McCluskey and Labour: a view from Scotland

December 7, 2014 at 7:21 pm (elections, Guest post, labour party, scotland, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Guest post by Mick Rice

A CUNNING PLAN?

McCluskey: ultra left?

In 1968 I became a socialist. In 1969 I joined the trade union movement. In 1970 I got a job as a Research Officer for my union, the AEU.

One of my tasks was to prepare a report on what had happened to the union’s policies. In 1969 the union had sent a motion to the Labour party requesting an incoming Labour Government to nationalise the British chemical industry. I phoned the Labour party to find out what had happened. I was put through to Margaret Jackson (subsequently Margaret Beckett ) in the Research Department. Now I have a bit of a soft spot for Margaret Beckett as any politician who admits to ordinary enjoyments (she is a caravan holiday enthusiast) cannot, in my book, be all bad.

She told me – one researcher to another as it were – that the Labour party conference arrangements committee would have merged all such motions into a great big composite. The composite motion would have been written to sound as radical as possible whilst committing the Labour party to nothing whatsoever. The motion would have been rendered meaningless. I was shocked – I was still quite young – that I actually asked why the Labour party would do such a thing. She told me that an incoming Labour Government always sought maximum freedom to do as it pleased. The Labour leadership didn’t want to be saddled with policies decided by members and the unions. She was just telling me how it was and I do not believe that she was a supporter of such behaviour.

I had suspected that the Labour party was not quite “what you see is what you get”, but I was now made privy to the dark arts of political chicanery and double-dealing. Labour, then as now, was a top-down organisation where the members do the work to maintain a “Westminster elite”.

If anything it has become worse. Shortly before the 1997 election how we all ached for a Labour Government. Eighteen years of Tory rule had almost been too much – immigration or Dignitas beckoned if the Tories won a fifth term!

After a hard day’s campaigning one of my mates opined: “You know after 6 months of a Labour Government we are going to feel terribly let down”. The tragedy was that we all knew that it would be true.

In government, the Labour leadership maintained a vice like grip over the party machine and ensured that only its supporters were selected as parliamentary candidates. Some of us thought that things would loosen up a bit once we were in opposition – but not a bit of it. In Falkirk the disgraced Labour MP announced that he would not stand again following his arrest for a punch up in a House of Commons bar. My trade union, Unite, sought to secure the nomination for a union friendly candidate.

The Chair of the constituency Labour party, Steven Deans, who was also a union convenor at Ineos, campaigned to recruit more trade union members into the party. The right wing leadership was horrified as this would mean that their favoured candidate would probably lose. In consequence Ed Milliband called in the Police to investigate Steven Deans for potential fraudulent recruitment! The Police found “insufficient evidence” for a prosecution (basically he had done nothing wrong). By this time his employer had sacked him. Clearly Ineos were encouraged in their anti union victimization by the way the Ed Milliband treated Comrade Deans.

As far as I am aware the Labour party never apologised for its treatment of Steven Deans!

Political bodies are never willing to amend their constitutions when they are winning elections. After all there can be no justification for improving internal democracy when the electors support you! But next year in Scotland the SNP are likely to do very well – some polls indicate that Labour will lose 37 of its 41 Westminster MPs!

Len McCluskey, forced a fresh general secretary election last year because he believed that the union should not be distracted by an internal election campaign around the time of the general election. His re-election means he has a further 2 years as general secretary. He also said that if Labour loses that Unite could disaffiliate and support a new Workers’ Party. It is not often that union general secretaries can be criticised for ultra-leftism, but McCluskey is wrong, a thousand times wrong! Instead of asking union members to disaffiliate he should ask Unite’s Scottish levy payers the simple question:

Do you want the Scottish Labour party to be an independent body?

With the “vested interests” significantly cut back through electoral defeat in Scotland the trade union component of the party must have greater weight! Accordingly, most affiliated unions in Scotland would follow Unite’s lead and do likewise.

Even if Labour doesn’t lose the election and forms a coalition with the LibDems, or has a confidence and supply deal with the SNP, who have vowed never to support a Tory government, Unite should still raise this with its Scottish members.

