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Defend the Lambeth Labour one….

I don’t intend to revisit the debate in this post about what Labour councils should do about the cuts. Regardless of where comrades stand on that question, I think there should be a degree of unanimity about basic democratic norms we adhere too. If we take that as something of a given the actions of Lambeth’s Labour Group in withdrawing the whip from Councillor Kingsley Abrams are totally unacceptable. Abrams only ‘crimes’ appear to be speaking in a forthright manner and voting against a draft budget that includes £37 million worth of cut backs to local services:

Abrams told cabinet members to “get yourselves real jobs”, and was told by leader Steve Reed that his behaviour was “disgraceful, coming from a Labour councillor”.

Quite why comrade Reed feels this way isn’t explained. Either he doesn’t like the way Abrams voted or the way he spoke; neither of which are cause for disciplinary action in a democratic forum. True, Abrams may have been being a little angular but I think we all can be at times and a robust and healthy democratic culture tolerates this and absorbs it. I find it hard to believe the Labour whip, Jack Hopkins, protestations that he is feeling heavy-hearted about this decision though given the fact that not only has he withdrawn the whip from Abrams but has referred him to his local party to see if any further action is merited.

Disgraceful is an adjective many would feel applies to Labour councils making these cuts in the first place. Nonetheless I have yet to see any serious arguments that all those who do should be subject to disciplinary action. Events in Lambeth seem to set a worrying precedent. Are all those local representatives who stand-up for their communities to be treated this way? You would hope not but you never know.  It really should not be the case that a case for the allowance of free speech and free action should have even to be argued for in this context. You would kind of hope it would be taken as a given. However, that seems still not to be the case even for the brave ‘New Generation’ and their Captain Miliband. The much-vaunted policy review process seems to be descending into high farce as the leadership does everything within its power to avoid consulting the membership.

Labour’s cultural grasp of democracy and commitment to it internally and externally  frankly leaves a lot to be desired still. This is not just a academic question but one of political principal and necessity. Labour will not become a government again by running the likes of Councillor Abrams over with the bureaucratic tank. It may be elected but it won’t be a government. Councillor Abrams should be reinstated immediately and something akin to a democratic revolution should be sparked to sweep through the Party and cleanse it of the utter nonsense spouted by messers Reed and Hopkins in Lambeth.

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Filed under: Labour, The Left,

Tom Balwdin tells media off for ‘Red Ed’ remarks #spoof

By Jane Watkinson

Context: Tom Baldwin is Ed Miliband’s spin doctor and has made a name for himself by writing to the newspapers/MPs asking them to do rather pathetic ‘favours’. He instructed Labour MPs against attacking Murdoch regarding the phone hacking incident, whilst asking the media to call the coalition a ‘Tory-led’ government. Therefore, this spoof letter is inspired by Tom Baldwin’s courage. Note, there is likely to be a procession of such blogs.

Dear Mr Media,

I am writing to ask for you to refrain from using the ‘Red Ed’ slogan to describe Ed Miliband. Frankly, we find the use of the term rather inappropriate and divorced from factual reality. The following will outline the reasons for why such a term is inappropriate and what you should call Ed Miliband if you require such pseudo-isms.

Now, the following facts are not allowed to be leaked and quoted, ok? Let’s just keep it as our own elephant in the room. The facts are significant in outlining the serious misjudgements regarding your application of ‘Red Ed’. There are several caveats with such a nickname:

  1. As a party, whilst we have conceded the need for more tax rises, if we had been in government we would still be enacting Darling’s economic policies of halving the deficit within a Parliament primarily through cuts (a plan that Darling said would result in cuts harsher than Thatcher’s). Try ‘reding’ that.
  2. We introduced the ESA scheme, we initiated the Brown Review, we introduced stricter medical tests for benefit recipients, placed more emphasis upon work and introduced negative condescending words such as ‘NEETS’ into dominant language currency. What is more, we still support many of the cuts to welfare, alongside reform to incapacity benefit with the ESA scheme and have been largely vacant when it comes to opposing disability cuts (and benefit cuts overall) in general (which are to be slashed by over 20%).
  3. Before you cite Miliband talking at the March for an Alternative demonstration as evidence for such disparaging remarks, this was purely to appease the growing anguish towards Ed from those Red people. He won’t be marching though; he’s such a tease.

