‘I don’t care who does the electing as long as I get to choose the candidates’

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The actual quote is ‘‘I don’t care who does the electing as long as I get to do the nominating’ (Boss Tweed) … which is actually more to the point in the LP.

Think about it and it’s obvious – there is never just one election. There’s the one that we all know about and can vote in … and the one before where the candidates are chosen. The small numbers of people who determine the candidates are the gatekeepers and it doesn’t matter how good the franchise in the total electorate if the candidates are all out of the same box.

This isn’t a new problem. The rioting in Hong Kong 2014 (and since) was because the people were only offered a ‘democratic choice’ between those candidates chosen by the Chinese government.

In the US, they have primaries to choose the Democratic and Republican candidates who will contest the presidential election… but in reality only those candidates who are fantastically rich like Trump or funded by a small number of the mega-rich will make it as far as the primaries (hence Boss Tweeds’ quote). Bernie Sanders was the notable exception in not being beholden to large donors or Wall Street … and not coming from the 0.01%.

With legal limits on donations, there is nothing like the same big money problem in the UK… although there is much to be written about donors making it into the Lords and doubtless a great deal more, shrouded in secrecy. We also know that there are corporate and wealthy individual donors* from outside of the LP who are funding anti-Corbyn groups…

However, the Labour Party has a much more immediate, home grown, internal problem with gatekeepers, which has really come to the fore with the unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

Currently, the LP is a bit like a toasted sandwich. The top and the bottom are on the same page… democratic socialists. But the squidgy layers in the middle are the branch/constituency officers, councilors, LP staffers, MEPs and MPs who largely pre-date the Corbyn surge and are various shades of social democrats … the so-called soft left, Labour First and Progress aka the ABCs (the anyone but Corbyn brigade).

But significantly, it is the squidgy bits (and not the grassroots) that constitute the gatekeepers as to who can stand as a candidate.

Unsurprisingly, the ABCs choose candidates who share their social democrat politics and are invariably anti-Corbyn (eg Stoke Central, Oldham, Copeland and so-on)…

In other words, they choose candidates who do not represent the 61% of grassroots members who voted for Jeremy Corbyn… and the result is that the social democratic squidgies maintain their presence in positions of power.

Clearly by so doing, they put the majority of the grassroots in a hugely difficult position. Do they actively campaign for a right wing candidate, unrepresentative of the leadership or the grassroots, because ‘anyone from Labour is better than a Tory’**? Or do they reject the squidgies’ choice and lose a Labour seat? (The election of Sadiq Khan as London Mayor is a perfect example of the conundrum).

Given this state of affairs, anger is mounting to new heights as the ABC gatekeepers try to block democratic socialists from becoming branch/CLP officers or from standing as parliamentary or council candidates.

For many, this is the final straw on top of the last 22 months of coups, expulsions, suspensions, false allegations, tricks and sleights of hand by the ABCs. The stories are legion from packing selection meetings, excluding the full membership from voting, suspensions on spurious grounds and other techniques from the playlist provided by ‘The Hammer of the Left” (John Goulding’s book about ridding the LP of militant and excluding Tony Benn supporters).

It’s no surprise then that formal challenges are beginning to be mounted, and given the lack of support from the squidgy regional and national bodies, these are including legal ones.

For example, last month, eighteen pro-Corbyn members in Ealing LP were given unconvincing reasons as to why they were not considered as suitable to stand in selections for next year’s borough elections. This scale of rejection at this stage in the election cycle is unprecedented. And as a result, left wingers in Ealing CLP have decided to take legal action. (Donations gratefully received).

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/jeremy-corbyn-supporters-crowdfund-legal-battle-to-challenge-labour-party-selections-a3514421.html

 

In Newham, there is an appeal to the national LP and their MPs to investigate the 2016 Mayoral ballot and the suspension of dissenting members. This is backed up by a 38 degrees petition. https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/justice-for-newham-s-left?bucket&source=facebook-share-button&time=1492379140

Now, it needs to understood that these are not isolated examples of the squidgy bit blocking toasty Corbyn supporters. These are just Corbyn-supporting members (like the majority of the membership) not feeling that they have any other choice. The grassroots left can’t even appeal to the regional or national bodies because those bodies are also overwhelmingly dominated and controlled by the squidgy layer.

