The British Left

Where now for Labour?

After the crushing result for Labour in the most recent general election, criticisms are coming in thick and fast regarding the direction in which the Party is going. In the days since the election, following Ed Miliband’s resignation, several key members of the Labour Party have spoken out against his leadership and, most notably, the leftward lurch that the Party took during his time in office.

Chief among these figures are the likes of Lord Hutton, former minister Alan Johnson, David Miliband (ouch!) and, the man himself, Tony Blair. Lord Hutton blamed the Labour Party’s failure of the adoption of “old school socialist’ policies, while David Miliband, who has ruled himself out of running for the leadership, said that the party was failing to do enough to ‘woo middle class voters’ according to the Independent newspaper.

Meanwhile, Alistair Darling, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, has criticised Ed for “having no economic policy” and said that the party was now in a worse position than it was in 1992. Adding salt to the wounds is Labour peer, Lord Sugar, who has resigned from the Labour Party saying that it simply was too anti-business. Lord Sugar will now sit as a cross-bencher peer in the House of Lords “representing the interests of business and enterprise”.

So, is that the message, was the Labour Party simply too left-wing to appeal to the voters? Is Chuka Umunna (supposedly with the backing of Mr. Blair himself) right in wanting to take Labour back to the right, do English voters just not have an appetite for a left-wing party?

Since Labour’s founding and as it moved into conventional politics, it has constantly had to shift towards the centre on various issues, to appease the middle-class voters and secure more seats. The last major lurch to the left happened during the campaign for the 1983 general election when Labour produced their most left-wing manifesto in decades in a bid to try and win over the working class voters who may have been fed up with Maggie Thatcher’s first term.

The manifesto was about as left as they come, calling for the re nationalisation of the British Shipbuilder’s Consortium, British Telecom and British Aerospace as well as unilateral nuclear disarmament and the abolition of the House of Lords. The result was a disaster for the Labour party, with Labour losing 60 seats and the Tories gaining 58. Subsequently the manifesto was dubbed “the longest suicide note in history”.

Labour would remain in opposition for another fourteen years.

It wasn’t until 1994 that the Labour party would take off again with the youngster Tony Blair taking over as leader of the Party following the sudden death of John Smith. Blair embarked on a new mission, rebuilding the Labour Party under the guise of New Labour.

Under Blair’s leadership the Labour Party took a substantial dive to the right, becoming more business friendly and less focussed on the toils of the working class. Some might argue that the final nail in that particular coffin was the removal of Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution in 1995, which originally read:

“To secure for the workers by hand or by 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, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

Clause IV was seen by many as the part of the constitution that committed the Labour Party to socialism, the dropping of this clause from the constitution therefore seemed to signal the final departure of the Labour Party from the path to socialism.

However, it must be said, that under Blair, Labour saw huge success and won a landslide majority in the 1997 General Election and another in 2001. 2005 saw their popularity slump, but a slim majority did see them govern until 2010, albeit with a much reduced popular vote and fast waning popularity.

The final collapse of the vote in 2010 and the resignation of Gordon Brown as the leader of the Party prompted another change in the Party, with Ed Miliband – noted for his left-wing views within the Party – winning over the Blairite (and his brother), David Miliband.

The election of Ed, who even came to be known as Red Ed, prompted in a sense that the Labour Party would be moving back to the left, distancing itself from New Labour – which had seen many a Labour voter feel disenfranchised and which many blamed for the financial crash.

Ed Miliband announced plans for a prospective Labour government to allow the government to bid on rail franchises, effectively allowing for nationalised railways, freezes on energy bills and tighter regulation of the energy companies, the raising of the minimum wage to over £8 an hour, outlawing zero-hours contracts, lowing tuition fees, reintroducing the 50p tax rate for top earners… the list really does go on.

Now, while it wasn’t as left-wing and socialist as some in the Labour party would like, it did see a slight move back to being a “party for ordinary working people” and away from the pro-business days of New Labour. But the electorate didn’t buy it. We’ll leave Scotland for now, as that’s a separate case, but what went wrong in England and Wales?

Well, if we’re to believe the likes of Lord Hutton, Lord Sugar, Tony Blair, etc., it’s because Labour went too far to the left and the voters didn’t like that. The Labour Party, despite what it’s name and founding principles suggest, should be pandering to the middle class voters who might ordinarily vote Tory, but aren’t quite sure about the chap in charge.

But the truth of the matter is quite the opposite. Labour faced the wipe-out they did because precisely because they have moved away from the left and, hence, away from the working people of Britain – their core vote. I saw an interesting map, the other day which details the constituencies in the UK where, in first past the post, Did Note Vote would actually have won the seat. I’ll put it up and see if you spot a pattern.

Constituencies where "Did Not Vote" would have won.

Constituencies where “Did Not Vote” would have won.

Shown in pink, are constituencies where if all those who were registered to vote but didn’t had their vote count for a “did not vote” party, that “did not vote party” would have won the seat.

Firstly, it’s pretty appalling the sheer number of seats where this is the case – but look at where they occur. The vast majority of pink seats occur in urban areas and areas in which people traditionally are more likely to vote Labour.

There is also another map, that I found quite interesting which shows, by constituency, the party that came second in terms of the popular vote.

Parties in second place by constituency. Image Credit: the Telegraph

If you look at the areas where Labour came second, they largely seem to tie up with the areas in which Did-Not-Votes would have won it. So what’s going on?

