I am no fan of David Miliband, but during the Commons debate on the Tory Welfare Reform Bill, he used the example of a Labour Party poster from 1929 to illustrate the mindset of the Tories, both yellow and blue, when it comes to equality and making sacrifices during a recession.
It is a very effective poster, which speaks more powerfully than words, and Labour could do worse than produce an up to date version now.
David Miliband’s speech is worth listening to. He spoke powerfully and landed some telling blows on the Tories and their Lib-Dem bag carriers.
They really are the scum of the Earth.
Labour leader Ed Miliband’s speech on immigration to the Institute for Public Policy Research on 22 June was both ill conceived and ill advised, pandering to the most regressive and simplistic logic regarding unemployment and social relations in Britain today. It comes on the back of his recent speech on Britishness, another ill conceived and ill advised intervention, which suggests either a political compass skewed to the right on both issues, or a concerted attempt to win support from a white working class which views its interests threatened by immigrants and the supposed alien cultural values they uphold. Perhaps it is both.
Regardless, for a Labour leader to pander to such reductionist views during the worst economic crisis this country has faced since the 1930s bespeaks a staggering lack of judgment not to mention analysis. In the process Miliband has left immigrants politically defenceless by all the mainstream parties, bolstering the narrative of the far right and distracting from the real causes of unemployment, low pay, pressure on public services, and the crisis in social housing.
On inequality towards the end of Labour’s period in office, Miliband said
‘At least by the end of our time in office, we were too dazzled by globalisation and too sanguine about its price.
By focusing too much on globalization and migration’s impact on growth, we lost sight of who was benefiting from that growth – and the people who were being squeezed’.
Here it should be recalled that it was under Labour that the 1000 wealthiest people in Britain saw their combined wealth increase a staggering 204 percent in ten years, from £97 billion to just over £300 billion. This was the demographic which benefited from growth during the boom years of globalization, the result of a conscious decision by the then Labour Party leadership to embrace globalization, privatization, and deregulation without addressing the sharp increase in inequality that took place as a direct result.
According to The Poverty Site, in 2008/09, during New Labour’s third consecutive term in office, 13½ million people in the UK were living in households below the 60% low-income threshold after deducting housing costs. This is around a fifth (22%) of the population. This 13½ million figure for 2008/09 was unchanged from 2007/08, and was 1½ million more than the low point in 2004/05. Moreover, it followed six uninterrupted years of decreases from 1998/1999 to 2004/05 and were the first increases since 1996/97.
In effect, poverty initially decreased during New Labour’s first two terms in power before increasing during its last.
A comprehensive report on inequality commissioned by the Brown government in 2010 provides further evidence of New Labour’s atrocious record on inequality. Titled An Anatomy of Inequality in the UK, and compiled by the National Equality Panel led by Prof John Mills of the London School of Economics, the report includes the finding that ‘by 2007-8 Britain had reached the highest level of income inequality since soon after the Second World War’.
The report includes research by Save the Children which revealed that 13 percent of children in Britain were living in severe poverty, and more crucially that ‘efforts to reduce child poverty had been stalling even before the recession began in 2008’.
Significantly, nowhere in the 460-page report does there appear the suggestion that immigration played a role in exacerbating income inequality during the period concerned. On the contrary, the report finds that
‘Compared with a white British Christian man with similar qualifications, age and occupation, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim men and Black African Christian men have an income that is 13-21% lower. Nearly half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani households are in poverty’.
Research carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, who released its findings in January of this year (reported in The Independent), throws up even more significant conclusions. In contradistinction to the commonly held belief by anti-immigration groups and the right, the research found that
“the interaction between migrant inflows and GDP emerges as positive, indicating that during periods of lower growth, migrant inflows are associated with … slower [dole] claimant growth than would otherwise have occurred.”
Further, Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, argued that most of the rise in youth unemployment took place in 2008 and 2009, a period when the number of Eastern European workers entering the UK declined.
It is simply untrue that immigration leads to an increase in unemployment or inequality. What has led to both, and disgracefully under Labour’s last period in office given the party’s founding principles, has been a failure of government to curb the excesses of the rich and big business, whose unfettered and reckless greed has blighted social cohesion and led to the economic meltdown we are currently experiencing.
When it comes to housing, Ed Miliband said in his speech
‘rapid changes in population led to pressures on scarce resources such as housing and schools’.
This claim is contradicted by a 2009 report compiled by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into Social Housing Allocation and Immigrant Communities. Its authors, Jill Rutter and Maria Latorre, write in the report’s Executive Summary that
‘New migrants to the UK over the last five years make up less than two per cent of the total of those in social housing. Some 90 per cent of those who live in social housing are UK born. Most of the newly-arrived migrant group who occupy social tenancies are refugees who have been granted permission to remain in the UK. This group is numerically small in relation to the total of social tenants in the UK. For example, LFS analysis estimates that 19,200 Afghanistan-born persons were social tenants in the third quarter of 2007, out of 10,337,300 total social tenants in the UK’.
Further on the authors state
‘Analysis of social housing allocation policies showed no evidence that social housing allocation favours foreign migrants over UK citizens. But there is a small amount of evidence which suggests that they [social housing allocation policies] may, unintentionally, discriminate against ethnic minority communities who may also have less understanding than white groups, of their housing rights and housing allocation’.
Crucially, the authors provide an analysis as to the reasons for the mistaken perception that immigrants receive preferential treatment when it comes to the allocation of social housing.
‘Media reporting of issues around migration and social housing migration has great potential to set the public agenda. Anti-migration messages are more consistent than pro-migration messages and are often ‘common sense’ – for example, migrants put pressure on social housing. Myth-busting exercises about social housing allocation, conducted by local authorities or other interested parties, are unlikely to change public misconceptions about housing allocation’.
