Tristram Hunt resignation – a personal view

January 14, 2017 at 11:21 am (labour party, MPs, posted by JD, reblogged, reformism)

A personal reaction from Phil Burton-Cartledge (at his blog All That Is Solid), a member of Stoke Central CLP and once a staffer in Hunt’s constituency office:

Goodbye to Tristram

It was nice for Stoke-on-Trent to make the news for something other than footy and the BNP. Less nice that it was my constituency party and my MP at the centre of it. Yes, as the world and its uncle now knows, Tristram Hunt is resigning the Stoke-on-Trent Central seat to take up the leadership of the Victoria & Albert in London. He can now spend more time with his young family, and it’s a role he’s temperamentally and culturally suited to. This then is going to be the first of two posts – the second will look at Stoke-on-Trent Central, the state of the local party, potential candidates and Labour’s chances of holding on to the seat. This one is all about Tristram.

First things first, Tristram’s announcement was greeted with the crows of his opponents, and the commiseration of his friends. For those identifying with the Corbynist left, this proves he was a careerist with no interest beyond self-advancement. For those arrayed against the leadership, Tristram’s resignation is a loss of talent that reflects badly on Corbyn’s prospects. There is no attempt to analyse or understand. Pigeonholing is the order of the day. The truth lies between these two poles, and I know. Because not only do I know him, have shared the local party with him for almost seven years, I used to work for him too. So if you came here hoping for a denunciation, you will be disappointed.

Readers with long memories might recall the circumstances in which Tristram became the Labour MP for Stoke Central. The fag end of Gordon Brown’s short tenure saw a scramble for seats as the 2010 general election loomed. Coincidentally, a long-running factional battle in this constituency centered around the local directly-elected mayor reached its climax. Early that year, the NEC intervened and put the CLP into special measures – in effect, the Labour Party’s version of direct rule. Letters were issued to members ruling the upcoming AGM out of order and attendees were threatened with suspension and sanction. Said meeting went ahead and the whole constituency party was placed on the naughty step. The ruling on this came very quickly on the heels of the incumbent MP – Mark Fisher – unexpectedly announcing his retirement. Two months from the election and Labour was without a candidate.

Because of the special measures and because of the proximity to D-Day, longlisting and shortlisting was the province of a NEC panel. It was at this point that Tristram’s name first surfaced, with the FT getting the scoop. Being foolish I didn’t believe he stood much of a chance – little did I appreciate the dark arts of Peter Mandelson and how brazen the party can be when sorting sinecure for the favoured. I then thought selections were a meritorious affair. Pah. The longlist was a varied field of local folks and people from outside Stoke. And then came the shortlist: it was basically Tristram and two also-rans cynically tacked on so the local party had no choice but to rubber stamp the NEC’s favoured choice. Seriously, I’ve interviewed dozens of candidates for the local government panel and I struggle to remember anyone worse than this pair. But as stitching goes, this isn’t the most egregious. I digress. Tristram was duly selected and the Potteries moved into the light of a new dawn.

Locally, Tristram made a bit of a splash. The sort of plaudits getting heaped on him now echo those greeting his arrival in Stoke. Tristram had glamour, had connections, had ambition. He was going places and that made him a good catch for Stoke-on-Trent. He was lauded by local notables as a future Prime Minister, or at the very least someone who could open doors for the city in The City. As I was unemployed and despairing of ever finding work, Tristram was kind enough to offer me a job as a caseworker in the constituency office. Given the political distance between us it did give me pause, but in the end making a living came first. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition to the casework, each of us in the office had a number of projects that aimed to define the shiny new MP in some way. For example, I was charged with putting together the ‘Stoke Stories’ conference in conjunction with the RSA to strengthen relationships between local third sector organisations, and lend any assistance and support the office could give them. This was one initiative among many over the last seven years that tried to define him. These included the backstamping campaign, the annual get together of local business leaders, the Maths Excellence Partnership, a campaign to save nursery provision, and securing an exemption for beleagured potteries from the renewables obligation. There were more! In addition to this, Tristram and his office got through a heavy caseload and secured some notable victories at the local council, with the DWP and sometimes (sometimes!) the government. Small shifts in policy or getting back monies owed isn’t Bastille storming stuff, but it is important and makes a difference to those affected by them.

Meanwhile, Tristram was something of an object of fascination for the left. As one of the best known Blairites in the PLP, and being one of the few unafraid to (occasionally) avow himself a disciple, I always found it strange why he had a weird fan club. Was it the glamour? The proximity to Mandelson? His book on Engels? Far from getting a hostile reception, trade unionists in Stoke couldn’t wait to meet him. I had self-identified Trots from elsewhere always asking after him. And even after that picket line crossing episode to deliver a lecture on Victorian civic culture and not, as per received myth, to speak on Marxism, he remained the left’s favourite Blairite. Even if to hate and troll.

The mystery didn’t end there. In person, Tristram is pleasant and funny, isn’t overly posh and doesn’t come across as a snob. But he remained an enigma both to his staff and the local party. Hand on my heart, despite working closely with him I cannot say why he decided to become a Member of Parliament. Nor, unlike Liz Kendall and her liberalism can I honestly say what his politics are. There would be many times he got up in front of the CLP to defend the Blairite commonsense about winning elections, of securing the southern marginals so we can help best Stoke-on-Trent, but there was never a sense of vision. For someone heralded as an ideas man, there were no ideas. For someone who was and remains passionate about education, I never understood where that sprang from. There was no patrician concern for the poor, which some might have expected. Nor a desire to get into power and reform our way to the New Jerusalem. Absent too was the obsession with power for its own sake – he never struck me as someone who had a personal hunger for government. On a number of occasions when asked about Tristram, I often likened him to the gentlemanly Victorian who was passing through Parliament on his way to other things.

The absence of politics was also the root of his mistakes as a politician. In the days following the 2015 defeat, he was shocked to find his opponents had laid the groundwork for their leadership challenges among PLP colleagues well before election day. As a result, the MPs not already signed up for others and happy to back him were quite modest. This absence of nous touched on other areas of work. As I wrote previously, one of the benefits of having Tristram as a boss was that he’d leave you to use your own initiative. He was not the kind of Member who took the correspondence home to check the spellings and tone. This also meant he didn’t take as much of an interest in local politics as an MP should. Meetings with councillors were ad hoc and infrequent, local party strategy was something he fought shy of, and keeping the CLP happy wasn’t a high priority. The latter undoubtedly helped contribute to it near-unanimously voting to endorse Jeremy Corbyn last summer. Unfortunately, like many Labour MPs, Tristram doesn’t and didn’t understand much the party or movement of which he is part, and didn’t show interest in advice from staff and other local Labour people about how to navigate these choppy waters. He might have avoided the embarrassment of picket-linegate if he had, for instance.

Lastly, I was not surprised to learn of Tristram’s departure this morning. Even before the election, local comrades knew my belief that if we didn’t win in 2015, he wouldn’t contest 2020. That became increasingly obvious after the Boundary Commission slated Stoke-on-Trent Central for deletion in the great Tory gerrymander. And there was the summer’s grumblings that saw a local branch take a vote of no confidence against him. If Tristram wanted to hang on he would have had a torrid time, and not in a good way. The V&A position with its reported £300k salary has saved him from all that. Other Labour MPs in similar pickles are looking for similar gilded exits.

