Above: the reptile and its master
The very idea of Peter Mandelson complaining about “cabals” within Labour “trying to exert influence” is simply laughable. The reptilian Mandelson was central to New Labour’s 1990′s takeover of the Labour Party, when he and his Blairite cronies systematically undermined Party democracy, imposing ex-Tories and SDP’ers as parliamentary candidates while excluding long-standing, loyal members.
So Mandelson’s extraordinary bleating about the efforts of Unite in supporting working class people as parliamentary candidates, and in particular, the nomination of Unite member Katie Murphy for Falkirk, deserves to be treated with one bloody great horse-laugh. Unite’s alleged “manipulation” involves encouraging its members to join the Party and subsidising their first year’s membership. This is done quite openly and is entirely within Party rules. The support given to Blairite would-be candidates by Mandelson’s ‘Progress’ group, funded by multi-millionaire Lord Sainsbury, is much more secretive and conspiratorial. Yet Mandelson has the audacity to accuse Unite of “manipulation”!
Len McCluskey puts Mandelson in his place in an article in today’s Graun. Lenny’s a bit more polite than I would be, mind:
Peter Mandelson’s selection argument is about politics not procedure
Opposition to union-backed MPs is driven by a desire to keep New Labour the preserve of a socially restricted elite
You report that Peter Mandelson is accusing my union, Unite, of “manipulating selection procedures” in the Labour party, which “stores up danger for a future Labour government” (Labour warned on selection panel procedures, 13 May).
This does no service to Labour democracy or the facts. I have no axe to grind with Lord Mandelson. His second stint at the business department under the Labour government was marked by fresh thinking about industrial policy, which I wish he had had the opportunity to develop; and he seems more willing than some to acknowledge that the pre-2008 economic model was flawed.
But now he appears rattled that Blairite true believers are not winning every Labour nomination. Your report does not have him alleging any breach of party rules or procedural abuses, perhaps because there are none. Unite’s aim is simple – to recruit members to the party (welcome, I would have thought) and then encourage them to endorse union-supported candidates in one member-one vote selections. A sinister construction is put on this – “selections are being run by a cabal of union members”, according to your report. This is, to say the least, an irony. Many serving Labour MPs were parachuted into constituencies at the request of leading members of the last Labour cabinet, including Mandelson himself.
Dishing out seats on the basis of personal connections bears a closer resemblance to the rotten borough system before 1832 than it does to modern democratic procedures, and it also helps keep politics as the preserve of a socially restricted elite. Mandelson also appears untroubled that Lord Sainsbury’s vast wealth, channelled through the Progress organisation, has been used to give particular candidates, invariably on the right, an advantage in Labour selections.
Mandelson argues, correctly, that it is “wrong to conflate trade unionists and the working classes”, although the overlap is hard to miss. I don’t conceal that I want to see more Labour MPs supporting the sort of policies developed by Unite and other trade unions, regardless of their personal backgrounds. But Labour MPs look less and less like the people they seek to represent. The big strides made in securing more women Labour MPs have also, unfortunately, been paralleled by a decline in those from working-class backgrounds. Mandelson has no proposals to address this.
This is really an argument about politics, not procedure. Mandelson is probably intensely relaxed about cutting democratic corners if it means more “New Labour” special advisers and the like on the green benches, but utterly opposed to the normal workings of Labour democracy if it means leftwing or trade union candidates being chosen.
Let’s have the political debate instead. I am confident that most potential Labour voters want to see both a more diverse Labour party in parliament, and also a Labour government radically different from the last one.
Finally, I object strongly to his insinuation that union-backed MPs might be loyal not “to the party as a whole”, but “a section of it”. Trade unionists have always been Labour loyalists. Rightwing MPs, not unions, split Labour in 1931 and 1981, just as it was New Labour parliamentarians who fuelled the debilitating Blair-Brown factionalism that so weakened the most recent Labour government, as Mandelson surely knows.
