Wednesday 27 February 2013

Why I Didn't Support the March on Stoke

Depending on who you believe, between 600 and 60,000 marched from just outside Hanley to Stoke Town last weekend. The occasion? To protest the move of Stoke-on-Trent City Council's HQ in the opposite direction. As a veteran of many demonstrations in Stoke this was the first time I've felt unable to support a community-based march. And as this is my blog, I'm going to explain why.

Needless to say, the City Council move has proven extremely controversial. It was the main reason why Labour lost a by-election to the City Independent group last July, and has thrown much grist into the satanic mill of The Sentinel's letters' page in the half-year since. The basis of opposition rests, in the main, on two key points. The first is a question of money. Moving the council to a new HQ will cost between £40-60m (funded by borrowing and capital receipts) for what, its opponents believe, amounts to zero demonstrable benefit. The second, particularly for businesses and residents in and around Stoke Town, is the fear the move will kill their town centre. Without the daily presence of hundreds of council workers, campaigners believe the town will die. Of course, given the quite dysfunctional nature of politics in Stoke, this move epitomises everything council-bashers and the anti-politics brigade would have you believe. It's a sign of an elitist council, an out-of-touch council, an incompetent council; of a plot to pour public money into private coffers, or to further the objectives of "cultural Marxism". I wouldn't be at all surprised if UKIP - who were the only political party to have a banner on Saturday's march - think it's all Brussel's fault, somehow.

Some people are going to believe what they want to believe. But in truth the council move is all about economic development.

I've written before about Stoke's decline. The challenge therefore is not to moan about good times gone, but to get the wheels of industry turning again. And as it happens, there are a number of ongoing projects and schemes, some City Council-led, some not, that will transform Stoke-on-Trent in the decades ahead.

Education provision in the city right from school to university is having tens of millions invested into it, ensuring that not only do our schools improve attainment but that young people want to come to the city because of its educational promise. Already £261m has been spent on rebuilding or refurbishing the city's schools. Stoke-on-Trent College and Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College have built new campuses and new learning facilities. There is the exceedingly impressive £17m Centre of Science at Staffordshire University. It is a state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary facility, which enables the university to compete with the very best for the provision of courses across biosciences, environmental science, chemistry, and psychology. Don't take my word for it - see for yourself. And while we're on the university, it looks like it will be investing an additional £90m into the 'University Quarter' to prepare the ground for the shifting of hundreds of jobs, thousands of students, and attendant spin-off companies and start-ups from its Stafford and Lichfield campuses to the city, a move, it would appear, that is opposed by the Save Our Stoke campaign group.

It's never wise to keep all your eggs in one basket, and there is more going on. The £11m Centre of Refurbishment Excellence (CoRE) in Longton is a new hub for refurbishment and construction training across the West Midlands and North West. £18m is being invested in massively improving the linkages of the Etruria Valley business park area - presently the home of Vodafone and Bet 365 - in a bid to attract further businesses to the site.

Most exciting is the quiet revolution taking place over green energy. The city has a sustainable city agreement with E.On over the provision of solar panels on council property. 700 have been installed in the first wave, benefiting hundreds of low income residents. But even more profound is the work being done to develop energy grids that can capture waste heat from the city's factories, AND make use of the hot water coursing through our abandoned mines. In short, what is proposed is nothing less than an energy self-sufficient city capable of generating all the power it needs off the national grid. With energy security a policy headache for the politicians, and rising bills for businesses and consumers, Stoke-on-Trent will be able to offer cheap and stable energy prices other locations cannot. And on top of this is the £1bn City Deal, a joint project city and county bid led by the Local Enterprise Partnership, looking very close to realisation.

There's also a quiet renaissance going on in the housing sector. In two innovative projects, the City Council is offering homes for £1 and a custom home-build scheme. For the first time in a long time, bulldozers are moving in not to demolish houses but build new ones.

The only thing missing from this package of economic rejuvenation is a central business district, and it is the role the City Council are playing in this that is the cause of much controversy. The Council's argument is that as part of a new economic mix for Stoke-on-Trent, the centre requires high grade office space to attract more businesses to the city. By funding the first phase through borrowing from the government at preferential rates, and assisted by the sale of other capital assets across the city, the council believes it will kick start a development that will create up to 4,500 additional jobs on the edge of the city centre. While moving the vast bulk of the council's administration from sites about the city will not create jobs in and of itself, the new build will generate significant savings from consolidation and energy efficiency over 20 years - savings that will cover the loan interest and maintenance. At the end of which, and contrary to what some might think, the new City Council building will be a wholly-owned capital asset held by the local authority.

Understandably, against the backdrop of austerity (the council will be cutting its spend by a further £20m this year) a move like this is a bitter pill to swallow. But it is not a vanity project - there will be no Pervez House, van de Laarschot Building, or Andy Platt Lounge. It's about providing value for money for the Council Tax payer in the long run, it's about raising more money from business rates by attracting more businesses to Stoke-on-Trent (with the DCLG's continued squeeze on national financial settlements, councils have to find other sources of sustainable income), it's about diversifying the city's economy away from public sector dependency, and it will feed in to the retail regeneration of the city centre.

City Sentral is the awful name of the planned £350m shopping centre on the site of the old bus station. Now, I've been extremely uncharitable about retail-led regeneration in the past, and if that was all that was going on, I still would be. But the retail plus the business district plus the other projects outlined above interlock into a coherent and well-rounded scheme. There are constant aspersions cast in the press as to whether it will see the light of day. In fact, I'm pretty sure some of the more misanthropic regulars on The Sentinel's letters' page would like to see it cave simply so they can crow about it. But the fact is that with approximately 2,000 council workers on its doorstep from 2015, the additional to-ing and fro-ing of local authority business, and with the promise of more businesses to relocate; all of a sudden the market conditions for firms thinking about taking on a City Sentral lease will prove very attractive.

In sum, the City Council move is about realising value for public money, boosting economic performance and jobs by concentrating consumer purchasing power in the city centre, and providing the sorts of office space business requires. Okay, while this is all very fine and dandy, what about Stoke Town? Presently over a thousand workers sit in the present Civic Centre, the cold hole that is Swift House, and Swann House. The primary concern of many of the participants in Save Our Stoke is that the disappearance of council workers will kill the town centre and a number of the businesses that inhabit it. For some living around the town centre it feeds into the perception that Stoke is being run down for Hanley's advantage - especially as nearly all the potteries based around Stoke that leant the town some lunchtime vibrancy are long gone. Then of course is the small matter of what happens to the council property to be vacated? There are no guarantees the Civic, and Swift and Swann Houses will be snapped up by some eagle-eyed developer, and even if they are what happens then?

While it is easy to understand these concerns, because of the city-wide regeneration strategy Stoke Town will be in a better position in the long run. It has been reported that the City Council's assets have received 29 expressions of interest - in other words, one can be reasonably confident that these will not be mothballed for years on end and it is very likely council workers will be replaced by employees from some other organisation. But failing that, even in the worst case scenario of these standing empty, as we have already seen there will be hundreds of new permanent residents on the old Victoria Ground site. An additional block of housing is due to begin construction in the Butler Street area too. And as the University consolidates itself in Shelton, there will be the overspill of thousands of extra students and associated businesses. As the council moves out, they and their spending power will be replaced. In other words the small renaissance the town has experienced in recent years is unlikely to even notice the change.

Ultimately, these are the reasons why, for the first time in nearly 18 years of living in Stoke-on-Trent I didn't support a demonstration for an ostensibly supportable cause. I certainly think our Labour Party and the City Council have to do a better job explaining the council move and its part in an overall regeneration strategy. I think the whole process has to be as open to public scrutiny as projects of this kind can be. But that does not negate the move and the plan of which it is part.

