Above: the Tories wasted no time in rushing out this bizarre video
One thing emerged very clearly from Alex Salmond’s appearance on the Andrew Marr Show: the Scottish Nationalists are bare-faced opportunists and liars. Nicola Sturgeon has already back-tracked on the SNP promise not to vote on issues that effect only England; on Sunday Salmond made it clear that his earlier promise that the referendum would settle the question of Scottish separation “for a generation” has also gone by the board. He hinted in unmistakable terms that a pledge to hold a new referendum is likely to be included in the SNP’s 2016 Holyrood manifesto.
But it was his arrogant boast that the SNP would, in effect, control the policies of a future Labour government that was most memorable: “If you hold the balance, you hold the power” he gloated. Socialists should not be taken in by Salmond’s claim that the SNP would use its power to insist on some policies of which we might approve (dumping Trident and moving away from austerity): Salmond’s vision of the SNP as the force that will make or break a Labour government is both profoundly anti-democratic and a calculated gift to the Tories. Say what you will about Salmond, he’s not an idiot, and knows full well that his arrogant boasts about holding Labour to ransom (the accurate description used by the Tory press) make it more likely that the Tories will win in May – something that it’s pretty obvious that the SNP leadership relishes.
And, of course, the SNP has form when it comes to de facto support for the Conservatives.
Despite the Scottish Labour Party’s disastrous choice of the wretched Blairite Murphy as its leader, serious people who want a Labour government know that a Labour vote is essential everywhere – including Scotland.
Miliband should make it clear that no deal of any kind (including so-called “confidence and supply”) is on offer to Salmond, Sturgeon and the Tartan Tories.
And a final point: Alex Salmond is not the leader of the SNP and even if he is elected to Westminster in May, he won’t lead the party there (that role will remain with Angus Robertson). So who the f**k does this potential back-bencher think he is, to be dictating terms to anyone?
By Anne Field (Workers Liberty)
On Saturday 6 March a special conference of the Scottish Labour Party voted by 69% to 31% for a constitutional amendment declaring it to be a party which “works for the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland.”
The bulk of the opposing votes came from Unite and Unison, plus a scattering of local parties. According to unconfirmed reports, the GMB voted for the amendment, and the CWU and ASLEF abstained.
Winning a third of the conference to a vote against the amendment was no small achievement.
Local parties and affiliated organisations had been subject to the emotional blackmail of the need to be seen backing the leadership in the run-up to the general election.
Eight of the nine speakers called from the floor to speak on the proposed amendment spoke in favour of it.
To create the right “atmosphere” at the conference, a thousand people were in attendance, but only a small minority were actually voting delegates.
The constitutional amendment also contained all manner of references to “the Scottish people” and things Scottish and had been presented by the leadership as the way to undercut support for the SNP.
Anyone on the left — apart from those who have pitched their tent in the pro-independence camp —will share that aim of defeating the SNP, but this will not help.
Modelled on Blair’s re-writing of the party’s Clause Four, which had committed the party to the “common ownership” of industry, the amendment was meant to be newly-elected leader Jim Murphy’s very own “Clause Four moment”.
As Murphy put it last December: “It’s the biggest change in Scottish Labour’s history… I want to rewrite Clause Four of Scottish Labour to bring us closer to the centre of Scottish life.”
Blair’s rewriting of the Clause Four was a genuine political statement — it was part of his mission to destroy the Labour Party as the political wing of the workers’ movement. His actions dominated news headlines for months.
Murphy was not even amending Clause Four! He was amending Clause Two of the Scottish Labour constitution, nothing more than a sentence stuck in between Clause One and Clause Three.
Murphy’s announcement created no more than a ripple of media coverage.
Most media coverage mentioned the constitutional amendment only as a footnote to its coverage of the conference. (That includes the party’s own website reports of the conference.) The remaining media coverage (including LabourList) did not mention it at all.
Murphy’s re-writing was a transparent exercise in squalid opportunism.
Despite losing the referendum, the SNP is on course to wipe out Labour in the general election. So, runs Murphy’s logic, the party needs to be more Scottish than the SNP. Yet only a few months earlier Murphy’s Chief of Staff John McTernan had warned that “you can’t out-nat the nats”.
