Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Rest peacefully Rob Rogers (3/10/38 - 29/4/20)



You could read this blog for years (if you were daft enough) and get very little of what you might call personal content – and now you are subject to the second such post within a month!

My father, Kenneth Ernest Robert (“Rob”) Rogers died today at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. My brilliant sister was with him as he drew his last breaths, telling him of the great love that he had from his family.

Dad was born in 1938 and spent the great majority of his working life (from the early 60s to the early 90s) in the Home Office. As a young man he had been a Methodist lay preacher, but he left God behind and as long as I have known him he has been a socialist and humanist.

Dad did not, for the most part, live his life within the narrow confines of the narrower world of political activity (with which so much of what you read on this blog is concerned) but he lived his life in accordance with political principles – he refused, for example, to carry out national service with the military and, as a conscientious objector, had to do other work instead.

In retirement, however, he stepped up his political activity, as a Labour Party member first in Hove and later in Mid-Sussex. He would often come up to London for major demonstrations (the picture here shows him with me at the protest in Parliament Square when right-wing deadbeats within the Parliamentary Labour Party tried and failed to topple Jeremy Corbyn in 2016).

The longer I live the more I realise how much I owe to my wonderful father. I am so very pleased that I was able to tell him, in the last few days, that I was proud to be his son.

Dad went into hospital from his care home (in which his poor health had compelled him to spend the last eighteen months of his life) and we are still awaiting the result of a test for coronavirus, but I am not writing this blog post to make a point about the pandemic (and the Government’s negligent mistreatment of care home residents and staff).

Nor am I writing this post to thank the staff at the Royal Sussex County for their kindness and consideration to my father in his final few days (although I do thank them, particularly for letting both myself and my sister see him – and for finding the radio which played him out).

I am writing this post to acknowledge that we all come from somewhere, we all stand on the shoulders of so many who have gone before us – and a big part of the somewhere from which I came, and a pair of shoulders upon which I have always stood, has passed from material reality into the immortality of memory.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Attempts to discredit "leaked document" and threats of legal action - a bit of history

Last week, just as I had finished reading all 851 pages of a recently leaked document, an email came round from the Labour Party General Secretary to the Chairs and Secretaries of all Constituency Parties warning against circulating the document, telling us that “any individual who shares or distributes the report or its contents on an unauthorised basis will be immediately exposing themselves to potential significant civil and criminal liability.”

Whilst taking time to reflect upon whether this advice should preclude individuals from commenting upon the content of a document which many have read, and which is widely available, I thought it might be worth remembering events in connection with the last election for General Secretary of UNISON, which began with the “leaking” of a recording – and transcript – of a private meeting, and led to attempts to discredit that “leak” and to threaten legal action.

The context was that, during an election for UNISON General Secretary, paid officials of the trade union (many of whom are also members of the Union – as they are entitled to be) are permitted to campaign personally for (or against) any candidate, but not to use any UNISON resources (including the time for which they themselves are paid  by the Union) so to do (rather as Labour Party staff are not supposed, in their paid role, to be partisan in a Leadership election).

Leaked information highlighting official misconduct

On 1 December 2015 an anonymous blog published allegations about a staff meeting which had taken place in UNISON’s Greater London Regional Office a few weeks previously. These allegations were supported by a transcript and recording. On the face of it, this was shocking evidence of staff, under the direction of a senior official (the then Regional Secretary) campaigning for the incumbent candidate whilst at work, in clear breach of the Rules of the Union.

As I was, at that time, a member of the National Executive Council (NEC) of UNISON (and also – in the interests of full disclosure – an active supporter of one of the challenger candidates) I took it upon myself, in association with fellow NEC members, to raise this matter with senior officials of the trade union. I expressed my concerns – and cooperated with an investigation when it was established.

The full story – eventually – came out as a result of a hearing in front of the Assistant Certification Officer whose decision can be read in full online. In time, UNISON accepted that the recording was accurate and – following an investigation – disciplined the most senior official present at the staff meeting in question. However, that was not how everyone in the UNISON hierarchy responded at the time in 2015.

