By James Bloodworth (reblogged from Left Foot Forward)
Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has just delivered his response in the House of Commons to foreign secretary William Hague’s statement on the crisis in Ukraine. The statements from both sides were fairly predictable – both condemned Russian provocations – but the Labour foreign secretary was right to press the government on what action it plans to take in order to pressure Russia into pulling back from Crimea. This was especially important considering the revelations yesterday evening that the coalition is seeking to protect the City of London from any punitive EU action against Russia.
But what about the rest of the British left? Well, here we find a wide range of positions, from the Stop the War Coalition’s apparent attempt to pin the entire blame for the Crimea affair on the West to Left Unity’s somewhat abstract and blanket opposition to “foreign military intervention” and “foreign political and economic intervention”.
The Labour Party
Douglas Alexander told the House of Commons that there could be “no justification for this dangerous and unprovoked military incursion”. In terms of resolving the crisis, he insisted that firm measures were needed to apply pressure to Russia, saying that the international community needed to “alter the calculus of risk in the minds of the Russian leaders by…making clear to the Russians the costs and consequences of this aggression”.
The shadow foreign secretary also mentioned the coalition’s apparent unwillingness to upset the City for the sake of Ukrainian territorial integrity, saying he was “afraid the United Kingdom’s words will count for little without more credence being given to these options and a willingness at least to countenance their use in the days and weeks ahead”.
Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire has written a lengthy 10-point post in which she tries to paint the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a rational response to NATO/EU provocations. There is a lot that’s wrong with the piece, and you could do worse than read this take down of German’s article in the Economist.
“Who is the aggressor? The obvious answer seems to be that it is Russia, but that is far from the whole picture…Ever since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the European Union (EU) and Nato have been intent on surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West, often installed by ‘colour revolutions’.”
Much clearer in its stance has been the Socialist Workers’ Party (surprisingly perhaps), which has condemned much of what has been taken as read by Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire as “Moscow propaganda”:
“Those who claim Yanukovych’s overthrow was a “fascist coup” are parroting Moscow propaganda. He fell because the section of the oligarchy who had previously backed him withdrew their support…Putin claims to be acting in defense of Ukraine’s Russian speakers—a majority in Crimea and widespread in southern and eastern Ukraine. But beyond a parliamentary vote in Kiev to strip Russian of its status as an official language, there is little evidence of any real threat to Russian speakers.” – Alex Callinicos, Socialist Worker
The Alliance of Workers’ Liberty has published a statement on its website from the University of Russian University Workers, which is unequivocal in its denunciation of Russian aggression:
“Declaration of the central council of the ‘University Solidarity’ union of Russian university workers:
“The central council of the “University Solidarity” union expresses its concern at the situation caused by the decision of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia on 1 March 2014, granting the president of Russia the right to use Russian armed force on the territory of Ukraine.
“We believe that this decision does not help the defense of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine and that it promises grave consequences. Support to the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine can be given by other means, by the means of state and popular diplomacy, by economic cooperation, by human rights.”
Encouragingly, the Fourth International has also condemned what it calls the “foreign policy adventurism of the current regime” in Moscow:
“War has begun. With the aim of protecting and increasing the assets of the oligarchs in Russia and in Yanukovich’s coterie, Russia’s leadership has undertaken an invasion of Ukraine. This aggression threatens catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian and Russian peoples – most especially for the population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Ukraine’s southeastern industrial regions…Today, the struggle for freedom in Russia is a struggle against the foreign policy adventurism of the current regime, which seeks collusion in forestalling its own end. The RSD calls on all sincere left and democratic forces to organize anti-war protests.” – Statement from the Russian Socialist Movement
Left Unity is an interesting one, and appears to draw a (false) moral equivalence between unwanted Russian military intervention in Ukraine and economic assistance requested by the Ukrainian government to support its ailing economy:
“The continuing political and economic crisis in Ukraine is taking a dangerous military turn.
“Left Unity takes the position that there can only be a political solution to this crisis and that neither foreign military intervention nor foreign political and economic intervention provide the answers to Ukraine’s complex problems.
“Whether under the flag of US, NATO, Russia or the European Union, military intervention only ever makes the situation many times worse. So it is in Ukraine. The West’s hypocrisy in condemning Russia for breaking international law is breathtaking: nevertheless, Russian troops hold no solution to the crisis.”