Of course, an independent Scottish Labour party must also mean that the English and Welsh parties would become independent also. At one stroke the Westminster elite of careerists, ne’er-do-wells and apparatchiks that has dominated the party for so long would be dealt a death blow! Of course there is nothing to stop the new independent Scottish Labour party seeking electoral packs with its sister parties in the UK but control would be in Scotland and the leadership would be in Edinburgh! It will be somewhat easier to ensure leadership accountability on a more local basis and it will also mean that power right across the party will become regional.

Just at a time when Labour becomes more amenable to trade union interests, McCluskey is suggesting abandoning the historic party of the labour movement and setting up a new Workers’ Party.

Members of Unite should force him to see sense.

Affiliated unions in Scotland can change the party for good

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Scottish Labour: vote Findlay and Clark!

November 27, 2014 at 3:51 pm (elections, labour party, left, scotland, socialism)

Jim Murphy claims the Prime Minister behaves like a 'foreign dignitary' on his visits to Scotland

Jim Murphy : skeleton
 
By Dale Street
Neil Findlay MSP is the left challenger for the position of leader of the Scottish Labour Party, with Katy Clark MP standing as the left candidate for deputy leader.

Both of them are committed to rebuilding electoral support for Labour by a return to “the timeless Labour values of community, solidarity, fairness and justice.” They want Labour to adopt policies to attack poverty, unemployment, exploitation in the workplace, and health and wealth inequalities.

Both of them also have an established track record of campaigning for such policies. Unlike one of their competitors in the elections — Jim Murphy MP — they have not discovered such issues only after the resignations of the previous leader and deputy leader.

Neil and Katy have won nominations from Unison, Unite, GMB, UCATT, ASLEF and TSSA.

Constituency Labour Parties backing one or both of the candidates include Glasgow Kelvin, Cunninghame South, Coatbridge and Chryston, Almond Valley, and Carick, Cumnock and Doon Valley.

Hundreds of CLP and trade union activists have volunteered to help build support for their election campaigns.

In deciding which candidate to support for leader and deputy leader, Scottish Labour members and members of affiliated organisations need to face up to reality and recognise the tasks now confronting the party.

Between 1997 and 2010 Labour Party national membership fell by over 60% (from 440,000 to 180,000). Over the same period Labour lost five million votes and two trade unions disaffiliated from the party.

Scottish Labour membership is now around one fifth of that of the SNP. The party lost the 2007 and 2011 Holyrood elections. Electoral support slumped by a third between 1999 and 2011 and although an overall majority voted “No” in the recent referendum, what had once been Labour urban heartlands voted “Yes”.

Recent opinion polls put Labour on around 23% of the vote and the SNP on 52%. In a Westminster general election this would give Labour just four seats, and the SNP 54.

The politics which have reduced Scottish Labour to this pitiful state are the politics represented and embodied by Jim Murphy.

Murphy voted in favour of spending billions of pounds on war in Iraq. He has also voted in favour of a benefits cap for claimants. That sums up his politics: billions for war, but more attacks on the unemployed and low paid.

In an earlier life as President of the National Union of Students Murphy railroaded through the dumping of NUS policy opposing the scrapping of student grants. On a scale of one to ten, his chances of rebuilding support for Labour among young people are therefore zero.

People in Scotland, like elsewhere, are disenchanted with politicians. Murphy is not going to restore their faith in them. He rented out his property in London, and then exploited the parliamentary allowance of £20,000 to rent a property for himself.

Murphy has certainly won more nominations from career-minded parliamentarians than the candidates of the left. He has also won nominations from small and poorly attended CLP meetings. And the right-wing media have boosted him as the “odds-on favourite”.

But, symptomatically, the only union backing Murphy to date is Community (although USDAW may end up nominating him as well) – and Community is very small, very right-wing, very bureaucratic, and renowned as the union for labour movement careerists.

The problem is not that Murphy has a lot of skeletons in his cupboard. The problem is that he is the skeleton.

If Murphy is elected Scottish Labour leader, the party should rename itself Dignitas Scotland – the only difference being that Dignitas is about people dying with dignity whereas a Murphy-led party would be more likely to die a lonely, miserable, poverty-stricken death in the gutter of Scottish politics.

