Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why I’ll be voting ‘Remain’ tomorrow – by Darren Williams

At this point, it may seem unnecessary for a Labour left-winger to seek to justify a decision to vote ‘Remain’, as it’s been increasingly difficult to find ‘Leave’ supporters within the Labour party, or anywhere else on the mainstream left and centre-left, within recent weeks. But even a couple of months ago, it did not seem so inevitable that someone like me would vote to remain in the EU – speaking personally, I had not made up my mind – and the issues are just as complex, and as important, now as they were then. So, I will rehearse what I see as the main arguments, even if most or all of this has already been said by others.
My starting-point is a commitment to internationalism and a desire to see the establishment of a United States of Europe – an equal and democratic alliance of all the nations and peoples across the European continent, from Ireland to the Urals. I recognise that the current European Union is very far from that ideal, being dominated by the major powers at the expense of the smaller countries and those outside the Union, and run in the interests of their ruling classes. Of course, it is the case that the EEC was, from the outset, a “capitalist club”, more interested in free movement of capital than of people and more dedicated to private property rights than to the rights of ordinary people, as citizens, workers or consumers. But, along the way, it has secured greater legitimacy by instituting valuable social protections and by redistributing resources, to some extent, from the richer to the poorer nations and regions. Over the last twenty years or so, the EU has promoted privatisation (e.g. the Services Directive); enforced fiscal discipline (e.g. the Stability and Growth Pact and the more recent Fiscal Compact); and, since the financial crash, has imposed draconian austerity measures on those countries it has “bailed out”. TTIP threatens to take these neo-liberal tendencies further. But the real question is this: if we want a European union that is different from the current EU, is it more credible to think we can achieve that by taking charge of the existing framework of treaties, protocols and reciprocal obligations and reforming the current institutions to produce different outcomes? Or by withdrawing altogether in the hope that that this will precipitate the collapse of the whole edifice and allow the ‘liberated’ nations of Europe to start again from scratch? The former option may entail the formidable prospect of renegotiating every major treaty from 1957 onwards in order to achieve a complete turnaround, in many respects, from the EU’s current trajectory - but the latter is a complete step into the unknown.

Second, the argument by left-wing supporters of ‘Exit’, that the EU is inherently reactionary implies that it has a distinct, ‘corporate’ political character independent of, and taking precedence over, the cumulative political character of its member-states. Certainly, the EU is capable of compelling a country like Greece to abandon the mandate on which its government was elected. But if a majority of member states were to reject neo-liberalism, are we really to believe that they would nevertheless be obliged to accept the dictates of an organisation that could not exist without their financial, political and diplomatic participation? The neo-liberal character of the EU is surely no more than a reflection of the general political ascendancy of neo-liberalism over the last thirty years and its defeat or co-option of social democracy. The left cannot defeat neo-liberalism on the European continent by abolishing the supranational institutions through which neo-liberal policies are enforced. Rather, the political defeat of neo-liberalism by a revived and emboldened left is the precondition for any substantial lasting reform of those institutions. It follows that the best chance of beginning that process is by taking our cue from those parties that have gone furthest in challenging neo-liberalism, such as Syriza and Podemos. And those parties are arguing for radical reform of the EU from within, not for withdrawal.

Third, for a ‘Brexit’ to have progressive consequences, people would have to have voted for it on that basis and there would need to be a movement capable of presenting the necessary conclusions to a mass audience and taking the struggle for a more progressive Europe to the next stage. The reality is, however, that the Left Exit (‘Lexit’) campaign has been virtually invisible, given the near-total absence of prominent mainstream left-wingers supporting ‘Leave’, which has left the field to the CPB, SWP and Socialist Party. We can complain about media bias and misrepresentation but it does not change the fact that the only voices calling for ‘Brexit’ that most voters will have heard are those of UKIP and the Tory right, along with their allies in business and the media. Those are the political forces that would be strengthened by a vote for ‘Brexit’ and given a mandate to pursue their own political aims. And those aims are, needless to say, inimical to the interests of ordinary people. The ‘debate’ over Europe, such as it is, has, of course, been dominated by the question of immigration and a UK outside the EU would undoubtedly impose even greater restrictions on migrants and refugees than currently exist. In addition, a post-Brexit Tory government - presumably led by a Johnson or a Gove – would (as has frequently been pointed out) move to scrap many of the workplace rights, equality laws, health and safety legislation and other ‘red tape’ that is supposedly holding back British business. And, while the TTIP negotiations pose the threat of such protections being stripped away by EU officials themselves, there is at least greater chance of such retrograde steps being halted by a continent-wide campaign than there is of equivalent measures, undertaken by a strengthened Tory government, being blocked in Britain. The other significant political consequence of a ‘Leave’ vote would be a blow to the personal standing of Jeremy Corbyn and a setback to his political project of moving Labour to the left. We may not like the way that Corbyn – always personally ambivalent about the EU – was bounced by Hilary Benn and others into pledging Labour’s unqualified support for ‘IN’ vote, but he has nevertheless invested his personal credibility in the campaign and the party as a whole has rallied round. A ‘Leave’ vote would be a disaster for the Labour left, as in so many other respects.

There is much else that could be said but the above points, in my view, clinch the case for ‘Remain’ from a specifically socialist perspective. One might well resent the uncritical praise lavished on the EU by Labour spokespeople or the apocalyptic tone of the post-Brexit scenarios invoked by the ‘Remain’ campaign (mirroring, to some extent, the more offensive scaremongering of the ‘Leave’ lobby). The sight of Sadiq Khan, Harriet Harman and Carwyn Jones lining up with Cameron and his cronies at press conferences is an unedifying reminder of how little Labour has learned from the ‘Better Together’ campaign debacle in Scotland in 2014. But, in the end, there are only two options on the ballot-paper and it is incumbent on all of us to decide which would be more conducive to the political objectives of the left. No socialist would have chosen to have this debate conducted in the terms we have witnessed in recent weeks – but we cannot change that now. All we can do is to decide which outcome we would rather wake up to on Friday morning, taking into account the implications for working people, the unemployed, pensioners, refugees, migrants and all those whose lives are blighted by prejudice and inequality. But if, as I hope, the vote is for ‘Remain’, the left needs to be much more serious and committed in our campaigning for a different kind of Europe – one that is truly democratic, that breaks with austerity and that supports public services, not privatisation. It is long overdue for Labour to lead such a campaign, instead of simply paying lip service to the need for ‘reform’.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Challenging UKIP's statistics – By Iain Claridge

“Net Migration a Third of a Million – a City the Size of Birmingham every Three Years ...How can we afford council houses or NHS ?”

So claimed Neil Hamilton on Question Time from Cardiff City Hall on 2 June (the day before Jeremy Corbyn spoke there, invisible as always to the BBC). Hamilton`s lie got the inevitable racist response from the audience.

But is net migration (all immigration minus all emigration) the “third of a million” no one, not even Owen Jones, challenged on 2 June? And should the Left challenge the figures in these last days of the EU campaign ?

The 26 May House of Commons briefing paper gives (on p.10) the 333,000 figure and three pages later 188,000 non EU net migrants and 184,000 EU net migrants. These figures are slippery, calculations from estimates extrapolated from surveys. Mark Easton on BBC news (14 June) even allowed himself to use an EU in-migration figure of 270,000 – without correcting for EU nationals leaving UK.

But it is possible to present voters with a figure that is less frightening than “A Third of a Million” and truer for the impact of migration on schools, social housing and working-class jobs - the message of being "swamped" that is cutting so hard in Labour heartlands.

The 333,000 includes non-UK students. On the basis of verifiable data from visas and university statistics, student-in migration is 192,000, according to the Office for National Statistics.

As Vince Cable argued when in government, one can simply remove the non-UK student in-flow and 333,000 becomes 141,000. Students are not long-term immigrants and should not be counted as such, as even George Osborne apparently now admits.

The net migration figure of 333,000 doesn`t go that far. It counts the 192,000 students in and then uses a flawed International Passenger Survey estimate of 57,000 students returning home to put 135,000 students in the net migration figures.

Facing Andrew Neil on 10 June, Farage had no answer but his passport for how to get net migration below 100,000 - but remove students and the figure is in sight.