I don’t bear Tristram any ill will. I shall always be grateful for the two-and-a-half years I carried bags. It was a fantastic job and, bleeding heart that I am, I helped a lot of people out in shit situations. We all did. But like him or not, the politics of his departure leaves the party in a weakened position and a by-election that is going to be difficult. Legacies should be celebrated. It just saddens me that Tristram’s is something Stoke Labour is going to have to overcome.

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2016 and a tale of two Americas

December 30, 2016 at 12:03 pm (Anti-Racism, posted by JD, reblogged, Republican Party, Trump, United States)

From the website of Socialist Worker (US), the publication of the International Socialist Organisation, and nothing to do (any more) with the UK Socialist Worker / SWP:

How to sum up 2016–a year of important struggles and a reawakening to the meaning of socialism in the U.S., but also a year of emboldened bigotry and hate and the triumph of a reactionary creep? SocialistWorker.org’s Ashley Smith takes a shot, in an article based on a speech to an International Socialist Organization event in Burlington, Vermont.

Looking back at 2016 and the tale of two Americas

REMEMBER BACK to this time last year? It looked like the coming 2016 would be a drearily predictable election year, pitting yet another Clinton against yet another Bush.

Instead, 2016 turned out to be a stunning turning point–the year when growing dissatisfaction on both the right and the left broke through a corrupt and broken U.S. political system.

The year began with a sense of hope among millions of people that Bernie Sanders, with his campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, could open a left-wing path out of decades of neoliberalism. But it ended with the crushing fears and disappointment brought on by the victory of a right-wing nationalist and billionaire bigot, Donald Trump.

The success of both the Sanders and Trump candidacies may have shocked the political establishment–and almost everyone else–but both clearly resulted from the fact that the system is failing the vast majority of people.

We have endured four decades of attacks on the working class, four decades of the scapegoating of oppressed people, and four decades of counter-reforms that robbed us of nearly all the victories won by the social movements and mass struggles of the 1960s and even the 1930s.

All these elements of the neoliberal era only intensified after the Great Recession of 2008-09. America’s political leaders–first under a Republican president, then a Democrat–dragged the system out of economic free fall by bailing out the banks and corporations, but there was nothing for working people who suffered the brunt of the crisis. On the contrary, they made us pay for the bailouts with austerity measures and even worse scapegoating.

To enforce the savage inequalities of American society, police increased their reign of racist terror against Black people, and the immigration authorities deported well over 2 million of the undocumented. And this escalation in racist state violence was overseen by America’s first Black president.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE SAME dynamics have been playing out across the world. Establishment politics is provoking both struggle from below and right-wing populist reaction. The great Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote about a world of such polarization amid World War One: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

Thus, 2011 marked the high tide of left-wing struggles following the Great Recession, from the Arab Spring uprisings to the occupations of public squares in Greece and Spain; from the massive students movements in Chile and Quebec to Occupy Wall Street and later #BlackLivesMatter in the U.S.

These struggles crystallized the bitter discontent with a status quo of deteriorating living standards and worse to come. But in most, if not all, cases, they didn’t achieve lasting victories, and their setbacks came at a terrible cost. For example, the Middle East and North Africa have suffered through a savage counterrevolution as local and global ruling classes reasserted their dominion.

As popular resistance receded, right-wing populism has taken advantage in many societies, rushing in to play on people’s despair to win them to their reactionary solutions.

Trump is the latest example, but there are many more around the world: Narendhra Modi’s Hindu communalist regime in India; Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal “war on drugs” in the Philippines and Michel Temer’s electoral coup in Brazil, as well as rising far-right European leaders such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France.

In the U.S. and around the world, the right wing is finding coherence around a program that combines immigrant-bashing and Islamophobia with nationalist opposition to rotten free trade deals.

On the other side of this political polarization are many threads of resistance that have yet to cohere into a clear left-wing alternative to both the new right and the rotten old establishment forces of the ever-rightward-moving center. That is the clear task of socialists in 2017 and beyond.

Thus, 2016, like the whole preceding period before it since the Great Recession, was a year of contrasts–a year of hope and a year of despair. The moment was encapsulated more than a century and a half ago by the great British novelist Charles Dickens, in the famous opening lines of his book A Tale of Two Cities, written about Paris and London on the eve of the French Revolution of 1789:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN THE U.S., Election 2016 was the media’s obsession throughout the year, even though it seemed, after the circus of the Republican primaries, that the Democratic establishment’s choice would be a shoo-in on November 8.

Socialists regularly pointed out how bad a candidate Hillary Clinton was. Yet her loss to Trump is still shocking more than a month later.

But we must restate some facts amid all the confusion. Trump didn’t win the election. Clinton won the popular vote by a margin that could be as big as 3 million votes, but lost the While House because of the slaveholder’s Electoral College. Factoring in those who didn’t cast a ballot at all, Trump barely got the vote of a quarter of the eligible population.

He will come into office with the lowest approval ratings for any president-elect in recent history. In other words, in the immortal words of the great Gil Scott-Heron: “Mandate, my ass!”

But Trump has never been concerned with facts. He’ll act like he did win with a mandate and push to impose his reactionary agenda. We can see that clearly in the cabinet of horrors he is appointing.

Far from “draining the swamp” in Washington as he promised, he is filling his team with swamp creatures–from Wall Street magnates to establishment Republicans, along with far-right crackpots like former Breitbart News boss Steve Bannon.

And he’s planning to attack all of us–workers and oppressed people alike. He wants to cripple unions, privatize whole sections of the U.S. state, and further shred what’s left of the social safety net with attacks on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The people he’s appointing to run departments like Education and the Environmental Protection Agency despise the very institutions they will rule over.

Trump hopes to get away with this generalized attack through his program of scapegoating oppressed groups. The scariest immediate effect of Trump’s victory has been the emboldening of racist street violence. Already last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims, and it reports a further intensification since Trump’s election.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

OUR HOPES have to lie in the wave of protest triggered by Trump’s (un)election.

Spontaneous marches of hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands swept through cities and towns around the country each day after the election. Student walkouts took place from middle schools through universities. Immigrant rights activists initiated calls for sanctuary cities and campuses.

This instinctive resistance stood in stark contrast to the calls to give the new president a chance from Democratic Party leaders who had spent the previous months calling Trump a fascist menace in an effort to scare up Clinton votes.

Hopefully, the protests and actions being called against Trump’s inauguration–both national mobilizations for Washington, D.C., and local events shaping up in every city–will be the starting point for building the truly mass movements that will be necessary to oppose his agenda of mass deportations, Muslim registries, union busting and attacks on reproductive rights.

But Inauguration Day must be just the beginning. It will be a chance to show how many people want to send a message of defiance against the illegitimate president-to-be. But the work of resistance will take place in the struggles to come, whether on a local scale or a national one, around any number of issues.

Unfortunately, the potential for building large-scale resistance has been hindered by the invisibility of large institutional forces on the left. To this point, unions and mainstream civil rights organizations have been largely absent or inconspicuous from the anti-Trump protests, which were largely organized on short notice via social media. Even the Washington Inauguration Day protests have yet to get substantial backing from bigger organizations.

Amid the first protests of the coming Trump era, the struggle at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) stands out as a beacon pointing a way forward.