The long and the short of it is that a huge number of people in these urban and traditionally Labour areas have become completely disenfranchised with politics altogether and a large number of them are, sadly, working class voters who no longer feel that the Labour Party has their interests at heart.

What do these people do? They simply don’t vote – Labour doesn’t represent their interests and, as far as they’re concerned, the Tories aren’t much different, so what difference does it make?

Another alarming feature is shown on the 2nd Place Map and that is the large amount of UKIP purple kicking about disenfranchised Tory and Labour voters alike have fallen for the nationalist populism of Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party which offers a nice target to blame for all their woes – immigrants and Brussels. And again, it’s because working people simply haven’t got a party that truly represents them.

Only a truly left-wing Labour Party, with the working class peoples’ interests as its core values, can have any hope to re-engage the core voters of the Labour Party and rebuild themselves as a party of the people and hence work to rebuild Britain as a fair society.

I am saddened that Ed Miliband resigned, but it was probably the right thing to do after the result. But it does leave the door wide open and whoever comes in next will have a lot of work to do in rebuilding.

Unfortunately, however, the candidates stepping forward for the role, notably Chuka Umunna, are closer to the Blairite section of the party and want to see a return to the right and a pro-business pandering to middle-England once more – the kind of vote that only comes along when people get fed up of the guy leading the Tories.

Of course Blair, Sugar, Hutton, etc. would call for a move to the right, they’re wealthy and quite like the way the right does things, but they don’t represent what the Labour Party stands for any more. If Labour want to be successful party and actually get things done, we need another Ed – we need someone who can take the Party back to its left-wing roots and re-engage with the working class people of Britain.

Only a truly left-wing Labour Party can fix Britain, all that remains to be seen is whether Labour can manage it before it’s too late.

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Vote SNP, get Tories? No. Vote SNP, get Scotland.

So unless you have been living under a rock for the past wee while you’ll be aware of the predicament that Labour currently finds itself in; namely the fact that they are facing an utter wipeout in Scotland at the hands of the SNP. The reason for this is rather simple; Labour has held Scotland as a stronghold in UK politics since the late 1950s and, specifically following the referendum (or referundilymundilyundilum depending on what your party affiliations are) and the supposed broken promised that have come since, the majority of Scottish voters now appear to be disenfranchised with the Labour party, feeling that they no longer truly represent Scotland.

The alternative is the Scottish National Party, who despite losing the referendum last September, are picking up votes left, right, and centre – if you’ll pardon the pun. The SNP are being viewed as the party who can properly represent Scottish people and their interests, but what would an SNP vote mean for Scotland and the rest of the UK?

If I’m being honest, I’ve put off writing this one for a bit because, up until now, I’ve had a bit of a dilemma over the whole thing. After the referendum, I was pretty clear with myself that I’d vote SNP in the General Election, but as time went on, and in the past few weeks specifically, I have been moving towards the fence with the Labour side of things. You see, we’re constantly told that only Labour are big enough and strong enough to stand up to the Tories, only Labour will change the nature of the cuts and measures of austerity that have put ordinary people onto or beyond the poverty line, only Labour will chase after the rich to make sure they pay their fair share.

We’ve been told that the SNP will take away from Labour votes and hand the Tories the reigns once more for another brutal five-year shafting of our poorest and most vulnerable. The only way to keep the Tories out was to vote Labour.

But the past couple of weeks have allowed me to see things a little differently. The SNP stand on the basis that they want to work with progressive parties to make things fairer up here and across the UK in general, they want to cooperate with anti-Tory parties to make sure that we look after our most vulnerable, and, crucially, they want to make sure that Scotland’s voice is heard at Westminster as a clear and distinct one – something the other parties have failed to do in the past.

Labour told us that this was nonsense and we should just vote Labour; “do as you’re told and you might not get the Tories again.” So what if, in the event of a hung parliament, we asked, if the SNP and Labour were to work together and keep the Tories out that way? Well, Labour had a snappy answer for us; “You vote SNP, we’ll stand back and let the Tories in.” Yes, Ed Miliband actually said he would allow the Conservatives form a government rather than have any kind of deal with the SNP.

Over the course of the past year we’ve been told to vote “No” and stay with the UK and that our voice matters and that Scotland can work with the UK to make things better for everyone. We were then told “well done” for voting “No” and that it was a triumph of democracy and that, above all else, we should respect the democratic will of the people of Scotland.

Now that the democratic will of the people of Scotland appears to be that we send a large number of SNP MPs to Westminster, it’s suddenly not the kind of democratic will that should be respected and as such we are to be punished for it. And who wants to punish us the most for it? The Labour Party. The party that supposedly stands up for ordinary Scottish folk is now telling them to do as they tell them or get Tory rule, even if the Labour party and in a position to work with the SNP against the Tories.

If the Labour party, then, truly have the ideals of progressive politics and the good of the working people of these isles at heart, then I believe that they will have to work with other parties such as the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru. If they refuse to do so, they either let the Tories in as a minority or are forced to govern as a minority. Any instability of the government is then on them.

We hear a lot from Labour about the hypothetical referendum that they seem so fixated with regarding respecting the democratic will of the people of Scotland (referring to the last one). If they choose to have an unstable government it is because they have failed to respect the democratic will of the people.

