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Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG) will be holding our usual fringe meeting at Welsh Labour conference in Llandudno next weekend. The fringe, entitled ‘The Fight Against Austerity’, will be taking place on the evening of Saturday 23rd March, at the Imperial Hotel, the Promenade, Llandudno LL30 1AP, starting at 6.00 pm. Our speakers will be: Mark Drakeford AM, Wales’ new health minister (congratulations, Mark!); Cardiff councillor, Siobhan Corria; and Mike Payne, GMB regional political officer for Wales and the South-West. Please come along if you’re going to be at conference (and join us for a meal afterwards).
I’m also very pleased to report that conference will be debating the ‘anti-austerity’ motion, which we in WLG initiated and which has been submitted in slightly varying forms by Unison Labour Link and by Cardiff West, Gower, Pontypridd and Swansea West CLPs. Please encourage the delegates from your party body or affiliate to support the motion (where they don’t already have a mandate to do so).
Left round-up – Len Arthur
There has been a little hiatus in our regular email bulletin and blog over the last few weeks, while I’ve been a heavy and almost daily user of my excellent local NHS hospital. I’m hopefully now on the mend and able to start production again. It’s difficult really to decide what is important over such a period of time, so here is a little selection.
The Eastleigh result was not a good one for Labour and raises some serious questions about the politics of UKIP and whether they might pose a challenge to Labour as well as the Tories. Most on the left would argue that they are not a fascist organisation; an example would be the recent edition of Socialist Review. Will Self wrote a good piece in the Guardian Review (but you’d better get your dictionary out!) placing UKIP in a right-wing British tradition going back to the 1930’s and the British Union of Fascists. He stops short of arguing that they actually are fascists, but provides some thought-provoking shades of grey. Over the last couple of days, the Hope Not Hate anti-fascist campaign has started a debate about UKIP and, even if you don’t feel like making a contribution, it will be worthwhile following the contributions.
The mostly-online ‘Labour Left’ network has been organising an excellent campaign against the bedroom tax. Demonstrations have taken place around the UK, including Wales (details here). A separate campaign in Cardiff is planning another demonstration for 30 March; you can get in contact through this Facebook site. These are initiatives that we should support as WLG.
The Coalition of Resistance has initiated a People’s Assembly Against Austerity on Saturday 22 June in London. This is much more significant than ‘just another meeting’. It is supported by Tony Benn and a long list of left TU general secretaries, LRC MPs such as John McDonnell and writers such John Pilger and Owen Jones. For once, the meeting is drawing wide support from socialist organisations in the UK. Significantly the meeting is, I believe, related to the Left Unity movement which was formed from the inspiration of the strikes across the EU last 14 November. I know I will be going along, as it seems that there is a real chance of a possible movement for Left Unity in the UK with links internationally, at least to socialists in the EU. In relation to possible longer-term thinking that may be going on around this meeting, I would recommend an intriguing book review of the latest edition of Socialist Register in Red Pepper by John McDonnell which is not yet up on the website but look out for it.
Labour Party policy – how is it after the Jon and Ed duo? – LA
A few weeks ago Jon Cruddas and Ed Miliband made two coordinated speeches that started to lay the basis for Labour’s next election manifesto. The speeches provide socialists within the party with the first real opportunity to engage with the process of policy development and, at the same time, to assess the extent of the challenges we might face. The full speech by Jon Cruddas can be accessed here and Ed Miliband’s here.
In their own words, Cruddas spoke about what he called ‘social growth’ and Miliband ‘economic growth’. Cruddas’ speech is probably the more difficult to understand, because in talking abstractly about people taking greater responsibility through mutualism and social solidarity he could be referring either to an updated form of Victorian ‘self-help’ or to workers’ control. He refers to three principles that should underpin a new social compact: protection against risk; devolving power down and an opportunity to get on. This would be enabled, he argues, by ensuring a strong economy, renewing social security and providing integrated care. Specific policies referred to include a campaign for a living wage; regional economies; and making people more self reliant in terms of welfare.
Miliband’s speech was strong on analysing the threats and damage of the Tories’ policies and, in essence, argued that ‘One Nation’ Labour offers the country an alternative to the Tories’ race to the bottom in terms of wages and skills, which rewards only those at the top. Its alternative is an economy that will prosper only when the vast majority of the people prosper too. He included a number of specific policies, such as the mansion tax, which are more radical than those we experienced under the 13 years of the recent Labour governments.
Generally, the speeches were well received by sympathetic commentators. A good overview of the responses is provided by John Duncan’s blog. The Independent thought the ideas were from planet Zog but Jon Lansman, in his Left Futures blog, thought that, with inequality being identified as a key issue, there was much to engage with. Much of the response has been eclectic, broadly accepting the main thrust of the arguments and suggesting additional policies or adding to priorities. If, as socialists, however, we understand that our current economic and social situation is rooted in a structural crisis of capitalism, then this should inform our response and future engagement. Possible ways of looking at the current crisis from this perspective have been outlined in other discussion posts on the blog.
The key question is: what evidence do these speeches – and more recent statements – provide of a more radical trajectory of Labour policy toward providing answers to the problems revealed by the bankers’ crisis?
There is a contradiction sitting at the centre of ‘One Nation’ Labour: is it possible to overcome the existing power relations, and the consequent social and economic inequalities, through a social compact? The Tory government’s austerity politics have revealed that the rich are determined to make the working class pay for the crisis while they float above the law by shifting their wealth around tax havens. There is no recognition in these two speeches of this intensifying conflict of interest and of the difficulties of challenging the power of the rich. Labour could again end up in government, full of good intentions that are then taken apart by a reality they are not preparing for and become seen by the working class as part of the problem, having never really been prepared to challenge the power of capital. If Labour is going to be serious about this challenge it must stop trying to hide the problem with‘One Nation’ fudge and begin now to prepare party members and supporters for the real challenges that the next Labour government will face. Not doing so will leave the door open to parties like UKIP, a prospect that can already be seen in the Eastleigh result.
The portents are not good. While Labour talks about being prepared to use the ‘stick’ to compel under 25s to take work at a minimum wage, and even partially retain the bedroom tax, the rich are offered ‘carrots’ and self-regulation. But, to seriously address the imbalance of power in our society will require the opposite: the full use of the state to challenge the power of capital. Stewart Lansley argues, for example, that in addition to a living wage it is also necessary to restore the bargaining power of trade unions to improve their ability to claw back some of the increased proportion of revenue going to profits. As socialists, we should argue this case and challenge the idea that somehow employers – often tax-avoiding large corporations or private equity funds – can be persuaded to be nice to workers as part of a national ‘compact’. Other examples would be to go further than regulating the banks, keeping them nationalised and linking this with the idea of directing investment.
Of course, trying to act in this way would soon raise the question of ‘the UK v the world’ and this creates a problem for ‘One Nation’ ideas. How can we tackle the politics of austerity and multinational corporations and equity funds from one country? Quite simply: we can’t. So we have also to consider questioning the ‘One Nation’ idea by pointing to the need to work with other workers’ movements and socialists throughout the EU (at a minimum) to strengthen workers’ rights and link up our fights against the politics of austerity.
We should engage, as Lansman suggests, by constantly making the point through policy proposals about the need, not for a compact or compromise with the rich and powerful who have caused this crisis, but for alternatives that would involve a redistribution of power and wealth and a direction of investment from speculative profits into meeting the basic needs of all and a planet safe from climate change.