This struggle is built on hundreds of years of Native American resistance to colonization and dispossession–and, more recently, the heroic struggle of the Lakota Sioux to draw a line and refuse to move until the pipeline pushers stop the project that threatens their sacred land and water.

Their call for solidarity was heard by Indigenous people throughout the world, from Palestine to the Sami people of Norway, and thousands of non-Indigenous from all backgrounds flocked to North Dakota to stand against the pipeline.

Most dramatically, more than 2,000 military veterans mobilized for the first weekend in December to confront the police and private security hired by the pipeline builders. After word spread that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under pressure for months to take a side, had denied a necessary permit, blocking construction for now, representatives of these veterans of an institution that committed genocide against Native Americans organized a ceremonial apology for the crimes committed against Native peoples.

The fight against DAPL and other pipelines isn’t over, but our side has won an important battle. Standing Rock can be our North Star in the dark winter of Trump’s rise to power. It shows our potential and power when we unite in common struggle against our common enemies.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE ELECTION proved again that the U.S. is a profoundly polarized country, but now with an emboldened right wing that can cohere around Trump’s reactionary agenda and right-wing populism, while a new and stronger left is still struggling to be born.

Trump’s presidency will present it with huge challenges. But make no mistake: that new left is being born. We know that people are flocking to socialist meetings, reading socialist publications and joining with socialist organization in much greater numbers–something that started before the election, but has accelerated since.

One Internet meme captured this aspect of 2016 better than I ever could. “Sophie’s Merry Mom” sent a tweet with two pictures. The first picture, of Bernie Sanders, was labeled “Me at the beginning of 2016. The second picture, labeled “Me at the end of 2016,” was of Karl Marx.

We need to raise the left in the politics of solidarity and democracy to defeat Trump’s politics of divide and conquer. The old labor movement slogan needs to be pressed into service for a new generation: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” The opposite is also true: Each victory for our side is a victory for the whole left and the whole working-class movement.

There are initial lessons we can draw from the month since the election about the patterns of emerging resistance: There is widespread anger, not just at Trump but the entire two-party system–but organizing has been hobbled by the weakness of the left that came before, and especially the subservience of unions and liberal organizations to the Democratic Party and the interests of Corporate America that the Democrats serve.

We can’t kid ourselves about these weaknesses. But Trump’s aggressive attacks will provoke eruptions of protest–at unpredictable times and over unpredictable issues–and radicals need to try to help these protests develop from spontaneous reactions into lasting organizations of opposition.

These arenas of grassroots struggle and resistance–more than the local election and certainly more than doomed efforts to take over the Democratic Party–will be the primary place where the socialist left can begin to develop itself into a viable alternative.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I WANT to close these reflections on the last year of hope and horror with the words of the great poet of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes.

In 1935, amid the labor and socialist radicalization of the Great Depression, Hughes wrote a vision of solidarity and resistance that is probably the best single response to Donald Trump and his sickening slogan of “Make American great again.” It puts forward a vision of humanity and struggle that would make this country and the whole world actually great for the first time.

May it be read at many meetings and protests in 2017:

Let America be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the black man bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the black man, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The abuse and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again

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“Why I will no longer write for the Morning Star”

December 15, 2016 at 6:51 pm (apologists and collaborators, CPB, genocide, Human rights, internationalism, posted by JD, Putin, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, solidarity, stalinism, Syria)

Rabbil Sikdar

By Rabbil Sikdar (reblogged from Mediumhere)

I wear my socialism on my sleeves and will never shy away from that. Every Political Compass test has me basically nailed down as a ‘hard left’ person. The things I believe in, radical to some, sensible to others define my sense of socialism: fair wages, fair taxes, strong public sector, social housing and a compassionate welfare system. My socialism comes from my experiences and values, in growing up in east London and seeing a community fall victim to poverty and gentrification.

In an age where compromise is needed to move forward, I won’t apologise for that. But I will for being so slow to realise how Morning Star was positioning itself across a wide variety of issues.

I’m not a factional socialist; I’d happily write for the Morning Star and at the same time agree with people from Progress. Mostly though, when I initially began writing for the Star I did so as someone so happy to be writing for a newspaper. I did not know Star’s history but I would come to learn of it later; I waved it away thinking these were different times. Besides, at the start we had more in common. We both wanted a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party.

That was then. I no longer write for the Star and for a while had been winding down my contribution. By the end it was just sport content because of my respect for the sports editor. For the other part, I have a lot of things to be angry about with the Star.

For a newspaper that subscribes to left wing values, that should include free speech and right to criticise politicians. Unfortunately this never extended to criticism of Corbyn’s failing leadership, or Diane Abbott; it didn’t include the ‘Lexit’ vote — and where it mattered most crucially, it did not include Russia and Assad.

The paper has never criticised the Assad regime or Putin. Lines that go along with “we’re no fans of the Assad regime but…” are poor condemnations. In fact, they’re not condemnations at all. Someone recently described it quite well as imagining defenders of the British Empire dismissing the Amritsar Massacre. Likewise, saying “we condemn all bombings” gravely misunderstands who is doing the bombing and draws a false equivalence between aggressive actors and those responding to the violence. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported in 2015 that the Assad regime was responsible for more than 10,000 deaths. ISIS, for all their barbarism, had killed just over a thousand. Since then, those statistics have continued in underlining the basic fact that Assad — backed up by Russia — has been responsible for the brutal carnage.

This is the humanitarian war crime of our time, a genocide that we watched live on television Facebook for years — and we did nothing. We have witnessed ethnic cleansing, repeated breaking of ceasefires and remorseless ruthlessness towards civilian population. The Syrian resistance against a fascist dictator desperately needed solidarity from the international community, and especially the left.

Some gave it; I’ve seen some fantastic leftist activists bravely holding everyone to account; Oz Katerji, Idrees Ahmad and James Bloodworth being some of them. The late Jo Cox was a strong supporter of the inspirational White Helmets. Read the rest of this entry »

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Abandoning Syria to Assad helps al-Qaeda

September 23, 2016 at 8:39 pm (Human rights, murder, posted by JD, Putin, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, Russia, Syria, terror, war)

Reblogged from The Syrian Intifada:

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 23, 2016

2

The deeply problematic attempted Syrian ceasefire agreement between the United States and Russia last week never really took hold and was finally torn asunder on Monday by Russia and the regime of Bashar al-Assad blitzing an aid convoy and launching massive, indiscriminate aerial attacks on rebel-held areas in Aleppo. Last night, the pro-Assad coalition commenced a renewed assault on Aleppo actually as the parties met to discuss putting the ceasefire back online.

It had been surreal that it was the U.S. insisting that “The ceasefire is not dead”. What it exposed was the lack of Western will to restrain the Assad regime, which al-Qaeda, especially, is exploiting, offering its services in the fight against Assad, and building a sustainable presence in Syria that will threaten the West for many years to come.

A Misconceived Ceasefire

The agreement between the U.S. and Russia, and its attendant political process, were inherently misconceived, strengthening Assad, whose murderous policies have—quite deliberately—provided the ideal context for the growth of extremist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The ceasefire had been intended to last seven days, during which regime jets would cease murdering civilians and attacking mainstream armed opposition groups, and there would be free access for humanitarian supplies. After this “sustained” period of calm the U.S. and Russia would launch joint airstrikes against al-Qaeda in Syria, the recently rebranded Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS).

