Monday 31 May 2010

Protest Against Israeli Killings of Peace Activists

From the BBC:
More than 10 people have been killed after Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army says.

Armed forces boarded the vessels overnight, clashing with some of the 600 protesters on board.

The exact location of the interception is unclear. Israel had warned the ships not to enter its territorial waters.

The ships are carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid to try to break a long-standing Israeli-led blockade.

Israel says its forces were attacked by activists when they got on board.

"The people on the boats were very, very violent toward the soldiers," Israeli military spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Leibovich was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

Organisers of the flotilla said at least 30 people were wounded in the incident.

An Israeli government minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, was reported as expressing regret for "all the fatalities".

Turkey, one of whose charities is a main organiser of the flotilla, said it "strongly condemn[ed] these inhumane practices of Israel", AFP said.

Turkish TV pictures taken on board the Turkish ship leading the flotilla appeared to show Israeli soldiers fighting to control passengers.

The footage showed a number of people, apparently injured, lying on the ground. It is not clear whether the fighting is continuing.
Full report here. You can follow this Twitter feed and website for news as it happens.

There's is a protest outside Downing Street TODAY at 2pm.

8:45 update: The Israelis' chief spokesman has just been on BBC News defending the action in his usual pugnacious manner. He is arguing the commandos were attacked first and claims the footage of the raid shows this - completely ignoring that these commandos were heavily armed and boarding a ship they knew contained nothing more than peace activists.

This is where he tried to muddy the waters. Despite knowing the humanitarian nature of the flotilla he tried claiming the Israeli government was "unclear" about whether the ships were carrying weaponry. If they had nothing to hide then why didn't they put in at an Israeli port?

These look like the main lines of argument apologists will be pursuing over the next few days.

Footage here and here.

Sunday 30 May 2010

Birthday Song Meme

Last night's Eurovision has left me in a musical mood, which is a perfect excuse for yet another music-related meme. This one is pretty simple: what was number one in the week you were born? You can find a list of every single song to have scaled the heady heights of chart success here.

Tragically the Great British public were out buying this monstrosity when I appeared on the scene:

Bah, I missed Donna Summer's I Feel Love by a measly four months.

What was your birthday song? I hereby tag
Jim, Anna, Louise, Dave and Paul, Darren, Red Maria, and Splinty. If you're not tagged feel free to have a go. It beats blogging about David Laws.

Andrew Gamble on the Election

A couple of weeks ago Andrew Gamble visited Keele to speak about the general election results and what it means for mainstream politics.

He began by asking if he thought the result was as expected? One one count, it was. The spread betting turned out to be inaccurate but the exit poll many commentators sneered at on election night was spot on. The opinion polls were largely on the money too. What was entirely unexpected by the commentariat was the Tories' decision to go for a coalition as opposed to a minority government. Gamble included himself in this group: he thought coalition was unlikely because they had only previously happened under the special circumstances of war. The 1918-22 coalition was really a Lloyd George premiership supported by the Tories, and similarly 1931 wasn't a true coalition: it was basically a Tory government with Liberal and Labour ministers. Hence from the standpoint of British political history the present coalition is breaking new ground.

Coalition government offers certain advantages to both parties. For Cameron the alliance with the LibDems solves a number of problems. He can sideline the Tory right, drop manifesto commitments he didn't really want (such as the pledge to cut inheritance tax), and with the LibDems in the treasury the political damage from his cuts programme doesn't fall entirely on him. It has the further advantage of allowing Cameron to position himself as a modern, liberal Tory and dilute the hard euroscepticism and xenophobia still endemic in his party.

For Clegg the prize was getting LibDems in the cabinet for the first time since the war, ensuring his position in the annals of British politics. He can now set about dismantling its reputation as the party of perennial opposition and demonstrate the advantages of coalition politics - one that ensures the LibDems will be a contender in future elections. He will also preside over the implementation of LibDem policies, not least the referendum on the
Alternative Vote.

There are a number of dangers that lie in wait that threaten to derail the coalition government. The first is the Tory right. Many Tories kept mum before and during the election for entirely pragmatic reasons. They had the disagreements and were displeased with the direction the Tory party were heading, but knew to keep a lid on things for electoral expediency. They wanted to see Labour form a progressive coalition with the LibDems and others because when it would (inevitably) fall apart the electorate would punish them by voting for the Tories in droves and return them with a healthy majority. For this scenario to be thwarted by their leader in favour of coalition has left them seething. If that wasn't bad enough, the five cabinet posts and 20 ministerial positions reserved for the LibDems will have put some careerist noses seriously out of joint. But even more unforgivable has been Cameron's compromises over key policy shibboleths, especially on tax cutting. Who could have forseen a Tory government committed to
raising the rate of capital gains tax? The move to an early reform of the Lords, the AV referendum concession, fixed terms, and the 55% no confidence threshold have poured more oil on the blazing back benches.

The second risk to the Tories are the consequences of the coalition succeeding and seeing out the full term. By moving the Tories more toward the liberal centre the LibDems could be partially absorbed but at the same time leave their right flank exposed. This presents the likes of UKIP and the BNP an opportunity as the Tories have traditionally mopped up the xenophobic hard right vote. With an opening of this political space some in the party might be tempted to jump ship to UKIP or a yet to be formed populist outfit, gradually whittling down the coalition's majority.

The third is the risk the LibDems face. There has been little in the way of an organised rebellion in its ranks so far. Vince Cable might not look comfortable with his Tory mates, and Charles Kennedy has grumbled away in think pieces but it's steady as she goes. However, seeing as the coalition will become unpopular very quickly how will the LibDems cope under the extra pressure and scrutiny? As we've seen these last couple of days, David Laws departure was very swift after his expenses scandal came to light. Could this be the shape of things to come? Another problem for the LibDems is that historically, previous associations with the Tories have led them being absorbed. The 1895-1912 Liberal Unionists and the 1931-68 National Liberal splits have met this fate - could Clegg lead the bulk of his party into a liberal Tory party, especially if the latter's rebranding succeeds and presents more of a liberal face in the LibDem's heartlands?

What about Labour? Gamble felt there was palpable relief in Labour's ranks, especially after post-TV debate polling put Labour behind the LibDems. However that there wasn't a total wipe out obscures the real dangers it faces. First, the number of seats gained do not reflect the slump in the vote - only the arithmetic of first past the post saved its bacon. Second with Cameron's pledge to cut the number of MPs by 60, you can bet the boundary commission's recommendations won't fall too heavily on Tory seats. This will create more marginals and make it difficult for Labour to win outright in the future.

