Good riddance IDS: long may this Tory warfare continue

March 20, 2016 at 10:25 pm (Conseravative Party, David Cameron, reblogged, Tory scum, welfare)

By  Phil Burton-Cartledge (at All That Is Solid)

When you’re the head of a department that has meted out cruel and inhumane treatment to disabled people, when you’ve sat in the Commons and nodded through cut after sanction regime after tightened eligibility criteria, at what point do you say enough and call time over your complicity in these proceedings? Does one draw a veil over the old ministerial career by claiming principle and love for the charges you’ve spent six years abusing, or stick the boot in to cause maximum political damage?

Iain Duncan Smith, the so-called quiet man who’s done catastrophic harm to the position of disabled people in this country, has elected to do both. Uncharacteristically, an attempt to fund tax cuts for the well off by taking monies from payments to disabled people has gone down like a cup of cold sick. Which is interesting, considering their previous attacks have gone by with nary a murmur from outside the ranks of disability campaigners, the left, and the labour movement.

Okay, so let’s look at IDS’s “good reason” for resigning – the statement he’s put out himself.

I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

Blimey, IDS is lining up with John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn! Almost.

He goes on …

Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working-age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money-saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.

To understand where IDS is coming from, one has to step inside his head. It’s scary, so come walk with me. Having previously corresponded with his ministerial office on dozens of occasions, I got the sense that IDS was acting out of ideological zeal. All of his letters would come back extolling the virtues of work, and ironic considering that IDS’s prescription for others is something he’s never really availed himself of. No matter. Work was the route out of poverty. Work was the route to self-respect. Work was the route to good health and mental well being – views typical of someone for whom low-paid drudgery is but a rumour. And IDS knew this better than the medical establishment and disabled people themselves. If only they could be liberated from their can’t-do mindset, hundreds of thousands drawing down disability support could become fully productive citizens. It is a sick joke when you think about the fates of some unfortunate ESA recipients, but IDS absolutely, genuinely believed he was designing a social security system that would “save lives”.

IDS has sat uneasily (to a degree) in Dave’s cabinet. He is an ideologue who takes his twisted principles seriously. Dave and Osborne are a touch more mercurial. They are wedded to broken Tory economics, but are quite willing to ditch principle for expediency. In Wednesday’s budget, Osborne was interested in shoring up a Middle England constituency ahead of the EU referendum as well as making a play for succeeding Dave. As he was prepared to give nice middle class people like me another tax cut and have disabled people pay for it, this clearly was too much for IDS. Just so Osborne was prepared – again – to throw IDS’s life work under a bus, so the Quiet Man has finally returned the favour.

What about the real reason? A little bit has to do with Europe, innit? Exit is another of IDS’s cracked priorities, and again must be frustrated that a number of ambitious Tories – not least the Mekon-like Sajid Javid and other heir-presumptive Theresa May – have dumped principles for position. By strengthening Osborne’s association with attacks on disabled people, he’s calculated that the chancellor will not pass the work capability assessment for Tory leader and the way be open to someone who’s either a bit more ideological, or will allow him space for his continued misadventures in social security. If only there was an unprincipled, opportunist celebrity chancer in the running for the leadership who fits the bill.

To be sure, IDS’s resignation is the biggest blow yet to Dave’s leadership and the his hopes of keeping the Number 10 sofa warm for Osborne. Long may this internal warfare continue.

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Tory disability campaigner quits over Osborne’s cuts

March 17, 2016 at 8:19 pm (benefits, Cuts, Disability, Tory scum, welfare)

cameron-osborne

By Sarah Pine at LabourList

A Conservative disability campaigner has quit his role in disgust for the Tories’ cuts to disability benefits following George Osborne’s Budget.

The former NHS worker left a message for the party on the Conservative Disability Group site, saying “the website is closed due to disability cuts and the resignation because of these of webmaster Graeme Ellis”.

Conservative Disability Group Graeme Ellis

Ellis has said the cuts were “destroying lives” in an interview with the Mirror.

