I was delighted to see a strong and successful showing by sensible centre-left candidates in Momentum’s internal elections. Particular commiserations to David Braniff-Herbert in South East region, who came fourth, but failed to be elected due to gender balancing. The full results are here. Turnout was 35%.
These are the candidates elected.
North and Scotland region:
Elizabeth Hayden, Gemma Thornton, Nav Mishra, John Taylor
Midland, Wales, East and West region:
Rida Vaqua, Cecile Wright, Martin Menear, Liz Hames
Christine Shawcroft, Yannis Gourtsoyannis, Puru Miah, Sahaya James
Momentum has been mobilising effectively for the Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections, and under its new leadership I am confident that Momentum will turn outwards away from internal squabbling, and will be working for a Labour general election victory.
The concept of a basic income guarantee (BIG) has gained increasing traction on the left in recent years, for example being adopted as union policy by GMB and UNITE, being a manifesto commitment of the Green Party, and supported by John Mcdonnell, the shadow chancellor.
The concept is hardly new, with subsidized grain for plebian citizens being introduced by the populist Tribune, Gaius Gracchus in 123 BC. Indeed, as one of the currently touted arguments for a citizen income is founded on the idea that automation is creating a sub class of those permanently excluded from work, then the fate of the propertyless Roman plebians, impoverished and marginalized in an economy based upon military plunder, colonial tributes and slave labour, is an apt one.
Economist, Billy Mitchell has produced a number of detailed arguments about Basic Income, in a five part series of articles.
But his general point is well made that the concept is highly elusive and slippery, due to the wide range of political interests that advocate basic income, and the differing reasons that they support the policy:
Tracing the origins of the BIG proposal reveals that the motivations of the proponents at different periods of history have varied from those who desire to cut government spending overall and push the responsibility of maintaining ‘welfare’ onto individuals, to those who were believed that unemployment was a violation of justice but was outside of the capacity of governments to solve it, to, more recently, those who invoke trepidation about the so-called second machine age and claim that robots are going to wipe out jobs on a massive scale (the ‘robot’ justification).
Voices from the left and the right weave various aspects of these motivations, often in overlapping ways, to justify their demands for a basic income to be paid by the state to all individuals (although even then, the unit that would receive the benefit is also a topic of disagreement).
An example of the confusion is that basic income advocacy group, BIEN, has published a muddled history of the concept since Thomas More’s “Utopia” onwards which conflates two distinct and separate phenomena: the state guaranteeing income, and the state providing a finite capital endowment. The second concept, advocated by Thomas Paine, gained limited expression by Tony Blair’s government with the baby bond, based upon research that even a limited access to capital at the start of life, for example to pay for an interview suit and suitable work clothes, or for driving lessons, could have a disproportionate effect in improving life chances. Sadly the Baby Bond was abolished by the Coalition government in 2010.
If we look at the detailed proposal from the Green Party then simplifying the benefit system, removing tax allowances and abolishing tax relief on pension contributions would lead to sufficient savings to fund a basic income of £80 per week for working age people, an increase of child benefits to £50 per week, and an £80 pw supplement for single parents.
A number of immediate objections can be made. Our economy is based upon fiat money, that is currency which is inherently worthless, but which gains value from being underwritten by the government, and its social and commercial acceptability as legal tender. There is therefore no limit to the amount of money in circulation, and payment out by the government of the basic income will undoubtedly be effectively financed by printing money, which will be inflationary over the longer term. Sustained economic growth and prosperity is achieved by investment in the productive economy, not by subsidising consumption.
Furthermore, any taxation and benefit system will modify behaviours, and while the Green Party’s proposals for income levels are relatively modest, they are unconditional. It would be sufficient for a significant number of people to withdraw from the labour market altogether. Furthermore, there would be a substantial number of persons in work, who either would be, or would perceive that they were, subsidizing people who were not willing to work. This is a politically untenable position.