The time is long overdue for Scottish Labour members to have a leader who is not an embarrassment, one for whom they are not constantly required to apologise.

The last leader invoked Thatcherite language to attack Scotland’s supposed “something for nothing culture”. Her predecessor ran away – quite literally – from political argument. And his predecessor, despite having overall responsibility for the entire Scottish budget, could not even keep track of the rental income from subletting part of his constituency office.

Nominations by CLPs, trade unions and affiliated societies closed last week. The next stage will be to win further support for Neil and Katy in the balloting period, running to 10 December.

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Thornberry’s gift to UKIP

November 21, 2014 at 5:07 pm (class, elections, Jim D, labour party, middle class, workers)

Emily Thornberry's tweet

Above: Thornberry’s tweet.

Given the present state of British politics, and the present state of the Labour Party, it’s safe to say that Labour was never going to win the Rochester and Strood byelection.

Mind you, it’s worth remembering that maverick Labour leftist Bob Marshall-Andrews represented the constituency from 1997 until the last election, and though there have been boundary changes, Rochester is a solidly working class constituency.

But this time Labour knew that the predominantly white electors, with their concerns about immigration and misinformed scepticism towards Europe, were not going to vote Labour in sufficient numbers for the party to regain the seat. UKIP were always favourites to win, but at least Labour could comfort itself with the thought that the Tories were going to be the main losers and suffer the biggest humiliation.

That was until Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, and Labour MP for Islington South, tweeted the picture above, accompanied by the words “Image from Rochester”: the accompanying sneer could not be seen, but was all too obvious.

The wise and perceptive Anne Perkins commented in the Graun:

“It may be the most devastating message Labour has managed to deliver in the past four years. It’s already being described as the party’s “47%” moment – a reference to the observation that nailed shut the lid on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, when he dismissed the 47% of American voters who wouldn’t ever back the Republicans.

“It is really quite hard to come up with a more lethal tweet to send out to the party’s core vote on polling day.”

Mark Reckless’s comments on deporting EU migrants have shown that he is, essentially, a racist and (Farage’s half-hearted denial of this being UKIP true policy, notwithstanding) so is UKIP as a whole. But not all – or even most – of the people who vote UKIP are hardened racists.

To sneer at working class people who choose to display the St George flag and happen to own a white van, is to display a degree of patronising, middle class arrogance that only a particularly stupid New Labour career politician could possibly come out with.

As Ms Perkins notes, “One click, just one click, that’s all it takes. Ed Miliband’s Labour is once again the party of the metropolitan elite.”

P.S: At least Skinner’s back on form as he denounces Reckless and Carswell in the Commons: here

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Watch this and then tell us a Labour victory doesn’t matter

November 17, 2014 at 6:21 pm (democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism)

Pete Radcliff writes:

Those who argue that there would be no difference between a Tory or Labour election victory, watch this. If there are any socialists who don’t think they can connect with an election campaign run on these views – if they don’t think our movement will have their hopes raised by such a victory – I would like to know why.
Of course, hope and abstract promises don’t change the world – we would need to organise vigorously to make Labour in power do as much as we can of what we need.
If you don’t think this is the case, let me know. Go for it – I have the day off work (Pete wrote this earlier today-JD)

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Reports of the “death” of the Scottish Labour Left are exaggerated

November 17, 2014 at 1:03 am (elections, labour party, scotland)

Neil Findlay MSP
Above: Neil Findlay

By Vince Mills, Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective

The quote (actually a misquote) attributed to Mark Twain  that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated, could equally well apply to the Scottish Labour Left.  The vast majority of socialists in the Scottish Labour Party (SLP) campaigned for and voted “no” in the referendum  campaign. This in itself was enough for many in Left groups outside the SLP to consign it to the dustbin of history, rather  perversely given the long anti-nationalist history of the socialist movement.

Of course, and here I have some sympathy, this sat alongside  other accusations that the Scottish Labour Left had made little impact ideologically on the SLP, was numerically small,  and showed little sign of challenging for the political leadership of the party any time soon.

On Saturday 25 October, all of that changed.  It wasn’t just that the room booked for the Campaign for Socialism’s post-referendum analysis in the STUC in Glasgow  had standing room only; it was the renewed sense of purpose and commitment from so many of the speakers and participants.

