Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

CLARION REVIEW: KEIR HARDIE – Labour’s first leader

In A.Graham, Reviews on September 22, 2017 at 1:32 pm

“What would Keir Hardie say?” Edited by Pauline Bryan   and published by Luath Press Ltd, Edinburgh. ISBN 978-1-910745-15-1

Clarion Review by Alistair Graham


 

KeirHardieKeir Hardie can justifiably be seen as Labour’s first leader. He was one of those who helped to found the Independent Labour Party (ILP), in I893 – called “Independent” to distinguish itself from those who’d been elected to Parliament as “Lib-Lab” members – in other words who relied on Liberal support for their seats.

Hardie, who grew up in the Scots town of Cumnock, went on to be the first truly Labour MP in the Commons. He opposed the looming clouds of conflict in the years leading up to 1914 and spoke eloquently from anti-war platforms. But worn out with his efforts he died prematurely in 1915.

This book is a collection from contributors assessing Hardie’s record and his relevance to the politics of today – though as there’s been a over a century of change since his day I found it difficult in places to trace the connections. But there are, of course, common themes that run through the decades.

One of the contributors to the book is Jeremy Corbyn, today’s leader of the Labour Party. Others include fellow political activists and academics.

“A LEGACY FOR THE PEACE MOVEMENT”:

Corbyn sees Hardie’s work as a “legacy for the Peace movement”, and introduces his contribution with an account of the mass peace march in London, in February 2003 in which well over a million took part., to voice opposition to the invasion of Iraq. “It was the biggest ever demonstration in British history.” He goes on to look at the carnage of the First World War, and how it is remembered in his own constituency of Islington.

Another contributor is Melissa Benn – writing in the footsetps of her mother, Caroline Benn who produced a definitive “warts and all” biography of Hardie back in 1997. Melissa makes the point that Hardie had no love for Parliament. (And it’s worth adding, Parliament had no love for him). He saw his role more as an agitator. “Agitation was at the heart of three of the most significant movements of his lifetime – the representation of labour, the struggle for women’s suffrage and pacifism”.

Barry Winter, who has had a long connection with the ILP, remembers two old party members (no longer with us) who had memories of Hardie when he was alive. Bert Lea remembered Keir Hardie asking him to sell copies of the ILP paper, the Labour Leader, which he continued to do for the rest of his long life. And in Bradford. May Allinson was one of the children who performed for Hardie at an ILP concert in 1914. She gave a lifetime commitment to both the ILP and the Socialist Sunday School.

Barry’s contribution is in the main a historical account of the foundation of the ILP (at a special conference in Bradford) through the early years of its growth. Hardie saw the need to forge an alliance with the trade union movement which was then finding its feet. In 1899, the TUC voted to form “a Labour Representation Committee” (though not all unions backed it). Then, in 1906 this Committee transformed itself into the Labour Party, though it made slow progress in its early years.

“MORE THAN A CREED”:

A contribution by Richard Leonard describes Hardie as a “visionary” dedicated to the creation of a Socialist society.” He sees Hardie as a man guided by moral principles rather than by philosophical theorising.” He believed that the truths about Socialism were self-evident, rooted in ethical values and moral courage.

“Yet Hardie clearly understood the class-based nature of capitalist society and the need to appeal to workers as a class. He saw the value of the work of Marx and Engels, but he did not believe in following it rigidly. And Richard Leonard quotes from Hardie’s from Serfdom to Socialism “The economic object of Socialism is therefore to make land and industrial capital common property, and to cease to produce for the profit of the landlord and the capitalist and to begin to produce for the use of the community.”

Many I would hope, would see this as a good summary of their own beliefs when it comes to the transformation of society under Socialism.

HARDIE’S “WELSH ODYSSEY”:

During his Parliamentary career, Hardie represented two constituencies – first was West Ham, and then came Merthyr Tydfil. The account of his “Welsh Odyssey” is written by Owen Smith (MP for the neighbouring constituency of Pontypridd).

Smith starts his contribution with reminiscences of growing up amidst the slag heaps of South Wales, with his grandfather telling him of Keir Hardie campaigning from slag heaps when he gained the seat of Merthyr Boroughs in 1900. He “gave a hundred or more such ‘Cinder Hall’ sermons” before his election.

