Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Labour’

LOOKING BACK: Saving the Party from Socialism?

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:34 pm

THE ONSLAUGHT ON MICHAEL FOOT

Michael Foot was a much loved leader of the Labour Party and a highly respected writer and journalist He’d edited Tribune for many years, inherited Nye Bevan’s old constituency of Ebbw Vale, and had held a number of posts in the Labour Governments of Wilson and Callaghan.

After Labour’s defeat in 1979, he became leader of the Party the following year, after Callaghan’s resignation.  Thatcher was now in power, but the country was in recession and she was at that point in her career far from popular. Michael Foot was able to provide a clear Socialist alternative to her policies – policies that were welcomed by those on the left, but not by all in the ranks of Labour. Those opposed to Foot soon set out to undermine his leadership.

BREAKAWAY:
This culminated in the breakaway by the “Gang of Four” Labour MPs who split, to form the Social Democrat Party (SDP), led by Shirley Williams and David Owen – both of whom had held Cabinet posts in the previous Labour government.

As far as the media was concerned, the glossy new SDP was flavour of the month. But the new party soon realised that if it was to take the “centre ground” that it cherished it would have to come to some accommodation with the Liberals. And so the SDP/Liberal Alliance was soon cobbled together.

As for Michael Foot, he was by now 67. But despite the right-wing split in the Labour Party he still maintained an impressive lead in the opinion polls. Sadly this was to melt away, and in 1987 he led Labour to crushing defeat. The Party recorded its lowest vote since before the war – and Thatcher remained in power.

There were two factors involved in Labour’s defeat. First, of course, the new SDP/Liberal Alliance siphoned off a significant number of former Labour votes. And second, the Alliance had the backing of the media, spearheaded by the Murdoch conglomerate, which worked tirelessly to undermine Foot. He was given the nickname “Wurzel Gummidge”, lampooned for his dress sense – and the image stuck.   Few will forget the charge in the Sun that Foot had turned up at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day wearing a “donkey jacket”. In fact it was a smart coat bought for the occasion by his wife Jill Craigie.  Be that as it may, the charge stuck.

IN THE FOREST:
Incidentally, one of those who joined the SDP band-waggon was the former Labour MP for the Forest of Dean, John Watkinson. By splitting the vote he allowed Paul Marland to gain the seat for the Tories. Marland was to hold it well into the ‘nineties, before Diana Organ regained it for Labour.

After Labour’s election defeat, Michael Foot resigned as Labour leader.  His place was taken by Neil Kinnock, a one-time left-wing MP who had re-branded himself as   a “middle of the road” sort of guy.  But, standing against John Major, he still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

And the rest, as they say, is history. The SDP was completely swallowed up by what became the Lib Dems, whilst the untimely death of Labour’s leader, John Smith allowed a cabal led by Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair to take over the Labour Party, re-brand it as “New Labour” and win the ensuing election.  Labour would have won anyway, as by this time the Tories were looking and acting like a party whose time in office was over. And no doubt they knew it.

As for Michael Foot, he retired gracefully and returned to his west country roots (including his support for Plymouth Argyll football club). He finally died in 2010, well in to his 90s.  As a republican, he  refused a peerage, or indeed any honours. But he remained a man of honour and integrity to his dying day.

CONCLUSIONS:
Conclusions may be drawn, comparing the events surrounding Michael Foot’s leadership bid and those of Jeremy Corbyn – but none are intended. In order to do so, the brush strokes would have to be very, very broad indeed.  And history rarely repeats itself in the same way.  So, any conclusions drawn by readers would have to be their’s alone.

michael_foot_cnd_small

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:16 pm
dinosaurBecoming a Corbynista
It doesn’t take much to transform a plodding old dinosaur into a raving “Corbynista”.  An attempted Parliamentary coup is just the ticket. For that was what the vote of “no confidence” in Jeremy effectively was.
After all, you don’t suddenly decide to take a vote on the spur of the moment. No siree. This was a case of secret meetings in Parliamentary committee rooms (though no longer smoke filled these days). How many were involved in setting it all up is difficult to say – but once the plot was hatched, it was time to get the bandwagon rolling.
Why this time was chosen I haven’t the faintest idea. Or whether any thought was given to such folk as the the Party members out in the sticks, and their reaction. But then if you live in a Westminster bubble, cocooned  from your membership back at constituency level then maybe you don’t.
As this is being written, the matter is far from resolved. It will probably have moved on apace by the time this issue of the Clarion appears in print.  In which case all these words should be regarded as a merely an initial reaction. Watch this space, as they say!
Challenging times, post-brexit:
It seems to be all change, following the result of the EU referendum. Cameron has taken his bat home – and, incredible though it may seem, so has Nigel Farage. One might think that he’d be happy basking in his achievement of being on the winning side when it came to the vote. But no.
Farage claims he wants to relax, and get his life back. Take a holiday, perhaps. Prop up a few bars with the odd pint in his hand. According to the Daily Express though, one factor in his resignation was the death threats that he’d received during the campaign.
Death threats, I’m sure, can be scary. At the very least they’re unsettling and unpleasant.  But in the longer term, it’ll be interesting to see what impact his resignation will have on Ukip nationally. Will any contest for the leadership lead to fall out?  Will the Ukip momentum stutter and grind to a halt?  Or even slip into reverse gear?  Already one  councillor here in the Forest has resigned from Ukip, prophesying that more will follow.
Ukip has had a chequered  history since it was founded several decades ago. After all, the one point that united its disparate membership was opposition to the EU. In its early years, it faced competition from the better-funded “Referendum Party” set up by James Goldsmith.  Later, just when it was getting going,  it suffered a split  in its ranks. Those were the Robert Kilroy-Silk years – when he failed to get his own way he walked out, forming a new party called “Veritas”, taking some of Ukip’s membership with him.
Now, without Farage at the helm, where will it be going next?  Mind you, it isn’t the first time he’s resigned – but I assume  that this time he means it.!
Threat to our buses:
The Forest’s doughty bus campaigner, Sue Dubois, is continuing her campaign to save the Dean’s network of bus services from being decimated.
One of the problems, of course, is that the bulk of them are run by that monolithic company Stagecoach – whose watch word is profit, and more of it. But the planned cuts in this case actually come from the County Council, that dishes out the odd subsidy.
Councillors (all no doubt with cars at their disposal) have come up with proposals to axe evening and weekend services in our neck of the woods. Under threat is the number 23, Gloucester, Lydney, Coleford route, the number 30, Gloucester, Cinderford, Coleford, and the 24, Gloucester, Mitcheldean to Joys Green bus. Other local shopping services are under threat.
Bus users are being given a number of options, all of which come under the general heading of “which cuts do you prefer?” In other words, leaving the council to decide who’re really going to be the losers when it comes to dishing out the subsidies.
Dinosaur 

CLARION COMMENT: The World Turned Upside Down

In Editorial, Uncategorized on August 22, 2016 at 12:21 pm

The phrase used as our headline came originally out of the Civil War, and is associated with the tumult surrounding attempts by the Levellers to ensure that  the Roundhead’s victory was accompanied by real root and branch radical change.

They were heady times, and their programme of reform attracted wide public support – but was opposed by the Cromwellian old guard. One of the leaders of the Levellers, Thomas Rainsborough, an MP, was killed on October 30 1648, and his funeral turned into a mass demonstration in support of the movement.  But the Levellers were effectively crushed, there was little political change, and shortly after the death of Cromwell, Britain returned to being a monarchy. So nothing much was achieved there, then.

