What therefore Hardie hath joined together, let not Corbyn put asunder

19th August 2016

-By Paddington Baby-

What therefore Hardie hath joined together, let not Corbyn put asunder

The neighbouring CLP to me held their Labour leader nomination meeting last week and did me proud by nominating Owen Smith (I used to be a member there and still keep in touch).  My own CLP decided not to hold a meeting, much to my disappointment, but if we did, what might I have said?

I did not vote for Corbyn and I have never been a fan.  I often think about why that is and how I would explain it to people.  I can easily bring to mind Venezuela, Press TV… but then I wonder how best to explain what is wrong with Corbyn’s domestic policies and why people won’t vote for them.

I went to see Owen Smith speak and decided to text policy announcements to a friend who couldn’t be there.  There were so many announcements I simply couldn’t keep up!  Then it hit me.  The reason why I had trouble criticising Corbyn’s policies is because he just doesn’t have any!

Like most of us here I was heartbroken at the outcome of the referendum.  I worked hard to win, and I thank so many of us here who worked hard to win. I do not believe that Jeremy Corbyn gave us all the support we needed.  Midway through the campaign I went to our rally when Alan Johnson came to talk to us.  The night before Leave had shot up in the polls and Jeremy Corbyn had appeared on TV to say that he was only 7 out of 10 into the EU and he had fooled around embarrassingly.  This was how he addressed the terrible news of the poll ratings.  I complained to our MEP at the rally about it all.  The two of us concluded then that we were going to lose.

But Owen Smith gives me hope.  He behaves like an opposition leader, fighting the Tories on tax credit cuts and calling for better from the Prime Minister.  I believe that, unlike Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Smith has what it takes to become Prime Minister himself.

I do not pass the Andrea Leadsom test.  I am not a mum, only an auntie.  But I love my niece with all my heart, and I am determined that she will not be a kid who grows up under a Tory government like I did.  I’m fighting for Owen Smith because I’m fighting for a Labour government, and there is no way that that is going to happen unless Owen becomes the leader of our great party.

The thing is that I can see that we are a divided party.  And that division is not just between the Corbynistas and the rest of us, but also between the Corbynistas themselves.  One half of them is convinced that Labour will win the next general election and all signs to the contrary are wrong; the other half doesn’t think that Corbyn will become the Prime Minister – but that is not a problem, so long as dearly-held socialist principles are kept in place!

If the Corbyn supporters can’t make their minds up about whether power is attainable for Labour, then how can they complain about the moderates who KNOW that Corbyn will not become the Prime Minister?

A leader may have adoring fans, but that is no guarantee of anything.  Ann Treneman wrote about events in Scotland in September 2014 in her book “All in this together”:

“We were standing more or less in a field, outstanding as they say, just beyond the rather rundown town of Kilmarnock in the west of Scotland, waiting for Alex Salmond.

“‘He’s delayed’, says one Yes man who looks about twelve.  ‘Everybody wants a selfie with him!  Everywhere he goes!  It’s like Beatlemania!’

“Love, love me do, as the Yes campaign tells Scotland: you know I love you.  Maybe it’s just good planning, but wherever Mr Salmond goes, except at press conferences with pesky journalists, he seems to be greeted with open arms.  Yesterday, on the final Yes tour, there were hugs and kisses, backslaps and arm squeezes…”

Remind us of anyone?

Alex Salmond did not win the Scottish referendum and Jeremy Corbyn will not win the general election.

“‘I don’t know why you say she’s my boss,’ grumbled Boris.  ‘She’s simply the Home Secretary.’

Ah yes, simply the Home Secretary.  I do hope Theresa was listening.”

Against the expectations of most, Theresa May well and truly IS the boss of Boris Johnson now.

The tide is turning with GMB votes, positive results from the phone banks and fine, individual members changing allegiances in such a humbling manner.

Jeremy Corbyn has inspired change in Labour, now Smith should be trusted to carry it forwards

The previously unanticipated can happen, and Owen Smith can become the next leader of the Labour Party.

So we’ve reached the end of the supporting nomination stage of Labour’s Leadership

Impossible to know for sure, but I did have my hopes for Mrs May and my wish for a female Prime Minister came true there.  Now I want my wish for Owen Smith and a radical and progressive Labour government to come true as well.

By Paddington Baby

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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Crash, Recession, Austerity, Blame… and more Blame!

17th August 2016

By Keith Nieland-

Crash, Recession, Austerity, Blame… and more Blame!

In the final scene of the movie “The Big Short”, the leading characters turn to each other and one says, “Who will get the blame for this?” to which the reply is, “The poor and immigrants as usual.” The “this” is the economic crash of 2008.

In the UK politicians took the blame initially with Gordon Brown paying the price and losing the 2010 general election. He had not seen coming what nobody else had seen either and was accused of not regulating the banks effectively, although nobody was calling for that, least of all Cameron’s Tory opposition. Brown had a plan for dealing with the downturn but the Tories described it as inadequate and criticised him for not balancing the national books nearly quickly enough. Brown and his Chancellor, Darling, must be quietly chuckling to themselves as the Tories, after 6 years of trying, have yet to reach the targets set by Brown and Darling which the Tories thought too timid. The new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has for all purposes kicked balancing the books into the long grass following the Brexit vote. The slings and arrows of politics!

