Saturday, March 27, 2010

Iraq : Who Is The Winner?

Let us assume that (a) Maliki's attempt to seek a manual recount of the votes in Iraq fails and (b) the projected results show the result as it will be finally determined. Will Allawi or Maliki then be in the best position to form a Government?

As Allawi has gained two more seats than Maliki, he is given the first official shot at cobbling a majority together. But he has a hard task to do this. For Maliki would seem to have 49.5% of the seats within his control even before the manovering starts. These are made up of his own groups 89 seats, the 70 seats which went to the Islamist National Iraqi Alliance and the 2 seats of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan who are also Islamist. That would leave him only 2 seats short of a minimal overall majority.

To triumph, Allawi needs the following support to add to that of 91 seats he holds. 43 Kurdish Alliance, 8 Movement for Change (a newly emerged Kurdish group who are an opposition to the Kurdish Alliance), 6 Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni), 4 Unity Alliance of Iraq (Secular), 4 Kurdistan Islamic Union (who at least work closely with the Kurdish Alliance) and 8 from the seats provided for Minority Groups (five of whom are Christians).

There are, of course, other possibilities. Either Maliki or Allawi or both of them could drop out of the race to let someone else in to form a Government; or they could come together in a coalition holding between them 55.4% of the seats. But which one would hold the top job?

My details are based on this source and its links - as they stand at this moment.

Also see this detailed analysis.

UPDATE 30 March : See Musings On Iraq.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Support The Iraqi Labour Movement

Here the TUC explains the urgent need for the introduction of fair and just Labour Laws in Iraq.

Here the case is further explained in an interview with Hashmeya Musshin a-Saadawi (photo) President of the Electricity Workers Union in Basra. Having met her at the TUC, the Commons and in Iraq I know of her full commitment to the cause of peace and progress in Iraq.

To support this campaign sign up here.

And press your own Labour Movement organisation to endorse the campaign, by them sending a supportive email to Abdullah Muhsin, the International Representative of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) at

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ashok Kumar

I am deeply shocked to hear of the death at the age of only 53 of Ashok Kumar, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. Our times in the Commons overlapped for a period of nine years. For several of those years we both had offices which were almost opposite each other on the same Committee Corridor. We often called into each others rooms, not just to talk politics but to chat to each about our other shared interests.

I knew little about his specialist field in Chemistry where he held a PhD, but we had common interests in areas such as Philosophy and Opera. We never visited each others homes, but he told me that his was overrun with books which went well beyond his scientific interests. Invariably his interests in politics also went well beyond the MPs' passing trade and he was well versed in the world of political theory. His Labour commitment was grounded in the ideas of political activists such as Anthony Crosland, whilst I had emerged from out of the Bevanite tradition. But the differences in our approaches merely added to the pleasure of our discussions.

When my wife Ann visited London she worked with me in my office and thought highly of Ashok. Ann and I went on a Easter Break to Vienna and when we went together to see Wagner's Rheingold she sent Ashok a copy of the following postcard with the comments "Silly me. I thought that when Harry brought me here it was to enjoy ourselves - then he also took me to see where Wittgenstein used to live!".

Ashok was born in India but had been to both Secondary School and then to the College of Art and Technology in Derby, whilst I was a Derbyshire MP. Then I had originated from the North East and knew something about the Middlesbrough area. So even on our passing Constituency business we could discuss our concerns.

I also observed many of Ashok's contributions in the Commons and we often sat in the same row of seats, again just opposite each other but this time separated by a gangway instead of a corridor.

The Speaker is correct in saying that Ashok "was a most assiduous Member" as is the neighbouring Middlesbrough MP Stuart Bell in pointing out that "he leaves behind an untarnished reputation." Given Parliament's recent battered standing nothing could be more important than that the coming new wave of MPs should follow Ashok's example.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Transforming Labour

Compass (who claim to be giving direction to the democratic left) are conducting a survey on how to transform the Labour Party after the General Election. They state that -

"Since 1997 Labour has lost over half its members. Win, lose or draw it is becoming very clear that after the general election the Party will need to think about how it renews and transforms itself in the months and years ahead......To kick things off and to get your direct input we've devised a short 10 min questionnaire which we're encouraging Labour activists, members, supporters and stakeholders to take part in."

It took me much longer then 10 minutes to prepare my submission. But excluding the survey's 35 tick-boxes (which is an approach I criticise as being a means of obtaining the answers they are looking for), here is my response -

• If you are a Labour member, why did you join the Labour Party?

I joined in 1957 in the Easington Constituency to qualify to enter an essay competition on nationalisation which was run by the local Labour MP, Manny Shinwell.

NOTE : In the specific questions you ask below I am only in a position to answer less than half of them and have otherwise clicked into the "Neither Agree nor Disagree" options. This is because I disagree with the assumptions which underpin such questions. I can't therefore give "yes" or "no" answers to them. When it comes to internal Labour Party democracy we need to encourage members to attend meetings, to enter into serious discussions at those meetings and to mandate delegates to Constituency Meetings and the like. Delegates then need to be held to account by the members who appointed them. This is not to rule out provisions for one-member one vote avenues in the Party, but it recognises the importance of the dialectics of debate when people meet face to face. We should also stress the rights of the individual members of the Labour and Co-operative Parties and of the members of affiliated organisations. We need to define who is covered in this process and not use the nebulous term "stakeholders".

(Some 35 questions follow which only provide for tick-box style answers and seem to be designed to achieve pre-determined answers. We then move on to the following).

