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Posts from the ‘Politics’ Category

The leader, the party, the country.

The future of the country, perhaps much more, is at stake. Much hangs on the retention of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. The future is in anti-austerity, anti-war unity.

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The Scottish Referendum: My kingdom for a house.

The Scots may have voted ‘No’ but the real loser is Labour in Scotland.

Introduction.

With the last few days of the referendum debates came an awareness that Scotland is awash with social and political enthusiasm, inclusion, participation, in pubs and clubs, community centres and front rooms, in literally hundreds of emergent groupings – Women for, Asians for, Labour for, allsorts for Independence.

As important, probably more so, Scottish cultural life is in bloom. You can’t miss it when you are there: comedy, film, music, literature, theatre, festivals; even the Commonwealth Games set Glasgow alight. In contrast to the prevailing misery and despair in our communities, battered with cuts, abuses, apparent isolation, absence of leadership, the Scots are getting on with it, doing their thing, making the best of life, fighting back. Do not underestimate this. The author, literary figure, Yes campaigner, and self-proclaimed lesbian, Val McDermid, has her name emblazoned across the front of the football strips of Raith Rovers, the Scottish Championship team, this year playing Glasgow Rangers and both Edinburgh sides. If that doesn’t convince you that something rich is going on in Scotland, nothing will.

If you didn’t get it, it is because you didn’t feel it, you haven’t smelt the coffee! Down south, our sensors pick up the rancid odour from London, perhaps tempered by a sniff of fresh air from Syriza, the Indignacios, the Occupy movement, Left Unity or the People’s Assembly. None of this compares with what has happened in Scotland -under  the radar, serviced in no small part by social media.

South of the border, the consensus was that we are internationalists, against nationalism and independence, for a united working class against the Tory offensive, although it is fair to say left leaning commentators began to peel off in significant numbers – John Harris, Billy Bragg, Russell Brand, Suzanne Moore, even Owen Jones all but converts from his hitherto ‘principled’ stance.

There is little point in running through the arguments again. Most formed their opinions after a long debate, impossible to miss north of the border, even if much ignored until the last minute, south.

A 45% vote for independence, with no blood on the streets, no riots or strikes, just popular engagement, is a truly extraordinary political event. The impact on Scottish politics, and very nearly on British politics over the past two years has been immense so, here, we will consider three aspects.

  1. Labour in Scotland, and probably in Britain as a whole, is in very serious trouble.
  2. ‘Tribalism’, a term reserved exclusively, it seems, not for our relations with the Tories, but for ‘the nationalists’, has allowed us to completely lose the plot. Get over it! Concentrate on the real enemy. The Yes campaign, like it or not, was based on a programme the broad left supports.
  3. The media’s, Westminster’s and particularly Labour’s inability to even recognise what was happening in Scotland, let alone consider how it might apply in the rest of Britain, is our best indicator yet that the British political system is at a very low ebb. Something has to change. How to do it is another matter; a question more easily answered in Scotland. Listen to the people, not the Westminster bubble and its media.

Yes! Labour is in Trouble

Members are asking, ‘Why still be in the Labour Party?’. In Scotland there are mass defections. Here in Wales the answer is probably

  1. There is nowhere else to go. Plaid at best has got a socialist current within but that would be even more of a struggle with its mishmash of politics than is Labour, where at least you know where you stand. Their leader, Leanne Wood, still one of the best, is clearly torn by disparate pressures on her;
  2. There are local reasons for being in Labour and perhaps many feel that the essential principles of Labour, at the roots of the Party, are still achievable; and
  3. Welsh Labour Grassroots is probably the most organised and coherent left current in Wales, still a tiny force.

In Wales, there is little alternative and perhaps still some hopes for ‘clear red water’; although less and less so it seems. All this may be in Wales. Now apply to Scotland.

There are certainly other places to go. The Yes campaign was a broad front with the SNP, Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party at its core and with former Labour MP Dennis Canavan as its chair. The SNP itself is no longer the bourgeois nationalist party we identified as being to the right of Plaid, even 10 years ago. For reasons we will no doubt discuss, the SNP is now in the mould of a social democratic party, a left social democratic party. The Scottish Greens have leapt to prominence with an excellent rounded programme fronted by their MSP Patrick Harvie, who, like Caroline Lucas in Westminster, has proved to be considerably better with socialist aspirations than most Labour MPs. Then there is the Radical Independence Conference (RIC) that, with the Reid Foundation’s ‘Common Weal’, brought together virtually the whole of the Scottish left from anarchists and the SWP through to Labour for Independence, and now surely bound to establish a united green/left party to succeed and embrace the Scottish Socialists, strangled in infancy. The RIC mobilised an impressive campaign, reaching into increasingly disenfranchised estates, bringing in unregistered, disaffected Labour voters, a whole new layer of young activists, and many not so young, for door to door canvassing and public meetings to fantastic effect. They helped raise the voter turnout to over 84% and engaged with the new layer of young voters. Their first conference two years ago assembled over 800 delegates, last year over 1200. This year, over 7000 have indicated they are going! Sheridan, with his Solidarity grouping, by the way, is now urging an independence vote for the SNP at the next election. There are clearly places for socialists to go.

Policy wise, Labour has lost its core electorate. The Yes vote took the industrial heartlands from Glasgow to Dundee. All 8 Glasgow constituencies voted Yes, to the tune of 53.5% to 46.5%. The politicos left in their droves; the Scottish working class has long since seen through Labour. The traditional party of the workers’ movement was further undermined , tragically, by fronting a campaign, a ‘popular front’, with the utterly discredited Tories and Liberals before a Scottish electorate that has ditched them for over 40 years now.

The No vote was clearly founded on that older, conservative 30% or so that will never vote Labour. One analysis claims that the 16-54 year olds voted YES 54%, NO 46%; aged 55+, YES 34%, NO 66%. (See Murray.) Any suggestion that the No campaign might in some way be deemed  progressive is further evidence that Labour is deluding itself. Or us.  Better Together campaigned with a neo-liberal economic attack on all fronts, led by Alistair Darling, arch neo-liberal, with CV to prove it, then by belated appearances from Gordon Brown, whose appeal is, at best, seriously tarnished in the public eye other than with die-hard Labour supporters.

BT wound up its campaign by falling over themselves with offers of devo-max, having refused it two years earlier in anticipation of a rout. The campaign and all its publicity was entirely neo-liberal. Even George Galloway, wheeled out to face 7000 Scottish school students at the BBC event in Glasgow’s Hydro as Labour, incredibly, appeared to bottle out; even Galloway drew on the neo liberal claptrap. That was all they had: the currency, pensions, the NHS, oil, even the utterly disingenuous attack on the SNP’s Corporation Tax, were all rooted in a neo-liberal financial back-cloth. Ed Miliband took the same approach at Labour’s September conference, promising a £2.5bn pledge for the NHS, only to be rebuffed by Tory claims that they have increased spending by more than that. Labour started their conference week by promising to cut Child Benefit and ended it by offering uncritical support for more middle east war.

