The Communist Party of Britain and its mouthpiece the Morning Star, are all over the place on the forthcoming EU referendum. Never mind their contortions over Tory plans to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (and – yes – I am aware that the ECHR is separate from the EU, but the Stalinists’ arguments about ‘unaccountable transnational bodies’ and the need for ‘national sovereignty’ logically should apply as much to the ECHR as to the EU).
As recently as its May 9-10 edition, the Morning Star carried this wretched piece of ‘analysis’ of the general election result, including the following criticism of Labour:
“Support for an EU referendum and a more critical attitude towards EU anti-democratic institutions and neo-liberal policies might have stopped at least some working-class voters defecting to Ukip.”
Now, have a read of this, from today’s (May 25) Morning Star:
No vote for membership for EU citizens
Labour drops opposition to in/out vote
by Our News Desk
MOST EU citizens living in Britain will be barred from voting in the referendum on whether to sever ties with Brussels, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday.
The franchise for the referendum, promised by the end of 2017, will be based on that for a general election — meaning Irish, Maltese and Cypriots resident in Britain will get a vote, but other EU citizens will not.
Details about the planned public vote were revealed as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was due to hold talks with Mr Cameron at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence.
Legislation for the referendum will be introduced to Parliament on Thursday — the day after the Queen’s speech.
A Number 10 source said: “This is a big decision for our country, one that is about the future of the United Kingdom. That’s why we think it’s important that it is British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens that are the ones who get to decide.”
It comes after Labour’s acting leader Harriet Harman announced a U-turn on the issue, saying her party would now support Mr Cameron’s planned in/out referendum on EU membership.
She said: “We have now had a general election and reflected on the conversations we had on doorsteps throughout the country.
“The British people want to have a say on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Labour will therefore now support the EU referendum Bill when it comes before the House of Commons.”
Ms Harman added that the party will “make the case for our continued membership” and does not want to see Britain “stumble inadvertently towards EU exit.”
But unions have warned against Labour kowtowing to Tory wishes on the issue after Ms Harman accepted she shared some of the PM’s concerns about the need for reform, including freedom of movement.
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said Labour “must not give Cameron a blank cheque and should beware of the CBI agenda to turn the clock back on employment rights.”
He added: “Labour is sleepwalking into a two-step Europe, with UK workers having the worst rights in the EU for which a big price will later be paid by the party at elections.”
It’s difficult to know were to start in commenting upon this level of political incoherence: having urged Labour to drop its opposition to the Tories’ referendum, the Star now (fairly obviously approvingly) quotes unions warning against Labour “kowtowing to Tory wishes on the issue” and the danger of “turn(ing) the clock back on employment rights.”
Didn’t you realise that attacking employment rights (along with attacking immigrants) is what the campaign for a referendum has always been all about, you Stalinist muppets?
The pitiful incoherence of the little-England Stalinists would be almost laughable, if it wasn’t so dangerous to working class interests.
We need a socialist campaign to critically defend the limited working class gains that have come from EU membership, and to oppose the little-England, racist and anti-working class anti-EU campaign of both right and “left”.
NB: See also Comrade Coatesy
Somehow, this seems entirely appropriate:
A likelier explanation is that the SNP was able to project itself as both a bit left-wing, and safe, whereas Labour’s combination of general talk against “predators” with extravagantly cautious and tiny policies left it looking neither really left-wing nor really safe.
The SNP was able to scoop up a swathe of middle-of-the-road, disaffected-leftish, or left-on-some-things-right-on-others voters who in England voted Green, Ukip, or even Tory, or didn’t vote. Turnout in Scotland, 71%, was significantly higher than overall, 66%.
The basis for this SNP success is the surge of nationalism in Scotland, which allows those who see an independent Scotland as a welfare oasis and those who see it as a low-corporate-tax destination for global capital to imagine a common cause.
The British and Scottish Social Attitudes surveys are the nearest we have to statistics. They show Scottish people to be a shade more leftish than England, but no more than we would expect from the fact that Scotland’s population is more concentrated in big cities than England’s.
