Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Liberal Interpretation

On page 39 of the 'Liberal Democratic Manifesto 2010' it states " We will scrap unfair fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the charge is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for final year students"

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Needed - A Vote Of No Confidence

Nick Clegg has booted the Doctrine of the Mandate into touch by making the strongest possible commitment at the General Election to vote against increases in student fees (see photo), then advocating the exact opposite as Deputy Prime Minister.

Vince Cable (below) as Business Secretary is the responsible Government Minister on the issue. Whichever way he votes on the matter in the Commons his changing speculations as to what he will do has driven a coach and horses through the notions of Ministerial Responsibility and Cabinet Collective Responsibility. He has changed his mind as often as he has shifted his views on what type of economic policy we should pursue.

There is now a great opportunity for Labour to undermine the position of the Lib-Dems on Student Fees by calling for a Vote Of No Confidence on the issue.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Snow Good

These are views from my home in Dronfield in North Derbyshire. First there is the view I look out upon when sat at my computer. Next is the garden, with a table at the back. Finally there is the view from the front step. Click onto the photos to enlarge them.

We have had 22 inches (56 cm) of snow and it is still snowing - and the gas heating has cut out. I have now cleared the front for the gas man. (Update 3 December : Didn't need the gas man, my wife Ann fixed it.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Trying To Put Howard To Flight

Howard Flight is in trouble again. He just won't follow the autocue.

I once attempted to nail him for raising a question to the then Prime Minister (Tony Blair) relating to an item in his own Declaration of Interests which referred to what was then his deputy chairmanship of Guinness Flight Hambro Asset Management Ltd. I claimed that his question was unparliamentary in that it amounted to advocacy on behalf of that body.

I raised the matter via a written complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards preceded by a couple of points of order to the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd. But when Howard Flight responded the Commissioner accepted his submission. The Commissioner's response was then accepted by the Commons' Standards and Privileges Committee. This is the link to their report.

In 2005, Flight was secretly recorded stating that if the Conservatives won the coming election they would make more spending cuts than those they had promised to the electorate. It led to a spat with the Tory Leader Michael Howard and the blocking of Flight's re-selection as a candidate. But perhaps it is exactly what Flight then said that appealed to David Cameron who recently recommended him for a Peerage. But then he should have known that Flight can't keep his lip buttoned.

Well I did try to sort this out in 1997.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Constitutional Fix

54 newly appointed peers, 50 fewer democratically elected MPs.

Hat Tip : Bob Piper.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Linking To The Formal Parliamentary Work Of Your MP.

At the end of the "links" section at the right hand column of this blog, I have added four new links to the parliamentary activities of my local MP and parliamentary successor, Natascha Engel.

The first link provides access to the relevant sections of Hansard which provide (a) the oral and written parliamentary questions she asks and (b) her contributions in debates. The second link gives the Early Day Motions which she has both submitted and signed. The third link is to her section at the BBC's "Democracy Live" which includes access to various videos of her parliamentary contributions. The fourth link provides access to the reports of the Back Bench Business Committee which she Chairs.

(Note at 6.40 pm : Although these four links are working at the moment, two of them broke earlier. But others will have better technical skills than mine when adapting what I propose below, mainly via here)

Others in the UK could use these links to then search out the work of their own MPs and then to set up their own links. Areas I have not so far sorted out include links to relevant Hansards for Standing Committees and submissions and support for proposed amendments to Bills. Nor have I links for an MP's own Private Bills.

It should be noted that even in parliament, the above areas only form part of an active MP's work. For most of their parliamentary activities no Hansard writers or Common's Clerks are involved. These additional avenues include formal and informal meetings with Government Ministers and their opposition shadows, their own Party meetings including a wide range of back-bench committees, all-party and other groups on a range of topics, letters/emails to Ministers etc (normally on behalf of constituents) and a whole host of informal links to seek to advance their concerns. Such extra avenues are only possible, of course, because an MP has the normally unspoken threat in the background of raising their concerns via formal parliamentary procedures unless the informal avenues produce results. The hurdle they always need to overcome is the power of the Executive over back-bench MPs. This is why the work of the Backbench Business Committee which Natascha chairs is so important.

It should also be noted that the use of the above formal and informal parliamentary avenues only form part of an active MPs' work. Constituency work, campaigning and fact-finding are as significant and need to be added to the equation.

In my experience it is the MP who is active in parliament who is also active in their constituency.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Passion and Precision

There is an art in an opposition MP using the nooks and crannies of parliamentary procedure to seek to alter practices by the Coalition Government and its officials which are socially harmful.

My local Labour MP Natascha Engel (see photo) led a Westminster Hall debate on 27 October which had exactly this intent. She spoke with passion, understanding and precision.

Her topic was the future of work capacity assessments. These were brought in on April 2010 by the previous government to assess the work capability of people who are long-term claimants of incapacity benefit. However she raised concerns that their increasing use was solely to "bring down the welfare bill" and urged the government to see "people not the benefit". A video of the full half hour debate can be found here.

On this matter Natascha has worked closely with the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centres, who are chaired and supported by Graham Baxter who was the subject of this earlier item I posted.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Labour Success Story - Don't Now Upset The Applecart

Graham Baxter (front figure) carrying a Unite banner on the Chesterfield May Day March 2009. He has been an active trade unionist since his first day at work 54 years ago. (Click onto the picture to enlarge it).

There are times when it is appropriate to put forward words of appreciation for those whose actions we too often take for granted.

In what have been difficult times for Local Government, the North East Derbyshire District Council (NEDDC) has made remarkable progress in recent years under the controlling Labour Team led by Graham Baxter.

In 2008 the NEDDC made local government history by becoming the first council to leap straight from being designated as "weak" to "excellent" in an official national scheme established to judge council performances, known as the Comprehensive Performance Assessment.

The Audit Commission also found that the Council had made good progress in reducing crime and anti-social behaviour, in supporting economic development via successful infrastructure projects which reversed the decline in local jobs and industry, in meeting housing needs including those of the homeless, in working with neighbouring councils and with its local population, in contributing to progress in health, cleanliness, sustainable waste management and much more.

The Council has also received an impressive list of awards and commendations for its services from bodies such as the National Municipal Journal, the Local Government Association, the Cabinet Office, and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Currently it is also nominated for further recognitions of its services. In fact, it is possible to produce a list of at least 34 awards, nominations and commendations which the Council has received since July 2007.

Graham Baxter has also recently been awarded the MBE in recognitions of decades of public service, culminating in his work as leader of the Council since 2004.

But it is not just officialdom which recognises the Council's achievements; three quarters of those responding to a survey felt that the Council has worked to make the area cleaner, greener and a better place. 80% feel that North East Derbyshire is a good place to live.

The support which the Council gives to the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centres is also exceptional. Graham Baxter is an active Chair of this key organisation. It provides welfare rights advice and makes representations on all aspects of Welfare Benefits to anyone that requires it. Each year it deals with around 10,000 enquiries and represents some 200 people at tribunals, recovering over £1.5 million for the local economy and thereby preserving jobs. NEDDC's continuing support and involvement with this body is crucial in current circumstances.

The Coalition Government is now proposing to cut the budget of the Department of Communities and Local Government by 36.6% over the next 4 years, whilst capping Council Tax levels as an extra means of cutting local authority access to resources.

In the years ahead, the North East Derbyshire District Council will need to exercise the same forms of creative response which it has recently shown under Graham's leadership. It will also need to link with the wider Labour Movement to push back the Coalition's threat of massive cuts.

