The Labour Purge? A Step too Far?

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YES England's photo.

THE LABOUR PURGE
By Michael Chessum

Labour is rejecting reams of legitimate membership and supporter applications. Is this a desperate purge aimed at tipping the leadership result?

It sounds like a murder mystery. Everyone had a reason for promoting the idea that the Labour leadership ballot was being undermined by Tory infiltrators and ‘entryists’. Anything that could destabilise the ballot and make it look like a mess is good news for the right and much of the press. It suits some groups on the hard left to seem bigger than they are. Once it became clear that Corbyn might win, anything that de-legitimised his victory was music to the ears of the Labour Right. And some knew, deep down, that if enough of a storm was created about infiltration, this would provide cover for the party apparatus to deny more leftwing activists a vote, and that this could, just about, influence a close result.

Now, after a lot of noise about weeding out infiltrators, and one batch of more obvious candidates for expulsion which included Ken Loach and other prominent figures from other parties, there is a clear drip-drip of new rejections. Many are young left wing activists from the student movement and other social movements who joined Labour, enthused by the Corbyn campaign, and had every intention of remaining in the Party. The reasoning behind these new rejections looks, at least at first sight, murky.

Hattie Craig is a recent graduate from the University of Birmingham, and a relatively prominent activist the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts – the biggest organisation on the student left. “I was inspired by the Jeremy Corbyn campaign,” she says “and the possibility that Labour could truly represent and fight for those most oppressed in society.” Like many others, she has received an email stating that she was rejected because “we have reason to believe that you do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party or you are a supporter of an organisation opposed to the Labour Party.” But, Craig tells me, she has never been a member of any other electoral project – or indeed any other party at all.

A large number of the rejections appear to be students. Rachel O’Brien is also a student activist and a current student in Birmingham. She describes herself as “heavily critical of the Labour Party and their current policies – but not opposed to the party as a whole”, and has, like Craig, never been a member of another party. “I think they are missing a nuance there.”

Marienna Pope-Wiedemann, another rejectee, is a freelance writer and producer who was also politically active as a student and has continued activities outside Labour. But she is no longer in anything else and, as she points out, being active outside Labour is rather inevitable: “most people are active through organisations other than Labour because the Labour Party has been so long disconnected from community struggle and afraid of taking on the big issues,” she says. “This is the first time my generation has seen Labour stand up and fight for ideals most of them are too afraid even to speak of anymore.”

Bernard Goyder’s example looks even stranger. Now a financial journalist, Goyder was a student activist in 2010, and then involved in Occupy and a number of housing campaigns. “I was involved in Young Labour as a sixth former, and joined properly in 2010, days after the election. I rang the party to notify them of my new address, and found that it had lapsed a few years ago.” Now his application to re-join has been rejected.

In the past, Goyder voted for a mix of parties – including the Lib Dems and the Greens – but he campaigned and voted for Labour in 2015. “In 2010, the NUS and the parliamentary system failed young people so we had to make our own politics. I’m proud to have been involved in the 2010 student movement and the 2011 occupy protests, but see no contradiction between this activity and ‘the aims and values of the Labour party’”.

Quite apart from how this all looks, Goyder’s cases raise another rather glaring issue: people changing their minds. Labour at high school, fighting on the outside at uni, and then back into Labour – it’s a well-trodden path. By definition, everyone now joining Labour is, to an extent, changing their mind; many are being swayed by the real possibility of an anti-austerity alternative in the form of Corbyn. Across the course of the campaign, many thousands have changed their minds about Labour – giving Labour hordes of new members and supporters, and a good deal more credibility in places where it previously had none. This was, after all, the entire point of having a supporter sign-up system – and many will have joined, as the system’s architects hoped, from Labour’s right as well as its left.

Large swathes of the PLP and Labour establishment were once in, or voted for, other parties. John Reid and Peter Mandelson were once members of the Young Communist League, and Shaun Woodward, current Shadow Cabinet member, was a Tory MP until he crossed the floor of the House in 1999. Hell, some Labour MPs have campaigned for other candidates while in office: when Lol Duffy, a member of the now-proscribed Socialist Organiser platform, won the Labour selection in Wallesey in 1987, neighbouring MP Frank Field openly refused to support Duffy as the Labour candidate.

But for a large chunk of those who have had their membership or supporter applications rejected, it doesn’t even get that far. For Craig and O’Brien, who have never been supporters or members of other parties, the implications of being rejected seem clear: “I had already voted when I got the email, and it is also very clear from my Facebook that I support Corbyn,” says Craig. “I do not think this is unconnected.”

