Monday, December 14, 2015

Debating Labour : Its History and Future

‘Where’s it been? Where’s it going?’ are the questions being addressed at a series of day schools on the Labour Party starting in Yorkshire next month.

IWCE logoThe Independent Working Class Education Network are holding their first meeting on ‘The history and future of the Labour Party’ at Northern College in Barnsley on Saturday 23 January.
The workshop will cover the foundation of the Labour Party, some key 20th century issues and Labour today.
Attendance costs £25 and places are available on a ‘first come, first served’ basis as space is limited.
What: Labour Party: Where’s it been? Where’s it going?
When: Saturday 23 January, 10.30am-4.00pm
Where: Northern College, Barnsley, Yorkshire

To book a place contact Keith Venables by email:
Go to the Independent Working Class Education Network’s website for more details.
The second day school will be held in south London on 6 February.

Hat tip : Matthew Brown and Independent Labour Publications - click here. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

(Iraq 3) : No Guide For UK Forces In Iraq 1955/6

Guide for U.S. Forces Serving in Iraq, 1943 (Hardback)

When American troops moved into Iraq in 1943 to help to pursue their Second World War objectives, they were issued with a booklet which they could slip into their light summer-style tunics. It gave them some details about Iraq, its local customs and how to respond in a friendly and understanding way to the local population. It gave hints on Arabic translations and about the pronunciation of some 400 local words and phrases. Information was supplied about the local currency, weights and measures and about climatic and health problems. Care was taken so that the troops would not cause  offence to Muslims, especially about their religious practices and about the role of females within their culture.

A copy of the booklet was re-published in 2008 with a preface added to explain its purpose and  nature. The 2008 version can be obtained cheaply via this link.

Whilst a close examination of the document might produce criticisms and suggest shortcomings,  I would have found it invaluable to have been presented with an equivalent British document when I arrived in Basra in 1955 at what was my permanent RAF posting for the period of my National Service. But I never received any form of document to explain where I was, nor why, nor how to behave.  Neither were we ever given any verbal explanations about the equivalent matters covered by the United States' War and Navy Department's document. There was, for instance, no form of educational service at our small Movements Unit.

Beyond knowing that the local currency was Dinars and Fils and my being able to follow Arabic numerals and pick up some Arabic swear words from my fellow troops, I never learnt any Arabic. The Iraqis on our camp tended to talk English. This was whether they worked with us in our offices, drove us by boat on the Shat-el-Arab river to the docks in Basra, washed and ironed our clothing, emptied barges and transferred goods to railway containers, drove taxis into Basra town centre or served in shops and night clubs. At least they shared sufficient English for us to get by. When I regularly rang up a Basra railway official to book seats for troops on the train, I would say his name "Abdul Sarhib ?".  He would start to answer me in Arabic, then quickly realise that my accent did not fit and turn to English saying "Hello RTO", which was my RAF designation as a Rail Transport Official. My job included filling out Passenger Rail Forms and also forms for the transhipment of goods. These forms were in Arabic, but I merely knew what went into each box and I filled in these in English. I had little incentive to learn Arabic in order to get by.

Yet there were aspects of life generally on religion and politics which I was keen to examine. I wanted to test out and examine my preconceptions in these areas. But I never picked up on the tensions in Iraqi politics which existed round about me at that time. Life just appeared to me to be harsh (but tranquil) for the people living round about me. It was a misunderstanding that came from mainly being tucked away in an RAF camp which had its own separate form of existence.

I came almost weekly to make use of an English Book Shop in Basra Town Centre, which was run by someone who originated from India. I ordered the "New Statesman" whose air mail edition came out weekly on rice paper. I also ordered "The Observer" and "Reynolds News" which both came by sea and could be up to three weeks old before I read them. I was into reading plays having earlier been a regular theatre attender at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. So I ordered copies of the complete plays of both Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. I was also into reading Shaw on politics. Then Corporal Murphy and I used to debate religion, as I started out as a Methodist and he had been a Catholic who had become an atheist. Although I initially attended the Anglican Church in Basra, I too eventually became on atheist. My developing concerns about religion may have been pushed along by the fact that my bookseller had a good selection of books for sale by the Rationalist Press Association.  The local Anglican Vicar even preached a sermon against these, which only made them even more interesting for me.  Corporal Murphy also got me into ordering and reading books by James Joyce.

But I only picked up bits and pieces about Iraq and its past. And this was mainly ancient history, in works such as "Ur of the Chaldees : A Record of Seven Years Excavation" (Pelican 1954). Although this is a book which I might only have turned to on my return home.

During my time in Iraq, the major political events I was aware about which effected developments were (a) the signing of a Treaty known as the Baghdad Pact in 1955 and (b) the impact of the Suez Invasion as it reverberated in Iraq. But the latter only happened as I was moving to be flown out of Iraq at the end my National Service. So matters only touched my radar at the end of my time in the country - although this was to be in a big way. The Baghdad Pact also then took on more significance for me than it had at the time of its adoption.

Within less than two years of my leaving Iraq, there was a massive and dramatic change of regime. By then, I was aware that there were some things I had missed about developments in Iraq during my period of National Service.

I will try to fill in some of the gaps in my 1955/6 understanding in my next item on Iraq. I just wish I had known more about such things at the time. An equivalent to the booklet issued to the war-time American troops would have helped.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

(Iraq 2) : From Easington Colliery to Basra.

The area of Easington Colliery where I lived before I was sent to Basra in Iraq to undertake my National Service.

I was brought up at Easington Colliery on the east coast of County Durham. Before I was called up to undertake my National Service in the RAF in November 1954, I had never travelled any further south than York. That journey had been made two years earlier, when I had applied to be a railway clerk after leaving school. I then had to travel to the railway head office at York for an interview. It landed me a job which I then undertook covering passenger and parcels office work, mainly at Easington's neighbouring railway station which was at Horden Colliery. But it was a job that was to have bigger implications for my travels than I ever anticipated.

When I undertook my basic training in the RAF at West Kirby, I was interviewed by a Sergeant to help determine what form of work I should seek to undertake in the RAF. As I had been a railway clerk, he suggested that a position in a "Movement's Unit" might be appropriate. He pointed out that there was a large unit of this type at Hull.  I felt that would be ideal for me to be able travel home regularly. So that became my first and accepted option.

But amongst our Squadron at West Kirby where I did my basic training, I was the only person to then be sent straight overseas. For it was felt that I did not require any training for my post.  I could work and learn under a corporal who already was undertaking the tasks I needed to follow. These involved working closely with Iraqi State Railways in Basra.  RAF equipment and goods arrived at the port at Basra to then be sent by rail to Baghdad, from where they were collected by personnel from RAF Habbaniya to then be taken to their camp by road some 55 miles away. There were also regular (but limited numbers) of troop movements of those travelling by rail to and from Baghdad, which had to be catered for.  In English, I filled in arabic passenger forms and goods' notes. But no-one ever taught me any arabic. I just learnt what to put where, in English. The best I did was to understand arabic numerals. All the Iraqis I dealt with spoke English - including those who worked at our Movement's Unit which was situated on the banks of the Shat-el-Arab river. This included many Iraqis who undertook manual functions.

I regularly visited Basra railway station, its docks and its goods yards. Then when our Movement's Unit downsized, I also took up some similar clerical and organisation work with shipping companies, handling "Bills of Lading" relating to shipping merchandise.

Not only did the RAF fail to facilitate (or even encourage) us to learn arabic; no-one ever explained why it was that we were in Iraq. Furthermore, we were just a small movements unit with many of us being only 18 to 20 as we were undertaking our National Service. I shared areas of accommodation with those up to the rank of corporal and we socialised. But those in higher ranks lived a separate existence. Even our cricket team only contained two sergeants (which may, however, have been a fair proportion), the rest being entirely from lower ranks - including myself as the scorer and standby.  No one I ever came across used their holiday breaks to visit historical sites such as the Ziggurat of Ur, which was less than 100 miles away - although officers might well have done this unknown to us. But we only communicated with high ups in relation to our duties. Nor was information made available to tell us that Iraq covered land which had been the cradle of civilisation. Neither was there today's modern technology to click into, which can be used as a form of self-education. It was not for us to ask where we were, nor what we were doing there.