The pledge to create more jobs was the centrepiece of Labour's 2011 local election campaign. And undertaking the work necessary to realise that promise is what Labour is now doing.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Labour's Youth Jobs Taskforce

Under 25? If so, the Labour Party wants to hear from you.

As readers are aware, despite the growing number of people in work youth unemployment not only remains stubbornly high, but is actually increasing and nearing one million.

To raise awareness of this issue, Labour have put together a Youth Jobs Taskforce. It is currently researching for a report based on young people's experiences in the job market in recent years and their attitudes to government policy in this area. So regardless of whether you're a Labour supporter or not and if you have five minutes to spare, you can fill out the online survey here.

There's more about Labour's Youth Jobs Taskforce here as well as a run down of some of the things the party has been doing in local government to tackle the problem.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Tristram Hunt on One Nation

At Stoke-on-Trent Central CLP's monthly meeting a week last Friday, we heard from our Member of Parliament - Tristram Hunt - on the most vexatious of shiny new political ideas, EdM's 'One Nation'. So what is this One Nation lark all about, really? Is it code for a post-New Labour lurch to the right? Is it a cunning attempt to rebrand a more traditional form of Labourism? Or, like Dave's Big Society schtick, is it something for the wonks and commentariat to get excited about before a quiet consigning to the bin of used ideologies once the realities of power bite? Whatever members' views were the lead off and discussion was a useful effort of clarification.

In his talk, Tristram began with One Nation's conservative roots in the 'condition of England' novels the proliferated during the middle part of the 19th century, taking in such literary luminaries as Dickens and Gaitskell, and Benjamin Disraeli's own Sybil, or, The Two Nations. Their common theme was the widening social distance opened up by the industrial revolution and out of it developed One Nation Toryism, which concerned itself about healing gross inequality and poverty via intervention, paternalism, and philanthropy. It was a political philosophy of the rich feeling honour-bound and obliged to help those and the bottom of the society the first pulses of industrial capitalism was creating. Whatever its shortcomings, this once-dominant species of conservatism was killed of by Thatcher's neoliberal conservatism. She may have paid lip service to Victorian notions of morality, but behind her philosophy of personal responsibility lay an ideological project of laissez-faire. A few One Nation Tory big beasts still lumber about, but they are very much an endangered species.

Tristram thought Ed Miliband's stealing of the Tories One Nation clothes was "brilliant and brave", but what exactly does it mean? It offers a different way of thinking about capitalism to that on offer from the Tories and LibDems. Against the backdrop of a widening wealth gap, sharpening differentials between classes, and a geographical division between the South East and the rest of Britain. Not only is it an apposite starting point to address these problems, policy after policy the Coalition are showing themselves to be sectional parties. The bedroom tax, bringing the very poorest into Council Tax, hammering the low paid with changes AND cutting the 50p top rate demonstrates this better than anything else. The task for Labour is to give One Nation some policy content, and this is starting to emerge around industrial strategy and rebalancing the economy, changes to income tax, the mansion tax, and making work pay so fewer people have to top up their wages with social security. As Labour is the only properly British political party remaining, and - in the main part - the political author of the inclusive multicultural British national identity, it is uniquely positioned to talk about One Nation and the social democratic politics its promise demands.

There followed an interesting discussion. Sister P was worried about the disparity that has opened up over the last 30 years, especially among the affluent who have imbibed a huge sense of entitlement. They, aided and abetted by the press, has allowed them to think they're uniquely deserving. Brother A welcomed the One Nation idea, thinking it was a clever counterposition to the Coalition's two nations approach. He also thought this rebranding was more ambitious and more in tune with people's aspirations than New Labour, which he believed secured 'discipline' at the expense of emptying out the party - and indeed welcomed EdM's public attempts to put red (and white, and blue) water between his leadership and those of his predecessors. He went on to say that One Nation is in the interests of our class - the working class. Taking away from the rich and redistributing to the poor is the only way of realising One Nation. Brother G, a recent returnee to the Labour Party after leaving 20 years ago, suggested that One Nation is as yet quite fuzzy. We still don't know what it's about - we also need to define what its values are.

Responding to this first round of discussion, Tristram argued that New Labour was about combining together economic efficiency with the delivery of social justice. The challenge of One Nation is to translate it from abstract discussion into the language that goes down well on doorsteps. For this to work, you need a philosophy, a leader that embodies that idea, and a succinct explanation. In this sense, New Labour proved particularly effective - especially in the swing seats. The advantage One Nation has is that it can speak to voters that may otherwise vote Tory while saying the sorts of things Labour voters expect.

In an additional round of discussion, sister M recalled going on the doorsteps in 2008 shortly after Brown scrapped the 10p tax. But now she felt it may be an idea that has passed its used by date considering the LibDems' determination to raise tax thresholds. Should Labour look at extending that in the future? Brother A mentioned 'predistribution' and the place in occupies in the One Nation vision, and brother S talked about workplace rights and the expansion of zero hour contracts in the NHS, and the subsidising of low pay by the taxpayer through tax credits and other social security supports.

Replying, Tristram offered a glimpse of the two camps at the top concerning wages. Should Labour favour a flat living wage, or a better minimum wage topped up with tax credits? While the first should be something to aim for, the problem of legislating for such a wage is how to mitigate the impact on small businesses? He also accepted S's arguments and noted the link between feeling secure in employment, consumer confidence, and the taking out of mortgages for new houses. But on the flip side the historically low productivity vs continental competitors has to be looked at (Tristram was at pains to deny this was because British workers were "lazy"). This requires a vocational strategy to match the demand for skills with the supply of necessary training rather than leaving it to markets. However, he did sound a note of caution - German capitalism is very productive, but its division of labour is almost caste-like and it is very difficult to move between skilled jobs.

By way of summary, he suggested that Labour doesn't have the answers yet but the process overseen by Jon Cruddas is starting to get us there. He's asking the right questions about the sorts of policies that can resonate between now and the general election, and it's EdM's challenge to translate those policy conversations into an easy-to-sell vision for Britain.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Roobarb and Custard Say: Rave

A kiddie rave tribute to Bob Godfrey, the creator of much-loved children's show Roobarb (not and Custard!); and national treasure, Richard Briers, who died earlier in the week.

Thursday 21 February 2013

No Platform for Israelis

So says George Galloway:

Further clarification by way of Twitter:

Oh dear.

Galloway's career has seen alternating cycles of popular acclaim and public self-immolation. As Galloway is an intelligent man and a seasoned political bruiser, none of this is entirely accidental.

The political capital gained from his celebrated trip to Washington was poured down the drain less than a year later with his excruciating stint on Celebrity Big Brother. His work as an anti-war populariser has no doubt influenced hundreds of thousands of people, but an equal number have always found this compromised by cosy relationships with Hamas and the Iranian regime, and his studied softness toward Ba'athism (Saddam Hussein then, Bashar al-Assad now). And do we even need to talk about the Assange comments?

Galloway has carved a space out for himself as an unpopular populist, an uncompromising truth-teller to power. As Owen observed in his Indy column, of Galloway's appearance on Question Time, "Even a figure with a long-haul flight’s worth of baggage can be cheered if they use populist language that connects with people and their experiences." But part and parcel of this is his plain spoken opposition to Western foreign policy generally and Israel in particular. This might go down well with bits of the far left and a smattering of radical Muslims, but not with everyone else.

This reminds me of a set of ideas I once adhered to.

