What would Clement do?

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

Archive for the tag “Labour history”


Much toss is being written and spoken about Maurice Glassman’s  “Blue Labour” witterings, and he seems to have Ed’s ear at the moment…

Clem is all for a bit of Labour nostalgia – how could I not be? Just look at the site name. But Glassman has made some pretty fundamental errors in his analisys of pre-1945 Labour, and has also made a very stupid error in political judgement…

Last year, it was all about the “Red Tory”- Philip Blond’s supposed re-jigging of One-Nation Toryism. I see very little of this in evidence as The Coalition rips the heart from the NHS, attacks minorities and pursues its Monetarist economic agenda with uncommon zeal.

Glassmans response – under the title “Blue Labour” looks for all the world like nothing so much as a pale imitation of failed Policy-Wonkage on the right – never a good move. In fact, it looks suspiciously similar to “The Project” launched in the early nineties by Mandleson, Blair and Brown, now thankfully over, or so we thought…

In truth, the “statism” that Glassman attributes to the 1945 Labour Government was far more complex and subtle than he portrays. And the “golden age” he finds before this date includes most of the major figures of Labours greatest Government. To whit:

” Given the choice between Liberty and Equality, I would choose Liberty every time.” – Ernest Bevin, a major figure in the TUC who pressed for support of the Spanish Republican Government, whilst fighting against stalinist influence withing the TGWU and wider Labour Movement.

Herbert Morrison – as Labour Leader of the London County Council, oversaw the great slum clearances of the 1930s improving Londoners lives for the better, working with Local Authorities, and often in the teeth of Central Government opposition. As a Labour minister, worked with Nye Bevan to create the NHS, which was initially modeled on  locally accountable provision for local needs – Bevan’s ideas for its growth envisaged the Health Centre at the heart of the community, and Community Health Councils – an extension of Municipal Socialism.

Major Attlees own brand of Socialism, rooted in his experiences in the East End and influenced by the Guild school of thought was also deeply patriotic – this man took  Turkish Bullet for goodness sake!  And was one of the two last men off the beach at Suvla Bay.The mainstream of Labour opinion has never, unlike the far Left, been unpatriotic – without Attlee in 1940, Churchill may never have become Leader. Without Bevin, there may very well have been no Attlee. Attlees own conservatism on constitutional issues may be decried now, but you cannot deny his love of Crown and Country, as unaffected and honest as Churchills.

To the end of his days, even an “inveterate peace monger” such as Micheal Foot remained intensely patriotic, and in 1982 his speech calling for war with fascist Argentina was declared the best in the debate – unsurprising from the author of “The Guilty Men” really…

In reality, the 1945 Government had to use the means at its disposal in very tough times to rebuild Britain. The war left us broke and devastated. The economy was already pretty much centrally controlled, and had been for six years, out of necessity. In most legislation in the social sphere, although centrally planned, services were planned to be locally administered and accountable. And it is difficult to question the patriotism of a Government that stood up to Stalin, developed a nuclear deterrent, helped form NATO, fought communism in Greece and Korea, whilst overseeing a massive retreat from Empire, with little help, if any, from our allies, the USA. 

Oh, and there was a Royal Wedding too…

So lets have no more jabber about “Blue Labour”, instead let us revive something that “informed opinion” has long derided – Red Patriotism.


Ed talks human,Tessa writes nonsense.

Picked up my copy of The Independent on Tuesday, daring rebel that I am, and chanced to see the strangest thing…

Tessa Jowell giving advice to Ed Miliband…

Whilst simultaneously representing Dulwich and West Norwood ( one of the poorest constituencies in Britain), checking her husbands internet porn bill, and justifying the deregulation of gambling, Tessa has found time to ponder why we were defeated in May, coming to a startling conclusion.

Well, I say startling, but thats only if we dont remember her previous highly valued work as the bag lady for the shysters who form the gambling trade, her love affair with high finance, and her ultra-Blairite credentials. Few have ever been as “New” as Ms Jowell, and few could be so wrong.