Of course many, if not all, of those who have been rejected have been critical of Labour policy and the Labour leadership – often in the public domain and on social media, where Labour staff are reportedly trawling for evidence. But then, within Labour’s broad church, so have most members. In fact, so has every candidate for leadership. Those of us on Labour’s left flank, many of whom have door-stepped for the party, held minor office and never voted for anyone else, could be forgiven for nervously refreshing their email inboxes.

None of this is helped by the vigilante attitude that seems to have gripped some on the Labour Right. One post currently doing the rounds on Facebook states: “If you know that someone who has recently signed up as a member, supporter or affiliate, who is not in fact a supporter of the Labour party, you should email their name to leadership2015@labour.org.uk with proof.” The post concludes: “Please do report anyone you suspect should be ineligible – and you too could be called a star by the Compliance Unit”.

There is no way to verify whether or not Labour’s Compliance Unit have in fact called informants ‘stars’, but adverts to report your neighbour like this one, posted in relation to a university labour club, are breeding an atmosphere of McCarthyite fervour.

If, as the post says, “any written expression of support for a party or group other than Labour, or opposed to Labour” is enough proof to have you expelled, then we had all better be careful about praising so much as the individual policies of another party. That could go for Liz Kendall’s supporters just as much as Jeremy Corbyn’s

Date for your Diary (Event on Modern Monetary Economics)

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Upcoming Event – Reframing the Debate: Economics for a Progressive Politics, London, August 27, 2015

An evening has been arranged  with Professor Bill Mitchell, Professor of Economics and renowned proponent of Modern Monetary Theory, during his visit to the UK at the end of this month.

Come and join Professor William Mitchell in conversation

with Richard Murphy (Tax Research UK)

and Ann Pettifor (Prime Economics),

both currently economic advisors to Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign.

How can the debate on the economy be reframed around the things that really matter – people and the environment? Does MMT hold the key?

This is sure to be a fascinating debate.

The Event will be held on Thursday, August 27, 2015 from 18:30 to 20:30 (BST).

John Snow Theatre
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Keppel Street
WC1E 7HT London
United Kingdom
WWW site for Registration.

The event is free and all are welcome. A few contributors to Think Left will be attending so watch this space.

“Corbyn’s Economic Policies are Sensible” (Letter in Financial Times)

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LETTER TO THE FT: CORBYN’S ECONOMIC POLICIES ARE SENSIBLE

Posted on Piera by John Weeks on Aug 18th 2015,

1830corbyn

The Financial Times:

The recent statement from Jeremy Corbyn that “austerity is a policy choice not economic necessity” provides a welcome return to serious discussion in the Labour leadership debate. Therefore, the assertions that Corbyn is a “danger” who is causing harm to the Labour Party and the public in general is quite surprising and inappropriate (for example, see FT View 15 August, that Mr Corbyn’s candidacy brings “potential harm to…British public life”).
Many of Corbyn’s policies are advocated by prominent economists and commentators. An example is his proposal to fund public investment by the sale of bonds to the Bank of England. Yet, until now, politicians competing to hold the centre ground have largely ignored such policies or cast them as unthinkable.
Corbyn’s proposals should be welcomed even by his opponents for stimulating serious discussion of crucial issues such as the role of the public sector in investment, management of debt and money, and how to tackle inequality. It is to Corbyn’s credit that he has broadened the policy discussion so that the shared assumptions behind the narrow range of policies advocated by both the Conservative government and the other Labour leadership candidates are now being debated.
Signed by the following teachers and researchers in economics:

  • Victoria Chick, University College London
  • Susan Himmelweit, Open University
  • Malcolm Sawyer, University of Leeds
  • Annina Kaltenbrunner, University of Leeds
  • Gary Dymski, University of Leeds
  • Ruth Pearson, University of Leeds
  • Hugo Radice, University of Leeds
  • Ann Pettifor, Prime Economics
  • Jeremy Smith, Prime Economics
  • Steve Keen, Kingston University
  • Eva Karwowski, Kingston University
  • Engelbert Stockhammer, Kingston University
  • Alfredo Saad, SOAS
  • Guy Standing SOAS
  • John Weeks, SOAS
  • Carlos Oya, SOAS
  • George Irvin, SOAS
  • Ioana Negru, SOAS
  • Chris Cramer, SOAS
  • Jo Michell, University of the West of England
  • Susan Newman, University of the West of England
  • Daniela Gabor, University of the West of England
  • Andrew Mearman, University of the West of England
  • Ozlem Onaran, University of Greenwich
  • Jeff Powell, University of Greenwich
  • Mehmet Ugur, University of Greenwich
  • Giovanni Cozzi, University of Greenwich
  • Maria Nikolaidi, University of Greenwich
  • Simon Mohun, Queen Mary University
  • Neil Lancastle, DeMontfort University
  • James Meadway, City University
  • John Grahl, Middlesex University
  • Rhys Jenkins, University of East Anglia

