The arrest of former News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, constitutes the most high profile arrest to date as what began as a phone hacking crisis rapidly develops into the most wide-ranging political and police corruption scandal to hit the nation in modern times.
In fact, the unravelling of the Murdoch Empire has taken on the characteristics of a modern day morality tale, with the abuse of power and vested interests at its heart no doubt set to be the subject of books, plays, TV dramas and films in the months and years ahead. It involves a cast of characters straight out of Central Casting, chief among them Rupert Murdoch himself. Redolent of the downfall of an organised crime family, Murdoch has suddenly taken on the aura of an old mafia boss whose only aim in life after decades of seeming invincibility is to ensure he doesn’t end his days behind bars. As his lieutenants and confidants fall one after the other, he appears more and more exposed, stripped of his power and the protection afforded him by politicians and high ranking police officers who at one time were beneficiaries of his political and financial muscle.
Well, not anymore.
An interesting aspect of his many sided story has been the part played by Ed Miliband, leader of a Labour Party whose founding principles had been scorned and trampled in the mud over the two decades in which it was dominated by Tony Blair and the legacy he bequeathed it as a party of the millionaires instead of the millions.
It would of course be wrong to proclaim that Labour under Miliband had rid itself of the political and philosophical influence of Blairism in just the two short weeks of this ongoing crisis. Indeed, just prior to the political, media and legal firestorm that we are presently witnessing, Ed Miliband’s public statement in opposition to the recent one day mass strike by public sector workers up and down the country marked a low point in his tenure as leader of the party.
But there is no doubt that in driving the political response to a phone hacking scandal which literally exploded with the revelation that the voicemail messages of the missing and murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, had been hacked, the Labour leader has at last found his mojo.
In crossing the Rubicon as he did when he called for the resignation of then News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, at the start of this crisis, two weeks before she finally went, Miliband took a political gamble that has paid off handsomely. As a result he has emerged with significant moral authority and political capital, leaving Cameron and the Tories naked in the face of personal relationships with ranking members within the court of Murdoch that at a stroke have ensured the millions invested in rebranding the party since Cameron assumed the leadership in 2005 have been wasted.
With each passing day Miliband has grown in stature as he increases the pressure on Cameron and ups the ante in leading the charge against Murdoch. In this he has clearly taken on board the sage words of the great French revolutionary, Saint Just, when he warned, “those who make the revolution halfway dig their own grave.” In Miliband’s case a political grave.
The revolt that has been unleashed by the political class against the previously entrenched and untrammelled power of the Murdoch media empire, and which has now reached the shores of the US, was from the start a zero sum game in which no quarter could afford to be given. Miliband recognised the nature and seriousness of the stakes involved early on, as he took up a cause which previously had been carried almost singlehandedly by Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromich East, who in the process of his unremitting campaign to get to the bottom of the phone hacking scandal has managed to restore a measure of credibility to the Labour backbenches.
The latest demands voiced by Miliband, calling for the break up of the Murdoch Empire and new regulation to prevent such a concentration of media ownership in the future, just three weeks ago would have labelled the Labour leader, already Red Ed to his enemies, a dyed in the wool Trotskyist. No doubt it would have also triggered off that long coveted attempt by the Blairite wing within the party to remove him in favour of his younger brother in the final chapter of a sibling rivalry that has been the stuff of Shakespeare.
But in testament to the truth that “when nothing is sure, everything is possible,” Miliband has adapted to the shifting political terrain by shifting with it. Instead of attempting to hold to the political certainties that were entrenched prior to this crisis, he has embraced new ones, in the process liberating himself from the straitjacket of fear and awe of Murdoch that had afflicted the political mainstream for so long, and which had poisoned the political process from top to bottom.
Out of crisis comes opportunity, and it is well that it has been Ed Miliband’s hands on the tiller of the opposition’s response rather than those of his brother in the midst of this particular crisis. It has almost certainly ensured that Murdoch’s demise will run hand in hand with the demise of the influence of Blairism within Labour.
One of the most insidious manifestations of the Blair years, and of European social democracy in general, has been the increased emphasis on social mobility rather than social justice as the measure of a healthy society. Its effect in this country was the removal of a key plank of Labour’s philosophical identity as a party founded on the principle of collectivism and collectivist ideas. This came on the back of the rise of Thatcherism and the individualist ideas associated with neoliberalism, implemented during the structural adjustment of the UK economy throughout the 1980s and beyond.
The doctrine of selfishness and competition, as popularised in the work of Ayn Rand, triumphed over that of collectivism and cooperation as the wellspring of a civilised society, and in Thatcher reached its logical conclusion with her infamous declaration that “there is no such thing as society.”
Thatcher’s successful revolution over British society, and the tearing up of the social contract which had been its lynchpin since the Second World War, was answered by Blair’s revolution within the Labour Party, with the objective of synthesising what was then considered the immutable logic of the market and integrating it into a conception of society’s role as an enabler of individual aspiration as the best way of ensuring dynamism and economic growth. It gave birth to a new conception of egalitarianism, one which placed equality of opportunity in place of material equality through reducing the income gap as the party’s primary objective. Thus the priority on education, specifically early years learning, which the Blair government championed, and thus a focus on low taxation for high earners as an incentive not only to those high earners but also to those with aspirations of joining them. Most importantly, it presaged 13 years of the worst relations between Labour and the unions in the party’s history.
Philosophically, both Thatcher and Blair demonstrated in their worldview and political trajectories the influence of the father of neoconservatism, Leo Strauss, a German Jewish academic who escaped the Nazis in the early 1930s and emigrated to the US via Britain, where he took up a professorship at Chicago University and, there, alongside the architect of neoliberal economics, Milton Friedman, made his name. Strauss blamed the liberalism of the Weimar government for the rise of the Nazis, holding that liberalism led to a dangerous embrace of relativism and a diminishment of patriotism, which in his view were the incubators out of which both Communism and Fascism emerged. Strauss believed that strong labour unions, secularism and a focus on equality served to stifle and attenuate the moral development of the individual, leading in extreme cases to the onset of tyrannical government. Instead, he advocated a combination of nationalism and religiosity in order to promote national cohesion and individual moral virtue, with a strong emphasis on self sufficiency as the bedrock of a successful and dynamic democracy.