• In terms of your own local Labour Party, could you offer any examples of best practice – have you successfully experimented with new structures? What works and what doesn’t? Have you run any good local campaigns that have been particularly effective? How have you made activities more inclusive?

My own local Labour Party runs political discussion meetings which are open to (a) any member of the Labour Party, (b) all members of the Club where the meetings are held and (c) to others by invitation (i.e. to people not in the Labour Party and to some who have resigned from it). Click into the blog "Dronfield Blather" to see. Some Local Labour Parties also run 20 minute discussions at the start or close of their meetings. Recently a discussion about the BNP was held in-between a Local Government Committee Meeting and a Constituency General Committee Meeting. There were 18 contributions.

• Are there other organisations you are involved in such as trade unions, pressure groups or NGOs where they involve their members, supporters and stakeholders in engaging and interesting ways? If so please outline these below.

The local Labour Party Discussion Group I mentioned earlier has led directly to (a) submissions to Compass, (b) a submission to a Commons Select Committee and (c) to members submitting motions to their Local Labour Parties.

• Do you have any other ideas you’d like to offer for Transforming Labour?

Political Education on the lines I have described in the above two boxes encourages the development of open-minded political understandings (and not dogmas) by its participants. This leads them to press for democratisation and intelligent discussions within both the Labour Party and in the wider Labour Movement. For a fuller explanation of this case see the blog "Dronfield Blather" for 20 February, 2009.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Voting In Iraq

Iraqi Women Waiting To Vote

Despite the flaws in the Iraqi political system those who bravely turned out to vote in the face of terrorist dangers have given us all a lesson in the importance of democracy.

UPDATE 4.30 pm The turnout in the Iraqi election is reported to be 62%, which is similar to the 61.4% turnout in the UK General Election of 2005. The turnout contrasts well with (a) that of under 55% of MPs who bothered to turn up for the votes last Thursday which determined some important changes in how the Commons will operate in the future and (b) the 34.7% vote at last years' European Elections.

UPDATE 13 MARCH : Speculation on the outcome of the election.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Michael Foot

I first came across Michael Foot on a Ban-the-Bomb March from Aldermaston to Trafalgar Square in Easter 1960. (The photo was taken at the Labour Party Conference later that year). I marched with a contingent that were associated with New Left Review and somehow on the way I finished up seated on the floor in a crowded room in the flat of Emrys Hughes MP, where Michael was the centre of attention. I had been a regular reader of Tribune for some time, so I was very much a follower of his political position.

From the mid 1970s I was a regular at Labour Party Conferences and often heard Michael speaking either at Party Conference or at Fringe Meetings. Then in 1986 when I was a Prospective Labour Candidate I met him at the funeral of Frank Cousins, which took place at the Crematorium at Brimington near Chesterfield. Earlier I had hoped to visit Frank who lived in my local North East Derbyshire Constituency during his retirement, but his illness had prevented this.

I then served in the 1987 to 1992 Parliament, which was Michael's final period as an MP. He was one of the few senior members of the Commons who spent time listening to others, rather than just popping in and out of the Chamber to speak. But when he did speak there was no one that was more impressive. This is shown in the winding up speech he had made just before Callaghan lost the vote of confidence on 28 March 1979, which then led to Thatcher's first electoral victory. Michael's speech lasts for half an hour, but it is well worth listening to as a way of remembering him.

The Future And Cruddas

Compass have just published a pamphlet by Jon Cruddas entitled "The Future of Social Democracy". It consists of two talks he gave. One being the Annual Compass Lecture on 9 September 2009. The other given two days later as a Keir Hardie Memorial Lecture in Merthyr Tydfil.

When reading "The Future Of Social Democracy" it is easy to miss the wood for the trees. In the 24 page contribution from Jon Cruddas he refers to 36 writers ranging from Aristotle to a recent publication by Jerry Cohen and also to 24 politicians from Campbell-Bannerman to Gordon Brown. In three pages, he manages to shoot out 28 different policy proposals based on thin or absent forms of analysis (which does not mean numbers of them aren't important). There is, however, a theme that all 88 bits and pieces relate to.

He advocates a vision for Labour which is drawn from the Liberal Collectivist tradition starting with writers such as TH Green and moving on to politicians such as Lloyd George. His criticism of the way New Labour has developed is that it moved away from this potential approach and came to be dominated by the free-enterprise wing of Liberalism. He even attempts to capture socialists such as Keir Hardie and GDH Cole to his banner on the grounds that they were influenced by the ideas of the Liberal Collectivists. Of course they were, but they also transcended the limitations of such approaches.

Cruddas is aware that Labour needs to give people a vision for the future, but his is based on radical liberalism/capitalism and not democratic socialism. Now I realise that a political party advocating socialist ideas might frighten the pigeons in modern society, but a vision is no vision at all unless it can inspire. The trick is to have a worthy set of values, whilst having the political wit to tack and manoeuvre towards them.

Cruddas is leading us astray.

HAT TIP - Getty Images

Monday, March 01, 2010

Solidarity With The Iraqi Teachers' Union

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has issued the following message of solidarity to the leaders of the Iraqi Teachers' Union:

'British trade unions salute the bravery of the Iraqi Teachers Union and its leaders in resisting interference by the Government and political parties of Iraq. We call on Iraqi politicians to respect Iraqi teachers' desire for a free and independent trade union to represent them, and abandon threats and intimidation against its leaders.'

For the full TUC statement and the reasons behind it see here.

Hat Tip : Labour Friends of Iraq