Theresa May and Thatcherism

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

ad_221423652_e1475423881572There is a touch of confusion about Theresa May’s political posturing. The apparent lurch ‘to the left’ signified by her abandonment of Osbornomics (and, of course, Osborne himself) for soft Keynesianism sits uneasily with a commitment to hard Brexit. The homage paid to official anti-racism is at odds with her immigrant bashing. And her fabled competence, her ‘no Flash, just Gordon’ schtick looks ridiculous when she puts off key decisions, slaps down cabinet divisions, and every time one recalls the three fools she’s placed in charge of Brexit. Is May riddled with contradictions? Yes, but the answer doesn’t lie in character flaws. One has to look to the nature of her political project, the class relationships underpinning it, and the economic and political crisis engulfing British capital and the British state. Continue reading →

A left approach to Brexit

by Peter Rowlands

eu_minusukPaul Mason and Chuka Umunna would normally be expected to come up with radically different proposals with regard to Labour’s policies, yet they are putting forward more or less the same solutions to the most pressing problem underlying Brexit, that of Free Movement of Labour (FML), Mason in an article in the New Statesman, Umunna in a speech to a conference on ‘Progressive Capitalism’.

Essentially they are both concerned that the UK remains with access to the single market, and have both indicated that a position which regulates labour movement to some degree might be negotiable and therefore consistent with and acceptable to the Brexit vote. Leanne Wood, the Plaid Cymru leader, has indicated that a Norway type EEA position might fulfil the same objective. Continue reading →

What can we learn from the by-elections in Witney and Batley and Spen?

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

witney-by-electionIs the new normal the same as the old normal? As previously argued, the 2012 Corby by-election called so former Tory MP Louise Mensch could spend more time trolling 17 year olds on Twitter was the last political contest in England and Wales where UKIP wasn’t a factor. For every parliamentary by-election after, they were. They had become the go-to protest regardless of who was holding the seat, and chalked up seconds in each. That remained the case in this Parliament until Thursday. Continue reading →

NEC did not agree “rule package” before it was put to Conference

by Newsdesk

Inside Labour CorbynThe Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) did not agree a rules “package” for conference as was previously believed, as sources from the NEC claim that no decision was taken to submit the NEC’s rule changes as a single item.

Sources claim that at the nine-hour NEC meeting before conference, a range of rule changes were agreed on from various working groups led by NEC members Alice Perry, Ann Black and Tom Watson. These included the controversial proposal to add two NEC members appointed by the Welsh and Scottish Labour leaders. Yet the idea of submitting them as a ‘package’ was supposedly never mentioned. Continue reading →

Tory MPs have a nerve to attack the Bank of England

by Ann Pettifor

ad_221423652_e1475423881572When David Davies MP (not to be confused with cabinet member David Davis MP) tweeted “Mr Carney you are an unelected bank official. Theresa May has got every right to tell you how to do your job!” he was quite wrong. Bank of England officials are civil servants and are given a mandate by Britain’s elected government. However, Bank of England officials have primary operational responsibility for fulfilling that mandate. Theresa May could, if she so wished, provide a new mandate, but she cannot tell Mark Carney how to do his job.  Continue reading →

UKIP after Steven Woolfe

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

It’s been a torrid time for UKIP since the referendum in June. And not in a good way. On no less than three occasions, the cause of the purple party’s discomforts have, ostensibly, centered upon the person of Steven Woolfe. There was the farce of the leadership campaign where, readers will recall, Woolfe demonstrated his lightning fast organising skills by submitting his candidate’s application some 17 minutes late. Compounding this most rookie of errors were revelations he’d let his membership lapse. Oh, and that he’d forgotten to declare an ancient drink driving conviction while standing for the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections in Greater Manchester, leaving him open to charges of electoral fraud. Then, at the start of the month, we were entertained by the fracas between Woolfe and the aptly named Mike Hookem MEP. And now, there’s this.