“I’m appalled by what’s happened and wanted to make a very public statement. I’ve been a Conservative voter since I could vote. But as a lifelong Conservative I could no longer agree with what the government’s doing.”

The Conservative Budget cut £4.4billion from Personal Independence Payments, money used to help with costs of having a long-term disability. This follows the cuts to Employment and Support allowance, which removes £30 a week from sick or disabled people.

These cuts were combined with tax breaks for the rich, with a decrease in Capital Gains Tax, a reduction in the number of people who pay the higher rate of income tax and top-ups for those with spare cash to save.

A spokesperson for the Conservatives dismissed the news, saying “The Conservative Disability Group has not deactivated its website. The owner of the domain, who is no longer a member of the Group, has deactivated it without any instruction to do so.”

Ellis’ decision was quickly highlighted to Labour MPs. MP Cat Smith wrote on Twitter: “too many disability cuts for Conservative Disability Group webmaster Graeme Ellis who has quit in style”.

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A message to Lady Jenkin from George Orwell

December 10, 2014 at 1:05 am (food, Jim D, literature, Orwell, Tory scum, truth, welfare)

Above: Orwell enjoying a nice cup of tea

Baroness Anne Jenkin, the Tory peer who has advised the poor to eat porridge instead of “sugary cereals” and to learn to cook, would do well to read some Orwell and learn some humanity – and humility:

“The miner’s family spend only ten pence a week on green vegetables and ten pence half-penny on milk (remember that one of them is a child less than three years old), and nothing on fruit; but they spend one and nine on sugar (about eight pounds of sugar, that is) and a shilling on tea. The half-crown spent on meat might represent a small joint and the materials for a stew; probably as often as not it would represent four or five tins of bully beef. The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes – an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. […] When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll have a nice cup of tea. That is how your mind works when you are at the PAC level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don’t nourish you to any extent but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man’s opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread”  – from The Road To Wigan Pier, 1937

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Anti-austerity Fireworks

November 5, 2013 at 12:57 am (Cuts, jazz, Jim D, Tory scum, welfare)

Louis again – this time with ‘Fireworks’ (a distant relation of ‘Tiger Rag’). Recorded June 27th 1928 in Chicago. The next day Louis and the same band (the later version of the ‘Hot Five’) made the greatest jazz record of all time, ‘West End Blues.’

Here’s ‘Fireworks’:

Maybe that will fire you up to attend one of these November 5th anti-austerity events.

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EU study exposes Tory ‘benefits tourism’ lies

October 14, 2013 at 8:38 pm (benefits, Europe, health service, immigration, Jim D, Tory scum, truth, welfare)

Healthcare spending on non-active EU migrants - estimates

The EU Commission’s report (Impact of mobile EU citizens on national social security systems) leaves no room for doubt: the Tories’ campaign against so-called “benefits tourism” is based upon a pack of lies.

The report finds that “mobile EU citizens are less likely [ie than the national average] to receive disability and unemployment benefits in most countries studied.” In the UK, EU migrants account for just 4% of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants while representing more than 5% of those in employment.

EU spokesman Jonathan Todd told BBC Two’s Daily Politics, “the vast majority of migrants go to the UK to work, and they actually contribute more to the welfare system than they take out, purely because they tend to be younger than the average population, and of working age. The more EU migrants you have, the better off your welfare system is.”

The report also contradicts the claim, published in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph  that “600,000 unemployed migrants are living in Britain…at a cost of £1.5 billion to the NHS alone”. The 600,000 figure turns out not to refer to those who are unemployed but to those who are “economically inactive”, including pensioners, students, school children and the disabled. Of this total, those out of work and claiming Jobseekers Allowance amount to just 28%. In addition, the figures published in the study show that EU migrants are less likely than their UK counterparts to be economically inactive or unemployed. Thirty per cent of migrants are “non-active” compared to 43% of British citizens, while 7.5% are out of work, compared to 7.9% of UK nationals (the unemployment rate at the time the study was conducted).

