progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

Who is writing the loser script?

or: why we should remember the past so that we do not repeat it

[this is an unfinished post]

On Remembrance Sunday, I spent a lot of time thinking about my uncle. He didn't die in a war, but he served during the Falklands war between Britain and Argentina.

Patrick was in the Navy. I think he saw bad things happen in conflict, but he would never talk about it. Apparently his dad, who served in the RAF, was the same. Didn't want to talk about it.

I never knew my grandfather - my mother's father - because he died before I was born. His name was Henry but he got called Harry. As a young man, he joined the forces because he was struggling to find work.

There was a particular reason he found it hard to get a job - Harry was from Belfast. As a Protestant married to a Catholic, life wasn't easy. Employers had sectarian hiring policies.

My grandmother told me when she first found this out. "I'd love to give you the job, but I can't." She had made the mistake of saying where she lived - a Catholic neighbourhood.

Serving in the armed forces meant that my grandfather could get work and provide for his family. It also meant he could get them out of a difficult situation. After he came out of the forces, he settled where he was stationed, in the North East of England.

Patrick joined the forces as a young man, just like his father. He didn't face the same kind of discrimination in England as his father had in Ireland. But there was anti-Irish racism because of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

I suppose the real reason for joining the Navy was to escape the mass unemployment of the time. And when Patrick came out of the Navy, he went into nursing. He helped people with impairments overcome their disability.

Patrick worked for the NHS until he had to take early retirement. He didn't want to stop working - but having an aggressive form of cancer gives you no choice. He was in his early 50s and full of life.

I recall as a child, Patrick telling his young son to repeat the following affirmation - "every day, in every way, I am getting better and better!"

This attitude was why Patrick shielded the pain of his illness from me.

When he was hospitalised, I would visit him and try and talk about anything other than illness. Music, films, anything.

He knew he was going, so he gave me what he had on this earth - his computer, DVDs, CDs.

Patrick gave me a laptop computer so I could type up the minutes of branch meetings. He also gave me an iPad.

But more about that later.

Life's what you make it?

Cosmic prankster Robert Anton Wilson pointed out: though we obviously don't choose the material conditions which are beyond our control, we can choose to write scripts in which we win or lose.

In his writing, he feeds you different views of reality, tests you to be a "model agnostic".

One minute, you believe the wild story he's telling you. Then he says it's rubbish and tells you another version of the story that contradicts the first.

Reading his books taught me to think carefully about how other people are interpreting events.

God bless him, Old Bob wanted to live forever. He didn't. But I imagine the pain of his final years would have been that much worse if he had accepted the hand he had been dealt.

His favourite Irish storyteller was Joyce. I must confess to preferring Beckett:

"Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Now, this isn't a defeatist attitude. It's about accepting that not everything will be perfect.

So my uncle Patrick was saying stuff like "I'm alright" and "not to worry" right up until the end.

A mate of mine has had a similar form of cancer for a few years now. He has a similar attitude to life. Every time I see him I secretly think, "you're still alive!"

This is probably what we should think when we wake up every day. "I'm still alive! Take that, death."

As I've written about here, that isn't always easy for me. When I was warning about Labour facing Pasokification, this could sometimes be taken the wrong way.

Not Safe For Work?

Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, it has been a question of "if" not "when" the coup attempt would come.

As Adam Boulton let us know:

"The first hope of the Blairites and Brownites appalled by Corbyn’s election was that all but a tiny rump of Labour’s 232 MPs would defect to a new party in such numbers that they would become the official opposition. Backers were prepared to put up millions of pounds for the new party, provisionally called the Progressive Democrats, which would have left the Labour Party behind with its debts."
Corbyn won 59.5% in a "one person, one vote" ballot. Thousands of people were denied a vote in the contest as part of a #LabourPurge to make sure that only those who backed Labour could take part.

The big problem for those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who could not accept this result (and remember, Labour MPs resisted letting anyone else have a say for most of Labour's history!) is that they can't really get rid of Corbyn. Not without destroying the Labour Party.

Since May, when Labour unexpectedly lost the general election, party membership has almost doubled. For some Labour MPs and "grandees" this is a disaster.

