Towns called malice – the legacy of Thatcher

Darton blog

I WAS born into a middle class Tory voting household and to my eternal shame joined the Conservative Party at age 16.

I guess my father’s right wing doctrines influenced my own, and as a teenager and college student I followed those politics quite radically.

At 21 years old, against a left wing university backwash, I was Yorkshire vice-chairman of the Federation of Conservatives Students. I was a radical Tory, brushed shoulders with Michael Portillo, shared a whisky with former PM Ted Heath and fought hard in Thatcher’s election victory of 1979.

That remains the eternal shame of my youth.

But life is a great leveller and educator, and chalk face experiences over 38 years changed all that… it changed me as a person, socially, spiritually and politically.

In the year Thatcher was first elected, a more socially aware friend of mine warned: “There will be war in three years!”

How right she was!

In 1982 we were at war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, ostensibly to liberate islanders loyal to the British Crown, but in reality because we had discovered huge reserves of oil in the South Atlantic a few years earlier.

And with Thatcher’s ratings in the opinion polls falling, there was a nothing like a bit of jingoism and nationalistic war fervour to boost Tory ratings.

But it was what I discovered years later as a newspaper journalist, which cast the Falklands War in a new light.

Not only was our prized battleship cruiser HMS Sheffield sunk while carrying nuclear depth charges, but against all international treaties to keep the South Atlantic nuclear free, Thatcher had deployed a British nuclear-armed submarine into the area.

The orders were clear: if the Argentines sunk another of our flagships, a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Cordoba was to be considered.

Just think for a minute where that might have led in 1982, at the height of the Cold War. Thatcher was prepared to risk a global Armageddon to secure her political ends.

But it was at home, where my opinions of Thatcher and her politics changed me forever.

My real education began in the early 1980s as a secondary school teacher in the South Yorkshire pit village of Darton – the home of Woolley Colliery, where NUM leader Arthur Scargill began his working life.

I lived in the village for four years among miners and their families, and many of my pupils were the sons and daughters of miners. Most of the boys were destined to become miners, and many of the girls would get jobs in businesses dependent on mining.

I played cricket each weekend with miners. My neighbours were miners. I went to football matches at Oakwell with miners. And I bought my first house from a miner.

The sound of the local pit hooter and the rattle of coal trucks woke me early each morning and the coal dust got into my clothes and my life.

But what struck me then, and has stayed with me ever since, was the sense of community and friendship which imbued every aspect of life in that village.

Life was vibrant!

If one of my charges misbehaved at school, I could be sure his or her parents would know about it, and he or she would be disciplined at home.

If I was ever ill in bed, a neighbour would knock at the door and ask if I needed any groceries or would leave a casserole of stew.

If the snow was deep we would all help clear each-others’ drives or pathways.

If anyone had a party in the street, the whole street would be invited, no exceptions. And those parties were real parties with Yorkshire beer, pies, gravy, chips and puddings.

And if my girlfriend had to walk home late at night, I wouldn’t fear for her safety.

It was a time of the greatest friendship and community I have ever known.

I moved away for misled career aspirations in 1983.

One year later, Thatcher’s brutal decision to crush the trade union movement at any cost, laid waste to this community and countless more like them.

They were never to recover.

For those not familiar with this time and place, watch the BBC TV boxed set Our Friends in the North to gain a little perspective.

All that was wonderful was lost forever due to capitalist greed and Thatcher’s need for unbridled power.

We had a nation divided against itself where the rich got richer while the rest fought for the scraps.

A whole street’s belief in Sunday’s roast beef

Gets dashed against the Co-op

To either cut down on beer or the kids new gear

It’s a big decision in a town called malice.

(Paul Weller)

My politics changed fast.

In 1988 I was in hospital in Cardiff undergoing surgery for a lung cancer.

It was a time of personal trauma, but also the making of new friendships.

Many of these friends were former miners from the South Wales valleys. Most were suffering from lung cancer due to a lifetime working among coal dust.

But it was their tales of how Thatcher crushed the miners’ strike that will always stay with me.

Some blamed Scargill for getting some of the NUM tactics wrong, but it was Thatcher they blamed for the decimation of their lives and families.

I learned how she used MI5 and the Met Police, and every dirty trick imaginable, to tarnish the personal reputations of the striking miners, even down to the conspiratorial murder of a taxi driver.

When I had fully recovered from the cancer in the mid-1990s, I travelled back to my old village near Barnsley to see how things had changed.

What met me was post-apocalyptic.

All vestiges of coal mining had gone, the shops had steel shutters on their windows, litter blew around the main street and pale youths gathered on corners with eyes that seemed devoid of hope.

The ghost of a steam train – echoes down my track

It’s at the moment bound for nowhere –

Just going round and round

Playground kids and creaking swings –

Lost laughter in the breeze

I could go on for hours and I probably will –

But I’d sooner put some joy back

In this town called malice.

(Paul Weller)

But time passes, and surely with two decades of government promises of better lives and Tony Blair’s “Things Can Only Get Better”, that despair I witnessed in 1997, must have changed.

So last weekend I returned to Darton once again, for the first time in 20 years.

In the distance the old pit heads have been replaced by rolling grassland, trees and green parkland.

