Let us be clear what the Tory welfare bill will mean.
If the parents of more than two children are precipitated into claiming benefits through a change in circumstances, like redundancy, a partner leaving them or being bereaved, then their children will suffer. If you are a women with, say 4 children, in a violent abusive relationship, you might be unable to leave and still feed your children. If you already have two children and get accidently pregnant, you may feel coerced into an unwanted abortion.
These are measures that are deeply, deeply wrong, and it is a moral requirement to oppose them.
What is more, concern about an equitable welfare system and social safety net has not historically been the preserve of only the left of the party, but also of the traditional right, of the revisionists, and even of the Blairites. It was Tony Blair himself who championed the reduction of child poverty.
So the twitterstorm outrage of opponents of Jeremy Corbyn about the 48 Labour rebels is ridiculous.
Let us point out that half of the rebels are newly elected, and are therefore MPs most recently connected with the real world outside the Westminster bubble.
In contrast, Liz Kendall – the only candidate to actually support voting for welfare cuts – got the lowest number of nominations from newly elected MPs, and her CLP nominations come overwhelmingly from safe or unwinnable seats – where activists are least attuned to swing voters. What sort of sense of entitlement inspires someone who has led such a disastrous campaign for the leadership, to think that any campaign they might wage towards a general election would be successful? What makes politicians who have had a career as special advisors, and working for Labour aligned think tanks or charities, believe that the years they have spent in meetings in Portcullis House makes them well suited to judge the mood of ordinary voters, struggling with precarious employment, unaffordable housing, and benefit cuts?
It was clear that there would be a rebellion as soon as Harriet Harman backed the Tory proposals, and was later pressurized into abstaining, but not opposing.
The responsibility of leadership is to manage the differences of opinion within the party. Instead Harman took a course of action that seems to have been calibrated to create division. The fault for the fiasco over the welfare bill lies squarely with Harman, and her supporters in the PLP.
Was this a miscalculated plot to adapt to an indefensible Tory policy, perhaps hoping to deter Corby supporters from joining Labour, or becoming supporters, and seeking to provoke a small rebellion, with the objective of showing Corbyn isolated? If that was the plan it has massively misfired.
Yesterday I spoke to three former Burnham supporters, two of them Swindon councilors, another the chair of a CLP, who have now switched to Corbyn.
The right wing in the Labour Party are desperate, when John McTernan, who presided as chief of staff of Jim Murphy’s utterly routed Labour Party in Scotland is wheeled out on Newsnight to give advice to Labour on how to win! (Let us remember that McTernan spoke at 2014 Conservative Party Conference fringe, where he gave advice to Cameron on how to beat Labour)
A Jeremy Corbyn victory is not only looking possible, but like it is our only hope.
Yesterday marked a turning point in the Labour leadership election.
Neither of the trade unions with a leaning towards the Blairite wing of the party backed Liz Kendall. Community announced that they were backing Yvette Cooper, and Usdaw announced that they were backing Andy Burnham. This follows Kendall’s relatively poor performance in gaining nominations from the parliamentary Labour Party, indicating that the reach of the party’s right wing is surprisingly weak.
It is of course wrong to describe Kendall as a “Tory”, and the jibes about “Blairite Taliban” were ill-advised. The party is a broad church, and the strand of liberalism which Kendall represents has a long tradition within the party. As I have written before, it is wrong to compare Blairism with Conservatism.
Blair did have a distinct social agenda, which was both ideologically and practically progressive, compared to the Thatcherite governments which preceded it. The value of David Halpern’s 2009 book “The Hidden Wealth of Nations”, is the way he details the inherently radical nature of Blair’s social policies, though they were not necessarily derived from traditional social democratic influences. In 1997, NHS spending was at around 5% of GDP, and the conditions had been created by the Tories for an expansion of insurance based private sector; instead NHS spending rose to be around 10% of GDP in 2010. Early years intervention, such as SureStart centres for the parents of potentially disadvantaged young children has been a great success; and working tax credit has enormously increased prosperity and independence of parents in work. Labour repealed Clause 28, and introduced civil partnerships. None of these policies could have come from the Tories. […]
Blairism was founded on the idea of creating a fairer, more harmonious society through an empowering partner state that provides conditions for individuals to help themselves. For all its weaknesses, it is a distinctly different agenda from Thatcher’s ideology of regarding the state as inherently problematic, and that individuals needed to be liberated from its influence.