It is imperative that Graham and his team have local backing from the electorate to be returned to office in next year's District Council Elections.

In the meantime, it is a big thank you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Welcome Admission

Here Alan Johnson admits that Labour got its economic priorities wrong under Blair and Brown. It now seems to be accepted that those in the Labour Movement who attempted to save our manufacturing base and to restrain the growth of financial institutions were correct all along, even though they were dismissed at the time as merely being the "usual suspects".

What is now important is how we learn from the mistakes of New Labour and how we change the strategy for the future. But an apology should always be accepted as it offers fresh openings.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Votes For Prisoners - And Many Others

The vote should be available to anyone over 16 who is settled in the United Kingdom, with the exception only of those who have such a serious mental disability that they are unable in any way to understand the process they would be involved in. This is because we are all human beings who are subject to the decisions made by those who are elected.

People should not be excluded from the vote on the grounds that they are in prison or are nationals of a foreign country (in this category at the moment only Commonwealth and Irish citizen can qualify).

Serious action should also be taken to ensure that the missing millions who are entitled to vote (but who are missing from registers) are discovered and added to the registers. Those missing from registers are a significant proportion of the poor, the young, the rootless, the homeless and ethnic minorities.

A major case for giving the vote to 16 year olds is that they could initially be registered via their schools when 15 as "attainers" and it would then be easier to trace them later to ensure they then maintained their voting rights.

I can not understand anyone who otherwise sees themselves as a democrat and a believer in human rights coming up with reasons to exclude any category of people. The vote is not something that one should earn. It is for politicians to seek to earn our votes.

As things stand with criminals, we have the odd position that we keep discovering prisoners who are innocent whilst we know that most criminals are never captured. If there was a justification for excluding prisoners from the vote, (which there isn't) we would need a superior justice system to the one we have - yet it is currently being subject to Government cuts.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Future Of Northern Ireland

The Belfast-based "News Letter" is hosting a debate on the future of the Union in 2021, the 100th anniversary of the creation of Northern Ireland. My contribution to this series appeared in the paper on 13 October under the following title. Ian Paisley, Gerry Adams, Peter Robinson, David Trimble and Sir Reg Empey are amongst the previous contributers to the discussion. My article appears below -


Economic cuts could harm Northern Ireland's path to peace argues blogger and former Labour MP Harry Barnes.

Published Date: 13 October 2010

Although progress has not always been smooth since the time of the Belfast Agreement, Northern Ireland has moved into an era marked by relative peace and reconciliation.

One clear possibility for the coming decade is that this progress will continue and the conflicts of the past will be minimised.

A new generation given a favourable context will be capable of transcending past divisions.

Yet even given that we now live in a more mobile society, the social bonds of upbringing are likely to remain strong enough for most people to retain commitments to their respective unionist and republican backgrounds.

As the unionists are in the majority and the prospect of being surpassed via a higher Catholic birth rate declines, majority support for the Union should remain.

If a period of relative peace delivers sufficient prosperity, then increasing numbers of republican sympathisers are likely to give a de facto acceptance to the Union.

This is especially the case to the extent that cross-border links have been developed and seem likely to extend.

The above pattern is one that I would anticipate and find attractive.

Constitutionally Northern Ireland would remain in the Union, but economically and socially the island of Ireland would become more integrated.

There are, however, some stark economic circumstances which could disrupt such developments.

The coalition government is keen to cut Northern Ireland’s dependence on public services and its bill for welfare benefits.

So unless those dependent on these avenues of expenditure act in a common defence of their interests via bodies such as trade unions, then there is a danger that under deprivation both Catholic and Protestant communities might be used by extremists to turn against each other.

So efforts to see that Northern Ireland’s politicians reflect a common stance to protect the province’s social and economic well-being are also priorities.

There is also a danger that social and economic integration across the whole of the island of Ireland will be seriously hampered by the economic crisis which has hit the Republic.

I take it as a fact of life over the next ten years that there will be comfortable continuing majority support for the maintenance of the Union.

This does not, however, need a form of unionist political unity in the assembly nor at Westminster.

I have long been an advocate of the Labour Party coming to function fully in Northern Ireland whilst making moves to draw its support from both the unionist and republican traditions.

Yet I do not envisage a major breakthrough by Labour in Northern Ireland by 2021, although I would take what can be got.

It needs, however, to be recognised that the growth of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland politics is itself likely to be seen by many unionists as a reason for their clubbing together.

This does not mean that outside of the constitutional objectives of both unionism and republicanism that common ground cannot be sought on issues such as housing, education, health services, benefits and employment.

When it comes to assembly elections in a democratic sense any winner (Sinn Fein or otherwise) is acceptable in providing a first minister.

Whether such a person is someone who is acceptable in the sense of being almost likeable seems to me to depend first of all on how committed they are to the process of peace and reconciliation.

It is then a matter of judging their economic and social programme. For me Sinn Fein and any another party needs to prove its worth according to its practices.

Harry Barnes was Labour MP for North East Derbyshire from 1987-2005, during which time he served on the Northern Ireland Select Committee, the British-Irish Parliamentary Body, was joint-president of New Dialogue and worked with the Peace Train. His political blog is at http://threescoreyearsandten.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

People Who Are Just Like Me

I'm not sure of the exact date, but it was probably exactly 50 years ago today that I embarked upon what they call a "life changing experience".

At 24 years of age and with a notable lack of educational attainment, I took leave of absence from my job as a railway clerk to embark upon a two year politics and economics course at Ruskin College - whilst retaining my free passes and privilege tickets.

I had been active for nearly three years as secretary of the Easington Colliery Local Labour Party and had undertaken another voluntary role as secretary of the Peterlee and District Fabian Society.

It was the latter involvement that drew me into attending a Fabian Weekend School at Oxford at the end of March 1960. It was held at the College's section at Headington which was used mainly for first year students.

Hugh Dalton, Roy Jenkins and Tony Crosland were amongst the speakers, whilst Bill Rogers was running the show as the Fabian's General Secretary.

I had no idea what Ruskin College was about until someone else attending the week-end school who had recently graduated from St. John's College, Oxford said "you should come here, it is for people like you". That is people with an interest in politics who lacked formal qualifications. It was the first time I knew that politics could be an academic subject.

Later in the year I saw an advert for the Ruskin courses in "Tribune". I immediately applied for something-I-knew-not-what as I was unmarried and had no major commitments.

Entry was based upon filling in an application form, writing a couple of essays (one was to try for a scholarship), plus an interview and three references. My referees were Mannie Shinwell the Constituency MP, my Union Branch Secretary and a former teacher who had joined our Local Labour Party in search of a headship in Labour dominated County Durham.

I had little idea as to what a Diploma Course entailed having left school at 16 with four low "O" levels and failures in what seemed to be the most important topics of Maths and English Language. It just seemed to me to be great that for two years in my life I could read books and write essays on politics and economics. After all the reason I had joined the Labour Party was to qualify to write an essay on nationalisation in a contest run by Mannie Shinwell, where I had taken the second prize of £3.

The subject I took to the most at Ruskin was Political Theory which opened up the way to reading theorists including Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, John Stuart Mill (on whom I wrote my best essay) and Karl Marx.

