Monday, 27 March 2017

#VoteLen

As a member of Unite, I am honoured and delighted to join pillars of our Movement such as Ken Loach, Harry Leslie Smith, the Durham Miners’ Association, the Blacklist Support Group, and the Morning Star, in endorsing Brother Len McCluskey against the challenges of the opportunist Right and the sectarian ultra-Left. 

Whatever good they may have done within and through our union, Gerard Coyne is seeking to damage Jeremy Corbyn (even stooping to a line on immigration that is the exact opposite of his Blairite backers’ up to now), while Ian Allinson is trying to establish his groupuscule as a presence on the public stage. 

Neither of those purposes is among the proper aims of Unite, aims towards which Len has been working tirelessly, and with considerable success, for nearly 50 years.

Accept No Imitations

As the Notice of Poll goes out, beware of decoy candidates fielded by County Durham Labour Party, the embarrassing relative that the national Labour Party pretends does not exist.

The fielding of decoy candidates is one of its several dirty tricks.

Others include the award of irregular contracts, the issuing of a mere caution to a Council Officer who gazumped land fees, the letting off of Councillors who failed to pay Council Tax, the failure of Councillors to declare interests, the promotion of their own businesses, the refusal to respond to Freedom of Information Requests, and the refusal to provide information to non-Labour candidates.

Indeed, the telephone number listed on the Council's website for requesting nomination papers does not in fact exist.

It is easy to laugh at the waste of five thousand pounds on a bus shelter that was not on a bus route, and that kind of thing.

But the overall picture is very nasty indeed.

Such are Jeremy Corbyn's Labour enemies when they are in power.

Uttar Realism

If the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh were a country, then it would be the fifth most populous in the world. 

Its 100 million inhabitants are now governed by Yogi Adityanath, who makes his Party Leader, Narendra Modi, look like Tim Farron. 

The Commonwealth is a cultural thing, essentially a social club.

It is good and useful as that, but it is nothing more than that, it never will be, and it arguably never has been.

Regardless of any previous tie to Britain, all of the rising powers of Asia ought to be treated in exactly the same way.

A thoroughly wary way.

Fine and Dandy?

First, Thames Water.

And now, BT.

Isn't privatisation grand?

Cohen’s Assertion Is Laughable

The Observer did not print my letter, or anyone else’s, in response to Nick Cohen, preferring this. But here it is:

The fact that Jeremy Corbyn is the Leader of the Labour Party and the Leader of the Opposition is the reason why Theresa May is even talking about workers’ and consumers’ representation in corporate governance, shareholders’ control over executive pay, restrictions on pay differentials within companies, an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme, greatly increased housebuilding, action against tax avoidance, a ban on public contracts for tax-avoiding companies, a cap on energy prices, banning or greatly restricting foreign takeovers, and banning unpaid internships. 

Two years ago, the only politicians advocating all but one of those were Corbyn and John McDonnell, while the energy price cap, proposed by Ed Miliband, was being screamed down by the people whom Nick Cohen wishes were now running the Labour Party. 

Those people, including most Labour MPs, are well to the right of the Prime Minister. Cohen’s assertion is laughable that an unnamed Cabinet Minister “and George Osborne used to worry about how Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna would strike back against their austerity programme.” 

Corbyn has won two Leadership Elections as the only candidate to the left of May, opposing the austerity programme while having also opposed every British military intervention of the last 20 years, that period’s privatisation of the NHS and other public services, its persecution of the disabled, its assaults on civil liberties, its prostration to Saudi Arabia, and its demonisation of Russia. All of those have happened continuously since 1997, under the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and New Labour alike.

Unpopulism Led To Populism

Larry Elliott writes:

The rise of populism has rattled the global political establishment.

Brexit came as a shock, as did the victory of Donald Trump. Much head-scratching has resulted as leaders seek to work out why large chunks of their electorates are so cross.

The answer seems pretty simple.

Populism is the result of economic failure.

