Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Gaitskell’

Vox Political: Neil Kinnock Due to Attack Corbyn on Panorama Tomorrow

September 18, 2016

Mike today has also put up a piece commenting on an article from BBC News that Neil Kinnock has warned that the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader would be disaster for the party. He is quoted as saying “Unless things change radically, and rapidly, it’s very doubtful I’ll see another Labour government in my lifetime.” He calls the current situation the ‘greatest crisis’ in the history of the party. Mike pointedly asks whether he’s referring to the possibility of having a real socialist in charge of the Labour party, or genuine democracy in the party, and states, ‘Methinks he doth protest too much.’

Lord Kinnock warns against Jeremy Corbyn re-election (again – at length)

I don’t take Kinnock’s comments seriously for a variety of reasons. Firstly, as some of the commenters point out, he rapidly changed his ideological tune after losing two elections. Pjay Mac, Pablo N and Nanma Vanda make the point that Kinnock entered the House of Lords after years of violently opposing it, and that he’s speaking now as a member of that very privileged group. After he left office in Britain, Kinnock also went off to the EU to accept a very well paid post there as a Commissioner, all paid for by the European taxpayer, of course. And yes, it is precisely the type of unelected office that UKIP made much of in their pronouncements about the anti-democratic nature of the EU.

What hasn’t been mentioned yet, but should, is that Kinnock is directly responsible for New Labour. A few years ago Lobster published a little piece arguing that Kinnock was right in his 1986 book, Making Our Way (Oxford: Basil Blackwell). This was when he was still a socialist. The former Labour leader realised, quite correctly, that British manufacturing had suffered from underinvestment due to the concentration of Thatcher’s government in promoting the financial sector and the City of London. Then Kinnock lost the 1987 election, and began the process of ‘modernising’ the party in line with Thatcherism and the perceived ascendancy of free market neoliberalism. It was Kinnock, not John Smith, who began the process of abandoning manufacturing industry, embracing privatisation, and crucially the winning the support of the City of London through promising them that a future Labour government would deregulate the sector and govern with a ‘light touch’. As part of his campaign, he launched the ‘prawn cocktail offensive’, in which Gordon Brown and Mo Mowlam dined with leading bankers and financiers.

He is the politician ultimately responsible for the creation of New Labour and Tony Blair. As such, he is hardly likely to give his backing to an old fashioned socialist like Jeremy Corbyn. This would mean effectively writing off three decades and more of ideological change, and recognising that he has led the party up a social and economic dead end. Just as Thatcherism has done to the politics of not just this, but many other nations around the world.

As he is very definitely not going to do that, his opinion simply has no validity.

It’s not even historically true. The Labour party has suffered a series of profound crises in its long career. It has split several times. The ILP and Social Democratic Federation left in the 1920s and 30s. It was also divided over the question of forming a coalition government in the ’30s. The party’s defeat in the 1951 general election also led to a reformulation of what it stood for, in which Hugh Gaitskell tried to drop Clause 4, and Tony Crosland argue instead that the party should abandon any attempt at further nationalisation, and concentrate instead for ‘taming’ capitalism so as to provide better wages and conditions, not just for the workers, but for everyone. The infighting that breaks out within the Labour party has been so regular, that a BBC commenter way back in the 1980s or 1990s one remarked that every generation has seen a battle for the party’s soul.

I think there is one difference, in that the infighting this time is particularly bitter as the Labour Right – the Blairites are so right-wing and have effectively stopped being members of the Labour party in terms of ideology and policy. They have little in common with traditional socialists, like Corbyn, who are actually centre-left, let alone the real far Left, despite the guff spouted by Kinnock and the other neoliberal cheerleaders.

Kinnock is wrong about Corbyn, and definitely wrong about the wonders of privatisation, the unregulated free market and cutting welfare. He is simply another Tory chattering voice attacking the real socialists and Labour members supporting Corbyn. Treat him as such.

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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.

Who Really Hijacked the Labour Party?

July 16, 2016

A friend of mine told me yesterday that there had been a lot of ranting on the Labour party forums by the Blairites about how Corbyn and his supporters had ‘hijacked’ the Labour party. Unfortunately, I can believe this. Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece a little while ago, about John Spellar’s rant against the Corbynites on British television. Spellar is the most right-wing of right-wing Labour, and had angrily denounced them as ‘Trots’, ‘Communists’ and the like. Just as Chunky Mark reported in his latest rant against the Coup that Corbyn’s supporters had been denounced, not only as ‘Trots’, but also as ‘rabble dogs’.

