Dianne Abbot is the Real Miliband!

It’s a sneaky move, sure, but what better way to try and undercut your fellow contestants in the Labour party leadership election, than to use the words of the Father of two fifths of the panel.

The Fabian Society have  commissioned all five candidates to write a Fabian Essay, and Dianne Abbot has chosen to start her one with a quote from Ralph Miliband, Father of David and Ed (Miliband – for clarity).


The message is clear: it has become a tendency for Labour party leaders to assume the only opposition likely to defeat conservatism is meek, mild politics, common among the petit-bourgeoisie.

This exercise is both self-confirming and self-defeating.

Self-confirming in the sense that the more leaders appealed to this type of politics, the less they were concerned with the natural politics of the Labour party. Self-defeating in the sense that the more the leaders lost interest in the politics of the Labour party, the less likely they were going to be electorally successful – which, it would appear, is the case right now.

The implied message is clearer: all the other candidates have their eyes away from Labour, trying to appeal to an imagined voter, who happens to have droll politics. Dianne Abbot is the real Miliband!

(No comment).


Don’t blame Bevan

A substandard comment on the labour party would have slipped past my otherwise observant radar, were it not for the collation of good and bad blog entries by the super observant blog of Poumista.

Hywell Williams, in a piece entitled Nye Bevan: the Militant Godfather, states unapologetically that:

Bevan created a party within a party and together with his Bevanites he brought a Leninist skill to the business of organising internal dissent to Clement Attlee and Gaitskell.

All the typical stuff about Bevan being a Marxist and entryist to bring about his rancid communist beliefs in a normal decent party. Not true, but even so, the point about Bevan creating a party within a party (as though this had a direct effect on the militant tendancy of the eighties – can Bevan be blamed for this, yet referred to as its Godfather, if it is true that Hatton and the like looked to the Bevanites as inspiration) is a sin, a lie like no other.

But there is hope for Williams, and his nonsense, yet. He goes on to say:

He [Bevan] then justified his scheming as the only way to keep Labour a socialist party

Save for the “scheming”, precisely! Bevan wanted to keep the Labour party socialist, not create a (socialist) party within a party. A pity Williams had not realised his own perfect critique was contained within his own Kinnockite drivel.

Couldn’t help myself

Fabian Society Labour party leadership hustings

In the copy of progress magazine that I stole from the Fabians’ leadership hustings tonight, Richard Angell interviews David Miliband about his candidacy for the Labour leadership.

In it, there is a quote that just about sums up his campaign:

In his first weekend as leadership contender, the former aide to Tony Blair appears to be distancing himself from New Labour with his call for the party to become ‘Next Labour’.

Miliband the elder is the least comfortable candidate with really identifying where the New Labour project, to which he is linked – despite what the above says – failed. He is also the least comfortable candidate when explaining where he wants to see the party go to, in order to change its image from, as Andy Burnham pointed out during the debate, “pro-big business without being pro-ordinary people”.

This comes through in the very New Labour quote above; meaningless symbolism and clap in the words “Next Labour” – it is hard to even make sense of what this could mean. Unlike what the interviewer says, it reveals no distancing whatsoever.

David Miliband went further in his soundbite babblery hatchet job with his opening statement. Among other vague notions he told the audience of Fabians:

the question for us is how we turn the poetry of values into the prose of real change in people’s lives

It didn’t get much better for him, stumbling over safe and habitual epithets, nervous smiles and uncomfortable hand gestures towards Dianne Abbott to his left (!).

A well-known blogger I got talking to recently, toying with whether to have Dave Miliband as his first choice candidate when the party comes to vote, told me that all candidates are trying to weave leftist tenets into their gamut, but nobody is reaching to the right. After wiping up the spillages I had made after hearing that, I realised that nobody else in the party but David Miliband was someone able to do both; someone to remind the party of its regretful right wing flirting past, and one who says through gritted teeth things we on the left vaguely want to hear, but see straight through it when uttered from his mouth. He reminded the audience tonight of how right I am (even if I do say so myself).