The photo at the start of this item was taken by Ann my future wife after the final exams and just before we all left Ruskin. The four on the photo were all fellow students and friends. I am the one in glasses at the back. Next is Ian Pickard whom I first met at the interviews at Transport House. Ann and I have visited Ian and Beryl his wife earlier this year. Ian became a Senior Lecturer in Communications at Wakefield College. Second from the front is the late Karl Hedderwick who was best man when Ann and I married in our native County Durham. He was also a colleague of mine at Sheffield University Extramural Department and in his final years had lived just a few hundred years from Ann and myself in our home in Dronfield. The chap at the front is Doug Chewter who was the only student in our year to obtain a distinction in the Oxford University Diploma. We keep in touch indirectly via the comment box of someone else's web-site.

Ann at Christchurch, Oxford on her visit in the summer of 1962

When I moved on to Hull University as an undergraduate my studies were shaped by my experiences at Ruskin. I dropped economics where my theory tutors report said that I showed a distinct ability to think for myself but at a rather superficial level ! I added philosophy to my politics studies as political philosophy and ethics seemed to me to add to my interests in political theory. After graduation I became a tutor in Sheffield University Extramural Department teaching Trade Unionists (especially NUM) in day release classes and other adults in an environment akin to that which I had experienced at Ruskin and in the areas of politics and theory which had then appealed to me.

Ruskin was the key to what I was engaged in from turning up their 50 years ago and for the next 27 years until I went on to serve for 18 years as an MP. Even then the discussion of political ideas was still central to much that I did; whether in the Commons, Committee meetings or political gatherings. Even in retirement I organise political discussion meetings for what looks very much like classes of adult students who are also labour movement activists. The Ruskin experience of the early 1960s shaped my life and, thankfully is still shaping it.

Also see -

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lib Dems Crash

The Lib Dems suffered a crushing defeat in Thursday's District Council By-election in the Gosforth Valley Ward of the North East Derbyshire District Council. It had been their stongest Ward. It is where I live.

In this three seater in 2007 the average results of the Political Parties were Lib Dems 51.1%, Tories 30.0% and Labour 18.9%.

The By-election was a contest for a single seat. The Liberal Vote fell dramatically to 31.3%, the Tories took 37.1% and Labour moved into second place with 31.6%.

The Liberal percentage vote fell by 19.8% with 7.1% of these going to the Tories and 12.7% to Labour. The Liberal swing to Labour was almost twice as strong as the swing to the Tories.

Although the turnout dropped substantially from 36% in 2007 to 26%, the Labour vote actually increased from a previous average of 315 to 354. It was its best ever result in the ward.

Whilst Labour only moved into 2nd place by 4 votes, it overtook the Lib Dems who had had an average lead over them of no less than 563 in 2007.

If the By-election had been fought under the Alternative Vote, then the Lib Dems would have been eliminated and their second choices redistributed between Labour and the Tories. Labour would have needed just 207 of the potential 350 transferred votes to ensure victory. That is under 3 in 5 of the transfers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In The Dark

Just about anything to do with the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill is inaccessible on the Parliamentary Channel at the moment. This includes video coverage of the debate, the Hansard coverage and a copy of the Bill itself. There is a further black-out of the work of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee who are looking into the matter - no video coverage, no Committee Hansards and no Reports. There is also silence at the BBC at the moment. I feel a conspiracy theory overtaking me.

UPDATE 15 SEPTEMBER - That's better after reading the above someone has now switched the lights on.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dear Editor.....


"Last lap for the Labour hopefuls.

The ballot papers are due to go out in the Labour leadership contest (Labour contenders await Blair, 30 August). At the last minute each of the candidates has produced a manifesto, but (except in one case) these are tucked away in an obscure blog entitled Dronfield Blather, which is run by the Dronfield Labour party discussion group, which ran a three-month campaign to obtain them. It would be helpful if the voters could first see what they are voting for. The manifestos differ considerably in style and presentation. Andy Burnham's is entitled Aspirational Socialism and is some 9,000 words long. He is also pushing this via his own website. The others have not yet done this.

Diane Abbott and David Miliband have produced what might be called "minifestos" of under 700 words each. Whilst the two Eds have come up with scissors and paste jobs taken from what they see as relevant and important past items. As quantity is not the same thing as quality, judgments of the relative merits of each of these presentation can only be determined by examining them on the Dronfield Blather website.

Harry Barnes."

NOTE : The official booklet (opposite) being issued with ballot papers contains statements from the candidates, but these are limited to some 250 words. The material available via Dronfield Blather is much more extensive.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

And Now There Are Five

The entry "Manifestos Of Intent - Read These Before You Vote" has been updated, as the blog "Dronfield Blather" has now received material from all five candidates in the Labour Leadership Election. See here.

Now that they have all set out their stalls, we have something to judge the winners' actions by in the future. That will aid the democratic process within the Labour Party.

Monday, August 23, 2010

We Have A Manifesto

In response to the campaign run by "Dronfield Blather", Andy Burnham has today issued a Manifesto setting out the programme he would seek to pursue if he is elected as leader of the Labour Party. It is some 9,000 words long and can be viewed and/or downloaded from his web-site. It is a serious contribution and should be studied by all those with votes in the leadership contest.

Andy describes his stance - "It begins with a definition of the philosophy that underpins my approach to politics and outlook on life. It is Aspirational Socialism. It means that we want all people to fulfil their hopes and dreams but knowing that this will only happen for those who have least if we work for a world where resources and power are shared".

It is hoped that the four other contestants will set out their stalls based on their own values and commitments. Later this week we will publish or provide links to any Manifesto material we have access to from them.

Eventually we will make our own assessment of the different cases which the five candidates argue

Friday, August 20, 2010

Manifesto Momentum

The Following is taken from the blog "Dronfield Blather".

Yesterday as part of his Labour Leadership Campaign, Andy Burnham circulated an email in which he stated - "Next week, I will set out in my manifesto how I intend to rebuild our great Party from the bottom up, as an open and vibrant campaigning force with power vested in the hands of our members. ..... My manifesto – ‘Aspirational Socialism’ – is a coherent political philosophy and vision for our country. Keep an eye on my website at for more information. You will be able to download my manifesto to read at your leisure."

As we first reported on 2nd July, Andy's action is fully in line with a commitment he had then made to "Dronfield Blather". Following a further exchange of emails, he repeated his promise to us as recently as 6th August.

As soon as he issues his manifesto we will provide access to it on this site.

As we showed in the item we posted on 1st August, we also hold promises from the other four candidates that they will also issue Manifestos. We will send each candidate a link to this current item and press David, Diane and the two Eds to also deliver their Manifestos next week. Not least because the ballot papers in the contest are due to be circulated from 1st September. It would be good to have a chance to read and digest the Manifestos before then.

We initially ran a campaign for the issue of such Manifestos here.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Now There Are Five

This is taken from today's "Dronfield Blather".

All five candidates for the Labour Leadership have now responded positively to the campaign run by Dronfield Blather to issue Manifestos of Intent. On Friday we reported that four out of the five were then on board, but afterwards the missing Ed Balls was approached at the close of the final hustings held at Manchester and he accepted our proposal.

It all reminds us of the first of Enid Blyton's books about the Famous Five. It was entitled "Five On A Treasure Island" and as is shown opposite. The cover of the book depicts Enid's missing character being safely brought aboard at the last moment.

However, the drama is not yet over. The five have all agreed to publish Manifestos of Intent. Three have confirmed this by email, one by a letter and the other face-to-face with Blogger Brader at Manchester.

