What would Clement do?

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

Archive for the tag “Equality”


…Or how to be an Old Labour romantic…

I always shed a tear when the young Kim Hunter falls desperately, hopelessly in love with David Niven in Powell and Pressbergers’ “A Matter of Life and Death”. Perhaps my love of melodrama gets the better of me, or the nostalgia for a time I never new. Maybe it is just Powell and Pressberger, after all, the ending of “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” gets me the same way. Perhaps it is Jack Cardiff – the “colour merchant” who shot these two masterpieces, and many more.

I suspect that it is more than this, as when David Niven says that he is “Conservative by instinct, Labour by experience” that is the moment that I well up…

..I can’t help it, you see I am one of that lost tribe, the Old Labour Romantics. I suppose that being politically awoken by the Miners’ Strike and Billy “Between the Wars” Bragg doesn’t help, but that is just what I am. I must confess my sin, that I look back upon the history of our Party and Movement, and my heroes are the Major, Hardie, Maxton, Lansbury. They are the Cooks – both Robin and A J, Bevin and Bevan. They are John Smith and Kinnock, Foot and Mikardo, and hundreds of others that fought the good fight. The unsung as well as the famous, those who fought and negotiated, who put our people first, who had a sense of what was right, a sense of decency.

Bill Morris, Len Murray, Jack Jones, Manny Shinwell and a host of others who did what they thought right, and never wavered in the tasks before them.

The phrase “Old Labour Romantic” has been used to describe that great journalist and biographer Francis Beckett. I suppose that it corresponds to anyone who sees the future of this country as being in the creation of a more tolerant, open, and equal society.

I am working to make the future Red, but maybe, just maybe my heaven is in black and white…

Sexism in the Workplace and Free Speech

So, after the sacking of a couple of dunderheads at Sky Sports,  the focus has been placed on both Free Speech and on Sexism in the workplace.

About time too I would say, but what do the defenders of Grey and Keys really mean when they shout “Political correctness gone mad?”

An article in The New Statesman by an anonymous insider points to a culture of bullying and arrogance on Sky Sports’ flagship football programme, born of hubris and success. Read it at http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/01/sky-sports-keys-gray-melvin

After watching the video clips, it seems to me that there was certainly a problem here – Gray seems to be the alpha male, with Keys acting like his wingman. It reminds me of nothing so much as a bully and his creepy mate, you know the sort – you can find them in sports pubs across the land. They got found out, and now starts the bleating – “dark forces”, “genuinely sorry”, “a fine broadcaster”, and bizarrely from Giles Coren, “not in front of the ladies” – as if it is OK to behave like this at any time.

Working in The Hotel Industry, I can say that sexism in the workplace is alive and well, albeit mainly from the customers side. Yes, sad but true, female staff are still seen as legitimate targets for some sad men out there, who have not the wit to realise that the young woman in front of them is smiling because it is her job. Or that she is too young for them, or that she is not sexually available simply because she is serving them. Yuk. Guests from the Media,City, Estate Agents and Businessmen away from home being the worst offenders in my experience.(Anyone surprised?)

There is still a subtle sexism within the industry, and HR departments, however much they enforce the letter of the law, often ignore this, particularly amongst the low-paid. Which is ironic, as I have yet to experience a Hotel HR Department in ten years that didn’t have a majority of female staff and management.

The defence that this is merely Free Speech is not really an effective one here, to my mind. Of course, anyone should be allowed to hold any opinion, no matter how much I abhor it, yet in a civilised society women should expect to be treated with respect. “Banter” is only banter when both sides feel that they can win. I am by nature flirtatious, and enjoy the company of women, and, being English, enjoy a little bit of sauce.

At work, I tone this down,  and am careful not to overstep any mark ; self-deprecation is always good to use. I do not make crude and offensive remarks about anyone – they are not funny, they are not civilised. The notion that it is an exercise of Free Speech to harass female co-workers, to objectify them, and refer to them in dehumanising terms is simply sad.

Lets be clear here, Freedom of Speech means that you should be able to express what you believe. In a free society, Free Speech also means living with the results of your actions

“The Arab Street” is Really Angry…

Since the start of the Tunisian Revolution, the combined Dictators, Kings and Kleptocrats of the Middle East have been feeling the wrath of what commentators refer to as “The Arab Street” – which we would recognise as the ordinary fella and his wife…

Events in Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Algeria, Lebannon and Iran have been building for a number of years, but the combination of  Tunisian revolt and the leaks from the last round of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have made for a heady brew.