It was a political and moral philosophy which fitted well with the rise of the free market in reaction to the global economic crisis of the 1970s, in the process ending the postwar domination of Keynesianism as the driving force of capitalism in the US and throughout Europe.
For the Tories the transition was an easy one to make, both morally and economically, as it placed business back in the driving seat at the expense of the unions and everything they represented. For Labour the transition was not so simple and was more subtly done, using buzz words such as modernisation, social partnership, new deal, and stakeholder society to convey the impression that social mobility and the private sector went hand in hand, with the public sector painted as an anachronism, a brake on innovation and dynamism when it came to the provision of public services.
Built upon a virtual economy configured around the rise of the City and growth of fictitious capital at the expense of productive capital, and fuelling a property boom from the late nineties to onset of the credit crunch in 2007, New Labour were able to win three election victories based on an upsurge in private debt and private consumption, which in its excess succeeded in further eroding the social bonds and relationships which constitute the nation’s social fabric. To the Blairites it was proof positive that aspiration and social mobility had to be at the core of Labour’s message in the 21st century. But lost in this wave of euphoria was the fact that the entire philosophical and economic foundations upon which this doctrine was built would collapse as soon as the bubble burst, which it did.
Now, with the recent election of Ed Miliband as the leader of the Labour Party, many have been filled with renewed hope of Labour being returned to its roots as a mass party of the working class, minorities, progressives and the trade union movement. However, before this can happen a second revolution must take place within the party, one with the aim of divesting it of the Blairite philosophy which saw Labour pitch so far to the right that Britain began to resemble a one party state with two right wings.
Social justice must become the driving force of Labour as it sets about completing its first policy review since Ed Miliband was elected leader. Through the conduit of progressive taxation and government investment, the rights of the collective, whether single mothers, public sector workers, private sector workers, welfare claimants, the disabled, council house tenants, etc., must take precedence, both in order to bolster demand within the economy and to return to the idea of social justice as the overriding objective of any future Labour government. The idea of society as a starting line behind which everyone waits for the starting gun before racing to get ahead of the pack must be put to bed once and for all.
Ultimately, social justice and civilisation are two sides of the same coin.
I’m going to make a prediction. The current wave of student anti-cuts protests and occupations, though inspiring to behold, have come too early to be the spark for those much anticipated wider protests and strike action on the part of the working class.
Whether we like it or not, until the cuts being planned by the ConDems move from the abstract to the concrete for the vast majority, that majority will remain overwhelmingly quiescent. As of yet it has been the students, facing the imminent prospect of new legislation on student fees being passed in Parliament on 9th December, who’ve been impacted and who in turn have mobilised to fight back. What took place the other night in Lewisham, where protesters managed to disrupt a council vote on whether to support or oppose £60 million in cuts to the council’s budget, was the result of an organised and already politicised London borough being ahead of the game in terms of taking the fightback to the local council in what amounted to a pre-emptive strike.
The contradiction which emerged from that episode of Labour councillors in Lewisham voting in favour of the cuts package merely illustrates the limits of expectation we should have in Labour’s ability to play a leading role in any grass roots movement. This remains a party in which the tenets of Blairism remain a threat to the shift to the left embarked upon by the new leadership, and the speed and extent of this shift will rely to a significant extent on the size and potency of the anti-cuts movement in the months to come.
But let’s not kid ourselves: in a borough which in 1977 turned out 10,000 to face down the National Front, a protest involving an estimated 400 demonstrators, whilst a positive testament to the work of local activists and left organisations in Lewisham, remains small in relation to the size of any anti-cuts movement, both locally and nationally, that is going to have any chance of a favourable outcome. And when speaking of a favourable outcome we must understand this as effecting a split in the coalition which precipitates an early general election, resulting in a resounding defeat for the Tories and the arrival of a Labour government armed with an alternative economic programme for steering the country through the recession, one which favours investment over cuts and a strong public sector as a ballast of demand.
The only other alternative is a revolutionary government, which in the context of Britain in 2010 is at best unrealistic and at worst delusional, especially when we consider previous social upheavals and the resilience of the state and its institutions in being able to respond with concessions without being threatened.
When taking the measure of the anti-cuts movement in its present form, we see that it consists largely of already politicised activists, trade unionists and students, many already affiliated to various left organisations, and those assorted left Labour, Green and Respect MPs and councillors who comprise the great and the good of the progressive movement. It also currently enjoys the rhetorical support of some but not all the leaders of the nation’s trade unions.
Most who’ve been out on anti-cuts demos and rallies over the past few weeks will be able to attest to the wide ranging support received from passing pedestrians and motorists tooting their horns. However, it won’t be until those pedestrians and motorists move from a position of offering passive support to getting involved that we will have a movement that can take on the government and have any meaningful impact. In other words, until people who do not normally go on protests or get involved in political activity feel compelled to do so, we are still talking about a movement which remains very much in an embryonic stage.
Many have understandably derived inspiration from the impassioned and determined mobilisation of the students that we’ve seen, with comparisons being drawn in some quarters with France in May 68, when students were the spark for a general strike by French workers against De Gaulle’s government which ultimately forced its dissolution and new elections. However, such comparisons are dangerous if used as a template for what’s happening today in this country.
Thirteen years of New Labour’s shift away from its working class base and the trade union movement, during which Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws were left intact, has denuded both in terms of political weight and militancy. This doesn’t mean they won’t rediscover this political weight and/or militancy, but it does mean it will take more in the way of attacks by the government before they do.