Indeed the Green Party’s own proposal is even more economically inept, and politically incoherent than that. As the Guardian reported:
The Citizen’s Income Trust (CIT), which has given advice to the Green party and been repeatedly cited by the Greens, has modelled its scheme and discovered it would mean 35.15% of households would be losers, with many of the biggest losers among the poorest households.
The trust’s research shows that for the two lowest disposable income deciles, more than one-fifth would suffer income losses of more than 10%.
Even if the policy flaws of the specific proposals by the Green Party could be ironed out, fundamental problems remain.
As Billy Mitchell describes it:
As more an more individuals opted for the basic income without work, output would drop dramatically and material prosperity would be violated.
And Mitchell argues elsewhere:
Payment of a BIG to all citizens would signify a further withdrawal by the State from its responsibility to manage economic affairs and care for its citizens. Young people must be encouraged to develop skills and engage in paid work, rather than be the passive recipients of social security benefit.
Indeed, Basic Income Guarantee marks a retreat by the left from the concept not only that the state should take responsibility for developing skills and full employment; but a retreat from the idea that collaborative productive work is the sound moral foundation of a just society. It is through the collaborative endeavour of building and rebuilding the material world around us, producing through shared human labour our food, shelter, clothing, transport, communication and cultural artifacts that we find expression as social beings conscious of our collectivity.
Well intentioned do-gooders might imagine that freed from the compulsion to work, individuals will flower to become a generation of Shakespeares, Goethes and Mozarts, they are more likely to sit in their underpants watching Netflix. This is not a facetious point, the Basic Income Guarantee sees individuals as consumers of a world that they do not shape, they are the objects of society, not its self-conscious subjects. Passive consumption is not a stimulus for creativity.
The socialist project is to advance the interest of the working classes, and to ultimately build a society where the state acts in the interests of the working classes. Trade unions exist to combine workers to increase their strength through collective bargaining for those in work.
A Basic Income Guarantee would withdraw a number of citizens from the workforce, particularly at the unskilled, low paid end of the job market, whose work would inevitably need to be filled by immigrants. These non-citizen workers would not be entitled to BIG, and therefore the working class would be divided down the middle in such a way as to irrevocably weaken the possibility of trade union organisation.
In contrast to the collective orientation of organized labour, the Basic Income Guarantee is predicated not upon creating communities of solidarity but upon citizens with individual entitlement. It is pessimistic about the possibility of successful political action to achieve a shift of wealth and power to working people, and the possibility of working people democratically shaping society; and instead is fatalistic in seeking to provide ballast against poverty for dis-empowered individuals at the mercy of the gig economy.
Today is the 80th anniversary of the start of the battle of Jamara, just outside Madrid, where fascist forces sought to break through republican lines to penetrate into the capital, and where they were opposed by, amongst others, the British Battalion of the International brigade. On that day, former speedway and daredevil motorcycle rider, Clem Beckett, and the extraordinarily glittering Communist intellectual, Christopher Caudwell were both killed, as the British and Irish volunteers were roughly handled by the experienced veterans of Franco’s army.
On Friday night I was fortunate to catch the new play by Neil Gore, “Dare Devil Rides to Jamara” at the Pound Art Centre in Corsham, which brought to life Beckett’s fascinating sporting career and political evolution, set against the tumultuous background of the 1930s. Beckett’s hatred of fascism led him to volunteer to lead a convoy of ambulances to Spain in 1936, at which point he met, and developed a friendship with Caudwell.
This is great political theatre, combining an entertaining evening of drama and music with a poignant examination of the background and personality of those who bravely and inspiring volunteered to risk their own lives to make a stand against the rising tide of fascist violence.
It was encouraging to see that so many local Labour Party members and trade union activists attended, especially at a small venue in the middle of rural Wiltshire. Indeed, the tour is sponsored and supported by a wide range of trade unions, primarily Unite.
It is important to build and maintain cultural celebration of the values and traditions of our movement, and the courage shown by our comrades in the past can help inspire the determination that we need to show in the future.
