Posts Tagged ‘Clement Atlee’

The Blairites and Middle Class Entitlement

August 14, 2016

Mike today put up a couple of pieces on the latest plans by the Blairites to hold on to power against Jeremy Corbyn and the majority of Labour members. One was to try and resurrect David Miliband as a challenger to Corbyn’s leadership. This is a sick joke, considering how unpopular Miliband was before under the old rules. He’d fare even worse now. And it shows how utterly cynical and manipulative they are about trying to insert him in Jo Cox’s vacant seat as the PLP’s preferred candidate, over the wishes of her constituency.

The other plan is a new, internal Labour party group, called Tomorrow’s Labour, which intends to set up an astroturf – fake grassroots movement – against Corbyn using spambots. This is pretty much against the rules of the internet as it is, and make a mockery of their claim to be fully transparent, and compliant with all existing rules.

I wonder how far the Blairites’ determination to hang on to power, no matter what the cost, is due to their sociological origins. I was talking to a friend of mine the other week, who remarked on the very middle class backgrounds of the Blairite politicians. Old Labour was largely, though not exclusively, working class. Many of its politicians had come into politics as members of their trades unions. These were people like Ernest Bevan, Nye Bevan, and the veteran Labour left-winger, Dennis Skinner. Obviously, there were even then members of the middle class involved in Socialist politics, like Clement Atlee, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and the Fabians. This began to change in the 1960s, as the Labour party deliberately set out to attract a more middle class membership, as advocated by Tony Crosland. In order to attract them, it played down and minimised its advocacy of nationalisation. The Labour leader at the time, Hugh Gaitskell, wanted to drop Clause 4, the section of the Labour party’s constitution which advocated nationalisation. He failed. Despite this move to the Right, the Labour party still remained committed to the national ownership of the utilities and certain other important industries, such as mining and steel. Crosland himself was responsible for the introduction of comprehensive schools. Although this has been very loudly decried, the old system of schooling did reinforce class divisions and prevent children from working class backgrounds rising upwards. The party was also committed to a planned economy, something that also went very much against the principles of free marketeers like Milton Friedman and von Hayek.

All this went out the window with the 1979 election victory of Thatcher and the continued electoral success of the Conservatives. This convinced the Labour Right to adopt all of her policies – privatisation, the destruction of the NHS as a public service, the dismantlement of the welfare state and increasing criminalisation of the poor. They also turned away from the working class, and concentrated on trying to win votes from middle class voters in marginal constituencies.

And the party’s demographics also changed. Many of the New Labour MPs were like Harriet Harman. She’s a millionaire. They tend to be very middle class boys and girls, privately educated, with the advantages that accrue to the members of those classes. They sit on the boards of companies, various quangos and are active in the charities. This is all very well, but it makes me wonder how far the Blairites are motivated by purely ideological convictions, and how much of it comes from instinctive class loyalty? These are people, who have never had to work hard to get into their current position of power. They don’t have much contact with the working class, and apparently share the middle classes’ hatred and fear of them. You can see it in their determination to cut down on welfare benefits for the unemployed and for their support for workfare, as well as the unchallenged belief in the sociological myth of mass pockets of unemployment where nobody in a family has worked for generations. And there’s the instinctive hatred of the privately educated businesspeople for the trade unions.

As a rule, the middle classes uncritically accept that they have a privileged place in society, which is theirs by right. A little while ago Secular Talk did a piece, reporting on a study that found that the richer you are, the more likely you are to believe that the existing state of society was just. I don’t doubt that. Now I don’t deny that some of them are genuinely concerned with enlarging democracy through campaigns against racism and for female empowerment. They may also sincerely believe in Thatcher’s twaddle about making conditions worse for people in order to encourage them to try to rise above their station. But they do so through the middle class assumptions they have inherited as part of their background, including their belief that they have an innate right to rule. This might not be articulated or even conscious, but it seems to be there.

Hence the determination to hang on to power whatever the cost, the wild, stupid denunciations of Corbyn’s supporters as hippy Trots wearing donkey jackets. The great unwashed are trying to take their party back after good, Blairite middle class types have tried to make it respectable. How dare they! And so we come to their attempts to clean out Corbyn’s supporters through denying them a voice, in order to retain their middle class supporters and appeal to a middle class electorate.

Another Pamphlet Written against the Privatisation of the NHS

August 10, 2016

Anti-Workfare Pamphlet Pic

I’ve also added another pamphlet I’ve written against the privatisation of the NHS to the ‘Pamphlets and Literature’ page on this website. I wrote it a little while ago, and am hoping to get it professionally printed. It’s entitled Privatisation: Killing the NHS, and is A5 format, 34 pp. This is a longer pamphlet against the privatisation of the NHS than the other, Don’t Let Cameron Privatise the NHS. It traces the gradual privatisation of the Health Service back to Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, John Major’s Private Finance Initiative in the 1990s, the Blair and Brown ‘New Labour’ governments, and finally David Cameron and the Conservatives. There is a real, imminent danger that the NHS will be broken up and privatised, as envisioned by Andrew Lansley’s, the author of the Tories’ Health and Social Care Act of 2012. This would return us to the conditions of poor and expensive healthcare that existed before the foundation of the NHS by the Clement Atlee’s Labour government in 1948. Already the Tories have passed legislation permitting ‘healthcare providers’ – which include private companies – to charge for NHS services.

The book is fully referenced, with a list of books for further reading, and organisations campaigning to preserve the NHS and its mission to provide universal, free healthcare.

If you want a copy of this, or any of the other pamphlets I’ve written, just head over to the ‘Literature and Pamphlets’ page, and get in touch using the contact form.

Labour’s Ernest Bevin and European Union

June 6, 2016

I’ve posted several pieces pointing out that the idea of a united Europe, or a European parliament, ultimately goes back to the Quaker William Penn in the 17th and 18th century philosophers and idealists, such as Immanuel Kant. In his essay, On Perpetual Peace, Kant advocated the creation of a federal European state as a way of preventing further European wars. The great Italian patriot and revolutionary, Mazzini, also believed in a federation of European nation states, dedicated to peace.

