Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘LRC’

LEFT INSIDE: Labour Wobble

In C.Spiby on November 11, 2014 at 1:14 pm

An early un-edited edition of my next Clarion article (in print in the Dec 2014/Jan 2015 edition, if not pulled before then!)

It’s time for One Nation Labour to set out its electoral stall for real now. Scotland has force the point, chased hotly by doubts over Ed Miliband’s ability to lead our party or being a suitable Prime Minister.

Scotland – and in particular the huge turnout of the Independence referendum – has given Westminster-based politics the kick up the arse voters knew it desperately needed.

Now there’s a leadership contest there and it proves to be shaping what Scottish Labour ought to look like and represent. Is it just a branch of Parliamentary Labour or something distinct in the Labour movement in Scotland?

Clarion readers will probably agree that the latter might also prove the kick up the arse our Parliamentary Labour Party needs to become meaningful for the electorate.

Given a meaningful choice on Independence, the voters demonstrated they are hungry to engage in proper change. Indeed, I doubt whether a remote branch in Scotland was what John Robertson and Jim Sillars had in mind when they first set-up the breakaway the Scottish Labour Party back in 1976. Instead they sought to be a voice distinct from Westminster.

I believe there’s appetite for more of that kind of independent thinking within Labour, and furthermore we can have that without having to abandon our Party. In fact, I’d wage it might be a way to electoral success.

I certainly witnessed this desire for local distinction among some of our number in the 2015 District Council Forest of Dean CLP Manifesto Drafting Group which I had the honour to lead. But this doesn’t have to be a binary thing: you can follow Labour Party principles and rules and still have a distinctive voice in local politics. In fact, I rather think it’s what the electorate expect of us.

Difference and choice are vital to voters. I am reminded of what George Monbiot once told me in an interview…

“Its mainstream parliamentary party politics we’re all pissed off with. You can choose between the party of big business and bombing, or the party of big business and bombing.”

It’s in looking for new choices that some have been persuaded by the shadowy repulsiveness of UKIP. We need to demonstrate that our Party and our local candidate, and indeed local and country councillors offer the electorate meaningful choice, not just more of the same.

The defence for the leadership of Milliband is mostly characterised by the principle of having to stick with the choice made a couple of years ago at the Leadership Election. But by that logic we would allow Ed Miliband to do virtually anything to destroy our movement before we’d kicked him into touch. Although I’m not saying he has or will destroy Labour, I’m just questioning the principled stand of permissiveness just for the sake of a principled stand. To me that’s not much of a defence.

The argument also goes that ‘we’re only 6 months away from an election!’ Agreed, not a desirable time to switch leadership. But again, says who? Based on what? If there’s evidence that the leader is not polling well when actually he should be at his strongest (into the final term of opposition) then that is an argument for decisive change not capitulation. If total unity isn’t the current, it won’t appear just because we’re running out of time. What you’ll get instead is internal maneuvering for the post-defeat Labour Party. Put another way, sticking with an unelectable leader just because we’re running out of time is not a good reason to stick with an unelectable leader.

The final argument appears to be that there’s no willing or able candidate to replace Miliband. Is the shadow cabinet really so moribund to not one capable shadow minister willing to stand up for our movement? I don’t think it is. So that too is a false defence.

If the NHS is the one binding element of our campaign which universally moves British people of voting age, then clearly the robust, capable and comparatively natural leader is the person leading that part of campaign: Andy Burnham. I’d support that move in a second, and I think the British people would too.

Voters would see a Labour Party willing to listen to the public (in their dislike of Miliband) and make meaningful change. If Burnham is seen as the saviour of the NHS in austerity, then he might just save our movement and the legacy of Labour. It should also guarantee us success at the next election.

True, a Burnham Labour won’t take us back to the manifesto of Michael Foot in 1983, but it wouldn’t be New Labour either.

Those who agree with my general argument might also take heart that when asked during the local Parliamentary candidate hustings as which member of the current shadow cabinet did he/she most admire or ally themselves with, our chosen candidate – Steve Parry-Hearn – cited Andy Burnham.

Andy BurnhamNOTE: The views expressed in this column are the personal views of C. Spiby and not the Forest of Dean Labour Party or Steve Parry-Hearn.