Margaret Thatcher’s Biscuit Tin – and Austerity

Margaret Thatcher’s Biscuit Tin and the Austerity Scare

From Pam Field and Syzygysue

The Austerity Scare is the greatest myth, by which the rich have deprived others of their basic needs of survival (Maslow), by some argument that those are unaffordable. How can it be justified to deny anyone these basic human rights, while others have vast resources far beyond their own personal needs? This wealth, and hence power was gained  by the systematic acquisition of resources by unjust means, much as the barons claimed land to be their own.  (Primary accumulation – dispossession of low income people from their high value land). By what right can anyone claim to have a right to own earth when others cannot?

Benn EstablishmentHaving power of the law permits reinforcement of privilege so that attempt to brainwash the public  through whatever means is available – education, press, advertisements, commercialisation  – or force. So the very rich have the means to control all the sources of food and sustenance, the media, the security and defence. Fear of destitution leads to social division, and of course with disunity no resistance can be effective. What needs to be done to redress the imbalance?

There are sufficient resources on this planet for everyone.  Oxfam  believes there can be enough food for everyone…

IF we give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families feed themselves

IF governments stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries, so that millions of people can free themselves from hunger

IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land and we grow crops to feed people not fuel cars

IF governments and big companies are honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food.

It is shameful that in Britain, the seventh richest nation, has 25% of children living in poverty, many people are homeless and one million people are relying on food-banks. It is a scandal created by gross mismanagement, or by wilful neglect. The Tories recall the Victorian days of Empire, like the cheering and flag waving Falkland task force, without addressing the fundamental truth.

 Any society can only measure its wealth by the poorest, and its strength as the weakest.

Having seen the horrors man can inflict on man in WW2, there was a united resolve which followed that it should never be repeated, and a determination to build a fair society fit for everyone. Rationing was accepted after the war to ensure a fairer distribution of scarce resources. Meanwhile Attlee’s Labour government invested in full employment, massive house building, a welfare state and National Health Service. There was a growth in the economy, despite the ravages left by war.

“The psychology of competition and love of Peace are uneasy bedfellows” Aneurin Bevan

One of the saddest legacies of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership must have been the destruction of optimism in society, the killing of compassion, and comradeship, and communities.  It was replaced with isolation, resentment and fear engendered by soaring unemployment, caused by destruction of manufacturing industries while attacking on trade unions, so making the working class further malleable by the ruling elite.

The idea that the nation’s wealth was somehow like the family budget, pennies hidden away in a biscuit tin in the larder, just to be taken out and spent on a trip to Margate when the factory shuts down for a fortnight in August, can be understood as people prioritise their needs by similar means.

So, unbelievably, Margaret Thatcher sold the idea to the nation, that the money which the government has to spend on schools and hospitals, is like the microeconomics of a family budget, or the ins and outs of her parents’ grocers shop. And since that time the biscuit tin idea comes into play, “There’s no money left” as Cameron carried that piece of paper to hustings in May. “The nation can’t afford it, we’ve all got to tighten our belts.”  “We’re all in it together!”

Now, where does wealth come from? It comes from the labour, skills, arts, and talents of people, from research, technology and from the natural  resources of the planet. Did Margaret Thatcher expect the nation to believe that they can be parceled up and saved in the biscuit tin?

Biscuit tin

As the cuts to basic provisions became chipped away, so fear sets in, the law of the jungle, competition, scrambling to get to the top, developing addictions to more and more material goods to satisfy a lack of something fundamental – happiness. It might seem a cliché, but this is the background to the shallow, inadequate shells we are becoming, soulless commodities suspicious of some others and hatefully despising the rest.

“The successful as well as the unsuccessful are unemancipated in the competitive society” (Bevan)

It doesn’t have to be like this. Of course money is not hidden away in some virtual biscuit tin, no longer gold hidden in vaults to be hauled from place to place. Austerity is totally unnecessary and we can change it at will once we accept what is wrong.

