Now -read the book!

Here is a link to my memoirs which, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can purchase online at
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)

Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year's Dishonour

It being New Year’s Eve I am intending to attend the Labour Grassroots online party in order to look back at one very minor aspect of the awful year now passing, associated with one rather minor petty bureaucrat who brought a little tedium and, in some cases, discomfort, to the lives of Constituency Labour Party (CLP) officers over the past two months.

On October 29th David Evans wrote to us all about the publication of the EHRC report, sending us a guidance note for CLPs. This was followed up on November 5th with guidance on discussion of individual disciplinary cases and the EHRC report, followed, on November 26th by updated guidance on motions with a further update of guidance on motions on December 8th.

It was in the third of these four communications that the Acting General Secretary, whose appointment still has to be be endorsed by Labour Party Conference, addressed the question of his authority to issues these edicts. He correctly identified that the National Executive Committee (NEC) can delegate its powers to the General Secretary in accordance with Clause VIII Part 5 of Chapter One (although he has not told us whether, and if so when, it did decide to delegate any particular powers).

However, the National Executive only has - and can only delegate - the powers given to it by the Rule Book, and when it comes to the conduct of our Party meetings these are very clearly set out in Clause VIII Part 3 paragraph E of Chapter One which empowers the NEC to “issue guidance and instructions on the conduct of meetings.” Since the Rule Book identifies guidance and instructions separately it is clear that the two are not the same thing.

An instruction is just that, a precise command to do - or not to do - something, whereas guidance is something which is to be taken into account and followed in so far as it is reasonable and appropriate to do so. That is how I have treated the guidance from David Evans - and this is how any fair disciplinary process should consider his correspondence when dealing with the cases of CLP officers who have been suspended because they refused to follow his guidance as if it were an instruction.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Campaign for Zero Covid in the New Year?

Your humble blogger has
added my name - for what it’s worth - to the campaign for Zero covid. Labour movement activists cannot remain simple spectators as we head towards the second year of a global pandemic which has cost tens of thousands of lives and done untold social, economic and psychological harm to millions.

Other countries have managed to defeat this virus and we should learn from their examples. There are measures open to this country right now to achieve this goal - along the lines of the recommendations coming from the scientists on the Independent SAGE Committee. We should also be coordinating our campaign across Europe so that we don’t add to the damage already being done by Brexit.

Labour should go beyond sniping at the Government, or asking them to clarify their position ahead of each successive “U-turn” in response to the frightening increase in the spread of the infection.

We need an immediate nationwide lockdown (a necessary evil), accompanied and followed by an effective, public sector “track and trace” based upon the Public Health functions of local authorities (and not outsourced to failing private contractors).

The zero covid campaign rejects the false dichotomy between health and wealth, between society and economy - of course, because the economy is simply one way of looking at our society and our wealth depends upon our health as much as our health depends upon our wealth. Or as I put it here nine months ago - “We must demand that the Government takes whatever course of action will save the most lives from this coronavirus – and if that then means we need further social change to deal with the economic consequences of those public health measures then let’s bring that on.”

The model motion for trade union branches (or Constituency Labour Parties) to affiliate to the Zero covid campaign needs a little updating, but would provide a good basis for discussion at meetings in the New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Strike Map - making it easier to support workers in struggle

As an Xmas present to regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) here is a link to an excellent new site - Strike Map.

This is an excellent initiative to collate in one place online information, submitted by workers, on strike action being taken across the United Kingdom.

This will enable us all to find strikes with which to express solidarity - and for those organising strike action it will be another avenue to seek support from fellow workers.

There is just one little question in my mind about whether there isn’t a body which has been in existence for 152 years and really should have been doing this all that time?

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Schooling the politicians?

It is some years now since your blogger was the parent of school aged children, but I remember all too well the challenge of arranging leave commitments and finding childcare to cover school holidays and closures. 