Trade union density is a bit higher in Scotland than in England. Like Wales, whose union density is a shade higher again, it has a higher percentage of public-sector employment. Two-thirds of Scotland’s population is in its five biggest city areas, and only 33% of England’s. 35% of Wales’s population is in three city areas.
36% of voters in England and Wales wanted more tax and more social spending; 52% of voters wanted to stay the same; 7% wanted tax cuts and spending cuts. In Scotland it was 44%, 48%, 5%.
Although Scotland has no university tuition fees, 73% in Scotland said it should have; 78% in England and Wales supported fees.
40% in Scotland want the EU to have looser powers, but to stay in; 17% want out. In England and Wales it was 39% and 25%.
Such opinion surveys are always unreliable, because dependent on exactly how questions are phrased and in what context. But they fit with other evidence: Scotland does not necessarily have (proportionately) bigger demonstrations or anti-cuts campaigns or strikes than England.
The best guess from the evidence is that opinion in Scotland, as in England and Wales, edged to the right during the Blair years and has continued that way, but it is fluid and by no means hardened.
Two conclusions follow for the labour movement. A shift back to full-on Blairite politics by Labour in England would have damaging results as in Scotland, even if the impact is less immediately spectacular because no party in England has the SNP’s ability to scoop up a range of the disaffected.
Secondly, the idea that unions disaffiliating from Labour in Scotland (as some suggest) will allow a new left surge there is fantasy.
The Labour Party was formed in Britain thanks to long efforts by growing socialist organisations who pulled unions, at first a minority of unions, with them. In Scotland, the last decade has seen a spectacular decline of the socialist left, much greater than any damage we have suffered in England.
In the 2001 general election the Scottish Socialist Party – the activist core of which came from the former Scottish organisation of Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal — got between 6% and 10% of the vote in every constituency in Glasgow, bar one where it got 4.5%.
This time the SSP, much weaker in activists than it was in 2001, ran in only four constituencies in Scotland, two in Glasgow, averaging 0.5%. Elsewhere it advised voters to back the bourgeois SNP. TUSC, the other attempt to run left-of-Labour candidates in Scotland, did worse in Glasgow (average 0.5%) than its poor average across Britain (0.6%).
If unions were about to disaffiliate because they had waged a real left-wing battle against Labour’s leaders had reached breaking point, things would be different.
In fact it’s more a matter of union leaders being bothered by their members swinging to the SNP, and disaffiliation would almost surely lead to unions’ politics in Scotland being reduced to client-relationship-type haggling for deals with SNP and the Labour rump.
Between now and June 20th you have the opportunity to see ‘The Big No’, an exhibition of work of one by the greatest left-wing satirical artists of the 20th century: George Grosz. It’s at the London Print Studio (W10) and admission is free of charge.
Grosz was a founder of the Berlin Dadaist movement who created hundreds of drawings that savagely depicted the corruption, injustice and decadence of the Weimar republic. Along with Helmut Herzfeld (who became John Heartfield) he introduced photomontage to the mainstream. Many of his his drawings are composed like photomontages.
The drawings use superb fine-pen draftsmanship while the paintings are composed of bold brush-stokes, to convey shocking images of extremes of wealth and poverty, sexual exploitation and the broken survivors of WWI.
The Big No (named after Grosz’s autobiography A Little Yes and a Big No) features two portfolios of his drawings: Ecce Homo (Behold The Man), published in 1923 and Hintergrund (Background) from 1928. Ecce Homo was the subject of a four year legal case, with Grosz and his publisher accused of both pornography and bringing the German military into disrepute. They were acquitted, but in 1933 the Nazis had all the plates destroyed and the drawings publicly burned. We are able to see the work now because in 1959, after Grosz’s death, his widow and sons licenced a facsimile edition of the portfolio.
The Nazis denounced Grosz as a “cultural Bolshevik” and his work (together with that of fellow modernists, Jews and leftists like Kandinsky, Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Dix) featured in the notorious 1937 “degenerate art” exhibition organised by the Nazis. By then Grosz had fled with his family to the US, where he remained for the rest of his life and where his son Marty became a well-known jazz guitarist.