Money is a tool by which goods can be shared around ensuring management of resources, rewards for labour and supply, and trade.  Money doesn’t originate  from the taxpayer. It comes from the government spending.  The US dollar and the UK pound are sovereign monetary systems under control of their respective nations.

Neoliberal economics have led to the greatest inequalities in human history, based on the mystique, that market forces will adjust to give the best possible outcomes.

Considering the unhappiness, poverty, and isolation, in what sense is the current state of the UK, the best of all possible worlds?

We are told that there is no money left so that public services must be privatized and government spending cut but the actual problem is that corporations are hoarding their profits, not investing in well-paid jobs in the real economy and instead are chasing fictitious capital.

Real wages have not increased since the 1970s and consequently there is insufficient demand in the economy, and increasing levels of personal indebtedness.  Forget the national debt, it is household debt that is the real danger!

This is the slowest recovery of GDP per head on record. See graph (Touchstone Blog)

As Simon Wren-Lewis writes:

Anyone who continues to describe what is happening in the UK as a ‘strong recovery’ either has not bothered to look at the data, or is being deliberately deceptive.’

What is desperately needed is not ‘Austerity’, but a fiscal stimulus and if the banks and the corporations will not invest in the real economy, then the government should act as ‘lender of last resort’.  In other words, a stimulus such as that proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, with investment in jobs, the NHS, education and mitigating climate change.

The allegorical Frank Baum story “The Wizard of Oz” reflects clearly how the pursuit of the yellow brick road “gold”, leading to the “Emerald City” revealed merely that there was no magician, just a helpless, powerless man who admitted the capitalist ideal was a fallacy. The main characters had lacked belief in their own limitations, lack of courage, brain or heart, and believing therefore that others had power. And in that idea, we can see that economy needs to be run for the benefit of the people, not according to the vagaries of the so-called ‘wisdom of the markets’.

So what is necessary is that

… First we need to accept that economy is something which sovereign governments have the power to organise.

… The financial system has been abused for too long.  It needs to be under democratic regulation and control.

…The economy needs to be balanced and controlled to allow people and societies to function sufficiently so that all members can afford the essentials of Maslow, live comfortably, with a little bit extra for everyone to enjoy their leisure.

…There needs to be a commitment to full employment.

… Basic needs such as food, water, energy, transport, health and education need to be under democratic control.

IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF GOVERNMENT to ensure adequate distribution of these services. Therefore nationalisation, and/or transparent democratic control is necessary.  To treat food, water, and medical supplies as commodities to be gambled with is an obscene and unacceptable concession to the very rich.

Cutting spending during recession/depression only delays or forestalls a recovery.  The allegory of Alice in Wonderland describes falling down a rabbit hole, and seeing the world differently, and that is what is needed – the opposite of austerity. Jeremy Corbyn’s Peoples’ Quantitative Easing is about the government producing money, as we have our currency, the government can do that,  but instead of this going to private banks, this money goes directly to the people wherever it is needed – for building, homes, schools, hospitals – and creating jobs. In other words, a responsible state in which everyone would have access to needs being met, and poverty eradicated.

We are told that the deficit is too big but the reality is that it is still too small.  Inflation is only a risk once the last unemployed/underemployed person who wants or needs a job is employed.

Since private companies are not providing sufficient employment, we need government to invest in a job’s guarantee, a buffer stock.  This would have the advantage of underpinning a living wage that the private sector would have to match in order to attract workers.  It would also allow individuals to maintain or upgrade their skills.  It would decrease the mental health problems associated with unemployment, and finally, it would mean that all sorts of worthwhile activity, which would not be undertaken by the private sector, could occur.

The anger and  resentment has been smouldering for a long time. The lack of opposition to neoliberalism and austerity has disillusioned the electorate, so many no longer see any point in even voting.  In August 2010, riots broke out in English cities, in London, and Birmingham. This August, Jeremy Corbyn has reached the ordinary people,  and has channelled that anger in such a way that people are united, and we are a witnessing the greatest political force in 64 years, a tidal wave which can sweep away neoliberalism and bring our communities back. The Labour Movement is reborn. At last, there is hope.

The politics of divide and rule, of resentment and ” benefit scroungers ” is where we have lost our way.  It is not about politics of envy.  It is about the politics of justice. We need brave political leaders to reunite our communities, put away the law of the jungle, and bring back the Spirit of ’45, the sort of social cohesion which followed WW2.

The biscuit tin myth has to be tackled,

and the sooner , the better.