I did not comment in detail at the time about that response – but did comment once the decision of the Assistant Certification Officer (ACO) had placed all these matters in the public domain. Responses to this dramatic disclosure included attempts to undermine the disclosure itself – and threats of legal action.

An attempt to discredit the document making the allegations

On the day that the outcome of the UNISON General Election was announced an email was issued, about which I can do no better than repeat what I said in 2017;

At paragraph 218 of her decision the ACO notes that on the same date as the results were declared an email was issued by UNISON’s then President, which she goes on to describe, in the following paragraph, as “quite an extraordinary email”. The email (which was subsequently circulated on behalf of the Regional Convenor, by staff in the Regional Office, to every branch in London) is worth quoting in full;

“Dear Colleague

As you know a number of serious allegations have been made against our union in London.

The complaints are being investigated.

Whilst it is not our practice to comment on an ongoing investigation on this occasion we believe there is one aspect that warrants public disclosure.  This can be done without compromising the rights of those involved in this matter.

The complaint presented by Jon Rogers relies heavily on an anonymous recording.  Given the seriousness of this tape the union commissioned an independent forensic report of the recording.  The Presidential Team and the Trustees of the union now have the full report from the Audio Forensic Service.

The forensic analysis was undertaken by an accredited audio specialist and the company is used by the High Court for audio evidence.

The report clearly states that “the probability of tampering is exceptionally high”.  On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), the Independent Expert rates the tape as a 5/5.

The results have been passed to the Investigating Officer and the ERS and as the Presidential Team and Trustees we are also asking for a formal investigation of the providence of the recording.

Please share as appropriate.


WENDY NICHOLS, PRESIDENT
ERIC ROBERTS, VICE PRESIDENT
CAROL SEWELL, VICE PRESIDENT
MAUREEN LE MARINEL, TRUSTEE
CHRIS TANSLEY, TRUSTEE”

The ACO, at paragraph 220 describes this email as “a classic example of an attempt by the victors to write the history (regardless of accuracy) and denigrate those whom they see as their vanquished adversaries.” She goes on to note, in the following paragraph, that “it is unsurprising that no witnesses came forward to Mr McKenzie’s investigation after the email had been sent. The final sentence of the email encourages the email to be forwarded as widely as possible. Just the day before Mr Rogers had been assisting the investigation and encouraging people with relevant evidence to come forward to Mr McKenzie.”

The anonymous blog published a riposte to these allegations (and, it is worth repeating, by the time UNISON had to deal with the matter formally, the Union had accepted the broad accuracy of the transcript and recording).

Threats of legal action arising from the disclosure

On the same day that an email was sent round UNISON by its elected lay leadership challenging the accuracy of the evidence of malpractice by a senior official (and naming your humble blogger). I also received a letter threatening legal action. Again, I can do no better than repeat my words from 2017;

In the following paragraph the ACO notes that on that same date your blogger received correspondence from a firm of lawyers instructed to issue a threat of libel proceedings by an individual.

I was not the party who disclosed information about this matter in the course of the proceedings before the Certification Officer and would never have revealed this had it not now been included in a public legal judgment as a result of disclosures by other parties.

I say no more than that you will be able to read paragraph 223 for yourself when it is published on the website of the Certification Officer.

For the sake of completeness, paragraph 223 of the decision reads as follows;

“Also on 17 December, immediately after the announcement of the election results, Mr Rogers received a threat of libel proceedings issued by Collyer Bristow solicitors in Bedford Row who had been instructed by Mr Prentis in a personal capacity under the civil litigation pre-action protocol. Mr Rogers provided the apology requested (p.2054) which he has stood by.”

I don’t like to blog about myself (he lied, unconvincingly) but I do remember receiving that letter (not least because it arrived on the day I completed the purchase of a new flat!) It was a little unpleasant to be singled out for implied criticism in an email circulated to the entire trade union by its elected lay leadership, and more than a little unsettling to face a threat of libel proceedings. Again, I probably cannot do better by way of comment than to remind readers of what I said nearly three years ago;

“I have shared here with you these extracts from the decision of the ACO as they relate to myself because I want to make the point that it is necessary, in fighting for democracy in our movement, sometimes to expose oneself to criticism and attack.”