The play is on tour, and future dates are available on Facebook. There will also be an opportunity to see the performance at the GMB tent at Tolpuddle this July.
If there is one thing which the left should have learned over the last couple of years, it is that who controls the key positions in the party matters.
The constituency seats on the Conference Arrangements Committee and the National Constitutional Committee will be elected later this year. The CAC controls the conference agenda, and voting, and the NCC is in charge of the crucial disciplinary function. These elections matter.
The left candidates for these positions are as follows.
Seeking nominations for the Conference Arrangements Committee:
Seeking nominations for the National Constitutional Committee
The closing date for nominations is Friday 23rd June. Please make sure that the nominations are raised at your constituency party meeting in time to meet that deadline.
Nominations can be submitted online by CLP Secretaries and Chairs at: https://members.labour.org.uk/annual-conference-nominations.
Even taking account the advantages of incumbency, the momentum, dynamism and confidence of Len McCluskey’s campaign to be re-elected General Secretary of Unite stands in sharp contrast to the lacklustre efforts of the right wing challenger, Gerard Coyne, and the amateur hour theatrics of the “grassroots” candidate, Ian Allinson.
What stands out is not only that Len can point to year on year achievement, but that his campaign is getting out and about meeting members in organized workplaces around the UK, where he is meeting a strong response.
Elsewhere, Gerard Coyne’s campaign has a streak of desperation about it, with key campaign pledges to freeze Unite subscriptions for the next two years, and to extend Unite’s support to more people through a family membership scheme. He is promising to do more member servicing with less money, and that could only be achieved by jeopardizing Unite’s financial stability, and therefore endanger the firm foundation upon which Unite can challenge rogue employers, whether through political or industrial campaigning.
Ian Allinson, undoubtedly an accomplished workplace militant at Fujitsu, fails to distinguish between the wish and the deed, and his campaign lacks any sense of realism about the real world constraints on the union. It is potentially worrying that friends and colleagues in Unite report that while Jerry Hicks took votes from both the left and the right of the union, Ian is only gathering support away from Len.
One thing that both Ian and Gerard Coyne highlight is the potential improvement of developing more opportunities for experienced lay members and retired members and officers to service members in one to one representation, freeing officer time for organising. A report of the issues facing Women officers in Unite was published last year. The substantive issues of women working in a male dominated culture are not unique to Unite, and the response to the report’s finding are properly for Unite to address without outside interference. However, it is clear from the report that servicing individual members can represent a disproportionate burden on the time of some Unite officers, and any opportunities to free those officers for other tasks would be worth considering.
I am not a member of Unite, but should Len be defeated, then this would have a destabilizing impact on the whole movement. Ian Allinson’s campaign seems utterly complacent about the threat from the right wing, ignoring the more politicized context of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party, and the impetus that this gives to those who wish to deliver Corbyn a defeat by proxy in Unite’s election. Both Progress and the shadowy Labour First organisation have clandestinely encouraged their supporters to join Unite to vote for Coyne. Let us hope that we don’t all end up regretting the lack of judgement of Ian Allinson and his ultra-left supporters as they split the vote.
A great speech
David Frum’s article in The Atlantic “How to Build an Autocracy” not surprisingly gained a great deal of attention because of the all too plausible way that it highlighted how the constitutional checks and balances of the US political system can fail, if those whose job is to exercise those checks and balances instead find that conformity to presidential power serves their personal ambitions better. But also because Frum is himself a Republican insider, a former speechwriter for President George w Bush, and has an insider’s insight into the processes.
In particular, Frum shows how strategy of delegitimisation of critical journalism is used to seek to silence dissent. For example Trump’s attempt to shut out CNN for having told the truth, by the staggering accusation that they were the purveyors of fake news.