Another problem for Labour is the geographic concentration of its support - it remains disproportionately weak in England. For it to win back the marginals New Labour won in 1997 some serious thinking needs to be done. But that won't be assisted by a leadership contest comprising of men all from a very similar background without much in the way of policy difference between them.

By way of a conclusion, Gamble noted a number of issues that will dominate the next five years. The first is the deficit. Associated with this will be a major defence review, which inevitably will downgrade Britain's capacity to project its power (as well as invite rebellion on the part of Tory back benchers). The union will come under strain too. Between them the coalition won 36% of the Scottish vote, but given Cameron's comments about the dependency the economies of the north, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the public sector, pushing through cuts there could be fuel for the nationalist fire.

The one thing Gamble didn't mention was how much the 'new politics' is business as usual. He talked about the periods 1976-92 and 92-08 as Tory and Labour hegemonies, but these were times marked by consensus around the subordination of society to market imperatives. Regardless of what realignment the coalition brings about in Westminster (if any), policy wise the platforms of all three parties are determined to make the working class pay for the crisis by cutting public sector employment, services, welfare benefits, and raising national insurance and VAT. But working class people are not responsible for the crisis. Commentators who flag up easily available credit to explain the crash overlook the reckless business practices of the banks, practices that cannot be separated from the short termism of making billions for their share holders. This is not to forget the role governments have played in engineering regimes whereby business is cut free from any social obligation, giving capital free reign to roam the planet for profitable opportunities.

The transformation of the banking crisis into a crisis of public finance will inevitably produce a wave of opposition up and down the country. The scenes from Greece could easily be repeated on British streets. But what remains unclear is how this will work its way through politics. Will a resurgence of the labour movement push Labour more to the left? Can dissatisfaction work to exacerbate political divisions in the LibDems and the Tories? Will small, marginal forces to Labour's left and the Tories' right benefit from the struggles and social dislocations to come?

Saturday 29 May 2010

Crop Trashing and Social Movement Theory

In a working paper given at Keele on Tuesday, Brian Doherty and Graeme Hayes presented an analysis of the apparently similar crop trashing movements in Britain and France. While the actions undertaken are the same - the destruction of genetically modified crops - their justifications are very different and pose a number of questions for the sociology of social movements.

In the theoretical literature, the dominant perspective on social movement mobilisation remains the political process school. Closely associated with the output of the late
Charles Tilly, Sid Tarrow and several other leading scholars in the field political process theory places emphasis on the social structures that determine, condition and facilitate social action. For example, analyses that stress the importance of resource mobilisation and political opportunity structures are examples of the political process school.

For Tarrow and Tilly the structure and character of the state plays a major role in determining the sorts of protest activities social movements engage in. As Britain and France are 'high capacity democracies' it is reasonable to assume that not only are the kinds of opposition they engender are similar, but should they manifest contemporaneously there must be a connection between them, even if it's merely the case of one observing the protest actions of another via news bulletins. The problem for Doherty and Hayes is Tilly and Tarrow overemphasise structure. It's as if the presence of certain structures call forth certain actions, allowing one to assume the roots and character of apparently similar social movements are identical. This is a faulty assumption. In the case of crop trashing it cannot explain why the French movement justifies itself in terms of a civic republicanism, while the British as a distinctly anarchist flavour. This isn't to say Tilly's and Tarrow's privileging of the state and social structure is fundamentally faulty and has nothing to contribute to understanding social movements, but it does suggest it requires significant modification by an account that allows for difference at the macro, meso and micro levels to come into play.

There is a lot of work in social movement theory on protest tactics, but very little explaining why some groups of activists choose some tactics over others. Tilly's chief contribution here is the repertoire of contention, the idea that certain social movements have a toolbox of tactics open to them. For example, the
criticism of the SWP's gatecrashing of ACAS last weekend was partly coloured by this form of direct action sitting outside the traditional Trotskyist/far left activist repertoire. Related to this but not reducible to it is that types of protest actions are modular. i.e. Successful tactics are diffused and transferable between different movements. For instance, practically every form of oppositional politics favours demonstrations, leafleting, etc. Hence for Tilly concurrent crop trashing in Britain and France would be an example of choosing a modular action from an environmentalist repertoire of contention that fits similar structural-political circumstances in the two countries.

In France crop trashing is the hallmark of
Les Faucheurs Volontaires (The Voluntary Reapers), a formalised organisation of some 7,000 members dedicated to destroying GM crops. Founded in 2003, LVF defines itself as a citizens' insurrection defending French public space, countryside and culture against the encroachment of (American-led) biological neoliberalism. LVF's activists welcome (and sometimes demand) arrest as a means of using the courts to attract media coverage. To maximise its impact crop trashing usually takes place over the summer to take advantage of the French media's silly season.

The British movement is very different. At the head of crop trashing here are the overlapping anarchistic frameworks of
GenetiX Snowball and Earth First!. Both are located in the non-violent direct action tradition and are quite prepared to destroy property to achieve its aims. If there are differences between the two networks, GenetiX would prefer arrest and exposure a la LVF, but as a whole both go in for covert actions. The majority considers their numbers are too small to make the publicity tactic effective and as anarchists they see submitting to arrest by a state whose authority they don't recognise as a negation of their principles. So rather than undertaking mass crop trashing, their actions tend to be sporadic and often in the dead of night.

Both movements' actions are facilitated by GM site locations being subject to freedom of information laws, and the 'topographical opportunity' of the difficulty of securing fields.

There are three key differences of interest from the standpoint of social movement theory that problematise the political process approach. First is a paradox between the positions the two movements find themselves in. In UK courts there has been a tendency by juries not to find activists who've destroyed property guilty. In France the price publicity frequently pays is conviction. Hence, at least from the standpoint of
rational choice (an ontology that quietly underpins political process theory), both movements are organising in an irrational manner.