Nevertheless, given the accelerating transmission of the new variant of the covid-19 virus, it is surely obvious that the sensible course of action is that advocated by the National Education Union  (NEU) - to announce now that schools will not reopen for the first two weeks of January, with teaching online for that period whilst local Directors of Public Health organise testing and education staff are vaccinated.

One advantage of a labour movement, including both a political wing (the Labour Party) and an industrial wing (the trade unions - whether or not affiliated) is that the practical experience of the latter can inform the former, so that the policies advanced by our Party can be rooted in the reality of everyday life even as they (should) aspire to truly transformative outcomes.

It is therefore disappointing to have to contrast the clear proposals from the NEU with the approach of the Her Majesty’s Opposition in Parliament - which is to ask the Government to clarify what they are proposing to do (as if that were ever likely!) I hope that UNISON will be updating our own guidance to members in line with the position of the NEU.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Campaign to ban nuclear weapons in 2021

86 nations have signed up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 51 states have ratified the Treaty - but the UK has done neither, which is why the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is campaigning to get the UK Government to support the Treaty.

Back in the 80s those who were opposed to nuclear disarmament used to pretend that they were actually in favour of something they called “multilateral nuclear disarmament” to which they counterposed the supposedly irresponsible unilateral nuclear disarmament which was advocated by the peace movement and the left.

But of course, what the peace movement always really wanted - and what our Atlanticist opponents could not countenance was universal nuclear disarmament. Well now there is a treaty to which all nation states can sign up, committing those who do not yet have nuclear weapons not to obtain them, and those that have them to get rid of them.

Whilst we must continue to campaign for Labour to oppose the renewal of Trident, we need to go further and ensure that a future Labour Government joins the nations showing their commitment to peace by signing and ratifying the Treaty.

Details of how to support CND activity in January are online here. Labour Councillors can propose motions to support the Treaty based on the motion agreed by Manchester City Council.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Don't forget Western Sahara


As one of a number of parting shots to the world community, the Trump administration broke ranks with international consensus (and UN resolutions) by unilaterally recognising Morocco’s lengthy occupation of the territory of the Western Sahara.

Injustice is injustice wherever it occurs and the people of the Western Sahara have an internationally recognised right to self-determination, which is currently being denied. The UK have a post-Brexit trade deal with Morocco lined up which treats goods from the occupied Western Sahara as if they were Moroccan (which they are not).

If you want some detailed background you could do a lot worse than read the report of a TUC delegation to Western Sahara in 2006, following a motion of solidarity passed by Congress in 2005.

A small number of MPs have already signed up to an Early Day Motion to express their solidarity with the people of the Western Sahara and calling on the UK to adhere to international law rather than following the Trump’s example - and you can keep up to date with the campaign at the website of the Western Sahara Campaign UK. If your MP has not yet signed Early Day Motion 1268, tabled last week by Jeremy Corbyn, MP, you can easily ask them to do so using the excellent “WritetoThem” site.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - a lesson from history about how the Union handles complaints (relying on providence whilst questioning provenance)...


We are awaiting the results of the election for UNISON General Secretary. The lengthy delay between the close of the ballot and the timetabled date for the announcement of the vote has presumably been set to allow time for a full investigation into any complaints, after the unfortunate experience of the last election.

Five years ago this weekend I was overcoming having been flattered to be mentioned in an email circulated widely within our union by five very important people as follows;

Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2015 12:09 PM



TO:    NEC








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.








By the time the investigations to which this email referred had made any progress, the Union had accepted the essential veracity of the recording of the meeting which the authors of this email had sought to impugn  - and the Assistant Certification Officer had, in due course, some harsh words for the email itself.

My purpose in writing this blog post now is not to remind the remaining authors of that email how badly wrong they then were (nor even to initiate a discussion as to the meaning of the words “providence” and “provenance”), but to alert those with an interest in the UNISON General Secretary election to the possibility that those in positions of authority in our trade union may try to minimise any evidence of malpractice which may come to light.