If we go back to 2010 the incoming Chancellor, George Osborne, was quick to characterise the blameworthy poor. He painted a picture of the hardworking family man setting off to work in all weathers while his benefit-dependent neighbour snored on with curtains drawn. So any early morning window with curtains still closed was a hiding place for the lazy, workshy and benefit-dependent. Of course, everybody knew one of these people or, at least, knew somebody who knew somebody else who lived next door to such a person. The media helped the characterisation take hold in the popular imagination by helpfully offering us Benefit Street TV programmes.

The reality was that the economic crash that began in the US banks and spread worldwide had the effect of reducing the UK government tax take and as the economy shrank who better to blame than those most in receipt of services funded from the tax take – the poor, those most dependent on publicly funded services and those who worked in that sector? So benefits were reduced, libraries closed, Sure Start centres closed, rural bus services cut, elderly personal care cut… and the list goes on. All this justified on the back of ‘no more feather-bedding the unworthy’.

After 6 years the books are still unbalanced despite all the cuts and service reductions. Blaming the poor has not worked. Having spent so much effort on pinning the blame, politicians and those who subscribed to their world view with a vote, were not just about to hold up their hands and say we got all this wrong and we need to think again. It was time to blame the other group… immigrants… and the EU referendum provided a perfect opportunity.

The invective of 2010 that was turned on the poor and public servants was now targeted on immigrants. The country was being flooded with them, they are living off benefits, they are taking our jobs (it seemed possible to do both!), they were responsible for NHS queues and the shortage of school places, they depressed wages… and the list goes on. As with the previous attack on the poor, little of this was evidence-based but was more about creating and capturing a public mood. The UK voted to leave the EU (well England and Wales did) and the key reason for doing so was to gain control of immigration.

I am pretty sure that controlling immigration (whatever that may mean) will not address the various grievances that some voters carried into the EU referendum, but expectation is high. I really dislike those vox pop interviews that TV news programmes are full of, but they do, to some extent, hold a finger to the national pulse. Two recent ones I recall vividly. The first was a woman in Stoke-on-Trent who saw leaving the EU as an opportunity to start again and we should get on with it. The second was with a man in Thanet who, with a trace of anger in his voice, wanted departure from the EU sped up so we could do something about the immigrants. Hopes are high that doing something about immigrants (what is not quite clear) will lead to better times (again not defined).

If attacking the poor did not resolve the challenges of 2010 and doing likewise with immigrants does not solve the challenges of 2016, what happens next?

The omens are not good. We have seen the rise of Trump in the USA using rhetoric focused on grooming a sense of grievance amongst voters. Muslims and immigrants once again a target but this time laced with a return to the politics of isolation. Nigel Farage is promising us a new career as the spreader of discontent amongst EU capital with the aim of breaking up the organisation. Australia has seen the rise of One Nation which promises trade protection and banning Muslim immigration. In addition One Nation want discrimination laws changed as they claim they limit free speech.

So it looks like the hunt for somebody to blame will now be focused on Muslims, global free trade and human rights.

This is all very depressing for those on the centre left. But there is a ray of hope from what is an unlikely quarter – the United States. The Democratic Party conference was by and large a joy to watch. There was no blaming and apologising for any aspect of the Party’s progressive agenda. The talk was of working together, tolerance and acceptance. The Democrats firmly set their gaze against isolationism, racial intolerance and attempts to divide society. Progressives across the world must be hoping for a Hillary Clinton victory in November with the expectation that she will be a leader of progressive politics and that other progressive leaders will rally behind her and carry the progressive cause in their own countries.

In the UK the Labour Party is best positioned to be a beacon against intolerance, isolationalism, racism and those who seek to divide society for political gain. It should be possible to address voters’ concerns about immigration, welfare and lack of opportunity within a progressive agenda.

It is urgent business for the Labour Party to come to terms with the UK of 2016, including the Brexit vote, and get down to business with developing a progressive response.

Perhaps Hillary could send over that chap David as he has the experience and skills to reinvigorate a truly progressive Labour Party.

By Keith Nieland

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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A Sense of Public Service

15th August 2016

By Harriet Anderson-

A Sense of Public Service

The Labour Party thinks it has remembered socialism. But it has forgotten its sense of public service.

Earlier this week, my CLP met and voted to nominate Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership contest. It was also 21 years since I lied about my age to attend Labour meetings. Many things were the same, though the constituency is hundreds of miles from the one I joined. Kind and welcoming constituency officers ran the meeting with scrupulous fairness. New members were warmly welcomed, procedures explained and attendees gave generously towards the room hire.

It took me a while to work out what was different, partly because I was pre-occupied with some of the more bizarre statements in the discussion (i.e. that Jeremy Corbyn was interviewed daily by ITV during the course of the EU referendum campaign). I couldn’t put my finger on the change because it hasn’t happened overnight, or even over the last year. Hard though it is to admit, I have since had to conclude that much of the party no longer sees itself or operates in terms of the service it can offer to others – namely, the people worse off than ourselves.

