Saturday, 21 March 2015

I Have Not Re-Joined The Labour Party, But It Has Re-Joined Me, by David Lindsay

There are not many people who could make me looking working-class. But step forward, Jack Monroe.

11 years her senior, I was on the Executive Committee of a Constituency Labour Party when she was a small child, and a Ward Sub-Agent who secured an overall majority of the total vote on a four-way split in a traditionally Conservative ward when she was nine years old.

I left the party long before she ever joined it, and indeed before she was old enough to vote. I had lasted somewhere between eight and 10 times as long in it as she was later to do.

I am a member of Unite, of the Co-operative Party, of the Fabian Society, of Christians on the Left, of Progress (which needs to sort out its funding arrangements, and then affiliate to the Labour Party like the Fabians), of Movement for Change, Compass, and of the Labour Representation Committee.

It is through the LRC that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and the Fire Brigades Union, both of which long ago disaffiliated from what was then Tony Blair’s Labour Party, remain constitutionally committed to the election of a Labour Government, as do numerous tiny organisations with funny Leftist heritage names.

They can call themselves the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, or Communist Students, or the New Communist Party, or the Newrad Communist Collective, or Permanent Revolution, or Workers’ Power. They can even, including the unions, field or fund candidates for any other kind of election, although I would not encourage that. Their LRC affiliation formally commits them to a Labour victory at any and every General Election, so hat is that.

I am involved in the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, and I am a member of the People’s Press Printing Society, which owns and publishes the Morning Star. But I am not, nor have I ever been, any kind of Marxist. Nor has almost any member of the thriving Morning Star Readers’ and Supporters’ Group in Parliament.

I warmly welcome the alternatives to austerity being proposed by Andrew Fisher, Robert Skidelsky, John Mills, Bryan Gould, Ann Pettifor, Richard Murphy, Michael Burke, √Čoin Clarke, Michael Meacher, Mariana Mazzucato, Ha-Joon Chang, David Blanchflower, Prem Sikka, Andrew Cumbers, Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett and others. I regret Left Foot Forward’s foreign policy positions, but I find its work on economic justice invaluable. I wish that everyone would read James Meek’s Private Island.

I have close ties to Blue Labour, as well as to the American paleoconservatives with their very robust critique both of the neoconservative war agenda and of those agenda’s underlying neoliberal economic ideology. That gives me an affinity with some right-wing British commentators: Peter Oborne, Peter Hitchens, Stuart Reid, Phillip Blond, Freddy Gray, Mark Almond, John Laughland, Tim Stanley, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, and to an extent others.

I agree with Neil Clark about most things politically, and not least because all the right people hate him. However, they also hate someone who was there at the birth of the Henry Jackson Society and of the Euston Manifesto, and who tells me that he strongly supports my domestic policy vision, at least. I despair of the company that Nick Cohen has kept over the last dozen years, but I still value a great deal of his work.

I strongly concur with  Clark’s 10-point account of the neoconservative and the allied faux-Left takeover of Britain by means of the resignation of Harold Wilson, the election of Margaret Thatcher, the acquisition of The Times by Rupert Murdoch, the formation of the SDP, the defeat of the Miners’ Strike, the resignation of Richard Ingrams as Editor of Private Eye, Big Bang, the removal of Alisdair Milne as Director-General of the BBC, the election of Tony Blair as Leader of the Labour Party, and the election of Nick Clegg as Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

For myself, I regard the death of John Smith as the greatest political tragedy of my lifetime, while holding that Bryan Gould would have been a better Leader, ranking as a Great Lost Leader alongside Peter Shore.

I am faithful to a late father whose military service had made him unable to look at Yitzhak Shamir on television, and I am faithful to the Christian roots of modern Palestinian identity. But I accept the State of Israel as a fact exactly as old as Palestinian national consciousness, I bemoan (as much on socioeconomic grounds as any other) the rise of Likud and worse to something approaching hegemony, and I view academic and cultural boycotts as contrary to the fundamental character of scholarship, art and science.

I have always lived in the countryside, which in these parts, as in all the old mining areas, is more solidly Labour than the neighbouring conurbations are. I opposed the hunting ban, not least because it was being pushed by my then MP, who was the Government Chief Whip at the time, as a means of cajoling Labour MPs into supporting the Iraq War. She herself did not vote for that ban. But 10 years on, I increasingly see its flagrant non-enforcement as a question of the rule of law, and of class bias in these affairs. I still do not like it, though.

I appreciated Tim Lott’s recent Guardian column on the state of the Left, although I thought that he needed to get out of London. I read Spiked and Rod Liddle, agreeing with every word half the time, and screaming with dissent the other half. I am still semi-officially around a university, and I have absolutely no time for “safe spaces”.