But as in France in 68 any victory in such a fight will only come about if the requisite disruption to the nation’s economic and political life that is necessary can be made. The kind if disruption necessary will be in the shape of a general strike and sustained protest and civil disobedience; and any chance of this occurring will require the sort of upsurge in consciousness that can only come on the back of material necessity. If this coalition has a weakness it lies in its failure to learn the lessons of the Poll Tax; which means to say that its plans to make such brutal and across the board cuts in such a short timescale, cuts that will impact on society as a whole, could be its undoing.
Calls for a general strike at this stage, while offering as they do the only realistic path to bringing the country to a halt and with it the present government, nonetheless bring with it dangers if they come from without the trade union movement. The danger is that if such calls are perceived as an attack on the trade union leadership, or an attempt to undermine that leadership, which let’s not forget has been elected to represent in some cases hundreds of thousands of workers, they will only serve to alienate rather than inspire the workers they are intended to reach.
Being too far ahead of consciousness is as much of a mistake as being too far behind. The demo in London next March being organised by the TUC has the very real chance of seeing over a million people coming out to protest against the government, which would certainly have the effect of testing Clegg’s ability to keep his party on board. As such, any anti-cuts movement which sets its face against the trade unions, which views the leadership of the unions as part of the problem before the working class begins to feel the impact of the government’s proposed cuts, will see itself condemned to standing on the sidelines making shrill ultra left demands. While these may prove cathartic for those involved, in terms of impacting on events they will be woefully ineffective.
Any serious anti-cuts movement needs to win the cooperation, support and most importantly the trust of the ordinary working people if it is to grow and be successful. In this regard the romanticization of the working class and struggle as an end in itself has no place.
The working class will move when it is ready to move and not before.
The range of anti-cuts protests which took place at the weekend up and down the country have sparked hope in the viability of a determined fightback against the diet of draconian spending cuts planned by the Coalition – economic shock treatment that will have a devastating impact on the lives of millions of people and families.
The 20,000-strong demonstration that took place in Edinburgh on Saturday, organised by the STUC, was easily the biggest demonstration seen in the Scottish capital since the massive Make Poverty History march back in 2005, which coincided with that year’s meeting of the G8 in Gleneagles.
Just like that event, the STUC demonstration on Saturday was notable for a carnival atmosphere, replete with a plethora of trade union banners, balloons, a brass band and a pipe band. It brought together mainstream politicians, trade unionists in their thousands, church groups, the usual socialist organisations and parties, and concerned citizens. The size of the march was certainly impressive, and if this is the start then the augurs are positive. However, if things fail to move beyond passive demonstrations, no matter how big, the likelihood will be a grim outcome.
The truth is that mass demonstrations in themselves will not be enough to effect a change in course on the part of the Coalition. This is borne out by recent history. The Make Poverty History campaign mentioned earlier, organised by Oxfam and supported by the great and the good from the world of pop and celebrity, caught the entire country’s imagination for an all too brief period. It did so to the extent that the then chancellor, Gordon Brown, was happy to march at the head of its one and only mass demonstration.
It was a movement that fizzled out almost as soon as it began, lacking as it did any foundation of a coherent ideology and alternative to the status quo. Instead, weakened by confusion and the lack of a sharp analysis, it attempted to win over the leaders of the G8 with an abstract moral argument in favour of alleviating poverty throughout the undeveloped world, failing to understand in the process that the system responsible for that poverty is deaf to polite entreaties or requests, and will only ever respond to power.
For in the last analysis power only ever responds to power, a fact which if anyone was in any doubt should be eminently obvious upon even the most cursory examination of the fortunes and trajectory of the antiwar movement.
Again, the euphoria rightly experienced by all those who took part in the mass demonstration in London of February 15, 2003, was premature. Most taking part in that historic event were right to be convinced that it augured the start of something, a counter hegemonic counterweight to a Blair government that was set on the path to war. Unfortunately, and tragically, it proved to be the end and not the start we all hoped it would be. Demonstration after demonstration followed. Each was progressively smaller than the one before. Eventually it became a movement bereft of ideas and paralysed by its inability or unwillingness to move beyond the parameters of passive protest, condemned as a consequence to continue running parallel to the government bearing witness instead of mounting an effective opposition.
The lessons learned from the mass campaigns of the past are not just learned by the left or progressive forces. What the Blair government was able to do in being able to sit out the pressure it came under from the antiwar movement at its peak in early to mid 2003, the Coalition will attempt to replicate when it comes to a national anti-cuts campaign. This is why mass demonstrations such as took place in Edinburgh on Saturday, and the one being organised by the TUC to take place in London early next year, must not constitute the start and end point if we’re to have any chance of winning the most important battle against the Right which this generation is ever likely to face. It is a battle which in defeat will have consequences that will reverberate through succeeding generations, rolling back most of the progressive reforms and concessions won by the working class over the previous century.
Fortunately, compelling the majority of people to join this movement and fightback will be material necessity rather than the moral outrage that was the driving force behind the antiwar movement at the height of its support. The trade union movement will be key. Its leadership must plan for coordinated industrial action that is sustained and which transcends sectional interests. Workplaces, communities, schools and colleges must be turned into bastions of resistance, wherein local and in many cases new forces and voices will emerge to drive things forward.
No group or organisation has the right to claim overall leadership or stewardship to any fightback at this stage, though the TUC is currently in the best position to provide the coherence required in terms of the coordinated industrial action that must lie at its heart. Outwith trade union ranks the various campaigns that have been set up should try to unite as soon as possible. Sectarianism is a crime under the present circumstances, and those guilty of it should be ostracised. As the months pass an organic leadership consisting of those who are capable of providing the most effective practice based on an accurate rendering of mass consciousness may well emerge. Nothing or no one should be allowed to hold it back.
The primary objective of any mass campaign must be to bring the country to a halt if need be, thereby forcing the government to fear those it has already deemed worthy of contempt with its policy of inflicting mass destitution and despair as an economic policy.