I don’t mean that my fellow party members, new or old, are motivated by self-interest, indeed I believe those who say that they have privileges they would rather not have, and who feel deeply about the plight of the worst off. But my early days in the party were characterised by people looking for solutions to problems. Naive teenage views were gently challenged by those who pointed out that the people the party existed to serve were mainly outside the rooms in which we met. I learned the solutions may not be simple, may demand compromises, will almost certainly involve no thanks for us.

As a new member in 1995, I received a political education based on how we could meet those needs. This week, I heard a party whose own needs were paramount. Not their material needs, but their expectation that party membership would meet members’ need for affirmation.

I heard about how members (new and old) had felt during Labour’s years in government. How they had felt “complicit” in things that they did not agree with, for having sometimes voted Labour. Some had voted UKIP last year, with reasons given including their opposition to austerity and to “the neoliberal paradigm”. Several said that they had “been asked to leave” during the 1980s, when they presumably had not felt complicit in the messy business of government.

There were roars of approval when it was suggested that 80% of the PLP should depart in shame for being complicit (regardless of how many had in fact been elected in 2010 or 2015). On one level I could empathise. As a member of the party (and sensitive teenager) during the years of government, I know that mistakes were made. Sometimes it seemed you were under attack for them from the people in your non-political life. Dinner parties could be awkward.

On another level, my early political education taught me that how it made me feel is actually of quite minimal importance.

The socialism my CLP espoused on Wednesday was socialism that is worn, stated, part of the identity members present to the world. It’s not the socialism that is enacted and lived in their communities, and for which the Labour Party trained me in the distant days of the 1990s.

Much has been made of the youth of the people joining the party to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I know many young people who became politicised last summer and joined for this purpose. Almost all of these also felt strongly about the referendum, and many have drifted away.

My encounters with active Corbynites, last year and this, have suggested something different. Twenty one years on, my presence still reduces the average age at Labour meetings. There were some young members there, and a few speakers mentioned that their young adult children were now supporting the party. But overwhelmingly, Corbynism in practice looked a lot like the last political hurrah of the baby boomers.

When I joined the party, I did think that principle was better than compromise. That the strength of ideology was enough. I still think these are forgivable sins, and I am glad the patient people who introduced me to real politics forgave me then and now. I can see how a young activist now, having been schooled under new Labour, might be forgiven for their assumptions.

A common assumption is the idea that in the end power will inevitably swing back to us. That because we have two main parties, Labour is bound to win again in the end. The young can be forgiven for not knowing that any Labour government, even a one-term one with a tiny majority, is an aberration in history. Tory governments are the default setting, and it takes monumental effort and sacrifice to bring one to an end. If they have had their eyes open, anyone over 40 knows this.

Is there a chance that Jeremy Corbyn’s older supporters are just happier this way? Is this why the politics of protest, hang-wringing and *empathy without action* are so appealing? Nothing to be “complicit” in there. Is winning not just unimportant, but something to be suspicious of? Much easier to keep out of it – especially when foreign or military affairs are mentioned.

Better historians than I can consider whether and why some of the post-war generation takes this view. The ideas of duty, self sacrifice and public service were far more spoken of in the preceding generation. I am glad that the generation that followed was more critical, less deferential. But does it tell us something that (since Gordon Brown’s more Kirk-influenced moments) the only person who speaks about these ideas in public life is the Queen? Why does the ultimate establishment figure carry the torch for things that motivated Labour people through the unrest of the 30s and the rebuilding of the 40s and 50s?

Of course, altruism, sacrifice and sympathy exist and are practised by Labour members in their working lives, private lives and through charitable activities. But perhaps because they can now spend their working lives in public service, precious few see it as their purpose in a political party.

I agree with those who say that Corbynism may be part of a generational shift which has been a long time coming. But as always, it is more complicated than is usually supposed. When I first attended CLP meetings, along with a teenage friend, it was a running joke between us that we would listen out for the first person present to mention their involvement in the 1945 election. That generation is all but gone now, and the party may miss their presence more than we know.

I can see how the principles and rhetoric of public service are difficult for the left. It comes from a liberal tradition, around long before the Labour Party or socialism, and there is always the danger of being patronising, paternalist, even imperialist. Most shockingly of all – public service is not exclusive to us. Whisper it, but I even know some Tories who genuinely believe in and act on public service, even if they go about it differently. But isn’t it worth treading the fine line? Trying to help even if we sometimes get it wrong?

“Kinnock the movie” begins with the statement that the privilege of being born strong is that it gives you the power to help those who are not strong, before going on to outline the strengths of the Labour generations that had gone before. It was something to unite around – placed the struggle of the 1980s in the context of the party’s history – at its best when making itself uncomfortable in order to serve the people who need it. A few years later, Margaret Beckett called for the statement by John Smith to stand as his epitaph – “The opportunity to serve our country. That is all we ask”.