To a passer-by it is picturesque… but this is nature’s illusion to mask the reality.

On the main A637 a small single business park is all that has replaced a mining industry that employed thousands in Barnsley alone.

And as I strolled round the decaying remains of the village and community I once loved, everywhere I looked brought tears to my eyes.

Long gone was Steve White the butchers, Broadheads the ironmongers, Henrietta’s dress shop, the local newsagents, the greengrocer and the launderette – a community meeting place for the miners’ wives.

Below uncleaned windows and blackened limestone walls they have been replaced with a Chinese takeaway, a tanning studio, an exotic pet store, a charity shop and boarded-up facades.

Cars and buses pass by quickly, rarely stopping on their way to somewhere else.

Only the elderly trundle along the pavement, past shops where there is nothing left to buy; walking small dogs and faces waxing grey and etched in lines of worry.

It reminded me of scenes I also witnessed in Northumberland (where my paternal grandfather and great grandfather were both miners) where three generations of families have been unemployed since 1984.

Their former pit communities have crumbled into decay, with all manner of social problems: derelict housing, rotting schools, drug dependency, street crime, high rates of teenage suicide and homelessness.

The villages remain, with three buses a day to their nearest towns and any chance of a better life, the lasting memory to Thatcher.

Thatcher’s true legacy lies in the coal dust of the communities she destroyed and the lasting fear of nuclear war.

And 38 years of Tory government (including Tony Blair’s New Labour Toryism) has ensured that the decay and legacy continues.

But the reality is there is an alternative.

That is the terrifying truth that the media, government and big business work so hard to conceal.

It the past two years, Jeremy Corbyn has woken us all to that truth and shown that alternative way forward… for the many and not the few.

  • No more forgotten communities
  • No more decay
  • No more unemployment
  • No more homelessness
  • No more scapegoating the poor
  • No more rough sleepers
  • No more fear of war

We can change the future for everyone on 8 June.

This is a journey we can all go on together, all of us. We can include everyone and fear no one.

I am voting Labour.

 

Manifesto: the General Election choice is simple

Choice blog

NEXT month’s General Election is a pivotal moment and will change our country for a generation and beyond.

The choice is simple.

We have the “strong and unstable” Tories who are hell bent on turning our country into a Little Britain for the powerful and rich and let the devil take the hindmost for the rest of us.

Or we have a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour government dedicated to serving and helping the “many and not the few”.

If we, the electorate make the wrong choice, I fear deeply for our collective futures.

For decades our country has been sleep walking into a world of personal greed, arrogance and self-importance with totems such as million pound homes, winner takes all, designer clothes labels and reverence to the aristocracy.

Human kindness, gentleness, peace, society and social justice were jettisoned for a winner takes all mentality and a scapegoating of the homeless, those claiming benefits, the disabled, Muslims, asylum seekers and the poor in general.

Once again, the choice is simple.

We must not again elect a UK government compiled of self-seeking rich Tory elitists who care more about their mansions and banking friends than about people.

And their shopping list for change is truly terrifying.

Over the next few years an unshackled Theresa May Conservative government will:

  • Bungle a Hard Brexit in which we will lose all the social and economic benefits and safeguards we have collectively fought so hard to preserve for the past 45 years.
  • Rip up the Human Rights Act, which underpins our legal system and protects all our basic freedoms and those of persecuted minorities.
  • Spend £200billion on replacing Trident with new nuclear weapons, which at the push of a button could wipe out millions of lives and pollute our planet for tens of thousands of years.
  • Make £12.8billion of cuts to welfare, leaving the poorest, the oldest and the weakest in our society facing the bleakest of futures. In turn this will ensure the need for a food bank in every town and extend child poverty ensuring suffering and a loss of opportunity for millions.
  • Begin a phased end to council housing, thus pushing up rents in the private sector and making families homeless. Once again – as under Thatcher – we are already seeing a surge in rough sleeping and begging.
  • Will enact tougher sanctions on migrants and refugees whether from Europe or beyond.
  • Involve the UK in further illegal wars in the Middle East and trigger an increase in racism and Islamophobia.
  • Back a return of the barbaric blood sports of fox hunting and deer coursing.
  • Extend zero hours contracts, thus massaging the unemployment figures and leaving thousands of the poorest people without any job security.
  • Legislate for more private schools and academies which will imbed the class system even deeper in our society, rather focus on improving our state schooling system.
  • Escalate and accelerate the privatisation of the NHS, so medical care will depend on wealth and power rather than need.
  • Then redraw constituency boundaries so these same corrupt capitalist elitists stay in power for another 20 more years.

But under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is offering a real and radical alternative which gives renewed hope of a better future.

Over the past two years this gentle political firebrand has packed out meetings and hustings the length and breadth of this country with his simple messages of fairness, compassion and change

His messages have caught the hearts and minds of millions.

Now those messages are wrapped up in Labour’s pledges for this General Election and will be spelt out fully in the party’s manifesto, which will be launched next week.

