To all New Labourites, NUS hacks and toadies of the establishment, where is your anger you craven hypocrites?
(For some reason, following the switch over in hosts, the video won’t embed: watch it here at Strobbyblog: John McDonnell speaks to PCS national conference.
Confronted with the current state-of-play in terms of MPs forced out of Westminster, Tories at LibCon are claiming that it’s because Cameron is whiter than white – he’s making every last thief go. Brown, on the other hand, is letting them stay, if they are in the Cabinet. Which is why we’ve seen resignations from Chris Grayling and Alan Duncan. Er, or not.
So far the tally stands at eight Tories standing down to five Labour, with two in the post. I’m waiting for a subsequent glut of Labour resignations, when the self-same Tories will claim proves their point, that Labour is more corrupt. A case of wishing to have one’s cake and eat it there, I think – which they may get away with, bearing in mind which newspapers have control of this particular scandal.
The debate over which Party is worse seems as pointless as arguing about who should play First Violin while the Titanic sinks, and those who engage in it demonstrate themselves to be more interested in scoring political points than they are genuinely outraged that their taxes have been put to such ridiculous uses as cleaning moats, building duck houses and an endless succession of giant televisions.
For the record, I do not even own a television.
Fatuous Piffle of the Week Award: The Young Conservative.
One of the things that has struck me the hardest over the last few weeks is the number of people calling for reform. From the Lib-Dems demanding that a 5% petition in any given constituency kick off a by-election, to the new pressure group 38 degrees demanding a ‘right of recall’, many of the demands are being taken directly from the hymn sheets of the far left. The Socialist Party and other groups have been demanding the right to recall MPs and stage a by-election for years upon years. If we had that right today, the General Election would be forced upon Gordon Brown – and rightly so. Whatever happens next, the Labour government has run out of mandate.
(Springtime of the Peoples: the Chartist meeting on Kennington Common, before it was enclosed by the government to prevent public meetings)
Even David Cameron has been doing the rounds, promising reform, though both belatedly and hypocritically. When Ming Campbell, David Howarth and a smattering of others introduced the campaign for parliamentary fixed terms, Cameron was against the idea. Now, miraculously, it’s under consideration. Presumably this is a timely intervention to cover over the announced intention to step down by the Wintertons, two of the most odious people in parliament – both when it comes to voting on transparency or to themselves claiming expenses for things they have absolutely no right to whatsoever. Whatever the case, most MPs are showing up late to the party.
Cameron has also penned, or had penned for him, one of the most waffle-filled articles I’ve ever read over at the Guardian. I agree with the concept of devolving power to people – but the single example he gives over several huge paragraphs is about education. And the impact of his choice reform, to ‘end the state monopoly in education’, does not give power to the individual but reduces the individual to the position of passive consumer. Whereas at the height of local democracy, every state school had elected governors and parents associations, ‘ending the state monopoly’ means handing over majority control to the profit motive of the private sector, not to people.
We shouldn’t expect anything less from the Tories, however, and I’m continually surprised at the lack of context which the Guardian and other ‘liberal’ news agencies display when they report Tory policy proposals.
As for the other ideas being kicked around by different political groups; I’m in favour of fixed term parliaments; I’m in favour of two year terms; I’m in favour of having every decimal point scrutinized from the register of MPs expenses; I’m in favour of having parliamentary assistants paid directly by the Commons. But what about the arguments being made that only by getting rid of first past the post will we establish a fair electoral system in which this sort of privilege will not go unchallenged? Anthony Painter, Sunder Katwala and a number of people writing a letter to the Observer have all had a bash at this topic, and I feel it deserves revisiting.
The benefit of a proportional system is that it apportions representatives in a more accurate manner, according to who votes for whom. There are multiple options available, each of which has their downsides. Personally, I quite like the idea of abolishing the House of Lords entirely and dividing constituencies into smaller sizes, each with one winner elected by the AV/Instant Run-off method of preferential voting. This would allow individual accountability, it allows for tactical voting and it is a fairly simple method, which is paramount when it comes to getting people to the polls, and delivering a representative sample.