So, what was Corbyn's platform?

Democratise Labour. Grow the grassroots, make the party more like a social movement. Let members decide policy

Economic alternative to the Tories. Defend the reforms of the last Labour government like tax credits, but put forward proposals for a more sustainable economy.

Ethical foreign policy. Speak out against human rights abuses, promote peaceful conflict resolution as the first priority.

This is not really revolutionary stuff in terms of Labour's history. It is more moderate than the SDP splitters in terms of fiscal policy. So what's the problem?

The biggest threat to the British ruling class and its state is not the emphasis on opposing austerity or the modest social democratic reforms that both Corbyn and McDonnell are advocating.

No, the real threat to "national security" is that the economic model of tanks 'n' banks might be seriously opposed.

Trident. Spying. Foreign wars. 

Spending billions on weapons of mass destruction? Letting the spooks collect everyone's information?Bombing countries in alliance with the US?

These were supposed to be part of an assumed consensus.

And the mechanism for achieving these policy changes is a threat to "national security" - people in Britain are not supposed to decide the policies of the British state, it's banks or big corporations.

Mass movements are weapons of mass destruction - they are WMDs aimed at the top dogs and fat cats of the British establishment.

Plotting a coup against a Labour leader

The key thing to remember about the attempted coup is that it can only ever be that - an attempt.

Some of the plots are out in the open. For example, John McTernan's suggestion that Labour MPs simply depose Corbyn by getting behind a single candidate in time for the party conference.

Well, the conference came and went.

The issue is - who is Labour for? It was set up by trade unions and radical socialist groups who felt that the Liberals could not meet the interests of working people.

Some Labour MPs - and would-be MPs, ex-MPs, former special advisors, Lords, ex-Labour Lords - think Labour should be a vehicle for electing candidates who can then do what they like.

No matter what they have promised to party members who have worked to get them elected, or voters who have chosen them as Labour candidates for office, some Labour MPs think they should be allowed to run the show.

In short, some in Labour seem to think we should be the Liberal Democrats. A party that elects anti-Tory candidates - but a party which is willing to form governments of national unity at times of supposed national crisis.

But as the election result in Scotland showed, if you run as "One Nation Labour", the electorate might wonder which nation you are on about.

During the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, the "One Nation Labour" approach meant uniting with the British government of the Tories and Liberals against the Scottish government of the SNP.

The Scottish Labour Party was tainted by association with the Better Together campaign - "the Vow" made by Cameron, Clegg, and Miliband, to give Scotland greater powers was broken immediately after a majority of voters Scotland said "No" to independence.

In the midst of a referendum campaign which saw banks and big business threaten to wreck the Scottish economy if voters chose independence, Labour had been seen to side with the bosses.

And who was advising the Scottish Labour leader in the run up to the general election? Why, it was John McTernan.

Democracy in the Labour Party

In the old days, conference was viewed as the sovereign policy-making body of the Labour Party. This was dismissed as "resolutionary socialism" by those who buried it. But it served a purpose.

Richard Crossman, who served as a Labour minister in the 60s, observed that “to maintain the enthusiasm of party militants to do the organising work… a constitution was needed which apparently created a full party democracy while excluding these militants from power.”

In many of Labour's sister parties in other countries, the equivalent of the word "militant" is used to refer to an activist. So much of the anxiety about "the Militant" in the 1980s reflected not just the actions of that organisation, but of militants more generally - activists had too much power.

In the 1970s, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy had put forward a defence of the party's programme - which included measures for industrial democracy - and they provided a means of implementing it without MPs deciding to give in to ruling class pressure.

Faced with the choice of caving in to the City of London or breaking the investment strike by moving in to take democratic control of the financial sector, a Labour government chose to cave in.

Through the mechanism of an IMF loan, the Labour leadership - as in the 1930s - accepted an austerity programme designed to restructure the British economy for the benefit of capital-owners - at the expense of workers.

Faced with implementing Labour's programme for extended democracy or allowing the plutocrats in the banks and big corporations to go on running the economy, Labour's leadership chose to give in to anti-democratic pressure.