We would rather you used the term ‘progressive’ Ed, especially given Ed’s rather brilliant idea to rename the Labour Party to the ‘Progressive Labour Party‘. I hope you can see the sheer brilliance of such a plan, Ed never fails to amaze me with his ever developing astuteness. It is rather comparable to the way he toyed with those kids protesting against tuition fees; simply genius.

Essentially, whilst Ed Miliband doesn’t like Len McCluskey, we are as he says campaigning for “fewer cuts later on”.

Love and Kisses,

Tom Baldwin

P.S. Obviously, we support a free press, democracy and right to expression etc etc. However, we expect this to be said in the strictest sense of confidentiality, so make sure to get the plumbing done so we don’t know of any leaks!

Filed under: Labour, , , , , ,

Labour has forsaken all bonds of fellowship….

By Darrell Goodliffe.

At the very end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Aragon gives quite a rousing speech as he leads the combined forces of Rohan and Gondor in a seemingly suicidal all-out attack on Sauron’s Mordor. He talks of a day when all bonds of fellowship are broken and boldy intones ‘today is not that day’. However, for Labour today is that day. In Egypt, pro-Mubarak thugs are attacking the forces of democracy in a clear provocation which no doubt is intended to actively engage the army on the side of the regime. Meanwhile, in Westminster all Ed Miliband can do is prate about democracy and is too busy playing the statesman to express some real practical solidarity.

A Labour leader looking to express solidarity would have done alot more than Ed. A Labour leader doing this would, for example, made it quite clear the British government should break off all diplomatic relations with the Muburak regime. They would have insisted that the Muburak regime immediately be de-recognised as the legitimate government of Egypt and that Britain would only deal with a transitional government comprised of all the major opposition groupings. They may even have raised the possibility that Muburak be internationally indicted as the criminal he is.  They certainly would not have ‘pacifically’ questioned a Conservative Prime Minister to the point where even The Spectator is brimming with praise. The labour movement and the Labour Party was founded on the values of solidarity and internationalism – two values that the leadership is solely lacking.

No doubt some will praise Ed for his ‘statesman’ like behaviour but I cannot find it in my heart to care about his poll ratings and presentation points today. What matters is the lives of those who are currently being crushed under the jackboot in Tahrir Square and thats all that should matter to any Labour Leader. What the Muburak regime is doing is terrorism. Just because the state sponsors it in this case should not make it any less morally repellent than the other variety. However, it seems the Western ‘war on terror’ has hit the buffers in Egypt. We don’t like it when its on our shores but when its despots across the Arab world cracking down on our own people our governments simply seem to care and be prepared to settle for doing an awful lot less. Words are all we get and, let’s be honest, there is usually a qualification and caveat to them.

This double-standard will come back to haunt us as all our historical double standards currently do in the shadowy and barbaric guise of Al Quaeda . If the Muslim Brotherhood gains support in Egypt then we have nobody to blame but ourselves because when we had the choice our leaders were prepared to doing nothing practical to assist the Egyptian people in bringing the Muburak government down. They on the other hand have at least stood, fought and died for regime change; that is not to recommend their vile politics but is to recognise how these politics gain popular currency. Ed Miliband would do well to reflect on this today because today he let the Labour Party down and he also let the Egyptian people down….

Filed under: International Politics, Labour

Labour should oppose the cuts with more bite…

Jamie Potter is a graduate in Journalism and Politics, a member of the Labour Party and his blog can be found here.

Mark Ferguson wrote on LabourList on Sunday of Labour’s need to avoid engaging with the anti-cuts movement until it becomes clear what it is they stand for and what it is they hope to achieve. I couldn’t help but feel like this was a call to see what the anti-cuts protests mean for Labour in terms of numbers, votes and power rather than a recognition of the necessity to fight the cuts.