In the 20th century, one of the great advocates for European economic union in the Labour movement was Ernest Bevin. Bevin was one of the founders, with Harry Gosling, of the TGWU and the foreign minister in Atlee’s government after the War. At the TUC Congress in 1926, Bevin urged in the name of his union that a formal resolution should be passed

That notwithstanding the political divisions of Europe, this Congress instructs the General Council to further, through the international organisations, a policy having for its object the creation of a European public opinion in favour of Europe becoming an economic unity.
(Francis Williams, Ernest Bevin: Portrait of a Great Englishman (London: Hutchinson 1952, p. 149).

Bevin was a frequent visitor to the International Labour Office in Geneva, and helped to reform the International Transport Workers’ Federation after the War. His biographer, Francis Williams, considered that his experience of the profound economic links between workers in various countries right across Europe helped shape his internationalism and support for European economic union. Williams writes of his 1927 speech in favour of economic union for Europe

“Anyone who has had to follow the transport trades of the world”, he said, “realizes that while you may satisfy political ambitions by the establishment of boundaries the economic development of the world is often in total conflict with national aspirations. I recognise and my union recognises that national aspirations and national boundaries are bound to be a great handicap to us … but we also believe that if we are to develop nationally we have got to show our people unionism in terms of raw materials, in terms of harvests, cycles of trade and exchange…”

“We have,” he continued, “debated all this week as if Britain had no industrial problem to solve. But Britain has got a problem and it is no use attacking unemployment unless we try at least to make a contribution towards its solution and one of the complications throughout Europe has been the creation of a greater number of national boundaries as a result of the Versailles Treaty… The Labour Movement should carry on a great educational work in promoting the development of all forms of national culture even to the extent of political divisions and yet at the same time to inculcate the spirit of a United States of Europe on an economic basis… Cast your eye over Europe,” he went on, “with its millions of underfed, with its millions of people with a wretchedly low standard of living. We can have mass production, we can have intensified production, but we must, in order to absorb that mass production direct consuming power ot the millions of people in Europe whose standard of living is not far removed from the animal…. When we meet our international friends (let us) talk of the real problems of Europe in terms of materials, in terms of goods, in terms of the productive capacity of the peasantry, in terms of exchange, and drive along the line of endeavouring to create a feeling of interdependence between the production of the peasantry from the land of the craftsmanship of the workshop…”

Although in 1927 Bevin no doubt underestimated the political difficulties in the way of European Economic Union and was somewhat too facile in his belief in a United States of Europe this speech is interesting not only for its evidence of the widening of his own view of the duty of the trade unions but because the premises on which it was based remained all his life fundamental to his view of international affairs. They later deeply influenced his policy as Foreign Secretary, not least in his response some twenty years later to Mr. Marshall’s Harvard speech on European economic dislocation the full significance of which, as the Annual Register at the time commented, “was not realised on either side of the Atlantic” until Bevin “grasped with both hands” the opportunity it offered of American aid in initiating European co-operation and thus brought into being the Marshall Plan.

In 1927 he was thinking aloud, dreaming a little as he said because “to be a dreamer is sometimes necessary”, and his thoughts brought many angry responses from other delegates to the Congress. Some of them opposed him because they considered that it was the T.U.C.’s business to deal with practical matters and not waste its time on large visions of this kind, others because the idea of European union seemed to them to run counter to the old socialist ideal of an all-embracing international. To this latter argument Bevin replied belligerently that he was not less an internationalist because he was also a realist. It was fine to talk about a world-wide international. but that was far away. meanwhile trade barriers to Europe were keeping living standards low and big employers were developing cartels to safeguard their own interests at the expense of the community. His resolution was carried in the end by 2,258,000 votes to 1,464,000 although both the miners and the railwaymen opposed him. (pp. 151-2).

Williams also says of his idea for a united Europe that

In the past he had been preoccupied with the need to develop trade union power in order to establish a counter-weight to the organised power of employers. Now he saw the solution to many of the world’s economic problems in somewhat similar terms, preaching the need for Britain to develop, either through participation in an economic United States of Europe “spreading from the borders of Russia right to the borders of France”, or in a Commonwealth and European bloc or both, a counter-weight to the economic power of the United States and the potential economic power of Russia. (p. 153).

This was one of the reasons the EEC, the EU’s precursor was founded – so that through an economic union European trade and industry could compete with the US and Soviet blocs. Moreover, the Social Charter in the EU safeguards some basic workers’ rights, rights that are severely threatened by the Brexit campaign.

Dennis Skinner’s Personal Recommendations for Improving Britain

May 31, 2016

The veteran Labour MP and trade unionist, Dennis Skinner, also makes some political recommendations of his own in his autobiographical Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences, published two years ago in 2014. He summarises his plans, saying

So I’m fighting for a new Labour government to axe the bedroom tax, save the NHS, cut fuel bills, created jobs for the young and raise living standards. My personal manifesto will be to the left of that of the party but I’m committed 100 per cent to the election of Labour candidates across Britain. (p.313).

As for the proposals themselves, he writes (headlines in bold are mine)

I’ve a few suggestions of my own to boost Labour’s popularity and beat the Tories.

End Privatisation

To start the ball rolling we should end expensive privatisation instead of paying a fortune to contractors such as G4S, Serco and Capita that make a mess of services in the process. It’s time we got back to publicly run, publicly owned services provided in the public interest.

Nationalise the Railways

On the railways, the £900m surplus on East Coast trains, operated publicly after the private sector crashed twice, shows us the way ahead. Instead of boosting Richard Branson’s profits, a nationalised railway could make a profit and generate the cash to improve every station in Britain.

A ‘Robin Hood’ Tax on City Speculators

If we want extra money for the National Health Service and social care, we should levy a Robin Hood tax on speculators in the city. Directing the funds raised directly to health and care, including help for the mentally handicapped, rather than to the Treasury, would be immensely popular. We could start with a low rate and increase it when the tax proves to be popular, as I’m sure it will be, by emulating the one per cent National Insurance rise for the NHS when Gordon Brown was Chancellor.