But we only have until 16 August until the balloting commences. So we are keen to gain access to the finalised Manifestos themselves for publication by then. So far we hold some initial material from two of the candidates, although if they wish they still have time to elaborate on what we hold.

Whenever all five Manifestos are to hand we will publish them alongside each other. If anyone falls out of the boat we will, however, publish what we then hold on 16 August which is the date that balloting commences in the contest. We can't wait any longer than that.

Candidates are, of course, free to publish their own Manifestos at any time they wish. If they beat us to it, we will nevertheless stick to the above timetable.

The start of the ballot for individual members of the Labour Party has been changed from 16 August to 1 September. We hope, however, that the candidates will submit and/or issue their "Manifestos of Intent" well before the new date. People need time to examine and discuss Manifestos. So we will still seek to act in conformity with the time-table mentioned above.

For what are called logistical reasons, the final date on which we hope to issue the candidates' Manifestos is now pushed back to 25 August. It is a good old fashioned compromise between the two dates mention in the earlier update. At least it shows that we are in communication with the high commands in the various candidates' camps.

Below - the famous five at their final hustings at Manchester.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Manifestos of Intent - the latest

The campaign on Dronfield Blather to get the five candidates in the Labour Leadership contest to issue "Manifestos of Intent" is making steady if slow progress. Four of the candidates have agreed that they will do this. But no response at all has yet been received from Ed Balls despite numerous efforts to get him to respond.

August 16th sees the start of the balloting in the contest. All the submissions that are received will be published alongside each on that date - unless all five can be published together on an earlier date. See here also.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

70 Not Out

This is what a Manifesto looks like.

The campaign to get the five candidates in the Labour Leadership contest to issue "Manifestos of Intent"
has the support of 70 individuals or organisations who have votes in the contest. They are drawn from members of some 40 Constituency Labour Parties, plus the Socialist Medical Association and include John McDonnell MP. Others who have votes in the contest can best add their support here via the comment box.

Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott have accepted the proposal. There are rumours that Ed Balls will withdraw from the contest. If he wishes to ditch the rumour, then an announcement that he will issue a Manifesto would help. If he is packing it in, then this will mean that 2 out of 4 of the candidates are on board. That leaves the two Milibands. The issue has been brought to their attention at public meetings, phone calls to their staff, via letters, via emails and on their (and others) web-sites. It would help if those in contact with the Milibands would push the issue with them. Perhaps like Marx and Engels they could publish a joint Manifesto!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Urgent - Act To Defend Iraqi Trade Unions

See Labour Start on what is happening and how you can act to protect the Trade Union Movement in Iraq.

The issue is further explained by the TUC here, here and here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

2 Down. 3 To Go.

Diane Abbott has agreed to this request to issue a manifesto spelling out how she would act if elected as Leader of the Labour Party. Andy Burnham was the first to agree to do this.

Responses are still awaited from the other three candidates. They were first contacted on the matter over a month ago. Subsequently David and then Ed Miliband had the matter brought to their attention at public meetings. Whilst Ed Balls has been contacted on the issue by one of his parliamentary nominees.

So we could yet get 5 out of 5. If you have a vote in the Labour Leadership contest, then you can sign up to this campaign here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Improving Labour's Selection Process

Garland. Daily Telegraph 9 July, 2010.
In batches between 20 and 28 June I emailed 141 of my former Labour parliamentary colleagues seeking support for them to back a call to the Labour Leadership Candidates to issue what some of us have called "Manifestos of Intent". Our proposal is explained here.

The candidates themselves have been approached three times since 18 June on the matter, with an extra copy of the request being handed over by me directly to David Miliband at a meeting at Sheffield. The matter was also raised with Ed Miliband at a meeting on Thursday. He had not seen it.

These various efforts have so far received only two responses, both of them positive. One from John McDonnell giving his support and the other from Andy Burnham accepting our proposal.

The two Eds, whom I have never met push the unanswered emails back up to 141. So I wrote a letter to the Guardian about the problem. This was published on 6 July and is given below.

To date, my letter to the Guardian has stimulated a response from only one Labour MP although the person concerned fell outside the category of my above efforts.

I appreciate that there is nothing as ex as an ex-MP, but I had hoped that one or two of the remaining Labour MPs who were around before 2005 would seek to humour me. I now know that the "ex" stands for ex-communication. Although one "out of office" reply did inform me (and thus constituents getting the same reply) that if I did not get a reply after 28 days that I should send another email. So I could get some responses after the leadership contest is over.

If there is anyone out there that is not past their sell by date and has influence with a Labour MP (including the candidates for the leadership), then perhaps they could push our case with them.

Here is the Guardian Letter, under "Question for Labour hustings".

"Polly Toynbee is spot on when she says that the Labour hustings take the oxygen out of the leadership debate (Labour's hustings are dismal, 3 July). It isn't, however, just the nature of the spoken word which has trivialised the contest. What about the written word? Candidates' leaflets, press interviews, circulated emails and blogs are all used to produce the equivalent of soundbites. It is hoped that we will read into them much more than they say.

What is needed instead are the production of serious and detailed think pieces by each of the candidates in the form of personal manifestos, showing where and how they hope to lead the party. On behalf of 50 rank-and-file Labour members from 15 different constituencies*, I have asked the candidates to issue such manifestos. So far Andy Burnham has agreed, while the proposal has received the backing of John McDonnell, who failed to qualify for the present travelling circus.

I hope that the other leadership candidates will respond favourably. In batches I have also emailed another 139 Labour MPs who used to be my colleagues when I was an MP. They may need to check their spam boxes. For my self-esteem, it would be nice if I received more than the two replies which have arrived to date!

Harry Barnes

(Labour MP 1987-2005), Dronfield, Derbyshire"

* = I miscounted, the number of CLPs was 20. We currently have 2 extra, plus the Socialist Health Association. Why not add to these via the top link?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Backing from the Socialist Health Association

The Socialist Health Association are backing the call for candidates in the Labour leadership election to issue "Manifestos of Intent". Andy Burnham is the only candidate who has so far agreed to do this.

Friday, July 02, 2010

One Accepts. Four Reminded

The call which appeared here, has received a positive response from Andy Burnham (photo) and has the backing of John McDonnell. It is a request for the candidates in the labour leadership contest to issue "Manifestos of Intent" related to the democratic socialist principles contained on the back of Labour Party Membership Cards.

The other four candidates have today been sent this fresh email -

"Dear Diane Abbott, Ed Balls, David Miliband and Ed Miliband,

A fortnight ago I emailed then posted you a request to issue a "Manifesto of Intent" for the Labour Leadership Campaign. Manifestos which it was hoped would be issued widely amongst those with votes in the selection. I also handed a copy of the request to David Miliband that day, at a meeting he addressed in Sheffield.

So far Andy Burnham has responded favourably to this request, so I am sending him and his campaign team a copy of this email.

I hope that each of you will now agree to our suggestion.

Full details of our proposal are provided here, listing those who are backing us -

All the best,
Harry Barnes (Labour MP 1987-2005),
(Address, email, phone number and blog details also supplied)."

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Ken Coates

Ken Coates died on Sunday. He had a great capacity for what others would call work; whether it was political writing, academic output, establishing bodies which integrated publishing with group organisation, being a member of the European Parliament or participating in the dialectics of debate with adult students or political activists.