The neo-liberal austerity debate cannot be won against the Tories’ well-honed propaganda machine. It is their game. It may well win the election for them, like scare-mongering and fear probably won them the referendum. The propaganda was fronted for them by Labour. The Scottish working class rejected these politics decades ago and are sick of Labour regurgitating it.

Labour had nothing to say about austerity, only pious words about ‘our NHS’, ‘our welfare state’, ‘we are the party for change’ as if the Blair years never happened. The attack was on the nationalists, nary a word about the common enemy, the Tories and their financial mentors.

The successes of the Yes campaign

The SNP took on the mantle of social democracy. A while ago, they were ‘bourgeois nationalists’, then centrists, wavering left and right, populists, nourished by the abject betrayals of Labour in Scotland and Britain, betrayals spotted early by the Scots, thanks to the Poll Tax campaign. They turned to alternatives – the Scottish Socialists with 6 MSPs before Sheridan and now The Greens, whose role in Yes Scotland, along with the SNP and SSP, has been exemplary.  This social movement has had a huge impact on the SNP, now overwhelmingly social democratic in nature and probably more so with its more than doubling in membership in the weeks since the poll. So how did they respond to neo-liberal charges?

I refer you to Alex Salmond’s  Arbroath speech 18th August 2014, which takes a wee while to get going but is well worth a listen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jAWgC6qgXs). Salmond nails the NHS line. An SNP proposal to a constitutional convention in Scotland will be a clause for ‘A public free health service at the point of need’,  ‘A right to a National Health Service will be enshrined in the constitution of Scotland’. That’s convincing. Discussing the role of Scotland in the world, Salmond argues for the removal of Trident as a fundamental policy of an independent Scotland. He then presents as sophisticated a line on pro-immigration as you are likely to hear from a mainstream politician. Their first focus for the anti-nuclear money is child-care and social care. This is not the left, this is ‘the nationalists’; better than anything ever heard from Labour.  Had Labour taken such stances since the Tories came to power, would the Yes campaign have had the traction it did?

They grapple with the economy but, truth be known, there is much flexibility in economics. What people want to hear is the answer to ‘where do you propose to go with our lives?’. Labour offers a continuation of Tory austerity for the foreseeable future. The Scots are on to them and their future, our future is in jeopardy.

In the course of the referendum campaign, Scots have considered, imagined both individually and in their collectives, a democratic government, a constitution, a set of values based, not least on their experience of Holyrood and decades of Westminster policies and governments they never voted for. That imagination, that culture, is not a million miles away from ours in Wales, once separated from Westminster by ‘clear red water’. In Scotland, imagination converted into an anti-austerity, anti-Tory enthusiasm that not even Plaid, being as tribal as Welsh Labour is, has sought to achieve. The Scottish Yes vote was overwhelmingly anti-austerity and a serious challenge to the ‘Wastemonster’ ways. They may have lost the battle but the war is being won. For a start, about one-third of Labour voters voted Yes. (See Welsh.) These are reasons why Scotland became ready for an independence vote (and why Wales isn’t ready).

Labour’s late entry into the campaign, via Gordon Brown, a hero only to die-hard Labour members, cited our national pride, appealing to history, Labour’s and Scotland’s great role in it – history, empire, sacrifice, the welfare state, the NHS. But just ask Scottish former shipworkers, miners, car-workers. British interest, pride, commitment has long since evaporated. Jobs and a good living in industry, shipbuilding, manufacturing, coal, steel, the industrial revolution, imperialism and the empire, from which we all once benefited, albeit at the expense of others, have all been lost or sacrificed. We don’t even build houses any more. The Welfare State, Pensions, Mail, Telephones, Water and the NHS s are sold, often at knock down prices, to global capitalism. British workers no longer have any practical or emotional ties to our social and economic foundations, many of which Scots gave to the world. What commitment do the Scots, indeed any workers, have to the British state any more?

A Democratic Upheaval and a Danger of Backlash

Without the significant devo-max concessions promised by the Westminster parties, it is inconceivable that independence will go away. Breaking of promises, failure to deliver anything or, worse, more budget cuts and other retribution, will ensure that independence is back on the agenda in very short shrift. Just one day after the referendum, the Tories lurched to the right with a focus on England’s needs, on their right wing, on the West Lothian question, on a democratic structure that can only further marginalise Scotland and Wales.

Coupled with this is seeming delight in offering more powers  to Scotland, Wales and the regions. Let them be responsible for ‘fully devolved powers’ over the crumbs the Bullingdon Boys deign to leave on our tables. Then we can be blamed for cuts, as was the charge laid on the SNP over the NHS, the same tactic as they seek to discredit our efforts in Wales. The real threat to we Celts is that the Westminster bubble does go right, and given Labour’s stances this is not an unrealistic possibility – another Tory government, perhaps with Ukip support, a vote to leave the EU and ditch the EU Convention on Human Rights. Where will that leave the Scots? And us?

The first signs of the very serious dangers of the English nationalist/ Ukip right wing trajectory were evident on the streets of Scotland’s two great cities on the last few referendum days. The No vote unleashed The Orange order, always a right wing force disguised with anti-catholic, anti-Irish rhetoric. For the first time in my experience, they took to the streets and revealed their truly fascist style, taking public space, burning the Saltire, attacking Yes voters, immigrants and women. A Yes vote would have stifled them; the No vote, coupled with Ukip and the English trend positively encouraged them.

Where do we go from here?

The spotlight is now on Labour, already being drawn into the Tory regional game and happy to commit to Tory austerity plans, when what is needed is a language of change, something different, a break from the political decadence of Westminster, increasingly mimicking the shameless, gun-toting, fundamentalist, undemocratic, exclusive, segregationist catastrophe that is US politics and media. Scots were seeking change – austerity, Trident, social care, childcare, NHS, democracy. These are the themes to be convincing about. Their instincts and mine are that nothing is going to change. If it doesn’t, Labour is finished in Scotland. The SNP offered change, much of it taken from Labour’s bottom drawer, yet Labour continues to be tribal against ‘the nationalists’, preferring uncritical deals with the Tories, LibDems and their neo-liberal economics. Recognition of this single fact is a first necessary step to Labour’s unlikely salvation.

Labour has been unable to handle the role of the ‘nationalists’ in Scotland or Wales. What chance have the English got? Paradoxically, in the present climate, a Yes vote was the best opportunity socialist voters in Scotland had of ever achieving a Labour Government they could believe in. These same voters now have the prospect of a Tory Ukip government seeking exit from Europe.

What have we learned? What should we be campaigning on? How’s this?

  1. A clear stance, with our allies, against Tory austerity, for alternatives.
  2. Stand up for our NHS, for National Insurance, for Social Security and a rights based welfare culture.
  3. Challenge the war-mongering culture, not least the ease with which vast funding is found for wars.
  4. Build Homes
  5. Promote a programme of child-care, social care and pensions.
  6. Make Wales a beacon of sustainability, a green investment bank, green energy and re-usables industries
  7. Rail and other public transport back into coordinated public ownership
  8. Instead of faffing about local government reorganisation and who goes where, first consider, with the people of Wales, the question, “How do we best deliver these policies?”
  9. Build, certainly with young people, our communications networks and social media.

