Friday 29 June 2018

The Lanchester Review: On Not Being A Tribal Politician

My latest is here:

I am firmly a man of the Left. I believe in economic equality and in international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends. In the struggle for economic equality, the leading role belongs to the working class, and the leading role within the working class belongs to the trade union movement. In the struggle for international peace, the leading role belongs to the working class and to the youth. Each of those struggles has always been fundamental to the other, and it always will be. The anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggles have always been fundamental to each and both of them, and they always will be. All other identity issues are subordinate within this, if they can be, or they are precluded by it, if they cannot be. Yes, I am firmly a man of the Left.

I am not, however, a Marxist, in the straightforward sense that I do not believe in dialectical materialism. Marxism asks many of the right questions, but it almost always gives the wrong answers, at least in practice. Its sense of its own inevitability is also thoroughly pernicious. Our gains have not been inevitable. We had to fight to make them, and we have to fight to keep them. I can and do work with Marxists. But I am not one of them. As they would be the first to tell you.

Therefore, I rejoiced at the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as a serious candidate for the Leadership of the Labour Party in 2015, ending a 21-year period during which Britain had had no political debate as such. Both economic policy and foreign policy had been off the agenda, and that despite the widespread unpopularity of the catastrophic economic and foreign policies that had been pursued as if they had been self-evident.

I have now been out of the Labour Party for far longer than I was ever in it, and I have profound differences with Corbyn, including the appointment of his enemies to frontbench and other positions, the overly cautious housing and transport policies, the Customs Union, the whipped abstentions on CETA and the EEA, the free vote on Syria, the whipped abstention on Trident, the acceptance of any part of the Government’s baseless claims about Salisbury and Douma, the complaint that the recent bombing of Syria had not been authorised by Parliament rather than that it had been wrong in itself, the failure to bring the arming of Saudi Arabia back to the floor of the House of Commons, the failure to travel to Iran in order to demand the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Abbas Edelat, the capitulation to neoliberal capitalism on the issues of drugs and prostitution, the support for the Government’s indulgence of the ludicrous theory of gender self-identification, the failure to secure justice for the 472 Teaching Assistants whose pay the Labour Durham County Council has cut by 23 per cent, the paying of court to the unrepresentative Board of Deputies of British Jews and to the astroturfed Jewish Leadership Council, the failure to prevent the suspension or expulsion of distinguished Jewish and other activists on trumped up charges of anti-Semitism, and the failure to nip in the bud the imported New York practice of smearing black activists as anti-Semitic if they become too uppity for the Liberal Establishment.

Nevertheless, the positive impact of Corbyn’s mere presence has been, and remains, breathtaking. Although she has failed to deliver on it, Theresa May’s Downing Street speech on becoming Prime Minister has been followed by talk of workers’ and consumers’ representation in corporate governance, of shareholders’ control over executive pay, of restrictions on pay differentials within companies, of an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme, of greatly increased housebuilding, of action against tax avoidance, of a ban on public contracts for tax-avoiding companies, of banning or greatly restricting foreign takeovers, of a ban on unpaid internships, of a cap on energy prices, and of an inquiry into Orgreave. And that was when she had thought that she was going to beat Corbyn out of the park.

Since then, he has deprived her of her overall majority, and she has had to make a deal with the DUP that has entirely repudiated the idea that austerity had been an economic necessity rather than a political choice. She has lately repeated that repudiation in relation to the funding of the National Health Service, and the only debate on that is now the debate as to which taxes to put up. Meanwhile, she, a Conservative Prime Minister, is now effectively on record that Britain ought no longer to attempt to remain a “tier one” military power.

Corbyn is therefore the most influential British politician in living memory, reshaping both parties to an extent that neither Margaret Thatcher nor Tony Blair could ever have imagined, and doing so, up to now, from Opposition. Indeed, he has hardly needed to do anything. It is almost enough that he exists. I for one yearn for him to become Prime Minister.

But none of that makes me a sectarian left-winger, or even a tribal Labour voter. The anti-cuts and anti-war movements were, and are, very broadly based, and they have always suffered from a failure to make the most of that fact, since they have always had the potential to speak for the great majority of people in every part of the country. For example, the cuts have been ruinous in the countryside. The 90 per cent public opposition to the Iraq War was arithmetically impossible without including the majority of Conservative supporters even in 2003. And so on.

My direct political experience has been as a hospital governor covering a huge and largely rural area, as a governor of two rural schools, as a member of Lanchester Parish Council, and around the Labour Leadership of the old Derwentside District Council, which it ran in alliance with the Independents against the rival Labour faction that is now disastrously mismanaging the unitary Durham County Council.