Of course I hope things have moved on in UNISON in the intervening years…

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Making sure local government pension funds are not supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land

In amongst all the other things that have happened this year, looking back, an important victory for local government - and for local government workers - was won back in April (on a day when I was somewhat preoccupied) - when the Supreme Court released their decision in the case of R(on the application of Palestine Solidarity Campaign and another) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

I should declare a personal interest in the case to the extent that the “another” who took legal action along with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was Jackie Lewis, a friend, comrade and UNISON Convenor in Lambeth. Lambeth UNISON has a proud tradition of practical solidarity with the people of Palestine, as has our national trade union, which has long supported boycott and divestment to contest the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by Israel.

Jackie - and PSC - took legal action to challenge the Government’s statutory guidance intended to prevent local government pension funds from taking positive steps to divest themselves of investments in companies implicated in the occupation of Palestine (that this guidance had wider implications is reflected in the fact that the Campaign Against the Arms Trade made submissions to the Supreme Court).

The Supreme Court - on a majority verdict - found that the Government guidance, which had overstepped the mark by going beyond giving guidance about how pension fund administrators should approach “non financial considerations” and trying to dictate “what” investments they should or should not make.

This is important because Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) funds invest billions of pounds all over the world, drawn from the pension contributions of local authorities and their staff, so as to be able to pay out pensions to members of the scheme who have retired (such as your humble blogger). Thanks to the Supreme Court decision, scheme members (serving and retired local government workers) can legitimately seek to influence where our money is - or is not - invested.

PSC have now launched LGPS Divest - a campaign  for LGPS members who want to ensure administering authorities implement adequate investment screening and due diligence procedures  to guarantee that pension holders money is not used to support Israel’s violations of international law. UNISON has - this month - issued a practical guide to members of the Local Government Pension Scheme who want to campaign to ensure that the investments held by their own pension fund are supporting Palestinian human rights - rather than the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

Any readers who are LGPS members looking for a New Year’s Resolution for 2021 could do worse than sign up to LGPS Divest and read the UNISON guide.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Labour supporting Reparations


Yesterday it was a pleasure to chair a meeting of the General Committee (GC) of Brighton Pavilion Labour Party which had been convened (by earlier decision of the GC) to work through a backlog of motions submitted by branches over recent months.

One particularly interesting motion dealt with the issue of reparations for the consequences of the Transatlantic Slave Trade - continuing the precedent set by the late Bernie Grant MP when he tabled Early Day Motion 1987 back in 1992/93 (supported by more than 60 other Labour MPs) welcoming the Abuja Proclamation issued after the First Pan-African Conference on Reparations, sponsored by the Organisation of African Unity, and the Government of Nigeria.

To quote from the motion agreed overwhelmingly yesterday; “The United Kingdom (UK) played a major role in the Transatlantic Traffic in Enslaved Africans (TTEA) which saw at least 15 million Africans forcibly trafficked to the Western Hemisphere with many thousands losing their lives during the crossing from Africa to the Americas on British Ships. A great deal of the wealth of the UK was founded on this vile crime against humanity and the legacies of chattel enslavement are still visible in our society today. The Industrial Revolution would have been impossible without the wealth generated by enslaved labour. The insurance and banking industries were developed to compensate enslavers who would throw enslaved people overboard rather than provide sufficient food and drink for the journey from Africa. The money from enslavement paid for UK roads, the railways, quaysides, warehouses, factories, trading houses, universities, opulent town houses and rural stately homes. Cities such as London, Bristol, Glasgow and Liverpool grew from the ‘trade’. Royal Crescent, Brighton was built from the profits of an enslaver. The national curriculum fails to educate our nation’s children and young people about the history of enslavement and its legacies. It is institutions such as the Black Cultural Archives in London and the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool which teach people about the history of the TTEA and its legacy, not statues of enslavers.”