We’ve argued many times here at Shiraz, that the mainstream hard-left’s traditional hostility to the EU (and its predecessors) has been ignorant, short-sighted and counter-productive. It is based upon a fundamental misconception: that British workers’ difficulties stem from Brussels rather than from capitalism itself, and that getting out of the EU would somehow, magically, remove – or, even, lessen- capitalist exploitation.
The present issue of Solidarity (paper of the AWL, the one far-left group with a consistent record of talking sense on this question), lambasts the attempts of idiots like Bob Crow, to delude our movement into imagining that there is a “left-wing” case for agitating against EU membership:
“Britain already has harsher anti-union laws and weaker social provision in most areas than the main EU states. It has resisted the Social Charter, the Working Time Directive, and the Agency Workers’ Directive. Given free rein, British governments would reverse their limited implementation of those EU provisions, and scrap other limited measures of worker protection such as TUPE.
“In the meantime, the workers’ movement would have been weakened by the nationalist demagogy accompanying EU exit – the nonsensical claims that British workers’ difficulties are due not to our capitalist bosses but to this or that official in Brussels – the replacement of worker-versus-boss agitation by Britain-versus-Brussels.
“Crow claims to set out a ‘left-wing, pro-worker case’. But when Crow, with the Socialist Party, ran a ‘No2EU’ slate in the 2009 euro-election, that slate denounced ‘the so-called freedom of movement of labour’ in the EU – in fact, the real, and welcome, freedom for workers in the EU to work and live where they wish.
“Another phrase it used to denounce EU migrant workers was ‘the social dumping of exploited foreign workers in Britain’. It was only a phraseological variant of the right-wing Ukip’s rants against Bulgarian and Rumanian workers”… (read the full article here).
But now the argument within the labour movement and Labour Party isn’t only about principles (crucial as they are): it’s also about tactics and pragmatism. With the Tories tearing themselves apart over Europe, Cameron aides denouncing the grassroots as “swivel-eyed loons” and Geoffrey Howe saying the Europe debate has reduced the party to “a new, almost farcical, low”, Miliband and Labour would have to be mad to come to the aid of the Tories by endorsing the call for a referendum on Europe.
Miliband would be well advised to say little on the subject, and watch the Tories self-destruct.
The EU, despite the unrelenting propaganda of the right wing press, is by no means as unpopular as the Tory-Ukip hard-right likes to make out. And even amongst those voters who express hostility to it, the EU ranks about 10th in their list of priorities.
So leave the swivel-eyed Tory-Ukip fanatics to it, Ed, and concentrate on jobs, housing and economic growth.
As for the fake-”democratic” argument (as touted by the Tory right, Ukip and -on the “left”- the likes of Crow and Seumas Milne) for a referendum: what’s wrong with offering all those who want to get out of Europe a real democratic choice: to vote for Ukip or the Tories at the next general election?
While searching Youtube for the famous (infamous?) “Kinnock: The Movie” 1987 election broadcast, I came upon this less well remembered, but excellent broadcast from the same election. I understand that Ed Miliband’s in a rather awkward position right now (not helped by Blair’s disloyal intervention), but he really ought to have a look at this, and reflect on the fact that there was a time when the Labour leadership felt able to tell the unvarnished truth about Thatcher, the Tories and what they represent:
The Thatcher fan club (led by the Daily Mail) howls with rage at those who dare ’disrespect’ her memory.
Remember when harmless, decent, old Michael Foot died?
From the Daily Mail (two days after his death):
NB: Wikipedia states that ”at the outbreak of the Second World War, Foot volunteered for military service, but was rejected because of his chronic asthma. It has been suggested (2011) that he became a member of the secret Auxiliary Units.