Over the past few weeks, it has become quite apparent to me that the SNP really is the only party to vote for if you want change for Scotland (and, indeed, the rest of the UK). They are the only party who actually offer any alternative to the austerity and public sector cuts. They are one of the very few parties (and the only one in Scotland with a chance of election) who oppose Trident. And they are the only party that actively wants to stand up for the Scottish people.

That last bit is important to me. Every other party is part of a greater Westminster machine with a one size fits all approach across the United Kingdom looking to apply the same formulae in the South East as in the Far North and that doesn’t work. The SNP are the only party who listen properly to the needs of Scots, and who have those interests in the fronts of their minds as the walk into the House of Commons or the Holyrood Debates Chamber.

The SNP understand the Scottish people better than any other party because that is their sole function as a party – to understand and work for Scotland. What’s more, they are, as I mentioned above, the only major party with a properly progressive agenda.

It saddens me a little bit that Scottish Labour have become what they are now – a joke party attached to their London colleagues with very little to differentiate them from the Tories they supposedly so bitter oppose. Jim Murphy can stand and shout all he likes now, but most of what he says is utter nonsense; he, in a desperate bit to garner votes spoke of reduced cuts in Scotland, only to be shouted down by Ed Balls who – as Shadow Chancellor – made it quite clear the Murphy wasn’t the one setting the fiscal policy. Murphy has also told us that all the SNP want is another referendum, the only people talking about another referendum are the three main parties, with the SNP having no plans to introduce one at present.

All Labour are doing now is telling the Scottish people that their voice only matters when it agrees with them. And that voice is one of further cuts to public spending and odd economic propositions that seem to have no real backing at all. The SNP meanwhile is actually talking with Scots about progressive poltics, about different ways to kick-start the economy, about how to best represent the people of Scotland.

As I say, I have been putting this off for a while, it’s even taken me two days to actually get this together at this point. I am saddened that I don’t feel the Labour party can adequately represent the people of Scotland any more, I am still at odds with myself because I haven’t ever really seen myself as a nationalist (in the generally defined sense). I want to see a more progressive politics, one where we aren’t so tightly bound to the old ideals of the past and fixated on a solid parliamentary majority where one party can get in and then do as they please for five years.

Now I am growing more and more certain that this is the right thing to do, for Scotland and for the rest of the United Kingdom – on Thursday, I will be voting SNP.

 

Johann to step down, Scotland astonished.

Lamont "astonished"

 

In this country, we have come to expect our politicians to resign in an honourable fashion following a major political defeat. Subsequently, it came at very little shock value when Alex Salmond announced his intentions to resign as SNP leader and First Minister, despite the fact that many were truly sad to see him go.

So it took the Scottish people a little off-guard when Johann Lamont made her surprising announcement yesterday that she was standing down as Scottish Labour leader with immediate effect. Despite the fact that she has been celebrated by the No campaign as one of the saviours of the United Kingdom she has grown fed up of Westminster treating Scottish Labour “like a branch office”.

In an interview with the Daily Record she called a number of Labour’s Westminster MPs “dinosaurs” who were failing to recognise that “Scotland has changed forever” in the wake of the referendum. She seemed concerned with the fact that most current Labour MPs were putting their own interests ahead of those of Scotland and went on to mention that whilst Scotland had voted to remain in partnership with the UK, Scotland is “distinct” and had to be treated as such.

It’s unlikely that many people in Scotland will be too sad to see her go; her blatant cooperation with the Tories, her applauding of Asda for the threat of higher food prices in an Independent Scotland, her alienating of roughly a third of her membership over support for a No vote,  and, of course, her remark that Scots are “not genetically programmed … to make political decisions” will likely lead to a slightly tarnished political reputation. However her passing does mark something rather more worrying. Scottish Labour appears to be on the verge of total collapse.

But of course the infighting in Labour isn’t anything new, with former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish pointing out that the “crisis in Labour didn’t happen yesterday.” We have known for a while that the Labour Party were falling to pieces – the Scottish Labour Party perhaps more so – as Westminster and Holyrood have drifted further and further apart with Westminster moving further and further to the right and Scottish Labour trying to hold its ground for fear of obliteration at the hands of the SNP.

There have been many Labour party members in Scotland who have felt increasingly disillusioned with the Westminster party, a difference which was starkly marked by the appearance of Labour for Independence during the run-up to September’s referendum. It was estimated that roughly a third of Scottish Labour Party members were in favour of independence, however their voices were silenced as nothing more than a few dissenters trying to cause trouble.

Labour’s failure to mobilise on new powers for Scotland in the aftermath of the referendum is now pushing the tension between the Westminster and Holyrood groups to its limit, with much of the Scottish Labour Party wanting greater autonomy over policy making decisions as well as being in favour of increased powers for the Scottish Parliament. Scottish people are increasingly becoming more wary of the three London based parties and their “branches” north of the border with a real feeling that the simply don’t represent their views any more. Unless Scottish Labour were to see more autonomy from their London masters it looks like they’re on course for disaster.

Current polling suggests that the SNP are likely to make vast gains into Labour strongholds in 2015 and 2016 as more and more people turn to the SNP as the social democratic party that Labour were supposed to be.

Lord McConnell echoed the views of both Ms. Lamont and of Mr. McLeish saying that; “She [Ms Lamont] clearly blames today publicly Ed Miliband and those around him and that’s a very serious accusation that requires answers, and it requires answers not just from him but from those closest to him.”