Of course, UKIP doesn`t tell its supporters that “a third of a million” includes non-UK students paying well over £6 billion a year in fees but that`s the truth of 436,585 non UK students in Higher Education in Britain (2014-2015). Three quarters of non UK students are non EU.

The government itself only started collecting exit data on students leaving the UK in April 2015. We may presume these checks will show many more than 57,000 return home after study – taking the non EU three quarters of 192,000 down by c.140,000 and the net migration figure to under 200,000. But by the time these statistics of real student outflow are released the referendum will be lost.

And removing students from the net migration figures alters the perception of EU migrants we can address on the doorstep. Remove 50,000 EU student immigrants from 184,000 EU net immigration – getting degrees not competing for jobs on building sites and East Anglian farms!

EU net migration is little more than 100,000 a year within a total 2015 net migration of around 200,000 including c.70,000 non EU work visas and 32,000 asylum seekers.

I've tried it as a leaflet. Brexiters can`t contest the non-EU fee benefit. Voters from ethnic minorities and non-voting EU nationals feel reassured that UKIP claims are being contested.

Is it possible we can even reassure worried traditional Labour voters that their school places, jobs and NHS access are no more under immigrant assault than in the last twenty years?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Reluctant 'Remain' – By Lyn Eynon

Many on the left are committed to 'Leave' the EU, viewed as irremediably pro-capitalist, but I shall reluctantly vote to Remain. Although WLG has taken no position on the EU referendum, UK Momentum supports Labour 'IN' but, like Jeremy Corbyn, will not campaign with Tories, both on principle and as a lesson from the debacle in Scotland. 'Another Europe is Possible' advises 'Remain' but advocates radical reform to tackle the serious flaws of the EU. Both sides exaggerate how much of the past 40 years can be attributed to the EU. The TUC presents protections within EU law as gifts for which we should be grateful, rather than rights won through struggles. EU treaties look restrictive but allow more opportunity than often admitted, if elected politicians seek it. Politics counts for more than institutions, and 'Brexit' would today spur the growth of the nationalist far right across Europe. We should Remain, then campaign across Europe for change.

Let’s start with rights. EU protection for workers is valuable against a Tory government, even though EU law today allows employers to exploit migrant workers to drive down pay and conditions. The EU provides a framework but national politics matter. French workers are fighting a law imposed not by the EU Commission but by the Hollande-Valls government. It originates from Paris, not from Brussels. Similarly, the Tory TU Bill was drafted in Westminster. Brexit would offer more immediate opportunity for Tories to attack rights than for unions to extend them. There is no prospect of this government improving protection for consumers or the environment, which would be at serious risk.

Neoliberalism defines the worldview of most EU leaders but austerity does not follow directly from EU treaties. In the UK, it is driven by a Tory government that sees an opportunity to attack acquired rights and public services. The EU is not forcing Osborne to cut and we should not excuse him by suggesting it is. The Eurozone is more restrictive, as states have lost control of monetary policy, but the UK referendum is not about the Euro. Even in the Eurozone, there is more scope than politicians pretend. When the EU tried to fine Germany and France for exceeding deficit limits, it was put in its place. A Podemos-led government in Spain would undoubtedly face obstruction but even the Greek example does not prove that austerity is inevitable. The EU Commission acted as it did because the politicians backed it. Hollande could have blunted the attack on Greece and with Renzi’s support he could have blocked it. If the SPD broke with Merkel, it could challenge Berlin’s fixation on public debt. The issue is not the wording of treaties but the political bankruptcy of European social democracy. This is not a vote on neoliberalism. Socialists working together across Europe can stop austerity. Brexit will not.

Any decent human being should feel appalled at the EU’s treatment of refugees escaping from chaos initiated or worsened by military interventions. But the referendum is not a vote of moral censure and leaving the EU will not help. The UK stance has been one of the worst and will not be improved by a campaign infected by racism. The Tory Leavers, cheered on by UKIP, would cut migration to deliver on their rhetoric, worsening life for refugees. Across Europe, governments would see Brexit as confirming that anti-migrant policies win votes, and harden their positions. Fewer refugees would be accepted.

The great and the good of the economics establishment have lined up with dire prognoses of the costs of leaving the EU, but we do not need to accept all the claims or the spuriously precise predictions to acknowledge that the impact would be disruptive, particularly for a vulnerable economy like Wales. Investment and exports would fall, hitting jobs and wages in a new recession, already a significant risk as the global economy slows. The Tory government is more likely to tighten austerity than to act to offset this. Nor will the Tories put the interests of working people first when negotiating new trade deals with the EU. Instead, they will look for opportunities to shift the balance further in favour of big business. TTIP is often quoted as an example of how the EU bows to corporate interests but a Tory government would be keen to sign a UK-US deal on similar or worse lines. Indeed, with opposition to TTIP growing, it’s possible that the EU would reject what the UK would accept. It is hard to see how Brexit, under a Tory government, would benefit workers or consumers.

The argument that EU institutions are fundamentally undemocratic and constrain elected national governments is powerful. It is undeniable that EU structures make it easier to hear elite lobbyists than the European people. If we remain, socialists and other progressive forces across Europe must challenge this. But the Council of Ministers only accepts Commission proposals because elected governments concur. The EU treaties define procedures but do not compel agreement, and we should not let politicians hide behind bureaucrats to pass bad laws. Leaving the EU would not give the UK a free hand. We would still be members of the WTO, NATO, the IMF and many other organisations, and most of the 14,000 treaties the UK has signed would still apply. Treaties impose shared obligations, which are essential in an otherwise anarchic world. The UK pressed for the European Convention on Human Rights to hinder fascism but the Tory right would like to leave that too. Autarchy is not an option. Britain would need new reciprocal arrangements with EU countries, and there is no guarantee these would be better. Indeed, in Tory hands, we can expect them to be even worse.

Behind left concerns on EU democracy lies the fear that a future socialist government would be unable to carry through the programme on which it had been elected, as either the Commission or the European Court of Justice would block it. Is this true? Unlike Syriza, a Labour government need not face an immediate confrontation with the EU: we have our own central bank, we can borrow in sterling under English law, and our economy is far stronger than that of Greece. We will not need permission to initiate our programme. Nor need we directly challenge the EU from the outset. The next Labour government will have a long agenda and the EU would have weak grounds to obstruct steps to reduce tax avoidance, tighten financial regulation, restore union rights, or remove labour market abuses. McDonnell’s Fiscal Credibility Rule does not threaten public finances; Germany cannot object to a National Investment Bank when it has one itself; house-building can be self-financing; green investment meets the EU’s own commitments; Parliament can revise the Bank of England’s mandate ... and so on.

Some of this might be challenged, depending on how certain EU treaty clauses are interpreted. But we should approach this not as amateur lawyers but as political actors. Neoliberal orthodoxy is crumbling, with even the IMF calling on governments to take on more debt to finance investment, and a Labour government could defend well-crafted policies with strong popular backing. Conflict is more likely over state aid and competition rules, which could hamper industrial policy and public ownership, but, once again, the treaties and the institutions define the terrain for any dispute but do not prejudge its outcome. Since the crash, the EU Commission has approved over 400 state aid applications for banks, including nationalisations. Governments wanted that and it happened. How far Labour could go would ultimately depend on the political balance in Europe, not on references to the ECJ. In the right political circumstances, rulings could be rejected and, yes, Britain could threaten to leave the EU, and do so if necessary. But what might be required in a hypothetical future is misjudged today.

Socialists should decide Remain or Leave on its consequences. Brexit would create opportunities, but for the right as well as for the left. After a vicious campaign, attacks on workers and migrants are more likely than a socialist dawn. Cameron would fall but it is wishful thinking to imagine an immediate election making Jeremy Corbyn PM. Financial and business interests will not trust Labour to negotiate corporate-friendly treaties and will rally behind a new Tory leader. A defeat for Remain would open recriminations in Labour and weaken Corbyn’s leadership. The EU’s failures have spawned a vicious far right in many countries but Brexit would further stimulate this by demonstrating success for anti-migrant, anti-union politics. Let’s not delude ourselves into believing it would be seen across Europe as a vote against austerity. By encouraging nationalism, Brexit would reduce stability at a time when hardening borders could turn into violent conflicts. Peace is not guaranteed. How would the left gain from any of this? Today, in June 2016, the right would win most from Leave. Reluctant 'Remain' it is.