Ed Miliband’s speech on immigration reveals that he himself has fallen foul of this common misconception. Either that or he is guilty of rank opportunism in jumping on this particular bandwagon in order to increase support among its victims. Both or either of the aforementioned explanations are unacceptable when it comes to the leader of the Labour Party.
Rather than pander to these regressive views and common misconceptions that clearly exist among many ordinary working people, the Labour Party has a duty to defend immigrants by offering an analysis that is shorn of falsehood and urban myth. As leader of the party, Ed Miliband in particular is tasked with imparting a progressive vision which challenges the received truths of the right, including the right wing media, regardless of the traction these received truths have gained within working class communities.
Making matters worse when it comes to Ed Miliband’s analysis of the crisis in social housing in Britain is that by now there is no doubt whatsoever as to its underlying cause. The Thatcher government’s Right-To-Buy legislation of the 1980s decimated council housing stocks throughout the country, with no government taking meaningful steps to replenish it since. Instead, the failure of successive governments to ensure adequate supply has consistently been blamed on excessive demand. New Labour’s role in this regard again stands as an indictment of the values which the Labour Party was initially founded to represent.
Ultimately, if the Labour Party under Ed Miliband’s stewardship is to offer a progressive alternative to the Tory-led coalition government, it must break decisively with Blairism. There is no evidence to suggest that immigration threatens the welfare and livelihoods of working people in Britain. There is however a plethora of evidence, both empirical and historical, that an economy skewed in favour of the rich and big business does.
by Jon Lansman from Left Futures
In the face of defeat in Bradford, Ed Miliband has recognised that Labour needs “real, deep, genuine change” to reconnect with the 5 million voters lost under New Labour. At the same time, Labour right-wingers like Luke Akehurst express “disgust“that other Labour members can put aside loyalty to their party to express solidarity not only with the voters of Bradford West who rejected Labour but even with Respect leader Salma Yaqoob. They fail to recognise that what prevents others feeling the tribal loyalty they espouse is the very same barrier that is preventing Labour breaking through to regain the support of its lost core voters. And it is Blairism.
At the heart of the ideology which is the legacy of Blair (and underpins the party-within-a-party, Progress, which he created to sustain it) is a rejection of the politics of class and equality, and of the organisations of labour that created Labour to promote them. Blairism has no interest in the redistribution of wealth and power; the removal of reference to redistribution in Clause IV was not symbolic. Its loyalty is to those who own and manage business, and its practice is managerial.
The only equality to which Blairism pays lipservice is equality of opportunity, that false hope that cannot be delivered without a much deeper equality. Blairism offers the politics of the American dream, the politics of “I want to be a Millionaire“.
This is not true of the traditional Labour right. They share the Centre-Left’s understanding of class inequality. They support the redistribution of wealth and power. They understand the need for trade unions and solidarity, for collective decision-making and action.
The division between the traditional Labour right and the Blairites is roughly the division between Labour First and Progress, though many individuals operate in denial of the underlying differences. New Labour habits die hard. And many traditional right-wingers undoubtedly see the alliance of Labour First and Progress as necessary to restrain the party from a shift to the Left.
What all those who share social democratic values, left and right, should understand is that demonstrating a commitment to class equality and to solidarity, and to making a total break with Blairism, is absolutely essential to winning back those 5 million voters. It may be hard for those who remain grateful to Blair for the victories over which he presided as leader, or who suffer the cognitive dissonance resulting from their own involvement in his government. But unless we make that break, we will not breakthrough to win.
And they should also understand that the reason so many of those who have social democratic values are so unsympathetic towards Progress is not so much the money and the influence bought, not the lack of openness, internal democracy and transparency — we have grown used to these things under New Labour — it is that they see the values of Blairism, and Blair himself, as alien to social democracy.
by Jon Lansman from Left Futures
For the Labour Left, the critical issue about party funding has been protecting the Labour-Union link. The trade unions founded Labour to represent the interests of working people, who at the time were disenfranchised and without a voice. Unique amongst European social democratic parties, Labour’s link isn’t just about money, it remain’s crucial to its politics and many on the Labour right think so too:
I value the contribution of the unions to Labour now. Not just the hard cash, without which we would be bankrupt with no staff and no ability to campaign. But also the practical campaign support at a grassroots level. The policy input bringing bread-and-butter workplace issues to the table. The level-headed trade unionists on our NEC and regional boards who bring measured common sense to our deliberations. The ability to involve hundreds of thousands of ordinary working people in our democracy, not least in our leadership elections.
So said Luke Akehurst earlier this year. But Blair was different. He was actively hostile to the union link, the key difference between New Labour and the traditional Labour right-wing. Although the devil is in the detail of any party funding proposals, Ed Miliband seems to have moved well away from Blair’s position in two key respects:
Firstly, he wants to protect union affiliation in its present form:
The other thing we get form trade unions is the £3 that each individual trade union levy payer pays, people who affiliate to the Labour party, three million people around this country – nurses, shop workers, engineers…
At a time when people say politics is too detached from working people I value the link with the trade union movements, that link stays and I believe in that link and one of the reasons I believe in that link is because of the link it provides us to working people around this country. It’s not just hat working people founded the Labour party, it’s that they keep us rooted in our communities now and I don’t want them disenfranchised, so they continue to be part of this process.
And secondly he is putting considerably emphasis on cutting expenditure rather than income:
I think it’s currently towards £20m – £18m, £19m – over the course of a general election, I think that’s too high, that’s a matter for negotiations but I think it should be substantially less. If parties can’t spend the money, they’re less likely to try and raise the money.”
