Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dave's Part has moved to

Fresh from another triumphant blog makeover - this time on behalf of Inveresk Street Ingrate - Geordie htmlmeister Will Rubbish has done the business for me over at Ta muchly, comrade.

All future posts will be at the new place, although this blogspot site will be kept on to preserve the comments. If you link to me, please update accordingly. And if you don't link to me ... now's the time to do so.

Most of the benefits of the switch accrue to me as the blogger, of course. The new site will be much more reliable - 'nothing ever goes wrong', Will insists - and easier to use.

But small improvements from the reader's viewpoint include categories and a 'recent comments from ...' bit in the sidebar, which should make it easier to get debates rolling.

Dave's Part now gets about 350-400 unique visitors a day, a vast improvement on the traffic when it started out last March. That total is rising rapidly, too, so thank you all. But please ... more comments! More tip-offs!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Saturday Night Music Club: Davis and Coltrane

Kind of Blue era Miles and Trane. Doesn't get any better than that, does it? Love the way Davis uses Coltrane's solo as an excuse for a fag break, too.

Saturday Night Music Club: Robert Cray

Tonight's SNMC is supposed to be a guest post from young blogger Kit, provisionally titled 'A Guide to House Music for Old Farts'. But it still hasn't arrived.

So, for the benefit of blues-loving OFs everywhere, here's the very great Robert Cray doing his classic number Smokin' Gun. I'd give my right arm to play guitar like that. If that wouldn't be self-defeating, of course.

Cray is one of the few artistes of whom I actively seek to own every recording. But despite being a fan for 20 years, I had never caught him live until he played the Jazz Cafe in Camden earlier this year. He didn't disappoint.

George Galloway: near miss

Friday night. Stroppy meets me after work. I buy the girl a Jack Dan and Coke in a trendy bar in Hoxton and we discuss the plan for the evening.

Ruby Murray, suggests she. Being Hank Marvin, I don't need my arm twisting. Not long afterwards, we are sitting at the window table of an unpretentious curry establishment on Hackney's Kingsland Road. I've got my back to the window, the Stroppy One is facing it.

The poppadoms, chutney and Kingfishers have arrived. The onion bhajees are fying. I am salivating in anticipation of the chicken jalfezi that is to come. Sometimes it takes a CJ to really hit the spot, no? Then Stroppy drops an entirely unexpected bombshell. And no, she's not with child.

'Ohmigod,' she says. 'There's George Galloway.'

'Whuuuu.... ??'

'Looking in the window.'

This takes a few seconds to sink in. I turn around. But by this point, GG isn't there anymore. I run to the door and poke my head out. In the darkness, I clock his Gorgeousness's unmistakeable silhouette - designer stubble, cee-gar, Crombie and all - heading south towards the cluster of Vietnamese restaurants that presumably took his fancy. The Respect MP - pictured above with some friends - was accompanied by another man, a woman and a child.

Damn. I'd have loved him to have chosen the same curry house as us, just to have been able to eavesdrop on the conversation. Maybe he would even have mistaken Stroppy and me for people who give a fuck about what he thinks.

Friday, November 24, 2006

RMT: John Leach elected president

It’s a really good day for lefties being elected to things today. According to a press release from RMT, tubeworker John Leach has been voted in as the union’s new president, beating Ray Knight by 6,865 to 5,141 after the redistribution of votes from three eliminated candidates.

Bristol-based Alex Gordon, another leftwinger, was elected unopposed to represent South Wales and the West on the RMT executive. Congratulations to both.

National Union of Journalists: in dispute with Sheridan and Byrne

When Tommy Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne quit the Scottish Socialist Party three months ago, they also pulled out of the collective agreement under which the SSP’s caseworkers, researchers and parliamentary assistants are employed.

The two Solidarity MSPs also withdrew £48,000 from the pooled account that paid the wages. As a result, the jobs are under threat.

OK, it’s natural that when launching a breakaway political party, the leaders will seek to secure the resources necessary for it to function. But that should be achieved by negotiating an equitable division of assets with the political party they are leaving.

It is unacceptable for socialist elected representatives to put these people’s jobs on the line in such a fashion.

Unsurprisingly, the employees are now in an dispute with Sheridan - pictured above - and Byrne. My own union, the National Union of Journalists, is giving them official backing. I wonder if Socialist Worker supporters in Solidarity will do the same?

You can read the SSP’s take here. And you can sign a petition in support of the SSP parliamentary team here.

[Hat tip: Harry’s Place]

Derek Wall gets Green Party top job

Congratulations to Derek Wall – a regular in the comments box on this blog – on being elected one of the Green Party’s two principal speakers, effectively making him its joint leader.

This is great news for the left. Derek, an open ecosocialist, won the poll for the position by 767 votes to 705, ousting the more moderate Keith Taylor.

The development comes just months after the formation of Green Left, an organised ecosocialist tendency in the Green Party, of which I believe Derek is a member. Seems like that section of the Greens is advancing strongly.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I heard Derek speak at a public meeting, and admit that he did not expect to win. Presumably that will make victory all the sweeter.

