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A Note on Celyn

Celyn was a hard copy occasional paper that sought to bring together the left in Wales. Under the by-line of ‘Green, Left and Spiky’, it offered discussion from various strands in the green movement, Labour, Plaid , the CP and the likes of CND in Wales and these currents were represented on the editorial team. In short, it was an effort to provide a unifying forum for the left in Wales.

Running a regular journal isn’t easy, without finances behind us. To sustain the effort, we shifted to a digital format pulled together by myself, no expert in journalism or IT – I had been a recent student of Adobe InDesign used on the later editions of the hard copy. When Leanne Wood was elected to the leadership of Plaid Cymru, we lost one of our core ‘raisons d’etre’ and the inputs declined.

I could not politically justify running Celyn as a journal as a ‘sole trader’, a singular political voice. It functions sporadically, perhaps naughtily on my part, as a repository for my occasional blogs.

On the other hand, there remains a clear need for such effort in Wales and I remain very happy to leave the ‘blog’ open and accessible to those who wish to publish under that basic ‘green red’ rubric, not to mention ‘spiky’. Perhaps we can continue as a blog for a while and make a case for something more structured in future. For now, if you’d like to publish, please leave a note on these pages and I will get back to you.

Thanks; diolch yn fawr

Gordon

February 2020

A Fate Worse than Brexit (Part 2)

[An earlier article, A Fate Worse than Brexit – The December Election, provides the author’s background analysis, here pursued in the first paragraphs.] 

A Fate Worse than Brexit – Where to now?

Gordon Gibson

In the fateful December General Election, the British Labour Party lost over 50 seats in its traditional heartlands. Three decades of unemployment, zero-hours contracts, benefits, no hope, loss of industry and manufacturing, replaced regular unionised work and self-organisation in communities that had virtually defined Labour.

Collective life was wrecked in favour of isolation, Sun and Sky journalism, gambling, football and pornography, much of it heralded in under Blair’s deal with Murdoch. No wonder people were disillusioned with bourgeois politics.

Alienation had begun in earnest after Thatcher’s defeat of the miners in the early-mid 1980s.   

Gains made under Blair’s early Labour were washed away by the Iraq war and neo-liberal economics. Older white workers in particular were left behind; communities became vulnerable to racism and English nationalism, blaming everyone but the rich for their loss of dignity. As far back as 2009, UKIP won 17% of the vote. The writing was on the wall.

Labour persisted with its decline. Blair had lost millions of votes, then came Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, with two brief stand-ins by Harriet Harman. That changed with a bang when Jeremy Corbyn sneaked on to the leadership ballot and shocked the still-Blairite, comfortable middle class ‘champagne socialists’, bon-viveurs, career politicians and that layer of young New Labour apparatchiks, fresh from university. Shocking the system, the establishment, Corbyn provided a huge boost to Labour with rocketing membership, a regeneration of party democracy, a campaigning base, and a policy break from austerity. There was a new enthusiasm with deep roots amongst young people.  

As the US turned right, followed by much of Europe and South America, Britain looked leftward. We would almost certainly have gone down that right-wing road sooner without Corbyn. He wasn’t helped by the Brexit referendum and the embodiment of Murdoch-style politics into the erstwhile discreet and stable British bourgeois democratic tradition. Corbyn may have failed but his framework was the antidote to the rightism and even fascism sweeping the world from Burma to Brazil, India to Israel, US to UK, and much of Europe.  

Here can be found the substance of resistance. Labour’s manifesto; the questioning, albeit insufficient, of the Brexit deal; the belated and forced recognition of the alienation of traditional Labour voters; the new active campaigning membership of Labour; indeed, the democracy of the Party – all matters currently being challenged in Labour’s leadership contest, and being resisted by most candidates. The stakes are high.

The media is complicit: no coverage of the French general strikes; continued play on Labour’s anti-Semitism as the US-Israeli deal tolls a terrible blow to Palestine; a real danger of capitalism using war, as it does, to alleviate economic crises. Ironically (a gentle word in this context), the media’s complicity gets it nowhere: the print media is in crisis, owned by a narrower spectrum of ruthlessness; the BBC for all its supposed bias is in serious danger of destruction in favour of a Fox type media that has so well served Trump. This is not a time for centrism, compromise and cosy negotiations. These people are very nasty.

Scottish workers have written their own script of opposition, workers in London and Liverpool have remained resolute. Wales continues to waver. Many north English losses are now new marginals, ripe for campaigning, action, and resistance to what promise to be tough times ahead. Extinction Rebellion and the environment movement are mobilising new layers to innovative forms of struggle. Community self-organisation takes on new forms, if often in defensive mode. And the anti-racist movement, perhaps not yet as strong as the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism of the 1980s, is nonetheless significant and certainly an organising base against the re-emergent right, it being nourished by the new Tories and their media.  

Our people have been much abused over the past three decades and more. The huge social gains of the post-war period, under both Labour and 50s Conservatives (yes really!), have been eaten away by privatisations and obscene profiteering, in favour of which current governments, not least the Tories, promise less regulation and controls, less social protections and a singular focus on economic growth and fast bucks.

Against this, ease away from the drive to the centre, for there lies disaster – aka the Liberal election dream and the Labour renegades. ‘In which direction to turn’ is a universal, not solely Labour problem. To be slightly parochial, the SNP, now clearly a social democratic party, will not find it easy against Tory populism, not that Scottish Labour is currently capable of stepping in. Similarly in Wales, unless Welsh Labour is seriously shaken up, the chances of survival as leaders of the Welsh Assembly are tenuous.

Only popular movements can resist rightist pressure. In the main, that will be through single issue campaigns. Politics has to be alive to that. For sure, if they are to survive, political parties must find policies that service popular campaigning. An orientation to the ‘green new deal’, more than planting trees, valuable as that is, towards establishing industries for renewables and energy is essential. Get in there first as the investment capitalists, short of homes for their ill-gotten gains, have an eye on that market and the Tories will be close behind them. In Scotland, there is valuable discussion in favour of a Green Investment Bank so that such policies as infrastructure investment are decided there, locally, rather than by the Tories in London. 

Turn towards our people for these campaigns. Focus there on needs and strengths. Base that, in the first instance, on youth, on the new generation of activism. Never forget that Corbyn was a significant catalyst for that generation. There is no going back to the old ways, no risking the alienation of youth.

