Sunday, May 01, 2016

Ken Livingstone and John Mann

Ken Livingstone and myself were first elected to Parliament in 1987. He stood down as an MP in 2001 and I went on until 2005.

Not only were we Labour MPs together for 14 years, but for most of that time we were also members of the Socialist Campaign Group which normally met weekly when the Commons was in session. Furthermore for a period we had adjourning desks in a place called the Cloisters and later for a few years we came to share a small office. It only had room for our desks, chairs and filing cabinets.So not only did we regularly talk to each other, I also heard him talking a great deal to others on the phone – often to his constituents. I never once heard him say anything anywhere which could have been interpreted to being anti-Semitic. Quite the opposite, he was consistently anti-racist.

We had our disagreements at times as when he once sort to stand for the leadership of the Labour Party. He never received sufficient nominations and I was one of those who refused to support him. On the other hand we once wrote an article together which appeared in the Guardian stressing that the European Union needed a democratic and social agenda. It was fully in line with the position recently argued by Jeremy Corbyn - which can he found here.

The most that can be argued against his recent comments on Hitler and Zionism is that they were badly timed and undiplomatic. They were in no way, however, fundamentally incorrect.

In 1984 Edwin Black wrote a key book on the matters referred by Ken. The work is entitled “The Transfer Agreement : The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine” (New York, MacMillan).

Edwin Black is the most unlikely person to have an anti-Semitic strain in his writings. He is the son of Polish Jews who were survivors of the Holocaust. His mother escaped from a box car that was heading for the Treblinka extermination camp when she was 13 years old. His father escaped when being led to a shooting pit. They both survived by hiding in the forests of Poland for two years; eventually emigrating to the United States. Edwin was born in Chicago and raised in a Jewish neighbourhood.

See Edwin Black talking about his book here. Sections of his book can be found via this web-site.

John Mann became an MP in 2001. So I came across him in the Commons only for a four year period. Then we tended to move in different circles. This would not just be a matter of us pursuing differing agendas. Unfortunately, the Commons is a bit like going to School or College. You get to know people best in your own intake – although shared political horizons and the pursuit of common concerns will draw people together. Yet I was often tucked away in the Northern Ireland Select Committee (which Ken had also served on) whilst John moved on to the Treasury Select Committee.

It was not until I retired in 2005 that he set up and Chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, which produced fine reports as shown here.

When the issue about elements of Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party gained national publicity, I had hoped that the work of people like John Mann on the All Party Committee would be used to show a different picture. For to me in confronting Anti-Semitism, Ken and John seemed to have more in common than in opposition.

But I was soon to be shocked by John's extreme reaction against Ken. It is not that I am uncritical of Ken, for he is clearly experienced and knowledgeable enough to realise that there are some issues in politics which grab people's emotions so strongly that they need to be handled with care. The same should, of course, also apply to John.


Unknown said...

For those of us who live outside the Westminster bubble, a few misplaced comments by Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah MP (spun out of context by bitter Blairites) are small beer and a complete non-issue.

But for many Labour Party members and supporters who have a passing interest in what the elites are up to, they are comments that pale into insignificance compared to what's being done daily to Palestinians Targeted executions, homes bulldozed, land confiscated and decent families made homeless and destitute. And anyone, men, women or children who demonstrate's opposition are brutally assaulted and often the family home will be demolished as collective punishment.

Now to my mind that looks like the behaviour of, if not fascist, a terroristic state.

People may not agree with Ken Livingston or Naz Shah, and I hold no brief for either, but anyone who thinks they are bigots and anti-semantic need to get a life because having different opinions and perspectives on contentious issues is what politics is about. It’s called free speech.

Aged 78 and having been in the Labour and trade union movement all my life, I have not come across anyone (not one) who is overtly anti-Semitic in word or deed. So our self-righteous and self-serving Labour MPs, aka John Mann (classic grandstanding playground bully) needs to get a sense of perspective and balance and should grow up. But there is another agenda and it has nothing to do with democracy or the will of the membership.

To my mind, this week witnessed Labour at its worst. And we all know, don't we that if Labour polls badly on Thursday's local elections what the narrative will then be?

Is there any wonder Labour is fragmenting before our eyes but when the results roll in on Thursday that may well be the trigger for more internal strife, the excuse to settle scores and amount a coup against Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonald, Jon Trickett and all left wingers in the Shadow Cabinet.

But if these Parliamentary malcontents (the Blairites and interchangeable careerist’s tendency) think they can turn back the clock and its business as usual, they are delusional.

Labour isn't working.

Harry Barnes said...

Ernie : For that comment your Labour Party Membership has just been suspended !

OH APOLOGIES, I have just remembered that you are no longer a member.

