Tuesday, 24 February 2009

What's the point of Peter Mandelson ?

We all know that he is the grandson of Herbert Morrison.
Frankly if that old fraud was in any way related to me I would take strenuous efforts to keep quiet about that.
It is also said that he was once in the Young Communist League,but that must have been a passing nanosecond for there is little evidence of his connection.

Peter Mandelson is the perfect metaphor for the modern Labour Party-shallow,aimless and hopelessly authoritarian.
it takes some doing however in 48 hours or so to deliver three blows to the party that he is supposed to be committed to that will end ots electoral chances for a couple of decades.
Firstly we are told on the sunday press that he intends to halt the few progressive items left in the Queens speech of two months ago.Out goes extendended maternity leave,out goes protection for agency workers and out goes tougher equality legislation.
He has friends you understand in the 'business' world.
One of them is the Russian oligarch who owns LDV vans in the West Midlands.Mandelson has decided to stand aside and watch his billionaire chum close the van plant and lose about 6,000 jobs.
Well the only silver lining in that particular cloud is that Jacqui Smith will lose her matginal seat!

Thirdly he is determined to privatise a chunk of the Post Office,ensuring that again there will be massive job losses,the Labour Party will lose £1million from the CWU-and probably most of its activists too!
Yet the smirking bastard continues unhindered to wreak havoc.

To those old friends still in the Party and suffering from a vicious and unrelenting attack from the regional party hacks remember this-

They are the spawn of Mandelson not the children of the Labour party.
If you want to save the party the only thing you can do is to leave it and start building again from the ground up,
leave Lord Mandelson and his apperachniks the empty vessel they have so richly created.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

There's a valley in Spain

February 24th 1937

On that date just outside madrid a 25 year old Scot climbed out of a trench and went to pick up a wounded comrade who had been shot by a fascist machine gun.as he bent over to pick up his wounded comrade another bullet passed through the base of his spine.

his name was George Dickie and he was my father's younger brother, although on that hillside at Jarama he was known as Jack Brent and was registered as a Canadian.

He had not been long at the front but was considered an asset within the International Brigades,he had previously been a Cameron Highlander and thus had some experience of military life and handling weapons.
But not very much.

Geordie was part of the Canadian battalion,MacKenzie-Papineau who were attached to the American's-the Abraham Lincoln battalion and they were ordered to the front lines to replace the legendary Dimitrov's,who had been holding out against the fascist surge since February 11th.

Like so many other young men of the time Geordie had left his village school in Whithorn with little real education and little real prospect of work in depression ridden rural Scotland.A butcher's boy was not really a long term career move.

He had run off to join the army,and he stuck it for a couple of tears, but the bull and bullshit did for him as it did for many others.He was based near Invergordon so its possible that he heard about the 'mutiny'by the sailors on that base.After all the baldwin government were cutting the wages of the ratings whilst upping the salary of the officers.
Geordie was put in charge of the stores for a while, he and a mate 'liberated' a couple of suits and with a used train ticket went on the run to London.

He became Jack Brent while passing through Brent in North London.It's always been a family joke that he was lucky that Willesden Junction dodn't catch his eye that day.

He spent years drifting aeound London,taking odd jobs here and there,living in doss houses,living the life so graphically described in Orwell's book 'Down and out on London and Paris'
That was the period that he learned his politics, not in a university college but under circumstances of poverty and hardship.I suppose he could have gone any which way.

But seeing some blackshirts beating up a Jewish girl convinced Geordie that there was only one way as he waded in to help the girl and batter the fascists.

Probably the event that made the man who subsequently found himself on that Spanish hillside that cold February day.
Working class history is full of heroes and heroines largely un-named and unknown, but at least we know of the men and women who went to Spain.
There are only a small handful left today,perhaps most notable 93 year old Jack Jones.
He's worth a thousand mediocre Labour ministers and every second rate union leader ledt to whimper in his paid for union limo!

By the way you can read my columns that don't get on this blog every Wednesday in the Northampton Chronicle & Echo http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/ or on http://www.northamptonindependentvoice.org

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Where privatisation leads

Want to know where privatisation leads?
Especially in the prison service?
Well consider the case of the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre,Pennsylvania.
There youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer,given hearings that lasted a minute or two,found guilty and sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offences.
Nothing out of the ordinary except that two judges,Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in kickbacks to send the kids to two privately run youth detention centres.

Yes-they took graft from the owners of private facilities -whose names ironically were PA Child Care LLC and a sister company Western PA Child Care LLA-and thousands of youngsters were locked up illegally.

The judges have both cut a plea bargain deal and will probably get 7 years apiece, so far nobody from the companies has been charged.

Interestingly Conahan shut down the county run juvenile prison in 2002 and then helped the two companies secure contracts worth tens of millions of dollars,and at least some of the contracts depended on the numbers locked up!