As I have argued before, there is nothing inherently socialist about Green ideology. In Leeds, for example, they have formed a coalition with the Tories to run the city’s council.

But the Greens – in the UK, at any rate - are unmistakably an anti-establishment party. They are against the war on Iraq, they are anti-racist and anti-homophobic, the reject the current laws on immigration, trade unions and cannabis.

Where Green policies and socialist policies coincide – and they often do – then of course Greens and socialists should work together. Derek’s election will make that all the easier.

Incidentally, the Green Party has 92 Councillors on 38 Councils, two London Assembly members and two MEPs. The separately-organised Scottish Greens also have around half a dozen MSPs.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Alan Milburn and education vouchers

Education vouchers. Some crackpoint idea devised by Milton Friedman, which the Tory right sniffed around years ago before giving up on as a bad job? No. The latest policy proposal for New Labour from Alan Milburn.

I have been racking my brains to think of other discredited or just plain dumb Thatcherite ideas the Blairite outrider could resurrect and present as fresh and courageous thinking.

But short of the poll tax, New Labour has already adopted most of them – from ID cards to the NHS internal market - and then some.

The reason education vouchers are a non-starter is simple. For every London Oratory School, there are many of the establishments Alastair Campbell famously derided as Bog Standard Comprehensives.

And even with a voucher, few parents would be able to afford £10,000-a-year private schools of the kind favoured by Diane Abbott.

The real alternative is not bogus parental choice, but to make every school a good school.

If you really want to think the unthinkable, Alan, what about bringing about that goal, paying for it with progressive taxation? Radical or what?

Iraq: what is to be done?

The terrible news just in that at least 132 people have been killed in a series of car bombs in Shia districts of Baghdad. Greater or lesser atrocities such as this are now happening on a daily basis.

What is now happening in Iraq underlines the political inadequacy of the positions the main camps on the left adopted over the conflict three years ago.

It is increasingly obvious that both the pro-war left – remember their visions of a grateful Iraqi people strewing the path of US troops with flowers? – and the ‘Victory to the Resistance!’ brigade have gotten things completely wrong. Not that either can bring themselves to admit it, of course.

The project that movitated the invasion has clearly failed, albeit in ways I don’t think anybody anticipated at the time. It has created a crisis without any obvious solution.

The inability of the occupation troops to achieve order in Iraq underlines that the power to destroy is not the same as the power to create. The occupiers cannot build a state in Iraq, because they have no legitimacy.

Iraq’s weak government can claim to issue from a broadly democratic election, however warped the process was a result of being held against the backdrop of an occupation.

But inevitably it also lacks legitimacy, largely because the very concept of ‘Iraq’ itself lacks legitimacy, or even logic. It is an imperialist construct, which has existed for just 80 years of Mesopotamia’s 8,000-year history.

The Kurds want their own homeland, the oil-rich Shias look to Iran. The Sunnis have neither oil nor a majority, just guns and a willingness to use them.

One idea doing the rounds in foreign policy circles is some loose federal framework, with everything open to negotiation: the division of oil, water, and access to the sea.

Superficially, it seems an attractive proposition. But it runs up against many of the problems experienced in the partition of Ireland or of India and Pakistan.

The distribution of populations does not correspond to neat lines on a map. Even more bloodshed would inevitably ensue.

The move would also be unpopular in the Middle East. Many Arabs would regard it as Zionist plot to fragment Iraq for Israel’s benefit.

And there is no way the US would countenance the creation of a Sunni-dominated de facto Al Qa’eda statelet.

So the slaughter looks set to continue for years, whether the occupation forces remain or not.

I opposed the war in 2003. Nothing that has happened in the intervening period has given me reason to reconsider that opposition.

And given that it was a mistake to wage the war in the first place, rapid withdrawal of occupation troops seems the least worst option.

John McDonnell: manifesto for London

With the London Labour Party Conference due to take place this weekend. Labour leadership contender John McDonnell – former deputy leader of the Greater London Council before Thatcher abolished it, of course – has launched a ten-point manifesto for London.

The centrepiece of the programme is a revival of the GLC’s famous 'Fares Fair' policy of making public transport affordable, launched in 1981, which the courts ultimately ruled illegal. And I thought McDonnell insisted he wasn’t an eighties revivalist.

But anyway, here’s the full list. Nothing that democratic socialists will have any difficulty with. The April Theses it ain’t. If anything, I reckon the call for a £7 an hour minimum wage is a little on the low side. Somebody remind me, what’s the figure for the Council of Europe Decency Threshold these days?