Yet my time in Iraq helped to transform my life. When I left Britain, I initially had a six day stay in the canal zone in Egypt,  I then boarded a flight to Habbaniya; via Jordon where we landed late at night and saw little but a landing strip, desert and the inside of a large reception tent.  At Habbaniya, I stayed for a period to undertake a weapons' course run by the  RAF Regiment. This gave me time to spend a weekend at the YMCA in Baghdad, travelling via Fallujah. Then when I finally travelled by rail from Baghdad to Basra, the train was delayed as we were due to pull out of the south of the Iraqi capital. I was looking out of the window at a scene which seemed to me to be from an ancient world. Everything was made out of mud. Mud houses, mud walls, mud walkways, open sewers cut into the baked mud, with a drinking well close by. Men and women were neatly and cleanly dressed in the Muslim tradition, with children playing beside them. But this was a world I had never glimpsed nor thought about before in a modern context. It came to have a huge impact upon me.

Mud houses in Iraq

Later in the dock area in Basra, I observed heavily exploited labour at work. For instance, men were bent double carrying what were huge (and now old-fashioned) commercial refrigerators on their backs. Manual labour still often being a substitute for the technology of that age.

A double question began to pray upon my mind. How could God and man allow such things to happen? Matters of a philosphical and political bent were emerging for a thinly educated young man. These would help to reshape my values, self-studies and key interests. But life at the Movements Unit with regular weekly trips into Basra town centre, gave me the false impression that Iraq was a place of peace and tranquility. The first seven sections in the previous item on this blog (click here) cover a brief military history of Britain's involvement in the area over the 41 years before I arrived in Iraq. When I now reflect that it is 60 years since I arrived in Basra; the preceding period of 41 years seems to be a relatively limited time span. Many of the Iraqis I met and passed had lived through those years of military conflict and imperial domination. Unknown to me, these were experiences that had not gone away from their minds.

The only hint that some problems existed was when I attempted to order a copy of Marx's "Das Capital" from an English bookshop in Basra. The proprietor who originated from India, later felt the need to check matters out with the local Chief of Police. He was not allowed to order a copy. I only learnt much later that the Iraqi regime had been in a period of conflict with its own home grown Communists - see Hanna Batatu's "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq" (Princeton University Press, 1978 and here).




Friday, November 06, 2015

(Iraq 1) : Britain's Military Heritage In Iraq - Started 101 Years Ago Today

1. 101 years ago today and just three and a half months after the start of the First World War, Britain invaded Mesopotamia. British troops (who were mainly from India) captured the old fort at Fao (al-Faw) which then formed part of the Ottoman Empire. Fao is located at the south of what is now Iraq. It is where the Shatt-al-Arab river flows into the Persian Gulf. The Shatt-al-Arab itself starts at a point where two other main rivers flow into each other. These are the Tigris and Euphrates. They both commence in what is now Turkey, with the Euphrates then cutting fully across a significant section of Syria.

The photograph below is of British troops in Mesopotamia during the subsequent campaign.

2. Mesopotamia is seen as the cradle of civilization. It was where the Garden of Eden is believed to have been. The story of Noah and the flood fits in with an ancient Sumerian legend about an old man who survived 40 days and nights in an ark. Its main rivers produced rich fertile soil and a supply of water for irrigation. The civilizations that emerged around these rivers being amongst the earliest known non-nomadic agrarian societies. In terms of written history alone, Mesopotamia goes back to 3100 BC. It has a rich cultural heritage. But numbers of its ancient sites are now being destroyed by ISIS.  Way back it was part of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires: with later periods in which (amongst many others) Alexander the Great, the Romans and the Persian Empire had a presence.

3. Britain embarked upon its invasion at Fao soon after the start of the First World War, because the Ottoman Empire (which then dominated much of Mesopotamia) had recently signed a treaty with Germany. There was a particular worry about the danger to Britain's oil supplies in neighbouring Persia, especially in relation to the Anglo Persian Oil Company.

4. A long and bitter struggle then took place. But when British troops captured Baghdad in 1917, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Britain then moved to unite and control what became the basis of modern Iraq in the vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. In 1919, however, it faced insurrections from the indigenous population who were far from keen about the prospect of having a fresh foreign imperial power emerging over them.

5. In 1920, however, Britain obtained a League of Nation Mandate to enable it to continue to play a major role in the development of Iraq. Following further unrest, Britain manoeuvred to create a situation in which a sympathetic regime under King Faisal was accepted in a carefully calibrated plebiscite, with a 96% endorsement.

Here is a link to a fine book which covers the above period. Note the comments about its considerable strengths.

6. Iraq operated under the British Mandate until 1932 when nominally it became independent. But before it gained its formal Independence, the United Kingdom achieved the Anglo-Iraq Treaty of 1930. This included permission to establish air bases for British use at Habbaniya and Shiaba, as British Crown territory. It was a situation that added to discontent amongst wide elements of the Iraqi population.

7. In April 1941 during the Second World War, there was a coup d'etat in Iraq when Rashid Ali ceased power and asked Germany for military assistance in the event of war with the British. Britain then sent troops into Iraq to topple the new regime and remained in effective control of the country until 1947 with a new Anglo-Iraqi Treaty being signed in Portsmouth the following year. This set up a joint defence board , but the Treaty was abandoned following mass protests in Baghdad known as al-Wathba (the leap). Britain, however, retained its bases in Habbaniya and Shiaba under the terms of the 1930 Anglo-Iraq Treaty.

8. In 1955 a pro-Western defence alliance known as the Baghdad Pact was signed between Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. As part of its terms the British Crown Territories at Habbaniya and Shiaba air bases were handed over to Iraq, although Britain still retained (but down-sized) it forces there and also at its Movements Unit which operated in Basra on the banks of the Shatt-al-Arab river. (Where I was undertaking my National Service at the time) The Baghdad Pact also led to the disbanding of a force called the Iraqi Levies. This force was made up mainly of Assyrians and had British Officers. It had originated as a local Arab armed scouting force during the First World War. On their disbanding, the Levies were given the opportunity to join the Iraqi Army, which then took over their previous facilities. But few Assyrians did this.

9. In one form and another Britain retained a continual presence and influence inside Iraq until the nation experienced a major regime change in 1958. The transformation in Iraqi politics in that year was itself stimulated by major unrest in Iraq over Britain's involvement in the Suez crisis of 1956. In 1959, the remaining RAF personnel and their aircraft were then obliged to withdraw from Iraq.

10. Britain's next direct military involvement in Iraq arose in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion and annexation of neighbouring Kuwait. Under "Desert Storm" in 1991, USA-led forces engaged in an air bombardment of Iraq. The RAF undertaking low-level attacks on Iraqi airbases. The Royal Navy provided scope for helicopters to destroy much of the Iraqi Navy. Whilst British Challenger tanks destroyed 300 Iraqi vehicles in both Kuwait and in pursuing Iraqi troops along the "road to Basra", until the plug was pulled on this military operation as the slaughter of Iraqi Troops was gaining bad publicity.

11. From 1992 up to the United States-led coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, two "No Fly Zones" were enforced upon Iraq by USA, British and French air forces. The zone in the north of Iraq was established shortly after the Gulf War, extending from the 36th parallel northwards and providing protection for Iraqi Kurds, who had faced genocidal attacks from Saddam Hussein's regime - especially back in 1988. A zone was also established south of the 32nd parallel to defend the Shia population from attacks by Hussein's minority Sunni based regime. In 1996 this southern zone was expanded from the 33rd parallel.

12. The US-led invasion of Iraq took place in 2003, consisting of 21 days of major combat. UK forces took responsibility for supervision in the southern area of Iraq around Basra. They mainly withdrew from Iraq in 2009, whilst leaving behind some troops for training purposes. The final 170 British troops departed in October 2012. US forces finally left in December 2012. Iraqi Body Count estimated that 174,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the conflict up to 2013. 4,779 Coalition troops were killed, plus a total of 1,674 in the categories of contractors, medics and aid workers. Sectarian conflict has continued to add significantly to the numbers of Iraqi killings.

Here is a most worthwhile history of Iraq which brings matters up to recent times. 

