Posts Tagged ‘James Callaghan’

Book Attacking the Myth of Labour’s Defeat in the Winter of Discontent

September 14, 2016

Spokesman Books, the publishing arm of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, have also produced an edition of What Went Wrong, edited by Ken Coates. This book critically examines and refutes as grossly oversimplistic the myth that the Labour party lost the 1979 election because of trade union militancy during the notorious ‘Winter of Discontent’.

The book, with an accompanying blurb, is listed on their webpage at http://www.spokesmanbooks.com/acatalog/Michael_Barratt_Brown.html

I might have to get this one at some point, because, as the blurb itself says, it is very much ‘conventional wisdom’ that James Callaghan’s government fell because of the militant strike action by the trade unions. It’s brought up repeatedly by the Tories and the right-wing press whenever the unions are discussed or defended, along with comments and verbiage about not going back to the bad old days of the 1970s when Britain was held hostage by the union barons. And so forth.

Much of today’s problems can be traced back to the complete reverse. Thatcher broke the unions, and the result has been decades of poor wages at or below the rate of inflation, poor working conditions, and the creation of the ‘flexible labour market’, set up to make it easier for firms to sack people. Blair’s New Labour was as complicit in all this as the Tories. It was Tony Blair, who threatened to cut the party’s ties with the unions if they blocked his voting reforms. The result is 4.7 million people in Britain in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands only surviving through food banks.

Advocates of trade unions have pointed out that in companies where there are unions, not only do the workers enjoy higher wages and better conditions, the companies themselves are better run. Which is also an argument for worker’s control. It’s also an argument you are definitely not going to hear from the Conservatives or Smudger and his Blairite friends.

While I don’t want the country to suffer from frequent strikes, as they did in the 1960s and ’70s, we definitely do need more union power, not less.

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Barbara Castle Talks about Leading an Anti-Apartheid Demonstration during Commonwealth Summit

May 12, 2016

This is another clip I found of an historic Labour politician. Yesterday I found one of the Nye Bevan talking about the foundation of the NHS, which is even now being attacked and privatised piecemeal by the Conservatives. This is a clip of Barbara Castle, one of Britain’s most famous female politicos. Lobster published an article a few years ago about James Callaghan’s period as head of the Labour party and Prime Minister in the 1970s. The article said at one point that Castle was one of his rivals as head of the party, and could possibly have become Britain’s first woman prime minister. No-one really knows quite what would have happened, if something had occurred, despite the various ‘counterfactual’ history books informing us what could have happened if Hitler had one the War, or Napoleon won a particular battle. It’s possible that Castle would have been a better premier than Callaghan, had she won, and certainly she would have been much better for the country had she been the first female leader of Her Majesty’s Government. It would, at any rate, have taken away the Tory’s claim to be more progressive than they really are, because of Maggie’s leadership. Thatcher has been held up as a feminist pioneer, who should be admired and supported by every woman, despite the fact that Thatcher didn’t see herself as a feminist, and her policies largely hit women the hardest.

In this clip, Castle talks about her work in the early 1960s leading a 48 hour silent vigil outside Lancaster House in protest at the Sharpeville massacre of Black protesters by the South African government. She states that she spent two days in the basement of the House of Commons plotting it with Abdul Minty, the head of the anti-apartheid campaign. There was a Commonwealth meeting at the Lancaster House, and Castle and Minty organised the vigil to put pressure on the Commonwealth leaders to have South Africa thrown out. They organised the vigil to be carried out by people in two hours shifts, everyone just standing there in silence. Coffee and other refreshments were provided. She states that during the night, some journos came to see if they really would go all through the night with the protest. They believed it was just a hoax. They were wrong. ‘But’, she says, ‘we were there.’

Anthony Sampson: Leaders’ Personalities Does Not Affect Election Results

March 24, 2015

Over the past year or so there’s been considerable debate about Ed Miliband’s character, and whether he has the personality to engage the public and win a victory for Labour at the coming elections. Miliband has been criticised for being ‘geeky’, ‘nerdy’, and appearing far more confident in the lecture room than on the hustings in front of a crowd. You remember all the jokes made a few months ago about him eating a bacon sandwich ‘weirdly’.

His awkward demeanour in front of the camera and the crowd is contrasted with Cameron’s, who appears far more confident. As well he might, given that at his level of society and in the public schools they have a sense of arrogance and entitlement drummed into them. They are literally the lords and ladies of all they survey, and take it as their natural right that they should lead the country and command the respect, fortunes and lives of lesser mortals. Such arrogance and condescension oozes from Cameron, just as it oozes from Gideon/ George Osborne, Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith.

Yet the anxieties about Miliband’s personality may be mistaken. Mike has recently pointed out over at Vox Political that the perception of Miliband as awkward, hesitant and geeky are in fact mistaken. Conservative critics have spoken about his superb debating skills and that he is actually a determined, decisive leader. Nevertheless, the image has stuck.

It may not lead to Labour losing the election, however. Anthony Sampson discusses the way the personality of a party’s leader doesn’t necessary affect the fortunes of their party at the polls in his book, Who Runs This Place? The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st. He describes Blair’s 1997 election victory, and his personality that seemed more positive and attractive than that of his opponents.