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Worried about Ed

In Editorial on March 5, 2012 at 12:59 pm

With public resistance to Tory policies mounting, where in the general scheme of things is the Labour Party leadership? Where is its vigour and determination to expose and campaign against the impact of the cuts? Where is the presentation of Labour’s alternative? Indeed, is there one to be presented?

For those who supported Ed Miliband for leadership of the Party, his record so far has been disappointing. It’s true that he’s had to establish his own sense of identity in the eyes of the public, as well as uniting a somewhat disparate shadow cabinet behind him. But so far his success has been somewhat underwhelming.

Labour has opposed the Government’s plans to dismantle the NHS (so far, sadly, without too much success. External campaigns and bodies like “38 Degrees” have made rather more impact). And after the election it spent some time engaging in a “listening exercise” orchestrated by Peter Hain and involving Party members and supporters. What happened to the results of this initiative, we don’t know. But is has shown little sign of re-galvanising the party – leaving opposition to the coalition Government’s policies to be spearheaded by campaigning pressure groups.

As for Ed Miliband, he has so far failed to establish a firm sense of direction for Labour, leaving an impression in the public mind of a floundering party. His declarations in January that cuts would have to continue under a Labour government only served to accentuate the negative, and cut the Party leadership adrift from those who might have rallied behind it. Indeed, he has now put himself at odds with Len McClusky of the Unite union, whilst other trade union leaders are hardly happy either. And he seems to have done little to even try to counter Tory lies that the cuts are “necessary” to get us out of the “mess” that the previous Labour administration got us into.

Of course there’s another way – one, indeed, that’s necessary if we’re to succeed in saving the economy. We have to invest in the public sector and build confidence and employment. At present all the signs are that Government  policies are leading us into a “double dip” recession, from which we’ll all suffer. Any talk of cuts by the Party’s leadership should be directed towards those who can afford them – including those bankers who were the ones who got us into this mess in the first place. And how about dispensing with that expensive folly, Trident renewal, whilst we’re about it? As folk used to say, it’s neither use nor ornament.

The Party leadership has also failed to recognise that many of the cuts are ideologically driven. They are not simply there to balance the books – they have been implemented deliberately to undermine the Welfare State (which past generations of Labour worked to build).

Quite rightly, Labour spokesmen continue to attack the Government’s record on rising unemployment and increased levels of poverty. But they seem to fail to make the connection between cause and effect. In other words, the implementation of the cuts is creating mass unemployment and driving many families in to poverty.

EXCESS BAGGAGE:

 Admittedly, Ed and his colleagues in the leadership of the Party are hampered by the baggage of past “New Labour” administrations. And there are still plenty of unrepentant Blairites in the Parliamentary Labour Party to act as brakes on any radical alternatives. There is a strand in the Party that seems to have forgotten is roots and in whose interests it was founded to serve. For them, the ghosts of Keir Hardy, George Lansbury, Attlee, Bevan – and even Harold Wilson – have been exorcised.

But, however we look at it, Ed Miliband gained the leadership because he was seen as a new broom, capable of sweeping away the trappings of the last decade or so. If this is the case it must involve, at the very least, a recognition of the importance of the public sector and the welfare state in our society – and continued support for the under-privileged in our society. All these are under attack by the present Government.

East Germany & the Fall of Communism – reply to the responders

In C.Spiby, Readers on October 7, 2011 at 10:03 am

by C. Spiby

My article on East Germany and the failure of communism drew some interesting responses. Here I intend to reply to some of the points raised, including Diana Gash’s communication which can be found on our letters page.

Of course, in an essay of such wide-reaching scope as the nature of modern socialism, it is difficult, if not impossible to give much depth. Some points had to be made fleetingly as not to offend the dreaded word-count.

The thrust of the article was to ask the question of whether this was the time to rehabilitate the legacy of the great socialist tradition from the legacy or tyranny perpetrated by the likes of Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin. This being a vehicle to reflect on the past as a means to inform the present.

I argued that yes it was and moreover that – for British communists and socialists alike – the place to realise the socialist agenda was in the Labour Party.