When the Labour Party conference in 1976 demanded a say over who led the Parliamentary Labour Party, they were told - you don't know enough. We know best.

Don't believe me? Here's what the a motion passed by a majority of Labour MPs in 1976 told the wider party:
"Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party are incomparably in the best position to know the qualities and the character of the candidates for leadership [...] there should be no change in the procedure for the election of the Leader of the Party" (quoted in Democracy in the Labour Party by Ken Coates, p.21)
Mandatory re-selection meant that at every election there had to be a choice of candidates, not a "back me or sack me" vote as happens in the Labour Party today.

When it was implemented, it did mean that MPs faced the pressure to vote according to the party's programme developed by conference and the party's manifesto which had served the basis for the election of candidates under the red flag of Labour.

Stop the #LabourPurge

Corbyn got on the ballot for Labour leader by accident. The declared candidates did not have the ideas and attitude which could win over the people that the party relies on to leaflet, canvass, and get out the vote.

The other candidates, though well-meaning, were unable to escape their origins - they owed their positions in the Parliamentary Labour Party to the patronage of the Blairite and Brownite wings of the dominant New Labour faction.

When he got on the ballot, it was a nightmare for those who have sought top-down stitch-ups and dirty deals with Britain's ruling class over open debate and collective decision-making in the party.

They knew that his presence would change the terms of the debate. He would not remain silent on party democracy, corporate power, or disastrous wars.

They did not believe he would win. The election system they had advocated - one member, one vote - meant that the power of MPs was equal to that of someone who is only supposed to deliver the bloody leaflets, not decide what goes on the leaflet.

It must have become obvious pretty quickly that there was no appetite for a relaunch of the SDP. The same players are there - Lord Sainsbury, for example. But the lesson has been learnt.

Under the electoral system which exists in England, and which the Tories aren't minded to change, it is not possible for a break-through challenge to Labour.

So the immediate targets have been those around Corbyn. Andrew Fisher and other Labour activists who had backed his leadership campaign....

Meeting the Cabinet

Wednesday, November 25th saw the Tory Chancellor George Osborne deliver his Autumn Statement on the Spending Review. There was no surprise that he announced more cuts as part of his permanent austerity programme - including more cuts to local democracy.

Darlington Borough Council has had majority Labour representation through the austerity programme implemented by the Tory Chancellor. And this has meant eye-watering cuts to the income the council gets from central government.

There have been 550 job cuts by Darlington Borough Council in the last five years - and thus a loss in the services the council provided for the town. The scale of cuts to Labour councils poses a political challenge. How to respond?

After May's terrible general election results for Labour in the UK parliamentary elections - losing all but one MP in Scotland, failing to advance in England - the party now has gained momentum in terms of membership.

Hopefully, this can be used to rebuild across the state, starting in workplaces and communities, so that greater electoral representation for the workers' movement can be won in the coming weeks and months.

In Darlington, this has meant Jenny Chapman, the Labour MP for the town, encouraging new members to meet with long-standing members and get involved in supporting campaigns on tax credits and voter registration.

And by organising a "Meet the Cabinet" meeting at the Forum Music Centre, it is clear that the Labour Party locally is seeking to encourage the active participation of new members.

From the base of strength Labour has in terms of representation and organisation in Darlington, the party can renew itself across the country with campaigns on issues like tax credits.

After the death of Michael Meacher, a long-serving MP, there will be a by-election in the Oldham constituency he represented for the Labour movement. The candidate is Oldham Council leader Jim McMahon, who is also a member of Labour's sister the Co-operative Party.

Everyone in the workers' movement who can, should get along to support Jim McMahon defeat what is thought to be the big challenger, UKIP. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, UKIP is seeking to trade on fear and insecurity.

But it has been Labour which has challenged the Tory government on its plans to cut working tax credits, forcing a partial u-turn in the Spending Review. And it will be Labour that campaigns for a real living wage for all workers in the coming months.

So, if you can get to Oldham - do get along and be sure to say #IBackJim. And if you can't there's always phone-banking. So here's the link:

Building Momentum in Labour's Northern Region

On November 11, socialists in the Labour Party gathered in Newcastle to plot the way forward in the Northern region. It was a joint event by the local Red Labour group and Momentum.

