several years in differing rented "rooms", essentially a bedroom with shared kitchen and toilet facilities. In 1936 I was born in "rooms" to add to the complexities.

Around this time my father was off work for almost two years with kidney trouble and could only return to "light work" for a period before he returned to the coal face.

A war-time move into a semi-detached Council house with a front and back-garden helped to improve life. As time moved on his luxuries became visits to the workingmen's club, meeting his mates, his continuing family links, betting (at one time the bookie sent him Christmas presents) and the visits from his grandchildren. And always there was football.

He had an extensive career as a local amateur goalkeeper playing for a variety of teams throughout the Durham coalfield. At 21 he had a successful season with Easington Village Rovers who acquired two trophies. He then moved to play for Stanley United in the Northern League. This led to him playing in a practice match for Hartlepool Reserves against the first team. They won 2-1. As a result he signed amateur forms with them, but when they sort to sign him as a professional Stanley United (who held his prior registration) insisted on a transfer fee of £25. Hartlepool either wouldn't or couldn't meet the fee!

He continued to play football until he was 40, disrupted by his spell of kidney trouble and the vagaries of war-time football.

I went with him to home and away games after the 2nd World War when he returned to play for Easington Village Rovers.

When I was 10, I walked with my mates to the neighbouring colliery of Horden to see Easington Colliery Welfare play our rivals Horden Colliery Welfare in the FA Cup Preliminary Round. Imagine my shock and predicament when my father turned out in goal for Horden. He had gone to the game to support Easington, but when Horden's goalkeeper didn't turn up he was signed up to fill the vacancy. It is the only time I saw him play other than for Easington Village Rovers.

Despite his 84 years in Easington, he was born in a terraced house close to Roker Park the then home of Sunderland AFC and became a lifelong supporter. At 10 his father first took him to see them play. The team he saw included the great Charlie Buchan. I was the same age when my father first took me to see Sunderland play. As we approached the ground my father showed me the house where he had been born. It was next door to a pawnbrokers.

But Easington was my father's home and the only time the two of us went to Roker Park to support the opposition was when Easington Colliery Welfare got to the final of the Shipowners Cup and played Sunderland Reserves on its hallowed turf. We lost, but only just.

In retirement my parents eventually moved into sheltered accommodation and enjoyed life as part of its elderly community. Pride of place in their flat was given to my father's football cups and to the photos of their two grandchildren which now look down on me as I type this.

(Enjoying retirement. My Mother and Father on your right, with neighbours.)

UPDATE 1st AUGUST, 2009. This is worth veiwing about what happened to my father's Easington Colliery. And although there are a couple of factual errors, this brief history of the pit community he belonged to is impressive.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Left Split - But Find A New Hero

Yesterday the Government was defeated in the Commons by 250 votes to 247 and thus lost Clause 10 of its Parliamentary Standards Bill. The Socialist Campaign Group split down the middle on this issue, with those left-wing twins Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell being in different lobbies.

The Clause in question related to the powers of both the proposed Independent Parliamentary Standard Authority (IPSA) and the proposed Commissioner for Parliamentary Investigations when they undertake their roles relating to MPs' salaries, allowances, financial interests and conduct. It would have allowed these bodies when proceedings against an MP in the courts or elsewhere to use evidence gleaned from proceedings in the House of Commons. Yet MPs enjoy freedom of speech in the Commons and Clause 10 would have removed this right in certain areas related to the work of the IPSA and the Commissioner.

The dilemma faced by MPs was (a) would the removal of Clause 10 inhibit the work of the IPSA and the Commissioner on the one hand and/or if passed (b) limit a right of freedom of speech in the Commons which MPs need in order to defend the rights of their constituents and others. The Clerk to the Commons and the Justice Committee (who rushed out a report on these matters) advised that the IPSA and the Commissioner would not be seriously effected in the absence of Clause 10, but that if adopted it would create a worry as far as MPs' freedom of speech under Commons' procedures was concerned.

Outside the power of the whips, a further dilemma faced by Labour MPs over the Clause was what would their constituents think if they voted down an item which their Government claimed was important in the battle to stop MPs using their position for personal gain.

In making their minds up on this matter the Socialist Campaign Group split three ways. 9 voted with the Government (including John McDonnell), 8 voted against (including Jeremy Corbyn) and 4 abstained or were not present (including Bob Marshall-Andrews).

As the Government lost the vote by three, it should also be noted that two former Cabinet Ministers helped to swing the result. Both Margaret Beckett and John Reid were in the "no" lobby.

In fact the Socialist Campaign Group ignored the discussions on the Bill. These lasted over three days in the Commons and it was only some 10 minutes from the end of all this that lefty Lynn Jones finally intervened to complain about the procedures under which the Bill was being rushed through the Commons. The absence of Socialist Campaign Group members meant that matters such as the case for having full-time MPs and otherwise getting value-for-money from them went by the board.

Jack Straw carried the bulk of the Bill from the Government side. The bits and pieces that were covered by his side-kick on the front-bench, Barbara Keeley were handled in an inept fashion. Only five MPs on the Labour back benches made speeches over the three days and only five others who had turned up for bits then intervened. The work on the Bill was mainly handed over to the Tory benches, with Sir George Young (the Chair of the Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges) gaining concession after concession from Jack Straw and improving a rushed Bill that now still needs to be bashed into shape in the Lords.

Yet this Bill arose out of the event that has transformed British politics - the expenses scandal. Its consideration should have been dealt with as a major parliamentary contribution to what should be a grand inquest of the nation. Yet the bulk of Labour MPs (in particular) ducked for cover.

It turned out that Tory Grandee Peter Tapsall (see photo) of all people hit the nail on the head just a few minutes into the start of the three days of debate -

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con) : Why is it appropriate to go through this great constitutional rigmarole in advance of the recommendations of Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee, which is bound to cover all the same ground? The Prime Minister has said, I think unwisely, that we are going to accept in full all that committee’s recommendations, which are bound to cut across some of the proposals in the Bill, which means that we will have to go through the whole thing again.

Let us hope that next time Labour left, right and centre will use that opportunity to stir the conscious of the nation - for a starter trawl down here to Graham Allen. This short book also written by the Nottingham North MP is the classic text.