At the more extreme end, the Communist Party takes the Moscow line that the Ukrainian Euromaidan movement is ‘fascist’:
“The failure of EU leaders to uphold the 21 February Agreement on early elections has given sanction to a coup d’etat against a democratically elected government that threatens to destabilise the country and sets dangerous precedents for the future. The open involvement of US, EU and NATO leaders in the build up to the coup exposes it as part of the drive to change the geo-political balance in Europe in ways that threaten security and peace in Europe and the World… The Communist Party of Britain pledges its support to the Communist Party of Ukraine in its resistance to fascism, predatory capitalism and imperialism.” – Robert Griffiths, CP general secretary
…as does Workers’ Power:
“The bourgeois nationalist parties have taken power in an anti-democratic coup, using the fascist paramilitaries and rebellious police forces. Workers should make it clear they do not recognize the legitimacy of this government, its orders, the laws, and decisions of the counter-revolutionary Rada…The working class should not wait for outside intervention from Russia, nor allow the reactionary, undemocratic new regime to consolidate its power with the May 25 elections, held at gunpoint.”
As for the Twittersphere:
And on the right…
Now The Sun (which, like the Mail, has a record of publishing pictures of young girls with little clothing on) joins in:
Look, the truth is that back in the seventies, the left (reformist and revolutionary) was all over the shop on this issue. I’m pleased to say that my comrades and I (in what’s now the AWL) took a firm line on the question of under-aged sex and supported the principle of an age of consent (gay and straight) of around 15 or 16 – but there were some on the left who didn’t. Even a candidate for leadership of the Labour Party (in 1992), Bryan Gould, expressed sympathy with PIE, in a letter politely declining their invitation to him to sponsor their campaign.
The fact that some now-respectable figures in the Labour Party didn’t regard this as a particularly worrying issue, and didn’t protest about the PIE’s affiliation to the NCCL at the time, is symptomatic of the way things were then. That doesn’t make it OK, but it’s how it was, as the left struggled to come to terms with sexual politics, and sophisticated paedophiles cynically utilised the gay rights/sexual liberation agenda to legitimise their cause in the eyes of naïve idiots on sections of the left at the time.
It’s significant that amongst the loudest voices raising the alarm about the PIE at the time were gay activists, who didn’t want to be associated with paedophilia.
The far left, with one or two exceptions (the IMG and the pre-fusion WSL, neither of which now exist) was hostile to the PIE.
I know it’s what old gropers and their apologists always say, but on this matter it’s true: the past is another country. That doesn’t excuse those who were negligent and/or indifferent at the time, but it is the context.
And, certainly, the Sun and the Mail have no right to witch-hunt anyone over this .
By Johnny Lewis (with help from Colin Foster)
The Executive Council (EC) of Unite today voted to back the Collins proposals on the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions. Apparently, just 13 members voted against and the union’s United Left was split three ways, with some voting in favour, some against and some abstaining.
Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey had already made his attitude clear by ensuring that the two Unite full-time officials on Labour’s Executive voted for the proposals on 4 February. The Unite lay rep on the Labour Executive, Martin Mayer, abstained (and is reported to have done the same at the EC), while stating that he does not like the proposals.
It is, sadly, a traditional approach of trade union leaders: to accept bad proposals without a fight because they are pleased with the adroit negotiation which made the proposals not as bad as they might have been, and they think that further “boxing clever” can curtail the remaining evils.
It looks as if most union leaders will follow McCluskey’s lead when the proposals go to a two-hour Labour Party special conference at the Excel Centre in London on 1 March.
Local Labour Party delegates, and as many unions as possible, should still vote against the proposals on 1 March, if only to lay down a marker for the battles between now and 2019 and to register a principle.
The principle is that no-one should vote for a far-reaching package like Collins’s unless they are positively convinced that it is good, and that they have had adequate space to consider, debate, and amend the package.
In fact the Labour leaders have planned 1 March as a “coronation” for the package. Moves are afoot to seek a vote in parts on the package, but that will take a struggle. Scope for amendments? None.
The evil in Collins is not so much in what it proposes immediately (though that includes bad things) as in its projection for 2019:
“After a transitional period of five years, affiliation fees shall only be accepted on behalf of levy payers who have consented to the payment of such fees. At that point, the scale of a trade union’s collective affiliation shall be governed by the number of levy payers who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees”.
