Archives for posts with tag: Politics

I have been writing for the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion magazine under the column ‘Left Inside’ for about 18 months or so. It was intended to be a quiet expose of trying to stay left within a local Constituency Labour Party (Forest of Dean) under One Nation Labour, and being on its Executive Committee. In that time I was nominated the lead in the 2015 General Election FoD Labour Party manifesto drafting group for the District Council (in which we also laid out our Parliamentary Candidate’s priorities) and was Social Media Officer for the CLP on the Executive, and finally the Electoral Agent for our Parliamentary Candidate. That experience – but mostly the experience on the organizing body, and its conduct particularly since the Election – leads me to finally come to terms with my place in local Labour. And this, then is my final Clarion ‘Left Inside’ column…

LEFT INSIDE: welcome home. Time to leave.

After the defeat of Ed Miliband’s One Nation view of socialism under Labour, and despite a very progressive local manifesto (I should know, I lead the Manifesto Drafting Group who authored it, and it included all the things we so desperately need right now: a strong anti-fracking, anti-cuts and pro-public Forest stance), who would have thought that Labour would come back to its natural home?

The success of Jeremy Corbyn shows, to me, just how out of touch the Parliamentary Labour Party was with its own grass-roots membership.

But, while supporting Tom Watson as Deputy, Forest of Dean CLP actually voted to back Andy Burnham for leader.  And now there are rumours afoot within the CLP that Corbyn’s success and the left is tearing the local branch apart. But they’re just rumours. What I’ve seen is a fractured bureaucratic CLP Exec concerned more with rules and in-fighting than changing lives and building socialism, whichever brand you support.

And that’s why this will be my last ‘Left Inside’ column for the Clarion.

The Executive Committee, in my experience, despite its aims and objectives turns out to be an inadvertent vehicle for losing members and quelling activism.

On social media I touted the idea of a Red Labour campaigning group, but there just isn’t the support for that locally. Nationally, however, new members joined in their thousands following Corbyn’s success, but locally they’ll be (rightly) directed to the CLP first. But our CLP is, to me, little more than an extension of the District Council Labour Group, not an independent campaigning and organising committee for the success of the next Labour MP in the Dean, working to win a socialist sitting in Parliament for the Dean among other socialists in a majority Labour government.

Besides, in the meantime, we need to build support for the Dean anti-fracking campaign. Then there’s TTIP. Instead our CLP is bent on a long-running internal investigation on the appropriate use of members’ e-mail lists. A process so painful that even the incumbent acting Secretary won’t be seeking re-election in that role, after only a matter of months in the post.

As Agent for Steve Parry-Hearn (your Labour candidate in the last General Election), I continue to meet with Steve and his Campaign Manager, the hard-working Roger Gilson. All three of us welcomed Corbyn’s success. But I for one don’t feel that our current CLP is the vehicle to locally show that support let alone build on it. I will vote and continue to support Corbyn’s Labour but I no longer feel I am the ‘left inside’ in the local LP. Hopefully there are others, new faces which will re-purpose the CLP Executive.

For me, for now, thanks for the ride.

The above is an un-edited edition and might therefore differ from the printed edition of issue #119 (Oct/Nov. 2015). I expect to continue to write for the Clarion, but not in the Left Inside capacity. I will continue to support Labour. Especially Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

An early un-edited edition of my next Clarion article

It’s time for One Nation Labour to set out its electoral stall for real now. Scotland has force the point, chased hotly by doubts over Ed Miliband’s ability to lead our party or being a suitable Prime Minister.

Scotland – and in particular the huge turnout of the Independence referendum – has given Westminster-based politics the kick up the arse voters knew it desperately needed.

Now there’s a leadership contest there and it proves to be shaping what Scottish Labour ought to look like and represent. Is it just a branch of Parliamentary Labour or something distinct in the Labour movement in Scotland?

Clarion readers will probably agree that the latter might also prove the kick up the arse our Parliamentary Labour Party needs to become meaningful for the electorate.

Given a meaningful choice on Independence, the voters demonstrated they are hungry to engage in proper change. Indeed, I doubt whether a remote branch in Scotland was what John Robertson and Jim Sillars had in mind when they first set-up the breakaway the Scottish Labour Party back in 1976. Instead they sought to be a voice distinct from Westminster.

I believe there’s appetite for more of that kind of independent thinking within Labour, and furthermore we can have that without having to abandon our Party. In fact, I’d wage it might be a way to electoral success.

I certainly witnessed this desire for local distinction among some of our number in the 2015 District Council Forest of Dean CLP Manifesto Drafting Group which I had the honour to lead. But this doesn’t have to be a binary thing: you can follow Labour Party principles and rules and still have a distinctive voice in local politics. In fact, I rather think it’s what the electorate expect of us.