Grosz wrote, ‘In 1916 I was discharged from military service. The Berlin to which I returned was a cold and grey city. What I saw made me loathe most of my fellow men; everything I could say has been recorded in my drawings. The busy cafés and wine-cellars merely accentuated the gloom of the dark, unheated residential districts. I drew drunkards; puking men; men with clenched fists cursing at the moon; men playing cards on the coffins of the women they had murdered. I drew a man, face filled with fright, washing blood from his hands… I was each one of the characters I drew, the champagne-swilling glutton favoured by fate no less than the poor beggar standing with outstretched hands in the rain. I was split in two, just like society at large…’
This exhibition is simply unmissable. I don’t know whether or not it’s going to appear anywhere outside London, so even if you don’t live in capital, I’d recommend a special visit. And how appropriate that it’s appearing in one of the less affluent parts of London, at studio whose stated mission is to “empower people and communities through practical engagement with the visual and graphic arts.”
Above: Rahman and a supporter
By Martin Thomas (at Workers Liberty)
Pretty much all the left press other than Solidarity [Workers Liberty’s paper] has denounced the election court decision against Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets in East London, and most of the left has backed Rabina Khan, Rahman’s ally, for the new mayoral election on 11 June.
Does the left press reckon that Rahman didn’t do what the court disqualified him for doing? Or that he did do it, but it was all right? It’s hard to tell. I don’t know if the writers in the left press even read the judgement.
If they did read it, then probably, like me, they were annoyed by the style of the judge, Richard Mawrey – pompous, self-satisfied, arrogant. The judgement is full of show-off side comments. The Labour Party leadership has suspended left-winger Christine Shawcroft on the basis of one side comment in the judgement suggesting (wrongly, and irrelevantly to the case before Mawrey) that Shawcroft supported Rahman in the polls against Labour.
But probably most judges are pompous, self-satisfied, and arrogant. It goes with their social position. Yet often they can sum up evidence competently. Often they know that if they don’t do it competently, they will be rebuked when the case is taken to appeal, as Rahman, a lawyer himself, is taking his case.
In a previous case, Mawrey found in favour of George Galloway’s Respect group and against the Labour Party. Galloway’s speech applauding that judgement is published in full on the Socialist Worker website. Mawrey’s findings cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Mawrey found that charges of intimidation at polling stations, payment of canvassers, and impersonation of voters were not proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. But other charges were. Rahman had made false allegations against his opponent (the offence for which Labour right-winger Phil Woolas had his election ruled invalid in 2010). Rahman was guilty of “bribery of the electorate” via redistribution of grants to Bangladeshi community groups which would back him. And he had organised “undue spiritual influence”.
The left press has dismissed the last charge as anti-Muslim prejudice. But the judgement is explicit that there is nothing unlawful about imams, in their capacity as citizens, publicly backing Rahman. Unlawful is saying or suggesting that it is a religious duty to vote one way, or a damnable sin to vote the other way – the sort of thing which Catholic priests in Italy did, to boost the Christian Democrat vote after 1946 and until the decay of religion made it counterproductive.
The British law against “undue spiritual influence” dates from 1883. Its previous uses were in Ireland when still under British rule. The law was not, as some in the left press have suggested, a means to avoid the election of Catholic-backed nationalists. The British government had made its peace with the Irish Catholic church long before that. The conciliation is usually dated from the Maynooth Grant of 1845. The charges brought under the law were of priests declaring it a religious duty to vote against nationalists less in favour with the Church, such as the Parnellites (1890-1900) or Healy’s All for Ireland League (1910).
If Rahman’s clerical allies did something like the priests did in Ireland back then, or in Italy in the 1950s, then there is good reason to find the election invalid. If there is strong counter-evidence, on that charge or the others, then Rahman and his allies should publish it.