Saying that, I’m not opposed to STV and there are some decent attempts to explain why it’s not a bad system. I campaigned for an independent in the Dublin North constituency (Irish elections proceed by STV) and he was elected on the back of a very strong campaign built around water taxes and subsequently the bin tax. This is the positive side to STV; too many people focus on the negatives – that the BNP might sneak someone in. If we have campaigns built around positive issues, where Greens or Socialists might get elected, then we’ll be closing that door by showing that a vote for the good minority parties is not a wasted or merely a protest vote.
If I was to choose my least favourite, it would be basically any system with an Open Primary to select the candidate prior to the election. I am a firm believer in praxis; theory and practice. Without one, you cannot have the other – and when it comes down to democracy, I trust that an activist-selected and activist-led campaign will be one that will achieve more than a campaign based around who has the better media profile and has more money to sling around, which is the ever present danger with Open Primaries. Also, I also feel it’s the right of activists, by virtue of being the people who get out and campaign to have a bigger say in who they campaign for than people who merely vote.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the idea of voting does not constitute democracy. Many more elements than that are required. That said, reforming how we vote can still bring benefits. The harder we make it for a narrow clique to legitimate themselves and the easier we make it for campaigners and activists to secure seats independent of party machines, the better. Whether it’s to combat corruption, or to further campaign objectives, the shorter the distance between people and representatives the better. This absolutely includes a right of recall.
What I think has been left unsaid in all these debates is the extent to which we simply can’t trust the political elite – Tory or Labour – to reform themselves. On the part of Labour, Jack Straw has come forth to talk once more about overhauling the constitution (hat tip). And yet, twelve years into a Labour term of office, we’re still bogged down in pointless discussion on the subject of the House of Lords. How on earth are we to believe that Labour has any real commitment to reforming the constitution when, two years after a majority of MPs voted for a fully elected House of Lords, Jack Straw is only now poking his head back out of the labyrinthine corridors of Whitehall?
And when he does so, he manages to fluff completely a reference to PR.
Cameron is even worse. His proposed reforms, mentioned earlier and discussed at LibCon, are so much window dressing since the Conservatives flat out refuse to discuss any alterations to the plurality voting we have currently for Commons’ elections. The bottom line is, we can’t trust the two major parties. I do not believe we can trust the Lib-Dems either. They are the party that has demanded PR for the longest time, but on the other hand, they are born political opportunistis – which is why Nick Clegg wouldn’t and won’t say who he will go into government with, should the election produce a hung parliament in which the Lib-Dems hold the balance.
We certainly can’t trust the media; despite 1 in 3 Tories being caught out diddling expenses compared to 1 in 5 Labourites, the Telegraph still took five days to begin hammering the Tories (hat tip). In any case, the response of both parties has been lacklustre at best.
Instead we have to trust to ourselves. Surely enough, the anger of the activist base has been acute, with the letter of many Labour members to the NEC, signed by myself among others, letters to the Guardian and the Observer and a general sea change online and offline. The problem is that our constituency parties are moribund; our district trades’ councils are moribund. General political life is at a very low ebb, unless you know exactly which rocks to look under. Recreating it takes time, effort and funds – of which the average activist is devoid in the run-up to election time. This is a problem to which I don’t have an answer.
I remain, however, hopeful that the last thing the government does before it switches off the lights is call a referendum on the nature of our democracy; Lords, Commons, electoral system, all of it.
Nick Cohen, who has been much derided recently, has published an article on Comment is Free denouncing the idea that the BNP are on the rise. The local government elections in Salford kept the BNP in third place, with only a small increase in their vote. To anti-fascist campaigners, Cohen attributes the view that the BNP is running out of funds and credible candidates. The notion of BNP success is being talked up by the media and the political elite as part of wider suspicions of popular power. On the part of politicians at least, this might be brought on perhaps by being found with their hands deep in the cookie jar.
To some extent this is bound to be correct. The media narrative of a fearful elite is palpable. Whether this is actually what people are thinking in Westminster, I can’t say. It would not surprise me if it was correct however – and even newspapers as staid as the Times have bought into the hype, leading me to suspect that there’s at least something to it. On the ground, I know that people are angry. Conversations in work and elsewhere when they turn to politics have regularly revolved around how despicably our MPs have behaved and about the upcoming European elections. Thankfully, however, no one I know is voting BNP – though that sample may be somewhat self-selecting.