Tessa takes the evidence from the latest voter survey by Peter Kellner, and the 2009 British Social Attitudes survey, and hey presto, she comes up with a solution thats bang up to date…if that date is sometime in 1996, and you are Tessa Jowell.

Reducing the findings of these two august surveys to bare bones, the findings are as follows:

  • The gap between self-identified class and voting intentions for Labour voters has narrowed dramatically since 1970.Back then, 54% of “Working Class” voters were Labour, and just 22% “Middle Class”. In 2010, it was 33% and 27% respectively.
  • In 2009, 75% of people considered themselves “somewhere in the middle” as regards their Class position.
  • As of today, a massive 70% of voters consider themselves to have no party affiliation.

Jowell’s response to these very salient points is a classic case of reductiam ad absurdio, in which she ignores not only any evidence to the contrary, but also any definition of class save self definition.

My first response was “I can declare myself King of Denmark, it doesn’t make it true”. This sounds silly, but think about it, objectively, Class is really all about power, control, social status and earnings. How much real power do you have at work? Who is your boss? Do you control your budget?Staffing? How much do you earn? How are you seen in your community? Patterns of work have changed enormously since 1970, for technological, social, political and economic reasons.

After much pressing, Ed Miliband defined the “squeezed Middle” as earning between £16,000 and £50,000 per annum – a ridiculously large number of people really, as I doubt that those on £16,000 have the same worries as those on £50,000 on a day to day basis. However, neither end of this spectrum would be considered rich by any standard today, and will often have more in common than those earning, say, over £200,000 a year.

One salient factor missed by La Jowell would be Labours’ retreat from issues of class, and its embracing of theories that see issues of gender, gender identity, race etc as more important. It was the young idealists of Tessas generation, disappointed with the working classes’ refusal top follow their student lead, that led the way to this New labour thinking. They moved from class adulation to marginalising anything to do with what they defined as the white, male working class – as they saw it, the seat of racism, homophobia, sexism etc. in Britain.

Successive defeats of organised Labour in the 1980s encouraged the view that the working class was dead – as if the working class had only ever been a homogenous group – all flat caps, flat vowels and Union membership…

This was never really the case, but in the over educated opinions of Mandy and others, the mantra developed “even if they exist, we despise the working class, unless we can pigeonhole them into a minority”. “They let us down, in 1983, in 1987, and surprisingly in 1992 – quite frankly, we dont care what happens to them – the middle class is where its at – they vote more often, and have grown exponentially since the founding of the Welfare State.”

On the face of it, this has some truth, as we already know that the vast majority of people in Britain today will readily profess membership of the middle class, and have what we would often refer to as middle class aspirations – self-betterment, home ownership, decent education for their kids, and more money.

Yet these aspirations were behind the formation of the Trades Unions during the latter Nineteenth Century, and of the Co-Operative movement. They are “Core values” ( sorry for the management speak) for us, except for the overwheening greed and individualism.

Yet as the working class became less homogenous, and more racially mixed, so the professional middle classes also saw a change. Few today would feel that everyone who works behind the counter at your local bank are automatically middle class, teachers have seen successive governments exert more and more control, whilst seeing their social status in communities plummet.  Social work, once a fairly middle class niche, is now a job where you can exert a substantial amount of control on others, but are constricted by local and central government as to what you can do – one size fits all. Pub Landlords, once upstanding independents, are now mostly waged Managers with little control and much responsibility, or Leaseholders for Pubcos, often earning as little as £75.00 per week.

Many jobs that were once safely middle class are now still white collar, but questionably much more working class in terms of status , hours, perks and control.

Having ditched the working class, Tessa and her ilk decided that it was the middle class for the. Progressively, as those who want power do, they identified the middle class as being a bunch of columnists in the media on £100,000 plus. These people, with much more power than your local GP, were taken to be “middle class’, as has Kate Middleton, a millionaires daughter, from a very (expensive and therefore) good school.

