Tuesday, June 28, 2016

On leadership, ambition and democracy


I am pleased to blog a link to a persuasive interpretation of Labour Party Rules which e‎xplains why the coup plotters can only keep Corbyn off a leadership ballot paper if they can rely upon a member of the judiciary who will provide a - shall we say - unusual approach to the interpretation of such Rules.

(Of course I concede the possibility that a shoddy political operation in the interests of the ruling class might be smiled upon by a judge prepared to put class interest before honest judgment - but such an adverse outcome is far from certain) (it's called "relative autonomy" if anyone's taking notes).

The Labour Party Rule Book plainly imposes no express requirement upon an incumbent leader facing a challenge to secure any nominations at all.

And this is why Jeremy Corbyn should hold on and let the members - not the Parliamentarians - decide the leadership of our Party.

I want to say something very important about why I support Jeremy Corbyn.

I support him as Leader precisely because he never imagined himself in this position.

I support him because he did not have that ambition.

In a lifetime of political activity in the labour and trade union movement I have often encountered ambition.

And, over many years, I learned to forget the contempt for ambition which should be the default position of any true socialist.

I have made the mistake, in the past, of admiring ambition and promoting and encouraging "comrades" who exhibited it.

I was profoundly wrong.

The petty ambition of the individual ego (whether on left, right or centre) is the antithesis of the ambition for humanity expressed by true leaders.

Those motivated by ambition are neither to be trusted or admired and those who seek to promote themselves should always be mistrusted.

I now see the character flaws, which I have sometimes failed to perceive in the past, exhibited very plainly in those seeking to depose Corbyn.

(Which is not to say that some others with the same flaws may not flutter around him, drawn like moths to light - and clinging to him regardless of any harm they may cause him).

The careerists of Parliament pretend that their opposition to Corbyn (which is really an opposition to the mass membership which supports him) is for the good of the Party.

It is not.

It is for their own self promotion.

‎The time is now for those of us who believe in both socialism and democracy to defend Jeremy Corbyn.

From a UNISON perspective, from a lay-led union, our support for Jeremy Corbyn was determined by extensive consultation with our members.

Our Labour Link Conference is the only body with the constitutional authority to change our collective mind on this question - and I think that delegates will reflect upon the fact that, in the absence of equally extensive consultation, there is no sound basis for any such change of mind.

As we must defend the democracy of our Party so we must defend the democracy of our trade unions.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Stand firm in support of Jeremy Corbyn

One of my favourite scenes in the Simpsons is where Homer corrects Bart when his son says that this is the worst day of his life.

Homer, meaning to cheer Bart up, corrects him cheerfully - "the worst day of your life so far."

I imagine today's Daily Mirror headline (whilst entirely predictable) must feel like that for Jeremy Corbyn.

The Blairite plotters have achieved some of the wider reach they must have hoped for as the group think of the Parliamentary Labour Party has spooked even some of the so-called "soft left".

The Blairites hope that they are close to forcing Corbyn from office and ensuring that the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition does not use the occasion of the Chilcot report to hold Blair to account.

Jeremy has to stand firm. No matter how many Members of Parliament, Leader-writers and members of the commentariat gather to ladle faint praise upon him in disingenuous would-be political obituaries.

We have to prepare for a storm of outrage from the ruling class and their allies in our movement if a majority of Labour Members of Parliament vote "no confidence" in him and - as he must - he stands firm and stays in office.

The Party elected him and only the Party, the whole Party, should ever replace him. Those of us supporting him likewise must not blink.

We could, however, support him more effectively. Those (who choose afresh each day to abstain from supporting Corbyn where it matters in the Labour Party) waving Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party placards in Parliament Square, pretending that they amounted to more than a small fraction of the thousands present, handed ammunition to the Blairites.

‎Those who respond with unnecessary insults or vitriol to Corbyn's critics ignore the sensible advice of the man himself, and those who think it appropriate to address a mass rally with swear words confuse political struggle with a drunken argument.