Jeremy Corbyn’s 10 Pledges to Rebuild and Transform Britain are quite simply breath-taking and wonderful:

  1. Full Employment – a publicly-owned National Investment Bank and regional banks will back up £500bn of investment across energy, transport and housing.
  2. A Secure Homes Guarantee – over a million new homes in five years will be built, with at least half a million council homes, through its public investment strategy.
  3. Security at work – people will have stronger employment rights “from day one in a job”, an end to “exploitative zero hours contracts”, repeal the Trade Union Act and the creation of new sectoral collective bargaining rights. Ensure that any employer wishing to recruit labour from abroad does not undercut workers at home – because it causes divisions when people are played off against each other.
  4. A secure NHS and social care – an end to any NHS services being outsourced to private health providers.
  5. A National Education Service – universal childcare to give all children a good start in life, allowing greater sharing of caring responsibilities and removing barriers to women participating in the labour market.
  6. Action to secure our environment – an expansion of green industries, using the National Investment Bank to invest in public and community-owned renewable energy.
  7. Put the public back into our economy – people will have “a real say in their local communities with increased local and regional democracy”.
  8. Cut inequality in income and wealth – the tax system will become “more progressive” so higher earners are “fairly taxed” and people on lower incomes will have their pay boosted through a higher minimum wage of £10 an hour.
  9. Action to secure an equal society – Labour will take action to tackle violence against women and girls, racism and discrimination on the basis of faith, and secure real equality for LGBT and disabled people.
  10. Peace and justice at the heart of foreign policy – human rights and social justice will be built into trade policy, while international treaty obligations on nuclear disarmament will be honoured as it encourages others to do the same.

A brave new world indeed, and those Corbyn led Labour pledges are forever true.

Fairness, compassion and equality can finally overturn the scourge of capitalist greed.

Hope is renewed.

The choice is simple: vote Labour.

 

Eton Mess: education the election winner for Labour

schools blog

EDUCATION is the biggest dividing line in the General Election.

And it is one battleground where Jeremy Corbyn and Labour can win big time.

Education determines an apprenticeship, a university place, job opportunity, home, happiness, health, career, earning potential and a person’s whole life.

It also divides our country on class lines and underpins the status quo, where the rich get richer and the rest of us do the best we can with what is left.

On one hand Theresa May’s Tories offer SAT tests and selection at every level, privatisation of schools via the sinister academy system, grammar schools and private institutions such as Eton and Westminster, charging up to £36,000 a year for the very wealthy to educate their offspring.

On the other hand, Labour is offering a free and fair education system for everyone, where success does not depend on wealth, social class or exam results.

Ironic, because today, MPs questioned “how much of a grip” the Tory government’s Department for Education has on providing school places where they are really needed.

The system is “increasingly incoherent and too often poor value for money,” says the Public Accounts Committee.

And the government is spending “well over the odds” on free schools or academies while other schools are in poor condition, concludes the cross-party committee.

But Theresa May has already tied her education policy to so-called free schools and the failed grammar school system.

Last September she put grammar schools back at the heart of Conservative thinking for the first time since the 1970s.

For May, the return of selection is part of an attempt to redefine the Conservatives as a party of meritocracy and exam success.

Tory Ministers also say controversial free schools are key to meeting demand for school places.

The government pledged to open 500 more free schools, which are state-funded but independently run, by 2020 and has plans for a further 110.

It is a huge mistake, which panders to their friends in big business.

For the past three months I helped campaign against the academisation of a vibrant primary school in Hastings, in East Sussex.

I saw at first-hand how schools and children’s futures were being handed into the private control of multi-millionaire businessmen, who in turn had unhealthy links to senior politicians.

Those running the academies, or free schools, earn vast salaries while the education of the children often suffers.

One head of a primary academy chain took home a salary in excess of £200,000, after being handed a massive pay rise.

He also received £28,316 in pension contributions, which took his overall remuneration package to £229,138.

This is more than the Prime Minister and many city bankers.

Last year delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Liverpool, heard that growing numbers of academy heads were now also earning more than the PM’s salary of £149,440 a year.

“When schools were under local council control, it would have been unthinkable as well as impossible that a headteacher, of even a group of schools, could earn more than a director of education, let alone the Secretary of State for Education, let alone the Prime Minister,” Simon Clarkson from Leicestershire told the conference.

“We need to guard against the rot of greed.”

Mr Clarkson concluded: “Our state schools are paid for by the public. They need to be accountable. Let me remind you whose money is being used to do this… ours!”

Now the National Audit Office agrees that further academisation of schools is a “significant risk to long-term value for money”.

The Public Accounts Committee MPs say that having enough school places in safe, high-quality buildings, where they are needed, is crucial.

“Without this, parents may have less choice, pupils may have inconvenient journeys to school and the learning environment may be less effective, putting educational outcomes at risk,” they say.

They note that 420,000 new school places will be needed by 2021, many in secondary schools where provision is more expensive than at primary level.

“In the context of severe financial constraints, it is vital that the department uses its funding in a more coherent and cost effective way,” say the MPs, adding that too many free schools are in unsuitable temporary buildings, lacking outside space and sports facilities.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said the free schools programme was “diverting a lot of money” from school maintenance.

“What we want to see is a much more balanced programme of capital funding so that existing poor school buildings get the funding and investment they need and those new schools are built.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the report reflected head teachers’ concerns.