This telling blog entitled "Musings On Iraq" has been running since 10 September, 2008.

This is my own thread on Iraq. It has fallen away in recent years, but (hopefully) it will now be revived.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Improving And Using Labour's Policy Making


This is not a criticism of the work undertaken by Labour's National Policy Forums, nor of those who feed material into their deliberations. But we must seek to draw all the people who are part of the Labour Party as associate, registered or individual members into its policy-making procedures. This has not been happening. Only eight Constituency Labour Parties and one Branch have made submissions to the current work of the eight Policy Forum Groups whose work is to be examined at the coming Labour Party Conference.  

When Policy Forum reports are endorsed by Conference, the Labour Party in the past has made totally inadequate use of these.

For instance, Labour campaigned in the European Union Elections in May 2014 with little or no reference being made to the policy positions it had by then endorsed. Nor did it draw from the progressive policy programme which was adopted by the Party of European Socialists (PES). Yet we are one of the PES's 32 political parties from right across the EU, who are supposed to be our comrades.

Another chance to push our programme was seriously missed during the Scottish Referendum, which was held just days before our 2014 Annual Conference. Yet by then our National Policy Forum Report for 2014 was only awaiting Conference's rubber stamp. This programme could have been used in Scotland.  It could have come to have had an eventual impact on the Scottish General Election results,  saving us from the full disaster of what happened.

Even after Conference endorsed the 2014 Policy Forum Report, those at the centre of Labour's Campaign still dithered. The membership needed to be alerted to our policies, so that they could press its general principles when dealing with the electorate. Indeed if our members had been enthused by Labour's proposals, it would have further enlightened and directed their efforts. It would have added a cutting edge to the considerable work that was undertaken.

But even though Labour used its Policy Forum policies late in 2014 to publish a pre-Manifesto  entitled "Changing Britain Together", little campaigning use was ever made of this key document. For instance, when membership cards were posted early in 2015, no information was enclosed with these to spell out where Labour stood. When emails came out to members from Labour's National or Regional Offices they invariably concentrated on fund raising matters. Yet Labour's policies could have been pushed to inform and enthuse members - and that could actually have helped to bring in more donations.

Even when "One Nation" (the Labour Party's membership magazine) was circulated this February as a 32 page booklet, policy items were confined to a few items only on pages 12 and 13. It was a glossy document containing 35 coloured photos and much trivia, containing interviews with both a celebrity and a baroness both of whom I had never heard of.

We had to wait until the General Election was upon us before Labour's General Election Manifesto was issued. It was then far too late for Labour activists to do their own research to absorb what we stood for.

How we determine policy and then disseminate what we determine, now needs to be at the top of our agenda.  If members are fully absorbed into the policy-making process, then they can more easily pick up its outcomes. Yet we also need to publicise policies as soon as we decide upon them - and then keep on about them.

Click here for an avenue to masses of policies we had in place in the run up to the last General Election, but never properly utilised.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

ILP Statement on the Labour leadership election

 Image result for Labour Leadership

A fine statement on the Labour Party leadership elections and on the way party activists and supporters should respond to its result when it is announced on Saturday, has been published by Independent Labour Publications (ILP).

Its flavour can be found in the following extract - "It is vital that the political divisions laid bare in recent months do not cause irreparable damage to the party's future. All of us in the party - candidates, MPs, members and supporters - should commit to some guiding principles based on democracy, respect, pluralism and participation that will allow us to work together whatever the outcome of the election."

The full statement is worth studying and can be found by clicking here.

It is especially appropriate that the ILP should make a case which could help to save and progress the future of the Labour Party. For the ILP was initially founded by Keir Hardie and others in 1893 as the Independent Labour Party and was a key forerunner and participant in the establishment of the Labour Party itself. For a first rate and recent article on the role which Keir Hardie played, click here  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Labour Leadership Candidates Issue Manifestos or Substitute Material


The Campaign to obtain "Manifestos Of Intent" from the Labour Leadership Candidates (as shown here) received a limited success.

Andy Burnham has issued what is clearly a Manifesto, as he did for his campaign for the leadership in 2010. His current document is eight pages long and as he delivered this, it deserves to be examined carefully. See here. Then there is also his Leadership Campaign Web-site to examine here. Added Saturday 15 August. Also circulated via the post as an eight page booklet.

 Yvette Copper circulated a letter by post dated 3rd August, which is some 800 words long and probably qualifies as a "Minifesto". Her Leadership Campaign Web-site with more in it, is here. Added Friday 14 August. Today Yvette has circulated an 8 page booklet to members, on the penultimate page it provides an eight point programme.

Jeremy Corbyn has issued a number of policy documents in specific areas, which in total are much longer than Andy's Manifesto. But whilst detailed and important, they may be felt to cover less total ground than Andy's. They include "Protecting The Planet", "The Economy in 2020" and "Housing Policy". There are a further three documents which unfortunately are defective when printed off. But they can be read on the screen. These are "Housing Policy", "Northern Future" and "A Better Future For Young People". To seek out all these documents and other material, see his Leadership Campaign Web-site here. Added Friday 14 August. Today Jeremy has circulated material to members, it includes a ten point programme under the heading "Standing To Deliver". It can also be found here .

Liz Kendell had an article in the Independent on 2nd August, entitled "The five causes that Labour must put at the centre of our vision for Britain's future". See here. Her Leadership Campaign Web-site is here.

Looking ahead to the next Leadership Contest, there is a need for a requirement for "Manifestos Of Intent" being issued by the candidates, to appear in the Rules of the Labour Party. Amendments for this purpose can be submitted for the Agenda of the 2016 Labour Party Conference.   

Monday, August 10, 2015

Any More On Easington Colliery?

If anyone (especially from America) wishes me to restore my item "More On Easington Colliery" which first appeared on 10 January 2010, then please let me know via the Comment Box below.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Next Labour Leader ?

 Image result for Labour Leadership Contestants

The BBC reports that the candidates for the Labour Leadership have obtained the following endorsements from Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs).

Corbyn 152, Burnham 111, 106 Cooper, 18 Kendle. See here.

That amounts to a total of 387 endorsements. But there are many more CLPs than that.

There is a Labour Party operating in Northern Ireland, but it does not have a constituency structure. As there are 650 parliamentary seats in the UK as a whole, when we deduct the 18 Northern Ireland seats from these we arrive at 632 for Britain. In a few cases CLPs may be virtually moribund and may not have met to consider the issue of endorsements. My own CLP met, but when the issue of endorsement was raised it unanimously accepted that it would not pursue the matter.

245 CLPs have failed to give support to any of the candidates. Yet it is reasonable to assume that at the very least 200 of these have enough of an organisational structure to have submitted supportive endorsements if they had wished to. 

So something over a third of reasonably effective CLPs have failed to submit endorsements. This places a question mark over the significance of the BBC's figures. In any case endorsements tell us only a limited bit of the story. They are not votes - for these an in the hands of individual members, those recruited for voting purposes by their affiliated Trade Unions and those otherwise signed up as Labour supporters.  CLPs are also made up mainly of delegates appointed by members who attend Branch Meetings or local meetings of affiliated bodies. Unfortunately, the great bulk of Labour Party members don't attend such meetings.

So Corbyn's lead in CLP endorsements, seems to indicate that he has the express support of something in the range of the majority of a quarter of those who attend Labour Party Meetings. There is still a big question as to whether this support will influence the silent majority or is reflective of its views.

Jeremy does, however, seem to have a clear advantage in the contest - the enthusiasm of many of his supporters.


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The ILP Helps To Push "Manifestos Of Intent"

Labour Broken rose image From the ILP Website

Labour Campaigners call for ‘Manifestos of Intent’

Jul 8th, 2015 | By admin | Category: Articles, Frontpage, Lead Labour campaigners are calling on all the Party’s leadership candidates to issue ‘manifestos of intent’ indicating the direction of their likely policies and putting their politics on public show for the voters’ to consider. HARRY BARNES, who has led the requests for ‘detailed and serious’ sets of proposals, explains why they are needed and requests urgent support.

Everyone voting in the Labour leadership elections, plus many outside onlookers, would benefit if the candidates issued detailed and serious manifestos explaining what policies they would seek to pursue if they won the vote. In order to ensure these manifestos are more than just a collection of soundbites, they should at least be 3,000 words long.