After answers to phantom questions about concerns to family life for MPs, agreement across the board about the 10p tax, Burnham’s reception of slow hand clapping for his uncommitted and nervous comments on immigration and the war in Iraq, and boring questions on women MPs and voting systems (boring, only because we already know the answer in advance; for more women; AV system) – not to mention Ed Balls’ mistimed jokes, met with flapping hands from Ellie Gellard in the front row – audience members with a little more blood lust were wondering where those questions aimed to stump our candidates were going to come from.

The best we got was a question from the audience on what measure the candidates wish they could delete from Labour’s past, which worryingly turned out to be the question all candidates had some of their finest moments with (with the exception of, again, David Miliband, who was clearly keen on being the voice of the past, New Labour legacy intact).

It was Andy Burnham, and not Dianne Abbott, who played the divider tonight, to the surprise of many people I have spoken to. He was the one laying himself open and making friends and enemies along the way, whether on the clergy in the Lords (which he opposes, but will explain his reasons in confession for, by his own jesty admission), to selection in schools to his own class and upbringing in Manchester.

Abbott was playing it far more pluralistic than many had anticipated, being personable and less antagonistic than many would hope (leaving that space for Burham).

Ed Balls was barely clear all evening, most comfortable when he was talking absolute jibberish and complaining about criticism he has had to endure as Minister. His attempts to re-write his past support for the war in Iraq, which he now admits was a mistake, were badly executed when he told the audience: “we should say sorry and move on” – if only life were so easy. These are not the words of a man in touch.

This leaves me to talk about the candidate who won the debate hands down tonight. Ed Miliband wanted to drive home the message that he was a “values driven” candidate, calling for Lords reform, a 50% female shadow cabinet, a need to govern markets by democracy, a look at top pay in the private sector, a high pay commission, a living wage, and the need to criticise capitalism from a democratic perspective.

Emma Burnell asked the pivtal question at the end of the night: “are you a Socialist – and what does the word mean to you?” David Miliband of course skirted round the issue, saying he was happy to accept what is written on the back of Labour membership cards (democratic socialist), while the others used the word to explain why they opposed social barriers. Ed Miliband used the most colourful language when he noted that:

Being a socialist for me is about being willing to criticise capitalism – and saying capitalism produces many injustices, which politics must tackle. It is not about abolishing capitalism but it is about changing it.

Balls noted having no truck with barriers, Burnham quoted Billy Bragg and Abbott spoke about the marginalisation of the minority working class.

These events are about Labour members and supporters working out who comes off best. Small-scale differences aside, the candidate scores points by saying the things you want to hear, appearing to mean it, and manoeuvering better on the spot than others. For me, Ed Miliband did this the best, not necessarily because I feel his politics are closer to mine than that of any other candidate, nor because I desire for him to be the next leader of the Labour party, but because he spoke clearly and elegantly about important matters, rallied with passion about more than just things we might want to hear him say, and did this far better than any of his colleagues.

Heiko Khoo expelled from the International Marxist Tendency

It’s not often that I’m intrigued by bicker and chatter, but today I was keen to see what all the fuss was about regarding a conversation that was taking place on facebook around a chap called Heiko Khoo, who has been kicked out of the International Marxist Tendency for apparently releasing internally sensitive information he shouldn’t have during a lecture he gave among non-insiders.

The International Marxist Tendency (IMT) for those who don’t know are an international Trotskyist movement whose chief intellectuals are Alan Woods and Lal Khan. Its history goes back to Ted Grant who was a leader of the militant wing inside the Labour Party until a split occured with those who wanted to continue to operate from inside the Labour Party parting ways with the side that eventually went off to form the Socialist Party in 1992.

On the occasions I’ve seen Alan Woods speak he has always been very adamant of his work from within the Labour Party, and his utilisation of entryism, as well as being scornful of his dismissal (he told an audience at the Venezuelan embassy that he had been removed from the party in the Blair era). This has informed my interest in the dismissal of Khoo.

For those who don’t know, Khoo is a prolific speaker at speaker’s corner and long time Marxist activist who witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall. He writes the blog China Reporting which the last post on it (here) is said to be the one which has got him into hot water with the leaders of the IMT.