If we fail, the vulnerability of the class to English nationalism, to fascism, or to ‘progressive patriotism’ is a fearful danger. The election gave us yet another reminder. Remember the referendum. If we are complacent, if we are led back to the old ways that have so betrayed our voters to the point that they are in social and political purgatory, then the price will be unbearable. Back 100 years ago in the 1920s, ‘socialism in one country’ left German workers isolated and vulnerable. That didn’t end well.

For now, resistance (for that is the reality of the day) will express itself in single issues – defence of jobs, the Health Service, social welfare, workers’ rights, pensions, heaven knows what arising from Brexit, anti-racism, Stop the War, Climate Change and the environment. An early challenge is to turn the fraudulent anti-Labour attacks towards the real anti-semites, spurred on by Brexit and already expressing themselves in physical attacks and graffiti in Britain and in organised fascism in the European mainland.

These issues are comprehensively covered in Labour’s 2019 manifesto, for all the weaknesses the right seek to dish it with.      

The future is always, first and foremost, to work with and for our own people. Never forget. All this talk of being electable is tosh; we are to cringe towards those that berate us. No! We have to be out there providing real answers to our real people.   

Gordon Gibson

February 2020

A Fate Worse than Brexit

A three-parter: 1. The December Election; 2. Where we are Now; 3. What Next.

A Fate Worse than Brexit – The December Election

Everyone – nearly everyone – got it wrong.

The opinion polls got it wrong. Their much-publicised glee at getting the exit poll right – not the most difficult exercise, papered over the lies and fraud of the whole election. They had told us it was increasingly a close-run thing, probably a Tory win but perhaps a hung parliament. Much of the left, including myself and Rebecca Long-Bailey tended towards this outcome.

The right of the LP got it more wrong and now disguise their own role by further denunciation of Corbyn. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and their allies in the media were the worst offenders. They hounded Corbyn; they force-fed the anti-Semitism filth; they called for a second referendum; they assumed that ‘Remain’ would be the winner; some of the worst of them resigned. They remain horribly wrong on all counts.

The ‘leftist’ post-election pundits are getting it wrong, mostly baying for some movement towards the mythical centre, despite that that centre also got wiped out or barely registered in the election. Paul Mason and Owen Jones, who both swung like a pendulum over the Corbyn years, now construct rightward critiques: Mason completely loses the plot with some fanciful call for a new centrist unity; Jones claims that we should have campaigned on a Norway-style Brexit and that we don’t have enough bureaucrats and organisers, negating the fantastic shift that young activists have brought towards social media and new campaigning. ‘Few experienced bureaucrats and organisers’ indeed! Jones should look again to Wales where the same bureaucrats have maintained a strangle-hold over the party, distanced themselves from Corbyn with their ‘Welsh Labour’ wrappings and are likely, as a result, to lead us to losing the leadership of the Welsh Assembly. John Harris was never on the side of the left despite the language he uses.  

The leave side was dismayed with the conference’s change of position on the second referendum – we should have accepted the result. They were right but, unfortunately, not in such simple terms. Nothing has been simple about the EU.

A Brexit Election    

Starmer’s six tests had provided a framework to manage the post-referendum rift: an ongoing relationship with the EU; the ‘exact same benefits’ from the Single Market and Customs Union as now; fair management of migration; defend rights and protections; protect national security; deliver for a regions and nations of the UK.

These conditions could never be met. The rabid Brexiteers leading negotiations on behalf of the May government got nowhere near, hardly leaving the starting line. They achieved virtually nothing in three years and, one after the other, resigned from their task.

Corbyn was more sceptical. He branded the EU as worth 7/10. Starmer’s six tests provided a useful foundation; Corbyn was more explicit – workers’ rights, protection of the NHS, defence of the public sector against EU privatisation options, the addition of the green agenda. This was a sound basis for the resistance to Brexit or, alternatively, to set an agenda for a leave deal.

From day one after the referendum, whilst respecting the result, it was the deal, the shocking implications of Leave, that both sides (of Labour) should have concentrated on. That was the mistake. The pro-EUer’s made it during the referendum and since, including in the December election. First there was complacency, led by Tory Cameron’s call for the referendum on the assumption that he would sort out his anti-EU right wing. Then a total lack of effort (on all sides) to counter the years of media propaganda – the square tomatoes and straight bananas, the ‘political correctness’, the bureaucrats, the ‘frogs’, the Germans and the war. It had been relentless.

The referendum campaign itself was vile, not least with Farage being forced on us from all directions. Yet it was assumed ‘remain’ would win. The shock was that towns like Ebbw Vale voted Leave, despite that their precarious survival before and after steel had been solely down to huge EU financial support. That’s alienation for you.

No-one saw it coming; not Cameron, not Labour (torn both ways already), not British capitalism, and certainly not the Remainers; all were devastated by the result. Many were devastated, disbelieving even more, by the December election result. How could it happen? How could working people, low income families, disabled, the working class of the mining communities, of the north, of north Wales; how could they desert Labour and vote Tory?

We should look at our disbelief for explanations, not ‘turkeys voting for xmas’, not our class inflicting untold damage on themselves. They will need us to stand by them in the weeks, months and years to come.     

In short, disbelief is rooted in the complacency of the Remainers. If we shout loud for ‘Remain’ and have a second referendum all will be resolved. History passed its verdict on that theory in December. That pressure, largely from within the PLP, did for Corbyn and for Labour’s election hopes.

Of course there were other factors – the sustained media hostility, the fraudulent anti-Semitism, weaknesses in Labour’s campaign strategy, etc., but the main factor was that Corbyn was the only one that was cautious on Europe; virtually everyone else knew better. Corbyn gave ground under that terrible pressure, and we will all pay the price.

Labour’s campaign assumed that if we presented a comprehensive socialist programme it would swamp what was and is the empty Brexit barrel – a slogan with no substantive content since day one.

Brexit alienation.

This analysis is relatively easy in hindsight.