And to do so now, possibly more than ever in at least my lifetime.  I was criticised, rightly, for not making this absolutely clear. So let me re-state it.

The Labour Party is now at a crossroads; if we do not make it our own now, then I for one feel the cause of modern British socialism is lost for at least a generation. A new leader, following a huge electoral defeat which has favoured vile right-wing agenda in the ConDem Government. These are all the ingredients necessary to urge a new generation of left-wing resurgence.

I am not for one moment suggesting that the Labour Party is to be hi-jacked as a communist party. But I have personally resigned from the Communist Party of Britain precisely to help re-boot Labour from within, rather than build the movement outside it (as the CPB’s own programme advises). Both positions are valid. But less so, I feel, is that of the separatists.

We can argue over the right path to socialism until we are red in the face. But only a mass movement will truly take the first steps in government. Although I was accused of ‘timid conclusions’ – I think this denies the struggle of the journey ahead of us.

I showed that the narrative offered by the works I cited (books and movies) is that Marxism will always bring about a totalitarian state. But this is not true – the whole of socialism is built on Marx, and I argued that while Marx can only foresee a socialist revolution through violent change, other paths show that this need not be the case.

I was criticised on drawing on the example of faith leaders. True, as an atheist, this is a trite thing to do, but here I hoped to show the innate nature of socialism. Perhaps I would have better used Robert Axelrod’s 1984 scientific work ‘The Evolution of Co-operation’.

My survey of the GDR was limited to about 3 books and 3 films. Most came out negatively, but the interesting point in the responses is that no-one rushed to defend even the defensible elements of East German life. Rather, the criticisms were aimed at my intended target – the nature of the debate for today’s society in Western Europe. Diana seemed at once enthused and concerned, also recognising the new zeitgeist for socialism – this is the dialectic in action.

But she remains concerned about Labour’s recent past. Rightly so. I have not voted Labour since the war on Iraq. I would have struggled anyway on issues like foundation hospitals, PFI, PPP and forcing mothers back to work rather than supporting their decision to stay at home, were that their choice. These policies, however, were New Labour. With Ed rather than David, we have the opportunity to bring the Party back to the left
both by contrast to this hugely unjust Tory government and the fact of the Unions’ backing of Ed as the new leader. With no programme yet, this is OUR chance. And also, I have been impressed with Bruce Hogan. On the Wye side Hamish Sanderson considers himself a socialist. And councillors like Armand Watts for Bulwark talk my language. Then there are good local citizens like Di Martin who have stood and won as councillors for Labour driven by the causes socialists would recognise as theirs. This is the chance to re-seed the foundations, while the right attacks our most precious wins such as the NHS; this is the home for our best defence.

My brief reference to the likes of the SP and SWP was a crude ruse to dismiss their input into the laying of those foundations in this new breed of Labour. That is not to devalue the role these groups have in local campaigns and in the debate on socialism, but their influence is – clearly – on
the outside of where the real challenge lies for the mass movement.

If, like me, you really believe in socialism, then join us.

This could be our last chance to claim the Party back for ourselves. You could stay in the SP, SWP or – as I was – in the CPB. But these parties will not ever win a seat in Parliament and therefore cannot truly hope to reflect the wishes of the mass of working people. Yes, we might feel uncomfortable in taking a place alongside people who supported New Labour, but look beyond them and we see others who feel the way we do like, say, John McDonald, and we only have to remind ourselves that the LP was the home of Tony Benn to see that the Labour Party is still the rightful place for socialists.

The answer may not appeal to the radicals. But for those of us who have trod the line of radical politics for so long, coming to real party of the mass movement IS in itself radical.

The debate about communism’s rehabilitation is due. But it is for nought if the people are not with us. The GDR offers examples of warnings and evidence of where things went right like social cohesion. But that debate is only a debate. The point is to change the world.

The Lib Dems will be nowhere in the next General Election. Their members need to join the Labour Party (re-join in some cases) to realise their dream of a social democracy. Their rightful place is in a democracy that puts social values first. And anyone who cannot see that modern British socialism doesn’t seek to achieve a similar goal is out on their own. Only a united front of socialist-driven Parliamentary power will be able to  hold the Tories and big business to account. Forget New Labour – it is up to us to ensure that social welfare drives the party not the end of boom and bust, the slaves of a shallow affluence which has left our Party dwindling and our country morally bereft. I mean, could you ever previously imagine a discussion, policies even on competition in the NHS?