We many thousands expect that one man should keep his cool and stand firm under almost intolerable pressure from an angry and frightened political establishment. The least we can do is show the same calm determination.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Dave Prentis speaks out in support of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership as thousands rally in London


UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, in a well-timed intervention, has reaffirmed UNISON support for the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

As members of the Parliamentary Labour Party gathered at Westminster for their meeting they could be in no doubt that there is no support of any consequence within the trade unions for the coup plotters.

With the Tory Party leaderless and rudderless (the Remainers having no plan B and the Brexiteers no obvious plan A) the Labour Parliamentarians who are attempting a putsch give relief only to our adversaries.

Plainly this attempted coup was some time in the planning and the timing is as much to do with Chilcot as it is with Brexit - but crucially it is an opportunist ‎(if ham-fisted) attempt to both manufacture and then capitalise upon a crisis (knowing that the media can be relied upon to fan the flames). In this way the resignation crisis repeats on a grander scale the equally confected anti-semitism crisis of recent months.

A coterie ‎of the self-righteously entitled, viewing the world outside from within their Westminster bubble and believing (against all evidence) in their own importance, are trying to put pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to resign, knowing that unless he buckles to such pressure they cannot regain their former dominance of our movement.

Thousands‎ of protesters in Parliament Square this evening may prick their bubble or we may not, but the solid support of the trade unions, as well as the majority of Party members, for our Party's elected Leader should (but probably will not) give the plotters pause for thought.

Tomorrow the brave little soldiers of the PLP will courageously have a secret ballot in the hope that they can undermine our Leader without having to put their names to their deeds.

Jeremy Corbyn will be right to ignore this arrogance whatever the result - and Party members and trade unionists alike will be right to support him in so doing.
Now more than ever we need an anti-austerity, anti-racist and anti-establishment Leader for Labour.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Defend Corbyn

I guess it is up to the relatively inexperienced team around the Labour Leader whether he can show the determination to defend socialism which can only now be shown by demanding a confidence vote of the whole membership.

If, dear reader, you are a Labour Party member then you must support Jeremy Corbyn (unless you are pond slime). You must contact your Labour MP (if you have one) and sit on their throat until they pledge unequivocal support for the Leader elected by an overwhelming majority of the membership.

And if you are not a Labour Party member then - if you consider yourself to be a socialist - now is the time for you to join to support Corbyn. 

It is quite simply impossible effectively to support Jeremy Corbyn if your membership of the Socialist Workers Party, or the Socialist Party of England and Wales, or the Communist Party of Britain (or any other tiny sect) stands in the way of your application for Labour Party membership.

‎Right now the only important matter for socialists is to defend Corbyn. Without that we don't need to argue who was right about the EU.  We don't need to argue about anything else.

This country is in the throes of an upsurge of the racist politics of the xenophobic right (who have triumphed in the refrendum) ‎and the ONLY small hope we have is that, for the first time in decades, the Labour Party is led by someone who really believes in Labour values.

We must defend Corbyn.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Confidence in Labour's Leader - Who should decide?

We just had a referendum in which every adult had a vote.

Some people think that the result was a tragedy.

I am one of those people.

Some people think that the leader of the Labour Party is responsible for this tragedy (although they have no evidence).

I am not one of those people.

Now two of those people (who happen to be Members of Parliament) have tried to undermine Labour's Leader.

They've done this although they have no alternative candidate. No would-be alternative leader has the courage to stick their head above the parapet (which means none of them could do a good job as a leader).

They've done this in order to prompt a secret ballot of the Parliamentary Labour Party (although this cannot constitutionally lead to an election). Our anti-Corbyn MPs want to ensure that critics can try to undermine our leader from behind the shield of confidentiality. They want to undermine our leader and our Party even though they have no alternative.