Those words inspired me, as a young person getting involved in politics, and led to my involvement in many campaigns and policies with effects of which I am very proud. But they only meant anything because the Labour Party gave me the political education to place them in context. Socialist rhetoric was not enough. The party tradition of public service didn’t vanish in the last year, and certainly didn’t vanish everywhere, but its revival has never been more necessary, or it will be our epitaph too.

By Harriet Anderson

Labour Party member, former Labour Party Organiser now working for a trade union

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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Battle Rages While The Skylarks Sing

8th August 2016

By Keith Nieland-

Battle Rages While The Skylarks Sing

It is high Summer. Skylarks sing merrily high above the newly harvested fields. Down by the seaside waves gently lap ashore while children play happily in the surf. Meanwhile, in the world of politics, battle rages. In the Labour Party a winner-takes-all struggle is on with no quarter asked or given. The very future of the party is at stake as Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith slug it out. This is a fight not just for the heart and soul of the party but its kidneys, liver and backbone as well! I have been following the election on social media and have found it to be a deeply distressing pastime and best avoided. Seeing Owen Smith portrayed as a goose-stepping Nazi because he had the temerity to have once worked in the private sector, and for a drug company at that, was enough for me. I also took a peek at the social media accounts of some of the female MPs that have spoken out to see comments that do not belong in a civilised society. I just wonder about the authors of all this invective. Who are these people? Have I sat next to one on the train? Why do their parents let them out?

Nobody should be surprised at Owen Smith’s challenge for the leadership. If you elect as leader of a political party a person who in over 30 years in Parliament has never shown the slightest interest in leadership or responsibility, and who set a new standard in disloyalty by voting against his own party over 500 times, disaster is bound to follow. If you add in his various plots to remove previous leaders and the hypocrisy of happily being re-elected three times on the manifesto of Tony Blair, a man Corbyn would quite like to see in jail, then you hardly start in the job with a well of goodwill.

If I have learnt nothing else from Twitter and Facebook I now know that there is a plot to remove Corbyn from the leadership which I understand MI5 and the mainstream media are orchestrating. The polls should be ignored because they are commissioned, interpreted and published by Tories. I watched one of Jeremy Corbyn’s speeches on Sunday to learn that he has no intention of talking to the main stream media because they do not like him. Watching a politician in full victim mode is a pitiful sight. Twitter also tells me Corbyn is the most popular politician in the country. A Momentum group gleefully published that the polls must be wrong as the author had never met a Tory. My answer must be “you need to get out more”.

All this would be highly amusing if it were not so serious. The campaign is a wonderful example of the post-evidence society in full swing. Believe what you want, portray yourself as a victim if anybody should say the slightest thing against you and avoid a proper debate with your rivals. I half expect Donald Trump to appear at one of Jeremy Corbyn’s rallies – after all they are both fans of Putin apparently and think we should not be in the EU. They both think the main stream media has it in for them and could be the victims of rigged elections.

As somebody who lives well away from any of the locations for the leadership hustings I would have liked to have seen both more hustings and at least one of them on television. By all reports Corbyn has killed off any chance of either of these happening. I guess he must be too busy going around the country saying the same thing to rally after rally whilst avoiding any questions.

Meanwhile over at the Owen Smith campaign it is all a bit boring. Boring in the sense that Smith is travelling around the county doing traditional things like delivering detailed plans that turn slogans into action and happily taking questions from anybody who cares to ask.

In reality Smith has a mountain to climb. He was a not very well known backbencher until recently so has a recognition challenge to overcome, plus Corbyn remains very popular with vast sections of the party. Smith’s strategy has been quite clever in that he believes in much of Corbyn’s manifesto but talks about plans to take that beyond mere slogans into deliverable action plans.

My suspicion is that Smith may not expect to win outright but is seeking to win amongst full members of the party leaving Corbyn’s victory dependent on registered supporters. This would stop Corbyn bragging about his mandate, embolden MPs even further and make life tricky for Corbyn at September’s party conference.

For me it is vital either Owen Smith wins or is able to severely wound Jeremy Corbyn and I will explain why. In a first past the post electoral system you have to have broad based parties to win power. Therefore, the right wing of the Tory party has more in common with UKIP than it does with the left wing of its own party which in turn has more in common with the right wing of the Labour party which in turn has little in common with its own left wing which has more in common with the Green party. However, MPs in both main parties realise that to gain power and be able to achieve anything they must compromise. Hence you find Kenneth Clarke and Liam Fox in the same party.

I do not believe Jeremy Corbyn signs up to this compromise system of government. He wants to see politics moved more on to the streets with a Labour party permanently positioned well to the left. After all the social movement he talks about can only mean demonstrations, rallies, placard waving, marches and petitions. Issues of the day would be settled on the streets and not on the green benches of the House of Commons.

The problem with this is that there is not a shred of evidence that voters want this change. The majority of voters expect their government to get on with it and they will deliver a judgement every 5 years. A system of representative democracy is well embedded in the British psyche. If UK voters were up for revolution why did they vote the Tories into power in May 2015? A vote to leave the EU is as near to revolution as we are likely to come. Away from the conspiracy theorists Corbyn’s poll ratings are just awful – just take a look at the @BritainElects twitter account. Outside his bubble of self-adoration voters do not want Corbyn or his politics and if he remains around they will take their revenge on the Labour party at the next general election.