“In 1940, under the pen-name “Cato” he and two other Beaverbrook journalists (Frank Owen, editor of the Standard, and Peter Howard of the Daily Express) published Guilty Men, a Left Book Club book attacking the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain government, which became a run-away best-seller.”-JD
H/t Sunny at Liberal Conspiracy
Recalling the Commons and the Lords for “debates” on Thatcher yesterday was, of course, a grotesque act of political manipulation and well as an outrageous waste of money at this time of austerity. All 650 MPs were emailed with the message that they could claim up to £3,750 just for turning up. Peers could draw £300 for attendance. Then there are the tens of thousands for security and running costs as Parliament was not due back until Monday.
Former miner Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), one of many Labour MPs who stayed away, may well have been right to say simply ”I’ve got better things to do.”
But of those Labour MPs who did turn up, two were pretty good:
David Winnick (Walsall North)…
…and Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn):
Well done, you two: proper, serious and honest, reformists.
Cameron’s shameful, cynical speech about furriners coming over here to scrounge off our generous welfare system is just the latest manifestation of mainstream politicians pandering to UKIP and the racist right. The wretched Clegg’s been at it as well and Labour’s not above it either. In this poisonous atmosphere, even sections of the left are hamstrung by their anti-EU obsession. The Murdoch press and a former adviser to Frank Field (one of the most right wing Labour MPs of recent times) are not obvious sources of reason and enlightenment in this non-debate, but the following article came as a welcome breath of fresh air when it was published on March 8 in response to a speech by Iain Duncan Smith, acting as a warm-up act for Cameron’s performance today.
Naturally, I don’t agree with all of what follows, and wouldn’t personally have given either Field or Farage even the back-handed compliments (for “clarity”) that the author proffers, but overall it’s a pretty good piece. Actually, the bulk of it would make the basis of a good speech from a half-way principled Labour leader…
Benefit tourists are just political phantoms – It’s a myth that lazy foreigners are sponging off our welfare state. Our leaders ought to be straight with us. By Phillip Collins (THE TIMES, March 8 2013)
Some of the most testing problems in a democracy are the phantoms. When crime is falling but the people say it’s rising, is it prudent for politicians to declare the people to be in error? Is it ethical to pretend the phantom is real to show a popular touch? This week the spectre came dressed as “benefit tourism”, which in a histrionic performance in the House of Commons, Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, described as a “crisis.”
I would not suggest there are no foreign nationals in Britain claiming benefits in preference to work. I have no doubt that the official figures will miss some black market activity and fraud. But to suggest that Britain is in the grip of a crisis of lazy foreigners stealing our benefits is untrue, irresponsible and not worthy of a Cabinet Minister of good standing.
The very term “benefit tourism” suggests that people treat welfare states like holiday resorts. It is a claim that large numbers of migrants are taking advantage of the generosity of the welfare state and that is their motivation in coming to Britain. Not attracted by the higher wages on offer in Britain, the feckless East Europeans go to the trouble of leaving family and friends back home because — and only because — of the irresistible allure of British housing benefit.
This is an argument that carries with it enough rope to hang itself. But let’s demolish it with the facts as well. It is not true that EU nationals can walk into Britain and live instantly off the fat of the land. Anyone from the EU who wants to stay longer than three months has to be in work, seeking work or be able to show that they will not become a burden on public funds.
For this reason, there is no reliable evidence at all that this country has a serious problem with benefit tourism. Even if there were any serious studies that showed migration patterns are linked to benefit levels, which there aren’t, the rational tourist scrounger would go to France where there are no jobs and where unemployment benefits are much higher than they are in Britain and eligibility conditions are weaker. Yet not many Poles went to France because the French have this irritating habit of speaking French.
As it happens, it has been good news that the Poles came to Britain. People from the countries who joined the EU in 2004 are much less likely to be claiming out-of-work benefits than British-born people, even though more of them are of working age. Just over 1 per cent of Polish people who live in Britain claim unemployment benefit. The rest are working. We can object to the Poles on the grounds that they are foreigners taking British jobs that should be reserved for British workers but we cannot object to them on the grounds that they are bone idle. Read the rest of this entry »
Guest-poster Roger McCarthy did some canvassing for Labour in Eastleigh last week and is active in a not dissimilar southern seat:
1. UKIP’s breakthrough
First and foremost UKIP bucked a very clear general election trend of right-wing voters only giving them a significant (say 10%+ rather than <3%) share in seats where the MP (of whatever party) is so safe that a protest vote can be delivered without endangering the Tory’s chance of winning.