Difference and choice are vital to voters. I am reminded of what George Monbiot once told me in an interview…

“Its mainstream parliamentary party politics we’re all pissed off with. You can choose between the party of big business and bombing, or the party of big business and bombing.”

It’s in looking for new choices that some have been persuaded by the shadowy repulsiveness of UKIP. We need to demonstrate that our Party and our local candidate, and indeed local and country councillors offer the electorate meaningful choice, not just more of the same.

The defence for the leadership of Milliband is mostly characterised by the principle of having to stick with the choice made a couple of years ago at the Leadership Election. But by that logic we would allow Ed Miliband to do virtually anything to destroy our movement before we’d kicked him into touch. Although I’m not saying he has or will destroy Labour, I’m just questioning the principled stand of permissiveness just for the sake of a principled stand. To me that’s not much of a defence.

The argument also goes that ‘we’re only 6 months away from an election!’ Agreed, not a desirable time to switch leadership. But again, says who? Based on what? If there’s evidence that the leader is not polling well when actually he should be at his strongest (into the final term of opposition) then that is an argument for decisive change not capitulation. If total unity isn’t the current, it won’t appear just because we’re running out of time. What you’ll get instead is internal maneuvering for the post-defeat Labour Party. Put another way, sticking with an unelectable leader just because we’re running out of time is not a good reason to stick with an unelectable leader.

The final argument appears to be that there’s no willing or able candidate to replace Miliband. Is the shadow cabinet really so moribund to not one capable shadow minister willing to stand up for our movement? I don’t think it is. So that too is a false defence.

If the NHS is the one binding element of our campaign which universally moves British people of voting age, then clearly the robust, capable and comparatively natural leader is the person leading that part of campaign: Andy Burnham. I’d support that move in a second, and I think the British people would too.

Voters would see a Labour Party willing to listen to the public (in their dislike of Miliband) and make meaningful change. If Burnham is seen as the saviour of the NHS in austerity, then he might just save our movement and the legacy of Labour. It should also guarantee us success at the next election.

True, a Burnham Labour won’t take us back to the manifesto of Michael Foot in 1983, but it wouldn’t be New Labour either.

Those who agree with my general argument might also take heart that when asked during the local Parliamentary candidate hustings as which member of the current shadow cabinet did he/she most admire or ally themselves with, our chosen candidate – Steve Parry-Hearn – cited Andy Burnham.

Andy BurnhamNOTE: The views expressed in this column are the personal views of C. Spiby and not the Forest of Dean Labour Party or Steve Parry-Hearn.

{un-edited edition of my submission to the Clarion magazine and my ‘Left Inside’ column, writing as a communist within the Labour Party}

To all open-minded people of the Left {see footnote}. That is, to all those who have still yet to be convinced to vote Labour in the next General Election but are swaying dangerously close to the Green Party, Left Unity or other minority party to the left of Labour.

I want to appeal to your powers of logic and reason over your rightful anxiety on many issues facing British working people today. And suggest why you must vote Labour in 2015.

Perhaps we might begin by agreeing on a few basic principles. Firstly, that we want rid of the current Government: the ConDem coalition. Secondly, that we do not wish to replace it with a Tory majority government or a Tory/UKIP coalition.

We want a government that is left of centre. In fact, we’d probably settle for a centre-left government in order to keep out an even more right-wing government than the ConDem coalition. Wouldn’t we?

Irrespective of our wont for more: we all must be able to agree on at least that. Surely?

But not all of us see politics as a compromise.

I’d go so far to say that politics without compromise is essentially fundamentalism. You can read my blog on the topic but I believe that eco-fundamentalism is the only valid fundamentalism. All other forms of fundamentalism are merely rejections of reason and flaws in humanity.

My point is that an unwillingness to vote for Labour as a compromise on one’s ideals only places principles before logic. And that’s a fundamentalist point of view.

Not entirely happy with all Labour’s policies, I am, however, not willing to tolerate a right-wing government just to satisfy those principles alone. These things have value to me, they form part of my integrity, but they are an abstract. And they won’t stop a right wing government taking power. And by their nature and philosophy they will form policies which are even more an affront to socialist principles than those of Labour which might compel some to stand up for their principles alone.

Failure to vote Labour runs the obvious risk that such a tactic results in the kind of right wing government we just agreed we collectively oppose.