Since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999 (after nearly 300 years) the Scottish Labour Party have had seven leaders including Ms. Lamont. Johann Lamont was a fairly low key member of the party who gained leadership of the party after their heavy defeat to the SNP in the 2011 Scottish General Election. Since then she has become a fairly high profile player in the Labour party, mostly through her part in the No Campaign and had high hopes of becoming First Minister in 2016.

Whilst she will be the seventh leader to go, it’s quite clear that tensions are at breaking point in the Labour Party. What is even more astonishing (to use one of Johann’s favourite words) is that Ed Miliband, and the entire Westminster group of the party for that matter, seem to be blissfully unaware of any of it. With Scottish Labour support dwindling fast, this is no longer a position that they can afford to hold.

Unless we see a quick turn-around from Labour and some very visible change in Scotland and the Scottish Labour Party, they face being utterly destroyed in Scotland. And with Labour largely credited as being the party that delivered a No vote in September, we could see that slim 5% majority disappear quite quickly too.

Letter To Ed Miliband

The following is a letter I have sent to Ed Miliband through the “Unlock Democracy” Campaign that seeks to see an elected Upper Chamber in the United Kingdom’s parliament.

Mr Miliband,

I am writing to you today regarding your promise on Lords Reform. I am saddened that this government has not been able to reform the House of Lords, but I have faith in the Labour Party to be the ones who strike a blow for democracy. The General Election is nearing and it is my firm belief that Labour, if it truly holds its traditional values dear, should include a reform of our country’s upper house in its election manifesto.

Labour have traditionally been the party that have fought for the representation of the working classes, the ordinary folks of this country, and they have done a spectacular job in many regards, but one has been left out. More than half of our legislature is wholly unelected and out of touch with the common people of this country. The House of Lords is made up of appointed members, many of whom have vested interests, be they party political, financial, or otherwise. What’s more, they have absolutely no popular accountability.

In our day and age, to have an entire house of our legislature made up of unelected peers is quite unacceptable. Our country considers itself a beacon of democracy to the world, yet how can this be when those who propose, amend, and vote on our laws are either appointed to suit the interests of those in power or simply assume their seats by birth-right or having chosen the “correct” religion?

Mr. Miliband, I am sure you know and feel, as I and many others up and down this nation do, that there is something inherently wrong with our upper house. As the leader of the party of the working classes it should surely be within your best interests to make sure that we have an upper house that can be truly representative of and accountable to the electorate. It is, after all, the very basis of a democratic society that the people as a whole, not the privileged few, who decide who is and is not fit to write our laws.

It is my sincere belief that the people of this country have had their fill of Tory policies that benefit only those in established wealth and power; I believe that the public will give Labour its mandate to take Britain forward in 2015. Public support for an elected upper house is at an all-time high and still growing. By pledging to reform this country’s upper house, Labour would be striking a very real blow in the name of those it seeks to represent.

That is why I am asking you, as an ordinary person with a real desire to see change for the better, to make a referendum on a reformed upper house a manifesto pledge for the upcoming election. Please, help us make our country a real democracy – one that we can be proud of.

Yours Respectfully,

James Howard Whittle

If you want to get involved, you can go to http://unlockdemocracy.org.uk/pages/1517 and write to the leaders of the three main parties. But don’t stop there, publish your letters, send them to a paper, send them to your local MP.

Sorry for the absolute silence from me recently, I promise, more posts on their way in the next week!

Scottish Labour Descending to Chaos?

In a recent interview with the Sunday Post, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Anas Sarwar, refused to back Johann Lamont for the party’s leadership. This comes amidst claims that he has been sidelined by the rest of the Labour party. Meanwhile Brown complicates things in London.

Johann Looking Composed as Ever. Image Credit – Wings Over Scotland

When we think of Scottish Labour, a few ideas spring to mind; however, organised, united, strong, committed, etc, aren’t generally among these thoughts. Since Johann Lamont took the reigns in 2011, this has been more than evident. No wonder, just watch First Minister’s Questions and you’ll see just what kind of person we’re dealing with. Now, I won’t delve into the matter greatly, an earlier post of mine, called “What to do about Johann”, does that quite nicely.

It probably suffices to say that she’s there because she does what she’s told to do by her Westminster bosses.

However, the Scottish Labour Party’s deputy leader, Anas Sarwar, has refused to back Johann Lamont’s leadership of the party. Sarwar, MP for Glasgow Central, was recently interviewed by the Sunday Post. When asked if he backed Ms. Lamont’s leadership he managed not to say yes, or indeed actually answer the question, simply pointing out that “Johann Lamont is leader of the Scottish Labour Party.” He’s an observant one, isn’t he?

There is no doubt that the relatively young MP is ambitious; he’s made sure that he’s been at the very front of Labour’s campaign for the Union. I’m sure that he envisages himself as being the Scottish Labour Party leader and, perhaps, First Minister of Scotland. But it appears that the Labour Party aren’t quite with him on that one.

Granted, Johann is useless and has to go if Labour ever want any more seats in Holyrood. But Sarwar? The Westminster robot? You only have to look back on his performance in the head to head STV debate he had with Nicola Sturgeon. He was quite hopeless. How, then, is he going to cope going up against Big Eck in the debates chamber in the Scottish Parliament? My bet is ‘not well’.

Granted that debate was a wee while ago, and he’s getting better at it, but the members of the Labour Party don’t quite see it that way. There are accusations, both from within and outwith the party, that Sarwar is being sidelined.