Saying that, I wouldn’t be quite so ready to dismiss the threat of a BNP electoral coup as Cohen seems to be. Cohen himself quotes part of a revealing remark by fascist leader, Nick Griffin, to the effect that British people don’t want repatriation right now so the BNP will slip in the back door by talking about “identity”, until they can control the media and then it’ll be kick-off time on the streets or Burnley and Dagenham. This quote is not exceptional for its content, but for the fact that it was included at all. Most of the articles I have been reading mention nothing about the political policies of the BNP, instead focussing on the rise of the BNP and attempts to stop it.
Take this BBC article; it is about the response by the BNP to the calls by Archbishop’s Sentamu and Williams not to vote for extremist parties. It includes some text from the CoE release, and a lengthy quote from Griffin and a BNP spokesperson. In the latter, there is plenty of talk about how the British people won’t let MPs get away with the expenses scandal and so on – but nowhere in the article is a timely reminder about the numerous criminal convictions of various BNP personnel, nor about Griffin’s desire for racial purity. These are words which jangle against popular consciousness – and yet the media simply accept BNP rhetoric at face value.
How Griffin and his cohorts must laugh! Not only do they openly tell each other that they’ll talk in code and be civil while they try to get a grasp on some power, but the media buys it completely. Moreover, since the BNP are “controversial”, they’re a hot topic for the media to report on. This in turn makes them out to be more important than they actually are – inherent to which is the danger of self-fulfilling prophecy. It also distorts political discourse away from groups such as No2EU, Yes to Democracy, which could quite easily have more dedicated activists and be more grounded in the British working class than the BNP; the media seems to be strangely quick to forget just how fast the BNP were ousted from the Lindsey strike, or the posties up north who are refusing to deliver BNP leaflets (Hat Tip).
On that subject for a moment, if you get a BNP leaflet through your door and you are at home, do not simply bin it. Go and speak to the postman and ask him if he feels comfortable delivering these leaflets. Talk to your neighbours, then call the local CWU and ask if you can speak to your local branch about it. It’s not a question of political freedom, as Simon Darby, BNP spokesman, would make out. Its about stopping the BNP from performing the very acts of openly lying that their leader has told us he is going to perform. It’s about stopping racism, and undermining the ability to buy an election via leaflets simply because the media is too lazy to do a proper investigative job on the BNP.
If the BNP want these leaflets distributed, it’s entirely within the remit of the posties to collectively decide that BNP members will have to give them out on their own.
Moving back to the original topic however, I think it’s important not to dismiss the threat of the BNP. I’m all in favour of mobilising activists, trades unions and other groups against fascism via the Hope Not Hate campaign. However, that campaign strikes me as worryingly apolitical, bearing in mind that recent Households Below Average Income data shows the complete failure of New Labour’s third way guff when it comes to combatting the sharp end of capitalism (Hat Tip). Especially when considering our own methods of fightback, we do need to take the Right seriously because an electoral breakthrough for the BNP would be bad news.
Ignoring the issue of credibility for a moment (and they would certainly gain some of that), the biggest boost to the BNP would be financial. Our own domestic MPs have been greedily sticking their noses in the trough but the European Union is a spectacle to behold when it comes to doling out cash, as UKIP’s Nigel Farage would apparently be the first to admit. Handing the BNP two million quid to spend on promoting their ridiculous ideas would be seriously bad news – doubly so bearing in mind the media climate we’re in, wherein one only has to dig out an opposing press release in order to consider a piece of churnalism “balanced”, however tendentious or inadequate it may be.
It seems that this is just one more thing which Cohen has got just a little bit wrong, but another take can be found at Zebra Mbizi, which I’ve only today read for the first time. (Cartoon credits to SchNews, to which everyone should subscribe).