In quitting UKIP “with immediate effect”, Woolfe is unsparing with his criticisms. There are “huge negative camps” threatening the party with “a death spiral”, and members saying “horrific” things to each other. Standard for UKIP, I’d have thought. He also concludes that the party has next to no future without Nigel Farage as he’s the only figure capable of keeping a lid on things. True, but even then, UKIP was plagued with infighting, splits, briefing and counter briefings, and a disproportionate number of its wastrel MEPs hauled before the courts. And there’s also the suggestion the party’s on the hook for 800 grand, minus a willing sugar daddy to make the shortfall good.

This latest round in UKIP’s decline is something first forecast on this blog after the 2015 general election. Feeding off the historic anti-Labour sections of the working class, the lumpens, the petit bourgeoisie, and retirees, UKIP’s core, if it can be called that, was always highly volatile. A coalition built around europhobia and anti-immigrant bigotry can glue such a bloc together for a time. The adhesive can be strengthened by the application of a charismatic man-of-the-people type, and for a while, it worked. While it was on the up, it appeared as if these divisions didn’t matter. UKIP have shrugged off dodgy MEPs and egos as it climbed the polls, won the European elections, nicked two MPs off the Tories, netted councillors, and made the political weather. But after the general election, and post the EU referendum, the party’s tendency to historic decline has accelerated. With Theresa May cornering the let’s-be-beastly-to-foreigners market, UKIP is not about to repeat the glories. With or without Farage.

Which is why, ultimately, Woolfe has thrown the towel in. He deserves some credit for speaking candidly to the BBC about his injuries, but one thing he isn’t is stupid. Apart from his politics, Woolfe does seem personable and usually acquits himself well on the television. Yet he hasn’t got what it takes to lead UKIP’s gaggle of silly, stupid, racist geese. In his presentation and personality there is nothing setting him apart from any other smooth, media trained mainstream politician. Qualities that might endear him to a nice Conservative Association somewhere, sometime, but definitely not what a so-called people’s army demands. They need a Farage or, ugh, a Kilroy.

The departure of Woolfe epitomises the crisis, the cracking up of UKIP. The party is dying because it cannot replace itself. there just aren’t sufficient numbers of younger activists and, crucially, voters willing to give the party time of day. Small wonder it can manage a succession properly. Looking among the personages and non-personalities of the party’s leading cadre, there is not one among them capable of filling Farage’s shoes. And in the politics after the referendum, it lacks purpose beyond an occasional council by-election annoyance. Woolfe’s departure might be enough to save his career from the knackers yard of politics. It looks increasingly like the same can’t be said for his erstwhile party.

Corbyn is right: Migrants don’t drive down wages

by Tom O Leary
CorbynIn his recent speech to Labour Party conference Jeremy Corbyn said, “It isn’t migrants that drive down wages, it’s exploitative employers and the politicians who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights.” This is excellent and entirely correct. It is probably the best statement ever made by a Labour leader on this issue. It used to be regularly argued, and not just by far right or fascist groups, that immigrant workers take British workers’ jobs. This has more recently been supplanted with the notion that migrant labour has driven down wages. Both are equally wrong.

The claims that immigrants take jobs became harder to sustain as the level of the overseas migrant population reached record highs in Britain at the same time as a record high level of employment overall and a record high for employment of UK-born workers. Continue reading →

We’re all socialists now. But what does it mean?

by David Pavett
An early work (1825) by a Ricardian Socialist

An early work (1825) by a Ricardian Socialist

After a year of left leadership the word “socialist” is in vogue again. Not so long ago even the word “equality” had become suspect. Few now would be “intensely relaxed” about people getting “filthy rich so long as they pay their taxes” (Peter Mandelson, 1998). Nearly everyone agrees that massive inequality reveals a deep social fault line. Now “socialism” is once again part of Labour rhetoric.

