Sunday, 31 May 2015

Maybe what we need is a movement not a party

It seems to me that all the values that the Labour party once had are long gone.It comes to something when an old left wing warhorse like Dennis Skinner is more concerned about where he sits in the House of Commons than who he aligns his politics with.
Of course the SNP are not a socialist party,but its about five decades at least when the Labour party could claim to be a socialist party.The last leader I heard describe the party as such was Attlee after his election victory in 1945.
The SNP are however a party of a different type.They are predominantly young, they mostly don't come from the 'political class' of special advisers, political groupies,party hacks or London based mediocrities who once,decades ago,worked on a trade union journal for a few months!
The SNP are also a mixture of folk like those who elected them, and they are exuberant and irreverent and do things normal people do.
When someone says something they agree with-they clap-they don't say 'hear hear'.They are disciplined and they are prepared to argue for what they believe in with a passion.
last week there was a debate ob zero hour contracts,albeit it was about such contracts in Scotland,but it was about an issue that during the election we were told the Labour Party cared about.I don't remember them putting geographical limits on zero hours,we only care about them in England!
So in the debate, 56 SNP MP's were there, 8 tories and believe it or not the people's party managed to turn out a whole half dozen!  
now I invite my few remaining friends in the Labour Party to explain this curious situation.Perhaps they were all spending more time with their families,maybe they had an important PLP dinner to attend,but one thing is for sure, they didn't give a flying fuck for their constituents on zero hour contracts!
Interestingly the SNP left a space for Dennis Skinners arse, and it is possible that he did later occupy it.But where were the rest?
I was thinking of trying to rejoin the Labour party as a £3 member,if only to write 'none of the above' on the ballot paper.
The candidates on offer are a sorry apology for the leadership of any party that claims to be left of centre.Right from the start they have conceded the ground to the tories, they all prate on about reducing the deficit,about making welfare cuts,about limiting migration and about continuing the privatisation of the health service.
Yet we have a possible parliamentary and extra-parliamentary movement emerging that is at the very least social democratic in outlook and potentially an even larger activist base that will move people in emulate what has happened in Scotland.
But its not just Scotland where there is movement, In Madrid and Barcelona it would appear that they are electing mayors not of a traditional party but from a broad anti-austerity movement.

I read a piece by John McDonnell, the left Labour MP arguing that there needs to be a mobilisation of all the left forces in this country if we are to take on this government.
I think he sees clearly that the Labour Party is unable and unwilling to make a fight that could involve thousands if not millions, that could re energise the trade union movement, bring young people into the battle and assist the dispossed to fight for their rights.
Strangely in his piece he made no mention of the SNP, perhaps he'd seen the letter from Labour's head office expelling a member in Scotland for urging support for the SNP.
It seems to me the traditional party model is as dead as King Henry, and we on the left need to understand clearly that the issue is no longer about selecting photogenic stooges to mutter platitudinous rubbish about aspiration and empowerment and hard working middle classes.
The Labour Party must change-or simply die.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

What's left for the Labour Party?

We went  to the civic reception on Thursday to celebrate the election of the new Mayor.I(t was a decorous affair with the Tory Councillors quietly on their best behaviour and the Labour Councillor,well quiet.
In the press they are boasting that they will hold the Tories to account, and they have announced a shadow cabinet that will 'hold the Tories to account'
Given the fact that decisions taken at cabinet are not open for discussion with the opposition and are presented to full council as decisions already taken, the best the opposition-shadow cabinet member or humble backbencher can do is to question the report.
To appoint a 'shadow cabinet' largely of first time councillors is as futile a gesture as you can make, they've had there five minutes of fame by making thr announcement.The future is quiet obscurity for five years.
But then the Labour party locally and nationally are all about playing the games by the rules that exist-for Christ's sake there was more conflict in Cromwell's parliament than ever there is now.
it's easy to see how the Parliamentary Labour Party can fall into the torpor of being part of the establishment.
The bunch of young SNP members have clearly annoyed the Labour Party,that pompous arse Gerald kaufman called them 'goons' because they did such naughty things as took photographs in the chamber,clapped and made mockery of the 'oath of allegiance
For fuck's sake!
Simon Burns, another pompous arse lectured the SNP members on how to behave in the chamber, and told them not to clap but to say 'hear,hear' or 'rubbish'.
He was horrified when they clapped him
i suppose the most disappointing aspect of that whole charade was the behaviour of Dennis Skinner.Once a powerful voice on the left now reduced to a 'national treasure' a tame parliamentarian prouder of the traditions of the House than his radical past.
There was a time when Skinner would have welcomed the young anti-austerity Scots to join him on the front bench and strengthen the voices against the establishment,against the policies of austerity,against the growing inequalities and against the slimy racialism that is seeming to pervade the political discourse.
But the old 'Beast of Bolsover' is more concerned about where he plants his arse than his principles!
And that sort of sums up the Labour Party May 2015.
The choice for leader seems to be between Andy Burnham,a former minister,Yvette Cooper another former minister and Liz Kendall,another former minister and a reincarnation of all that was wrong with the Labour Party.She is a supporter of Free Schools, defence spending,helping big business and kicking the unions.Peter Mandelson in high heels!
Of the whole sorry parade of potential leaders the only one I have any time for is Tom Watson who is running for the Deputy leadership.
But we all know what is going to happen, Burnham will win and in an effort to 'balance the ticket' some snivelling Blairite will emerge as the deputy.
Business as usual in the people's party.
Yet there is an opportunity for the first time in my lifetime for a real progressive alliance to be built inside and outside parliament to mobilise in the way that the SNP did in Scotland,to create a progressive agenda that could bring about real change.
Just think of a bloc in Westminster the SNP,Plaid,the Green party,and whar socialists are left in the Labour Party.Why it might even attract some real left leaning Liberals( I know that is unlikely given they are utterly useless,clones of Lord Adonis0 and outside parliament the trade union movement that is getting more than a little fed up,the extra parliamentary groups,Left Unity (that hopeful grouping inspired by Ken Loach's film 'Spirit of 45') and others willing to bury sectarian differences.
Remember Shelley's line:
"Rise like lions,fresh from slumber
in unvanquishable number,
We are many, they are few"
The world does not belong to the aspirational middle class-it's still ours!   