During my passage into Trotskyism as a student, the political education I received placed great emphasis on "anti-imperialism". Based on the old Bolshevik slogan 'the main enemy is at home' and derived from Trotters' musings about a hypothetical war between colonial Britain and fascist Brazil, I came to understand that in a situation of conflict between an imperial power and a colony (or "semi-colonial" country, it's the revolutionaries' job to undermine the war effort in the imperial heartland and help those waging the anti-imperialist struggle, regardless of their political character. This critical, but unconditional "military" support was an article of faith for the ra-ra-revolutionary proletarian group of lecturers, teachers and students I was around at the time. This military support never manifested itself in arms shipments, funds, or new international brigades, but I am sure Argentinean conscripts and Iraqi anti-aircraft gunners were very grateful for the sharply-worded polemics that graced the group's low circulation monthly newspaper.

Galloway's anti-imperialism is roughly similar to those I imbibed, though his support for these movements tends to be uncritical and can lead to a simplistic black-and-white narrative that overwrites the hegemony and dependencies constituting the relationships between states. Nevertheless if you can grasp this, you can begin to understand his apparent fondness for "anti-imperialist" dictatorships, his clumsy handling of the Assange case, and his 'no platform for Israelis' nonsense.

Regardless of what you think about Galloway, he has tirelessly (one may say indefatigably) worked to keep the problems of the Middle East in the public eye. But the debate we need is ill-served by stunts like the above.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Hilary Mantel on Kate Middleton

Kate seems to have been selected for her role of princess because she was irreproachable: as painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character. She appears precision-made, machine-made, so different from Diana whose human awkwardness and emotional incontinence showed in her every gesture. Diana was capable of transforming herself from galumphing schoolgirl to ice queen, from wraith to Amazon. Kate seems capable of going from perfect bride to perfect mother, with no messy deviation.
The rest of Mantel's heresy is here

I bet the London Review of Books have never known such a page load spike.

Of course, Mantel has committed THE cardinal sin as far as official Britain is concerned. Whereas major royals were once fair game for the press, between the death of Diana and the Golden Jubilee five years later, the dead hand of media self-censorship made itself felt. Against the grain of the age, the multiplication of irreverence against institutions and celebrity went into reverse. We saw the strange return of royal reverence. As Mantel is now finding out, this new reverence is policed by the professional flak machines of the press, politicians, and public intellectuals.

Monday 18 February 2013

Not-So Red Star Over Russia

No time for a proper blog tonight as I've been busy attending to other matters. So instead enjoy the spectacular footage from last week's meteor strike in Russia. To think, a few hours later and this could have been Northern England.

Sunday 17 February 2013

The Sun and Anjem Choudary

If you haven't seen Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, let me save you the bother. After the Klingon economy is crippled by the destruction of their main armaments facility, they enter into tentative negotiations with the Federation to normalise relations after their long, drawn-out cold war. However, there are elements on both sides who have an interest in the continued stand-off, and conspire together to derail the peace talks. 

Mutual interest in a mutual antagonism is an oft-noted feature in all kinds of things, and not least is it a useful foil for making sense of the tabloid obsession with Anjem Choudary of the organisation-formerly-known-as-al-Muhajiroun. And as hate figures go, he's perfect - as today's appalling article in The Sun demonstrates. 

CLAIM JIHAD SEEKER'S ALLOWANCE screams the headline, The Sun "exclusively" reveals that Choudary is a man with objectionable views. But if being a jihadi wasn't bad enough, he's urging his band of followers to eschew working to put claims in for JSA so they can play holy war on the tax payers' dollar. An Islamic fundamentalist advocating dole scrounging for religiopolitical objectives? It's enough to turn hard-working Sun readers into slobbering racists and Islamophobes, like this gem of a comment from the entirely normal-sounding 'whitetemplaruk'
if it was the white englishman being outspoken about these radicalists we would be arrested.
why are they allowed to claim benefits yet promote jihad against us ?
i wonder what would happen if we fought back, by say, defacing mosques or the quoran.
these pigs are not like the law abiding hard working muslims that have embraced this country and its ways, a communiuty that we can be proud of.
Choudray and his pigs should lose all rights and should be kicked out of this country along with all the other radicals with the same views.
why should we work to keep them in a life of comfort, why should we fight their wars?
kick this scum and al of his cromnies out, letsa also get out of europe and rule our own country.
sod the human rights, lets give these scum what they deserve, give edl, bnp and ukip a say.
lets get this couyntry clean again and look after our own.
Eloquently put.

Unlike this chivalrous gentleman, some Sun readers are a touch sharper:

macdangler - "We need a Fatwa issued against him. He is defiling the Muslim faith."

Sheroz K - "this is obviously not islam ... these people are just ruining the name of islam ... its disgusting"

Habib_habz - "I'm a muslim ... not all Muslims are like him. I am disgusted by him. We muslims dont give hims don't take any notice of him. But Sun always has him on headline news.."

Habib hits the nail squarely on the head. As much as The Sun professes to be appalled by him, they need his like to fuel its rants against Muslims, well-meaning liberal types, the social security system, and 'soft touch' Britain generally - despite him being as representative of and as influential among British Muslims as the Economic and Philosophic Science Review is vis a vis the labour and trade union movement. And for his own reasons, repeated exposes in the tabloid press and popular outrage against tasteless poppy-burning stunts conveys upon him a degree of Islamist radical chic, which draws a tiny sliver of bewildered and alienated Muslims to him.

Professional jihadi watcher, Shiraz Maher of Kings College, uses his expert view to proclaim it's time for Choudary's threats to be taken seriously. If they were I'm sure it would be party poppers all-round in the Choudary household. If there is actual evidence of a criminal offence then due process should have the opportunity to take its course. But it is reasonable to assume Choudary is an unwitting fool for the security services - how he has remained unscathed while jihadis linked to him have got picked up for a variety of terrorism-related offences is suggestive.

But if Shiraz is really bothered about the impact Choudary has on community relations, perhaps he might want to reflect on the massively disproportionate coverage this man attracts from Britain's right-wing hate rags and the subsequent effect it has on many millions of people. I would say that poses more of a threat to our society than Choudary's antics.

Clearly, Choudary needs The Sun for his profile. The Sun needs Choudary to vent against its political targets. If he did not exist, it would be necessary for them to invent him.

Saturday 16 February 2013

February 15th, 2003

On a Saturday 10 years ago, the largest demonstration in modern British political history wound its way through the streets of London. And where was I? Watching it at home, unfortunately. No, I couldn't make the celebrated and historic February 15th, 2003 march, but that isn't to say I wasn't caught up in the buzz and excitement before it. The Stop the War meetings, the wall-to-wall coverage as the drive to war built up, even my mum broke her lifetime habit of taking her cue from The Sun to disclaim the coming war. And, crucially, in the workplace where I was the T&G shop steward the impending conflict was a hot topic of conversation on the tills, in the cafe, and down the pet food aisle. Everyone was talking about it. There was a real sense of momentum in the air, that finally, not only was people power on the verge of stopping a destructive and unnecessary war, but that we were on the cusp of a profound political change.

Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

Watching the masses of people take to the streets, there appeared to be something poignant, almost solemn about the occasion. If some were expecting the radical violence of the anti-Vietnam War protests chances are they went home disappointed. And I know this wasn’t just an affect of the media coverage, which, in fairness, did do a good job of representing its scale. The comrades and friends I spoke to afterwards all noted the strange respectfulness of the march. Leaflets and papers were politely accepted or declined. Protesters headed the instructions of the stewards. There were no confrontations with the police, no flag burning. For all the bad press it received, Ian McEwan's Saturday appeared to capture the sobriety of the occasion as I had it filtered back to me through acquaintances and the media.

But apart from allowing activists and the commentariat an opportunity to turn in nostalgic copy, for all its scale and celebration what impact did the anti-war march (and the anti-war movement) have on our politics? There are several things that spring to mind.