The great success of the SNP is that they recognised the occasion for this great political cauldron, greater than they dreamed of. We hopefully now will engage with our true allies throughout Wales and beyond against austerity, and wars and … well, let us discuss that with others.  The difficulty is to recognise the occasion here in Wales, the event round which such unity can be formed. In the meantime, it will do no harm to promote an inclusive discussion on what sort of policies, a manifesto we aspire to in Wales.

Another Scotland, Another Wales, Another Britain, is Possible.

End

Gordon Gibson, September 2014

Here, a few references; the first two are bursting with lively debate.

Radical Independence Conference: http://radicalindependence.org/

Bella Caledonia: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/

Brett, Miriam. National Collective. Oh Scottish Labour What Have You Done? http://nationalcollective.com/2014/09/25/oh-scottish-labour-what-have-you-done/

Davies, Nick & Williams, Darren (2009). Clear Red Water: Welsh Devolution and Socialist Politics. Francis Boutle Publisher

Harris, John: Scotland has shown how the left can finally find its purpose http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/25/scotland-politics-left-purpose-snp-green-working-class-women

Jones, Owen. Whatever Scotland decides, the old order is dead and buried: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/07/scotland-decides-union-tories

Murray, Andy. FIFTY-FIVE per cent afflicted by Stockholm Syndrome. http://nicodemusscotticus.wordpress.com/

Welsh , Irvine. This glorious failure could yet be Scotland’s finest hour. 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/20/irvine-welsh-scottish-independence-glorious-failure

 

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Question Time’s Welsh Problem

Nick Davies

If  fresh insight or stimulating discussion is what you’re after, BBC’s Question Time is likely to disappoint. The only relief from the stifling conformity of the Westminster consensus is the occasional non-politician (Owen Jones, Billy Bragg or Benjamin Zephaniah, for example). More recently, it has effectively become an almost-weekly audience with Nigel Farage. Many people who would normally be interested in political discussion refuse to watch it at all.

However, it also appears that Question Time has a ‘Welsh problem’. That is that that the panel membership fails to reflect the realities of modern Welsh political life, specifically that from 1999 we have had our own elected government which is responsible for a lot of what touches our everyday lives:  most notably  health and education.

This anomaly was exposed with brutal clarity in the programme from Newport screened on February 24th this year, when the issue of the NHS in Wales was raised. There followed a discussion between a hostile English Tory MP, a Labour MP from a London constituency, Rushanara Ali, who clearly hadn’t a clue what she was talking about, and a Plaid Westminster MP Elfyn Llwyd, who did know something about Wales, namely, of course, that health is devolved to the Welsh Assembly, none of whose members were on the panel. The remainder of the panel consisted of a food  writer and the right-wing London-based journalist Melanie Phillips. We learned nothing from this discussion except, of course, that the BBC, or at least the part of it which commissions Question Time panels, had been caught out in regarding, Wales, for these purposes, as a part of England.

If the BBC had  read the complaints that must have followed this farce, it took no notice. On June 5th when Question Time’was from Llandudno and the issue of the Welsh NHS  was unsurprisingly raised again, there was  no one from the Welsh government on the panel to answer the critics of that government’s record, or even any Assembly member from any party to provide an informed contribution. While  Labour‘s Liz Kendall (Leicester West!) at least attempted a defence of  the Welsh NHS (and, later, of Jobs Growth Wales) it should never have been left up to her. We were, however, treated to the buffoonish, sub-UKIP ruminations of the Call Centre’s Nev Wilshire, no doubt invited to give the ratings a boost and provide a ‘bit of fresh air’.

To add insult to injury, a later discussion concerned extra powers for the Welsh Assembly. A  call centre boss, a Spectator journalist and three Westminster MPs lazily kicked this topic around for a few minutes, but without a representative of the Assembly or it’s government, the discussion, if you can call it that, smacked of ‘make sure the children aren’t around while the grown-ups are talking’.

 Of course, Question Time goes out to a UK audience. However Question Time from  Dundee on January 23rd  2014 featured four panellists, all from Scotland including 3 from the Scottish parliament.  Question Time from  Falkirk (on November 28th 2013) featured six panellists, all from Scotland including 3 MSPs. When Question Time is in Wales, the audience is likely to be from Wales. They might just ask questions about, well, Wales, and in particular, Welsh health & education policies as well as the various other areas devolved to the Welsh Assembly. It would be useful, to say the least,  if someone from our legislative body, were invited. To do otherwise, especially in the context of the  regular attacks on the NHS in Wales from Cameron and his front bench, involves giving opponents of Welsh Labour policy in particular and Welsh devolution in general a free run and amounts to an appalling dereliction of the BBC’s duty, on it’s premier current affairs discussion programme, to discuss the affairs of Wales, properly, let alone impartially.

There are a number of possible reasons for this obvious lapse in broadcasting standards. (Since 2009, in thirteen editions that have come from Wales, only nine of the panelists in these programmes have been  AMs and  with three appearing on a single edition, in 2010, AMs are in fact  seen even less frequently  on Question Time than first appears). Obvious candidates are oversight, ignorance, metropolitan arrogance, a conscious anti-Welsh bias or the chasing after ratings either by aiming for fireworks at the expense of politics or,  as they might see it, scattering a little celebrity stardust onto the programme.

The BBC has  previously been criticised for its failure to deal with the reality of Scottish and Welsh devolution, failings which, to some extent, the organisation as a whole has attempted to remedy. However,  in general, ignorance of Wales and Welsh affairs, and indeed a lofty disdain for anywhere outside the M25 do not appear to have been cured by the move to Salford. Fear of the Tories over the licence fee and the possible  weakening of Ofcom (and resultant media deregulation) promised by Cameron in his election campaign, seems to have produced a move to the right, exemplified, to take two examples, by  a notable anti-Palestinian bias in the coverage of the Israeli attack of Gaza and John Humphries’ The Future of  the Welfare State, which broke the BBC’s own rules on impartiality. More recently, the BBC’s own Robert Peston has accused the BBC of  following an agenda set by  the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail.

The financial crash of 2008 demonstrated both the metaphorical and literal bankruptcy of the free-market model of  capitalism that has prevailed since the early 1980s. The elite pretend that this is not so, blaming everyone but themselves. Even the most modest, reforming half-measures proposed by Ed Miliband are met by inane charges of ‘Marxism’ suggestive of a certain desperation in the protestations that ‘there is no alternative’. In Wales, there is an alternative: community comprehensive schools, a publicly funded, publicly provided NHS, no PFI and a successful interventionist  youth employment scheme. In a marriage of metropolitan insularity and right-wing bias,  is this  an alternative that the BBC would prefer not to be seen to be promoting, because that alternative’s principles are too much of a challenge to the media’s mental laziness, because of the risk of accusations of bias, and because it is in a faraway country of which they know nothing?