We expect it from the left. Jeremy Corbyn promised Conference 2016 a “socialism for the 21st century”. John McDonnell added that we no longer have to whisper the word “socialist”. But now everyone’s at it – well nearly everyone, some still find the “s” word difficult to pronounce.

Owen Smith went so far as to speak of “socialist revolution” during his leadership bid. Luke Akehurst has even claimed that socialist talk is nothing new. He says of the Labour Party twenty years ago (i.e. with the rise of Tony Blair to leadership):

It took its socialism very seriously. For a year we held big meetings round the country where we earnestly debated what it meant to be a democratic socialist in the modern age, examined the ideas of Gramsci, Marx, Robert Owen, and how these might be applied to the challenges Britain faced. … [we] came up with a new constitution which for the first time included the “s” word and stated that we were a “democratic socialist party… [that] believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create … for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few …

Keir Hardie argued for public ownership of capital and land.

Keir Hardie argued for public ownership of capital and land.

In 2011 when there was media chatter about Chuka Umunna as a potential Party leader he said that he “prefers not to be called a socialist”. The impression given was reinforced in 2014 when he told The House Magazine that he was “intensely relaxed” about being compared to Peter Mandelson. But in 2016 he warmed to the word. In September he wrote that the problems of the Labour Party were no reason to junk “our social democratic and democratic socialist ideals”.

So, we are all socialists now

But what does it mean? Confusion abounds. “Reform”/“revolution” and “revolutionary socialism”/“democratic socialism” are generally assumed to be mutually exclusive. Socialism based on “values” is posed against socialism based on historical analysis just as “pragmatic socialism” is opposed to “doctrinaire socialism” (i.e. anything explicitly theoretical). Lack of knowledge of the interaction of these traditions in their real development allows them to be presented in the form of opposing mantras.

Anthony Crosland (1956) claimed that Britain was no longer a capitalist society

Anthony Crosland (1956) claimed that Britain was no longer a capitalist society

Broadly, in the Labour Party tradition the right (which always designates itself as “centrist”), favours “pragmatic socialism” and claims to go for “what works”. The left appeals to Labour’s alleged founding principles and to the moral superiority of social (as opposed to private) solutions to social problems. Both are equally inarticulate when it comes to analysis of the concepts (implicit or explicit) on which their views are based. There is virtually no debate between these views – just shouting when the other side is on the pitch.

This problem is well illustrated by the current phase of Labour Politics. A left-wing party leader was elected in 2015 and his position was reinforced in the election forced by the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 2016. But the large-scale support for Jeremy Corbyn does not come from people convinced by his view of socialism. Rather it comes from a general sense that Labour had lost its way, that the old leadership had become part of the establishment furniture. Corbyn is supported by people who want a break from that.

The surprise elevation of Jeremy Corbyn to party leader provided a great opportunity for promoting and developing socialist ideas. We need to recognise, however, that so far this has not happened. The materials produced by Labour’s Policy Commissions as a basis for feedback to the National Policy Forum were weak beyond belief and offered no basis for debating contending viewpoints.

The reality is that the contending ideologies in Labour currently are left wing social democracy (Corbynism), right wing social democracy (the soft left) and Blairism which is a form of liberalism. There is no serious advocacy of even a pale or timid socialism that maps out a credible transition to a socialist society.

What are the contending views?

Tony Blair explained his concept of socialism in 1994

Tony Blair explained his concept of socialism in 1994

Socialism has come to mean for some no more than a more humane form of capitalism. It means a society clearly based on the private ownership of the great bulk of society’s productive, distributive and communicative capacities. According to this approach the profit motive is the driving force of a dynamic society but its destructive tendencies need to be held in check by government. Also, government’s role is to skim off some of the surplus generated by capitalism for provision of such things as social services. Socialism on this view is humanely managed capitalism through the offices of government.