The latter point is crucial if we are to avoid fuelling demands for more state funding. The public are in no mood to back giving yet more funding to political parties — Labour already receives over £6.5m a year. And more state funding woud be a barrier to change — it reinforces the power of party leaders through whom the funds pass, and funding is on the basis of past not current or future support (though the smaller parties have opposing positions, UKIP against state funding, the Greens in favour provided its allocated based on votes not seats won).
There is no reason why national expenditure should not be significantly reduced. There is already access to free TV airtime for party political broadcasts, and legal restrictions ensure a measure of balance in news coverage and formal debates. Do we really need billboard posters which are so easily lampooned on the internet, and which are inappropriately targeted at marginals anyway?
This is a crucial issue for the Labour left and the trade unions. We all need to keep a close watch on developments. But whilst we would not go as far as Labour List (“Ed Miliband saves the union link“), we should recognise that Ed Miliband has moved significantly in the right direction.
You may have seen that Labour’s opponents now claim that the people shown in our election broadcast were actors.
Today Ken’s campaign is releasing this video of some of the people in the broadcast. They answer for themselves how they are the real deal, and how London will be better of with Ken. In its own quiet way it says more than a thousand hysterical Tory attacks: real Londoners explaining why they chose to back Labour in this election.
The Daily Telegraph supporting Boris Johnson? Surely not! For many, Andrew Gilligan’s promotion to the paper came as a relief. No longer would his hysterical opinions be broadcast to the capital’s retreating commuters as a point of course.
But when self-proclaimed Labour supporters take to its pages to shaft their own party less than a month before a crucial election, we can no longer be passive.
Lynton Crosby, the hard-right Tory campaign director, emailed the Tory members this weekend.
In an attempt to string out the mayoral tax row, Crosby invokes a number of sources, including the Telegraph, Lib Dem Brian Paddick and The Times. No surprises there. But Crosby also lists apparently ‘Labour’ commentators. “This isn’t just my view,” he writes. “See what others, including Labour activists, are now saying about Ken Livingstone’s hypocrisy.”
The Labour members he lists are Atul Hatwal, Jonathan Roberts, and Dan Hodges (who is quoted supporting Andrew Gilligan, who, like Hodges and Boris Johnson, is paid by the Telegraph).
It is time to call this what it is: Labour members undermining the Labour campaign for the mayor of London by doing and saying things the Tories want them to do.
They are acting as agents of the Tories’ line and the Tories’ strategy by throwing hand-grenades around our own trenches, rather than targeting the opposition.
Describing these figures as Labour activists is a insult to the hard work of the thousands of volunteers who have brought bread and butter issues such as transport fares up the agenda. And I’ll sort out a VIP ticket to my ward’s next canvassing session for any proven sighting of Dan Hodges on the doorstep.
None of these people have shown any interest in Labour winning this election. When the polls have shown the election to be on a knife-edge, they stay eerily silent. And then we see them pile in behind a newly negative and unpleasant Tory campaign. Self-describing tribalists like Hodges know too that when you’re close to an election, you can only pick your side. They have picked theirs: that of the Tory mayor.
Whilst Labour and its members are piling everything into this campaign, some people prefer to indulge themselves and their egos.
We only have to read the introduction of Crosby’s email to see the Tories’ vulnerability in this election. He is worried that his main election argument has gone into a tailspin. “Today, the national media are focusing on what disclosure means for the future direction of British politics and others are saying that it is a sideshow – just politicians spatting,” he says, adding that “These claims may serve Ken Livingstone’s purpose…”
He should be worried – his strategy has veered off into a different debate: whether total disclosure is healthy for British public life. He and Johnson have poisoned the well. Many commentators are urging for the debate to move on.
Even Tory ex-minister John Redwood now says the tax debate is “crowding out the more important matters of what Ken or Boris would do to the Council Tax, the policing, and the transport of London,” he argues.
Johnson’s campaign is trying to divert Londoners’ attention from understanding that they will be £1,000 or more better off with Labour’s Ken Livingstone, through the reduction of fares and other key pledges – or, put another way, they will be £1,000 or more worse off with Johnson and the Conservatives.
If we can get this message out, then Ken will win. In a cynical attempt to deceive the electorate, the Tories have made a song and dance distraction.
Crosby’s strategy can be taken down. Real Labour activists will be doing just this in the coming weeks. Those few Labour members who continue to snipe must accept that they are simply the Tories’ useful idiots.
This article first appeared at Next Generation Labour.
The London mayoral election is that most unusual thing in politics – the chance for voters in tough times to make themselves better off, by £1,000, or more. Fear that this message may get through leaves the Conservative party with only one strategy: distraction. It is the tactic of the right everywhere.
While people are facing the most difficult economic times they have ever experienced, the Conservative campaign in London has sought to make the issue about the candidates’ tax arrangements. This space existed because of the relentless drive to personalise politics, a trend that has accelerated in recent years. It is an Americanisation of British political discourse that is challenged even by Conservatives who want politicians to address what the voters care about.
As the campaign moves on from this distraction, for one of the very rare occasions in my life I agree with John Redwood, who writes: “The media fascination with the exchanges between Boris and Ken over personal tax and income is crowding out the more important matters of what Ken or Boris would do to the council tax, the policing, and the transport of London.”
British politics appears to be at a log-jam. The Conservatives are facing a period of sustained unpopularity. The main driver of this is the budget for millionaires and the disastrous decisions taken by David Cameron and George Osborne over the economy. The country is run by a government with no mandate for its brutal onslaught on the NHS and the public finances.