According to him on his facebook page, he:

exposed the inability of the leadership to research and investigate the facts and explain developments from a Marxist standpoint […] The inability of the leadership to respond to Marxist analysis led them to begin a campaign against me over a year ago which has finally culminated in my explusion.

He also posted a circular which was sent yesterday to the IMT hierachy which reads

The following was passed at the IEC on Thursday and is enclosed for the information of all comrades. IEC Resolution on the Expulsion of HK
For many months, the International has been subjected to a systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation, organized by Heiko Khoo.This campaign, allegedly intended to “inform” the membership of the International, is in fact based on an avalanche of lies, insults,slander and disinformation. It is calculated to create the maximumconfusion, disrupt our work and demoralize comrades. These attacks on the International have been deliberately introducedinto the public domain, where they are being used by our enemies, toblacken the name of the International. The only effect of this campaign has been to cause resignations,damage the work in a number of sections and assist our enemies.In the face of gross, deliberate and repeated provocations, theInternational has shown extraordinary patience and restraint. But allthings have their limit. We have made repeated requests to Heiko Khoo to desist from his disruptive actions. He has had every opportunity to make use of thedemocratic channels of the organization to put forward his ideas. But he has not used these channels and all our appeals have been cynically ignored.These actions show a complete contempt for the most elementary norms of revolutionary morality ad discipline. The exact motivation behind Heiko Khoo’s activities remains obscure.But we can say that they constitute a deliberate and systematic sabotage of the work of the revolutionary tendency. Whether Heiko Khoo is conscious or not, such activities are indistinguishable from the work of a provocateur who seeks to destroythe organization from within. The International has the right to defend itself against sabotage andprovocation. We therefore resolve that Heiko Khoo is expelled from ourranks with immediate effect. 4 March, 2010

The conversation which has developed is mostly sympathetic epiphets and chatter about the international, but one fellow activist who is determined not to let this go is Sofia Papakonstantinou who mentions that

you got expelled because you put the IMT on danger not becuz you had different ideas. As you may know, the IMT has its own democratically elected organs. By opening up internal affairs to people -non members of the IMIT/ perhaps even against IMT- you are endangering the work of some sections. Your actions are tantamount to sabotage of the work of … See Morethe International -instead of constructive criticism channelled through the elected bodies of the organisation!

so Khoo possibly committed a breach of trust by posting confidential information on facebook. Though his defence is that he is a voluntary member and not obliged to abide by the IMT rules regarding “strictly confidential” material.

One of the replies by Papakonstantinou to Khoo’s protests at this stage was to say that non-members had the opportunity to voice their opinions at the annual World Congress, which was intercepted by a chap called Mike Cutler, who asked:

what sort of workers democracy is there going to be, when right from the start, workers and members of the founding organization get to whisper their voices and problems ONCE a year to the few in charge.

The story is long and hard to follow, especially given the fact that one instinctively imagines there is more to this than meets the eye. Of interest nonetheless, to see such a notable dismissal of an idividual from an organisation which prides itself on operating from within an established political party (an incumbent party at that) which differs somewhat to its own outlook; one would imagine that difference of opinion can be harnessed responsiby for an organisation like this (time will tell whether the dismissal was to do with leadership criticism or sensitive information – though the absence of a motion of evidence is rather peculiar), especially given the theoretical principles to which this organisation is supposedly founded upon.

I have been contacted by Mr Khoo who had this to say:

“One small error, I said as I am now expelled I have no reason to abide by their determination of what is confidential.”

exposed the inability of the leadership to research and investigate the facts and explain developments from a Marxist standpoint.

Using Zizek against Red Toryism

Early in 2008, philosopher Slavoj Žižek published a book entitled Violence: Six Sideways Reflections in which he aims to describe the differences between the violence we might see on the news in the form of thuggery and the violence incurred by the workings of the rogue bankers tweaking the economy. The difference, for Žižek, is the difference between “subjective” and “objective” violence. That is to say, “subjective” violence is the perceptibly obvious violence seen on the streets in the form of “crime and terror, civil unrest, international conflict” whereas “objective” violence is the unseen form of violence that takes the form of either the “symbolic” (bound in language and its forms), or the “systemic” (the catastrophic consequences of our economy when it is functioning as normal). The very notion that this objective violence is unseen sustains the level with which we perceive something as subjectively violent.