That’s why you can either join the fight. Or talk about it while being defeated – at best –in the odd skirmish on the periphery.

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OBITUARY: Ken Coates

In Obiturary on October 21, 2010 at 3:02 pm

IDEAS – AND ACTION

KEN COATES, who died suddenly earlier this summer, will be sorely missed by many who campaigned with him for peace, industrial democracy – and against the humbug and corruption of modern capitalist society.

He was one of many on the left who emerged from the ferment of ideas that had such an impact on radical politics in the 1960s. Many of those who were involved have since fallen by the wayside, or veered to the right, and the cover of respectability. Ken Coates, though, maintained his principles to the end, though he adapted his ideas to the changing times and changing circumstances in the decades that followed.

His major contributions were to the nuclear disarmament movement, and to the development of ideas on industrial democracy. He helped to establish the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and, with colleagues, campaigned for a “nuclear free Europe”. Through meetings and conferences this brought him into touch with many leading campaigners throughout Europe – including some in the emerging Green movement.

Ken also served for ten years as a Labour MEP, using the European Parliament to promote and develop his ideas.

But his expulsion from the Labour Party in 1998 ended his career as a parliamentarian.

INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY: In the early 1970s, industry in the UK was facing dramatic change. Changing technology, an uncertain economic climate and increasing competition from abroad meant that workers were not only threatened by changing work patterns but also by the loss of their jobs. Heavy industry, particularly, was under threat, with plants facing closure and mass redundancies.

Ken Coates helped to form the Institute for Workers’ Control (IWC). Through its publications and through conferences, its ideas were spread throughout the trade union movement and beyond.

Many trade unionists were coming to realise that strike action wasn’t enough in the face of factory closures and mass redundancies. An example was in Scotland where Upper Clyde Shipyards were facing closure. A mass “work in” by the workforce led by Jimmy Reid and Jimmy Airlie in 1971 forced an about-turn by the Government which provided funds to keep the shipyards open – at least for a while.

Meanwhile the IWC was developing ideas for alternative production in firms and factories facing closure. Out of this came the plan drawn up by Lucas Aerospace shop stewards, for the production of socially useful goods. Again, it attracted popular support – but not from the management at Lucas!

Attending conferences of the IWC was always an interesting and stimulating experience. Those who attended came from a wide spectrum of the left – with the trade union movement always well represented. For some, the notion of industrial democracy meant (as they say these days) “thinking outside the box”. Others, like Hugh Scanlon and Jack Jones, worked closely with Ken Coates to try to bring democracy to decision making in industry. It involved attempting to create a trade union response that went beyond constant opposition to a recalcitrant and self-seeking management!

WORKER CO-OPS: But the ideas that flowed out from the IWC (not to mention the example of the Upper Clyde work-in) stimulated a new interest in worker co-operatives. Amongst those who was influenced by the trend was Tony Benn, who had been a Government minister. It was he that gave backing to three worker co-ops – at Triumph motorcycles, The Scottish Daily News and Bendix washing machines. Sadly, all three failed (though it’s significant that Triumph survived under private ownership, and today is the only major UK motorcycle manufacturer still in business). But many other worker co-operatives that came into being at the time continue to this day – and more are still being formed as workers attempt to control their own destinies.

Ken’s other contribution was as editor of The Spokesman magazine. This was produced by a small team, including , Tony Simpson, Tony Topham and Ken Fleet on behalf of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation.

The latest issue was nearly complete when Ken died suddenly. The front cover is reproduced below. It contains tributes from those who knew him and worked with him – in Britain and throughout Europe – together with a quote from Ken himself:

“I have always believed that true socialism will be made by the people themselves, the real beneficiaries. That was the significant achievement of the Institute for Workers Control, because it encouraged people to work out their own ideas about what might constitute democracy in industry.”