Last Friday 72,600 London households had tax credits taken away. Overall 118,805 of the capital’s households lost out in all of Friday’s changes – at least 250,000 Londoners were affected. Still the government maintains the attack.
The majority are left feeling voiceless. They know Labour will get their vote in three years’ time to form a new government – but what to do now?
London Labour’s programme for the voiceless majority gives a chance of real change. Through our fares cut the average London farepayer will be £1,000 better off over four years: a real improvement in living standards when times are tough. We will do it through using the annual surplus, not touching either the underspent investment budget or affecting existing services.
An energy co-op and a programme to insulate London homes will cut household bills, making people £150 or more better off. A non-profit lettings agency will cut out rip-off fees for tenants. The government has an intense phobia of young people but I will restore education maintenance allowance of £30 a week for young people who want to stay in education; and through a programme of loans and grants we will start work to reduce childcare costs.
That is the scale of difference an elected mayor can make and why that system is likely to spread to other parts of the country.
To get this change London needs to build movements: of farepayers; of the young robbed through the EMA cuts and student fees hikes; of older Londoners treated with contempt through winter fuel allowance cuts and a pensions grab.
In pursuit of this we have mobilised activists as never before. On 10 April , hundreds will gather at stations across London to campaign to slash fares. Next weekend our supporters will talk to 10 neighbours each about how they will be £1,000 better off. We are the first to have an online supporter community, YourKen.org. The strategy of the right in the face of this is very simple – diversion, over the past few days, through a peripheral focus on personal finances.
Elections in the nations, regions and localities of Britain give people the chance to vote for an alternative that protects them to the maximum possible extent against difficult economic conditions and an uncaring Conservative establishment. London now has that chance, too.
It is one of the more ridiculous claims of the Blairites that they represent a continuity with a long tradition within the Labour Party. Indeed Patrick Diamond wrote a silly book called “New Labour’s Old Roots” that sought to co-opt figures as diverse as Tawney, Durbin and Crosland as pre-cursors of Tony Blair.
In fact, the Labour Party has frequently needed to revise and reconfigure its political compass in response to changing events, that has confounded the divisions between left and right.
After the economic crash of 1929 the party had a long debate that led to the adoption of Keynesianism, and the rejection of the Party’s previous economic policy based upon the ideas of John Hobson.
The success of the 1945 government was its effective implementation of Labour’s prorgramme, and there was a resulting debate on what to do next; where neither the Gaitskellite revisionists nor the Bevanite traditionalists are easily identified by the tags of right and left in the context of the modern party.
The first Wilson government found that the Keynesian levers they sought to apply were relatively ineffective in a changed world where multi-national companies were beginning to be dominant. The left responded by a thorough reworking of the Party’s assumptions, leading to the economic programme adopted in 1973, and a summit with the TUC that agreed a number of reforms with the unions, such as what became the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The historical success of the Party has been based upon its willingness to reassess its mission based upon changed circumstances.
The current danger is that the Blairite party within a party “Progress” is seeking to prevent any radical debate about how Labour needs to respond to the changed world: they just want to party like it’s 1997.
The left currently lack any organisation vehicle for pursuing such a debate, but we are aligned with the aspirations of the major unions. That is a huge strength. Ed Miliband’s leadership also provides a real opportunity for the left to again find its feet within the party.
The tasks should be clear: firstly, we need to develop an electorally credible but radical programme for a Labour government, that can build a sufficiently broad coalition of support to convincingly win a general election. The left must associate itself totally with the project of winning back power as soon as possible.
To do that we need to consider the changed world we live in; where neo-liberal economics are discredited, where the locus of economic power is moving from the USA to China; and where the states that have best weathered the current economic crisis are arguably those who have sustained economic some sovereignty and retained a state owned footprint in the real economy.
This is challenging because continued participation in the EU is likely to remain both necessary and desirable, so constructive engagement with the EU is also likely to require a pan-European campaign against the neo-liberal assumptions now embedded into the EU.
The left now needs to be as bold as Ernest Bevin was in proposing Keynesianism to the Party, and as bold as Tony Crosland was with his publication of “The Future of Socialism” in 1956. Perhaps our aim should be, like Stuart Hollands 1974 book “The Socialist Challenge”, to set the framework for how a government committed to egalitarianism and social justice could use the available levers of parliamentary power to harness our economy to benefit and empower the majority of working people.
The Labour Party needs to dream of being truly Labour again.
by Bob Pitt
Andrew Gilligan, Boris Johnson and the Iraq Dossier
When Pamela Geller hailed Andrew Gilligan as a “superb investigative journalist” for his exposure of “Islamic supremacism” in Tower Hamlets, this was much what you would expect from a raving anti-Muslim bigot who led a hysterical campaign against the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” in New York. But I’ve always been puzzled that anyone with a basic respect for journalistic integrity could regard Gilligan as anything other than the charlatan that he clearly is.
Yet at the 2008 British Press Awards Gilligan was named Journalist of the Year, with the judges describing his work for the Evening Standard – which for months had consisted primarily of an endless witch-hunt of Ken Livingstone’s then equalities adviser Lee Jasper – as “relentless investigative journalism at its best”. In 2010 Gilligan was longlisted for the Paul Foot Award for investigative campaigning journalism, and although he failed to make the shortlist he was “highly commended” for his reporting on “the fundamentalist infiltration of Tower Hamlets”.
You might think it says a lot about the state of journalism today that a malicious stitch-up artist like Gilligan could be accorded such recognition within his profession. However, sympathy for Gilligan among his fellow journalists (and among the wider public too) probably arises mainly from what is seen as his persecution by the Blair government over his reporting of the notorious September 2002 dossier Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government, the purpose of which was to rally public opinion behind the Iraq war.