End

This article previously appeared in the blog Left Futures.

Nick Davies is a Councillor in Swansea and Chair of Welsh Labour Grassroots

 

Ireland’s Labour and Fine Gael bear responsibility for death of woman denied abortion.

A Statement from Ireland’s United Left Alliance

Clare Daly TD and Joan Collins TD

Statement – 14 November 2012

Legislate for X Case NOW.

Protest at Dáil, Weds November 14, 6pm.

The death last weekend of a woman who was denied a life-saving abortion is an outrage which demands immediate action, said ULA TD’s Clare Daly and Joan Collins.

“Sadly,” said Clare Daly, “the very thing we feared last April when we put our X Case Bill before the Dáil, has happened. A woman has died because Galway University Hospital refused to perform an abortion needed to prevent serious risk to her life. This is a situation we were told would never arise. An unviable fetus – the woman was having a miscarriage – was given priority over the woman’s life, who unfortunately and predictably developed septicemia and died.

First and foremost we wish to extend our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the woman’s husband, family and friends for their terribly loss. This loss is all the worse because it need not have happened.

Make no mistake, had Labour and Fine Gael acted upon our Bill, medical guidelines could have been in place which would have ensured that there would have been no grounds for equivocation about performing an abortion when there was a risk to the life of the woman. Instead, the government took the cowardly step of hiding behind the fourth ‘expert group’ on abortion since 1992. This refusal to act has contributed to the circumstances which brought about this woman’s death. Fianna Fáil and the Greens also bear responsibility, due to their failure to legislate for the X Case.”

Joan Collins said that the TD’s demand immediate action by the government.

“We demand a full and public enquiry into the circumstances of this woman’s death. We demand that Minister Reilly immediately publish the report of his ‘expert group’ – now four months overdue from its own promised publication date. We intend to re-submit our X Case Bill, which provides for legal abortion when there is a risk to the life of a woman, as soon as we can. We demand that the government immediately provide Dáil time to promptly bring our Bill into law.

A woman’s life has been sacrificed due to the unwillingness of Labour, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens to legislate in line with the Supreme Court ruling on the X Case in 1992. We call on the women of Ireland to take to the streets to ensure that action is taken to stop this ever happening again. The first step is to protest at the Dáil at 6pm on Wednesday evening, November 14.”

TD is the equivalent of MP in the Irish parliament

 

A Manifesto for Socialist Economic Sense

By Michael Roberts

On the day that Bob Diamond, head of Barclays Bank, resigned over the Libor fixing scandal (see my post, A Diamond Standard, 28 June 2012), I received an email from the organisers of the Association of Heterodox Economists, passing on a request from the eminent economics professors Paul Krugman and Lord Richard Layard. They want economists to sign up to their A Manifesto for Economic Sense.  The good professors are really concerned that nothing is being done to stop the ruling governments in the mature capitalist world from advocating and imposing policies of austerity that are destroying growth and driving up unemployment to 1930s levels.

After reading it, I thought I would suggest some small amendments to this worthy Manifesto.  My amendments may not be perfect, but I think they are worth considering. I am convinced that the changes would really improve the professors’ campaign message, although I doubt they would agree.  I leave it to you to judge.

Here is my amended version.

 [The original Krugman and Leyard text, along with access to Michael’s amendments, can be seen here. -Ed.]

More than four years after the financial crisis began, the world’s major advanced economies remain deeply depressed, in a scene all too reminiscent of the 1930s. And the reason is simple: the capitalist mode of production has failed yet again, just as it did in the 1930s. Governments are promoting vulgar ideas, long since disproved, that involve profound untruths both about the causes of the crisis, its nature, and the appropriate response.

These errors have taken deep root in public consciousness and provide the public support for the austerity of current fiscal policies in many countries. So the time is ripe for a Manifesto in which concerned economists offer the public a more socialist analysis of our problems.

The causes.

Many policy makers insist that the crisis was caused by irresponsible public borrowing. This is false. Instead, the conditions for crisis were created by a system of production that goes on strike whenever there are insufficient profits.  This was covered up for a while through excessive private sector borrowing and lending, including by over-leveraged banks. But eventually, profits from credit-fuelled speculation in the stock market and in property, using financial instrument of mass destruction, were no longer realised.  The collapse of this bubble led to massive falls in output and thus in tax revenue. So the large government deficits we see today are a consequence of the crisis, not its cause.

The nature of the crisis.

When real estate bubbles on both sides of the Atlantic burst, many capitalist corporations and banks slashed spending in an attempt to pay down past debts. This was a rational response on their part, but – just like the similar response of the capitalist sector in the 1930s – it proved collectively self-defeating. Profits fell and the capitalist sector stopped investing.  The result of the investment collapse has been an economic depression that has worsened the public debt.

The appropriate response.

At a time when the capitalist sector is engaged in a collective effort to spend less, public policy that preserves this sector cannot and should not act as a stabilizing force, by bailing them out. At the very least we should not be making things worse by big cuts in government spending or big increases in tax rates on ordinary people to pay for the bailout of the banks. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what many governments are now doing.

The big mistake.

After responding to save the banks that caused the economic crisis when it broke, just as they did in the 1930s, conventional policy wisdom deliberately focused on government deficits, which are mainly the result of a crisis-induced plunge in revenue, to argue that the public sector should attempt to reduce its debts in tandem with the private sector. As a result, fiscal policy has ended up reinforcing the dampening effects of capitalist sector spending cuts. At the same time, monetary policy cannot solve the problem.  It’s not just because interest rates are already close to zero, monetary policy – while it should do all it can – cannot do it, when the problem is the profitability of the capitalist sector, not the lack of credit.. Only when the banks are brought into democratic public ownership can credit be directed towards helping investment, jobs and growth and away from speculative gambling that the banks are currently engaged in.

It is not the right policy to propose a medium-term plan for reducing the government deficit based on cuts and tax rises.  That is not just because it is too front-loaded and will be self-defeating by aborting the recovery. A key priority now is to reduce unemployment, before it becomes endemic and that means more investment and growth.  Reducing the government deficit is irrelevant.

How do those who support present policies answer the argument we have just made?  They use two quite different arguments in support of their case.

The confidence argument.

Their first argument is that government deficits will raise interest rates and thus prevent recovery. By contrast, they argue, austerity will increase confidence and thus encourage recovery.  But there is no evidence at all in favour of this argument. First, despite exceptionally high deficits, interest rates today are unprecedentedly low in all major countries because inflation is low and we are close to deflation. This explains why Japan, where the government debt now exceeds 200% of annual GDP and despite past downgrades by the rating agencies, has very low interest rates. Interest rates are high in some Euro countries, because debt is rising and economies are in depression and capitalist lenders fear they will not get their money back.  A central bank can always, if needed, fund deficits and debt, but that still leaves the burden on capitalist profit down the road.