Sarwar has been conducting Scottish Labour’s campaign to keep Scotland in the Union by driving up and down the country in the “IndyRef Express” telling Labour voters to vote “No” this September. This is a role that Sarwar feels is very important and puts him in a good stead with Labour.

He said “I’ve spoken to more than 2,000 people in the space of five days. I’ve been campaigning the length and breadth of Scotland, from Annan to Aberdeen, owning social media space, appearing in newspapers and on TV and leading the rebuttal unit that has been highlighting the facts behind the top 20 nationalist assertions.”

However, some other members of the Labour Party didn’t think so. One senior Labour MP told the Sunday Post that “Looking after a big red bus is clearly the most important role in the referendum campaign just now… Choosing what sort of pizza to have each day is a big decision.”

Let’s not worry too much about what this says about Labour’s opinion on the importance of the Independence Referendum; Johann Lamont covered that one quite nicely when she said that the referendum on independence was not the biggest decision in recent history.

So, Sarwar seems to have been deliberately sidelined, kept out of the way of the important running of the party (finding the crayons to write Johann’s scripts with, etc.), by giving him a big shiny red bus and sending him to far flung bits of the country.

Sarwar has dismissed all of these rumours as mere “tittle-tattle.”

However, this is not the only story to come from Labour this week. Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister and “Iron Chancellor”, called on David Cameron to accept the challenge from Alex Salmond for a head to head debate on the matter. This is in direct contradiction to the Better Together campaign’s official line – and hence that of the Labour Party – that the Prime Minister should, on no accounts, be allowed to have a public debate with Salmond.

Better Together chief and former Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling, said that if anyone was to face down the First Minister it should be him. Margaret Curran, Shadow Scottish Secretary, also toed the line magnificently, saying that Brown had done great work and that she was a “huge fan” but she didn’t think that Cameron should debate with Salmond either.

She added; “The SNP want to say this is a debate between England and Scotland, a debate between David Cameron and Scotland – and it just isn’t. It’s a decision by Scottish people. To have Salmond debate Cameron completely misrepresents that.”

This of course fits in quite nicely with the fact that English MPs, including the Prime Minister, are allowed to sit south of the border and tell us we can’t be independent whilst we are not allowed to say anything back – because that would be making it a Scotland vs. England affair and we don’t want that.

On a side note, Dave, either get your arse up here and face Salmond, or shut up and let us get on with it.

Meanwhile, Labour in Scotland is facing a larger and larger portion of it’s membership moving to the Yes side, upset with the direction Labour in Westminster is taking and terrified of the prospect of five more years of virtually unopposed Tory rule from London.

The continued battering from all other sides that they are “out of touch with the Scottish people”, “in bed with the Conservatives”, or “blindly following their London masters”, has also not done them too well.

At some points in time, I can see why the left in Britain is so royally buggered and fragmented. I can see why people have little to no faith in the Labour party. And I can see that if they don’t pick up their act some time soon, they are not going to last long at all.

So far, I’ve managed not to make this article about independence too heavily, but I’m afraid that I have to now:

For the sake of the Labour Movement in this country, on the 18th of September, please vote “Yes”. A Scottish Labour party free of Westminster instruction would be one truly in touch with the people of Scotland, one that could address the issues of poverty and inequality plaguing our country and that would be directly accountable to you – the Scottish People.

Yes in 2014, Labour in 2016.

 

Source,  “Labour chaos as leaders past and present fall out.” Sunday Post, 15th June, James Millar, http://www.sundaypost.com/news-views/politics/holyrood/labour-chaos-as-leaders-past-and-present-fall-out-1.423481

What to Do About Johann…

Hello once again, it’s been a crazy sort of a month and I know I haven’t posted but, to be fair, I think you’re probably used to that by now anyway. I’ve been working like crazy coaching curling at my local rink in a desperate attempt to acquire some kind of money to tidy me over my exams until I can find a job I can sustain over the summer time. Oh yeah, exams are happening soon too. And to add to it all, our shower packed in a couple of weeks back, since then we’ve been washing ourselves under a drizzle of lukewarm water which has not been entirely pleasant – thankfully the landlord is coming out this evening to have a look at it.

However, there has been a reasonable amount going on to distract me from all the various annoyances in my life and, rather conveniently, they all seem to settle around one person. You know how it is, when you have to follow the trail of various gaffes and blunders from one politician to another, then to a shady cabal of journalists, over to another country, back to your own… It gets tiring. Imagine then, my delight, when all the recent collection of political gaffes centred around one single politician.

I am, of course, talking about Johann Lamont.

For those of you who don’t know of her, Johann Lamont (Yes, that’s the woman’s name “Joanne” spelt like the German male name “Johann”) is the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, leader of the opposition at the Scottish Parliament and, until I moved house in September, my local MSP. To say she was “useless” would be an insult to the good craftsmen responsible for manufacturing chocolate fire-guards. Indeed in the past few weeks she has made so many political brain-farts it’s a wonder Scottish Labour still have any members, in fact, in her own words, “I am astonished” (repeat ad nauseum) at the sheer number of blunders she has made of recent, to the point where one can’t help ask why she is still being allowed to make televised interviews.

To claim there was a start to this any time recently would, of course, be ridiculous, Scottish Labour has been a laughing stock for the past seven years, however the start of the steep section of this very slippery slope appeared to come on the 25th of February this year when Johann Lamont clashed with SNP Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the STV programme ‘Scotland Tonight’. This show was one in a series of debates between yes and no sides of the Independence Referendum where, during the second half of the debate, the politicians are given the chance to cross-examine each other.