Scrap Trident

Scrapping Trident would free up billions of pounds for a massive house building programme so everybody has a roof over their head and nobody is homeless. The position on council house sales has to change or local authorities won’t build houses if they know they must sell them cheaply after a few years.

End Nuclear Weapons, Restore Local Democracy

The savings from defusing nuclear weapons can also help save local democracy. Councils are being swamped by central government. Powers are either grabbed by Whitehall or transferred to unelected quangos. Ever since the Clay Cross rent rebellion, Whitehall has dictated to communities. We need to reverse the trend.

Nationalise the Utilities

On the question of the utilities – gas, electricity, water – this is the moment to start taking them back into public ownership. We took control after 1945 and right up to Wilson’s final government, when he nationalised aerospace with a majority of only three, public ownership was advanced. To cap energy bills is a good idea but a better plan is to control utilities by restoring public ownership in Britain of firms that are currently owned in France, Germany and almost every country on the globe.

Spend More on Education; End Privatised Schooling

Spending on education more than doubled under the last Labour government, which was impressive. let’s stop the growth of faith schools and misnamed free schools – tax payers fund them so they’re not free – by enhancing the powers of local authorities to champion the education of every single child.

Raise Minimum Wage

We need to end the pay freezes. The people that are carrying the burden of the bankers’ ramp are mainly workers at the bottom of the scale. The Living Wage shouldn’t be optional. Everybody should get it. But let’s not stop at £7.65 an hour outside London and £8.80 in the capital. The trade union campaign for 10 an hour should be Labour policy. A decent day’s work deserves a decent day’s pay.

Ban Zero Hours Contracts

We should introduce legislation to outlaw zero hours contracts and private employment agencies. Playing off worker against worker, ferrying into Britain cheap labour to undercut employees, is poisoning community relations. Sticking 10, 12 or 15 eastern Europeans into a house then deducting large sums form their earnings is in nobody’s interests except cowboy employers. Reasserting the role of Jobcentres as local labour exchanges will improve wages and conditions.

Increase Trade Union Rights

Trade union rights must be strengthened significantly, including the abolition of sequestration. Industrial action requires two sides to be involved in a dispute, yet it is union funds that are seized. Rebalancing employment rights in favour of workers and unions is essential if we are to build a fairer economy.

Abandon Tory Obsession with Fiscal Restraint

And we must escape the dumb economic mantra about balancing the books. There would have been no Spirit of ’45 if Clement Attlee’s goal was to balance the books. There would have been no NHS, new Welfare State, new council houses and unemployment wouldn’t have dropped to 440,000 in 1950, after only five years of the finest Labour government ever. In fact the finest government ever.

We need spending to get people to work and the economy growing. You don’t need a crystal ball to see where we should be going. We can find the way ahead by reading the history books. (pp. 309-12).

He states that they’re not just his ideas, but have been discussed for the last 10 or 20 years in the Bolsover constituency.

I have some caveats. I don’t like the attack on faith schools, having been to an Anglican faith school myself, and I don’t share his euroscepticism. But other than that, I think he’s absolutely right. Thatcherism has done immense damage to this country. Now, after thirty years of it, it is long past the time it should have been discarded.

Nye Bevan Speech about the NHS in Audio and Text

May 10, 2016

This is another piece from Youtube of a clip from a great left-wing politician, Nye Bevan. Bevan was undoubtedly one of the greatest Labour politicians, and was the man, who set up the NHS. In this short clip, he describes his setting up of the health service. He describes it as ‘good Socialism’, and ‘good Christianity too’. He expresses his pride in having created it, pointing out that it was set up when Winston Churchill said the country was bankrupt. He goes on to say that there is no country in the world, capitalist or Communist, that has anything to compare to it. And he states clearly that when he set it up, he had two aims. The first was to make sure that the medical science and arts of healing were available to all, whether they could afford them or not, and that they well to do should pay. He then clarifies this further by stating that in other words, he rejected the insurance principle. ‘After all,’ he says, ‘you can’t have a second class operation because your insurance card isn’t fully paid up’.

Unfortunately, the video to the clip just shows the crowd, not Bevan himself. I think it may well have been shot from his vantage point, given the megaphone in the foreground. The text also appears in the eye-catching, but also annoying way in which words seem to randomly appear from all over the screen.

Nevertheless, it’s a great speech, from a truly great man.

When Bevan and Atlee set up the NHS in 1948, Britain was indeed bankrupt, and the Tories tried stalling, if not actually trying to stop it’s establishment altogether, by claiming that the country could not afford it. Just as more recently successive Tory administrations from Thatcher onwards have been telling us that we cannot afford the NHS, and that some services must be cut, or else they will be made more efficient through privatisation. And remember the form Labour peer, who got very shirty after he made a suggestion that people supporting the NHS should pay an extra £8 a month for the privilege, only to be told where he could go? The Tories are busy privatising the NHS piecemeal, accelerating a process begun by Maggie and continued by Bliar and New Labour. They must be stopped.

So remember Nye Bevan and this speech.

Vox Political on the Tories and Tata’s Proposed Sale of British Steel

March 31, 2016

One of the big stories in industry this week is Tata’s proposed sell-off of what remains of the British steel industry. Mike makes the point that while David Cameron is spouting about how the government is doing everything it can, their actions speak much louder than words. And their actions say that they aren’t concerned at all.

Cameron himself is on holiday in Lanzarote. The Business Minister, Sajid Javid, who one of the wags in Private Eye’s ‘Lookalikes’ column suggested looks like the Claw from Thunderbirds, was thousands of miles away Downunder appearing at a business banquet. It was left to Anna Soubry, the Small Business minister, to make a plea for more time. By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn was at one of the steelworks in Port Talbot, and issued a demand to Cameron to recall parliament and take steps to protect the British steel industry.