The 10 years since the financial crisis have shown that the system of economic governance which has held sway for the past four decades is broken.

Some call this approach neoliberalism. Perhaps a better description would be unpopulism.

Unpopulism meant tilting the balance of power in the workplace in favour of management and treating people like wage slaves.

Unpopulism was rigged to ensure that the fruits of growth went to the few not to the many.

Unpopulism decreed that those responsible for the global financial crisis got away with it while those who were innocent bore the brunt of austerity.

Anybody seeking to understand why Trump won the US presidential election should take a look at what has been happening to the division of the economic spoils.

The share of national income that went to the bottom 90% of the population held steady at around 66% from 1950 to 1980.

It then began a steep decline, falling to just over 50% when the financial crisis broke in 2007. 

Similarly, it is no longer the case that everybody benefits when the US economy is doing well. 

During the business cycle upswing between 1961 and 1969, the bottom 90% of Americans took 67% of the income gains. 

During the Reagan expansion two decades later they took 20%. 

During the Greenspan housing bubble of 2001 to 2007, they got just two cents in every extra dollar of national income generated while the richest 10% took the rest.

The US economist Thomas Palley (Who Runs the Economy?, Palgrave Macmillan, edited by Robert Skidelsky and Nan Craig) says that up until the late 1970s countries operated a virtuous circle growth model in which wages were the engine of demand growth.

“Productivity growth drove wage growth which fueled demand growth. That promoted full employment, which provided the incentive to invest, which drove further productivity growth,” he says.

Unpopulism was touted as the antidote to the supposedly failed policies of the postwar era. 

It promised higher growth rates, higher investment rates, higher productivity rates and a trickle down of income from rich to poor. 

It has delivered none of these things. James Montier and Philip Pilkington, of the global investment firm GMO, say that the system which arose in the 1970s was characterised by four significant economic policies: the abandonment of full employment and its replacement with inflation targeting; an increase in the globalisation of the flows of people, capital and trade; a focus on shareholder maximisation rather than reinvestment and growth; and the pursuit of flexible labour markets and the disruption of trade unions and workers’ organisations. 

To take just the last of these four pillars, the idea was that trade unions and minimum wages were impediments to an efficient labour market. 

Collective bargaining and statutory pay floors would result in workers being paid more than the market rate, with the result that unemployment would inevitably rise. 

Unpopulism decreed that the real value of the US minimum wage should be eroded. 

But unemployment is higher than it was when the minimum wage was worth more. 

Nor is there any correlation between trade union membership and unemployment. 

If anything, international comparisons suggest that those countries with higher trade union density have lower jobless rates. 

The countries that have higher minimum wages do not have higher unemployment rates. 

“Labour market flexibility may sound appealing, but it is based on a theory that runs completely counter to all the evidence we have,” Montier and Pilkington note. 

“The alternative theory suggests that labour market flexibility is by no means desirable as it results in an economy with a bias to stagnate that can only maintain high rates of employment and economic growth through debt-fuelled bubbles that inevitably blow up, leading to the economy tipping back into stagnation.” 

This quest for ever-greater labour market flexibility has had some unexpected consequences. 

The bill in the UK for tax credits spiralled quickly once firms realised they could pay poverty wages and let the state pick up the bill. 

Access to a global pool of low-cost labour meant there was less of an incentive to invest in productivity-enhancing equipment. 

The abysmally low levels of productivity growth since the crisis have encouraged the belief that this is a recent phenomenon, but as Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, noted last week, the trend started in most advanced countries in the 1970s. 

“Certainly, the productivity puzzle is not something which has emerged since the global financial crisis, though it seems to have amplified pre-existing trends,” Haldane said. Bolshie trade unions certainly can’t be blamed for Britain’s lost productivity decade. 

The orthodox view in the 1970s was that attempts to make the UK more efficient were being thwarted by shop stewards who modeled themselves on Fred Kite, the character played by Peter Sellers in I’m All Right Jack

Haldane puts the blame elsewhere: on poor management, which has left the UK with a big gap between frontier firms and a long tail of laggards. 