As I shall try to show in this article, such admiration for Gilligan over his “exposure” of the Blair government’s role in preparing the ground for the invasion of Iraq is seriously misplaced. Rather, Gilligan’s reporting of the Iraq dossier set a pattern for the unscrupulous and inaccurate journalism that since has become his stock in trade.
Gilligan and the September dossier
In his reporting of the 2002 dossier on Iraq’s WMD, Gilligan’s evident aim was to cause the maximum damage to the Labour government and to Tony Blair’s director of communications Alastair Campbell in particular – not, it has been suggested, because of any principled opposition to the Iraq war, or even to the false claims about WMD used to justify it, but in order to pursue a personal vendetta against Campbell.
In a report broadcast on the Radio 4 Today programme in May 2003, and later in an article for the Mail on Sunday (headlined “I asked my intelligence source why Blair misled us all over Saddam’s weapons. His reply? One word … CAMPBELL”) Gilligan claimed:
(1) that a week before publication Alastair Campbell had decided that the dossier should be “sexed up” by adding the now notorious claim that Saddam Hussein’s regime could deploy WMD within 45 minutes; (2) that the intelligence agencies had been opposed to the inclusion of the 45-minutes claim but had been overruled by Downing Street; and (3) that the government had insisted on the claim appearing in the dossier even though it “probably knew that that 45-minute figure was wrong, even before it decided to put it in”.
The only evidence Gilligan had to back up his charges about Downing Street’s role in preparing the dossier was an off-the-record interview with Ministry of Defence scientist and weapons inspector David Kelly. But Kelly was by no means “one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up that dossier”, as Gilligan described him to Today listeners. Kelly himself later stated that while he had made some technical contributions to the dossier he was “not involved in the intelligence component in any way nor in the process of the dossier’s compilation”. Kelly’s information about the intelligence component of the dossier came from his contacts in the MoD’s Defence Intelligence Staff and he had no first-hand knowledge of Campbell’s role in the inclusion of the 45-minutes claim.
Even if you accept that all of Gilligan’s claims about what Kelly told him were true – and that is quite an assumption to make – Kelly’s allegations were an entirely inadequate basis on which to make such explosive accusations against the government. When Alastair Campbell famously wrote in his diary, in response to initial reports that Gilligan’s information came from Kelly, that he and defence secretary Geoff Hoon had agreed “it would fuck Gilligan if that was his source”, this was the point he was making.
The most Kelly had provided Gilligan with was a lead that needed to be followed up, to see whether the story checked out. If Gilligan did try to find confirmation of the accusations he wanted to make against Downing Street he certainly didn’t come up with anything. But he decided to go ahead with the story anyway, based solely on his talk with Kelly. He was evidently more interested in settling scores with Campbell and basking in the public attention he expected to receive as the author of a dramatic scoop than in ensuring his charges were well founded.
Although the BBC publicly stood by Gilligan in the face of Campbell’s furious reaction to the accusations against him, in private they were under no illusions about Gilligan’s methods. In an email to the head of Radio News a few weeks after Today broke the story, the programme editor Kevin Marsh had some harsh words to say about his reporter. Marsh recognised Gilligan’s talents as an investigator but said that his Today piece had been marred by “flawed reporting” and that, in the BBC’s efforts to counter government attacks on its objectivity and credibility, “our biggest millstone has been his loose use of language and lack of judgment in some of his phraseology”.
Among the solutions proposed by Marsh was that in future Gilligan should discuss all stories with him before they were broadcast, that Gilligan’s anonymous sources should be subjected to “an explicit credibility test”, that Gilligan’s material should be assembled in time to be vetted by Marsh or a senior assistant editor, and that the script should be agreed in advance, with Gilligan under instructions not to vary it. Marsh also proposed that either Gilligan should be banned from writing for publications outside the BBC – or, if he was permitted to do so, the rule should be that “all writing for non-BBC outlets is seen 24 hours in advance of copy time and before it is filed by two editors/managers – if changes are necessary, the changed copy is seen, again before being filed”.
It would be difficult to find a statement by any editor displaying such a complete lack of confidence in the reliability of one of their own journalists.
When Gilligan’s accusations came under detailed scrutiny at the Hutton Inquiry his case against Blair and Campbell fell apart. Gilligan himself admitted that Kelly had not told him that the government knew the 45-minutes claim was false – he had just inferred this from Kelly’s remarks – and he conceded that the reason for the claim being added in the final stages of the dossier’s compilation was that the intelligence on which it was based had not been available earlier. The inquiry also found there was no basis to Gilligan’s charge that the 45-minutes claim had been inserted on Campbell’s insistence against the wishes of the intelligence agencies – some critics in the Defence Intelligence Staff had wanted the claim to be worded less strongly but nobody had objected to its inclusion. The Hutton Inquiry pronounced that Gilligan’s accusations were “unfounded”.
The real story of the September dossier was that the intelligence community – with some honourable, though partial, exceptions – had happily colluded with the Blair government in presenting the public with a misleading picture of Saddam Hussein’s (completely non-existent, it later turned out) WMD, in order to provide a justification for the invasion of Iraq. If Gilligan had stuck to investigating and exposing that, he would have been on firm ground, but he was more interested in attacking Campbell. By making accusations against the government that he could not substantiate, and which were shown by Hutton to be inaccurate, Gilligan allowed Blair and Campbell to divert attention from their own role in the drive to war by loudly proclaiming that they had been the victims of slander.
