Saturday, July 27, 2019

Remain Labour


Jeremy Corbyn was in Manchester yesterday telling activists to get ready for a General Election and pledging to stop Prime Minister Boris Johnson leading the country to a “no deal” Brexit. Since, apart from the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May and rejected three times in Parliament, that is the only Brexit now attainable, this does mean that Labour is now, at last, clearly opposed to Brexit.

Socialists need to understand how right we are to be in this position. For all the many flaws of the European Union, the only paths which lead the United Kingdom out of the EU also take us further away from a place where a socialist-led Labour Government could legislate in ways that would empower our class.

The common misconception (on the “Lexit” left) that the “leave” vote was some sort of working class rebellion has been comprehensively demolished by academic analysis of the votes, of which a recent serious example observes that “Labour voters with observables that put them in the Leave camp – male, older, less educated, less likely to be in employment, etc. – are significantly more likely to express a preference for the status quo of remaining in the EU. Voters with similar socio-economic profiles who identify with the Conservative Party are more likely to vote Leave.”

Translating this from academic language, these results explain that, whilst we know that there a various social characteristics which were more closely associated with “leave” than “remain” voters in 2016 (being male rather than female, being old rather than young, white rather than black, having a lower level of educational attainment etc.) there was an independent effect of Party loyalty – as the academics put it “among individuals with similar socio-economic characteristics, Labour supporters are more likely to support Remain while Conservative supporters are more likely to support Leave”.

These findings – from a thorough and convincing analysis relying upon both individual and geographical data – reinforces the observation made based upon data collected at the time that “the typical Leave voter is white, middle class and lives in the South of England.” It emphasises that they are also a Tory. Whilst there were millions of Labour supporters who did vote Leave, they were greatly outnumbered by those who followed the policy and recommendation of the Party and voted Remain.

This reflected a significant change since the 1975 referendum; “In 1975, those living in Scotland, Labour party supporters, and those of a left-wing disposition were strong components of the anti-Common Market vote, as were readers of the Daily Mirror. In 2016, the forces of the political right – whether based on party support for UKIP or the Conservatives, or anti-welfare and social authoritarian ideological dispositions, or newspaper readership – were pivotal to the decision to leave.”

This change is hardly surprising since (without the “Lexit” left having noticed it would seem) the arguments for and against membership of the European Union had, of course, changed very dramatically in forty years as had the world economy. In 1975, a labour movement which was still growing in strength domestically, in the context of a world dominated by the competition between global capitalism and a global alternative could look askance at the (then) EEC as part of a Cold War institutional infrastructure.

By 2016 – and particularly as the referendum campaign unfolded this became ever more clear – the choice to vote Leave was an expression of a reactionary rejection of globalism, migration, tolerance and social progress. Of course, there were those who voted Leave who did not take this view. But they weren’t those who shaped either the decision or its subsequent interpretation.

To the extent that the Party’s policy since 2016 has been to “respect the Referendum” in order to appeal to “Labour Leave” voters, we have been largely – and fruitlessly – chasing working class Tories in Labour voting areas (to say nothing of alienating many of our supporters who are disgusted to see us pandering to a decision which they perceive – and not wrongly - as having been motivated in large part by racism).

Fast forward to 2019 and we face the prospect not of a second referendum (for which there is no Parliamentary majority – and wasn’t even when Labour MPs were whipped to vote for it) – but a General Election. A Prime Minister committed to the hardest achievable Brexit so that the United Kingdom can become a bargain basement, low wage, low productivity economy off the coast of Europe is hardly likely to opt for a referendum he would probably lose when he can have a General Election and the chance of victory.

The Scottish National Party leveraged 45% voting for independence in 2014 to an overwhelming landslide in the General Election a year later, because the anti-independence majority were split between different parties. Johnson plainly hopes either to broker a deal with the Brexit Party or to appeal so successfully to their supporters that he can repeat this trick, relying on the minority who would vote to Leave the EU in a referendum now to deliver a Parliamentary majority. His monumental self-regard probably means that he will convince himself that he can do this.