Of course, this internal mismatch all started with the unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn.

Cast your mind back to June 2015. The Left were in despair because there was a choice of three pretty much identikit and non-descript candidates. It was so uniform and uninspiring that non-Corbyn supporting MPs were persuaded to make up the numbers to nominate Jeremy in an attempt to make the whole process look a bit more democratic.

In other words by default, the PLP gatekeeping process broke down… and to the ABC’s horror, Jeremy was elected by an overwhelming majority of the grassroots. (The Right has done nothing but try and depose him ever since – using not so much fair as foul means).

The issue boils down to whether the LP is a democratic organization representing its grassroots membership or whether the LP is actually its elected representatives… and of course, taking note that the LP’s elected MPs and councilors have all been successful in being passed by the gatekeepers.

Why is this particularly relevant now?

It’s because we are in a bit of an impasse. The ABCs say that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable in 2020. However, this view is hardly convincing when it is clear that they will fight tooth and nail to make it impossible for another more ‘plausible’ but similarly leftwing candidate to replace Corbyn. The most obvious way out of the impasse is for the number of nominations required from sitting MPs to be lowered (although in my view, nominations should be abolished completely)

This is the purpose of the so-called McDonnell proposal scheduled for LP conference in September. The argument is that by lowering the ‘gate’ to 5% of MPs, left wing MPs would not be excluded from standing for the leadership of the LP.

How are they ‘fighting tooth and nail’?

One is by proposing an amendment to reverse the leadership voting away from OMOV and back to the old system in which the MPs, the Trade Unions and the membership each have a third of the vote.

Another is by trying to pack the conference with anti-Corbyn delegates to vote against the McDonnell amendment …

And yet another is to try and make sure that their candidates re-elected onto the Conference Arrangements Committee and the National Constitutional Committee.

So this is but another version of the gatekeeping… by engineering to pack conference with anti-Corbyn delegates, the ABCs hope to ensure that amendments contrary to the views of the Corbyn-supporting majority of the membership are carried.  This can well happen because this is exactly what occurred at last year’s conference.

To be clear these tricks have been used over and over again, reaching their zenith, under the command and control tactics of New Labour. They are profoundly undemocratic in both spirit and structure and the very future of the LP is at stake unless it can be reformed and reconstituted. Needless to say, they also underpin the parachuting of candidates***, like Tristram Hunt, into safe Labour parliamentary seats but that’s a topic for another day.

For now, the imperative is to make sure that we send representative delegates to conference, preferably mandated to vote for the McDonnell resolution and to vote for these grassroots candidates to the CAC and NCC.

Unfortunately, we seem to be fighting for a Labour Party against a core of people such as Blair and Mandelson, who would rather that the LP was dead than red.  In fact, Tony Blair is said to be intending to create a new ‘centre’ SDP2 party and announce it just before the 2020 GE.  I think that says it all.

The LP needs to be less of a toasted sandwich and for the whole membership to gain a proper respect for democracy and fair play.

 

* Gossip is that Lord Sainsbury is transferring his thousands away from Progress to Tony Blair’s new party.

**New Labour managed to lose 5m voters by 2005 but were still returned to gov’t because the blairites relied on there being nowhere else for the Left to go.

***In fact, with Constituency by-elections, there are two sets of gate-keepers, and arguably three. Three members of the NEC draw up a short-list, from which the CLP can choose a PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate) .. So, whoever chooses which NEC members will vet the short-list has a tremendous impact on the final choice of PPC. This is the mechanism by which Blairite candidates like Tristam Hunt were parachuted into safe seats like Stoke Central, regardless of their lack of local roots.

How Blairites rigging 2017 conference delegates – are they doing it to YOUR CLP?

 

That’s why it’s called a ‘struggle!’