Are some members of the Labour party more equal than others? By M’Learned Friend

It takes a dogged and skilled lawyer to plough through the national party rule book and the inchoate add-ons that are the unfocussed supplementary rules that operate in Wales.

However, a party member doesn’t have to be a lawyer to wonder if there isn’t one law for the self important Blairite and another for any member daring to hold (and express) “radical views”.

Consider a few examples of the way the party has publicly treated its members in recent weeks.

Two different members “on the left” - one an old, gnarled, successful (by most standards) MP and former Mayor of London and another a young MP – have been publicly attacked and faced demands for their immediate expulsion (without due process) from the party for views expressed about historical events. In one case, suspension from the party followed quickly and the NEC is now conducting an enquiry. In the other, an apology was deemed sufficient.

At the same time, the party has not batted an eyelid as senior figures – from a more “centrist background” publicly, intentionally and repeatedly criticise the party leadership. Some have even been filmed by TV crews in aggressive name-calling of colleagues with whom they disagree. (Some party members take the view that party meetings are where such robust debate should occur – so long as it is done within party rules). In Wales, one MP has been publicly accused by four different national newspapers of mistreating her staff and exhibiting homophobic behaviour. The response from the party in the weeks that followed? Zilch! Surely in the interests of all concerned – including the MP – such allegations should be properly investigated and either disproved – or acted upon?

The party rulebook - though long and opaque – lists the following offences that members can commit:
  • Chapter 2, Clause 1 - serious criminal offences; conduct grossly detrimental to the party; standing against a Labour candidate
  • Chapter 6 (page 25) - allows disciplinary action for breach of the rules and constitution.
  • Chapter 15 (clause 1, O) notes that harassment and intimidation of members is unacceptable, as is any form of discrimination on the basis of gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or race.
Of course, good judgment has to be exercised in all such cases in the interests of fairness to all. But at the moment, where you stand in the party (in terms of seniority or political belief) seems to have more influence on what happens than the facts themselves.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

UKIP in Swansea East - by Mike Hedges AM

UKIP came second in both the General Election and May's National Assembly election in Swansea East, winning 3274 votes (16%) at the Assembly election. Whilst UKIP’s result in Swansea East was not as good as in many South East Wales seats, it is still a cause for concern.
I will address three questions: who, why and how do we win them back?
Firstly, who?
A simple examination of the Assembly election result would indicate that UKIP took votes from Labour and the Conservatives, took the bulk of the BNP vote from 2011 and got some who did not vote in 2011 to vote this time.
Looking at it in greater detail, most of the 2011 BNP vote will have gone to UKIP, interestingly for the first time with no BNP candidates; BNP was not written on rejected ballot papers.
That former Labour voters switched to UKIP is, I believe, undeniable, the Labour vote fell by 309, the Conservative vote fell by 1025 and there were 1102 BNP voters giving 2436 votes leaving 738 from people who did not vote last time.
Anything beyond those simple figures could be considered conjecture but we also know the result of the Mynyddbach by election held on the same day but without UKIP, where Labour took 65% of the vote, as opposed to a projected 55% in the Assembly election which compares with the overall 52% across the constituency. 10% of the vote across the constituency equates to about 2000 votes and 5% to approximately a 1000. I would guess UKIP took votes somewhere in between those two from previous Labour voters. The rise of UKIP is very much a Labour problem.
This takes us on to why.
Why did former Labour voters vote for a right-wing party with a former right-wing Tory Leadership?
They have a simple message leave the EU, end immigration and everything will be alright.
Personal experience
People’s political views are based upon, personal experience, family political loyalty and perception of political parties
For many, their personal experiences are:
  • Difficulty of getting social housing either personally or for family members
  • Lack of employment prospects
  • Zero hour or very few guaranteed hours contracts
  • Debt or the fear of debt
  • Victims of austerity
What has Labour done wrong?
  • Do not engage enough with them
  • Our “good communicators” do not communicate with them
  • Do not address their concerns
  • Appear irrelevant to their lives
  • Most importantly Labour is no longer seen as on their side

How do we win them back?
  • This is written before the Euro referendum; if we withdraw from Europe, then the reason for UKIP to exist disappears.
  • The Mynyddbach result shows that many of these voters are not lost forever. We are their second choice; we need to become their first choice again.
  • Talk to them - campaigning is not only knocking on doors and identifying Labour voters. Engage with their concerns Address their concerns; they are real even if the solution they have solution chosen is wrong.
  • Build Council and other social housing thus reducing the housing pressure.
  • Support the “real” living wage not the Tories increased minimum wage called the living wage
  • What do most people want? A nice house, a job, adequate pay, no fear of debt and opportunities for their children. We need to address these desires in the language of the electorate who we are trying to communicate with.
 We can win them back but we will not do so by doing the same as before.

Welsh Executive Committee report - by Darren Williams

Report of the Labour Welsh Executive Committee meeting held on 14 May 2016 by Darren Williams CLP rep for South Wales Central (Cardiff, the Vale and RCT)

This was the first full meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) elected at the end of last year, which took office at Welsh Labour conference in February (there was a very brief meeting at the conference, to elect a chair and vice-chair and fill some other posts).

Election report
The main item of business was a report and discussion on the Assembly election campaign, the results and subsequent developments at Cardiff Bay.

Carwyn Jones said that Labour’s result had been better than expected and that the results in Cardiff North and the Vale, in particular, had been gratifying, but our overall vote had gone down and much of it had gone to UKIP. The latter had already split, in effect, into two groups in the Assembly. Plaid had done well in Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff West, as well as in the Rhondda, focussing mainly on local issues. There was little doubt that they had intended to take over the government when nominating Leanne for First Minister on 11 May and that Plaid AMs had approached the Tories and UKIP with this in mind. There had been strong public opposition to their manoeuvring, however.

Janice Gregory also gave her perspective as campaign co-ordinator. She said the campaign team had met weekly and had had big issues to contend with, like the steel crisis, which has had to be factored into the campaign. She praised the team in Transport House, whom she felt couldn’t have done more. She said that the result in the Rhondda had taken everyone by surprise.

The general secretary, Dave Hagendyk said it had been a very difficult campaign, with the Labour vote squeezed by Plaid and UKIP. Labour had undertaken four direct mailings in target seats and distributed three million pieces of print altogether, as well as using Facebook targetting. Across Wales, close to 300,000 people had been spoken to – more than anywhere else in the UK, outside London. Labour’s result in North Wales had been tremendous but recent elections had seen the party retreat eastward and we now needed to work hard to re-establish ourselves in the West and North-West of Wales. Welsh Labour would carry out a detailed analysis of the campaign and election results over the next couple of months and bring back a report to a future meeting.

There was a lengthy and thorough discussion of the campaign, some of the main points of which included: details of the campaigning tactics employed by Plaid in the Rhondda; the desirability in future of campaign messages tailored more specifically at North Wales; and the need to analyse the reasons for the big vote for UKIP.

In the context of a comment about the damaging effects of party disunity, there was some criticism (justifiably, in my view) of the circumstances of Stephen Doughty’s resignation from the front bench earlier in the year. Stephen, who was present as one of the two representatives of the Welsh PLP, defended himself, saying that he had resigned in writing prior to the contentious BBC interview on the matter and – notwithstanding his criticisms of the reshuffle – had worked loyally with the party leadership throughout. His explanation was accepted by the chair.

Carwyn alluded to the events surrounding Ken Livingstone’s comments about Zionism and the cancellation of Jeremy Corbyn’s planned visit to Wales. He criticised Ken for detracting from the positive messages of the campaign, saying that a day had been wasted, and reiterated that he had not stopped Jeremy from coming to Wales: the decision had been made by mutual agreement. While agreeing with Carwyn about the unhelpfulness of Ken’s comments, I expressed concern about his call for Ken to be expelled, as I felt that any disciplinary penalty should await the outcome of the party’s investigation. I also said that, notwithstanding the explanation he had given about Jeremy’s visit, the comments in the Western Mail attributed to a “party source” had been damaging, as they had implied that Jeremy was an electoral liability. Carwyn said that the media coverage had been “unfortunate” and Janice added that it was difficult to prevent people lacking any real authority from preventing themselves in the media as anonymous “Labour sources”. Andy Richards of Unite said that his union backed Carwyn’s position on the Livingstone issue.