Here’s the statement from László Andor, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion:

The study makes clear that the majority of mobile EU citizens move to another Member State to work and puts into perspective the dimension of the so called benefit tourism which is neither widespread nor systematic. The Commission remains committed to ensuring that EU citizens that would like to work in another EU country can do so without facing discrimination or obstacles.

Downing Street responded by issuing a statement saying there is “widespread and understandable” concern about “benefit tourism”: in other words, never mind the facts, just pander  to prejudice.

It would be nice to think Labour will take a principled stand on this, but given recent statements from the Shadow Cabinet, that’s probably too much to hope.

NB: In writing the above, I made extensive use of this report on the New Statesman website – JD

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March in Manchester to Save the NHS!

September 28, 2013 at 6:51 am (Cuts, health service, posted by JD, protest, Tory scum, TUC, welfare)

  •  SAVE OUR NHS

    LIVE DEMO BLOG:

    See live updates from the march and rally at our Save Our NHS blog

    JOIN US ONLINE ON THE DAY

    If you can’t join us in Manchester you can still get involved online.

    Tell the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester: SAVE OUR NHS. Defend Jobs and Services. No to Austerity.

    March and Rally – Sunday 29 September 2013

    Supporters of the National Health Service and all those who want to defend jobs, services and a decent welfare state will be marching in Manchester to deliver a clear message to Conservative Party Conference that we mean to Save Our NHS from cuts and privatisation.

    A march and rally have been called by the North West TUC, backed by unions and NHS campaign groups. They’ll be assembling at Liverpool Road (M3 4FP) from 11am, and marching to a rally in Whitworth Park.

    The protest will highlight the impact of huge job losses and spending cuts across the health service, as well as the rapid sell-off of the most lucrative parts of the NHS to private healthcare companies – many of whom like Circle are also Conservative Party donors.

    The event will also raise concerns about the wider effect that government economic policies are having upon communities across the UK.

    Getting there:

    Coaches to Manchester are being laid on by groups around the country, with many places subsidised or free. A list of coaches can be found at http://falseeconomy.org.uk/travel/uk/all/t1.

    Coach Drop Off Point: The coach drop off point will be on Water Street, Manchester B5225. Coaches should arrive at the drop off point between 09:00 and 12:00.

    Advertise your coach
    For those looking to advertise your coach and ensure they are full, the False Economy has a section dedicated to 29th September. Register your details through http://falseeconomy.org.uk/nhs299 or alternatively, you can email Jay McKenna at jmckenna@tuc.org.uk with your coach details.

    Trains
    The nearest train station to the form up point is Deansgate Train Station. For those travelling to Manchester Oxford Road or Manchester Picaddilly, there will be police officers on duty on the day who will be able to point you in the direction of Liverpool Road and the march.

    Buses
    Buses will be running on the day, however there will be some alterations due to road closures. These will be published shortly on the Transport for Greater Manchester website www.tfgm.com.

    Form Up
    The form up area for unions will be signposted and this information will be circulated prior to the march.

    Route:

    The march is expected to move off at 12:15 and the route has been confirmed with police and agency partners.

    It is: Depart Liverpool Road; Turn Left onto Deansgate; Turn right onto John Dalton Street; Continue over onto Princess Street; Turn right onto Portland Street; Turn right onto Oxford Street; Left into Hall Street; Continue round to Bale Street; Turn left onto Lower Mosley Street; Continue down onto Albion Street; Turn left onto Whitworth Street; Turn right onto Oxford Street; Continue down onto Oxford Road; Finish at Whitworth Park.

    Map

    Short March/Static Demonstration
    For those who require a shorter march the two points for will be at:

    • Barbirolli Square (outside of the Bridgwater Hall) – This allows for those who wish to join the march to pass the conference centre and continue onto the rally
    • All Saints Park (off Oxford Road) – This allows for those who just wish to attend the rally to join the march to its conclusion

    Both Barbirolli Square and All Saints Park will be stewarded and policed to ensure that those with mobility requirments will have safe and easy passage in the march. All marchers are asked to respect this.

    Rally

    The rally will start at 14:15 or when the march reaches Whitworth Park, whichever is the later. It is expected to last for approximately 2 hours with speakers and music.