It would of course be invidious to compare Jeremy Corbyn with Thomas Rainsborough. Vague comparisons can be carried too far!  And today the use of the phrase “the world turned upside down” has been taken up by many in the media to describe the political (and economic?)  impact of the “Leave” victory in the EU referendum,  and the effect that it’s had on what once seemed to be so many political certainties. For us. fhis includes the impact it has had on the Labour Party in Parliament.

LET’S TALK ABOUT SOCIALISM:

corbyn_yourChoiceJeremy Corbyn promised a clear left wing agenda when he stood for the Labour leadership. It was an agenda that was supported by a clear majority of the party membership – though not of course by the majority of the party’s MPs. The bulk of them. though, however grudgingly, worked with him (apart from what might be termed a hard core of Blairites), and a functioning shadow cabinet was formed.  And during the last nine months or so Labour continued to do reasonably well electorally, including holding Michael Meacher’s old seat in Oldham. Admittedly there were no major electoral breakthroughs, but Labour held its own – and gained seats in such mayoral contests as London and Bristol.

So why on earth did those in the Parliamentary Party suddenly decide to mount a coup, via a vote of no confidence in Corbyn?  Why on earth did they choose such a time, when the Tories were in the midst of their own session  of infighting?  And were they completely oblivious to the impact on the party as a whole?  Was it some form of mass hysteria?  Was there something in the water in the House of Commons?  Or did living and working in the Westminster bubble produce a distorted vision?

The stated charge against Corbyn was that he had failed to mount a strong enough campaign in favour of staying in the EU. He had allegedly failed to persuade enough Labour voters to back the “Remain” vote when it came to polling day. In other words, Jeremy was to carry the can for the result of the referendum. There is of course no evidence to back up this charge.

So was this merely a pretext? An opportunity for the right wing to “save the Labour Party from itself”?   There certainly seemed to be elements of a coup involved. And certainly Angela Eagle (in the Daily Mirror) was on hand to declare that her leadership bid was being mounted in order to “save the Labour Party”!  From what? It had been the plotters who’d created a situation that was bound to cause  seismic shockwaves throughout the party.

As we see it, in any democratic political party , the public representatives of that party must be answerable to the membership. Members vote on who will represent them on local authorities  or in Parliament (with of course the electorate making the final decision between the competing parties). Sometimes there may be an uneasy relationship between the membership and those who represent them. That’s part of the dynamics of democracy. But to create a situation where MPs set themselves on a collision course with their members in the constituencies seems to be both irrational and foolhardy.


NB. just like in the Labour Party, not all Clarion Editorial members agreed. Tyler Chinnick of Monmouth CLP, wrote a counter-piece to our otherwise unanimously-endorsed editorial. Let’s remember The Clarion is a debating space: except here we do it politely and with argument rather than vitriol and accusation.

Counter Comment by Tyler Chinnick (Monmouth CLP)

One of the main problems facing the Labour party at the moment is the belief, widely held amongst the membership that MP’s are answerable solely to them.  That is not and has never been the case in ours or any other major party.  MP’s primary responsibility is to their constituents; only secondarily to the membership.  We are not a Leninist, democratically centrist party answerable only to party members but a representative, parliamentary party.  MP’s are and have always been representatives not delegates.  They owe us their judgement not their obedience.

The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) was on a collision course with the membership as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was nominated “for the sake of debate”.  The whole reason why MP’s must secure a certain number of nominations to get on the leadership ballot is to demonstrate support in the PLP – that provision exists specifically to prevent this kind of crisis.  Our MP’s ignored it because they didn’t think Corbyn had the proverbial snowball’s chance and now they (and we) are reaping the rewards.

I don’t subscribe to the lazy, cynical view that MP’s live in a “Westminster bubble”.  They go back to their constituencies, they meet with voters, they hold surgeries, they knock on doors.  They know that Corbyn is very unpopular.  The most recent polling revealed he had the lowest approval rating of any opposition leader in history at -41%.  The polls may be wrong but they’re not wrong by 41 percent.

The Brexit vote and the fact that we have a new Prime Minister makes an election some time in the next 10 months highly likely, so the electability of the leader has been brought into sharper focus.  The PLP fear electoral oblivion should Corbyn stay.  Possibly the end of the party itself as UKIP eat into the heartlands, the Lib-Dems and Greens make gains in metropolitan areas, the Tories wipe us out in marginals and with no recovery in Scotland imminent.  You may disagree with their assessment but it’s unfair to assume they are acting in bad faith.

One of the reasons I opposed Jeremy in the leadership election last year was because it was always obvious to me that the most rebellious MP in parliament, the man who had rebelled against every single leader he had served under (regardless of their mandate – some of which were much larger than his), the man who had previously supported coup attempts and a perpetual member of the ‘awkward squad’ would always be incapable of commanding the loyalty of his MP’s.  This was always going to be a fatal flaw and so it has proved.

The people who have now lost faith in Corbyn can’t be easily dismissed as ‘Blairites’, ‘bitterites’, ‘traitors’ or any of the other charmless insults we’ve heard all too frequently in recent weeks.  They include soft-left members of his own shadow cabinet like Lisa Nandy and Heidi Alexander, prominent Corbyn supporting commentators like Owen Jones and Zoe Williams, seasoned Bennites and old comrades like Chris Mullin and his own economic advisory forum.

Richard Murphy, the architect of what became known as “Corbynomics” and Danny Blanchflower the bulldog of anti-austerity economics have both lost faith in JC to even develop these ideas into policies let alone implement them.  If your closest supporters don’t have confidence in your ability to lead a party or even develop policy then voters aren’t going to trust you to organise a children’s birthday party let alone run the country.

John McDonnel has now taken to re-announcing ‘policies’ that were mooted in the last leadership election but have since been abandoned.  Some fear that should we ditch Corbyn the party will revert to the same people who voters found so uninspiring last year.  Owen Smith’s pitch is clearly to take the best ideas JC has highlighted but left unexplored and run with them.  I sincerely hope that he has the vision and strength of character to do that but one thing is absolutely clear, JC and JMcD do not.

The warning signs are 60 foot high and flashing, they spell electoral doom should we continue down this path and Corbyn’s only answer is “I have a mandate”. Well that isn’t good enough.

We now have a leadership election.  Nominally on the ballot paper are Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn.  But the real choice facing Labour members is between the continuation or the destruction of the Labour party.  I vote for it to continue.

 


David Aaronovitch Interview

In Guest Feature, T. Chinnick on August 8, 2016 at 11:58 am

by Tyler Chinnick

{on-line special – full un-edited article in one piece, rather than split across two issues as in the print edition}

David Aaronovitch is a columnist for the Times and Jewish Chronicle (formerly The Independent and The Guardian). He is a winner of the Orwell Prize, chairman of the free speech organisation ‘Index on Censorship’ and author of ‘Voodoo Histories’ (about conspiracy theories). His new book ‘Party Animals’ examining his communist upbringing was published earlier this year. I caught up with David as he was padding up what he assured me was one of the steepest hills in London.

I think of you in the same bracket as people like Christopher Hitchens and Claire Fox who started out on the revolutionary left (Aaronovitch was a member of the Communist Party until 1987) and have migrated over the years to a point now where you’re post-political almost. Do you still consider yourself on the left?