That reads bland and technical, but it is not. The gist is the very opposite of the blather about building Labour as a mass working-class party.
Individual not-very-politically-active trade unionists currently have a political say through their unions’ collective representation in the Labour Party and through the right to vote on Labour leader and deputy leader.
Under the Collins plan, from 2019 all those individuals who fail or forget to tick a box on a form will be compulsorily “opted out” from their unions’ democratically-decided, collective, political action in the Labour Party, and form their individual voting rights in the Labour Party.
It is not spelled out in Collins’s text, but the aim here is to engineer smaller affiliation numbers so as to gain leverage for reducing the unions’ representation at Labour conference and in Labour committees.
Such reduction will increase the overweighting in the Labour Party of professional politicians, advisers, researchers, think-tankers, and their business-people friends.
It will firm up the characteristics of the Labour Party that shape the leaders’ current policies for continued pay freezes and cuts after 2015, and a feeble fight against the Tories.
Rumour has it that Unite will reduce its formal Labour-affiliation numbers soon, and the GMB will reduce its numbers too, though not as much as it said it would a few months ago.
The “clever” idea here seems to be that if unions’ formal affiliation numbers have already been reduced before 2019, at a time when unions still have their 50% vote at Labour Party conference, then the reduction to box-ticking numbers in 2019 will not be steep and will give less fuel to the Labour right-wingers who want to reduce union representation.
But the 2019 plan should be contested head-on.
The Defend The Link campaign is preparing material to tease out the detail of the Collins report, and will be active at the conference on 1 March.
And after that the battle must continue. Only two rule changes are to be voted on 1 March. Properly, the proposed shift in 2019 should require a further rule change.
Some Labour Party insiders warn that the leadership may try to make the shift without a rule change, but that can and should be contested.
A lot of people, including even labour movement activists, are mystified and/or simply bored by the arcane details of the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions, and Miliband’s proposals (contained in the Collins report) to “reform” that relationship. This is, though, a vitally important issue for anyone concerned about working class representation in British politics today.
As a service to the movement, we publish below, two articles on the Collins report, one broadly supportive and the other opposing it. The first article appeared in the Morning Star and while factually accurate, is clearly written by a supporter of the proposed changes; the second is by Martin Thomas of the Defend the Link campaign.
The new rules, and how it will all happen
Every individual member of an affiliated trade union will be given a straight Yes or No choice about whether they want to pay a small sum to ensure their union’s voice is heard within the party.
Trade unions will continue to affiliate collectively to Labour but, for the first time, the payment of affiliation fees will become a wholly transparent process based on individual positive consent.
These reforms will be introduced in 2014 and will apply to new members of affiliated organisations first. They will be fully implemented for existing members of such organisations within five years. During this period, affiliated organisations will be encouraged to help the party maximise the number of people who agree to pay an affiliation fee.
At the end of this period, the affiliation of each organisation will be determined by the number of members who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees. Only those who have chosen to pay will be counted.
Around 20,000 existing registered supporters who do not wish to join the Labour Party will be asked if they wish to pay a fee to have a bigger say in the party.
Those who do will also be asked if they wish – at no extra cost – to become an affiliated supporter who has a direct relationship with the party as an individual.
For the first time, the party would then be able to contact affiliated people directly.
They would be invited to take part in local campaigns, policy discussions and fund-raising.
Also, affiliated supporters would be attached as an individual to their constituency party – but with no rights over local or parliamentary selections.
The party leader and deputy leader will in future be elected according to one member, one vote. The existing electoral college will be abolished.
In addition to being given a choice over the payment of fees, members of trade unions and other affiliated organisations will be asked if they want to have an individual voice within it.
Those who wish to become an affiliated supporter will have a single vote in the leadership election, along with MPs, individual party members and registered supporters from all walks of life who have paid a small fee.
Under the new rules, all the ballot papers will be issued by the Labour Party centrally which would hold the personal contact details of affiliated supporters.
Unions and other affiliated organisations will no longer issue their own ballot papers.
Over the five-year transition, only those members of affiliated trade unions who have separately signed up to become affiliated supporters and consented to pay an affiliation fee will be given a vote in any leadership contest.