But a compromise which recognises the reality of our current system, our current realistic choices does not have to be a sell-out. It’s not capitulation, it’s progressive. By building our movement within Labour both locally and nationally, you build the Party you want. And that’s just what happened at the recent National Executive Committee elections, where Labour MEMBERS voted for a left-wing Executive, defeated the Blairites soundly.

And, in Stephen Parry-Hearn, we have a local candidate who is willing to attend a vigil for Gaza, calling for peace on all sides and to halt the despicable killing of children. In Parry-Hearn we might have a voice in Parliament calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and nuclear power (see earlier Clarion interviews/articles). In Steve we’d have an MP who cares about the Forest of Dean and its heritage, who supported and supports HOOF.

Then, in Labour councillors, we have a team who really do carry Labour principles into each and every difficult debate, seeking to serve local working class people in the way they serves local jobs, welfare and livelihoods best.

Together they form a version of Labour Clarion readers must recognise as anything but Blairite and New Labour. We don’t want Harper or UKIP locally and we certainly don’t want unabated right-wing Tory rule in Britain.

Help us all by working for the Labour choice you want.

Of course, once the job is done, then campaign within. Or, hold a Labour Government to account through campaign groups or opposition parties. That is the time to fight for those points of principle you feel are an affront to our heritage and run counter to one’s own view of modern British democratic socialism. But don’t risk inviting the right through the front door, while you stand un-moving on principle out in the cold.

There are lines in the sand. I could never vote for New Labour for many reasons. Their balance sheet of inequities reduced support and made Britain ripe for the right. In doing so they disenfranchised the working people of their vote. Immoral actions such as the war in Iraq made voting New Labour an impossibility for democratic socialists. The problem was there was nowhere else to go, so many of us retreated to campaign groups. I went to Forest Stop the War and Amnesty International to try and make a difference. But politically we are thankfully in a different place today. Ed Milliband was the choice of the Unions as leader of our Party and it is his team which pledge to stop the rot in the NHS, to reverse the Bedroom Tax and so much more which we might recognise as principles they can deliver on which are akin to our own. That is why it is our party. No compromise on that.

FOOTNOTE I say ‘open-minded’ as logic and reason is unlikely to change a closed mind – the position of the fundamentalist. And that is why this article appears to those who are truly willing to challenge their own position.

My April/May article for the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion magazine (un-edited edition)

A few issues ago, I gave readers an insight into some of the key political issues that make up the position of Labour Party candidate for the Forest of Dean, Steve Parry-Hearn. With just over a year to go to the next General Election, it’s time for an update.

Like others I endorsed the Welsh-accented Parry-Hearn at the hustings in which he was pitted against two great local campaigners Tim Gwillam and Tanya Palmer. Parry-Hearn won that competition, but in the face of a hitherto local media black-out is he up to the job of un-seating the incumbent Tory, Mark Harper?

In theory, Mark Harper MP has written-off his chances of returning to represent the Forest of Dean by supporting the government sell-off. So it will probably be the Forest’s own HOOF campaign which sees off Harper more than Labour’s candidate in Parry-Hearn. Parry-Hearn should walk it. But there are two possible problems with this analysis. 1. The national performance of Labour might mean we fail to even get our vote out (as we’ve seen happen in France only this week), and 2. UKIP – who have targeted the Forest as one of their 6 national seats to win.

On the national question there’s the issue of the so-called end to our economic woes. This presents Labour with a massive headache. First as the Labour leadership mantra goes it’s a lie: working people are still facing a cost-of-living crisis. True employment is up, but how many of those jobs are short-term and part-time? Or worse: zero hours contracts? The problem is that the electorate might just believe the lie because that’s appears to be exactly what the media’s offering: everything is fine and growth is back. And yet most public sector cuts have yet to bite.

Coming back locally and to my surprise, going against the national line of both the Tories and current Labour policy, Parry-Hearn has come out strongly and convincingly against the development of new nuclear power at Oldbury. Instead, Steve gave a sincere speech at S.T.A.N.D.’s Fukushima memorial event in Lydney in March and backed it up with a report to the local Executive and a press release.

He was also out with the Rebecca Riot campaigners on the issue of the Severn crossing tolls, managing along the way to get a by-proxy jab at Harper in a subsequent Westminster Hall debate on the issue via the Labour shadow transport team and our friendly Welsh MP’s. Harper looked satisfyingly sick at the thought of Parry-Hearn chasing him down as he hid in the corridors of power.

But then there’s UKIP. We will see their actual strength in the coming European elections. Certainly the possibility of them becoming the third main party in the UK increases as the anti-European, anti-immigration Tory vote heads over to UKIP. Not even regular outbursts from anti-gay, sexist bigots within UKIP ranks seem to quell those of that persuasion. For their part, the Lib Dems will have an emaciated support. Hopefully many of them will feel One Nation Labour better reflects their views than their leaders’ betrayal of some of their fundamental principles.