I also commented on the Plaid campaign in Cardiff West, which had been very negative and focussed entirely on local government, rather than Assembly, issues, and I endorsed another Committee member’s comment that it was a shame that the Welsh Labour manifesto had been published so late.

Report from Nia Griffith, Shadow Welsh Secretary – Nia talked about the series of issues over which the UK Tory government had been forced to back down recently, including their plans to force all English schools to become Academies, as well as aspects of the draconian Trade Union Bill. The Queen’s Speech was due to take place in the coming week and the proposed legislation to tackle extremism was likely to be particularly controversial, in the light of the disgraceful Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan. Nia also commented on the implications of the Tories’ proposed parliamentary boundary changes, which would reduce Wales’ representation from 40 seats to 29. Stephen Doughty observed that the partial success of the campaign against the Trade Union Bill showed that the Tories can be defeated. Dave Hagendyk added that thanks were also due to Labour’s representatives in the House of Lords, including Eluned Morgan, who had now been elected to the Assembly.

European Referendum
Dave reported that printed campaign materials had now been delivered. The campaign needed to engage both with those voters who needed to be persuaded to vote ‘yes’ and with those already inclined to do so, who needed to be encouraged to turn out. Many loyal Labour voters were unconvinced of the need to remain in the EU and so much of the party’s efforts would be focussed on ‘heartland’ areas, rather than election marginals. There was a discussion, covering a number of points, including: the need to get the student vote out; the varying attitudes to the EU in different economic sectors; and the need to counter UKIP’s appeal to disaffected voters. Margaret Thomas of Unison said that her union had registered as a third-party campaign for the referendum, having consulted members, who’d been overwhelmingly supportive of a ‘yes’ vote. I said that Labour needed to have a distinct message from the official ‘IN’ campaign, emphasising the need for reform of the EU, to avoid repeating our mistake in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, when we were seen as too close to the Tories in the ‘Better Together’ campaign.

General Secretary’s report
Dave said that the Welsh party’s policy consultation work now needed to be refocussed on UK-wide issues, via ‘Your Britain’. He also reported that Welsh Labour would be left with just two organisers after the referendum: Michelle in North Wales and one (to be appointed) in the South.

Party Reform update
The chair, Donna Hutton reported that a ‘Party Reform’ exercise was being led by the NEC, with a number of strands, including one concerning the relationship between the party centrally and its Welsh and Scottish organisations. Andy Richards had been representing Welsh Labour in discussions about areas of party activity in which responsibility could be devolved to Wales. Any proposals would be put before the party conference in September, after which the Welsh party would conduct its own, detailed review of its rules and processes, which would culminate at the 2017 Welsh conference. In response to a question from Catherine Thomas (Mid & West Wales CLPs), it was confirmed that this would include agreeing a more consistent approach to gender-balanced representation.

Welsh Labour Conference 2017
It was confirmed that this will take place in Llandudno, 22-26 March.

Inconclusive Welsh election sees Labour back in office - by Darren Williams

As with the other elections taking place on 5 May, those in Wales were always going to be treated, in part, as a test of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. A significant setback for the party would have been attributed to its supposed ‘leftward lurch’, by detractors outside and within. Troublingly, the Welsh Labour leadership prepared the ground for this scenario by allowing the media to infer, on two separate occasions, that they considered Corbyn an electoral liability.

The first of these was at the close of the Welsh Labour conference in Llandudno in February, when First Minister Carwyn Jones said that he wanted to distance his party’s Welsh election campaign from developments in a way that implicitly identified Corbyn as the main problem.

The second occasion was in the specific circumstances of the Ken Livingstone “anti-semitism” media storm. Carwyn Jones not only called for Ken’s immediate expulsion from the party (displaying rather less respect for due process than one might expect from a trained barrister) but decided (supposedly in agreement with Jeremy) that the leader’s planned visit to Wales should be cancelled, giving rise to the headline “Carwyn bars Corbyn” on the front page of the Western Mail. Carwyn disputed the word “bar” in an email to party members but was evasive about who had initiated the change of plan and could not explain a press comment from an unnamed “source” to the effect that efforts to present Carwyn publicly as the only credible First Minister were a “a difficult sell with Jeremy”.

The latter was one of the few noteworthy incidents in a campaign generally free not only of drama but of serious political discussion (not helped by Labour holding back its – perfectly worthy – manifesto until halfway through the short campaign).

To the disappointment, no doubt, of Corbyn-bashers, Labour lost less ground than predicted, losing only one of the thirty seats it held before 5 May. This outcome does understate, to some extent, a drop of 7.6 per cent and 5.4 per cent, respectively, in Labour’s share of the constituency and list votes, but there was at least no loss of ground to the Tories, who failed to take any of their targets and slipped back behind Plaid Cymru. It was to Plaid leader, Leanne Wood, that Labour lost its one seat: the Rhondda, where she was able to stand (for the first time, under new rules) as a constituency, as well as a regional list candidate and defeated Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews, a ’big beast’ from the right of the party.

Otherwise, despite squeezing Labour majorities in Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Cardiff West, Plaid failed to make gains and it was, unfortunately, only UKIP who advanced across Wales, winning representation for the first time with a group of seven, now headed by the odious Neil Hamilton. Much of UKIP’s vote – as in last year’s general election – was a direct transfer from Labour, reflecting a sense of disillusionment and abandonment on the part of working-class voters in declining post-industrial communities and emphasising the enormity of the task Labour faces to win back many of its core voters who began to lose faith during the Blair years.

Labour’s one lost seat put the party at a two-vote disadvantage in the Senedd when the new Assembly met for the first time on 11 May. Following inconclusive talks with Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood was nominated as First Minister, in opposition to Carwyn, and dramatically won the support of Tory and UKIP AMs, which resulted in a tied vote (only the vote for Carwyn by the Lib Dems’ one remaining Member, Kirsty Williams, prevented Leanne from winning office). This unexpected deadlock prompted sharp condemnation of Plaid by Labour members and commentators, for accepting the support of the right, although it remains unclear how far Plaid actively solicited their votes (it seems likely that someone in Plaid – even if not Leanne – approached the Tories and UKIP).

Urgent talks between Labour and Plaid then ensued, producing an agreement based not on coalition but on agreed priorities for the new Assembly’s first 100 days and ongoing consultation via three newly-established committees. With Carwyn finally confirmed as first minister on 18 May, he appointed a new cabinet in which right-wingers were noticeably more prominent than before; Kirsty Williams was rewarded for her earlier support with the Education brief; and leading left-winger, Mark Drakeford was unfortunately moved away from the health brief (albeit to the substantial portfolio of Finance and Local Government). With the steel crisis just the most pressing of many formidable challenges, this new Cabinet has its work cut out.

This article was written for the current edition of  Original Labour Briefing magazine.

Definitely Not Unelectable - by Dr John Cox

Labour was predicted to suffer its greatest-ever election defeat on May 5th – enough, some hoped, to ‘justify’ a coup against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

But these predictions were way out and a coup now seems most unlikely. In reality, Jeremy’s leadership is unassailable (a recent poll has him more popular now than when first elected). A survey of Labour supporters after the election revealed that over 55% thought Labour had done “moderately well” and a further 17% said “very well”.

Although Jeremy himself has warned that Labour is “not yet doing enough” to win the 2020 general election, these election results demonstrate that Labour, under Jeremy’s leadership, is definitely not unelectable.

That much is uncontroversial. But the differing results on May 5th for England, Scotland and Wales suggest further lessons from the voting.

It was predicted that Labour could lose upwards of 200 Councillors compared with its 2012 high point. In the event, Labour lost only 18 Councillors (whilst the Tories lost 48 seats without a squeak from the media). Labour also won every Mayoral election and several Police Commissioner elections.

If 2012 was a great result for Labour, so must be 2016. Compared with the May 2015 General Election this was a huge improvement for the newly Corbyn-led Labour and, based solely on these results, Labour would be on course to win in 2020

Labour’s vote plummeted in 2015 (due to the mistakes of the previous decade and the Independence Referendum) and no-one expected a recovery this soon. In the event, Labour still won more votes than the Tories in Scotland – a fact ignored by the media who, instead, preferred to trumpet that the Tories won more seats.