Currently, candidates for leader and deputy leader must secure the nominations of 12.5 per cent of MPs before being allowed to enter the contest.
The role of MPs in the nomination process would be strengthened so that only those who secured 20 per cent of nominations from MPs will be allowed to contest.
Labour wants to significantly increase the present number of 20,000 registered supporters who participate in campaigns and work with constituency parties.
These registered supporters will have similar rights to affiliated supporters, and in return for a registration fee, will be given an equal vote in leadership elections.
Full individual members of the party will remain the only people who can select parliamentary candidates, become constituency delegates to party conference or stand for election as Labour councillors or representatives.
A primary election will be held to choose Labour’s candidate for mayor of London. Currently this selection is not reserved solely for individual party members, but is conducted through another electoral college in which unions and other affiliated organisations have 50 per cent of the vote.
It is proposed that this selection is also conducted on one member, one vote principles, with members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters all equal.
New rules governing selection of parliamentary candidates will involve standardised and regulated constituency agreements “so that no-one can allege individuals are being put under pressure at local level.”
A strengthened code of conduct for selections will involve a swift timetable and guarantees that local members have proper interaction with their candidates.
A limit will be imposed on spending by potential candidates in pursuit of selection, with a cap on campaign donations.
Labour: reject the Collins report!
Ray Collins’s proposals for the Labour Party special conference on 1 March seem to, or even do, change little immediately. But they contain a time-bomb designed to change things radically, and for the worse, in five years’ time.
Delegates on 1 March should vote against unless they are sure about the changes and have had time to discuss them properly, rather than voting for unless they are totally sure they understand the case against.
In fact there is no chance of proper time to discuss the changes. As we write, Collins’s text has still not been published, less than four weeks before the conference. The platform will not allow amendments, or voting in parts. The conference is only two hours, and much of that assigned to setpiece platform speeches. So there will be little debate, and even that probably unbalanced.
Over the last seven months, since Ed Miliband declared his plan to make trade unionists’ Labour Party affiliation “opt-in” rather than “opt-out”, most union leaders have opposed the idea. The danger now is that they will soften their opposition and back Collins in the name of “unity”.
Collins’s time bomb says that from 2019 the Labour Party should accept affiliation fees from unions only in proportion to the number of members for whom those unions have sent details to the Labour Party as have ticked a box saying that they want part of their political levy to go to Labour.
Probably that will reduce the union-affiliation numbers considerably below the current 2.7 million. Collins expects so. He and others clearly want that, so that after 2019 they can reduce the unions’ voting power within the party. That is what it is all about.
The requirement for members to tick a box – i.e., that all who fail or forget to express a choice should be counted as “opting out”, rather than those who want to “opt out” of the union’s collective decision to affiliate having to say so – is presented as democratic.
But what would we think, in unions, if members had to tick a box to say they want to vote in union elections, and only got a ballot paper if they had previously ticked a box?
Or if members had to tick a box to say that they, individually, wanted to support the union’s political campaigns on the NHS or the Living Wage, and political fund money could be spent on those campaigns only if it could be attributed to individuals who had ticked a box?
Or if members had to tick a box to say that they, individually, wanted to take part in union ballots on strikes, and could be balloted and strike only if they had previously ticked that box?
Box-tickers will pay no extra in union dues. But the incentive to tick the box will be small even for solid Labour supporters. The only gain of substance for the individual from ticking the box is that she or he will not lose their current right to vote in Labour leadership elections. But the next Labour leadership poll could be ten years away.
And if no candidate can stand for Labour leader unless nominated by 20% of Labour MPs – which Collins is also reported to propose – then the leadership poll is likely to be small contest anyway. The sweetener of removing the MPs’ overweighted votes in leadership polls is a small thing by comparison.
It is not yet clear when the substantive rule changes will be put. The best information as of now is that on 1 March rule changes will be put only on primaries and on leadership elections, not on affiliation procedures. So a later rule change will be necessary on affiliation procedures.
Even if Collins wins on 1 March, unions and CLPs should oppose that rule change when it comes forward. We should combat any resurgence of the mood of defeatism which prevailed in July 2013 – “the Labour-union link is going to be broken, there’s no way of stopping it, it’s really not even worth campaigning on the issue”.