At least a Owen Smith leadership would give Labour a chance. He would unite the party in Parliament, make use of all the talent on the backbenches, would embrace the necessary compromise the first past the post system demands and improve the party’s performance at PMQs. He is articulate, and has a spark and personality sadly lacking in Corbyn.

If the skylarks are not to sing above a Tory England for decades to come those voting in a few weeks’ time need to think very carefully about the choice they make.

By Keith Nieland

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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Bricks and Mortar: Building homes should be at the heart of Labour’s future

5th August 2016

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Bricks and Mortar: Building homes should be at the heart of Labour’s future

-By Cllr Sean Woodcock-

If there is one issue that should unite members of the Labour Party, it is housing. Housing regularly tops the list of issues that concerns Labour members the most.

Housing is also an issue of grave concern to the British public. Younger voters worry about it as do those who are a little bit older. We know that concerns over housing, or a lack of, feed into concern about immigration. This should be an area where Labour gets a big ‘thumbs-up’ from the electorate considering how much the issue exercises both members and the public.

Unfortunately this is not the case, because the priorities of both groups are not at one.

For Labour members, naturally as a party where members pride themselves on their concern for the most disadvantaged in society, the priority is to build more social housing. Jeremy Corbyn has listed it among his priorities which must go some way to explaining his popularity among the grassroots.

Now, I have an interest to declare firstly as someone who has a day job with a housing association, though these views are strictly my own. I am passionate about social housing and its importance. The impact that having a secure, well-maintained and stable place to live can have on vulnerable people’s lives cannot be overstated. We do need to create more social housing to cope with the demand on this valuable resource. As a councillor, a shortage of social housing is a regular sources of casework from residents in the deprived ward I represent. I need no education in the importance of social housing.

But for the majority of people in the UK, social housing is not something that they want more of. For them, social housing conjures up images of sink estates, single mothers and stained mattresses dumped on overgrown lawns which they want to avoid. Of course this is an unfair image and stereotype. But it is also, unfortunately, the image that most people have.

Instead, for most people their concern is not about a lack of social housing, but is about a struggle to get onto the property ladder, for them or a younger relative. Because for them, home ownership, not a council house, is the aspiration.

For private tenants, the concern is not so much that they are paying rent to a landlord rather than a housing association; it is that the rent is so high that they are unable to put anything aside for a deposit. For a 25 year-old university graduate working in retail or a coffee shop and living with parents the ambition is not a tenancy, it is a mortgage deed.

If Labour is to be in touch with the electorate it needs to understand this basic desire among a majority of the British people. Labour must seize the mantle of being the party of home ownership from the Tories. When it talks about housing it must talk about mortgages as well as housing benefit.

There is an opportunity for them to do this because whilst the Tories have tinkered with the demand side and made the planning system work in favour of developers getting decisions it remains the case that not enough has been done to increase the supply.

Developers have been trusted to deliver the number of houses needed since the 1980s but have not done enough to provide more for the very obvious reason that it is not in their interest to increase supply and cut demand. Government, and particularly local government, must take the lead here.

The key is enabling and empowering local councils to start to deliver for the people in their area. There are examples across the country of councils using innovative new ways to get housing built; whether by selling off underutilised council buildings and re-generating the site or by encouraging self-build.

One key stumbling block, as with everything for councils, is money. There is a real lack of ability on the part of councils to borrow in sufficient amounts to get capital projects going. As well as this is their inability to adjust local council tax or business rates to stimulate growth or provide revenue.

Labour must now embrace further devolution to provide more power to councils to make these decisions and provide more houses.

But Labour must also get out of the mindset that all or even a majority of houses built by local authorities or housing associations should become social housing.

The problems faced by tenants in the private rented sector are well-known, from poor maintenance to uncontrolled rent increases and lack of security. Rent caps/controls have been shown not to be the answer. And the answer is not just more housing at a social rent, but also increasing the range of providers of market-rate tenancies.

Housing associations and councils have the experience, the desire and a proven record of success in providing well-maintained properties and secure tenancies for people who qualify for social housing. They are also involved in shared ownership. So why can they not provide a similar quality but alternative service, delivering quality homes at market rent for ordinary people who might not make the local council waiting list?

Many housing associations, hit by financial uncertainty in the face of the extension of Right To Buy and rent increases forced on them by the Conservatives government, are already considering providing some market rent to supplement their other activities. Labour should get on board and fully encourage housing associations and councils to provide housing on the open rental market.

In the wake of the General Election defeat last year, I mulled over the defeat with a few drinks and anecdotes with a comrade. He ended by telling me how he knew that Labour had lost when he stood with the canvassing organiser at the end of a long gated driveway with a BMW on it and was told, “Now don’t forget to tell them that Labour will abolish the Bedroom Tax.”

Next time let us have something useful to say.