The Labour Party leadership, in the wake of the general election defeat and the leadership election that followed, has yet to offer any firm line of march against the cuts.
Hampered by the neoliberal scars of the Blair years, and yet to muster the courage to break with New Labour’s fixation on Middle England and obeisance to the power and influence of Rupert Murdoch, it still refuses to fully embrace the trade unions and their crucial role as the tangible embodiment of collectivist ideas in society. It should and needs to if Labour is to regain the working class support it has lost over the past 13 years.
The failure of a sufficient number of Labour MPs to turn up in Parliament to ensure that the Lawful Industrial Action Bill, introduced last week by John McDonell, reached the next stage is a case in point. It demonstrates that Labour still has some way to go before it can claim to have fully emerged from the Blairite era which saw it lose half its membership along with 5 million votes.
The anti-cuts campaign has only just begun. Learning the lessons of history will go some way to giving it a chance of ending in victory – not only for those about to be impacted by the cuts but by previous generations, who by dint of past victories in the struggle for social and economic justice, the fruits of which have been enjoyed by those who came after, have already pointed the way ahead.
Ed Miliband’s first conference speech as leader of the Labour Party was a clear attempt to posit Labour as an unambiguous alternative to the Con-Dem Coalition on everything from the approach to the deficit to foreign policy and the role of the state.
It was a long speech, lasting over an hour, ambitious in its attempt to touch on every issue facing the country as well as shedding light on the new leader’s personal life, family history, and that much overused and overfond word of every modern political leader - ’values’.
His articulation of the objective of a living wage represents a demarche away from the New Labour’s obsession with wealth creation as a function of high earners, the banks, and big business. In this the Thatcherite trickle down theory of economics has at last been rejected by a Labour leader. His nod to a right wing press driven hysteria over immigration and welfare demonstrated weakness, however, revealing the continued need for national campaigns in solidarity with both constituencies, the most vulnerable in society.
One of the most significant sections of the speech came with his rejection of decision to go the war in Iraq, much to the evident chagrin of his younger brother and Alistair Darling sitting behind him.
What is clear already is that unlike Tony Blair or David Cameron, Ed Miliband’s strength will be in the team he builds around him. He possesses neither the presence nor strength of personality to stamp his own authority on the party he leads. This is no bad thing, however, as the dangers of a single leader coming to define his party’s ethos, being able to take the party down paths determined by him instead of leading as part of a team, have perverted the politic process in recent times. A more collegiate style of leadership will mark another welcome departure from the New Labour era, as will an emphasis on social and economic justice as functions of wealth redistribution rather than individual aspiration.
The new Labour leader’s rejection of the smears levelled against his election by the press was effective and well received by the audience. His defence of the trade union movement was less vigorous than it might have been sadly. But the tenor of his comments must be understood as being tailored to reach and reassure the general public, the bulk of whom receive and process their politics via the pages of the mainstream press and news channels.
Ed Miliband is a progressive. The agenda he has laid out in his maiden conference speech is self evidently not a Murdoch agenda. He offers the potential for a progressive consensus drawing together the unions, local and national campaigns, as well as a broader constituency of the left. These are the forces that will be required to resist the government’s cuts agenda in the coming period.
All in all it was a good speech, setting out a positive agenda going forward and a clear philosphical difference from the government and the right on the issues that matter. More importantly, for progressive politics in this country it marked a rejection of the key tenets of New Labour, the main one of which was the positing of Labour as a party of the millionaires rather than as a party of the millions upon which it was originally founded.
In this Ed Miliband has turned the party left. The role of the Labour left and progressive forces outwith Labour in the months and years ahead must be to insure that he continues to do so, safe in the knowledge that attacks from the Tory press aside, the left is where the Labour Party’s future resides.
by Jon Trickett MP, from CiF
Some senior Labour MPs believe all we need to do to win again is elect a young-looking prime minister in-waiting and combine him or her with “New” Labour politics. They are completely wrong.
Instead, we need a fresh and bold alternative to the Tories. As Peter Hain explained, the rightwing grip on the coalition government will undermine it. Tens of thousands who turned to the Lib Dems now feel lost, betrayed by their party’s decision to support spending cuts that will hurt the poor and vulnerable.
The centre left is now vacant, waiting for the Labour party to reconquer its natural terrain. But we first have to explain why we lost our direction in order to understand how we can win.
The seeds of our defeat were germinating before 2005. I do not make this claim purely with the advantage of hindsight. I was the campaign manager for Jon Cruddas’s attempt to become deputy leader in 2007. We ran the “Choose Change” movement. We argued that the 2005 election – far from being a triumph – signalled danger for Labour if the lessons of the Tony Blair era were not learned.
Under Blair’s leadership, Labour lost 4 million voters. By 2005, “New” Labour’s electoral alliance was crumbling. In the race between continuity and change, we argued then, the party must “choose change” or face defeat.
But in order to change, we must be unflinching in our analysis. We should acknowledge that our espousal of the triumph of the market failed to deliver public goods and that increasing inequality was allowed to damage our social fabric. The decision on Iraq was a gross error.
The key organising concept of New Labour was that of aspiration. Rightly so: everyone hopes for a better future. But too often our policy was at variance with our traditional values. We forgot our own clause IV, that “by our common endeavour we can achieve more than we do alone”.
There were arguments against a modest tax rise for the very wealthy because it might be seen as a “cap on aspiration”. But we forgot that nine out of 10 lived on less than £44,000 a year. We couldn’t imagine that people might “aspire” to live in the rented sector, especially in a council house. Yet millions of our supporters did just that. In my area of Wakefield, the number of people waiting to be allocated a council property rose to 24,000. Equally, we decided to expand the number of university places to meet the aspirations of the upwardly mobile, but introduced up front tuition fees that led to genuine fears of massive student debt.