Indeed, far from being Thatcherites, Tony Blair’s supporters in the party have invested considerable effort to establish ideological continuity between themselves and the more traditional Labour revisionists; for example, Patrick Diamond’s 2004 anthology “New Labour’s Old Roots” selects extracts of centre-right thinkers in the party from Evan Durbin to Giles Radice, and editorialises them into a specious narrative leading inexorably to Blair.
Superficially, Blair’s emphasis on community and mutuality, divorced from any commitment to social ownership is indeed resonant of traditional Labour revisionism. But in truth, Blairism was distinct from both Thatcherism and traditional right wing social democracy.
If we compare Blair’s record with the most authorative statement of revisionism, Crosland’s “The Future of Socialism”, we can see that addressing the inequality of power that follows the inequality of wealth is a concept completely central to even centre-right Labourism; whereas in contrast Blairism falls foursquare within the limits of political liberalism, whereby all individuals are regarded as citizens, and the horizons of government are only to remove obstacles to individual liberty and choice; and empowering citizens to benefit from good choices.
To understand the politics of Liz Kendall we need to recall that there were two characteristic attributes of Blairism; which was only partly a distinct social agenda of boosting social capital while embracing the private sector; because it was also an electoral strategy predicated upon triangulating around the concerns of swing voters in marginal constituencies. This resulted in an inherent conservatism that militated against the radical solutions necessary to address the concerns of working class voters.
It is important to understand that these two aspects of Blairism could work against each other; and therefore that the current seeming abandonment of the policy agenda of Blairism by the right wing in the party is itself an attribute of the electoral strategy of Blairism, which is calibrated to exploiting minor differences with the Tories, and cannot cope with the paradigm shift created by the financial crisis, and Tory austerity. Blairism is no longer fit for purpose, even in its own terms. Tony Blair set targets for the reduction of child poverty, Harman, Kendall, Cooper and Burnham capitulated to the Conservatives over measures that will push children in disadvantaged families into desperation and hardship.
Indeed, the utter failure of not only Kendall but also Cooper and Burnham to oppose the Tory welfare bill shows a fundamental misunderstanding not only of the political situation, but of the demands for opposition in a parliamentary democracy.
Democracy is not only about elections, it is also about the contested evaluation of ideas and strategies for the governance of complex industrial societies. Ideas that are generated not only, and not even especially, by politicians and political parties, but also by think tanks, universities, faith groups, employers associations, NGOs, trade unions, single issue campaigns, magazines and journals and by public intellectuals. Indeed, significant paradigm shifts of political and ideological consensus often occur between elections, and are therefore not necessarily presented as a choice to the electorate. This is of course a point made by the Eurosceptic right, not without some purchase on reality.
The mantra from the right is that Labour needs to be in power to effect change, and therefore has to follow the electorate.
Of course any electoral party needs to address the need to build a potentially election wining coalition, but the Tories only gained the support of a minority of voters, and Labour also lost support to parties presenting themselves as to the left of Labour: SNP, Plaid and the Greens.
Of course, real and lasting change does require winning a general election and forming a government, but that cannot be done by wearing the political and ideological clothes of our opponents. British parliamentary democracy is built upon the foundation that the opposition parties will scrutinise, and force debate upon the government.
By so doing, opposition parties feed the broader democratic debate in civil society, and contribute to a culture of accountability and engagement.
Opposition parties are morally obliged, and by constitutional convention expected, to present a choice to the electorate, and indeed the danger for democracy is that if the mainstream parliamentary parties don’t reflect the actual political divides and debates in our society, then this promotes disengagement with our civic and social institutions.
Liz Kendall’s approach would be to isolate the Labour Party on the same narrow ground as the electorally rejected Liberal Democrats. Andy Burnham is presenting himself as the Greencross man “look right, look left, look right again”, and both he and Yvette Cooper are the continuity candidates with a political strategy that has now lost two elections. None of these three will win back the votes we have lost in Scotland to the SNP, or to UKIP in England.
As Harold Wilson once said “This Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing.” Only Jeremy Corbyn will relight labour’s fire.
Cuba Solidarity Campaign 33-37 Moreland Street London
7th July 2015
Dear Mr Miller,
I am writing in response to your email dated 1st July 2015, regarding associating Cuba with Terrorism during Operation Strong Tower.
I was the director of Operation Strong Tower, which as you are aware, was an exercise simulating an armed terrorist attack in Central London.
This operation was planned in detail for over six months and was the largest of its kind that has ever been carried out. The media were invited to observe activities at one of these venues, which was the disused Tube Station in the Aldwych.
I have viewed the footage which has concerned you and others. Photographs and film do show one of the role actors wearing a T-Shirt under their jacket, which shows the flag of Cuba. This was clearly a regrettable error, which I take full responsibility for.