“Firms which export have systematically higher levels of productivity than domestically oriented firms, on average by around a third. 

“The same is true, even more dramatically, for foreign-owned firms. Their average productivity is twice that of domestically oriented firms.” 

Populism is seen as irrational and reprehensible. It is neither. 

It seems entirely rational for the bottom 90% of the US population to question why they are getting only 2% of income gains. 

It hardly seems strange that workers in Britain should complain at the weakest decade for real wage growth since the Napoleonic wars. 

It has also become clear that ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing are merely sticking-plaster solutions. 

Populism stems from a sense that the economic system is not working, which it clearly isn’t. 

In any other walk of life, a failed experiment results in change. 

Drugs that are supposed to provide miracle cures but are proved not to work are quickly abandoned. 

Businesses that insist on continuing to produce goods that consumers don’t like go bust. 

That’s how progress happens. The good news is that the casting around for new ideas has begun. 

Trump has advocated protectionism. Theresa May is consulting on an industrial strategy. 

Montier and Pilkington suggest a commitment to full employment, job guarantees, reindustrialisation and a stronger role for trade unions. 

The bad news is that time is running short. 

More and more people are noticing that the emperor has no clothes. 

Even if the polls are right this time and Marine Le Pen fails to win the French presidency, a full-scale political revolt is only another deep recession away. 

And that’s easy enough to envisage.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

A Game of Fives

Here's a fun fact from the Durham Teaching Assistants' Solidarity March and Rally.
 
Such is the distribution of the TAs by ward, and so small (contrary to what is often assumed) are so many of the Labour majorities these days, that if each TA and four others voted against Labour, then Labour would lose over 50 seats.
 
Frankly, we can deliver those votes in far larger numbers than that.
 
We can. We must. And we will.

We Have No More Kippers

"But UKIP got four million votes!"
 
And how very, very, very long ago that seems now.
 
There is no electoral space to the right of wherever the Conservative Party happens to be at the given time. That space simply does not exist.
 
Ask Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall, with 12 failed attempts between them to enter the House of Commons.
 
Consider, by contrast, that George Galloway's return to Parliament at Manchester Gorton would restore the situation that obtained between 2012 and 2015.
 
That was when members of the House of Commons from outside the Labour Party and to the left of most of its MPs were taking their seats on behalf of all five of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the South of England, and the North of England.

The End of the Party

As of today, UKIP is a party with no MPs.

There are scores of those, and they should all demand as much coverage as UKIP is given, especially by the BBC.

Paul Nuttall is to be on Question Time again this week. Why?

Roar of the Lions

Over a thousand at the Durham Teaching Assistants' Solidarity March and Rally. 

Superb speakers.

A promise from Ken Loach to attend the showing of I, Daniel Blake on 27th April.

And a message of "unconditional support for your inspirational campaign" from John McDonnell.

That raises the serious question of the precise sense in which the Labour Group on Durham County Council still purports to be anything to do with the Labour Party.

Well and Truly Trumped

So, Obamacare is to last forever, then.

Thanks to the insistence of the Republican Party.

November now seems like a very long time ago.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Bring Your Banners, Bring Your Voices


City Lights

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour fielded eight candidates in the City of London, where Labour acquired its first ever seat a mere three years ago.
 
Last night, five of those eight were elected.
 
Jeremy Corbyn's Labour enemies intend to field 126 candidates for Durham County Council, which Labour has controlled for more than 100 years.
 
There is no reason why any of those 126 ought to be elected.

Fiddling While Rome Burns, Indeed

The University computers are as slow as ever, and they still don't have spellcheck on the Internet. There is something reassuring about those two facts, isn't there?
 
My main point, however, is that an unbelievably posh student (even by Durham's standards) is braying at huge volume that he has been taken to Caffè Nero and interviewed about becoming a Labour member of Durham County Council.