The full impact of Brexit alienation is visible: how we failed to address it back then and continued to get it wrong into the election. Labour’s ‘muddled’ position: ‘Are you Leave or Remain?’. The party, influenced largely by the PLP and the anti-Corbyn Progress faction, wanted more and more ‘Remain’, a second referendum. Only Corbyn was concerned with our Leave voters. But by then, he and we were making the best of a bad job, a lost cause. On the other hand, the new Tories, the populist nationalist Tories, played on alienation – a very dangerous rebranding indeed.

Back in 2016 and the heady days of 2017, we had a chance. Tens of thousands, inspired by Corbyn, were joining the Labour Party. The 2017 manifesto began to address the real concerns of the class. That programme was developed further, with more thought, care and underpinning, in the run-in to the December election. In amongst that were the reasons to remain in Europe, or to protect if we leave: the defence of rights and regulations, of holidays and leave, of unions, of free-movement, of the environment, of investment in our post-industrial communities, of welfare. It all got lost in the Remain muddle. The Johnson-Cummings single issue campaign rode over the disarray, a disarray that had emerged in 2016. Alienation of the class is rooted decades before.

A second referendum could even have been defended. Accept the result; now it is about the deal.

Could we accept a deal? In truth, whatever the Tories put before us, or not put before us, will be thoroughly unacceptable. Had we argued the case from 2016 we might, only might, have had a chance. But we were served by a hungry media, dining on our Remain hotpot, the side dishes being provided by our own party.  

Everything should have been about the headlines and detail of the deal. That could appeal to both leave and remain and focus minds on the substance rather than the propaganda. What, in practical terms, is leaving the EU going to mean to most of us? Just to scratch that surface is a horror story.

Most of all, ‘What’s in the deal?’ could talk to the alienated class in the north and in Wales, those that have fallen victim to Labour’s woes. It may even have had some resonance in Scotland, but that is another kettle of cauliflowers.

For all the efforts to blame Corbyn and the campaign, there is no getting away from the fact that of 54 Labour seats lost, 52 were in Leave constituencies. Back in 2017, Labour had gained its biggest increase in vote share since 1945, and its biggest share since Blair in 1997.  Corbyn transformed the party, its politics, its support and its active base. That didn’t just disappear in two years. Yes, it was eroded and the long-discredited ‘first past the post’ electoral system didn’t help.

Back in the Blair years, we should have ditched the Tories for good and revealed the LibDems as their clones, the combined opposition. Heaven knows Clegg and Cable gave us every chance.

Now, after the Scottish debacle, it is Labour that is in danger, having learned little. A leftish social-democratic SNP, if tinged with nationalism, has wiped Labour off the page.

The Scots are fortunate. The danger south of the border is that Tory populism, variants on ‘progressive patriotism’, English nationalism, xenophobia, racism or even fascism will do the job for capitalism. The Labour leadership contest has much responsibility if it is to serve our people.     

To be continued…

Gordon Gibson is a Scot, a long-time resident in Wales. He is a Labour member and currently Chair of his local Constituency Party in South Wales.

January 2020

A morning-after speech

A ‘morning after’ speech to the post-Election Rally in Swansea

Gordon Gibson, Chair Swansea West CLP

14 December 2019

First, I want to thank the hundreds and thousands of you from inside and outside the party that mobilised for campaigning, canvassing, rallies and media work in support of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. It was a huge and inspiring effort here in South Wales with cars, train-trips and support travelling west, between constituencies and locally. Big thanks.

There were thousands out, many of them new people, inspired by Corbyn’s Labour. Not only was Jeremy popular but so were Labour’s policies

Our job now is to sustain that movement – once the dismay is harnessed, once we’ve had a rest.

The election was about Brexit.

There’s a direct correlation between Leave votes in referendum and Labour losses now, especially in the north of England.

The Labour right that spent the whole time attacking Corbyn and calling for a clear Remain campaign have been proved horribly wrong.

It was only Corbyn that resisted that, even within the party leadership. He was put under terrible pressure, from the Parliamentary Party and the media. But he has been proved right. The backstabbers have been proved wrong. Corbyn and our team may have done it better and we must discuss that rationally. But, bottom line, he was right.

Those communities in the north that voted Tory, often for the first time, are going to pay a terrible price. We must stand by them.

How have they come to their Brexit and Tory positions?

It’s called ‘alienation’, alienation from bourgeoise politics (too complex to discuss here)

It started with the defeat of the miners and communities; it festered under the Blair years and got full expression with austerity.

We used to deal with that stuff through the unions, local clubs our communities. Those were our ‘bubbles’ back then.

Now, low income households are isolated, vulnerable to the media and the tosh it spouts, not a million miles from Orwell’s 1984.

Even as the ballot boxes closed the news media had lined up renegades like Kate Hoey and John Mann. Early on, I witnessed a former Labour researcher whose sole contribution was to launch a tirade against Corbyn.

That’s why the bubbles of Social media and the unions are so important. And one reason why Corbyn’s free broadband for all was relevant. And of course collective campaigning.

The attack on socialist policies

The right, desperate to avoid admission of their erroneous complicity, is shifting ground to blame Corbyn’s socialism and Labour’s manifesto. The establishment loves this treachery. The present attack will be just as bad as it has been over the past months.

In short, Corbyn has been a breath of fresh air and the establishment has mobilised its full force to fight him – unfortunately with success.

And now?

Corbyn and Labour have built a huge movement. We must do everything to consolidate its great unity and strength.

The One Nation Tories, a term hardly heard of during the campaign, are today out with Boris in the North of England – seeking to consolidate their working class base. Their ‘one nation’ can only be English Nationalism and we should be watchful of that, for they have surely brought about the end of the United Kingdom with Scotland about to go and Ireland likely to break into sectarian strife again as the long overdue united Ireland re-emerges. We in Wales are going to have to think seriously about that too.

We already know what English Nationalism offers us and there is no doubt the extreme right will resurface, including inside an increasingly right wing Tory Party

Don’t think this is growing up from below. It is well funded. Did you see the election day banners that sprang up on the bridges in Swansea? Excellent, clearly home made ‘Defend the NHS Vote Labour’ banners, both in English and Welsh, were torn down within 24 hours and replaced with pre-printed well-funded Brexit/ UKIP / ‘Give Boris a Chance’ banners and shocking anti Corbyn printed posters. There is big money behind the right. One of Farage’s main funders Aaron Banks was also an early invitee onto TV’s post election ‘analysis’.  