(McTernan himself is hardly best placed to “out-nat the nats”. In 2002 he e-mailed a Labour MSP about to visit Sweden: “I think you’ll really like it. It’s the country Scotland would be if it wasn’t narrow, Presbyterian, racist, etc., etc.)
The new “Clause Four” is irrelevant to reversing Labour’s fortunes.
Insofar as anyone takes it seriously the commitment to “the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland” will be positively damaging.
The SNP lost last September’s referendum. But its great achievement in the referendum campaign, apart from thoroughly poisoning political debate in Scotland, was to push class and social issues to the sidelines of political argument, and replace them with “Scotland’s national interests”.
Instead of poverty and inequality being identified as a product of class and capitalist oppression, they were presented as the product of “Westminster rule” and a distant “Westminster establishment”.
Murphy seeks to challenge the SNP on its own territory: which party is best placed and most suited to representing Scotland’s national and patriotic interests. Given the nature of the SNP as a narrow Scottish-nationalist party, the answer to that question will always be: the SNP.
Apart from reinforcing the nationalist element in Scottish political discourse (and, consequently, the SNP’s electoral prospects), Murphy’s attempt to put patriotism centre-stage is also a challenge to the rationale for Scottish Labour’s existence.
As the one anti-amendment speaker called at last Saturday’s conference put it:
“Patriotism is an essential tool in presenting class interest — the ruling class interest — as the interest of all of us.
“The primary purpose of the Scottish Labour Party should be precisely the opposite of that. It should be exposing the class nature of Scottish society. It should be attacking austerity. It should be increasing redistribution of wealth. It should be promoting equality.
“On the basis of this kind of programme we should be fighting tooth and nail to halt the nationalist offensive.
“So let’s stop talking about about patriotic interest and start talking about the class interest instead.”
“Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam.
“These developments have shaped not just Muslim self-perception but that of most social groups. Many within white working-class communities are often as disengaged as their Muslim peers, and similarly see their problems not in political terms but through the lens of cultural and ethnic identity. Hence the growing hostility to immigration and diversity and, for some, the seeming attraction of far-right groups.
“Racist populism and radical Islamism are both, in their different ways, expressions of social disengagement in an era of identity politics. There is something distinctive about Islamist identity. Islam is a global religion, allowing Islamists to create an identity that is intensely parochial and seemingly universal, linking Muslims to struggles across the world, from Afghanistan to Palestine, and providing the illusion of being part of a global movement.
“In an age in which traditional anti-imperialist movements have faded and belief in alternatives to capitalism dissolved, radical Islam provides the illusion of a struggle against an immoral present and for a utopian future”.
Kenan Malik is always worth taking notice of. He was obviously too bright to stay with those idiots calling themselves the ‘Institute of Ideas’, and now seems to have broken with them and become a free-lance intellectual of considerable force. His article on Islamism in today’s Observer is outstanding, and if you haven’t already done so, you should read it now.
Make no mistake: Syriza’s victory is an inspiring moment for the working class of Greece and the left throughout Europe and beyond. Shiraz Socialist is not about to join the bleating chorus of sectarians, Stalinists and other defeatists who have already begun predicting a sell-out by the new government. Some of these people on the UK left are well described here by Comrade Coatesy.
However, it has to be admitted that Syriza’s coalition deal with the far right wing anti-immigrant (and on occasion, antisemitic) Independent Greeks party (ANEL) is disappointing and worrying. The following disturbing article from Anton Shekhovtsov’s blog, offers a possible explanation for this unlikely alliance. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of what the author claims, but his theory certainly makes sense and is at least worthy of serious attention:
Greek left-wing SYRIZA forms a coalition with the pro-Kremlin far right
After a landslide victory in the early parliamentary elections held on 25 January 2015, the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) that secured 149 seats in the new parliament has surprised the left-wing voters and sympathisers by agreeing to form, already on 26 January, a coalition government with the far right Independent Greeks party (ANEL) that now has 13 seats. Popular support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn led by currently imprisoned Nikolaos Michaloliakos has slightly decreased: the neo-Nazis have secured 17 seats (one seat less than in 2012), but the Golden Dawn is still the third largest party in Greece.