Hardie had lost his seat in West Ham five years earlier, which gave him some time to visit South Wales, and to build up a following for the ILP as well as for himself as a potential candidate. “This period cemented Hardie’s reputation as a standard bearer for the working class,” writes Owen Smith.

Despite Merthyr’s radical traditions, stretching back to the days of the Chartists, Hardie had his opponents. There was a strong Liberal tradition in the area, but there was also a strong conservative element amongst chapel goers. But Hardie was able to capitalise on the anti-war -feelings, stirred up by the Boer war, as well as his support for the miners in the struggle. He won, and was to represent Merthyr until his early death in 1915.

RELEVANCE TO TODAY:

Owen Smith then turns to the relevance of Hardie’s work to today. “How can a Queen’s Speech in 2015 call up the spectre of Taff Vale with its promise to curb the right to strike and break the democratic power of the trade unions?” He asks. “Perhaps Hardie would have been surprised that we still have so far to travel, and that such hard won progress can be halted with such ease.”

In such a rich collection of fact and comment in this book it’s only really possible to skim the surface in a review such as this. But I will finish with one more contribution – on Hardie’s roots in Cumnock, in Scotland.

HARDIE’S HOME TERRITORY:

Kier Hardie was an internationalist, but according to Cathie Jamieson, the Scots community of Cumnock in Ayrshire was always his home. It was where his family was raised, and where he always returned. And even today the town still remembers him in so many different ways

He and his wife Lillie arrived in Cumnock in 1979. He was then involved with the miners’ union in Lanarkshire.

It was in Cumnock that Hardie developed the political ideas that would shape the rest of his life. “The struggle of the miners he represented was fundamental to his work and his emerging political beliefs,” writes Kathie Jamieson. It was here that he realised that the Liberals would not deliver the kind of changes that the working class needed. He was soon backing a resolution put forward by the Ayrshire miners that “the time has come for the formation of a Labour Party in the House of Commons…”

Later he was to declare: “I am a Socialist, and until industry is organised on a co-operative basis, wherein men shall work, not to make profit, but to produce the necessaries of life for the community, the evils complained of will never be eradicated.”

OTHER BOOKS ON HARDIE:

There have, of course, been quite a few books written and published on the life and times of Kier Hardie. That’s only natural. But this volume is different. It sees his life from so many different angles, and though it contains numerous viewpoints, all are sympathetic to a man who, more than most, helped to create a movement that over the decades has helped to shape our society – and hopefully will continue to do so in years to come. If, of course, we remember the ideals that Hardie worked so hard for.

And it’s a compendium to be read from cover to cover – or just dipped into over a period of time.

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EDUCATION MATTERS: SCHOOLS OUT FOR THE SUMMER BREAK

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on September 22, 2017 at 1:20 pm

NOTE: we still promote print-first, so if you’d like your Clarion more up to date, then please subscribe to the print edition. Online is FREE, so we need your subs to keep going – that’s why we post to the web a bit later. Although sometimes we do drop the occasional web-only special edition, or unedited longer pieces – so do drop by even if you do read print first. Thanks – your Clarion needs you.


So, schools are out – and what’s been happening in the final few weeks of the academic year?

One consequence of Theresa May’s ill-judged decision to hold a General Election is that a number of her more right-wing policies have had to be modified. As far as education is concerned the abandoned policy which has had most teachers and educationalists cheering is the fact that the grammar school expansion programme will now not happen – not yet anyway, and hopefully not ever.

WASTING MONEY:

Although grammar schools have been put on the back burner, the Government’s free school programme goes ahead. An NUT review of available data found that £138.5 million has been wasted on free schools that have either closed, partially closed or failed to open. This would fund 3,680 teachers for a year.

The report came out days after Justine Greenwood (Education Secretary) announced that 130 more free schools would be created.

Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, declared that the initiative would fail to provide schools in the areas where they were most needed, and the cost entailed came at a time of unprecedented budget cuts for schools.

SATS FOR THE YOUNG:

Both the NUT and the ATL unions have condemned the “Sats” exams which pupils take in their final year at primary school. In the last two years these tests have been toughened up, and only 61 per cent of pupils have reached the expected standard this year. According to Kevin Courteney (NUT) 95 per cent of teachers say that the tests “reduce pupils’ access to a broad and balanced curriculum”

Almost 40 per cent of 11-year-olds are being given the message that they have not reached the expected standard and are not ready to begin secondary education. Mary Bousted (ATL) echoed these sentiments and said that “SATS are at the centre of a toxic accountability system that is driving teachers and leaders out of the profession.”