So the priority is now self-organisation and unity. It will likely find expression in single issue campaigns, not least Climate Change, Extinction Rebellion, anti-racist activity, the welfare system and the NHS. In fact you can find an excellent check-list in Labour’s manifesto.

The first expressions will be on the streets but don’t underestimate the fight in and the role of the Labour Party. The next leader is a big issue. Corbyn has turned the party round – there is still a way to go but it is so important that we stay in there, stay active and fight to sustain all that he has built both inside and outside the party; to sustain the hope and inspiration that reached so many of us.

So, harness the dismay. Have a rest. Solidarity, strength, organisation. Maintain the unity and fight on. They are not going to give us social change on a plate.

Gordon Gibson

Chair, Swansea West Constituency Labour Party   

Brexit: What could possibly go right?

What a mess.

How about we replace Prime Minister May with someone who believes in Brexit? Well, yes, let’s not mention that, for two years, the most ardent Brexiteers, Davies, Fox, Johnson, Gove, Raab have driven the exercise, only to achieve close to nothing. Then resigned. Ostensibly, reasons for resignations or shuffles to new stations on their journey to superpowerdom, were due to the Chequers Proposal, constructed precisely as a result of miserable failure to come to terms with the enormity of a task they had so lightly assumed to be easy peasy, not to mention financially beneficial, to the point, they claimed, that even a ‘no deal’ would be to the benefit of us all. What fools.

It transpires that the task is well nigh impossible; forty plus years of social and economic integration, embracing a plethora of the most diverse and complex deals ranging from seed management through to space exploration, is proving a tad difficult to unravel, let alone resolve, so much so that the ‘no deal’ extremists are thinking that perhaps they are the best shot after all. An EU minister recently described Britain’s challenge as trying to remove one egg from an omelette. It’s close to impossible. 

The primary interest of capital in all this, is business – tariffs, regulations, agreements, border controls and customs, hardly a mention of visas, health benefits, holidays, pensions, working hours and human rights. These latter haven’t yet been the subject of negotiations, so intractable are the business related matters. Hmm. Perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye.

It started when then Prime Minister Cameron thought he could resolve a painful fight in the Tory party by having a referendum, dealing a body blow en route to lefty Labour EU oppositionists, whilst shutting down, at last, the Tory nationalist right wing, that had been snapping at the party heels since Thatcher.

A bit of a miscalculation there: no one saw that result coming.

For Labour’s part, their PLP majority saw fit to devote their complacent referendum campaign time to undermining Corbyn. Meanwhile, he proved, despite the promoted historical view, to be the most active remain campaigner, with a line that, in hindsight, may still be our saviour. ‘I give the EU 7 out of 10; let’s remain and  see what we can do about it.’; this despite him being an old-style Bennite leaver – he took the most coherent pro-remain position of all. But no-one, neither the media nor the party, was listening. 

Chequers endeavoured to resolve the turmoil in the Tory Party, to find a formula that might possibly work and keep everyone on board. It was a valiant party effort by May, wrapped in sops to the DUP and hence the party right wing, but it failed immediately.

Plan B, constructed yet again to keep the Tory Party together, failed too.

Latterly, the ‘People’s Vote’, seeking a second referendum (on a question still unresolved – ‘in-out’ again, or ‘the deal’), is led by forces more interested in scoring points against Corbyn, not dissimilar to the Tories, more concerned with internal party issues than the interests of the populace.

Corbyn, keeping ‘all options open’, is under intense pressure to declare his hand. That may well serve the cause of Remain but, en route to the preferred general election, could alienate a crucial chunk of voters. Labour’s voting majority is far from secure, not least thanks to an establishment and its media that will do almost anything to keep him from power. The next government, if it is to be Labour led, is certain to be a coalition with SNP, Greens and (oh no, absolute last resort!) Liberals.

What counts are the ingredients in the ‘7 out of the 10’ that are worth defending. In Labour’s words, the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union; rights and protections; prevent a race to the bottom. And deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

I’d be adding a few myself – Human Rights, anti-nuclear, anti-war and Climate Change progress being high on my agenda. These issues are vital to either exit or remain. They are deal-breakers. Not subjective ‘for or against Europe’ or ‘for or against referendums’ or ‘for or against Tory anything’. (OK, the last one is not subjective.) We seek to hold on to rights and benefits that mean a lot to us. We should start spelling them out in detail – something complacency caused us to understate during the referendum. 

And the other side of the coin? The 3 out of 10?

The top target – austerity and neo-liberal economics are clearly in our firing line with the dismantling of public services and jobs in Greece an object lesson in what not to do. The peace agenda and arms sales merit a complete review, not least as the horrors of war, nurtured by the west’s arms and oil industry economics, are getting closer and closer to home. Then there’s Human Rights and Climate Change, migration and refugees, security and crime, including the obscene, self-serving finances of corporate capital.

A key ‘3 out of 10’ agreement, with substantial public resonance, will be ‘no impediments to the nationalisation of the rail system or to freedom from privatisation of our public services, including welfare, transport and National Health’.

The thing about Labour’s Six Tests is that there is little indication that they can ever be met. It is all just too messy. That, for me, is why we will stay. We know we will be damned if we go, losing many rights and benefits and handing our economy to the free-marketeers (and the extreme nationalist right). And we are damned if we stay in the present EU setup. [This is, of course, the SWP dilemma.]

We can’t leave because of the loss of rights and the clear right wing leadership awaiting us; the social cost, let alone the economic one, is just too high.

The argument holds either way. There are issues, policies, laws, regulations and social provisions we cannot do without. We cannot leave Europe without them being satisfied. I’m talking you and me here: our jobs, pensions, holidays, rights, then visas, customs controls, transport concessions, health agreements, security issues, student programme funding, European study visits, anti-poverty funding, exchange controls, the things you take for granted when you visit Europe. (Yes I’m a middle class Europhile; I truly love Europe, its cities, its people, its cultures.) But make no (class) mistake here. Europe is our closest neighbour and access and integration will continue to expand – many of us, not just the better off middle classes, love these holidays, the social interaction, witnessing of their social and cultural life, the weather, the markets, their provisions for children and young people. [Oh stop it, Ed.] Europe loves us too.       