Second, opportunities are important for explaining action but unlike Tilly and Tarrow (for whom political opportunities are treated as macro-level phenomena) these exist at the next level down a set of 'sectoral opportunities'. Doherty and Hayes point out that Britain and France have reached an agricultural settlement between farmers and the state. In France this was pluralised after 1986 when a number of groups were allowed to represent farmers as opposed to one big union. For example, the radical anti-GM organisation Confédération Paysanne founded by
José Bové contests elections to agricultural bodies, which in turn confers the wider anti-GM movement a legitimacy of coming from within the farmers themselves. Such a sectoral opportunity just isn't open to British activists and there is no practical alliance between farmers' interests and the activists.

Third the difference in how the two movements frame their activities owes a certain something to national peculiarities, in particular the different ways Britain and France has traditionally narrated its relationship to the countryside and food. In France the countryside is conceived as the location of rural (food) culture and is therefore 'peopled' and humanised. In Britain the country is often elided with nature, as a wild place devoid of industry. Could this help explain why the LVF's civic republicanism and the deep(ish) green of GS/EF! is 'appropriate' for crop trashing?

By way of a conclusion these findings cannot be assimilated by the kind of structural analysis Tilly and Tarrow favour. While Britain and France are mature liberal democracies this designation cannot explain the deep differences between the movements hidden by the superficial similarities of both engaging in crop trashing. Nor are they, strictly speaking, acting in an instrumentalist fashion. Without falling into the assumptions associated with identity politics, their actions are as much conditioned by their respective identities as movements.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Mail Group Paper in Made Up Racism Shocker

Like most local newspapers, Stoke's The Sentinel has a tendency to fill its pages with any old crap - cats stuck up trees, dads on charity runs, you get the picture. But since the old media has gone into decline, costs have been cut, churnalism rules the roost, and standards are on a slippery slope (of course, being part of the Daily Mail owned Northcliffe Media Group these were nothing to write home about in the first place).

With this in mind there was more than a whiff of BS when this story made the front page on Monday's edition:
ANGRY mum Sam Fardon says her toddler son was ordered off a bus – because the driver found his England shirt "offensive"!

Two-year-old Dylan Hall was with his mum and baby brother Adam, aged 10 weeks, when they were told to leave the 34A service from Newcastle Bus Station.

Miss Fardon says it was only after other passengers intervened that they were allowed on to the bus.

The 27-year-old, from Trent Vale, left with Dylan, said: "As we got on the bus, my two-year-old son had an England shirt on and the bus driver, who had an Eastern European accent, said he found it offensive.

"He said, 'he won't be wearing that during the World Cup, will he'? I said Dylan would and the bus driver said: 'I find that really offensive'. I couldn't believe it.

"He said we'd have to get off the bus but I argued with him and other passengers backed me up, so he let us on.

"I think it's disgraceful. I had baby Adam with me as well, luckily he wasn't wearing his England baby-grow."
This is just the sort of story the press love. It was picked up by The Mail (of course!), The Mirror, The Sun and dozens of bulletin boards and Facebook groups, including our knuckle headed friends over at Stormfront.

There's one slight problem. The story is completely untrue.

First Buses have put out this press release comprehensively debunking the story. Some might say First was bound to say that - and admittedly AVPS unlikely to take the protestations of any private company at face value. But in mitigation it turns out the "victim", Sam Fardon, has form. In 2004 Fardon was convicted for a series of deceptions that involved pilfering the bank account of a couple of Good Samaritans who took her in.

What she hoped to achieve by starring in a "political correctness gone mad" story is anyone's guess. But for The Sentinel to forgo basic fact checking and produce a puff piece that benefits no one but Stoke BNP is pathetic, sickening, and deserves total condemnation.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Unite Speaker Condemns SWP

What to make of the SWP's response to the barrage of criticism they've faced since Saturday's stunt? Reading this report and subsequent comments is to wade armpit deep through a swamp of willful delusion and tenuous self-justification. We're told critics are engaging in a "hatefest", are falling into "historical irrelevance", etc. etc. In other words, everyone else is wrong, do not matter, and the protest was the best thing since sliced bread.

There is however one point a comrade makes that is reasonable enough: that the response of rank-and-file workers is a useful barometer for evaluating the action. Sure, I bet many were pleased to see Willie Walsh harangued by a phalanx of paper sellers. But relying on praise from striking workers is thin gruel for Leninists - if they know their Lenin. As he notes in What is To Be Done, "Attention must be devoted principally to raising the workers to the level of revolutionaries; it is not at all our task to descend to the level of the “working masses.”" (source). In other words, as socialists the SWP should be aware of the political and strategic context in which their action took place. Before charging into ACAS offices the leadership (central committee members, full-timers and Socialist Worker journalists were all present in the throng outside), our self-styled vanguard of the working class should have taken into account whether it would aid perceptions of the SWP, the strike, and the labour movement. It is significant the SWP's defence has dismissed rather than engaged with criticisms framed in these terms. So much for all those International Socialism articles about Gramsci.

As you might expect the point about rank-and-file workers is followed by glowing reports from picket lines. One group of workers were so grateful they let one SWP'er use their loo! But, embarrassingly, there is one rank-and-file BA worker left less than impressed, and that was the speaker at the SWP's Right to Work conference. On the Unite Broad Left email list, they wrote:
I was very happy to be invited to speak at the Right to Work conf on Saturday but I left before 5pm to catch a train home. I had no idea the conference would end with a call to ransack negotiations across the road, and I utterly condemn it. This will make it very difficult now to get a motion through policy conference next week in support of the aims of Right to Work. It also could set back United Left's wider strategy of working with broad-based movements like Right to Work, something which I argued for and supported in my speech that day. We need allies but not allies who undermine our work in the trade unions. It's our dispute and if we want extra demonstrators to support us we will ask for them [emphases mine].
What a stupid, pointless own goal. Will the SWP ever learn?

Sunday 23 May 2010

Eurovision Preview

The televisual event of the year is almost upon us. Forget the finale of Lost, this summer's last ever Big Brother and that seldom-watched World Cup thingy: there is only one thing that matters, and that's the Eurovision Song Contest.

Without further ado, here's the UK entry: Josh Dubovie with
That Sounds Good to Me:

Ok, I've tried to like it for patriotism's sake (long time readers will know Eurovision is the only occasion I swap the workers' standard for the red, white and blue of the union flag), but it's dull. It's duller than dull, it's bland, unimaginative, and nothing more than the aural equivalent of second hand bubble gum. Therefore, with heavy heart, I will be transferring my allegiance this year to a country that's made an effort.

It's been tough. There's
the folky, the kooky, the soggy and the awful.