Putting aside inconsequential protest votes to minor parties, we return to Labour’s Parry-Hearn who lives with his young family in the Forest and has proven himself part of a new generation of local Labour activists. Personally, when I’ve heard him air his views and principles, he is certainly a man who Clarion readers would find speaks their language.

For sure, Parry-Hearn needs to increase his profile. Mostly by hitting the streets but also by attending other public-facing activities and events and certainly District Councillors need to get out and support their Party and their Parliamentary candidate. Already there’s an evolving team of great people willing to give their time and support, among them former Forest MP Diana Organ who’s just one of a team of Branch-level Labour Party Co-Ordinators.

My call is for Clarion readers to join us and build a future for the forest that they recognise as their own. And not that of Harper or UKIP.

My Jan 2014 article for the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion magazine

Nationally the message is clear.

When Ed Milliband says that he will “promise that, if we win, I will scrap the Bedroom Tax. No ifs or buts: a One Nation Labour government will repeal it.” [1] There’s no doubt that this is OUR kind of Labour Party.

You can’t say the same for our Constituency Party. We need to be clearer on our message and tighter on our inner party discipline. When Bruce Hogan rightly questioned the failure of local UKIP Councillor Alan Preest to attend meetings it was instead received by some as a call to limit local democracy.

And you would have thought that the fact that UKIP act the way do would be a gift to us. What a local UKIP figure branded as ‘hags’ [2] are the ordinary people concerned about the rightwing myth-building of the right, at least on the topic of immigration. UKIP should be easy-pickings nationally and locally. But, as we saw with the New Year influx of east Europeans – which didn’t happen – the media has bought their narrative rather than report on facts and actuality. Rightwing speculation has become ‘reporting’.

We also see that narrative on ‘Benefits Street’. How easy it is to stoke the fires of blame just to sell advertising by producing controversial content.

There’s a cost of living crisis in Britain, but it’s now contained to those who don’t matter: the voiceless majority. We know this because we’re getting told by this government that we’re ‘turning the corner’ on the economy and its cuts, cuts, cuts that provided the cure. In reality we’re going through a sustained attack on the welfare state; an ideological crusade the kind of which Thatcher embarked upon in her 70’s attack on the Trade Unions. Her greatest achievement came with the defeat of the Miner’s but – in this anniversary year – it is up to us to ensure that the new breed of Conservativism doesn’t do the same with our social welfare, education and health services. Because that’s the way its heading.

I don’t think that message could be clearer. What bothers me is why we’re not the argument.

NUCLEAR POWER On other matters this government has just approved the ‘generic design’ for the huge nuclear power station that will appear soon opposite Lydney. In response, S.T.A.N.D. are conducting a range of meetings and events in Chepstow and Stroud to raise awareness of the monstrosity while also building for this years’ anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. Catch-up with the campaign on Facebook or www.nuclearsevernside.co.uk

[1] Labour membership e-mail 21/9/2013.

[2] Recent reportage in the local press of UKIP’s Tidenham meeting where their spokesperson attacked women who expressed concern over UKIP position on immigration.

The Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party has nominated Steven Parry-Hearn as its Parliamentary candidate for the next General Election.

What does this mean for the left in labour?

Indeed, what does it mean for the Dean? And what about those dissatisfied with New Labour and have yet to be tempted by Ed Miliband’s brand of ‘One Nation’ Labour?

Mr. Parry-Hearn lives in the constituency with his young family and has been very active behind the scenes in the Party with various projects and posts at Executive Committee level. He’s also a member of the LP South West Regional Board and stood against Liam Fox at the last election. Then he lost (but then again who didn’t in Labour that time around? It was a national swing of historic proportions – nothing less than our greatest defeat, so we can’t blame him for that!), but Steve did gain a significantly higher vote than was expected of a Labour Party candidate there.

He’d also been active in the Aberavon CLP in Wales at the election before that – a heritage his accent reveals. So, clearly, Steve has experience and the organisational skills of a good CLP member. But where does he stand on policy?

He says ‘There are issues here, social injustices, which the current Member of Parliament has completely ignored. He has betrayed his constituents…’ [1]

Whereas Harper is an accountant by trade, Parry-Hearn works for the Shaw Trust, dealing with the fallout of failed Tory policies.

Like many of us, he vehemently opposed Harper on the sell-off of the Forests while at the same time bringing a breath of fresh air to the Forest of Dean CLP. Although not a target seat for Labour, Harper must be on the back foot precisely because of the attempted sell-off of the forests and the success of the HOOF campaign. Now we have chosen Harper’s opposition it is time to get to the nub of his beliefs and so I took advantage of the selection process to quiz him on issues I feel particularly strongly.