OK, this is a manageable package – maintain the benefits, negotiate on the improvements. We can run with this.

Oops. There’s a catch; why March 29th is critical. If we are out, then there is no EU election in June. Mind you, so little will have been resolved. If we are not out by then, how do you handle the EU election?  Can you imagine what that election will be like? It will be a ‘bonfire of the vanities’, giving rise to another wave of media led ‘betrayal’ and right wing platforms whichever way we go, unleashing Farage again (they are starting to give him time already), regenerating the virtually obsolete UKIP, now proving fertile ground for the fascists (Robinson appointed as a policy advisor!), themselves rejuvenated by Brexit xenophobia, and the near self-destructed Tory right being given yet another chance. (Blair should have buried them two decades ago.)

The prospect is not nice and there is no obvious answer. My best shot is that the establishment has an amazing capacity to break its own rules and will defer the Article 50 date (no problem) or shuffle March 29th. The EU election in Britain is avoided (or deferred) until our future is resolved by a Labour government that puts our, our personal, day-to-day, social and economic priorities to the forefront, satisfying the six tests and getting results on lessening EU interference in our ability to promote socialist alternatives to austerity and public services. We may or may not have to vote on that deal; we can consider that down the line.

By then, it won’t matter whether we are in or out as the things that matter to you and me will have been resolved to our benefit. If not, we’ve got a helluva fight on our hands. We may have anyway.

Gordon Gibson, November 2018

 

Major Trauma for Welsh Politics

Consultation is open on the location of Wales’ first Major Trauma Unit, being fought out between Morriston Hospital in Swansea or University Hospital Cardiff. This overtly political debate is not to be diverted into hoary old Cardiff v Swansea tosh, and neither reduced to a balance sheet for the most efficacious location, although there are strong geographical and logistical arguments in favour of Morriston.

The already congested UHW site in Cardiff will require significant shuffling and relocation of medical disciplines to house the new unit, whilst Morriston, with recent welcome and visible investment, already has a recently purchased 50 acre greenfield site with adequate space for new ‘state-of-the-art’ development. Secondly, the convenient availability of specialist disciplines in Cardiff is justified mainly as a result of the location of the head injuries unit there, as if the relocation of that unit to Morriston would be a major disruption, in the face of all the other relocations required at UHW. Further, a Morriston boost for continued invaluable development of the Medical Centre at Swansea University, would be significant.

The decision is a political one – Welsh political; in this case, it is essentially political for south Wales: How will the proposed Trauma Unit best serve the people of Wales?

Current Trauma provisions for Wales are located in Liverpool, Birmingham, North Staffs and Bristol. Indeed, there is also provision in Devon, not so far away by helicopter. There is nothing in Wales. Making provision in Cardiff, with itself, east and central Wales already well serviced by two units in Bristol, Birmingham and North Staffs, appears to be unduly narrow sighted.

That alone appears to be a strong enough case for Morriston. It points to the substantive case presented here. There is another wider and more persuasive argument.

The Trauma Unit, and the health service in general, should be seen as an important ingredient of the infrastructure of South Wales. That infrastructure, our very social fabric, is under serious threat at the moment.

The failure to invest in rail electrification to Swansea, the absence of Swansea (or anything east of Bridgend) in proposals for the ‘South Wales’ Metro, the lack of progress on the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, the vast expenditure, real and proposed, on elaborate, hardly sustainable, road systems in east Wales, the overt lack of consideration of south west Wales in the still tenuous plans for the development of Cardiff Airport, and so on, indicate not a Cardiff centric but an anglo-centric gravitational pull, of course globally inevitable, but for which we have a Welsh Government tasked to ensure that the future of the whole of Wales and its people is sustained.

Even the much-lauded City Deal, bringing welcome jobs and business development well beyond Swansea has no provision for infrastructure. Decades of similar commercially oriented investments in the valleys, stripped of their social and economic vitality with the collapse of heavy industry, have barely resulted in the social and spatial integrity that was so much a part of our communities’ very existence. They unfortunately remain an unresolved sore for both our political and financial capacity.

The decision regarding the location of the Trauma Unit is of similar import. Not some parochial matter of Cardiff v Swansea, nor the inevitable draw of wealthier jobs, indeed NHS staff at all levels, and services eastwards.

One starting point is to sustain support for our remaining industrial, agricultural and social strengths in west Wales and the inevitable traumas they will face in the years ahead. In addition, the health sector and the local authority should be constructively identified in this consultation, as they are, by far, the biggest and most critical employers in the area.

We need commitment to and investment in South Wales, in Wales as a whole, and remain deeply concerned that, despite the valiant efforts of politicians, local councils and the business community, South West Wales is steadily being undermined by decisions east of our control.

The call should go out for this tendency to be reversed, for the Welsh Government to boost the infrastructural integrity of Swansea and South West Wales, and to take this great opportunity to make the almost perfectly located Morriston Hospital a beacon of healthcare provision and infrastructure, confirming Wales, not just east Wales, as the self-supporting, community oriented, community committed social entity that has always been our strength.

Political organisations and activists in Wales should submit formal responses to the ABMU consultation and require Assembly Members to argue the wider political case in the Assembly Labour Group and beyond.

Gordon Gibson,

January 2018

More information and the proposals for developing a major trauma network for the region can be downloaded from the AMBU website  where there is also the opportunity to respond on the proposals. The closing date for responses is 9.00 am Monday 5th February 2018.