Anyone who believes in Democracy and Liberty will welcome the discomfiture (possibly defeat) of dictators and their supporters. I do see a number of issue which we as democratic Socialists should be clear about:

  1. Israel has a right to exist. Whatever the debates about Zionism, and however valid they were in the 1930s, the simple fact of Israel means that we have to oppose any move to destroy the state of Israel- it is a recipe for the potential mass murder of millions .
  2. The “Greater Israel” project, meaning the consolidation of gains made during and since The Six Day War must be stopped, and where possible, reversed. Support for Israels existence does not mean uncritical support. The repressive machine that Israel has become must be dismantled.
  3. Bottling up resistance with repression has only led to much more extreme forms of dissent. By undermining Fatah, the Israelis now have to deal with Hamas, the Algerian Dictatorship stole an election from FIS, now they will be dealing with something much more extreme, and then there is Iran…
  4. The West must play a very careful game here – we need to support moves towards Democracy without fuelling accusations that they are our patsies.
  5. The Socialist International, to which Labour belongs, must clean up its own house – the repressive thieves who rule much of  the region are often represented here. For the sake of international solidarity, they and their parties must be expelled.
  6. We must clearly support, as Democratic socialists, the right of free speech and protest against repressive regimes, wherever they are.
  7. However, we should have no illusions about some of the organisations that are seeking to lead these protests – some of them are Islamists, whereas most of the demonstrators are clearly ordinary men and women who have just about had enough…

The problem with Leninism…

Hey ho, lets go…

After Laurie Penny’s recent article in the Grauniad, Alex Callico Knickers of the SWP, and his band of plucky Leninist parrots have resurfaced…

Laurie can of course defend herself and views much better than I can, but with the recent student demos giving a filip to the shrinking hard left,I think it germain to weigh in, as an ex-member of both Militant and of the SWP, and now as a proud Democratic Socialist.

The Leninist theory at the root of SWP/Socialist Party/CPGB/etc.etc. practice is one that has blighted the Left for a century, and is responsible for some of the worst crimes against humanity that took place during the Twentieth Century. Yet many good class fighters throughout the world proudly bore the name of Lenin aloft and in their hearts. They were at best mistaken. Millions died to prove the theories wrong, many were proud Bolsheviks of many years standing, undone by the logic of their beliefs. Many millions more were ordinary workers, peasants and soldiers.

The Vanguard Party substitutes itself for the class. The Party Organisation for the Party, The Central Committee for The Organisation, and The Leader for the Central Committee. Trotsky pointed this out as long ago as 1902.

How many examples do you need? Russia, Spain, the awful mess in interwar Germany, China, North Korea, Cuba, Prague 1968, Poland 1980, the list goes on. And then there are the parties, both orthodox and trotskyist in the west – their zig-zags and deviations, their abandonment of womens’ and gay rights in favour of currying favour with tiny Islamicist groups … not to mention the strangulation of free Trades Unions and all dissenting voices – both Socialist and otherwise.

The expulsions, bullying, both mental and physical, the outright lies perpetrated as fact whenever the “line” changes…

Alex Callinicos is apparently a respected academic Marxist Philosopher, with tenure, so we must pay heed to the comfortable gentleman of 1968. He is no more relevant than “Congratulations” by Cliff Richard, also of 1968.

There have been, and no doubt still are good socialists in the SWP and other factions, there are those who would describe themselves as Marxist-Leninists who I would be happy to march alongside, and I have no time for witch hunts, but  for sheer pointlessness it would be hard to match their party activity. Better they use their time fruitfully rather than staging “interventions”, or selling papers.

I will give one concrete example of Leninist practice from the early 1990s: A young student comrade of about 20 ends up at a party where he then sleeps with both a man and a woman. He is a little immature, and, as many are when young, sexually confused. Embarrassed, he hopes that the incident will be forgotten and pass, as he now feels he may know that he is straight. Sadly the couple were also party members. A week later, despite his evident misgivings, he is dragooned into a party “intervention” into the founding meeting of the citys OUTRAGE Group – it is his socialist duty, it is explained, because he has recently slept with a man, to inject some socialist politics into this “bourgeois” protest group.

A good time was had by none. No useful point was served.

Aah, but it was so romantic to be caught up in Revolutionary politics…

“Soviet Communism is the illegitimate child of Karl Marx and Catherine The Great.” – How true Clement, how true…

Ed’s first speech…

OK – having just listened carefully to Eds first keynote speech, I suppose I must give y’all my first impressions…

As as performance, Ed built up a creditable head of steam, and obviously learnt early on that oratory is not necessarily shouting. As a relatively unknown new Leader, he also had to flesh out his backstory for the general public. On the whole, it was a carefully pitched effort, a speech to both unify the party and to reach out to those millions of voters we lost under Blair and Brown after 2001.

A number of points were raised, and although it was of course short on policy, it was heavy on aspiration – both for Labour, and for the country as a whole.


Starting with the back story of his family was a good move for someone that few outside of politics know much about – his parents flight from the Nazis, their (very) left wing credentials, and general human interest were all covered. Although much the same age as Cameron and Clegg, his background is radically different from either – no landed yeomanry in his past, thats for certain.