I’m no expert on Scotland but I would have been astonished if the long-term decline in Labour’s vote had been reversed. Scotland provides no credible evidence that Jeremy’s election as leader affected these results adversely.

Before May 5th pundits predicted that Labour would fare better in Wales than England – because Corbyn is supposedly unpopular here (with Welsh Labour). In the event, Labour did improve on the 2015 General Election results – but it’s constituency votes fell catastrophically from 42% to 35%.

I would not claim – with the complication of UKIP votes to explain – this as a positive rejection of Welsh Labour’s efforts to distance itself from UK Labour – but it is fair to conclude that there is no evidence that this reaped a dividend.

Labour’s campaign
Enough of punditry – my own experience of “campaigning” (in Torfaen) was both heartening and dispiriting. In practice we were we simply checking where our excellent candidate Lynne Neagle had assured support – but we did not campaign to persuade people to vote Labour by discussing issues on the doorstep.

But, if Labour is to win in 2020, the Party has to welcome in the hundreds of thousands of new members inspired by Jeremy’s politics and must campaign for these policies – not simply rely on historic Labour loyalty.

Hopefully the encouraging (English) results of May 5th will see off further attempts to undermine Jeremy’s leadership. What we now need to do is recapture the spirit of 1945 – when hundreds of thousands of Labour supporters argued for Labour’s policies at doorsteps and workplaces. We were not reliant then on a friendly media and there’s no reason suppose than 2020 will be different.

This post first appeared on John’s blog.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Reflections on the 2016 Welsh General Election - by Sophie Williams

Although the deadlock at the Senedd now seems to be nearing its end, Wales will have been without a government for almost two weeks after the 2016 Welsh General Election. Although 29 seats out of 60 is by no means our worst electoral result since devolution, the lack of a clear majority requires cooperation with other like-minded political parties. This need not always be a negative development in itself; however, it requires sufficient desire on all sides to reach the necessary agreement.

Although it is still early days and full result analysis has yet to be undertaken, it is prudent to consider how we have come to be here and the factors conditioning our current state of limbo. These factors are multiple in nature and will vary, constituency by constituency and ward by ward, with local issues, particularly relationships with local councils, certainly having played a part. However, some key trends can be identified.

Firstly, we must look at the nature of the big picture campaign. Jeremy Corbyn achieved an historic victory in the Labour Party leadership last September, in which he won over the vast majority of the Labour party membership (and, indeed, many thousands of people outside the party) with his clear vision for doing things differently. Yet out on the campaign trail in Wales, Jeremy was rarely to be seen. Despite proving popular with Welsh party members (9 Welsh CLPs nominated Jeremy for leader and thousands more personally voted for him), Jeremy visited only a select few constituencies, concentrating on seats like Aberavon and Ogmore where the Labour vote is arguably stronger than in other areas, for example Cardiff North and Cardiff Central.

The steel crisis is a clear factor, yet it does not give the full story. News items reported that Jeremy had been ‘banned’ from Wales. Although the exact terminology was rebutted by Carwyn, there is no question that the Welsh media were allowed to think, and to report, that the Welsh Labour leadership consider Jeremy an electoral liability. In his absence, wider messages of being halfway through a 10 year plan not only lacked inspiration and smacked of the oft-repeated Tory trope, but were also self-defeating: even if a win is achieved in 2016, what will the message be in 2020? We’ve finished our 10-year plan, please let us start another?

Organisational issues complemented the lacklustre nature of the wider campaign. How we campaign and the information on which we base our canvassing has not changed to accord with new technologies and a politically disengaged electorate. In many areas, the same core activists who can always be relied upon saw each other day after day, as constituencies struggled to engage the many thousands of new party members and supporters in traditional campaigning activity. How we derive our data and where we target our resources must be the subject of serious investigation, as strong political messages can still be hampered by poor or complacent activity on the ground.

We must consider the twin challenges of Plaid Cymru, on the one hand, and UKIP on the other. Both made inroads into the Labour vote in post-industrial communities in the South Wales Valleys and North East Wales, albeit for very different reasons. The purchase of the self-presentation of Plaid Cymru as a ‘Welsh’ party, concerned only with Welsh issues requires examination: do voters respond positively to this and do they vote Plaid Cymru because they believe that only Plaid Cymru have a right to govern for Welsh people? Do we challenge UKIP strongly enough on the tough issues like immigration, and have we sufficiently explored why traditional Labour voters are turning to this rag-tag populist band of failed Tories? Is this simply a turn away from Labour rather than actively ascribing to the UKIP policy platform, and if so, what are we doing to revitalise our image?

Finally, we must look at the reasons why, after 17 years and five elections, voter turnout for Welsh General Elections continues to hover around 45% of the electorate. In Scotland on the same day, the turnout was 55.6%. Welsh turnout figures can be further compared with those of other European ‘stateless nations’: turnout in the Basque Parliament elections in 2012 was 64%, while turnout in last year’s Catalan elections was 75%. These are undoubtedly crude indicators which must be contextualised and broken down by category; however, there is clearly more work to do to convince the Welsh electorate that participating in a Welsh General Election should be at least as important to them as participating in a UK General Election.

Following next month’s EU Referendum (after which there may be either no change or complete overhaul) and next year’s local Council elections, we face a three-year election-free period. Perhaps part of that time may be spent considering some of these issues, as we look towards the 2020 UK elections.

Welsh Labour survives another election - by Nick Davies

On the face of it, the fifth election to the Welsh Assembly could have been worse for Labour; the result was certainly better than predicted. Only one seat was lost: Rhondda, where Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood ousted former minister, Leighton Andrews. Plaid’s other main target, Llanelli, stayed Labour. Labour held all the Tories’ targets: Cardiff North,Vale of Glamorgan, Gower and Vale of Clwyd. The main story was the Tories’ failure, rooted in Westminster’s complacent response to the steel crisis and the ineptitude of their leader, Andrew RT Davies, to match their own expectations. If the Welsh Tories wanted the election to be a referendum on NHS Wales, they got it: voters took a look at the dysfunctional chaos presided over by Jeremy Hunt, noted that in Wales there was no junior doctors’ strike, and duly came to the necessary conclusion. Driven back to the coasts and borders, their total number of seats went down to 11 from 14, and their share of the vote went down from 2011 and 2015.

Notwithstanding the dramatically tied vote for First Minister when the Assembly met for the first time, it now seems certain that Labour, with 29 out of 60 seats, will form another minority government, probably involving case-by-case consultation with Plaid Cymru, now the second biggest party, and more reliable support from the one remaining Liberal Democrat, Kirsty Williams. Fifteen of the new Labour group of 29 are women (despite Welsh Labour reneging on its own policy on all-women shortlists to ease former MP Huw Irranca-Davies into the Ogmore Assembly seat). However, the women tend to occupy the less safe seats. Across the whole Assembly, there are now three openly lesbian or gay AMs.

This result was against a backdrop of an unrelentingly hostile campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, a cynical attempt to use allegations of anti-semitism to destabilise the UK party, an ongoing smear campaign against the NHS Wales and a media narrative that Labour was ‘tired’ and it was ‘time for a change’.

Therefore, this looks like a job (reasonably) well done.

But all is not well. Labour’s constituency vote of 35.7% was down by 7.5% from 2011. The regional vote dropped to 31.5% from 35.4% from 2011. The drop in some constituencies was calamitous: 27.3% in Rhondda but also 24.3% in Blaenau Gwent and 18.1% in Neath. The electoral system, although generally working against a Labour majority, has its quirks: the net loss of one seat disguises somewhat the extent of the problem.

Appallingly, lost votes went to UKIP. UKIP’s constituency vote of 12.5% was actually slightly down on the general election but that, and a regional vote of 13%, was enough to secure the party 7 seats. As in 2015, the UKIP vote in the Valleys and north-east Wales, was far higher. There was not necessarily a straight transfer of votes from Labour to UKIP; in some cases UKIP’s increase was far higher than Labour’s decline, suggesting that some UKIP supporters were previous non-voters, although possibly former Labour voters. Even in Rhondda and Blaenau Gwent, where Plaid beat or almost beat Labour, UKIP polled well.