“Creating surplus places is an inefficient use of public money and damages existing schools where spare capacity is created,” he said.

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “Free schools do not address the school-place crisis, often being built in areas of no need and often in unsuitable premises.

“This policy is not evidenced based and is nothing to do with the wellbeing of children or providing a sound education.”

Labour’s Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, says the free school programme was incoherent and inefficient.

“In the recent Budget, the chancellor announced plans that would only create one-sixth of the school places we will need by 2021, and even those plans were drastically underfunded,” she said.

“Tory academy plans are in complete chaos. 

“The impossible job the Department for Education has set itself in trying to directly run thousands of schools from Whitehall is fully exposed as we learn over half of existing academy chains have refused to take on schools and 70% of inadequate academies have been left languishing with poor academy chains.”

Labour’s plans for education are, in contrast, broad-reaching and inclusive.

Jeremy Corbyn made education a central theme of his campaign for re-election as Labour leader, lamenting the “commodification” of the education system.

Labour’s proposed national education service is impressive.

It starts with a principle that education is a public good. Learning should be provided from cradle to grave.

From there, it goes to universal free childcare, building on the success of Sure Start – something which has been dismantled by the Tories.

Next, Labour pledges decent schools for all, including class sizes of under 30, an idea so universal that the only question it raises is why it’s not already the case.

Labour also advocates free tertiary education and the abolition on university tuition fees.

Finally, the promise of investment in adult education is a huge vote winner – who could possibly want adults to be less skilled, less fulfilled, than they could be?

And today Labour pledged to bring back maintenance grants for the poorest students and restore the abolished financial support allowance.

Labour will reverse the decision to replace means-tested grants for university students with loans, announced by George Osborne in his final budget.

It will also reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance, a means-tested cash payment, for 16- and 17-year-olds from poorer families choosing to remain in education.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank suggested the EMA, which was worth £30 a week, helped boost participation among teenagers.

But it was abolished in 2011 as part of the Tory coalition government’s efforts to reduce the deficit and replaced with a much less generous bursary system.

Ms Rayner said the twin announcements: “Show that while the Tories continue to burden our young people with debt, the Labour Party is committed to investing in our young people.

“It is only by investing in education that we can ensure that all of our young people, whatever their background, are able to succeed in whatever they aspire to.

“When we can help improve the education of over a million young people with a small increase in corporation tax, it is an investment we would be foolish not to make.”

Labour says the policy could be paid for through a 1.5% increase in corporation tax.

Analysts say such a move would raise £3billion a year.

Meanwhile education trade unions have urged all parents to turn education cuts into the election battleground.

The National Union of Teachers says the General Election offers an opportunity to fight for better resourced schools and teachers.

Kevin Courtney told the union’s annual conference the snap election was an opportunity to challenge the funding shortages in England.

“In the run-up to this election, parents must demand of all politicians: will they invest in our country, will they invest in our children?” he told delegates in Cardiff.

“I don’t believe there’s a parent anywhere in this country who voted for their child’s class size to go up, or voted for their child to lose the opportunity to do art or dance or music.

“We can reach parents with this and we can make a difference in the general election.”

The NUT’s call on funding was joined by other unions, including those representing headteachers.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Our top message is that there is insufficient funding in the education system. We call on all political parties to commit to investing in education as part of a long-term economic plan.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said his union would also campaign over the school funding cuts.

“There are crises, like teacher recruitment and the £3billion of cuts the government expects schools to make, that should not be forgotten during the election campaign,” he said.

The education battle lines are drawn and it gives Jeremy Corbyn and Labour its best platform to win the General Election.

  • If you are not yet convinced, read the words of one teacher, Rebecca Bee:

“Let me start by saying that I am not concerned about my pay. I don’t want more money.

What I am concerned about are the cuts that the Conservative government makes to education are huge, life-changing cuts that are having a detrimental effect on the mental health and well-being of a massive number of children and young people.

Michael Gove started his annihilation of the A*-G GCSE system back in 2010, and this year we see the first string of examinations take place.

“More rigour” was the battle cry. However, did you know that the new GCSE English Literature exam is a closed-book?

This means that no student will be given a copy of the text in their exam – not even SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) students, many of which have recall and memory problems.

The GCSE English Language exam uses extracts from heritage texts that carry a reading age of approximately 17.

The average reading age of a GCSE-level student is 14.

So why are we asking our students to read and analyse texts that are aimed at someone with a reading age 3 years above their own? Some of my students have a reading age of 9. They cannot in any way access the papers.

We still don’t know how the new GCSEs are going to be graded.

Schools are in disarray as they know one thing to be true – if their GCSE results are bad, Ofsted will swoop in, prepared to announce them as “requiring improvement”.

Excessive testing at ages 7 and 11 has led to children prepared for tests, but little else.

These exams are completely arbitrary and do not test the skills required for success at GCSE and in adult life.

I agree that students need to leave primary school ‘secondary ready’.

But, I do not think that testing students’ ability to identify grammatical items over their ability to compose a creative piece is the best way to do it.

I have a firm belief that testing students does not make them better learners.

We do not need grammar schools. We don’t. Not until all other schools are funded well, and equally.

