Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Democracy delayed?

Now that my political activity is focused on the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove I blog a lot less.

As we approach the most realistic possibility of a socialist-led Government in my lifetime all those of us who hold any position in the Party, at any level, must be persistently cautious of giving any ammunition, in any way, to the many opponents of such an outcome.

This also requires us to be circumspect in commenting upon internal Party controversies (which will themselves increase over the coming period). However, those of us who have been active in the movement for decades do owe our comrades the benefit of that experience and must occasionally risk comment if we are to communicate this.

I was encouraged when the Party established the Democracy Review, both by the fact of the Review and that responsibility was given to a friend and comrade, former UNISON employee and former Labour MP Katy Clark.

I was further encouraged by the leaked details of the Review, particularly in relation to local government, which is currently my major area of interest. The proposal to replace the current structure of Local Campaign Forums (and the absurd privileging of Councillors over members) with Local Government Committees composed entirely of delegates from CLPs and affiliates was an excellent and appropriate improvement.

Therefore it was disappointing to read reports from the Party’s National Executive Council suggesting that there was – and is – not a majority for the bulk of the Democracy Review proposals. Disappointing – but not surprising.

The trade union delegates on the NEC are not ever going, collectively, to be a force for radical change (unless and until the changes which have been wrought in the Party as a result of the transformation of our membership in recent years are repeated in the trade unions themselves).

The relationship between the Party and the trade unions is the bedrock on which the Party rests. It is the most important reason why our Party could never be completely transformed into a purely pro-capitalist political organisation, and socialists should always defend, and seek to deepen and democratise the relationship between the unions and the Party.

However, it is very important not to have illusions in the role which representatives of the unions within the Party will perform, as long as the unions are themselves, to a large extent, controlled by their own bureaucracies.

Historically the Labour Left has often been very poor at understanding the political nature of the trade unions. The Campaign Group of MPs were traditionally deferential to trade union General Secretaries – and much of the Labour Left shared the inability of the Communist Party to comprehend the role of the bureaucracy in the trade unions (or, I suppose, the former Soviet Union).

Union members can influence the conduct of our trade unions, and their representatives, who have to be mindful of our views as members – but we do not exercise meaningful control over the paid officials whose day to day practice is what trade unions (as political organisations) “do”.

The best we can hope for, as long as the unions remain as they are, is for the activists in the Party to be able to broker compromises and form tactical alliances from time to time.

That is not to say that change is impossible, just that it hasn’t happened yet.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Boundary Commissioners take a trip to Queen's Park...

The final proposals of the Boundary Commissioners for the forthcoming boundary review have been published and – as they impact upon Brighton and Hove they have only one difference from the most recent proposals. Regency ward is still to be joined to Hove, with Moulescoomb and Bevendean joining Pavilion from Kemptown (which still gets stretched out along the coast). There is however, one new proposal for changes which is to take four of the polling districts in Queen’s Park ward (EW to EZ) into Pavilion Constituency, leaving the remaining five (ER to EV) in Kemptown (and Seahaven) Constituency. The details in terms of wards allocated to constituencies is online here – and as maps here.

The justification for this novel proposal (which has not been the subject of prior consultation but is now before Parliament) is as follows;

“by splitting the Queen’s Park ward in Brighton and Hove, not only can we avoid breaking local ties in Newhaven in dividing it between two constituencies, we can give all of Brighton and Hove’s three constituencies direct access to the seafront, and also improve our proposals across the sub-region… …Splitting the Queen’s Park ward also allows us to keep the existing Bexhill and Battle constituency unchanged and avoids crossing the East Sussex and Kent boundary in two places, thereby retaining the Ticehurst and Etchingham ward in the Bexhill and Battle constituency.”

So, should these proposals get through Parliament, Party members at their Queen’s Park ward AGM, having to elect delegates to two different GCs, will be able to reflect upon the celebrations in Newhaven, and Ticehurst and Etchingham…

However, as the Government have delayed the timetable for voting on these proposals, we don’t know if or when they will ever be implemented.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Our Health Service and our Labour Party - a personal view

The National Health Service is, of course, the greatest achievement of democratic socialism in the United Kingdom. The popularity of our NHS is the rock on which the waves of privatisation are breaking.

The NHS gets a lot of stick because – in this country – information about our health service, its strengths and weaknesses, is public information (meaning that it is easy to access information about, say, how your local hospital is doing – because, unlike in the USA, this information isn’t “commercially confidential”).

But as much as those, in Government and the media, who would like to use criticism of this or that shortcoming of the NHS to undermine our health service may try they cannot shake the support of the British people for our health service.

Whilst we should not be complacent, as it is unwise to underestimate the capacity (or the urgent need) of capitalism to open up new opportunities for capital accumulation, I saw some compelling evidence of the popularity of our NHS a couple of weeks ago.

Attending the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath (in the heart of true blue Mid-Sussex) I saw, proudly displayed upon the reception desk, a 70th birthday card to the NHS from the local Labour Party.

There, in somewhere which is as close to a Tory heartland as you can get, was evidence of the popularity of support of the Party of the left (under socialist leadership) for our Party’s greatest achievement.

Like most readers of this blog, I am a fan of our health service. I was born in an NHS hospital, as were my children. When my sister suffered fatal injuries in a road accident, the NHS was there to fight valiantly to try to save her life.

Now I have a new reason to care for our health service. As I mentioned I was up at the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath recently. That was to be told that I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer (as one in eight men will be told in our lifetime).

Obviously, this is a bit of a pain in the arse (though not perhaps as much as a transrectal ultrasound guided biopsy) and is a bit upsetting for me, and for those who have the misfortune (or doubtful judgment) to care for me.

However – the survival rate for prostate cancer is impressive and – thanks to the NHS – I don’t have to worry about the cost of treatment (and thanks to generations of trade unionists I don’t have to worry about not getting sick pay should I need it).

So, I am not keeping this to myself (although I won’t necessarily go into detail) – and not only because I understand the provisions of the Equality Act which protect me from discrimination because I have been diagnosed with cancer.

Hundreds of thousands of people are living with cancer and getting on with their lives, and I am now simply one of them. I don’t just intend to carry on as Chair of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party and of Brighton and Hove Labour Local Campaign Forum – I intend to seek re-election to each position.

Of course, whether or not I retain any position in the Party is a matter for the members, casting their votes – that’s democracy (the sort of democracy which mandatory reselection of Labour MPs would perhaps exemplify).

However, whilst I may suffer from a bit of fatigue (and – thanks to hormone therapy – the occasional hot flush), my reinforced commitment to our health service, the creation of our Labour Party, is a good reason to step up my commitment to the Party.

In the mean time, to borrow from Harold Wilson, I’ll tell you what’s going on.

I am going on.

And on and (as regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will know) on and on and on…