The September 11th terror attacks provoked a welling up of Islamophobia, and the war drive did little except reinforce it. Under attack by the media and right-wing politicians, this climate had a radicalising effect among young Muslims. For most it politicised a generation around the geopolitics of the Middle East and, particularly, the vexed issue of Israel/Palestine. Unfortunately, it was also a shot in the arm for fringe outfits like Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroun, for British jihadism generally, and compounded the carefully contrived and assiduously cultivated discourse around terrorist attack. The Islamic panic certainly helped the BNP on its road to two MEPs and a London Assembly member as well.

Iraq has also raised the bar for future military intervention. Excluding the continuous and unceasing state of permanent war in Afghanistan, since 2003 British involvement in Libya and Mali has been tightly circumscribed compared to Blair's adventurism. The idea of the UK piling into a military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear programme is remote precisely because the government - any government - would not be able to sell another Iraq-style war on either humanitarian grounds or for enforced disarmament.

But most importantly for labour movement activists, the point is well made by Andrew Murray in his look-back for Stop the War. He suggests:
If our politicians wonder why they are held in such low esteem, it is not just their fiddling of expenses, nor their prolonged bipartisan infatuation with bankers and Rupert Murdoch. The rot began with the dodgy dossier, the "45-minute" Iraqi missile threat, the duplicitous diplomacy, and the decision to ignore the wishes of their own voters in preference to those of George Bush. Mainstream politics bought public contempt with the blood of millions.
I believe the crisis of legitimacy of mainstream politics began before that, but nevertheless the observation is sound. Labour may have won the general election two years later, but in many ways Iraq broke the party for the remainder of its time in government. Labour voters by the million turned to the left-posing LibDems, or simply abstained. Constituency parties took a massive hammering. For example, it is my understanding that our CLP was 700-strong before the war. And despite having a relatively prominent anti-war MP, it lost somewhere in the region of 500 members.

This process of disenchantment and disillusion sped up and as it did so, as the main parties suffered what you might call a 'civic contraction', so mainstream politics became more dysfunctional, more cut off, and more obsessed with bubble issues. It has left a legacy politics has not really grappled with, much less overcome. There's a lesson there for parties who might defy the popular will.

Friday 15 February 2013

Support for SWP Central Committee Statement

----- Forwarded Message -----
From: Charlie Kimber
To: Charlie Kimber ext email [redacted]
Sent: Friday, 15 February 2013, 11:01
Subject: Deadlines, support for CC statement, and faction meetings

Deadlines for motions and IB, support for CC statement, and faction meetings.

Dear comrade,

Here is some information in the run-up to the SWP special conference on 10 March.

Internal bulletin and motions

May I remind you that the deadline for the internal bulletin is 10am, Friday 1 March. This is also the deadline for motions. Motions must be passed by a properly-organised branch, aggregate, fraction, NC or CC meeting and be in by the deadline for the IB. Motions that are to be discussed must be notified to members in good time so that there is proper opportunity for democratic discussion.

Signatures in support of the CC statement

The first 500 names of comrades supporting the CC statement that was sent out last weekend are pasted below. Comrades wishing to add their name should email