If we increase funding to all state schools to a level reflective of needs, we allow teachers to develop a ‘grammar curriculum’ and give schools ‘grammar resources’ and invest in better pastoral care, then we won’t need more grammar schools.

Why do we need to build more schools when we can just give more money to existing ones? Why, at a time where funding is in crisis, are we investing in new grammars and not existing schools?

When I entered teaching in 2005, most classes had a learning support assistant (you may know them as a TA).

These people were incredibly important – they worked with SEND students, BESD (behavioural, social and emotional difficulties) students, assisted with students who had been absent or were having trouble accessing the curriculum and they did this on minimal pay, with minimal complaint.

This government has cut spending on education to the point where these TAs are rare, or simply don’t exist.

The excessive cuts to education also mean that many schools are now in a situation where they are considering making cuts in the curriculum and getting rid of specific subjects, usually the arts – the subjects that make them well-rounded thinkers, evaluative learners and creative, motivated individuals.

Why the arts? Well, because they don’t add “rigour”!

These decisions are being made every damn day, because the government have headteachers over a barrel.

You must succeed. You must get above average pass rates. You must push out students with E-Baccs. If you don’t, we will academise you.

Are we here to provide exam factories that churn out identikit students?

Don’t be blinded by May. She wants you to be blinkered and she wants you to ignore the massive demolition of education. Don’t give her what she wants.”

 

You know, capitalism is above the law…“It don’t count ’less it sells”