Now it’s fair to say that Ms. Sturgeon, who has appeared now on all three of these one-on-one debates to represent the yes side, is a fairly competent politician and has torn both the former and current Scottish secretaries to pieces in both of the previous shows; we therefore, didn’t expect a resounding victory from Ms. Lamont in this particular face-off. However the result was far from flattering for the BT campaign, Scottish Labour or, indeed, Ms. Lamont herself.

During the first half, Ms. Lamont faired about as well as expected, however the second half was where it all began to fall apart for Johann and the no side of the argument. When Nicola began her questioning the Labour leader simply wasn’t able to provide any kind of clear or coherent answer, if she was able to answer at all. The woman famous for her weekly chorus of “the First Minister hasn’t answered the question” during FMQs, suddenly felt that same sentiment being thrown at her by Ms. Sturgeon at every available opportunity. When it came to Ms. Lamont’s turn to ask questions to Nicola, the Deputy First Minister simply would not be pinned down, every question Johann asked was turned back on her, I wouldn’t be surprised in Johann Lamont was sweating through her teeth by the end of it. Even as a Yes supporter, I found it difficult to watch.

However, in her true tenacious, or perhaps suicidal style, the Labour Leader would not be silenced and made an appearance on Newsnight Scotland on the BBC. During an interview with Gordon Brewer she was quizzed about proposed tax and spending powers for Scotland and for the majority of the interview seemed to have completely different figures than anybody else. She also seemed to be rather unclear about what her own party’s policies actually were, a fact that Brewer was quick to jump on.

Now I will admit that Gordon Brewer annoys the hell out of me, the words ‘smug’ and ‘twat’ in various forms and permutations leap to mind when ever he appears on screen, but the fact that he was able to so easily and systematically tear Ms. Lamont to shreds does not speak well of her in this situation.

Her most recent debacle came only yesterday on the Sunday Politics Scotland show broadcast on the BBC. Speaking from the Scottish Labour conference in Perth (where she also managed to slam Alex Salmond (First Minister) and his wife simply for not having children), she was again torn down completely as she struggled to provide any kind of answer to any of the questions put to her. Every single question either resulted in her telling us that the answer would be in the 2016 manifesto or that the SNP and the First Minister and bad and that we don’t like them.

To be quite blunt, it’s been a fucking dreadful month for the Labour Party in Scotland. It’s no wonder that 24% of Labour Party members in Scotland now say that they will be voting “yes” in September, and given the incredibly poor performance from the Labour Leadership (I don’t have the time to get started on the likes of Sarwar) the Labour Party are going to need to make some serious reconsiderations if there is a “yes” vote this summer.

It’s quite clear that, following a yes vote, Labour will not survive under its current leadership, in fact, even if there is a no vote, I still can’t seem them being successful at all unless there is some serious people shuffling. Because if Johann Lamont is what the people in Scotland are being given as their option for Labour leadership, independent or not, I can only see the Labour movement in Scotland dying on its arse at the next election. As a socialist I yearn to see a real, strong Labour movement in this country and that’s something we will not get under Lamont, or indeed any of the current Scottish Labour lot.

Thanks once more for reading, and as usual feel free to get involved via the comments section below.

 

Some Links

Scotland Tonight:

Newsnight Scotland:

Sunday Politics Scotland:

Wings Over Scotland:
http://wingsoverscotland.com/transcription-for-lazy-people/

The Undemocratic “Defender of Democracy”

Hello again, friends, readers and followers. Over the next couple of weeks, there will likely be a lack in posts with “meaty content”, i.e., discussing big issues in depth, as I am going to be in university doing studying and also making the preparations for starting the long rambled about video blog (namely, how the hell do I work my camera?). As I said before, I have a couple of topics lined up, such as the importance of promoting secularism within the state, the series on the currency of an independent Scotland and a couple of other things. However, before I begin my epic quest of Multi-variate Calculus and Linear Algebra, I thought I’d make a post about something that has really been niggling at me for the past couple of weeks.

Yes, you may have guessed it, climb aboard ladies und gentlemen, Jim’s hopping on the Royal Baby Train! Toot toot, peasants!

“Worship me, peasants!” Image credit – ‘Shrine of Dreams’ blog

As a Brit, you sort of become used to the Royal Family appearing in the news everyday for some new convoluted reason, “Harry flies a thing!”, “Phillip offends the entire Southern Hemisphere.”, “Charles cleans a hedge.” This list goes on, but it’s one wee story and we move on, drink some tea, complain about the weather and then tomorrow starts. However, once in a while, we get some huge thing that the entire country is obliged to celebrate and we are all informed that we are happy about; the Royal Wedding, the Diamond Jubilee and, most recently, the Royal Baby.

Even whilst I was away on holiday, in the land of no computers, no broadband and no television, the Royal Baby news flooded everywhere. The radio airwaves were full of it, I even began to miss the fucking cricket! The newspapers were covered with the stories and interviews and pictures and letters and pointless points of view from people who don’t seem to matter but do simply because they’re waving a Union flag and jumping for joy. My twitter feed via my phone, my only source of real news and way of keeping followers up to speed, was swamped with the BBC’s ludicrous coverage, the Guardian’s wall to wall spreading of it and the Americans who seem fixated with our damned royals. You know what? You can have them! It’s all too much, damn it!

