Posts Tagged ‘Denis MacShane’

Another Lesson from France: How to Maintain a Diverse, Pluralist Press

October 10, 2020

There’s a very interesting passage in Denis MacShane’s 1986 Fabian Society pamphlet, French Lessons for Labour, where he describes how the French have been able to create a diverse and pluralistic press. Apparently it’s the most diverse in Europe with the exception of Sweden. This has been achieved partly through legislation drafted at the country’s liberation during World War II, but which was never enforced, which would have removed newspapers from the ownership of Nazi supporters and collaborators, the nationalisation of the distributors and state subsidization.

In fact, France, partly by design, partly by chance, has the most pluralist press in Europe outside Sweden. The design lies in the laws passed at the liberation in 1944/45 which dispossessed the owners of the right-wing papers which had supported Hitler before 1939 and the Vichy regime after 1940. A right of reply law and, more important, one that nationalised the press distribution agency were also passed. The latter means that left-wing newspapers and magazines are on sale in the most remote parts of France and the distribution censorship which is exercised in Britain by the two main wholesale/retail companies does not exist in France. In addition, the Government subsidises the press with cheap postal tariffs, zero VAT rating and, on occasion, direct subsidy.

The chance lies in the willingness of businessmen or corporations to put up money on left-of-centre newspapers and to support them during periods of low or zero profits. Le Matin, Liberation and the left-wing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur (circulation 400,000) all provide a width of reporting and comments In addition, Le Monde, whose independence is assured by the right of journalists to elect its editor, maintains an objectivity and authority, and an influence because of those two values, which are not automatically hostile to a socialist government. (P. 17).

However, attempts to pass similar legislation to the 1944/5 laws in order to stop the Vichy collaborator Robert Hersant from owning 19 national and provincial papers in 1984 and 1986 was a failure, partly due to a press freedom campaign from the right.

This issue of media ownership and bias is acutely relevant on this side of the Channel as well. Since the 1980s, the press and media in Britain has been owned by a decreasing number of powerful individuals, who may also have other business interests. These individuals, like Rupert Murdoch, have been able to exert oligarchical control of the media, maintaining a strong Tory bias. Media and press bias against Labour was particularly acute during Thatcher’s administration and was certainly a factor in the 1987 general election. It has also been very much in evidence over the past five years, when even supposedly left-wing newspapers like the Mirror, the Guardian and the Observer, ran stories attacking Labour and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as the radio and television networks.

Media bias has also partly been responsible for the right-ward movement of the Labour party itself under Tony Blair. Blair was backed by the Murdoch press, and former ministers have said that Murdoch was an invisible presence at every cabinet meeting as Blair worried how his policies would be viewed by the press magnate. He was also able to gain the support of other papers with the exception of the Heil, but continued to hope that he would eventually win over that rag. I think it’s likely that press ownership will become even more restricted if some papers go under due to the Coronavirus lockdown. Even before the lockdown, the Express changed owners as its former proprietor, the pornography Richard Desmond, sold it to the Mirror group.

The willingness of businessmen to support left-wing newspapers is a crucial factor. When the Daily Herald went bust in the 1960s, to be bought by Murdoch and relauched as the Scum, it actually had a higher circulation that many of the other papers. What brought it down was the fact that it was unable to attract advertising. And I’ve encountered censorship by the distributors myself. Way back in the 1980s during the period of glasnost and perestroika introduced by Gorbachev, an English edition of Pravda was briefly available in some British newsagents. This was an exciting time as Gorbachev signed arms limitation treaties with Reagan ending the Cold War, and introduced reforms in the Soviet Union intended to turn the country into a multi-party democracy. I tried ordering it from my local newsagent in Bristol, but was told it was impossible. It was only being carried by one of the two national distributors. The one that served my area simply wouldn’t carry it.