First up among a high powered list of political, trade union  and local council speakers were Elaine Smith and Neil Findlay, both MSPs.

Elaine Smith argued that the reason for Scottish Labour’s  poor performance in its heartlands of Dundee, Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West Dumbarton was a lack of socialist analysis and socialist solutions.

“The root of the problem is class society; the root of the problem is inequality; the root of the problem is in-work poverty; the root of the problem is unemployment. The root of the problem is avaricious capitalism and our job and the job of the Labour Party, surely, is to root it out.” Neil Findlay spoke next, suggesting in some detail how Scottish Labour might go about the tasks that Elaine Smith had outlined arguing that Scottish Labour had to commit to:

• a policy of full employment;
• establish a national house-building programme to build
council houses and social housing on a grand scale;
• set up a living wage unit in the Scottish government that
would use grants, procurement and every lever of government
to raise the minimum wage to the living wage;
• re-democratise local government, financing services,
freeing councils to set their own taxes again and be held to account
for doing and so beginning to reverse the 40,000 job
losses across Scottish councils;
• end the social care scandal by making social care a rewarding,
fairly paid career and ending the indignity of shorttimed
care visits;
• create quality apprenticeships and new college places
that set young people up for life and develop an industrial
policy that promotes manufacturing and new sustainable
jobs;
• undertake a wholesale review of the Scottish NHS — recruiting
enough staff and rewarding them to ensure an NHS
for the 21st century and ending the increasing spend on the
private sector;
• and, finally, build a charter of workers’ rights and new
legislation on equalities.

Neil Findlay’s contribution was all the more important given the announcement on the day before the conference that Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour Party had resigned, citing unacceptable interference from the UK Labour leadership, and ensuring a Scottish Labour leadership contest.

Neil Findlay has since announced his intention to stand for the vacant position, allowing the Scottish Labour Left to test the support for a Left agenda in the wider party. The anticipation of this challenge on 25 October generated considerable optimism. Since then, the respected left-wing MP Katy Clark has announced that she will stand for Deputy Leader alongside Findley.

This left programme is far from the Utopian promises of the Yes Left because it is actually deliverable and this Labour Left is far from a historical footnote. It may actually be on the verge of its most important hour.

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Unions could give Labour a bold, popular programme

July 20, 2014 at 10:44 am (Cross-post, elections, labour party, posted by JD, socialism, unions)

This article by Jon Lansman was written before this weekend’s Labour Policy Forum and first appeared at Left Futures . We think it makes some very important points about the present state of the Labour-union link:

United-we-bargain-Divided-we-begDoubts about this weekend’s meeting of Labour’s national policy forum have already been raised by Jon Cruddas’s comments (£) about the “dead hand” of central control, which I argued remained a problem because of mistakes by Ed Miliband. Of course, party managers have ensured that Cruddas and policy forum chair, Angela Eagle, attempt to present a picture of Labour “united by a single desire” for “big reform, not big spending.” Press commentators at the Independent and Guardian reveal the truth – that party managers are set on preventing commitments to necessary, financially prudent and popular reforms like taking railways back into the state sector at the end of current franchises. As Patrick Wintour puts it:

Ed Miliband is facing a weekend of battles behind closed doors to persuade Labour party activists to back his manifesto, which faces grassroots challenges over railway renationalisation, welfare caps and labour regulation.

Note the reference to “party activists” and “grassroots challenges“. In spite of all the rows in recent years about the “power of the trade unions”, reaching a climax in the Collins report earlier this year, the pressure for a radical bold programme comes not from ‘union barons’ but from party activists. And there is every prospect that the trade unions will this time, as on almost every occasion in the party’s history, allow Labour’s leadership to get its way. Read the rest of this entry »

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Why the f*** is Labour backing Cameron’s EU posturing?