For starters, I asked him about the development of new Nuclear Power at Oldbury, a hot topic amongst local people living opposite in the Dean as well as environmental and anti-nuclear campaigners.

Parry-Hearn said he does not support Hitachi-Horizon’s development and that he has ‘been opposed to the development of nuclear powered generation for many years.’ [2] In fact, he goes on to state ‘I believe that there are energy generation solutions which are far more acceptable not only to ourselves, but also to our descendants.  I believe that we are merely custodians of our fragile planet, and we must use all our ingenuity to develop new, cleaner fuels and means of generating energy.  I feel that wind, sea and solar must be the way forward.’ [3]

This puts Steve at odds with the previous candidate, Bruce Hogan whose position had seen him switch over the years to a pro-nuclear power stance.

Moving to a deliberately tricky issue for some in Labour is the question of the renewal of the UK nuclear missile system (Trident). On this topic Parry-Hearn said that ‘I personally stand idealistically and morally opposed.  I feel that we are behaving rather hypocritically here. We rattle sabres at Iran, Libya and North Korea, but what right do we have to dictate terms of disarmament to those states, when we ourselves stealthily and perpetually patrol the world’s oceans with our Trident Submarines?’ [4] And he goes on to qualify this with further reasoning: ‘we should not commit public money, when we are seeing this awful, callous government cutting welfare to the most vulnerable in our society.

On those points we can agree and welcome our PPC, but that’s just two issues. It is not enough to judge him on these alone. We still don’t know whether Parry-Hearn sits as a pre-New Labourist or post’. That is, is he a believer in the One Nation line? Certainly, it seems we can – I think – rest assured Parry-Hearn is no raving Blairite.

The true test, I suppose, will be the moment our national programme is finally launched.

That document, which will at last declare our Party’s policies, will be the strongest challenge for Party-Hearn to date. Will he stay true to his own beliefs upon which he was elected as PPC locally or will he sway to the national line? I strongly suspect on both Trident and nuclear power the national policy will differ from Hearn’s. With the nuclear power development directly affecting his constituency will he have the will to act against his party? For sure, he says he is of ‘high moral courage, honesty and diligence.’ [5] And on the issue of nuclear defence, this could arguably be the most moral question of all.

But as I have said, we shouldn’t shape our support of opposition of him on those two nuclear topics alone. Does he have the red fibre Clarion readers’ lust after? For his part, Graham Morgan (County, District & Town Councillor for Labour) believes Steve is ‘a real man of the people.’ [6]

What else? Parry-Hearn states he is committed ‘to establishing a Business Task Force, promoting growth, sustainable inward investment and apprenticeship opportunities for our young generation’ [7] in the Dean. He targets housing as the way forward both locally and nationally as a tool of economic renewal and his work with the Shaw Trust would mean he also has first-hand experience of the dire need for good social housing. He is pro-European but supports a referendum.

At the 28th July hustings which resulted in his election, Steve cited Andy Burnham as one of those currently influencing his political thinking. This being the same Andy Burnham who is leading the charge against the Tory Health & Social Welfare bill, promising to repeal it at Labour’s first opportunity and re-investing instead in the NHS. That is a good place for Labour and Steve to be and thus a good influence to hold, in my book.

So, while Parry-Hearn might not be the Forest’s answer to Tony Benn we can hold some comfort by the fact that he probably wouldn’t be entirely offended by the idea either.

In fact, I would go so far to say that I think that our constituency has the strongest candidate for many elections past. I hope you will canvass his opinion yourself by directly engaging with him while supporting our party and his campaign with all your vigor.

We MUST get rid of the ConDems, keep the Tories and UKIP out. We must save our NHS. We must be united in our support of the only realistic chance for Parliamentary power across the left. And in doing so we will keep our values alive in Labour, locally and nationally. Support Steve and we support that aim.

[1] Personal letter to all FoD CLP members 1st July 2013

[2] Personal correspondence with the author 22nd July 2013.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Steve Parry-Hearn FoD PPC campaign leaflet  July 2013.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

from the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley  Clarion magazine

THE LEFT INSIDE column by C. Spiby

Things are getting a little ugly. Especially in Falkirk where the CLP is in a fizzle thanks to UNITE the union bombarding the local party with its members in an attempt to get the next Parliamentary candidate to be their preferred candidate.

While I see that, theoretically, an infiltration of any kind is dangerous, an infiltration of working class-conscious trade unionist is – SURELY – what Labour needs right now.