    Space for any stalls within Whitworth Park is limited is extremely limited. If any Union or organisation wishes to have a stall at the rally, please email Kara Stevens on kstevens@tuc.org.uk

    Accessible Viewing Area/Sign Language
    A disability viewing area will be provided near to the stage to enable clear sight lines to the stage. There will also be sign language provided on the day. This area will be signposted and stewards will direct individuals to this area if required.

    Departure
    At the end of the rally, coach pick up points and the direction of travel to train stations will be advertised on the large screen. Stewards and police will be on hand to assist with dispersal from the park and signposting individuals to coach parking.

    Get involved:

    NB: all the above is reproduced from the TUC website

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Bedroom tax judgement to be appealed

July 30, 2013 at 11:19 pm (benefits, Cuts, Disability, Jim D, law, tax, Tory scum, welfare)

From Leigh Day & Co:

Lawyers vow to fight on after losing part of their battle on overturning the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’

Lawyers representing adults and children with disabilities who are challenging the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ have vowed to fight on after today losing part of their High Court battle to halt the controversial new housing benefit regulations that came into force on 1st April this year.

Since 1 April 2013, persons deemed to have 1 spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14% and persons deemed to have 2, or more, spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit reduced by 25%.  The claimants all argued that these new Housing Benefit rules discriminate against people with disabilities.

The Court accepted that they are discriminatory, but decided that the discrimination was justified and therefore lawful – apart from in cases of disabled children unable to share a bedroom because of their disabilities.

Disabled Children and Bedroom Sharing

The Court found that the Secretary of State has been aware that the law must be changed to provide for disabled children since May 2012, and they were highly critical of his failure to make Regulations to provide for them. Lord Justice Laws said that the current state of affairs “cannot be allowed to continue”.

The Government must now make Regulations “very speedily” to show that there should be “no deduction of housing benefit where an extra bedroom is required for children who are unable to share because of their disabilities.”

The Wider Group

However the Court held that discrimination against adults with disabilities, even those in the same situation to children with disabilities who could not share a room, was justified.  Lawyers for adults with disabilities today said that they believe this cannot be right.

They should be entitled to full Housing Benefit for the accommodation they actually need.

Appeal

Lawyers for adults with disabilities today confirmed that they intend to appeal the ruling, arguing that the discriminatory impact of the measure on people with disabilities cannot be justified and is unlawful.

Disabled children and their families also intend to appeal as they are now left in a position where they do not know whether in fact they are entitled to full housing benefit to meet the costs of the homes that they need.

This is because the Government has declined to confirm that the new Regulations, which the Court says must be made, will cover their situations, or to provide a date by which the new Regulations will be made.

Since the new housing legislation was introduced it has had a devastating effect on many people across the country. Charities, Social Landlords and Advice Agencies have spoken out about the plight of people with disabilities who have been affected by the measure.

3 law firms are representing the Claimants: Hopkin Murray Beskine, Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors.

Richard Stein from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day said:

“This is a most disappointing result. We will be seeking an urgent appeal to the Court of Appeal.  Many people with disabilities including our clients may lose their homes unless the law is changed. Their lives are already difficult enough without the fear of losing their accommodation which has been provided specifically to meet their exceptional needs.”

***

The Guardian identifies some “puzzling anomalies” in the judgement.

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Report from the People’s Assembly

June 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm (capitalist crisis, Cuts, reblogged, TUC, unions, Unite the union, welfare)

A report from Andrea Gibbons of Lambeth Save Our Services

Francis O'Grady addresses opening session of People's Assembly

Above: the opening plenary

It was partially a day of misadventures I have to say. It began with me missing the opening plenary (many apologies), attending the housing session, being unable to get into the session on immigration and racism because it was too full (that so many people attended did indeed make me happy), being immensely frustrated with the regional meeting, enjoying some of the closing plenary before ducking out for pints, and the evening wrapped up when a man stumbled outside of the Sutton Arms where we were standing with blood pouring everywhere. Turns out he’d had a beer bottle broken over his head for being a Fenian, no one stopped the fight or the guy from leaving… I stood wearing Mark Steel’s hat and guarding everyone’s drinks (post of doubtful honour), while Mark and Niall ran in hot pursuit, Kevin and Helen gave some first aid as the cops showed up after far far too long, though what we needed was an ambulance which took far longer…he got away, and after being bandaged up, the injured party was well enough to ask for Mark’s autograph. We were upset, had a long talk on the train ride home about violence and sectarian violence and the left, but anyway, the assembly.