By Cllr. Sean Woodcock

Labour Parliamentary Candidate, Banbury GE2015. Leader of the Opposition & Labour group on Cherwell DC. Banbury Town Councillor & ex-Mayor


Re Stopping London’s growth to “balance the economy” – “Corbyn is wrong…

The capital generated just under 30 per cent of national “economy taxes” in 2014-15 (these include all tax revenue dependent on the growth of the economy, such as income tax, land and property taxes, and VAT). That’s an increase of 5 per cent on its share of the national “economy tax” intake in 2004-05. Indeed in 2014-15 alone, the capital generated £91bn in income tax and national insurance contributions – more than the next 60 cities combined.

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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In Defence of Parliamentary Democracy

3rd August, 2016

 – By Sarah Atkin –

In Defence of Parliamentary Democracy

It would be ironic if, more than a century after its formation, the Labour Party was to succeed in the ultimate U-turn and end up as it began: a movement of protest.

From Keir Hardie onwards, Labour’s mission has always been to provide a voice for the voiceless, be a force for progress, improve lives, take our country forward and change our world. Idealistic, absolutely, but also deeply pragmatic. Keir Hardie was a pragmatic idealist. He worked to achieve a broad-based and inclusive political movement, but very early on concluded that the then ILP (Independent Labour Party) must learn to win elections. It is through elected representatives that change was/is achievable. From the pioneering early Labour Councillors at the turn of the 20th century through to our reforming national governments, we seek power to change things and it is through electoral politics that we have succeeded.

I was not born into Labour. I chose it. I joined the Labour Party in the mid 1980’s because Neil Kinnock looked to be somebody who could provide much needed opposition to an all-powerful Margaret Thatcher in parliament and second, I wanted to be part of making Labour electable again.

Working in London’s creative industries I saw a changing world and knew Labour needed to change with it. In the 1980s I collected money for striking miners’ families. I was one of the first to join Charter 88 and campaign for constitutional reform (before it was fashionable). I always did my ‘bit’ as a Labour member during elections and spent many evenings on the phone fundraising for the party. Over the decades I’ve given much to the party and to the cause of progressive politics.

Nothing heroic. No ‘gong’ expected. Just the everyday contributions many thousands like me have quietly made down the years. To now be corralled under the label ‘red Tory’ does rather stick in the gut.

The road to government was long and tortuous but during the Kinnock years there was always forward movement. Progress. Hope. To therefore lose the 1992 election was utterly gut-wrenching.

I suppose that confirmed to me, beyond doubt, that the Establishment never wants Labour to be in power. Patently, to advance our agenda Labour always has to be smarter, stronger and altogether better at the ‘business’ of politics than the competition. Nothing is inevitable in politics. You create your luck. Attlee knew this. Wilson knew it. And so did Blair.

Think on this. My first vote was in 1979. Up until 1997 my entire adult life had been spent under Tory governments. To see Blair and the New Labour project ‘wipe the floor’ politically and make Labour electorally unassailable was exhilarating. Oh, and we did do some great things too.

That was then. This is now.

I did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn but did understand, after what had been, to my mind a post-Blair vacuum of intellectual and organisational ‘drift’ why a ‘change’ candidate won. Even my partner (a non-aligned former advertising ‘guru’) said I was daft not to see that Corbyn was the best chance of putting us back on the map (which he now concedes he got wrong.)

Nobody knows how any individual will perform as Leader. It’s generally more ‘gut’ than science.

Despite his history, there was a way for Jeremy Corbyn to unite the party around a common narrative for progressive, radically and relevant change – relevant as in resonating with the lives, aspirations and anxieties of the majority. The primary focus of his energies, though, needed to be parliament.

It is in parliament that a Leader of the Opposition has to be at his/her best. It is in parliament that the majority of the electorate see national politics at work and it is in parliament that Jeremy Corbyn has failed to make an impact.

Labour has fallen short in its vital democratic job of holding the government to account – disastrously exposed, in my opinion over Europe and Brexit. Was there anything in politics more important than Europe this past year?

80% of MPs have lost faith in Jeremy Corbyn. If you do not have the support of MPs in parliament then you cannot do your job as leader. The MPs represent all Labour voters across the UK. This has to be pre-eminent. Yes, of course Labour members matter as well but MPs do not work at the behest of party members, supporters or trade union affiliates. They work for the people who put them there – the voters.

We live in a parliamentary democracy. Electoral representation is the best way to advance the causes we believe in. The alternative is the politics of protest or, more worryingly, the muscular ‘street politics’ of intimidation and intolerance that’s been meted out to (mainly female) Labour MPs. The antithesis of democratic engagement. This isn’t ‘political passion’ got out of hand. It’s thuggery. Jeremy Corbyn may well condemn it but prior to his leadership this didn’t happen.

I would ask the many thousands who, in good faith supported Jeremy Corbyn a year ago, is this the ‘kinder, gentler politics’ you envisaged? Is the ‘Corbyn project’ advancing the cause of progressive, centre-left politics in Britain? At this moment when our country grapples with the Brexit fall-out and the years of upheaval, uncertainty and challenge this will present, are Jeremy Corbyn and his team up to the job of providing disciplined, coherent, unified, strategic and credible parliamentary opposition to this newly installed right wing Tory government?

