Tony Benn never doubted the Labour movement

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It is a sadness that Tony Benn did not live to see the landslide election of Jeremy Corbyn but he never doubted that it could, and would happen… as he makes clear at the end of this speech in the video clip above.

It is very fitting that Jeremy Corbyn should be elected on the anniversary of Allende’s death in Chile.  Pinochet’s dictatorship has acted as a template for the neoliberal ascendancy in the western world, and let us hope that the overwhelming support for Jeremy’s leadership signals the beginning of a ‘domino’ effect for left parties across Europe, and the world in general.  It is fear of this sort of popular rejection of neoliberalism which underpins the trade deals like TTIP… and explains the urgent attempts of the financial-corporate nexus to lock in de-regulation and privatisation, beyond the reach of democratically elected governments.

Now the task is to take on the Tories and their devastatingly, destructive policies both at home and internationally.

What the Labour establishment didn’t really want us to know

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First and foremost… what an unmitigated mess they’re making of the leadership contest… the LP elite have certainly shown us their ‘petticoats’.

Significantly, the proverbial tide has gone out, revealing their implicit attitudes and assumptions … and amazingly, we’ve seen New Labour hoist by its own petard.

How has New Labour been hoisted?

Through their machinations, they’ve achieved their own worst outcome. So, if Jeremy Corbyn wins in spite of the ‘purge’, his victory will be legitimated. But the reverse is true, if Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper win.

Furthermore, it’s now obvious to party members, affiliated members and supporters, that none of the leadership support Corbyn, and that there has been a co-ordinated Progress/Blairite attempt to undermine what is a normal open democratic primary election. ( Mandelson’s latest hysterics insist that Labour is in ‘Mortal Danger’ from a manifesto which is slightly to the right of the 1983 SDP manifesto.)

So if Jeremy fails to get a majority and loses, there will be an exodus of voters, members and trades unionists disgusted at the behaviour of the Right (as well as the snooping on social media, asking local branch secretaries to use canvas returns to vet local supporters etc.). Why is it that a Tory MP can cross the floor of the House of Commons and be welcomed with open arms but an ex-Labour Party member is suspect for wanting to return to Labour?

The crux question is whose ‘Aims and Values’ are being judged as Labour’s … or is the whole thing a charade – just a proxy for shoring up the current LP hierarchy?

Given the hysterical reaction of the New Labour Right to the voting system, was it ‘all Ed’s fault’?

In order to counter accusations from the press (fuelled by both the Tories and the Blairites) that he was under the spell of the trade unions (and Unite in particular), Ed Miliband called a special conference to agree changes to the rules.  Under pressure from Progress, Miliband also opened up the vote for the party leadership to non-members (an open primary) and required union members to sign up to pledge their allegiance to the party before being given the right to vote.

So was it really just Ed’s decision?  At the time, Tony Blair congratulated him and even said that he wished that he’d introduced the changes himself.  However, it does indicate some of the level of internal opposition that Ed Miliband has faced throughout his time as LP leader

Professor Eunice Goes explains:

Lessons from the Miliband era

Ed Miliband’s decision to turn the page on New Labour was seen by many party figures and media pundits as a heresy that had to be fought. That fight started on Miliband’s first day on the job and only ended when he resigned. In the early days of his leadership, many angry Labour voices claimed that Miliband’s victory was not legitimate because he did not win the vote of the majority of the parliamentary party…. other criticisms started to be heard. Miliband was too left-wing, too wonky, too weird and his policies lacked credibility.

The Blairite wing – inside but also outside the House of Commons – was particularly disruptive and did everything to undermine his authority. Lord Mandelson was a case in point. He never wasted an opportunity to say that Miliband was wrong to deviate an inch from the New Labour rulebook. And when Lord Mandelson or the former Prime Minister Tony Blair were too busy with their daytime jobs to attack the Labour leader there were plenty of backbenchers and, occasionally, frontbenchers who fed stories to the media about how Miliband’s leadership was hanging by a thread… the aim of these attacks was to destabilise Miliband.

…Miliband also faced a hostile media.…Party divisions, plots, constant media attacks paralysed the party, in particular its policy development process. When the electoral manifesto was finally approved last spring the proposals that came out were confusing, unconvincing and uninspiring as Miliband tried to cater to all factions and ended up pleasing none.

 

So what does this tell us?

New Labour has never really ‘done’ democracy. The decision of the membership to elect Ed Miliband and not the Blairite choice of David Miliband was never respected. The Blairites were prepared to act against the interests of the LP and many, such as John Rentoul, said openly that they would rather have a Tory government than a left wing one. More said it, in private. Tony Blair actually said it again recently, when urging Jeremy Corbyn supporters to get a heart transplant:

 Tony Blair has said he would not want a left-wing Labour party to win a general election.