Luckily there's a few stand out entries that grab the attention. Ever wondered what a German singing mockney-stylee sounds like? Then wonder no more! Jena's
Satellite firmly parks her panzers on Lily Allen's lawn.

For Lithuania, InCulto's
Eastern European Funk edges into political commentary. Check this verse out: Yes sir, we are legal we are, though we are not as legal as you/ No sir, we’re not equal no, though we are both from the EU/ We build your homes and wash your dishes, keep your hands all soft and clean/ But one of these days you’ll realise Eastern Europe is in your genes.

From up the Baltic coast hails the Estonian act, Malcolm Lincoln with
Siren. They have the competition's weirdest video, and probably the strangest song too. It reminds me of forgotten alternative '80s tracks you might have once found in a Woolies bargain bin.

In the end I've managed to get it down to four songs. Bringing up the rear of my pop picks is Denmark's Chanée & N'Evergreen's
In a Moment Like This. Now the Tories are back in power the cultural ether is resonating with an 80s vibe again - this might win the Danes a few votes on the night.

I also quite like Miro's
Angel Si Ti, one of the very few decent dancey numbers in the contest. Bulgaria have played a blinder with this one.

Seems Bosnian entrants - understandably - only ever sing about peace and reconciliation. And this year's
Thunder and Lightning, courtesy of Vukašin Brajić is no different. But it's alright and, by Eurovision standards, a bit edgy.

So who will we at AVPS towers be rooting for on the night? Assuming she gets through Tuesday's semi-final, it's this:

That's right, Albania - the so-called stepchild of Europe - receives this blog's weighty endorsement. How can it fail?

Bet tip: Comrades fancying a flutter might like to check out the number of views each video has received on YouTube. Most weigh in between the 170,000-250,000 mark, but Moldova's entry
has well over half a million, Turkey's approaching 700k, Serbia nearly 900,000, and Jena's mockney warblings has four and a quarter million views. If I was a betting man I know where I'd be putting my money.

Marxist Blogging and Money

Since completing my PhD I'm in that unenviable position actors like to call "between jobs". And because of the avalanche of cuts the higher education sector is facing over the next few years it's possible I could be in this position for a while. Therefore your humble scribe has started exploring other revenue streams. Becoming an Ebay entrepreneur is one possibility, and trying to land paid writing gigs is another. But there is a third option.

On Wednesday I was at a North Staffs "business breakfast" organised by Carolyn Powell of
Bizfizz, which aims to develop networks between local small business people. I got chatting to Matthew from Pin Media, a website building/design start up. We talked about making money from the net and he told me I could make a modest regular income on the numbers AVPS has been getting of late (around 600 uniques a day).

Sounds fine and dandy. But of course, as everyone knows, the left has a set of uncodified but commonly understood ethics when it comes to money. Working for wages is fine. Unearned income from shares or property is less so. And, of course, if you're some sort of workers' representative in unions, council chambers, or parliament, the ideal position is to take no more than the average wage of a skilled worker. We are all mindful of the corrupting role money can play in the workers' movement and so we try and dampen down its corrosive effects as much as possible. And there's also the small matter of fighting the class struggle because we believe in socialism, not because we want to line our pockets.

This ethic is extended to blogging. No one minds comrades
hawking their own books because it's a way of getting their politics across. Ditto for clothing. But what about making money from blogging itself? Just as you'd be hard pressed to find many Tory blogs that eschew the delights of Google Adsense and other advertising, the reverse is true of the left. In fact, I can only think of one left blogger who does.

So what to do? Are adverts an absolute and definite no-no for left blogs? Do adverts compromise the integrity of the blogger? Do you find adverts intrusive and distracting? Would you be less likely to regularly read a blog that features them? Are voluntary donations the only way left blogs can ethically raise cash? Are some types of adverts and advertising platforms okay and others beyond the pale? Should lefties deposit their commercial hang ups in the dustbin of history and use their advertising revenue against the capitalist beast?

What do readers think? Have comrades got experience of making money from blogging?

Saturday 22 May 2010

The SWP's Cynical Stunt

Earlier today members of the SWP, "in solidarity with the BA cabin crew" gatecrashed talks between management and Unite at ACAS in Central London. Here's a BBC interview with one of the SWP'ers protesting outside:

There's more footage here of BA chief executive Willie Walsh surrounded by SWP'ers chanting and selling papers.

But the question has to be asked, what were the SWP trying to achieve? It's one thing to protest against bullying management, but quite another to
disrupt talks between them and the trade union. Does this action - which is totally unaccountable to cabin crew - help advance the cause of the workers, or will it be seized upon by a union-bashing media to discredit them as wild-eyed throwbacks to the '70s? True, not living near an airport I haven't been to a cabin crew picket line to gauge the mood. But I doubt many workers have been itching for someone to go down ACAS and force the union to abandon negotiations.

Call me cynical (and one cannot help be after watching the SWP's behaviour for a period of time), but this is about promoting the SWP and has little to do with the demands of the workers themselves. Since its split with Respect and having lost ground on the left to the Socialist Party, the SWP have placed more emphasis on narrow party building than was previously the case. That might be more comforting to the leadership and long term members who had their fingers burnt engaging with "the movements", but if it is to build wider influence it has to make its own opportunities. High profile stunts is one such way it can make itself visible to the public at large.

So leaving aside the wishes and interests of cabin crew and the trade union, AND the effects the stunt will have on popular perceptions of the strike, today's action has been an unalloyed success for the SWP. They were catapulted to the top of the news agenda for the first time since ... well ... when has the SWP
ever led a news bulletin? The coverage has also positioned them as a dynamic activist force able to throw convention aside to get its message across - a portrayal that will prove attractive to some. And lastly for the comrades involved, well, a few of them will feel a wee more revolutionary tonight than when they woke up this morning.

I'm sorry though, but this is a pretty poor show. The SWP have let down those they profess to defend, and future such antics will find them further marginalised in the labour movement. I'm reminded of Marx's remarks in the
Communist Manifesto where he declares communists have no interests separate to those of the working class. Maybe Marx was being naive. Or maybe the SWP's brand of "Marxist" politics have travelled so far from source that any similarity between them and the founders of scientific socialism are entirely coincidental.

Friday 21 May 2010

When in a Hole ...

