What would Clement do?

A Labour blog that witters on about Clement Attlee. Hurrah for The Major!

Archive for the tag “Billy Bragg”

Island of No Return – Revisited?

“Digging all day, digging all night,

To keep my foxhole out of site…”

In a month that I suppose we shall be naming “Maggie Memorial January”, it is perhaps sadly fitting that Argentinas claim to The Falklands is back in the news. Unfortunately, almost thirty years to the day since the invasion a Mr Cameron, who does Prime Minister impressions, has decided to rattle his trusty, rusty sabre at Mrs Kirchner, his counterpart in Buenos Aires. (Rumours that Madonna is already angling for the Film rights would be anyones guess…)

Well, we can only hope that cool heads will prevail, and while all this may blow over, it will probably not disappear for ever. It may be all good nostalgic fun for some, but history reminds us just how deadly these games can be.

“Pick up your feet, fall in, move out,

We’re going to a party way down South…”

The Falklands War is a huge part of the Thatcher Myth – itself the cornerstone of modern Conservative identity & thought. Just for the hell of it, lets take a look at some of the myths that The Immaculate Mis-Conception was built upon…

Myth One : Only Mrs Thatcher and her Tories were patriotic and brave enough to take on Galtieri and take back the Islands.

A downright lie. During the emergency debate in the Commons on 2nd April 1982, Michael Foot said:

“The people of the Falklands have an absolute right to look at us at this moment of their desperate plight… They are faced with an act of naked,unqualified aggression, carried out in the most shameful & disreputable circumstances. Any guarantee from this invading force is utterly worthless.” 

He was praised by Tories for having “spoken for the nation” (Hansard).

It was an alliance of Labour, Liberal and backbench Tory MPs that had prevented a 1981 Govt. measure to “lease back” The Falklands to Argentina, against the wishes of the Islanders themselves.

It was in effect two Tory measures that encouraged the Fascist junta in its belief that Britain would not fight. The 1981 Immigration Act took away full British Citizenship from all inhabitants of all UK Dependencies ( this measure was aimed at preventing mass immigration from Hong Kong before the Chinese takeover), and then there was what the ever amusing Alan Clarke described as “that fucking idiot John Nott and his spastic “Command Paper”  which is effectively running down the entire Royal Navy to keep the soldiers in Rhine Army happy.”

“…I never thought that I would be

Fighting Fascists in the Southern Sea…”

Myth Two: The Argentine invasion was a completely unexpected bolt from the blue.

Bilge. In 1977, Labour PM James Callaghan sent two Frigates and a Nuclear Sub to the South Atlantic with the minimum of fuss, to deter Argentina from invading. No war in 1977, but when intelligence sources repeated similar warnings in early 1982, they were ignored . this came out in the post War inquiry.

Far more worrying were the attempts by the Tory Govt and some of its MPs to sell arms and Naval ships to a military dictatorship which whom we had a long-standing territorial dispute. Around a year before the invasion, one junior Minister described the Argentina of torture, rape and “disappearances”, of baby snatching and electrodes, as ” allies in our common struggle against Communism” (by the by, Niall Ferguson stated on channel 4’s “Ascent of money” that these deaths were “worth it”)

“…Saw one today, and in his hands

Was a weapon that was made in Birmingham…”

Myth Three: Maggie (& Britain) stood alone, although Reagan supported us from a distance.

In fact, the first nation to wholeheartedly give their support was France, then run by Socialist President Mitterand. French help was vital – they supplied us with technical data and purchased numbers of both Super Etendard fighters and Exocet Missiles sold to Argentina, and, with co-operation between MI6 and their French opposites, they managed to prevent any spares for these reaching Argentina until well into 1983.

Despite the Maggie/Ronnie romance, the USA vacillated – after all, they did not want war between two of their favourite allies. Eventually, they came down on our side, but it was a close run thing.

Within the Cabinet, there were initially deep divisions as to whether we should go to war at all. It took The First Sea Lord barging in uninvited (in Full dress Uniform, no less) to finally swing the decision to liberate the Falklands. Up to this point, all that had been decided was to telephone the Americans.

“I wish Kipling & The Captain were here,

To record our pursuits for posterity…”

Myth Four:  Margaret Thatcher won The Falklands War.

No, it was won by the Servicemen and Merchant Seamen who fought, bled burned and died down in The South Atlantic.

This maybe just history, but with the next round of Defence cuts touted as reducing the Army by anything up to 8 Battalions, to no fixed-wing Aircraft Carrier until at least 2015, & further cuts to come, no wonder that the C-in-C of the 1982 Task Force, Admiral Woodward has said that “practically nothing” could be done to retake the Falklands today.

