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Politics, propaganda and priorities

Swansea Labour Left’s January meeting launched a panel discussion on priorities for the coming year.

Priorities are about political ideas,  about propaganda, then turning propaganda into action, said Gordon Gibson in his opening contribution. In the twenty-first century world of new politics, the media and spin-doctors orchestrate propaganda and the priorities, sound-bites and tittle-tattle we are spoon-fed today.

For Gordon, the interesting story last week was of a ‘senior Labour advisor’ defecting to the Tories. Incredible? Well, not really, he says, but ‘good riddance’ to Luke Bozier, former party e-campaigns manager, because Labour in the media has been just dreadful. Their media team promoted these stories this past week.

Wrapped in little or nothing about Trident, the threat of war or even the treatment of war veterans, injured or not, Jim Murphy, Shadow Defence Secretary, suggests that Labour, like the old Tory right wing, is worried about armed forces budget cuts and the ‘full military impact of losing such important capability’. Yet Murphy, on our behalf, threatens to do much the same.

 “If Labour were in Government we would be taking tough decisions and we have been upfront about the need for cuts to the defence budget, including to manpower and the equipment programme. Savings must be made and Britain will need to confront global threats with leaner, more advanced Armed Forces in future.”

In the weeks following the Stephen Lawrence verdict and further disclosures about police failures, Yvette Cooper, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, is concerned that ‘police budget cuts go too far, too fast

“Personal crime – which includes robbery, theft and violence against other people – has gone up by a shocking 11 per cent. This is the biggest annual increase in personal crime for over a decade and follows a 41 per cent drop during the Labour Government. Yet the Home Secretary still has no strategy to cut personal crime and is only cutting police officers instead.”

You’d think it was a Telegraph columnist writing this stuff. [Oops, is that Blairite, former GMB researcher and now Telegraph columnist, Dan Hodges, you are talking about? Or Luke Bozier? Ed.)

Sadiq Khan focuses on ‘Joint Enterprise’, ‘gang members’ or ‘terrorists’ knowledge of an impending crime being sufficient to receive the same sentence as the perpetrator, a policy widely challenged by legal and youth work professionals. Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Constitutional Affairs approves of ‘deterrents to punish gangs’,

 “We welcome evidence to suggest that the deterrent effect of joint enterprise intended by the courts can discourage young people, who may be on the periphery of gang-related activity, from becoming involved in criminality in the first place.”

Can we not have something a bit more sophisticated on youth alienation, youth unemployment, the particular isolation of black youth – almost anything other than a call for more jail, not least as Sadiq Khan’s other press release last week was to highlight overcrowding in our ‘crisis prisons’!

Or how about, Chris Bryant, Shadow Immigration Minister

“Under this Government we’ve seen our borders opened up and checks abandoned for potentially millions of people; fewer foreign criminals are being deported; fewer illegal immigrants are being stopped and returned from the border; and net migration is continuing to increase.”

‘Nuff said on that one…

Quick check: whose agenda is this? Armed forces; police; youth crime, mostly black youth crime; immigrants and asylum seekers. Going through the Labour media headlines is like reading the Daily Mail.

But this week’s biscuit goes to Chuka Umunna, Shadow Business Secretary.

“Ed Miliband and the Labour Party have led calls for a more responsible capitalism that includes fair rewards at the top and bottom of UK companies. But all David Cameron and Nick Clegg have offered on these important issues is empty rhetoric not matched by action. “

Labour, says Umunna, will implement the findings of the High Pay Commission and the Walker Review. Things like: “Why has the Prime Minister and his Conservative colleagues in Government failed to support our proposal to put an employee on company remuneration committees?” (Yes, ‘an’ employee!)

Or, the need for a significant deferred element in bonus schemes for all high-paid executives’.  Not ‘significant taxation’ or ‘significant regulation’ but the onerous requirement to ‘put some of your obscene annual bonuses in the bank’.

Or, the requirement for non-executive directors to spend up to 50% more time on the job – ie from one day a month to a day-and-a-half! And note the ‘up to’. Oh dear.

Unfortunately for Chuka, the Tories agreed with him and announced the acceptance every one of these hopeless measures within a few days.

And then Ed Balls comes out to say we will continue the Tory cuts. Len McCluskey and other Unions coughed and spluttered resistance to this media ineptness. And Labour’s reply? Miliband’s short statement:

“It requires a tough decision to put the priority on jobs ahead of public sector pay;

we are not going to make specific promises to reverse those cuts unless we are absolutely sure that we know where the money is coming from.

 I am changing the Labour Party so we can deliver fairness when there is less money around”

Do you get the message? Pay cuts, debt crisis and cuts, ‘fairness’ waffle again, and poor old capitalism.

I’m not sure if spin-doctor Luke Bozier was still there, helping with press releases while working out his notice but you can see why Labour needs to get rid of its current spin doctor set-up.

At our socialist gatherings, it might be interesting to have a little workshop-type game to, ‘Take five minutes to give us alternative press releases to make good these topics.’ Something like, “Labour is appalled at what the Tories are doing to the Health Service and the Welfare State and we are certainly going to have our work cut out to repair the terrible damage they are inflicting on us all. But repair it we will.”

