Monday, 8 June 2009
We were the first to send a British fascist to Brussels.
I think back to the 90s when I was a strong advocate of devolution to Yorkshire, after 18 years of a Tory government we didn’t support, Thatcher’s war on the Yorkshire miners (followed by Heseltine’s Cold War on the miners); Thatcherite bankers declaring that recession in the north was a price worth paying for growth in the south.
For us to be the first (in England at any rate) to send a far-right MEP to Brussels is humiliating and heart-breaking. And not just any far-right MEP: Andrew Brons, former leader of the National Front. A Nazi.
But we need to analyse it.
6000 fewer people voted BNP in Yorkshire in 2009 than in 2004. This was not some great upsurge of support for the BNP or their policies in this county. This was not some great defection from Labour to BNP (though I’m sure some voters did make that switch, this was not the headline issue).
What happened was, on the night of a record low turnout, Labour voters didn’t vote. When they did vote, many of them scattered themselves amongst the other parties in protest, in fury, in thought-out defection, and some in sadness.
As such, the BNP did not need to increase their vote. They just needed to hold it up as much as possible.
So while the events of last night which hurt the most are the scenes of BNP jubilation, their apparent successes do not contain the most important lessons. Nation-wide, fewer than 3% of people chose to register a vote for the BNP. This was despite a more professional and active national campaign than they have ever done before, and despite the quite effective masking of their fascistic and Nazi core. Even in Yorskhire, less than 10% of the 35% of people who bothered to vote at all voted for the BNP.
The 65% of people who didn’t vote at all should be of much greater concern to us. Many of those people are those whose votes we used to be able to rely on.
Why have they deserted us? Let’s not imagine that it is all to do with expenses. Yes the expenses have added to a general cynicism and anti-politics feeling, but it didn’t create it. And we would have had a dreadful night if the election were a month or so ago too.
We didn’t earn people’s votes. We didn’t give them enough reasons to vote for us.
I mean, politically, partly because the mood of the popular media is that Labour is finished, we have become poor at ‘the game’. The economic signs are actually that Brown’s approach might well have been quite successful. There are some signs of recovery, banks here are going to be in a position to start paying the tax-payer back sooner than elsewhere, etc, etc. - we’ve just lost the ability to sell that.
But also we’ve lost that connection to reality that should tell us that that isn’t enough. Because that doesn’t house anybody, that doesn’t help somebody who lost their job last month, or is likely to lose it next month. Talk of green shoots is just offensively ironic to those people.
We’ve lost other things too. We’ve lost the moral high ground. Yes, expenses played a part in that, but policies played a bigger part. Illegal wars, illiberal anti-terror laws and heartless welfare reforms have - for many - made us the nasty party.
We’ve lost our sense of purpose. I hate the word ‘narrative’ in a political context, but we don’t have one. Certainly don’t have a positive one. 10 more months of Labour (unless something wholly unexpected happens in that election) - what is that government FOR? We will all have ideas about what it should be for, but I don’t sense any communication of what Brown, or the people around him, believe it should be for.
We need a radical agenda for the last months of this term. That radical agenda has to be rooted in real policies that produce real, tangible and measurable improvements in people’s lives: new houses, new jobs, repossessions halted, etc. rather than more academic, constitutional change that - while much of it necessary - should not be at the top of our priority list while unemployment and homelessness still rises.
I’ve kept out of the leadership discussion as much possible this time as it has essentially been a tiresome personality clash within the time-serving husk of what was once New Labour.
But if Brown won’t lead a government with that radical agenda, then he will need to be toppled and replaced with somebody who will.
It is all we have left.
Monday, 27 April 2009
|Joint Statement from SOAS UNISON and SOAS UCU on the Dismissal of SOAS|
UNISON Branch Chair, Joseph Stalin Bermudez
"As we predicted, the School's hand-picked Star Chamber has rejected
Stalin's appeal against dismissal. Graham Furniss, Ian Brown and Matt
Craven, advised by Peter Mitchell the HR Director, would appear to
share the same perverted sense of justice as Sharon Page who sacked
Stalin in February.