Mike also points out that other countries have taken steps to protect their iron and steel industries, and that during the financial crisis two banks were nationalised. This raises the question why the government isn’t doing the same for the steel industry.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/31/these-images-show-how-labour-is-standing-up-for-steel-while-the-tories-are-standing-idle/

Cameron did fly back from Lanzarote yesterday. However, while Soubry had made a vague suggestion that the steel industry would be renationalised, Javid ruled this out. Mike, however, makes the point that by ruling out nationalisation, Cameron is most definitely not doing everything he can. See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/31/if-cameron-has-ruled-out-nationalising-tata-steel-hes-not-doing-everything-he-can/

Mike has also posted a further article showing how even the usually solid Torygraph has turned against the Conservatives for this. Osborne’s refusal to rescue the British steel industry seems to be to avoid antagonising the Chinese. He has for years resisted the kind of legislation the Americans have passed to prevent the Chinese dumping cheap steel to the destruction of their own domestic industry. It looks very much Osbo is deliberately sacrificing our steel industry in order to stay in favour with the Chinese, and encourage them to keep investing in Britain.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/31/britain-sacrifices-steel-industry-to-curry-favour-with-china/

I’m not surprised by Cameron’s blanket refusal to nationalise the industry. The Tories have been consistently against its nationalisation after it was first done by Clement Atlee’s government. Duncan Sandys, the Minister of Supply, proposed its denationalisation in 1952, claiming that privatisation would restore to the industry ‘independence, initiative and enterprise’ which was not possible under nationalisation. He was opposed by Sir George Strauss in the Labour party, who said that it was ‘indefensible for the control of this industry-on which depends our economy- the fate of townships and the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of employees-to rest in the hands of people with no public responsibility’. It’s a statement that still applies today at Tata’s announcement they want to sell the plant. The iron and steel industry was renationalised by Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1966. The steel industry itself by that time had recognised the need for reorganisation. Moreover, Labour was in favour of nationalisation because iron and steel was one of the ‘commending heights’ of industry, and so should be occupied by Britain. The Tories started privatising the industry again in the 1980s under Ian MacGregor. Their aim was to cut the cost to the taxpayer, while at the same time they considered that the business of the steel industry should be to make steel, rather than create jobs. Clearly, that attitude has not changed.

The manufacturing industries also suffer from the perception, disseminated by neo-Liberal free-marketeers over the last thirty years, that Britain is now a post-industrial society. Deanne Julius, who was one of the chief wonks in the Bank of England under Blair, took this view, and stated that we should now concentrate on developing the service industries, and leave manufacturing to the rest of the world, and specifically America. This is another idea that Han-Joon Chang shoots down in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. He makes the point that manufacturing industry is still vitally important. It only looks less important than the service industries, because these have expanded far more and more rapidly than manufacturing. But that certainly does not mean that it’s unimportant.

Except to the Tories. Cameron is not going to renationalise the iron and steel industry, because as a neo-lib he’s devoted to the idea that government should not interfere – market forces and all that gibberish – and that if the industry goes under, well, that’s how it should be. Some how the market will magically correct the situation and another industry will somehow arise to replace it. This seems to me to be the fundamental attitude of the followers of von Hayek and the other Libertarians. He also won’t want to nationalise the industry, because it will mean not only a fundamental contradiction of Neo-Liberal economic doctrine, but also because it’ll mean more state expenditure. Which in turn will mean he won’t be able to give more tax cuts to his big business paymasters.

And lastly, he won’t want to nationalise the industry, because the last thing he wants is a rise in employment, and the revival of an organised and powerful working class, as it was when manufacturing was the dominant industry. Milton Friedman’s wretched Monetarism dictates that there should be a six per cent unemployment rate to keep wages low, and labour affordable.

And finally, there is the issue of class. Whatever Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith spout to the contrary, the Tories are not the policy of ‘working people’. They themselves admit as much. When the issue of the union’s funding of the Labour party came up again a few years ago, Labour made the point that the Tories were being funded by business. The Tories attempted to defend themselves by stating that this was perfectly acceptable, as they were the party of business. And in this case, business does not want state involvement in industry and the creation of nasty, old-style working class jobs that might actually empower the working class.

And also part of it is that the working class simply aren’t considered a concern, in the same way that the Tories are concerned about the upper and middle classes. Cameron’s a toff, as is Osbo and Ian Duncan Smith. The people, who matter to them are the same people as themselves – other toffs and members of the upper middle class. Those are the only people they see personally and interact with, except those they employ. And so ordinary people and their concerns simply don’t register with them in the same way as those of their own class.

And so, while Cameron has come back from Lanzarote, because this is a major issue, it’s not one that he really wants to solve by going back to nationalising the industry. Not when Maggie Thatcher and generations of Tories took so much trouble to privatise it.

The Bankers’ Party of True Working People (Rich Bankers)

May 13, 2015

Yesterday on the new, Cameron trotted out once again the line that his party was ‘the true party of working people.’ It’s the same line that was trotted out a few years ago by Grant Shapps, alias Mr Green. It’s supposed to appeal to the working classes, to show that the Tories actually represent their interests and aspirations, rather than the doctrinaire demands of elite Socialists like Ed Miliband.

I wrote an angry piece about it at the time Shapps first used it, making the statement that there was about the same amount of truth behind it as that Nazi’s inclusion of the words ‘Socialist’ and ‘Workers’. It was all propaganda, designed to give a populist appeal to a party which hated Socialism and the Trade Unions, and which represented the interests of the middle classes against the working class.

Unfortunately, there are some people, who will be taken in by it. The same people, who decided that Maggie was really working class, because of her tales of living above her father’s shop. I know people, who blandly believe that the NHS was set up by the Tories, rather than as it actually was, by Clement Atlee’s Labour party. These are probably the same people, who believe the Tories’ propaganda that they will find another £8bn for the NHS, rather than selling it off to their friends.