Wolves Inside The Door

Thomas Mair, the murderer of Jo Cox, described himself to the Police as “a political activist”, and so he was.
 
No Irish Republican organisation has murdered a Member of Parliament in the present century or in the preceding decade, and the people responsible are now such pillars of the British Establishment that they are entertained at Windsor Castle. No Islamist or Leftist organisation has ever murdered a Member of Parliament. But the Far Right has done so, only last year.
 
Although a “strong supporter” of Israel did attempt to murder George Galloway while he was the MP for Bradford West. These days, though, that constitutes part of the Far Right. Give that a moment to sink in.
 
National Fronts come and BNPs go, EDLs come and Britain Firsts go, but certain institutional and organisational manifestations of the Far Right are perennial, hitherto even permanent. Mair’s is the Springbok Club, which is run by the people who also run the London Swinton Circle. And that, in turn, was addressed by Liam Fox (born 1961) and by Owen Paterson (born 1956) as recently as 2014.
 
Ah, those old 1980s Tory Boys, in their Hang Mandela T-shirts and all the rest of it. Wherever did they all end up?
 
In the Thatcher and, to a lesser extent, Major years, there were Ministers who were members of the Western Goals Institute or the Monday Club. Those crossed over, via such things as the League of Saint George, to overt neo-Nazism on the Continent, to the Ku Klux Klan, to apartheid South Africa, to Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, to the juntas of Latin America, to Marcos and Suharto, to the Duvaliers, and so on.
 
Nick Griffin’s father, Edgar, was a Vice-President of Iain Duncan Smith’s Leadership Campaign. He answered what was listed as one of its official telephone numbers (in his house) with the words “British National Party”.
 
The days of treating even support for the NHS as Loony Leftism, while maintaining no right flank whatever on the officially designated political mainstream, are well and truly over. The dominoes have already started to fall. Some highly prominent people in what thinks that it is now this country’s perpetual party of government need to be very, very, very afraid.
 
But no part of the Far Right, including fanatical support for Israel, is ever treated as a security risk. Just as you can never be too young to be taken entirely seriously as a right-wing commentator. Not long ago, the Telegraph and the Spectator were simultaneously carrying someone who was still at school.
 
And just as there is no view so right-wing that it would preclude, say, a Times column, or a regular gig on The Moral Maze. “White Western nationalism” was extolled repeatedly by Melanie Phillips a few weeks ago, days after she had written that there were no such nations as the Scots and the Irish.
 
Try and imagine a public figure remotely as Far Left as that is Far Right. You can’t. It couldn’t happen.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Safe As Houses?

Parliament attacked using a hire car and a kitchen knife.

The state pension age to go up to 70.

Aren't you glad that we kept Trident?

Caste and Crew

Not least by means of the hashtag #GG4Gorton, through which the posters that are already up may be viewed, George Galloway's by-election campaign is in full swing at Manchester Gorton, using the same means that succeeded at Bradford West, and using much the same pitch, too. 

The Labour shortlist has again been designed to placate the various factions of the Pakistani braderi system, which is in fact the carrying over of ancestral caste into Indo-Islam. Caste itself also persists even among Sikhs, founded though they were in a rejection of it, and among people whose families have been Christian for many generations, even centuries.

Braderi, however, just does not interest second or third generation Mancunians whose first language is English and who easily pass any cricket test (but who are far more interested in football), as it just did not interest second or third generation Bradfordians whose first language was English and who easily passed any cricket test (but who were far more interested in football).

Moreover, the concentration on it alienates everyone else. In 2012, Galloway topped the poll in every ward of Bradford West, including those which were more than 90 per cent white. The seat itself had been a Conservative target only two years before.

The election of Galloway at Manchester Gorton is as important as the re-election of Len McCluskey as General Secretary of Unite, and it is as important as the removal of Labour from Durham County Council, a removal on which depend many thousands of new jobs that would simply never occur to the know-nothing, do-nothing, right-wing-if-anything Labour Establishment here.