"SOAS UNISON, UCU, and the Student Union, along with several voices on
Academic Board, had called for a genuinely independent panel to hear
the appeal. The School rejected that. Presumably they had no
confidence in an independent panel to produce the result they wanted.
"Stalin was absurdly accused by Sharon Page of a perceived "threat to
kill" a colleague in September 2008. In fact, the original complaint
contains no such allegation. The perception explicitly relates to
alleged "death threats" in 2007. Those allegations had been found to
be "unfounded and unsubstantiated" in an earlier grievance hearing.
Never mind. The investigating managers and Sharon Page fell over
themselves to use those unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations to
support the complainant's perception. Sharon Page made her decision to
dismiss Stalin on her perception of the complainant's perception. An
more unsafe conclusion could not be imagined.
"There was, however, an eyewitness to the alleged incident, Pablo
Grisales, a cleaner working temporarily in the post room. One might
have expected the investigating managers to ask for a written witness
statement, but that is not what happened. Pablo was called into an
intimidating meeting with three managers present (Richard Poulson,
Sian Jones and an OCEAN manager) and was read out a prepared statement
which he was not shown and which he was asked to confirm. He was given
no opportunity to qualify that statement (indeed, he was prevented
from doing so) or to provide his own independent statement of events.
That unsigned "statement" then became the "witness statement". No
written report of that investigatory meeting was provided except for
the manager's file note.
"At the disciplinary hearing Pablo attended in person to provide his
own witness statement which supported Stalin's recollection of events
that there had been no threats. But this was dismissed by Sharon Page
as a fabrication and she chose to believe the non-existent "witness
statement" from the investigatory meeting. She decided to privilege
the "evidence" of the managers' claim that Pablo had verbally
confirmed their prepared statement over that of Pablo's. What else
could one expect at SOAS? Obviously a black cleaner is less reliable
than two white managers.
"Here's what Sharon Page actually said: "In my role as Chair I was
being asked to conclude whether two long serving and trusted managers
were telling the truth, or whether Pablo Grisales had changed his
recollection of events. On the balance of probabilities I concluded
that I believed the two managers. I was satisfied that the evidence by
(the complainant) and the SOAS managers was on balance far more
credible than that of Jose Bermudez and Pablo Grisales."
"What kind of reasoning is this? Pablo had not “changed his
recollection of events” because he was never given the opportunity to
give his recollection of events during the investigatory meeting. The
managers were clearly not witnesses to the events. And just why is the
complainant's view "far more credible" than Stalin's or Pablo's (the
only independent witness to the incident)? Prejudice can be the only
explanation. To say that this borders on downright racism would be an
understatement. Sharon Page made her decision to dismiss Stalin on her
perception of the complainant's perception. One white manager's
perception of a white complainant's perception of a black employee. No
contest in SOAS.
"The greatest lack of credibility in this whole affair is in the way
the incident was investigated and the how the decision to sack Stalin
was arrived at. Even more incredible is the conclusion of the
"payroll" appeal panel which could regard Sharon Page’s conclusions as
being in any way “reasonable”. Quite frankly, this stinks. The whole
SOAS disciplinary process has been brought into utter disrepute.
"We cannot allow this to pass. As promised, UNISON and UCU will make
available all the documentation and evidence relating to this case so
that our members can make up their own minds. UNISON are currently
balloting for industrial action and UCU will support them taking such
action. Meanwhile a genuinely independent panel of professors will be
established to examine the evidence and documentation and
reinvestigate this miscarriage of justice.
"Sadly, SOAS management seem to want to drag us back to the state of
industrial relations at the end of 2005. If this is the case then both
unions are ready to respond."
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
LEAP conference 2009: Capitalism Isn't Working
LEAP Conference 2009 'Capitalism Isn't Working' takes place on Saturday 25th April, 10:30am-4:30pm at Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London. The conference comes just three days after the 2009 Budget Statement, and is an opportunity to discuss the economic situation, share information and build campaigns.