But none of the above were chores to Ken. What he saw as the real work he undertook in his life was when he was a coalminer from around the ages of 18 to 26. But even (or especially) in those days he learnt a great deal from various of his workmates and those he socialised with about Trade Unionism and Labour Movement Politics. So when he went to Nottingham University to study Sociology in what I will later show was the key political year of 1956, he talked of having discovered a new found freedom which lasted right throughout the week - and for every week. He had moved into a world which was to enable him to pursue two of his related passions - adult education and socialism. No longer did he have to share his precious time with coal getting. When he moved to be a Tutor in Adult Education (also at Nottingham University) he directed his attention to work with miners and other workers, whom he wished to share his newly found freedoms with.

I came to know Ken gradually when I moved into a parallel world of industrial day-release teaching for Trade Unionists (especially miners) at Sheffield University. This was in 1966 when Ken was launching the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, which my wife and I marched with in a protest outside the Labour Party Conference in Scarborough the following year. Then it was on to a huge fringe meeting which was a precursor of the Institute of Workers' Control which Ken helped launch formally the following year.

Ken's political instinct was always to develop initiatives which would draw people together in ways that would expand their understandings and would thus spread socialist ideas. These included War Crime Tribunals, opposing the war in Vietnam, European Nuclear Disarmament, Industrial Democracy, the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, a Pensioner's Parliament, an Assembly of Disabled People, a Convention for Full Employment and Spokesmen Books.

Throughout such activities he published masses of related books and articles (some are shown here), whilst editing collections of essays. He seldom worked alone. He worked particularly well with the late Tony Topham, who was a fellow adult tutor at Hull University. Their joint work was normally concentrated around the issue of Industrial Democracy, but they also produced a majestic 900 page work on the 1870-1922 formation of the Transport and General Workers' Union , entitled "The Making of the Labour Movement" (Spokesmen paperback edition 1994). My own copy being a gift from Ken to which he added his fraternal greetings.

In 1970 he came to major public attention when a study of poverty in the St Ann's district of Nottingham was published as a Penguin Special in joint authorship with Richard Silburn, entitled "Poverty : The Forgotten Englishman". He worked with Silburn on related work. He also collaborated closely with Michael Barratt Brown who ran the Industrial Day-Release programme from Sheffield University were I was one of a group of eight tutors teaching on the courses. Ken and Michael's joint work included "The Blair Revelation: Deliverance for Whom?" (Spokesman. 1996) which indicated that Ken would not have an easy relationship with the New Labour hierarchy.

Ken had stood as Labour candidate in Nottingham South in 1983. And although he lost, he had the distinction of having the late Marxist intellectual Ralph Miliband canvassing for him with the help of his two sons David and Ed. He then became a Labour Member of the European Parliament from 1989 to 1999. In 1994 his seat encompassed the area of my own parliamentary seat in North East Derbyshire, where we worked together especially on environmental problems which blighted the area.

But the crunch came in 1997. First he was suspended by the Labour Group in Europe for failing to accept the arrangements they had put in place for the shortlisting of candidates for the coming Euro Elections. Tony Benn in my neighbouring seat Chesterfield and myself defended Ken's right to express his view. But towards the end of 1998 he joined the Green's Group in the European Parliament. He had clearly placed himself outside rules which the Labour hierarchy were only too keen to use. I tried to pursued him to pull back from his position, pointing out that there was still scope for rebellion against New Labour at Westminster at least, where 47 of us had voted in the first major rebellion against New Labour Whips over Single Parent Benefits. But Ken was never going to settle for being a loyal grouser.

Ken's uneasy relationship with Labour's officialdom had in fact led to his expulsion from the Party back in 1965. He fought his corner until 1969 before he was re-instated. His story and the wider politics of the period are covered in his book "The Crisis of British Socialism - Essays on the Rise of Harold Wilson and the Fall of the Labour Party" (Spokesman 1971). If he was alienated by Wilson, there is no way that he would continue to operate peacefully under Blair.

1956 (as I earlier indicated) was a huge year for socialists. It saw the Khrushchev Revelations about Stalin, the Suez Invasion, the Soviet Invasion of Hungary and revisionist advance in the Labour Party with Tony Crosland's publication "The Future of Socialism". Ken had been in the Communist Party up to then. But even then he had disagreed with an earlier line that Stalin had taken against Tito (where Yugoslavian Communism developed the concept of Worker Self Management which related closely to Ken's later work with the Institute of Workers' Control). For a period as Ken became an adult student he worked with those who established the International Marxist Group and he had a period on the board of International Socialism. He now seemed to be a Trotskyist.

In many ways Communism and Trotskyism are opposing socialist approaches. But Ken soon developed his own synthesis out of these to fit in with British (and later European) circumstances. He had already been drawn into activity with the New left of the late 1950s, with figures such as E.P.Thompson, Michael Barratt Brown and Ralph Miliband. What emerged for Ken was working with the left of the Labour Party where he could, but never surrendering to right wing practices. But it only made sense to Ken for him to spend energy in opposing the leadership of say Wilson and Blair, if this was only part of his main activity of building towards socialism via key issues such as Worker's Control and Environmental Protection.

We should certainly not dismiss his life as being full of heroic failures. The War Crime Tribunal was a major initiative and industrial democracy made inroads via Lucas Aerospace and others. His work for five years as President of the Human Rights Committee of the European Parliament was substantial. Above all he touched the lives of many as a tutor, writer and a political activist. Any of us would have been proud to have delivered a fraction of what he achieved from his "newly found freedom".

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Snorkels For The Unemployed

During the inter-war depression the Plebs League produced this cartoon. The Con-Dem Coalition is now employing the same tactic, although inflation has boosted the figures that are shown. There is, however, an innovation which Duncan Smith is now considering. He may issue snorkels to those on the bottom rung, so they can swim around looking for jobs. No wonder the Lib Dems joined up to this Compassionate Conservatism.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is There Room For A Third Miliband?

Ralph Miliband (1924 to 1994), the father of David and Ed as shown on the cover of Michael Newman's biography "Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left" (Merlin Press, 2002). The New Left being a very different creature to New Labour.

The father of David and Ed Miliband was the Marxist intellectual Ralph Miliband. In his final book called "Socialism for A Sceptical Age" (Polity Press, 1994) he wrote “(t)here are in effect three core propositions or themes which define socialism, all three equally important, and each related to, and dependent upon, the others. These are democracy, egalitarianism, and socialization of a predominant part of the economy.”

We need debates in the current Labour Leadership election on these interconnected matters. The current economic situation makes them more relevant than ever.

I present a way in which these understandings might be placed on the agenda in a guest post on the Fabian Society's blog "Next Left" and in the thread below this one.

The support of Labour Party members and affilates would be welcome here. This avenue is open to anyone with an email facility.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Calling Those With Voting Rights In the Labour Leadership Contest - But It Is Not Your Vote We Are After.

The letter below is being submitted to the five candidates for the Labour Leadership - who are shown above. If you are a member of an organisation which has voting rights in this election, then why not add your support via the comment box on this thread? Give your name and list the relevant organisations which you are a member of. These include Constituency Labour Parties, the Co-operative Party and affiliated bodies such as many Trade Unions and various Socialist Societies. The type of details we are after are shown for the signatories at the close of the letter. This comment box only takes information from those with a blog facility. But a further version of the letter appears on "Dronfield Blather" where the thread can be accessed by anyone with an email facility. Other signatories will be added as they are received. As a consequence this thread is being periodically updated.


The supporters of this letter are members of either the Labour Party and/or members of organisations affiliated to the Labour Party who pay their political levy or its equivalent.