I don’t think so.

There is no point denying that we are a long way from power but somebody else has to be given an opportunity to try and turn the tide for Labour. This time I can say I am voting for change.

By Sarah Atkin

Sarah Atkin is a Labour member living in Scotland and she writes in a personal capacity. She was a volunteer organiser for Better Together in the Highlands; a Highlands and Islands Regional List candidate in the 2016 Scottish Elections and an EU ‘Remainer’.

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Vision’.



‘Entryism-on-Sea’ – Brighton, Hove & District Labour and the Alliance for Workers Liberty

23rd July 2016

‘Entryism-on-Sea’ –

Brighton, Hove & District Labour and the Alliance for Workers Liberty (cross-posted from here)

-Ivor Caplin-

There have been lots of rumours over the last year about entryism and I am grateful to a small dedicated team (who wish to remain annonymous) who have written most of this blog about the impact it has had in Brighton & Hove. This is my City and I care about all aspects of B&H life and its politics.

This type of entryism into our Labour Party is simply against the rules but with Corbyn colluding and with his fan club these type of incidents are likely to be widespread across all constituencies. When party members vote they can do so for these people (and Corbyn) or we can support the need for a fresh start and competence by voting for Owen Smith.

Meanwhile B&H Labour Party is suspended as this and other matters are fully investigated.

Over the past year a great deal has been written about so-called ‘entryism’ into the Labour Party – members and supporters of other parties or groups joining the party to influence its leadership and direction. Since the doors to the party were thrown open during last year’s leadership contest there has been a steady stream of stories about Conservatives and others paying their £3 and voting, and the attempts of the Labour Party to identify and expel those ‘members’ who don’t share our values.

There is a darker side to ‘entryism,’ however, than a few thousand opportunist Tories making mischief over the Labour leadership – a darker side with echoes of the Militant infiltration of the party in the 1980s. This is a story of fringe leftwing groups insinuating their way into local parties and attempting to force their agenda – explicitly revolutionary and contemptuous of parliamentary democracy – onto the Labour Party. Groups like the Alliance for Workers Liberty, a Trotskyist sect committed to revolution which grew out of the Militant Tendency in the early 90s.

There have long been concerns that groups like the AWL have been attaching themselves to Momentum, the pro-Corbyn grassroots pressure group, as a way of riding the ‘Corbyn surge’ to positions of influence in the party with the aim of fulfilling their ultimate goal – a takeover of the party.

A clear example of this campaign is the example of Brighton, Hove & District Labour Party, the largest single unit of the Labour Party in the UK, and one of the AWL’s most longstanding activists, Mark Sandell – who was recently elected to the local party’s Executive Committee in a result now voided by the Labour Party over allegations of an improper ballot and the ineligibility of candidates.

Mr Sandell’s candidate statement ahead of the Brighton, Hove & District Labour Party AGM stated that he was a former President of the West Sussex NUT who “first joined the Labour Party in 1986.” [1] Members understandably took this to mean that Mr Sandell had been a member continuously since that time, although he later clarified during his appearance on BBC South East’s Sunday Politics show that he has been a member of the Labour Party “on and off” since that time. [2]

More off than on, it would appear. Searches of the website of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (www.workersliberty.org) show a history of Mr Sandell’s activism within that organisation stretching back to the early 1990s – indeed, he was known and respected enough to be nominated by comrades to the group’s National Committee in 2007.

In his nomination statement for a position on the AWL’s National Committee, he claims to have “joined the group in 1987 as a student,” roughly a year after first joining the Labour Party. This particular chain of events will not be unfamiliar to those with some knowledge of the tactics of the left wing fringe, who have long seen student politics as a fertile recruiting ground for new activists to serve as loyal footsoldiers – submitting motions at Labour Clubs, manning stalls, selling socialist newspapers and generally carrying out the busy-work of political campaigning. More on this later.

From there, further searching reveals nearly three decades’ worth of consistent activism for the AWL. Mr Sandell claims in the above document to have “been an AWL branch organiser in Canterbury, Birmingham, Oxford and now [2007] in Brighton.” [ibid] During this time he was an active contributor to the AWL’s magazine as a writer and a serial proposer of motions to the group’s conference. The various links below place Mr Sandell as an active member (as a writer, speaker or in submitting motions to meetings) in at least 1993, 1996, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2014. [4–15] Throughout this entire period, the AWL was a proscribed organisation within the Labour Party, i.e. its members were banned from being Labour members, and has sponsored candidates standing against Labour candidates under the banner of TUSC and the Socialist Alliance, for whom his fellow BHDLP candidate Phil Clarke stood against Labour in 2005, 2007, 2013 and 2015. Either Mr Sandell was not a Labour Party member during this period or he was breaking party rules by simultaneously being a member of the AWL.

Indeed, Mr Sandell was an active member of the AWL as late as 2015, when his name appears as a contributor in an edition of Workers’ Liberty Teachers published only months before the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. [15] If he was still a Labour member at this time, he was in clear breach of the rules.