In between participative plenary sessions, there'll be four sub-plenaries:
Resisting the recession & Defending Jobs: the industrial agenda
Where's our bailout? Benefits, pensions, poverty & housing
What to do with the City and Global Finance: socialising the sector
Neoliberalism Isn't Working: fighting the ideological battle
Speakers and contributors include: John Christensen (Tax Justice Network), Bob Crow (RMT), Paul Feldman, Andrew Fisher, Professor Gregor Gall, Gerry Gold, Colin Hampton (UWC), John Hilary (War on Want), Jerry Jones, John McDonnell MP, Rosamund Stock, Graham Turner, Professor Richard Wilkinson, Matt Wrack (FBU).
Register online for the conference. We've frozen last year's conference prices: it's £10 waged and £5 unwaged, and you can also pay on the door. Debate online at: http://leap-lrc.blogspot.com/
Before this event, there is of course the 'Their Crisis Not Ours' Day of Action:
They've bailed out the bankers who started the crisis – but millions of working people across the country are paying with their jobs, pay packets and their homes.
On Wednesday 22nd April, you will finally have your chance to demand of the Government: 'Where's Our Bailout?'
As the Chancellor delivers the Government's annual Budget, come and protest in front of the world's cameras.
The Day of Action is being organised by Their Crisis Not Ours, a new grassroots campaign launched by the Labour Representation Committee which is chaired by John McDonnell MP.
The following actions will take place:
11.30am: Protest with placards listing our demands on Whitehall along the route the Chancellor will take from No. 11 Downing Street to address Parliament
5pm: Protest outside the Treasury near Whitehall on 1 Horse Guards Road, London SW1A 2HQ.
7.30pm: Budget Question Time event in Committee Room 10, House of Commons with panellists including John McDonnell MP, economist Graham Turner and Clara Osagiede (RMT Cleaner’s Grade Secretary).
The campaign is backing the demands of the People’s Charter. On the day, we will call for a tax on the profits of big business and a crackdown on tax avoidance, an increase in pensions and unemployment benefit, an emergency council housing programme and an end to repossessions, a cap on energy prices, rail fares and rents, and free education for all.
PLEASE SUPPORT THESE TWO EVENTS. IF YOU CAN'T ATTEND YOURSELF, PLEASE PASS INFORMATION ON TO YOUR CONTACTS.
P.S. Please join the Facebook group and event here:
Saturday, 11 April 2009
The current party rules are quite clear. Party members are entitled to a postal vote for PPC selections, but under quite specific circumstances:
(c)Postal votes shall only be granted to those who are unable to attend a hustings meeting - not to those who choose not to attend. Postal votes will be granted for those who cannot attend due to a medical condition, cannot make reasonable travel arrangements, are away on holiday, have work commitments or caring responsibilities or any other appropriate reason for non-attendance at the hustings as agreed by the NEC designate representative. They will not be made available to those choosing to undertake other engagements unless they are candidates for selection in this process.
(e) No shortlisted nominee or any person acting on behalf of a nominee should benefit from interference in the process of applications for, or the issue and return of, postal votes. Any evidence of such interference may lead to the disqualification of the nominee concerned.
Are these rules being kept to?
The controversy is particularly stirring in Erith and Thamesmead (read this article in the Tribune for details). A third of the CLP apparently had 'appropriate reasons' for requiring a postal vote. Now, in Calder Valley, 90 people voted by post (nearly double the 50-odd who attended the meeting) inevitably having a massive impact on the result.
Now there is a perfectly legitimate argument in favour of ensuring as many people can participate in this process as possible, but if people want to pursue the route of an OMOV postal ballot, then it has to be structured, it has to be fair and equal, and the party would have to pay for CVs and statements from all candidates to go to all members, etc. That is one option. There is an equally legitimate argument to say that this decision should be taken primarily by people who have engaged in the process, have heard all the candidates and had the opportunity to challenge them face-to-face. Either way, what is happening in Erith and Thamesmead, and what appears to have happened in Calder Valley, is something different entirely.