By 2005, many of our own supporters refused to vote for us. But the Tories had not yet recovered. We won in part by default, faced as we were by an ineffective opposition. We then failed to sufficiently re-orient the government in the face of a resurgent opposition and we went down to defeat.
However, today, it is these New Labour traditionalists that don’t want to debate the whole of our period in office under Brown and Blair. Their analysis goes little deeper than the view that the last couple of years of the Labour government were difficult. They hanker for a leader who will take them back to the glory days.
They see the candidature of David Miliband, whose political CV is entrenched in the New Labour project as head of Tony Blair’s policy unit, as their best hope. But the Choose Change movement recalls the resistance of the policy unit to commonsense, centre-left policies such as building council houses, regulating buses and giving agency workers better protection.
Ed Miliband, on the other hand, has published a detailed analysis indicating that he understands the problems facing Labour. He has reminded us that millions of middle- and lower-income voters became detached from the government in the New Labour years. He has argued that we need to “change to win”.
That is why, in what now looks like a two-horse race, so many Choose Change supporters will now give our support to Ed Miliband. His understanding and analysis of the depth of the challenges facing Labour means he is best placed among the candidates for leader to articulate the case for renewal and change.
I never knew Ken Coates personally, but I was sad to read of his recent passing. He played a very important role in the development of left ideas within the Labour Party.
During the 1960s the traditional Bevanite left of the Party were increasingly staid, and identified state ownership as an end in itself. For example Michael Foot in an interview with New Left Review in 1968 responded to the critics of the New Left by saying that there was nothing wrong with the strategy of corporate state ownership and Keynesianism economics, the problem was only their failure of Labour governments to implement the programme vigorously enough. Insofar as there was a mainstream radical alternative within the Labour Party it was from revisionists like Crosland, Jay and Jenkins, who wanted to see less emphasis on the issues of state ownership, and more determination to pursue goals of fighting disadvantage and inequality.
Ken Coates was a vital figure, because he rejected the complacency and social conservatism of the Bevanites from the left, but determined to stay in the Labour Party, rather than go into what he saw as the self-righteous political wilderness of the New Left.
He was instrumental in 1968 in establishing the Institute of Workers Control, in conjunction with the publication “Voice of the Unions”, and various academics and activists. Prominent supporters of IWC included Hugh Scanlon and Jack Jones, who were elected t become the leader of the engineers and TGWU in 1967 and 1969.
Alongside his colleague, Tony Topham, Coates tirelessly argued in books and pamphlets for different models of social ownership, as opposed to the Morrisonian reality of a state owned corporations in the same form as private corporations.
Coates argued that
Workers’ control brings back into the working class … … all that tremendous weight of self esteem, of self recognition, of self respect, which has been stripped away by years of bureaucratic intrigues and manoeuvres in political institutions.
Vitally Ken Coates saw the need to develop practical alternative policies which could be pursued by working people, which were both pragmatic, but challenged the logic of the market. The Lucas Plan from the 1970s is the most famous example, for alternative production to meet social needs. As such Ken Coates was a key intellectual and organising figure for the revival of the left in the Labour Party in the early 1980s.
He was elected as a Labour MEP in 1989, and did ten years of well respected work in the European parliament. He was an outspoken critic of New Labour, which represented the attempt to negate of his entire life’s work, and scandalously he was expelled from the Party in 1998, alongside Hugh Kerr MEP.
Ken Coates will be remembered as an inspiration, not just an a personal example, but because his ideas remain vital and relevant, and will continue to inform debate on the left for years to come. A number of his books and pamphets are still available, from here.
Labour MP and socialist candidate for Labour leadership, John McDonnell, has withdrawn from the race. With the deadline for nominations set for 12.30pm today, McDonnell was unable to muster the necessary 33 required from his fellow MPs. He’s endorsed Dianne Abbott’s campaign, but as yet it isn’t certain if all of his 16 nominations will switch over as well. At time of writing, Dianne Abbott has managed to get 11 nominations.
John McDonnell has issued the following statement explaining his reasons for withdrawing from the race.
I stood for the Labour leadership as the candidate of the left and trade union movement so that there could be a proper debate about Labour’s future in which all the wings of the party were fully represented.
It is now clear that I am unlikely to secure enough nominations and so I am withdrawing in the hope that we can at least secure a woman on the ballot paper.
Yesterday I wrote to Harriet Harman to urge her to use her position as acting leader in association with the party’s national officers to secure a reduction of the qualifying threshold for candidates to be allowed on to the ballot paper. Regrettably this has not occurred and so I have no other option but to withdraw in the interests of the party.
I know that many Labour activists and trade unionists will be disappointed that their candidate will not be on the ballot. I am urging them to continue the fight for democracy within the party so that in future leadership elections rank and file members will be represented by the candidate of their choice.
Update: Dianne Abbott has gained the 33 nominations required to be added to the ballot for the leadership election.
A union leader has blasted Labour for its record in government, and insisted that the party needs to be reclaimed for working people, pensioners and the unemployed.
Tony Woodley, joint leader of Unite, said it was a “scandal” that after 13 years of Labour government the right to strike in the UK was “hanging by a thread.”
He also told the opening day of Unite’s annual conference in Manchester there was no road back for Labour until the party apologised for taking the UK into the “illegal and unjust” Iraq war “That war was a crime,” he added.
Mr Woodley said he was pleased that some of the Labour leadership candidates had “finally found their voice” on Iraq, adding it would be better if they called for troops to get out of Afghanistan too.
Mr Woodley told the 700 delegates: “There is another issue which I believe all candidates should face up to. It is the scandal that at the end of 13 years of Labour government, the right to strike is hanging by a thread – at the mercy of employers who would rather sue than settle.
“And Tory judges who appear to think strikes are okay as long as they don’t inconvenience the bosses in any way at all.”
Mr Woodley said firms including British Airways, Metrobus and Tesco had used the law against Unite, adding: “If this is allowed to carry on, then the trade union movement will be trying to defend our members in the teeth of an economic whirlwind with not just one, but both arms tied behind our back.