The proposal—if it worked to the letter—would have eliminated an important part of the insurgency. Since the agreement contained no provision for bolstering mainstream rebels and no mechanism to prevent or punish the regime for anything, there was nothing to stop the pro-regime coalition from continuing to commit atrocities as JFS was degraded, nor making military gains against a weakened insurgency once JFS was gone.

While JFS’s destruction would have neutralized the insurrection as a strategic threat to the regime, it would not have brought peace. It would have removed all incentive for the regime to negotiate a political settlement, yet the regime’s chronic capacity problems would have left it unable to pacify the whole country. In these conditions, the most radical insurgent forces, who would be the ones prepared to fight on, would have been strengthened, condemning Syria to a permanent war in which terrorists could find haven.

The eradicate-JFS-without-replacing-its-capabilities part of the plan was understandably rejected by the Syrian opposition, which officially accepted the ceasefire element of the U.S.-Russia deal. Unfortunately even the ceasefire provisions never came to pass. Around 150 people were killed by the pro-Assad coalition during the ceasefire and not a single aid delivery was permitted to any of the regime-besieged areas.

On Monday, an aid convoy of eighteen trucks finally did move over the Turkish border into Aleppo, loaded with aid for 78,000 people. It was obliterated by Russian jets, who had been tracking it for at least two hours, its contents destroyed, and thirty-one civilians and staff killed. Indiscriminate bombing of rebel-held areas all over Aleppo also recommenced, bringing the ceasefire in any real world sense to an end.

Russia Directs the Political Process

By the time the political process began in December 2015, the Russian intervention had altered the balance of power so the regime was ascendant, and enabled the Russians to subvert the whole process, transforming it from one about the terms of Assad’s departure to the terms of his continuation in power. The U.S. was pushing for a unity government between the regime, with Assad still at the helm, and the rebels that turned its guns on the Islamic State. For the rebels this was surrender by another name.

The attempted ceasefire in February was preceded by a lessening of support for the rebellion as the U.S. and allies lived up to their obligation to de-escalate. The pro-regime coalition used this as cover to advance against Aleppo City, cutting off its supply lines to Turkey. The pro-regime then ostensibly accepted the ceasefire, using the rebels’ restraint to consolidate their gains, while continuing to prepare further offensives and to brazenly continue assaults in key strategic zones. The ceasefire irretrievably collapsed in May when al-Qaeda led a full-scale counter-offensive in Aleppo, but in reality the ceasefire had been over in all-but-name for many weeks because of the pro-regime coalition’s continued attacks.

This time around the ceasefire was once again on de facto Russian terms and the regime faced no threat of enforceable sanction for violations of the agreement. It has also been evident for several weeks that the regime was building up for an offensive in Aleppo and the only question in Moscow about the ceasefire was whether the pro-regime coalition needed the fiction of one to allow preparations to be completed, or had no further need of this smokescreen and were able to conduct the offensive. The answer is now in.

From around midday yesterday, in Aleppo, the pro-Assad coalition commenced its heaviest wave of airstrikes for months. One resident said it was “as if the [Russian and Assad regime] planes are trying to compensate for all the days they didn’t drop bombs”. Last night the Assad regime announced a full-scale offensive as Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with his Russian counterpart. Kerry is said to have found out about this from one of the wire services. Since then the gates of hell have opened.

The ground offensive is spearheaded, as usual, by Iraqi Shi’a jihadists who were imported by, and are under the command of, the Iranian theocracy. More than one-hundred airstrikes have been launched, and a similar number of civilians massacred. Two centres for the White Helmets have also been hit. There isn’t even time for interviews between the airstrikes.

Al-Qaeda Gains

Since al-Qaeda argued, from the beginning, that the political process was a conspiracy against the revolution, which would cajole the rebels into joining an interim government that served Western counter-terrorism priorities but had no care for the people and would leave them under Assad’s heel, they have come out of this period with a lot of credibility.

Al-Qaeda has adopted a strategy of embedding itself into the rebellion, making itself militarily necessary for the opposition and thereby shielding its jihadist agenda behind revolutionary actors whose only intention is to topple a regime that threatens them and their families. The Western refusal to empower the mainstream rebellion allowed al-Qaeda the space to do this and to make decoupling its own fate from the rebellion more difficult. The attempted ceasefires have made this worse by providing cover for regime advances that consciously weaken the moderate rebels, increasing the dependency, in an effort to make the conflict binary between the regime and the jihadists. With the rebranding—the supposed “split” from al-Qaeda—being baptised by breaking the siege of Aleppo, which the U.S. said it was powerless to do, and modifications in behaviour on the ground, al-Qaeda is even winning over former sceptics.

It’s a sad fact that Western policy has failed to defend a single Syrian inside Syria from murder by its outlaw government and its foreign life-support system, nor shown any willingness to work toward the only viable solution for security and peace: the removal of the Assad regime. A peace settlement from here is only viable if the West is willing to confront the Assad regime, to forcefully limit its ability to commit mass-murder and to change battlefield dynamics against it. The continued Western fiction that the ceasefire remains or can be revived or is the “only show in town,” as Boris Johnson put it, is a clear statement that the West has no such will, and has taken the decision to continue on a path whose results are now known.

Allowing Assad free rein, as current policy does, protracts the war. The regime and its supporters have no intention of abiding by conditions that limit their capacity to subdue the insurgency, but they are unable to complete that task. What the pro-regime coalition can do is continue with their chosen tactics in the attempt, collective punishment and mass-displacement, which leave a desperate population amenable to appeals from anybody who can help. Al-Qaeda will continue to fill this void for as long as it is allowed to.

By fostering a vanguardist co-dependency, taking on the population’s concerns as its own and working toward them, al-Qaeda is able to use that population to protect itself and to push its ideology among them, working toward socializing people into its vision of an Islamic state and co-opting the rebellion. Leaving al-Qaeda as the only viable actor for protecting civilians from the Assad regime and its allies is creating a dangerously durable future base for Islamist terrorism.

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Israel/Palestine: Corbyn and Smith back two states

September 15, 2016 at 3:20 pm (Andrew Coates, Human rights, israel, labour party, Middle East, palestine, reblogged)

Andrew Coates reports:

Image result for Labour friends of palestine

Jeremy Corbyn:

Dear Karl,

Thank you very much for your email from Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. I have read your six pledges and am in support of them all. I have been campaigning for the human rights of the Palestinian people for decades and will continue to do so for as long as their rights are being denied to them.

I have been campaigning for the human rights of the Palestinian people for decades and will continue to do so for as long as their rights are being denied to them.

I fully support a two state solution based on 1967 borders where a fully independent Palestinian state can exist alongside an Israeli state in peace. I would aim to aid the achievement of this by reaffirming the Labour Party’s decision, made under Ed Milliband, to recognize the state of Palestine and would lobby governments, multinational institutions and other political parties around the world to do likewise. I believe that this recognition is essential for establishing the principle of equality between Israel and Palestine.

Both British and American governments have rightly criticised illegal settlements in the West Bank. It is clear to me that the only hope of ending this policy is if the international community intensifies its pressure on the Israeli government. In order to further the peace process, I am, therefore, in support of targeted boycotts with the aim of requiring the cessation of all settlement activity.