We know that Rahman has a soft-left Labour background, that Labour expelled him in a rigged-up summary execution, that he is close to the hierarchy of the East London Mosque. We know that the East London Mosque is one of the biggest in the country, built with large Saudi aid, and linked to the Islamic Forum of Europe and the Young Muslim Organisation, which are in turn linked to Bangladesh’s Islamist party, Jamaat e-Islami.
Those facts are documented in many books such as Innes Bowen’s Islam in Britain, reviewed by Matt Cooper in Solidarity 233.
It is also a fact that more secular-minded Muslims and Bangladeshis in the area find the religio-political power of the ELM/ IFE/ YMO complex overbearing.
Those background facts mean that Mawrey’s findings cannot be dismissed out of hand. To dismiss them out of hand is to let down the more secular-minded Muslims and Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets.
By Dale Street
When Jim Murphy announced last Saturday that he was standing down as Scottish Labour Party leader, he took it as an opportunity to lambast Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey for his supposedly “destructive behaviour” towards the Labour Party.
Murphy claimed that he had been “at the centre of a campaign by the London leadership of Unite the Union, (who) blame myself or the Scottish Labour Party for the defeat of the UK Labour Party in the general election.”
“Sometimes people see it as a badge of honour to have Mr. McCluskey’s support. I see it as a kiss of death to be supported by that type of politics. … We cannot have our leaders selected or deselected by the grudges and grievances of one prominent man.”
“The leader of the Scottish Labour Party doesn’t serve at the grace of Len McCluskey, and the next leader of the UK Labour Party should not be picked by Len McCluskey.”
Len McCluskey has twice been elected Unite’s General Secretary, in 2010 and again in 2013.
If McCluskey really is guilty of “destructive behaviour” and his politics the “kiss of death”, then the Unite members who have twice elected him their General Secretary must be either: really thick not to have seen through him; or willing accomplices of his destructive behaviour. Read the rest of this entry »
The playwright and TV script-writer Dennis Potter would have been 80 today. As it is, he died aged 59, on 7th June 1994. Less than three months earlier, he’d given this extraordinary interview to Melvyn Bragg on Channel 4.
By then Potter was diagnosed with inoperable, terminal cancer and spent the interview swigging from a hip flask of morphine (possibly laced with whisky). He called his cancer ‘Rupert’, as in Murdoch: “I’d shoot the bugger if I could”.
I still cherish a 2007 pamphlet published by the Guardian, which contains a slightly edited and tidied-up transcription of the interview.
The pamphlet starts with a wonderful Foreword by the Graun‘s veteran TV critic Nancy Banks-Smith (who once worked with Potter on the old Daily Herald). It’s no surprise that Potter was an agnostic who tended to the atheistic end of the agnostic scale; nor that he was a (utopian, I’d say) socialist.
Those of us who saw the interview when it went out on Channel 4 on April 5 1994 will never forget it. For those of you who didn’t, here’s a taste (and you can watch part of it here):
“I grieve for my family and friends who know me closest, obviously, and that they’re going through it in a sense more than I am. But I discover also what you always know to be true, but you never know it till you know it, if you follow (sorry, I’ve got…my voice is echoing in my head for some reason).
“We all, we’re the one animal that knows that we’re going to die, and yet we carry on paying our mortgages, doing our jobs, moving about, behaving as though there’s an eternity in a sense. And we forget or tend to forget that life can only be defined in the present tense; it is is, and it is now only. I mean, as much as we would like to call back yesterday and indeed yearn to, and ache to sometimes, we can’t. It’s in us, but we can’t actually; it’s not not there in front of us. However predictable tomorrow is, and unfortunately for most people, most of the time, it’s too predictable, they’re locked into whatever situation they’re locked into…Even so, no matter how predictable it is, there’s the element of the unpredictable, of you don’t know. The only thing you know for sure is the present tense, and that nowness becomes so vivid that, almost in a perverse sort of way, I’m almost serene. You know, I can celebrate life.