Stoke BNP councillor Steve Batkin (appropriately, on the far right of the picture) is known for being a spanner short of a tool box, but you would at least think he'd have learned something about handling the media in his 20 years of BNP membership. Alas, to assume such a thing would be to overestimate the man.

Our Steve got himself pictured with these boneheads from Blood and Honour at the war memorial in Stone during his re-election campaign a couple of years ago. This photo was apparently in the possession of Alby Walker, until recently the darling of Stoke BNP, who passed it on to Nothing British.

In an attempt at damage limitation Batkin was interviewed by Stoke-centric blog Pits 'n' Pots. Unfortunately for him and the BNP, Batkin is yet to learn that you're supposed to dampen down controversy; not fan the flames.

In the third part of the audio interview, Batkin says:
I've always believed about 300,000 people died in the Jewish holocaust, not six million ... there's no way there was that many Jews in Europe at that time who could have sustained that amount of deaths. 
Next time Cllr Batkin finds himself in a hole, will the local fash remember to confiscate his spade?

Diane Abbott for Leader?

Let me put my cards on the table. In the Labour leadership contest I am supporting John McDonnell for the reasons outlined here. But, unlike many of the contributors to this discussion, I think Diane Abbott's surprise entry into the leadership race is a good thing.

McDonnell is politically sound and will, in the socialist future, be regarded as one of the finest Labour MPs ever to have sat. But which ever way you look at it even with the deadline for nominating candidates extended to June 9th, McDonnell will find it difficult to get the 32 other MPs necessary to get himself on the ballot paper. However, I would be very surprised if Abbott does not.

I'm a firm believer in the left taking opportunities where they find them. So forget about the less-than-consistent voting record and the private school business for a second. As someone on the soft left, and given the Labour Representation Committee's 'hard' stance toward centre-leaning figures, Abbott
is more likely to scoop up the 'we need an open contest' vote from among MPs than McDonnell. If that comes to pass the LRC and others should then campaign for her. This isn't because she brings "diversity" to the contest. It's because her candidacy allows an opening to shift debate and the party in a leftward direction, something that will be much harder to do if the competition consists solely of candidates who believe reconnecting with the working class means bashing immigrants and benefit claimants some more.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Chip Shops Don't Sell Carrots

This guest post from Sister C discusses the hang over of a 'general election diet'.

So the election is over. Campaigners who've worked all hours to get their candidate elected will be coming to terms with the emotional effects of the post-election come down.

Firstly, campaigners feel relieved. Finally its over, the results are in and there is nothing more that can be done. Heaven knows we might be able to have a few days rest from the 16 hour day slog of the campaign. Our eyes can rest from looking at the computer inputting data, designing leaflets and drafting direct mails.

Secondly, campaigners reflect. We review what we could have done better. For instance, should we have done more door knocking than telephone canvassing? Could we have got out one last leaflet?

There's the physical effects too. I recommend that after a long sleep, campaigners should take a good look in a mirror. For key campaign organisers the reflection that stares back can be very different from the one they faced at the beginning of the campaign.

The dark circles under the eyes aren’t just visible, they're screaming "Panda!" at me. And then you look down and sigh. Not only have your eyes assumeda dusky, Skeletor aspect, your waistline has expanded. And in my case it was by a massive amount.

During the campaign when a key campaigner is trying to do 26 things at once, you only have the time to do one of two things when it comes to food. The first is forget to eat entirely, losing a massive amount of weight during the campaign in the process. The second, and the path I went down, is to gorge oneself on whatever happens to be convenient and readily available. Salads are out, bacon sarnies are in. And while the weeks past have seen Labour’s vote share fall, for many of us our waistlines have held their ground. And increased their margins.

For any aspiring activists who might be reading this, take heed. Make sure it’s your party that gains, not your weight.

In the meantime, I can take solace in my new exercise bike. Viva la Slim Fast!

Monday 17 May 2010

The Left and the Labour Leadership

The race for the Labour leadership is underway and the Miliband brothers have taken an early lead by declaring first. To try and distance himself from the Blairite appellation, David has declared New Labour a thing of the past, while Ed calls for Labour to reconnect with its working class base. Both stances are an improvement on what's gone before, but in politics deeds matter more than words and the brothers' records in government have set few social democratic hearts a flutter.

Nevertheless David's eagerness to be first out the starting blocks help explain the clear lead he's established among
Labour members and the general public. As Mike Smithson asks in the latter piece, among the public at least, could David's lead simply be the by-product of name recognition?

There has been an expectation that John McDonnell will fly the flag for the hard left, and
according to Louise he has announced his intentions to do just that. If it means anything, in the LabourList poll of Labour members John received a considerable number of write-in votes (he was not an option in the survey) and came fifth behind the Milibands, Jon Cruddas and Ed Balls, and in front of people like Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Alan Johnson.

There are
concerns about the course John and the Labour Representation Committee are pursuing and, from the standpoint of reviving socialist ideas and rebuilding the labour movement, I share them. But nonetheless John's candidacy is to be welcomed. In the first place it gives Labour's hard left something to cohere around (inbetween elections it seems to me the LRC does little as the LRC apart from supporting the odd left trade union candidate and holding an annual conference). As things stand given it is unlikely John will cross the 33 MP threshold to get on the final ballot, this seems like an ideal opportunity for the LRC to publicly test other MPs' commitment to an open and thoroughgoing debate by calling on them to nominate John in the interests of that discussion; a grassroots letter/email/lobbying campaign to encourage MPs to do so; and a write-in campaign to the NEC calling for a suspension of the threshold rule (after all, it is considering dropping the six month rule to accommodate the ten thousand new members said to have joined since the election).

Second, and the most obvious reason for standing, is getting socialist politics on the agenda. Having a socialist candidate debate ideas in front of a mass audience could do much to float all the left's boats, whether inside Labour or not. How would the others answer when John places himself unequivocally on the side of the working class
against the avalanche of cuts and regressive tax rises that are coming?

This brings us back to the question of LRC strategy. If John is to successfully get his candidacy accepted the LRC has to look beyond itself and its natural allies on the far left outside Labour and think about how it can pull the softer, centre left in its train. The opportunity before the left is too great to pass up.

Friday 14 May 2010

Delay the Labour Leadership Contest

This statement from Compass on the desirability of a period of reflection prior to a Labour leadership is one I broadly concur with. I've signed the statement. If you're a member of the party I'd urge you to sign it too. You can do so here.