To reduce the UK’s role in the perpetuation of this conflict, I have also called for the UK government to cease selling arms to Israel.

Whilst a lasting solution between Israel and Palestine is being sought, it is imperative that the matter of Israeli human rights abuses is addressed urgently. The siege of Gaza, the detention of civilians without trial (including the detention of children) and the harassment and humiliation of Palestinians as they go about their everyday life must cease.

I have previously called for, and will go on demanding, that the strongest possible protests be made to the Israeli government, with escalating consequences, if they do not uphold the human right norms we would expect all those seeking warm relations with Britain to maintain.

Jeremy Corbyn

LFPME

Owen Smith:

Dear Grahame,

Thank you for your letter on behalf of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East on this issue of profound importance. I am proud to be a member of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and I strongly support a viable peace process based on internationally recognised (1967) borders.

I continue to unequivocally support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recognition of a viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel. The terms of a peace deal are well known and I support them completely: two sovereign states living side by side in peace and security. The right to self-determination is an inalienable right for the peoples of both Palestine and Israel. I believe that the state of Palestine should be recognised, within the UN and by the UK, and I voted to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014 as an essential step towards to realising a two-state solution. I recognise that, ultimately, this can only be achieved by both sides sitting down together, with equal status, negotiating in good faith and making some difficult compromises. Peace is not something that can be imposed on either the Israelis or Palestinians by force or diktat.

I am opposed to violations of international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land. I consider the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal, unjustifiable and detrimental to the prospects of achieving a two state solution. I also agree that the blockade on Gaza should be lifted and that rocket attacks and terrorism against Israelis must stop.

I am not convinced that a boycott of goods from Israel would help to achieve a negotiated peace settlement. In order to support the peace process we must build bridges between all those who support peace in the region. My time working in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process showed me that, beyond negotiations, peace only really comes when each side moves towards reconciliation. As friends of the people of Israel and Palestine, our most important task is to help foster cooperation and coexistence between both sides and I believe the work of LFPME makes an important contribution to that understanding.

I hope this reply is helpful and thank you for giving me the opportunity to set out my views in more detail.

Yours sincerely,

Owen Smith

As signalled by AT and DO: and already being debated. 

Both Labour candidates back the “two state” position, a proposed “solution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.”

Without going into the complexities of this, not to mention the broader context of the conflicts in the region, the two statements show a great deal of common ground, within the Party, the left internationally, and, most importantly, within important sections  of the people affected.

The debate remains live on “targeted boycotts” aimed at illegal settlements, wider “boycotts”, or the justification for this kind of action against Israel, at all.

We agree with the views of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty: opposing all-embracing boycotts of Israel as advocated by the BDS movement.

Boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS)

Barghouti is quite upfront that BDS ultimately means ostracising everything Israeli. The campaign is “working to expel Israel and its complicit institutions from international and interstate academic, cultural, sporting… environmental, financial, trade, and other forums. He soft-soaps that “groups that for tactical reasons support only a subset of BDS, or a targeted boycott of specific products or organisations in Israel, or supporting Israel, are still our partners. Boycott is not a one-size-fits-all type of process. What is important to agree on, though, is why we are boycotting and towards what ends”. He distinguishes between advocating such a targeted boycott as a tactic, leading to the ultimate goal of boycotting all Israeli goods and services, and advocating such a targeted boycott as the ultimate strategy. While the former “may be necessary in some countries as a convenient and practical tool to raise awareness and promote debate about colonial and apartheid regime, the latter, despite its lure, would be in direct contradiction with the stated objectives of the Palestinian boycott movement”.

Barghouti is also clear that the boycott of settlement goods alone is not sufficient. The BDS movement, he says,” views the approach of focusing on banning only settlement products as the ultimate goal – rather than the first, convenient step towards a general Israeli products boycott – as problematic, practically, politically and morally”. At a practical level “Israel has made it extremely difficult to differentiate between settlement and other Israeli products, simply because the majority of parent companies are based inside Israel or because colony-based companies have official addresses there”. Politically “even if distinguishing between produce of settlements and produce of Israel were possible, activists who on principle – rather than out of convenience – advocate a boycott of only the former may argue that they are merely objecting to the Israeli military occupation and colonisation of 1967 and have no further problems with Israel”. Finally, there is a moral problem with accepting these “two grave… violations of human rights and international law as givens”.

BDS may seem in the ascendant for now. It may make progress in places, on the back of the Israeli state’s next atrocity. BDS needs to be fought politically, because it stands in the path of two states, the only consistently democratic solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But BDS is ultimately a pessimistic approach. It put the agency for change outside of the region. It wants civil society, which includes not only NGOs and unions but bourgeois governments and business internationally to make things right for the Palestinians. There is another road. The Palestinian workers in alliance with Israeli workers fighting for a two state democratic solution to the national question, is the force that could deliver peace and much more besides.

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Philip Green: archetypal British capitalist

July 25, 2016 at 2:44 pm (capitalism, corruption, economics, posted by JD, reblogged)

By Phil Burton-Cartledge at All That Is Solid (first published 26 April 2016, and now even more relevant):

Philip GreenOn global capitalism in Lenin’s day, the Bolshevik leader had this to say: “Imperialism is an immense accumulation of money capital in a few countries … hence the extraordinary growth of a class, or rather, of a stratum of rentiers, i.e., people who live by “clipping coupons”, who take no part in any enterprise whatever, whose profession is idleness …” If only the money men of 21st century Britain remained excrescences on the economy, of directing their stooges to invest capital and growing fat off the labour and talent of others. At the risk of being wistful, this ideal-typical view of your average capitalist is long buried and have gone beyond mere uselessness. Drunk on their parasitism, they are oblivious to how their appetites are not just imperiling the health of the enterprises they gorge upon, but threaten to kill them outright.

The latest example is the collapse of British Home Stores (BHS), a venerable department store that has graced the high street for 88 years. Not that I ever went there, which I suppose is a microcosm of the predicament it finds itself in. Lately, not enough of anyone have come through its doors to buy outfits and lampshades. Yet the Darwinist cut and thrust of the retail market can only shoulder so much of the blame. The reason why BHS is looking down a barrel, and its 11,000-strong workforce face uncertain futures is in large measure down to its erstwhile proprietor, the fly-by-knight Sir Philip Green. Acquiring the struggling BHS for £200m in 2000, Green and his family shook the firm down for a billion quid. All the profits, all the wage squeezes, every saving that could be wrung from the business passed through head office en route to Tina Green’s capacious purse in Monaco. And when there was nothing left, Green offloaded BHS on his tax-dodging wife’s behalf for a quid. The new owners, a ragtag-and-bobtail outfit going by the name of Retail Acquisitions, failed to raise the cash BHS needed to start turning itself around.

It goes without saying that Green’s behaviour was grubby and disgusting, and he could face action from the pensions’ watchdog amid suggestions that the firm dodged its obligations (this would be on top of the pensions holidays many large firms took in the late 90s/early 00s, all with a nod from Gordon Brown). Seemingly aware he could be on the hook for something, Green has offered to stump up £80m toward the BHS pension fund’s half-a-billion deficit. I hope the sop is rejected and he gets rinsed.