Both SYRIZA and ANEL are so-called “anti-austerity parties” implying that they oppose reducing budget deficits as a response to the Greek financial crisis, as well as rejecting the austerity package put forth by the EU and the IMF. The “anti-austerity” platform may seem the only agenda that has drawn the two parties they share, but they also share a similar approach to foreign policy issues – an approach that may undermine the EU unity over the Russian threat.
Both parties are overtly pro-Russian, and SYRIZA’s leader Alexis Tsipras denounced the sanctions against Russia imposed by the EU for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine that has already cost Ukrainians thousands of lives. In May 2014, i.e. already after Russia had started its invasion of Ukraine, Tsipras travelled to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin’s major allies such as Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of Federation Council of the Russian Federation, and Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. Both Matviyenko and Pushkov are sanctioned by the US, while Matviyenko is also sanctioned by the EU. This did not prevent Tsipras from holding a meeting with her.
|Valentina Matviyenko and Alexis Tsipras at a meeting in Moscow, May 2014|
In Greece, our [i.e. Russia’s] partners could eventually be Leftists from SYRIZA, which refuses Atlanticism, liberalism and the domination of the forces of global finance. As far as I know, SYRIZA is anti-capitalist and it is critical of the global oligarchy that has victimized Greece and Cyprus. The case of SYRIZA is interesting because of its far-Left attitude toward the liberal global system. It is a good sign that such non-conformist forces have appeared on the scene.
The pro-Russian sentiments of SYRIZA were manifested, in particular, in its voting behaviour in the European parliament. For example, on 16 September 2014, when the European Parliament ratified the EU-Ukraine Association agreement – an agreement that was one of the reasons of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – all six MEPs of SYRIZA voted against the ratification of this agreement.
If SYRIZA is Russia’s “Trojan horse” in the EU, then ANEL led by Panos Kammenos may be even worse.
ANEL (founded in February 2012) is a far right party that Daphne Halikiopoulou and Sofia Vasilopoulou describe as “highly conservative and nationalistic right-wing”. In its opposition to immigration and multiculturalism, ANEL is similar to, yet is more moderate than, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. ANEL is also prone to conspiracy theories. For example, as argued by Pavlos Zafiropoulos, ANEL and its supporters believe that the Greek government “is spraying the populace from airplanes with mind-controlling substances”. Anti-Semitism is not alien to ANEL either: “Panos Kammenos, speaking on a TV program made the baseless claim that Jewish people in Greece are not taxed in contrast to Christian Orthodox Greeks”.
The driving force behind the pro-Russian approach of ANEL seems to be Gavriil Avramidis, who was elected MP with ANEL in Thessaloniki in 2012. He is also head of the Patriotic Social Movement “Greek-Russian Alliance” founded in 2001 and aimed at widening co-operation between Greece and Russia.
Yet Avramidis may be not the only politician in ANEL who is lobbying Russian interests in Greece. Kammenos visited Moscow in the first half of January 2015. Moreover, an article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” that was published on 22 January in the Greek Russian-language newspaper Afinskiy Kur‘er (Athens Courier) discussed the pro-Russian approach of ANEL in general.
|An article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” published in Afinskiy Kur’er (Athens Courier). Gavriil Avramidis is featured on the central photo|
Several questions remain, however. Are pro-Russian sentiments indeed important for ANEL? Will ANEL contribute to the strengthening of SYRIZA’s pro-Russian positions? Will the new coalition government push for lifting the EU sanctions against Russia that is escalating its invasion of Ukraine?
Doubtlessly, Russia will try to capitalise both on the victory of SYRIZA and the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. Putin has already congratulated Tsipras on his party’s victory saying that he is “confident that Russia and Greece will continue to develop their traditionally constructive cooperation in all areas and will work together effectively to resolve current European and global problems”. BBC correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse, currently in Athens, reports that he has seen the Russian ambassador Andrey Maslov entering the SYRIZA main office.
Kammenos’ visit to Moscow was most likely connected to the possibility of the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. At the same time, Avramidis visited the General Consulate of Russia in Thessaloniki on 23 January 2015, i.e. just a few days before the parliamentary elections, to discuss, with Consul General Aleksey Popov, the renewal of the cooperation between Greece and Russia, as well as lifting the sanctions against Russia.
|(left to right) Russian Consul General in Thessaloniki Aleksey Popov and MP Gavriil Avramidis, 23 January 2015, Thessaloniki|
Since the EU is a consensus-based organisation, imposing or tightening sanctions against Russia requires all the Member States to agree to such moves. Hence, the issue of sanctions may become a negotiating point for the new Greek authorities when they meet with more influential EU players to renegotiate the terms of the bailout programme for Greece. SYRIZA and ANEL are “anti-austerity” parties in the first place, so their pro-Russian sentiments may increase the cost, rather than contribute to lifting or blocking, of the EU sanctions against Russia.