This would give us, the voters, an opportunity to decide what is the most appealing set of policies, allow us to judge the depth and interconnections (or contradictions) contained by each candidate’s proposals, and enable us to assess which significant items are missing. Then, when the victors emerge, we will have in front of us some set of ideas which we can press them to deliver, and if there are proposals we disagree with, we can attempt to block them. All of this would add to the democratic processes inside the Labour Party.

Clarity from politicians might not be all we ask for, but it can help us to know where they are coming from.

The Dronfield Labour Party discussion group led a campaign for such manifestos of intent during the 2010 Labour leadership elections, although at the time we did not suggest a minimum length. We had a certain degree of success, but now we need a much greater and more co-ordinated effort to deliver the manifestos in time for the 2015 vote.

Ideally, we need Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to require the candidates to produce manifestos, and some Constituency Labour Party (CLP) resolutions to the NEC, calling for manifestos, have been emerging. It is hoped that other CLPs will quickly follow suit.

However, other organisations, Labour members and supporters can also contact the candidates and their campaign managers themselves, asking them to produce voluntary manifestos.

One response
So far, we have received a positive response on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn. But in order to make a fully informed decision by 12 September, we need more. So, whenever a candidate or their campaign team e-mail you for your support, why not reply, asking them to issue a manifesto of intent?

On 31 August 2010, the Guardian carried a letter which provided details of the Dronfield LP discussion group’s efforts at that time. It still provides a useful summary of what we achieved five years ago.

 It read: “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.”

Although the Guardian letter in 2010 led to our blog receiving a record number of hits, in 2015 we need others to add to the pressure on Labour’s the NEC, the candidates theselves and their campaign teams.

Your help would be greatly appreciated.
Harry Barnes is a former Labour MP for North East Derbyshire and author of the blog ‘Three score years and ten’.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What Hope For Labour ?

Compass Radical Hope NEW

"Independent Labour Publications" (ILP) is getting together with the campaigning pressure group "Compass" in September to examine the future of the Labour Party and the politics of radical hope. A public meeting will be held in Leeds on Saturday 19 September, just one week after Labour elects a new leader and deputy leader, and four months on from the party’s disastrous defeat at the general election.

The implications of the election results for Labour’s future will be the focus of the day’s activities.

For further details click here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Celebrating The History Of The Derbyshire Miners

Chestefield miners statues

Friday 26 June is the centenary of the unveiling of the statues of Harvey (on your left)) and Haslam (right) outside the former Miners' Office on Saltergate in Chesterfield. The above photo was taken shortly after that event.

At 7 pm on Friday, 26 June a short ceremony will take place at the statues themselves to mark the occasion. From 6 pm, refreshments will be available at the Labour Club which is situated close to the statues, but on the opposite side of the road.

Harvey and Haslam were known as the "Twin Pillars of the Derbyshire Miners Association (DMA)", being its major founders and its leading officials from the time of its establishment in 1880 until their deaths just before the start of the First World War. They were also the first miners in Derbyshire to serve as local MPs.

On Saturday 27 June, the following events will be held at the Chesterfield Library to commemorate the unveiling.

(1) Talks at in the Library Threatre from 11am.

   On Harvey and Haslam - Harry Barnes (a former tutor on Derbyshire Miners' Day Release    Courses and then MP for NE Derbyshire from 1987-2005.)

   On Derbyshire Mining in its final period - Cllr John Burrows (Leader of the Chesterfield Borough Council and a former DMA official).

(2) A round-table discussion on the history of the Derbyshire Miners from 1.15 pm.

   Chair : John Halstead (Labour Historian and former tutor on Derbyshire Miners" Day Release Courses.)

   Attendance at these events is free. Refreshment facilities are available in the Library.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

My Own Memories of Michael Barratt Brown

 Michael Barratt Brown taught adult evening classes and founded Northern College as an adult and community education residential college
Michael Barratt Brown died on the 7th May which was General Election Day. He was 97. The only obituary I have seen about him appeared here in yesterday's Guardian. It covers the general pattern of Michael's life and work - and does this well. I will, therefore, only concentrate on some of my personal memories of Michael and apologize for referring to myself just as much as I do to Michael.

I first came across his writings in the 1958 and 1959 editions of "Universities and Left Review".  I was particularly gripped by a series he wrote called "The Controllers". It wasn't until 1966 that I first remember meeting him; but it is possible that our paths crossed briefly during the 1958-59 period when I attended meetings in London of a body called the "International Society for Socialist Studies" (ISSS). This body was set up following an initiative by G.D.H. Cole. Michael later told me that he had also attended ISSS activities. Shortly afterwards I became an avid reader of the initial political writings in "New Left Review", when it was edited by Stuart Hall.  Michael was then part of its editorial board. Michael's contribution to its first publication in 1960 being an article entitled "Yugoslavia Revisited". The Guardian review spells out details of Michael's war-time experiences in Yugoslavia. This led Michael to maintain a continuing interest in its twists, developments and final break-up.

My first memory of meeting him was when I joined the Extramural Department at Sheffield University in 1966. The bulk of my teaching was with trade unionists who attended Industrial Day Release Classes. At that time the majority of these classes were attended by workers in the areas coal and steel industries. Although this pattern changed and expanded over time. Michael was the Director of Studies for these courses, working tellingly on their development. The general pattern of these classes was for them to run for three years - without placing the hurdles of exams or published assessments in the way of those attending. The adult students attended a day each week for a 24 week period each year, over a span of three years. The first year centred on the study of industrial relations and the development of student skills, the second year on economics and the final year on politics. Michael tended to centre on the teaching of economics. Whilst I normally concentrated on politics. This meant that I often had the privilege of following on from a class he had taught. I invariably inherited a class of seriously minded and skilled students. A normal day would run from 10 am to 4pm, with the tutor joining in with the students for the coffee and lunch breaks - the later often being in a local pub. For tutors and students all of this was essentially part of the learning process. Michael automatically used these social activities as part of the learning experience, without looking as if he was being seriously minded.

The nature of the impact of these classes is illustrated by an initial class I taught. As I was a novice I shared the teaching with an established tutor. Michael then taught this class economics in its second year. The students included Norman West, Terry Patchett, Ron Rigby and Jack Wake. Norman went on to become an MEP,  Terry an MP,  Ron became leader of the Barnsley Council and Jack was then secretary of the NUM branch at Cortonwood - a position he still held in 1984 during the miners' strike.

The Derbyshire Miners classes came to have an extra day's studies added to their second and third years. So there were occasions when Michael and I taught the same class on different days of the week. I was closely aware of the solid and serious nature of his work with them.

I am still regularly contacted by Bryan Robson a former Yorkshire Miner, who invariably sings Michael's praises. Bryan rang me today and I informed him of Michael's death. He was shattered by the news.  I feel that the impact of Michael upon Bryan's life is well illustrated by the quality of his personal library.

The Russell Committee on Adult Education was in operation between 1969-1973. In that time it held a session of its enquiry with the staff of our Extramural Department. This may have arisen from the evidence which Michael had previously submitted to the Committee. For a section of our time was taken up with Michael's major proposal. Namely, that an Adult Education College on the style of Ruskin College in Oxford should be established in the north of England. Michael's father had been a principal at Ruskin and I had attended as a student much later from 1960 to 1962. Along with my fellow students, I had no prior formal qualifications; but as with most others I went on to obtain an Oxford University Diploma which gave me access to a place at University. Michael wished to add to that model, by including regular short courses for communal use. The Russell Committee adopted these proposals and it led to the opening of the Northern College near Barnsley in 1978. Michael was appointed as its first Principal and he effectively built the model provisions he had in mind.

1975 saw the retirement of the head of the Sheffield Extramural Department; Maurice Bruce. The staff were solidly in favour of Michael being appointed to the vacant post. I was secretary of the Staff's Committee at the time and took a deputation to meet the appointment's Committee, which was chaired by the Vice-Chancellor. I felt like we were taking icons to the Czar. And it was as successful. The post was given to an outsider.