 

 

Labour in Wales: A success that dare not speak it’s name

Posted by Nick Davies

Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones
From Bridgend to Wrexham, it seemed that no pub, club, café or shopping centre was without a journalist looking for a Labour voter intending to turn Tory. Anyone muttering about ‘voting for Theresa May’ could be sure of an attentive ear. It was, after all, the official line put out by Tory Central Office that the Tories were going to end Labour’s century-long domination of Wales. The strategy was simple: Wales had voted Brexit, in previous elections many voters in Labour seats in the industrial south and north-east had turned to UKIP and now their vote was in freefall, the Tories were delivering Hard Brexit, ergo those Leave and UKIP supporters would turn to the Tories. To ease their passage over to the dark side Theresa May made three visits during the campaign.
What actually happened was that although there was a modest overall swing of 2.9% swing to the Tories in Wales, it did not translate into seats. Labour lost no seats to the Tories and regained the three lost last time: Vale of Clwyd, Cardiff North and Gower, taking them to twenty-eight seats, pushing the Tories back to the coasts and borders with eight, the only other change being Plaid’s victory over the Liberal Democrats in Ceredigion, taking them to four.
Labour’s success was tarnished, however, by the way in which candidates in these constituencies were imposed without any regard to the members there. In particular, the very popular socialist Liz Evans, who lost Gower by only 27 votes last time, was rejected.
Why did the Tory dog not bark? The Tories’ basic error was assuming that Labour Leave voters would vote Tory. As in parts of England, while Theresa May wanted this to be the Brexit Election, the voters decided that it would be the austerity election and voted accordingly. Where the UKIP vote collapsed, both Labour and the Tories fell on the carcass but Labour had more of the spoils.
Some examples should suffice: in Caerphilly, the UKIP vote went down by 16.3%. The Tories’ vote went up by 8.6% but that of Labour went up by 10.1%. In Torfaen, the respective figures were 15.1%, 7.8% and 12.9%. In Alyn and Deeside they were 15.1%, 8.5% and 12.1%.
Of course, Labour’s relative success was not just as a result of a transfer of votes from UKIP, or possibly more accurately, back from UKIP. Labour’s support was also galvanized by the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and, in some areas, the involvement of Momentum. This is where things get a little murky.
In the UK campaign, Jeremy’s Corbyn was the story. However, in the country of the UK where Labour actually won proportionally the most seats and votes he won’t even be invited to the victory party. Labour in Wales fought the election under the banner of ‘Welsh Labour’. This is an entity which exists only in a context of the autonomy deriving from the ability of the Welsh Assembly government (which has always been Labour or Labour-led) to implement its own policy in those policy areas where the power has been devolved by Westminster; otherwise it is merely an equivalent of an English Labour region, with its staff all appointed centrally (which is why Jeremy Corbyn inherited an essentially Blairite staff in Wales).
The election was a UK election to the Westminster parliament. However Welsh Labour’s campaign studiously avoided any mention of Jeremy Corbyn, no doubt hoping that the absent minded Welsh voter might assume that the Labour leader was Owen Smith, or possibly Neil Kinnock. The emphasis was on First Minister Carwyn Jones and Wales’ Labour MPs and was thus consistent only in its apparent aversion to Corbyn and Corbynism. Labour’s manifesto, both in its leaked and official forms created a huge amount of interest and proved to be extremely popular with voters. However, the First Minister and Welsh Labour all but disowned it as nothing to do with them. Welsh Labour launched its own manifesto containing, confusingly, pledges relating to devolved matters over which Wales, not Westminster, has control. At its launch Carwyn Jones did not mention Jeremy Corbyn at all.
In one respect this might seem surprising. Under former First minister Rhodri Morgan, ‘Clear Red Water’ represented a clear break from the market-based policies of New Labour in relation to public services. In important respects this has been retained (no academy schools in Wales and no NHS internal market). In other ways, however, it was less surprising. ‘Clear Red Water’ has lost its radical cutting edge. Carwyn Jones has always sought to distance himself from Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership. Welsh MPs tend to be on the right of the PLP. Stephen Doughty, outrageously, conspired with Laura Kuenssberg to resign from Jeremy Corbyn’s team live on TV and it was of course Owen Smith who launched the hugely damaging, self-indulgent leadership challenge of 2016.
The ascent of Corbyn means that the Labour leadership has outflanked the Welsh Labour leadership to the left, exposing a fundamental business-as-usual Old Labour conservatism and an aversion to any suggestion that the boat might be rocked. Indeed, even when ‘Clear Red Water’ was at its zenith, in the early 2000s, Welsh Labour maintained a diplomatic distance from engaging with UK New Labour, summed up as ‘you do your thing and we’ll do ours’ as if the marketisation of public services was not a bad thing for England as well as Wales. It is therefore significant that when UK Labour is mounting a real alternative from which austerity Wales is suffering more than most, this aloofness is maintained. Welsh Labour’s election material focused on the damage another five years of Tory rule could do to Wales and how Wales has suffered under Tory rule in the past, which is of course, in itself, quite right, but in the context of what was occurring with Labour’s campaign in the UK as a whole, and the closing of the gap in the polls, it smacked less of a proud independence and more of an evasive parochialism.
The cause and effect arguments regarding Labour’s result will continue: was it Corbyn or Carwyn what did it? However, the energy and dynamism shown in some constituencies by young, Corbyn-inspired newly recruited activists doesn’t sit well with the decades-long inertia of many moribund Welsh parties with an ageing and passive membership, dominated by a conservative, bureaucratic leadership and presiding over the years over a slow but inexorable decline in their majorities. It appears therefore that part of Welsh Labour’s problem is that it is in denial about the nature of Labour’s most energetic, exciting and politically significant election campaign of modern times.
Nick Davies is a Labour councillor and member of Swansea West CLP.

This article first appeared on the Left Future’s Page

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Staying in Europe …. Or, Don’t you just love British Politics?

Well no, actually. It’s the pits.

Gordon Gibson

The EU referendum ‘debate’ is transformed into a bitter low-life parody with right against right and left against left, all using much the same arguments – the economy will be better, jobs safer, immigration under control, human rights protected, pensions secured, regulations lifted, business supported, security strengthened, blah blah, each vying to see who can tell the biggest porky and get away with it in front of an increasingly divided, not to say misled electorate.

Worse, much worse, as we draw to the conclusions of the public discussion, is that the political jamboree, unable to sustain credibility over the supremely vital themes of jobs, poverty, austerity, human rights, is being reduced to a largely racist and utterly distorted, in fact barely relevant, focus on immigration.  (See, for example, Gary Younge.) For that reason alone, a ‘Yes – Remain’ vote is called for.

How are we to decide when surrounded by disinformation from all sides? It is difficult to engage in rational discussion, so vile are the campaigns and the media versions of it, worst of course in the popular media. There is little pretence of philosophical, political, strategic, sustainable or even economic depth in the cheap populist cosmetic treatments being served up to us.

The perfect cameo is that it has taken a chef, Delia Smith, and a comedian, David Mitchell,  to provide wisdom and expose not just the shallowness of the referendum debate but the paucity our political system.