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By Theresa Byrne, previously published here
Ok I’ll start in the traditional style, and confess: I pinched the headline from Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to Scottish Labour. But it summed up my feelings and emotions over the last few days. Yes politics is a struggle, yes it is a constant push for progressiveness. And that is why most of us are in it.Change is not easy, whether it is changing a habit or changing a mind set. That is a psychological and emotional given. The Labour party is about change. Change in society, change in economics, change in politics. Many within the party forgot that after 1997, because the changes in society that were introduced were easily done. And were in many ways relatively superficial.

Take an example. The National Minimum Wage was introduced in 1999. It was profound in many ways, as the government said via the Low Pay Commission ‘this is the minimum people can be paid’. Many people on very low wages received a significant increase in their wages, the threatened job losses never materialised in the numbers forecast, the amount of the NMW slowly crept up, and the Tories accepted it as inevitable. But the amount of the NMW was not a significant amount of money, not really enough to live on and still required additional benefits from both government and local councils in order for families and people to survive. The concept was excellent but the execution left much to be desired. The underlying philosophy of poorly paid jobs with poor prospects was not directly challenged by the government, it was accepted. A superficial change to the pay structure was introduced but the two or three tier job market remained. Where was the necessary investment in manufacturing that could have created better jobs? Where was the governmental challenge to repeated outsourcing of work by business which encouraged the minimum level jobs and eventually to zero hours work?

Opportunities to challenge and significantly change the way society operated at an economic level were missed by the Labour Government between 1997 and 2010. We missed the chance to have the arguments and discussions about the links between taxation and public services, preferring to allow PFIs to pay for new hospitals and schools, and to allow the financial services bubble to pay for other investments. We did not regulate the financial markets so the crash that happened in 2008 caused horrendous problems to the economy and to people, as the Government scrambled to save the banking industry. We also then allowed the Tories to set the myth that we overspent, even when they had agreed with our spending plans back in 2007.

If we had made the case for taxation paying for public services, people would have understood that Labour was not overspending. We were providing those services such as the Health Service, social care, education etc in common, as common goods where we share the responsibility and the cost of provision together because we share the goods. We pay for the services, they are not ‘provided’ for us through a vague government spending concept but through taxation paid by everyone and a progressive taxation system where the more income you have the more you pay is the balanced and fair way to tax. But this argument was not made. And by the time we needed to challenge the myth it was too late, our opportunity has passed by. We have to remember that in 1997 the schools, hospitals and local services were in such a dire situation that the people understood that (i) a new government was needed and (ii) that serious investment was demanded. That was our opportunity to make the case for taxation to pay for the services and people were open to us, to our new ideas. We failed to make that case. Again we superficially changed by investing through PFIs but the underlying philosophy of linking taxation to public services as a part of a civilised society to challenge the economic view of taxation as a necessary evil that should be reduced for a small state was not made.

Our struggle now must be to understand, explain and argue for fundamental change in society, in economics and in politics which is what Jeremy Corbyn is about. The policies he has put forward, with John McDonnell, about investment in housing, in education, in the Health Service and local government, in secure jobs are all direct challenges to the neo-liberal free market knows best economics that have been in existence for over 30 years. The struggle is about asking questions about people’s perceptions, talking with them about why we believe that investment in housing is not just good for providing a home but for jobs, for increasing taxation in the economy, allowing people to establish themselves and build a community. Talk with them about the importance of security in work, how it builds community, allows children to feel secure, allows more people to become active and involved in their local community at a volunteer level because they can relax and not worry so much about still having a job tomorrow or next week. Talk with them about a good quality Health Service where having a serious illness is not a cause for money worries but an opportunity to focus on the importance of getting better, or dealing with the psychological consequences of illness. Talk to people are having a good social care system integrated with health, housing, community links so that elderly people, those with disabilities can be part of the community and know that their needs are being dealt with not just adequately but well and with respect.