Rather than acting as a courageous campaigning journalist, Gilligan revealed himself in the course of this controversy to be a cynical hack devoid of any real principles. The storm unleashed by his hyped-up claims about government manipulation of the September dossier not only led to David Kelly’s suicide, but Gilligan made a further contribution to the hounding of Kelly by helping to expose him as his source – a despicable breach of journalistic ethics which understandably remains a cause of anger among Kelly’s friends.
Forced to resign from the BBC after the Hutton report was published in January 2004, Gilligan left in a defiant mood. In a characteristically pompous and self-serving statement he asserted that Hutton’s findings had “cast a chill over all journalism”, by seeking to “hold reporters, with all the difficulties they face, to a standard that it does not appear to demand of, for instance, government dossiers”. If the government could publish misleading claims based on dubious evidence, Gilligan seemed to be saying, then he had the right to do the same. That is certainly the policy he has consistently pursued during his subsequent work as an “investigative reporter”.
Boris Johnson to the rescue
You might have thought that after this debacle, involving the public exposure of his shoddy and unprofessional methods as a reporter and resulting in his effective sacking by the BBC, Gilligan’s career in journalism would be over. Fortunately for him, however, salvation was at hand in the person of the then Tory MP and Spectator editor Boris Johnson.
Throughout Gilligan’s conflict with the government, Johnson had been one of his most enthusiastic and uncritical supporters. After all, Johnson must have reasoned, Gilligan was going after Blair and Campbell, and his accusations had the potential to seriously damage the Labour government, so what was not to like? Writing in the Daily Telegraph in July 2003 Johnson poured scorn on Campbell’s angry denials that he had forced the intelligence agencies to include in the September dossier material that he knew was untrue. “There is only one point we need to understand”, Johnson declared, “which is that he did at many times and places, manipulate intelligence material for political purposes. In the words of the great Gilligan, he ‘sexed it up’, and he, and his master, have been caught.”
In the following week’s column Johnson took issue with colleagues at the Telegraph who had criticised Gilligan on the assumption that, because he worked for “the anti-war BBC”, he must have opposed the invasion of Iraq and was therefore “not to be trusted in his reporting of David Kelly’s views”. Not so, Johnson assured them. He knew for a fact that, while there may have been BBC reporters who opposed the Iraq war, “Andrew Gilligan was not among them”. According to Johnson, the “diligent Gilligan” had done everyone a favour by unmasking Campbell. As for David Kelly, he was “an unimprovable source” for Gilligan’s accusations.
Even as proceedings at the Hutton Inquiry blew large holes in Gilligan’s reporting, Johnson stood by his man. In a leader for the Spectator in September 2003 he suggested, bizarrely, that “one name will live on in British political myth, just as Dreyfus lives on in France. That name is Gilligan”. The Spectator, Johnson announced, was “resolutely Gilliganiste”. The most he would concede was that Gilligan’s story about the September dossier was “perhaps sloppily phrased” and the BBC should have apologised for the “small errors” he had made. Although the Spectator had supported the Iraq war, Johnson wrote, it also stood for “the freedom of journalists to bring new and important facts into the public domain. That was what Gilligan did”.
In December 2003 the Spectator hosted a “Save Andrew Gilligan” dinner at Luigi’s restaurant in Covent Garden. Nick Cohen reported that among the predominantly Tory diners it was tacitly accepted that evidence from the intelligence chiefs at the Hutton hearings had demolished Gilligan’s charges against Campbell over the 45-minutes claim. The Tory party’s best tactic now, it was agreed, would be to denounce Blair for authorising the release of David Kelly’s name to the media, as the Hutton Inquiry revealed he had done, and then denying it when questioned by the press after Kelly’s death.
Sure enough, in January 2004 Johnson devoted an entire Telegraph column to that issue, headlined “The totality is – the Prime Minister lied”. Not only had Blair misled the British people about the government’s role in exposing Kelly, Johnson declared indignantly, but Kelly’s name had been “released with no thought to the effects this action might have on him or his family, and it was done by Blair, Blair, Blair”. Needless to say, Johnson didn’t have a word of criticism for another individual who had helped to reveal Kelly as the source for the Today and Mail on Sunday reports, without any regard for the consequences – namely Gilligan, Gilligan, Gilligan.
Unlike his fellow diners at Luigi’s, though, Johnson was not prepared to accept that the Hutton Inquiry had refuted Gilligan’s accusations against Campbell, and he continued to maintain that “the BBC story was essentially accurate”. For Johnson, the point of the exercise was to undermine the Labour government and Gilligan had to be defended whether he was right or wrong. It wouldn’t be the last time that the gaping holes in Gilligan’s journalism were overlooked by his admirers because he was telling them what they wanted to hear.
In January 2004, the day after the Hutton report was released, Johnson’s Telegraph column appeared under the headline “The BBC was doing its job – bring back Gilligan”, a call repeated by Johnson in a leader for that week’s Spectator. Batting away the findings of the inquiry, Johnson insisted that Gilligan’s Today broadcast of May 2003 had been “justified reporting”. Gilligan ought to be given credit for “an important, accurate and exclusive story” and should be “reinstated forthwith to his job on Today“. When the BBC failed to follow his advice, and demanded Gilligan’s resignation instead, Johnson stepped in and offered him a job at the Spectator as its defence and diplomatic editor.
When Gilligan was later asked who in the media had been most helpful at the time of Hutton, the name he immediately came up with was, unsurprisingly, Boris Johnson: “He was very supportive over the whole thing and I’ve made no secret that I’m very grateful for that.” His unwavering support for Gilligan during 2003-4 was later to yield real political dividends for Johnson. By the time Johnson was selected as the Tory candidate for the 2008 London mayoral election, Gilligan had moved on from the Spectator and was working for the Evening Standard. There Gilligan was able to repay his debt to Johnson by placing his journalistic talents – for hyping up flimsy evidence and making false and malicious accusations – in the service of Johnson’s campaign to defeat Ken Livingstone. It is a service that Gilligan continues to perform for Johnson to this day.