In fact, I wholeheartedly support it.

But there is a split of opinion as to Ed Milliband’s plan to re-boot the role Labour has with the Trade Unions. Even Len McCluskey endorsed the idea that the scheme might mean thousands of new official working class members paying their way in the Party ‘officially’ (rather than paying by default). The doom-mongers, however, see the move as an attempt to sever the historic link (which is probably why it got the support of Tony Blair!) and in doing so lose the Party millions in vital funding.

If the doom-mongers are right, then this leaves the door wide-open for the Party funding machine to head out and woo more donations from big business and the rich.

What started as a call for ‘8 hours for work – 8 hours for our own instruction and 8 hours for repose’ spawned a workers movement. Workers coming together in union to end the tyranny of employers. The call went out in 1868 for the first Trades Union Congress.

The struggle for workers’ rights commenced and gathered pace with the rise of each challenge, each success and every knock-back. As Billy Bragg calls ‘There is power in a union’ and as is the popular noise of each and every protest the world-over: ‘The workers united, will never be defeated.’

But there were defeats, so we must take the latter as a rallying call – a call to metaphorical arms. For it soon became clear that to really change things, representation in Parliament was necessary. And thus the move toward a social democratic socialist party gathered pace. In the wake of the 1906 general election the Parliamentary Labour Party is born.

This history lessons informs us that something on both sides of the link has failed. The Unions has weakened their relevance (mostly through the actions of Tory Parliaments), but also the in the Labour Party has swung rightward for fear of militancy. Strikes – never popular – have ceased being the tool and call of the downtrodden worker as the right and the media present it as one massive, self-indulgent inconvenience for the rest of society. And in doing so breaks society.

Without Labour there’d be no welfare state. Without Trade Unionism there’d be no Labour.

The question is one only of relevance.

Now is the time for those Trade Unionists to re-embrace their Party. And to do it through the front door.

OTHER MATTERS But then there’s murkier water ahead with nuclear power and nuclear weapons. My personal beliefs seem out of kilter with my Party, although I will reserve full judgement until the final General Election manifesto is ready. So it is up to us to make sure they hear our voices on the topics we are moved by and join in at www.yourbritain.org.uk (the Party’s policy development platform).

So it is with relief that our leader e-mailed to remind us that…

“Only One Nation Labour will repeal David Cameron’s Health Act and put NHS values, not Tory values, back at the heart of our NHS. Our NHS is at the heart of what makes Britain great. Labour will always make safeguarding its future a priority. [a]”

Previously he let us know about some of things his leadership had on the agenda…

We all know Labour in 2015 will have less money to spend, because the Tories have failed on the economy. So we are going to take action on the big problems our country faces to control spending:

  • Cut costs by helping the long-term unemployed back to work
  • Make sure jobs are well-paid to reward work, so the state does not face rising subsidies for low pay
  • Get the cost of renting down by ensuring more homes are built – thereby reducing the welfare bill
  • Cap social security spending by focusing on the deep-rooted reasons benefit spending goes up.

This builds on an earlier message from Ed Balls, of the shadow Treasury. He said…

Tory economic policies aren’t working. On living standards, economic growth and on deficit reduction – they’ve got it wrong, and millions of people are suffering the consequences. It doesn’t have to be this way.  [c]

My worry is that these messages are being overtaken by noise from Labour vs the Unions. What the movement needs is a united voice and united message.

[a] E-mail from EM 2/7/13.

[b] E-mail from EM 6/6/13.

[c] E-mail from EB 3/6/13.

(from my Left Inside column in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion)

The Bedroom Tax is so diabolically typical of Tory Government. Exactly the type of policy which creates a two-nation state. The ‘them’ and the rest of us state.

But it is the rest of us who fuel the economy with our labour, skills, services, creativity, drive and devotion to both our jobs and our society. It is the rest of us who help those in need; not to leave them behind. We do this through our taxes and many do much more by providing real-term care, by which I mean all those who stay at home to look after our very young, or the elderly in need, or those disabled.

And it was US who bailed out the banks.

But, as Liam Byrne MP (Labour’s shadow Work & Pensions Secretary) points out it is Cameron’s Government which is about to give 13,000 millionaires a tax cut worth an average £100,000, while more than half a million households with a disabled person will lose £700.

And not content with rising inflation and stagnant wages, the Tories go on to offer us (from 1st April) a real terms cut to maternity pay, taking £180 out of the pockets of mums by 2015. In Hull alone 4700 people will be affected by the Bedroom Tax – and there are just 73 properties available for them to move into. Meanwhile youth unemployment is now almost at a million mark and unemployment amongst women is also on the rise.

