Sunday, September 24, 2017

Local politics for local people...

My attempt to avoid being dragged into Labour Party Conference was today partly frustrated by having to carry the historic banner of Brighton Labour Party on a convoluted route from the Level to Regency Square by way of a circuit of the Old Steine as part of the demonstration in defence of our NHS.

Just like yesterday’s mass rally at the Level addressed by Jeremy Corbyn this was very much an event dominated by local people – and it is to local activity that those of us who are supportive of the general direction of our Party under its current leadership need now to turn our attention.

It seems likely that Conference will reduce the proportion of Parliamentarians who must approve of a future leadership candidate before that candidate can be voted for by we mere members – and those who fear the consequences of that decision are already squealing about how Labour has always been a “Parliamentary” party.

There is some truth in that claim (although no particular legitimacy in the conclusion which those who make it seem to draw from it in relation to the leadership) – but it would be closer to the truth to say that our Party has always been engaged in seeking elected office for our representatives at every level.

Which means that local government has always been at the centre of the history and development of our Labour Party – and we have always faced the challenge of dealing with circumstances in which a Party which stands for the fundamental transformation of our society becomes enmeshed with the administration of that society at a local level.

This is a challenge because there is an inevitable contradiction between seeking the best way to administer a society which is, at its heart, inimical to our people on the one hand – and promoting the interests of working people on the other. Occasionally, when circumstances have dictated that this contradiction is posed starkly, we have seen the choice clearly.

In Poplar in the 1920s, Clay Cross in the 1970s and in Lambeth and Liverpool in the 1980s Labour Councillors were forced to make the choice between “breaking the law” and “breaking the poor” – and in each case a brave minority made the right choice and were defeated and subsequently denigrated.

Last year’s Party Conference sadly agreed a Rule Amendment which sought to lock Labour Councillors into perpetual support for austerity where this is dictated by Central Government (a decision which must inevitably be reversed as soon as possible) – but the decision of whether or not to support a “lawful budget” if that means savage cuts to local jobs and services is one which is unfortunately worlds away from our current concerns.

What has happened since the defeat of “municipal socialism” in the 1980s is that Labour Councillors have learned that their mission in life is to mitigate the damage being done to local services by Central Government (or, when they can, to come up with some imaginative jargon to make such damage limitation look both imaginative and progressive).

Of course, this has made local government unappealing to those whose purpose in engaging in political activity is to change the world. It has also forced Labour Groups to become embattled minorities, circling their own wagons against enemies on the left as well as the right.

I have witnessed the “groupthink” of Labour Groups which come to put loyalty to each other (and therefore to the leadership of the Group) above all other loyalties – and have seen the viciousness with which such Groups can treat “heretics” in their own ranks.

Whilst the feminist slogan from long ago – that “the personal is political” – remains true it is sadly the case that for many Labour Councillors who face legitimate political criticism they prefer the inverse of that slogan and, believing that “the political is personal” use such influence as they have to settle scores with critics.

What is, however, more frightening than the brutality with which such Groups can treat the occasional transgressive left-winger is the fact that there are so few such transgressions. We have found ourselves in a world in which for a Labour Councillor to be a socialist is rare and exceptional – whereas to believe that property developers are our allies is commonplace.

(Just to be clear – property developers are never our allies. People who want to make money out of “regeneration” are never motivated by thoughts of the wellbeing of working class residents, but by considerations of their bank balances – quite possibly in some tax haven. No decent Labour Party member should ever trust someone motivated by profit).

The political project of those Labour Groups who cannot see beyond accommodation with the status quo of austerity has run its course. Where, as in South London, those who believe in this project can cling on to sufficient influence within the Party they may continue to chase their own delusions, but not for long.

The interesting question to which I want to turn is – what is the political project of the Labour Left for local government? I don’t ask this question as an interested observer but as a participant, and I offer an answer.

We want Labour Councillors who are “tribunes of the people” or (to use less pompous language) shop stewards for our local working class communities. What I want from a Labour Councillor is someone who will fight for working class people in the community in the way that the best shop stewards fight for workers in the workplace.

As trade unionists we know that we can be powerful but (if we understand trade unionism) we never forget that we are in opposition to the employer. We need Labour Councillors who also understand that they are never in charge of this society but always representatives of an oppressed (and yet insurgent) working class.

We need to encourage as many of our half million plus members as possible to consider themselves as potential local Councillors.

As someone who has spent a working life in local government I can assure you that there is no magic to being a local Councillor. I can state with absolute certainty that the average Labour Party member does not fall short of the ability of the average Councillor in any respect.

Our Labour Party needs as many people as possible to put themselves forward as potential Labour Councillors so that we can then exercise political choice about who we stand as Labour Councillors. We have a lot of work to do.



Friday, September 22, 2017

Defend the rights of Labour Party members

Regular readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) may have been disappointed by my recent silence.

Or they may have been quite happy.

However, I’m not abandoning blogging just because I have stepped aside from a quarter century of defending workers’ rights at the front line.

This evening I enjoyed a drink with two old (well, not that old) Labour Party comrades whom I have known for decades.

We discussed the unanticipated and welcome circumstances in which the Party is now led from the left.