Past experience includes no relevant case where budget cuts have actually generated increased economic activity. The IMF has studied 173 cases of budget cuts in individual countries and found that the consistent result is economic contraction. In the handful of cases in which fiscal consolidation was followed by growth, the main channels were a currency depreciation against a strong world market, not a current possibility. The lesson of the IMF’s study is clear – budget cuts retard recovery. And that is what is happening now – the countries with the biggest budget cuts have experienced the biggest falls in output.  On the other hand, devaluing the currency will also hit average living standards and eventually growth because costs of production will rise and profitability in domestic industry will fall, particularly in small capitalist economies that have low market share.

Companies will only invest when they can foresee enough profit ahead. Austerity discourages investment.  But companies won’t invest either if their profitability is restrained by increased taxation in order to fund rising government spending and deficits.  As long as the capitalist sector is dominant and profit rules, increasing government spending through more taxes and/or more borrowing will restrain capitalist investment.  The real answer is to replace the capitalist system with a plan based on socialised production.

The structural argument.

A second argument against opposing austerity is that output is in fact constrained on the supply side – by structural imbalances. If this theory were right, however, at least some parts of our economies ought to be at full stretch, and so should some occupations. But in most countries that is just not the case. Every major sector of our economies is struggling, and every occupation has higher unemployment than usual. So the problem must be a general lack of spending and demand.  And what causes that lack of demand is the lack of investment and what causes that is a strike by the capitalist sector due to a lack of sufficient profit.

This supply constraint is a product of the failure of capitalist production.  Providing more government spending at a cost to profitability will not do the trick.  Government action should be to replace capitalist investment with public investment.  There is plenty of potential supply but no investment to start it.

___________________

As a result of their vested interest in profit, Western policy-makers are inflicting massive suffering on their peoples. The ideas they espouse about how to handle recessions are still conventional wisdom among most economists and nearly all economists, despite the disasters of the 1930s, accepted the continuance of the capitalist system, especially during the following forty years or so when the West enjoyed an unparalleled period of economic stability and low unemployment.

It is tragic that these pro-capitalist ideas remain rooted. But we should no longer accept a situation where the interests of capitalism weigh more highly with policy-makers than the horrors of mass unemployment.

Better policies will differ between countries and need detailed debate. But they must be based on a correct analysis of the problem. We therefore urge all economists and others who agree with the broad thrust of this amended Manifesto to register their agreement at http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/ and to publicly argue the case for a socialist approach.

The whole world suffers when men and women are silent about what they know is wrong.

Michael Roberts is a Marxist economist who blogs at Michael Roberts Blog, where this article first appeared. Comments should be written there, against the original article, but we would appreciate if they could also be copied here. Thanks.

 

What Future for Scottish Labour, the Union and Britain?

Writer and commentator Gerry Hassan provides an interesting analysis on the future of Scottish politics.

Scottish politics are now in a fast changing environment where many of the old assumptions are falling: the election of an SNP majority government, the emphatic rejection of Labour, and the coming of the 2014 independence referendum.

Once upon a time politics north of the border were very different: with Labour returning a seemingly impregnable Westminster bloc, and the entire political culture shaped by social democratic and centre-left values, which played an important ballast in British Labour and British politics (supposedly counteracting the inherent Conservative nature of England).

More profoundly than this there was something distinctive which informed and shaped Scottish politics for most of its post-war era. This was a Labour vision of Scotland which many of us grew up with, knew its positive aspects, and which made us feel ennobled and liberated. That vision lifted hundreds of thousands of Scots out of poverty, widened opportunities and brightened countless lives via education, health, housing and numerous other public services.

This Labour vision of Scotland was one of modernity, progress and the future; this world was characterised by building motorways, tower blocks and New Towns such as Cumbernauld or Glenrothes with their tidiness and order and the ideal of ‘planned freedom’, with its connotations of good authority.

How this high-falutin’ vision came about involved some more messy, basic politics, and an idea of ‘Labour Scotland’ which through council housing, trade unions and local government, gave the party a ballast and anchor and allowed it to speak for a majority of Scots. In each of these three pillars of Scottish Labour’s house until the early 1980s, the party articulated and represented a majority of Scots. These gave it a power and reach which was more impressive than its share of the vote, where it never managed to win a majority.

That Labour vision and the notion of ‘Labour Scotland’ are gone. Labour has long ago stopped being the party of the future north or south of the border, whereas each of its three pillars is now reduced to minority status. This has huge consequences for the Scottish party which it has barely begun to recognise, and which will require a very different politics from those it used in the past.

This is an argument articulated with the publication of ‘The Strange Death of Labour Scotland’, written by myself and Eric Shaw of Stirling University. A product of extensive interviews with party politicians, officials and trade unionists, it analyses the story of the past 33 years from the 1979 referendum and arrival of Thatcher, to the SNP’s majority government and Johann Lamont’s election as Labour leader.

What does it tell us about Scottish Labour, its state and potential future? One fundamental is that Scottish Labour was never as powerful and omnipotent as first impressions and the rhetoric of ‘the machine’ gave. The idea of ‘Labour Scotland’ gave the party itself and its opponents the illusion that it carried all before it. But in actual fact the party even at the peak of its support in the 1960s was always rather small and reliant on institutional Scotland for its control.

The party abandoned devolution in its Attlee-Gaitskell centralisation era when faith with the British state’s ability to redistribute and provide the goodies was at an all-time high. When it came back to it, first in the 1970s, it did out of the expediency of thwarting the SNP’s electoral threat; and even when it embraced a Scottish Parliament more convincingly in the 1980s, it was motivated out of stopping Thatcherism at the border.

Labour never asked what it wanted a Scottish Parliament to do, and it never paused and reflected on what the implications of such a body would be on the party’s dominance. If it had it would have realised that the self-preservation Labour society would begin to be challenged, come under scrutiny and eventually unravel.

The party was hobbled by its lack of autonomy and its lack of a leadership cadre or culture post-devolution. Leaders came and went while a whole generation of thirtysomething Cabinet ministers under Dewar and McLeish bit the dust or retired prematurely. This was about the party’s inability to break with the legacy of old Labour while not wanting to champion New Labour values.

The issue of New Labour was a complex one in Scotland; we forget that in 1997 and 1999, pre-Iraq Blair was hugely popular with Scottish voters. The whole New Labour project with its brashness, shininess and PR sensibilities annoyed part of Scottish Labour who felt they didn’t need to be taught how to win elections.

They were against New Labour, but what were they for? The party was never just old Labour but it found itself trapped in a defensive mindset and with little to say about the wider crisis of social democracy which New Labour itself was a response to.

Scottish Labour avoided the New Labour car crash but ended up in a rather similar state: confused, deflated, diminished and angry at what events did to it.  The party still speaks and represents a part of Scotland but if it is to win, define our politics and shape the future, it will have to fundamentally alter course.