It was full, absolutely rammed full. Even with my limited experience, I’m sure it wasn’t just the ‘usual characters’ as I’ve come to hear people call them, and it was more diverse than I was fearing in terms of age and race and in all other ways, though I think we’ve still a long long ways to go. I got there just as the plenary was ending and people were pouring out of the overflow rooms where they had been watching it on screens. Over 4,000 bought tickets, and I well believe it Read the rest of this entry »

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The Mail, Philpott, welfare…and MMR

April 6, 2013 at 5:28 pm (benefits, children, crime, Cuts, Daily Mail, Jim D, media, science, Tory scum, tragedy, welfare)

Daily Mail Welfare UK cover
As a general rule, it’s the political right who object to attempts to explain crime by reference to the social, economic or political context in which it occurs. This is, they say, to make excuses and to let evil people off the hook. Individuals must be accountable for their actions and distractions like poverty and unemployment should not enter into the equation.

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Which makes the Daily Mail‘s campaign to link the Mick Philpott case with the benefits system, at first blush, seem rather odd. AN Wilson, writing in the Mail, stated that “What the Philpott trial showed was the pervasiveness of evil caused by benefit dependency” and went on to ask his readers, rhetorically, “Do you think Philpott would have done this crime if he has worked regularly for the past 20 years and provided for those six children out of his own pocket?”
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Now this is all highly unpleasant stuff and clearly part of a Tory campaign to justify the government’s dismantling of the welfare state. The repugnant, monstrous figure of Mick Philpott has of course been a godsend to the Tories, taken up first by the Mail and then by Chancellor Osborne following a bizarre speech on welfare “reform” delivered at a Morrisons warehouse in Kent.
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But I’m not joining in with the shrill, self-righteous outrage expressed by the likes of Owen Jones and Pamela Nash MP: after all, us lefties do not hesitate to blame the Con-Dems and their cuts for death and misery. The Mail and the Tories will not be defeated by moralistic posturing or complaints that certain headlines, articles and speeches are “offensive.”
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For what it’s worth, I think the argument that Philpott did what he did in order to get his hands on more child benefit and/or a larger house, is pretty far-fetched. From what I’ve read and heard, his motives would seem to have been a desire to exact revenge upon his ex-mistress by framing her for the fire, and to simultaneously win himself media attention as a “hero” for having saved the children.
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But the truth is, none of us can know for sure.
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What we can know for sure, however, is that sections of the press and other media have played a big part in putting the lives of thousand of children’s health and lives at risk.
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The present measles epidemic in Swansea is the direct result of a cynical, irresponsible and hysterical campaign run by swathes of the UK media between about 1998 and 2010, against the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and its alleged (but in fact non-existent) link to autism. Thanks to widespread vaccination, incidences of the three diseases covered by MMR had been rapidly decreasing for years, to the point where they’d become very rare. But in the 2000’s instances of mumps and measles began to rise again. Dr Ben Goldacre, in his 2008 book Bad Science, wrote:
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“[T]he incidence of two of the three diseases covered by MMR is now increasing very impressively. We have the highest number of measles cases in England and Wales since current surveillance methods began in 1995, with cases occurring mostly in children who had not been adequately vaccinated: 971 confirmed cases were reported in 2007 (mostly associated with prolonged outbreaks in travelling and religious communities, where vaccine uptake has been historically low), after 740 cases in 2006 (and the first death since 1992)…
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“Mumps began rising again in 1999, after many years of cases in only double figures: by 2005 the United Kingdom had a mumps epidemic, with around 5,000 notifications in January alone.”
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Now, in Swansea, the measles epidemic has reached 588 cases and Public Health Wales have said: “it is just a matter of time before a child is left with serious and permanent complications such as eye disorders, deafness or brain damage, or dies.”
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According to the Guardian, “Take-up for the MMR vaccine dropped by 14% in south Wales in the late 1990’s after research, subsequently discredited, raised health concerns about the jab and prompted a campaign against it by the South Wales Evening Post.”
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And which major national paper was giving the provincial South Wales Evening Post its lead?
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No prizes for guessing:
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AWL on left unity and the ‘People’s Assembly’