“This position is a lasting mark of shame on the 13 years of New Labour government, that the party founded to rescue unions from the hands of the judges should pass us on to the Con-Lib coalition hemmed in by the courts at every turn.”
Mr Woodley said Unite’s vote in the leadership election should go to the candidate who pledges to scrap anti-union laws, and said the contest to find a new leader should give the party the chance to rediscover its “purpose in life”.
“We need our party back. For too long we have been told that we are a drag on its electoral prospects, that the unions have to be neither seen nor heard. But it wasn’t the unions that wrecked the economy, it was the filthy rich that Peter Mandelson was intensely relaxed about.”
Cross-posted from HarpyMarx
David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Jon Cruddas deciding not to stand now ( though described as the ‘left’ candidate…really? His voting pattern is thoroughly NL…no rebellious streak there nor an independent thinker!), Ed Balls…..Andy Burnham
So tell me, supporters of these NLites, where are their differences?
Ed M. may argue, The trade union link matters because it is our link to working people in this country and it is very important. We also need to reach out to people in the environmental movement, voluntary organisations and local citizens’ organisations……
All fancy words…. but Ed Miliband sold out the Vestas workers. And if he is so keen on the trade unions then why did he never speak out against the anti-trade union laws that hamper and shackle the movement?
…Same old New Labour.
If the Labour Party is to change course then they have to change their ideology, and that means ditching New Labour and this adherence to neoliberalism. Gordon Brown wasn’t an elected leader he was imposed, he believed he had some divine right to lead the Labour Party, based on what? Capitulation of the spineless PLP. So now we have a chance, maybe, to choose the leader of the LP.
I support John McDonnell. Our objective, like the previous John4Leader campaign, is to highlight, and to challenge the NL establishment along with their moribund right-wing dead policies. We also have to show that there is a left alternative to NL. We have a chance to vocalise our opposition and to put forward a platform that is against neo-liberalism and the impending austerity cuts.
If you want change, if you want a good left-wing principled leader than John McDonnell is the man. He has consistently voiced and voted and campaigned against the policies of NL, he is symbolic of what a Socialist in Parliament should be. And left-wing MPs did very well in the General Election! Tactically, we need to involve the whole of the Left in this decision making, these will be unstable times and you can’t trust a NL leader as they will pursue a vicious and swingeing cuts programme.
All our resources, Parliamentary, trade union and local campaigns need to be mobilised to get mass struggles going on as is starting to happen in Greece……
See as well LRC
According to Louise Whittle’s “Harpy Marx” blog, John McDonnell MP declared his intention to stand for the Labour Party leadership at an event on Saturday called “After the Election – Join the Resistance”
“An important and significant aspect of this fightback will be the Labour leadership campaign, John McDonnell said he will do what he can to get on the ballot paper (32 MPs), it will be very tough but what it will also be a chance to open up debate in the party, putting forward a socialist alternative which none of the potential candidates are interested in (including Cruddas).”
This is a strange call from John McDonnell, as he has zero prospects of getting sufficient MP nominations to get on the ballot paper, so announcing a serious intention to seek nominations would seem to be an attempt to reinforce John McDonnell’s differentiation from the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Despite a number of John McDonnell supporters over the last few days commenting on this blog that because this is an Alternative Vote election, they would be recommending second preferences, John McDonnell himself is apparently having none of that, according to Louise:
“John McD. also said that if he can’t get on the ballot paper he won’t support any candidate who has ‘blood on their hands over Iraq’, who voted for privatisation, attacks on civil liberties and so on.”
Louise Whittle is a National Committee member of John McDonnell’s Labour Representation Committee (LRC) and an editorial board member of Labour Briefing, so while her views are on the left end of the LRC spectrum, she is not a lone individual. Indeed, as she points out, John McDonnell’s formulation makes it clear that he is not recommending second preference votes for any centre-left, or centre candidate. As Louise explains:
“Again, why should lefties have to make do with the least worst shower? Balls, Cruddas and 2 Milibands. Look at their voting records, there is hardly anything to separate them!
Jon Cruddas and David Miliband voted for the Iraq war, Balls and Miliband junior were elected in 2005 but neither supported an investigation into war in Iraq!! So tell me, supporters of these NLites, where are their differences? ”
Standing a flag-bearer candidate for left ideas with a strong recommendation for a credible second preference alternative might be a legitimate way of getting socialist ideas discussed; but standing on the basis that there is effectively no difference between the other candidates is just abstention over the real issues; and may make it harder to mobilise left votes for Ed Balls or Ed Miliband.
The crucial issue in this leadership election is uniting the labour movement to resist the Tories, and doing so on a basis which preserves the influence of the trade unions in the Labour Party. It is necessary to sustain a strategy which reconnects the party with the traditional heartlands vote, as well as appealing to a broader, progressive, anti-Tory constituency. The key dividing issue between the candidates is whether they support strong ties with the trade unions as a bridge to working class voters, and tying the Labour Party to the fightback against Tory policies.
John McDonnell is himself an excellent friend of the trade unions, and does fantastic work in parliament supporting, for example, the RMT, PCS and FBU and other unions.
So it is surprising that some of his prominent supporters vehemently argue for weakening the influence of the trade unions in the party. John cannot be held personally responsible for the views expressed by his supporters, but clearly he is putting himself forward as a standard bearer for the collective left of the left, so it is reasonable to look at the views expressed by other leading members of the LRC when assessing the platform that John McDonnell’s candidacy represents.
Councillor Susan Press is elected Vice-Chair of the LRC, and a prominent supporter of John McDonnell. Writing in April 2009 she said:
“After what has happened to me as a candidate in Keighley and Calder Valley, I honestly think left-wingers do not stand a chance of beating the machine. The selection process would have to change radically to maje it a fair contest with a level playing field.