We therefore need to prepare for a General Election. There will be those who will prioritise an argument about how “remain supporting” Parties should stand down in each other’s favour in order to try to frustrate Johnson’s project – in Brighton Pavilion we will once more face the argument that no one ought to stand against our incumbent Green Member of Parliament (whilst we await her beatification). Such a formal deal at a national level, even if it were desirable, is unachievable (although some progressive voters may will vote tactically in marginal constituencies).

Time spent arguing about who should stand down for whom, which is not spent campaigning for Labour votes in Labour-Tory marginal constituencies, will not turn out to have been time well spent. (The same will apply to time spent on any other debates within or beyond the Party which do not relate to winning the General Election).

We need to mobilise our membership as we have never been able to before, both around our positive socialist policies – and around a clear position of opposition to Brexit (because any conceivable Brexit would stand in the way of all of those positive policies).

Corbyn was crystal clear in Parliament this week (in asking one of the many questions which Johnson ignored) that Labour would support a referendum in which we would campaign for remain – but the Party is failing thus far to communicate this position effectively.

I hope that we will see clarity and radicalism urgently from the Party nationally – but local Parties do not need to wait to be offered a lead.

Monday, July 15, 2019

GMB forced to call strike action in Brighton and Hove - who is responsible?



It is a shame that our brothers and sisters in the GMB have found it necessary to give notice of dates for strike action at Hollingdean depot – strike action which, if it proceeds, will have a serious and negative impact upon Brighton and Hove.

Some Labour Party members may be perplexed about how it comes about that the GMB – stalwart supporters of our Party – find themselves in dispute with a Labour-led Council. In order to understand how this can be, it is important to understand the limited role of elected Councillors in the management of a local authority.

The 1989 Local Government and Housing Act, which was introduced after the period of 1980s “municipal socialism” introduced, among other things, political restrictions for senior local government officials – it also firmed up the authority of paid officials of local authorities, creating the role of “Head of the Paid Service”. The purpose of this legislation was to ensure that the paid “civil servants” within a local authority would become a line of defence against the sort of experiments in local socialism associated with (most notably) the Greater London Council.

Whilst elected Councillors set the overall policies of a local authority, it is the officers, reporting to the Head of the Paid Service (the Chief Executive) who have day to day operational management responsibility, including responsibility for employee relations. The accountability of the Head of the Paid Service to the elected Councillors varies depending upon a number of factors, including the political balance on the local authority.

In Brighton and Hove – where no single political Party has had a clear majority on the Council since 2003, it is clear that officers have become used to a marked degree of autonomy from political oversight. The Council has developed a practice of holding meetings between the Leaders of the three political groups, but although officers affect to ask the Leaders for a “political steer” from these meetings, the reality is one in which officers largely run the authority.

I have been looking back over the recent relationship between the Council and the trade unions. This is a subject which was touched upon two years ago in one of the regular “peer reviews” of the local authority organised by the Local Government Association (LGA). Peer reviews are undertaken by mixed teams of senior local government officials and elected Councillors from other local authorities and provide an overview of the functioning of a local Council from that perspective.

The LGA peer review of Brighton and Hove in April 2017 found that “Trade unions within the council could play a valuable role in the future. However, this requires dramatically improved relationships between all concerned. The current set of relationships is recognised by all as being dysfunctional. Progress can only be made if there is agreement that the relationship needs to be ‘re-set’.” The peer reviewers recommended that “External facilitation should be brought in and agreement reached by all to ‘re-set’ the council’s relationship with its trade unions.”

The Council’s (officers’) response to the peer review, in November 2017, was as follows: “The LGA highlighted the potential value of the trade unions role in the future but also the need for the council’s relationship with the trade unions to be given a fresh start, beginning with external facilitation to work towards this. Officers will seek to engage members and the trade unions in taking this recommendation forward.”