We are facing a challenge, the challenge to change and more importantly to struggle to get our voices heard. We are being challenged but we must rise to the struggle together. We have a leader who wants us to be with him, to stand alongside him in the fight. If we are to be true to our comradeship, then we stand shoulder to shoulder, in solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn ready for the struggle, for the fight. We are doing it with and for the people, lending our strength and voice to their struggle as all in solidarity. We must not be found wanting, and I am sure we will not be. We will change the world, to a world of peace and justice where no one and no community is left behind step by step by step.

Free Speech – Preserving the right to express and share opinions

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We share these concerns expressed, of information of individual members being suspended, for what would seem to be expressing personal opinions, or sharing others, and look upon the Labour Party to preserve the right of free expression.  Please see below the text of a motion from Henley BLP and reasons for their support of the motion.

(Permission to post given from member of Henley BLP:)

TEXT OF FREE SPEECH MOTION

This branch believes that there should be no infringement on the rights of free speech and free criticism within the Labour Party. The thousands of suspensions of Labour members during the 2016 leadership election, based often on one-off comments on social media, unsubstantiated claims or association with left wing organisations, appears to have been politically motivated.

This process was an affront to democracy and this CLP condemns the entire process. Legitimate grievances should be dealt with according to the principles of fairness, with suspension as a last resort not a primary action. We demand the reinstatement of all those still suspended without a hearing.

Regarding expulsions, there should be no ban on memberships of campaigns or organisations as long as they are not campaigning against the election of a Labour government or Labour councils.
The only acceptable political limitation on membership of the Party, other than the exclusion of proscribed organisations, is that people who join or are members or supporters, commit to support Labour candidates in future elections. Earlier electoral activity is of no importance.

We call on the CLP to welcome in any supporter and member prepared to make such a commitment.

We call on the National Executive Committee to ensure that these principles are reflected in the membership application process, so that all party units will welcome in any supporter and member prepared to make such a commitment.

We demand the Party implement the proposals in the Chakrabarti report.

STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF MOTION

I believe that if there is to be any real unity in the Labour Party, we must have transparency, fairness and people must be free to express their opinions freely, without fear of reprisals.

In the run up to the election thousands of members were purged; the figure is now given as 182,000.

The entire Brighton and Hove District CLP were suspended – the Labour Party’s biggest CLP with 6,000 members – days after a vote that installed officers supportive of Jeremy Corbyn in key posts. The entire Wallasey CLP, was also suspended after they threatened to pass a vote of no confidence in Angela Eagle when she was nominated as a candidate in the leadership election.

Others have had the most tenuous accusations to justify their suspensions: retweeting a tweet from the Green Party in 2013; posting a tweet supporting a rock band, the ‘ Foo Fighters’; unsubstantiated accusations of ‘ abuse’ with no details of rights to appeal, or pending investigations.

The Labour Party have gone through members’ Facebook and Twitter accounts for periods up to three years back, in order to dredge up treasons to purge them, contravening their democratic and human right to free speech, a right of privacy and due process.
Many of the purged have had no reasons given to them at all, such as two bed ridden grannies with terminal cancer who have participated in no political activity whatsoever. We have no idea how many conference delegates were suspended.

What most of the purged have in common is that they supported Jeremy Corbyn.

Anti-Corbyn supporters have not been purged in the same way despite a tide of insults, including one who described Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as Nazi Storm Troopers.

Given the timing it is reasonable to assume, it was intended to reduce Corbyn’s mandate.

Many of those who have been suspended remain distressed. One woman claims to have developed depression. Others are afraid to say what they want on social media, for fear that their accounts will be snooped and things will be used against them – because the purge continues.

Last week Labour suspended the black Jewish vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker, after she asked questions deemed inappropriate.

People must be free to express their opinions freely in the Labour Party. There must due process and the right of appeal. These things are natural justice and the Labour Party, must be seen to enact them. The Labour Party has always been a broad church and we must not conduct a witch hunt of our members or silence people by exclusion and force.

Housing in Crisis : A Clear Failure of Free Market Policy

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Housing in Crisis:

By Henry Stewart : @happyhenry

If councils had continued to build homes at the rate they did from 1974 to 1979, we would by 2014 have had 4.1 million extra dwellings.