[Laughter] Post-political?! I most certainly am not. And Hitchens wouldn’t consider himself as post-political.

I don’t think of myself as post-political and nor do I think of myself as a kind of classic journeyer from the far left over to the right. Some of the things that were actually the most important things to me politically when I was younger are still the most important things to me politically so I’m loathe to accept that classification.

And if it’s true that the kind-of people who regard themselves as being the cup-bearers for the left would not regard me as being of their number but to a certain extent I don’t care what they think.

You mentioned in the talk at the Hay festival that Internationalism is still one of your guiding principles are there any other principles that guide your politics?

Internationalism, inter-dependency, co-responsibility, feminism.

Without wanting to engage in any cheap psychologism it’s not difficult to see why a movement like feminism might have appealed to the young Aaronovitch. His parent’s relationship was not a happy one due mainly to his father’s serial infidelity. Painful enough at the best of times but to a mother who prized loyalty above everything else, almost unbearable. She coped with it by lying to herself, even in her own diary.

What about enlightenment values?

Yeah, actually, enlightenment is more important to me now than it was then because I didn’t really understand it as a concept, so in that sense I suppose you can say that is a kind of shift. You know gradually I’ve become much more militant in favour of freedom of expression, freedom of speech as the things that underline our capacity to be the people, to be the societies that we want to be. To take an example, I’ve become far more aware of the importance of say, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 than I would have been as a young communist.

Some people feel that those kind of values are under threat now in a way that they haven’t been in a while – would you share that fear?

In places, yes. After the fall of the Berlin wall we had a kind of view about the progress toward the acceptance of by-and-large the value of Western liberal democracy and I think for ten, fifteen years you could see that. So by the time we got to 2010 the number of democracies in the world had increased exponentially, through Latin America and so on and that’s still by-and-large been the direction of travel but there’s the substantial kick-back: Putinisation in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey, various other countries. We waited for a long time for a significant reform movement in Iran that has never really been successful, that has always been suppressed.

I was thinking specifically about here at home. With elements of the left cosying up and forming alliances with people who they may never have done so in the past.

No that’s true, and that’s irritating. But that’s kind of, quite a parochial concern in a way. I mean I do see that among certain sections of the left. A kind of relativism, an unthinking, a certain, basically a ‘find the underdog’ and whoever the underdog is, adopt their views – makes no sense. It depends on who the underdog is and what their views are whether you want to do that. So you can find people who are very strong say on women’s rights in the rest of society but that believe, effectively in withholding their solidarity from, let’s say Muslim women who are claiming the same rights – well, that’s not very impressive.

How has university and particularly student politics and freedom of speech on campus changed since you were there in the 70’s?

Well there were always people who, if you like, were keen to constrain the dangers of other people’s speech. Mostly they tended to be on the left and mostly the target tended to be people on the far-right and in a sense given that we were still only 30 years on from the Second World War and so on and we had a real problem of significant and violent racism – you could understand that even if it was slightly misplaced. But there were always people who tried to extend it then. So for example when I was a student leader you had a problem of some Trotskyists saying ‘well we have no platform for racists, the UN has just declared Zionism is racist, therefore we can have no platform for Zionists. And the Union of Jewish Students supports Israel which is a Zionist thing to do therefore we better ban them from speaking’! Some actually made that argument. It was always easily defeated but since then you’ve got a completely different thing that’s come in which is kind-of a degree of sensitivity, often hyper-sensitivity on behalf of someone else saying ‘we can’t bear to have these things said in this area because the speech itself constitutes an attack’ – almost as if it were a physical attack. This is not just restriction on speech it almost becomes a form of thought control.

Actually I’m beginning to think that we might have nipped the worst part of it in the bud now in Britain, if not in America. I think the Student Unions and others got the message that this is not the way to go. So I’m half-hoping that the problem will become less not more.

You opposed the Vietnam War when you were a student but you supported the Iraq war. What’s the difference?

There’s no similarity between them at all. The problem was that Saddam Hussein – was to all intents and purposes – was a fascist, ran a fascist regime by incredible violence, absolutely staggering violence and to effectively, in the end defend him from attack had nothing to do with the Vietnam war. But people will pose it in the way that they think it’s the same thing. The Vietnam war was, in a way, the arse-end of de-colonialisation, the Americans got hooked into because of the problems of the Cold War and their idea that almost anything was better than allowing countries to become communist. Saddam was a completely different kettle of fish.

What do your think attracts people to conspiracy theories?

As I said in ‘Voodoo Histories’ they’re better stories, they’re less complicated in some ways, they can give complete answers rather than the incomplete, unsatisfactory answers of real life.

So it has the attractiveness of a thriller is part of it and then the other part of it is the explanation for one’s own defeat, so, the kind of conspiracy theories which the Republicans threw at Clinton after they [The Republicans] lost the White House. ‘How could it possibly be”, they said to themselves “ that these Democrats who we hate so much have won more votes than we have, well, it must be jiggery-pokery because anything else has an explanation that lies in our unattractiveness and of course we don’t think we are.

Do you think we’re more susceptible to conspiracy theories now than we were because with the internet they have a viral quality that they didn’t in the past?

I think conspiracy theories get formed quicker and go round the world quicker but I don’t necessarily think that we’re more susceptible to them. I mean the anti-semitic conspiracy theories were incredibly widespread in Europe in the period after the first world war, ridiculously so. And they were probably more widely believed than any similar such conspiracy theories now. And of course once people have got them into their head it was hard to debunk them because you didn’t have a mechanism for reaching all those people who believed these things

Why do you think Communism was so socially conservative in practice?

Right at the beginning of the British Communist Party, interestingly, there was a puritan strain in that part of it was composed of temperance campaigners believe it or not. Then of course you had this notion of sacrifice for the working class and giving up everything to politics and to organisation, it’s quite a puritanical stance … so you had this strange combination of bohemianism i.e. we’re changing the world, everything is turned upside down and puritanism, everything for the sake of the class and so on and they sat in a kind of odd way. Now, at first after the Russian Revolution you had this explosion of experimental theatre, experimental art as all the artists think ‘well now we’ve thrown off the old shackles’ etc but the whole business gets very, very serious, you know about fighting off invaders, fighting off the counter-revolutionaries etc then the puritans gradually take over and what they say is actually your art should be entirely subject and your life should be entirely subject to the needs of the political moment. Now that becomes a very, very conservative position because it says it’s much less interested in experimentation now it’s much, much more interested in directing everything.

And I suppose the Party in Britain would have just been taking their lead from Russia?

To a certain extent but even to a quite late degree in the British Communist party you had the Bohemians, people who didn’t fit into the normal weft of Western life. I’ll give you a good example. You know the spy Guy Burgess, being a sort-of active gay guy in an era when that was frowned upon. You can quite easily see that some of his decision to oppose his country had something to do with his homosexuality. I’m not saying by the way by any means that homosexuals are traitors but what I am saying is that sometimes if you find yourself going up against everyone else you look for other affiliations.

And I suppose that would also explain why there were a disproportionate number of Jewish people in the Russian revolution?

Well precisely so. It does, and so a lot of forward thinking people or very imaginative people joined the revolutionary movement. But when that movement becomes a consolidation of power and then faces an existential crisis you know you’ve got an actual country there that you’re running then in that case it appealed to an innate conservatism. And so for instance Russian textbooks on anatomy for school would miss out the reproductive organs altogether, just wouldn’t mention them. Like Ken and barbie dolls really. When you got to that bit they were all gone. Not very helpful.