What actually came across most strongly was that this was a party of the usual Tory demographic – toffs, bankers and the minions of big business. Covering the new Tory cabinet ministers bustling to work, the BBC showed Javid, intoning that he was ‘the son of a busman’. This piece of working class cred was then qualified with what Javid actually does. He was, reported the Beeb, ‘an investment banker’. Ros Altmann, the new pensions minister? Banker. Lord Freud, another Tory stalwart, and the one who claimed that the working class should be more flexible than the upper classes as ‘they had less to lose’ from the recession? Banker. George Osborne? Toff and banker.

One of the major weaknesses of British politics is that ever since Thatcher, economic thinking has been geared to the financial sector, rather than manufacturing. One of the few high-ranking Tories under Thatcher noted that Thatcher had no idea how keeping the pound strong harmed British manufacturing by making our goods more expensive. The authors of Socialist Enterprise, as well as Ken Livingstone and Neil Kinnock, before he rejected Socialism for fundamentalist free trade, all recognised that the British financial sector was geared to overseas investment, rather than supporting domestic industry. They wanted to reform the financial sector so that it channelled more investment into the UK. The presence of so many bankers in the Cabinet represents the continuation of the present economic orthodoxy, so that we can expect British domestic industry to decline, no matter what the Tories will scream about being the party of business.

During the Revolutions of 1848, the revolutionaries in France, to show that they did represent the workers, included one – Albert – in their government. it was a token gesture, and the administration eventually fell. But it was there. There was not one solitary working man or woman in the Cameron’s new cabinet. Javid’s background is working class, but he long ago left that behind him.

There is actually no-one in the cabinet, who has actually done any kind of manual work, or who is a lower middle class employee, and certainly none from any working class organisations, such as the trade unions, which the Tories desperately wish to destroy. Cameron’s party is certainly not a party of ‘true working people’ by any stretch of the imagination.

I’ve no doubt, however, that some people will believe them, taken in by Javid’s supposedly blue-collar background, and Cameron’s endless refrain that ‘we’re all in this together’. The slogan’s empty, except for the way it reinforces the Tories’ anti-welfare policies. They claim to represent the ‘true, hardworking people’, who are threatened by the unemployed, who are, of course, all idle scroungers. It’s designed to play on the class insecurity and petty vindictiveness of a certain type of voter, who feels threatened by those just below them, and who feels they are already given too much. The average Daily Mail and Express reader, in fact, though the same line permeates the Sun, Star and Sport as well.

This needs to stop, and stop now. It needs to be shown to be the lie it is, a lie to justify putting further cuts and pressure on the working class, and demonise the unemployed under they’re starved to death under sanctions. We want a proper government representing the working class, with its members drawn from that class. A party, that believes in giving ‘hard-working people’ a living wage, proper free healthcare, and support to the unemployed, who are not idle scroungers.

A party, in other words, which is everything Cameron and his toffs and bankers aren’t.

Owen Jones on the Middle Class Domination of the Houses of Parliament

May 5, 2014

I posted a piece this morning on early trade unionist campaigns to get the vote for the working class and working men into parliament and the local authorities. This was in response to the way working people have become increasingly ignored and excluded by the political class, to the point where many feel disenfranchised.

Owen Jones in Chavs describes the way parliament has become overwhelmingly upper and middle class in its composition:

We’ve seen that prominent politicians manipulated the media-driven frenzy to make political points. Like those who write and broadcast our news, the corridors of political power are deominated by people from one particular background. ‘The House of Commons isn’t representative, it doesn’t reflect the country as a whole,’ says Kevin Maguire. ‘It’s over-representative of lawyers, journalists-as-politicians, various professions, lecturers in particular … There are few people who worked in call centres, or been in factories, or been council officials lower down.’

It’s true to say MP’s aren’t exactly representative of the sort of people who live on most of our streets. Those sitting on Parliament’s green benches are over four times more likely to have gone to private school than the rest of us. Among Conservative MPs, a startling three out of every five have attended a private school. A good chunk of the political elite were schooled at the prestigious Eton College alone, including Tory leader David Cameron and nineteen other Conservative MPs.

There was once a tradition, particularly on the Labour benches, of MPs who had started off working in factories and mines. Those days are long gone. The number of politicians from those backgrounds is small, and shrinks with every election. Few than one in twenty MPs started out as manual workers, a number that has halved since 1987, despite the fact that that was a Conservative-dominated parliament. One the other hand, a startling two-thirds had a professional job or worked in business before arriving in parliament. Back in 1996, Labour’s then deputy leader John Prescott echoed the Blairite mantra to claim that ‘we’re all middle-class now’, a remark that would perhaps be more fitting if he had been talking about his fellow politicians. (p. 29)

It would be easy, but lazy, to portray parliament as a microcosm of the British class system. It isn’t, but it certainly showcases the gaping divides of modern society. When I interviewed James Purnell just before the May 2010 election that brought the Tories and their Lib Dem allies to 10 Downing Street, I put to him how unrepresentative Parliament was: two-thirds of MPs came from a professional background and were four times more likely to have attended a private school than the rest of the population. When I referred to the fact that only one in twenty MPs came from a blue-collar background, he was genuinely shocked. ‘One in twenty?’

When I asked him if this had made it more difficult for politicians to understand the problems of working-class people, he could hardly disagree. ‘Yes, indeed. I think it’s become very much a closed shop …’ For Purnell, this middle-class power grab was the result of a political system that has become closed to ordinary people.

In the build-up to the 2010 general election, a number of excited headlines claimed that trade unions were parachuting candidates into safe seats. ‘Unions put their candidates in place to push Labour to the left,’ bellowed the Times. And yet, in the end, only 3 per cent of new MPs were former trade union officials. There was no similar outrage about the number of prospective candidates with careers in the City – the sector that, after all, was responsible for the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. One in ten new MPs had a background in financial services, twice as many as in the 1997 landslide that brought Labour to power. Politics has also increasingly been turned into a career rather than a service: a stunning one in five new MPs already worked in politics before taking the parliamentary oath. pp. 104-5).

He then contrasts with the great political figures from Atlee’s cabinet of 1945 from the working class: Nye Bevan, Ernest Bevin, and Herbert Morrison. They were a miner, farm boy and grocer’s assistant, respectively. He contrasts this with the Tory jeers about John Prescott’s working class origins.