I didn’t think much in the world of politics could shock me anymore. Yet the news that the BNP are to be invited to Buckingham Palace shocks me. My republicanism has not been pronounced over the last few years because there’ve been other things to attend to. When attending picket lines or passing out leaflets there isn’t a lot of time to be denouncing the parasitic organism that is the Royal Family. Not when there are Tories aiming to take every last penny from the working man’s pocket and the Fascists aiming to relocate half of Britain abroad just because we don’t measure up to what they consider to be British.
However, the news that the BNP are to be invited shouldn’t surprise me so grievously. After all, it’s well recorded that various members of the Royal Family are outright racists, and their ancestors – ironically, German immigrants – were no less so. These are people who presided (and preside!) over the bullying and butchering of how many people and nations simply because our armies are stronger and it is in the interest of our native capitalists to do so. Far from being the doting parents of the nation, the Royals personify everything that is plain evil about a class-based system of exploitation.
Let the BNP have their garden party. If one fucking member of the Greens or Labour appears at such an event, alongside that odious racist Griffin, then they are a traitor to their movement. Yet long have been the years since MacDonald and his cabinet went cap in hand to recieve their offices from the King, dressed in finery far removed from the conditions of the workers they were supposed to represent, and many have been the betrayals – of men and women fighting to put bread and butter on their table, no less. One more such betrayal will probably not plague their consciences.
I’ve expended a lot of effort, the last few months, attacking or critiquing popular fronts and electoral alliances. I’ve examined the ramifications of post-Marxist theory for political practice, studied the electoral slate No2EU and been bitterly resentful of yet more dilettante rubbish surrounding the successor to the Convention on Modern Liberties. A lot of my criticisms can be summed up with the accusation that the alliances in question lack the ‘social weight’ to achieve the goals they aim at – and I thought it might be a good idea to sum up and conclude the negative argumentation and add some positive connotations, which are being talked about elsewhere on the blogosphere.
If we take the Convention on Modern Liberties and its successor, Magna Carta 2.0, as a starting point. Around the professional political class exists a penumbra of semi-professional politicos, who make their meat commenting on the process or holding junior offices – e.g. in NUS – that are the stepping stones to joining the professional political class. It is my contention that with the best will in the world, an alliance between selected parts of these groups will not better the situation for civil liberties in the UK. Moreover, it is my contention that despite attempts to popularise both groups, any successes that are achieved will occur in spite of rather than because of the tactics used.
As I have said elsewhere, the existence of civil liberties are not simply an administrative question of good governance. The importance of civil liberties does not revolve around protecting the rights that we have come to expect from the government. As a minor matter, this is why any link between the modern campaign for civil liberties and the Magna Carta is a bad idea. It gives an unhistorical, quasi-nationalistic air to the whole thing both of which qualities hinder rather than help the building of a genuine campaign. Civil liberties are an intensely ideological issue because they form the basis for mass politics – and mass politics is the only counter-balance to organised Capital.
The Conservative Party could survive without mass politics. Its political interests lie with free business rather than free people. The social make-up of the Conservative predisposes it to a bias against the common worker; whether in the guise of the criminal, the lazy benefit scrounger or the dangerous immigrants, Conservative politics disparage the working class via several competing morality tales which implicitly assume that if you are not ‘successful’, you have some intrinsic flaw. Of course, often Conservative diatribes are more sophisticated than I have presented them, since Conservatives have been well aware that they require working class votes ever to achieve power.
Those who seek to change the system are portrayed as a meddlesome middle class, of students with no life experience, of layabout professional revolutionaries, the atheists who are coming for your Christian values, the homosexuals who are coming for your children or any of several other harmful stereotypes paraded by the Daily Mail. This nationalist dialogue treats all enemies as external to the body politic, which is assumed to consist of Royalist, paedo-hating, persecuted Anglo-Saxon Christians. Anyone who disagrees is a Lesbian or a Communist, and therefore easily dismissed without bothering to engage one’s brain.
Against such cultural power as Conservatism can bring to bear – since these narratives infect most of the major newspapers and tabloids – and such institutional power as can be wielded by conservatism (small ‘c’ since need not necessarily be found in the party which takes its name), the only recourse is mass politics. Underpinning all of these mechanisms of power are processes which require the participation of the working class. Disrupting that participation by an appeal to the common interests of the working class is the basis of mass politics and requires the very civil liberties that should be defended and reclaimed: privacy, freedom of assembly, association, speech and protest.