Anna O (Euston) NC PCS
Brian R (E Lonon) NC UNITE
Candy U (Camden) NC PCS
Despina K (Hackney) NC
Donny G (Edinburgh) NC EIS
Helen S (Birmingham) NC PCS
Huw W (Bristol) NC UNISON
Jess E (SE London) NC NUT
John Mc (E.London) NC UNISON
John R (Hackney) NC
Kate H (Goldsmiths Uni) NC NUS
Keir M (Glasgow) NC
Laura M (Leeds) NC UCU
Margaret W (Glasgow) NC
Mark C (Islington) NC UCU
Marianne O (Cardiff) NC PCS
Mark K (Manchester) NC
Martin E (Manchester) NC UNISON
Mary P (South London) NC
Maxine B (Sheffield North) NC UNITE
Nahella A (Manchester) NC UNITE
Niaz F (Euston) NC PCS
Nick G (West London) NC NUT
Paul Mc (E.London) NC NUT
Penny G. (Edinburgh) NC EIS
Phil T ( Rotherham ) NC NUJ
Regine P ( Camden ) NC UCU
Rhetta M ( Manchester ) NC
Rob M (Islington) NC
Roddy S ( E London ) NC UCU
Sally K ( Leeds ) NC NUT
Sasha S (Hackney) NC USDAW
Sean V (Islington) NC UCU
Shaun D ( Oxford ) NC
Sheila M ( E London ) NC NUT
Sue C ( N London ) NC NUT
Xanthe ( S. London ) NC NUJ
Yunus B NC
Zak C ( Harlow) NC UNISON
Adam C ( Bristol Stokes Croft)
Alan B ( Nottingham )
Alan C ( S. London )
Alan G (Dalston) NUJ
Alan G ( Leicester ) UNISON
Alan T ( Glasgow )
Alan W (Tottenham)
Alasdair S (Islington) NUT
Alex M (Merseyside)
Alex M ( Leeds Harehills)
Alex H (Leytonstone)
Alice G ( Swansea ) UNISON
Alison D (Tottenham)
Alison M (Tower Hamlets)
Allister M ( Chesterfield )
Amanda H ( S. London )
Amanda S (Walthamstow) NUT
Ameen H ( Manchester )
Andrea M ( Sheffield South)
Andrew D ( Lancaster )
Andrew F ( Swansea )
Andrew R ( Luton )
Andy B ( E London ) NUT
Andy B ( Leeds Central)
Andy C ( Manchester ) UCU
Andy D ( Leicester )
Andy G. ( Edinburgh )
Andy J ( SE London )
Andy R (South East London )
Angela M ( Glasgow )
Angie P ( Manchester )
Ann D ( Cardiff )
Anna G (Tottenham) NUT
Anne M ( Fife )
Annette L (Hackney)
Anthony P ( Chesterfield )
Arthur N ( Dundee )
Ashlea H ( South Wales )
Aubrey E ( Chesterfield )
Audrey G ( Lancaster ) NUT
Ayesha S (Edinburgh)
Aymen A (Hackney East)
Bartley W ( Manchester )
Bea K ( Sheffield North) GMB
Ben M ( Sheffield North) NUT
Berlyne H ( E London )
Bernadette L ( Leicester )
Bernard B (Islington)
Beth G ( Liverpool )
Beth S ( E London )
Bob L (Walthamstow)
Bob M ( Birmingham )
Bobby N ( Southampton ) UNISON
Brenda B (Small Heath, Birmingham ) NUT
Brett S ( Bradford )
Brian O ( Birmingham )
Brian T ( Rotherham )
Bridget P ( Birmingham )
Bruce G ( West London )
Camilla R (Islington)
Carl T (Tower Hamlets)
Caroline J ( Birmingham ) UNISON
Caroline R ( Manchester Chorlton) UNISON
Cath L ( Leicester ) UNISON
Cathy C ( West London ) PCS
Celia H ( Manchester ) BECTU
Chanie R (Hackney)
Charlie McK ( Glasgow South)
Charlotte S ( Manchester ) UCU
Cheryl M ( Glasgow )
Cheryl P ( Sheffield South)
Chris A ( Wolverhampton )
Chris B ( Luton )
Chris D ( Coventry ) NUT
Chris K (Southwark) NUT
Chris S ( Fife )
Chrissie B (Islington)
Christian H ( Leeds Harehills)
Claire L ( Glasgow )
Claudia C ( Birmingham )
Connor J (Leytonstone)
Daniela M ( E London ) UNITE
Darren B ( Lancaster ) UCU
Dave B ( Liverpool )
Dave B ( Luton )
Dave C (Hackney Dalston)
Dave D (N.London) NUT
Dave F ( Plymouth )
Dave G ( Barnsley ) UCU
Dave G (Hackney) NUT
Dave H ( Luton )
Dave H ( Sheffield South) UNISON
Dave L ( Wigan ) UNISON
Dave M ( Bristol )
Dave S ( Manchester ) UCU
Dave S ( Glasgow ) UNITE
Dave W ( Bristol )
David R ( Swansea )
David W ( Leicester ) UNISON
Dean H (Hackney)
Dean H (Walthamstow) UNISON
Deborah C (Islington) Unite
Dennis W ( Bristol East) UNISON
Dermot S ( Chesterfield )
Des B (Hackney) NUT
Des M ( Newport ) UNISON
Desmond M ( Oxford ) UCU
Diana S (Tower Hamlets) UNISON
Dick B ( Manchester )
Dick P ( Sheffield South)
Do G (Leicester)
Doug M ( Birmingham ) NUT
Drew S ( Leeds Central)
Duncan B ( Glasgow )
Eddie P ( Essex )
Eleanor CM ( Leeds )
Elizabeth K ( Leeds Harehills/Chapeltown)
Esther N (Walthamstow) BECTU
Eugene D ( Lancaster ) NUT
Faith P ( Birmingham Handsworth)
Fergus N ( N. London ) UCU
Fero F (Hackney East)
Fran P ( Barnsley ) NUT
Frank L ( Leicester )
Frank O'D ( Edinburgh )
Gareth J (Hackney)
Gary D ( Manchester ) UCU
Gary L ( Swansea )
Gary M (Tottenham) NUJ
Gary S (Leytonstone)
Geoff D ( Birmingham ) PCS
George A ( Barnsley ) NUT
George F ( E London )
George P (Dalston)
Gerry M ( Aberdeen )
Gionn M ( Nottingham )
Glyn O (Southampton) NUT
Gordon D (Edinburgh)
Gordon J ( Sheffield )
Gordon L ( Glasgow North)
Gordon W ( Northampton ) NUT
Graham R ( Manchester ) UNISON
Harish D ( Birmingham )
Helen B ( Glasgow )
Helen D (Hackney)
Helen T ( Swansea )
Helga B ( Ipswich )
Hilary C ( Lancaster ) NUT
Iain F ( Glasgow ) UCU
Ian B ( Dundee )
Ian D ( Scunthorpe )
Ian T (Hackney East)
Ian T ( South Wales )
Irene D ( Manchester )
Irene L ( East London )
Ivan C ( Swansea )
Jo P ( E London ) NUT
Jack B ( E London ) USDAW
Jack B ( Lancaster )
Jack R ( Sheffield North)
Jackie S ( Cardiff )
Jackie T (Tower Hamlets) BMA
Jacqueline L ( Leicester ) UNISON
James C ( N. London ) UCATT
James E ( Chesterfield ) UCU Regional Executive
James G ( Birmingham )
Jan B ( East London )
Jan B ( Manchester )
Jan N (S.London) NUT
Jane B (Hackney) NUT
Jane C ( Northampton )
Jane E (Euston)
Jane E ( Rotherham )
Jane H ( Chesterfield ) UNISON
Janet M (Walthamstow)
Janet P ( Chesterfield )
Jeannie R ( Chesterfield ) UCU National Executive
Jeff H ( Cardiff )
Jennifer L (Hackney) BECTU
Jenny A ( Birmingham )
Jenny D (Hackney) UNISON
Jill A ( Rotherham )
Jill C ( Sheffield South) UNISON
Jim B ( Doncaster ) UNISON
Jim B ( Dundee )
Jim F (Walthamstow) UNISON
Jim M ( Glasgow )
Jimmy R ( Glasgow )
Jo L ( West London )
Jo P ( East London )
Jock M ( Glasgow )
Joel H (Walthamstow) PCS
John B (Hornsey / Wood Green)
John C (Walthamstow)
John C ( Aberdeen )
John C ( Ipswich )
John C (Wandsworth and Merton)
John C R (Ashfield and Mansfield)
John D ( South Wales )
John H ( Northampton ) NUT
John J ( Essex )
John M ( Camden ) UNISON
John R ( Sheffield North)
John S (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Jon G (Home Counties)
Jon W ( Portsmouth )
Judith P ( Chesterfield UNISON
Judy R ( Birmingham ) NUT
Julia A ( Sheffield North) NUJ
Julia S ( Sheffield N) UNISON
Julie B ( West London )
Julie H ( N. London ) GMB
Julie H ( Lancaster )
Julie M (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Julie W ( Nottingham ) PCS
Kambiz B ( E London ) BMA
Karen R ( Manchester ) UNISON
Kate H ( Northampton )
Kate J (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Kate M ( Leeds Harehills)
Kate R ( Sheffield South)
Kate S (Hackney)
Kath G ( Manchester )
Kath J ( East London )
Keith B ( Glasgow )
Keith C (Euston) PCS
Keith P. ( Edinburgh )
Kelvin W ( E London )
Ken M (Hackney) NUT
Kevin C ( E London ) NUT
Kevin D (Islington)
Kevin M ( Halifax )
Kevin O ( Manchester )
Kevin S (Southwark)
Kristina H ( Cardiff )
Laura H ( Sheffield South)
Lee B ( Brighton )
Leo F ( Telford ) UNISON
Leroy M ( Sheffield North)
Les D ( Chesterfield
Lewis M ( Camden )
Leyla O (Hackney Dalston)
Linda S ( Portsmouth )
Liz C ( Dundee )
Liz W ( Camden ) UNISON
Lloyd G ( Cardiff )
Loreen W ( Leeds Central)
Lorna F ( Doncaster )
Lorna G F ( Doncaster )
Lorna S (Hackney)
Louise C ( Bristol Stokes Croft)
Louise M ( Fife )
Lucinda W ( Sheffield South) UNISON
Lucretia P ( Chesterfield ) UCU
Lynda A (Hackney South) UCU
Maddy C ( Camden ) UNISON
Maggie F ( E London )
Maggie M (Waltham Forest)
Maggie P (South East London )
Malcolm P ( Huddersfield ) UCU
Margaret G ( Glasgow )
Margaret S ( Sheffield South)
Margo H ( S. London ) UCU
Marion D ( Manchester )
Marisa L ( Liverpool )
Mark B ( E London )
Mark C ( Coventry )
Mark D (South East London )
Mark J ( Chesterfield )
Martin C ( Swansea ) NUT
Martin H ( Rotherham )
Martin L ( Walsall )
Martin S ( Nottingham )
Marven S ( Leeds Chapeltown/ Harehills)
Mary B ( E London ) NUJ
Matt F (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Matt R ( Birmingham ) UNISON
Matthew K ( Devon )
Matthew F ( Manchester )
Matthew R ( Sheffield South)
Matthew S ( Swansea
Maureen S ( Edinburgh
Michael B ( Coventry )
Michael D (Tottenham) NUT Vice Chair LGBT National Advisory Committee
Michael G ( Leicester ) UNISON
Michael L ( Preston ) UCU
Michael S ( Harlow )
Michelle A ( N. London )
Mick P ( Chesterfield )
Mike B (Leytonstone
Mike G ( Leicester )
Mike G (Wood Green)
Mike H ( Sheffield South)
Mike K ( Manchester ) UNISON
Mike K ( E London )
Mike S (Hackney) NUJ
Mike W ( South Wales )
Miriam S ( E London ) NUT
Molly D (Islington)
Monica A (Woolwich and Plumstead)
Morag G ( N. London ) UNISON
Morgan O (South East London )
Moyra S ( West London ) NUT
Muzzammil M ( East London )
Nathan J (Handsworth)
Neal S ( E London ) FBU
Neale W (Southwark)
Neil H ( Cardiff )
Niamh O ( Newcastle )
Nick G ( Bristol East)
Nick H ( Sheffield South)
Nick R ( Huddersfield )
Nicola F (Southwark) NUJ
Nina H ( Crewe )
Ollie P (Leytonstone)
Owen G ( N. London ) BECTU
Pablo S ( Sheffield South)
Pam C ( E London )
Pat C ( East London ) UNITE
Pat J ( Huddersfield )
Patrick C ( Coventry ) UCU
Paul B ( Leeds )
Paul G ( Leeds Central)
Paul H ( S. London )
Paul J ( Manchester )
Paul M (Euston)
Paul P (Walthamstow) NUT
Paul P (Leytonstone)
Paul P ( Sheffield South)
Paul P ( Chesterfield )
Paul Power (Walthamstow) UNITE
Paul S ( E London )
Paul S ( Lancaster )
Paul W ( Nottingham )
Phil G ( Leeds Central)
Piers F ( Cardiff )
Penny F ( Portsmouth )
Penny K ( Manchester )
Pete A ( Dundee )
Pete D ( South Wales )
Pete E ( South Wales )
Pete H ( Manchester ) UCU
Pete J ( Birmingham ) PCS
Pete McK ( Coventry )
Pete W (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Peter A ( Camden ) UNISON
Peter S (Home Counties)
Phil D ( South Wales )
Phil B (Tottenham) NUT
Phil G ( Leeds )
Phil H ( Northampton )
Phil J ( Bristol )
Phil W ( Blackburn ) UCU
Philip W (South East London )
Philippa P ( Portsmouth )
Phoebe W ( Central London ) UNISON
Rab T ( Edinburgh )
Rafel S (Walthamstow)
Rahul P (Brixton) UCU
Ray H ( Chesterfield )
Ray L ( Liverpool )
Rebecca B ( Sheffield South) UNISON
Rebecca L ( Leicester ) UNISON
Rhiannon B ( Doncaster )
Rhys E (Leytonstone)
Richard B ( Exeter )
Richard B ( Nottingham ) UNISON
Richard D ( Chesterfield )
Richard G ( E London ) UCU
Richard M ( Coventry ) UNITE
Richard M ( E London )
Richard M ( South Wales ) UCU
Rob F ( E London ) UCU
Rob J ( Cardiff )
Roger H (Walthamstow) NUJ
Ron S ( Manchester )
Rosa K ( Leeds Central)
Rose W (Tottenham) UNITE
Ruby H ( Glasgow Uni)
Rupert M ( Norwich )
Russ C (Walthamstow) UNITE
Russel W ( Leeds Central) PCS
Rusty E (Hackney) UNISON
Sabby S ( Camden )
Salena W ( Bristol East) UNISON
Sally S ( Leicester ) UNISON
Sam B ( Birmingham )
Sam S ( E London ) UNISON
Sam T (Brighton/Hastings)
Sara T (S.London) NUT
Sarah C ( Sheffield South)
Sarah M (Tottenham)
Sarah R ( East London )
Sarah W ( Manchester )
Scott H ( Newcastle )
Sean H ( Leeds )
Sean L ( Coventry ) UNITE
Sean W (Euston) UCU
Sharon P ( Sheffield North)
Shaun O'R (Southwark)
Sheila G ( Lancaster )
Sheila H ( Leeds Central)
Simon A (Hackney East)
Simon H (Tottenham) PROSPECT
Simon H (Tyneside) UNISON
Simon M ( Portsmouth )
Simon M H ( Stoke-on-Trent )
Simon S ( E London )
Simon T ( Manchester )
Siobhan B ( E London )
Siobhan H (Walthamstow) UNISON
Sojourner M ( Leeds Harehills)
Stefan S ( N. London ) NUT
Stephen McB. (Edinburgh)
Steve M (Euston)
Steve Q ( Manchester )
SteveW. ( Edinburgh )
Stuart M (Hackney East)
Stuart M ( Edinburgh )
Steve C ( Dorset )
Steve N (Southwark)
Sue A ( Derby ) NUT
Sue McP ( Manchester )
Sue T ( Leeds Central)
Sue W ( Sheffield South)
Susan A ( East London ) NUT
Susie H (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Suzanne J (Islington)
Suzy F ( Plymouth ) UNISON
Talat A ( Edinburgh ) UCU
Tanya M ( SE London ) UNISON
Teresa E ( Camden )
Terri B (Islington)
Terry McG (Hornsey & Wood Green) UCU
Terry S (Hornsey and Wood Green) NUT
Thea B ( Dudley )
Theresa C ( Brighton )
Tim S ( E London )
Tim W ( Chesterfield )
Tom G ( Glasgow ) GMB
Tom H (Hackney East)
Tom K ( Sheffield Uni) NUS
Tomas T ( Cardiff Uni) NUS, National Student Committee
Tommy I (Hackney East)
Tony H ( Manchester )
Tony M ( Manchester )
Tony P (Leytonstone)
Tony S ( Plymouth and Cornwall )
Tony T ( Sheffield South)
Tracy M (Hackney) NUT
Trevor G ( Sheffield South) UNISON
Umit Y (Bradford) UCU
Ursla H (Walthamstow) NUT
Ursula W ( Walsall )
Val D (Croyden)
Vijdan D (Hackney East)
Viv W (Islington)
Vivek L (Tottenham)
Willie T ( East London )
Yota K (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Yusuf T ( Cambridge ) FBU