Žižek readily points to the likes of Bill Gates and George Soros as figureheads of a new type of business ethic that implicitly incorporates objective violence. They create a philanthropic standard for themselves at which they desire to be perceived, when in fact the more appropriate standard to which one should perceive them is at the concealed level of their function in the economy, an economy that determines the fate of individuals and whole nations. For instance when their philanthropy is contrasted to a street robber it might seem obvious who the violent criminal is, but when we start to analyse that which may not be readily perceptible – objective violence – , we start to understand their violence at another level, which the philanthropy has been used to camouflage.

If we change the word philanthropy with compassion we will have some idea of the tools the Tories are playing with at the moment. We’ve had hug-a-hoodie, we’ve had Cameron talk about white-collar crime, George Osborne has called for regulation of the financial system and section 28 has been apologised for. We have the choice, we can either accept that (unsurprisingly) a fairer system for all people regardless of class, race and sexuality does win votes and so the Tories are appealing to this, or the Tories really have changed.

For me, it’s a bit of both. The Tories have always wanted to hone in on some of the better ideas of the Labour party which is why they elected a meek and mild, soft Tory like Cameron to front them. He is at once electable and hasn’t got all the belligerence of previous leaders (such as Michael Howard). But what lurks around the corner with the Tories? They insist on lowering taxes for the rich, they still insist Britain is broken due to a lack in marriage, and they’ve decided to group themselves with fascists and Nazi apologists in Europe who would’ve seen section 28 as nothing short of pink propaganda.

The most intriguing expression to come out conservatism in Britain in the ‘compassionate’ period is Red Toryism. Ideas like it have been circulating for a while, but its British proponent is Philip Blond, a former theologian and director of the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos. The idea has a faint whiff of libertarianism, in that it wants to curb welfare dependence while encouraging those on lower incomes to invest in enterprise with investment vouchers, creating an investment pool. These all sound rather like the ideas of one commentator who, on the subject of the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, justified the myth that the public services aren’t creating capital and thus should have its funding from tax taken away.

All in all, it seems more of the same, that the bottom end are sold “opportunities” in order that money can be taken away from the welfare state – which is not, contrary to our crap right-wing media’s opinion, a haven for the lazy – and they enter into another dog-eat-dog lottery that simply rearticulates the concentration of wealth in this country, and others that are dominated by the markets (see this from Don Paskini explaining how Red Toryism is more of the same). And all this is gathered under the collective term communitarianism – meaning civic groups should replace governmental functions where possible.

Sunny Hundal has spotted a strategic problem for the left since the initiative vindicates elements of people power that the left have always fought for. The version that the left has championed, however, was not underlined with a plan to promote lower income or unemployment as a source of investment opportunities – at best it outright fails to iron out the problems that make these societal injustices occur at all, at worst it ignores or absolves them.

So the way in which Blond has supported his communitarianism is by utilising more of the same expressions of false hope provided by the dog-eat-dog world of the markets. But this standard has been obfuscated by a standard of compassionate camouflage. Exactly the sort of camouflage Zizek was talking about that Soros and Gates use.

So now is the chance for the left to pounce, to promote its own communitarianism based on dialogues between people and public services – like the type used by Ed Balls and his idea that education can get stronger through dialogue between parent, teachers and authority over the internet – and overcome the hidden motives by the Tories.

Royal Mail pension deficit: where and why?

Ken Livingstone, on a separate matter, but with usual aplomb, today wrote;

“Time and again, we have seen the nationalisation of losses and the privatisation of profits. It’s also the latest demonstration that it is a fairy tale that privatisation means the private sector takes the risk as well as taking its profit. In truth, every time a privatisation of a vital public service fails, the public sector picks up the tab. This culture of parts of the private sector fleecing the taxpayer has to stop.”

And, of course, though the original piece referred to the National Express Group, this is rather an apt sentiment across the whole spectrum of privatisation, including the 30% stake of Royal Mail, which until yesterday, was being waved around waiting for private money.