Last week Labour lost. The British public had lost their faith in us. This verdict is damning, but it is something we must face. It is now absolutely crucial that the party thinks long and hard about how it renews and transforms itself in the years ahead. But to understand how we win again, we must be certain we know why we lost. The forthcoming Labour leadership contest is an essential opportunity for the party to do just that. If it is turned into a quick-fire beauty contest it would be a massive mistake and a hugely wasted opportunity. This time we have to get both the substance and the style right; the public won't accept anything less.

We cannot afford to rush, and there is no need to. The Tories and Lib Dems have locked themselves into a deadly embrace of pain and cuts before they can hope for any improvement in the polls. With a 77-seat majority, this is likely to be a five-year term. So first we need an inquest, not just into the campaign, but the last 13 years, with an open and honest appraisal of what worked and what didn't. Then and only then should a full-scale leadership contest begin.

In this way the next few months will be the start of the process of successful renewal. We can open up the party, to reconnect with the millions of progressive-minded voters across the country, potentially recruiting hundreds of thousands of new people to Labour's cause. But to do this effectively in the forthcoming debate we must abide by the mantra of "respect, empower and include". We have a massive opportunity to rebuild, renew and transform the Labour party - we cannot afford to waste it.

Neal Lawson, Compass
Gavin Hayes, Compass
Tony Robinson, actor & broadcaster
Chuka Umunna MP
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Noel Hatch, Compass Youth
Gerry Morrissey, BECTU
Sam Tarry, Young Labour
Will Straw, Left Foot Forward
Alex Smith, LabourList
Sunder Katwala, The Fabian Society
Sunny Hundal, Liberal Conspiracy
Paul Hackett, The Smith Institute
Andrew Gray, Harrogate & Knaresborough CLP
Steve Elliott, Grimsby CLP
Edith Hughes, Bridgend CLP
Charles King, Croydon South CLP
John Knowles, Peterborough CLP
Marilyn Freeman, Somerton & Frome CLP

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Tory/LibDem Leaked Agreement

Here is the leaked Tory/LibDem coalition agreement, via Liberal Conspiracy

Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition negotiations

Agreements reached

11 May 2010

This document sets out agreements reached between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on a range of issues. These are the issues that needed to be resolved between us in order for us to work together as a strong and stable government. It will be followed in due course by a final Coalition Agreement, covering the full range of policy and including foreign, defence and domestic policy issues not covered in this document.

1. Deficit Reduction

The parties agree that deficit reduction and continuing to ensure economic recovery is the most urgent issue facing Britain. We have therefore agreed that there will need to be:

a significantly accelerated reduction in the structural deficit over the course of a Parliament, with the main burden of deficit reduction borne by reduced spending rather than increased taxes;

arrangements that will protect those on low incomes from the effect of public sector pay constraint and other spending constraints;

and protection of jobs by stopping Labour’s proposed jobs tax.

The parties agree that a plan for deficit reduction should be set out in an emergency budget within 50 days of the signing of any agreement; the parties note that the credibility of a plan on deficit reduction depends on its long-term deliverability, not just the depth of immediate cuts. New forecasts of growth and borrowing should be made by an independent Office for Budget Responsibility for this emergency budget.

The parties agree that modest cuts of £6 billion to non-front line services can be made within the financial year 2010-11, subject to advice from the Treasury and the Bank of England on their feasibility and advisability. Some proportion of these savings can be used to support jobs, for example through the cancelling of some backdated demands for business rates. Other policies upon which we are agreed will further support job creation and green investment, such as work programmes for the unemployed and a green deal for energy efficiency investment.

The parties agree that reductions can be made to the Child Trust Fund and tax credits for higher earners.

2. Spending Review

NHS, Schools and a Fairer Society

The parties agree that a full Spending Review should be held, reporting this Autumn, following a fully consultative process involving all tiers of government and the private sector.

The parties agree that funding for the NHS should increase in real terms in each year of the Parliament, while recognising the impact this decision would have on other departments.

The target of spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid will also remain in place.

We will fund a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere.

The parties commit to holding a full Strategic Security and Defence Review alongside the Spending Review with strong involvement of the Treasury.

The Government will be committed to the maintenance of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money. Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for alternatives.

We will immediately play a strong role in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, and press for continued progress on multilateral disarmament.

The parties commit to establishing an independent commission to review the long term affordability of public sector pensions, while protecting accrued rights.

We will restore the earnings link for the basic state pension from April 2011 with a “triple guarantee” that pensions are raised by the higher of earnings, prices or 2.5%, as proposed by the Liberal Democrats.

3. Tax Measures

The parties agree that the personal allowance for income tax should be increased in order to help lower and middle income earners. We agree to announce in the first Budget a substantial increase in the personal allowance from April 2011, with the benefits focused on those with lower and middle incomes. This will be funded with the money that would have been used to pay for the increase in Employee National Insurance thresholds proposed by the Conservatives, as well as revenues from increases in Capital Gains Tax rates for non-business assets as described below. The increase in Employer National Insurance thresholds proposed by the Conservatives will go ahead in order to stop Labour’s jobs tax. We also agree to a longer term policy objective of further increasing the personal allowance to £10,000, making further real terms steps each year towards this objective.

We agree that this should take priority over other tax cuts, including cuts to Inheritance Tax. We also agree that provision will be made for Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain on budget resolutions to introduce transferable tax allowances for married couples without prejudice to this coalition agreement.

The parties agree that a switch should be made to a per-plane, rather than per-passenger duty; a proportion of any increased revenues over time will be used to help fund increases in the personal allowance.

We further agree to seek a detailed agreement on taxing non-business capital gains at rates similar or close to those applied to income, with generous exemptions for entrepreneurial business activities.

The parties agree that tackling tax avoidance is essential for the new government, and that all efforts will be made to do so, including detailed development of Liberal Democrat proposals.

4. Banking Reform

The parties agree that reform to the banking system is essential to avoid a repeat of Labour’s financial crisis, to promote a competitive economy, to sustain the recovery and to protect and sustain jobs.

We agree that a banking levy will be introduced. We will seek a detailed agreement on implementation.

We agree to bring forward detailed proposals for robust action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector; in developing these proposals, we will ensure they are effective in reducing risk.

We agree to bring forward detailed proposals to foster diversity, promote mutuals and create a more competitive banking industry.