I haven’t decided whether to comment further on the 851 page document I spent so much time reading last week, but I don’t need to refer to that document to observe that, when an unauthorised disclosure alleges misconduct by one or more powerful and entitled individuals it is to be expected that much effort will go into discrediting the disclosure and that threats will be made of litigation. 

No sensible person will allow these to distract them from the content of the disclosure itself.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Keeping on to the end

This is one of those unusual posts on this blog which is mostly about me (your humble blogger) and (for me at least) it isn't good news.

The summer before last I blogged here about popular support for the National Health Service when I got my diagnosis of locally advanced prostate cancer. Last year I got my own taste of intensive care (and hospital food) when sepsis cut short my radiotherapy treatment (and the NHS saved my life). This year, today, I visited outpatients at the Royal Sussex County Hospital for a blood test and saw at first hand the bravery of health service workers on the front line of dealing with a deadly pandemic.

As I observed here the other day “low paid essential workers (nurses and other health service workers, cleaners, refuse collectors, public transport workers) are vital for our existence, whereas the wealthy and powerful are not.” The world in which we live is made, and re-made every day, by workers (and not by billionaires) but we are denied control over the world created by our labour.

That, of course, is why we have created trade unions, and a Labour Party, to represent our interests. In a lifetime of active membership of our movement I have become all too familiar with the problem of how our movement is vulnerable to “capture” by some of those we employ in its service – it’s something I fought for years in UNISON, and it is not at all surprising to see evidence of the same problem in the Party.

It is important to continue to fight for democracy in the labour movement because, for as long as our movement is dominated by officials contemptuous of the rank and file it cannot fulfil its task to transform our society. I therefore intend to continue to be active in the movement (and for me now that means the Labour Party) for as long as I can.

Unfortunately, that may not be as long as I would have hoped. As I said, today I went for a blood test. This was because I have now been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. I can no longer hope that treatment could cure my cancer, although it will help to keep it under control for a matter of months or (probably quite a few) years.

I guess it is unlikely that I will now live to see a socialist Britain – but that was probably always pretty unlikely, and I hope I will continue to play my minor role in the struggle for a while yet – just as I intend to enjoy every day of life as it unfolds before me. One day (just like you, dear reader) I will die, but each day before that I intend to live.

And - since I have always known how to live well - that will include Labour Party meetings...

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Now is the time for opposition to this Government

I understand, and sympathise with, reluctance to be seen to be “playing politics” with the global pandemic as the daily death toll rises.

However, the coronavirus pandemic is unavoidably political. Its origins speak of the pressure placed upon our global ecosystem by the growth of, and distributional inequity within, the global economy. Its impact upon the United Kingdom in particular tells of both the impact of a decade of austerity and the grotesque negligence of our rulers (who ignored lessons in front of their face).

The Government’s early response (of suggesting a goal of “herd immunity” at the expense of thousands of deaths) reveals the attitude of our rulers to our elderly and vulnerable (and therefore to working class people generally). The failure adequately to prepare for the foreseeable eventuality of such a pandemic, leaving our health and social care workers at greater risk of infection, is an act of criminal negligence for which those responsible must be held to account.

Authoritative projections suggest that the United Kingdom will see the largest number of deaths in Europe, and this won’t be because a handful of anti-social individuals have ignored guidance on social distancing but because our Government has repeatedly chosen to act (and not to act) in ways which would predictably lead to this outcome.

The pandemic itself has revealed to us aspects of our own existence to us in a deeply political way. Low paid essential workers (nurses and other health service workers, cleaners, refuse collectors, public transport workers) are vital for our existence, whereas the wealthy and powerful are not. Many tasks which managers told their workers they could not carry out remotely can indeed be carried out from home.

Given the political will, every rough sleeper can be given a room for the night. The Government can easily take over the privatised railways. A “magic money tree” can be found for unprecedented intervention in the economy. The Government, in an advanced capitalist economy has the ability to solve “insoluble” social problems.

However, that does depend upon political will – our Government has shown that its political will does not extend to adequate and timely provision of medical equipment or PPE for frontline staff, nor to the level of lockdown that, having been imposed in other European countries, has saved more lives than will be saved here. The Government plans to get us to blame each other rather than them.