Well these are not the market conditions to do such a thing, so says Lord Mandelson.

Since the Tories foam at the mouth over privatising Royal Mail, they never did condemn Mandelson’s original proposals, but – within the frame of parliamentary contrarianism – they have not vindicated him for his U-turn either. Instead voices have emerged – not least of all from BBC’s Nick Robinson – saying that the move has demonstrated a ‘loss of authority’ – which Jack Straw rightly rejected.

This, indeed, was not why the plans were ‘shelved’. I do buy into the notion that certain market conditions forced a re-think, but also a concerted effort by unions, think-tanks, Labour MP’s and the worry of further disruptions spelt out the necessaries for calling off the issue.

What is continually embarrassing for the Labour Party – rather than the so-called ‘loss of authority’ – is the continual destruction – facilitated by New Labour – of the heart and soul of the party and its values. To suggest this turn is anything other than victorious for the true nature of the party, is to suggest that Peter Mandelson represents what is solid about the party and its history. And I for one will not accept such a statement.

Whether or not, as Mr. Straw has stated, the changes over the past few days mean that the party is ‘listening’, it certainly means that Labour has to listen, and this itself is no U-turn whatsoever (in the historical sense of the Labour party).

The problem is still focused upon the pension scheme, though. As Ian Pollock puts it – in a dazzlingly simple manner – “The deficit in the scheme – the difference between the value of the assets it needs to pay pensions, and the value of the assets it actually has – is shooting up.”

But, as it becomes clear, certain previous measures – not to mention nonchalance in the economic equilibrium years –  made deficit inevitable. As Pollock continues (to quote at large);

“For 13 years, from 1990 onwards, the Royal Mail – in common with other large organisations – made no contributions at all to the old pre-1987 section of its scheme, in a grand contribution “holiday”.

It should have been paying in money at a rate of 9% of salaries per year.

Ostensibly this was to avoid running up a very large surplus, which was a very common phenomenon in final salary pension schemes in the early 1990s.

But the saving of £1.5bn over that time – when staff were still paying in 6% a year – rather neatly covered the £1.3bn that the Royal Mail paid back to the Treasury during that time in an annual dividend.

If that money had been steadily invested over the past 19 years, there is little doubt that the scheme’s deficit would be far smaller now.

If the £1.5bn of annual payments had been invested in shares and bonds over those years, and had grown at an average annual rate of 6%, including dividends and interest, then the fund would now have an additional £3.1bn.”

Well what a surprise; Thatcher government, holding back on the suspicious pre-text that it was running on a surplus.

Whatever the outcome, and even if Mandy returns to this when the time is right, as he promised he will, it would do us well not to forget which system of governence tried to make private finances an inevitability in the public sector, and which style of governance should do all it can in order not to emulate the former in any way possible.

The right are ill-qualified for the fight against the xenophobes

It has emerged that 27% of voters plan to ‘send westminster a message’ by voting for a fringe party, the Guardian reports today (drawn from a poll of 1,010 adults between 20-21 May).

Though it seems the BNP vote will only garner 1%, some 4% less than the last European elections in 2004 (though as I’ve said before, and the article reiterated, voting intentions are not always so reliable for the xenophobic BNP). Ukip are down from 16% in 2004 to 10% on the voting intentions (perhaps their vote has been affected by the expenses scandals after all).

Two runners hoping to capitalise in on anti-Labour sentiment, have today been involved in in-party dispute’s over public perception. David Cameron of the T0ries, in the last 48 hours, has had to give two tellings off to MP’s for “unnacceptable comments”. Not racist comments, or slurs, but hubristic, nob-headed comments.

The Guardian‘s report notes;

“David Cameron today rebuked the Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries after she accused the Telegraph of coming close to a “McCarthyite witch-hunt” with its disclosures of MPs’ expenses claims.

The Conservative leader also made it clear that party grandee Anthony Steen would have the whip withdrawn “so fast his feet won’t touch the ground” if he continued making “unacceptable comments”.