When Michael subsequently left to take over at the Northern College, I maintained links with him. I arranged for an annual week's short course to be held at the Northern College for student's who attended classes run at our Extramural Department. These classes provided a means by which students (without formal qualifications) could seek Mature Entry into Sheffield University or to other avenues of Higher Education. The full-time students at the Northern College helped out enormously. When we turned up for meals they insisted on mixing with us and making us part of their college life. Even for just a week, the psychological impact of this upon our rather unsure part-time students was considerable. A later survey showed that our evening class students who finally made it to Sheffield University, ended up on-average with better results than student's who entered via formal qualifications. I also filled in for a period at the Northern College when they were short of a Political Theory tutor.

Many of the organisational arrangements I made for our short courses at the Northern College were made via their Bursar. This job went eventually to Mo Mowlen. Until we both met up in the Commons in 1987 as newly elected MPs. Michael and his staff were clearly aware of Mo's potential.

I bumped into Michael once as I was travelling by rail to the Commons. He was always a technical expert and had once claimed that he could teach day release students how to use a slide rule in just five minutes. So I asked him what the best way was to learn how to use a computer. His reply was "have grandchildren". I discovered the truth of this recently when I was sat at my computer with Amy my seven year old granddaughter who said "No grandad. not like that - like this".

 It is almost five years since I last met Michael. I heard him speak at the funeral of his friend Ken Coates at Brimington Crematorium at Chesterfield. It was Michael at his most effective, making a speech of great impact. As always what he said was a combination of the heart and the mind. Except that he had even more thoughts, memories and concerns to draw from than ever.

There was much more to Michael's life than the bits I bumped into. His list of publications is impressive not just in quantity, but in quality. The Common's Library dug a list of these out for me in 1998. His perspective on "political economy" was telling and is worth revisiting given the problems labour movements now face across the world. He achieved impressive results in developing "Fair Trade" arrangements. For he always knew that practice and theory had to be related to each other.

Numbers of his works can be found here

Also see here.

Of relevance to the areas I cover above is his "Adult Education For Industrial Workers", published by the National Institute of Adult Education (England and Wales) and The Society of Industrial Tutors in 1969. 

Spokesman Books | Michael Barratt Brown
Michael Barratt Brown

Michael Barratt Brown

Our good comrade and friend, Michael, died in London on 7 May after several weeks in hospital following a fall at home. During his long and eventful life, he worked closely with the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and the Institute for Workers’ Control, and was a regular contributor to The Spokesman journal. We shall miss him greatly.

Michael Barratt Brown wrote extensively throughout his life on economics, workers' control and politics. During his long career he served in a Quaker Ambulance Unit and worked for the United Nations and, subsequently, in documentary films, in workers' education, in industrial democracy, in socialist economics, in resisting nuclear warfare, in honest academic research, and in Fair Trade among co-operative organisations.



Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Manifestos Of Intent" Needed From Labour's Leadership Candidates

My local Constituency Labour Party is having the following resolution submitted to it by one of its branches. If it is carried, it will be sent to the National Executive Committee (NEC) for its consideration. Others might like to press this matter via similar avenues.

Candidates for the position of Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party shall be required to issue "Manifestos Of Intent" of no less than 3,000 words to explain the programme that they would like the Labour Party to pursue and that these documents should be circulated to members of the Labour Party to help them determine how they will vote in the coming contests.

The following link was the result of efforts by our local Labour Party Discussion Group to obtain "Manifestos Of Intent" back in 2010. This (as you will see) achieved some success. But this was done late in the day and in an informal way. This time we need the NEC to arrange for such Manifestos to be issued systematically and in a  prominent fashion. Click into this link for the 2010 versions.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

From the Scottish Labour Campaign for Socialism (CfS)

News from the Scottish Labour "Campaign for Socialism (CfS)". As posted by Vince Mills their Chair. For the CfS see here.

"The CfS calls for a fundamental review of Scottish Labour’s principles, policies, practices and leadership.

The Campaign for Socialism is devastated by the loss of voices for socialism like that of Katy Clark who lost her seat in North Ayrshire and Arran and that of Kenny Selbie who was standing for the first time in Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy. However their energy and vision will be important in reasserting the importance of socialist ideas in Scottish politics.

It has to be conceded that Labour is no longer the trusted agency of social change in Scotland because many of the initiatives undertaken by Labour since 1997 have been detrimental to working class interests – a continued decline in manufacturing hence well paid jobs, an increase in financialising the economy with de-regulation leading to the crash and austerity; continued suppression of trade union rights and the consequent collapse in wages and the increase in ‘flexible’ low paid employment and the privatisation and outsourcing of services. The Tories may have intensified these, but Labour initiated them.

Jim Murphy and his team personify this history. Therefore he and his team must accept that and stand aside to allow Keiza Dugdale, the Depute Leader of Scottish Labour, to oversee this fundamental re-appraisal.As a contribution to this discussion the CfS will be holding a conference soon in Glasgow to shape a socialist manifesto for the 2016 election.

Chair of the Campaign for Socialism Vince Mills said: “The trust that the working people of Scotland have invested in Scottish Labour, which was built up over a hundred years, has been squandered in two decades by New Labour and its acolytes. It will take years to restore it, but we must begin the task immediately. We hope Jim Murphy realises that he is closely identified with the politics that brought Labour’s demise and that his continued presence will prevent the restoration of Labour’s place as the champion of radical change.”

Friday, May 08, 2015

How Do We Respond To Cameron's Victory?

Image result for Cameron at No 10
Matters would have been problematic enough even if Ed Miliband had made it to 10 Downing Street.

But now we face really huge issues in a much more difficult climate. (a) Do we need a written constitution with a federal structure to hold onto Scotland, (b) how do we respect the rights of not only the SNP but of others such as the Northern Ireland Parties and Plaid Cymru who are also local to their own territories, (c) how fair is an electoral system which has resulted in the two main parties taking 87% of the seats with only 67% of the vote - whilst UKIP gets only one seat with an overall vote of 12.6% and the SNP get 56 seats with a vote of just 4.7%: which seems unfair even if we don't like UKIP, (d) what is the future of the Labour Party, including who should be its new leader and deputy leader (and how will this help shape its ideological direction on key issues such as climate change and economic and a social justice) (e) how do we relate to the EU, (f) what will we do about the people who are drowning in the Mediterranean due to serious instability in their countries of origin (g) what avenues do we use to feed such concerns into the political process - is it via Labour, other or new parties, or (instead or as well?) via pressure groups such as (say) 38 Degrees?  These and other issues need to be pursued with vigour; but what fruitful avenues can we use for this or what collectively can we help build?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Image result for Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean

When will we be getting a humanitarian and non-point scoring statement from Ed Miliband and the other party leaders about the current crisis in the Mediterranean? To avoid point scoring, they could even agree to put out a common statement. Without appropriate humane responses the political system will fall even further into disrepute.

This is the EU's current ten point plan.

Added 24 April. At last, see here as clarified here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Judging Labour's Manifesto.

At the Labour Party Conference in 2014 a document entitled "National Policy Forum Report 2014" was adopted. My own summary of its contents appeared earlier on this blog and covered 16 separate items. They can be accessed via this link.

The Report was endorsed in the expectation that it would shape Labour's General Election Manifesto, which was finally published yesterday. The Manifesto can be found here.

How close is the Manifesto to the Report? I feel that the two publications are as close to each other as could reasonably be expected. This is especially the case as we have had to wait for a period of over six months between the emergence of the two documents. And as everyone knows even "a week is a long time in politics".  I have persistently argued that the Manifesto should have been issued and used much earlier than it has been - especially as a version of it could have had an impact during the Scottish Referendum Campaign. If this had been done, then we may have stemmed the rise of the SNP.

The Labour Party did, however, published a version of its programme in December. This was entitled "Changing Britain Together" and it can be found here. Unfortunately, this document was never effectively pushed amongst Labour Party members, nor in the media. 

The big difference between the original National Policy Forum Report and the Electoral Manifesto is that the latter is placed in a key and new framework which is missing from the former. The framework appears at the start of the Manifesto and (as was intended) has grabbed the immediate attention of the media. It states that Labour's plans are to be pursued in ways that in budgetary terms are said to be highly responsible. So that given a wide range of Labour commitments, none will require any additional borrowing. Yet also in the Manifesto Labour says it "will cut the deficit each year". This commitment then shapes each of its proposals, which in general terms list where the funding for the positive aspects of its programme will all come from.