Is uncertainty about this rule being used by external influences to influence the results of selections? Are people working on behalf of some nominees (or perhaps more clearly, working very clearly against some nominees) in order to ensure the decision is taken at a distance, that the arguments aren't heard, that the candidates aren't challenged? If that is the case then this is a very serious issue indeed.
Wednesday, 21 January 2009
Husain's story begins in the East End of London during the Balkan Wars. Against the will of their parents, young Muslim men and women are creating radical Islamist groups fuelled by their frustration at massacres of Muslims in Bosnia. These groups, it turns out, are based on fantasies comparable to old Communist Party fantasies about the Soviet Union. Bearers of "true Islam" emanating from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan all come to London and find small crowds of Britons willing to listen to their messages and give their political backing to varying utopian visions of the Islamic state.
Husain's picture of the East End is worth noting. The only people willing to listen to and engage with angsty teenage Muslims are political Islamist or Trotskyite groups. The Socialist Workers Party pops up again and again as the only part of the scenery able and willing to challenge political Islamism by providing other solutions. As Husain's dad rages when he finds his son involved in extremist politics, "If you want politics, join the Labour Party", but apart from canvassing at election times, they aren't there.
One particularly appealing aspect of his analysis is an ongoing narrative about the history of different political Islamist factions. They are often based around particular ethnicities, but they have histories of splits and infighting to rival the British far-left: like the British far-left, they have developed their own political language and there is always a jockeying for position as different groups try to benefit from different issues by provocative grandstanding. But this world is a far tinier one than the British far-left. Husain knew the 7/7 bombers and knew most of the other active political Islamists in London at that time.
When he decides to split with the movement and teach English in Syria and then Saudi Arabia, the book changes noticeably in register, tone and opinion. Syria appears in the book as a good place to be: a place visited by British wannabe political Islamists who find that the locals don't really share their enthusiasm for jihad. Saudi Arabia, however, is a different story. The Saudis fund one of the three main strands of British Islamism highlighted in the book, but Husain's visit leads him to realise just how much of the liberal political atmosphere in Britain he has taken for granted. It also leads to several instances of more-than-casual racism, where Husain (himself a Bengali) damns the idea of an Islamic state because "[t]he racist reality of the Arab psyche would never accept black and white people as equal".
Ultimately the picture Husain paints is of a Britain where some young Muslims have created a political movement out of frustration and angst, have found funding from external sources to be no problem at all, and have created Leninist organisations mimicking the Trotskyites they competed with (a note here: Husain calls Hizb ut-Tahrir a "cell" organisation, but it has a clear hierarchy as described elsewhere in the book). Since many of these are gang-like (Hizb was certainly gang-like when it was still at SOAS) you get competition for turf. There is secrecy and hatred stirred up at non-Muslims ("kuffars") and attempts at creating 'party lines' so that all members know which lines to say and when. A surprising amount of "Islamic" material turns out to be Marx, Rousseau, Nietzche and Heidegger in disguise.
As history turns full circle, we need to show that it isn't only politicised Muslims who care about the slaughter of Muslims in Gaza. Husain gives his befriending of a self-described "liberal" American girl as his turning-point away from extremism. Bosnia radicalised him: Gaza may have radicalised thousands more, but it is only because Muslims felt alone in opposing the Bosnian killings that radicalisation felt like a reasonable option. I wonder what this foundation will do to prevent that.
Update: Better informed opinions can be found here and here.
Monday, 19 January 2009
A few different discussions have led me to write this post, which is intended to start a conversation on the left rather than to end one.
Jon Cruddas apparently suggested that John McDonnell and the LRC might be planning a break from the Labour Party. Luke Akehurst has suggested that the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group (of which John will be the parliamentary convenor) might be associated with this idea. The left came out in force to point out the folly of the Cruddas claim - quite rightly.
But, of course, a group put forward a motion more-or-less to that effect to the last LRC Conference, and even some of those who opposed that motion have posited some vague, future moment of departure as something that could one day happen, when a left - fatigued by despondency or realism - might try and find a new home outside a Labour Party that was now entirely unreclaimable or unwinnable.