I had hopes that it would not have been a 55/45 split in the Scotland’s referendum but more of a 35/65 one. Instead the vote swung from closer towards independence than most had anticipated a year ago and the Scottish National Party has gained thousands of recruits from disappointed Yessers and those on the left who have given up on the Labour Party. They are likely to win most of Scotland’s seats in the next general election.
This, along with the rise of UKIP this swing to nationalistic and populist politics should not be surprising in Britain. It’s happening all over the continent, with France’s Front National having a good chance of winning the presidency and the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece and of the Sweden Democrats.
This sort of politics with its whiff of the thirties is very alarming.
Kenan Malik’s piece here is excellent on the rise of right-wing populism within Europe:-
“What are considered populist parties comprise, in fact, very different kinds of organizations, with distinct historical roots, ideological values and networks of social support. Some, such as Golden Dawn, are openly Nazi. Others, such as the Front National are far-right organizations that in recent years have tried to rebrand themselves to become more mainstream. Yet others – UKIP for instance – have reactionary views, play to far-right themes such as race and immigration, but have never been part of the far-right tradition.
What unites this disparate group is that all define themselves through a hostility to the mainstream and to what has come to be regarded as the dominant liberal consensus. Most of the populist parties combine a visceral hatred of immigration with an acerbic loathing of the EU, a virulent nationalism and deeply conservative views on social issues such as gay marriage and women’s rights.
The emergence of such groups reveals far more, however, than merely a widespread disdain for the mainstream. It expresses also the redrawing of Europe’s political map, and the creation of a new faultline on that map. The postwar political system, built around the divide between social democratic and conservative parties, is being dismantled. Not only has this created new space for the populists, but it is also transforming the very character of political space.
The new political faultline in Europe is not between left and right, between social democracy and conservatism, but between those who feel at home in – or at least are willing to accommodate themselves to – the post-ideological, post-political world, and those who feel left out, dispossessed and voiceless. These kinds of divisions have always existed, of course. In the past, however, that sense of dispossession and voicelessness could be expressed politically, particularly through the organizations of the left and of the labour movement. No longer. It is the erosion of such mechanisms that is leading to the remaking of Europe’s political landscape.
as broader political, cultural and national identities have eroded, and as traditional social networks, institutions of authority and moral codes have weakened, so people’s sense of belonging has become more narrow and parochial, moulded less by the possibilities of a transformative future than by an often mythical past. The politics of ideology has, in other words, given way to the politics of identity…
we need to establish new social mechanisms through which to link liberal ideas about immigration and individual rights with progressive economic arguments and a belief in the community and the collective. Those who today rightly bemoan the corrosion of collective movements and community organizations often also see the problem as too much immigration. Those who take a liberal view on immigration, and on other social issues, are often happy with a more individualized, atomized society. Until all three elements of a progressive outlook – a defence of immigration, freedom of movement and of individual rights, a challenge to austerity policies and the embrace of collective action – can be stitched together, and stitched into a social movement, then there will be no proper challenge to the populists.”
Eric Pickles has taken over the administration of Tower Hamlets council for two years after an inquiry commissioned by his department found wholesale mismanagement, questionable grant-giving and a failure to secure best value for local taxpayers.
Pickles plans to dispatch three commissioners to administrate grant-giving, property transactions and the administration of future elections in the borough.
The commissioners, who will be answerable to Pickles, will be in place until March 2017 and are tasked with drawing up an action plan to improve governance in the council, including the permanent appointment of three senior council officers including a chief executive.
The PwC report alleges corruption, cronyism and improper, communalist (though it doesn’t use that word) distribution of grants.
Among the key findings:
- Poplar Town Hall, a Grade II listed building, was sold for £875,000 to a political supporter of Mr Rahman even though the bid arrived late, and after rival bids had been opened, which created a “risk of bid manipulation”. A higher offer was rejected, contrary to independent advice, and the winner was later allowed to change his contract.