As much as anything else, Galloway's return to Parliament would restore the situation that obtained between 2012 and 2015, when members of the House of Commons from outside the Labour Party and to the left of most of its MPs were taking their seats on behalf of all five of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the South of England, and the North of England.

Meanwhile, at least one of my slogans for the 2020 General Election is already "Tony Blair Didn't Dare", and I intend to put out a leaflet under that title which would detail the entire case against him, stating the fact that that was why had not had the courage or the gall to seek this open seat right here in his old County Durham stomping ground.

As to who was the Labour candidate, is there even going to be one worthy of the name? The new boundaries suggest a Constituency Labour Party even more of the local know-nothing, do-nothing, right-wing-if-anything Labour Establishment than North West Durham was in the dark days of Hilary Armstrong.

With no chance of getting lucky a second time, and finding another Pat Glass figure whom they had not realised was there, the all-women shortlist will mean that they really were looking at some girl out of the typing pool, and almost certainly the London typing pool at that.

Beating her would be so easy that it would seem almost cruel. But politics is a rough old trade.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Pride of Lions

In itself, this can be seen as the taking of three minutes to say nothing. 

Nevertheless, “I can today announce that we are now extremely close to confirming new grading proposals which will mark a sea change from where we were previously.

“Watch for an update on the review being carried out of roles, responsibilities and job descriptions of teaching assistants from Leader of the Council, Cllr Simon Henig.”

We shall, Simon. We shall, indeed.

It is the Teaching Assistants themselves who have fought so very, very hard for this. The rest of us have been the ancillaries here, and proud to be so.

I, for example, secured the endorsement of their cause by several national trade union leaders in the Northern Echo on 3rd August 2016.

I secured their landmark meeting with Jeremy Corbyn on the eve of last year’s Miners’ Gala.

And I secured the support that George Galloway expresses for them regularly on his radio programme, and routinely to his quarter of a million followers on Twitter, as well as at least once in a letter to the Northern Echo.

All credit, though, is the TAs’ own.

I could not have been more privileged to have played even so small a part in their justly legendary campaign.

As we approach the County Council election on 4th May, we must all continue to provide powerful criticism of the treatment of the Teaching Assistants, of the closure of the DLI Museum, of the amassing of vast reserves while services have been and are being cut, of the bailing out of Durham County Cricket Club despite those cuts, of the mismanagement of relations with the Regional Assembly, of the selling off of care homes at discounted value, of the scandal of Windlestone Hall, of the circumstances that necessitated the award of enormous compensation to a teacher, of the substantial additional cost of the failure to pay that compensation promptly, and of the lavish expense of entertainment by senior Councillors and Officers.

Some of us are also working on an enormous proposal that will unite the trade unions with the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Independents in very stark contrast to the last third of a century, during which, even while the then Labour MP for Sedgefield was the Prime Minister for 10 years, Labour in County Durham has merely managed the poverty that its own leading figures have so conspicuously evaded.

Everything now hinges on who will be the new Leader of Durham County Council.

I Challenge Tony Blair

This letter of mine appears in today’s Northern Echo, and may well turn up elsewhere over the next couple of days:

Dear Sir,

At 11 o’clock this morning, Tuesday 21st March 2017, listeners to Radio Four were treated to the latest of Tony Blair’s increasingly frequent political interventions, this time bewailing the disarray of the political “centrism” that is in fact nothing more than his own collection of opinions.

In 2020, I shall be contesting the new seat of Durham West and Teesdale, most of which is where Pat Glass MP will be retiring. I shall be doing so without any party designation, not even the word “Independent”. I am not a member of any political party, but I am part of numerous partially overlapping networks of political interdependence locally, nationally and internationally. 

Since he has taken to reasserting himself in British politics, I challenge Tony Blair to declare that he is the Labour candidate for this open seat here in his old County Durham stomping ground. Either that, or to shut up and go away. 