PROFITS MADE OVERSEAS:

We have commented before on the profits to be made by private companies from educational provision. In May, the AGM was held of Pearson, the largest such international company. Teachers from Britain rallied to protest against them.

Why were teachers so angry? Pearson is “up to its neck” in the privatisation of schools in Africa and Asia, helping to fund Bridge International Academies, a so-called low-fee school chain. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have also helped to set up the chain. Bridge has received millions from Britain’s overseas aid budget and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has pointed out that using aid money to fund private education is against its principles. Bridge’s academies undermine public education provision, which is open to all in Third World countries starving it of investment and funds. Moreover, the education provided by Bridge schools has been widely criticised. A standardised and scripted curriculum is delivered by teachers following lessons on a tablet and pupils are subjected to endless standardised tests.

In Uganda all Bridge schools were ordered to close because of their use of unqualified teachers and unsanitary conditions. Although Bridge academies with their connections to big business is the most widespread private school chain in Asia and Africa, there are others. One such, reported on recently in the Morning Star is Omega in Ghana (see picture, left).

Omega offers “pay-as-you-go” education, i.e. if a parent cannot afford the school fee on any given day, the child does not attend. The schools are set up in shacks and the teachers are mainly unqualified. The Ghana National Association of Teachers mobilised to urge the World Bank to stop funding the schools, and two of our main teaching unions, the NUT and NAS/UWT, have lent them their backing.

A BIT OF CLARITY NEEDED:

Some clarity is needed in Labour’s education policy re. Student fees and debt. In June, before the election, Jeremy Corbyn said: “First of all we want to get out of student fees altogether… plus reduce or ameliorate the massive debts owed by graduates. “  Subsequently John McDonell endorsed that. But in a Parliamentary debate on July 18, Angela Rayner, Labour’s education spokesperson, said that there were “no plans” to write off existing loans and that her party had “never promised to do so.”, And had only promised to abolish tuition fees from the date when Labour might be elected.

Graduates struggling to pay off huge debts, and indeed some undergraduates at present accruing them might see that as something of a betrayal. It’s true that our party leader failed at the time to clarify what was meant by plans to “reduce or ameliorate “graduates’ massive debts.

Compiled by RUTH RICHARDSON

END OF THE ROAD FOR “BLAIRISM”?

In A.Graham on September 22, 2017 at 1:11 pm

Whatever we want to call it, “New Labour” or “Blairism”, the model that was foisted on Labour Party members back in the lead up to the 1997 election, effectively died in 2010. That was when Gordon Brown lost the election to  Cameron and Ed Miliband was chosen as Labour  leader in his place.

As the Clarion commented at the time,  the “New Labour” experiment has long since run its course. “The attempt to impose a finance-based economy, where the demands of the City are always put first, has now run into the buffers.” (Clarion, June-July 2010).

True, Ed failed to claw back enough of the Labour vote to win the ensuing election, but it was clear that the Party was in no mood to return to Blairism.  Instead the Party took a further lurch to the left with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

But that strange anomaly (let’s call it Blairism) continued in an organised form, based around a glossy magazine called “Progress”, largely funded by Lord Sainsbury.

PULLING THE PLUG:

Now this wealthy backer has decided to pull the plug on “Progress”, and instead put his money into less overtly political causes.  Thus, turning to the “Progress” website, the latest  comment available to us was dated April of this year.

It was, however, an unrepentant defence of Blairism,  or whatever we want to call it.  It kicks off with the declaration  that there is no going back to New Labour , only going forward with its ‘attitude of mind’.

The Progress document obviously feels let down by those MPs  whose support it relied on, by abandoning “their role as gatekeepers by allowing Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper (which, it continues, means that Labour will be extremely lucky to form a government again in the next decade).

“GREATEST EVER VICTORY”?

“As the Party celebrates the 20th Anniversary of its greatest ever victory and subsequently three full terms in power… there is much to reflect upon,” declares the Progress statement. It bemoans the fact that nothing has been done to mark this achievement – and of course blames Corbyn. But, as we on the Clarion see it, it’s difficult to quantify this so-called achievement except in terms of criticism or rejection.

Meanwhile. Ed Miliband was described as being a “poor man’s Corbyn”.