Faction meetings

It has always been the party’s practice that faction meetings should be open to all SWP members (and only to SWP members). It is, however, reasonable that part of a faction meeting can be closed to comrades who are not members of the faction in order to have a caucus.

We are one party, not two. It is unacceptable to have wholly closed meetings, and factions should feel able to argue their political perspective with other party members.

The In Defence Of Our Party faction is holding a meeting in Leeds: Tuesday 19 February, 6pm-8pm, Fenton pub, Woodhouse Lane , Leeds LS2.

The faction may be contacted at


Charlie Kimber, SWP national secretary

Thursday 14 February 2013

One Nation Needn't Be Taxing

Ed Miliband's One Nation Economy speech this morning was interesting and welcome. Interesting because it puts clear political water between Labour, the Conservatives and their LibDem mini-mes. And welcome because we are starting to catch a glimpse of what a Labour government under EdM could look like.

Let's start with the headline grabber - the 10p Tax. When the last Labour government scrapped it, the fall out was positively radioactive. In the popular imagination it underlined how far the party had drifted from its roots and it took a deserving punching at the polls. So it is good to see the idea resurrected in a speech which, despite being clothed in the wonky garb of the 'squeezed middle', addressed itself to the systematic erosion of living standards. Even better, this tax cut is to be funded by the introduction of a mansion tax. It might not be "squeezing the rich until the pips squeak" but it is a welcome corrective to the weak-kneed relationship New Labour had to affluence.

As you might expect, there's been some LibDem crowing that this is not too dissimilar to their policy. True, but there are two crucial differences. Labour won't be lowering the income tax threshold to bring more people into a new 10p tax bracket. Rather, tax will likely *start* at the level it inherits in 2015 - assuming the polls hold good and we are returned to power. The second point is Labour will actually be able to deliver a mansions tax, something the LibDems have singly failed to do in nearly three years of government.

The speech trailed a few other welcome-sounding suggestions that could well find their way into the next manifesto. They're not quite the storming of the Winter Palace, but the temporary VAT cut, caps on train fares, curbing bank charges, and taking action on rip off payday loans will put money in people's pockets. If you want to tackle a standard-of-living crisis, this is one way of doing it.

EdM's other comments about supporting small businesses hammered by business rates, helping young people into work through subsidised training places, emphasising skills and overcoming the comparatively low productivity of the British economy all point toward the sort of industrial strategy that belatedly got an airing in the dying days of Brown's premiership. Of course, there is much policy meat to be put on the bare bones - particularly Labour has to understand that vocational training (and its jobs guarantee) cannot come at the expense of the terms and conditions of existing workers. But the One Nation idea that is fitfully emerging is obviously social democratic, and is infinitely preferable to the nightmarish dog-eat-dog society the Tories and LibDems are bringing into being.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

The Real Cost of the Bedroom Tax

When it comes to listing the despicable things our LibDem-supported Tory government are doing, their bedroom tax has to be near the top of the list. The story below is reproduced with permission to show how punitive, damaging and entirely counter-productive the Tory attack on housing benefit is. John's story has been anonymised.