My friend was so incensed at the accusation that Corbyn and his supporters had ‘hijacked’ the Labour party, that he posted a piece stating that the real hijack occurred in 1992, when Tony Blair removed Clause 4 from the party’s constitution. This was the clause drafted by Sidney Webb, one of the leaders of the Fabian Society, in the list of ‘party objects’ incorporated into the 1917 constitution. It committed the party

To secure for the producers by hand and brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service. (Henry Pelling, A Short History of the Labour Party (Basingstoke: MacMillan Press 1985) 43-44.

Blair had also threatened to cut ties with the trade unions if they opposed his plans to reform the rather convoluted voting patterns in the party. But the trade unions had been an integral part of the Labour party since the ‘Lib-Labs’ – the trade unionists elected as members of the Liberal party to parliament in the late 19th century. The Labour party was founded in a conference in the Memorial Hall near Ludgate Circus, on 27th and 28th February 1900, in which the Trades Union Congress, the co-operative societies and various Socialist parties, such as the Independent Labour Party, united to plan for the representation of labour in parliament. (Pelling, 6-7).

Blair’s attempt to curtail the power of the unions, his rejection of the Socialist basis on the Labour party, and his continuation of the Thatcherite project to destroy the welfare state effectively transformed the Labour party from a party of the Left to that of the Right. Right-wing critics rightly sneered at it for being a pale-blue imitation of the Tories.

In some ways, the rejection of Clause 4 was nothing new. Tony Crosland, the Labour ideologue, who formulated the party’s programme for much of the 1960s and ’70s, was firmly against the extension of nationalisation, arguing against it in his books The Future of Socialism of 1956, and The Conservative Enemy of 1962. Hugh Gaitskell, the right-wing leader of the Labour party also tried to remove Clause 4 for the constitution. Crosland wanted to play down nationalisation, as it had proved a barrier to Labour extending its support beyond the manual working class, and attracting new groups of supporters. After the euphoria of their 1945 election victory, the party had been shocked when they lost the 1951 election. When I was growing up in the 1980s, I can remember various people telling me that they wouldn’t vote for Labour ‘because Labour wanted to nationalise everything.’ In practice, the party didn’t. It had a mandate in the 1945 election for nationalising the gas, electricity, steel, coal and transport industries. He notes that there was a rejection of sweeping nationalisation at the Labour party’s Annual Conference, and that even the left-wing members of the party declared that they were reaching the end of the natural monopolies to be nationalised, and so did not recommend any further extension of state ownership to industry, in their pamphlet, Keeping Left. (Crosland, The Future of Socialism, 323-4).

Crosland, for all his rejection of blanket nationalisation, nevertheless still believed a case could be made out for some. He also argued that there were other ways of achieving the Socialist object of providing for greater social equality that the extension of state ownership. He wanted strong, oppositional trade unions, high wages for a prosperous working class, a solid welfare state, the incorporation of the private schools into the state education system to make them accept greater numbers of pupils from ordinary, non-monied backgrounds, and the increased taxation of the rich.

Blair, Brown and New Labour have done the exact opposite. They passed laws against the welfare state and the ability of the trade unions to strike and defend workers’ rights. They picked up and revamped the academisation of state education, that had begun with Thatcher. They shifted the tax burden away from the rich. The result has been that the working class has become poorer and marginalised. Social mobility had effectively ceased before the Tories took power in the 2010 election.

Whatever the Blairites may sputter about standing up for Labour ‘values’, it is they who have done the most over the past quarter century to destroy the very basis of the party they support.

Apart from Clause 4, Sidney Webb also produced a policy statement, Labour and the New Social Order, published in June 1918, which became the basis of the party’s policy for the next 50 years. This contained four points:

1) The National Minimum. This comprised a minimum working wage, full employment, a minimum standard of working conditions and a maximum 48 hour working week.

2) The democratic control of industry. Nationalisation, and some form of worker’s control.

3) The Revolution in National Finance. Subsidize social services through the heavy taxation of large incomes, and a capital levy to pay off the cost of the First World War.

4) The Surplus for the Common Good. The balance of the nation’s wealth should be set aside and used for expanding opportunities for education and culture. (Pelling: 44-5).

All these policies are still very relevant today. Including taxing the rich to pay off war debts. It is the poor, who have suffered cuts to their services in order to service the debt created by Blair’s, Brown’s and Cameron’s wars in the Middle East. We need more of them, and to end the Blairite tendency of New Labour.