In light of the above, it is not difficult to understand either Gilligan’s fierce commitment to ensuring Boris Johnson’s election to the London mayoralty or the unscrupulous approach towards evidence that he has employed in pursuing that objective.
True, these days Gilligan doesn’t have the clout he did in 2008, when his witch-hunt of Lee Jasper produced shock-horror headlines on Evening Standard billboards across London and determined much of the news coverage by the BBC and other media outlets who should have known better. Today, Gilligan’s bosses at the Telegraph – no doubt anxious about his lightminded attitude towards the facts and refusal to learn from or even acknowledge his mistakes – have shunted most of his London reporting onto a blog on the paper’s website and relatively little of his “investigative journalism” makes it into the paper’s print edition. Also the glaring failure of Gilligan’s accusations against Lee Jasper to stand up under subsequent investigation has probably made fellow journalists rather more wary of accepting his charges at face value.
But that hasn’t stopped Gilligan producing a barrage of anti-Livingstone blog posts that grow ever more obsessive and unbalanced. Hopefully the analysis presented here will help to demolish any residual admiration for Gilligan among opponents of the Iraq war and give pause to anyone who might be inclined to take his attacks on Livingstone seriously.
George Galloway’s victory in Bradford West for the RESPECT party is enormously significant.
Let us first address the dismissive sneering of critics like Tulip Siddiq at Labour List:
Why have young Muslim voters lost confidence in Labour to the point where they would rather have someone like Galloway represent them in Parliament? Someone who mercilessly manipulates Islam to suit his own needs. Someone who unashamedly neglected his former constituents in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. Someone whose voting record in Parliament is virtually nonexistent.
If Tulip wonders why “someone like Galloway” is elected, perhaps they should also ask why the Labour Party selected George to run in Glasgow Hillhead, a seat he represented for the Labour Party for 16 years. Let us also remember that the issue that George was expelled from the Labour Party over in 2003 was a trumped up charge that aspired to silence George’s principled opposition to the disastrous Iraq war; where not only was George correct, but he was more closely attuned to the opinions of Labour voters than the party’s front bench team.
It is important for Labour not to fall for idea of George as a manipulative maverick, becasue that betrays a patronising contempt for the electorate who chose to vote for George Galloway.
So Ed Miliband and Iain McNichol are absolutely right when they say
Clearly there were local factors, our polling and work on the ground did not show the late surge of votes, and there are important lessons to be learned from this. But let no one claim this as a combination of extraordinary factors that means we can dismiss the result as exceptional.
Tulip is wrong and dismissive to say that George “neglected his former constituents in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country”. As RESPECT MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Galloway ran an efficient and effective constituency office that campaigned over local issues, and took case work of constituents extremely seriously. Sadly, the Bradford West result demonstates that the electors of that constituency feels that it is Labour that has neglected them, despite it also being one of the most deprived boroughs. It would be easy for the Party to seek to minimise this defeat by making excuses about the local and exceptional factors; but Ed Miliband demonstrates again why he is the right person to lead the party by taking a braver and more positive stance:
We will go back to the constituency in the coming weeks to talk to people there about why this happened. And we will act fast to make any changes that are needed.
Above all last night reinforces something we have been saying since we came into our roles; we need to be engaged and rooted in every community of this country.
We need to show to people that our politics, that Labour politics, can make a difference to people’s lives. That means changing. We must change to win.
We are changing the party to win the next election. Last night showed that this change must be faster and more profound. This is why we are going through this vital process of renewal. If the Labour Party is to be the most effective community organisation in the country you are the people to make that happen. This work must now continue with even greater commitment and enthusiasm.
One of the important issues where George connected with the voters was his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The deep political alienation felt by many Muslims due to the immoral and shameless British invasion of Iraq is real, not a creation of Galloway’s. George Galloway’s opposition to imperialism and war is fundamental to his political principles, not a manipulative trick. Indeed, why would someone of George’s talents turn away from what could have been a glittering career of high political office in favour of a precarious existence at the edge of the political mainstream, unless it were from true conviction.
Anti-imperialism is central to underrstanding George, and also central to understanding RESPECT. I have long argued that RESPECT is essentialy a labourist party, but one that is differentiated from the Labour Party by its fundamental opposition to the imperial legacy and pretensions of the British state. The labourist tradition, informed by the pragmatic aspirations of the trade unions, has oriented around the project of securing reform through holding power in the existing British state, and that has always involved compromise with the imperial past and its legacy of alliance with the USA in the present. Of course the Labour Party has always included those like Ken Livingstone who also oppose imperialism and war, but the Iraq war created a vacuum for Labour voters who wished to stay true to their social democratic beliefs, but who wanted to express their opposition to the war at the ballot box. The creation of Respect filled that gap, and where the demographic accident of concentrations of working class Muslim voters in some constituences provided a critical mass this allowed Resect to be a localised viable electoral party. This process was of course helped by the depth of talent and imagination in Respect, from, for example, George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob, but also to give credit where it is due, from John Rees and Lindsay German.