Blair “rightly argues”(sic) that we have got to demystify New Labour. It was, he argues, ‘an attitude of mind’ And that attitude of mind by its very definition never loses relevance.”

REFLECTION:

“So how do we best reflect on 1997 and the years that followed it? On the 1997 election itself, Labour must understand history was not a given, nor would it have won ’with a pig’s bladder on a stick’ as the disgraced former mayor of London Ken Livingstone argues”, according to the “Progress” document.  That, in itself was a point of contention for those who remember back that far.

“Labour is now at a fork in the road. Its brand is being damaged day in, day out by the hard-left leadership and a failure to provide proper opposition. Blair asks “in Tory high command, how much time do they spend worrying about the prospect of a Labour victory at the present time?’ He would guess zero – and you can see why.”

“Those who want to see the Tories thrown from office must internalise this reality.  There is no going back to New Labour, only going forward with its ‘attitude of mind’.”

All this, we must assume was written before Theresa May’s ill-fated attempt to sweep Labour away with her snap election.  Not only was her rationale fatally flawed but so, too, was that of “Progress” and its Blairite followers. Where they go from here must be a matter of conjecture.

no_blair

Alistair Graham


THE CHANGING FACE OF NORTH KENSINGTON

Recollections by A. Graham

The events surrounding the tragic fire at Grenfell flats in North Kensington this summer stirred memories for me. Memories of a brief period of my life, living in the mean streets of Ladbroke Grove back in the late 1950s.

Time brings changes, of course. But some things stay much the same. Back then there were no tower blocks in the area – these came later, in an attempt to get rid of the narrow streets of crumbling slum dwellings that dominated the Ladbroke Grove end. I lived in one of them – a one-room “flat” with only a single window, with a view on to a cramped back yard.

As for the Grenfell Tower, this wasn’t built until the 1970s – and the lead architect on the project declared that it “could last another hundred years.” But between 2012 and 2016 it faced renovation – with a different contractor brought in who offered a cheaper quote.

Back in the 1950s, though, the landscape was very different. Up at the Notting Hill end there was affluence. The houses were expensive, and privately owned. The Portobello road had street stalls selling expensive antiques and crafts. Down the hill towards Ladbroke Grove the street market tailed off into junk and scrap as is and fruit. But overall it was still a shabby, down-at-heel area with neglected, crumbling tenement buildings subdivided by slum landlords into bed-sit accommodation with a constantly shifting population.

ENTER THE MOSLEYITES:

Back then the “colour bar” hadn’t been made illegal, and indeed many of the slum landlords refused to let accommodation to “the coloureds”. It was this that helped to provoke racial unrest in the area in the ‘fifties – and encouraged Oswald Mosley to abandon his strongholds in the East End, and put himself forward as candidate for North Kensington in the 1959 General Election.

The shabby streets of Ladbroke Grove were soon covered with whitewashed slogans daubed by Mosley’s supporters. I did attend a couple of his meetings, where he was given a rapturous welcome by his supporters. They clapped, stamped their feet and raised their arms in the fascist salute.

On the eve of poll, Mosley led a triumphant march through the streets of Ladbroke Grove. Anyone taken in by the cheers might have thought that it was all over bar the counting. But after the votes had been counted, Mosley was bottom of the poll with some 3,000 votes. His intervention had merely helped to concentrate the minds of his opponents – and Mosley himself had failed to realise that there was more to North Kensington than just Ladbroke Grove.

Shortly after the election I packed my bags and slipped quietly out of the area – and eventually out of London altogether.

CHANGES:

Meanwhile, Ladbroke Grove has changed, probably beyond recognition for most. The council blocks (like Grenfell Tower) were an honest enough attempt at the time to supply better living conditions for those who’d occupied the slum dwellings. And the disappearance of the colour bar has produced a much more homogeneous mix in the working class population. The response to the tragedy by those who’d lived there, and those who gave their support ran right across racial lines. There was righteous anger against the complacency of those on the Council (and indeed in Government) in the face of the disaster – but there was a sense of unity, as well.

The class divisions in North Kensington still exist of course – indeed the affluence of Notting Hill has probably grown since the 1950s – whilst Ladbroke Grove remains the poorer area. Its population is most likely to suffer deprivation – and upheaval, when their homes are destroyed.

Alistair Graham