The Action Plan associated with this response assigned responsibility for action to “Leaders/CEO/ELT” and proposed to “Consult with trade unions on willingness to participate in the process of strengthening relationships, pending Group discussion” this was to be done by December 2017.

In February 2018, the Tory Group put a motion to Council calling, amongst other things, for the Chief Executive to “Set-up a cross-party working group to oversee external facilitation that would ‘re-set’ the relationship between the Council and The Trade Unions to take place.”


“This Council calls on the Chief Executive to:
1       Continue to demonstrate through current work on the People Plan that the most valuable resource of this Council is its workforce;
      Note the extremely negative impact of austerity on all public sector workers including council staff, with knock-on impact to many people including workplace representatives, and which should be addressed by sufficient funding for public services;
3       Note that the LGA Peer Review indicated that the Council’s relationship with the Trades Unions is dysfunctional;
      Note that the LGA Peer Review called for external facilitation to be brought in to enable a ‘re-set’ to take place;
5       Note the concern of the trades unions expressed during the recent consultation process for The Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust Arrangements;
      Note positive steps taken towards an improved relationship through the written Trades Union Recognition Agreement;
7       In agreement with the trade unions, confirm other appropriate steps that might be explored with the aim of having the best possible working relationship despite the impact of austerity.”

Point 6 of the amended motion referred back to the trade union recognition report agreed by PRG Committee in November 2017. (PRG is Policy, Resources and Growth, the most important Committee of the Council).

That agreement gave the unions nothing that they did not already have by custom and practice (recognition at the level of an individual local authority is not necessary if a local authority signs up to the National Joint Council conditions of service (the Green Book) as these defined the recognised trade unions (see paragraph 5 of the Annex to Part One of the Green Book).

The recommendation from the peer review that Brighton and Hove Council needed external facilitation in order to “re-set” its relationship with its workforce and their trade unions seems to have got lost in all of this – a recommendation which had been referred, critically, to the Chief Executive to action.

As I have said here before, the responsibility for avoiding this strike action is – and remains – with our well paid Head of Paid Service. The particular circumstances in Cityclean cry out for the involvement of an external third party to “reset” employee relations on a more positive footing, and it is the responsibility of the paid officials of the Council to find a way to achieve this outcome which averts strike action.

If the Chief Executive fails in his responsibility, then Labour in Brighton and Hove must express our full solidarity with GMB comrades forced into taking action, and call for the earliest possible negotiated settlement of the dispute on a basis which respects the rights of all Council workers.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Keep Calm and Carry on campaigning for socialism


There is nothing new or unusual about mounting attacks upon the Labour Party in the run up to an election in anticipation of which the establishment is fearful that the Party’s policies may be contrary to their interests.

In 1924 the Daily Mail splashed details of the forged “Zinoviev letter”, claiming implausibly that the British Labour Party took orders from the Soviet Communist Party. The subsequent General Election saw the defeat of the first Labour Government.

Two decades later, in the run up to Labour’s first majority Government and our most famous victory, Winston Churchill famously prophesied that an incoming Labour Government would create a Gestapo.

In the 1970s, Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson became convinced that elements of the deep state were plotting against him (and not without cause) – and smears against Labour Leaders alleging that they were somehow in cahoots with the Kremlin continued against Michael Foot and – of course, more recently, the current Leader.

The British establishment has a “love-hate” relationship with our Party. It loves having an alternative Party of Government to facilitate Parliamentary democracy, and it loves those within our Party whose political ambition is limited to ameliorating the conditions of the majority within the broad framework of the status quo.

But our establishment – our ruling class – hates the potential for social transformation inherent in the nature of our Labour Party, as a Party founded on and by the organised working class. Therefore we can anticipate a gathering crescendo of attacks upon our Party and its leadership as the General Election draws nearer.

History suggests that sane observers should not take this attacks too seriously – and that Labour Party members and supporters, particularly those who see the crying need for a socialist Labour Government, should concentrate on winning arguments for our policies with voters.