REGULAR readers of my blog will know that my passions in life are clear: my family and friends, the words and music of Bob Dylan and my home town football team Brighton and Hove Albion.
Behind those Earthly passions I am a lifelong pacifist and a socialist.
But sometimes I can’t help but wonder what’s happening to my country, my world and my companions.
I look around me and watch our welfare state being torn apart by David Cameron’s politics of austerity. The NHS, welfare benefits, the post office, local councils, social services, education, the fire service – nothing has been safe from their axe.
The Labour Party, who should be standing and campaigning against all this, have failed again and again to do so. They have even joined in with attacking the poorest, instead of the real culprits: the rich and the bankers who ruined the economy while lining their own pockets.
Even our trade unions are distancing themselves from Labour in digust.
No one should have to choose between heating and eating, no one should have to pay for their healthcare or education – and everyone should have a roof over their head. It’s that simple.
And neither have we learned the lessons of Iraq or Afghanistan. Once again we are hanging onto the coat hem of the USA in taking an aggressive stance against Russian involvement in the Crimea, while supporting a fascist Ukraine. We don’t need thousands more deaths of innocent people by any military posturing or worse still involvement.
As I hinted in my earlier post this week: https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/all-he-believes-are-his-eyes-and-his-eyes-they-just-tell-him-lies-2/ and in another post: https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/youre-the-one-that-reached-me-youre-the-one-that-i-admired/ I have lost confidence with any major political party in this country to provide social and just government and turn back the cruel tide of capitalist politics.
I found myself agreeing with Russell Brand that either we need a bloodless revolution to change the status quo or I remain sitting on my backside and give in to nihilism.
Or is there another option? Is there a realistic left wing alternative?
I think I may have found one.
For the first time since I was 20 years-old I have joined a political party to help give meaningful hope and action in the bleakness around me.
I have joined Left Unity.
“This is a new kind of party, with feminism, socialism and environmentalism at its heart. It’s a party that supports the campaigns and struggles of ordinary people, for public services, for equality, and for real democracy.”
Left Unity was only formed last November and already its membership is burgeoning.
Here I post its two founding statements. Much more can be found on the party’s website at: http://leftunity.org/. If you agree with me, please consider joining too.
Statement one
1. Left Unity stands for equality and justice. It is socialist, feminist, environmentalist and against all forms of discrimination. We stand against capitalism, imperialism, war, racism, Islamophobia and fascism. Our goal is to transform society: to achieve the full democratisation of state and political institutions, society and the economy, by and for the people.
2. Our immediate tasks are to oppose austerity policies designed to destroy the social and economic gains working people have made over many decades; to oppose the scapegoating which accompanies them; to defend the welfare state and those worst affected by the onslaught; to fight to take back into public ownership those industries and utilities privatised over the last three decades; to fight to restore workers’ rights; and to advance alternative social and economic policies, redistributing wealth to the working class.
3. We are socialist because our aim is to end capitalism. We will pursue a society where the meeting of human needs is paramount, not one which is driven by the quest for private profit and the enrichment of a few. The natural wealth, and the means of production, distribution and exchange will be owned in common and democratically run by and for the people as a whole, rather than being owned and controlled by a small minority to enrich themselves. The reversal of the gains made in this direction after 1945 has been catastrophic and underlines the urgency of halting and reversing the neo-liberal onslaught.
4. We are feminist because our vision of society is one without the gender oppression and exploitation which blights the lives of women and girls and makes full human emancipation impossible. We specify our feminism because historical experience shows that the full liberation of women does not automatically follow the nationalisation of productive forces or the reordering of the economy.
5. We are environmentalist because we recognise that if humankind is to survive, it has to establish a sustainable relationship with the rest of the natural world – of which it is part and on which it depends. We recognise that an economy based on achieving maximum profits at the lowest cost in the shortest possible time is destroying our planet. The current operation of industry and economy is totally incompatible with the maintenance of the ecosystem through the growing loss of bio and agro diversity, the depletion of resources and increasing climate change. The future of the planet can only be secured through a sustainable, low carbon industrial base designed to meet people’s needs on a global basis.
6. We are opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of class, gender, race, impairment, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, religion, age or politics. The current economic onslaught disproportionately affects already disadvantaged groups and we oppose their persecution and oppression. We support the introduction of legislation and social provision to make this intention a reality. No society is just and equal while some people remain without the support needed to achieve their full potential.
7. We work for and support strong, effective, democratic trade unions to fight for full employment, better wages and salaries, for improved living standards, for better working conditions and stronger, more favourable, contracts of employment. We believe that the strength of the union is the people in the workplace; that what each person does at work matters – to make the job better, to make the service provided more effective, to persuade workers to combine for greater strength. Going on strike (including mass/general strikes), occupying workplaces and solidarity between workers (in different unions and/or workplaces) can be effective tactics in winning individual disputes and changing society.
8. Our political practice is democratic, diverse and inclusive, organising amongst working class communities with no interests apart from theirs, committed to open dialogue and new ways of working. We will campaign, mobilise and support struggles on a day to day basis, recognising the need for self-organisation in working class communities. We recognise that support for our party and its electoral success will only advance to the extent that it is genuinely representative of working class communities, has no interests separate from theirs, and is an organic part of the campaigns and movements which they generate and support.
9. We will engage in elections offering voters a left alternative – where any elected representatives will take an average wage and be accountable to the party membership – while understanding that elections are not the only arena or even the most important arena in which political struggles are fought. We aim to win political power, not to manage it. We will not participate in governmental coalitions with capitalist parties at a local or national level.
10. We are an internationalist party. There are no national solutions to the problems that humanity faces. Capitalism is an international system, highly organised and globalised and its defeat requires not only international solidarity but the linking up and coordination of struggles across Europe and the world. We will work with left organisations and movements in Europe and internationally that share our aims. We will also seek to learn from the experience of those parties in Latin America which have challenged and rejected neo-liberal economic policies and are establishing a social and economic alternative in the interests of the majority of their people. We stand against imperialist wars and military intervention, against the exploitation of other countries for economic gain, and for a drastic reduction of military expenditure for the benefit of social spending, and for a foreign policy based on peace and equality.
Statement two
The Ken Loach appeal launched in association with his film The Spirit of 45 and calling for a new left party has resulted in over 8,000 responses nationally. The film informs us that in 1945 the Labour Party pledged to put an end to the social evils of disease, idleness (mass unemployment), ignorance, squalor (slum housing) and want (poverty) and, despite the legacy of wartime debts, achieved significant reforms. Britain today, along with the rest of Europe and North America, is far wealthier in human and technological resources than it was in 1945. Yet as a result of over 30 years of so-called free-market policies, culminating in a chronic economic and financial crisis since 2007, all those evils have returned.
Our most urgent task is to defend and reclaim the gains won by the labour movement during more than a century of struggles. We believe that there is no prospect of the Labour Party today doing that effectively. Elsewhere in Europe left parties such as Syriza in Greece are winning mass support for resistance to austerity. In Britain we also need to create a new Left Party founded on the following political principles and policy commitments:
1. On the Immediate Economic Crisis
• We are against austerity programmes which make the mass of working people, the old, the young and the sick, pay for a systemic crisis of capitalism.
• We are for policies to restore full employment through measures such as reduced working hours for all; spending on public housing, infrastructure and services; and the public ownership of, and democratic collective control over, basic utilities, transport systems and the financial sector.
2. On Public Services
• We are against the creeping privatisation of the NHS and Education, the sell-off of the Royal Mail and the marketization of the public sector as a whole.
• We are for free provision of education (from nurseries to adult and higher education), the arts and all forms of healthcare.
3. On The Environment
• We are against an economic system which prioritises short-term profit over the future of the planet, and which is responsible for accelerated climate change and ecological crisis.
• We are for sustainable development, an end to energy and transport policies which contribute to global warming and for an agricultural system which is committed to animal welfare and environmental protection.
4. On Employment
• We are against the casualization of employment conditions and laws which restrict the right of workers to organise effectively and take industrial action.
• We are for the ‘living wage’ as a minimum for all, an extension of employment rights for all workers and support for workers’ cooperatives.
5. On Tax and Welfare
• We are against cuts in benefits and measures such as the bedroom tax, changes to disability allowance and cuts in legal aid, hurting the poorest.
• We are for a tax and welfare system based on the principles of social justice, universal benefits and steeply progressive and effective taxation.
6. On Equalities
• We are against all forms of discrimination and oppression whether on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexuality, (dis)ability or national identity.
• We are for an inclusive society with equal citizenship rights for all, including asylum-seekers and refugees, and support for all those in need.
7. On Internationalism
• We are against fascism, war, imperialism and an international economic system dominated by the wealthy and militarily powerful nations.
• We are for the right of national self-determination for oppressed nationalities such as the Kurds and Palestinians and solidarity with all those resisting austerity and oppression. We are for ‘fair trade’ and recognise the necessity for global solutions to global problems such as climate change.
8. On Anti-Capitalism
• We are against a system whose benefits go disproportionately to 1% of the population and which is responsible for devastating economic and ecological crises across the planet.
• We are ultimately for a radical social transformation based on the principle of ‘people not profit’ and drawing on the best of the cooperative, radical democratic, feminist, green, and socialist traditions (although we may disagree on how such a transformation can eventually be achieved).
9. On a New Party
• We are against the bureaucratic centralism, corruption and sexism to be found in many existing political parties.
• We are for a mass, democratic and inclusive party which unites campaigners and trade union activists, supports collective direct action and self-organisation, and has close links with similar parties or movements resisting austerity and ‘freemarket’ policies across Europe and elsewhere.