He appeared as his party’s saviour. With his welcoming smile, fresh unlined face and bright eye, he was the most obviously likeable and presentable prime minister in the twentieth century. And at the age of forty-three, he was the youngest since Lord Liverpool in 1812 – younger than Harold Wilson at forty-eight.

He goes on, however, to argue that Blair’s personality didn’t necessarily have much to do with Labour’s victory.

In fact New Labour’s victory had not depended on Blair’s popularity. Labour had been leading in the polls under JOhn Smith, and the popularity of leaders was always less important in winning elections than the public assumed, as Professor Anthony King has pointed out. When the Conservatives won the 1970 election Harold Wilson was rated higher in the polls than Edward Heath; when they won again in 1979 James Callaghan was more popular than Margaret Thatcher. And Labour would almost certainly have won without Blair in 1997 and 2001. (p. 80).

This isn’t to say that we should be complacent about Miliband’s personality and Labour winning the election. But it does mean that the Tories have far less chance of winning than all their talk about Cameron’s supposed confidence and assured leadership suggests.

Secret Society: 1980s Documentary on British Culture of Political Secrecy

January 16, 2015

The government’s response to the terrible events in France last week, when gunmen murdered 12 people, including the staff of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and then held people hostage in a Jewish supermarket, has been to pass further legislation attacking basic civil rights. This legislation not only gives the security services further powers to monitor telephone and internet communications, it also provides for suspected returning terrorists to be denied entry to Britain. Terrorists and those convicted of ‘terrorist-related activity’ may also be subject to a form of ‘internal exile’, under which they can be removed from their homes and placed anywhere up to 200 miles away from their family and friends.

Dangers of the Government’s Anti-Terror Laws

There are provisions within the new legislation to regulate and protect the public, such as the creation of a human rights committee to oversee the law’s application and prevent abuse. Critics of the laws have pointed out that it is unclear how the proposed committee would operate, and who would sit on it.

This should be a cause for serious concerns, considering the way the government has already tried to cut down on our basic democratic freedoms, all under the pretext of protecting us from terrorism. The Tories and their Lib Dem lackeys have tried to pass legislation creating secret courts. These would try cases relating to national security in secrecy, excluding the press and the public. The accused and their lawyers would denied access to sensitive evidence, and would not know who their accusers are. This is a Kafkaesque travesty of justice, of the type the great Czech writer described in his novels The Castle and The Trial. It is an attack on the basic foundation of British justice since Magna Carta, that you may know who your accuser is, and the crime for which you have been charged. It is telling on this point that Cameron, when asked what Magna Carta was when he appeared on American television, didn’t know.

Official Secrecy, Workfare and ATOS

And then there is the culture of official secrecy, which still continues despite the Blair government’s publication of the Freedom of Information Act after the American model. The government has passed further legislation to weaken it. It has refused to publish the precise figures of the numbers of people dying after they were found fit for work by ATOS after requests by bloggers and disability rights campaigners, including Mike over at Vox Political. Johnny Void and others have described how the government has also refused to release the names of the firms signed up to the workfare scheme. The government’s excuse for this is the frank confession that the measure is so unpopular that if they do, the firms using unpaid workers under the scheme would be placed under such stress that they would be forced to withdraw and the scheme collapse.

Highly Placed Paedophiles and Murderers

The most sinister, odious and pernicious aspect of this culture of official secrecy has been the protection it has given to highly placed paedophiles, such as the Lib Dem politician, Cyril Smith. A dossier of 22 paedophile politicos has now been passed on to the police. Horrifically, three people may have been murdered by a paedophile ring of politicians using the Elm Tree guest house in the 1980s. A male prostitute, who went to these orgies claimed that the ring had been responsible for murders of two boys, one White and one Asian. A worker for Lambeth Council, Bulic, was also found dead a week after stating that he felt his life was in danger due to his knowledge of the ring and its activities. Leon Brittain, Thatcher’s secretary of state, was handed a dossier on such highly placed child molesters by Geoffrey Dickinson in the 1980s. Brittain claims that he passed them on to MI5, who misplaced them.

The obsession with official secrecy, in which successive governments have withheld information from the public, is responsible for serious miscarriages of justice and threatens to undermine basic political and civil freedoms. It has also allowed the vicious, sadistic and exploitative abusers of the young and helpless, such as Thatcher’s friend, the monstrous Jimmy Savile, to escape justice.