And the newsagent chains can also exercise their own censorship. When it started out, Private Eye was seen as very subversive and viewed with distaste by many people. Many newsagents wouldn’t stock it. And at least one of the newsagents in the ‘ 90s refused to put its edition satirising the public attitude at Princess Di’s funeral on their shelves. When I asked what had happened to it when it wasn’t on sale in my local newsagents, I was told that it hadn’t come in yet. Well, there seemed to be many other newsagents, who hadn’t had it delivered either. After it returned to the shelves a fortnight later, the Eye published a series of pieces, including letters from readers, who’d had similar problems finding a copy, revealing what had actually gone on. One of the newsagents, John Menzies, had objected to the issue and its cover, and so refused to sell it.

Britain would definitely benefit considerably from similar policies towards the press as that of our friends across Le Manche. But I think getting such legislation through would be almost impossible. There were demands for workers’ control of the press in the 1980s, partly as a reaction by journalists on papers bought by Murdoch as he expanded his noxious empire. They were also concerned about editorial control and bias as the press passed into the hands of fewer and fewer owners. Those demands were obviously unsuccessful. Any attempt to pass legislation providing for state subsidisation of left-wing papers would be howled down by the Tory press as interference in press freedom and the state bailing out failing companies in contravention of the Thatcherite doctrine that market forces should be allowed full reign and failing companies and industries should be allowed to go under.

And I can’t imagine any law to deprive former collaborators or supporters of Hitler of ownership of their papers going down at all well with the Daily Mail, which is notorious for its support of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists and articles praising Hitler before the outbreak of the War. John Major in the last days of his administration wanted to pass legislation breaking up Murdoch’s empire, but by that time it was too late – Murdoch had already switched to Tony Blair and the Labour party and Major’s government was in no position to do anything about Murdoch’s pernicious control of the press.

This problem is likely to become more acute if some newspapers fold due to lack of sales during the lockdown and the impact of the internet. Media ownership is restricted enough as it is, without Murdoch trying to destroy the Beeb so that Sky and the other cable/satellite stations can take its place. It may not be too long before Murdoch’s hold on the media becomes a true monopoly. In that event, government action to break it up will become a necessity. But given the uniform opposition it would face from the press, it’s questionable if it would be successful.

Or as governments increasingly ingratiate themselves with the Murdoch press in return for its support, even be considered as an option.

A Lesson from the 1980s Mitterand Government: Labour Needs to Keep to Socialist Values

October 7, 2020

I used to be a member of the Fabian Society in the 1980s, and still have a few of their pamphlets around. One of those is by the Labour MP Denis MacShane, French Lessons for Labour. This discusses Francois Mitterand’s Socialist Party government which was in office from 1981 to 1986, its positive achievements and failures, and why it lost the 1986. Even after thirty-four years, some of the points made by the pamphlet are still very relevant. And one is particularly so now that Keir Starmer is leader of the Labour party and trying to return it back to Blairite Thatcherism. Because of the reasons MacShane considers Mitterand’s government failed to get re-elected was because they didn’t govern according to traditional socialist values.

This is very clearly argued in the passage ‘The need for socialist values’ in the pamphlet’s final chapter, ‘Conclusion: What Lessons for Labour?’ This runs

The relative failure off the French Socialists to set the economy moving in the right direction or to develop a positive partnership with the unions may be related to their dropping of the ideas and values of socialism soon after the election. By the end of the five years’ government, Socialist ministers were openly saying that their main achievement had been to show that they could alternate with governments of the right. This may be so but it was a major scaling down of ambition and unlikely to mobilise mass support.

Mitterand’s and ministers’ assumptions of the “national” or “above party” mode so quickly after the 1981 election and thereafter until very shortly before the 1986 contest was more than a choice of language. It was a suspension of that part of the socialist project aimed at developing egalitarian values and practices in society. In country that attaches great importance to parole, headed by a Socialist president with an extraordinary command of the language the adoption of the discourse of “modernisation” , “flexibility”, “dynamism” is to dilute the reference to politics with the nostrums of the Wall Street Journal. The qualities listed above may be necessary but to emphasise them to the exclusion of other values that distinguish socialist from conservative governments is a mistake. On all French coins the three words “Liberty”, “Equality” and “Fraternity” are inscribed. They predate Marx but each is an important element of socialist values. Of thee, the concept least applied by Mitterand was equality. Studies of the last Labour Government in Britain also showed that inequalities widened and poverty increased. If a democratic socialist government is to lessen those inequalities then some sense of necessary austerity, some imposition of standards of citizenship will have to take place. There must be some link between sacrifice and equality – that, in addition to economic growth, is perhaps the beginnings of the modern socialist project. The call to equality, the call to sacrifice was not heard clearly throughout the five years of socialist government in France. They began by thinking they could please everyone and ended by being voted out. (pp. 33-4).