Among many things ‘Party Animals’ is a potted history of the major developments in Soviet history and how the CPGB, it’s leadership and members reacted to them. The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, the invasion of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) and perhaps most problematic of all to a communist the 20th party congress at which Khrushchev revealed the truth about the Stalinist show trials and purges.

Did you ever talk to your parents about the revelations made by Khrushchev?

Thing is I didn’t have to talk to them about it because those had happened when I was a toddler, even younger than that and so by the time I would have been asking them questions about it it was already in the historical background. By the time I was in the party myself I – this sounds awful – but I didn’t care about their attitudes toward stuff was. I was not sufficiently enamoured of them to want to discover it.

Why did you decide to join the party?

Because I believed that the party was a good organisation that did the right things for people around the world and I wanted to be part of that.

But there were – and there still are – lots of Socialist and Communist groupings why the Communist Party?

Oh, I didn’t know that. I mean I knew there was the Labour party but I didn’t know there were all the other ones. I didn’t really know of the others until I went to college.

Though he says he was dimly aware of other left-wing parties he mistakenly thought that is was all more-or-less the same thing. He was soon disabused of that notion by a Trotskyist heartbreaker who slapped him across the face on discovering that in addition to joining her Trotskyist group he had also joined a Stalinist organisation. “She hated me” he recalls, the dismay still alive in his voice, “for being the wrong breed of leftist!”

Why did you decide to leave the party and how was that greeted by your family and former comrades?

I was already by then working in the media for five years. So I’d stopped really being politically active in any huge activist sense because it was incompatible with reporting on things to make yourself too much a part of them. In my house which I was sharing with other people we would put up things to do with help for the miners during the miners strike. I can remember writing things that were very sympathetic to the striking miners, if not to their leadership, but in terms of the party itself I’d more or less gone already. I mean I couldn’t really see myself the point of the Communist party already by ’87. I thought I would be better expressed probably in the Labour party. Also after I’d left being President of the National Union of Students I was just really politicked-out. I’d been an activist ever since I was a toddler. I’d been on countless demonstrations, I’d sold the bloody Morning Star on the student union steps almost every week for four years or something like that, I’d done my bit, I’d spoken on demos, been on demos, been arrested at demos etc. I’d just had enough of it.

All through my student life I was too political and I’d never really had any fun. I’d had some political fun but not really any other kind of fun. As it happens I’m not really a night-clubber or anything like that so it mattered less than to some people.

So you weren’t into night-clubbing and you didn’t particularly like Elvis Presley when you were younger and you’re disparaging about the drug culture … How did you rebel then – did you rebel at all?

I rebelled against my parents by taking myself out of the house and not going to anything with them, not going on holiday with them and so on. I mean it didn’t seem necessary to rebel more than that.

You weren’t tempted to become a Tory?

[Laughter] No! God no! I was not. That was the bloody last thing … [More laughter]. It’s extraordinary enough that I’m a Times columnist that’s kind of testing the limits without being a Tory. But if it seriously got to the point where I thought that the only way to keep a Corbyn government out was to vote Tory then that would be intellectually the right thing to do but it would be an incredible wrench. I mean I’ve never voted Tory in my life!

I was brought up thinking by and large that Tories were essentially devilish creatures and of course I’ve met quite a lot of Tories since and have discovered that some of them are quite personable. But I’ve never been even remotely tempted to be one.

What would your Dad make of Corbyn?

I think my mother would have been emotionally attracted to Corbyn on a very simple basis which is that he is the closest thing standing to what we used to stand for. My Dad was an autodidact, he taught himself Marxism and then economics. And one of my Dad’s favourite words was rigour – the idea that you must subject everything to rigorous work and rigorous analysis, you had to know all the facts and then you had to analyse them and that was really, really important to him. Say for instance you wanted to talk about the working class you had to have a definition of what the working class was, who is in the working class, how do they come to be the working class and when you say ‘the working class movement’ who are you actually talking about – which forces, in what kind of alliance, how would you get them together and how would they work and so on. I am pretty sure that he would have looked at Corbyn and thought this is an absolute bloody shambles, this is just not serious. And Corbyn has asked himself none of those sorts of questions, has no kind of intellectual interest in them as far as anybody can see and therefore is fundamentally unserious and therefore can’t lead anybody. I’m pretty sure that that’s what my father would have thought although I must say it’s very convenient for me thinking that that’s what he would think.

Do Labour/the left have an anti-semitism (AS) problem and if so how much, if any, is the fault of Jeremy Corbyn? The accusation is that he’s brought people into the party who would have been outside it otherwise.

I’m with my father in this respect really, which is I’m always interested in the question of what we mean by the words that we use – what do we mean by AS? I don’t regard it as anti-semitic per se to say ‘I don’t think Jews should go and live in a place called Israel and therefore I’m not a Zionist.’ I’m slightly more worried about people who of all things want to be anti-Zionist because that means that they’re against one particular form of national self-expression but not against any of the others but I don’t think they do that because they have a prejudice against Jews particularly.

So the anti-semitic tropes we’re talking about are the ones that are a transference to the word Zionist or the idea of Israel that are the old prejudiced perceptions about Jews. That they are incredibly and disproportionately financially successful and crafty and that they influence people by nefarious means, not open means to get their way. These would have been tropes that were highly recognisable to far-right people. And actually some of them come from far-right people so you now get this bizarre business that’s this cross-tweeting between Corbynistas – and I don’t mean people who are close to Corbyn particularly though some of them might be – and some sections of the far right, they just simply can’t tell the difference. They both claim to be for Palestinian rights above everything and that’s partly why all this has a particular salience really. It comes from this super-notion of the jewish lobby, or the Israeli lobby, or the Zionist lobby and so on you are essentially picking up on an anti-semitic trope which has gone down the centuries. That Jews are particularly tribal and close and manipulative. And I think that has infected sections of the Labour party or activists within the Labour party and I think it is a problem that the Labour Party now has.

The other aspect of this of course is that some of these attitudes are absolutely routine among some sections of the Muslim community. They’re just simply what Imam’s teach about Jews arriving out of the Koran and with no contradictory experience i.e. with no experience of actual Jews themselves to compare this against it is what an awful lot of people in the Muslim community including Muslim members of Labour believe – it’s what they’ve imbibed actually, which is even worse. In other words that’s almost the default position before you get to anything else.

Do you think there is any hope for socialism?

Now you remember what I said about my Dad – what’s your definition of socialism?

Let’s say Clause 4 the “democratic ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”

Let’s dig down into that a little bit. If we replace private ownership and private profit with democratic control as an economic mechanism – so think about it, who is exercising the democratic control and where are they exercising it – what are we talking about there? Who’s doing what?

I’ve always been taken with Jean Jaures notion that for, say nationalised industries a third of the board would be elected by the government, a third by the workers in that industry and a third by the electorate.

The thing is people don’t want to spend their time electing and in a lot of meetings and they won’t run these companies particularly well and whenever this has been tried it’s not worked.