No party has ever fielded a full slate of candidates for Lanchester Parish Council, nor should it. But I have always used all 15 of my votes for it. Last year, I voted for 12 of the 15 successful candidates, variously Labour, Independent, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and No Description. On the same day, I took my own very public advice and voted for the County Council candidates best placed, as I judged it, to defeat Labour and thus to secure justice for the Teaching Assistants. On that basis, I had advocated the re-election of all Independent, Liberal Democrat, and Conservative incumbents who had sought it, and no Labour vote under any circumstance, not even for candidates to whom I was practically family. Had my advice been taken, then the Teaching Assistants would have won by now. But as it was, more attention was paid, with calamitous consequences, to the political advice of the man whom the new Member of Parliament for North West Durham has since appointed as her Political Advisor.

Although I ached to vote Labour at last year’s General Election, I could not do so, because the nationally imposed candidate, who had no previous connection to this constituency, had not supported the Teaching Assistants. Nor had any of the other Labour candidates in County Durham apart from Grahame Morris, whose re-election I therefore enthusiastically encouraged. Here in North West Durham, by contrast, the Liberal Democrat candidate was Owen Temple, a longstanding local councillor and one of the Teaching Assistants’ two greatest champions at County Hall.

So I voted for Owen and I urged others to do so, having voted for Labour’s much-missed Pat Glass in 2015, for the leading local Independent Watts Stelling in 2010 (because of Labour’s all-women shortlist, but I have a huge amount of respect for Pat), for Watts in 2005 (against Hilary Armstrong, because of Iraq), for Labour in 2001 because there was nothing else and because the first Blair term was by no means all bad, and for Labour in 1997 because that was just what my generation did after having come of age under John Major. Hey, even Tariq Ali has voted Lib Dem at a parliamentary election in his time. Although as far as I know, he has never voted Tory at one. Nor have I. Yet?

I did call for a Labour vote everywhere outside County Durham except at Manchester Gorton, where I supported George Galloway, a man who agrees with everything in the first eight paragraphs of this article, and with whom I also agree on a lot of other things such as abortion, assisted suicide, fathers’ rights, opposition to Scottish and Catalan separatism, the need to control immigration in the trade union interest, and understanding why people voted for Donald Trump even without agreeing with them, although certainly finding Hillary Clinton to have been equally unacceptable. George and I do disagree, too. While I am no Zionist, I accept the simple existence of the State of Israel as a fact of life after four generations of Israelis, and I dislike academic and cultural boycotts as contrary to the nature of scholarship, art and science. He flatly refused to me to fly to Iran, which he knows well and where he is known well, to rescue Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. But the agreement between us is vast, and the parliamentary process is poorer for his absence. Still, there is time yet. And he did once say live on air that he would take a seat in the House of Lords if I did.

I have also voted four different ways at my four European Elections: Socialist Labour, Respect, No2EU, and then Labour only in 2014 because the Eurofederalist ultra Stephen Hughes had retired. Who in the Corbyn inner circle, being old enough, has never voted for any of the Socialist Labour Party, Respect, No2EU, or one of the affiliates to the second or third of those?

I am now working with all of the non-Labour members of Durham County Council and with the trade unions, to bring Volkswagen’s production for the British market to County Durham after, or even before, Brexit, and I am more than open to further suggestions along similar lines. As the Member of Parliament for North West Durham, my Westminster office would be a global centre for the broadly based opposition and alternative to neoliberal economic policy and neoconservative foreign policy, strongly asserting that opposition and that alternative as the real centre ground.

I am both a product and a feature of the political pluralism of North West Durham, where Labour holds fewer than half of the County Council seats, the Conservative parliamentary candidate won 34 per cent of the vote last year, the Liberal Democrat candidate cut the Labour majority in half in 2010, and an Independent kept his deposit both in 2005 and in 2010. Wear Valley was controlled for a time by the Liberal Democrats, who remained numerous on it until its abolition. Derwentside was in practice controlled by an alliance between the Independents and that section of the local Labour Party which now supports my parliamentary candidacy; its Leader from that time, Councillor Alex Watson OBE, is one of my Campaign Patrons, as well as being, with Owen Temple, the other great champion of the Teaching Assistants on the County Council. My other Campaign Patron, and again a stalwart of the Teaching Assistants’ campaign, is Davey Ayre, a legendary local trade unionist.

I would appoint an Independent, a Labourite, a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat in each of the County Wards, ideally including at least one person in each of the former District Wards, to work with me and with local people. The price of my support for any Government in the coming hung Parliament would be the necessary support for a number of projects in each of the former District Wards equal to the former number of District Councillors, together with justice for the Teaching Assistants, and together with the implementation of the plan for the rail service in the North of England that was recently advanced by well over 20 local and regional newspapers, most of which have never supported Labour, and only one of which did so last year. And yes, I do mean the price of my support for any Government. Even a Government headed by Jeremy Corbyn.

I need £10,000 in order to stand for Parliament with any chance of winning. My crowdfunding page has been taken down without my knowledge or consent. But you can still email instead, and that address accepts PayPal.

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