June 24, 2014 at 2:29 pm (David Cameron, democracy, elections, Europe, internationalism, Jim D, labour party, populism, reformism, stalinism, Tory scum)

EU Flag

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski sums up Cameron’s attempts to undo European integration:

“It’s either a very badly thought-through move or, not for the first time, a kind of  incompetence in European affairs. Remember? He fucked up the fiscal pact. He fucked it up – simple as that. He is not interested. He does not get it. He believes in stupid propaganda. He stupidly tries to play the system …

“His whole strategy of feeding [the Eurosceptics] scraps to satisfy them is, just as I predicted, turning against him; he should have said fuck off … But he ceded the field to them that are now embarrassing him.”

Sikorski is, believe it or not, considered a political ally of Cameron’s and (like the Tories’ bête noir, Jean-Claude Junker) a thoroughgoing reactionary. But, of course, that’s not the reason for the rift between Cameron and the Euro-Tories of the centre-right EPP. They agree on most aspects of economic policy.

Nor is it – despite Tory demagogy –  anything to do with the elitism, bureaucratism and lack of democracy of EU institutions.

In fact David Cameron’s attempt to veto the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to head the European Commission is no stance against elitism, nor an attempt to make EU institutions more democratic. Within the highly-limited standards of EU democracy it is the exact opposite.

Juncker is the preferred candidate of the conservative political bloc which won the largest chunk of popular votes in May’s European election. But Cameron isn’t bothered by the tally of the popular vote. He prefers bureaucratic manoeuvring and nationalistic special pleading. Cameron, with an eye on his UKIP rivals, wants to be seen to be “fighting for Britain”. No matter that there is no great difference on economic policies between Juncker and the British Tory party.

It would be a whole lot better if the political semi-union of Europe, which Cameron choses out of political expediency to object to, were more democratic, more transparent and were not tied to a drive to make workers pay for the crisis.

But it is still a big step forward for working-class people around Europe that barriers between nations have been drastically reduced.

At a time when migrants are being scapegoated we need those barriers to stay down.

The semi-dissolution of the barriers has made it easier to fight the class struggle across Europe. If the labour movement leaders of Europe had any imagination they could run powerful Europe-wide campaigns. For instance they could organise a Europe-wide struggle for a decent Living Wage, one which would could generalise much needed solidarity to existing struggles of low-paid workers.

Unfortunately there are a few on the left in Europe (but notably not  the Greek radical-left party Syriza) who oppose the existence of the political union of the EU: in the UK it is the No2EU campaign. The logic of their campaign is to advocate the resurrection of national barriers. In this way they add to the increasing toxic nationalism of UKIP and Cameron. But No2EU are, in the main, a bunch of brain-dead Stalinists whose fanatical little-Englandism stems from a visceral hatred of Germany and a bizarre, anachronistic perception of the EU as a threat to the USSR (by means of a time-warp, presumably). The derisory number of votes they picked up in the last Euro-elections means we don’t have to take them seriously – though RMT members may well be wondering what the hell their leadership was doing throwing away the union’s money on this reactionary irrelevance.

Much more serious – and worrying – is the present stance of the Labour Party. That pompous prat of a shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, has instructed Labour MEPs not to support Junker. If that was because Junker is an anti-working class, pro-austerity right-winger, then we’d agree. But no;  the wretched Alexander has made it clear that the Labour leadership supports Cameron’s quest for a less “federalist” (ie: more right-wing) candidate: “There can be no excuses. David Cameron has a clear mandate from political parties here in the UK – including Labour – to build consensus across Europe for an alternative candidate for president of the commission.”

What a disgrace! Or, as Mr Sikorski might say, what an incompetent, badly thought-through, fucking fuck-up.

 

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Brave Afghans shame (some on) the Western “left”

June 16, 2014 at 6:50 pm (Afghanistan, anti-fascism, Civil liberties, democracy, elections, ex-SWP, Guardian, Human rights, islamism, Jim D, liberation, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, SWP)

The picture below should shame anyone and everyone in Britain (and the rest of the West) who doesn’t bother to vote …

Image: Men show their fingers after the ink-stained part of their fingers were cut off by the Taliban after they took part in the presidential election Men show their fingers after the ink-stained part of their fingers were cut off by the Taliban after they took part in the presidential election, in Herat province June 14, 2014.

…but even more, it should shame those on the so-called “left” who have ever expressed (publicly or privately) any degree of sympathy for the rural fascists of the Taliban. You know who you are (and so do we), you scum.