I’m a 50 year old devoted father of a nine year old son, who is disabled and is wheelchair bound. He suffers with Intraventricular Haemorrhage, Hydrocephalus, Cerebral Palsy (Spastic Quadriplegia), Epilepsy, and learning difficulties. His mother and I split up eight years ago and I moved into a two-bed flat on the third floor. As my son got older the council helped me move into a ground floor maisonette in 2011.

Now I’m unemployed and struggling to make day-to day-living as I don’t get any help for looking after my son. My son stays three nights a week and frequently longer. His mum, who is considered the primary care giver, goes away for about three weeks a year as respite. Sometimes, when he is on midterm or holidays from school I can have him for around 80+ hours per week. For this care I expect and receive nothing from the state.

Thanks to the new rules that will govern housing benefit, his bedroom will be classed as a spare. But this room is his. It has his bed, his clothes, his toys, and his school paintings.

The council originally moved us from the third floor to the ground floor maisonette on the advice of my son's specialists, and for health and safety reasons. And now the government want us to share a room. Never mind the noise my Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine causes. Is that fair on a disabled child? How can I sleep in the same bedroom as my son?

I know I am not the only one, as there will be many fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters affected by this but why is the government taking from the poor , the vulnerable, the disabled and making our lives HELL?

Then there's the problem of actually downsizing. How can I when so few one bed properties are being chased by hundreds of people struggling to escape the bedroom tax?

It's a joke. My rent for my council-owned flat is £64.34/week. If I downsize like the government wants, the average one-bed property here costs £75/week. This will cost the taxpayer £10.66 MORE in Housing Benefit every single week, and I don't lose any Housing benefit!

Where’s the saving?

This statement has been taken from the 'Families, Children and Young people strategy' on the Conservative Party's site:

"We are committed to encouraging shared parenting and firmly believe that children should have meaningful relationships with both parents after separation."

They have a funny way of showing their support.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

How Not to Write About Catholicism

On marking the imminent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, this from Shiraz Socialist:
Perhaps covering up for child abuse, promoting anti-gay bigotry, spreading AIDS throughout the world, and explaining away his organisation’s hatred of 50% of the human race finally wore him out?

Anyway, the former Hitler Youth member (in fairness, he claims he had no choice) has decided to stand down. Pity his organisation (the Church, not the Hitler Youth) survives.

“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
― Denis Diderot

As far as I am concerned, there are two forms of identity politics.

The first is the most widely understood. It pertains to the politics associated with the so-called 'new social movements' that had their roots in 1960s radicalism. The women's movement, anti-racism, LGBT liberation - these are the paradigmatic examples as far as social movement scholarship are concerned. The notion subsequently expanded to include mental health, disabilities, and mobilisations of minority religions, ethnicities and nationalities. To do much violence to their variation and complexity, new social movement identity politics starts from a particular shared attribute (however defined) that has been overlooked, ignored or marginalised by established progressive politics (be they revolutionary or reform-minded), and their movement struggles to win positive political, legal and cultural recognition and change.

The second is less noticed and remarked upon, but is probably all the more ubiquitous for it. This is identity politics on an individuated level. It is bound up with distinction and identifying with a set of politics, people, styles and ideas, and flows from multiple sources. It is the cultural fuel that powers the consumer practices of advanced capitalist societies and finds itself replicated across all fields of social action. And in social formations such as ours; conflicted, anomic and alienating as they are, individuated identity politics can and frequently do assume pathological forms. Football hooliganism and gang culture. Ginger bashing and nerd-baiting. One Direction and Justin Bieber fandom. More generally, individuated identity politics have an affirmative quality. They act as a social-psychological crutch that can justify petty, spiteful, bellicose, moralising behaviour toward groups one doesn't like, and it's something we all do to greater or lesser degrees. In some instances behaviour of this kind can appear in radical garb too. Finally, it is worth emphasising that this behaviour is not about clarifying a difference or trying to convince people who are the target of such behaviour of the errors of their ways.

Which brings us to the Shiraz piece, above. I pick this not because I particularly dislike the blog, but because the post condenses the purest example of a particularly pathological form of atheist/revolutionary identity politics. We're likely to see variations on this theme in the lead up to the Conclave that will elect a new pope.

Now, I don't hold a brief for Benedict XVI. It is undeniable the Catholic Church has done many awful things and assumed theological positions that cause very real harm. But then again, it is simultaneously the largest organisation in the world attacking the zombie economics of neoliberalism; advocating for environmentalism; and promoting social justice. Yes, it's blemished and undermined by contradictory doctrine and complicity in existing frameworks of power, and how can it be otherwise, being as the faith is an expression of ruling interests and a religious articulation of the rising collective potentiality of hundreds of millions?

Catholicism therefore is a complex thing and deserves a nuanced approach. As a socialist I'd quite like to see many more Catholics in the labour movement, as I would Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Atheists, and so on. I assume everyone on the left might like that too. So, writers, bloggers and activists who might be tempted to do OMG PAEDOPHILES!!!! or ZINGZ CONDOMS!!!! baiting over the next few weeks might want to ask *why*. Is it out of a genuine, earnest belief that repeating well-trodden criticisms in the most fractious and insulting ways possible might win believers to our movement? Or is it about "feeling smug, superior, enlightened and oh so clever" (as I once put it)?

If it's the latter, allow me to invoke some identity politics of my own: what kind of left winger are you?

Monday 11 February 2013

Zero Hour Contracts

From today's Sentinel. Given how pernicious zero hour contracts are, I'm glad to see a mainstream Labour figure has taken up the issue.

SPARE a thought for Caverswall-based Begbies Traynor. The corporate rescue and recovery firm was planning on an upturn in insolvencies during the recession. But, despite the high-profile bankruptcies of HMV and Jessops, our economic downturn has not seen a spike in company liquidations. Begbies Traynor's share price has suffered as a result.

Because the current state of the British economy has left many experts scratching their heads. Some call it a 'Zombie economy'. On the one hand, there are some clear and consistent drags on growth. Consumer spending has been curtailed as inflation outstrips wage growth, investment has been held back by a bank-lending system unfit for purpose, and exporters have had to contend with weak global demand, particularly in the embattled Eurozone.

Yet what has got economists baffled is how, in such conditions, employment statistics are holding up – even improving marginally. There are a number of possible explanations, including weakening productivity, stagnant wages and underemployment – where people are forced to take part-time jobs instead of full-time work.

Certainly, these play a part. But the worrying growth of another phenomenon is also having an impact. Because recent reports show that here in Stoke on Trent and across the country the number of so-called zero-hour contracts is rising rapidly. According to the trade union UNISON, in the private-care sector up to 41 per cent of homecare workers are on zero-hour contracts, while a survey from the Industrial Relations Service suggests that 23 per cent of employers now include them as part of their employment mix.

Zero-hour contracts are an agreement under which an employer does not guarantee the employee a fixed number of hours a week. The employee only receives payment for the specific number of hours worked. This means that they accrue none of the rights enjoyed by contracted employees, such as unfair dismissal, sick leave, maternity leave or redundancy rights.

These contracts first became popular in the late 1980s and 1990s as a way of improving labour market flexibility and reducing business costs. However, there were many reports of workers being asked to remain physically present on the premises, available to work, if their services were required – in work, but unpaid unless a job came available.