Labour needs to hold the Government to account in the here and now for their deadly response to the coronavirus crisis. We also need to argue that “after” coronavirus cannot be the same as “before”. The Tories will claim that the “cost” of rescuing the economy will have to be paid by more austerity – we should seize this moment to propose a shift away from a society based upon profit to one based upon meeting human need.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

After Corbyn - fight for socialism


In June 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn was cajoled into announcing his candidacy for the leadership of the Labour Party I was pleased.

I said here; ‎”Jeremy Corbyn has been as consistent as he has been persistent in thirty two years in Parliament as a socialist advocate for working people.

There are a thousand positive things I want to say about his decision to seek nominations in the election for Labour Leader, but for now I shall say just one.

It is ‎the salvation of the Labour Party membership of thousands that we should be able, as Party members to express our support for a candidate for Leader who opposed the Iraq War.

That brutal, criminal act of Tony Blair, opposed by none of the other declared candidates for Leader, epitomised all that was wrong with the "New Labour" regime whose adherents now seek to recapture the Party on the back of electoral disaster.

And at every wrong turn New Labour took (foundation hospitals? Tuition fees?) Jeremy Corbyn was among the fine few who put Labour values ahead of career and currying favour.

Jeremy Corbyn offers a socialist voice to the thousands of socialist Labour Party members whose views have been denigrated and ignored in what has thus far passed for the leadership "debate".

More than that, Corbyn's candidature throws down the gauntlet to the leaders of the trade unions - will you come out in support of an MP who has supported all your members over many years (or do you prefer the illusion of influence over those who are contemptuous of you)?

Every socialist, every trade unionist, should put pressure on every Labour MP to nominate Corbyn so that socialists in the wider Party can express our views in the Leadership election.”

Having, at that point, thirty-five years membership, as a committed socialist, of our Party, I did not expect that someone sharing my views would win the leadership but I hoped that a decent showing would demonstrate that socialist views were still held by an appreciable number of Party members.

The unanticipated victory of a socialist Leader led to a surge in Party membership, a partial transformation at the grassroots, outrage across much of the Parliamentary Party and seemingly endless controversy. Those of us who were inspired and enthused by Corbyn’s leadership look back with regret to the “near miss” of 2017, whilst those who “always knew” Corbyn was wrong reflect angrily on the catastrophe of 2019.

Those navel-gazing at our Party in Britain and hoping that a new Leader will now bring a “new start” would do well to gaze across the channel. As I pointed out after last December’s election defeat, the social democratic sister parties of our Labour Party, which generally failed to follow our move to the left, have been smashed over recent years. A return to the “centre ground” would be a deliberate relocation to a political graveyard.

The global economic circumstances which created space for social democracy within Western capitalism during the long boom after the second world war are long gone. The opportunity to “partner” with private capital to deliver modest reform, which existed in the glory days of “New Labour” is absent. The “centre” and right of our Party would have us chase illusions.

There is political space for democratic socialism (as the example of Portugal demonstrates) – but if we try to occupy this space we can anticipate (as we know to our cost) venomous attacks from the media and the establishment.

It is too early to say whether the current coronavirus crisis will lend force to arguments for socialist intervention in the economy when the virus abates (although it is clear that the private market cannot protect people in such difficult times).

It is not too early for socialists to organise together to seek to hold our Party to the socialist policies supported by Party members (and to push further).

The choice facing humanity, for years now, has been between socialism and barbarism. Barbarism has definitely been making most of the running recently, and the prospect of reaching socialism through Labour Party activity feels now as fanciful as it almost always has – but it is our best and only hope for a decent future.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Government disowns Cummings - they should do it more often


Three months ago I had occasion to drop a note to a Mr Cummings after he advertised jobs with the Government on his personal blog. I pointed out to him that; “in your blog post, which is an extended job advertisement, you state that “we want to hire some VERY clever young people either straight out of university or recently out with with extreme curiosity and capacity for hard work.”