Because every time one of these things comes up, either celebrating sixty years of having the same head of state or being told again which one we’re getting next, we are reminded more and more just how fundamentally undemocratic our system actually is. We are reminded more and more about how happy we should be to have such wonderful people at the top of our social system. The fact is that the United Kingdom prides itself on being a beacon of democracy in the world, yet the ultimate powers of our head of state are vested in those who attain it not by merit or by popular support, but by birthright and nothing more.

Many people step in to defend the monarchy, but the fact is that in this day and age, there really is no real defence for the monarchy retaining its position in British politics. There seem to be three arguments, all of which in one way or another end up contradicting themselves, but here we go.

I – The Monarchy is a Symbol of Stability

Bullshit. If history teaches us anything it is that monarchies are anything but stable, with countless different monarchs and houses claiming power through means of assassinations, wars, succession disputes, etc. Monarchies are not stable and ours is no exception, British history is really quite a bloody one where the monarchs are concerned. They also lead to heads of state whom the people often don’t trust or who are simply incapable. George III and George IV for example were both mad and utterly incapable, yet because there were monarchs, the people didn’t have a choice and were stuck with them in charge.

If you want stability as an argument, I suppose it can be used in one fashion, tradition. And by tradition I do not simply mean manners and customs, but this ludicrous desire to hold on to a past which exists no longer. The monarchy is a symbol of our inability to move on and progress as a modern nation in a modern world.

II – The Monarchy has no Real Power

This is a favourite line of the pro-monarchists when they seek to calm a frustrated republican, but fundamentally it is a false statement. The unfortunate thing about British politics is that it hasn’t got a constitution in the sense that most modern countries do; rather, it’s constitution is made up of bills and acts of parliament. The fact that there is no single document outlining British constitutional powers, makes deducing the exact laws and powers of various aspects of the state legislature a little difficult. However, it also leaves a few loopholes for our “powerless monarchs” to flex their muscles a little.

By British law, all power for law making is derived from the crown, i.e., the ability to make and pass laws happens solely at the discretion of the reigning monarch (after all, they were put there by God…) and the monarch alone. This can be seen every time a bill is passed by parliament, it must be granted “Royal Assent”, being approved and enacted by the monarch. The monarch also has power to dissolve parliament, which she does before every general election, however which can be done legally whenever the monarch wishes. It is also the monarch that Invites the leaders of political parties to form governments, and this does not even have to be the winning party. There have been instances where the Queen has refused to allow politicians in countries of which she is head of state to form governments.

In effect, she can dissolve parliament, select whomever she wishes to form her government, or choose not to form a government at all. Whilst these powers are rarely overtly exercised, as there would be merry hell if so done, they do exist and they are very real and quite legal.

III – I Don’t want a Politician in Charge Though!

Okay, yes, politicians are inherently untrustworthy people for the most part, however you forget two vital facts when using this argument. Number one is that unlike monarchs, politicians are democratically elected and are hence accountable to the people. The means that if you don’t like them, you can vote them out. Monarchs, and this is quite a big part of the principle of monarchy, are not democratically elected, cannot be held accountable and hence cannot be voted out when you don’t like them. When people say, “Oh, I don’t particularly like William, I’d much prefer Harry as King.” I find myself flabbergasted, that is not how a monarchy works! You don’t get a say, the clue’s in the name; Hereditary Rule!

The second point is, and this somewhat contradicts the previous argument of “she has no real power” as well, the politicians are already in charge. The Prime Minister, largely and at the discretion of our reigning monarch, is democratically elected and his government makes the laws. We already have the vast majority of our power in the politicians, it seems stupid to reserve other such powers as those held by the monarch for the monarchy.

The simple fact of the matter is, that until we can evolve beyond the monarchy, and indeed the non-elected upper house of our legislature that comes with that particular package, we shall not have that democracy that we preach to others about. We shall remain a fundamentally nondemocratic nation. But it isn’t just about the undemocratic nature of it, but about the class of it too. It creates another class as well, one that we are told we must look up to, we must worship and love and that, above all, we must accept as our natural superiors, even when they are quite clearly, as in the case of the two Georges (III and IV), they are quite clearly not.

But the class aspect of this argument is, I sense, a rant for another day. However, until then, please feel free to keep the debate going in the comments; ask questions, agree with me, disagree with me or perhaps touch upon something I missed out. Thanks for reading.

What do to About the British Left?

It is well understood by most leftists in Britain that the current political left is in disarray. With so many small parties, splinter groups, fringe groups, and new parties rising and falling every other month, it’s no wonder that Britain has become so conservative over the last couple of decades. The simple fact of the matter is, that because the left is so divided on the petty issues really affecting minor sections of policy, or sometimes even issues on a personal level between two leaders, the left is no longer a credible force in this country. However, it was not always like this.

In the U.K., the Labour Party was once able to put up a strong left-wing argument, and united most sections of the left in British Politics, it was very simple; if you were a Socialist of any kind, you went and joined the Labour Party, the left was united under one banner and one leader, they were united for a common goal of helping the working classes of the country to a better standard of life. However, the pre-Thatcher disasters of the strikes, the power cuts, the loss of refuse collection and so on, led to a Conservative government taking power over a country of people discontented with Labour’s handling of the situation.