UKIP opportunistically exploits the feeling of abandonment felt in some post-industrial communities in which fears about immigration have not been engaged with or challenged. Less a ‘breath of fresh air’, what those voters got was a waft of foul gas: a former employer of cheap labour in ‘bunkhouses’, a failed right-wing Tory who may once have spent a weekend in Wales and Neil Hamilton, one of the most unsavoury characters ever to enter the House of Commons, who now besmirches the Senedd. Those who voted for these chancers ‘for a change’ will find it wasn’t the change they were bargaining for. Hamilton’s leadership coup suggests that UKIP’s indifference to the interests of Wales is matched only by their treachery towards each other.

This result tells us that Welsh Labour’s hold over some of its ‘heartland’ is weak, its organisation patchy, its party bodies inactive and the task of re-engaging with working-class communities alienated by New Labour and metropolitan indifference will be a long one.

The election campaign showed up a deeper problem. There’s been a drift away from the ‘Clear Red Water’ era when Welsh Labour defined itself positively to New Labour’s left. Welsh Labour now finds itself to the right of the UK leadership, demonstrated by its keeping a nervous distance from Jeremy Corbyn. Welcome as the healthy gender balance in the Labour group is, the group, by dint of personnel changes – retirements and recent selections – has moved to the right. Many party officials, answerable to London and appointed in the New Labour years, appear to have a markedly different agenda from the new Corbyn-McDonnell leadership and even from the majority of the Assembly Labour group.

This problem bubbled to the surface when, in the face of the ‘anti-semitism’ media-storm, Jeremy’s planned visit to Wales was called off. Although it was made clear that Jeremy was not ‘barred’ from Wales, the media was allowed to infer that Welsh Labour regarded Jeremy as an electoral liability.

This is not the first time that journalists have been allowed to make such an inference; there was a similar instance at the Welsh Labour conference in February. This is despite Jeremy’s huge mandate and his proven ability to connect with many of those voters Welsh Labour has shown that it cannot reach.

Carwyn also made a public demand that Ken Livingstone be immediately expelled from the Labour party: a knee-jerk reaction, like so much of the response to Ken's remarks. While Ken’s remarks were, to say the least, not well-chosen, and he should have known, in the build-up to an election, and in the present climate, that the remarks would be used to attack Jeremy Corbyn, and the party, they were not anti-semitic (contrary to the hysterical accusations of John Mann and others) and had some basis in fact. However, Carwyn stated that his comments ‘give license [sic] to intolerance in our schools and our communities’. Even if there were substantial grounds for this view, it was surely premature to demand Ken's expulsion, in advance of any investigation and without due process. Again, in the context, it merely gave comfort to opponents of Labour and, because Livingstone, by virtue of their long association, is seen as a proxy for Jeremy Corbyn, of the leader himself. This was not just a bad judgment call in the heat of the moment but a positioning by Welsh Labour on the wrong side of a dividing line between those in the party who support Corbyn’s legitimacy as leader, and his determination to break from the Westminster consensus, and those who do not.

A shorter version of this article appears in the current issue of Labour Briefing magazine.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Election Review - by Mike Hedges AM

This is the first election I can remember when people were looking to blame the national party leader for the result before the first vote had been cast, never mind counted. Outside Scotland, which I will discuss later, the results were somewhere between OK and good.

Winning all the mayoral elections - including London and Bristol, both of which were lost last time - would have been described as a breakthrough by political commentators in any other year, except it did not fit into the current media thinking.

In Wales, we lost one seat, which is attributable to the enormous publicity gained by Plaid Cymru’s leader over the last two elections. As party leaders get more publicity during election campaigns, the unintended consequence appears to be a massively increased vote in the constituency they are fighting.

In Scotland, although the result for Labour was better than last year, it was hugely disappointing to only win three constituency seats, but putting it into context the SNP won 7 constituency seats in 1999 and 9 constituency seats in 2003. Labour in Scotland is still paying the price for campaigning with the Tories against independence.

The English council elections were better than the critics expected. As Parliaments since 1979 have usually been 4 years, with 3 exceptions, also except for this year, the governing party lost parliamentary seats at that election, meaning that council gains were almost inevitable. These council elections were last fought a year into the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, when Labour made gains.

Six key points I have learnt, as a candidate, from the election:
1.    All politics is local: the issues I was given on the road outside polling stations were traffic speed; apprenticeship with the council; housing repairs; blocked drains; overhanging trees and overgrowth.
2.    Internal party disagreements hurt: the average voter pays little attention to the issue but just sees a split party.
3.    When party leaders are given huge media coverage, it gives them a huge boost as a constituency candidate, as can be seen by the increase in the votes for both Kirsty Williams and Leanne Wood in Wales. Labour’s one defeat in Wales can be clearly linked to the profile and exposure that Leanne Wood had during the General Election and Assembly Election. This is a consequence of the “presidential” style elections we now have.
4.    Candidates matter: victories by Jane Hutt in the Vale of Glamorgan,  Julie Morgan in Cardiff North and Ann Jones in the Vale of Clwyd owed a lot to hard the work done locally, personal popularity and some close associations with the locality and key local organisations.
5.    Social media works - but not as well as word of mouth and text messaging amongst friends and we failed to use the new members and supporters to spread our message in the workplaces, the community centres and amongst friends and neighbours.
6.    Campaigning is important - but it has to be done over 5 years not 5 weeks. People who meet you are more likely to vote for you and more likely to vote than people who do not know you. Visits to community groups and interest groups builds your profile and you cannot be in the local paper, on local radio or on television too much. People will mainly forget what you said but just remember that you were in the media.

These are just personal thoughts and I am sure that others will have different opinions.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Trident Revisited - by Bob Clay

There is a broad consensus amongst the Westminster-bubble chattering classes, which argues that the Labour Party continues to obsess over the debates of the last century rather than looking to the future. In a strange and unintended way, it might be said that this is a major part of the difficulty when debating Trident replacement.

For many of us, there are fundamental arguments that have been broadly correct from the 1960s (or earlier) onwards. It is probably true that there was little that could ever have persuaded people like me to embrace the retention in any shape or form of the deployment of nuclear weapons by Britain.

And there were many others who took the contrary view. Hilary Benn and a range of Blairites placed themselves firmly in that tradition.

Immortal, pointless and obsolete

But it is the supporters of nuclear weapons who now face an overwhelming argument, which tells us that the material realities of the world in 2016 (let alone in 2026 and 2036) render both the politics and the technology increasingly and dangerously obsolete.

This is well illustrated by the extraordinary debates now taking place in the International Policy Commission of Labour's National Policy Forum. At the heart of this is Hilary Benn’s insistence that any consultation with the Labour Party or wider public has to be framed around the question ‘should Britain retain an independent nuclear deterrent?’

Other comrades have argued that this phrasing fundamentally prejudices the debate. It has been argued for decades that Trident (like Polaris before it) is neither British, nor independent nor a deterrent.

A compromise, which simply referred to Britain ‘retaining nuclear weapons’, was robustly rejected by Hilary. Even a hint of scepticism like placing the words ‘independent’ and ‘deterrent’ in quotes was unacceptable.

For those of us of the ‘old faith’, the wording makes little difference. But for a huge section of the British public and for the integrity of the debate, this represents the most massive moving of the goal posts.

It conveniently buries all the developing arguments that could almost certainly create a large public majority, and probably a House of Commons majority, for stopping the particular project that the floundering Cameron government wish to pursue.

Wrong questions produce stupid and dangerous answers

The vote on Trident replacement should be a vote on the specific proposals that the Government brings to the House of Commons.

Therefore, it is a vote in favour of the expenditure currently forecast (which has just gone up by another £20 billion in Osborne’s recent budget. It is a vote to procure four submarines from the British Aerospace yard at Barrow in Furness, the only UK facility technically capable of constructing these boats.

Since BAE are a huge corporate monopoly the Cameron proposal will effectively commit us to the open cheque book that the British arms industry has so blatantly and corruptly dined out on for decades. This is a company with the most sordid relationships with vile regimes such as Saudi Arabia and a range of financial tentacles that facilitate significant dirty money finding its way into the coffers of the Tory Party. Yes, Hilary wants us to vote for all of that.