The question is what the optimum level of involvement in action is. When I was a student activist, Trot’s put an incredible amount of emphasis on the idea of direct democracy. They thought that if you were at a meeting the vote you took was ten times better than any vote you took if you weren’t at a meeting by virtue of having participated in the discussion and so on. I kind-of half thought that was true for a while but I just don’t any more. I don’t think you get good decisions that way and I don’t think it really works. In the sense that we’re talking about that kind of socialism, democratic control over the means of production etc. – I think it’s very good that you put it like that because you took the question seriously and attempted to create a definition which you’re probably aware is not what Corbynistas do. What they generally say is ‘oh well, we’re just going to do better things for everybody and life will be better for everybody’. And wave a vague stick at it. So you at least tie it to a proposition – even if it’s a proposition that we can then say once we’ve dealt with it won’t work.

By the time I was in the mid 80’s, late 80’s, I just didn’t believe anything like that would work. That’s not to say that capitalist system isn’t open to huge levels of reform, I mean after all the whole business of regulation, which has grown and grown and grown because we all know that you cannot simply leave it to the profit principle to decide how society is completely organised and who in the end absolutely gets what. It has to be mediated and how it’s mediated is always an open question but to set an arbitrary point about mediation and to say that this side of this point is socialism and this side isn’t when you haven’t fundamentally altered the system is I think a bit of a confidence trick.

Who do you think will win in November in the American election?

Hillary Clinton will win. And I’m saying that largely because I don’t really want to be on the planet if that’s not the case.

THE STRUGGLE AHEAD

In Editorial on July 30, 2016 at 8:21 pm

We would hope that by now the Labour Party in Parliament would have been able to sort itself out, and become a united, coherent force capable of taking on the Tories and acting as an effective opposition.

And, to a certain extent it has. We wouldn’t want to belittle its achievements since a new leadership with a new sense of commitment took over. But – and it’s a big but – it still lacks the kind of unity at Parliamentary level that it needs in order to function as ably as it should.  This is by no means a criticism of Corbyn and his team. They have scored a number of worthwhile victories against a rabid Tory Government.  But let’s face it, there are still those Labour MPs, and others in the Party, who seem to see their role as being critics of the leadership. Those who would rather see Corbyn back on the back benches, with “one of their own” shoe-horned in as leader instead. Then they can all relax on the opposition benches and wait for the Tory Government to self-destruct (always assuming it does, that is).

There are, of course, Labour members who didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn and for a number of reasons still have their doubts.  But a good proportion have accepted his leadership and, for the good of the Party, want it to work.  But it’s those who haven’t come to terms with the new leadership that cause concern.  Whether such elements are really capable of mounting an effective challenge at this stage, though, is difficult to say. But they remain a distraction. Many of these dissidents forecast heavy losses for Labour in the local and mayoral elections at the beginning of May. Such losses never happened. Although Labour failed to make gains in the local elections, its losses were minimal. And its victories in the London and Bristol mayoral elections should have been seen as a major moral boost.

REACTION:

So how did the dissidents (if we can call them that) react to the results? With relief, maybe? Or with a bit of polite applause? No, they raised the barrier. Their response was to suggest that we’d all have done better if we’d had a different leadership. For Labour just to break even in the local elections just wasn’t good enough. We of course would agree. Before the next General Election, Labour will have to raise the stakes – and here a party united is essential.  But simply to switch arguments when it suited them could be considered at the very least to be pathetic.

Indeed, the reaction of many of the dissidents seemed to suggest that they didn’t really want Labour to win at all – well, not without changes in the Party’s leadership. And the constant criticisms of the Labour Party leadership continues to be made public, aided and abetted by the media which has been only too happy to help. It’s been suggested, for example, that on BBC current affairs programmes, any pro-Corbyn speaker is “balanced” by an anti-Corbyn counterpart.  But if the speaker in question just happens to be anti-Corbyn, then there isn’t the same pro-Corbyn counterpart  to provide any semblance of “balance”.  As for the Tory press (and there’s plenty of that about) it’s all too happy to attack Corbyn on any pretext  whatsoever – when it’s not too busy shouting about the tide of migrants allegedly flooding our shores, or the EU referendum, that is.

Even the left of centre press – or what remains of it – seems happy to criticise the Corbyn leadership, sometimes through its columnists and sometimes through one or other of Labour’s dissidents.

For example, there was a recent article in the Observer by Tristram Hunt suggesting that Labour had abandoned its working class roots and instead is too busy chasing middle class voters. These working class models seem to be identified as young, Union Jack waving – and with presumably secure jobs. They don’t appear to have any connection with those struggling to make ends meet, the homeless or the dispossessed.

Corbynism isn’t mentioned by name, and whilst Hunt’s arguments may be considered legitimate, the inferences are there. A powerful counter-argument could be presented but that might have to wait until some other time.

Meanwhile, what are we to make of the charges of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party? The impression given is that the party is riddled with it. At this stage this seems to be based on somewhat flimsy evidence, and Labour’s leadership has acted swiftly to deal with it. As an inquiry has been set up, it would probably be wise not to comment further on the topic.

DEBATE:

When it comes to Labour’s future, one might be tempted to say “put up or shut up”. But that wouldn’t resolve the situation. The solution must lie in debate, rather than in accusation and counter-accusation. Those of us who are in the Labour Party (and many of our readers are not, but will have opinions nevertheless) must decide what kind of Party we want. Or, indeed, what kind of society we want – and that’s certainly not the kind we’re faced with in Tory Britain.  But as the Clarion says in its aims and objectives, “we believe that change is only possible through open debate and exchange of ideas, in which all who share a common sense of purpose can take part.”

So let’s start the debate!


NOTE: this article was originally published in the print edition of the Forest & Wye Valley Clarion magazine; since then the Labour inquiry into anti-Semitism has been completed by the eminent and well-respected human rights barrister Shami Chakrabarti, which concluded Labour is not overrun with anti-Semitic racists. In a BBC report (30th June 2016) Jeremy Corbyn commented on the conclusion of the inquiry:

“Under my leadership the Labour Party will not allow hateful language or debate in person, online, or anywhere else.

“We will aim to set the gold standard, not just for anti-racism, but for a genuinely welcoming environment for all communities and for the right to disagree as well.

“Racism is racism is racism. There is no hierarchy, no acceptable form of it.”

He called for an end to Hitler and Nazi metaphors and comparisons between different human rights atrocities.

“Diluting degrees of evil does no good,” he said.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36672022

REPORT: “Stop Trident!”

In S. Richardson on May 5, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Marching against Trident nuclear weapons – a report from SARAH RICHARDSON

I was one of many thousands of people marching through central London on a cold day at the end of February,  to protest against the Government’s plan to renew Trident at a cost of around £100 billion.

Along the way, there were many light hearted contributions to cheer on the marchers. I saw a little dog proudly sporting a coat with the CND symbol, and a pair of friends carrying a banner which read “Exasperated Older Women Demand NHS not Trident”.  There was also a lovely hand-painted banner showing Poseidon , god of the sea, rising from the waves and breaking a bomb in half.

Having marched from Marble Arch, we arrived in Trafalgar Square in good spirits and stood for the rally in front of the National Gallery. While we were waiting for the speakers to arrive, there was a big screen showing photos of Peace demonstrations over the years, from Aldermaston marches to Greenham Common and beyond. We then had a very exciting and inspirational range of speakers, including Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP in the Scottish Parliament, Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, Caroline Lucas, Green MP, Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT and Bruce Kent, veteran campaigner.