1. A new ‘Fares Fair’ policy for the 21st Century, slashing fares for Londoners

2. End privatisation of the London Underground, including the East London Line, restoring the tube to public ownership

3. Windfall tax on City bonuses to pay London’s contribution to the Olympics and ensure free access to Londoners

4. Restore control of business rates to local councils and abolish the Corporation of London, transferring its functions and resource base to the GLA

5. A real living wage of at least £7 per hour, plus a London weighting of 20%

6. Decentralised London energy system, based on alternative energy sources

7. No further expansion at Heathrow and no third runway

8. Halt hospital cuts and NHS privatisations

9. Emergency house-building programme, and allow 4th option, to tackle London’s housing crisis

10. Support free and comprehensive education and an end to Trusts, City Academies and tuition fees

McDonnell comments: 'This alternative programme for London will dramatically improve the quality of life for Londoners by striking at the roots of the Capital's environmental, social, and economic problems.

'London is one of the richest cities in the world but Londoners don't share in its wealth and opportunities. By using the wealth created in London to invest in its transport, environment, housing and industries we could transform the life of many of its citizens.

'Fares Fair was an extremely popular policy. It is time we restored to Londoners access to cheap, quality public transport with the consequent reduction in traffic congestion and pollution that we achieved under the GLC.'

Be nice to your boss today

Britain’s business leaders are feeling unloved by the politicians right now. Of course, trade unionists among you will wonder how this can be, given the raft of business-friendly policies New Labour have introduced over the last nine years.

From subsidising low pay with tax credits to opening up the public sector through the Private Finance Initiative, the government’s motto might as well be ‘nothing’s too good for the employing class’.

Yet just like the an adolescent hoodie, UK plc feels itself in need of a hug, if this story on the front page of the Financial Times is anything to go by:

‘Business leaders are increasingly despairing of both the main parties' inability or unwillingness to champion British enterprise.

‘The heads of the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors are warning of growing irritation at the government's inability to deliver on promises, and the failure of the Conservatives under David Cameron to stand up for business.

‘Miles Templeman, director-general of the Institute of Directors, will tell members at its annual dinner tonight that business is waiting to see which party will champion British enterprise.

‘The government is too ready to kick difficult decisions on matters such as energy and transport into the long grass, he will say, while Mr Cameron has threatened to stand up to big business.

‘"There is a situation vacant in British politics for a party that stands up for business as a whole," he will say.’

I was almost feeling sorry for bosses. Almost. Until I got to this story on page five:

‘Chief executives of the top 100 companies in the UK take home an average of £3m after enjoying a 30 per cent increase in their pay packets over the past year, according to a new survey.’

Hey lads, there’s always some consolation, right?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Parenting tips for the proletariat

The BBC website is offering expert parenting tips. Here’s one attributed to youth worker Shaun Bailey:

‘It's very sad that in the 21st Century, the class you come from determines your outlook on life. People from a higher class will have more to teach their children than those from a lower class.’

Excuse me?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

John Monks on capitalism today

Shortly after John Monks became general secretary of the TUC, I interviewed him for Tribune. Unlike some occupants of that role, he actually had a discernable personality. Unlike most politicians, he gave straight answers to straight questions.

As our meeting took place after working hours, he even cracked open the Congress House reserves of Scotch for the occasion. The blended stuff rather than the single malt, true. But much appreciated, nevertheless.

His political viewpoint, even then, seemed to be mainstream left social democratic. But as a TUC leader, he performed much as the job description presumably requires. During his tenure, which stretched from 1993 to 2003, he proved himself an outstanding fighter for the working class. Not.

So I am slightly surprised at an article in today’s Financial Times, written by that paper’s management correspondent Stefan Stern. It is based on a speech delivered by Monks – now working in Brussels as head of the European Trade Union Confederation – at a recent Nye Bevan memorial lecture in London.

Stern postulates that Monks has moved to the left since taking over his new job. I’m not so sure about that. But perhaps he feels better able to state his true opinions from a public platform.

Stern writes:

‘No one in the audience would have been expecting Bevanite rhetorical fireworks from Mr Monks. That has never been his style. Between 1993 and 2003, he led the British trade union movement with modesty and distinction.

‘He was the moderate's moderate: avoiding confrontation wherever possible and advocating partnership at work between management and employees. Business leaders were happy to do business with him.

‘They would not have found this lecture so easy to deal with. Confronted by today's turbo-charged capitalism, Mr Monks cast off his former moderation. He even seemed to be on the verge of recanting his commitment to the partnership model. "Partnership with who?" he asked. There has been, he said, a "disintegration of the social nexus between worker and employer - a culture containing broad social rights and obligations. The new capitalism wants none of it."

‘Mr Monks contrasted businesses' healthy profitability with the ruthless way some have treated their staff recently, whether through large-scale redundancies or the constant threat that jobs may be sent off-shore or outsourced. While median wages have stagnated, record executive salaries are legion.

‘He admitted that he had possibly been a bit naive in the past. "I did not fully appreciate what was happening on the other side of the table," Mr Monks said.

‘While he sympathised with business leaders for the relentless pressure they find themselves under - "It cannot be easy running a firm . . . when you are up for sale every day and every night of every year" - he was appalled by the increasingly "shameless", short-termist behaviour of overpaid corporate executives. "More and more they resemble the Bourbons - and they should be aware of what eventually happened to the Bourbons."’