You’re the one that reached me you’re the one that I admired

blog tony benn
THE death of Tony Benn is a watershed in British politics.
He was the last truly great parliamentary socialist, and a man of courtesy, decency, principle, integrity and vision.
And he was a true hero of mine.
During my years as a newspaper journalist I was fortunate enough to interview Tony three times, and each interview was a joy.
Unlike many of his contemporaries – including former chancellor Denis Healey and ex PM Jim Callaghan – he did not waffle over his time in office or make excuses and like younger MPs he did not obscure with sound bites or spin.
Instead he told things as they were and imprinted his vision of equality and fairness in words of insight and candour.
The interviews were all in the 1990s, so during the latter time of his 50 years as a member of parliament, but he was still fresh and relished argument and fought for justice.
After each interview I felt like I had been speaking with a friend.
And I have another reason for loving Tony Benn.
In 1994, 41 MPs signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons praising my year-long investigation into the link between the test firing of depleted uranium tank shells and local clusters of cancer.
The same tank shells provided a link to Gulf War Syndrome in the first Gulf War.
Some of my political heroes signed that EDM including Alan Simpson, Ken Livingstone and Dennis Skinner. But the sixth signature on that motion was Tony Benn. His name next to mine was like a personal shield of honour. A treasure I will keep till the grave.
Tony was true fighter for ordinary working people from the moment he was elected an MP in 1950. He was a privileged and educated aristocrat turned man of the people.
From his successful fight to remain in the Commons upon the death of his father Viscount Stansgate – a Viscountcy which Tony was to be forced to inherit – through to the Hovercraft, Concorde, TSR2, nuclear power, special edition postage stamps, tape-recording his own interviews and speeches, he was every inch the dashing, eloquent and unafraid hero.
Tony Benn was one of the few British politicians who became more left-wing after having actually served in government.
When Labour lost power in the 1979 General Election, Tony became the authentic voice of the radical left with the press coining the term Bennite to describe the policies espoused by those resisting attempts to move the Labour Party to the middle ground.
As such, he became a bogeyman for the right in British politics, with delegates to Conservative conferences displaying Ban the Benn badges in the style of CND’s Ban the Bomb logo.
Later in life he became a folk hero as well as a campaigner for a number of causes, particularly opposition to UK military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was blamed by many for contributing to Labour’s lack of electoral success during the 1980s.
Tony Benn was a totem for those who rejected the shift to the right widely seen as necessary if the party was to regain power.
This shift was eventually completed under Tony Blair, who pushed through the abandonment of clause IV and redefined Labour as a party comfortable with privatisation and free market economics.
Tony Benn was unrepentant in his opposition to the changes saying: “We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values.”
With a typically memorable turn of phrase, Tony then signalled the end of his parliamentary career in 1999, when he announced he would not be standing for re-election at the next general election. Asked whether he would be taking his place in the House of Lords, the former Viscount Stansgate replied: “Don’t be silly.”
His final speech to the House of Commons as MP was an appropriately eloquent farewell, in which he talked widely on his view of the role of parliament and the wider question of democracy.
He said: “In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person – Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates – ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.
After his retirement from parliament, Tony became the public face of the Stop the War coalition.
In one edition of BBC TV’s Question Time, his exchanges with US Republican John Bolton included this broadside: “I was born about a quarter of a mile from where we are sitting now and I was here in London during the Blitz. And every night I went down into the shelter. 500 people killed, my brother was killed, my friends were killed. And when the Charter of the UN was read to me, I was a pilot coming home in a troop ship: ‘We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.’ That was the pledge my generation gave to the younger generation and you tore it up. And it’s a war crime that’s been committed in Iraq, because there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons.”
He died and will forever live as the Honorary President of the Stop the War Coalition, leading the greatest mass movement in British history. He was the greatest leader Labour, and Great Britain, never had.
Tony’s legacy must now be a catalyst for the left and working people.
The UK is the sixth richest country on Earth, but now has half a million people dependent on food banks; wages haven’t fallen for so long since the Victorian era; the next generation faces being poorer for the first time in a century.
“The flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope that you can build a better world” is what drives social change.
Appropriately Tony Benn once said: “Modern Britain does not lack anger, but the left’s real mission is surely hope. Charismatic and inspiring leaders will inevitably be mourned. But the injustices that drove them don’t die, and so neither will the need to continue their fight.”
Rest in Peace Tony, you were a legend in your own time.