Firstly, it is going to have to publicly reflect on the character and mistakes of Labour one party rule. This could be a powerful admission; if senior Labour people actually recanted and apologised and said, ‘look we got that wrong, don’t go down the same route with Alex Salmond and the SNP’. In fact it has to say the first half of that unconditionally, before it can ever hope to be heard on the second.

Secondly, Labour has to stop appearing as if it is obsessed with the constitutional question and the Scottish Nationalists; that is allowing your opponents to define how you see the world.

Instead, Labour should speak for the Scotland which is struggling to be heard in the current debate, namely, addressing the economy and social justice. Developing ideas which break with the New Labour waffle of ‘the knowledge economy’, speak for ‘Breadline Scotland’ and ‘the struggling middle’, combining traditional Labour values in a relevant setting.

At the moment, Labour hasn’t said anything of interest or originality since Wendy Alexander’s infamous ‘Bring it on’ remarks, and if it to change and get people to see it has changed, it has to get them to take notice.

In today’s politically detached and cynical world that is a huge challenge for Scottish Labour: Johann Lamont, Douglas Alexander, and a whole raft of Labour figures.

They need to stand up, be bold, brave and humble, and say: we got it wrong, we took you the Scottish people for granted, we practiced a politics of patronage and power, where that became important rather than people, and we have learned from it and will change our ways.

A party which learned from its twin defeats of 2007 and 2011 would say something along those lines. To become the party of the future, of change, and of daring politics, you have to want it and be prepared to take risks. It has to have a voice and give a voice to communities up and down this land.

‘The Strange Death of Labour Scotland’ isn’t an attempt to write off Labour or damn; it is written as a detailed analysis and critique, and partly as a wake up call not just to Labour but wider Scottish politics. A Labour Party sleepwalking to slow decline and atrophying north of the border is a distinct possibility, clinging to the old comfort zones and battle hymns, of railing against the Tory led UK Government, while being driven by a near-pathological obsession with doing down Alex Salmond and his ‘separatist’ SNP.

Labour have lost two elections north of the border, and so far show little sign of having the hunger and self-awareness to realise the crisis it is in: of the breakdown of its old systems of dominance, of its appeal and raison d’être, and of how it understands and competes in modern party politics. Scottish Labour was once the party of the future, but that mantle has now fallen to the SNP and the wider notion of Scottish self-government which no one party owns or can claim to completely speak for.

The challenge for Labour is to begin speaking of a progressive future, one which is at home with the vision and impetus of Scottish self-government, an increasingly distinct Scottish voice and a very different union, one which challenges and takes on the conservatism and entrenched interests of the British state and establishment. And that then begs the question: who if anyone post-New Labour can speak for a different pan-British agenda which talks about inequality, social justice and ‘Breadline Britain’?

Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw, The Strange Death of Labour Scotland, published by Edinburgh University Press, £19.99

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Strange-Death-Labour-Scotland-Hassan/dp/0748640029/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340492535&sr=1-3

This article first appeared on the Compass blog, where comments should be written. Celyn would appreciate if comments from our readers were also copied here. Thanks.

Leanne Wood wins Plaid leadership: victory for the left


By Darren Williams

Leanne Wood, the left candidate, founder member of the Celyn editorial team and occasional ‘Labour Briefing’ contributor, has won Plaid Cymru’s leadership election. The South Wales Central Assembly Member secured 55% of the vote over her main rival, Elin Jones, on the second ballot, after former leader, Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas had been eliminated.

Her victory is remarkable for a number of reasons. First of all, she came from behind: virtually no-one was predicting that she would win when the contest began in January. She overtook her rivals partly through the sheer energy and determination of her campaign, which saw her speaking at meetings all over Wales on a nightly basis, while also making extensive use of social networking and other online tools. But equally important has been the clarity and forcefulness of her ideas, and the passion with which she has communicated them. While Leanne’s campaign inspired young people in particular, and undoubtedly played a big part in the 23% increase in Plaid’s membership during the campaign, the original favourite, Elin Jones, was left looking staid and complacent.

Second, the result is significant because of who Leanne is. She the first woman to lead Plaid, the first leader from a working class background in the South Wales Valleys and the first not to have grown up speaking Welsh as her first language (although, as a long-time adult learner of Welsh, she had become sufficiently confident to take part in hustings conducted entirely in the language – which will have impressed many in her party).  By contrast, Elin Jones is a farmer’s daughter from rural West Wales, who has spoken Welsh all her life – far more the leader one might have expected Plaid to have chosen.

Third, Leanne is left-wing not just in Plaid terms but by comparison with virtually anyone involved in electoral politics in Britain today. She is a sincere and committed socialist, whose ideas have been profoundly influenced by those of Marxists like Raymond Williams and Gwyn Alf Williams, and who has looked to Cuba for inspiration. She is an outspoken republican, who has consistently boycotted the Queen’s visits to the Assembly, latterly opting to work with the homeless instead. And she is as passionate and serious-minded about green politics as any politician today: see her ‘Greenprint for the Valleys’, which sets out proposals for the sustainable economic regeneration, on a co-operative basis, of South Wales’ ravaged former industrial communities.

Of course, Leanne’s election does not mean that Plaid as a whole has embraced her socialist ideas in their entirety: the party remains a very broad coalition, stretching from Leanne herself to conservative cultural nationalists on the right. But her election shows that it is Leanne and her comrades on the Plaid left who will now be setting the party’s agenda. Part of her success can be attributed to her serious and unapologetic approach to the issue of Welsh independence, which has relied neither on romantic appeals to ‘blood and soil’ nationalism nor to a preoccupation with purely juridical sovereignty. Instead, she has talked about ‘real independence’: the social and economic substance behind any meaningful conception of self-government.

Leanne’s victory should be welcomed by all serious socialists. Sadly, it will be greeted with hostility or indifference by many within Welsh Labour. Some will deny that anything has fundamentally changed, claiming that Plaid has no consistent commitment to social justice or the interests of working people. Others will be preoccupied by electoral considerations, fearing that Plaid will now take votes from many who previously supported Labour.  Yet, if nothing else, Leanne’s election almost certainly rules out any future coalition between Plaid and the Tories, something that was a real possibility after the 2007 Assembly election and opposition to which Leanne has made a an important plank of her leadership campaign. More fundamentally, Leanne’s victory will shift Welsh politics to the left, keeping Welsh Labour under pressure to maintain and strengthen its ‘clear red water’ policy programme and to resist the influence of the small but highly-placed number of crypto-Blairites seeking to drag the party to the right.

The Welsh political landscape has changed significantly in the last few days. Socialists should celebrate – and set about engaging with the new realities.

A version of this article was written for Labour Briefing magazine.

See also A red current flows from the valleys of Wales

Welsh Labour circles the wagons

By Darren Williams 

Wales is the one part of Britain (beyond municipal level) where Labour remains in government and this achievement elicited due respect from Ed Miliband, Iain McNicol and Douglas Alexander when they visited Welsh Labour conference in Cardiff on the weekend.