Monks also reportedly hit out at the actions of management under what he called ‘casino capitalism’, a term that I haven’t heard used since the early eighties:

‘Their actions are "dangerous to economic stability, traditional industry and jobs", he said. "I would like to see the City pages of the press more challenging and less respectful on these matters . . . Our future - the world's future - is too important to place in the hands of the new capitalists."’

As critiques of capitalism go, this is more prawn korma than chicken vindaloo. FTSE-100 bosses are surely thick-skinned enough to be able to take such stick.

But it a token of just how far the Labour Party has moved to the right when such mild sentiments left of centre sentiment on the part of a union leader is deemed worthy of a full third of a broadsheet page in the FT.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Alvin Stardust and me

The main broadcasting outlets are already getting their packages together for when - and it does now seem like when, rather than if - Scotland Yard decide to question Blair on cash for peerages.

As a result, I got to spend 2o minutes doing a piece to camera for ITN at Millbank this afternoon. I'll be lucky if they use 30 seconds of it. But it was a splendid book-whoring opportunity indeed.

Which reminds me. If you are looking for that ideal last minute stocking-filler for that Blairite relative you don't really like, look no further than my 2002 classic Labour Party plc, available on Amazon or from a bookstore near you.

But what really pleased me was being told that the package may also feature 1970s glam rock idol Alvin Stardust, pictured above, currently starring as The Childcatcher in the Liverpool Empire production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The link here is that Stardust was famously a protege of Lord Levy when he was in the business of flogging 45s to teenyboppers instead of shaking down dodgy businessmen to fund New Labour.

As an avid viewer of Top of the Pops during Stardust's heyday, I can't wait for the broadcast. Altogether now ...

'Tom ... Cat! Y'know where it's at!
Come on, let's go to my flat
Lay down and groove on the mat
A-you can be my coo ca choo.'

US victory in Iraq impossible: Henry Kissinger

A US military victory in Iraq is now impossible. Says who? No, not just those damn pinko Saddam apologists at the Stop the War Coalition. Henry Kissinger, that’s who.

‘If you mean by clear military victory an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control . . . I don’t believe that is possible.’

PS: I still rate Christopher Hitchins's 'The Trial of Henry Kissinger' - probably the last book he wrote while he was still on our side - as one of the best sustained volumes of investigate journalism combined with political polemic I have ever read. Truly stunning stuff.

Milton Friedman and 'the miracle of Chile'

Margaret Thatcher summed up the feelings of many on the political right on hearing of the death of economist Milton Friedman - pictured left - last week:

'Milton Friedman revived the economics of liberty when it had been all but forgotten,' she argued. 'He was an intellectual freedom fighter.'

And perhaps the best case study of the kind of 'freedom' he fought for is Chile during the years of the savage Pinochet dictatorship, under which the state murdered at least 3,000 political opponents on the left.

Friedman visited the country in 1975, two years after the military coup in which the general took power, to give a series of lectures on economics. He even et the dictator personally.

Meanwhile, several professors from Chicago University, where Friedman taught and dominated the economics faculty, became advisers to the Chilean government. Many PhD graduates served in Chilean ministries, becoming known as 'the Chicago Boys'.

Chile provided laboratory conditions for Friedman's ideas to be put into practice, in one of the first and most dramatic experiments in what later became generalised worldwide as neoliberalism.

Pinochet abolished the minimum wage, took away trade union bargaining rights, privatised the pension system, abolished all taxes on wealth and profits, slashed the public sector and privatised 212 state companies and 66 banks.

Friedman was clearly impressed, coining the phrase 'the miracle of Chile' to describe what was happening.

The result? As detailed by the excellent Greg Palast here, after ten years of dicatorship, unemployment had risen from 4.3% to 22%. Real wages fell 40%.

'In 1970, 20% of Chile's population lived in poverty. By 1990, the year "president" Pinochet left office, the number of destitute had doubled to 40%. Quite a miracle,' Palast notes.

Britain under Thatcher adopted a watered down version of the same programme, which brought about a watered down version of the same results. It's called the economics of liberty, stupid.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Blair, Galloway: sweet talking guys

I own my readers another apology. In a post yesterday, I pointed out that Tony Blair - currently in Pakistan to meet president Pervez Musharraf - at least did not feel the need to salute the military dictator's 'courage, strength and indefatigability', as George Galloway famously did on meeting Saddam Hussein.

But I've just heard the World at One on Radio Four. There was Blair, praising Musharraf's 'courage and his leadership in taking Pakistan on this journey of change and modernisation' .

Oooh, you smooth talking bastard, Tony. Journey of change and modernisation? As I said yesterday, Amnesty International describes the direction this 'journey of change and modernisation' has taken. Salient features include 'arbitrary detention, torture, death in custody, and extra-judicial execution.'

I await the analyses offered by the Nick Cohens, Oliver Kamms, Drink Soaked Trots and Harry's Places of this world with interest. They can only be morally consistent. Can't they?