Collins’s complicated proposals, which will create great administrative difficulties and damage to Labour finances, are designed only to create a lever for reducing the union vote in the Labour Party. Talk of the proposals increasing the involvement of individual trade unionists is hypocritical. The proposals will allow some individual trade unionists to keep the right they have now, of voting for Labour leader; remove that right from others; and remove from all trade unionists the right to have their basic representative organisations, the unions, exercising control in a party which claims to be “Labour”.
The unions do not always vote left-wing. Far from it: in long tracts of Labour’s history, the union block vote was a prop for the old Labour right wing. But the union vote in the Labour Party institutionalises openings, in times of working-class political ferment, for workers to use their basic organisations to sway Labour, through a range of channels from Labour annual conference to trade-union delegacies to local Labour Parties.
That is why the new Labour right wing wants to curtail the union vote. That is why we should oppose the Collins report; and, if it is passed, fight each inch of way over the next five years to stop its time-bomb being exploded.
The situation in Gaza is bad but to compare it to the Holocaust is grotesque. Yasmin Qureshi is right to have apologised
By Mark Ferguson, re-blogged from Labour List:
As I rule I try to write about the Middle East only when necessary so as to avoid the black hole into which all online commentary about the that subject inevitably falls. But sometimes someone who should know better says something so completely wrong – and they have to be pulled up on it.
Here’s what Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said in a Westminster Hall debate:
“What has struck me in all this is that the state of Israel was founded because of what happened to the millions and millions of Jews who suffered genocide. Their properties, homes and land – everything – were taken away, and they were deprived of rights. Of course, many millions perished.
“It is quite strange that some of the people who are running the state of Israel seem to be quite complacent and happy to allow the same to happen in Gaza.”
Now it seems very clear to me that the situation in Gaza, and the hardship faced by so many of those who live there, is harsh. The Palestinian people deserve the right to their own state, and have suffered incredibly for many decades. Cameron once called the Gaza Strip a “prison camp” – that seems an accurate description
But to compare the treatment of people in Gaza to the holocaust is grotesque. Qureshi appears to be comparing the situation in Gaza with the mechanised and industrial extermination of an entire people. No-one who has seen the gas chambers and the ovens of Auschwitz could honestly make such a comparison. No-one who has any knowledge of the mechanical way in which Jews were rounded up, shipped off and murdered in the Holocaust could compare any other form of oppression or repression to that cold, calculated and brutal attempt at extermination.
I’m afraid that however strong your feelings are on the undoubted injustices that the people of Gaza have faced, they are not seeing anything comparable to the holocaust.
Yasmin Qureshi should apologise. And she must do it today.
Update: I’ve had a response from the party – and it’s fair to say I’m not impressed. Here’s what they’ve said:
“These remarks were taken completely out of context. Yasmin Qureshi was not equating events in Gaza with the Holocaust. As an MP who has visited Auschwitz and has campaigned all her life against racism and anti-Semitism she would not do so.”
Except it’s clear from reading the full quote of what Qureshi said (see above) and reading the whole Westminster Hall debate – which we’ve linked to – that Qureshi was making a comparison between the impact of the Holocaust and the situation in Gaza, whether that was her intention or not. Instead of trying to get her off the hook, the Labour Party should be telling Qureshi to apologise.
Update: Yasmin Qureshi has released a statement apologising for any offence caused by her remarks:
“The debate was about the plight of the Palestinian people and in no way did I mean to equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust.
“I apologise for any offence caused.
“I am also personally hurt if people thought I meant this.
“As someone who has visited the crematoria and gas chambers of Auschwitz I know the Holocaust was the most brutal act of genocide of the 20th Century and no-one should seek to underestimate its impact.”
Qureshi’s apology should draw a line under this, and rightly so. If there was no intention to cause offence or equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust I am happy to accept that. But it’s also a salutary reminder to MPs from all sides of the house – if you’re talking about hugely emotive topics, be careful with your metaphors, and don’t be sloppy with your language…
* H/t: Roger M
* Related posts at Labour List:
- The Holocaust was not simply a moment in time
- The Holocaust is the clearest warning from history of what happens when we leave prejudice unchecked
- As we focus on the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe – let us also remember what happened in Rwanda
- Labour and Gaza: Hamas is not Palestine
- Ed Miliband on Gaza: “a full scale ground invasion would be a disaster”
By Jon Lansman (at Left Futures, 22 Jan):
Yesterday [ie 21 Jan], the Scottish police confirmed that they had found “no evidence of any criminality” in their inquiry into the activities of Stevie Deans, who was until three months ago full-time convenor at the Ineos plant at Grangemouth (where he’d worked for 25 years) and Chair of Unite in Scotland as well as the sometime Chair of Falkirk Labour Party.