As an optimist, I find such talk unfortunate, to say the least. After all, we are not - despite what some may say - in a weaker position, as a Labour left, than we were 10, 15, even 20 years ago. Now is a time to build and assert ourselves, not to contemplate final defeat.
But - on that point - I was issued a challenge (in the comments). It is fair enough. If I wish to pursue the argument that the left should be fundamentally committed to Labour Party activism, that all socialists should join us and that we can gain a position of leadership and dominance in that party, I have to at least give a few pointers as to how such a thing could be done.
- Although the publication route is something of a cliche, it also has an important role to play. The LRC needs a publication - whether we revisit the discussions about making Briefing 'LRC Briefing' or produce something new, this is an important development. But just producing it is irrelevant: Briefing already exists and is hardly hostile to our position. The point is DISTRIBUTION. The LRC has the following affliliated unions: ASLEF, BFAWU, CWU, FBU, NUM, RMT along with a whole range of union regions and branches, socialist organisations (e.g. the Socialist Education Association) and local Trades Councils. At the same time every CLP receives at least one copy of Progress magazine, and that is possible because the magazine is heavily subsidised by a wide range of trade unions and trade union advertising - including some unions affiliated to the LRC. As such, Progress is now part of the fabric of the party, while the LRC is still seen as 'other' or - in some places - is not heard of at all (except in those areas where LRC regional groups are doing excellent work spreading the message, more of which anon...) So we don't only need a publication, we need our union comrades to help us get a monthly publication to every CLP in the country. The LNMF project will also be invaluable in this area. Another way forward could be using Membersnet to get an LRC briefing sheet out to a wide range of party activists who we currently don't reach.
- We need to engage with the party at every level and in every way, however frustrating or mortifying it might be! Student members - get to Labour Students events, national and local (take over your student club if you can - it's quite easy to do!); young members - get along to Young Labour events, national and local. All of us, get to the regional conferences and policy forums. I know we won't achieve much, but we need to be seen - we need to be heard - we need to provide some leadership because there's a whole lot of people there who will follow. The last time I went to a regional policy forum I was hugely encouraged by the support that I received for the arguments I was putting across. At the time, the LRC was in its infancy and there were no regional organisations - but there are now; those regional conferences/policy forums are prime recruiting grounds. Compass leaflets were being greedily gobbled up at the last one I went to - that was because there was no alternative; people were very receptive to our arguments. Let's get stalls; let's get fringe sessions: national, regional and local. We've got to look outwards. If we're organising at these things it will give others a reason to go.
- We must pick two or three campaigns and go at them all-guns-blazing. Indeed we should BE them. I would recommend at least one international campaign (I know the LNMF are looking at 'G20' which is a good idea) and at least one domestic campaign (welfare reform is a key one). We then lead those campaigns and do so in a welcoming, inclusive way; invite people from Compass and elsewhere to speak on our platforms, etc. - challenge them to do likewise.
- Big public meetings. The Bevanites used the 'Brains Trust' meeting as their key organising method outside parliament. We can do better; so let's do it. Most CLPs would love a few high profile speakers on their programmes. Let's get a group of leading LRC speakers together - parliamentarians, trade unionists, 'celebrities', etc. - and offer them - severally or together - to address open meetings across the country. We could get going with that at the earliest opportunity, offering to launch local election campaigns, etc. and play our own part in revitalising CLPs into the bargain.
- Create a national network - using email, face-to-face, our publication and blogs/LNMF, etc. Encourage as many BLPs, CLPs, etc. as possible to affiliate to their regional LRC group alongside individual members. Ensure alongside the discussion and policy meetings, there are doorstepping, leafleting, campaigning meetings, both on our campaigns and for Labour campaigns, especially elections. This is an essential part of ensuring that people - even those who will never see entirely eye-to-eye with us - see the LRC as an essential part of the fabric of the Labour Party and movement.
