Saturday, 27 August 2016

Farce repeats itself,first as farce and then as farce

Regular readers of my ramblings will be aware that I have a deep affection for the party of my youth-no not the Communist Party,or more precisely the Young Communist league) but rather that old warhorse of democratic socialism,the Labour Party.
One of the reasons the YCL threw me out,well amongst many, was that I found the notion of 'democratic centralism' irksome.
I could well understand in times of revolution and violent upheaval the need to maintain what leading party cadres used to call iron discipline.I understood why for instance during the Spanish Civil War each batallion needed a Political Commissar, after all in those times every comrade needed to trust each other,their lives depended on that trust.
That I understood, I knew instinctively that in a revolutionary situation discipline was everything, and each unit of the party was responsible to the one above, from the branch to the district to the Central Committee to the Political Committee.

But I found it difficult to relate that to the task of selling copies of 'Challenge' on a Saturday at the Nags Head.Would the revolution falter if I missed selling my quota ? Would those capitalist exploiters rub their fat hands together and polish their top hat if I failed to turn out on a demo. ?
Democratic Centralism was a futile activity in nineteen sixties North Islington, the proletarian masses of the Holloway Road were not buying into revolutionary change, indeed they were not even buying 'Challenge', and it was only a tanner!

Of course I might have got myself expelled even quicker if I had known that I shared my revolutionary aspirations with Peter Mandelson and David Aaronovitch !

So for a few years I pottered around left politics of sorts, whilst some movements held my attention and enthusiasm, like the Yellow Star Movement, CND,Anti-Apartheid and of course the huge anti-Vietnam War campaign, I was for much of the time a sort of political dilettante. 
For a time I thought I was possibly a Maoist,and whilst a student was almost 25% of the total membership of the Sussex Communist Caucus (M-L) Apropos of nothing in particular it was during that time I made a brief acquaintance with a very sharp guy called Alan Woods, who was a founder of what we now know as 'Militant'
But then he was a 'trot',the mortal enemies of us 'Stalinist' Maoist.
this by the way has all been a bit of a preamble to my main point.By the time I got to Northampton I had done the whole gamut, from the street newspaper of the 'Stoke Newington Peoples paper' to the intense study group of 'Theoretical Practice'-an Althussarian sect.
in Northampton there was very little left political activity, a few members of the old SLL,a smattering of anarcho-syndicalists and a tichy branch of the CPGB.
It was our next door neighbour,the redoubtable Doll Pickering who heard us ranting a bit in the garden and invited us both the the Castle Ward labour Party.
Now Doll was what you might describe as one to the right of the party.He was a great admirer of Reg Paget the then Labour MP (frequently described as being to the right of Attila the Hun)
But our fierce leftism did not phase Doll and she and the other older members made us welcome.
It was then a party in transition, and meetings at Charles Street were to say the least rumbustious.Every month branches and unions submitted resolutions and the debate was fierce and partisan.Ideas were explored,positions taken and defended and everyone was encouraged to engage and participate.
Of course there was endless plotting and counter plotting,voices were raised and tempers frayed.But as far as I can recall nobody burst into tears if the temperature got too high, and strangely enough everybody came back the next month.

It was as far as a party could get from the authoritarian discipline of a democratic centralist's true that Northampton got a bit of a reputation with the Regional Office,we were the District Party that was frequently on the naughty step, Yet when that happened it wasn't about personalities but about principle.When the SDP was created we were almost suspended because we refused to endorse as candidates people who were involved in defecting to the SDP.
The NEC were furious with us and even sent no less a figure than the late and very left wing MP Eric Heffer to reason with us.
Didn't work, and we would have been locked out of the party had a general election not intervened.

what is happening now is too tragic for words.Jeremy Corbyn was elected last year with a huge popular vote of party members.He was elected,we are now told he is unelectable !At the next General election it will not be those 170 odd MP's, or those geriatric time served peers or even the wealthy donors who will win the election, it will be the hundreds of thousands of party members who will go out in their communities and persuade their neighbours that the Labour Party is not 'New Labour' but the sort of party that Doll and her democratic socialists fought for all those years ago.

Sharp suits and soundbites don't win elections, surely Jim Murphy and his mates in Scotland proved that-what wins elections is sincerity and a programme that resonates.Clement Attlee was a PR disaster on legs-and yet....
What worries me most is the dubious behaviour of so many, the labelling of thousands as 'trots' the influence of large financial backers,the hysteria about intimidation and bullying,and the description of thousands of young and new party members as followers of a 'cult'

even here in sleepy old Northampton things don't look too good, former PPC's write a letter,using party membership lists to members urging them to support that Welsh bloke.The nomination of JC by the two parties by 78 to 13 strangely doesn't reach the Party nationally, three members are still suspended,with no charge brought against them for almost a year,some members are told of meetings,others are not.