Unfortunately, a fall-back proposal for financing services seems to have disappeared. In the original  National Policy Forum Document it said that "Labour will continue to support a progressive taxation system and ensure that the wealthiest individuals and businesses contribute to the economy". But perhaps it is felt that this is a hidden codicil that can always be turned to, but there was no need to feed this idea to a hungry media.

There is, however. at least one clear and unfortunate adjustment in the Manifesto compared to the Forum Document for those worried about TTIP. It now states that "We support the principles behind the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Treaty (TTIP)." This is, however, followed by the past proposal that TTIP should not apply to the NHS and other public services.

Then all that is mentioned about co-operative principles is  "Our charities, mutuals, co-operatives and social enterprises are pioneering new models of production that enhance social value, promote financial inclusion, and give individuals and communities power and control. We will continue to support and help develop the social economy by improving access for co-operative and mutual organisations to growth finance through the new British Investment Bank. And we will consider how to support employee buy-outs when businesses are being sold." Although this paragraph is very small compared to the Co-op Party's own Manifesto which expands such proposals (as seen here), much depends upon whether Labour's words are just a highly condensed version of the same agenda. 

Unfortunately references to providing a quality professional youth service, lifelong learning options,  recarbonising the power sector by 2030 and calling for a Financial Transaction Tax are key matters which have disappeared since the time of the Forum Document. But a great deal of progressive material remains. If Labour forms the next Government it will be for activists to push to overcome the types of shortcomings which I have indicated. For the Manifesto does show that we have moved beyond the clear days of New Labour and that the door may have opened slightly for carefully crafted initiatives from democratic socialists.

We now seek the proof of the pudding.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

"The Need For A Balanced Economy" by Ken Curran

In spite of the economic evidence and some sort of acknowledgement that the United Kingdom needs a more balanced economy if we are to avoid the pitfalls of boom and bust, there have been no specific proposals made through Labour's Policy Forums as to why a more balanced economy is essential for the future wellbeing of the United Kingdom. Nor has the Labour Party argued elsewhere why a more balanced economy is essential. Indeed by not making the need to create a balanced economy an electoral issue, this only serves to strengthen the SNP argument for the need to leave the Union. Indeed the renewed interest in devolution for the English regions is also in part driven by economic failure.

In reality, the British Economy is in a worse state than it was at the end of the Second World War. We ended the war with a far more skilled workforce in comparative terms than is the case today.

Another issue that should be used by Labour is to dispute the frequent claim that the number of apprentices is higher than ever in the UK. I was an apprentice in 1946 and can speak with knowledge of our past. Which is a good deal more than Clegg, Cameron or Ed Miliband can. It is far too easy for today’s Politicians to make general statements about how much better off we are today than we were say 50 years ago. While materially that claim has some merit, working people have much less security of employment. Here again we end up talking about the economy. Until we can return to having a balanced economy, we shall be unable to provide either decent pensions nor a decent health service.

The above is from Ken Curran

10 Years Ago - almost exactly

Harry Barnes
This introduction has been corrected. I was initially a day out -
At 5pm on 11th April 2005 after a period of some 18 years, I ceased to be an MP.  That is ten years and a day prior to my posting this short item. Later and below,  I will add a summary of mainly politically related matters which I have been involved with over the past decade.

Added 15th April. Today is the 10th birthday of our first grandchild, Joseph. He was, therefore, born only three days after I ceased to be an MP.  As he was born in London, it meant that my wife and I remained in town when I ceased to be an MP and regularly visited our son and daughter-in-law whilst awaiting the birth and then for a time afterwards. It was a perfect way to switch off from 18 years of parliamentary activity.  My rediscovery of my family life was added to by the birth of Joseph's sister Amy just two years afterwards. I had firmly rediscovered that I had a solid family life.  This was added to by a number of visits we made to stay with our daughter who was then working in Majorca. Then she finally moved to Bournemouth and is now settled there with her partner, Andy. So family interchanges have become much more of a relaxing norm than they were during my 18 years as an MP.  That certainly can't be a bad thing.

My political activities in the past decade have mainly been centered in the area of "political education".  For it is an activity which has dominated much of my life. I have been attending and then organising political discussion meetings ever since I returned from undertaking my National Service in Iraq in 1956, where I had purchased the "New Statesman" on rice paper and borrowed books by GDH Cole from the camp Library. It was the place where I had most clearly started to be politicised. Afterwards I started out by running discussion sessions for the local Labour Party at Easington Colliery in County Durham, then as secretary of the newly founded Peterlee and District Fabian Society. I went on to pursue such interests full time, first studying politics and economics as an adult at Ruskin College and then pursuing  politics and philosophy at Hull University. To cap all this I then taught industrial relations and politics (with diversions into philosophy) for 21 years mainly on trade union day release classes organised through Sheffield University. Wearing my party political hat, I ran discussion meetings for the  Dronfield Labour Party, a local Fabian Society and our branch of Independent Labour Publications (ILP) - a body I had joined in the mid 1970s. I was also involved with the ILP nationally.

Then after an 18 year stint in parliament (pursuing their own peculiar brand of political discourse) it was natural for me to return to my past ways. Shortly after retiring from parliament and with a group called Labour Friends of Iraq, I visited Iraqi Kurdistan to meet with trade unionists from across the whole of the country. So I later gave talks about Iraq to ex-students at Coleg Harlech and Ruskin College and at other venues. But although I have given occasional talks on a variety of topics to bodies such as the Durham WEA, the ILP at Leeds and our local Labour History Society; I have mainly settled down to arranging for others to do the speaking. Then I can join in the discussions.

For the past nine years in the role of Political Education Officer of the Dronfield Branch of the Labour Party I have organised some 100 discussion meetings. These have been held at the supportive Contact Club in Dronfield, normally running from 8pm to 9.15pm on Sundays on a monthly basis. Numbers of Labour MPs have been amongst our speakers. The last one being John Healey who gave us his reason's for pushing TTIP and nobly faced criticisms from everyone else who then joined in the discussion. I seldom address such meetings myself - the last time being when I had to fill in because the speaker did not turn up.

I then look out for other discussion opportunities. In nearby Sheffield to the north, these come in a variety of forms - including its School For Democratic Socialism, the local Fabian Society, an annual festival of town events and meetings hosted at the University. Recently, there have even been two visits from Parliamentary Select Committees. Chesterfield to the south has a vibrant May Day Rally for which I have organised discussion meetings in the past. Their Labour Club also hosts political discussion meetings. Then my own Constituency Labour Party of North East Derbyshire runs its own all member discussion meetings either in Chesterfield or nearby North Wingfield.

Aligned to looking for opportunities to discuss political issues, run openings to write about such matters. Here again, I am a bits and pieces person. I don't write books, but turn my hand to making passing comments. An ideal form for this has been this blog which is called "Three Score Years and Ten". The title arises from the fact that it was given to me by my son on my 70th birthday over eight years  ago - before I got down to sitting in front of a computer all that much. Although young Amy will still say - "No Grandad, not like that - like this". My blog currently contains over 750 entries, most of which are on political issues. I am also the main contributor to a blog entitled "Dronfield Blather", which is run in conjunction with our Sunday evening Labour Party Discussion Group. Then I comment on other people's blogs and their web-sites. Recently turning to "Labour List" where  I have made some 250 comments in the past year. I also contribute articles and comments for the ILP's web-site. And there is a history of the Labour Party in the North East Derbyshire area, which appears on its Constituency Labour Party web-site. 

There are numbers of more fully researched and published pieces. In the 2011 to 2013 issues of the annual publication "North East History" (published by the North East Labour History Society) I  provided articles about the development of the then mining community at Easington Colliery, from the sinking of its pit in 1899 to just before I was born there in 1936. This work required regular visits up to the Durham County Record Office to undertake the research.  In the Autumn 2012 issue of "Labour Heritage" I wrote an article entitled "The Twin Pillars Of The Derbyshire Miners" about James Haslam and William Harvey who were the main figures in initially founding and running the Derbyshire Miners Assocation (DMA), which started out back in 1880. A shorter item on these has just appeared in Chesterfield Trade Council's May Day Brochure. This is because we will soon be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the unveiling of two statues in remembrance of Haslam and Harvey, which took place in front of the then DMA offices. So I am back to speech-making on this, during celebrations that are due to be held in the Chesterfield Library and also next to the statues themselves.