This has been investigated and the role actor has been spoken to. He genuinely did not think of the significance and implications of wearing a T Shirt with a national flag on it. The impact has been explained, he is genuinely sorry and states there was no intention to cause offence or associate the Cuban people with Terrorism. As a result he has been given advice regarding his actions. I will also ensure that the learning from this will be incorporated into future exercises.
I offer a sincere and unreserved apology on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service.
DAC Maxine de Brunner QPM Specialist Crime and Operations
The historic significance of this vote cannot be overstated. Despite the huge external pressure levelled against Greece by the Troika – the ECB, IMF, and the European Commission – with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, particularly aggressive in demanding the imposition of austerity on a population and society that was already on its knees, the Greeks have delivered a resounding message of defiance via the ballot box.
Regardless of the ultra left voices that have extended themselves in attacking Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza government, at a time when the stakes involved demanded solidarity, they have delivered a masterstroke with this referendum, successfully and magnificently counterposing democracy to the tyranny of global capital. In so doing, they have provided people across Europe with an education in where true power resides.
The demands made by Merkel on the Greek Government have been astoundingly irrational and almost biblical in their cruelty. Greece’s total debt of 317 billion euros is clearly unsustainable and the only realistic and humane solution is its cancellation. Of the 252 billion euros lent to Greece by the Troika since 2010, only 10% has actually reached the Greek people. Most of it has left Greece again in repayments to lenders, mostly European banks, primarily German banks, which lent more money to Greece than any other country during the boom years.
As for what happens now, it is unconscionable that the Troika will not step back from the brink. The notion of an advanced European country being ejected from the eurozone due to indebtedness is hard to conceive. Merkel and the ECB have overplayed their hand and exposed the iniquity of the EU and its role as a servant of neoliberalism and global capital.
But this is for another day. Today belongs to the people and to Syriza. The forces of reaction have been delivered a message of defiance that will resonate across Europe.
There is no doubt that the election of a majority Conservative government in May was a considerable setback for working people. Under Ed Miliband, the Labour Party were proposing a number of positive reforms to employment law that would have improved rights at work, and tackled some of the more pernicious and exploitative aspects of the current labour market: where millions suffer from low pay, zero hour contracts, and bullying bosses.
The new Conservative government has made clear its intent to make it harder to organize lawful industrial action, to quote Professor Gregor Gall:
the Queen’s Speech in late May set out two new rules. The first requires at least half of eligible union members to vote so that a minimum turnout is established. The second is that in essential public services (health, education, fire and transport), there will also be the requirement that at least 40% of all those entitled to vote must vote for action (meaning that non-voters are treated as ‘no’ voters). These reforms (along with others on the repeal of the restrictions banning employers from hiring agency staff to provide essential cover during strikes; ensuring strikes cannot be called on the basis of ballot mandates ‘conducted years before’ and tackling alleged intimidation of non-striking workers) will be laid before Parliament as the Trade Union Bill later this year.
The response from the TUC was apocalyptic:
The TUC’s General Secretary Frances O’Grady said these new laws would benefit the country’s “worst bosses” and that they would “make legal strikes close to impossible”, adding “union negotiators will be left with no more power than Oliver Twist when he asked for more.”
This was a strange and ill advised response from the General Secretary, and raises the question of how unions will recruit and retain members if they are seen as so ineffectual. Of course the proposed changes to the law need to be opposed and challenged, politically, legally and industrially, but unions will always adapt, survive and innovate to overcome obstacles.
Before we consider the current state of trade unions it is worth reflecting upon the fact that the proposed restrictions by Cameron’s government are still less restrictive than the Trades Disputes Act 1927, which was not repealed until 1946, and which made unlawful any strike whose purpose was to coerce the government of the day directly or indirectly, made incitement to participate in an unlawful strike a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment for up to two years, banned mass picketing, banned civil service unions from affiliating to the TUC, or having any political objectives.
Nevertheless, while that draconian act was in force, trade union membership doubled, and broke into new industries which had been considered unorganisable, such as the new aircraft and car factories.
British trade unions built their strength against far more unfavourable conditions than we have today, indeed we will shortly be celebrating the memory of the Tolpuddle martyrs, deported to Australia for organizing. A battle which the trade unions won.
It is necessary to acknowledge that for many groups of organized workers, meeting the proposed new ballot thresholds will be straightforward.
Where it will be a challenge will be those parts of the public sector where either membership density is insufficiently strong, or where workplace organisation is weak. We will need to give this careful consideration, and in particular strengthen organisation where we can.