The Shadowy One Who Fires the Gun

Daily Mail

THERE are only a few things in life I really hate, and one of them is the Daily Mail.

It is a poisonous rag which cloaks itself in the clothes of middle class decency while demeaning everything which is good.

And, as a journalist, I find its pretense at factual reporting frightening. Its so-called news reeks of innuendo and loaded propaganda.

And its agenda is unwavering: preserve Conservative Britain from the rabid threat of Marxism, the Labour Party, trade unions and working people.

So the savaging of Daily Mail deputy editor Jon Steafel by Alistair Campbell on BBC 2’s Newsnight over the paper’s scurrilous article about Ed Miliband’s late father Ralph, was an unexpected delight.

Particularly pleasing was the bright light Mr Campbell shone on the paper’s shadowy editor Paul Dacre.

My own dealings with the Mail as a journalist were rather more obscure.

I would like to take you back to 1997.

I was at the pinnacle of my career working as the Chief Investigative Reporter for the Scotsman.

A whole world away from the Daily Mail.

In three years, I had broken a series of major exclusive investigations. Among the highlights were the dumping of millions of tons of munitions in the Irish Sea, the deadly legacy of the Dounreay experimental nuclear plant in Northern Scotland and a probable link between pesticides and BSE.

I had also been honoured with two back-to-back awards as Scottish Journalist of the Year and was in line for a third.

I loved my job and the collegiate atmosphere I worked in. I honestly believed I would spend the rest of my working life at North Bridge, with no aspirations other than to continue in my role.

But all that changed when in December 1996, our newspaper was surprisingly bought out by property billionaires, the Barclay Brothers.

With the new owners came a new Editor in Chief, the infamous Andrew Neil.

There was a corporate intake of breath as we all wondered for the future.

That intake turned into something approaching choking when our much loved editor, Jim Seaton, was placed on ‘gardening leave’ awaiting early retirement and a new editor Martin Clarke was announced.

We all winced… Clarke had trained under Paul Dacre and he was well known as a Rottweiler in the newsroom.

Clarke’s editorial demeanour attracted a range of tributes from former colleagues: “vile”, “offensive”, “appalling”, “obsessive”, “childlike” and “foul-mouthed” being among the less flattering.

Like Dacre, whose briefings were called “the vagina monologues” for their reliance on one particular expletive, Clarke went one better.

“He would start by saying, ‘You’re all a fucking disgrace and one of you is going to be fucking sacked this week,” and the terrible thing was, one of us usually was,” said Alexandra Blair, The Times educational correspondent, who worked for him for a year and a half at The Scotsman.

Another reporter who worked under Clarke said: “He once said to me: ‘You’ve got to go and shout at the bastards or they won’t respect you.'”

My stay under Clarke’s editorship was brief… just six months.

I moved on after being told to follow his own loaded agenda, which included one weird instruction to prove that wild deer being pursued by hounds are “no more stressed than a cow in a slaughterhouse”!

The final straw came in a bleak week, which began by Clarke blanking me at a press awards lunch after I had been highly commended as reporter of the year and finished by him standing over me at 10pm on a fourth rewrite of a story, berating my journalism as “fucking bollocks”.

I introduce a clipping of a piece written by Rob Brown in June 1997.

“Senior writers and sub-editors now find themselves being showered with expletives by their new editor Martin Clarke, whose lexicon of abuse is fairly extensive.

“Several executives have resigned in disgust. They included the picture editor Paul Dodds, who quit after being ordered to get better pictures from his “f***in’ monkeys”.

“Also out is associate editor Lesley Riddoch, who suddenly found her articles being repeatedly spiked.

“One of the journalists who has quit in disgust said: “I have worked for some brutal editors in my time, but Martin Clarke behaves like a feudal squire and treats his staff like serfs. Change was certainly needed at The Scotsman, but not this. He is running amok, creating a totally demoralised and demotivated staff.”

“But, put it to Clarke that he is pursuing a monstrous form of macho management and he professes his innocence with almost schoolboyish sense of hurt.

“Clarke, 32, says the complaints are emanating from only a couple of “malcontents”. Some people, he says, are driven by “personal pique because they never got a job they wanted”. Nic Outterside, head of the paper’s investigative unit, left last week. Clarke says the unit was disbanded because it was “a crock of shit”.

“Others, according to Clarke, have become “malcontents” simply because they cannot stand the new pace in the newsroom.

“I demand a greater level of working than perhaps some people are used to here and I can be robust at times, like all editors,” he says.

“Clarke confirms that he drew up a five-and-a-half page document a few weeks after he took charge recommending that a number of senior Scotsman staffers should be removed from their posts. This “operation review” leaked from the editor’s office into the newsroom, where it was seen as a sinister hit list. Clarke admits to some regrets about that.

“Of course it was bloody unfortunate, but you don’t expect to work in a place where such illegal activities take place. It was stolen from my computer. I’ve worked in some pretty rough newspapers, but nowhere where people are that underhand.”

At the time of writing this blog, Clarke and Steafel are both tipped to succeed Paul Dacre as the next editor of the Daily Mail.

The art of being underhand is surely what the Mail is all about.