But, while Alexander was keen to co-opt the Welsh example of successful devolution for his campaign against the SNP’s independence proposals, he was notably reticent about the content of the ‘distinctly Welsh social-democratic offer’. The latter might succinctly be summarised as its commitment to equality of outcome and rejection of the New Labour/Tory/Lib Dem approach to the ’reform’ of public services. This contrasts of course, with Scottish Labour’s failure to distance itself significantly from Westminster. Miliband heaped praise on First Minister, Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour’s values of ‘community, solidarity and responsibility’ but again had relatively little to say about the policies – although he did at least acknowledge, approvingly, that Wales had a rejected the ‘free market free-for-all’ in the NHS.

Carwyn’s own conference speech was a powerful restatement of Welsh Labour’s commitment to ‘fairness and social justice’. On healthcare he was particularly emphatic, saying that Welsh Labour believed in ‘citizen-centred public services for all, not “choice” for the few’, publicly funded and delivered. He added that the ‘privatisation and marketisation of the NHS will stop at the border’ – although there are some concerns that the competition clauses in Lansley’s bill might affect Wales because only the UK as a whole is seen a relevant jurisdiction under EU competition law.

There was little controversy on the conference floor, with the motions tending to offer encouragement to the Welsh Government, rather than criticism or demands. Aslef welcomed plans for a ‘not-for-dividend’ Welsh rail franchise and Unite praised the launch of Future Jobs Wales, which will provide 4,000 16-to-24 year olds annually with six months of work or training at the national minimum wage. One of the few potentially contentious matters was a proposal from Cardiff North CLP that, in the face of the forthcoming reduction of Welsh MPs from 40 to 30, Welsh Labour should follow the recent Scottish example and retain, as the basis of constituency organisation, the Assembly boundaries (thus far, coterminous with those for Westminster) rather than change to reflect the parliamentary map. While eminently sensible, this idea offends Welsh MPs and their camp followers and the issue has been referred for consideration to an ad hoc working group by the Welsh Executive Committee, which secured remission of the motion.

The election results announced at conference represented modest gains for the centre-left. The three Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG) members on the WEC were all re-elected and were joined by fellow-travellers, Newport councillor, Debbie Wilcox and former AM, Christine Gwyther (remarkably, nine of the ten CLP seats on the WEC are now held by women). The two Welsh ‘regional’ seats on the NPF chosen by conference were both elected unopposed, one incumbent being WLG member, Mark Whitcutt.

As ever, some of the most interesting discussions took place at the fringes – particularly the well-attended meeting held by Welsh Labour Grassroots. Cardiff Council candidate, Siobhan Corria, argued that Labour needed to engage with local communities if it to win back Welsh town halls and run progressive administrations after May 3rd. Assembly Member and Welsh Labour policy guru, Mark Drakeford, excoriated Europe’s disastrous austerity policies and observed that the Obama administration, in contrast, had promoted growth and jobs – although, in a grossly unequal society, the benefits were flowing predominantly to capital and the rich. He hoped that, in Wales, we could ‘get both the economics and the politics right’.

Unite and Labour NEC member, Martin Mayer, described his union’s strategy for building an activist base in the party, able to develop and fight for socialist policies and secure the election of union-friendly MPs. And Welsh Health minister, Lesley Griffiths, reiterated Carwyn’s message about the NHS in Wales, reaffirming that reconfiguration would be governed by the best way to deliver quality services, not by neoliberal dogma. These discussions provided the activists present with valuable ammunition for the battles ahead.

A version of this article appears in the March issue of Labour Briefing magazine.

Welsh Labour Conference: Beware the Ides of March.

By Gordon Gibson

A few weeks early for the Ides, the backstabbing began. Not the ‘disruption’ the left is accused of when debate breaks out; Labour’s post-Blair democracy leaves little room for that sort of thing. At Welsh Labour’s 500-strong ‘best attended, best ever’ conference, all resolutions were passed virtually unanimously, with the full support of the Welsh Executive. Change days indeed.

Opposition and manoeuvring these days is for the spinners. Appropriately in back rooms, huddles and corridors of the conference’s cricket ground venue in Cardiff, they were much in evidence last weekend.

Highlight speech was from Ed Miliband, setting out policies that ordinary people want to hear. And he tentatively apologised for the Blair years, calling for Labour to ‘win back the trust’ of voters. To do that, he voiced some hitherto unmentionables: “tax bankers’ bonuses; create 100,000 jobs for young people; too many jobs low wage, low skill; good jobs, good wages; irresponsible capitalism; reform the banks”. For government contracts, “every company must provide apprenticeships for the next generation”. Banking is to be teased apart with a new British Investment Bank to ‘properly serve business’. Here, he’s weakest, not least with ‘an employee on every remuneration committee so that top executives have to look an ordinary member of staff in the eye before they award themselves that pay rise”. As if they care.

Note: not a word about taxes.

And how did the media cover this? They spotted Ed Balls’ seemingly mischievous press release calling for a reduction in income tax. They picked up disgraced expenses fiddler, LibDem banker David Laws, currently being rehabilitated by his millionaire friends in government, joining the media tax fetish. And poor old John Prescott (‘poor old’ only in this context) gets flayed for his rather brave and poignant reference to his inability to hug his beloved sons. Ed Miliband? Labour fightback? What’s that?

Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Scot, was first up at conference, drawing lessons on Labour’s ‘historic defeat’ last May, when 1999’s “only true National Party of Scotland, found itself supported by only one in eight Scottish voters”. He appears to have learned little. Despite wondering that we may have got it right ‘Standing Up For Wales’, and holding on to power, Alexander spent much of his delivery berating the SNP and defending the Union. He rightly flags the SNP’s support for Tory votes in London; their claim that the Scots ‘didn’t mind’ Thatcher’s economic policies; their advocacy of corporation tax cuts for bankers; SNP capital investment cuts and public sector job losses greater that those of the Tories in Westminster. The problem is, Scottish voters associate these policies and many more with New Labour negativity. Because of that, Labour is facing devastation in Scotland.

ImageSo it fell to Carwyn to spell it out. Standing up for jobs, services, and the development of the Welsh economy is what wins votes, not carping about other parties, pandering to bankers, or overstating ‘the Union’. Of course he played to his audience with the obligatory lambasting of the other parties. Least appropriate was his line on ‘placard waving megaphone’ Plaid, an attack on the wing of Plaid that Labour should most identify with in the fight against the Tories. Of more political sharpness, exemplary in fact, was his positive approach, claiming Labour as the party of the language and of Wales – bringing in the first ever Welsh Language Commissioner, launching a new Welsh Language Strategy and placing the language at the centre of Welsh life and culture – ‘Llafur Cymru yw eich plaid’. Enacting policy is what Welsh (and Scottish) people want to see and feel in these hard times and Jones focused on jobs, employment and training for young people, services, the NHS, children, communities – ‘accessible, high quality, citizen-centred services for all’. ‘The forces of marketisation and privatisation of the NHS will stop at the border.’