- Engage in ensuring some serious labour representation: encourage left-wingers to take CLP positions, stand for council and stand for parliamentary seats. Gather the names and CVs of left aspiring candidates, share them with our affiliated unions (particularly those that are also affiliated to the Labour Party); keep track of all the selections and communicate with promising candidates; put them in touch with union branches and any LRC contacts in the area. Few selections are left for the next election. By this time for the election after, we need there to be an idea abroad that LRC approval is one of the best ways to get selected.
- Aim for the moral high ground and keep it. It's easy to react - I do it all the time. I fly off the handle on some blog comment and the next thing you know it's 'lefties are so sectarian, lefties are so rude, lefties don't want to build bridges', etc. We need to point out why people are wrong, but we should do it in a comradely manner. In all these areas that I have outlined we should be scrupulously democratic, even if the actions of others are as corrupt as hell and it means we sometimes lose. Most people in the Labour Party are decent and will be turned off the leadership if they try and fix things and keep us out and will be attracted to us if we are transparent, comradely and upfront. Labour members tend to rally around if they see people are being unfairly treated - Ken Livingstone, Walter Wolfgang, etc. - unless those doing the unfair treating are able to put a convincing case out that we're bad, secretive, duplicitous, etc.
- While we need to reinvigorate the internal democracy of the party, we should do this from the bottom up, for the most part: organise strongly and well at branch and CLP level and speak loudly enough that our voices have to be listened to. We should help democratising campaigns, but we shouldn't seem to be obsessed with process and minutiae. The best times to highlight democratising campaigns will be when there are clear victims of the lack of democracy (see above point) when we can have a broad church rally around the idea; we should never be talking about part seven of clause 6 of section 3 (etc, etc.) when everybody else is talking about welfare, banks or Gaza.
All of this is possible. It's bloody difficult, but the logic of much recent Labour left activity has been moving in this direction (which is - I stress - quite the opposite direction from that predicted by Jon Cruddas or Luke Akehurst: engagement rather than detachment).
Of course I understand two likely reactions to this:
One: it's pie in the sky; Labour's grassroots have been decimated and demoralised; people on the left who've never been in Labour (young people, primarily) won't go for this and they'll stay outside.
Two: why? What is it about the Labour Party that would make today's socialists see it as their natural home.
The answer to the first question is relatively simple: it's a plan, and it's better than yours. Even a decimated, demoralised Labour grassroots has more potential in one city than any 'new workers party' (or other ideas of that nature) has in the whole country. Some people won't take a leap in the dark and they'll stay outside. I suspect most of them will join the swell in the fullness of time, but if they don't they don't. None of what I've suggested here is contrary or runs contradictory to the idea of working with the non-Labour left on many campaigns and issues, of continuing to engage with the Convention of the Left, etc, etc.
The second question is, of course, much harder. It's not a difficult personal question: as a socialist teenager it never occurred to me not to join the Labour Party (though the left was not really any stronger then than today - and I think that's a point we need to bear in mind). I felt I was inheriting a great Labour dissenting socialist tradition that had always existed in a Labour Party whose mainstream always represented something rather different; a tradition that was at times more powerful than at others, that had periods of ascendency, that would have them again. Now, much as I dislike the whole concept of great leaders - preferring a bottom-up concept of democracy - I cannot escape the fact that encountering the ideas, speeches and passion of Tony Benn did a lot to establish the idea with me that Labour was my obvious home. There was a man eloquently expressing what I felt; bashing the dreadful Tories, but bashing the timidity and duplicity on his own side too. He got me listening, and then I started hearing Jeremy Corbyn and later Alan Simpson, later still John McDonnell, etc, etc. And that was the Labour Party for me, not Kinnock or Blair (though I couldn't ignore that they too were another version of 'real Labour').
So, in a funny way, John McDonnell speaking with such passion about Heathrow the other day, and grabbing the mace, though it was - of course - about Heathrow (as well as broader issues of both parliamentary sovereignty, executive dominance and climate change) can - as part of a broader tapestry - be like Tony Benn's speech on pit closures; a voice to encourage, to rally, to inspire. A different, alternative voice of Labour.
Please start conversing - I realise I've been controversial here, but it's an incredibly important discussion which we really need to have.