I realise that Blair adopted much the same policy when he took office. His government included former Conservative MPs like Chris Patten in a ‘Government Of All the Talents’. His first act in No. 10 was to invited Margaret Thatcher round to visit. He had also managed to get Clause IV, the passage in the Labour Party constitution committing it to nationalisation, dropped earlier in the 1980s. Instead of pursuing traditional socialist policies, Blair claimed his government instead had found a ‘Third Way’. In practice he followed Thatcherite orthodoxy by continuing privatisation, including that of the NHS, and dismantling the welfare state. Blair was intent on winning over swing voters in marginal constituencies and turned away from the party’s traditional working class base. In reward for this, he was supported by the Murdoch press and received donations from big businesses that had previously donated to the Tory party. New Labour stayed in power from 1997 to 2010, so it might be thought that his policy of simply becoming ‘Tory Lite’ is successful. However, Blair lost the support of traditional Labour voters and members. He won with a lower number of votes, I believe, than Jeremy Corbyn had when he lost the 2017 election. It’s been said that by 1997 the public were so sick of the Tories, that Blair simply didn’t need to adopt their policies. He could simply have carried on with the real, socialist, Labour party policies of nationalisation, a mixed economy, publicly owned and properly funded NHS and a welfare state that genuinely supported the sick, unemployed and disabled. Policies that this country desperately needs.

For all Corbyn’s personal unpopularity, created by a vicious, libellous media, his policies – which were and are those of the traditional Labour party – were very popular with the public. But Keir Starmer has turned away from them in order to return to those of Blair. He and his grotty supporters no doubt believe this will win votes and the next election. This will probably not be the case. Blair had the support of the Murdoch press, and the Tories were more unpopular than Labour. Boris’ popularity has massively declined due to his massive incompetence in tackling the Coronavirus and is currently below Starmer’s according to recent polls. But the Labour party is still less popular than the Tories despite the Blairites telling us all that with Corbyn gone, they’d be 20 points or so ahead.

Blair’s government notwithstanding, one of the lessons Mitterand’s government has to teach us on this side of La Manche is that the Labour party needs to govern, and be seen and heard to govern, according to the values of equality and fraternity. And we need to get rid of austerity for ordinary working people. We’ve had nothing but austerity for the past ten years, and the result is nothing but bloated pay rises for the obscenely rich, and starvation and misery for the poor. It’s about time this stopped, and a proper taxation policy imposed on the rich for the benefit of everyone in this great nation.

Vox Political and Jonathan Rosenhead on the Politicised Nature of the Anti-Semitism Smears

October 17, 2016

Today the Home Affairs Select Committee has endorsed the anti-Semitism smears, repeating the accusation, based on a very selective reading of the evidence, that anti-Semitism is rife in the Labour party has been for years. This accusation has been refuted time and again, but the establishment is determined to repeat due to their fears of Jeremy Corbyn and a properly socialist Labour party getting into power and actually doing something for the working class and reversing the wholesale looting of this country by the elite under Thatcherite neoliberal economics. Mike’s already put up an article this morning attacking the Committee and refuting their allegations.

But before this latest repetition of these baseless accusations, Mike had already put up an excellent piece on Saturday, commenting on and reblogging an extract of a piece on the Open Democracy site by Jonathan Rosenhead demolishing the anti-Semitism allegations and pointing the finger at exactly who is really responsible for them, and why. As has been pointed out countless times before, this is the Israel lobby, comprising Jeremy Newmark, now the chief prosecutor in this inquisition, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, and Ella Rose, who gave up her job as the Israeli embassy’s public affairs officer to become the Director of the JLM. Mr Rosenhead notes that organisation the JLM is at least in an informal partnership with the Labour Friends of Israel and the Blairites in a coalition to remove Tony Blair.