Bart Cammaerts writes: 

What we have seen in recent decades is the deliberate de-ideologisation and normalisation – some would say naturalisation – of rightwing and neoliberal solutions to solve the many problems of our society. Rightwing solutions are, in other words, common sense, full stop. Alternative solutions, on the contrary, are denoted as ideological, as biased, as dangerous and loony. It is high time that the (centre-) left learns this lesson and starts to propose leftwing solutions again as sensible solutions, as the real common sense and as fair and morally just. That is exactly what Corbyn is trying to do, with success and this ‘unstrategic’ strategy might even make him ‘electable’ in the long run.

 

He also suggests that There are much deeper political and social reasons explaining why Corbyn and his outspoken leftist ideas have become so popular in such a short time.’

 

After the elections last spring, which Labour convincingly lost, the right of the party, referring to the past successes of New Labour, saw its chance to attack the somewhat more leftwing course of Miliband and to argue for a ‘Tory light’ agenda. What they forgot, however, was that the grassroots of the party and the progressive segment of the British population had turned their backs on the so-called third way and on New Labour. Put differently, many people are more than fed-up with the left blatantly accepting the basic logics, values and arrogance of neoliberalism. Instead, many want a serious, forceful and ideologically robust opposition to the current Tory government, their righteous rightwing discourse and their supposedly ‘unavoidable’ cuts.

 

I agree with him.  Harriet Harman’s decision to abstain on Osborne’s Welfare Bill was the final straw but it was the prospect of a Labour leader who was even further to the right than Ed Miliband that was totally unacceptable to many in the grassroots of the LP.

Ed Miliband may have been the loser in the 2015 General Election but instead been the midwife to the re-birth of ‘real’ Labour.

Furthermore, the ways in which Ed Miliband was constantly undermined by the Right, throughout his leadership, should forewarn those of us who support Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership.  Should he be elected, we must act to prevent similar abuse of the membership’s democratic decision.  The fight to reclaim the Labour Party will not end on the 12th of September whatever the result.

 

 

Labour’s Panicky Establishment is Referencing the Wrong Period in History : Ann Pettifor

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By Ann Pettifor @annpettifor  referencing-the-wrong-period-in-history

Previously published on Prime Economics Blog

Governor of the bank of England Montagu Norman with Labour Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald

Governor of the bank of England Montagu Norman with Labour Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald

“This young country will be proud of its identity and its place in the world, not living in its history, but grasping the opportunities of its future.”

Tony Blair: Leader’s speech, Brighton, 1995.

Tony Blair and those associated with Blairism embraced globalisation and studiously ignored Labour Party history – except to denounce and disown “Old Labour”.  Labour’s economic history was of very little interest to the Blairite generation. And it appears that the history of the 1930s is of little relevance to today’s leadership election debate.

Instead commentary repeatedly harks back to Bennism and the 1980s – when the relevant era is surely the 1930s.  As most economists acknowledge, the 1930s and the great depression are widely and rightly understood as the only modern precedent to the great financial crisis that began in 2007, and that still dogs the global economy.

The great depression was a crisis of globalization. Globalisation – the de-regulation of global capital flows – had been imposed across the world from the 1880s through to the 1920s- only to be reversed by the stock market crash of 1929.  In 1930-31, when the crisis reached its nadir, Labour’s Ramsey MacDonald (PM) and Phillip Snowden (Chancellor) were responsible for economic policy.

Their government was to fall apart in the wake of demands from the financial and economic establishment for severe government spending cuts. Snowden and Macdonald never shied away from these demands that came primarily from merchant bankers, and were made as the quid pro quo for their support for sterling.

To meet these demands, MacDonald and Snowden went straight to the finance sector –  represented by the head of the Prudential Assurance Company (Sir George May) – and called for plans for spending cuts to be drawn up  by what became the May Committee on National Expenditure.

       Labour Party poster (1931)

However, while MSacrificeacDonald and Snowden were gung-ho about spending cuts, the rest of the Cabinet were implacably opposed to the extreme cuts proposed by the May Report . The divisions and infighting led to the collapse of the Labour government in June 1931.                                                         A ‘national government’ then took office which included the Conservative party but which was led by Ramsey MacDonald, with Snowden continuing (only briefly) as chancellor, and including only a handful of other Labour figures. This coalition of peculiar bed-fellows – ‘the National Government’ – went to the country in September 1931 and massacred Labour Party candidates.

 The Conservatives won 470 seats, Labour lost 225 seats and was left with only a rump of 52 MPs. The 2015 general election campaign and its results echoed both the debates and the outcome of that 1931 election. In both, the Labour Party was castigated by the political and media establishment and blamed for denying the harsh reality that Britain needed  “austerity” and to “live within its means”  – in order to recover from a crisis made in the City of London and on Wall Street.