After eleven years of Thatcher and a further five of John Major’s Conservative government looming after 1992, Labour needed some drastic reforms to regain the vote once more. In 1994, the leader of the Labour Party, and HM Opposition, The Hon. Mr. John Smith died suddenly, the opportunity for a New Labour was opened up and into the breach stepped Tony Blair. Blair’s new policies of taking up the ‘radical centre’ of the political spectrum and reassessment of Clause IV of the Party’s Constitution, removing the commitment to establishing common ownership of the means of production and establishing the Party as Social Democratic may have bought the votes of disgruntled centrists, but it began the destruction of Labour as a true force for left-wing politics in Britain.

Aided by the collapsing support for the Conservative government after the 1992 recession and ‘Black Wednesday’, on the 1st of May 1997, Tony Blair and his ‘New Labour’ Party took office with a majority of 179 seats in Parliament. Whilst some policies of the New Labour government under Mr. Blair were seen in a good light- such as the creation of the devolved assemblies, the introduction of a National Minimum Wage and the increased rights for same sex couples including the Civil Partnership Act 2004- there were many other policies that left the left-wing of the Party, and indeed the country as a whole, feeling disheartened- such as the increases in certain taxes, the increase in the number of arrestable offences, the introduction of compulsory DNA recording, ID Card legislation and, perhaps most infamously, the Invasion of Iraq.

Whilst Blair continued to describe himself as a Social Democrat, the people of the U.K. and the Labour Party began to think otherwise. Labour backbenchers began to place Blair to the right of centre, a 2005 YouGov poll showed a majority of U.K. voters and Labour Members placed Blair on the right of the political spectrum. The sixteen years of Conservative government and the slide of Labour first to the centre and now seemingly to the right had damaged irreparably the left-wing’s confidence in Labour as a party for the working people of Britain. So, where to go from there?

Britain has always had a large collection of various communist and socialist parties, each with a handful of members, with some being bigger than others, such as the SPGB and the CPGB, then with various smaller parties like the SWP, SPS, etc. However, since the loss of Labour as a viable rallying point for the British left-wing, these parties have become a bigger part of the British left. Normally, seeing new parties coming into the spot light is never a bad thing, but in the case of the left-wing in the U.K., it’s a real shot in the foot. Now, the left-wing vote, once safely in the hands of Labour, is now spread out across numerous other, smaller, parties. What makes the situation worse is the lack of real experience in these parties and the rate at which new parties keep appearing and dissolving.

With a large influx of new members, each wanting to start a new leftist movement in Britain, these smaller parties found themselves swamped with new members, the leaders however had very little experience in managing such large numbers. This lack of experience shows when the inability to cope with the debate that comes with large member bases shows its head. These parties had before been able to keep very narrow ideological lines because of the small, dedicated membership base. However, with new members arriving from other parties come new ideas, this is something for which the smaller parties were unprepared. The differences in opinions on various matters and the debates on certain party policies was something they could not cope with.

This resulted in members either being expelled for not towing the party line, or leaving for being forced into the party line. Sadly, in many cases, this did not simply result in the members seeking a new party or going back to Labour, rather in many members simply founding new parties and splitting the left vote further. In some cases you hear stories of committee members falling out and one founding a new party as well. The reasons can be as petty as you can think of, and sadly this has resulted in the destruction of the left-wing in Britain.

There are simply too many left-wing parties, many with unrealistic goals and solutions to existing problems. There are so many of them now that people simply don’t trust them to do a half decent job, everyone knows of the inabilities of left-wing politicians to cooperate with each other. The further the left splits itself, the more votes simply go to Labour or the Lib-Dems or other parties, because the left is in such a mess, and the people know it. They simply cannot see past the small differences to the ultimate goals of their cause.

What’s more is the problem with thinking too big. The left-wing seems to be the idea that it is bigger than it really is in this country. The sad fact is that the left is now so caught up in its international goals and the different paths it wants to take to get there, that is has forgotten about who it really represents, and that is the people of this country. It presents policies on international revolution, international this and international that, and when it does finally get around to discussing Britain, the goals are still huge and unachievable in a single term; complete transition to socialism, complete this, complete that, it’s the same again. It’s all well and good to be concerned with the struggle of the workers abroad, but one must remember that one is representing the people at home.

Before you can have your way, you need the mandate of the people, and to do that, the people’s trust is first required. The people do not want to think big straight away, especially in harsh economic times like these when they have been failed by countless politicians and officials. The people want goals that will help them, but that are, perhaps more importantly, achievable. To get big results, one has to start small, and this is yet another problem with the left, they are afraid of the small changes making them look ‘nationalist’, ‘revisionist’ or just ‘uncommitted to the socialist cause’. The fact is, that the numerous groups talking big but taking no action are the real detriment to the cause. Those who can see the small steps required to build up to the big goals, and who are willing to climb those small steps first, are tho ones who will do well.

The simple fact is, that in order for the British left to ever get anywhere it needs to to two things: Firstly, it needs to unite, the petty bickering between small parties with minute discrepancies in policy has to stop. If the entire left-wing apart from Labour united under a single banner, the odds are they would being to form a credible and large third party to present a real challenge to the power of Labour and Conservative. The second step is to consider the small changes first, before talking big, the trust of the people has to be gained, and by talking big and international, you lose their trust, becoming branded as unrealistic idealists.

There is a strong base for the left-wing in this country, it just needs to be utilised correctly, the possibility for a strong British left-wing does exist, we just need to put aside the small differences and focus on the ultimate goals that we all share.

Thanks for reading, and if you do wish to contribute anything or ask questions, please post them in the comments below.