When he entered the House of Lords, that retirement home for the ruling elite, the Telegraph’s chief leader writer scoffed: I’m not sure ermine suits John Prescott.’ the comments left by Telegraph readers on the newspaper’s website were a class war free-for-all. One passed on a friend’s hilarious description of him as ‘the builder’s bum-crack of the Labour Party’. ‘Baron Pie & Chips’ and ‘Prescott is a fat peasant’ were other witticisms, as was ‘John “here’s a little tip” Prescott’. Someone has to serve the drinks between debates!’ guffawed another. Prescott was ridiculed because some felt that by being from lowly working-class stock, he sullied the office of deputy prime minister and then the House of Lords. (p. 106).

We desperately need more working class people in parliament. And as for the Telegraph, Buddyhell over Guy Debord’s Cat has posted a long series of pieces on just how frighteningly far-right the commenters on their website are. Very many of them post horrendously racist and overtly Fascist messages. One even suggested that the Nazis were being demonised out of ignorance (!) and that this would not happen if people knew more about them. (!)
No, the Nazis are demonised because people know exactly what they are like. Hence the attempts by Nazi apologists to deny the Holocaust ever happened, or played down the number of people who were murdered. The Cat has noted that the Telegraph uses the excuse that it can’t be held responsible for what it’s commenters post, and it is therefore not responsible for the ravings of the assorted stormtroopers that post there. This won’t wash. Other website are modded, and stopping genocidal racists from advocating mass murder is one of the few infringements to the right to free speech that most people would applaud. But not, it seems, the Torygraph. Either – God help us! – the editors secretly agree with these rants, or else they are following the old tactic Enoch Powell adopted with his supporters from the Far Right. Powell actually personally wasn’t racist. He spoke Urdu, and had served on various official bodies promoting civil rights for Blacks and Asians before the infamous ‘River of Blood’ speech. See the section on him in Bloody Foreigners: Immigration and the English. He actually hated the NF, but cynically used their support.

As for the Times, this is the quintessential paper of the establishment. I’ve got a feeling it was edited for a time by the very blue-blooded Peregrine Worsthorne. Under David Leppard, it saw fit to publish the lie that Michael Foot was a KGB agent. No wonder it printed scare stories about a coming union left-wing takeover.

The Overthrow of the French Parliament by the Workers in the 1848 Revolution

April 20, 2014

1848 Book pic

Peter Jones in his book The 1848 Revolutions (Harlow: Longman 1981) describes the events of February 1848 in Paris, which culminated in a mob of workers storming the French Chamber of Deputies to overthrow the government and the monarchy:

On 20 February 1848 the reformers and the opposition to Guizot’s government in France made plans to hold a political banquet in Paris. the banquet was banned by the government and, as a result, the common people of Paris held a procession through the streets in protest against the decision. Their leaders presented a petition to the Chamber of Deputies demanding Guizot’s resignation.

The discontent against the government, and against Guizot in particular, had been growing during 1847 but then it had largely been a campaign of middle-class politicians. Now it was the cause of the common people of Paris and on 22 February 1848 the police had to clear an unruly crowd in the Place de la Madeleine. The next day the King, Louis Philippe, dismissed Guizot and called on Mole to lead the government. But this concession had come too late, because on the same evening a great throng of people had made their way along the Boulevard des Capucines to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs only to find their passage blocked by a troop of cavalry and infantry. According to Victor Hugo, the people at the head of the procession tried to stop and turn aside, ‘but the irresistible pressure of the huge crowd weighed on the front ranks’. A shot rang out, and in the panic that followed a whole volley was fired. At least forty people were killed. The victims were piled on a cart lit with torches and within a few hours the city was blocked with barricades.

On the following morning, 24 February, Alexis de Tocqueville, a prominent member of the Chamber of Deputies, left his house feeling that he could ‘scent revolution in the air’. A group of men gathered round him and asked for news, and he warned them that the only real danger to the government was if they themselves got too excited and took matters to extremes. ‘”That’s all very well, sir,” they said, “the government has got itself into this fix by its own fault; so let it get itself out as best it can …”‘ Louis Philippe had done just that – he had abdicated that same afternoon and a Provisional Government had been set up.

The Provisional Government would probably have decided in favour of a Regency but the invasion of the Chamber of Deputies by a crowd of workers on the afternoon of 24 February pushed the Provisional Government towards a republic. Paris was now in the hands of the workers and the ‘dangerous classes’. Earlier that day they had invaded the Tuileries Palace and dumped Louis Philippe’s empty throne in the courtyard. According to Flaubert the ‘common herd ironically wrapped up in laces and cashmeres … Hats with ostrich feathers adorned blacksmiths’ heads, and ribbons of the Legion of Honour supplied waistbands for the prostitutes’. Lamartine, who was popular with the people, nevertheless witnessed the invasion of the Chamber of Deputies with fear:

‘They crowded the corridors, and rushed with their cries of mortal combat into the spectators’ galleries. Their clothes torn, their shirts open, their arms bare, their fists clenched and resembling muscular clubs, their hair wildly dishevelled, and singed with cartridges, their countenances maddened with the delirium of revolution, their eyes smitten with the spectacle, so novel to them, presented by the Chamber … all revealed them as desperadoes, who were come to make the last assault on the last refuge of royalty.’

They were armed with pikes, bayonets, and sabres. ‘Down with the Regency!’ they shouted, ‘The Republic forever’. Their demonstration meant that the new Provisional Government was forced to include the Socialists Louis Blanc and Flocon, as well as a solitary but symbolic worker, Albert. (pp. 1-2).

From France, the revolutionary movement spread to Bavaria, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Milan and Palermo. It did not last. They soon fizzled out and were brutally suppressed. In France the forces of the Right regrouped, the Revolution was suppressed and the Provisional Government was replaced by the new monarchy of Napoleon III.