The Vanessa Redgrave spoke in a personal capacity, very emotionally saying it was one of the best days of her life to see so many people out demonstrating in a direct way, seldom reported in the mainstream media. Finally after a two hour wait, Jeremy Corbyn spoke. Most of the marchers had waited to hear him. He reminded them of the devastating effect nuclear war would have, and urged    people to carry on campaigning.

JOINING LABOUR:

After the rally, I went to have a coffee and got chatting to an old couple from Chester who had come down for the day to join the demo. The husband told me he had joined the Labour Party for the first time when Jeremy Corbyn had been elected leader , and that he and his wife travelled up and down the country attending rallies and marches.

It was good to hear so many people having an alternative view on Trident renewal. Unfortunately at the moment, the Tory Government is hell bent on pressing ahead with it. It will be up to Corbyn and others in the Parliamentary Labour Party to see if they can persuade MPs to vote against its renewal.


ENDPIECE: Labour’s new leadership  claimant?

Not all members of Jeremy Corbyn’s Parliamentary team are happy with his leadership. There are quite a few who would be more than happy if he departed back to the backbenches where they feel he belongs.

There are, of course the residual Blairites who dream of a time when “New Labour” rises like a phoenix from the ashes. And there are those who just feel that Jeremy has upset their cosy Parliamentary consensus.

Already the media is suggesting that much depends on the results of the local elections in May. If Labour doesn’t do well, then a challenge could emerge. Indeed there’s a sneaky suggestion that some would rather that their own party didn’t do well.  But one question emerges – who is going to mount the challenge?

At one time the speculation was that Hilary Benn would be the one to to give it a go,  after his speech during the Trident debate. But now the bets have shifted to another contender – to Barnsley Central MP, Dan Jarvis.                

Jarvis is identified much more clearly with the Blairite camp than Hilary Benn. At a speech to the Blairite Think Tank, “Demos” he openly attacked the economic policy of the Corbynistas – and he has received the backing of Lord Mendelson, one of the original Blairite cabal. Mendelson has never been subtle in his opinions.

On top of that,  former paratrooper, Dan Jarvis has received a tidy donation of £16,800 that could be put towards any bid for the leadership.

But a couple of points that should make the dissidents pause to reconsider. First, Jeremy Corbyn is gaining support amongst the voters (look at the welcome he received from the NUT).  And, second, what of Labour’s growing membership – those who joined the party simply because Corbyn offered a new style of politics – one that reached out to them, and to the electorate at large?

We’ve come a long way since that black day in June 2015 when the bulk of Labour MPs abstained on the Tory Bill for “welfare reform”- on the instructions of the (then) Labour leadership.

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on May 3, 2016 at 4:39 pm

A surreptitious sharpening of knives:

dinosaurThere are those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who refuse to accept the fact that Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party fair and square. They act as though their exclusive little club had been invaded by an uncouth outsider and go out of their way to make it difficult for Labour to function as a cohesive opposition in the Commons.

Few of them, though, go so far as to advocate openly outright rebellion. They prefer to throw their toys out of their play pen. Or sit in the corner and sulk. But it seems there are those who are ready to plot a coup in the party.

An interesting, if somewhat incoherent, piece appeared in the Daily Telegraph in early March by one Tom Harris, an unreformed and unrepentant Blairite.  He’s all for mounting a coup to oust the “selfie-loving Corbynite radicals” (sic). And he’s nominated  deputy leader Tom Watson to lead the rebellion against Jeremy Corbyn.

Why Tom Watson, I hear you ask?  Well, according to Harris , it was Watson who master-minded the plot that got rid of Blair and replaced him with Gordon Brown. A politician capable of achieving that should have no difficulty in master-minding a coup against Corbyn. Well that seems to be the logic behind this rather rambling article aired in the Telegraph.

I must say that I was completely unaware of such a plot to get rid of Blair – but us dinosaurs do tend to be a bit naïve. We just don’t live in the world of plots and counter-plots .

Of course there’s no evidence to suggest that Tom Watson has the slightest inclination to attempt such an act. And such fanciful  notions don’t take into account the reaction of  Labour’s membership. But then, of course, the Blairites never did.

Remember the BNP?

Remember the British National Party?  The far right, racist party that seemed to be making such an impact a decade or so ago?  Then it imploded and seemed to disappear from the scene.

Well it seems it’s still with us, just about. It’s putting up the odd candidate or two – including one in the contest for London mayor. Its slogan seems to be “don’t vote for a Muslim Mayor!”

But an interesting news item recently revealed that the party had come into some money. £180,000 had been left to the BNP by two members who had died and left the money in their wills.

The organisation “Hope Not Hate” has accused the BNP of gaining money through “coffin chasing”.

Life in the fast lane.

The name of Adrian Beecroft  isn’t perhaps very well-known – unless you’re in the heady world of hedge fund banking and the like.

He’s currently part of the financial set up that controls Wonga. But before that he was “chief investment officer” for a venture capital financial outfit called Apex.

One of his acquisitions was that of the supermarket chain, Somerfield. Somerfield, it seemed, had run into difficulty after it took over KwikSave. Merging the two concerns had cost more than had been bargained for.

Mr. Beecroft was able to acquire Somerfield in 2005 – and then, in 2009, it sold it on to the Co-operative Group at a handsome profit.  Apex did very well out of it, the Co-op did less so. Now many of the Co-op’s former Somerfield stores have been sold on (like the one in Chepstow, for example), in order to finance its growth in the smaller convenience store sector.

Incidentally, Mr Beecroft has donated more than £500,000 to the Tory Party since 2006.

Dinosaur   

CLARION COMMENT:

In Editorial on May 3, 2016 at 4:21 pm

EDITORIAL: “When the Common Market comes to Stanton Drew”

A lot of water has flowed under many bridges since the Wurzels recorded their hit song “When the Common Market comes to Stanton Drew.” But over the years Britain has continued to have what might be called a problematic relationship with the rest of Europe.

For starters, initially we didn’t seem to know whether we wanted to be in or out. Early negotiations to join the EEC (as it was then known) were vetoed by French President, Charles De Gaulle. When we were finally given the go-ahead to apply for membership there were decidedly mixed feelings over whether we should join up or opt out – resulting in a referendum in the UK. At that point we did have alternatives. There was the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a rather looser collection of European countries, which at the time included Britain. Another option favoured by some politicians was to attempt to bolster trade with Commonwealth countries, which had at one time been significant but was by then shrinking significantly.

Harold Wilson allowed Labour colleagues a free rein on whether to back membership or to turn our backs on the EEC. The result of the referendum was clear cut. A majority of those taking part voted for UK membership of the European Economic Community (which later morphed into the European Union).

One important factor that made such membership different from other alliances or treaties that had bound us before was the fact that the EEC/EU wasn’t merely a trading bloc. It had aspirations towards nationhood, with its own parliament and civil service, which was responsible for a far wider remit than just trade. Important, too, was the European Court of Justice, and the European Central Bank. A common currency followed – the Euro. It even has its own flag. It seems bizarre that any nation state should choose to affiliate to a body such as the EU and at the same time follow a “pick and mix” attitude towards its rules and conditions.

But meanwhile a further development that was to have a profound impact on the European Union was the collapse of Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. Countries behind the “iron curtain” were bound together by their own trading partnership, the Warsaw Pact. Now this had collapsed, resulting in a flood of new applications for membership of the EU from the east, many with very different aspirations and expectations. These had to be accommodated though not always without a degree of friction.