Labour’s intransigence in engaging with the anti-cuts movement is doing itself no good. While I feel torn over whether Labour should or shouldn’t be involved with such campaigns (something which stems from my own radical nature but also recognition that it’s only really Labour who will put the Coalition out of power), having such mouthpieces pouring derision over those taking part and evaluating it on the basis of its electoral merit is going to do little to endear Labour to those out on the streets actually doing something.

Some of Ferguson’s criticisms of the protests are flimsy. Any seasoned activist would be wise to mask up, no thanks to the police’s love of surveillance  Similarly, protesters wearing helmets to a protest isn’t uncommon. If anything, it’s advisable given the Met’s predilection for weilding truncheons and the occasional horse. Neither are a precursor for violence. At least, not on behalf of the protester.

Ferguson then goes on to imply that the demonstration was only peaceful due to the police presence at Topshop and Millbank. Does he not trust protesters to act peacefully without the strong arm of the law watching over them? To suggest that the predefined endpoint and criterion for success of these protests is violence is to show a complete misunderstanding of their peaceful motivation and the countless successful protests that have taken place across the country. Police apologist springs to mind.

What particularly sticks out though, is the criticism of the protests for being unfocused and (I may just be misinterpreting this) a hint towards the lack of leadership, which then begs the question of why then do Labour not seek to take up this role? One could quite easily turn Mark Ferguson’s opening remark on its head as the anti-cuts movement ask what Labour MPs stand for at this point in time and what they hope to achieve?

That these actions seem to have no coherent focus isn’t necessarily a bad thing. First of all, ‘movement’ should be used loosely, as it is more a massive collection of groups and people motivated by different cuts and government policies, which in itself is indicative of the sweeping scale of Coalition cuts.

Secondly, what we’re seeing in some places is as much a venting of anger and frustration as it is a concerted attack, but it is through such actions that relationships and connections are made and the foundations for more thoughtful activism established. Bringing Egypt into the equation on Saturday wasn’t a smart move in terms of fighting the cuts, but I don’t think a single incident undermines the wider ‘movement’.

Likewise, the lack of a rally or speeches shouldn’t be mourned but celebrated. Rallies and speeches detract from the more organic and participatory actions such as blockading stores which give people the space to discuss ideas among themselves and, more importantly, talk to the public. Who listens to a speech at a rally point in Hyde Park apart from those already on the protest?

Meanwhile, in party political land, it feels like the major voices of the Labour party are more than happy to sit on their hands and make mumbling, stumbling attacks on the Coalition every now and then. The appointment of Ed Balls to shadow chanceller I hoped would inject a little bit of bite into Her Maj’s Opposition but he’s been somewhat muted thus far. The differences between the politicians and the people couldn’t be any more stark.

Filed under: Labour, , ,

#No2AV is not ‘in crisis’…..

By Darrell Goodliffe.

Rupert Read, writing yesterday, seems to think the #No2AV camp is somehow ‘in meltdown’. How he reaches this conclusion because some wires got crossed over precisely who supports it is beyond me. If we take the most notable cases, the ‘loss’ of both Barry Sheerman or Michael Gove, they could well have been down to faults on their part as much as any problems with the campaign. Sheerman distinguished himself during the last government by being a disruptive influence and seems clearly to have at least been partially responsible for the confusion over his position. At first he denied he had ever spoken to the No camp then admitted his inclusion on the now infamous list could be down to an ‘informal conversation’ with No2AV organiser, Jane Kennedy. So, comrade let’s get this straight; you have never spoken to the No campaign except when you have had an informal conversation with one of their organisers? Gove’s record at Education doesn’t exactly scream decisiveness either so I can well imagine he would give off mixed signals. Similarly, though it does look like there are instances of genuine and foolish mistakes other factors influencing a retraction could be behind the scenes pressure. The size of the ‘No2AV’ list had the spin-off of making the PLP looking, once again, at a significant variance with a leader it did not elect therefore its not inconceivable that this has played a part.