Mr Rosenhead is a member of a group, Free Speech on Israel, which coalesced out of a gathering of Jewish Labour party supporters. At their inaugural meeting, the group found that, although they had over 1000 years of experience as Labour members, they could not think of a single instance where they had experienced anti-Semitism within the Labour party, and only a handful of times they had experienced it in their lives.

He also attacks the whole notion that there has been a spike in anti-Semitism in Britain. He notes that while the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain increased by 15% in the first months of this year over those in 2015, they are still below the number recorded in 2014 during the Gaza Crisis. So, he concludes, no upsurge.

He also observes that the explanations for this non-existent massive culture of anti-Semitism in the Labour party is either explained by it being endemic on the Left, or that it is somehow due to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, are mutually contradictory. He states that in a previous discussion of this topic in another Open Democracy article, it had been shown that the comments and tweets that were treated as anti-Semitic and the basis for suspension were not about Jews, but about Israel and Zionism. He makes it clear that this is an invented crisis, and is about criminalising innocent behaviour. This is deliberately redefining criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, in order to justify the territorial expansion of Israel and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians on one side and to leave the party securely in the hands of the Blairites on the other.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/10/15/how-allegations-of-left-anti-semitism-have-been-weaponised-against-jeremy-corbyn/

Jonathan Rosenhead himself is Emeritus Professor of Operational Research at the LSE, and Chair of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine. As with Tony Greenstein and the signatories of the letter to the Guardian protesting against Jackie Walker’s suspension, Prof Rosenhead is clearly extremely well-informed about these issues, and his original article contains much more highly relevant information.

He notes that while Holocaust Memorial Day is supposed to mark all the genocides that have occurred from the Shoah onwards, in practice it concentrates very much on the Jewish experience. It does not commemorate the 500,000 Roma (Gypsies) and the 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, who were also murdered by the Nazis. And in his words, it only pays lip-service to the genocide in Rwanda.
He also notes how convenient the cut-off date for the commemoration of genocides is for Britain and America. The Americans might be sensitive about their role in the slave trade and the ethnic cleansing of the Amerindians in the 18th and 19th centuries, just as Britain was also responsible for its role in the slave trade and the genocide of Aboriginal Australians. He states:

The absence from Holocaust Memorial Day of the millions of slaves who died on the Atlantic crossing and then through the brutal conditions of slave labour is no accident, no act of God. And it is no sacrilege for Jackie Walker to point up this glaring omission.

He also points out that Jackie Walker was, contra the impression you’re given by the mainstream media, quite correct in questioning the definition of anti-Semitism used by Mike Katz and the JLM, who were organising the training day at which Mrs Walker made the comments that have been used to suspend her as vice-chair of Momentum. Katz declared that the definition used was that of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, which had been taken over by the European Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, which were both Zionist organisations. The main author of the EUMC definition was Kenneth Stern, an attorney, who was the American Jewish Committee’s expert on anti-Semitism and extremism. And his definition of anti-Semitism included anti-Zionism, because of Israel’s nature as a Jewish state. The result was a lengthy document of 500 words intended to criminalise criticism of Israel, produced not by the EU, but by an American Zionist organisation. Brian Klug, an Oxford academic specialising in the study of anti-Semitism, just sums it up in 21. This simply defines it as a hatred of Jews as Jews, in which they are seen as something they are not.

In fact, the EUMC definition of anti-Semitism has never been officially endorsed by the EU. The EU itself closed the EUMC down in 2007 and transferred its power to the Fundamental Rights Agency, which refused to endorse the definition and took it off its website.

The definition was taken up in 2006 by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism under its chair, Denis MacShane. But nine years later in 2015, the Group brought out another report under its new chair, John Mann, which did not use the definition. It commission another, sub-report, from Prof David Feldman, which used that of Brian Klug. Prof. Rosenhead also states that his own union, the UCU, resolved not to use the EUMC definition in 2011, and that in 2013 the BBC Trust declared that the EUMC definition had no standing.