March 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm (AWL, capitalist crisis, Cuts, John Rees, Respect, socialism, solidarity, SWP, unions, welfare, workers)

From the AWL website and Solidarity newspaper:

peoples assembly fb pic

Left Unity

Unity must be linked to real action

The crises and splits in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Respect have spurred more talk about left unity. The left needs systematic unity in action where we agree, and honest dialogue where we differ, in order to reinstate socialist ideas as an option in the working class.

On 26 March the Coalition of Resistance (within which the key force is the SWP splinter Counterfire) held a press conference to promote a “People’s Assembly Against Austerity” for 22 June (previously announced in a letter to the Guardian on 5 February). Workers’ Liberty supports all such gatherings; but, worryingly, the press release described the event as a “rally” rather than a conference.

There is a back-story. In late 2010 and early 2011, as anti-cuts campaigns flourished in the first angry response to the Tory/ Lib-Dem government, a number of left groups called conferences to try to make themselves the hub of the anti-cuts movement. The SWP called one (Right to Work, since morphed into Unite the Resistance), and the SP called one (National Shop Stewards’ Network). Counterfire’s effort, the Coalition of Resistance, was the biggest.

More than 1,000 people attended the Coalition of Resistance conference on 27 November 2010. Listening to many platform speeches from celebrities calling for militancy against the cuts, including from Unite leader Len McCluskey (who also backs the June event), some of those thousand must have felt they were in on the start of a real new movement.

But not much came of it. CoR has run an informative website, and some useful stunts; but for local anti-cuts committees usually the best contribution that CoR has been able to make is to refrain from organising CoR local groups as rivals to the main committees (and CoR has not always refrained).

The CoR conference was dominated by top-table speakers, 20-odd of them in the opening and closing plenaries. Little came of most workshops. At the workshop billed as dealing with political representation, speakers were a Green Party councillor; Liz Davies, who declared herself a critical supporter of the Green Party; Billy Bragg, whose speech was a straight plea to vote yes in the May 2011 referendum on AV; and Guardian contributor Laurie Penny. It was chaired by a Green Party member and allowed little debate.

The conference applauded a call from the platform for a week of action from 14 February 2011, but there was little action that week. CoR faded.

There is also a back-story to the “People’s Assembly” trope with which Counterfire hopes to revive CoR. They did it first on 12 March 2007, as a People’s Assembly Against War, when the people who now run Counterfire were in the leadership of the SWP. That event drew a good crowd, too — 1,000 or more — but its contribution to unity in action or to serious dialogue on differences was smaller than the attendance. There were almost 40 celebrities speaking from the top table.

On 25 March, film-maker Ken Loach and writer Gilbert Achcar co-signed a letter to the Guardian promoting the “Left Unity” initiative started in December 2012 by Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson after they had quit George Galloway’s Respect movement. The initiative’s website claims that 3000 people have signed up on the web to back Ken Loach on this. No conference has been announced, but the website reports on local groups.

If those local groups can act as left forums, bringing the left together in joint action where we agree and honest debate where we disagree, then they will make a contribution.

Again, there is a back-story. Burgin had previously been active in Gerry Healy’s Workers’ Revolutionary Party as well as Respect; Hudson, in the Communist Party of Britain before she joined Respect. Loach was close to the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, and then in Respect.

There have been quite a few other unity initiatives in recent years. A weary shrug (“not another one!”) would be wrong; but so would the idea that we need not think about and learn from why they didn’t work.