As you can see, Green went well beyond the “coupon clipping”. His ownership and running of the brand suggests little if any interest in preserving the business for the long-term, of increasing products, introducing new lines, investing in new technology, and battling it out for market share. You know, the things Max Weber told us capitalists are supposed to do. If BHS was in difficulty 16 years ago, self-evidently a business that has a billion pounds sloshing around is a business that was not a basket case. Instead of treating BHS like a bile bear with the tap left on full for the Green durée, the monies could have been used to add value by expanding its range, aggressively marketing itself, and venturing properly into online retail. Instead, Sir Phil was to his host a tax-dodging, celeb-stalking, yacht-bothering tapeworm.

Ah, but he’s a one-off, a bad apple, yes? In the interests of fairness, BHS’s problems can’t all be laid at his door. The so-called death of the high street is the result of policies pursued over the last six years. The cost of living crisis (remember that?) was always more than a soundbite for millions of people. As meagre wage rises/freezes have bitten, people don’t have as much cash to splash, hence middlebrow stores like BHS were always going to face what the experts call a “challenging retail environment”. The second is the brash new competitor, Amazon, have got away with ripping off the Treasury. Without as much of a tax liability, they have built an infrastructure on the back of exhausting, low-paid work, which has given them an unfair competitive advantage. Having got caught dithering over steel, the Tories are not about to invite more scrutiny of their complicity in this situation. Which probably helps explain why Anna Soubry’s been very quick to discuss the issue in the House and dampen speculation about redundancies.

There’s a wider point. Green is the “cultural dominant” of what a capitalist looks like in 21st century Britain, the sort valorised, flattered, and admired by the City and its helpers. The pursuit of profit, of realising returns on investment, comes not from building things but of tearing them down. As David Harvey points out, global capital from the 1980s on snapped up sold off state infrastructure and coined it from the introduction of markets into public services. New markets were conquered, but these were provided by governments as they let capital swoop in and profit from institutions under their stewardship. Capitalism ate the infrastructure that sustained it. As Britain is the epicentre of global finance, we find here these necrotising social relationships have achieved their fullest expression: an economy whose GDP is dependent not on production, but the selling of houses between buy-to-let landlords, a state bent on selling off what’s left of the public domain to politically suitable bidders (one doesn’t have to be the highest, as the Garden Bridge fiasco demonstrates), and a financial industry that sucks in Britain’s best brains to design fiendishly complex but socially useless “products”, “packages”, “vehicles”, and “instruments”. Funny how the intangible has annexed the language of the concrete. In sum, the owners of capital have become dysfunctional and decadent from the standpoint of British capitalism itself.

Green is not a one-off. He’s archetypal.

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Lansman on Labour and the Jews: from ethnic cleansing to truth and reconciliation

May 31, 2016 at 6:17 am (history, Human rights, immigration, israel, labour party, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reblogged, war, zionism)

Jon Lansman, writing at Left Futures, shows how Labour’s commitment in 1944 to a Jewish national state in Palestine wasn’t due to Zionist agitation or imperialist self interest but the effects of the holocaust; an important and well-researched piece: 

97i/16/huty/6851/17Who is responsible for the Middle East conflict? And how do we help resolve it? We can do worse than to begin by looking at Labour’s own history.

On this day [ie 30 May] in 1944, Labour’s annual conference was taking place in London. A week before D-Day and two weeks before V1s started hitting London, the Allies were making progress through Italy and were bombing targets in France in preparation for the invasion. And amidst all that, Labour delegates were focussed on “The International Post-War Settlement“, on how to build a post-war world.

They knew about the Holocaust though they had not yet really understood its magnitude. And in building a new world, they were prepared to contemplate some drastic measures. I recently purchased a copy of the NEC statement which was agreed at the conference. It included, in a section headed “Palestine”, the words I found profoundly shocking when I first read them:

There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a “Jewish National Home”, unless, we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land [Palestine] in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the War. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German Nazi plan to kill all Jews in Europe. Here, too, in Palestine surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement, for transfer of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organised and generously financed. The Arabs have many wide territories of their own; they must not claim to exclude the Jews from this small area of Palestine, , less than the size of Wales. Indeed we should re-examine the possibility of extending the present Palestinian boundaries, by agreement with Egypt, Syria or Transjordan.”

And so, without opposition, Labour’s conference committed itself to not only ethnic cleansing, but to a Greater Israel extending even beyond the boundaries that it currently occupies in 2016. It did so not because it was persuaded by the “Zionist lobby”, not in order to serve British imperial interests (which had been the only objective of the Balfour declaration in 1917), but because of the Holocaust, and the refugee problem that they expected.

This nevertheless shocking commitment to ethnic cleansing should be seen in the context of an earlier section of the report in a section headed “Frontiers“:

All Germans left outside the the post-War German frontiers, unless they are willing to become loyal subjects of the state in which they find themselves, claiming no special privileges, should go back to Germany. Indeed they will be well advised to do so in their own interests, for, in the early post-War years at any rate, there will be a depth of hatred against Germans in the occupied countries, which it is impossible for us or for Americans to realise.

Germans in many of those areas may have to face the choice between migration and massacre.

The organised transfer of population, in the immediate post-War period, may, indeed, be one of the foundations of better international relations in a later phase. Nor would this be a new departure. Between the Wars the transfer of population between Greece and Turkey was an undoubted success.

In any case, there will be a vast problem of repatriation and resettlement in Europe, when tens of millions of refugees, slave labourers and prisoners of war return to freedom and their own homes. Compared with this, the transfer even of substantial national minorites, German and other, to the right side of the post-War frontiers will be a small affair. “

Shocking as it may be to those of us who observe from a safe distance the fall-out from the ethnic cleansing that did in fact take place in 1947 in Palestine and the conflict that followed, it was seen as a relatively “small affair” in the context of the end of World War II. Ethnic cleansing had allegedly been an “undoubted success” in Greece and Turkey in spite of the deaths from epidemics in transit and the resulting poverty and hardship on arrival.

Churchill who had promisedthat we British will never seek to take vengeance by wholesale mass reprisals against the general body of the German people” – with the backing of Labour’s leaders and conference – agreed with Allied leaders to back the ethnic cleansing of 12-14million Germans across central and eastern Europe after the war.

The largest forced migration in history” was “accomplished largely by state-sponsored violence and terror” including being herded into camps including former Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz or Theresienstadt, victims being subjected to beatings, rapes of female inmates, gruelling forced labour and starvation diets.

Estimates of those who died in transit vary upwards from 500,000 though the German government clings to earlier estimates of 2million. This included those who died of disease or malnutrition which included a high proportion of children and the elderly. What’s more, other minorities were expelled on the back of this forced migration: Hungarians from Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, Romanians by the USSR. And that is on top of the forced repatriation of Soviet POWs.

Labour was right to expect massacres from populations that had suffered German brutality under occupation. And the League of Nations and post-World War I treaties had utterly failed to protect ethnic minorities subjected to the racism of right-wing nationalist governments right across central Europe in the new ethno-centered nation states Western leaders had created in the dismemberment of the old empires. On the altar of “self-determination”, Allied leaders had handed multicultural cities and towns across Europe to be ruled by strident ethnic nationalists.