Now while Eastleigh is UKIP’s best parliamentary result ever it is presaged by previous recent by-elections where right-wing voters have deserted Conservative candidates for UKIP in significant numbers across multiple types of seats gaining 21.7% in Rotherham (safe Labour), 14.3% in Corby (Tory-Lab marginal) and 12.2% in Barnsley Central (very safe Labour), 11.8% in Middlesbrough (safe Labour)
Having said this they did not do anywhere near as well in Oldham (5.8%), Leicester South (2.9%), Manchester Central (4.5%), Feltham (5.5%) Bradford West (3.3%) or Croydon North (5.7%) all of which were safe Labour seats.
(there is probably also a strong correlation with ethnicity as well with UKIP doing – surprise, surprise – well only in very white constituencies and failing in those with significant BAME populations – even when as in Leicester and Croydon they somehow managed to rustle up an Asian or Black candidate themselves).
This brings out an interesting anomaly that of a historically very high 15 by-elections in just this first half of a parliament only one has been in a Conservative-held seat and 11 were in Labour-held seats (in comparison there were 14 by-elections over the whole 2005-10 parliament of which 3 were in Tory seats)
So we are not being given a real chance to see how deep UKIPs new found support is in Conservative and Conservative-targeted marginals as only two of the 15 by-elections have been in seats where the Tory had any chance of winning.
But with that note of caution this does raise the interesting possibility that the constant obsessive propaganda on immigration by the right wing media may have finally created a right-wing populist monster which they no longer can properly control electorally and that as has happened with the Tea Party in the US there are now significant numbers of right-wing voters so lost to elementary logic and reason that they will throw winnable elections rather than support candidates who are not right wing enough for them.
And as the only way the Tories can control immigration and give the base what they crave is by leaving he EU and this is not at all on the agenda of global capital this may create a UKIP threat which just could lose them the next election by splitting the right-wing vote in their target seats.
2. The Lib Dems hang on by their fingernails
Again the result seems to show a general and under-reported trend that the Lib Dem collapse in national polls is not being reproduced in those areas where they actually hold parliamentary seats and control councils – and that while they lost a great many votes in Eastleigh this time there are still people (and we met them on the doorstep) who believe that the Lib Dems are a restraining force on the Tories and cannot be persuaded otherwise despite all the evidence that the Tories have got through every single important item from their manifesto.
And we can’t discount the Lib Dem machine in their seats – clearly they were out in force and seem to have been particularly good at collecting postal votes and that these pushed them through the final barrier,
3. Labour disappointment
Increasing the historically very poor 2010 result by 0.2% to 9.8% is of course a real disappointment for Labour as people in the campaign office genuinely believed that they could raise it significantly toward the 1997-2005 levels of 20% and local polls all showed us doing somewhat (although not that much better) than we did on the night.
And we did run a serious campaign with an excellent candidate (Whatever one thinks of John O’Farrell’s New Labour politics he clearly was by far the brightest and most personable of the candidates) many MP and front-bench visits, hundreds of volunteers and 20,000 voter ID visits – a level of activity which compares favourably with that we put into key marginals and which seems to have been almost entirely wasted and goes some way to validating the views of Miliband-haters like Dan Hodges that we should have run no more than a token campaign.
But under this was a complete absence of any real Labour party on the ground – with just 158 members in summer 2010 (the last date for which CLP membership is available), Eastleigh was the 534th smallest CLP in the UK and they really cannot have had much more than a dozen or so even semi-active members before region and national HQ started busing in volunteers.