I miss Paul Foot, Alan Watkins, Auberon Waugh and Michael Wharton (Peter Simple). Like my all-American friend Jack Ross, another Lefty boy among the paleocons, I look with hope to Jim Webb, and I look in horror at Hillary Clinton.

Accent or no accent, and opinions differ on that, I am very Northern. I am also very Catholic, although I was not born either of those things. Whereas I was born mixed-race, and I was born abroad.

I was entirely state-educated, and that entirely in County Durham, from playschool to MA. I still live where I grew up. I know every story of pain and glory about the Miners’ Strike and about the closure of the Consett steelworks. I knew them 25 years before they became the undisputed public record.

Yet, for tiresome local reasons, I have not been able to re-join the Labour Party. I shall not use the term “pound shop Jeremy Clarkson”, since I have nothing against pound shops. The Labour Party, however, has re-joined me.

It is more than 20 years since I first described my politics as “One Nation, with an equal emphasis on the One and on the Nation”. It is 20 years since John Prescott talked about “One Nation Labour” in his Party Conference speech. It is more than two years since Ed Miliband returned to that theme in his.

During that time, Miliband has stood up to Rupert Murdoch, to the Israel Lobby over the recognition of Palestine, to the neoconservative war machine over Syria, and to transnational capital over energy prices and public transport.

His opponents have delivered abject failure on the national debt and on controlled immigration. They have delivered the privatisation of the Royal Mail, and the return of the East Coast Main Line to the private sector from which it has already had to be rescued twice.

They have delivered such ruinous cuts in our conventional defence that we now have aircraft carriers with no aircraft on them. They have delivered yet further deregulation of Sunday trading, and used the taxation system to attack the work of charities and churches.

Those opponents want to devastate rural communities by permitting foreign companies and even foreign states to buy up our postal service, already done, and then our roads, for the use of which tolls would be charged where once there were the Queen’s Highways.

They have brought the United Kingdom itself to the brink of dissolution. They still seek to disenfranchise organic communities, as such, by means of parliamentary boundaries designed by and for “sophists, economists and calculators”.

They have failed to deliver the real-terms reduction in the British contribution to the EU Budget for which the House of Commons, including every Labour MP, voted. But they have given Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies everything that they have ever demanded, including our Armed Forces to protect those states from their own ideology, since several of them, including the giant, are quite as bad as the so-called Islamic State, having taught it everything that it knows.

Instead, it is time for One Nation.

One Nation means a broad alliance between the urban and the rural, between the metropolitan and the provincial, between the secular and the religious, between the socially liberal and the socially conservative. It means an alliance including all ethnic groups, including all social classes, and including all parts of the country.

One Nation means the contribution-based Welfare State, with contribution defined to include, for example, caring for children, or caring for elderly relatives. It means workers’ rights, with the trade unionism necessary in order to defend and advance those rights. It means John Smith’s signature policy that employment rights must begin on the first day of employment, and apply regardless of the number of hours worked.

One Nation means community organising, which the British Labour Movement never needed to be taught by Saul Alinksy, Barack Obama or David Axelrod.

Any more than we ever needed Antonio Gramsci to tell us about the insistence on the unity of theory and practice, about the rejection of economic determinism and of metaphysical materialism, about the celebration of the “national-popular”, and about an organic working-class culture and self-organisation that included worker-intellectuals.

We already had them all, not only before Gramsci, but before Marx. We urgently need to rediscover them all, in order to restore them all.

One Nation means profit-sharing and similar arrangements: not “shares for rights”, but shares and rights. It means the co-operative movement and wider mutualism, not least in the provision of financial services. We lost the Co-op Bank precisely because it was not itself a co-operative, but was merely owned by one.

One Nation means consumer protection. It means strong communities. It means fair taxation. It means full employment with low inflation, a combination that is taken for granted elsewhere, yet which in Britain is assumed to be impossible.

One Nation means pragmatic public ownership, including of the utilities, of the railways and of the Royal Mail, and always with strong parliamentary and municipal accountability. It means publicly owned industries and services, national and municipal, setting the vocational training standards for the private sector to match.

Public ownership is of course British ownership, rather than the ownership by foreign states, as such, into which has passed much of what we, as a people, used to own. Public ownership safeguards both national sovereignty and the Union.

One Nation means local government, including council housing, fiscal autonomy, the provision as well as the commissioning of services, the accountability provided by the historic committee system, and the abolition of delegated planning decisions.

One Nation means the State’s restoration of the economic foundation of the civilised and civilising worker-intellectual culture historically exemplified by the pitmen poets, by the pitmen painters, by the brass and silver bands, by the Workers’ Educational Association, by the Miners’ Lodge Libraries, and so on.

In order to restore a civilisation in continuity with it, that culture needs to be rescued from “the enormous condescension of posterity”.

One Nation means the Union, the Commonwealth, and the ties that bind these Islands. Only social democracy guarantees the Union, and only the Union makes possible social democracy in these Islands.