This is the second time, allegations against Stevie Deans have been investigated and dismissed by the Scottish police, the first referral having come from the Labour Party, the second from INEOS. Unsurprisingly, Unite yesterday condemned the fact that “the police’s time has been wasted by vexatious complaints and their attentions diverted from catching real criminals and solving real crimes“.
Labour regards the whole affair as closed, especially now that Karen Whitefield, the former MSP, has been selected as the Labour candidate for Falkirk, but there is no truth and reconciliation process in Labour’s rule book. Stevie Deans may have lost his job, Karie Murphy denied the opportunity to seek the nomination, Tom Watson lost his place in the shadow cabinet, and hundreds of people recruited to the Labour Party denied any participation in the selection, but no apologies are required it seems.
The whole affair was talked up by politicians (including some then in the shadow cabinet) and bloggers associated with Progress, making allegations of ballot-rigging based on nothing more than rumour and speculation, with the express purpose of persuading Ed Miliband to smash what’s left of union influence in the party.
The Labour Party’s investigators failed to speak to Stevie Deans or Karie Murphy who were suspended without a hearing, on the basis of a secret report, and Unite the Union, and its general secretary, were subjected to months of unjustified abuse.
Ed Miliband, on the back of his condemnation of the “machine politics” he claimed was evident in Falkirk, did indeed propose the most radical change in the relationship between the party and the unions, which he continues to seek in some form in spite of the collapse of the justification for doing so.
Stevie Deans and Karie Murphy deserve some apologies. So do Labour’s affiliated trade unions. And the biggest apologies should come from those associated with Progress.
What we are shortly likely to get instead from those associated with Progress, whatever appears in the Collins report, is criticism of Ed Miliband for not going far enough to smash what’s left of union influence.
Today’s Times carries an obituary of Peter Griffiths, who died on November 20th, aged 85. I was astonished to learn that this vile creature lived until so recently, and though he lost his Smethwick seat in 1966, returned as an MP (for Portsmouth North) from 1979 until 1997. Presumably, he remained a Tory to the end. I reproduce the obituary for the benefit, in particular, of readers unfamiliar with the 1964 Smethwick election and the events that followed:
Above: Peter Griffiths at the time of the Smethwick election
In a parliamentary row that galvanised Westminster in in the opening days of the return of Labour to office in 1964 after 13 years in opposition, the newly elected Conservative MP for Smethwick, Peter Griffiths was branded a “parliamentary leper” by the incoming Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. It happened in an astonishing series of exchanges that prefigured the violent language of the race debate conducted by Enoch Powell later in the decade.
Wilson was furious that his intended Foreign Secretary, the scholarly and liberal-minded Patrick Gordon Walker, had been defeated in his Smethwick constituency after a campaign in which Griffiths had shrewdly exploited local tensions over immigration and the housing shortage in the West Midlands.
Griffiths always denied ever using the electioneering slogan “If you want a n***** for a neighbour, Vote Labour”. It was pointed out that he had done nothing to repudiate, much less ban, placards carried by his supporters bearing the offensive electioneering slogan.
In Parliament, in some of the most extraordinary scenes ever witnessed during a Queen’s Speech debate, the Prime Minister upbraided the leader of the Opposition, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, for refusing to disown Griffiths. Castigating the new MP for having run an “utterly squalid” campaign, Wilson told the House: “If Sir Alec does not take what I am sure is the right course, Smethwick Conservatives will have the satisfaction of having sent a member who, until another election returns him to oblivion, will serve his time as a parliamentary leper.”
There was uproar. The Speaker, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, was urged by the opposition benches to make the Prime Minister retract his remarks. Hylton-Foster declined to do so, although admitting that he deplored Wilson’s comments. Uproar continued for ten minutes and a score of Tory MPs had walked out of the chamber before order was restored.