Labour on the other hand challenged the Tories and Liberal Democrats to support a mansion tax on properties over £2 million stating this would pay for the reinstatement of a 10p tax rate to help millions of people on low and middle incomes.

And it is with enthusiasm that I welcome Gloucestershire Labour Party’s 2013 County Council Election manifesto. It keeps the one nation theme running at a local level, pledging to ‘support and campaign for all health and education provision to stay in the public sector’.

It also says much about trying to restore those services lost through the cuts including library and youth services as well as children’s centres.

As an anti-cuts and pro-NHS campaigner the manifesto is a real boost for those who recognise Labour as it should be.

Join us in our fight against the cuts.

Now I know that readers will write in an warn me that Labour supports the cuts too. But our mantra has always been not so deep and not so fast. True; the theme is to cut the deficit when many Trade Unions, socialists and anti-cuts campaigners argue whether that is even a necessity. But to them I say this: you may compromise your position, but by not supporting Labour you might well be gifting the next election to a stand-alone Tory government.

Now that’s one compromise too far.

And I won’t compromise the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, the very young, the workers for a position in an argument or an ideal. No matter how attractive that ideal is. The pragmatic compromise is to help build a nation against the injustice of Tory policies.

And then, within that victory go for the battle within to build socialism. But don’t jeopardise that victory on a principle alone. Go for the victory which benefits our nation. One nation together for all.

 

So, we have a re-shuffle in the ConDem government.

What does this mean to us locally?

On the face of it not much. In reality numerous mainstream media pundits see the changes as a move further to the right.

That means a consolidation of the awful Tory policies of cuts, cuts and cuts. Oh, and increasing private influence and profit on everything from schools to hospitals.

For his part Mark Harper MP has been promoted to the Ministry of State at the Home Office, taking over from Damian Green as minister for Immigration. Surely what that means for us, in the Dean, is even less representation in the House, as his Parliamentary career portfolio increases in importance and workload.

To start with an aside, it is my personal belief that the when a minister wins a portfolio, then either the second-place local candidate at the last election is assigned as constituency representative, or – even better – each Party also stand a reserve during the General Election: one to act as Parliamentary MP for the constituency in the House of Commons, the other to get on with the business of Government should they be selected. This latter idea might even help the media to focus on Party policy, not personality. But these are whims of fancy of my own.

Back to Harper. Our beloved Minister used to be listed as a member of the right-wing Freedom Association but matching his ascendency in Government is the removal of his name as a cited supporter of the pressure group’s website. Their 7 principles don’t directly target immigration, but they put all the other traditional Tory policies right at their heart. We might perhaps characterise those policies as rampant self-preservation.

But, the Tories yell, net migration is down [1]. Hurrah! Cry Daily Mail readers and the EDL. And I guess at least the Government is consistent on one thing: its attack on the poorest. By removing and reducing benefit to even those previously denied their role in society on medical grounds, the only jobs left in a recession will be exactly those low-paid, temporary jobs that previously could only be filled by workers from Eastern Europe. If those workers are denied access, then, great! The workforce the government feel is ripe to pick up the shortfall in labour will be those very same poor devils they’ve got the media to class universally as ‘benefit scroungers’. They will be forced to work in what pretty much amounts to near-slave-labour rates in the kind of poor working conditions we thought we got rid of in the Edwardian era, thanks to the Trade Union and labour movements.

Of course it will only be ‘benefit cheats’ and the ‘hoodies’ Cameron previously urged us to hug who will be doing that low paid work, not the tax cheats like investment bankers who brokered this worldwide economic downturn.

However, even immigration – which has to be the golden chalice of the right – is bungled by this lot. There’s been a 30% drop in student visas [2] to June this year, and even cases of forcing foreign students back from where they came before their courses have finished. In a climate of highest-ever fees for students yet reduced government funding for education, this Government is struggling to handle even its most prized policy. Perhaps Harper’s ability to dress up saving us from the selling-off of our Forests as something he did in the corridors of power has proven the skills necessary to navigate the morally tricky world of immigration control.

And what of Labour? Well, Chris Bryant MP who holds the shadow post of Harper states clearly: “Rather than preventing legitimate students our economy needs, the Government should focus on the worsening illegal immigration situation. We need to reverse the fall in deportation of those who break the rules, and the rise in people absconding through immigration controls.” [3]

But, despite his new role to protect this island from the invading hordes of scroungers, Mark cares a lot about our foreign friends. Well, he does if they come from Israel.