- Grants were handed out to organisations that were “ruled ineligible”, with some £407,700 given to groups that failed to meet the council’s own minimum criteria. Council officers were over-ruled in many cases.
- The council appeared to show “a tendency towards denial or obfuscation rather than an inclination to investigate concerns raised”. It did not properly investigate issues raised in a BBC Panorama programme that alleged Mr Rahman intervened to increase grants paid to some local Bangladeshi organisations.
- Public money was spent “inappropriately” on political advertising for the Mayor.
Comrade Coatesy has done an excellent job of summarising the report and the media response. He concludes with these words of wisdom, with which we heartily concur:
“Pickles is a one-man anti-democratic foul abusive swine.
“But before protesting at this those on the left should avoid saying that Rahman’s administration and satellites (are) innocent because they say so.”
Some background information (drawn up by a comrade before the publication of the PwC report):
Rahman was previously the leader of the Labour group on Tower Hamlets Council. However, he lost this position in 2010. The same year he was selected as the Labour candidate to stand as the directed elected mayor of Tower Hamlets before being removed by the party’s NEC. The reason for him losing both positions were accusations that the Islamic Foundation of Europe (IFE) had signed up some hundreds of members to the Labour Party to advance Rahman’s cause. The IFE is part of a network of groups around the East London Mosque aligned to the Jamaat-e-Islami (aka Maududists), which has its origins in India but is now more significantly is a force in Pakistan and were chief amongst the anti-secessionist forces in the civil war that created Bangladesh. They are Islamist in that they support an Islamic state based on Sharia law, but are (on the whole) social conservatives not jihadists.
Rahman won the 2010 mayoral election as an independent although Tower Hamlets is by no means a majority Muslim borough, less than 40% are Muslims but they do constitute the bulk of Labour’s electoral base and once Rahman was able to win this no-one could beat him. Rahman’s position was strengthened by the party formed around him, Tower Hamlets First (THF), winning 18 of the 45 council seats in 2014 and under the mayoral system Rahman can run the administration drawing on only these councillors. THF is entirely drawn from Tower Hamlets Bangladeshis (and one would assume, Muslims), although six have previously been councillors of both the Labour Party and Respect. One of these, Abjoi Miah, was a key member of Respect and appears to have been the key link person between Respect and IFE/Jamaat. He is now the central organiser of THF and a power behind Rahman’s throne. The turn to the Labour Party and Rahman appears to have been because IFE/Jamaat lost confidence in the Respect MP for Bow and Poplar (in Tower Hamlets), George Galloway, after he made a complete fool of himself on Celebrity Big Brother.
There are three important points to make about the Rahman/THF rule in Tower Hamlets and the possibility of other councils becoming Muslim run:
First Rahman and THF do not present as Islamists. For example, the council maintains an LGBT policy. It might be the case that Rahman and many of the THF councillors are not Islamists but communalists who wish to promote the interests of those of Bangladeshi origins, something that is not without precedent in local government politics in Britain. The most notable feature of Rahman/THF rule is not the establishment of an Islamic state in the East End, but the creation of a version of the millet system that existed under the Ottoman Empire whereby everyone is related to as a religious group. It is common for local councils to run a layer of social services through local voluntary groups and charities. In Tower Hamlets these are becoming increasingly demarcated on religious lines, that strengthens the links between people of Bangladeshi origin. Through its Community Faith Building Support Scheme the council gives direct support to faith based groups, the budget for 2014 being £1.3 million. Of the 2013 funding, although funding went to a variety of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh groups, two-thirds went to Muslim groups. It is such communalism and setting of religious identity into policy structures that is most problematic here, not any overt militancy.
Second, what is notable about Tower Hamlets First is their relative youth. These are not bearded elders in traditional attire, but young men in suits and whose beards are either neatly clipped or absent. In sharp distinction to older generations, there are women amongst THF’s councillors. This group has coalesced around three factors: the shutting down of channels in the Labour Party to their advancement, the rise of Respect in Tower Hamlets showing the potential to mobilise Muslim voters in a new way, and the organisation hub of Jamaat-e-Islami based on the East London Mosque. The last of these is probably the most important, but one that might not be readily replicated elsewhere. As Innes Bowen has shown in her recent book, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent, while most mosques in Britain are affiliated to the conservative quietism of the Deobandi and Barelwi strands of Sunni Islam, the East London Mosque is affiliated to the Islamist idea of Jamaat-e-Islami, with IFE being part of this stable too.