Many years ago when Eric Hobsbawm wrote about the increasing diversity of social and cultural expereince in British working class life, he acknowledged the threat that this posed to monolithic labourism; and as the SNP, Plaid, the Greens and RESPECT now all hold former Labour constituencies, it is necessary for the Labour Party to recognise that the political context has changed, as Caroline Lucas once put it, from one big tent, to a campsite, where Labour have the biggest tent. All of these parties share some of the social democratic values of the Labour Party, explicitly so in the case of RESPECT and Plaid, but also have differentiating features that are hard to contain within the envelope of labourism. The Labour Party needs to have the maturity to realise that in this changed context it is not enough to create a coalition of interests and views within the Labour Party, it is also necessary to reach out to those with shared values in other parties. This will be hard for some with an attachment to some of the more tribal habits of labourism, but it is essential if – for example – we are to get the necessary second preferences for the London mayoral election.
Galloway’s victory in Bradford West suggests the possibility of Respect being a permanent part of the political landscape, revitalising the possibility of RESPECT challenges in East London and Birmingham. RESPECT gives expression to a political opposition to imperialist war at the ballot box, in a way that is entirey healthy and progressive. But we must recognise that only the Labour Party poses a credible alternative for forming a government that can enact legislation in the interests of working people, and therefore Labour remains indispensible at the heart of progressive politics.
There are several lessons for Labour from this result, but one must be that there is a significant appetite among parts of the electorate for what George Galloway describes as “real Labour” values. Of course, Labour cannot win a general election by only appealing to that constituency, but nor can it ignore it. Ed Miliband is completely right that the message from Bradford West has to be a determination for Labour to reconnect with communities, and to advocate Labour’s values of compassion, equality and social justice.
I am sure that there will be some Blairites who take malicious comfort in the Bradford West by-election, thinking that it could be used to destabilise Ed Miliband. We need to ensure that doesn’t happen. The message from Bradford West is that Ed Miliband’s mission to move the party on from the mistakes and hubris of New Labour is necessary and right. Bradford West shows that Labour needs to hold its nerve, stand behind Ed Miliband, and dare to be Labour.
By Lord Steve Bassam of Brighton from Labour Lords blog
Colleagues are sometimes amused, sometimes think I am missing the point when I have a go about the Greens. For most Labour members they are at best an irrelevance at worst a minor irritation.
So why do I bother?
Back in 1999 when I left Brighton and Hove City Council and ceased to be Leader I warned my colleagues that they faced a long term threat from the Green Party, who as Labour increasingly had to take tough decisions would be more of a problem than the LibDems. I wrote briefing notes and strategy papers on how to deal with the problem. I even went to party management committee meetings in an effort to persuade the party locally to take this seriously. Sadly nobody did.
Now they do, but too late. In the 1999 local elections the Greens got their first seats on the unitary city council just three out of 78. I knew that this spelt trouble. They doubled in 2001 to 6 and doubled again in 2007 to 12. Now they hold 23.
Basically the Greens have taken all the former middle class Labour held wards on new ward boundaries. In last year’s elections they removed all but one of our councillors in the Pavilion constituency – a seat we won in 1997, 2001 and 2005 with large majorities. They have Caroline Lucas as their first MP and of course when she won they put a former local councillor Keith Taylor in to replace her as the Green MEP for the South.
They now control Brighton and Hove council as a minority administration. But how have they done it?
In a nutshell, by putting all their political resources into the city, by relentless publication of papers and newsletters, by looking and sounding like ‘Old Labour’, by promoting a lifestyle politics, by courting the community groups and trade unions. Sound familiar?
So what should Labour do about it nationally and locally?
Firstly, not to be complacent like my colleagues were. Secondly, don’t try to outdo the Greens by being leftier than they are, or greener than they are. It simply plays to their agenda and in any event Labour is a ‘green’ party with excellent environmental credentials. I don’t think they are very radical or particularly left wing.
But how to tackle them? In my experience the best way is constant exposure. They hate it. In that sense, they are just like the LibDems – saying one thing to get elected, doing another when they are.
Brighton and Hove’s city budget is a classic. This time last year before the local elections, the Greens were campaigning against rises in council tax or fees for services. This year it is now principled for them to have a council tax hike so they proposed not one but three spread over the period to 2015. Meanwhile, fees for services increases have been eye watering. Literally too much for those with a car, or an allotment, or a loved one to bury, or a swim to enjoy, or a park bench to donate, or a sports pitch to hire, or a bowls game to enjoy.
Worse still, they promised to ‘resist cuts to the utmost’ and left voters with the impression that only they would take on the Government. What did we get? Within days of taking control they began planning £35m of cuts spread over two years. They then started promoting the cuts budget as savings and efficiencies. Labour does cuts they said along with Tories but we Greens don’t – we do savings and efficiencies. This was to be a ‘fair budget in tough times’.
The language sounds familiar, but I promise it comes straight from the Green Party. What I have discovered is they don’t know how to deal with a persistent critique, they hate Twitter attacks and anti-green blogging and they get incredibly defensive very quickly.
For Labour activists facing a Green challenge at the May elections, I am happy to make available details of their careless cuts. They don’t do equalities very well, nor do they understand the importance of services to deprived communities. Hence they cut Sure Start rather than a vanity project to develop food waste collection in Brighton and Hove’s suburbs costing £500k. Despite the right sounds and words they don’t have a social agenda.
One other glaring weakness they have is management. They won’t take the tough decisions in tough times to cut back office, do smart procurement and prune management.
In my view the Greens are a timid, not very radical party who don’t understand redistribution or equalities, they have no city vision and they can’t take difficult decisions for the longer term. But Labour people must put them under the microscope and be forensic when dealing with them. They are out to destroy my local Labour Party and in the long term they will try to do it to yours if you let them.
Lord Steve Bassam of Brighton is Labour’s Chief Whip in the House of Lords and former leader of Brighton and Hove City Council