Once again, independent working class politics proves itself as the only theoretical basis on which serious socialists can operate.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Saturday Night Music Club: Jarvis Cocker and political pop

Look, I'm not particularly a Jarvis Cocker fan. Don't dislike him, just usually have no strong opinions about his music, one way or the other. And I retain enough eighties feminist analysis still to feel uneasy about the use of the C-word as a general purpose insult.

But this anthemic masterpiece from the Sheffield wonderboy - the charmingly titled 'Cunts are still running the world' - qualifies as the best political pop song I've heard in years. Right up there with Lennon's finest post-Beatles output, if you ask me.

Talk about a catchy chorus. It will lodge in your brain on first hearing. Shame it's never gonna get much radio time, for some strange reason not unconnected with the lyrics. In recognition of that, here's a nice anti-commercial touch; you can download the mp3 free at Cocker's MySpace page.

The vid has already been highlighted by Darren and DSTs, but I'm happy to plug it as well. Be interested to hear what feminist readers make of it, though. After the Vagina Monologues, is the last really taboo Anglo-Saxon four-letter word now rehabilitated in polite leftie circles?

Saturday Night Music Club: gigs of a lifetime

Our topic this week is gigs of a lifetime. Forget about the quality of the music. Tell us about the most enjoyable evening you ever spent watching a band.

I almost opted for one of the several Generation X shows I saw in 1977 here. Somehow, the memory of pogoing to Billy Idol and Co in the front row of the Marquee while wired on amphetamine sulphate encapsulates my misspent youth for me.

But in the end, I have to nominate the Sunday in 1979 a whole bunch of us went to watch Dr Feelgood in Leicester. I was just 19 at the time, and have to confess to a certain amount of yobbish behaviour during this outing.

Hardly surprising really. I drank around 22 pints in 12 hours. So let's just draw a veil over the runner from the curry house and my subsequent arrest for unlawful urination on railway property, contrary to a Leicester bye-law, shall we? I pleaded guilty and was fined a tenner. But that was half a week's wages then.

Courtesy of YouTube, I present the Wilko line up Feelgoods blitzing through a couple of numbers. Dedicated to Paul Anderson, who I know is a fellow fan.

Blair, Musharraf and the Euston Manifesto group

The idea that Tony Blair's motivation in backing the invasion of Iraq was a desire to spread democracy in place of military dictatorship was one of the central arguments of the 'pro-war left'.

So they will presumably be perplexed by the news that Britain's prime minister is today in Pakistan to court president Pervez Musharraf, the former general who seized power in a coup in 1999. The two leaders are pictured left, during an earlier meeting.

It looks like the Pakistani strongman is in for a tidy little bung, too. Before Blair returns to London, he will pledge to double development aid to the regime over the next three years. What's worse? Verbal praise for a tyrant's 'courage, strength and indefatigability', or handing over a cheque for £480m?

The government that started out promising us an 'ethical foreign policy' ends up operationalising straightforward 'our son of a bitch' realpolitik of the crudest kind. Fair makes you nostalgic for the good old days of Douglas Hurd.

OK, OK. It's true that comparison with Saddam's Iraq, Musharraf's Pakistan is military dictatorship lite. But it's bad enough. In the words of Amnesty International: 'Arbitrary detention, torture, death in custody, and extra-judicial execution are rampant.'

So let me put a couple of questions to the Euston Manifesto supporters that read this blog. For the sake of consistency alone, shouldn't you take down that article by Tony Blair from your website?

Alternatively, if both the Euston Manifesto group and Respect are happy openly to endorse British politicians that openly support third world military dictators ... what is morally to choose between them?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Matthew Taylor: bloggers and the crisis of politics

I guess I owe readers an apology. According to Matthew Taylor – Blair’s outgoing chief adviser on political strategy - this blog and others that dare question anything New Labour does are responsible for a ‘crisis’ in the relationship between politicians and voters.

Sadly, it seems the blogosphere has been whipping up a ‘shrill discourse of demands’. Notice how Taylor says that like it’s a bad thing.

Clearly bloggers are overmighty in comparison with the British state. I want immediate legislation to curb what may or may not be said online! Oops. There I go again. Shrill demands. You just can’t win.

Warming to his theme, Taylor told a conference on e-democracy in London today:

‘We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government.’

How paternalistic can you get? Not yet capable of self-government? Ooh, go on … rule me, big boy. Rule me, please. I wonder what the good folks who publish the excellent anarchist fortnightly Freedom will make of that?

Taylor goes on to blame the media, including the internet, for what he sees as a crisis:

‘What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It's basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.’

How can I put this to you, Matthew? Let’s just say that politicians are not exactly making it difficult for bloggers to argue the case. It’s not us that are flogging peerages off the back of a lorry in return for six and seven donations, is it?

Even the most popular political blogs – Iain Dale, Guido Fawkes, Harry’s Place, Lenin’s Tomb – only secure a daily audience just into five figures. It’s hardly mass media-style power without responsibility, that famous prerogative of harlots throughout the ages, is it?