The latest test for the European Union has been the refugee crisis. With hundreds of thousands seeking entry to Europe annually, the notion of a Europe without borders (contained in the Schengen Agreement) has effectively broken down. European partners are breaking ranks and reverting to acts based on their perceived “national interests”. Razor wire fences and border posts are replacing the concept of free passage.

Maybe it’s inevitable that Cameron should exploit these troubled times to seek a “re-negotiation” of the terms of our membership of the European Union. After all, he’s always been a politician with an eye to the main change. His claim to have won a “better deal for Britain” has been hotly disputed. The question we would ask is “whose Britain?” That of UK business interests maybe, but it has done nothing to ease the lot of ordinary people in Britain. Cameron’s deal further threatens human rights whilst doing its best to aid big business interests. Meanwhile publicity over his shabby deal has succeeded in shoving the likes of UKIP back into the spotlight.

REFERENDUM:

Which brings us to June’s referendum. Once again we’ll be voting either to stay in or to get out. And a new word has been coined for it – “brexit”. Already the debate on it has divided the Tories, with leading figures such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Ian Duncan Smith lining up with the “out” campaign.

There are of course also divisions on the left, though these have been less high profile and certainly less vocal. And as far as the Labour Party leadership is concerned, its views have been so low profile as to be practically inaudible. Maybe it’s time for Labour to speak out on Europe.

There remains a powerful argument for remaining part of the EU and taking part collectively in its debates and decision-making. That’s the way to influence its agenda. The EU certainly has its problems and imperfections, but the Cameron approach will do nothing to overcome these.

No doubt we’ll be able to return to the debate in our next issue – either in our print edition or on line.

EDITORIAL: Poverty Knocks

In A.Graham, Editorial on March 9, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Clarion Comment: What’s all this about a “living wage”?

“The poor are always with us” is one of those platitudes that was once popular amongst those who had plenty of money. Nowadays, of course, they don’t bother. Far too many have swept the whole topic of poverty under the carpet. And far too many of them are in the present Government.

But there are means to, at least, ameliorate the impact of income differentials on families and allow them to lead a more acceptable life. First, we need to ensure that all those in work are paid a decent wage. And second, to maintain an adequate welfare system to look after all those in society – regardless of age, income or social position.

WORK AND WELFARE:

Britain’s welfare state was, when it was first implemented following the Beveridge Report, a great social leveller. Not only did it provide comprehensive health care but also ensured homes for all and relatively full employment. Of course it didn’t happen overnight. And neither was it perfect. But when we see the callous way in which it’s been dismantled we can also see how fundamentally necessary it all was. Today it no longer provides even a sufficient safety net.

The second point is of course to try to ensure that all families receive at least an adequate income, and prevent them being prey to the vagaries of a capitalist market place. It was to deal with this point that Gordon Brown (under a Labour Government) first introduced the “minimum wage”.

Since then, of course, the notion that the minimum wage comes anywhere near meeting basic requirements has been torn to shreds. Work patterns have changed (usually for the worse), the welfare state no longer provides the kind of succour it once did – and poverty has risen steadily, in tandem with the increase in wealth enjoyed by those at the top.

TALKING OF A LIVING WAGE:

That’s why politicians have been bringing up a new concept of a living wage. One that would take families beyond that of the basic minimum wage.   At the beginning of November, a new group calling itself the People’s Movement was launched to campaign for a real living wage. It was a response to George Osborne’s announcement that he was to introduce a new “national living wage”. But this isn’t due to come into force until next April

For many campaigners the levels he announced simply weren’t considered enough. There are claims that it’s merely the existing “minimum wage” dressed up in new clothing. Not only that but his new “living wage” doesn’t stretch to those under the age of 25, and it will also depend on how the Low Pay Commission estimates “what the market can bear” (the Observer, 1st November).

One can appreciate that many campaigners feel that this just isn’t good enough. Some would go further and suggest that it’s all smoke and mirrors. In reality this Tory Government isn’t interested in dealing with the problem of starvation wages – where an increasing number of working people are paid less than the living wage being promoted by the People’s Movement (23 per cent at the last count). The Government is more concerned with maintaining profit levels for the rich whilst massaging figures on pay.

As for the People’s Movement, it is a commendable campaign. But it would seem to rely on trying to persuade employers to “do the decent thing” and pay their workforce appropriate wage rates. Admittedly, as a pressure group, its role is limited – but in the present climate, is this sufficient?

UNEMPLOYMENT:

Meanwhile unemployment rates are also massaged to present the kind of statistics the Government wants. From our viewpoint they remain disturbingly high, but according to Government figures they’re falling – which should be good news if we could take them at face value.

However, such broad statistics don’t take into account part-time work (particularly those on zero hours contracts), or those who’ve been forced off the unemployment register by harsh, bullying conditions or the negativity of those who now work at Job Centres throughout the country. There are many who are prevented from taking up jobs because the infrastructure that would allow them to do so just isn’t there. Others simply drop below the radar and are no longer part of the Government’s statistics.

LOW WAGE ECONOMY:

Maintaining a low wage, poverty-fuelled economy is not good for society. It does none of us any good. But that is what the present Tory Government is doing. Whilst it remains in power we will continue to see people forced to sleep on the streets. Food Banks will stay in business, as a necessary (but hardly adequate) prop for those who no longer have the means to feed themselves.

Is that really what we want?

ENDNOTES: Testing Times for Jeremy

It’s been a challenging couple of months for Jeremy Corbyn. Not only has the Tory press (led, naturally, by the Mail and the Murdoch minions) been stepping up its attacks on the Labour leader but also there’s been the rising surge of public expressed dissent from certain Labour MPs, plaintively calling for a “change in direction”.

Considering this scenario, it’s not surprising that Labour slipped somewhat in the opinion polls. Indeed, everything considered, Labour’s by-election victory in Michael Meacher’s old constituency in Oldham came as a morale booster for all of us.

The poison that’s been coming from the right-wing press is to be expected (though surely it went too far when a commentator on Sky News referred to Corbyn as “Jihadi Jez!), though its corrosive influence should not be under-estimated. The atmosphere created by the horrifying ISIS attacks in Paris has been bound to have an impact, and here, Jeremy’s position was grossly misrepresented. To give an example, unless we believe in a policy of lynch law, surely it’s better, where possible, to arrest terrorists and try them in a court of law rather than just gunning them down?

But what’s even more dispiriting are the activities of those in the ranks of the Labour Party who have chosen to attack him – and to hint that the Party needs a change of leadership. With friends like these, where do we think we’re going? Whatever happened to that old Socialist slogan, “Solidarity forever”?

Of course events in Paris plus the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East had tended to overshadow those domestic policies where Labour should have been able to hit the Government hard, as it did with Osborne’s budget attack on tax relief for the low paid. We also need to go on the offensive against the continuing privatisation of what’s left of the public sector, and the treatment by Jeremy Hunt of junior doctors within the NHS, not to mention the disintegration of the Health Service as a whole – to give a couple of examples. But there have been a host of examples where Corbyn’s leadership has been frustrated by the antics of right-wing Labour MPs whose notions of solidarity seemed sadly lacking. They seem more concerned with infighting than facing up to the real enemy.

What’s necessary within the Parliamentary Labour Party is unity – unity in the face of a vicious, uncaring Tory government that has no scruples when it comes to deepening the divisions in our society. “New Labour” is dead in the water. It has been for some time. Now’s the time to give Corbyn the Party’s backing, to fight the real enemy – the Cameron/Osborne Government.