Argentina is designing and building new Amphibious ships, and upgrading its war fighting capability, given the parlous state of our defences, and the prospect of oil, Gas and Mineral deposits, maybe Cameron should be doing everything in his power to avoid his own “Falklands moment”.

After all, it would be tragic indeed if the Tories managed to lose the Falklands twice…

(Song lyrics by former Private Billy Bragg)

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May 5th – Our Choice, Our Chance…

So, on May 5th we get the chance to alter our voting system from First Past The Post (FPTP) to the Alternative Vote (AV). With Ham-Face and Little Nicky setting out the opposing arguments this morning, it would be useful to review what we have, and what we could get.

THE SYSTEM AS IT IS:

At the moment, our political system is a Constitutional Monarchy, that suffers a little Democracy to intervene now and then. Parliament is Sovereign, with the power to dismiss the Monarch – a power not used since 1688, but that led to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1937. The House of Commons is theoretically where power lies – as the elected chamber is the only place where legislation can be decisively approved or denied. The unelected Lords can only amend Bills, and since Lord Salisbury back in Victorias day, no Prime Minister has sat there. Practically, power lies with The Cabinet, some would say The Cabinet Office.

Our Electoral System is based on FPTP, and in practice this means that the candidate with the most votes, regardless as to whether this is a majority, wins. At the last General Election, fully two thirds of seats were won by candidates who had less than fifty percent of the vote.

Our participation in elections as voters has been declining since 1945, and our disengagement with the political process is at its highest since the vote was won for women and the propertyless. The expenses scandal, the perceived unresponsiveness of our elected members, and the narrowness of the terms of official political debate (the hunt for the nebulous “Middle England”)have all contributed to this. There is a distinct class divide in voting – the richer you are, the more likely you are to vote – which partially explains why our major parties spend much of their efforts trying to placate a mythical “mainstream” vote, whilst ignoring other considerations.

As for those we elect, increasingly and overwhelmingly they come from similar backgrounds regardless of party. Very few MPs have come from outside of the Middle Classes, and the domination of The Cabinet by men from Oxbridge is simply an extreme version of this. In the last edition of the late Anthony Sampson’s “Who Runs This Place?” a marked trend towards certain professions was noted – Law, Finance, Local Government and Higher Education are the major areas of practical experience that our MPs have. Student Politics is the proving ground for this new political class, who in attitude see the rest of us as at best foot soldiers in their campaign for ultimate power. This is regardless of party.

FPTP has resulted in the many seats being “safe” for one party or another – leading to a strengthening of party machines and “a job for life” for some of the least worthy members of the house. Only at times of major upheaval in politics – 1945, 1979, 1997, do these seats even stand a chance of being overturned. in effect, your preference only counts either at one of these elections, or if you live in a marginal seat.

Effectively, under FPTP, a party needs only to win around 30% of the available vote to have a rock-solid majority. This happened throughout the 1980s, ’90s and the last decade. In May 2010, less than 2% of us decided the result.

A culture of entitlement reigns, believing themselves to be a Meritocracy ( whilst misconstruing the term), a certain arrogance can be detected amongst this self-justifyng elite.

What We Could Get:

The Alternative Vote system means that instead of just putting one cross next to one candidate on your ballot paper, you instead rank them in order of your preferences, as far as you wish – so in my case that would be Labour 1; Green 2; and the rest can go hang, unless I like their candidate. Its up to you how far you go. The votes are counted, and the candidates with least votes is eliminated, their second preferences added to the other candidates. This continues until one candidates has over 50% of the votes. Around 14 million of us already use this system for elections in Trades Unions,Political Parties, Student Organisations and such, so many of us already have experience of it. It must be said that whilst this is a more consensual system, it is not proportional – we can still end up with Governments elected by a minority of the electorate.

Possibly the starkest image is best provided by The British Electoral Survey at Essex University, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. In a wide-ranging study, the BES took a representative survey of voting preferences at the May 2010 election, and found the results to be thus:

Conservative     283 – down 22

Labour               248 – down 10

Lib Dems            89 – up 32

At first glance, for the left this looks unpalatable, but look at the arithmetic – we would have been able to offer what Gordon Brown couldn’t last May – a stable Coalition with the Lib Dems. Whether the Orange Book gang would have taken this up is another matter, but there is a strong possibility that the decimation of the Welfare State and dismantling of the NHS would at least not be on the agenda. Remarkably, last May ten seats would have changed straight from Tory to Labour, and only one vice versa.

Many seats regarded now as “safe” would now become winnable. ALL MPs would be returned on over 50% of the votes cast in every constituency.