Duncan Campbell’s Documentary, Secret Society

Government secrecy was also a major issue of national importance and interest in the 1980s. One of the small, single issue parties that appeared in the 1987 general election was the ‘Deep Throat’ party. This was a group of five men, who refused to make any statements, and refused to show their faces as a protest against ‘excessive government secrecy’. More seriously, that same year the BBC broadcast the documentary Secret Society by Duncan Campbell. In the words of the blurb put up for it on Youtube on Edgar Lobb’s channel, this covered

‘secret groups, committees and societies that operate silently within British government. The first episode about secret cabinet committees features author Peter Hennessy, Clive Ponting and MP Clement Freud amongst others. In this freedom of information tour de force Campbell exposes the secret decision to buy U.S. Trident nuclear submarines as well as laying bare the cabinet level dirty tricks campaign against CND and its general secretary Bruce Kent. Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan, the British Atlantic Committee, The ultra-right Coalition for Peace Through Security and the cabinet secretary come in for sharp criticism for keeping key decisions secret from MP’s. The series consists of the following 6 programmes: 1. The Secret Constitution: Secret Cabinet Committees; 2. We’re All Data Now: Secret Data Banks; 3. In Time Of Crisis: Government Emergency Powers; 4. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO): making up their own law and policy; 5. A Gap In Our Defences – about bungling defence manufacturers and incompetent military planners who have botched every new radar system that Britain has installed since World War II; 6. Zircon – about GCHQ with particular reference to a secret 500 million satellite. Missing are last two (5 and 6) programmes. His support for this series was one of the key reasons BBC Director General, Alasdair Milne (who was replaced by Michael Checkland, an accountant) was sacked. This Journalistic Coup d’Etat was conducted by Lord Victor Rothschild, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Marmaduke Hussey in 1986. The BBC’s independence has been under sustained assault ever since. Secret Society was suppressed from high above since it was simply too controversial as it openly exposed various secret groups operating invisibly inside British government. They made damn sure no one would ever discover them but they were very wrong. Find out who they are and what are they doing without your knowledge.’

The Situation Today

Maggie’s Politicisation of the State

It’s a very interesting series, and still deeply relevant today. It shows how deeply ingrained the culture of secrecy is in Westminster. Conservative hacks on the Spectator, Daily Mail and elsewhere, like Quentin Letts, lined up to criticise Blair’s administration for politicising the civil service with the immense numbers of SPADs – special advisors – they took in to supplement and replace that of the civil servants, whose job this traditionally was. Yet this programme shows that it really began with Thatcher and her campaign against CND. It also shows how the Maggie’s government was prepared to lie and spread what was basically propaganda in order to support a pro-nuclear stance, as well as spy on and disrupt CND members, meetings and protests, quite apart from the use of government resources and civil servants for her own political campaign.

Official Sale of Personal Data

The episode ‘We’re All Data Now’ also remains relevant. It shows how official bodies were intent on spying on us, and governmental bodies were keen to sell our personal information to private companies right at the beginning of that trend. It’s grown immensely in the nearly thirty years since that programme was first broadcast, and is now, more than ever, a danger to our privacy and personal freedom. Especially as the Coalition believes it has a right to sell our personal medical history to private health companies. All in the interest of promoting greater efficiency and competition, of course.

It’s important here also to note that the weak legislation that was put in place to protect our personal details from government acquisition did not come from British politicians, but was forced on them by the Council of Europe. The Conservatives and Farage’s UKIP would like to scrap the current human rights legislation, because it has, they feel, been imposed on us by the European Community. It hasn’t. As Mike and others have shown, it comes from the Council of Europe. This episode, nevertheless, shows what we can expect if the Tories and UKIP go ahead with their plans. The present protection for personal information was only grudgingly conceded after pressure from the Europeans. With that removed, we can expect the wholesale scrapping of the current human rights legislation, and the further development of an authoritarian surveillance society, which regards its citizens’ personal details as just another product to be acquired and sold.

Nuclear War and the Britain of V for Vendetta

As for the discussion of the secret preparations for the establishment of American military authority in Britain, and the more or less complete dismantlement of democracy and its replacement with a military dictatorship, this is very much the kind of Britain that Alan Moore and John Lloyd portrayed in V for Vendetta. In the original Warrior comic strip, the Fascist British state had arisen after a nuclear war between the West and the Warsaw pact over the Solidarity crisis in Poland. It was a projection of the worst elements of the Thatcher administration, and followed from a general concern in British comics at the time with the renewed anti-immigrant campaigns of the National Front and the Monday Club within the Tory party. The Britain portrayed in V for Vendetta was not under American control. However, the provisions in the secret treaty with America providing for the establishment of secret courts, the mass conscription of labour, the imprisonment and internment of pacifists and political dissidents, and the creation of a dictatorship are very much like that of the dystopian Britain in the strip.

Anderton, ACPO and the Underground Press

As for ACPO, James Anderton was notorious at the time as the right-wing policeman, with a bitter hatred of homosexuals and other social deviants and misfits. A biography of him that appeared a few years ago bore the title, God’s Cop, after his statement that he believed he was doing ‘God’s work’. Manchester’s Picadilly Press, which published, among other literature, the highly transgressive Lord Horror, which cast Hitler, the Nazis and Lord Haw Haw in the style of characters from the fiction of William S. Burroughs, were raided regularly by Anderton. They took their revenge by sending him up in their comics and fiction.

Duncan Campbell remains very much active today, campaigning against the growing encroachment on our civil liberties of state surveillance. There are a number of videos of him speaking on this topic on Youtube, and he also has his own site on the web.

See Part 2 of this article for a description of the contents of individual episodes.