We agree that ensuring the flow of credit to viable SMEs is essential for supporting growth and should be a core priority for a new government, and we will work together to develop effective proposals to do so. This will include consideration of both a major loan guarantee scheme and the use of net lending targets for the nationalised banks.

The parties wish to reduce systemic risk in the banking system and will establish an independent commission to investigate the complex issue of separating retail and investment banking in a sustainable way; while recognising that this would take time to get right, the commission will be given an initial time frame of one year to report.

The parties agree that the regulatory system needs reform to avoid a repeat of Labour’s financial crisis. We agree to bring forward proposals to give the Bank of England control of macro-prudential regulation and oversight of micro-prudential regulation.

The parties also agree to rule out joining the European Single Currency during the duration of this agreement.

5. Immigration

We have agreed that there should be an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK to live and work. We will consider jointly the mechanism for implementing the limit. We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes.

6. Political Reform

The parties agree to the establishment of five year fixed-term parliaments. A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government will put a binding motion before the House of Commons in the first days following this agreement stating that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015. Following this motion, legislation will be brought forward to make provision for fixed term parliaments of five years. This legislation will also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the House votes in favour.

The parties will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. Both parties will whip their Parliamentary Parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.

The parties will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by-election where an MP was found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by-election signed by 10% of his or her constituents.

We agree to establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motions by December 2010. It is likely that this bill will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.

The parties will bring forward the proposals of the Wright Committee for reform to the House of Commons in full – starting with the proposed committee for management of programmed business and including government business within its scope by the third year of the Parliament.

The parties agree to reduce electoral fraud by speeding up the implementation of individual voter registration.

We have agreed to establish a commission to consider the ‘West Lothian question’.

The parties agree to the implementation of the Calman Commission proposals and the offer of a referendum on further Welsh devolution.

The parties will tackle lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists. We also agree to pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics.

The parties will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. This will include a full review of local government finance.

7. Pensions and Welfare

The parties agree to phase out the default retirement age and hold a review to set the date at which the state pension age starts to rise to 66, although it will not be sooner than 2016 for men and 2020 for women. We agree to end the rules requiring compulsory annuitisation at 75.

We agree to implement the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman’s recommendation to make fair and transparent payments to Equitable Life policy holders, through an independent payment scheme, for their relative loss as a consequence of regulatory failure.

The parties agree to end all existing welfare to work programmes and to create a single welfare to work programme to help all unemployed people get back into work.

We agree that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants facing the most significant barriers to work should be referred to the aforementioned newly created welfare to work programme immediately, not after 12 months as is currently the case. We agree that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants aged under 25 should be referred to the programme after a maximum of six months.

The parties agree to realign contracts with welfare to work service providers to reflect more closely the results they achieve in getting people back into work.

We agree that the funding mechanism used by government to finance welfare to work programmes should be reformed to reflect the fact that initial investment delivers later savings in lower benefit expenditure.

We agree that receipt of benefits for those able to work should be conditional on the willingness to work.

8. Education


We agree to promote the reform of schools in order to ensure:

that new provider scan enter the state school system in response to parental demand;
that all schools have greater freedom over curriculum; and,
that all schools are held properly accountable.

Higher education

We await Lord Browne’s final report into higher education funding, and will judge its proposals against the need to:

increase social mobility;
take into account the impact on student debt;
ensure a properly funded university sector;
improve the quality of teaching;
advance scholarship; and,
attract a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

If the response of the Government to Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.

9. Relations with the EU

We agree that the British Government will be a positive participant in the European Union, playing a strong and positive role with our partners, with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century: global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty.

We agree that there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament. We will examine the balance of the EU’s existing competences and will, in particular, work to limit the application of the Working Time Directive in the United Kingdom.

We agree that we will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any proposed future Treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum on that Treaty – a ‘referendum lock’.

We will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that the use of any passerelle would require primary legislation.

We will examine the case for a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that ultimate authority remains with Parliament.

We agree that Britain will not join or prepare to join the Euro in this Parliament.

We agree that we will strongly defend the UK’s national interests in the forthcoming EU budget negotiations and that the EU budget should only focus on those areas where the EU can add value.

We agree that we will press for the European Parliament only to have one seat, in Brussels.

We agree that we will approach forthcoming legislation in the area of criminal justice on a case by case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s security, protecting Britain’s civil liberties and preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system. Britain will not participate in the establishment of any European Public Prosecutor.

10. Civil liberties

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.

This will include:

A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.
Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
Further regulation of CCTV.
Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.
A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

11. Environment

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for a low carbon and eco-friendly economy, including:

The establishment of a smart grid and the roll-out of smart meters.
The full establishment of feed-in tariff systems in electricity – as well as the maintenance of banded ROCs.
Measures to promote a huge increase in energy from waste through anaerobic digestion.
The creation of a green investment bank.
The provision of home energy improvement paid for by the savings from lower energy bills.
Retention of energy performance certificates while scrapping HIPs.
Measures to encourage marine energy.
The establishment of an emissions performance standard that will prevent coal-fired power stations being built unless they are equipped with sufficient CCS to meet the emissions performance standard.
The establishment of a high-speed rail network.
The cancellation of the third runway at Heathrow.
The refusal of additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted.
The replacement of the Air Passenger Duty with a per flight duty.
The provision of a floor price for carbon, as well as efforts to persuade the EU to move towards full auctioning of ETS permits.
Measures to make the import or possession of illegal timber a criminal offence.
Measures to promote green spaces and wildlife corridors in order to halt the loss of habitats and restore biodiversity.
Mandating a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Continuation of the present Government’s proposals for public sector investment in CCS technology for four coal-fired power stations; and a specific commitment to reduce central government carbon emissions by 10 per cent within 12 months.
We are agreed that we would seek to increase the target for energy from renewable sources, subject to the advice of the Climate Change Committee.

Liberal Democrats have long opposed any new nuclear construction. Conservatives, by contrast, are committed to allowing the replacement of existing nuclear power stations provided they are subject to the normal planning process for major projects (under a new national planning statement) and provided also that they receive no public subsidy.

We have agreed a process that will allow Liberal Democrats to maintain their opposition to nuclear power while permitting the government to bring forward the national planning statement for ratification by Parliament so that new nuclear construction becomes possible.