That fact perhaps on its own explains the current housing crisis. Now it might not have been possible to build that many homes. Perhaps, due to available land, they would only have built half that, or a quarter of that, number. But even just a quarter would have meant we would not have the same level of housing shortage or, probably, prices as unaffordable as we face today.

The decision to stop local authorities building houses was a political one, taken by the government of Margaret Thatcher. It was based on a belief in the market. Surely, the argument went, if the housing market was not “crowded out” by public construction then the free market would respond and provide the homes that were needed.

Restrictions on council house building were not only continued by her successors, but further tightened. The average 32,000 council houses built each year from 1979 to 1990 was well down on Labour’s 152,000 from 1974-79. However under John Major it fell to an average 3,500 from 1990 to 1997. Under Tony Blair, from 1997 to 2007, just 357 council homes were built each year on average.

house-chart

 

Local authority Housing Association Private Total
Labour, 1974-79 151,678 21,978 144,240 295,920
Thatcher, 1980-90 31,905 14,684 166,417 211,147
Major, 1990-97 3,584 33,052 147,114 183,323
Blair, 1997-07 357 23,712 180,657 202,738
Brown, 2007-10 680 29,847 123,437 153,963
Cameron, 2010-14 2,830 27,158 106,345 140,335

Source: Table 208 House building: permanent dwellings started, by tenure¹ and country2

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-house-building

 

The number of dwellings built by housing associations during Blair’s years in office also fell, to 10,000 less per year than under Major. We know from Nick Clegg’s memoirs that, for Cameron and Osborne, there were clear political reasons not to increase social housing. He remembers one of them saying “I don’t understand why you keep going on about the need for more social housing – it just creates Labour voters”

 

Why Labour did remove the ban on councils building more homes is more of a mystery. Owen Jones has said that he once asked Hazel Blears, who had been Secretary of State for Local Government, why Labour did not ensure more public housing was built. The reply: “None of us knew anybody in social housing so we weren’t aware of the scale of the problem.”

Private sector house building did rise. But the 22,000 extra houses built each year from 1979 to 1990 did not come near to making up for the 120,000 annual shortfall in council houses. Neither was a shift made to housing associations, which built an average 7,000 homes a year less during the Thatcher years than under the previous Labour government.

Free market advocates would probably claim that the failure of the private sector to bridge the gap was down to market flaws, such as a shortage of land and planning restrictions. However a successful free market creates a balance of supply and demand, but there is no reason to suggest it will meet a public need for affordable housing.

Faced with a choice between using a piece of land for a £20 million mansion or 90 affordable homes at £200,000 each, it is always going to be the mansion that is more profitable. That is an extreme example. But the choice between 45 expensive home or 90 affordable ones is probably more common. It is clear that, without planning intervention, private developers will tend to build for the more affluent part of the market.

“Subsidised” housing? Or efficient housing?

David Cameron liked to describe social housing as “subsidised”, suggesting that the lower prices faced by council or housing association tenants was due to public subsidy. However social housing in the UK receives no such subsidy.

Cameron’s description was a recognition that social housing provides more affordable homes. It is also a recognition that the public sector can provide homes, without subsidy, at a better price (and often better quality) than the private sector. It is simply more efficiently provided housing.

The housing sector is a clear example that the free market cannot provide the solutions to all our public needs and indeed that it is often the public sector that can do so more efficiently and at lower cost.

Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to build 100,000 council house a year if elected. It does seem to be a policy that makes simple sense. It does not even need an increase in central government expenditure or in taxation, but only a removal of the restrictions on local authorities securing loans to build homes.

During the 2015 election the Green Party leader had difficulty explaining where the money would come from for public house building. Evan Davis on Newsnight explained it very simply: all that is needed is for councils to borrow the money on the public bond markets, and then to to use the resulting rent to pay both the loans and the interest. No extra public expenditure is required.

The housing crisis is a problem created by political ideology being put ahead of what was society needs. But it is also a problem that can start to be solved very easily by a return to public housing.

priced-out-graph

http://www.pricedout.org.uk/why