One story, still supremely disturbing, exemplifies the falsifying method. During November and December, the slow-moving California vote count gradually pushed Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump in the national popular vote further and further: past 1 million, past 1.5 million, past 2 million, past 2.5 million. Trump’s share of the vote would ultimately clock in below Richard Nixon’s in 1960, Al Gore’s in 2000, John Kerry’s in 2004, Gerald Ford’s in 1976, and Mitt Romney’s in 2012—and barely ahead of Michael Dukakis’s in 1988.
This outcome evidently gnawed at the president-elect. On November 27, Trump tweeted that he had in fact “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” He followed up that astonishing, and unsubstantiated, statement with an escalating series of tweets and retweets.
It’s hard to do justice to the breathtaking audacity of such a claim. If true, it would be so serious as to demand a criminal investigation at a minimum, presumably spanning many states. But of course the claim was not true. Trump had not a smidgen of evidence beyond his own bruised feelings and internet flotsam from flagrantly unreliable sources. Yet once the president-elect lent his prestige to the crazy claim, it became fact for many people. A survey by YouGov found that by December 1, 43 percent of Republicans accepted the claim that millions of people had voted illegally in 2016.
A clear untruth had suddenly become a contested possibility.
Chillingly, Trump has issued the following hardly veiled threat.
AT A RALLY Grand Rapids, Michigan, in December, Trump got to talking about Vladimir Putin. “And then they said, ‘You know he’s killed reporters,’ ” Trump told the audience. “And I don’t like that. I’m totally against that. By the way, I hate some of these people, but I’d never kill them. I hate them. No, I think, no—these people, honestly—I’ll be honest. I’ll be honest. I would never kill them. I would never do that. Ah, let’s see—nah, no, I wouldn’t. I would never kill them. But I do hate them.”
The significance of the massive outpouring of protest against Trump, both in the USA and internationally, is that that process of democratic engagement itself acts as a counterbalance, that incentivizes those with constitutional power to trim the ambitions of the presidency to exercise those powers. Had the American public been quiescent over the travel ban, had there been no wave of international reaction, then Judge James Robart in Seattle would have been less likely to declare the ban unconstitutional. And of course that action by the courts has itself given wings to the opposition to Trump.
That is why those who equate Trump and Brexit as parallel political phenomena are so wrong (though it is an argument more likely to occur on Social Media than in real life!)
The difficulty that many of us felt who supported the Remain campaign, but who had few illusions about the EU, was that we saw the actually existing Brexit campaign as being dominated by unsavoury rights wingers, and that the arguments for a progressive exit were coming from weaker and more marginal forces, who could not shape events. As such the referendum campaign did unleash a backlash of anti-immigrant sentiment; and the process of Brexit is in the hands of an untrustworthy Conservative government.
But for those of us who had not drunk the EU Koolaid, the EU is not itself inherently progressive, and leaving the EU, while this continues to represent a serious challenge in terms of jobs and employment rights, is still a political event susceptible to multiple outcomes. In the actually existing circumstances of 2016, the forces of the political right did get a boost by the Brexit vote, but that is not necessarily irreversible. Brexit is a political phenomenon which is not necessarily inherently right wing, even if it is most associated with right wing politicians like UKIP. The outcomes, while remaining pregnant with the possibility of disaster, can still be shaped by political and trade union action into something better.
In contrast, notwithstanding the anti-establishment populism which attracted many blue-collar Americans to invest hope in Trump, there is actually no possible progressive dimension to his successful election. Trump is inherently right wing.
Indeed, the foolhardiness of those who equate Trump and Brexit resides in the fact that their position can only weaken the unity of the left. In reality the opposite is the case, the mass movement that is growing against Trump, including the excellent leadership that has come from the Labour Party over this issue, has the potential of reversing the rise of racism that has grown since the referendum.
The tasks of the movement are clear. To argue for the strongest possible protection of jobs and employment rights during the Brexit process. To oppose racism, a task given a boost by the opposition to Trump; and to build and strengthen the unity of the left and the trade unions.