Does anyone really believe that Britain will be better off, fairer, more equal, let alone with our NHS intact, austerity binned, and climate change challenged, under that rump of right wing Tories and UKIP, led by Boris, IDS, Redwood, Gove et al. They must be joking.

Some left wing ‘leave’ advocates claim that the working class’s capacity for struggle will be enhanced if we break from the capitalist European Union. Right from the start, such options are set to be seriously undermined by boundary changes rigged to prevent any future Labour government, let alone a Corbyn alternative, from gaining an electoral majority. Dramatic shifts in tribalism and left sectarianism will be required before any lefty aspiration to social upheaval bears fruit. Is that more likely under an extreme rightist shift in Brit national politics? (That, comrades, is a definition of ultra-leftism.)

A ‘leave’ victory will result not just in a bonfire of workers and human rights, it will unleash a carnival of xenophobia, boosting the most unsavoury political currents in the land, currents that have been kept at bay by Corbyn’s Labour regaining traditional ground lost, often to UKIP, over the Blair years and by significant ‘hope not hate’ anti-fascist mobilisations the length and breadth of the country. We saw just a taste of that violent mob politics when Orange Unionism took to the streets in the days following the Scottish referendum. Frightening.

Apart from anything else, a ‘leave’ result will deepen nationalist currents, with Scotland almost certain to defect and Wales put under increasing national pressure, both being likely to vote ,Yes’, having received huge social and economic financial support from the EU over the past few decades.

Scotland’s current socialist radicalism, it’s rejection of New Labour, of Blairism, of Tory-Labour alliances, is likely to be further distorted towards less savoury nationalism as against its current healthy, social, cultural and political vitality. In Wales, ‘leave’ is more likely to strengthen rightist nationalists as against the Plaid Cymru of Leanne Wood, the would-be socialist alternative to the wavering Labour leadership of Carwyn Jones, no radical he.

So the vote on June 23rd has little to do with principles, nothing to do with right and wrong, or any belief that the EU is good or bad for us, our rights, our economy, our protection, our sovereignty. Neo-liberal economics is equally distasteful served up by Brussels or Westminster, perhaps marginally better via the complexity of European politics than the current drift of Brit politics towards the US tweedle dumlican tweedle democrat model. French, Belgian, Spanish, Portugese and, yes, Greek workers give us more to fight alongside than anything much we currently see from England, let alone with what so-called English Nationalism is likely to do to that.

This time, it is a vote for internationalism, for Europe, for sticking together. It’s not ‘the national question’, as if British nationalism has ever had anything to do with our rights. It’s a vote against those who promote that concept of nationalism and you just have to look and listen to them to know that we are in implacable opposition to virtually all they stand for.

The EU was founded in no small part to minimise conflict and build peace and collective prosperity in Europe. The defeat of xenophobic, superior, nationalism in the war provided its foundations.

You might have to hold your nose to vote to remain in the capitalist Europe that the EU has become but that odour is nothing compared to the stench of the Tory right and little England.

End.

Gordon Gibson is a Momentum activist and Labour member in Swansea.

Corbyn’s progress (and why did Caroline Lucas resign from the Stop The War committee?)

Bridgend's Green Leftie

I have just been reading Tariq Ali’s essay in the London Review of Books entitled “Corbyn’s Progress’. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n05/tariq-ali/corbyns-progress Tariq is always worth listening to, but he has not got anything particularly insightful or revelatory to say about Corbyn’s period as leader of the Labour Party to date.

The most interesting section, to my mind, was that he has to say about debates over whether bomb Islamic State positions in Syria. Ali speculates that part of Cameron’s motives were to try and make Corbyn’s position as leader untenable in the aftermath of Maria Eagle shafting him over Labour’s trident position. Ali suggests that in this light, Corbyn should not have allowed a free vote on the issue, thus allowing Hilary Benn to deliver his disgraceful tirade citing Hitler and the Spanish Civil War, and culminating with 66 Labour MPs voting with the Tories. However, the majority of the PLP did support…

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Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour – what is going on?

By ‘Bridgend’s Green Leftie’

Throughout the entire Welsh Assembly election campaign, it was obvious to just about everyone that the best chance of a stable government, assuming no Labour majority, would be some sort of deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru. But there is a world of difference between stable government and good government.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 11.47.27Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 11.48.38

Plaid Cymru have spent much of the last five years, and especially the campaign period, lambasting Welsh Labour, entirely justifiably, for their complacency, lack of imagination and shocking record in areas of key services like health and education.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 11.49.56

Leanne Wood repeatedly said that she wanted no deals with anybody and that she wanted a Plaid Cymru government. That was always a pipe dream, but more realistically, and one of the main reasons I ended up up voting for them, she also has repeatedly said that as the main party of opposition, they would provide the robust opposition so patently missing when the Tories were the main opposition party.

All this make the shenanigans of the last week hard to fathom.

Plaid Cymru took a calculated risk in standing Leanne against Carwyn last week. It almost led to Leanne becoming the First Minister – which would have been an embarrassing car crash – no way could she form a government – and had Kirsty Williams to thank for saving her from that mishappenstance. As it turned out, Carwyn got his bloody nose, and Plaid Cymru had to deal with the shame of having the full support of both Tories and the devil-incarnate, UKIP, tarnishing their public image before the new Senedd had even got started.

With both these gifts pocketed, Tories and UKIP could now manipulate things further by offers of support to Welsh Labour (with strings attached, of course) and by undermining any need for Welsh Labour to do any bargaining with Plaid Cymru by, as the Tories have done, declaring the intention to abstain in the next First Minister vote and thereby rubber stamping Carwyn RT Jones as First Minister, after a week’s fun and games.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 11.50.42

At this point, both Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour should have realised their proper places and had the maturity to take those roles more seriously going forward. There was no need for any deal at all, let alone a cosying up behind closed doors. Both will claim it was in their best interests, whereas in reality it undermines them both.

Welsh Labour will presumably have been seeking assurances that Plaid Cymru will not continue to pull stunts to undermine the government process. With Kirsty Williams

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 11.52.23

likely to be largely co-operative, and UKIP likely to be absent increasingly often as they get bored with provincial minutiae, I am not sure they really had much to worry about. That was very much their thinking before last weeks stunt. They have now made themselves publicly beholden to Plaid Cymru. Whatever has been agreed, that will be the perception.