Even if this isnt the case and in this instance the No camp was guilty of some sloppy research that does not equate to a ‘meltdown’ and to insist it does is the height of melodrama. Far more serious is this charge:

Maybe the problem is in part that the No campaign are in fact run by a bunch of right-wing nasties from the Tax-Payers Alliance and the Tories. Maybe that is why they have no accurate idea about what is going on inside Parties such as Labour and the Greens in terms of AV, and why they therefore not-infrequently, deliberately or as a result of cock-ups (as seems to be the case in this case), spread misinformation about the matter…

Ignoring the unnecessarily personally pejorative nature of Rupert’s remarks (‘nice’ people can have ‘nasty’ politics and vice versa) this is obviously the way that the ‘Yes’ camp will attempt to spin this incident. Of course, Rupert is ignoring the fact that leading Labour figures are on the organising committee of the No campaign and two of Britain’s three biggest trade unions, the GMB and Unite, are committed to the ‘No’ campaign. It would be nice to see the trade unions take a quasi-autonomous role in the campaign and produce their own literature as this would I feel aid the campaign in certain constituencies. Also, it would be nice if they contributed phone banking resources; phone canvassing being something that the No camp should be doing but clearly isn’t on the scale of the Yes campaign.

Rupert is trying to create ‘guilt by association’; a game we could easily play by asking him how Nick Clegg and his discredited Party are getting on as they desperately try to conceal their presence in the Yes camp so as to avoid completely guaranteeing defeat even before a vote is cast.  Speaking personally, I am quite proud to be associated with a campaign being supported by two of Britain’s leading unions (including my own) and have no problem working with those whose politics I do not share on this single issue. Divide and rule wont work and nor will trying to guilt trip the British people and progressives into accepting this truly ‘miserable little compromise’.

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Labour, Trade Unions, , , , , , ,

#No2AV meltdown…

Councillor Dr. Rupert Read. Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

The #No2AV campaign appear to be having a bit of a crisis… 

Last week they published a list of 114 Labour MPs.  Within a matter of hours it emerged that at least one MP on the list had not given them his consent. By yesterday, the count was up to 5.

it turns out that Barry Sheerman MP, far from being a No supporter, is an outspoken Yes campaigner. 

This of course comes after they wrongly declared that Michael Gove was a supporter.

They do seem to be in a mess about this. While yestofairervotes.org are, it seems to me, going from strength to strength!

Maybe the problem is in part that the No campaign are in fact run by a bunch of right-wing nasties from the Tax-Payers Alliance and the Tories. Maybe that is why they have no accurate idea about what is going on inside Parties such as Labour and the Greens in terms of AV, and why they therefore not-infrequently, deliberately or as a result of cock-ups (as seems to be the case in this case), spread misinformation about the matter…

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Green Party, Labour, , , ,

Why the left should take the AV Referendum seriously….

Keith White is the leader of the Labour Group on Dacorum Borough Council and blogs here.

One thing is certain there is going to be a referendum on whether we should replace the current First Past the Post voting system (FPTP) for the House of Commons with the Alternative Vote (AV) so for activists in the Labour Party and on the left to claim it is unimportant (campaigning against Tory cuts is much more crucial) and to try to ignore it is not only pointless but also a political failure – the left has as much of an interest in the future of democracy as anyone if not more.

A familiar argument against changing from FPTP is that alternative systems, such as AV, benefit the smaller parties disproportionately and that the so called centre ground third party will be the major gainer. This argument is based on the somewhat flawed assumption that all votes cast under FPTP would translate to first choice votes under AV, whereas in reality the weaknesses and distortions of the current FPTP system in many areas influences voter choice.

Since the mid to late 1980s, in particular since the 1987 and 1992 General Elections there has been a significant build up of willingness to vote tactically in many constituencies, and a growing advocacy from political parties for tactical voting where it is perceived to benefit them. Hence, the “It’s a two horse race”, “Labour/LibDem/Tory (delete where applicable) can’t win here” leaflets; all seeking to convince the electorate that if they don’t want one political party to win they must vote in only one alternative way. This style of campaigning has fuelled the negative view of politics that it is all about saying how bad the opposition is rather than what the party in question is actually going to do. In this climate it is much easier to justify the “their all as bad as each other” reason for ignoring elections and voter apathy increases alongside the perception of a lack of choice. The ultimate result of tactical voting, FPTP and negative campaign fuelled voter apathy is the 2010 General Election result.