Another piece appeared in the local "Dronfield Miscellany" a Local History Journal in Autumn/Winter 2007 on one of the miners' leader mentioned above - William Harvey. For he was also the local NE Derbyshire MP from 1907 to 1914, as James Haslam had been in Chesterfield from 1906 to 1913. The Miscellany is published by the Old Dronfield Society to whom I then gave a talk entitled "From the Cavendishes to Coal Miners, Dronfield MPs 1832-1950" - the Cavendishes being aristocratic land owners. Amongst other bits I have come up with have been a couple of items for "Post-16 Educator".  In May-June it was "What now for adult education?  Lessons from Derbyshire's miners" and in January-March 2012 it was "The politics of education". My efforts do at times deviate from political concerns. Football items have appeared. One in the Sunderland AFC Fanzine "A Love Supreme" in the 2006-7 season. Part 1 being entitled "The Beano Years" and Part 2 "The Keano Years". Then in the first issue of a magazine called "First Eleven" in 2010, I wrote about the match that is recognised by FIFA as being the first soccer contest ever between two different clubs - Hallam FC v Sheffield FC. Non-League Sheffield FC's current ground is just a quarter of a mile from my home. And it is in Derbyshire, not Yorkshire. I would not normally admit to having anything to do with the Daily Mail, but they also ran a response from me in 2007 around the same issue under the title "How football kicked off".

There are other items, but you get the idea. I did start to write an autobiography and got up to 30,000 words in just covering the first 18 years of my life - before my fresh political interests had then fully kicked in. Currently, I can think of three projects that are in the way before returning to the work I packed in several years ago. I wonder how many other bits and pieces will also get in the way? After some 58 years of political bits and pieces (with my 18 years in parliament being ideal for a person who hops from item to item) I don't think I am now likely to change. Nor have I had any regrets about retiring at the age of 68 - for there have always been plenty political bits and pieces to pursue outside of Westminster.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Reason For Hope?

On Saturday, I addressed a session of a day school run by Independent Labour Publication (ILP) at the Leeds Beckett University. This was part of a series it is running entitled "Unbalanced Britain". It was followed by a lively discussion. What I had to say was basically drawn from the past 20 items which I have placed on this blog. These items go back to last November. The basis of my contribution at Leeds can be found here on the ILP web-site.

In the short time before the General Election, why not join in their debate?

This about the ILP

"Independent Labour Publications (ILP) is an educational trust, publishing house and pressure group committed to democratic socialism and the success of a democratic socialist Labour Party.

The ILP was formed in 1893 as the Independent Labour Party, which became a co-founder of the Labour Party at the beginning of the 20th century. Today we remain committed to Labour's aim of creating 'a society for the many, not the few' and seek to engage with others in discussing how this vision can be turned into reality." 

Here is the tradition

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Yet Another Missed Opportunity

Image result for "One Nation" Labour

Labour have recently sent a new 32 page edition of its "One Nation" magazine in the post to its members.  It was an expensive and time consuming exercise; although it is also being used as a fund raising mechanism. In fact, fund raising may be seen as its key purpose.

It is a glossy publication containing 35 coloured photographs and a variety of coloured diagrams. It includes a message from Harriet Harman, an interview with Ed Miliband and a piece by Douglas Alexander in his capacity as Chair of Labour's General Election Strategy - in which he actually manages to come up with just over a hundred words on "Labour's Plan For Britain's Recovery". There are snippets with photos from some new Labour Parliamentary Candidates, something similar from a number of rank and file activists, a fuller interview with a Labour supporter who is said to be a celebrity, an interview with a "tireless campaigner" from the House of Lords, plus many other similar bits and pieces. All this is mainly trivia. But those with advertising expertise may say that it is effective.

But what a glorious opportunity has been missed. Why was it not used to spread the word amongst Labour's membership as to what its policies are for the coming General Election? After all, these are the ground troops we are depending upon. They need to be given the tools to do the job.

What could have been achieved is shown on pages 12 and 13 of the document. It is the document's saving grace. But I hope that as members flip through the glossy bits and pieces, that they do not miss or skim this single isolated item.  It shows four key areas of the Coalition Government's failings and then lists Labour's alternative proposals. In all it offers 13 bullet points on Labour policies.

If this just happens to wet the reader's appetite, they are then asked to undertake some research of their own to find what else Labour is promising. Whether they are into computers or not, they are asked to turn to; where they will then find that they need skills to be able to jump from one category of interest to another. Many might just find it easier to turn to Labour's document "Changing Britain Together" which can be found on Labour's alternative web-site "Your Britain" at  This document extends the 13 policy points in the "One Nation" booklet into no-less than 114 items.

Labour's policies might not all be perfect, but it would help if at least its members knew what they are. Labour misses opportunity after opportunity to tell its members where it stands. In January, new membership cards were sent out to those who had paid by standing orders, whilst renewal reminders were sent out to others. But the opportunity to included a key selection of policy proposals was completely missed.  Then emails fly around from my own Regional Office for members to send them donations or to buy expensive tickets to attend dinners with the high and mighty. Why not add a few policy proposals to these? They might even help to whet our appetites. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Co-operative Party Manifesto

The Co-operative Party is Labour's sister party. There are 31 MPs in the current Parliamentary Labour Party who were elected as both "Labour and Co-operative".  The Co-operative Party has recently issued its Manifesto for the coming General Election entitled "A Co-operative Agenda for Britain".  Its pdf version can be found here.                         leadimage

Monday, January 05, 2015

Ed Opens Labour's Election Campaign

Ed Miliband

This morning Ed Miliband addressed a rally in Manchester at which he launched Labour's General Election Campaign. He said -

"...A victory for our Party is not nearly enough.

We’re fighting for something much bigger. We’re fighting for a Britain where every day working people are properly rewarded once again. We’re fighting for a Britain where every young person, whatever their background, can begin their working lives with a future that promises to be better, not worse, than their parents’. We’re fighting for a Britain where everyone plays by fair rules, including the most powerful - like energy companies and the banks. We’re fighting for a Britain that deals with its debts responsibly, without shredding our NHS and vital public services. We’re fighting for a true recovery and real, enduring prosperity that extends to the kitchen tables of all working families across Britain. We’re fighting to be the kind of country that we all know we have it in ourselves to be. More just, more equal and more prosperous. And we’re going to fight that fight in the right way.

We will offer hope, not falsehoods. We know the depths of our values matter more than the depth of our opponents’ pockets. We will win this election, not by buying up thousands of poster sites, but by having millions of conversations. I am going to be leading those conversations in village halls, community centres, workplaces right across the country, starting this very week and every week from now until the election.

I want you to be doing the same. This year we will be making our case, explaining our vision, house by house, street by street, town by town. Our campaign is setting the goal of holding four million conversations with people in just four months about how we change our country. That is almost twice the number we’ve ever done before. It is more than any British political party has ever done before. And in every single one of those conversations, we will be talking directly with people on their doorstep. And we will be reminding people what is at stake. In this election there is a choice not just between parties but between two competing visions of how our country can succeed. A Tory plan that believes we can succeed with just a few at the top doing well. Or a plan – Labour’s plan for Britain’s future – that puts working people first.

1. The Tory Failure

For five years, the Tories have shown us their idea. If we just strip the Government to its bare bones, give in to the powerful interests and give huge tax cuts to the very wealthiest, then all of Britain will somehow benefit. And judging from what David Cameron said last week, they really think it has been a great success. But that tells you all you need to know about what they think success looks like.
Because think about what has actually happened. Millionaires have reaped huge benefits from the Tory plan. There is no doubt about that. But working people in our country are worse off. Much worse off. For the first time since the 1920s, working people will be worse off at the end of a government than they were at the beginning. Zero hour contracts have exploded, driving wages down across our country, and have allowed some firms to play havoc with people’s lives. The energy companies have doubled the profit they make from each family and the average bill has gone up £300 a year.