Section 39(1)(a) of the Equality Act 2010 states that “An employer (A) must not discriminate against a person (B) in the arrangements A makes for deciding to whom to offer employment”. Section 13(1) of the Act defines Direct discrimination as follows; “A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if, because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others.”

Section 5 of the Act identifies “age” as one of the protected characteristics to which the provisions of the Act refers, and subsection (1)(a) of that section explains that “in relation to the protected characteristic of age a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a person of a particular age group”, whilst subsection (2) clarifies that “a reference to an age group is a reference to a group of persons defined by reference to age, whether by reference to a particular age or to a range of ages.”

I am a university educated 56-year-old man. As it happens, I am very clever, I have extreme curiosity and capacity for hard work and, as luck would have it, I have recently become available to apply for employment. However, by no means am I part of the age group of “young people” – I am part of the age group of middle-aged people. Your job advertisement makes it clear that you would not consider an application from myself for those opportunities which you are offering to “some VERY clever young people”.

You are therefore directly discriminating against me, in that you are treating me less favourably, because of my age group, than you would treat a younger comparator in the arrangements which you have made for deciding to whom to offer employment. Your conduct contravenes s39(1)(a) of the Equality Act 2010, read with s13(1) and s5 of the Act.”

Neither Mr Cummings nor Civil Service Human Resources replied to my concerns, so I initiated ACAS Early Conciliation.

Neither the Civil Service nor Mr Cummings would engage with ACAS at that point, so I lodged a tribunal claim (Number 2201082/2020), and that did get me some correspondence from the Government Legal Department.

The lawyer drew to my attention the answer to a written question in Parliament, asked on 8 January and answered on 14 January. Rosie Duffield asked the Minister for the Cabinet Office, “with reference to the blog post dated 2 January 2020 published by Dominic Cummings, what steps he is taking to ensure that the proposed recruitment processes are compliant with (a) General Data Protection Regulation, (b) the Civil Service code and (c) the Equality Act 2010.”

Oliver Dowden replied that “the blog invites people to get in touch to discuss opportunities. The blog post does not set out proposed recruitment processes.”

I think that there is something of a problem with the first of those two sentences. The blog post actually included the following text; “Send a max 1 page letter plus CV to ideasfornumber10@gmail.com and put in the subject line ‘job/’ and add after the / one of: data, developer, econ, comms, projects, research, policy, misfit.” Mr Cummings went on to say; “I will try to answer as many as possible but last time I publicly asked for job applications in 2015 I was swamped and could not, so I can’t promise an answer. If you think I’ve insanely ignored you, persist for a while.”

Nowhere in the blog post did Mr Cummings say “please get in touch to discuss opportunities”, on the contrary he asked people to send him CVs and, by referring to “the last time I publicly asked for job applications” strongly implied that the reason he was asking for CVs (which is generally the reason why anyone would ask for CVs) was because he was asking for job applications.

The first sentence of the Ministerial answer to the written question does not, on the face of it, accurately characterise the contents of the blog post to which it refers. The second sentence is more accurate however.

Mr Cummings did say “We want to hire an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds to work in Downing Street with the best officials, some as spads and perhaps some as officials.” He also said; “We need to figure out how to use such people better without asking them to conform to the horrors of ‘Human Resources’ (which also obviously need a bonfire).” It does not seem that “recruitment processes” were to the fore in his thinking.

The Government lawyer went on to give me this assurance that; “the Cabinet Office does not advertise Civil Service Jobs in way which is contrary to the requirements of the Equality Act” and that; “the Civil Service is a modern and diverse workplace, committed to promoting and ensuring equality and valuing diversity. In relation to civil service recruitment government meets the statutory requirements of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 as well as the Equality legislation.” 

Since Mr Cummings’ attempt to advertise jobs (in breach of the Equality Act) has been disowned by the Government I have withdrawn my tribunal claim (which could not succeed if his blog post was not seen as setting out the arrangements which the Government made for deciding to whom to offer employment in accordance with s39(1)(a) of the Act).

Since I was alarmed by Mr Cummings’ approach to civil service recruitment back in January we have more urgent cause for concern about something which can impact anyone. I think that those of us who believe in democracy and the rule of law need to keep a close eye on those close to our Prime Minister at a time like this.