Immediately after the election we felt that Labour needed a period of reflection and serious internal debate to assess the reasons for our defeat and to think through the direction we needed to move into.

Instead we have been confronted with an imperfect leadership contest in which the Party’s wider membership and its affiliated bodies have been excluded from the nominating procedure. This has restricted both the range of the political viewpoints and the background links of the candidates who have emerged.

What we feel now needs to be done is to seek to use the current imperfect leadership contest as a means by which we can acquire something like the form of assessment and internal debate which we feel is necessary.

This means that there is a need to divert the current contest away from being just another ’X factor’ game show, towards being a serious debate related to the principles contained in the Labour Party Constitution which state - “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect”.

To help achieve the depth and nature of the debate that we are seeking, we call upon each of the candidates to publish a Manifesto of Intent to make clear to everyone the direction in which they would seek to lead the Labour Party, based on their assessment of the reasons behind the electoral defeat and their interpretation of the direction where the principles quoted above should now lead us.

We ask that these Manifestos of Intent should be distributed widely in order to generate extensive discussion across the Party and beyond, so that this will assist those voting in the leadership contest to reach balanced and principled understandings.


We invite Labour Party members, members of the Co-operative Party and those who pay their political levy to Trade Unions affiliated to the Labour Party (or the equivalent) to add their names and their organisational links to this letter via this Comment Box or via that of "Dronfield Blather" if you only have an email facility.

1) Ken Curran, Birley Branch LP, Sheffield South East CLP, UNISON, Co-operative Party Sheffield Branch.

(2) John Halstead, Nether Edge Branch LP, Sheffield Central CLP, Cooperative Party Sheffield Branch.

(3) Harry Barnes, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, UNITE, Co-operative Party Chesterfield Branch,Labour MP 1987-2005.

(4) Martin Brader, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, UNITE.

(5) John Dunn, West Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP.

(6) Graham Baxter MBE, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, UNITE, Leader NE Derbyshire District Council.

(7) Jon Williams, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, UNITE.

(8) Shelagh Wolliscroft, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, UNITE.

(9) Roy Pilkington, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP.

(10) Stephen Brunt, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, UNITE.

(11) John Gilbert, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP.

(12) Bill Michie, Nether Edge LP, Sheffield Central CLP, UNITE, Co-operative Party Sheffield Branch, Labour MP 1983-2001.

(13) Bob Piper, Abbey Branch LP, Warley CLP.

(14) Mick Davies, Bristnall Branch LP, Warley CLP.

(15) Shay Boyle, Sutton Branch LP, Bolsover CLP, GMB.

(16) Frances Kelly, Finchley and Golders Green CLP.

(17) Patricia Williams, Sutton Branch LP, Bolsover CLP, UNISON.

(18) Steve Thompson, Sheffield Central Branch LP and CLP, Co-operative Party Sheffield Branch.

(19) Dr Duncan Hall, Skipton Branch LP, Skipton and Ripon CLP.

(20) Douglas Michael Chewter, Skipton and Ripon CLP.

(21) Marianne Quick, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, UNITE.

(22) Ian Robathan, Pheasey Branch LP, Walsall CLP.

(23) Jack Wearing, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP.

(24) Doreen Curran, Berwick-upon-Tweed Branch LP, Berwick CLP, NUPE Retired Member.

(25) Ronald Curran, Berwick-upon-Tweed Branch LP, Berwick CLP, NUPE Retired Member.

(26) Gary Kent, Beckenham CLP, UNITE, NUJ.

(27) Christine Smith, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, UNISON.

(28) Caroline Smith, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, UNITE.

(29) Rosie Smith, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP.

(30) Barry Winter, Chapel Allerton Branch LP, Leeds North East CLP, ILP.

(31) Frank Abel, Manor and Castle Branch LP, Sheffield Central CLP, NUT.

(32) William Brown, Sheffield Hallam CLP, ILP.

(33) Felix Gott, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP.

(34) James Vernoit, Vauxhall CLP.

(35) Rebecca Eeley, Cheadle CLP, Fabian Society.

(36) Bernadette Duffy, Birley Branch LP, South East Sheffield CLP.

(37) Gordon MacMillan, St Ann's, Tottenham CLP.

(38) Dave Hill, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, UNITE.

(39) Janet Hill, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP.

(40) Caz Brader, Manchester Withington CLP. CYWU.

(41) Samuel Ohene, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP.

(42) John McDonnell M.P., Hayes and Harlington CLP.

(43) Edna Woodhead, Ecclesall Branch LP, Sheffield Hallam CLP.

(44) John Woodhead, Ecclesall Branch LP, Sheffield Hallam CLP.

(45) George Bell, UNISON Bassetlaw Local Government Retired Member.

(46) Paul Harman, Darlington CLP.

(47) James Doran, Darlington CLP, Co-operative Party Darlington & South Durham Branch.

(48) Bob Gachagan, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, GMB.

(49) Ann Barnes, Dronfield Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, GMB.

(50) Martin Stone, Chesterfield CLP, UNISON.

(51) Socialist Health Association.

(52) Pete Firmin, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP. CWU.

(53) Val Graham, Chesterfield CLP, UNISON.

(54) Stan Newens, Harlow CLP, Labour MP 1964-70 and 1974-83, Labour MEP 1989-1999.

(55) Derek Bunce, Haywood & Hixon Branch LP, Stafford CLP, UNISON.

(56) Paul Cotterill, Leader Labour Group on West Lancashire Borough Council in a personal capacity.

(57) Simon Whitten, South West Bedfordshire CLP.

(58) Ian Woodland, Southampton Itchen CLP, UNITE.

(59) Andreas Paterson, Norwich South CLP.

(60) Jon Taylor, Chair Wharley Bridge Branch LP, High Peak Constituency.

(61) Mark Grayling, Grassmoor Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP, Chesterfield Co-operative Party.

(62) Tom Gann, Greenwich & Woolwich CLP, Fabian Society, Parliamentary Candidate for Salisbury in the General Election.

(63) James McGee, Salisbury CLP, Fabian Society.

(64) Vino Sangarapillai, Horsey & Wood Green CLP, UNISON.

(65) Anthony Mckeown, High Peak CLP, UNITE, Co-operative Party Chesterfield Branch.

(66) Ruth Stoba, Whaley Bridge Branch LP, High Peak CLP.

(67) Kingston & Surbiton Constituency Labour Party, (posted by Max Freedman Chair).

(68) Stephanie David, Bexleyheath & Crayford CLP, GMB.

(69) Robert Naether disabled GMB Union south wales.

(70) Alex Williams, Stockport CLP.

(71) Steve Pickering, Eckington Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP.

(72) Bob Heath. Eckington Branch LP, NE Derbyshire CLP.

John McDonnell Wins Again

The Newsnight Debate between the five contenders (as shown above) for the Labour Leadership can be viewed here. I forced myself to watch it last night. I thought that it was poor stuff and wasn't helped by Jeremy Paxman cutting people short and having his back to his studio audience so he hardly let them in on the questions. The winner for me was John McDonnell due to his failure to qualify for the contest. I think that he would also have known how to handle both Paxman and his leadership rivals. But perhaps that is sour grapes.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

John McDonnell Wins

John McDonnell has come top of the ballot. Well it is called a ballot. It is really a raffle. He has the first spot for a Private Members Bill in the new Parliament. I know that he will make good use of his opportunity to have a full Second Reading Debate on the measure he chooses. What of a law to say that those nominated for the leadership of a political party should only require a minimum of 5% support from their nominating body? It's OK I know that he is more seriously minded than that.