Despite various Conservatives claiming, over the past few years, that they are opposed to the database state and to the anti-terror laws which the government has passed, it should be telling that the vast majority of the Conservative blogosphere and no few Conservative MPs actively ridiculed the G20 protests and approved of the police tactics. Even despite video evidence of beatings, eye-witness reports of plain clothes policement circulating in the crowd, the fault supposedly lay with the protestors. When it comes to anti-youth policies, such as mosquito devices and ASBOs, there are some fierce cheerleaders sitting on the Tory front benches.
Neither the Convention on Modern Liberties, nor Magna Carta 2.0, aim at mass politics and the disruption of working class participation in the exercise of State power. Bypassing the potential for grassroots organisation, they aim to appeal to individual politicians to support their agenda. This has a limited potential for real success; an examination of the different laws passed by the Labour government shows the Conservatives up for what they are – political opportunists. Detention without trial for 28 days rather than 90. Can’t be having a “surveillance society” but getting rid of the Human Rights Act is a priority because it protects criminal and terrorist suspects.
Suspend consideration of this rather bloodless campaign for a moment and think of the alternatives. At Anton Vowl’s Enemies of Reason site, and at Tim Ireland’s Bloggerheads, there has been discussion of Posties boycotting the delivery of BNP leaflets. Apparently the Royal Mail used to have a conscience clause but this has been scrapped. That said, bearing in mind how many socialists got out on the streets to help out with the CWU strike, it should be eminently possible to build a campaign whereby the CWU directs its members to refuse to deliver such leaflets, and promises to give legal aid to anyone sued and call local strikes or a work-to-rule over sackings.
This is the sort of campaign which has a better chance of success. The government employs people who are directly responsible for implementing its security policies and in turn those people rely on still others. Rather than accept the legitimacy of Parliamentary methods – and in a week where we’re documenting by the dozen just how many of these people are on the make – we should be prepared to go to the frontlines and make our case. At the very least, we’d attract a few less showboating journalists and a few more committed activists – and by building a concerted campaign of resistance, we’d deprive the political elite of powers they shouldn’t have anyway.
Problems arise here for Tories and the Labour Right; the sanctity of Parliament is after all a long cosseted religion. Moreover, Conservatives would wet themselves if they thought that this tactic might be used in other circumstances – say when police were ordered to face off to protestors and refused. Or if ever the power to deploy troops under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 was used against internal political opponents and backfired. Conservatives are only fans of civil liberties when they can be arbitrated by a Conservative government with one eye watching the natural beneficiaries of such rights – the Trades Unions and the Left.
It is this deployment of strategic social weight we should be aiming for in the fight for civil liberties, and its refreshing that at least in the context of stopping the enemies of those liberties – the BNP – we have begun to talk about just that.
Elsewhere: I was very pleased to see that Georgia Gould did not get selected to fight John Austin’s seat at the next election. She came third. The very notion of this millionaire’s daughter parading the fact that she got an all-expenses paid trip to Virginia to join the Obama campaign as part of her CV just irritated me no end. When people sneak across borders to tell activists in neighbouring countries what is going on, it’s activism; when they can tap daddy for the money and swan off whenever they like, it’s tourism.
Elsewhere 2: What on earth is going on in Barking and Dagenham? Private Eye, over the last few issues, has been carrying some astonishing stories about the mass deselection of many candidates for council elections. In an area where the BNP already have 12 councillors, this couldn’t possibly be more disastrous. I can’t help but wonder links it had to the ridiculous comments of Margaret Hodge, who has given the BNP several filips such as how 8 out of 10 families might vote for the BNP. At the time, Cllr. Liam Smith attacked her remarks – and as a result of the turmoil, he seems to be the favourite to become council leader.
Elsewhere 3: What an ingenious idea! Are you absolutely sick of retarded leaflets and “newsletters” from political parties or interest groups that spout demonstrable crap? Well, you can now upload them to the internets and tell everyone about them at Straight Choice. I’m pretty impressed with this resource and I think everyone should make use of it – it’ll help to know who’s been naughty and who has been nice as regards their campaign pledges.