(Ken Coates, June 25, 2010)

THE UNPALATABLE TRUTH

In C.Spiby on April 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm

As unpalatable as it is, it is my opinion that the Tories can only lose the coming General Election: only some cataclysmic embarrassment or folly can surely deny them the helm of the country now. And while that is not entirely impossible, it is unlikely.

Having not voted Labour since they took us into Iraq in 2003, the time has come to reassess my support. Do I cast a losing vote? Do I opt for the Lib Dems in hope they become the main party of opposition and thereby fulfil the meagre hopes I have of it creating some space between them and the Tories, unlike what we had between New Labour and the Conservatives? If we want to remind ourselves of just how bad things are, think of the worst of New Labour and you’ll find that the Tories voted in support of that policy (Iraq) or want even more of the same (PPP, PFI).

As a paid-up member of the Communist Party of Britain I am expected to vote for any CPB candidate standing in my constituency and, where there is none (and there isn’t in the Forest of Dean), then I am to vote Labour on the premise that, despite all the Party’s own rightful criticisms of it, we still stand a better chance of putting pressure on Labour than we ever will with the Tories. I think this is a mature approach. Were Labour even likely to return to power.

Of course neither I am under any delusion that the British communist party (the CPB) will be forming a government any time soon, but it seems the chances for Labour are heading that way too.  Is their directive, then, a waste of my vote?

I fully expect our Conservative MP, Mark Harper, to retain his seat in May, as Parliament itself swings to the blues. I therefore remain undecided as to how best oppose the right-wingers, bearing in mind that New Labour, on the whole and in my opinion, is only slightly to the left of Cameron’s crew. I am also mindful that we need to be careful of the far right using the vacuum of a low turnout to make their own terrible gains.

One option I have never used before is the spoilt vote. I agree with many on the Left (if not the entire spectrum of politics) that a stay-at-home no-show, irrespective of how disenfranchised we are, is an offence to all those in history who fought for suffrage.

The difference today, however, is that while those who fought for suffrage believed in their representatives we do not. Do we for one moment believe that those same champions of democracy would sit idle while our choices saw us disenfranchised? Absolutely not! A high increase in the number of spoilt papers would send a message that i) the people remain unconvinced with what’s on offer and ii) but we remain engaged in politics. After all, it’s our politics because it’s our society, not theirs: politicians need to heed these warnings and return to being the executors of power – our power!

So, if I am convinced (despite recent polls putting the lead to the Tories as slim and the expectation of hung Parliaments) – which I am – that the Conservatives will take power in May, I contest it is to the long-view that we are to look now.

It is my prediction that David Milliband will become Leader of the Labour Party following its imminent trashing at the next General Election.

On the surface he will halt any reference to the New Labour project in all but spirit as he continues the trend in embracing the centre-right, middle class vote above and beyond the grass roots of his own Party. In the face of defeat and low turnout we will be told the Party is learning the lessons of the Blair/Brown years, while at the same time reminding us of their successes (some rightful, others diabolical (Iraq), PPP, foundation trusts etc.) as well as the advent of its longest term in government for Labour in its history.

Only after the second term of the Tories and the second defeat of the next Labour Party will we really have a chance to demonstrate that a refuelled, grassroots Labour Party is our only true hope for the left. If then the Party isn’t for our taking, be that by its mechanisms or our own impotency, then it is unlikely it ever will be. At that juncture our historical ties to it (trade unionism, socialist and social democratic support writ large) need to be thoroughly reassessed. It will be a critical time in labour and political history.

To help us begin that long journey I urge unaffiliated members currently lacking in a Party home join the Labour Representation Committee. We MUST build the movement of the Left back into Labour during the recess of the coming Tory darkness. You can do this with or outside of a union, as a private member as long as you are not currently in a political party other than Labour.

There is much work to be done. If you need a shock as to just how much is to be done then I also urge you to get a copy of the documentary film ‘Taking Liberties’ from your local library or DVD rental service. In only an hour and a half it will remind us how difficult the road will be, but, more importantly, also how essential it is to begin that journey back to a civil democracy now.

Only then can we even hope to demand proper socialism take its rightful place back in our Party.

LRC, c/o PO Box 2378, London, E5 9QU