Third, success for Tower Hamlets First was tied up with the mayoral systems. Tower Hamlets First do not have the spread across the borough to win the majority of the council seats, and have only 40 per cent. Their control is thus based on winning the direct elections for mayor that Rahman did comfortably in 2010 where he took much of Labour’s vote, and more tightly in 2014 against a strong Labour challenge.
Rahman’s links with the Islamic Forum of Europe and Jamaat-e-Islami are described on pages 27-29 of this booklet.
By Chris Deerin
(reblogged from From Zoo Ears)
Farage and Salmond: better together?
‘Leaving the EU is about making Britain more successful. At its most basic, it is the ability to take our own decisions. No one cares more about our success than the people who live here and that, ultimately, is why leaving the EU is the best choice for our future.
‘By leaving we can work together to make Britain a more ambitious and dynamic country. The big difference will be that Britain’s future will be in our own hands. Instead of only deciding some issues here in Britain, it will allow us to take decisions on all the major issues.’
These rousing passages are a straightforward encapsulation of the Ukip credo: the kind of thing that spouts easily from Nigel Farage’s lips. They represent the argument the party put before voters in the last European election, where it ended up with more MEPs than any other party.
However, the words aren’t Ukip’s. They are taken from the official website of the SNP. I have simply replaced ‘independence’ with ‘leaving the EU’, and ‘Scotland’ with ‘Britain’. Restore the originals and you have the exact beliefs of Alex Salmond.
As both the Scottish and EU referendum debates develop, the similarities in the cases being advanced by the SNP and Ukip become ever more striking. Both, for example, are at pains to insist their desire for a breach is not based on any suspicion towards or distaste for ‘the other’, whether that ‘other’ be French or English. The dark history of nationalism makes this a necessity.
An anti-EU campaigner will often tell you that he ‘adores Europe’, owns a cottage in the Dordogne and is married to a Belgian or a Luxembourger. A Nat will profess his love for holidays in Cornwall and point out that his favourite auntie lives in Corby.
EU better-off-outers will explain that a Briton has different political and cultural preferences to those of an Italian or a Dane, valid though those other preferences may be. There is no authentic common feeling between us. So why does it make sense to pool our decision-making? Similarly, an SNP politician will say that England and Scotland have taken different ideological paths – one a hop to the Right, the other a skip to the Left. Our shared identity has splintered. It makes practical and democratic sense to break apart the Union and create separate political entities.
Both like to talk of creating a new, smaller, sleeker nirvana-state – let’s be Sweden, or Norway, or Switzerland, they say. Let’s be anything other than what we are.
It may be painful for many Yes voters to accept, but the SNP and Ukip share a founding spasm. It is one that rejects the status quo, that sees only the negative in what exists, that backs away from the values of shared responsibility, fellow-feeling and solidarity, and it is one that could fundamentally change all of our lives. Both are willing to gamble our security, prosperity, influence and key relationships on the basis of a romantic, untested theory. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: the Europhobes’ last bogey-man
The Tory braying over Cameron’s “brave”/”principled” (etc, etc) stand against Jean-Claude Juncker is as preposterous as it is cynical. It’s quite clear that though some swivel-eyed backwoodsmen may take Cameron’s talk of “principle” at face value, the whole ridiculous charade has been a cynical exercise dreamt up by Lynton Crosby, to appease xenophobes within and without having to propose any specific policies or, indeed, actually do anything in particular other than vote against the “federalist” bogey-man.
The identification of Juncker as the embodiment of everything to be hated and despised about the EU is simply a re-run of the little-England hate-fest whipped up in the late-eighties and early-nineties by the Tories and the Murdoch press against Jacques Delores. Of course, Delores was a social democrat who really did stand for a (limited) extension of the ‘Social Europe’ agenda, including things like the Working Time Directive and the Acquired Rights Directive (aka TUPE). Juncker, on the other hand, is a mainstream centre-right politician with no interest in furthering ‘Social Europe’ or enhancing workers’ rights in any way. But for the Tories, that’s not the point: he’s a “federalist” bureaucrat and an enemy of “reform” in Europe. What exactly this “reform” that Cameron keeps banging on about, is, remains largely unspecified, but when pushed, the Tories point to the Working Time Directive – that outrageous piece of foreign interference that denies all true English people their inalienable right to work more than 48 hours per week (unless they sign a chitty saying they want to).