Plaid Cymru will presumably have been seeking pledges to give them a few snippets from their manifesto. This will be held up as justification for the farce they have made of the first week of the new Senedd (following on from the Health Bill farce they enacted in the last week of the last Senedd before the election). However, as the lead opposition party against a minority government, I find it hard to imagine that they have been given any concessions from Labour this week that would not have been able to achieve on a case-by-case basis anyway. Wrapping up such concessions in a secretive deal behind closed doors now is going to reap more negatives than positives in terms of positive perceptions of the Party in the eyes of voters next time around. Regular public concessions as time goes by in the Senedd would have a more positive impact. It is the difference between a strong opponent putting in regular telling blows that might eventually lead to knock out, as opposed to a virtual coalition where partners prop each other up because they are both too weak to stand tall and strong.

Will we ever find out exactly what they have agreed? I somehow doubt it as they will probably both feel a bit embarrassed about all the fuss over what I suspect amounts to very little.

And where does all this leave Bridgend’s Green Leftie? Having given up on a largely clueless Green Party, I had been hoping to join a largely ecosocialist Plaid Cymru that might actually be on the verge of achieving major positive things in Wales. Their manifesto was pretty impressive overall.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 12.08.18

However, they still seem to lack the maturity and guile to convince people that they are fit to govern. I can’t be doing with such nonsense when there is so much pressing work to be getting on with immediately (e.g. Port Talbot steel in particular). Those that know the ‘marmite’ Neil McAvoy, one of PC’s new AMs, will also understand why I expect an increase in petty, immature squabbles going forward.

Many of my ecosocialist friends have been tempted to join the Labour Party in support of Jeremy Corbyn‘s vision of the way forward. I would be sorely tempted by that too, but I am struggling to find any sort of socialist in Welsh Labour (other than Mick Antoniw) and Carwyn RT Jones local branch would be my branch here in Bridgend – and a more Blairite mafia you would struggle to find.

So I guess that leaves me here sniping from the sidelines. I will continue to try of offer constructive opinions to anyone (is there anyone?) prepared to listen, and when I eventually, if ever, see evidence of a Party that actually has a clue about how to put the world to rights, not just on paper, but in practice, then I will sign up and try to do my bit.

In the meantime, although it was pretty immature in itself putting this out as an election broadcast, this Green Party video sums up British politics at the moment pretty well (a Welsh language version featuring Carwyn, Leanne, RT, Hamilton and Kirsty anybody?):

(Click image for the video)

ADDENDUM

I was wrong about them keeping the details of the deal deal quiet – Plaid Cymru have been keen to brag about what they have achieved. They have summarised it thus:Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 19.18.49

Looks impressive – but on closer analysis, especially in the context of the Welsh Labour manifesto for these elections,  what exactly have they extracted from Labour that was not likely to happen anyway? The answer is very little.

Looking at the lists above and starting with the left hand column:

  • 30 hours of free childcare is in the Labour manifesto – nothing gained.
  • National Infrastructure Commission is something gained – but commissions and commissioners are no assurance of change on the ground (e.g Electoral Commission and Police Commissioners) – it is potentailly a low cost quango offering some jobs to some mates and corprate connections, if we take a cynical view of it.
  • A new Drugs Fund is in the Labour manifesto – scope may be slightly different now, but no significant gain.
  • Welsh Development Bank – another quango gained. Labour’s manifesto pledges £2billion in devlopment investment. Overall then, a gain of dubious value.
  • Recruitment and training of GPs is too vague to have much meaning. Recruitment and training of GPs goes on all the time. The Labour manifesto cites other strategies for relieving pressure on GPs that may help stem the loss of GPs that are quitting under the strain. This may well be more effective overall. Thus, a gain of dubious overall value.
  • 100,000 new apprenticeships – exactly as in the Labour manifesto – nothing gained.
  • Support for the steel industry – surely a given and therefore, without specifics, nothing gained.
  • Campaigning to ‘Remain in EU’ – an already declared given – nothing gained.
  • Anti-smacking legislation – a gain, but not really contentious to most Labour AMs, so not a hard fought gain. May prove more contentious in wider circles.
  • Additional Learning Needs Bill and Autism Act – takes Labour manifesto pledges a little further (into legislation). Probably the most significant gain, but not a huge stride forward.
  • Strengthen Welsh Language Measure – in the Labour manifesto – nothing gained.
  • New Public Health Bill – a given after the debacle preciptated by ‘Cheap-date-gate’ in the last session of the last Senedd. Removing the e-cigarette element was a ridiculously late change of heart by PC to justify their petulance. It’s removal is a mistake in my opinion – thus I rate it a step backwards rather than a step forward.
  • A review of Health & Social Care – assuming a presumption towards better integration of these services – is in the Labour manifesto. Nothing gained.

To summarise, behind all the spin is only ONE gain that genuinely excites me – regarding legislation to improve services to those on the Autistic spectrum and with additional learning needs. As an educationalist, I fully recognise just how important this is, but it is, sadly, a measure of limited mass appeal across the general public.

There a few gains of dubious and/or uncertain benefit, but at least 8 things listed here that are either in the Labour manifesto or that were going to happen anyway.

And where is anything on fracking? On fossil fuels and climate change? On scrapping the Black Route option for the M4 relief road? Plaid Cymru are supposed to make the Greens irrelevant in Wales, aren’t they?

Thus my overall feelings are not changed. The whole thing has been a convoluted stunt that, when the dust settles, will have achieved very little. Indeed, I still think the negative impacts on public perceptions will prove more costly to both Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour in the long run. We knew they had areas of common ground already. Cosying up together behind closed doors to do deals does not constitute the robust opposition I expected from PC, despite Leanne Woods trying to say otherwise. The best that can be said of the whole affair is that Welsh Labour may have learned a bit more humility, but that did not necessitate them choosing to kowtow to just one of the opposition parties. That takes humilty into the realms of humiliation.

An inauspicious start to the new Senedd!

Note: The original text and comments can be seen at ‘Bridgend’s Green Leftie – An Ecosocialist Blog’ , here.

 

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