Elsewhere 4: This is absolutely hilarious. Some expenses-hoarding millionaire oil magnates have no luck. Hopefully there will be many more such events.
A friend of mine recently posted the article below about why he has left the Labour Party. I thought it would be interesting for some of the ‘hard core’ of socialist members of the Party to read, to realise exactly what it is to remain in a Party with the New Labour leadership. Too many on the Left of the Party have categorically failed to lay out their plan to “re-take” the organisation- either now or in the aftermath of electoral apocalypse. Maybe this, from a member who counts as average within Labour, might prompt them.
“Last week I clicked the simple cancel button on my direct debit, and the Labour Party get £1.84 less a month than it did before. I know quitting it will have little impact, considering I’ve contributed little money or time over the last year.
However, as a gesture, it was crucial for me to do so.
ideology is a very intangible thing, and I never committed to any particular one due to the shortcomings of following any of them rigidly. There are however principles, if not principles than ideas. The simple idea behind why I joined Labour was simple: I believe that the poor should be less poor and the rich should be less rich.
After a decade a Government has a responsibility to really have made fundamental changes in their view of what society should be, and the crucial thing to me is this: inequality is at an all time high. It has never been higher, not even under Thatcher. This is not some statistical technicality, it’s visible around me. Time and time again I see inherited wealth meaning people can lounge about, working if they choose to do so and using that wealth to get influential jobs in journalism and politics. Time and time again I see young people of my age, paying nearly all their low income on rent because of a housing shortage.
There is a huge housing shortage in this country, and it barely talked about in the mainstream media or the New Labour Party because it has been the base of huge amounts of wealth for the affluent middle class. Conversely though, there should be nothing more offensive to a Labour Party than people sponging money from capital investments rather than actually working. The Labour Party has remained silent, disgustingly not arguing originally with the Conservative proposition to raise the inheritance tax threshold.
The Labour Party has retreated on this crucial element. The right to live in a house or flat on one’s own should be a basic right, and it has been for decades. After the Thatcherite period, this is no longer the case. None of the money from The Right To Buy has been put into new social housing, and nothing has been done about the increasingly extortionate rent costs that people are paying. Forced by the ghettoisation of council estates from the right to buy policy, people on low income have been forced into hugely expensive rental or eventually impossible-to-pay mortgages. Labour remain silent, building pathetic amounts of housing, lower than ever,
This is just a single section of how Labour has failed to tackle the real fundamental issues the Left should engage in. Faith schools and private education continue to maintain class and religious divisions, with private schools more than replacing the inequalities of the grammar school system. The sheer lack of redistribution is also pathetic. The key tenant of wanting a better society is surely that those who work the hardest should be adequately rewarded, but investment bankers and inheritance spongers enjoy the greatest income disparity with hard-working minimum wage workers ever since records began of inequality.
Labour’s measures on these issues has been limpwristed, unsustainable handouts here and there, many of them to middle class families. Do high-income married couples need £200 to buy food for their child during pregnancy? These handouts are at times cynical and far too beaurocratic and easily abused than proper, simple tax redistribution. How about cutting tax for lower earners, who proportionately pay more of their income in tax than the rich?
This Labour Government has been a failure in the key fundamental issues that are important to me, and that’s before I even get started on the expenses scandal, showing numerous ministers of Labour stock absolutely trashing the traditions of the party. All-women shortlist and ethnic minority lists are simply diversions, not tackling the real problem of careerist politicians milking the system for every penny they can get in their bloated wallets.
The only argument I hear is that I by quitting Labour I am somehow supporting a Conservative victory, that is not true, but my disgust at Cameron’s Etonian party of rich-friendly policies and social conservatism does not cancel out Labour’s failures. The Labour Party of the earlier 20th century would have loved this decade to put real change in, and all this New Labour government has done is remain silent on the neoliberal social trends that are tearing apart families and taking away basic rights such as housing from the poor. Being better than the Tories only earns my vote, not my membership.
This rant wasn’t clever, it wasn’t funny, but it was pretty damn cathartic.”