So you don’t need psychic powers to know what the Tories mean when they talk about “reform” in Europe: dismantling the Social Europe agenda, removing the limited rights and protections that workers have achieved in Europe and – of course – restricting the free movement of labour within Europe. In other words, a thoroughly reactionary anti-working class agenda, spiced up with xenophobia and outright racism.
Junker is no friend of the working class, even to the extent that Delores was. But what the hell was Labour doing joining in with the Tories in demonising him? It’s also disappointing to see some usually thoughtful leftists and internationalists making concessions to this nonsense.
For once, the Graun‘s Polly Toynbee, not often someone we quote with approval here at Shiraz, has got it right (apart from her softness on the Lib Dems):
There is no middle way on this one. Its [ie Labour’s] stand must be: “This is the moment to choose: Vote Ukip or Tory if you want Out; vote Labour (or Lib Dem) for In to save British jobs.” Immigration drives much popular anti-Europeanism, so Labour has no choice but to say immigration is the price for prosperity. Time for gloves off with Ukip voters. Stop pretending a Ukip vote is respectable and call Faragists out as job-destroying racists and xenophobes. Explaining the decision to deny a referendum requires a bolder pro-EU message, and a more abrasive anti-Ukip and anti-Tory warning.
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.
Above: Andrew Murray addresses a recent London meeting of Eurasianists (aka ‘Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine’)
Cross-post by Dale Street:
Apologetics, if not outright support, for the forces of political reaction and oppression have become a hallmark of sections of the socialist left in the two and a half decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The “rationale” for such an abandonment of basic socialist principles is rooted in a bogus “anti-imperialism”, according to which any force in conflict with “imperialism” (defined solely as: the USA and/or the European Union) is automatically presumed worthy of some degree or other of support.
Now the “anti-imperialist” left is well advanced in repeating the same ‘mistake’ in relation to the conflict in the south-east of Ukraine.
Obsessed with the role played (or allegedly played) by the US and the European Union, fantasising about the supposed power wielded by fascist organisations in Ukraine, it shuts its eyes to the actual politics of those playing the leading role in the Russian-separatist forces.
On this occasion the result is even more bizarre than usual: the “anti-imperialist” left ends up in a de facto alliance with a political ideology committed to imperialist expansion and containing pronounced elements of fascism.
Eurasianism first emerged as a relatively systematised set of ideas amongst White émigrés in the early 1920s. Central to those ideas was the belief that Russia represented a unique civilisation with its own traditions and path of historical development.
Russia’s future, argued the Eurasians, lay not in following in the footsteps of Europe or Asia (although it would incorporate certain elements of both). Instead, they looked forward to the eventual collapse of the west and the emergence of an expanded Russia as a leading imperial power in its own right.
Eurasianism remained the preserve of Russian diaspora intellectuals until the collapse of the Soviet Union, since when it has become a significant political movement in Russia itself.
The main traits of Eurasianism today are: a commitment to restoring the glories of imperial Russia; the expansion of Russia’s borders to incorporate the territories of the ancient kingdom of Rus; hostility to western liberal values, which it holds responsible for what it sees as the decline and degeneration of the west.
The European Union and the USA — and Jews — are regarded as responsible for the post-Soviet economic and social collapse of Russia. Stalin, on the other hand, is admired as someone who established Russia as a world power.
Eurasianism is socially conservative and singles out gay rights for particular condemnation. Although it frequently presents itself as “anti-fascist”, its “anti-fascism” is no more than a Russian-imperialist glorification of Stalin’s defeat of Nazi Germany and the subsequent occupation of Eastern Europe.
At best, Eurasianism is a form of extreme Russian nationalism. At worst, it is a specific form of fascism which has been shaped by political traditions peculiar to Russia.
And it is the politics of Eurasianism which are espoused by leading figures in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, by the websites which seek to rally support for them, and by those political forces which have taken the lead in Russia in mobilising support for them. Read the rest of this entry »