If anyone thinks that now is a good time for Labour to consider who should lead us then surely the vote of confidence should be put to the whole membership, not just the tiny fraction of the membership who sit in the House of Commons?

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Trade unions must defend Corbyn


It is no accident that Blairite MPs have chosen the house journal of the ruling class to seize the opportunity provided by the referendum result to try to destabilise the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Agents of that class within our movement are blaming Corbyn for Brexit and proposing a leadership challenge.‎ 

It is an absurd proposition that Corbyn's honest and balanced making of the case for remain was the reason why many Labour voters (in England outside London) did not take the Party's advice to vote remain.

Labour supporters and working class people who voted to leave the European Union had been alienated from our Party over a period of years - and for most of those years it was the Blairite politics of pusillanimous triangulation which dominated our Party and drained all commitment to and enthusiasm for our Party from large parts of our electoral base.

Now the shameful capitulation to reaction known as "Blue Labour" is heard in calls for Corbyn to take a stand against immigration - to respond to the electoral challenge of UKIP by aping its politics and appeasing prejudice.

Labour's response to the anti-immigration sentiment which plainly formed part of the leave vote in (some of) our heartlands must be to answer the misconceptions upon which it is founded, not to echo and reflect reactionary views.

The time is now for all socialists and trade unionists to stand in support of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party - and in support of anti-racist anti-austerity socialist politics.

Some of us at UNISON Conference are not able to speak - but I have been pleased to hear how well received expressions of support for Corbyn have been this morning, reflecting the rapturous reception for our Leader on Wednesday.

UNISON's response to the Referendum result - resist racism - defend Corbyn

Below I reproduce the statement issued promptly by UNISON in response to the result of the EU referendum (which is an all but unmitigated disaster for the working class).

Dave Prentis has elaborated upon this statement in addressing UNISON National Delegate Conference this morning, acknowledging that the referendum result was not what UNISON had campaigned for and that many of our members will have voted to leave.

Living and working in areas which returned large majorities for remain your blogger need not be constrained to be polite about those who voted (and particularly not those who campaigned) to give Farage the best day of his life.

Those who voted to leave voted against the interests of our members and our class, and we have awoken this morning in a country in which the forces of reaction are encouraged and empowered and in which we now know that racism and intolerance will rise.

Nevertheless it is obvious that our trade union must be more measured than an angry and obscure leftist blogger - however there are a couple of points missing from a statement with none of the content of which I disagree‎.

First, given that - although by no means did every leave voter cast their vote out of bigotry‎ - this referendum result is a victory most of all for the racist right, we must affirm our opposition to racism alongside our opposition to austerity and with equal prominence. 

Dave Prentis did make this point in speaking to the statement at Conference this morning - observing that many members who are migrants would be frightened this morning and affirming that UNISON's message was that migrant workers are welcome in our trade union and in our country.

In standing alongside our black members - and migrant workers - UNISON has to be prepared to engage forcefully with prejudice wherever it is expressed (including within our own ranks).‎ Immigration does not cause the economic and social problems for which it is blamed - and we must educate our activists and members to take issue with such misconceptions wherever and whenever they are expressed.

Secondly, in circumstances in which the Labour right-wing (who themselves created the distance between our Party and our class, some of the consequences of which we witnessed yesterday) may mount an attack upon our Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, we must reaffirm our support for the Leader, expressed at our Conference on Wednesday.‎ 

The firm support which Dave Prentis pledged for Jeremy Corbyn earlier this week - when he reminded our Conference that he had ‎campaigned for Jeremy in the leadership campaign - will need to be repeated and reiterated in the coming days.

Dave Prentis reaffirmed that UNISON would fight in defence of public services - this will need the rejuvenation of our trade union (of which more later) but it will also depend upon our anti-austerity Labour Leader behind whom UNISON - and the entire trade union movement - must stand.