These arguments have been well developed over the past half century, since the great Guyanese Marxist, Walter Rodney wrote “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” - and came into renewed focus this year as a result of the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement (not “moment”). The motion went on to call for “African people be part of building a framework within which to define and identify institutional racism affecting African people and that the Labour Party will fully support and encourage this” demanding also, amongst other things “that the Labour Party leads in education curriculum reform, working towards mainstreaming the excluded African history that has been hidden and denied at all levels of education, identifying and teaching constructively about the history and contribution of those subjugated by enslavement and colonial rule.”

I look forward to Brighton Pavilion CLP taking these arguments up in the Party in the coming year, and encouraging Party members to support the call from Global Afrikan Conference for an All Party Parliamentary Group on Reparations.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Lemmings cleared to build third runway to cliff edge?

The Supreme Court decision to clear the way towards a third runway at Heathrow can’t really be legally wrong. That is rather the point of having a “supreme” court - and what the word “supreme” means in this context (as opposed to any other context).

That does not however, make it right to build a third runway at Heathrow. The environmental damage being done by CO2 emissions, and other externalities, of air travel are well documented - recent research shows that the international regime to control the environmental impact of air travel is inadequate (and that 1% of the world population are responsible for 50% of all emissions from air travel).

Climate change has already passed the point at which it is going to produce life threatening impacts across the globe - and, at a more local level, the resistance to temporary road closures and cycle lanes during the pandemic demonstrate that it will be very difficult to persuade people to inconvenience themselves in the short term to mitigate the harm we are doing to our planet in the slightly longer term.

In 2021 Labour needs to step up, not climb down from, our plans for a Green New Deal - and activists need to be prepared to resist development that threatens damage to our planet (whatever the law says).

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

For Labour Party members - what happens in Scotland matters in England (and Wales)

Among the legacies of New Labour in Government were a series of partial and unfinished constitutional innovations, including (for example) limited reform of the House of Lords (to remove voting rights from most, but not all, hereditary peers, leaving a largely appointed second chamber).

We also have now developed a peculiarly lopsided quasi-federal union of “four nations” in which the UK Government also serves - effectively - as the Government of England (by far the largest of the four, with a great majority of the population). An unforeseen consequence of the devolution agreed around the turn of the century is the demolition of Labour’s Scottish representation in both the Westminster Parliament (where we have just one Scottish MP) and the Holyrood home of the devolved Scottish Government (where we are now the third party).

This matters for socialists south of the border, because - historically - Labour has depended upon strong representation of Scottish MPs in order to stand a chance of forming a Government for the UK as a whole. It is clear that our Party in Scotland has been suffering from the centrality which has been assumed by the “national question” since the 2014 referendum rejected calls for independence by 55% to 45%. 

Supporters of independence have clearly been drawn to voting for the Scottish National Party (SNP), who have repeatedly won the majority of Westminster constituencies on the back of being the major Parliamentary voice for the 45%. As for supporters of the union, they have the option of the Conservative and Unionist Party. 

Labour - as a party standing for policies in support of workers’ rights, public services and social welfare in the interests of working class people - can wish all we want that Scottish politics wasn’t being dominated by constitutional issues, but - at least for Westminster and Holyrood elections - they clearly are right now.

This makes a recent intervention from my friend and comrade Katy Clark all the more important. Katy wonders aloud whether there might be a middle way (between the status quo and outright independence) along the following lines;

  • Full tax raising powers for the Scottish Parliament.
  • Westminster raising taxes for reserved matters.
  • Transparency in funding transfers between nations and regions.
  • The pound as the currency with an agreed remit for a renamed Bank of England.
  • Substantial borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament within a framework set between Westminster and Holyrood, and with the ability to invest to protect and develop industry and sectors.
  • Reserved areas to be agreed between the four nations, i.e. pensions, customs, etc.
  • Qualified majority voting by nations on reserved matters with specific consents required where stipulated, i.e. war.
  • Representation of nations and regions in a reformed second chamber.