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The Left must face the truth about UKIP’s working class support

June 8, 2014 at 4:12 pm (AWL, class, elections, Europe, immigration, labour party, populism, posted by JD, unions, workers)

Words of wisdom from Dave Kirk at Workers Liberty:

Pointing the finger: the Ukip poster for the European elections has caused controversy

Above: UKIP’s appeal to angry British workers

In the left’s comments on UKIP “surge” there is much about anger and disenchantment with mainstream politics.

It is true that there is an understandable revulsion against the politicians and parties whose policies and ideology accelerated the effects of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s.

Tom Walker talks about that anger in his article for Left Unity.

Walker sees UKIP’s support as primarily a repository for anger with the mainstream that is channelled against migrants, minorities and Europe by UKIP. He argues that a strong “populist” party of the left could channel that anger to progressive ends.

Other left commentators have argued a similar thing about the nearly two thirds of voters who abstained in the election. That many of them could be won over by a convincing left party, if it existed.

I think this is dangerous wishful thinking that ignores ideology. Neo-liberal, pro-austerity and anti-migrant ideas are the ruling and largely unchallenged ideas of the age. It would be patronising and wrong to think those working-class voters who voted UKIP were duped into voting for a neo-liberal anti-migrant party. They must to some degree be convinced by, share and reproduce those ideas.

We would also be kidding ourselves if we thought that non-voters shared a form of left wing anti-austerity politics rather then reflecting the balance of ideology amongst those who do vote.

We can win these people to independent working class politics, but we must face facts squarely. Those who vote UKIP or are so despairing that they do not vote are much further from socialism then most Labour voters or Green voters.

Anger is not enough to win people to socialism. We must consciously build a socialist mass movement, a socialist press, a system of socialist education.

To do this the fight to transform the existing organisations of the working class, the unions, is key. It will also require a fight in the political organisation most left-wing workers still look to, the Labour Party.

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For workers’ unity across Europe: not an inch to “No to EU” populism!

May 26, 2014 at 8:39 am (capitalist crisis, class, elections, Europe, fascism, France, Greece, internationalism, Jim D, populism, Racism, Socialist Party, solidarity, stalinism, UKIP, workers)

French far-right leader of the National Front Party, Marine Le Pen

French far-right leader of the Front National, Marine Le Pen Photo: AP

Ukip came top of the Europolls in Britain on 22 May. The Front National, which has a clear-cut fascist lineage, won in France. Populist and racist anti-European parties did well in other countries.

In Germany, the new, right-wing, and anti-euro AfD is at 7% scarcely a year after being launched, while in Denmark the far-right Danish Peoples’ Party gained three seats.

Greece, the country which has suffered most with cuts plans from the European Union and European Central Bank, is a partial exception to the rise of the anti-EU far-right.

There, the left-wing party Syriza for the first time ran clearly ahead of the main right-wing party, New Democracy. Syriza rejects the EU leaders’ cuts plans and proposes Europe-wide solidarity to break them rather than advocating “get Greece out” as an answer.

Alarmingly, the neo-Nazi (and anti-EU) Golden Dawn party came third with 9.4 of the vote, winning three seats. The other group gaining ground is a new party, To Potami, which is vague but leftish and not anti-Europe.

Greece shows that the left can provide answers to the social discontent, but only with an effort.

If the left goes halfway with the nationalists by endorsing “get out of the EU” as an attempt to jump on a populist badwagon, that will only help the right. Fanciful footnotes from idiots like the Morning Star and other supporters of the pathetic No2EU, which speculate that the re-raising of economic barriers between countries will somehow push towards socialism, are simply reactionary nonsense – and reactionary nonsense that achieved a derisory vote.

Voters persuaded that re-raising national barriers is the first step will inevitably drift to the serious, powerful barrier-raisers: the nationalist right.

“No to the EU” agitation, whether from right or idiot-“left”, threatens the position of millions of workers who have crossed EU borders to seek jobs.

We should instead seek to unite workers across the borders for a common cross-European fight against the cross-European plans of capital and of the EU leaders. Anti-EU populism, whatever “leftist” slogans may be tacked on, can make no useful contribution to that fight.

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