A NEW VOICE FOR MONMOUTH: An Interview with Labour Candidate Catherine Fookes

In T. Chinnick on February 12, 2016 at 1:56 pm

Catherine-Fookes-head-and-shoulders

Labour AM Candidate for the Monmouth Constituency Catherine Fookes.

In September of last year Monmouth Constituency Labour Party selected Catherine Fookes to fight the seat in the Welsh Assembly elections next year.

Born in Dorset in a small village near Blandford, Catherine grew up on a farm before moving to London and then Bristol. But it was only after marrying her Catalan husband 15 years ago that they decided to move to the countryside and raise a family. “We craved space and a great environment for our kids to grow up in.” She says and so they decided on Monmouthshire.

She currently works as a freelance food campaigner for the Organic Trade Board and ‘Sustain’, promoting organic food. She previously worked for the Soil Association campaigning against GM and with the Pesticides Action Network to raise awareness about the hazards of pesticide residues on food. Her work in this area has lead to changes in Government policy.

I spoke to Catherine about her life, politics and issues of concern to Clarion readers.

When and why did you join the Labour party?

“I joined two years ago as until that point I was pretty disillusioned with politics in general. I also used to sit on a Government Committee and political party membership at that time was not permitted.

I felt following the recession that instead of those who caused the crisis – the bankers and financial institutions – being punished those on low incomes were being punished instead. It made me incredibly angry and once I realised that debating on twitter, writing letters to the papers and shouting at the TV wasn’t making a difference I felt it was time to get active in my local Labour party.”

What had been your political engagement prior to that?

“Part of my work in the 90’s was lobbying parliament on environmental and food issues including getting better support for organic producers. I also went on the Stop the War demonstrations. That’s another reason I didn’t join the Labour party earlier. I have also been a school Governor and active in the community – for example setting up a food co-op. I view those things as political with a small “p.” I’ve always been active – when I see a problem I try to solve it.”

It’s fair to say that Catherine didn’t expect to win. Standing against Monmouth’s three time former MP Huw Edwards her success can largely be attributed to the energy and determination with which she campaigned

“I worked very hard to win and I called up every single Labour Party member who had a telephone number and wrote to those that didn’t. However I knew I was up against a person who has a lot more experience than me and has a proven political track record, so I have to say I was surprised I won. I think what people like is I have new ideas, new energy and I’m not steeped in politics so I can relate to ordinary people.”

This energy and dedication is in sharp contrast to her Conservative opponent Nick Ramsay who, amongst other things has fallen asleep in public meetings and claimed for a flat in Cardiff despite only living 40 minutes away. Monmouth is blighted by being represented by two Conservatives: Ramsay in Cardiff Bay and David Davies in Westminster. (Not to mention a Conservative County Council). But whereas Davies is never shy about his views, some of which are very extreme, what exactly does Ramsay stand for?

“I am not sure what Nick Ramsay stands for as we don’t hear about his political beliefs in the way we do with Davies. With David Davies we know he’s anti–EU, anti-immigration and you could say anti-environment with his views on climate change, but Nick Ramsay keeps his views close to his chest which is strange for an Assembly Member.”

But not being as outspoken as Davies doesn’t mean he isn’t a conscientious AM – what’s he done for the Monmouth Constituency?

“Apart from writing letters to Ministers I am not entirely sure what he’s done for the constituency – I’ve asked many local groups and charities and have not heard of a single campaign he’s championed. I believe he’s become complacent and he does nothing of any consequence for the constituency. We deserve better.”

But for all her evident qualities Catherine faces an uphill struggle to get elected. Monmouth Labour has never won an Assembly election before, in a Conservative leaning constituency and with an incumbent Welsh Labour Government what chance is there that they will this time around?

“I think people are fed up with the Conservatives locally so we have a great chance. The Tory led council has resulted in our education system in Monmouthshire being in Special Measures*; our Tory AM is invisible and our Tory MP really shocked people this summer with his nasty comments on refugees. So I think we have a great chance.”

You mention the fact that Monmouthshire is in special measures, how will you make sure it improves?*

“As I’m a school governor** and also a Mum I can see at first hand the effects of our Tory Led councils cuts on education. Head Teachers and staff are facing real challenges keeping their schools going. I want to work with them to ensure they have the resources they need.

None of our secondary schools are designated ‘green’ by Ofsted and given the prosperity of the region they really should be. Local schools were also found to be failing children on free school meals. There is a huge gap between them and other children. The County Council (MCC) have been complacent and haven’t really pushed schools enough. I would put pressure on the MCC to get the standards up.”

Jeremy Corbyn (JC) has talked about wanting to narrow the “red water” between Westminster and Cardiff Bay. What could he and English Labour learn from the Government in Wales?

“We’re not just slashing and burning like the Tories, we’re targeting investment. What JC and English Labour could learn from us is how to target effectively like in Jobs Growth Wales which has created 15,000 jobs – so while we’ve got less money we’re still investing in our economy.

Our school system is better because it’s non-selective and we’re not creating academies, which is creating a two-tier system in England.

We’ve also reduced tuition fees for Welsh students regardless of where they’re studying, introduced the Domestic Violence Act, not to mention introducing free school breakfasts, prescriptions and bus passes. So we have achieved so much but we need to get the message across.”

Nick Ramsay, David Davies, Mark Harper and the Prime Minister have all attacked the Welsh NHS. Ambulance response times, cancer care and waiting times in A&E are all worse than in England – are Tory criticisms justified or is it just cynical fear-mongering?

“Comparing England and Wales directly is an over-simplification. Our population is far more dispersed and we’re a poorer country. Part of it is scare-mongering – some of our waiting times are too long, doctors and the health board are desperately trying to get them down but using the NHS as a political football isn’t helpful. But we’ve protected the NHS by having fewer PFI contracts and increased funding – we spend £120 more per head on health and social care than in England.

One of the things that my meeting with local health experts made clear to me is that we have a fixation on targets – but we can’t allow targets to become an end in themselves. We have an 8 minute response time target for ambulances. If someone breaks their leg it’s not important that an ambulance arrives in under 8 minutes but if someone suffers a heart attack then we need the ambulance to be there as soon as possible. It’s about prioritising.

We have a GP and nurse shortage in the Monmouth constituency – we’re recruiting nurses from overseas which is a real shame when we have unemployment in our area. We need to make sure careers advice includes what public service jobs are out there, especially in the Aneurin Bevan Health Board because there are probably brilliant school leavers who could fulfill some of these roles but they need to know the jobs are there.

Co-operation between public services and local schools is a very simple idea but it doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.”

Do you oppose fracking in the Forest of Dean?

“I do. It’s just another sticking plaster, another investment in fossil fuels when we need to be moving toward renewables. And it’s another example of where the WLG has lead the way.” (The Welsh Government has introduced a moratorium on Fracking).

What can Forest Of Dean residents do to help your campaign?

“Write letters of support to the press, talk about why they support Labour to their friends. But most of all we need people to come and campaign with us!”

If you want to help get Catherine elected please contact Su McConnel on 07817076232 or at sumcchey@gmail.com

catherinefookes.com

monmouthlabour.org

*MCC has been taken out of special measures since this interview was conducted.
** The Governing Body of Cross Ash School of which Catherine is a member has recently won ‘the Quality Mark Bronze Award’.