It’s not for English socialists to tell the Scottish people what to do, but clearly, if Scottish Labour were advocating an updated “devo max” position that might be a better way to differentiate the party from the nationalists on the one hand and advocates of the status quo on the other (as well as arguably - and crucially - corresponding to the interests of the people our Party was set up to represent). It is certainly hard to see how a position of simple opposition to another referendum could rescue the Party in Scotland from its current impasse.

Of course, whatever Labour does north of the border, nothing can guarantee that the constitutional “national” question will cease to dominate politics. The example of Quebec is a cautionary tale. The Parti Quebecois (PQ), having lost a referendum  (for “sovereignty-association”) by a margin of 60% to 40% in 1980 came within a whisker of winning fifteen years later (with more than 49% supporting sovereignty for Quebec).  Twenty five years further on, the PQ are considering a third referendum - and although they are not in Government in Quebec now, three quarters of the votes cast (and seats won) in Quebec’s 2018 election went to parties based in Quebec (whilst the associated Bloc Quebecois won 32 of Quebec’s 78 seats in Canada’s federal Parliament in 2019) , and the issue of independence and/or the degree of autonomy for Quebec (within Canada’s federal constitution) remains central to politics in the Province.

It may be that the only final settlement to the question of Scottish independence will be found when Scotland becomes independent, and a Scottish Labour Party based upon the Scottish labour movement can win back supporters who, for the time being, are supporting independence. However, Katy Clark’s suggestions for greater devolution might offer both an opportunity for Labour to renew its appeal to Scottish voters and to settle the “national question” (at least for a time) so that voters can consider other questions.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Labour Party democracy and the role of the General Secretary


This is a cross-posting of a piece I have written for LabourHub in relation to the election of the General Secretary of the Labour Party. (I would recommend that readers have a look at LabourHub regularly.)

Perceptive readers (Sid and Doris Eagle-eyes) will note that I am blogging again about this subject...

Momentum - which, like the Labour Party, is now “under new management” has launched a campaign in favour of broadening the franchise for the election of the General Secretary of the Labour Party.

This is a response to the recent correspondence, emanating from the office of the General Secretary, seeking to limit discussion by Labour Party members, purportedly in response to the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

This correspondence from the General Secretary has prompted a vigorous response from many local activists. (Full disclosure - the author has written to the General Secretary more than once).

There will be those for whom the debate about the election of the General Secretary appears only to be a distraction, whether from a broader campaign for peace and justice or from the legendary #labourdoorstep (and what to do when you are on it). However, the General Secretary has - by his own conduct - chosen to make his position a focus of political controversy and so the debate will not go away.

Under the Rules of the Labour Party (Clause II Part 4 of Chapter 4) the General Secretary is already elected - but by the Party Conference rather than (as with the Leader and Deputy Leader) by an electoral college of members, affiliated members and registered supporters.

However this election is on the recommendation of the National Executive Council (NEC), who also have the power to make an interim appointment should a vacancy arise, to be approved by the next Conference (as they have in the case of the current incumbent).

Therefore, currently, the de facto position has been that the General Secretary is selected by a vote of the NEC, which is subsequently endorsed by the Conference, although that body has the de jure authority to elect to the position.

There are a wide range of issues to be considered in relation to the proposal that members should have a direct voice in the election of the General Secretary. On the one hand, for example, there is a compelling democratic case for the election of all those who exercise power in our movement. 

On the other hand, when two individuals hold elected office, with a similar mandate from the same electorate, that can create challenges - as we witnessed in recent years as Tom Watson opposed Jeremy Corbyn, prompting an abortive and cack-handed attempt to abolish his role as Deputy Leader.

I don’t presume to make a definitive contribution to a debate which is just starting, but will look at today’s debate in historical perspective (or be be more precise - and less ambitious - from the perspective of other debates at two particular points in past time).