The last Labour government outlawed this form of abuse as part of the National Minimum Wage Act in 1998. But the mental pressure of always being on call remains. Especially for workers raising families or caring for dependents. With no guarantee of regular income meeting bills or planning for the future becomes next to impossible, with disastrous implications for overall consumer confidence. And they can also lead to complications with in-work benefits such as tax credits.

Traditionally such contracts have been the preserve of low-paid sectors where flexibility is vital to the success of the business, like catering or security. McDonald's employs the vast majority of its 87,500 UK staff on these terms.

Yet while they can be an attractive arrangement for both parties, this relies on the relationship being a balance of expectations. Just as the employer need not guarantee work, the employee needs to be able to turn down shifts without fear of pressure or future reprisals. In tough times this equality becomes far less commonplace.

Furthermore, there is widespread evidence that employers are using zero-hour contracts as a way of avoiding proper employment regulations. Professional personnel services routinely offer businesses advice on how to prevent zero-hour workers from acquiring employee status. And since temporary and agency workers acquired full employment rights in 2010, it is estimated that over half of all companies that used them have switched to zero-hour contracts.

However, perhaps most distressing of all is the rise of zero-hour contracts in the NHS. The NHS has often used these contracts for cleaners. But now trusts are using them to cover frontline staff, including physiotherapy, psychiatric therapy, and even cardiac services. One of the dangers of zero-hour contracts is when employers underestimate demand – it was precisely that situation that led to the G4S Olympic fiasco. With the Francis Report on Stafford Hospital still being digested, the consequences of doing this in the NHS do not bear thinking about. Is a McDonald's model of employment really appropriate for delivering the best clinical care?

Unfortunately, zero-hour contracts now seem an inescapable feature of a competitive, flexible labour market. And they do have some limited applications. But their growth is no cause for celebration. If this expansion of exploitation continues we urgently need a review to see if there is scope for offering workers more protection.

Sunday 10 February 2013

SWP: The End is Nigh

I didn't think I'd be writing this soon about the SWP again. The National Committee meeting of the "party", which took place last weekend, voted 39 to eight to support the Central Committee's brushing of the Comrade Delta debacle under the carpet. Pouring away the gravy of the tedious bluster and faux outrage, the meat of the carried CC motion came down to point five, "This undermining of our democracy should stop forthwith. We reaffirm the right of the Central Committee to impose disciplinary measures for violation of our democratic constitution." Now that the leadership's intentions were rubber stamped by the uber-loyalists and hacks that comprise the NC, all that remained was for the resignations to come flooding in. And for those who were left, explusion by email could be expected.

Unfortunately for the CC, as details of the NC leaked out the initiative quickly passed back to the opposition. On Tuesday we learned of the resignation of Mark Bergfield from the CC. Mark was previously the SWP's candidate for the NUS presidency and had, I understand, the responsibility for overseeing student work. As campuses have for decades been their primary recruitment pool, the loss of such an important portfolio holder was a fillip for the opposition and one in the eye for the CC. Then, on Thursday, came two more blows against the leadership. The soft jab of the Mieville/Seymour faction formalised as Democratic Renewal was followed up by the weightier punch of the In Defence of Our Party platform. The latter was no mobilisation of activists addled by bourgeois contaminants like due process and accountability, but was on paper a heavy hitter. It is signed by three ex-CC, 10 NC, and long-serving members that include party theoreticians and former full-timers (hello "Bunny L"!). The CC must have had kittens.

The platform of the M&S faction homes in on the disastrous hubris of the disputes committee rape investigation, and uses it to make a number of telling points about CC doublethink, stupidity, and petty authoritarianism. It rightly remains opposed to the expulsion of four members for chatting about party matters on Facebook (a symptom of burgeoning renegacy if I ever saw one); but the main plank remains the calling of a special conference with a full three month pre-conference discussion period for these issues to be thrashed out.

The DOP document is less strident, less insurgent. It talks about the need for winning dissenters politically as opposed to the CC's default 'expel on sight' position; taking action to avoid a damaging split, and, basically, wants everyone to be nice to each other. Practical proposals include the suspension of Comrade Delta from his party roles, a review of the Disputes Committee (albeit at the next annual conference(!)), no victimisation of dissidents, and a more conciliatory CC attitude. It is also very clear that the DOPies are not politically challenging the CC nor the decisions made by conference - rather it reads as a warm, avuncular hand on the leadership's shoulder as the faction whispers sage advice into its ear. Practically it's an attempt at reconciling an unabashed and unapologetic CC with the rising generation of SWP activists, for whom the leadership is a brake on party development.

You don't need a crash course in Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks to realise these two opposites are never going to interpenetrate again, and so the CC's attempt to seize back the initiative doesn't even pretend to try. Their announcement of a special conference could, at first, appear something of a coup for the opposition. But a cursory glance shows it really is nothing of the sort. With the usual chutzpah one has come to expect from the vanguard of the vanguard, it castigates "behaviour which is unaccountable, undemocratic and against the principles of democratic centralism", criticises the DOPies for "acting bureaucratically" and, with a straight face, claims "we do not operate a regime of innuendo and slurs". You've got to admire them for being so brazen.

The CC makes plain the nature of the special conference they're calling:
The CC has opposed the demand for a special conference, and those that agitated for one failed to win enough branches to call one. But we cannot go on as we are. Therefore, to establish absolute clarity and to draw a line that nobody serious can claim to ignore, the CC calls a one-day special conference for Sunday 10 March.

We understand that many comrades who have voted in line with the majority decisions at our recent conference and have rejected the call for a recall conference in their branches, or who are simply weary of constant internal debate at a time of new possibilities in the class struggle, will not want another aggregate and a special conference focused on these issues. However we cannot allow factional debate to dominate party discussions for the next 11 months.

The conference will be to reaffirm the decisions of January’s conference and the NC, resolve recent debates, clarify some elements of the constitution and move the party forwards. There will be aggregates over the next three weeks and an internal bulletin. Pre-conference discussion takes place in these aggregates, not branch meetings ...

We believe all the decisions of the last conference and this special conference are binding, unlike those of our critics who believe they are binding unless they disagree with them. The special conference must be the final word. We demand factions accept that – in practice, not words.
Not the vibes one would expect from a leadership wanting to address the avalanche of concerns members have, or to learn from what has been the biggest crisis in the SWP's 60 year history. Indeed, they go out of their way to say there are no lessons, no errors; "We do not believe the DC process was fundamentally flawed or dealt with the complaint in a manner that besmirched our record of fighting for women’s liberation. The complaint was a very serious matter which was treated with great care."

How have the opposition responded? The M&S reply basically does not recognise the CC's move as it lies outside the constitutional provisions. Without the three month discussion period, they correctly note this is about curtailing debate and trying to end the crisis bureaucratically. Clearly, the CC are minded to see significant numbers of members leave - after all, the party's property and money is in their hands and there's plenty to keep the full-time CC in jobs for the time being. How the DOPies and the layer of mainly loyal, mainly long-term cadre they represent will take the CC's digging-in remains to be seen.

As I understand it, ultimately, the goal of the revolutionary socialist party is to abolish itself. By organising the working class as a political party, it storms the heights commanded by the bourgeoisie and immediately sets about the construction of the socialist order. As the state withers from an organisation to protect workers' power into the simple administration of things, the revolutionary party dissipates into folk memory and the history books. This eschatology - or understanding of 'end times' - varies from the explicit to the implicit depending on the 57 varieties of Leninist theory and political practice one follows, or understands. The SWP in its conceit believes itself to be THE party, and that an enlarged SWP numbering millions will make a revolution. Unfortunately, precisely because it - or rather the CC's - belief that they are uniquely endowed with this task, the leaders and those browbeaten or too robotic to know otherwise are obstinately steering the ship into the SWP's own ending. This falls somewhat short of revolutionary glory. There will be no fond memory bequeathed to the future, just a tale of a tawdry implosion.