And like my CLP they have no councillors even in deprived urban wards (and Eastleigh has them with much of the town centre being visibly run-down) which should have vote Labour and this is a huge handicap on the doorstep – while the Lib Dems have 40 out of 44 borough seats (with the Tories holding the remaining 4).
On the plus side they were close to two of the exactly 4 Labour-held seats in the South East region and which do have active and effective CLPs – but Southampton activists are unlikely to have had much more grasp of local issues than those of us who came from further afield.
4. So much for the NHA…
This was the first real test for National Health Action which was rewarded with just 392 votes or under 1% and shows them to yet another clown party which has zero real support and if it did could only threaten Labour.
But even this was better than the wretched Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidate who got just 62 votes and was soundly beaten by three genuine clown parties.
The present horsemeat scandal presents Miliband and Labour with what should be a simple, unanswerable case against the Tories: more - not less - regulation is the only answer to this and other basic issues of human health, safety and general wellbeing. As with the banking crisis, the politics, morality and efficiency of the unregulated free market has been shown to be grievously wanting.
The case for increased regulation been presented to Labour on a plate.
The Food Standards Agency has had its staff cut by nearly half and its powers of inspection and enforcement delegated to the local authorities, who themselves have suffered massive cuts (their food sampling budgets have been slashed by 70%) and simply cannot carry out these responsibilities.
This fiasco is the direct result of the present government’s attempts to deregulate the food industry. And the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson just happens to be a leading “scorched earth” deregulator. As The Observer‘s not-terribly-left-wing Will Hutton commented:
“That everything Paterson believes in is so wrong is not just a crisis for him – it is a crisis for his party and for Britain’s centre-right media whose prejudices makes thinking straight in the Tory party impossible. A great country cannot be governed by politicians whose instincts and policies are at such odds with reality, so betraying the people, economy and society they govern. The horsemeat crisis is not confined to our food chain. It reveals the existential crisis in contemporary Conservatism.”
So why is it that (according to the polls), the public are not blaming the government, and seem to be accepting the ‘line’ being peddled by Cameron and Patterson: that it’s all the fault of the supermarkets and/or Johnny Foreigner?
We can only conclude that despite some effective interventions by the shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh, Miliband just doesn’t have his eye on the ball. Perhaps he’s too distracted by the useless “Blue Labour” vapourising of Jon Cruddas to seize the main chance when it’s staring him in the face.
And while we’re on the subject of the anti-EU poseur Cruddas, another issue arises as a result of the horse-crisis: as Hutton notes, “Geography means that Britain is inevitably part of the European supply chain. Our efforts at better regulation – and of catching wrongdoers – have to be matched by others for everyone’s sake, exactly what the EU was set up to do and is now doing.”
Yesterday’s Independent on Sunday reported:
It emerged yesterday that ministers are planning to abandon plans to opt out of new European Union regulations requiring producers and retailers to state exactly what is in their mincemeat.The Government had planned to request a derogation from labelling rules on “loose meat”, claiming that the move would limit regulation and cut costs for businesses. But ministers have laid plans for a u-turn after a parliamentary report on the horsemeat crisis said: ‘This is not the time for the Government to be proposing reducing the labelling standards applied to British food.”
An assessment of the opt-out plan, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), revealed that much of Britain’s mincemeat has too much “filler”, including fat and connective tissue. It warned that “a significant proportion of minced meat sold in the UK contains a greater proportion of collagen [connective tissue] than would be permitted” under the new rules.
“There are very sound reasons for proposing this derogation and we are consulting for views on it,” a senior source at Defra said last night. “However, we take the point that it would not be sensible to be talking about giving less information when the public are so concerned over what they don’t know about what might be in their food. I think this ‘preferred option’ will be redrawn, or even shelved, long before the consultation process is over.”
Time for Miliband to dump that posturing buffoon Cruddas, drop any suggestion of Euro-scepticism … and demonstrate some social democratic horse-sense.