Yours faithfully,

David Lindsay

The Traditions In Which We Stand

Although, despite several assurances, this does not seem to have made it into print anywhere, it is a matter of record, and it will be pursued:

Dear Sir,

As the proprietor of the whole of Sky, Rupert Murdoch might do some good. We represent positions that the BBC simply ignores. 

The workers, and not the liberal bourgeoisie, as the key swing voters. Identity issues located within the struggle for economic equality and for international peace. The leading role in the defence of universal public services of those who would otherwise lack basic amenities, and in the promotion of peace of those who would be the first to be called upon to die in wars. The decision of the EU referendum by areas that vote Labour, Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru. 

Opposition from the start to the failed programme of economic austerity. Against all Governments since 1997, opposition to the privatisation of the NHS and other public services, to the persecution of the disabled, to the assault on civil liberties, to every British military intervention during that period, to Britain’s immoral and one-sided relationship with Saudi Arabia, and to the demonisation of Russia.

Rejection of any approach to climate change which would threaten jobs, workers’ rights, the right to have children, travel opportunities, or universal access to a full diet. Rescue of issues such as male suicide, men’s health, and fathers’ rights from those whose economic and other policies have caused the problems. And refusal to recognise racists, Fascists or opportunists as the authentic voices of the accepted need to control immigration. 

We respectfully request that Mr Murdoch identify and include representatives of the traditions in which we stand.

Yours faithfully,

David Lindsay, 2017 council candidate and 2020 parliamentary candidate, Lanchester, County Durham; @davidaslindsay
Sean Caden, Leeds; @HUNSLETWHITE
Ronan Dodds, Newcastle upon Tyne, @RonanDodds
James Draper, Lanchester, County Durham
Nicholas Hayes, Durham; @Nicholas_Sho
Connor Hodgson-Brunniche, Cramlington, Northumberland; @Randomaited
Krystyna Koseda, Essex; @kossy65
John Mooney, Lurgan, County Armagh
Aren Pym, West Cornforth, County Durham; @arenpym
Gavin Thompson, Newcastle upon Tyne; @GavinLThompson
Matt Turner, Nottingham; @MattTurner4L
Adam Young, Burnopfield, County Durham; @JustALocalSerf

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Summer Lightning

There are three elections to win this summer.

They are the removal of Labour from Durham County Council (including for a very specific post-Brexit reason; watch this space), the return of George Galloway to Parliament at Manchester Gorton, and the re-election of Len McCluskey as General Secretary of Unite.

All within the context of supporting Jeremy Corbyn and of securing the People's Brexit.

At a rally at the Durham Miners' Hall last night, it was confirmed that Len would be joining Jeremy as a platform speaker at this year's Durham Miners' Gala.

Those of us who will by then have taken control of the Council will also march at that, and, if I may, I hope that at least one of the triumphant Teaching Assistants will also speak.

And, while hoping for him on the platform might be a bit much, one very much hopes to see George, one of the two strongest supporters of the Durham Teaching Assistants among national politicians (with Grahame Morris), and the strongest of all those without constituencies in County Durham, at this year's Big Meeting.

In the meantime, see you all on Saturday at the Teaching Assistants' march, which will begin outside the Gala Theatre at 12 noon, and end in what promises to be a fabulous rally at the Miners' Hall.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

This Is What A Bad Week Looks Like

For some people, anyway.
 
The thirtieth Conservative U-turn since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Leader.
 
The abandonment of the Budget's flagship policy.
 
The Police and the CPS knocking on the door over the huge and flagrant electoral overspending by the Conservative Party, involving figures who are now at the very heart of government.

The formal emergence of two rival UKIPs.
 
The damp squib of the overhyped Geert Wilders.
 
The collapse of the pro-austerity Dutch Labour Party, which has been comprehensively outflanked from the left.
 
And the striking down in court of Donald Trump's second attempt at a Muslim Ban.
 
For some of us, this is what a very, very, very good week looks like.
 
Here's to many, many, many more.