In the event, Wilson was prescient. At the general election in 1966 Griffiths lost his Smethwick seat to the actor and Labour candidate Andrew Faulds. He did not return to Parliament until 1979, at Portsmouth North. He was never to be such a conspicuous figure in Parliament again.
Griffiths did not count himself among far Right Tories. Yet he supported Smethwick council, of which he had been a member since 1955, when it tried to buy up a row of houses to let exclusively to white families. The purchase was blocked by the Labour Housing Minister Richard Crossman.
After his defeat at Smethwick in 1966, Griffiths returned to teaching. He had been head-master of a primary school, Hall Green Road, West Bromwich, at the time of the election. In 1967 he became a lecturer in economics at Portsmouth College of Technology where he spent the next dozen years. In the meantime he had published A Question of Colour? (1966) in which he claimed “no colour prejudice”. The book blamed the spread of disease on immigrants and praised South Africa as a “model of democracy”.
Griffiths unsuccessfully contested Portsmouth North in the February 1974 election which returned a minority Labour administration to office.
In the general election of 1979 which propelled the Tories back to power under Margaret Thatcher, Griffiths captured the seat with a large majority. For the next 18 years he was an assiduous backbencher, making his opposition clear to his constituents and the government on such issues as defence cuts as they might affect Portsmouth Dockyard. In the general election of 1997 which brought Labour to power under Tony Blair he lost his seat.
By Roland Wright
A decade ago Paul Hutcheon was an investigative reporter. But now he just hunts with the pack.
Could the decline in the paper’s circulation be in anyway related to the decline in the quality of its journalism?
“Leading Labour MSP Urged to Resign After Taking Part in Unite Demo Outside Director’s House,” read the headline above an article by Hutchinson in yesterday’s edition of the paper.
Over five weeks after the event, the giant inflatable rat used in a Unite protest outside the house of an Ineos director had made a comeback: “Smith was one of 13 people pictured. He was standing next to the rat.”
Hutcheon’s use of the hack-journalist technique of guilt-by-association was positively breathtaking. It ran as follows:
The rat was next to Drew Smith who was next to his aide Michael Sharpe who is the son of Cathie Jamieson MP who is part of Ed Ball’s shadow treasury team at Westminster.
Sharpe, luckily for him, was not standing next to the rat. He was “holding a placard.” A very unconventional activity for someone taking part in … a protest.
Not that Hutcheon actually refers to the event as a protest. Deploying his wordsmith skills to the utmost, he writes instead of “the Unite trade union’s notorious ‘leverage’ demo.”
Another problematic aspect to the article was that Smith was not actually taking part in the protest (not that there would have been anything wrong with his participating, especially given that he is chair of the Labour Trade Union Group in Holyrood.)
The Unite protest coincided with the Dunfermline by-election campaign for the Holyrood seat left vacant after the resignation of the incumbent SNP MSP.
Along with two of his aides, Smith happened to be distributing Labour by-election leaflets on the estate where the Unite protest was taking place.
This certainly makes a mockery of the anonymous “senior party source” quoted by Hutcheon: “A trade unionist with any sense would not have gone within a hundred miles of that protest.”
Clearly, there wouldn’t have been much point in distributing leaflets calling for a Labour vote in the Dunfermline by-election over a hundred miles away in Inverness.
But the bigger problem with the article is the headline reference to Smith being “urged to resign.” By whom was he being “urged to resign”?
Why, none other than Eric Joyce MP!
That’s the Falkirk MP with the chequered history of drunken brawls in the House of Commons and Edinburgh Airport, dalliances with a 17-year-old schoolgirl, drink-driving, refusing to take a breathalyser test, and record claims for parliamentary expenses.
When it comes to speaking out about parliamentarians who should resign, Joyce clearly commands no small degree of authority on such matters! In a comment unlikely to endear him to local councillors, Joyce said:
“The image of a Labour shadow cabinet member smiling as he takes part in a leverage squad outside someone’s home is thoroughly nauseating. He should resign immediately.”
“The Scottish shadow cabinet doesn’t feel like a serious prospect at the moment. Members are content to operate at the level of the local councillor which some of them remain.”
A non-story about a man who stood next to a giant inflatable rat over five weeks ago?
It’s hardly investigative journalism. In fact, it’s not even news.