“I think the only way forward would be possibly a truly OMOV process, an upper limit on campaign spending of around £1000 and an end to the “nomination” process by trade unions which to be honest is an utter stitch-up for favoured candidates. In both Calder Valley and Keighley, UNITE actively campaigned against me. As someone who has spent 25 years as an active trade unionist, I think that’s a disgrace.
“I used to have faith that the unions would help us “re-claim” Labout but the truth is they do their damndest to stop the left having a voice in the Party. Last year at Labour Party conference, their cabals joined forces to ensure our resolution on leadership challenges was defeated.”
This is truly right wing stuff, repeating the extreme position of Tony Blair in the debates over OMOV, seeking to exclude the influence of organised labour from the selection process. Susan has been a party member long enough to know that she has now adopted the position of the traditional hard right of the party from the 1980s.
It is not at all “a disgrace” that UNITE campaigned to get their own favoured candidate elected instead of Susan. Affiliated unions are entitled to take a view of which candidates best further the interests of the members, and will also take into account which candidates are most electable. The right of trade unions to nominate is a valuable mechanism for ensuring that trade union candidates have a chance of getting into parliament.
I was also surprised by the vehemence of Louise’s attack on the leadership of the affiliated trade unions:
“They have given millions of members’ money with absolutely NO conditions. TULO, shockingly, supported tactical voting (so did Compass..let’s not forget that!). In others, not only was it a vote for LibDems a vote for Cameron but also for privatisation as they support the privatisation of the Royal Mail! I mean, asking trade unionists to vote for an anti-working class, pro-cuts, anti-trade union, bourgeois party ‘Tories in yellow’ like the LibDems is outrageous (Oh yes, vested interests…. and the LP…So it’s OK for Clegg to fight for the vested interests of his own class?!). The shameful behaviour doesn’t stop there as Woodley/Simpson wanted a coalition between Labour and LibDems….”
I must admit that TULO (the collaboration between the unions affiliated to the party) recommending tactical voting had passed me by. However, recognising that there were a few dozen constituencies where voting Liberal might stop a Tory was not shocking. It was recognition of what Labour supporters and even members have been doing for years, especially in the West Country strongholds of the Liberal Democrats. (Although Compass went too far in my opinion in seeking to argue that the Liberals are a progressive centre left party).
But Louise is completely wrong to imply that Simpson and Woodley were “shameful” in recommending a Labour/Liberal coalition after the election. The union leaders were seeking to make the best of a situation where a Tory government would bring in an additional £6 bn of cuts, and a Labour/Liberal coalition was a serious option to prevent the resulting onslaught on members’ jobs and public services. Why attack trade union leaders in this strident way, for arguing something that would protect their members?
Ann Black has since explained why this coalition did not develop into a viable option:
“Last Tuesday [the NEC] discussed mechanisms for safeguarding Labour’s programme in any arrangement with the Lib Dems. We agreed to trust our negotiators, but as in my feedback, serious concerns were expressed. These were not primarily tribal in nature, but based on practicalities. The two parties together would have no majority, giving the tiny nationalist groups protectionist vetoes. And a coalition of the parties which had lost seats, with a second prime minister unelected by the British people, would have been criticised as lacking legitimacy and punished by the voters if it fell apart. Later that day the talks came to nothing anyway, and the Cameron-Clegg team took power.”
However, the view of many trade unionists was that such a coalition would have been in the better interests of their members than any government involving the Tories, and every option needed to be explored that might prevent a Tory government.
I am at a loss to understand what John McDonnell is seeking to achieve. He has stressed what differentiates him from the rest of the Labour Party, rather than what unites him with it. He is seeking to stand for leadership of a party where he obviously despises most of their MPs. His supporters are rubbishing the influence of the trade unions in the party. And he has implicitly stated that he would support no other candidate for leader except himself.
A socialist candidature for leader of the Labour Party has to be on the basis of seeking to win broad support for left wing ideas; but John McDonnell seems to be seeking not to build coalitions and a wider audience for socialist ideals, but instead to differentiate his supporters from the rest of the labour movement, and creating a culture where others in the Labour Party and trade union movement are denounced for not being pure enough. An attempt to stand for leader by McDonnell will only demonstrate the gulf between his supporters and the mainstream of the movement.
This is bridge burning not bridge building, and I wonder what John McDonnell’s end game is.
by Richard Bagley – Morning Star, Sunday June 14
Cabinet minister Harriet Harman has urged “bold” policies to combat the dire Tory threat.
The Commons leader issued her call at a No Turning Back conference at the weekend in London organised by centre-left pressure group Compass.
Calling for drastic reforms of Parliament, she stressed: “Renewing democracy is not just solving a problem. It is an end in itself that there should be a sharing of power as well as a sharing of wealth as part of our progressive promise.”
The current economic and political crisis raised the need for “a new social order which must be based on fairness and equality,” said Ms Harman, who is Labour Party deputy leader.
Communications union CWU general secretary Billy Hayes, speaking alongside Ms Harman, was warmly applauded as he issued a direct appeal to the Prime Minister “to drop the nonsense of the part-privatisation of Royal Mail.”
Mr Hayes also scolded the government for failing to nationalise banks while paying them “huge sums” of public money.
Labour MP Jon Cruddas won a standing ovation from the 1,000-strong audience as he called for a broad progressive movement to “grasp this historic moment.”
He warned that the Labour Party was “doomed” if it failed to change course.
Mr Cruddas declared: “Now is the time to rise up and move forward. We cannot return to the failed ideas that got us into this mess.”
In a direct challenge to the new Labour plotters, he added: “We have possibly got nine months before a general election. Let us have a definite battle between left and right.”
Labour Party treasurer and industry union Unite deputy general secretary Jack Dromey warned the government that continuing to pursue privatisation of Royal Mail would “seriously divide the Labour Party.”
Mr Dromey demanded urgent action to stop “massive tax avoidance” by the rich.