He could go for a Bill to see that the 3 million missed off electoral registers are properly registered to vote. From experience I know that it is a matter than can gain cross-party support and the Labour Leadership candidates would all feel obliged to support him! I even had Tony Blair in the lobby to support me when I tried something similar back in 1993 - although he seemed to lose his way afterwards.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Comrade Cameron

During Prime Ministers Questions yesterday, David Cameron said -

"Transparency on pay is an important principle, because it is good for democracy and accountability if we know how much people in the public sector are earning. I also think that it will help us to control public spending. When people see how much people are paid in the public sector, the pressure will be on to keep top pay levels down. It would also be worth while having a maximum multiple of 20 times earnings; we are holding a review to get that done. People at the top of a public sector organisation should not earn more than 20 times what people at the bottom earn. It is that sort of progressive idea that we are looking forward to introducing."

Such a move to greater egalitarianism in the public sector could, of course, be extended further afield. If there is a case for limiting pay differentials within a public sector organisation to 20 fold, then is there not a case for limiting pay differentials to 20 fold throughout the entire and combined public sector? And if there is a case for doing this in the public sector, then does that case not apply across society as a whole? No-one whether they were in the public sector, the private sector or what is described as being the third non-profit making sector of the economy would then be paid more than 20 fold the level of the national minimum wage. And why should the principle be limited to wage payments only? What of a 20 fold limit on both wealth, shareholding and property holdings? The only problem I can see with this further expansion of the 20 fold principle is that some people have zero holdings in these areas. And 20 times zero is zero. A way around this difficulty would to be to introduce legislation to provide for minimum levels of holdings of wealth, shares and property ownership. The alternative of having the State confiscate the lot might be going a bit too far for Cameron.

At least, it looks as if the Conservative Party will have to drop all that talk about egalitarian moves being the politics of envy. Comrade Cameron has started to break the mould. If the present Coalition collapses, perhaps he could seek a Conservative/Socialist Campaign Group Coalition. He only needs to extend the logic of his stance at PM's Questions.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Electoral and Political Reform - Labour's Move

Labour is on the back foot over the issue of electoral and political reform. This is because in its period of 13 years in Government it only produced a number of limited and sometimes confusing reforms in these areas.

1. On the reform of the Upper Chamber it did little more than transform a mixed hereditary and appointed Peerage into what is now a mainly appointed one.

In order to cap the Coalition's current proposals, Labour now needs to call for the complete abolition of the Peerage, with strict limits being placed on the legislative powers of the Second Chamber. If significant moves could also be made in advancing the powers which back-bench MPs exercise over the Executive, there would then be a case for the abolition of the Second Chamber altogether.

2. It introduced a variety of different voting systems for different tiers of Government, with no convincing explanation as to why this hotchpotch produced a principled system.

Labour could call for all elections, from the European Union to Parish Councils to be operated under the Alternative Vote.

3. Despite introducing a more flexible electoral registration system, Labour failed to stem the collapse in the numbers of voters who are missing from registers. Some 3 million were missing from registers at the recent General Election, which is around twice the number that were missing in 1997. Yet we are moving to a system of individual voter registration. This system has been introduced into Northern Ireland and the electoral registration rate has fallen there from 95% to 86%.

The main groups of people missing from electoral registers are be found amongst the poor, the young, the rootless, ethnic minorities and those avoiding debt collectors. We need a proactive electoral registration system to overcome the problem of these missing millions. As the categories mentioned above are unevenly distributed throughout the nation, this seriously distorts the drawing of constituency electoral boundaries. Correcting the massive shortcomings in electoral registration, needs to precede any major redrawing of constituency boundaries. The sale of electoral registers to commercial interests should also be banned as it acts as a deterrent on registering to vote amongst many disadvantaged people.

4.Despite a slight recovery at the last General Election, there was a worrying overall fall in electoral turnout during Labour's watch.

Efforts by Labour to make politics relevant to tackling the economic, environmental and social needs of the those who are disenchanted, will add significantly to all forms of electoral turnout.

Additionally, it is important that Labour should campaign against the Coalition's proposals to reduce the number of MPs in the Commons - it is the Peerage and possibly the Second Chamber which should go instead. Cutting the numbers of MPs will itself further tip the balance of power in the Commons away from back-bench MPs towards the Front-Benches. For as long as the numbers of MPs who are on the "pay-roll" remain unchanged, it is back-bench seats which will in practice be culled.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Importance Of Next Week

If a week is a long time in politics, then the five years since I retired from the Commons is an eternity. There have been two General Elections since I left. The make-up of the Parliamentary Labour Party is dramatically different from the one I knew. Even those who remain from my time are unlikely to be the people I remember. They have been through the traumas of the expenses scandal, economic collapse and now electoral defeat. It is not easy for me to work out who has changed and who has plodded on in the their old vain.

But I still have a clear view about what the diminishing band of democratic socialists in the Commons should do next week. They should book a Committee Room for a meeting of those who still see themselves as democratic socialists and labourites to hold a desperately important meeting. A meeting of what used to be called the hard and soft left. They need to discuss the future direction of the left and then opt for a single candidate in the coming leadership election. That will then give them less than a fortnight in which to mobilise to get the 33 necessary nominations for their candidate on the basis of what will need to be feasible left principles.

In my final years it might have been someone like Chris Mullin who would have filled the bill. Who it is now I know not. Until the key task I seek is undertaken, I will opt for John McDonnell. I disagree with him on numbers of fundamentals; but I remember him as having decency, honesty, guts and socialist beliefs. And he was there to support me in my own more reformist efforts. But I would prefer a left unity candidate from the avenue I propose, John or whoever fighting on a platform agreed by those able to deliver the nominations. And it is only such a platform that can then help reshape the very nature of the coming leadership debates.

The Short Window Of Opportunity

As the closing date for Labour MPs to nominate candidates for the Labour Leadership Election has now been extended to 9th June, two further measures need to be taken.

First, those Labour MPs who have come out in support of specific candidates should withdraw their endorsements until they have consulted the views within the Movement, especially those opinions of the Constituency Parties who have just worked to return them to the Commons.

Secondly, Constituency Parties should set up open meetings for their membership to discuss (a) what they see as the way forward for the Labour Party and (b) to take a vote on whom they favour to become leader. Those Constituency Parties who have Labour MPs should arrange these meetings so that their MP can be in attendance. In these cases meetings are likely to need to fall between 28th and 30th May or 4th to 6th June. It should not be the intention of meetings to instruct their MP on how to act, but for each MP to absorb the ideas and perferences of the membership whilst fully participating in the discussions. All Constituency Parties (whether or not they have Labour MPs) should be encouraged to send their views on ideas and preferences to the NEC of the Labour Party. The NEC findings should then be forwarded to the Parliamentary Labour Party who should hold a meeting to consider these by 8th June.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Marx And The Milibands

"I believe we need a market economy but not a market society", said David Miliband when launching his Labour Leadership bid in South Shields. But what if market economies produce market societies? We would then need to tackle both at the same time.

He should turn to pages 49 and 50 of his late father's book "Marxism and Politics". It was a book which Ralph Miliband (photo) dedicated to David and Ed, although they were only aged 10 and 6 at the time.

Ralph Miliband quoted Marx and Engels from "The German Ideology" -

"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e., the class, which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it." This analysis can equally be applied to the shaping of what David calls our "market society".