The Workers’ Uprising in the ‘June Days’

The workers rose up again in June in protest at the closure of the National Workshops providing work for the unemployed. Alexis de Tocqueville, the nobleman, whose book on Democracy in America is still one of the great texts of political science, states that they were motivated from hunger.

In that city there were a hundred thousand armed workmen formed into regiments, without work and dying of hunger. Society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy; those who had anything united in common terror. There were no longer ties of sympathy linking these two great classes, and a struggle was everywhere assumed to be inevitable soon… (De Tocqueville, Recollections, in Jones, p. 83).

We Need a Campaign, Not Revolution, to Put Workers and Socialists in Government Today

We don’t need a revolution in this country, with violence and bloodshed. What we do need are more mass demonstrations and pressure on the government and the political parties to change their policies. Now as then, people are starving. Mike over at Vox Political and the other bloggers has estimated that about 55,000 people are dying per year due to government sanctions. The rate could be as high as 78,000. This is massively unreported. Stilloaks over on his blog gives the names and the stories of some of the victims.

Furthermore, the working class are massively under-represented in government and parliament. All the parties are eager to chase the votes of the aspiring middle class, and while there is in itself nothing wrong with this, it has been done at the expense of the working class. Earlier generations of Labour politicians included people from the working class, who made their way into parliament from the trade unions. One of the earliest Labour politicians to be elected to Westminster was an agricultural worker, and gave his autobiography, I believe, the title of ‘From Plough to Parliament’. Ernest Bevin, Labour’s Foreign Minister under Clement Atlee, was a dock worker and founder, with Harry Gosling, of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. Tony Blair and Ed Milliband have tried to loosen the Party’s links with the unions. And many of the modern ranks of politicians across the political spectrum come from very middle class backgrounds. Instead of trade union activism, they frequently come from a more academic background, having read of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Uni. The Tory and Tory Cabinet are a demonstration of this middle and upper class domination of politics and parliament. They are nearly all toffs with connections to banking and finance.

And the class composition of parliament and the parties shows in the parties’ economic and welfare policies. Any kind of nationalisation is considered unacceptable as they have adopted, to a greater or lesser extent, Thatcherite Neoliberalism. The government’s welfare policies, rather than address problems with the economy as the cause of poverty, blame the workers themselves for being too lazy or ill-prepared to find a job themselves. The result is a policy of punitive sanctions and highly coercive measures forcing the unemployed to work for their benefits to enrich private industry.

It’s time this stopped. We need proper, Socialist economic measures and the members and representatives of the working class back in parliament. The 1848 Revolution put, at least for a time, the Socialists Louis Blanc and Flocon in government, along with Albert, a worker. This was celebrated and praised as an example of what universal suffrage could achieve by the great German Socialist leader, Ferdinand Lassalle. The time is long overdue when a British government also included Socialists and workers.

Book Review: From Beveridge to Blair – The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State, 1948-98

July 15, 2013

Beveridge Blair Book

By Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2002)

This is a documentary history of the first fifty years of the British welfare state written by two history lecturers at Bristol University. The book is part of a series of collected documents on aspects of contemporary history, aimed at sixth-formers and university undergraduates. The book’s blurb states

‘The creation of Britain’s welfare state in 1948 was an event of major international importance and is widely regarded as the crowning achievement of Attlee’s Labour government. On its fiftieth anniversary, for example, New Labour proclaimed ‘at its birth, the vision was broad … We need to capture that original Vision.

Yet the term ‘welfare state’ is now used, even by New Labour, with extreme hesitation. Moreover, although the public services it represents (such as the NHS and education remain at the heart of British politics, the election of Mrs Thatcher in 1979 reopened a fundamental battle over whether these services are best provided by government or the market.’

The blurb states that the book is intended ‘to inform and stimulate debate by providing a concise introduction to the evolution of both the structure of the welfare state and the attitudes towards it.’ It has an introduction, and then chapters on the political debate, social security, health care, education, housing and personal social services. There is also a chronology of events giving the year, the government of the time, and the events in the above departments of the welfare state.

The Introduction

This begins by noting New Labour’s ambivalence towards the welfare state, shown in the muted nature of the celebrations of its fiftieth anniversary in 1998. It then has the following sections: Defining the Welfare State; the Core Policies; the Exception of Employment Policy; and the Evolution of the Welfare State.

The Political Debate

This chapter is divided up into sections, each containing documents relating to that subject or area. The first is on Democratic Socialism, and has pieces on Marshall and the Evolution of Social Equality; Titmuss and the Virtues of Collective Action; The ideological Divide between Labour and the Conservatives, written by Anthony Crosland. The next section, Reluctant Collectivism, has extracts on One Nationism’ the Market and Community Case for State Welfare. Following this is the section on the New Right, with an extract from Hayek’s Roads to serfdom; the Institute of Economic Affairs and Choice in Welfare; Sir Keith Joseph and the Origins of ‘Thatcherism’; Charles Murray on the Emerging Underclass. The next section is on New Labour, and contains extracts from the 1994 Commission on Social Justice; There is a section on Incorporating Feminist Perspectives; after this is the sections on Frank Field and ‘Stakeholder’ Welfare, setting out his ‘Key Political Assumptions’; and Anthony Giddens and the Third Way.

Social Security

The chapter opens with the a brief description the types of benefits available and debates surrounding its nature and the principles by which it should be governed. It then has the following sections:
The Expansion of Social Security, with extracts on the Beveridge Vision, with its Three Guiding Principles of Recommendations, the Six Principles of Social Insurance, Flat Rate of Subsistence Benefit, Flat Rate Contributions, Unification of Administrative Responsibility, Adequacy of Benefit, Comprehensiveness and Classification. The next section is on Bevan’s abolition of the Victorian Poor Law, the Times’ summary of the Atlee’s welfare state, the introduction of earnings-related benefits, and Equality and Pensions. The section after this is on ‘Modernising’ Social Security, with sections on Thatcherite Principles, Breaking the Benefit-Earnings Link; the 1985 Social Security Review, the 1986 Reforms, Re-thinking Labour Policy, the 1998 New Deal and the Working Families Tax Credit. The next section is on the Controversy between Universalism and Selectivity, with sections on Choice in Welfare, Defending Universalism, Targeting and the 1976 introduction of child benefit. After this is the section on the Poor, with extracts on the Reality of Poverty in the 1950s, the ‘Rediscovery’ of Poverty in the 1960s, Low-Income Families in the 1970s, and Living on Social Security. The last section of this chapter is on Poverty and Social Exclusion, drawing on the 1999 census.