By 1944, they didn’t want to make the same mistake again. Not in Europe, and not with the Jews. And so it was they that created Israel. Of the Allied leaders, it is true that both Bevin and Attlee were persuaded by the complexities of managing inter-communal conflict in the Mandate of British Palestine (rather than by Ernie Bevin’s antisemitic prejudices though he had them) to abstain on Israel’s creation. In addition to the pressure of US diplomats on countries like Haiti, Philipines and Liberia, it was the three votes controlled by Stalin (cast on behalf of the USSR, Ukraine and Belarus) which ensured that the two-thirds majority for resolution 181 was achieved.

And so what of the role of Zionism? For all the diplomacy and organisation of the World Zionist Organisation for half a century, it was not that which led to the creation of Israel. It was the Holocaust, the plight of the survivors seeking safe refuge, and the guilt of the American, British and other Allied leaders who did not wish to take them in (though many would have been satisfied with that).

So they did for the Jews what they were not prepared to do for the Kurds, nor for the Roma. And the Jews, a majority of whom in almost all countries had not supported Zionism prior to the War, rejoiced at the prospect of a safe place to live. And who with the knowledge of their circumstances cannot understand that?

And the Palestinians understandably saw and still see the loss of their land as a catastrophe. The Nakba. And who that reflects on their circumstances and what they have experienced since cannot understand that?

If there is to be peace, justice, democracy and equality in Israel/Palestine, both of those realities need to be acknowledged. Only truth can bring reconciliation.

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Junior doctors: is the deal a sell-out?

May 25, 2016 at 8:20 pm (health service, reblogged, solidarity, unions)

From A Healthy Blog, republished with the permission of the author, Dr Peter Campbell:

Sell Out?

During the past year we have learnt an incredible amount. From how to organise a picket and dealing with the media, to contract law and equality impact assessments.

On Wednesday (last week) we were taught a lesson by the Government. A lesson on media management. The power of the Government to define a story in its own terms. When the news of the deal broke and we were faced with an onslaught of media and press reaction. ‘The war is over,’ ‘the deal is done,’ ‘BMA agrees terms with NHS Employers.’ It left a lot of Junior Doctors scratching their heads. Is it? Have we just lost?

The appearance of Jeremy Hunt on the national news did nothing to reassure us. His usual mix of factual inaccuracies and scorn for Health Professionals driving many into a frenzy. How could the BMA have done a deal with this man, and how could any deal be any good with the claims Hunt has made?

But if you look beyond the spin, the picture is a lot less clear cut, and there are parts of the deal which are very good for Junior Doctors, and directly oppose Hunt’s narrative on the contract. There are bits of the contract which quite frankly are not good enough and will the apparent return to a position of a cost neutral contract leave Junior Doctors open to more attacks down the line?

hunt plan.jpg

There is a lot for Junior Doctors to consider, and there is much to discuss as we plan the way forward. Industrial action and tough negotiation has won us concessions from the government that I did not believe were possible. The Junior Doctors Committee will meet on the 3rd June prior to the referendum of all Junior Doctors (and penultimate and final year medical students) to articulate a way forward.

Here are my thoughts on some of the issues:

Pay & Weekends

Currently junior doctors receive a pay uplift for unsociable hours (called banding.) The new contract splits this pot of money into sections. A pay premium for hours worked at night, retains a banding for Non-Resident on-call (NROC) and introduces a graded banding for weekend work.

This graded banding, based on the number of weekends worked is vital for Junior Doctors. It means there will be an escalating cost to increased weekend working, putting trusts off from rostering more doctors at weekends. Because it is a banding system it applies to the entire weekend. The risk of a junior doctor being asked to work repeated Saturdays as plain time has gone. Junior Doctors have got what they wanted, a financial disincentive to routine weekend working, and Jeremy Hunt is left trying to spin a defeat into victory.

Pay for all work done

When we look back at this contract negotiation I believe this will be seen as the biggest mistake made by the government.

Late last year the Junior Doctors Committee stated that it wanted pay for all work done. A reasonable request. The previous version of the contract honoured this on paper, but not in practice by stating that if a Junior Doctor could predict the hours they were going to be overworked they could request to be paid for these hours. Any junior doctor could tell you this was a joke, and would never work in practice.

The ACAS agreement states that we will now be able to claim for these hours before, during or after the period of extra work. This means the system will now be able to cope with the realities of the work. Doctors will be able to ask for this time to be added to annual leave or claim it back as pay if there is no space in the rota for them to take the leave.

This will be overseen by the Guardian. This newly created role with have oversight over a number of aspects of safety, rotas and exception reporting. The mechanism of reporting overworking. This was rightly described as a weak point in the previous contract. But it has been beefed up, and crucially will now be under scrutiny by Junior Doctors.

Equality

Unfortunately it is here that the ACAS document doesn’t stand up so well to scrutiny. The March contract offer was rightly attacked for its discrimination towards women, lone carers and the disabled. While this contract makes some moves in the right direction, many of these are of speculative benefit.

The reality of the loss of annual pay progression is a less equal contract. A week point of the new contract is also evening working. Particularly important for carers. The governments desire for the political victory will currently see this contract implemented before much of the work around rotas, equality issues or safety has been completed. Not a good starting point for a complicated, divisive new contract.

Cost Neutrality

Jeremy Hunt argues this contract is ‘cost neutral.’ What he means by this is that compared to October 2015, this new contract would not cost any more than our current contract. Therefore if we were to transport ourselves back to October 2015 and put all Junior Doctors on the new contract the pay envelope would be the same.

Nobody believes this contract is cost neutral. An accurate estimate of the extra work done by Junior Doctors is difficult, but there is clearly a lot of it. If we start paying out for that cost neutrality is blown out the window.

But by saying it, and if Junior Doctors do not oppose it, it gives the Secretary of State political leverage for further cuts. In a years time when the pay bill has grown due to the NHS actually paying doctors for the work they do how will the government respond. In order to keep the pay bill cost neutral will it cut doctor numbers? Will it ask hospitals to cut services? Will it try and close whole wards or hospitals?

Junior Doctors have put themselves in an incredibly powerful position. We should not lose faith in our collective power now. Baring any surprises in the terms and conditions released on or before the 31st May I will be voting ‘no’.

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Khan victory in London brings horrible prospect of Kate Hopkins and sausage

May 7, 2016 at 2:57 pm (labour party, London, posted by JD, Racism, reblogged, reformism, secularism, Sheer joy)

I can’t improve on Comrade Coatesy’s coverage of this superb result:

Sausage Identical to the one said to be on Way to Kate Hopkins’s Bum.

It was a joy to see Sadiq Khan won the London Mayor election.

For readers not in the UK (roughly half those reading this blog) this is a report,

Sadiq Khan became the first Muslim mayor of London in the early hours of Saturday after a bitter campaign marred by accusations of dog whistle racism on the part of his rival, the millionaire environmentalist Zac Goldsmith.

The Labour MP for Tooting in south London finished comfortably ahead of his Conservative rival whose camp accused Khan of “pandering to extremists” and tried to depict him as a Jeremy Corbyn loyalist who planned to use the capital for a “dangerous experiment”.

In his victory speech, Khan said he was “humbled” to be elected. In sharp remarks, he directly addressed Goldsmith’s campaign saying that he was proud “that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division”.

He added: “I hope that we will never be offered such a stark choice again. Fear does not make us safer, it only makes it weaker – and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city. I promise to always be a mayor for all Londoners, to work hard to make life better for every Londoner regardless of your background.