In 2009, both AWL and SWP made proposals for left unity (only, it turned out that the SWP’s idea of left unity didn’t include talking with AWL…) The Convention of the Left, launched in September 2008 by John Nicholson (previously Labour deputy leader of Manchester City Council, and then in the Socialist Alliance) won wider endorsement than any of the current efforts — Morning Star, Red Pepper, LRC, Respect, Labour Briefing and Socialist Worker, as well as Workers’ Liberty. It agreed to set up local left forums. Trouble is, the forums never really got going, and the “convention” turned into a series of conferences, of diminishing vitality.

The Left Unity Liaison Committee, set up by activists from the Socialist Alliance, brought together different groups to discuss, but also petered out (in the end, AWL was the only one of the activist groups attending regularly). According to the Socialist Party, their electoral vehicle, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, is the best hope for left unity. AWL was able to get a loose alliance with the SP and the Alliance for Green Socialism — the Socialist Green Unity Coalition —up to 2008-9, but the SP and AGS then pulled out in favour of No2EU and what became TUSC.

The Anti-Capitalist Initiative, in which the main force is splinters from the Workers’ Power group, also promotes itself as the way to left unity.

None of these, not even CoR which was perhaps the best effort, has had enough substance of agreed united action or of real open debate.

Paradoxically, it often happens that the smaller and more splintered the group which proposes itself as the hub for left unity, the better the initial response it gets. But it’s not necessarily easy sailing from there on!

If an activist group with a known record of political activity makes a call for unity, then people judge it partly according to their opinion of that record. If a splinter of a split of a splinter (just two people initially, as with Burgin and Hudson, or a few dozen, as with Counterfire) makes an appeal, and puts it in the vaguest terms — Burgin and Hudson suggest no more political definition than “rejects austerity and war, advocates a greater democratisation of our society and institutions, and poses a new way of organising everyday life” — then everyone can read into it what they want.

Everyone who wants to build a socialist organisation, but is unsure about how to do it, and so holds back from joining any of the existing groups, can believe they have found a short cut. Just a click on a website, or a “like” on Facebook, and they’re already part of the big movement they want!

Burgin and Hudson cite Syriza in Greece and Die Linke in Germany as their models. But neither of those dropped from the sky in response to a few activists writing a letter to the Guardian, or doing a press conference. Syriza builds on a long political tradition — that of the Greek Communist Party, since the 1920s the main force in the Greek workers’ movement – and on sharp political battles which separated Syriza’s core both from the old Stalinists and from the soft reformists now in Greece’s Democratic Left. Die Linke rests on having been able to take over a chunk of what was the old ruling party in East Germany.

Also, neither of them is adequate. If Syriza did not have organised left groupings like DEA and Kokkino battling within it against its mainstream leadership, then there would be no hope for it doing anything other than collapsing into reformist adaptation. Die Linke is more Keynesian than socialist, and has supported cuts where it is in provincial coalition governments.

Unity is good. But talk about unity will be just a way of floating yet another left splinter unless it is translated into specific unity in action and specific dialogue about differences.

To the credit of Burgin and Hudson, they have posted on their website a thoughtful contribution from SWPer (or ex-SWPer?) Keith Flett. “However, and however frustrating some may find it, there is no way of by-passing the weight of Labour and perhaps in particular Labour activists in the unions and localities in all this…. The electoral support of Labour and its impact can’t be ignored.

“It may be argued that membership is hardly what it was in the 1950s but that is true of all political parties. It may also be argued that the hold of Labour’s approach to political change is less, but it is an argument not an historical fact.

“Even if we accept time scales change with context, historically it has taken time to build left parties.

Not just time, but effort, argument, education. And politics! Talk of unity is good, but only if it leads to specific united action and specific dialogue. Not if it becomes only a way to float yet another left splinter making its claim as being the one which is really for unity…

AWL will work with the Left Unity forums, and the People’s Assembly, on that basis.

Burgin/Hudson initiative

People’s Assembly

AWL leaflet to first Coalition of Resistance conference

Coatsey’s rather more enthusiastic view of the Assembly Against Austerity

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