Sunday, 17 May 2015

A lot has happened since my last post

A lot has gone on since I last bothered to write my blog.It has largely been to do with the fact that I spent ten days in Northampton General hospital, my colon has become a semi-colon and I've been 'recuperating', or rather doing as little as possible and playing the wounded faun for as long as possible.
Why I've even had a chairlist installed to save me walking up and down the stairs.Sadly I've been sussed out and it goes in the next few days!
however my enforced idleness gave me a chance to think what is really important in this country of ours, and if I hear another bloody Labour politician bleat once more about the 'aspirational middle class' I will do serious damage to any aspirant labour politician that comes within my grasp,aas well as serious damage to the nearest bottle of single malt I can reach.
It seems to me that the most important example of aspirational politics was that achieved by my parents generation.
They had lived through the depression of the 1930's and all the horrors of unemployment,means tests,deprivation,poor health care and poor diet,lousy housing and premature death.They had seen poverty at first hand.
That generation also saw the rise of fascism in Europe and watched the ruling class cosy up to thefascists,why even the King who abdicated 'for the woman he loved' liked visiting Herr Hitler to be beguiled by the rhetoric of the master race.
Our parents generation more than any other had aspirations-not for big houses or fast cars or consumer goods coming out of every orifice.
They wanted jobs with security,decent housing,a pension, an education for their kids and a health service thatr worked for everyone.
They wanted a civilised for everyone, an altruistic society that had no losers.
Interestingly quite by accident the war radicalised many millions of men and women.
The ruling class had learnt one thing from WW1-that a bored and frustrated conscript army could create mischief bigtime.They were aware that armed soldiers could seriously fuck up a corrupt society.They had the lesson of Russia in 1917 and the Workers and Soldiers Soviets to remind them.
So in order to prevent boredom and disaffection setting in the barracks and the army camps they encouraged the creation of the Army Education Corps to engage the troops in 'purposeful activity.
I have no idea what they thought they were supposed to do-a bit of basket weaving,English folk dancing,pressing wild flowers?
My old man told me what went on.The tutors were frequently left wing teachers and lecturers and they initiated discussion groups with the men and women in the NAAFI, and they discussed the issues of the day.
They talked about the sort of world that they wanted after the war, they speculated on how things would be different, they examined the Beveridge Report that talked about a world without unemployment,povery,fear of want-they talked the language of aspiration and it was the language of socialism.
The L:abour party really couldn't lose in 1945.It's hard to beliecve now that there were even those in the leadership of the Labour party then who wanted to continue with the coalition with Churchill.
And there were those in the press who found it impossible to understand why soldiers threw out Churchill so decisively.
But then Churchill was part of the 'ancient regime' and the people of this country wanted hope not more of the same, they aspired  for something better,not more austerity and more poverty.
In 1945 the aspirational working class, and indeed much of the middle class wanted a comprehensive health service 'from cradle to grave' a housing programme that built decent homes for people,a public transport system and  those parts of the economy that were wealth creating in public ownership.
Whenever I think of that shopping list of aspirations I think of Brecht's poem:
"We don't want the patch,we want the whole overcoat"  
The SNP won convincingly in Scotland because they offered hope for a better future,not tinkering around the edges and a set of aspirational values for all the people-not simply the 'squeezed middle'.
I hope the next few months will see the coming together of a Progressive Alliance in these islands, the SNP,Plaid,The Greens, Left Unity and all the other progressive forces we can muster.I hope that the Trade Union movement can see where the future lies and I hope above hope that those sections of the Labour Party,who have been betrayed time without end will see for themselves what a hollowed out vessel their party has become.
For almost 40 years it was my party too,but frankly it is not fit for purpose, and any party that still contains Jim Murphy'even as tea boy,has no future.