For Tessa, all that matters is an outdated view of class, and to pander to a mythical middle class, best represented as being somewhere between Terry and June and Tom and Barbara Good. This is as silly as expecting the massed ranks of the Trades Unions to suddenly re-appear and bring the country to a halt.

What she fails to understand are the shifts in class position of many white collar jobs, the shared interests of those who are nearer the bottom of the pile than the top.

Sadly, Ms Jowell wishes to repeat the mistake of ignoring those at the bottom, for fear of losing a tiny number of those at the top…

A reasonably bad idea…

Ed Milibands proposals for the reform of party funding warrant careful consideration, and not just by Labour members…

Now as I understand them, Ed is proposing that ALL donations to ALL parties should be capped at, say £500 per individual and organisation, thus ending at a stroke the vast sums of money that the Tories get from companies, and the reliance on Trades union funds for Labour. There is also the suggestion of increased State funding for parties who reach a certain threshold of votes.

This seems reasonable, and will play well with Lib Dems, but is this really a good idea? I am not so sure.

Firstly, I am deeply suspicious of State funding – why should Lady P pay for my party, and me for hers? What if the BNP or Respect cross the threshold? How could Mebbyon Kernow ever hope to do so? Parties should never be too enmeshed with the State, and the status quo, to challenge it effectively.

As for the cap, well on the face of it, fair enough, although as with taxes, we know that the rich and big business will simply get round this – probably through U.S. style Political Action Committees (PACs), “in support” of their favourites. WiddecomePAC anyone?

Now as to Trades Union political funding, here I believe that Ed has got it utterly, balls-achingly wrong.

His proposals fundamentally misconstrue the history and roots of our Party, and its birth. we were born as the political expression of the Unions, as well as various Socialist and reform-minded groups, throughout our history, this link has been beneficial to both the Party and the country – after all, Ernie Bevin , Nye Bevan and many others rose to prominence firstly through their Trades Union work. Without Bevin, my hero Clement Richard Attlee could have been deposed by Mandelsons’ Grandad – and you think he is insufferable now! Truth to tell, big business and the rich have two parties to play with, so now more than ever, we must preserve our links to organised Labour.

There should always be a link to the Trades unions, full stop. That this link should be democratically accountable on an annual basis at Union Conferences, with a vote of all the membership who pay the political levy would be an admirable point to make.

A similar measure for big business would see them publish yearly accounts of all moneys paid to parties and lobbyists, which would then be in the public eye, and voted on at annual shareholders meetings.

The last measure Ed has suggested is a further dilution of  the already weak power that ordinary members have – namely giving a 25% share in Leadership elections, and possibly candidate selections to a nebulous group of “registered Labour supporters”. Now this is hugely open to abuse at both national and local levels, and would encourage yet further U.S. style caucus politics, where the central Leadership all too often control candidate selection. Be warned, this is what lead to the Tea party…

So Ed, please, think again.

I suggest that the rest of us inundate his email with our opposition to this…

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…

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.

“A period of silence from you would be most welcome.”

So said the great Major Attlee in response to Harold Laski, and I have to say, after reading Harriet Harmans’ words in the New Statesman (www.newstatesman.com) this morning, it seems like good advice  to all those who are busy hawking books around,  responding or commenting on them.

The seemingly endless reams of gossip, innuendo and self justification that have deluged the public over the last few months have served no positive purpose, and like most political autobiographies, are of limited historical value. Hysterical value is in abundance. Where is Leo Abse when you need him?

None of the major players in the New Labour drama have much to say outside of their little set, save for walk-on parts for the general public and various moguls, charlatans, villains and comic figures.

This constant re-fighting of battles lost and won brings little to the debate inside our Party, and the wider Social Democratic world, save vanity. So please, Gordon, don’t add to this pile of nonsense – write another biography instead, like the one you wrote on Jimmy Maxton, I think Manny Shinwell is due one right now…

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