Forces at work in the Labour and the Unions seem hell-bent on erasing everything that was good, everything that brought most of Labour’s supporters to the party. Worse is that nobody in the leadership stands up in defence of how good the Labour tradition has been for Britain – maybe refer to the days when ordinary working people voted Labour, days when politicians weren’t always looking over their shoulders at the London shareholder classes. [We will leave the bad stuff on the side for now.]

Labour was something to be proud of. Isn’t its history something to cite positively:

the NHS and free healthcare at the point of need,

free comprehensive education,

the welfare state,

equal pay legislation and women’s rights,

a national rail system that used to be great,

steel, coal, telephone, water, power and more

industries that worked for us, not for shareholders who keep their money abroad or out of reach of our tax collectors.

Even the Tories signed up to the legacy that built socially accessible houses by the hundreds of thousands.

Then there is National Insurance and Pensions. The week started with the rich’s vicious ongoing attack. “How can public sector workers expect to sustain their gold-plated pensions when they are so much better than the private sector, where many workers don’t have pension schemes at all?” Sentiments strangely inverted in BBC coverage this week to the very opposite, to attack the Unilever pensions strike. How can ‘billions in profits’ Unilever’s workers expect gold-plated pensions when all the public sector workers are losing theirs!

It is sick. And not a word from Labour. A lead on pensions would resonate amongst that growing population of older disenchanted voters, we hear so much about. Not to mention some assurance against the destruction of welfare state, education and NHS

And so to priorities

To use Blair’s style, if not language, there are only 3 priorities: Austerity, austerity, and austerity!

There is a possible, and unfortunately, likely addition: the threat of war on Iran, over which we must be vigilant. War is a classic route out of recession or political trouble. Not funny.

Virtually all the rest are second tier and, whatever they are, our responses should be couched in anti-austerity terms.

The big distractions are EU membership and Independence. On both, avoid the (not unimportant) theoretical principles. Recognise the long steep climb to independence, from Westminster or from Brussels. These issues are not for quick solutions. The quick stuff is to fight the cuts, protect jobs, focus on finance and banks, on capitalism. Regulate financial institutions, separate banking from casino banking and hedge funds, introduce the robin hood tax on financial transactions etc – and yes’ throw in Umanna’s ‘bank bonus tax’, found lurking at the end, if you made it that far through the torpor, rather than at the head, of his press release.

Or would you rather be distracted by independence….? Labour in Scotland and Wales press the self-destruct button. Scot, Alastair Darling, calls for unity with Tories and LibDems to defend the Union, a policy guaranteed to increase the anti-Labour vote and muddy the water further on independence. In the best social democratic tradition, Labour expects the electorate to support them on independence, by allying with Tories, rather than leading the fight against them.

Here in Wales, First Minister Carwyn Jones chooses to pursue an obscure argument, almost meaningless to voters, about the number of Welsh MPs being swamped by the English after the Scots go, if they, go, when they go, after all the wheeling and dealing and constitutional wrangling that would be required, even if they wanted to go.

The real tragedy is that these dabbles with independence do no service to that important discussion either. For most purposes, we agree on a ‘degree of independence’. Most of us are strongly pro-assembly, pro ‘clear red water’, pro greater powers. That is good enough for now. Note: we agree. There is no reason to get hot under the collar about the national question, nor to be vociferously opposed. Separatism will take yonks to sort out, if it ever happens, even with a Scottish ‘yes’ vote in 2014.

The current climate ensures that there is more chance of independence than not. Why? Why is it even a topic? The Tories and their onslaught. Independence is an option in the face of a government we have never voted for, hell bent on destroying everything that we Scots and Welsh believe in. It is the Tories that are wrecking the Union!

The here and now immediacy of protecting ourselves from the ravages of Tory austerity is top of most people’s agendas. Yet Plaid socialists are being headed off into nationalism, oblivious to the fact that there is no short-term fix there. Labour in Scotland reinforces a split in the working class vote with its anti SNP rhetoric, takes its eyes off the Tory ball and, ironically, double blunders by playing into the hands of the independents! In Britain, a strong current, primarily of the Tory right, wants to head us off into anti-European Union. Stop this!

In all cases – national, British, European, the focus is the Tories, the banks, shareholders and finance capital. Tax them, regulate them, protect jobs and services, invest. We want to hear a politician out there, willing to stand up and lead a fight against austerity, against the Tory lies, against the supposed ‘necessity’ of us paying for the crisis of their system.

If Labour is not willing and the unions not sure, then, while we prompt and cajole them, we should get on the streets alongside those that are! Young people, women, UKuncut, the disabled and occupy movements, pensioners and pension cuts strikers, the anti-fascists, students. And maybe even Labour’s traditional voters, disaffected out there, disenfranchised by the disappointment of their party in government, constantly hearing that their party will follow the coat-tails of capital. Our people yearn to hear something substantial from politicians and activists. That we will do something about it all!

Gordon Gibson is a member of the Celyn Editorial Team.

His blog on Urban Design themes is at http://www.4cities.wordpress.com.

Swansea Labour Left meets on the third Thursday of the month at the Civic Centre (County Hall) at 7.00pm

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