Now for the slightly more difficult bit

Those of us who find the whole concept of weapons of mass destruction completely beyond civilised discourse, have to grit our teeth and address the matters that are troubling huge swathes of opinion that are not traditionally ‘unilateralist’.

Other than for the convenience of BAE and its production patterns at Barrow, is it really necessary to maintain a “continuous at sea presence” using four submarines? When was the argument that you could achieve the same outcome with three submarines decisively rebuffed?

Why not abandon the whole Trident project and negotiate a joint system with France, which would involve massive savings?

Or why not take one logical step further and buy the wretched things from Electric Boat / General Dynamics in Connecticutt, who turn out the American boats far more efficiently than British Aerospace? (Most of the BAE top management had to be recruited or seconded from Connecticutt years ago because the local lot were so clueless.) Those who have followed these matters will be well aware of the perpetual difficulty that, when the Americans decide to change the boats and consequently the missile specs, it causes havoc for the MOD trying to accommodate the changes. The missiles come from America anyway, so if the Americans change the missiles how does Britain change the boats?

Trident as a job retention project

Of course, none of the above matters at all if the sole purpose of this project is job retention at Barrow and at the Rolls Royce factories that make the reactors. It used to be argued, only half-jokingly, would be cheaper to give every worker dependent on Trident £1M each but this proposition could now be updated to £10M each and there would still be billions of money left over for other more useful expenditure. It only has to be a matter of time before members of UNITE and the GMB facing massive job losses and little compensation elsewhere query far more assertively what on earth some of their leadership think they have been up to. We could have nationalised and saved the entire British steel industry for a fraction of the cost of Trident.

Writing off Scotland

The whole ‘Scottish context’ has also moved to the centre of the debate. This is entirely political and not technical. Those who still argue for Trident replacement still show no sign of explaining how the Labour Party recovers ground from the SNP in Scotland by continuing to support the wrong side of the argument that contributed massively to the SNP wiping us out last year. The only coherent deduction from the Hilary Benn / Blairite position has to be that our commitment to this particular proposition is so overwhelming that we would settle for a Tory majority government for ever more rather than give up on ‘our’ nukes.

A major advance for planned obsolescence

Now we come back to the technical realities and the two rapidly emerging issues that increasingly dominate the debate in Washington and which have faced the most extensive levels of denial in London.

The future of submarines is that they will be drones. It will only be a matter of time before someone will be able to site a string of drones in international water off  Faslane to detect, follow and monitor the Trident boats as they come and go and with the ability to make a pre-emptive attack on them before there is any likelihood of them firing their missiles.

Even more unanswerable is the increasing realisation that hackers will be able to effectively take over the satellite communications on which these weapons of mass destruction are totally dependent.

On the optimistic side, one might foresee some network of ‘alternative geniuses’ who simply make it their business to render all firing of nuclear weapons impossible. (Bring it on!) But more likely, it will end up with the first successful nuclear attacks on Britain being launched from Faslane by some whacko with a laptop based in a cave in the Tora Bora mountains, or maybe, the ghetto of some European city. Well done Hilary! And no doubt if anyone is left alive in Barrow they will want to get out and vote for John Woodcock MP as soon as possible.

Labour Party policy

My view is that, from a Labour Party point of view, it is only the job retention argument that we really need to win.

It is the votes of UNITE and the GMB that could prevent a substantial Party conference majority for non- replacement. It is that issue that will give ‘cover’ to anti-Corbyn Labour MPs and that can place various other unnecessary obstacles in the path of what has to be the eventual outcome. We can only deal with this by proactively pursuing the jobs, skills and community arguments.

The first and fundamental question is profoundly strategic and political. The Labour Party has always been committed to multilateral nuclear disarmament (and it is only in recent months that we learn from impeccable American sources, that that nearly became a serious proposition, until Margaret Thatcher persuaded Ronald Reagan to renege on provisional agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev on the basis that it just wouldn’t do to have to admit that Michael Foot had been right all along). But the question cannot go away. Why are we claiming to pursue a goal that would rid the world of nuclear weapons, whilst at the same time claiming that that very achievement would be a disaster for the BAE workforce and community at Barrow in Furness?

Moving on, what would happen if a Tory chancellor who was prepared to gamble the whole future of energy in Britain on a nuclear power station financed by the French and Chinese states, decides to save billions by buying submarines from France, the United States (or maybe, China)?!? Will Len McCluskey be running a campaign to say that there is no point in having nuclear weapons unless it provides jobs for his members? You only have to ask the questions ....!

If there really was a case for continuing to procure these submarines from Barrow, then there would surely be an overwhelming logic to taking the yard into public ownership in order to maintain security, cost control and employment. But that would be contrary to the kind of Tory government motion that Hilary Benn and his admirers want to vote for.

We must start work on defence diversification

The ‘pro-Trident’ officers of Unite and the GMB have persistently argued that they cannot support non- replacement of Trident without real, serious, committed mitigation for the workforce and communities. This is the real challenge and it beggars belief that the serious work has yet to commence, even though there are willing, energetic and serious people just waiting for the go-ahead from Jeremy or Emily Thornberry or whoever it needs. We have to set up the prototype defence diversification agency with every possible level of detail, so that it hits the ground running on day one of a Labour government.

This means a serious industrial understanding of what skills and advantages the yard in Barrow has and how those skills can be retained on more useful and sustainable activity. Vague talk of new green industries just won’t cut it. On the other hand, making Barrow the centre for research, development and manufacturing of drone-based underwater engineering might tick a lot of boxes, not just the manufacture of the submarines but their relationship to all sorts of fixed or mobile ocean bed industries of the future. This could be seen as a major plank in the economic / industrial policies that John McDonnell and his team are developing.

Putting far more flesh on the bones of a DDA is widely understood to be the key to progress and yet, there appears to be no appetite whatsoever for getting on with it even amongst those who want to see an end to Trident and this, sadly, seems to include Jeremy Corbyn himself. Indeed, Hilary Benn appears to believe that we should refuse to do anything on this front, because it implies that we might end up opposing Trident replacement. Perhaps we should look forward to Hilary’s ultimate moment of glory as he pleads with the UN General Assembly to reject a global, multilateral ban on nuclear weapons because a British Labour Government has no idea how to re-deploy a few thousand workers!

An overwhelming responsibility, not just a token gesture

And yet, how can we continue to work for the non-replacement of Trident whilst showing such little concern for the workforce and community that will be potentially devastated by this policy?

How can we continually denounce the present government for its failure to support the steel industry and its lack of any planning and intervention to mitigate the local consequences of its neo-liberal economic policies whilst we plan to deliver the same misery to Barrow?

It is a demonstration of ignorance and naivety to simply make vague commitments to doing something once we are in power. Barrow will be in serious crisis from the day that a Labour government announces the cancellation of the replacement programme.

So here are just a few illustrations of the work that we should have been doing for quite some time.

Bones that need flesh

What manufacturing activities can take advantage of the huge investment in the submarine building facilities at Barrow? For a start, there is the continued manufacture of submarines and probably a significant range of other underwater structures. Who is pioneering the drone technology right now? And will the UK have a capacity for these vehicles or will we be importing them? Would the large scale manufacture of civilian submarines be compatible with the continued manufacture of something like the Trident boats? Almost certainly not! For security reasons as well as a range of technical inefficiencies. So it may well be the case that if Britain is to be a significant player in this major industry of the future, Barrow will have to drop Trident in order to make way for it.

Meanwhile, we need to discuss what individual compensation would be available for those workers who did lose their existing jobs and were not able to retrain for the new expanding projects on offer. The combination of redundancies being the direct result of a government decision to terminate Trident production, and the appallingly isolated geographical location of Barrow, with little else available and existing chronic levels of unemployment, would justify very generous terms. For those aged over 50, we should be considering packages of up to £50,000 at current prices for every year before retirement. This may mean that some workers receive more than half a million pounds.

There should be equally generous packages for younger employees and these would need to be focussed more on serious training and redeployment with financial ‘lumps’ as a fall back.