For others socialism means a qualitatively different type of social organisation. On this view, managing capitalism, while often desirable in the short term, will never overcome the problems of capitalist instability and its constant pressure to generate inequality. It also fails to tackle the problem of a social ethos in which the drive for personal gain is seen as the most reliable motivator. Socialists of this stripe believe that socialism is a system that should replace capitalism and that dominant forms of the sources of society’s wealth should eventually come under democratic control to ensure that the satisfaction of needs takes precedence over the pursuit of private profit.

Alec Nove's proposals (1991) have been little discussed

Alec Nove’s proposals (1991) have been little discussed

These incompatible views lie behind the civil war in the Labour Party. The first view is that of traditional social democracy. It had its hay day in the long boom of the post WWII period in conditions never to be repeated. It is now an ideology without a historical basis, which is why it is floundering all over Europe.

The second view of socialism is still more of a dream than a set of policies, or even clear objectives. It may lie behind the views of the Party leadership but it is not actually reflected in anything that is advocated. Its policies, where they exist at all, do not go beyond those of traditional social democracy and in many respects are to the right of that tradition.

A proposal

Since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader in 2015 it has often been said that the main objective is to put party members in charge of the party. The clear message was that there was to be an end to manipulation, control freakery and opaque methods. I voted (twice) for him on that basis. Those things all still remain a promise rather than a reality. Labour doesn’t have a culture of informed debate but now we desperately need to create one. It is time resolve differences where they clearly lead to entirely different and incompatible policies. Labour can no longer survive in its traditional way by fudging the issues. They must be met head on.

We need a series of ‘great debates’ throughout the party on the major issues. That will not be possible without good quality information about the contending views. Different issues need to be dealt with in a systematic way throughout the party in a way that engages all active party members and connects their views to policy alternatives placed before the National Policy Forum.

There is no way of resolving differences on the scale described here without the fullest possible informed debate about the contending views. Luke Akehurst’s claim that this has already happened is unconvincing. Perhaps he really believes that “For a year we held big meetings round the country where we earnestly debated … the ideas of Gramsci, Marx, Robert Owen”. I suspect that he confuses passing references to these people as an “earnest debate” about what they actually wrote. I doubt that there are many takers for his view.

My proposal is that the party should set up a magazine for debate to be made available to all members. In it, people representing alternative views and approaches to all the main topics should be invited to lay out their ideas as clearly as possible. This should be linked to a programme for discussion of different topics tying the magazine contents to National Policy Forum deliberations in time for branches to discuss the issues presented in the magazine in order to feed through to the NPF (possibly through Constituency Labour Parties). This proposal goes far beyond the feeble attempts of the NPF to stimulate discussion with one-sided and totally inadequate documents. I can see no other way in which a meaningful debate aimed at generating policies debated by the members in an informed way could be produced.

I would be interested in the views of others on this proposal. Should it be something that we all start pressing for?

How leaving the single market will crash the economy

by Tom O Leary

ad_221423652_e1475423881572The British economy is extremely dependent on inflows of overseas capital. As a result, it is one of the last countries that should ever contemplate leaving the EU without a serious plan for reviving the economy with investment and trade. As we now know, no such plan exists, serious or otherwise. Instead the theme of the Tory party conference was not ‘Britain open for business’ or a similar claim of questionable authenticity. The message from the Tories was simply ‘foreigners go home!’.

Continue reading →

Why Theresa May is lying to you 

by Luke Davies

5733835918_0276881b3c_qIn her party conference speech Theresa May promised to transform the Conservatives into the ‘party of the workers, the party of public servants, the party of the NHS’. She declared: ‘it’s time to remember the good that government can do’. Journalists on both right and left have been queuing up to announce a new era in British politics. Allister Heath has written in The Telegraph of May’s “repudiation of the Thatcher-Reagan economic world-view” and her apparent recognition that government is “the solution, not the problem”.

Meanwhile, John Gray in the New Statesman has claimed that May “has broken with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s”. So where’s the evidence for all this? Gray finds it in May’s tax reform pledges, her plans for a national industrial strategy and her promise to reassert the role of the state as the final guarantor of social cohesion.  Continue reading →

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