To cap it all, Taylor accuses some bloggers of having ‘anti-establishment’ and even ‘libertarian’ attitudes. Guilty on both counts, m’lud. But then, I was an anti-establishment libertarian Marxist even before they invented the internet.

It’s just that now I get to sneer at politicians on a small readership website instead of writing for small readership Trot papers. Somehow I think the government will survive.

UPDATE: I love this quote from Guido:

‘Since when has liberty been a problem? Guido intends to be a thorn in the side of corrupt politicians for a long time. There is nothing the vermin can do about it, no media proprietor for them to brandish baubles to, no job you can offer, no bribe we will accept.’

Guido can of course speak for himself. Lucrative job offers and bribes to the email address on the right, please. Cash please, New Labour. A knighthood's not a right lot of good to me at the moment.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

John McDonnell on Marxism

If you want to know what John McDonnell stands for, here’s the most detailed exposition of his political ideas I’ve yet read anywhere. It comes in the form of a long - and I do mean loooong - interview with a group of Alliance for Workers’ Liberty members, led it seems by David Broder.

Here’s some edited highlights. First up, McDonnell’s reasons for ‘work within’ the Labour Party - and that’s a revealing choice of words in itself - rather than join Respect, the SSP, and the smaller left groups that also undertake electoral campaigns.

In his own words, he is a Labour Party member out of ‘sheer pragmatism’, given the continuing use of FPTP for Westminster elections. So what would McDonnell do in the event of a switch to proportional representation and the subsequent emergence of a far left party picking up a handful of list seats? This obvious question sadly wasn’t asked.

‘I'm coming at it in terms of the sheer pragmatism of politics in this country, with a first-past-the-post electoral system. On a sheer pragmatic basis, I can't see how you can assess that outside the party you'd be more effective. The reason I'm in the Labour Party is, as I say, it's a terrain of struggle, within which we can win battles and eventually win power with the ideas that we convince people of.

‘Outside the Labour Party, the problem is that there's no form under the first-past-the-post system that you'd be able to win sufficient support to win positions where you could form a government or have any real pressure on government.’

But I loved the way McDonnell paraphrases Trotsky’s 1904 critique of the Leninist model of organisation, applying it Blairite New Labour. Cheeky!

‘The issue is, how has the PLP become cut off in the same way that any degenerate party does? It's the same as Trotsky's analysis of the bureaucracy. The leadership replaces the central committee, the central committee replaces the membership. And that's what's happened here.’

As the above quote underlines, this man knows his way around the Marxist classics. Quiz him about his political influences, and Keir Hardie doesn’t get a mention. But I would never have guessed that the sixties New Left played a role in McDonnell’s political formation:

‘If we go through it ... the fundamental Marxist writers of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, basically. In terms of the ability to mobilise spontaneously, Rosa Luxemburg. Interestingly enough, for a long time I was quite interested by the writers of the New Left who appeared in the 60s. Williams, Miliband, Griffiths, E.P. Thompson and others …’

Lastly, there’s a real whiff of the early eighties and ‘A Very British Coup’ about this argument:

‘If we do have a [socialist] prime minister … we will come under immediate attack from the City of London, international finance capital, and other countries in terms of political isolation. What we will then need to do as a movement is mobilise popular support behind that government.’

I can remember when Peter Hain and the Labour Co-ordinating Committee used to come out with much the same. Long time ago, though.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

White Riot: Iain Duncan Smith and the white working class

I am white working class. Top university-educated white working class. First generation middle class white working class. White working class, despite finally having worked out which fork to use while sitting through an expense account business lunch in an overpriced London restaurant.

But still, always and forever, white working class. I’ve lived in two-up two-downs and council flats, done the dead-end jobs, skipped the meals when the giro ran out. The white working class are ‘my people’.

My family were the railwaymen, the nurses, the dockers, the coppers, the carpenters, the steelworkers, the poor bloody infantry when the ruling classes wanted their killing done. Oh dear, this is starting to sound like a Billy Bragg song, isn't it?

Given where I’ve ended up, it almost seems precious to point this out. It’s as much as anything an emotional identification, something very difficult for someone who didn’t share a similar upbringing to understand. It's a working class thing, baby. You wouldn't understand.

I am well aware that far too many middle-class lefties romanticise ‘the workers’. Yes, many of them are politically rightwing and viscerally racist. I don’t have to go outside some – but only some - of own family to understand that.

I’m also aware of the other side of the picture. Again, I don’t have to go outside of my own family to find militant blue collar trade unionists and dedicated communists.

If I didn’t believe in the capacity of the multiracial working class - in Britain and across the world - to one day build a society without exploitation and oppression, without poverty, hunger, violence and racism, I wouldn’t remain a socialist.