Prof Rosenhead then goes on to discuss the history of the Jewish Labour Movement. This was formerly Poale Zion, which originated in the early 20th century amongst Jewish/Zionist and Marxist workers, and has been affiliated to the Labour party since 1920. After the colonisation of Israel, it suffered a series of splits and mergers in that country to produce two of that nation’s main parties, MAPAI and MAPAM. In the 1930s and 1940s Poale Zion in the UK had members and supporters such as Harold Laski, Ian Mikardo and Sidney Silverman. In 1946 it had 2000 members. However, over the last 50 years the organisation has shrunk immensely as Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians alienated many on the Left and, indeed, the Centre of British politics. In 2004 the organisation rebranded itself as the Jewish Labour Movement, and is also affiliated to the Israeli Labour party and the World Zionist Organisation. Its website remained inactive up to 2015, though it may have had an active email list. That year its chair, Louise Ellman, stepped down, as was replaced by Jeremy Newmark, who began a new, more aggressive phase of the organisation. There is no evidence from whence the JLM gets its funding, which is obviously very generous. As well as a member of his local Labour party, Newmark is executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, and has been Communications Director for the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs.

Prof Rosenhead also describes how Newmark presented evidence against the University and College Union before an Employment Tribunal in 2013, in which he accused it of anti-Semitic behaviour. The Tribunal utterly dismissed the claim, declaring

“We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.”

The panel also described one of his claims as ‘preposterous’ and found that one of his other statements, that ‘the union was no longer a fit arena for free speech’ was one “which we found not only extraordinarily arrogant but also disturbing.”

Prof. Rosenhead final section, Making Unbelieve, concludes

The whole operation has been breath-takingly successful for the last 8 months. And it is not over. JLM, for example, is pressing for a change in the Labour Party’s constitution that would make it (even) easier to exclude people on suspicion of harbouring antisemitic tendencies. It has influence at the highest levels in the Labour Party. The very training session run by JLM that led to Jackie Walker’s second suspension was set up by the Labour Party bureaucracy in direct contradiction of the Chakrabarti inquiry. Their report recommended against such targeted training, and in favour of broader anti-racist education. But, hey, who’s counting? Not the Labour Party apparatus.

Free Speech on Israel aims to expose this soufflé of a Ponzi scheme. It rests on the shifting sands of unreliable evidence, and on assertions that contradict our (Jewish and non-Jewish) everyday experience. Not least, the claims about a Jewish community united in its alignment behind Israel is yet more make believe. The best survey evidence we have is that 31% of UK Jews describe themselves as ‘No, not Zionist’; and many of the remainder are deeply concerned over Israel’s policies.

We should suspend our belief.

This not just confirms and shows in greater detail the highly political nature of the allegations, but also the extremely tenuous existence of one of the organisation behind them. The Jewish Labour Movement was virtually moribund until it was taken over by Newmark. Like the Blairite group, ‘Labour Future’, it is well-funded, but the origins of its money is shrouded in mystery. It also appears to have very few members. It’s clearly an example of a numerically insignificant organisation trying to throw its weight around as if it were a mass-movement with undisputed authority, rather than the opposite.

This follows the pattern that Prof Finkelstein and others in the anti-Zionist movement in the US have observed about the Zionist movement in their country: that support for Israel amongst American Jews is waning. As the years pass, Israel may soon become completely irrelevant to young American Jews’ construction of their identities. Prof Rosenhead in this article points out that 31% of Jewish Brits say that they’re not Zionists, and many others are ambivalent or opposed to aspects of the regime and its policy towards the Palestinians. The British press, by contrast, has maintained that 75 per cent of British Jews state that Israel is ‘very important’ to their sense of identity. That was the claim repeated in the I, but as this paper is consistently anti-Corbyn, I take its claim here with more than a pinch of salt.

The Blairites and the Israel Lobby are both in a severe crisis, and are trying to hang on to power through the libelling of decent people, like Jackie Walker, who make perfectly reasonable comments. It is people like Newmark, who are trying to stifle democratic debate. We should not let them. The smearing should stop immediately. Those who have been vilified should be directly reinstated, including Jackie Walker as Momentum’s Vice-Chair.

And where it can be shown that those making the accusations have libelled their victims, they should be prosecuted and forced to pay for their malicious crimes.