My knowledge of the background to what I have to say is 11 years old. But I have seen this set-up confirmed by material which I have often seen on TV since.

When John Mann shouted at Ken Livingstone on the inside steps of 4 Millbank whilst Ken was talking on a hand-held phone, the incident was filmed and sound-recorded by a number of operatives. Ken was making his way to a BBC studio at the top of that flight of stairs. There is a double door at the top leading into the BBC studio and the only camera (with sound) which is normally present before anyone enters the doors, is on the right side near its top. It is for interviews to be conducted when they don't wish to show people being sat down in a studio.

So how did John Mann and that crowd of media people know what would be happening and that they were onto a good scope for the evenings BBC News ?

It is not just John Mann that needs to answer for his behaviour. It is the BBC.

Unknown said...

Well Harry.

The elections went better than expected in England and as expected but poor in Scotland and Wales.

Ir seems that huge swathes of former Labour voters supported the SNP and UKIP or were discontented and disallusioned non-showers.

A lot of the discontent can be put down to mass migration, which is usually good news for employers, with depressed wages and for their staff. While the middle classes get cheap cleaners, gardeners, window cleaners,nannies and servants while the working classes who suffer all the downside elements vis-a-vis being bumped off social housing list, rising rents and community services cut to the bone and squeezed inexorably. And an influx of new citizens that are never, ever, welcome in the leafy shires, gated communities and former council estates that have been redeveloped and gentrified by Tory, Labour and Liberal authorities who have all but given up on housing their poor residents they that they claim to represent.

But despite the bad press with the media full of overblown news of Labours racist tendency and plots and pending coups by disaffected MP,s, Jeremy Corbyn did better than most expected.

But no matter what compromises Jeremy might make vis-a-vis the EU, Trident, free market economics, etc, the malcontents are unlikely to shut-up in favour of broad church unity and will be at work again on Monday plotting Jeremy's downfall and getting into bed with the right-wing media, big money and establishment toadies.

The question I'm asking myself is, can a broad church Labour Party be put back together again and should the ILP, socialists and trade unionist be campaigning to change FPTP elections in favour of more devolution and electronic voting not just nationally but within the Labour Party. Can't see much changing unless we can somehow dilute representative government in favour of more (ask the people) referenda and also persuade the poor and victims of neoliberalism to vote in much greater numbers.

Just a thought.

Harry Barnes said...

Ernie : Given the current-day nature of the media, we suffer from a mass of crude claims about internal party political disputes - most of which they have themselves helped to iniate and nurture. The BBC News is a disgrace on such matters.

We lack basic concrete information, from which we can ourselves make our own judgements. Where are today's psephologists such as David Butler? He gave us piles of electoral information, which could be checked out.

Details of the recent PCC elections on a national basis seem to have disappeared from the political radar. I appreciate that given low turnouts, these need to be handled with care. But I believe that they were held almost everywhere in England and Wales, except for London and the Manchester area - where Mayors undertake many PC functions. Furthermore, many PCC elections were initially counted within areas of Parliamentary Constituencies. These building blocks for PPC votes are then added together in areas such as Derbyshire. So would it not be of some interest for people to compare 2015 parliamentary results in their differing constituencies with the 2016 PCC results in these areas? What gains and losses overall would such comparisons show ?

Perhaps I am being impatient and all will be revealed in tomorrow's "quality press". But all that appears in today's "Times" are basic details of seats won by differing parties in English Council Elections. Plus an unsupported claim that Labour is the first (major?) opposition party to have lost Council seats in 30 years. Details would help us to work out the size, circumstnces and significance of such a claim. They leave the reader to do the necessary (and impossible) spade work.

All that the isolated results show is that Labour did badly in Scotland, but that its overall losses in various elections in England and Wales were only marginal in comparison to the last (but often different) times when these elections took place.

Harry Barnes said...

Ernie : Of course, I needed to add Labour's success in London.

Unknown said...

Of course, the Blairites and Bitterites and media would have us believe that London was won despite Corbyn but that Scotland and the Rhonda were lost because of Corbyn.

Conveniently forgetting that Scotland was lost in May 2015 (just one year ago) when Labour Scotland was a Blairite/Brown thiefdom and the idea of a Labour leader called Jeremy was pure La-La Land.

And of course, it is now impossible to compare local and national elections with prior years insofar as we have seen the rise of UKIP which seems to have taken lots of votes away from Labour in the wake of mass immigration and the EU in/out referendum. What we do know is the in bye-elections, Oldham and Sheffield Labour has increased its majority and that in yesterday's local elections the Tories lost more seats and polled less votes than Labour.

So while Labour is not in a good place, what I want to know is why is Corbyn electable in Islington North but unelectable and a joke everywhere else?