And most inexcusable is the shortchanging of the greatest hope for our future, our children, who this Government is failing to prepare for the challenges of the 21st Century. At a time when education and training are critical to the chances of earning a decent wage—and to the long-term success of our country– tuition fees have trebled and apprenticeships for young people are actually falling. And they call all of that a success.

We’re a country of food banks and bank bonuses. A country where social mobility goes backwards and privilege is rewarded. Where millionaires have had their taxes cut and millions pay more. And they call that a success. Well, I don’t. And the British people don’t either.

And think what has happened to our NHS. Longer to wait to see your GP.  Longer to wait in A&E. Longer to wait for an operation. An NHS without time to care. The Tories have damaged the NHS in these five years. Give them five more and the NHS as we know it just won’t be there. Well, we won’t let that happen.

They’ve even failed on the one thing they claim to care about most. The deficit. David Cameron promised to eliminate the deficit by 2015. Well, 2015 is now here. And so is the deficit. And the deficit is still here for a very simple reason: because it turns out if you depress wages and lack any real economic plan other than tax cuts for the wealthy, it doesn’t just fail working people, it fails to balance the books.

So this Tory experiment has been tried. And the verdict is in. By the measures of household budgets, prospects for our children, preserving the most vital public services and dealing with our nation’s debts, the Tory experiment has failed. Theirs is not a record to run on. Theirs is a record to run from.
And what is their plan for the next five years? We learnt that on Friday. More of the same. Keep driving along the road to nowhere. But press down on the accelerator. Imagine what another five years would mean for you and your family. The Tories telling you about the good economic news.
But you and your family not having enough to pay the bills at the end of each month. The Tories telling you that there has never been more opportunity for young people. But your son or daughter can’t afford to go to university and the only other option is a zero hours job. The Tories telling you there is a housing boom. But you not being able to afford a home of your own. The Tories telling you that the NHS has been protected. But you not being able to get your operation in time, and the only choice on offer is to go private.

And it’s not just short-term calamities that their policies will wreak. It’s the long-term impact on our country, as well. As sure as night follows day, an economy built on the success of a few will never prosper for long. Britain can do better than this. Britain must do better than this. And Britain will do better than this. And we will show in the coming months that it doesn’t need to be this way.

2. Labour’s Plan for Britain’s Future

Our plan is based on one simple truth – a truth so different from the Tories’ idea – that when your family succeeds, Britain succeeds too. That’s why it is a plan that puts working people first.
It is a plan that makes real those principles that I talked about at the start. The principles we’re fighting for. It is a plan that says that all those who go out to work are as important and valuable to our country as those who get the six figure bonuses. That means raising the minimum wage to over £8 an hour and dealing with the scandal of zero hour contracts. It means supporting the wealth creating businesses of the future, in Green industries, that create those good jobs that reward hard work. In an era of hard choices, it means putting cuts in business rates for small firms that will create most of the jobs of the future, ahead of further tax cuts for large corporations. Ours is a plan also that says there is nothing more important for our country than opportunities for the young.

We are told by this Government that they are pro-business. Yet we know that our country is hundreds of thousands short of the number of engineers businesses demand. And we see this problem throughout our economy: well paid jobs, gone wanting, for people who have the necessary education and training to fill them. So we will have a revolution in vocational education, so that as many young people leave school to do an apprenticeship as currently go to university. This, and not slashing wages, is how you win the jobs of the future. Britain won’t succeed with a Tory race to the bottom. We need to run a race to the top. And under a Labour government Britain will win that race.

Our plan is a plan that says that everyone should play by fair rules, and the most powerful interests in our country should be held to account. Businesses large and small are the lifeblood of our economy. But the banks and the energy companies have had things their way for too long and need to serve Britain properly. We will require these businesses to operate in a competitive way, and Britain—all of Britain—will be the better for it. No more broken markets that work for a few but undermine our economy.

And ours is a plan that will preserve our most vital public services. Knowing that our NHS is our nation’s greatest treasure, to be protected and nurtured for generations to come. A guaranteed GP appointment within 48 hours. A one-week wait for cancer tests. And a £2.5 billion Time To Care fund to support more midwives, care workers, doctors and nurses. Yes, assuring decent, timely health care has a cost. And that’s why we have proposed a Mansion Tax for the very richest to protect and improve the NHS for our entire country. Something the Tories would never do. Because we believe that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden. And that is just one example of our plan making different choices than this Government.

And it is by making different choices that we will deal with the deficit responsibly and still meet the obligations to our country’s future. Ours is a plan to cut the deficit every year and balance the books as soon as possible in the next parliament. And until that happens it does mean, outside protected areas, spending will be falling, not rising, department by department. With no proposals in our manifesto funded by additional borrowing. Not a single one. Those of us who believe that government has a positive role to play in our nation’s future, know we have a special obligation: To challenge government to do its work and deliver its services in innovative and more cost-effective ways. Showing we can do more with less, just like great Labour councils are doing across the country. Making better decisions, making sure that every pound really counts. And giving power back to local people. Ending a century of centralization in our country.

And our plan will also confront other hard truths. Three million British jobs rest on commerce and trade within the European Union. Exiting the EU would damage British jobs, British families, British businesses. I understand the politics that has led the Prime Minister to play risky irresponsible games on the European Union, allowing his party to drift towards exit. But I won’t. If you want to know what chaos and a threat to prosperity looks like, just imagine a Tory government riven apart after the next election on Europe. We must demand reform from Europe—a European Union that works better for Britain. But make no mistake: exit from the EU would be a dramatic mistake for our country and our economy. So, whatever the politics, I will not join those who cynically offer exit as a realistic plan for our future or the future of Britain’s working families.

And confronting hard truths extends to the challenge of immigration. I am the son of immigrants, who came here with nothing. They benefited from the opportunities that Britain had to offer and built a life for our family. And their story is not unique. For generations, hard-working immigrants, eager to make their way, have helped build our country. But this party will never again dismiss people’s concerns about immigration. Britain should not—cannot— close ourselves off from those who can contribute to our economy and our country. But people want to know that there are fair rules. Fair rules so that benefits should be earned, so people must contribute before they claim. And fair rules to prevent businesses from recruiting at slave wages, exploiting migrant labour to undercut pay and conditions.

So this is our plan:

A. Rewarding hard work and tackling the cost of living crisis.
B. Providing education and opportunity for all our young people, upon whom Britain’s future relies.
C. Fair rules for everyone in our country, from top to bottom.
D. Protecting our NHS.

All built on solid economic foundations. A plan that puts working people first. And this plan is not simply about a fairer society. It is also about a more prosperous one. Because only by putting working people first can we use the talents of all and succeed as a country. The Tories think we succeed with a few at the top doing well. We know we prosper together.

3. The Choice and the Campaign

In the next four months, there will be the usual sound and fury. But it will all actually come down to something rather simple. Who we are. How we want to live together. And how we succeed as a nation.

This is nothing less than a once in a generation fight about who our country works for. It is a choice between a Tory plan where only a few at the top can succeed and our public services are threatened. Or a Labour plan that puts working people first, deals with the deficit and protects our NHS.

We have a Government that will say: stick to their plan. They really think this is as good as it gets. That’s because they’re the pessimists about what is achievable for Britain and the British people. And between now and the election, they will find all kinds of ways to tell you that change isn’t possible. Just as the pessimists have always done down the years. That change that puts working people first can’t be done. But I don’t believe them. And I don’t think you should believe them either.

We’ve done it before as a country in the face of even greater challenges and we can do it again. It is seventy years this year since Britain won the Second World War and went on to win the peace. Think about what they were facing. That generation didn’t sit back and put up with what it had seen before. With the dark days of the depression. The negativity that said there was no other way. Instead, they started to rebuild. Rebuild with an economy that works for all working people. Rebuild by honouring everyone who works hard. Rebuild by standing up to the powerful forces, those who need to be held to account. Rebuild by dealing with our debts responsibly for the good of the next generation. Rebuild by protecting our vital public services, including our NHS. That’s what our plan for Britain’s future will do. That will be our task again.

Let’s go out and fight for the chance to make it happen."

What is your verdict about Ed's speech, and why?