It is reasonable to question, for example, the effectiveness of the PCS strategy of continued industrial action against the government on low ballot turnouts, that are poorly observed by the members, and which seem to have limited leverage.
Of course, while industrial action is the indispensible foundation upon which trade union strength is ultimately built, in the modern world, many companies have built substantial investment into the value of their brand, and are susceptible to bad publicity. The Carr report, commissioned by the coalition government to discuss the type of trade union campaigns which Unite have called “leverage” was very interesting.
In evidence to Carr, Pinsent Masons LLP described “leverage” as
“an umbrella term for any action (other than traditional forms of industrial action) by a trade union which aims to put pressure on an employer to settle a trade dispute or otherwise meet the union’s demands. Leverage tactics may be used in addition to or instead of traditional industrial action, and may be used for example before a trade dispute is officially declared. Leverage tactics typically seek to pressurise and commercially embarrass employers through targeted campaigns aimed at shareholders, customers and business partners, suppliers and the general public.
Employers regard such tactics with trepidation, as “extreme”. Again giving evidence to the Carr inquiry
The Engineering and Construction Industry Association (ECIA) offered the following description: “‘Leverage tactics’, which can also be ‘extreme tactics’, seek to extend the intimidation and disruption to those parties indirectly involved, such as shareholders, suppliers and customers; and seek publicity through the media to make public the discomfort they are causing – in attempts to embarrass and further intimidate.”
Industrial action is an important component of any trade union’s armory, but often it is necessary to look for other weaknesses to incentivize an employer to change their position.We need to understand that no particular form of action by a union is more virtuous than another. As Von Clauswitz observed, war is diplomacy by other means, but the meaning of that aphorism is the acknowledgement that every war results in a negotiated settlement, once the war itself has altered the various bargaining positions of the combatants.
Interestingly, the Carr Report discussed Unite’s campaigns but not GMB’s, and I think that this is partly attributable to the more media savvy approach of GMB, that taking a slightly humorous, or cheeky approach makes it harder for the employer to pose as an aggrieved victim.
For example, when AA was taken over by the asset stripping private equity boss, Damon Buffini, and GMB were derecognized in favour of a scab staff association, the current Southern Regional secretary Paul Maloney, responded by lobbying parishioners of the Holy Trinity Church, Clapham Common on the asset stripping activities of Damon Buffini. They were accompanied by a live camel. This was to illustrate that biblical quotation about it being “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven”. Buffini was associated with this church and was then estimated to be worth between £20/40 million.
The result was to push a complex story of private equity into a media friendly format, for example in the Daily Mail
the GMB purposefully chose to personalise the issue. The ins and outs of private equity finance are highly complex, but by directly linking the millionaires at the top with the newly-jobless at the bottom, it has managed to catch the public’s attention.
Paul Maloney is the GMB’s National Organiser for the AA and makes no bones about the campaign he has overseen: ‘Before we found out about Buffini, he was a hidden man. He’d just made thousands of people redundant but nobody knew about him. He was the spirit behind the evil, as it were. So we decided to make him the focus of our campaign.
The Carr report interestingly includes the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) that for protests which are not pickets there is no distinction between protests associated with an industrial dispute, and protests which are not. It is therefore extremely challenging for the government to restrict protests by trade unions without curtailing those civil liberties consistent with the exercise of freedom of speech and association in a liberal democracy.
One of the achievements of the Paul Kenny era in the GMB, is the GMB@work strategy, which recognizes that there is a fundamental and ultimately irreconcilable conflict of interest between employers and employees, and therefore trade unions need to be always organized to conduct lawful industrial action, if necessary. Of course this does not preclude modern, professional and constructive relations between the union and employers to their mutual benefit of securing harmonious industrial relations, but this is a relationship of equals, and therefore the union needs teeth behind the smile.
As with any culture change, the implementation of GMB@work has not been uniform across the union, and indeed the relative rates of growth of different GMB regions allows a comparison of the effectiveness of GMB@work. It is in Southern Region where GMB@work has been embraced, which has involved standing up to tough employers, and often organizing low paid workers in precarious employment. GMB has shown that this can be done, for example we recently achieved recognition with an employment agency exploiting workers in the Marks and Spencer supply chain in Swindon.
“The growth of 10,000 members since September 2012 is no accident and followed a process of dedicated organising by everybody within the region. This has been achieved solely by the efforts of members, activists and staff and shows that where we take on unscrupulous employers we will win and grow the union in the process.
This is good news for GMB, good news for the movement as a whole and shows that there is no need for any union to be managing decline. ”