Our MPs would thus have to work harder for us – local issues would become really important – no more promises to “look into” a third crossing for Waveney for example, only for your MP to forget it until election year.

You get a potentially bigger say, with AV there is no need for tactical voting, simply pick your favourite candidate first. If they don’t win, you still get a say. So Labour votes in the South West and East Anglia now matter, as would Tory votes in Scotland and South Wales.

At a stroke, MPs would have to reach beyond their comfort zones – Surrey Tories and Keith Vaz take note…

The Alternative Vote keeps what is best about the current system, the historic constituency link – you will still know who your MP is, and be able to lobby them.

If extended to local government, then the “Rotten Boroughs” that regularly infest Private Eye would be altered – one-party rule over Tower Hamlets or Suffolk would be altered. No more “sigmoid waves”, “virtual councils” or distant aloof local bigwigs.

If AV is passed, then the possibility of an actually elected House of Lords is strengthened – no more input by those who rely on their place by contributions to party coffers. We would finally have a Liberal Democracy – over two hundred years since Thomas Paine wrote The Rights of Man.

AV is far from perfect – it would be better to have a more proportional system, such as AV plus, as recommended  by The Jenkins Commission on Electoral Reform, yet is a start.

There is just one more point. As part of The Coalition stitch-up over Reform, the Tories have been able to tag on the axing of 50 seats, on the grounds of “cost” – as if you can put a price on Democracy. If AV fails to go through, then the Tories, with Liberal Democrat support, will have managed to Gerrymander the electoral map of Britain, with minimal consultation with you, that no-one voted for, potentially solidifying their hold on power. Only AV will go some way to ameliorating this.

That is why all of us in Labour, and everyone who believes in Democracy, must support the Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign.

My Girlfriend is… a Tory…

Yup, I have to come clean comrades, the wonderful, beautiful, intelligent woman that I share my life with is a one nation Tory, and not a very political one at that.Who went to Public School. And Cambridge. And her mother lives in Surrey.

What she sees in an undereducated state school oik like me is an utter mystery, but I am honoured and proud that she chose me to spend time with.

Despite various filthy suggestions from my (better educated) mates over the last ten months, I have yet to “give her one for the Miners”, or to try to convert this caring, feisty soul. Our backgrounds are very different, yet we both see the good in each other, and her patience is a tribute to her upbringing. Especially when I try to get her to listen to Billy Bragg, or watch Ken Loach films. We are of the same generation, yet we have so little shared experience of the defining period we grew up in – the Eighties. She never cried as the Miners were defeated and marched back, broken but unbowed. No CND badges for her, no shudder of fear in 1987 as a father quietly explained just how scared he was at what Thatcher would do to our nation. No demoralising anguish as John Major won in 1992 .

And yet, I am constantly reminded of just how much we share. How much this country really means to both of us, its countryside, its traditions, its people. I am constantly reminded of just how little of that very British vice, snobbery she has. That beneath all of the political differences, at the root, we both love Britain, and want to see a fairer world, we just differ as to how this can be achieved.

The delightful Lady P has stood by me during these past three months of unemployment, and has demonstrated faith and love when surely wiser counsels would tell he to cut her losses and go.

So heres to you  Lady P, blogging widow and independent woman, lets hope we make it through this, and are you really sure I can’t tempt you to the Red corner? xxx

What is the point of Dispatches?

Last night was exceptional for any student of politics watching telly – not only was a Panorama expose on the supposedly dodgy dealings of Lord Ashcroft kiboshed at the last minute, but Dispatches supposedly tackled Bob Crow, Trades Union militancy, and the Trades Union movement in general.

From the start, the images used were of old-style picket line violence from the 1970s and 1980s, whilst the narrator intoned on the threats of  fighting in the streets a’la Greece, none too subtly I fear.( Although she made it clear, in hushed tones, that Bob Crow was advocating nothing of the kind) There was an allegation of bullying within the RMT – a serious allegation, that would have been worthwhile following up as a whole programme. It wasn’t pursued, so the reporters’ source is left high and dry, and a valuable and important line of enquiry was left hanging, easily dismissed as a smear. Supporting evidence for bullying came from an ex Tory minister, and a senior figure at London Underground – both guaranteed to be neutral observers. There was shock news that Bob Crow is a bit of a Communist. Speaking of which, most of the footage shown of the annual Tolpuddle March concentrated on stalls for tiny organisations – such as Class War, and the Communist Party of Britain – very representative.

Moving on to more moderate Leaders, the image used to illustrate a more diversified campaign against cuts was of the Battle of Trafalgar Square Poll Tax Riot. Hardly a balanced image for a campaign with the purpose of uniting Union members with other members of the public against cuts.