“Below my window in Ross, when I’m working in Ross, for example, there at this season, the blossom is out in full now, there in the west early. It’s a plum tree, it looks like apple blossom but it’s white, and looking at it, instead of saying ‘Oh that’s nice blossom’…last week looking at it through the window when I’m writing, I see it as the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you: you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance…not that I’m interested in reassuring people – bugger that. The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it”.
BB King, 1925-2015
“[H]is instrumental virtuosity and the seamless interaction between the liquid, vocal tone he conjured from the numerous Gibson semi-acoustic guitars that have borne the nickname “Lucille” over the past six-and-a-half decades and his warm, chesty singing (“First I sing and then Lucille sings”) was only one part of the reason for his pre-eminence not only in his chosen field of the blues but in the broader expanse of the past musical century’s popular mainstream. BB King was also one of the planet’s consummate entertainers; his expansive stage presence, enveloping generosity of spirit, patent willingness to drive himself into the ground for his audiences and ability to put virtually any crowd at their ease took him from the backbreaking labour and harsh racism of the rural Southern states to the biggest stages of the world’s capital cities” -From the excellent appreciation by Charles Shaar Murray in today’s Guardian.
The Thrill Is Gone (probably his most famous recording):
…and here’s a live version of my personal favourite Three O’ Clock Blues:
Open letter from newly-elected MPs, first published at LabourList
Having arrived in Westminster as newly-elected Labour MPs after speaking to tens of thousands of voters during our election campaigns, we know how important it is for the future of our Party to move forward with an agenda that best serves the everyday needs of people, families and communities and that is prepared to challenge the notion of austerity and invest in public services.
Labour must now reach out to the five million voters lost since 1997, and those who moved away from Labour in Scotland and elsewhere on 7 May, renewing their hope that politics does matter and Labour is on their side.
As we seek a new leader of the Labour Party, we are needing one who looks forward and will challenge an agenda of cuts, take on the powerful vested interests of big business and will set out an alternative to austerity – not one who will draw back to the ‘New Labour’ creed of the past.
Now is the time Labour needs a leader who’s in tune with the collective aspiration of ordinary people and communities across Britain, meeting the need for secure employment paying decent wages, homes that people can call their own, strong public services back in public hands again and the guarantee of a real apprenticeship or university course with a job at the end of it. From restoring Sure Start to providing dignity and a good standard of living in retirement, these are the aspirations key to real Labour values today and will re-engage people across our country in the years to come.
We look forward to engaging in the debate surrounding the Labour leadership in the weeks ahead to secure our Party as being best able to meet the challenges faced by ordinary people at this time.
Richard Burgon (Leeds East)
Louise Haigh (Sheffield Heeley)
Harry Harpham (Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough)
Imran Hussain (Bradford East)
Clive Lewis (Norwich South)
Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles)
Rachael Maskell (York Central)
Kate Osamor (Edmonton)
Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood)
Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central)
This footage below was sent to me by one of the teachers taking part in the widespread strike by the Iranian teachers. They are demanding better pay and conditions.
“Most of the martyrs in the war were from our ranks, the teachers and pupils, so we have paid our fair share for this revolution, but sadly we have received the least just rewards for our sacrifices, during these days of strike, I read things that saddened me, I want to address the Friday Prayer leaders who in their sermons speak against us teachers, they say “when a teacher talks about money, it means knowledge has been abandoned in exchange for wealth”! I ask these clerics who have put on the prophet’s robes, who wear the messenger of Allah’s turban on their heads, why is it that when wealth comes your way, it doesn’t mean your religion has been abandoned for wealth? Why is it that most of the factories are owned by your lot? [crowds applause] Is religion just for me, a teacher? I am proud that I am a teacher, we are the faithful servants of real Islam, for us the first teacher is God and then his messengers, yet they say if there is talk of free lunch somewhere, the teachers will run to there, this is sad, Yes, I, a teacher am hungry, because there are many greedy stomachs in our country, [crowds applause] Yes, I a teacher have no money, because all the cash has been plundered by the children of the officials running the country, [crowds applause] My pockets are empty, because the sons and daughters of this country have such grand villas in Canada and European countries, [crowds applause] ..”