“I have a burning ambition for London. I want every single Londoner to get the opportunities that our city gave to me and my family.”

Referring to his late father, who came to London from Pakistan, Khan said he would have been proud “that the city he chose to call his own had now chosen one of his children to be mayor”.

Guardian.

Owen Jones notes,

Forgive and forget Zac Goldsmith’s racist campaign? No chance

Zac Goldsmith has lost, his reputation ruined, a political disgrace consigned to the history books. He had a choice. He could have capitalised on his reputation as a liberally minded, eco-friendly Tory, crossing partisan divides, love-bombing a city that has increasingly become a Labour heartland. Initial polls suggested he had a chance, even a significant lead. The cheerleaders for Tessa Jowell, the Blairite candidate in Labour’s selection race, wrongly suggested Sadiq Khan was unelectable.

Instead, Goldsmith waged a campaign soaked in racism, in one of the most ethnically diverse cities on Earth, shamelessly exploiting anti-Muslim prejudices in an effort to secure a shameful victory. Khan was a candidate who “repeatedly legitimised those with extremist views”, he wrote in the Mail. London was offered a campaign of fear, smear and bigotry. And London overwhelmingly told it where to go.

A more detailed analysis of the national results will follow, though it is clear that attempts to drive Labour down to the ground have not born fruit.

For the moment we note that critics of Jeremy Corbyn claim any successes as their own work, and any set backs as his.

This is one reaction from a leading British commentator after, on Wednesday she tweeted:

French co-thinkers of Hopkins yet to react: Two Hours of a Muslim London Mayor and Daesh have not yet blown up Big Ben.

Then there is this, from the Weekly Worker, no doubt endorsed (?) by the ‘Labour Party Marxists’.

Both of them.

Vote Galloway

The Provisional Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain, meeting on May 1, agreed to call for a vote for George Galloway (first preference) in the London mayoral election and Sadiq Khan (second preference).

We call for a first-preference vote for George Galloway in spite of his notorious alliances with the Iranian regime, with Ba’athists and other oppressors in the Middle East, and in spite of the political differences for which we have repeatedly criticised him.

We do so because the witch-hunt around allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ currently being conducted by the Labour right and the mass media is an attempt to smear any opposition to US policy in the Middle East as racist, and is part of a class struggle conducted by the capitalist class to recover full control of the Labour Party by its paid agents.

Sadiq Khan has come onside for capital in this witch-hunt; Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have collapsed in the face of it. In contrast, George Galloway has responded robustly and broadly correctly. In this context a first-preference vote for Galloway is a useful, if limited, protest against the witch-hunt.

It is not yet known how the ‘Provisional Central Committee’ will react to the results, including Galloway’s 1.4%  (Wikipedia):

Mayor of London election 5 May 2016 [183]
Party Candidate 1st Round  % 2nd Round Total  First Round Votes  Transfer Votes
Labour Sadiq Khan 1,148,716 44.2% 388,090 1,536,806
Conservative Zac Goldsmith 909,755 35.0% 250,214 1,159,969
Green Siân Berry 150,673 5.8% 468,318 618,991
Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon 120,005 4.6% 335,931 455,936
UKIP Peter Whittle 94,373 3.6% 223,253 317,626
Women’s Equality Sophie Walker 53,055 2.0% 198,720 251,775
Respect George Galloway 37,007 1.4% 117,080 154,087
Britain First Paul Golding 31,372 1.2% 73,883 105,255
CISTA Lee Harris 20,537 0.8% 67,495 88,032
BNP David Furness 13,325 0.5% 36,168 49,493
Independent Prince Zylinski 13,202 0.5% 24,646 37,848
One Love Ankit Love 4,941 0.2% 28,920 33,861
Labour gain from Conservative

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Hillsborough: the truth finally confirmed

April 26, 2016 at 4:43 pm (cops, Murdoch, posted by JD, reblogged, sport, tragedy, truth)

The truth about the Hillsborough disaster and the police cover-up (aided by The Sun) has gradually emerged over the years since 1989, but today’s inquest verdict of Unlawful Killing is a brilliant vindication and a tribute to the families’ resolute campaigning. The blog Guy Debord’s Cat carried this article in September 2012, as the truth became undeniable:

Hillsborough: the truth at last

Liverpool is a unique city in many ways. It is a city that is divided by football but also united by it. My family is like a lot of Scouse families: we’re split between the red and the blue halves of the city’s footballing divide. I’m a Liverpool supporter, so was my grandfather, my mum and one of my aunts who’d married a Kopite. The others, my uncles (one of whom played for Tranmere) and aunt, are/were Toffees.  You’d always find Blues and Reds at Prenton Park on Friday nights to watch Tranmere Rovers before going to their respective side’s matches the following day. What other city would you find supporters from rival sides getting on so well? Only in Liverpool. Hillsborough affected not just the city of Liverpool but the rest of Merseyside.

It was 1989 and I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree at Newcastle Poly. I’d gone to the Student Union bar with some of my friends with the intention of watching a cracking tie. Within minutes of the kick-off it was obvious that something wasn’t right, the camera had panned to the Leppings Lane stand and we could see people clambering over the bars at that end of the ground. After a lot of end-to-end action, police and officials appeared on the pitch and the match was stopped. Within minutes we got the news that people were being crushed to death. I started sobbing; it was uncontrolled sobbing. I told my mates that I could have been there. I could have been one of those supporters who’d been crushed. I felt the unfolding tragedy. I can still feel it today.

In the days that followed, stories emerged in the press that pointed the finger of blame, not at the police’s lack of crowd management skills, but at the fans. The Sun, as we know, was the worst of the lot, with its editor, Kelvin Mackenzie, standing by its front page splash.

Phil Pellow's photo.

Mackenzie was unrepentant. In the years following Hillsborough and the subsequent Taylor Report, he repeated his  version of the ‘truth’ on each and every occasion when he has been asked to retract his lies. To this day, no one on Merseyside buys The Sun. Mackenzie has apologized but it’s 23 years too late. We don’t want his apology. He can go to hell.

Today, the truth behind that tragic day has been revealed when documents were released which includes letters of complaint to the Press Council , the local press agency story from which The Sun’s ‘truth’ was derived (Tory MP Irvine Patnick was also a source), the coroner’s reports and the shocking revelations that 41 of the 96 victims could have survived and the 3.15pm inquest cut off point that sealed the fate of the unfortunates.

Thatcher also believed the lies told her by a senior office of the Merseyside Constabulary.  Many documents and CCTV footage have mysteriously disappeared leaving plenty of unanswered questions. What was Bernard Ingham’s role in all of this? As Thatcher’s press secretary, Ingham was a master practitioner of journalism’s dark arts. He accepted the police’s version of events and went on record as saying,

“You can’t get away from what you were told,” Ingham said. “We talked to a lot of people; I am not sure if it was the chief constable. That was the impression I gathered: there were a lot of tanked-up people outside.”

Ingham was asked about the Taylor report and said rather tellingly,

“I think the police are a very easy target.”

We now have the truth about what happened on 15 April, 1989. What we now need is for those responsible, and I include The Sun and Kelvin Mackenzie for their smear campaign, to face justice. The liar Patnick should also be stripped of his knighthood.

Then perhaps we can get some proper closure.

Justice for the 96!

Don’t buy The Sun!

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