The electoral dynamic created by both the FPTP voting system and ‘anti-party’ campaigning, which if anything is more prevalent in marginal seats than any other, is to increase the influence of the compromise party. Why vote for your first choice party if they have no real prospect of winning, why not ensure your vote has influence by voting against the party you don’t want to win by voting for the perceived ‘middle ground’, the other ‘anti’ party?  The Liberal Democrats built most of their appeal by presenting themselves as an ‘anti’ Conservative party that could win in seats where Labour could not and in some areas by being an ‘anti’ Labour party that could win where the Conservatives could not. They built support as a ‘safe’ protest party precisely because of the distorting effective of the FPTP voting system. The nature of the FPTP voting has meant that as this ‘alternative anti’ and/or ‘safe’ protest they have gained votes they would not otherwise have received, often on a perception and without any real scrutiny of their policies or what they stand for.

On this basis it is arguable that the Liberal Democrats will lose first choice votes through a switch to AV rather than gain as, over time, people return to casting their first choice vote for the party and candidate they identify with most rather than against the party and candidate they don’t want to win.

Equally as candidates campaign for first, second, and in some constituencies, third or even fourth choice preference votes they will be forced to campaign positively. On what they will do and what their policies mean. Minor parties will start to gain influence, not through protest voting but through policy challenge as major parties frame an appeal to attract transfer votes from their supporters. Here for the left the way Labour addresses the concerns of the Greens will be crucial. Just as interesting will be the influence UKIP transfer votes might have on the Tories, will it strengthen the hand of the Euro-sceptic right?

And what about the Lib Dem surge that will come from being everyone’s second choice?

There is no longer any reason to think that they are. The prospect of them being the automatic second choice of Labour voters has been largely burnt following 2010’s General election and the actions of the Coalition Government. In any event the benefit of them being ‘second choice’ only works in constituencies where they can gather enough support to be in first or second place when all other parties have dropped out and their votes transferred. Without the pressure to tactically vote enforced by the FPTP system there is no reason to believe that the Liberal Democrats will achieve this in any more constituencies than present. Given the current state of party support in the polls it is much more likely that in seats that Labour won in 1997 but fell to third in 2010 that Labour would find it easier to bring back lost votes and move back in to the top two. It is here that Ed Milliband’s appeal to Liberal Democrat votes is important. In an AV election the size of a Liberal Democrat vote transfer, second or third choice votes, could make the differences in many seats. Electing Labour MPs through a progressive left policy alliance building a positive policy platform that is attractive to Labour, Green and left of centre Liberal Democrat voters.

Supporting AV may well be the best way to prevent another 2010 General Election. It may also be the best way to renew progressive politics and build a new debate across the broader centre left. Tribalism may well be forced in to history, but not because coalition government is the inevitable consequence of shifting from FPTP but because open positive debate between parties might be the only way to convince the electorate and to secure the first, second, and third choice votes necessary to win the seats and therefore the election.

This might just be our best chance to make politics real again.

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats, The Left

The cold, deathly hand of ‘vanguardism’…..

By Darrell Goodliffe.

Something has sprung into life; a movement that may just carry the seeds of some radical social change. I don’t want to jinx it and certainly don’t want to say we are knocking on the door of a revolution (because we aren’t) but a combination of factors just makes things feel, well, a little bit different and more promising this time. However, there have been promising movements before which have floundered basically as they have been led into a cul de sac. Consistently, the left insists that the crisis is a perpetual one of ‘leadership’ and that if movements are to succeed they only need to accept our leadership to be successful. So, while we have something of a natural recess in the movement due to the Christmas holidays perhaps now is the time to consider slaying some sacred cows.