A few months later in September 2015, just after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the AWL formally wound up as a political party in an attempt to get around its longstanding proscription – that is to say to allow its members to join (or, as in Mr Sandell’s case, re-join) Labour. This attempt did not go unchallenged by the Labour NEC, with several former AWL activists expelled from the party in October. [16] Nevertheless, with plenty of reports at the time that the party’s compliance unit was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new members, the potential for members of proscribed groups being missed and remaining as members of the Labour Party into 2016 was high. Indeed, anticipating the likely attempts to expel members of proscribed groups from the party, the AWL’s own policy platform calls for it to “retain at least a small core of people aligned with our politics who ‘play safe’ so that they can be confident of not being swept out of the Labour Party by a backlash at the next stage.”

Members like Mark Sandell.

Why does this matter? It matters because despite being formally wound up as a political party, the AWL held a full conference a mere two months later on 21–22 November 2015. At this conference, the group adopted three documents, entitled –

  • After the Corbyn Surge
  • The Next 12 Months
  • Student Activity 2015–16

These documents outline a concerted strategy for members of the AWL to infiltrate (or, to use the language of the documents, “intervene”) in the Labour Party with the explicit intention of influencing the party to indoctrinate “more people of revolutionary socialist ideas,” “advance and transform the wider labour movement” and to focus “on drawing in, organising, propagandising among, and recruiting among, the new people (especially the new young people) mobilised by the Corbyn surge.” [17]

The reference in the above to “young people” is instructive, given that the document ‘Student Activity 2015–16′ outlines a specific plan to infiltrate university Labour Clubs to revolutionary socialist politics, with the aim of “organis[ing] and politically hegomon[ising] these people.” [18] This is a longstanding tactic of the fringe left as far back as 1987 when Mr Sandell, by his own. admission, joined the AWL as a student only a year after “first” joining the Labour Party. Indeed, the document ‘After the Corbyn Surge’ spells out this priority – “youth work is particularly important for renewing the movement and for convincing a new generation of socialists.” [17]

These documents clearly demonstrate a concerted effort by the AWL – less than 12 months ago a proscribed group who’s members were constitutionally barred from joining the Labour Party – to gain influence within local parties and student groups, to “consolidate leftwing victories” by “winning officer roles and policy votes,” to “break the right [of the Labour Party] quickly” and engage in local parties by “circulat[ing] motions, blogposts and literature.” [18] Going further, the adopted platform of the AWL as of November was that “all AWL members should be members of the Labour Party unless specifically agreed; doing Labour Party work of some kind should be the norm,” “in every area and at every level.” [17]

This campaign continues – the July issue of the AWL’s newspaper Solidarity splashes the headline ‘Flood the Labour Party’ [19] with a call for members to step up their infiltration (or “intervention”) into the party. Only this week, the AWL’s Twitter feed called for supporters to sign up as Labour activists to vote in its upcoming leadership contest. [20]

All of this is undertaken with the ultimate aim of influencing the Labour Party and its membership locally towards the politics of the AWL, a group which has consistently throughout its history demonstrated a basic contempt for parliamentary democracy and which regards even the policy platform of Jeremy Corbyn as “woolly and populist,” “relatively weak and piecemeal.” [17] The group’s platform calls for Labour councils, like the one in Brighton & Hove, to “refuse to implement cuts” – that is, to set illegal budgets that would bring Tory-run DCLG bureaucrats into city hall to run the city and the deselection of MPs. Mr Sandell himself has argued for the deselection of Labour councillors in Brighton & Hove in the past. [8]

Mr Sandell began appearing at local party meetings shortly after these documents were adopted, busying himself proposing several pro-forma motions scribed by fringe groups at branch-level Labour Party meetings, and latterly stood as a candidate for Chair of the BHDLP at its AGM, backed by Momentum – a group who’s Haringey branch was founded by one of the AWL members expelled from Labour in October and which has long been the subject of concern that concern that “hard-left groups such as Left Unity, the Socialist Workers party (SWP), the Socialist party and the AWL are trying to attach themselves to Momentum to gain entry into the party.” [16]

A number of members attending the BHDLP’s AGM on 9 July had concerns about the background of this relatively unknown quantity, however due to the large numbers in attendance at that meeting it was not possible for members to put these questions to candidates. Subsequent concerns were dismissed by Greg Hadfield, who stood as secretary at the AGM. Given Mr Hadfield’s background as a former Fleet Street journalist it seems unlikely he played the role of a “useful idiot” when only a brief Google search would have revealed the true nature of Mr Sandell’s involvement with the AWL.

Mr Sandell does appear to have some questions to answer as to his status as a member of the AWL, a group that stood candidates against the Labour Party and doesn’t share its fundamental commitment to parliamentary democracy. As a self-styled “revolutionary socialist” group that has explicitly endorsed a platform of entryism into Labour comparable to the Militant tendency of the 1980s, the prospect of AWL infiltration into the Labour Party, up to and including the Chairmanship of the largest single unit of the party in the country, is extremely serious.

By Ivor Caplin

Former Former Hove MP and Defence Minister

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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