The erosion of social democracy is the most powerful of separatist arguments, despite the fact that the separatists could not possibly deliver it, and very largely would not wish to do so, in the entities to which they aspire.

One Nation means economic patriotism, including both energy independence and balanced migration. Nuclear power and this country’s vast reserves of coal are the core around which to organise all other energy sources.

At the 2012 Durham Miners’ Gala, Ed Miliband told at least 100,000 people and the television cameras that he was committed to the return of British coal; he was the Energy Secretary when Gordon Brown joined the unions in supporting the massive expansion of British nuclear power while David Cameron called it “a last resort”.

No serious person is against coal itself. We burn colossal quantities of it from the ends of the earth, while sitting on our own, for the sake of a politician who, to stick to unquestionable facts, is dead. This sheer silliness must end.

We cannot deliver the welfare provisions and other public services that our people have rightly come to expect unless we know how many people there are in this country, unless we control immigration properly, and unless we insist that everyone use spoken and written English to the necessary level.

Of course, this problem could never have arisen if it had still been a matter of “no union card, no job”.

One Nation means an approach to climate change which protects and extends secure employment with civilised wages and working conditions, which encourages economic development around the world, which upholds the right of the working classes and of non-white people to have children, which holds down and as far as practicable reduces the fuel prices that always hit the poor hardest, and which refuses to restrict travel opportunities or a full diet to the rich.

Climate change is supposed to be anthropogenic. The human race makes the weather. The burning of carbon is the foundation of the working class, the foundation of the Left, the foundation of human progress (problematic though that term is), the foundation of civilisation.

One Nation means a celebration of the full compatibility between the highest view of human demographic, economic, intellectual and cultural expansion and development, and the most active concern for the conservation of the natural world and of the treasures bequeathed by such expansion and development in the past.

The problem with the world is not that it has people in it. Which people, exactly? We all know the answer to that. Rather, people produce wealth, material and otherwise. People are wealth, material and otherwise.

One Nation means the organic Constitution, with the full pageantry and ceremony of the parliamentary and municipal processes.

That includes a very British trait of inbuilt self-criticism: Radical and populist, republican and pacifist (I am neither a republican nor a pacifist), Celtic and regional, regional within the Celtic lands as much as within England, parliamentary and extraparliamentary, with the octogenarian Queen and the octogenarian Dennis Skinner each having a distinct role at the State Opening of Parliament as the latest, but not the last, in a long, long line.

One Nation means the national and parliamentary sovereignty of the United Kingdom in the face of all challenges: from the United States or from the European Union, from Israel or the from Gulf monarchies, from Russian oligarchs or from the rising powers of Asia, from money markets or from media moguls, from separatists or from communalists, from over-mighty civil servants and diplomats (including in the intelligence services) or from over-mighty municipal officers, and from inappropriately imported features of the economic and political cultures of the Old Dominions, as exemplified by Lynton Crosby.

This list is not exhaustive.

One Nation means the national and parliamentary sovereignty of the United Kingdom as, with municipalism, the only means to social democracy in the territory that it covers, the democracy in social democracy.

Only social democracy, and not least the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, is capable of safeguarding that sovereignty, national and parliamentary, and that democracy, parliamentary and municipal.

One Nation means conservation and the countryside, especially the political representation of the rural working class. It means personal freedom, through superb and inexpensive public transport, ultimately free at the point of use.

It means academic excellence, with technical proficiency, refusing to compromise on either. It means civil liberties, with law and order, including visible and effective policing. It means an end to light sentences and lax prison discipline, through a return to a free country’s minimum requirements for conviction.

One Nation means fiscal responsibility, of which neoliberal capitalism is manifestly and demonstrably the opposite. It means a strong financial services sector, with a strong food production and manufacturing base, and with the strong democratic accountability of both.

It means total rejection of class war, insisting instead on “a platform broad enough for all to stand upon”. It means a large and thriving private sector, middle class, and working class; all depend on central and local government action, and with public money come public responsibilities. 

One Nation means very high levels of productivity, with the robust protection of workers, consumers, communities and the environment, including powerful workers’ representation at every level of corporate governance.

It means an absolute statutory division between investment banking and retail banking. It means a base of real property for every household, from which to resist both over-mighty commercial interests and an over-mighty State.

One Nation means a realist foreign policy, including strong national defence, and precluding any new Cold War with Russia, China, Iran or anywhere else. It means British military intervention only ever in order to defend British territory or British interests.

It means a leading role on the world stage, with a vital commitment to peace. It means a complete absence of the weapons of mass destruction that three quarters of Labour candidates are committed to removing.

And One Nation means the subjection both of Islamism and of neoconservatism to an approach defined by our proud history of equal opposition to Stalinism, to Maoism, to Trotskyism, to Nazism, to Fascism, and to the Far Right regimes in Southern Africa, Latin America and elsewhere.

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