Vanguardism is relevant as a concept because it’s actually not just the creed of Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist groups who charge around the place like proverbial bulls in a china shop proclaiming themselves to be the ‘vanguard’ of the working class. Implicitly, there is something of an acceptance of vanguardism in Labourism which replaces the revolution with the election of a Labour Government on the assumption it, having been duly elected, will rain manna from heaven and, in the case of the old Clause IV, deliver for the workers the fruits of their labours to them. It sees Labour, in control of the state, as the agent of progressive change and implicitly the Labour Party as the rightful vanguard of the movement. This can be just as disempowering and atomising as the harshest ‘democratic centralist’ regime.

In  my mind, ‘vanguardism’ is the notion that to succeed a movement must be led by an organisation (usually a political party) because in and of itself a movement is not able to effect sweeping social change. This is true just as the a priori vanguardist assumption that some will lead and some will follow is; however, its a one-sided truth. The two things are related because the vanguard organisation is the organisation of these ‘leading individuals’.  Its true that the vast majority of us don’t have the time, energy or wherewithal to bury ourselves in theoretical study or even to attend every protest. Not everybody can, or probably should, be a leader; even in the most brilliantly formed democracy some will shine and others will retire as their individual nature dictates. Furthermore, vanguardist political organisation also made sense in an autocratic state for precisely the reasons that render its purist application in a representative democracy a little errr disconnected from reality.

However, there the truth telling ends. Although they may not be able to reguitate at will Marx’s theory of surplus value people can generally grasp complex truths about the nature of their condition, position and society around them and are able to logically follow from that a clear articulation of their needs. Also, they can form from that a vision of how not just their life may not be better but also how the world in general can be a better place. Maybe they can’t attend every protest or meeting but that doesn’t stop them feeling a burning sense of anger at a government waging war on them and wanting to do something about it. As such they can contribute without being ‘leaders’ per se to all our struggles.  Finally, we should always remember something the left always seems to forget; context matters and the brilliance of our past heroes stemmed primarily from their grasp of the world around them which they combined with their knowledge of what had gone before to shape that world in their here and now.

Vanguardism and ‘vanguardist’ political organisation unleavened by democracy (which provides the living, dare I say it dialectical, relationship between movement and organisation), democratic understanding, struggle and demands, could become the cold deathly hand that chokes this movement at birth. I am sure nobody reading this truly wants that……

Filed under: Labour, The Left, , , , , ,

Is Labour’s policy review going to challenge the pro-growth agenda?

Councillor Dr. Rupert Read. Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

Major Policy Reviews announced by Labour  include some in unconventional “areas” such as ‘Time-poorness’ and ‘Loneliness’. This is a dramatic development; it partly explains why Miliband’s team came out in favour of Cameron’s stuff about ‘quality of life’ the other day.

Labour’s tentative sidling away from its standard pro-growth agenda is an opportunity for the Green Party: For it speaks to ‘our’ issues; it puts us in a good position once again to show that we are the Party that has been ahead of the curve here (in terms of work-life balance, the well-being agenda, relocalising and so building community, etc), and that we are the Party to trust on this issue. It is good to see Labour starting finally to catch up with us a little bit on this…

Filed under: Green Party, Labour, , , , ,

The fees disgrace – blame Labour

Councillor Dr. Rupert Read. Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

Let’s be very clear. It was Labour who opened the floodgates to the university tuition fees debacle that is now being imposed on our country.

The LibDems have allowed it to happen; the Tories made it happen; but it was Labour who commissioned the Browne report, and it was Labour who set the whole thing up in the first place, by imposing top-up fees. As soon as the argument had been made by Charles Clarke that it was right for students to pay a substantial amount toward their higher education, and that higher education free at the point of delivery was going to be a thing of the past, then full-scale marketisation became inevitable. It was only a matter of time. I made this argument at the time, as did Ian Gibson. We have, sadly, been proven right by the news that the ConDems are going to bring in variable fees of up to £9k.

It is LABOUR who need to take the blame for having created the conditions for this dreadful outcome. (And it is only the Green Party (and the Nats, etc.) who come out of this with clean hands: see http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenParty)
So: come the next election, let’s all be clear about that. If you want to punish the LibDems over this, then there is no point in voting Labour.

Filed under: Education, Green Party, Labour, , , , ,

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