The meeting was held at Tyneside Irish Centre and if anything there were too many people at the meeting - a wonderful problem to have, especially given the organisational weakness of socialists in the party in recent times.

Open debate

Apparently at a previous meeting of Red Labour in Newcastle, some comrades wanted to discuss the merits of candidates against Labour. The chair made it clear that this was not on the agenda of the meeting but that it was open to everyone who wanted to work towards the election of a Labour government.

This struck me as a sensible answer to the question of how Momentum should work with people in other organisations. If the doors are barred to people who are known to have been involved with, for example, TUSC, the Greens or the National Health Action Party, how are we ever to win them over to a debate about the interests and priorities of the workers' movement at this time?

A speaker from the floor explained the distinction between Momentum and Red Labour: whereas Momentum aimed to community organising outside of party politics, Red Labour would work on organising inside the party to defend the platform on which the new leader had been elected.

Pluralism in the party

Having failed to hold back the flood of new members, trade union affiliates, and registered supporters - who were keen to help Corbyn's victory in the Labour leadership contest - the old order is now trying to purge long-standing members.

The economist Andrew Fisher, Corbyn's policy chief, has been suspended from the party due to a concerted effort by Labour's "moderates" and the Tory press. A number of other comrades face the same pressure.

I spoke at the beginning of the meeting to condemn the purge and explain that the real crime of these comrades is to be the first line of defence against the attempt to smash the platform on which Corbyn was elected.

Ideas for campaigns

During the first half of the meeting there were breakout groups for a number of themes. For example, I led a group interested in NHS policy. Each group was asked to spend time discussing the issue, then make two proposals for action to report back to the meeting.

In my case, our group decided that Momentum should urge support for the NHS Reinstatement Bill, which was backed by the Labour leader and Shadow Chancellor in the last parliament and which has a second reading scheduled for March 11 next year.

We also decided that in the event of a strike by junior doctors, Momentum should explain why they are taking action against cuts to their pay and conditions, how this will harm patient care, and stress the efforts that will be made to provide emergency treatment to patients during the dispute.

The feedback from the break-out groups displayed a high level of engagement with political ideas and suggestions which built on Corbyn's platform. For example, the speaker reporting from the taxation group spoke of the need for workplace and industrial democracy. And feedback from the workers' rights group included the suggestion that Labour councils should be lobbied to oppose the implementation of the Trade Union Bill - most obviously, with regard to industrial relations with council employees.

In terms of the history of the Labour Party, such talk is not particularly radical. But in the past, Bennism was not in control of the leader's office. Corbyn is not just the leader of the extra-parliamentary Labour Party - the growing numbers of Labour activists on the ground - but also the party in parliament.

The prospect of members of the party being assertive in defending the result of the leadership contest is leading to outlandish claims of "hi-jacking" and "infiltration" as embittered members of "the 4.5%".

Party democracy

The reaction of Labour's old order to Corbyn's victory has been predictable. Adam Boulton, who has close contacts with both sides of the New Labour project from his years as a political correspondent, gave the following account in the Sunday Times on November 8th:

"The first hope of the Blairites and Brownites appalled by Corbyn’s election was that all but a tiny rump of Labour’s 232 MPs would defect to a new party in such numbers that they would become the official opposition. Backers were prepared to put up millions of pounds for the new party, provisionally called the Progressive Democrats, which would have left the Labour Party behind with its debts."

This would have resulted in the end goal of the capitalist backers of the SDP / "New Labour" project - a "social democratic" party with no traces of postwar social democracy. A party of government with no link to the workers' movement or socialist ideas.

It now looks as if the date for a coup against Corbyn has been pushed back until after elections which take place next year. In the meantime, the #LabourPurge has not stopped.

The purge comes as the workers' movement faces a new round of cuts to incomes in the Autumn Statement, an assault on workplace organising with the introduction of the Trade Union Bill, and the prospect of UK participation in another war in the Middle East.

The priority for socialists in the Labour Party now is welcoming newcomers to the party and helping them to become active in campaigns in the places they live, work, or study. Only by this way can momentum be built to kick out the Tories.