Dear Colleague


Please find below Press Release issued today – UNISON on the vote to leave



Friday 24 June 2016

For immediate release


UNISON on the vote to leave the EU


Commenting on the news that the UK has voted to leave the EU, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:


"The people have spoken, and they have made a clear call for change – and a different relationship with Europe.


"We will be working in the coming weeks and months to hold the leave campaigners to the promises they've made – that there will be more money for the NHS, and that our rights at work will remain intact.


"But this also has to be a time for our country to heal. At its best the campaign has enabled genuine debate and discussion in our homes, workplaces and communities about the future of the economy and the kind of country we want to live in. 


"At its worst, the campaign has been typified by hatred, vitriol and misinformation that have done a huge disservice to our democracy and values.    


"Over the coming weeks and months, all political leaders must think about how to address the issues that people in our communities care most about – falling incomes, insecure jobs, unaffordable housing and the huge challenges facing our public services after more than half a decade of cuts. "


Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Silence of the Goats

In thirteen years on UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) I have rarely been called upon to speak at our National Delegate Conference.

As an NEC member I may only attend Conference in that capacity and may not speak other than on a subject agreed by the NEC (and in accordance with NEC policy).

My NEC colleagues‎, knowing that I am painfully shy and often awkward and tongue-tied have generally spared me the embarrassment of making a fool of myself at the rostrum.

Others on our NEC who need to be protected from a similar fate for similar reasons (such as my equally retiring friend and comrade Paul Holmes) also experience four relaxing days on the top table, knowing that we shall not suffer the stress of being asked to speak to such a big crowd of people.

Delegates at Conference will of course appreciate that those of us not asked to speak could not possibly match the persuasive eloquence of those NEC colleagues who do get up to speak on behalf of the NEC time and again.

If regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak) believe that NEC Conference speeches are allocated to reward loyalty to a leadership line I can only express shock at such cynicism.

After thirteen years I think I can sort out the sheep from the goats on our NEC.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NEC scrape through on branch funding - what next?

The National Executive Council's Motion 121 on branch funding scraped through UNISON Conference‎ by 52% to 48% in a card vote this morning.

This result will come as something of a relief at the UNISON Centre - but, particularly‎ in the light of the strength of support for democratic change in UNISON expressed at the 250 strong fringe meeting for lay members last night, a more considered response would be better advised (particularly since just 29 people showed up at the eariler competing meeting called to express support for the leadership).

The question of the allocation of resources - and therefore power - within our trade union is by no means closed. A broad-based wide-ranging network of lay activists is emerging which is determined to change our union for the better. The question of branch funding will doubtless be of the issues on our agenda.

Those whose hold on power is increasingly tenuous must decide whether to accede to the demand for democratic change or to assert their increasingly shallow and brittle authority ‎by hectoring Conference and bullying activists.

And in relation to that final point I shall of course blog further in the near future (but if I publish anything I tell you is confidential please don't pass it on...)

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Any Questions?

One of the features of UNISON Conferences which has declined dramatically over the years is the facility to ask questions of the Annual Report submitted to that Conference by the relevant leadership body (the National Executive Council for National Delegate Conference and the relevant Service Group Executive at a Service Group Conference).

This year there were just three questions asked of the Annual Report of the Service Group Executive at Local Government Conference - all from just one branch. At National Delegate Conference three branches asked a total of just eleven questions, seven of which gave rise to supplementary questions.

It has become harder to ask questions over the years - both because the procedure for asking questions has become more rigorous and because the Annual Report has become less detailed ‎and interesting - but it is not impossible and it is often worthwhile.

As a delegate at Local Government Conference your blogger was able to make use of an answer received to a question asked of the Annual Report of the Service Group Executive in successfully moving the Emergency Composite on pay.

This morning at National Delegate Conference a delegate from West Sussex illustrated how to use a supplementary question on the Annual Report ‎to raise an issue which would never have made it on to the agenda as a motion.

We need to make better use of our Conferences to hold our leaders to account. The asking of questions is a small but not unimportant tool with which to do this.