Harper is a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), a position he shares with some 80% of fellow Tory MP’s [4]. CFI is one of the most dynamic lobby groups in Parliament. While the Arab world is in revolutionary turmoil, where neighbouring countries take the brunt of conflicts such as that in Syria, housing hundreds of thousands of families fleeing brutal murder, Mark and his friends are primarily concerned with keeping low paid jobs for low-paid British workers. The CFI lobby for their part is primarily concerned about business deals with friends like Israel, especially in the arms trade. For example, Israel and the UK have been working on a joint drone project for a number of years. Some of these were used on the 2008/09 drone attacks on Gaza.

[1] www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2012/08/Damian_Green_welcomes_figures_that_demonstrate_a_fall_in_net_migration.aspx

[2] ibid.

[3] http://www.labour.org.uk/worsening-illegal-immigration

[4] Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, Channel 4, Monday 16 November 2009

Why we need to shout ‘Post-New Labour’ is the Labour Party for us all

{a pre-release of my submitted article to the Forest Clarion issue #100, as part of my ‘Left Inside’ column}

Putting aside the debate about Ed Milliband’s populist immigration speech (as that deserves a whole article in its own right), the recent performance of Labour is otherwise a welcome shift to the left. While I might be convinced that I have joined a different party to that of the ‘New Labour’ period, it is with regret that the public are not so sure. And this poses our biggest single problem.

Here’s why I think I am in a ‘post-New Labour’ Labour Party.

For activists, one of the mistakes New Labour made was when it stifled inner party democracy. It created a gulf between those who made policy and those who fought to make it and, indeed, campaigned on it and lived by its principles.

Angela Eagle, the new Chair of the National Policy Forum, however, rightly seeks to redress this. She wrote to me stating that she understood “how frustrating it has been for those…with expertise, experience and ideas to engage in a meaningful way with the Party’s policy making process. That is why I’m so committed to changing it. We need to open it up, and give everyone a voice and a stake.”

Send your demands for a Labour Party policy programme more representative of its members’ wishes to PIP@labour.org.uk.

On the other hand, I read from the minutes from the FoD CLP Executive Committee meetings that its pre-occupation with the ownership of its meeting place in Lydney is still taking up precious time. All the while local people endure the most aggressively sustained attack on their livelihoods I for one have ever known. With backdoor taxes like refuse collection charges and parking charges, the danger of our community health services under threat of removal from the NHS, and our very woodlands returning to insecurity, now is the time for Labour to locally step up its game. In the face of an anti-democratic Council, local branches need to re-engage with the issues facing local people. Ownership of the boxing club site and whether local or national Labour hold the title to the site is, frankly, not on their agenda. We need to get it off ours!

Compare this to Andy Burnham and his team who, meanwhile, has done a great deal to expose the gap between Ministers’ rhetoric and what’s really happening in our NHS (read online at www.YourNHS.com) . The Tories are cutting 6,000 nurses, Labour pledges to protect them. One of the good things about the last Labour government was its investment in the NHS, with the net result that waiting-times were drastically cut. Under the Tories it is rising again.

Now that it is threatening the continuance of services of at least one hospital, Labour could do more to distance itself from the debacle of PFI (just one reason why I could never join New Labour), but in the meantime I am pleased with the 5 pledges: 1. Protect NHS founding values; 2. Prevent postcode lotteries; 3. Guard against longer waits; 4. Promote collaboration over competition; 5. Put patients before profits. The antithesis of these characterise the awful Health & Social Care Bill the Tories passed a few months ago. And that is why Labour has promised to repeal the Bill at the earliest opportunity. Only a Labour victory would enable us to do that.

Ed Balls too got it right on petrol duty. This saw the Tories cancel the expected hike the very same day Ed’s article appeared in the national press. “But the price of crude is down.” Argued John Humphreys on BBC Radio’s Today programme. Ed quickly reassured him that it may be down in the last month, but the price isn’t trickling down to the forecourts quick enough. To ordinary people, the price is still way too high, increasing the duty will make matters worse both for households and struggling industry. It might seem a long time ago we paid less than a £1 per litre but recently it got to nearly half that again.

My point is that Labour is at its best when it represents the ordinary lives of working people. The Shadow Cabinet is delivering on this. As long as Ed himself steers clear of pasties, we’re doing alright.

Our task, to all on the left, is to build confidence in this “post-New Labour” Labour so we can halt a Tory stronghold nationally and locally.

There is much to be done. It is up to us to move the national story away from the legacy of Blair and Brown and onto the party that truly reflects ordinary working people. This is the Party with the only viable chance of reversing the health bill, halting the attack on ordinary livelihoods, stopping the sell-off of our Forests and building against the kind of unfettered profiteering  Conservatism is ideologically grounded upon.