On the Unions, he steered a course succinctly between stressing the right and necessity of Unions defending ordinary people and the Bob Crow faction within the TUC, thus undermining Tory jibes (tired as they are) about “Union paymasters”.

The really interesting parts were to come…


Whilst staying reasonable in tone, and paying tribute to the positive legacy of our last thirteen years in government, he drew a line under New Labour.

On Civil Liberties, Equal Rights and Iraq, Ed was a breath of fresh air. Whether we agreed with the ousting of Saddam, or or had problems with dodgy dossiers, it was clear that this was a new page  – couched in the realism that between 2001 and 2010 we lost 5 million voters. olive branches were offered to those of a liberal persuasion, whether LDs or not.

Throughout his speech, Blair and Brown were bracketed together as “Tony & Gordon” – significantly placing blairites and brownites together, whilst also stressing the need to move on.

In fact, in the light of Nick Clegg’s vitriol aimed at Labour in Liverpool, Ed aimed all his attacks at the Tories, and David Cameron. We have a Leader who has grasped that we may need to form a coalition of our own, or maybe Ed is too well brought up to kick a man when he is down, either way, what was to follow was great news…


The Leader of The Labour Party, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, came out in full backing of a Yes vote in the AV referendum! He was unambiguous in his personal support for AV, and if we act quickly enough, we may be able to swing significant numbers of Labour supporters and activists behind the campaign. His support for an elected House of Lords was also not couched in the previous lukewarm terms of New Labour, but put centre stage, and both were well received within the hall. This is a major shift in both policy and attitude within Labour, and should not be underestimated.

The next steps were equally as important – Ed’s “Tamworth Manifesto” moment – he introduced the concept of constructive opposition, last used to great effect by the late John Smith. On the economy, he stressed a sensible level of deficit reduction, and wisely, given that we have yet to see detailed government plans, called for support for sensible economies, rather than blanket opposition. We have yet to know what Ed deems a “sensible” cut, or even to know exactly where the axe will fall, but this is a classic and useful position, given that we were advocating economies of our own in our last manifesto.

The call to social unity across the rich-poor divide – that we are happiest in societies that are less unequal, was a great foil for Cameron’s “Big Society”, and has already led to Sir Philip Blond to confusedly mark Ed out as a “red Tory” – it may be that Sir Philip is really a blue Social Democrat…


This speech was a good start, and showed that we have the ability to move on in a way that took the Conservatives ten years to do.

Action is needed, but the central theme that we need to move on from New Labour is perhaps a tacit acceptance that more than one viewpoint needs to be heard in policy discussions and development. Support for AV needs to be converted into action – Take Back Parliament needs Labour input. The studied lack of hostility towards the Liberal Democrats was both refreshing and may be useful for years to come.

This early in a period of opposition, what we need is less detailed policy, more a re-statement of principles. This speech was a good start. Lets move towards making the Good Society a reality.

Essex Girls, Union militants and a bit of history…

In the last few decades, a small cottage industry has grown up in Britain, developing a certain type of film, one which I would categorise as the “feel good working class defeat movie”. This started back in the late 1980s, with “The Big Man”, and has continued through “The Full Monty”, and “Brassed Off”, “Up and Under”, and a number of other films or TV movies, that share a number of attributes.

Firstly, they are all records of defeat – the miners strike, the destruction of the Steel industry, the general victory of Thatcherism over social democratic values are always the backdrop to this kind of film – introducing tragedy and pathos as major themes.

Secondly, the solution to the characters problems is often communal, but always entrepreneurial; win a Brass band competition, win a bare knuckle fight, start stripping – “just get back on your feet boys, you can do it!” is the subliminal message we find more often than not.

An idealised picture of working class life, mainly centring on male roles, and how these have changed. The working class all live North of the Watford Gap.

These films are not in the same category as those by Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and the excellent Shane Meadows, all of whom have been able to capture snapshots of ordinary life with humour and emotion, as well as accuracy.

A general line throughout these films that the Unions cannot win – however brave and honourable the struggle, it is always doomed, however much we regret this. The concurrent to this is that the only way to salvation is to escape your class.

These film have made us feel good by touching a nerve – we wish things were different, but they aren’t. The escapism is no less than when watching “Four Weddings” say, or “Notting Hill”, or any Merchant Ivory confection.

“Made in Dagenham” however, looks like a film that bucks this trend. Set in the huge Ford plant in Essex at the end of the sixties, it follows the true struggle of women workers for equal pay for equal work. This battle was not only successful, but led directly to the first sexual equality legislation since the emancipation of women in the 1920s, brought in by Barbara Castle. It was a Trades Union battle par excellence, with right on its side, led by the women themselves.

It comes out this week, and I urge you all to see this film, which I will review soon…

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