Health Care

The chapter on Health care also had an introduction to the issues involved, and then sections on the Vision, with an extract on Wartime Plans; the Allocation of Scarce Resource, with extracts on Bevan on Finance, The Guillebaud ‘Economy’ Report, 1956, and Enoch Powell and the Fundamental Dilemma; Restructuring the NHS, with extracts on the 1974 reorganisation, the Managerial Revolution, the 1988 Thatcher Review, the Introduction of Internal Markets, New Labour and the NHS; Controversies, with sections on Bevan’s Resignation, Pay Beds, and Privatisation and the 1988 Review; Health Outcomes, with extracts from the 1980 Black Report, and Health Inequalities.

Education

This chapter has sections on The Vision, comprising extracts on the Wartime Ideals, Scientific Manpower, Conservative Ambitions, Higher Education, Nursery Education, Special Needs and Multicultural Education; Controversy: Comprehensive Education, with extracts The Case for the Defence, from Robin Pedley’s argument for it, the Conservatives attempt to reinstate choice in 1970, Labour’s insistence on reinforcing compulsion in 1974, and the Thatcherite Response; Controversy: the National Curriculum. This begins with a discussion of William Tyndale School, which became a national scandal. The teachers there were extreme advocates of ‘child-centred learning’, who didn’t really want to teach. Private Eye’s Ian Hislop included the scandal about the school in his history of education broadcast one Christmas a few years ago. One pupil at the school said violence from other pupils was so bad you daren’t go there without being ‘tooled up’. One teacher taking a reading group simply wrote on the blackboard, ‘I hate reading groups and sent the children out to play’. When confronted with the fact that most of the pupils at the school couldn’t read, the teacher’s replied that neither could people in the Middle Ages, ‘yet they built cathedrals’. The result was an outcry that resulted in the teachers involved rightly losing their jobs, and a campaign to introduce a national curriculum. Other extracts in this section include James Callaghan’s speech launching a great debate on the National Curriculum in October 1976, Shirley Williams as a representative of Old Labour on a ‘Core’ Curriculum, Margaret Thatcher’s Response and Attacks on the National Curriculum. the last section is on the consensus on education in the 1990s, composed of two extracts, the first on the Thatcherite Revolution, and the second on Labour’s continuation of the same policies.

Housing

The chapter on Housing has sections on the campaign to end the housing shortage from 1945 to 1955, consisting of further sections on wartime plans, Bevan’s position, the Conservative Vision and Macmillan’s Achievement; the Restoration of the Market, with sections on the 1957 Rent Act, the 1959 Labour Manifesto attack on the Conservative’s record, the Milner Holland Report into the operation of 1957 Act, and scandals such as that of the brutal slumlord, Peter Rachman, the 1965 Fair Rent Act, the shift from building new houses to the renovation of older properties, the 1972 Housing Finance Act,and Anthony Crosland’s attack on the 1972 Act. The next section, Eroding Public Provision, 1979-1998, has sections on the sale of council houses, the fiasco of the 1984 simplified housing benefit, which bore out Crosland’s previous criticisms of the 1972 Housing Finance act, the 1988 Housing Act, New Labour’s adoption of the same principles, and the implementation of the divide between provider and purchaser. The next section is on Causes Celebres, with sections on the outrage over Peter Rachman’s brutal treatment of his tenants in the East End; the explosion in the Ronan Point block of flats, which ended the construction of tower blocks, the foundation of the homeless charity, Shelter; the controversy over Clay Cross, in which the local council refused to raise rents resulting in a bitter political campaign that resulted to the radicalisation of the welfare state and the Winter of Discontent; and the New Labour Social Exclusion Unit’s Report on homelessness.

Personal Social Services (In other words, those requiring a Social Worker, Probation Officer or similar Care Worker)

This chapter on The Personal Social Services contains sections on the Statutory Sector, with extracts from the 1965 Seebohm Report, the 1986 Audit Office Report on the failure of the policy of ‘Care in the Community’, and the Thatcherite Solution. This is interesting, because it was delayed due to its recommendation that local authorities should work to clear objectives with proper government funding. The best care was to be provided for those in need regardless of the whether the organisation providing it were state, voluntary or private. The Tories did not naturally like this, as it appeared to enlarge the role of the government, not reduce it. The next extract in this section was New Labour’s Solution. The section on the Volutary Sector begins with Lord Longford’s defence of voluntarism, extracts from the Seebohm and 1978 Wolfenden Reports and the Conservatives’ re-prioritisation of voluntary provision in 1981. The next section, Children in Need, has a extracts from Lady Allen’s letter, highlighting the terrible conditions endured by children in care homes; the death of Dennis O’Neill, a 13 year old boy, who died of maltreatment at the hands of his foster parents; the 1948 Children Act, the 1960 Ingleby Report; the death of a seven year old girl, Maria Colwell, while supposedly under the protection of social workers; the 1989 Children Act, New Labour and the Crisis of Child Care, the 1997 Utting Report on the systematic abuse of children in care homes, and testimony by the children themselves on the failure of legislation to protect them.

The book is a fascinating overview of the first fifty years of the welfare state, as recounted and described by the people and events that set it up and shaped it. It shows the transition from the state provision of welfare services established at the Welfare State’s inception after the War to increasing private and voluntary provision of services, as well as reports on the failure of these policies. Critical to the process of privatisation has been the ideas of Von Hayek, introduced into Britain by Americans such as Charles Marshall, and into the Conservative party by Sir Keith Joseph and his protégé, Margaret Thatcher.