Conference speeches get loaded with niceties and (often) false flattery. Peter Hain delivered the heaviest load. Praised as ‘friend’ by Ed, Douglas and Carwyn, Hain, as is the way with Oscar winners, saw fit to heap thanks on everyone under the sun, or under Welsh Labour’s red flag, naming, one by one, Union leaders, MPs, Assembly Members, councillors, party workers, his old auntie in Merthyr. (I lied about that last one.) One gets more than a trifle cynical. Peter Hain counts his political friends in Wales carefully. In recent years, the Labour machine in Wales, contrary to its much-lauded Hardie/ Bevan legacies, has set aside much of the radicalism it may have had. Hain names names to maintain support for his own project, interestingly revealed in his platform appearance at the Liam Byrne, Purple Book ‘Progress’ fringe meeting on Sunday.

There’s the danger. Having led Labour to election disaster in Westminster and Scotland, alienating the party from its core support in the process, the Blairites, still dominant in Westminster and the party apparatus, remain obsessed with the middle ground – a cover for deep conservatism. In Wales, and perhaps with Ed Miliband in London (the jury is still out but we spotted a difference!), there is a glimmer of hope, some ‘clear red water’, what Carwyn chooses to call ‘the dividing line, stopping at the border’. Supportive policies and campaigning will win voters; best if they are clearly against the Tories and their banker-feeding austerity offensive. But there are dark forces at work within Labour too. And the media loves them.

Welsh Labour? Why?!!!

As the Welsh Labour Party gathers for its annual conference in Cardiff this weekend, the question is asked “Why, for goodness sake, does anyone support Labour?” Gordon Gibson reckons that the Welsh Party should top up its supplies of ‘clear red water’.

Visiting my mother in Scotland last week I was rather shaken by two events. Five years ago, Labour had 69 out of 79 seats on Glasgow council. Last week they wheeled out the infirm to secure a majority of 2 for their budget. With defections, deselections and disaffection galore, Scotland’s rock-solid bastion of Labour is now a hung council. On May 3rd, there is every likelihood that Glasgow will go SNP.

It came up in conversation when I met up with former flatmates and friends I hadn’t seen for decades, a not overtly political lot. Declaring my hand, I told them of Labour’s support in Wales. In disbelieving, unrehearsed unison they replied. “Why, for goodness sake?”

In Scotland, the drift away from Labour is frightening. The party appears hell-bent on retaining its New Labour character by, for example, raising Alastair Darling from the ashes to call for unity with Tories and LibDems to preserve the Union, and by having little political strategy other than to slag off the SNP. Unfortunately for Labour, the SNP, being the populist party it is and led by a very shrewd political operator in Alex Salmond, is saying all the things that people want to hear, things that Labour should be saying.

Scottish people, whose under-rated political traditions expressed themselves over the years with overwhelming social democratic and communist representation, don’t take kindly to Labour’s new leader, Johann Lamont, like her predecessor, shrugging off the dissent in her own back yard, and joining the tribalism. The Scots don’t have a problem with the SNP if it is standing up to the Tories. And it is. They, the Scots, will consider independence and its implications in due course. They know, as one wag said, that there are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs, and that it is the Westminster Tories, jobs and cuts that are the issue for now. All they hear from Labour, both in Westminster and Holyrood, is, at best, a confusing message about the economy, debt and necessary cuts, wrapped up in anti-SNP rhetoric and tosh about ‘the Union’. As in Glasgow, the only outcome will be to drive voters into the haven of the SNP, and so towards independence.

In Scotland, during the Blair years and before the unforgivable Sheridan debacle, Scots had begun to see an alternative to New Labour in the likes of the Scottish Socialist Party. After the 2003 elections, the SSP had 6 MSPs – an extraordinary achievement for an avowedly left socialist party. Sheridan’s antics put paid to that, but the die was cast. Voters and, even more important, young people were looking for alternatives. Salmond and the SNP, never friends of socialism, were happy to provide the rhetoric and, wisely, no small gains and resistance to the Tories. Although always a home for disaffected Labourites, the SNP was, hitherto, not a party of left nationalism; it was always much messier. It’s another story now.

In Wales. Labour holds on to a fragile support, with a different back-cloth. The mainstream left divides itself into two camps: disaffected left socialists form a strong current in Plaid Cymru, finding expression in Leanne Wood, running as favourite to win next month’s leadership election. If she does, it is bound to shake up both Plaid and Labour. Plaid has matured from a traditionally ‘Welsh language nationalist’ party, with worrying pro-fascist elements in its history, currently being re-assessed by their leading left ideologue and former MP, Adam Price. Labour, on the other hand is tending to regress into a old-style male apparatus that finds ‘the national question’, not to mention ‘campaigning trade union resistance’, rather awkward.

Labour took its leftism into government after the devolution vote of 1997 and even drew Plaid into the ‘One Wales’ coalition from 2007-11. First Minister Rhodri Morgan, Welsh leader for most of 10 years from 2000, had described that leftism as ‘clear red water’ between Wales and Blair’s Westminster, as early as 2002.

Make no mistake, the achievements of devolution are not to be scoffed at. Morgan’s cabinet in 2000 was the first in the western world to have a majority of women ministers. Their constitution put sustainablity and equality above all else. Sure Start, focused on child poverty, was embraced, developed and is now protected in Wales. The Assembly was first with free travel for older and disabled people back in 2002, first with free prescriptions in 2007, first with a strategic planning policy in 2004; Scotland came first with subsidised student fees back in 2000, Wales came on board to underwrite against the Tory fee increases last year. And you can be sure that the NHS is a lot safer in Welsh and Scottish hands than it is in the Tories’.

Conference this weekend will test Welsh Labour’s mettle. New leader, Carwyn Jones, has no mean task on his hands. Ed Miliband’s trials and tribulations are analysed most generously as ‘biding his time’ while he endeavours to change the course of the entrenched, unaccountable apparatus and parliamentary party of Blair’s legacy. Carwyn dances, perhaps not quite with Rhodri’s aplomb, on tightropes of slashed budgets and Tory defiance, that still ambiguous leadership from London, and a burgeoning independence debate at odds, for Labour, with our experience of devolution – and all whilst onlooking Labour’s danse macabre, and the SNP’s jig, in Scotland.

The priorities remain to do all we can to protect jobs and services, seeking new and innovative ways to boost the Welsh economy, pursuing the green agenda, building resistance to the Tories. These themes form the core of Welsh Labour Grassroots conference fringe meeting on Saturday evening, 18th February, 6.00 pm at the Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff CF11 9SW, with Lesley Griffiths AM (Welsh Health Minister); Mark Drakeford AM (Cardiff West); Siobhan Corria (Llandaff North council candidate); and Martin Mayer (Unite the Union and Labour party NECs).

That discussion is sharpened by the Plaid contest, where these same themes, laced with independence, are the essence of Leanne Wood’s bid for leadership. She is quite clear that she sees no circumstances for alliances with the Tories. That’s about jobs and cuts and a future for Wales, not just the Union. Labour take heed.

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