North London Muesli Belt dinner party cliches about the working class dependence on state handouts paid for by upper tax band lawyers and journalists still have the capacity to reduce me to incandescent rage. ‘Scuse French, but who the fuck do these people think are doing the real work around here? ‘We’ are certainly not paying for ‘them’, Tarquin.

Don’t even get me started about how angry I felt when I saw the London School of Economics student union flyers advertising a ‘dress up as a chav’ mid-term party for its arrogant little merchant bankers in the making.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, can I point readers in the direction of this article in the Daily Telegraph today?

The Tories’ Social Justice Policy Group – headed by former leader Iain Duncan Smith, pictured above - has today published a preliminary report on the situation facing, yes, the white working class.

‘Boys from low-income white families are bottom of the heap in school performance, trailing behind every other major ethnic group,’ it details.

Much of the blame is down to cultural factors:

‘The report argues that family breakdown, parental breakdown and peer pressure that it is not "cool to study" are the key factors in the collapse in educational achievements. It also cites drug and alcohol abuse by parents.’

Almost all of these issues are, in turn, rooted in educational failure. It’s not an argument that I dismiss out of hand, and I await the publication of the full document next year.

But I’ll bet here and now that the final report won’t even begin to look at how that culture came about. There will be not a single word on the deliberate policy decision taken by the first Thatcher government to deindustrialise Britain and destroy the raison d’etre of white working class communities from Corby to Easington.

That’s just one more thing for which I’ll never forgive the Tories, or the class that Iain Duncan Smith represents.

But where the hell are we in British politics when it is down to the Conservatives to raise these very real questions? Hello New Labour, are you listening? Because the BNP certainly will be.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Respect: organising for fighting unions?

Many critics of Respect – myself included – argue that the chief problem with the Galloway/SWP front organisation is that it bases its politics on a cross-class appeal to the Muslim community, including bourgeois elements.

That represents a stunning reversal of the traditional Marxist analysis that makes the working class - and especially the organised working class - central to the socialist project.

Last Saturday’s Respect-sponsored ‘Organising for Fighting Unions’ conference must, at least in part, have been motivated by a desire to silence such criticisms.

The official line is that everything went swimmingly. What else? The Respect website offers a triumphalist four paragraph ra-ra-ra summary:

‘Over 900 trade unionists packed into Shoreditch Town Hall last Saturday for the Organising for Fighting Unions conference. More than half were elected delegates from trade union organisations. A fantastic atmosphere built up throught the day as delegates listened to strikers from JJB in Wigan, NHS logistics and the Merseyside Firefighters dispute.

‘Union leaders Mark Serwotka, Matt Wrack, Paul Mackney and Steve Gillian all insisted that stronger unions could only be built if political and industrial issues were tackled together. Jane Loftus of the CWU insisted, and many others agreed that this meant tackling the government on war and islamophobia as well as on privatisation.

‘MPs John McDonnell and George Galloway, Valerie Wise, former leader of Preston council and John Rees, Respect national secretary, all argued that the left needs to strengthen itself through solidarity with fighting trade unions.

‘The conference passed a Workers Charter and elected an organising committee that will start a campaign to have the charter adopted by unions throughout the country.’

The left needs to strengthen itself through solidarity with fighting trade unions? Like, duh.

Other attendees offer more negative opinions. Here’s blogger Liam MacUaid, himself a Respect member:

‘It’s been quite a while since stage management and choreography of this standard has been seen at an audience of anti-bureaucratic, class struggle trade union militants.

‘At a guess there were about 800 people at the event. Roughly half were SWP members. Maybe another 20% were from other left organisations.

‘When I left at half four there had been nothing that vaguely resembled a debate on how you organise in the unions or why or how you can organise a political alternative to new Labour.

‘Instead we got an interminable series of platform speakers and when they had spoken for as long as they wanted a few people from the floor were given three whole minutes, though this could be extended if you were particularly rambling and off the point …

‘It was a dismal day. The majority of the audience was not in the first flush of youth. There were no significant new forces, bureaucrats or Labour Party members engaged with the project.

‘While there was lots of rhetoric about how we need to organise at a grassroots level there was no opportunity to do much other than sit on your arse listening to the great and the good with the occasional on message speaker reassuring us that things are pretty good in their patch. If you wanted a template of how not to organise fighting unions this was it.’

Roger Bannister – a Socialist Party member and prominent figure on the left of Unison – offered his thoughts on UK Left Network:

‘I thought the conference was terrible, just an old fashioned SWP stitched up rally. The usual stunt, fill in a form if you want to speak with name and what you want to say, and hey presto - 99% of the floor speakers were SWP/Respect!

‘Dave Nellist was invited to speak on behalf of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party, but was not allowed to make his speech in the section on "Who speaks for trade unionists: the struggle for political representation", so was excluded from that debate, (meaning that there was no debate!)

‘There was virtually no political analysis, the Conference just uncritically followed the rightward drift of the SWP.’

Childcare commitments meant I wasn’t there. But from the sound of it, taking Daddy’s Little Princesses to the local ice cream parlour was a more productive use of my time. It was certainly more fun.