The pay packets of Union Leaders were at least mentioned – again, a worthwhile avenue for exploration, very few of us would want to see many TradesUnion Leaders on banker-style pay. It was interesting to see Derek Simpson trying to justify his wage, and at least featured Jerry Hicks a candidate who would halve his pay packet, if elected.

Dodgy charity deals involving Les Bayliss (another Unite candidate and Simpson’s heir apparent) were aired – but again, this needs a whole programme to present a proper investigation. Again, what we get is easily batted away as “media smears”. This is a huge disservice to Trades Union members, and to journalism. Very serious accusations such as those posed so far really do need much better coverage. Worse I am afraid, was to come.

Misrepresentation by Unison officials to their low paid female members was next, potentially taking tens of thousands of pounds out of members pockets. Unpaid officials being intimidated and harassed for simply doing their job, and eventually removed. If these stories are true, and they certainly could be, there is a lot that Union Machines and their functionaries have to answer for.

The final expert witness was Tory-about-town James Forsyth, assuring us all that the Coalition wanted nothing more than to be friends with the Trades Union movement, and that it was only their horrible leaders who prevented this love-in.

A little repetition of the canard that Ed Miliband was selected by the Unions rounded of this episode.

All-in-all, it painted a pretty bleak picture of todays Trades Unions, and each and every accusation deserves to be treated seriously, and with full investigations. This is not what we got here. What we got was more or less a scattergun of lightly investigated stories, that the guilty will brush aside, and will only be used by right wingers to hit ordinary Union members fighting against the cuts with.

All found, one is left asking “What is the point of Dispatches?”

I’m with John…

“Every free man of England, poor as well as rich, should have a vote in choosing those that are to make the law.”

John Lilburne (“Freeborn John”) May 1647

Good old John, one of the great Levellers of the Civil Wars, and one of the figures whose ideas went on to help create The Labour Movement, and inspire the struggle for adult emancipation in these isles. Trouble is, we have the vote, but it is rendered meaningless by First Past The Post – all parties now chase the few votes that can effectively give them a majority, rather than needing to convince most of the people. So unless you are middle class and live in a marginal seat, you don’t matter.

This is why the voting reform to AV matters to us in Labour – because it is a step that can redress the balance in favour of ordinary people and give them a fair say.

I urge you to come along to the Take Back Parliament rally in Manchester on the 28th at Labour Conference – and to lobby within the Party and Unions for active support of the Yes campaign in the referendum.

This fight harks back to our roots as a movement – not just the Levellers, but Tom Paine and The Chartists should be our inspiration…

Not convinced? Just take a look at the points below…

  1. In 1951, Labour won its largest share of the vote ever, yet we were consigned by FPTP to thirteen wasted years of opposition.
  2. Margaret Thatcher never achieved more than 33% of the total possible votes – John Major even less. As for Cameron…
  3. Under AV, the large number of Labour voters in Tory areas would increase their representation.
  4. In seats such as Waveney in Suffolk, under AV we would have probably won last time.
  5. AV would help to end the farce of “safe” seats – of which the Tories always have more.
  6. County Councils such as Suffolk would no longer be permanently dominated by one party.
  7. Large Majorities produced by FPTP lead to Parties ignoring the grassroots.
  8. AV was in our Manifesto.
  9. We already use AV for our elections – as do Trades Unions and the NUS. If it is good enough for us, its good enough for the country.
  10. In Australia, coalition is the exception, and Labor have won outright majorities in the 1980s, 90s, and this century.
  11. The reform Bill will pass, probably unamended. Without AV, the culling of seats and redistribution mean that the Tories will have gerrymandered the system.
  12. If AV passes, the chance to elect the Lords becomes a real one.

A successful campaign needs your active support, join Take Back Parliament, and lets change the political map of Britain.

Join the TBP rally in Manchester on the 28th and help convince others in Labour to get involved.

AV, Labour and Reform…

STOP PRESS!!

There is a Take Back Parliament Rally with Billy Bragg in Manchester on 28th September, to coincide with the Labour Party Conference. Details at Purple People website. I urge you all to go…

Along with cutting essential services, this coalition is also determined to cut your representation in Parliament – the Reform Bill will mean not only a chance for a fairer voting system, but also the loss of 50 seats in the Commons, and a redrawing of boundaries that will take no notice of local considerations whatsoever.

This is not just a matter for the usual suspects, as The Reform Bill will pass largely unamended, unless we get AV, the Tory Gerrymandering of seats will make it even more difficult for us to win. It is in our own self interest, as well as the interests of democracy, for the Yes campaign to win the referendum. Lets all get involved.

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