There is as far as I can see an atmosphere if mistrust and suspicion,why has it changed ? Thirty years ago we would argue and disagree upstairs in Charles Street, in that big smoky room for hours, then we go for a drink together afterwards and plan what Tory ward we were going to hit at the weekend.There are big campaigns waiting for Labour party leadership in this town, and I don't mean collecting litter.
we have two Tory Councils whose incompetence and arrogance is exposed every day, Northampton Labour Party I am told has thousands of members.
Where are they ? maybe their not getting the e-mails ? Who knows ?

Saturday, 6 August 2016

When is a movement not a party ?

I'm getting a little concerned about the state of mind of some leading figures in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Only yesterday it was announced that Shami Chakrabarti, the distinguished civil rights advocate and long time leader of Liberty,the international human rights organisation( that the Labour Party has been associated with for many years, and indeed some of its leading members like Harriet Harman worked with) has been nominated by Jeremy Corbyn for a peerage.
She was the only Labour nomination in Cameron's retirement honours-and you would have thought the roof had fallen in!
Dear old Tom Watson got himself in a right two and eight.Whilst admitting that she was a superb candidate and would make a distinguished contribution to the Lords he bleated about the timing,the fact that it was Cameron's list and that JC had not told him!
then there was a flurry of criticism, the Chief Rabbi complained that her report on anti-semitism in the Labour Party  was not sufficiently robust, that is to say she didn't find hordes of anti-semites lurking in the shadows.
And of course St.Keith Vaz complained that he didn't know what day JC first told  Shami she was being considered.
This by the way is the same sainted Vaz who agreed to a new Zealand judge copping £500,000 a year for working three quarters of a year and then quitting on the child abuse enquiry.
Motes and beams seem to be the appropriate comment! 
But it seems at the moment elements of the PLP are trying to find,quite unsuccessfully to find any crime,real or imagined ,to nail on Jeremy Corbyn,to persuade Party members to vote for the immensely popular and well liked MP-Owen....?
What i find so difficult to comprehend,and maybe amongst me readership at the Labour Party Regional Office is why, if JC is so hopeless,the big beasts of the PLP were not queuing up to take him on ?Why was the challenge left to two middle ranking members of the PLP,one slightly better known than the other and she dropped out, leaving the Welsh bloke to campaign on a platform a pale shadow of Jeremy's!
What can you say about a Labour candidate who proposes a minimum wage Lower than the one the Tories are proposing !
I  feel a bout of Kinnock coming on, remember his outrage at Militant in Liverpool:
'A Labour Council (voice rising dramatically) a Labour Council scuttling round Liverpool and blah blah blah...'

however the strangest critique going round at the moment is the view that mass meetings are somehow not part of the project anymore.
A handful of people mincing around an ice cream van is somehow OK. but thousands standing in a square listening to a political speech:
'Well it's not cricket !'
Now I guess those right on Blairites (sorry that word may now be illegal) have never seen those old photographs of an earlier beared Labour leader haranguing a huge 'crowd' in Trafalgar Square objecting to a war (WW1 as it happens)
But then J Keir Hardie was always a bit of a dangerous subversive old premature hippie wasn't he.
then on top of hating mass meetings there is a resentment that such activities may just be part of a #movement', whilst so many of the PLP do not want a movement, they want a number of well behaved leaflet distributors who don't raise difficult questions, don't want a conference that might ask those difficult questions.Indeed it would appear that most of those distinguished Members would rather not bother with a party structure at all.Better not to have CLP meetings other than to reselect the sitting member.
Although to be fair when you see Westminster on TV there are few of them sitting there anyway.
All my life I have wanted a mass party, half a million members of a left wing political party.I'm so bloody excited.
But we need much more than a party that responds to parliamentary dog whistles.We need a party of the streets,of the workplaces,of the housing estates.We need a party of tenants and residents,patients groups,youth activists,anti-racist activists,anti-semitic activists,refugee supporters,disabled rights activists- you name the progressive cause then Labour Party activists should be taking the political initiative.
And that in turn will build the community activists,who will become the local councillors and the local MP's.
In building such a movement we expect it to work in parallel with building a trade union  movement.That means agitating, organising and educating (sorry for the old proletarian slogan there-it slipped in)
We need to see the union movement organising where unionism is weak,with the unemployed,the young,migrant workers.As part of that movement we need to see bigger unions, that elect their leadership and end the nonsense of small unions with big numbers of full tim staff.
As an aside the Labour Party also needs tom elect its full time staff too,no more 'appointments' for life.
Such a strategy will not just be for the next General Election,although of course you never know in these strange times.
Remember Socialism is not just for the next election or even Christmas- it's for ever!