Ralph then comments thus - "As will be argued presently, these formulations now need to be amended in certain respects. But there is at least one respect in which the text remains remarkably fresh, and points to one of the dominant features of life in advanced capitalist societies, namely the fact that the largest part of what is produced in the cultural domain in these societies is produced by capitalism; and is also therefore quite naturally intended to help, one way and another, in the defence of capitalism".

Ralph Miliband wrote his final book in 1994 just before his death. It was published with a Foreword by David, Ed and their mother and is entitled "Socialism For A Sceptical Age" . They conclude "Nothing can make up for the loss we feel, but it is some comfort that the ideas developed by Ralph Miliband in this book and elsewhere will live on". The first two chapters of the book are entitled "The Case Against Capitalism" and "Socialist Aspirations". He deals not in dead dogmas but in living truths.

Hopefully David and Ed's competition for the Labour Leadership will stimulate an interest in the works of their father. His classic "Parliamentary Socialism" published in 1961 still provides us with key insights into the way the Labour Party operates. The experiences of the last half-century fit well into the intellectual framework he provided. David and Ed would do well to turn to the family bookshelves and engage with their father's ideas.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Size Of The Constitutional Fix

A Claud Monet Painting of Parliament, early 20th Century.
There are massive problems about the "Political Reforms" which are listed in the Coalition Agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

(1) The proposals will turn political debate in parliament, the media and hence the nation towards questions of electoral and constitutional change and away from economic and social issues. Yet we are in a serious situation where we all need to take an informed interest in policies which will effect the basic conditions of the people. These electoral tricks need to be nipped in the bud now or otherwise diverted so that we can concentrate on serious matters.

(2) If we have fixed-term parliaments, what is the democratic argument for setting these for as much as five years? Ignoring the vote for the Commons which is now due to meet, there have been 20 general elections since a universal franchise was first operated in 1929. The 1935 parliament had its life extended until 1945 when the war arrived. If we exclude this special period from our calculations, it means there have been 19 parliaments over a 71 year period, with an average life of 3 years 9 months. Only 7 of these parliaments have lasted for 5 years or near to that period. What was so important about them that they should now be the norm? The Chartists argued for annual parliament's annually elected. Although that might lead to media overkill today, there is a strong democratic case for not curtailing general elections and the people's votes for excessively long periods. Fixed parliaments of 3 or 4 years should be enough.

(3) It is proposed that a Referendum Bill on electoral reform will be introduced to give us the option of opting for the Alternative Vote AND for the creation of fewer and more equally sized constituencies. But a reduction of the number of MPs will further place parliamentary power into the hands of the Front Benches, because it will work out overall to be back-bench MPs that will be culled. This is a category from which numbers of "rebels" emerge. Parliament needs more of these, not less.

(4) Before we move to the provision for more equally sized constituencies, we need to overcome the serious shortcomings of the current electoral registration system. This system was first dented under the operation of the Poll Tax - which was a meaningful popular name for this deterrent to electoral registration. Yet things have continued to get worse since those days. There were 3 million people missing from the electoral registers on 6 May. That amounts to 4,500 per constituency. But the missing voters are by no means evenly distributed throughout society. They are concentrated amongst the young, the rootless, the poor and ethnic minorities. It is only when we act to register these missing voters, that we will be a position to re-draw equitable constituency boundaries.

(5) The proposal to allow the dissolution of parliament on the artificial vote of 55% of MPs is being recognised as a constitutional disgrace. If established it would be a recipe for massive political turmoil once we were faced with a dissolution vote which was "lost" when those in favour of it fell in the band between 50% plus one and 55% minus one.

It beggars belief that the Liberal Democrats have agreed to these proposals. It remains to be seen whether they did this out of stupidity or from manipulative malice. It is certainly time for them to drop the term "Democratic" from their title.

The proposals are, of course, within the fix-it tradition of Lady Thatcher and Lady Porter. If there are any Conservatives who are left in the Butler and Supermac tradition, it is to be hoped that they will help to put a stop to these disgraceful proposals.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Don't Put The Cart Before The Horse

Next week the National Executive Committee should delay the election for the Leadership of the Labour Party and in its place instigate wide ranging discussions throughout the Party about how Labour should operate in the future and what its major policy objectives should be. It is only following such discussions by the membership of the Labour Party, its affiliated organisations, the Co-operative Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party that the leadership contest should be set in motion. The discussions do not need to lead to a firm policy programme, but we need to find out what views on Labour's future direction exist within the Labour Movement so we can then have a meaningful leadership contest in which the candidates and those voting understand each other.

Hat Tip - Next Left

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Future For Socialists

The polls have just closed in the General Election. Perhaps Labour has done better than anticipated. But whatever the result, democratic socialism is in crisis.

There are, of course, many bits and pieces Labour can point to with satisfaction; such as the minimum wage, the school building programme and free bus passes for the over 60s. But under the guise of New Labour, it has alienated much of its traditional support. In striking out for what it called a "dynamic" economy it failed to protect the industrial working class whose employment and communal life had been based around the collapsing manufacturing industry. Instead Finance Capital was backed as the source of growth. But the more this seemed to work in the short term, the bigger was to be the financial collapse.

Democratic Socialism and Labourism were jettisoned within the Labour Party. The Parliamentary Party was filled up with place-persons who had turned to politics as a career move. Those Labour MPs who reflected traditional values were either bought off or isolated mainly within the Socialist Campaign Group.

Rank and file activists found that the internal democratic life of the Labour Party (which had never been perfect) was now anaesthetised. In despair many resigned or failed to renew their membership. Some gave up political aspirations, whilst others buried their energies in minority group politics or in interest group activities. Some of the later being areas with their own forms of impact.

It might be the case that once the election results are announced, New Labour will be on the back foot. Those democratic socialists who remain in the Labour Party might for a while find more avenues in which they can press their case.

But the task ahead is a huge one. Short term coups will not provide long term advances. Democratic Socialism needs to reconstruct its base, both within the Labour Party and in society generally. This will require a concerted effort over years and not "just the big set piece battles but the drip, drip, drip of arguments and constant assertions" (Prof Massey).

We need a big protracted turn, but this is in need of many small beginnings. We need to discuss what these entail. Here are my three starting points - (1) discussion, (2) democratisation and (3) direct activity.

(1) Discussion. Democratic Socialists need to meet together to debate ideas within loose organisational formats, which themselves eschew sectarianism. Within the Labour Party we need to press for the importance of such forms of political discourse; which we should extend to embrace ex-members, non-members and members of outside bodies. Political Education (but not political indoctrination) should be a constant activity.

(2) Democratisation. We need to revitalise the democratic life of the bodies we engage in within the wider Labour Movement. The way to tackle their democratic deficits is continually to behave within the internal life of an organisation as if it was already democratic. Bureaucratic Centralism can be placed on the back foot even when it has fixed the rules in its favour. Injustices will be seen to be injustices whatever the rule book has been fixed to say. Let us all put down meaningful resolutions for debate or submit candidates to challenge those who believe that they rule by divine right. The purpose should not be to win or to fix victories, but to encourage the life blood of the dialectics of debate.

(3) Direct Activity. Debate should, however, lead on to action. We need to press the institutions of the wider Labour Movement into joining with deprived communities to struggle for their immediate needs. But we need to do this for the well being of people who are in need, not for some direct pay off in membership or votes. It is both the right thing to do and part of the long road to rebuilding what should be our natural base.

The above three avenues end up re-enforcing each other. See here also.