And, pausing to do the most simple and crude calculation, it can be seen that, if 10,000 workers were to receive £500,000 each on average, this would cost £5 billion, leaving about £95 billion (of current Trident planned expenditure) for other purposes.

What and where would the DDA be?

We should also firm up what the DDA would actually look like. There would be a lot of sense if it were located in Barrow, not least to ensure that those who ran it had a daily familiarity with the need to regenerate the town. Building on existing expertise around existing academic institutions, the DDA might have a research and development arm at Barrow which was on the scale of a new university. Thus, new green technology could be trialled in quality premises and workshops in the Barrow area. And we ought to be developing, already, a long list of the projects that could benefit from this approach.

One last thought, just for now. Look at a map and start to understand just how isolated Barrow is. Consider the endless babble about a “northern powerhouse.” Consider the vast sums of money being invested to reduce the journey time to major cities by a few minutes due to rail electrification and other upgrading. Then think again about Barrow. If you want to make a train journey from London to Manchester, you can get a train from Euston every 20 minutes starting very early in the morning and within around 2 hours 10 minutes you are in Manchester. If you want to get a train to Barrow it will take around 4 hours. If you want to get the train to Barrow for a morning activity you can  leave Euston at 5.30am, getting into Barrow at 9.50am or you can leave at 7.30am getting in just after 11.30am, i.e. for morning meetings get up in time to leave Euston at 5.30am or forget it. From 7.30am onwards the trains from Euston are only hourly with a last one at 8.30pm getting you back to Barrow at half past midnight. Travelling back to Manchester you can leave Euston on a 9.40pm train and arrive in Manchester 13 minutes before midnight.

Comparisons by road travel or air flights illustrate the basic point even more starkly. Part of the DDA’s work should be to radically improve the transport infrastructure that would enable Barrow to start its long overdue journey to genuine prosperity. This in itself would be a very significant employment driver and build up a taskforce capacity for other industrial regeneration projects.

Monday, April 18, 2016

EU Referendum decision is all about war - by Mike Bird

Possibly the single best reason for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) is that the EU prevents wars.

Following war between France and Germany three times in 70 years (arguably four), the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was founded shortly after World War 2 by six nations, making them industrially and economically inter-dependent. It was intended to make war “not only unthinkable but materially impossible”. This principle paved the way for the formation of the EEC and then the EU, and it has worked.

It is not the case that, because the last war amongst Western European nations was a long time ago, the EU has moved on and that purpose has ceased to have meaning. It is precisely because such a war is so distant in time that the EU is clearly working and still fulfilling the function of making it impossible.

If we are tempted to think that war between major economic powers or “modern” nations today is very unlikely and not a possibility we need to take seriously, who thought eastern/middle Europe would fall apart so violently and completely in the last two decades? And think of Japan, who fought on the same side as Britain in World War 1, but just 21 years later was a principal enemy and fought against Britain in World War 2.

We may appear to have comfortable, stable, safe lives; but look a little further and you will see the world is far more unstable and dangerous than it has ever been. Things can change dramatically and very quickly, and the direction from which war might come is unpredictable.

War has almost always been a facet of British life, not one year has passed since 1914 that Britain has not been involved in armed conflict somewhere. Including today.

Concerns about migration or our current economic wellbeing seem pretty much irrelevant to a decision over our membership of the EU, compared to opening up the possibility of wars in Europe. We all know the EU has, over the last 20 years, turned into a body representing capital, thus promoting profiteering and privatisation, of which the secretive TTIP deal is just the latest manifestation. But these are things a socialist UK Government can fix, co-operating with others of like mind.

21 years from now puts my youngest Niece at about 40 years old, that’s plenty of time for war to return to Europe. It’s not such a distant possibility, if we pave the way by leaving the EU.

It is more important to me to avoid risking my Niece, her children and countless millions others facing the tragedy and horror of war than worrying about transitory issues that can be solved if there is a will.

The EU Referendum: This is Now Getting Urgent - by Peter Rowlands

The recent poll giving 'Leave' a lead (Opinium, Observer, April 3rd), backed up by recent poll averages showing only a small two point lead for 'Remain', means that there is now a distinct possibility that Leave could carry the day, and Brexit could happen. This is accentuated by the poll also demonstrating that the younger, more pro-EU electorate is less likely to vote than the older, more anti-EU electorate.

Research (GQRR for the Fabians, Independent, April 3rd) shows that Labour voters could make a crucial difference, but only if Jeremy Corbyn (JC) gives a strong lead in encouraging them to vote. It has been suggested that there will be pressure on him to do this, as he has up till now not taken a strong position, although he has backed the rather lacklustre Labour campaign to remain, supported by virtually all MPs and without much sign of opposition within the wider membership.

The problem is - and in this JC is representative of the views of the left - that, while the traditional opposition to the EU has diminished significantly, as leaving seemed an increasingly unviable option, it has not been replaced by any notable enthusiasm for the EU, or for what a reformed left inclined EU could become. In practice, this outlook has been passive and abstentionist. It is, I believe, quite wrong. At best it can only be justified by asserting that from a left point of view there is not likely to be any serious difference between leaving or remaining. However, there has not , since 1975, been a time at which such views were likely to have had any significant consequences, even if we had held a referendum on the EU constitution.

This has now fundamentally changed. If, as appears to be the case, Labour votes, and JC calling for them, are crucial to winning for Remain, then it is vital that this happens. The only valid argument against this is to demonstrate that there is no particular disadvantage for the left in leaving, or advantage in staying in. I do not believe that any such arguments can be credibly made, and will try and explain why.

While there is still a residual left anti EU tradition the overwhelming impetus for Leave has come from the populist/nationalist right in UKIP, the Tory right and the right-wing media. Unlike 1975, there is little left visibility, and a positive vote for Leave would represent a significant victory for forces of the right to the right of the present government (yes, that is possible) who would celebrate with a distasteful orgy of flag waving imperial/wartime nostalgia to be followed by the serious business of attacking the working class by removing all those EU benefits that stood in the way of ’labour flexibility’. As the CBI predicts, there could be job losses of almost a million and a 5% reduction in GDP by 2020 (speech by CBI director, March 21st, based on research by PWC). Foreign owned firms (that includes all vehicle manufacturers) could relocate to the EU to avoid tariffs. But the appeal to the ‘national interest’ would be powerful, and would be likely to adversely affect the strength of and support for the Labour Party and wider labour movement for some time. It is also the case that Brexit could significantly weaken the EU and lead to its possible break up, with  neo-fascist parties such as the French National Front becoming more dominant.

Even if no proposals for reform were made, Remain would almost certainly be a better proposition than the scenario just painted, with social and employment rights probably more secure and high levels of unemployment probably avoided. But of course the EU,  which has in the last 20 years moved in a more neoliberal direction, needs significant reform. Labour must highlight the things that Cameron and most of the  Remain camp are not interested in – more democracy for the EU Parliament,  an extension of employment and social rights, positive policies for growth and employment and greater control over big business. 

It cannot be denied that there are enormous problems in the EU, even without the current refugee crisis, mainly stemming from the Euro, and these must be overcome so that the peripheral countries are not condemned to depression and unemployment in perpetuity. But there are plenty of parties in the EU that are committed to change, and to the sorts of policies outlined above. This is to some extent true of the established social democratic parties, grouped mainly within the umbrella Party of European Socialists, most of which succumbed to some degree of  neoliberalism in the 90s, like New Labour, but some of which have since moved back to more left wing positions, and the newer parties of the left, grouped mainly within the umbrella Party of the European Left, which include not only new parties like Podemos and Syriza but more established parties such as Die Linke in Germany. With the exception of some of the traditional Communist parties almost all of these parties favour remaining in a reformed EU rather than leaving, and have developed policies accordingly.

We should emphatically join them. It is not so much a question of international solidarity, but because it is the right, indeed the only way to go.There is unlikely to be any basis for left advance in an independent UK. Nationalism and global capital will always be stronger. But the EU is potentially big and strong enough to allow real advances  for the left. It may not happen, but there is no other way forward.

It would therefore be a monumental disaster for the left if that possibility was summarily cut short  by a win for Leave on June 23rd. We must campaign strongly to see that that does not happen. Come on Jeremy, you know it makes sense!

This article also appears on Left Futures.