This process will involve:

the government completing the drafting of a national planning statement and putting it before Parliament;
specific agreement that a Liberal Democrat spokesman will speak against the planning statement, but that Liberal Democrat MPs will abstain; and clarity that this will not be regarded as an issue of confidence.

The ConDem Coalition and LibDem Discipline

When history looks back at the coverage of last night's deal struck by the Conservatives and LibDems to form a full coalition government, it will note (on Twitter at least) that almost as many people were annoyed by the cancellation of Eastenders as those who were appalled to see the Tories back in power.

As we wait for the full details of the ConDem arrangement to be made clear, I noted previously that Clegg has more to lose in keeping his left flank exposed than appeasing the tiny minority in his party who see themselves on the right. Already this has made itself felt in a small way when Labour's membership application page crashed last night - there were probably more than a few ex-LibDems among the 3,000 who joined.

But the immediate worry from the Tory and LibDem leaderships' point of view was making sure the 57 LibDem MPs tow the line in the long term. With many MPs less than comfortable with the Tories and/or have Labour breathing down their necks in a marginal. With 363 seats and an effective 80-strong majority the coalition has a degree of vulnerability to LibDem disobedience.

So this piece on the BBC caught my eye. In addition to admitting five LibDems into the cabinet (Clegg as Deputy PM, St. Vince as Business and Banking, Chris Huhne for Energy and Climate, Danny Alexander for Scotland (a particularly smart move for Cameron), and David Laws (probably Education)), some 20 other LibDems are expected to land ministerial posts.

This means the LibDems provide at least 25 parliamentary votes the coalition can expect to rely on, and therefore secure its absolute majority to carry through the legislative programme.

Monday 10 May 2010

After Brown

The Tory press have finally got their heart's desire, but they should be careful what they wish for. Gordon Brown's decision to step down before party conference in the autumn was not unexpected, but it throws the coalition talks between the Tories and the LibDems into sharp relief. Whether Brown was bounced into resigning by his enemies in the media or pushed by the dark forces who mismanaged Labour's election campaign is best left to the gossip mongers. And while it's fun to see the Tories shit bricks when it emerged Clegg had also played footsie with Labour (hence their desperate announcement this evening that they would concede a referendum on the Alternative Vote system), the important issue for socialists is how to make the most of whatever configuration of political forces that emerges.

One thing is clear - Nick Clegg is between a rock and a hard place. Having spent days in negotiations with the Tories, he knows he risks a blow up with his party should he clamber into bed with Cameron and his ghoulish henchmen. The LibDems might be no different to the Conservatives in local government and have an unenviable reputation as dirty campaigners, but a large proportion of their vote self-identifies with progressive values. As
this post makes clear, 43% of LibDem voters locate themselves as on the left, and 39% perceived the party as a left/centre-left party. The equivalent figures for right identification were 9% and 5% respectively. Many LibDems I've met over the years loathe the Tories as much as any socialist and a coalition with them - even if it means ministerial positions for Clegg and St. Cable - would be like snorting razor blades. In short, Clegg's clutching a poisoned chalice. Commentators have drawn parallels with the situation Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe found himself in in 1974. An election after a period of Lib/Con coalition or a Conservative minority government with LibDem connivance could mean Clegg would get to know what it's like to have 14 seats too.

Nevertheless, I imagine some comrades are looking forward to the opportunities a Tory government can afford the left. As MarshaJane
puts it:
Labour should now go into opposition and wait for the government to fall. We can then hopefully be fighting the next election with a new leader who will be campaigning against public sector cuts now next year or in the next 5 years or indeed ever and invest in the pubic sector.
It could certainly give the labour movement a bit of an impetus. With Labour out of office union leaderships no longer have to worry about embarrassing the government (some may even rediscover their firebrand pasts) and layers of former activists might be inspired to become involved again. Labour - depending on who wins the leadership contest (which I'll no doubt write more on before the week is out) - is likely to rediscover some of the Labourist rhetoric Gordon Brown remembered in the dying days of the campaign as it positions itself to the left. And while there's little chance of returning to 1983 territory chances are policy will assume a more social democratic caste. But a period of glorious opposition would be at the price of "savage cuts" and moves by the government to eviscerate the public sector of trade union influence. Is this a price worth paying? I don't think so.

The alternative - a Lib/Lab/rainbow coalition - has its own opportunities, but comes with a more complex set of problems. In the first place the myriad links between Labour and the organised working class prevents it from launching an all-out assault on its base. This is more of a factor in a Labour-led rainbow coalition where, without a majority, a significant rebellion of backbench MPs could scupper the passing of cuts legislation and threaten to bring the government down. But also there would be massive pressure on union leaders from the Labour leadership to keep a lid on things, and as the record of the last 13 years show, most are happy to do so. Yet Labour-loyal union leaders will be faced with pressure to do something from below, which has been largely absent under the Blair/Brown administration. In other words, socialists in the unions and the Labour party are in a stronger position to derail attempts to make the working class pay for capital's crisis.

The window of opportunity for action - at least within Labour - would be short. In this country the party slumped to its lowest levels of support when wide layers of the working class (correctly) perceived the abolition of the 10p tax band as a kick in the teeth. Should a rainbow coalition be seen to unambiguously attack our class support could fall away quicker than a shower of bricks. In this scenario, the recent history of the SPD in Germany points to Labour's future.

Then of course there is the interminable struggle between the Blairites and the Brownites. I think Andy is right to say the
difference between the camps is that one wants to dilute and jettison the trade unions, while the other wants to preserve Labour and the union link as is. For the Blairites a coalition offers an opportunity to heal the historic split between the Liberal Party and Labour - a retrograde step that would further weaken working class political representation. But for all their venality the Blairites aren't daft. They know the fate that befell the SDP could happen to them. The reason why Labour and the Tories have dominated politics for so long is because they more or less express the class relationships of British society. While this has undergone some fragmentation over the last 30 years, the sociological space does not exist for a third force to assume the mantle of progressive politics, nor is it likely to do so outside of some political catastrophe. As interesting the shenanigans and permutations of coalition building are for Westminster watchers, a realignment is not on the cards. If the Blairites are tempted to do a SDP or a Ramsay MacDonald, it will be the last thing they do as a significant political trend.

At the moment it's difficult to see which way mainstream politics are going to turn, but we can be sure Con/Lib and Lib/Lab/Rainbow presents the labour movement different challenges.