UPDATE: Jim Denham – the Voice of Reason, as he is widely known – has this to say at Shiraz Socialist:

‘As these things go, it was quite big (about 600 people); politically it was terrible, rarely rising above the level of "people are angry and the fighback is beginning".

‘Perhaps the nadir was an incoherent stream of consciousness from one Jane Loftus, an SWP member on the CWU executive, who seemed to be arguing that the way to combine the political and economic struggles was to disaffiliate unions from the Labour Party...

‘I attended as a delegate from my union branch: I was in a small minority in being delegated: the vast majority of attendees were there as individuals, representing no-one but themselves (this can be confirmed by checking the "Respect" website, where supporters of the conference whose trade union bodies have actually voted to support are marked with an asterisk: they are very few). What was most noticeable about the event was that:

‘1/ It wasn't realy a conference, in the sense of "confering": there was virtually no debate. There were four lengthy platform speakers per session, leaving little time for contributions from the floor; virtually all the floor speakers were either SWP'ers, or people who the SWp knew weren't going to say anything contentious;

‘2/ It wasn't really a trade union event: few of the platform speakers had anything of significance to say about the state of the British union movement, or the way forward for the working class: they wanted to talk about the war in Iraq, Islamophobia, the veil, the US election fact, more or less anything except trade unionism …

‘The session entitled "Who speaks for trade unionists: the struggle for political representation" was especially disappointing. For a start, there was very little debate on the subject that was supposed to be under discussion (most of the contributions were about Islamophobia and the veil); and what little debate on the subject of political representation there was, was thoroughly dishonest.

‘Let me explain: it is clear that the SWP are in fact in favour of unions disaffiliating from Labour; no-one who listened to the speaches from leading SWP trade unionists (like the afore-mentioned Jane Loftus) could doubt that; and yet they would not argue openly for that position. The reason for this appeared to be a desire to avoid alienating the Labour left.

‘So an opportunity to have an important discussion was lost because the SWP refused to argue for their own politics. They even went so far as to oppose the Socialist Party's pro- disaffiliation amendment to the "Charter" that the conference was asked to vote on in the final session: again, not because of any principled disagreement, but out of pure opportunism towards the Labour left.’

Monday, November 13, 2006

Globalisation: a new political dividing line

In country after country of the developed world, attitudes to globalisation are rapidly emerging as the key dividing line between the major political forces. Both the US and France represent particularly clear examples of the trend.

On the other side of the Atlantic, most commentators put the Democrats' success in the mid-term elections last week down to economic populism.

Several of the most notable new Democratic senators - for instance, Jimmy Webb of Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio - ousted Republicans through pushing a platform of opposition to free trade, blaming countries like China for the loss of US manufacturing jobs.

On the other side of the Channel, likely rightwing presidential contender Nicolas Sarkozy has used support for globalisation has a rallying call to the troops, while the left has made opposition a point of honour.

In Britain, the issue just doesn't enter mainstream political debate. All three major parties simply take globalisation as a given, presenting the public with broadly similar policies that - they argue - best position the UK in the new globalised world.

I don't like the way that neoliberal politicians - and I include the leadership of the British Labour Party in that category - use globalisation as an all-purpose excuse for not adopting such basic social democratic policies as limitations on working hours or enhanced trade union rights.

On the other hand, I don't believe that protectionism should be the automatic leftist or progressive stance. It can all to quickly degenerate into the kind of 'American jobs for American workers'/'French jobs for French workers'/'British jobs for British workers' rhetoric more suited to the nationalist right than the democratic left. Third world countries have the right to develop manufacturing industry.

There is still a considerable discussion to be had on the internationalist left.

Hain courts Labour left

Peter Hain is obviously seeking Labour left support for his deputy leadership bid, if his remarks on executive pay and ‘grotesque’ City bonuses are anything to go by.

Here’s how the Financial Times summarises what he had to say in a couple of television interviews yesterday:

‘Mr Hain yesterday called for a debate between government and the City and business about high remuneration levels. Pay levels for top executives that are hundreds of times the average earnings within their companies "do not create a climate of social responsibility", he told ITV.

‘City bonus levels also came under fire. In a separate interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Hain warned that: "Most people find it pretty grotesque that a couple of dozen City executives can share a billion pounds of bonuses between them."

‘But he eschewed calls for statutory curbs on pay, saying: "We live in a globalised economy and the City is hugely successful … I don't think higher taxation or massive regulation or caps on salaries are sensible."’

It’s a message that could be boiled down into two sentences. Shocking, innit? Just don’t expect New Labour to do anything about it.

I used to know Peter reasonably well. When I quit the Labour Party in 1995, he even rang me up and tried to talk me out of it.

So I know that – at least then – he regarded himself as a man of the left. That just makes his pretence of a sudden rediscovery of basic democratic socialist principles just in time for a deputy leadership campaign all the more opportunistic.

Sadly for Hain, the bookies still rate him third favourite, behind Johnson and Benn.

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