In the next election (1935) the National Government was replaced by the real thing: a Tory government under Stanley Baldwin and then Neville Chamberlain.  But by then spending cuts had pretty much ended. Despite the clamour for austerity in 1931, by as early as 1933 the Tory government had effectively reversed the policy of cutting spending, just as Osborne eased up on spending cuts in 2012. From 1934 government spending was expanded vigorously. As a result of this reversal, the economy looked relatively chirpy for the ’35 election.

In the meantime the Labour party in conjunction with leading figures from the trade union movement had begun developing a bold and coherent policy agenda. MacDonald and Snowden’s deference to financial authority and fiscal ‘discipline’ was decisively rejected.

Election Hoarding Posters 1935

Election Hoarding Posters 1935

Clement Attlee, by then leader, contested the 1935 election on the basis of this emerging policy agenda, and gained nearly a hundred seats from the Tories.

This remarkable recovery was interrupted by the Second World War.  But Attlee was to build on the party’s policy agenda and its 1935 success, as he prepared the ground for the 1945 election with a programme that included the following statement:

“Blame for unemployment lies much more with finance than with industry. Mass unemployment is never the fault of the workers; often it is not the fault of the employers. All widespread trade depressions in modern times have financial causes; successive inflation and deflation, obstinate adherence to the gold standard, reckless speculation, and overinvestment in particular industries. …” (NEC, 1944)

The economic and social achievements of the first majority Labour government in history were truly stunning, a fact still recognised today, even while the real nature of the 1945 Labour government’s programme and its political back-story is forgotten.  Attlee’s government paved the way to a period widely understood by the economics profession as “the golden age” in economics – for at least a quarter of a century after the war.

Jim Callaghan’s speech to the 1976 Labour conference in which he effectively ended Labour’s commitment to full employment (I was there and heard it all) marked the beginning of the end of the “golden age”.  With the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, Clement Attlee’s programme was decisively abandoned and a new form of globalization fully embraced. Michael Foot became leader immediately afterwards, as the party unsurprisingly foundered at the start of this new, very different and very harsh epoch.

Labour’s leadership election takes place at a time when the forward march of globalisation has stalled, following a painful, volatile and divisive period.  The economic flaws as revealed by the 2007-9 crisis are no less severe today than they were in 1929-33, even if the strongest countries have so far protected themselves from a crisis of comparable scale. The reaction of established authority, as represented by the City of London, the media and almost the entire political class has been to make the same demands of “austerity” and “living within our means” as were made in 1931. This is achieved today as it was done then: by transferring the burden of losses away from the architects of the crisis and on to the victims – those dependent on the state for employment and welfare.

Just as in 1931, the Labour Party is again in disarray in the wake of the second great crisis of financial globalization. While the post-1970s expansion of globalisation was imposed in the first instance by financial interests and their backers on the political right, Labour’s political leaders – and in particular its “modernisers” – became enthusiastic cheerleaders for the liberalised financial arrangements that underpin globalisation.  Furthermore some on the right of the Labour Party are beneficiaries of globalisation, and therefore not subject to the pain felt by millions of young unemployed and their families, by the low-paid and those in insecure jobs; the sick and the vulnerable. They should however, not underestimate the severity and duration of this crisis; they may not be protected indefinitely. Present events in financial markets should serve as a reminder that this crisis is not over.

To conclude: it is wrong to argue whether any one candidate in today’s leadership election resembles the Michael Foot of the 1980s. Instead the debate should be whether any of the candidates have the wit or guts or intellectual and political acuity of the leaders (including Clement Attlee) that rebuilt the party after the debacle of 1931.

Above all, in choosing its new leader, Labour should learn the very important lessons of its own, and very relevant history: the period in the 1930s when Labour politicians challenged the architects of financial globalisation with an alternative policy agenda. An agenda which was wildly popular with the British people, and led to Labour’s resounding success as a government between 1945 and 1951 – and to 25 years of the golden age of economics.

Nottingham meets the Modern Robin Hood, Jeremy Corbyn

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Jeremy Corbyn has met tremendous support for people all around England, Scotland and Wales. This has not been seen in the Labour movement for generations.

Take a LOOK at the queues waiting to listen to Jeremy Corbyn speak in Nottingham, home to the original Robin Hood.

This has been nothing short of astonishing. LISTEN to the event here, in high quality audio.

Unite the Union hosted the rally  in Nottingham and  present these Speakers:

Jeremy Corbyn MP
Richard Murphy, Tax Research UK and Economics Advisor to Jeremy’s campaign
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary TSSA Union
Annmarie Kilcline, East Midlands Unite
Tony Kearns, CWU
Nadia Whittome and Umaar Kazmi, young Labour members
Chaired by Cheryl Butler, Leader of Ashfield District Council

From this NG Digital site you can listen to the excellent quality audio of this  event, or download the file on ITunes

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the Labour leadership has electrified the contest and brought new ideas to a stale political system. He is Labour’s best chance of defeating the Tories at the next election and bringing back voters lost to the SNP, the Green Party and UKIP.