Yesterday, Steen claimed he was the victim of “jealousy” among his Devon constituents, who he said were envious of his large house.

“I gave him a very clear instruction after that interview – one more squeak like that and he will have the whip taken away from him so fast his feet won’t touch the ground,” Cameron told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One. “It was a completely unacceptable interview,”

(see also Liberal Conspiracy‘s version of the events)

The second party which has (also!) had yet another setback in its false guise of moderate modification is the BNP.

The Mirror informed that;

“A BNP candidate could be deselected for posting offensive comments online.

Eddy O’Sullivan, the party’s Salford organiser, wrote on his Facebook profile: “W**s go home,” adding, “They are nice people, ‘oh yeah,’ but can they not be nice people in the f***ing Congo or… bongo land or whatever?”

Mr O’Sullivan, 49, standing with party leader Nick Griffin in the European election for the North West region, said: “It was supposed to be a private conversation. I also may have had a drink at the time. I don’t believe those comments are racist.”

Clive Jefferson, BNP North West organiser, said if the allegations were proved Mr O’Sullivan would be suspended.

Deputy party leader Simon Darby said: “We will take disciplinary action if we find he has posted the comments.”

Now that really is rich coming from Simon Darby, who was photographed by Searchlight recently being greeted with fascist salutes by Roberto Fiore’s Forza Nuova party in Italy. One would choose their friends more wisely (advice extended to Cameron after mvoing his party to non-attached in Europe along with the likes of Le Pen and the Polish Law and Justice party).

These things are clearly embarrassing for the two parties mentioned here, for they show a presence of an image they would really rather keep quiet. For the Tories, I really believe that David Cameron really believes he is the new modern times Tory, when in actual fact, and despite their elections slogan, they are more of the same. The BNP, however, are desparately trying to seem way more with the times than they actually are (and unsuccessfully). It can be seen quite clearly from the recent amendments made to their manifesto, constantly redefining their ideas of what it is to be British, and their language and conduct entries. Change the voter’s mind, and dupe them later.

To really get under the skin of the BNP in the coming weeks, then months, and years to come, critics must do more to understand their warped appeals to moderation.

Which is why it should not be left down to some comic Tories who have started casually calling the BNP a far-left party – which also tainted some of Tim Montgomerie’s good work. See also Daniel Hannan’s recent blog entry and Harry Phibb’s unbelievable trite, with absurdities like this;

“What Conservatives can add to this critique is something that the left can never admit: Nazism and communism are ideological twins. The BNP is in fact an extreme leftwing outfit. It wishes individual liberty to be sacrificed to state control. It seeks the overthrow of capitalism, and rages against profit and speculators. It wishes to institute a siege economy with protectionism and the nationalisation of foreign-owned companies. In this it is being consistent to its founding inspiration. Hitler nationalised the banks and insurance companies, the economy was rigidly centrally planned, there was an extensive programme of public works, independent schools were banned.

How does he, then, define the far-right – and presumably in whatever way he does define it, he must be in it if everyone right of the Tories are socialist by default. These articles, in spite of their aims, are ample evidence that many respected commentators are ill-qualified to tackle a dangerous element rearing its ugly head in our democracy.

But unsurprisingly none of these party failures have restored any faith in Labour (due to their own party failures). Which is why I was suprised to read this;

“The Labour Party continues to enjoy a healthy lead at the polls according to the European Parliament election forecast even if its share of the vote has dropped over the past two weeks.”

But unfortunately, this article is taken from Times of Malta. At home some of our most respected commentators are still insisting on a Labour Party shake-up to end all shake-ups. Polly Toynbee rejects this flimsy word “reshuffle” for the heavier handed “mass exile“. And although it is well established that the European/ Local Elections are set to look pretty miserable for Labour, there some clean hands in that party (see here for the note on Chris Mullin, and here for Shiraz Socialist’s report on the Labour Party worth fighting for) and the general elections do not have to be half as miserable.

And on an optimistic note, all is not lost on British humanity, for our next generation are already showing a hint of rebellion in Loughton, Essex, where local school children have revolted and instigated a school walk out on account of newly installed CCTV cameras in classrooms. Bite the Flower!