Calls for a new unity among progressive parties and groups came from a number of platform speakers at the event, including Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, Respect leader Salma Yaqoob and Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price.
The discussion conference, sponsored by the CWU, the Guardian and the New Statesman, broke up into 31 seminars.
At a seminar entitled What capitalism do we want now? the platform speakers were somewhat nonplussed when Dr Michele Javary asked from the audience: “Shouldn’t the question be, do we want capitalism now?”
We are already seeing the opening shots in a battle for control of the Labour Party should they (as seems likely) lose the next general election.
The right wing is making its moves: there has been speculation about alternative candidates to Ken Livingstone for London mayor, and puff pieces in the Independent praising Hazel Blears as the “saviour of the party”.
Yet, the authority of New Labour is severely weakened within the party, not only because the electoral strategy of triangulating around the concerns of swing voters and emphasising social conformity has failed to pay off in Glasgow East and Crewe and Nantwitch by-elections, but also because the neo-liberal economics policies look increasingly out of touch. A majority of labour MPs, and most party members oppose the part privatisation of the Royal Mail being peddled by Lord Mandelson.
The big hitters in the debate should be the trade unions, but so far we have seen little evidence of the unions being willing to articulate an independent political voice, although the renewed emphasis by GMB on seeking to influence Labour party policy in the direction of left social-democratic policies is entirely to be welcomed. Similarly, the intervention by the RMT in the Euro elections is significant, simply because although the RMT is a relatively small union it is influential; and its willingness to act independently in the political arena, and its willingness to work with left wing activists are indications that RMT appreciates the necessity of trade unions generating left-wing, alternative policies.
The stumbling block in recent years in the party, and in the trade unions, has been the fact that the Blairite right have presented themselves as the only ones with a strategy for actually winning general elections. Tragically that strategy was effectively to abandon the progressive core of labour movement politics.
The left needs to appreciate that based only upon the core vote of those who consider themselves to be consciously working class, and who already respond to explicitly social democratic and socialist arguments, then Labour cannot win a general election. The task is to create a progressive coalition that maintains the core values and aspirations of the socialist left, but that presents those values in terms that identifies the interests of the left as being in the interests of the whole of society. This is the counter-hegemonic project necessary to turn the tide of common sense that still hangs over us from the Thatcher revolution.
There are signs of renewal in the trade unions, and even in the Labour Party. The ”Young Labour” organisation could become a force of those who have not been disillusioned by the Blair years. So everyone on the left should throw their weight behind Sam Tarry who is hoping to be the first elected leader of Young Labour at Labour’s National Youth Day in Gillingham, Kent on 18th April.
Sam wants Young Labour to have full time paid national organiser, regular campaign training workshops across the country, a programme to increase women’s representation within Young Labour, a more dynamic Young Labour website which allows members to feed in policy ideas, more grassroots activism around the country and redoubling efforts for an equal minimum wage for younger workers and Votes at 16.
But more importantly, Sam Tarry want to see young party members invoved in active campaigning, and his own record of activity against the BNP, and in GMB as a branch youth officer shows he has the necessary experience.
The vitally necessary task of renewing progressive politics cannot by-pass the Labour Party, even though many activists no longer look to the party, or may be involved in other parties, like Respect, Plaid Cymru or the Greens. Labour still has considerable support in the trade unions, and a broadly progressive mass electoral base, that the left should not walk away from. Experience shows that except in one or two localised areas where special factors apply, left wing electoral challenges to Labour have not managed to displace the electoral loyalty of labour voters, even when the alternative left candidates may be closer to core labour values than the official Labour candidate!
The re-emergence of credible centre-left politics within the party is an important development, and is a necessary step in the chain of engaging the trade unions more with the political process. Blairism has created the expectation that the unions pushing pro-working class policies is electorally damaging and disloyal, which we see reflected in the craven attitude of unions like Unison and Usdaw.
Now that Blairism is on its last legs, it is entirely to be welcomed that figures are emerging in the party who understand that in fact it is the progressive and sensible, social democratic policies coming from the unions that represent the best chance of future success.
It would be astonishing if, after the briefing to the Sunday Times, Observer, Sunday Telegraph, The Independent and other newspapers, tomorrow’s government economic statement did not centre on a reduction in VAT. If so this is measure which should be strongly supported – not only for immediate but for strategic economic reasons.
One of the most iniquitous features of Tory tax policy, particularly from Thatcher onwards, was the shifting of the tax burden from direct to indirect taxation.
Indirect taxation hits the lowest paid proportionately more than the high paid and is therefore deeply socially regressive – which is exactly why it was a policy pursued by the Tories and Thatcher. Cutting VAT will therefore hit two birds with one stone.
First, as part of the government’s measures to combat the economic downturn, this is one of the most effective measures in keeping up consumer demand. A reduction in VAT will aid all sections of the population. But, precisely because indirect taxation is socially regressive, reducing VAT will aid the lowest paid most.
The lower an income the more certainly any available income is spent, as the low paid can least afford to save. A reduction in VAT has almost exactly the same effect as a boost in income because it allows a greater quantity of goods to be bought with the same money. Reduction in VAT is therefore one of the surest ways to ensure that the maximum amount of any economic package is translated into an increase in consumer demand – one of the key measures required to fight the economic downturn.
Reduction in VAT is also, politically, just the type of measure required to ensure Labour holds together the alliance of those on around average incomes and the low paid which it should be based on.
Second, strategically, this should be the beginning of a reshaping of the taxation system. It is being briefed that this reduction in VAT will be temporary, and it will then be restored to its previous level to reduce the budget deficit during an economic upturn. This is not what should occur – any increase in VAT would be deeply regressive for the reasons already outlined. Instead, when taxation increases again to reduce the budget deficit during an economic upturn, an increase in direct taxation on the highest incomes should take place. That is, any reduction in VAT should be used to begin a reshaping of the tax system in a more equitable direction.