More than thirty years ago, the Thatcher Government compelled trade unions to elect our General Secretaries by passing the 1988 Employment Act (arguably with the transparent, but frustrated, intention of persuading the miners to get rid of Arthur Scargill in particular). 

That legislative intervention settled, in practice, a debate which had taken place in the movement between those who had favoured election, and those who felt that a General Secretary should be appointed by, and accountable to, an elected (lay) Executive.

A case can be (and was at the time) made for an appointed General Secretary to be simply the most senior administrative functionary, doing the bidding of elected lay members - but, among all the arguments advanced against “Tory anti-union laws” over the past generation, that case has not often been heard.

No one in the trade union movement now argues that we should go back to a time before the election of General Secretaries - but of course the position of a General Secretary in a trade union is arguably closer to the role of the (elected) Leader of the Labour Party than to that of the Party’s General Secretary - and it is evident that an elected General Secretary can be at the head of an (otherwise) unelected bureaucracy which can wield considerable, relatively unaccountable power.

To illuminate the long running controversy over the election of officials in our movement it is worth going back much further, to the author who coined the phrase “the iron law of oligarchy”. More than 100 years ago, Robert Michels argued in “Political Parties” that “organisation implies the tendency to oligarchy” accepting that this “oligarchical and bureaucratic tendency of party organisation is a matter of technical and practical necessity.”

Michels argued, based in particular upon study of the German Social Democratic Party before the First World War, that working class political parties committed to social transformation, were compelled, by their development as large and complex organisations, to appoint leaders who came to exercise power over (as much as on behalf of) the rank and file membership.

In today’s Labour Party it is evident that the General Secretary exercises such power over the membership as much as, if not considerably more so than the Leader and therefore any democrat (including any democratic socialist) finding themselves in the Labour Party should follow Tony Benn’s advice and ask the General Secretary five questions;

"What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?"  Benn said in the House of Commons in March 2001; “If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system”. He might as well have said, of Party members; “If you cannot get rid of the people who govern your Party, you are not a member of a democratic Party.”

I would say that the answers to Benn’s five questions in respect of the position of General Secretary of the Labour Party are - at present - all more or less opaque, a situation which is wholly unsatisfactory from a democratic socialist perspective and to which extension of the franchise for election to the post is - at best - only a partial answer.

To answer the first two questions we need a Rule Book which protects the democratic rights of Party members, and to which our NEC (for which, read the Party machine) cannot submit amendments at such short notice that Conference delegates barely have time to read them, let alone debate them in our CLPs.

A satisfactory answer to Benn’s third question - if posed to the General Secretary - depends very much upon the answer to the fourth, with which answer socialists could only be happy if we had an assertive, adequately resourced, independently minded NEC which would insist upon certain basics, such as being provided with detailed accounts which they can subject to detailed scrutiny. 

At present the formal accountability of the General Secretary to the NEC is a mirror image of the substantive reality, in which the NEC often simply provides a rubber stamp for the actions of the Party bureaucracy. Reforming the power, procedures and accountability of the NEC is at least as important as who elects the General Secretary if the Labour Party is to live up to the claim on our membership cards that it is a democratic Party.

As to Benn’s fifth question, it would certainly be an improvement upon the current position if there was an extension of the current franchise so that members had a voice in choosing the General Secretary, but as importantly, there should be a requirement for periodic re-election (to remove the appearance of internal division if a challenge to an incumbent required some sort of “trigger”) and a reasonable threshold for nomination of a challenger by (say) 10% of CLPs or 10% of affiliates.

A General Secretary elected by the membership, along with a revised Rule Book and a reformed NEC, would not provide a guarantee that Party officialdom would cease to wage war on socialism - and socialists - within the Party, but they might go some way to make it less likely - and to make it more likely that our Party would live up to its democratic values.

Or - as Michels also said, more than a century ago, “sometimes, however, the democratic principle carries with it, if not a cure, at least a palliative, for the disease of oligarchy.”