I was proud to say that I am Chair of Brighton Pavilion CLP (one of the most interesting constituencies in the country) – and that I aim to be a unifying Chair who can lead all our members together in the cause of changing the Government.

However, I was also proud to say that our CLP Executive took the potentially controversial step of proposing the following Emergency Motion to the forthcoming Conference;

LENGTHY SUSPENSION OF LABOUR PARTY MEMBERS
Conference notes that on 20 September 2017 the Party’s national officers failed to respond to a deadline set by Brighton Pavilion CLP for information concerning the suspension of its member, Greg Hadfield.
This member has been suspended since October 2016 but has not been informed of any allegations against him or decisions taken in his case, despite the NEC Disputes Panel having agreed early in 2017 to refer this case to the National Constitutional Committee.
Conference believes that the lengthy suspension of a Party member amounts to the administrative imposition of a sanction without a hearing.
Conference further believes that lengthy suspensions of Party members are unacceptable. Justice delayed is justice denied.
Conference endorses the Chakrabarti Inquiry proposal that “subjects of complaint should normally be informed both of its substance and author at the earliest opportunity” and concurs with the Inquiry’s report that it is important for procedures to lay down clear timelines within which a complaint will be dealt with.
Conference deplores the failure of the Party to deal swiftly with cases where members are suspended, and instructs the NEC to ensure that:
  1. Brighton Pavilion CLP is given a timetable to conclude the suspension of its member within two months of the close of Conference.
  2. The Party’s disciplinary procedures are revised to provide for a strict time limit of no more than three months for the suspension of any member, subject to provision for exceptional cases to be determined by the NEC and reported to Conference annually.

This motion has been acknowledged by the Conference Arrangements Committee I understand but may not be accepted on to the Conference Agenda.

As a professional safety practitioner I must advise readers not to hold their breath waiting for the admission of this motion to the Conference agenda – to do so could pose a hazard to your health. We shall see.

I am very keen to unite the Party, locally and nationally, behind our elected leadership (and I am equally keen that members of the Party should express our views whether or not those are shared by our leadership).

Our CLP Executive (which is unanimously and unashamedly left-wing) practices restraint and encourages unity on a regular basis.

However, we won’t hold back from criticising political witch-hunting just because such criticism may be controversial. There are some points of principle which cannot be compromised.

It is invariably wrong to use administrative means to settle political differences (or personal scores) – and I have spent decades defending members of our movement who have faced such unjust action (regardless of whether or not I agreed with their views or actions).

I have spent a quarter century as a UNISON activist fighting for democracy in our trade union – and as part of that fight I have represented individuals facing unjustified disciplinary action and have fought to amend the disciplinary rules of the Union.

It is a disgrace that the rules of the Labour Party set no time limit upon the suspension of members – in this respect UNISON rules are fairer and more reasonable. Justice delayed is justice denied.

My personal opinion is that the treatment of Greg Hadfield is a disgrace and that he is the person being denied justice by delay – but if you disagree with me and believe that action should be taken against Greg then you simply believe that you (or others) are those being denied justice by delay.

The Party needs to set a time limit upon suspensions in order to avoid abuse of process (as is currently happening).

In a lifetime in the Labour Party I have often seen the disciplinary procedures of our Party used to silence, muffle or exclude critical left-wing voices. This has always been a disgrace.

I hope that we are now moving into a period in which socialist politics are in the ascendant, and I hope always to support a socialist leadership of our Party – but my support is informed by my belief that a left-wing Labour Party will never abuse its disciplinary procedures against right-wing critics in the way in which those procedures have been abused against us in the past.

Brighton Pavilion’s Emergency Motion to Labour Party Conference is neither partisan nor factional – it expresses a belief in justice which should be at the centre of our beliefs as Labour Party members.







Sunday, September 10, 2017

Welcoming TUC delegates to Brighton - what about the workers?

Brighton is welcoming delegates to the annual Trades Union Congress, which convenes here this afternoon (read more here).

I hope that friends and comrades in the UNISON delegation (and other delegations) will take the opportunity to network between activists in different trade unions – because (from years of experience attending this particular event I can say) that is just about the only justification for the event.

Official policymaking between the official structures of our trade union movement has no relevance to everyday life in the workplace – the Congress which will meet at the Brighton Centre for the next few days is essentially the same body that voted to consider the practicalities of organising a General Strike against austerity.

Remember that?


If you look at the official statistics for strike action you see clearly that this century has seen a few peaks of action, each of which was associated with national strike action in the public sector (and generally local government).

These were our opportunities to mobilise trade union members in opposition to austerity. Each one of them was squandered. The leadership who squandered each of those opportunities is generally still in place. They were always weak.

Trade union membership and density are falling – and our movement was unable to prevent legislation which has made lawful large scale national strike action a virtual impossibility. Strike action remains at a historically low level.

The leadership of the trade unions will celebrate the outcome of this year’s General Election – although they contributed precious little to that outcome – because they want delegates from across our movement to whistle to keep their spirits up (rather than think about the crisis of our trade unions).

Any serious trade unionists who have managed to find their way into the sea of complacency and careerism that is the annual TUC beano should be sure to use these few days by the seaside to make links with other good activists across the movement. There is no other justification for the time off work.


Apart from that, we do have the best pubs in the country in Brighton…