My friend and fellow monkey-man Don over in SF sent me this little publicised story and his comment says it all:
"There's a special place in Hell waiting for these two bastards.Another glowing success for privatisation".

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Labour's long road halted?

The essence of radical politics in this country has been an emphasis on localism.This has been particularly true in Northampton where despite the radical traditions of local workers-the influence of shoe workers-the dominant political force has been an institutional conservativism.
Oh its true that the shoeworkers elected Bradlaugh and Labouchere,but they were in many ways blips on the political landscape.
It was in local politics that radical traditions were first established in the 19c.

The traditional non-comformist spirit,including a healthy dose of congregationism,allowed for a strain of liberalism and subsequently a lively social democrat and labour influence.

Before there were SDF councillors in Northampton there were elected SDF members on the Bpard of Guardians-including the redoubtable Rose Scott, the wife of Councillor CJ Scott-who were amongst the earliest socialist activists in the town.Scott was elected for what was then North Ward-now most of modern Castle ward(old traditions die hard in these parts!)

But the real emphasis was always on providing local voices for the local community.
Sucessive governments throughout the last century tried to weaken and marginalise local government.
Centralist tendencies have always been a feature of Westminster Governments of whatever complexion-they abhor any rival power base of whatever hue.

I was first elected in 1973-the time of the last great upheaval in local government when County Boroughs (aka unitary authorities) like Northampton were abolished and the dog's breakfast that we know as two tier was introduced.

Mind you the creation then was done in a more organised way, indeed for the year 1973-74 the town had two Councils running in tandem, the old County Borough running down and the new District Council (NBC) running in.
It did allow the new authority a time to sort out its structures and the newly elected members to work out what they were doing.
Sadly the last structural re-organisation (around 2002/3) allowed for no such run in period and the cabinet system has shuffled on ever since.
It has been and continues to be a disaster.It was an attempt to mirror what happens in Parliament and even adopted the language and styles of Westminster-the only thing missing being the House of Lords!

What we have is in effect a one party state with no effective means of holding the execurive to account.
The 'cabinet' or 'portfolio holders' is as good an example of rampant cronyism that you could find-and the fact that'portfolio holders' get much larger allowances than the rest of the common herd,and their position is in the gift of the leader-then it is hardly surprising that the main beneficiaries of the system are toadying mediocrities.

But allowing for the fact that even under the old system Committee chairs were largely in the gift of the leader there were at least committees in place that included opposition members who could be involved in part of the decision making process.

It is alleged that the way the executive is held to account is through the scrutiny system.
Now given that the scrutiny committess are largely if not completely chaired by members of the administration-then the idea that they would hold their collegues to any sort of account is an insult to the intelligence.
Added to which the scrutiny process has little or no support to investigate the cabinet.
They are supposed to replicate parliamentary select committees,but without any research support,or indeed any means of examining decisions with professional assistance,from day one scrutiny was a toothless process.
And one of my last activities as a Councillor was to chair the Finance Scrutiny committee during the Keith Davies 'administration'.

We could of course question and examine decisions, but only after the ebvent-decisions were taken and then 'called in'-but that was always retrospective and the administration had done what it wanted.

Added to which the modern system now prevents any real examination by the whole Council.there are less meetings,and many important decisons are either taken in cabinet in private or delegated to officers.
There is considerable disquiet amongst opposition members=or at least some-well at least Tony Clarke!-about how little elected members are allowed to know about the Council of which they are members.
It is clear that that disquiet extends to many members of the Lib-Dem administration too,where many of their back benchers feel that they are being given the mushroom treatment-kept in the dark and fed bullshit!
For many years it was the Labour party that argued for strong local government, indeed through the Thatcher reich it was Labour local authorities that kept the resistance going.Neil Kinnock described Labour Councils as the 'battered shield' of democracy.
For years it was the likes of the Scottish authorities,the London Boroughs,Clay Cross ,Sheffield and yes,Liverpool,that gave hope and inspiration to those who wanted better.
It was the inspiration of many Labour Councillors that persuaded many of us to get involved and create if not quite the Socialist Republic of Northampton at least a few 'red bases'-People's castle ward for one!

The last reorganisation was a disaster and if there is to be any semblance of localism left a decade hence then efforts need to be made now.
Here in Northampton we can argie again with considerable vigour for a unitary authority for Northampton, an end to the absurd cabinet system that ctrates two and three tier councillors and maybe,just maybe-the idea of a proper champion for the town-a directly elected Mayor answerable to the whole electorate of Northampton.
It would be good to think that the Labour Party-for so long the champion of local accountability would be leading the charge against this woeful Lib-Dem administration.
But sadly the famous five are showing no inclination to lead on behalf of the people of Northampton.
The labour leadership is non existant and lies supine at the feet of the Lib-Dems!
But then they did rewatd Keith with a generous increase in his special responsibility allowance!
Responsibility for what?