Recent The Left Articles

The SWP’s women problem raises some wider questions too

by Sunny Hundal     March 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Early on in my first year of university, I went to a Socialist Workers Party meeting to hear about why the former republic of Yugoslavia had collapsed (it was 1995 ok!). According to everyone from the SWP there, class differences were to blame.

I pointed out that ethnic conflict may have also played a large role in why the former Yugoslavia collapsed, but my points were dismissed as extreme naivety. Fair enough, they had their own view, but I never bothered going back to another SWP meeting.

Laurie Penny, while writing about the inevitable demise of the SWP over rape-allegations, says:

In fact only one question truly matters: do you believe that it is possible to fight for a better world, for a world of justice, tolerance and liberty, while simultaneously denying the agency and autonomy of half the human race? And if you do, just what kind of a better world are you fighting for? Socialism without feminism, after all, is no socialism worth having.

She asks a good question, but I don’t think this quite gets to the nub of the problem.

Like a lot of the left, the SWP think everything is a function of class. Clearly, this is not the case, and I would hope that recent discussions of inter-sectionality (especially by feminists) have underlined this point.

So it doesn’t surprise me much that the SWP leadership is accused of playing down allegations of sexual harassment or rape… but then I’ve heard for years about how many well-meaning lefties played down allegations of racial discrimination or harassment.

I doubt the SWP members who first looked into the rape allegations thought they were denying agency or autonomy to women. I suspect they thought they were being good, responsible members by doing an investigation (however cack-handed it was). This is what happens when you only see the world through one prism.

Phil BC succinctly summed up the SWP position recently:

If you’re in the business of prosecuting class struggle to the point of the overthrow of capital, and you believe it is your party’s destiny to lead the working class in revolt, as far as behaviour, misconduct and crimes committed by party members are concerned the party is the sovereign body for pronouncing on questions of truth and guilt, of sanction and punishment.

Within the terms of party morality and the closed-loop universe of the SWP’s particular form of revolutionary identity politics, they did the right thing investigating the allegations.

In other words, the SWP’s starting position is that class difference lie behind everything, and therefore the capitalist system is the enemy and cannot be trusted. It’s no surprise then that they reject the mainstream judicial system.

How anyone could not see such a cluster-fuck coming is beyond me.

But I think this controversy also raises a few questions. Isn’t it time for the left to move on from the view that class differences alone are the key way to understand the interpret the world?

And what about other hard-left organisations? Will they also carry on pretending that they can operate outside the state as quasi-judicial bodies? Isn’t it time to accept that the ‘capitalist judicial system’ is the only viable one?

I don’t think the SWP crisis came about because they hate women, but because they still distrust institutions we all now take for granted, and because feminism (like race relations and other identities) are an inconvenient blind-spot.

The Iraq War protests had huge impact – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise

by Guest     February 15, 2013 at 4:32 pm

by Chris Doyle

Back in February 2003, a BBC producer invited me for an interview on Iraq. What were my views? My attempts at nuance were brought to a grinding halt and I was offered an unappealing choice: “Listen, do you support George Bush or George Galloway?”

I responded, “How about George Clooney?” Never having been a disciple of either of the ‘Georges’ meant that the BBC rescinded the invitation to be interviewed. Amazingly, opposing both Saddam Hussein’s regime and the proposed war did not fit the required narrative.

Most British Muslims and Arabs I have spoken to see the 15 February 2003 protests only in terms of failure. They argue that the protests did not stop Blair and Britain still went to war. Many even ask, “What sort of democracy are we living in when a government can ignore such huge opposition?”

But that is not the whole story.

Firstly there was a huge impact on the British establishment.

It was never likely that a determined Prime Minister with a majority of 165 and the support of the main opposition party was going to concede, yet arguably one more Cabinet resignation would have forced Blair to step down. It was that close.

I am certain that when Blair started envisioning and planning a war on Iraq he did not expect such a backlash, such opposition and ultimately such personal hostility towards him. He had fought many other wars with little impact on his personal standing and prestige.

Blair’s eventual resignation was largely brought about by his failure in Iraq having lost the confidence of so many of his colleagues. He may never recover his reputation – extraordinary for a man who won three consecutive general elections.

As a result, subsequent leaders have been more reluctant to be seen as gung ho and interventionist. It will be in the minds of any leader considering intervention in Syria and Iran. Over Mali, it is noticeable how nervous ministers are about any deployment of UK forces.

Secondly, the criteria for British involvement in future conflicts have changed. There is much clearer preference for getting UN Security Council backing, as in Libya, and for ensuring that there are solid legal grounds for action. In addition there is a far greater suspicion of untested intelligence and relying solely on that for intervention.

Any intelligence-based report on Iran is met with acute scepticism. It has even been argued that an aversion to foreign interventions has gone too far and that perhaps for example, there should have been humanitarian intervention in Darfur.

Aside from the policy impact, what about the protesters? A global movement was effectively created, with protests in around 60 countries. Three million people marched in Rome alone, a world record. This global movement revealed a new conscience about international affairs. In Britain, the British Muslim and Arab communities for the first time marched side by side with all other parts of British society.

But there are lessons to be learnt from these protests. As a lobbyist, I was painfully aware of how few demonstrators had actively engaged their MP. To this day when asked by those still depressed about the Iraq war, I counter with the question: “Did you write to your MP or seek to meet them? Did you write to the Prime Minister? Did you write to newspapers?” Imagine if Tony Blair had had a million hand-written letters!

Finally, the other great failure of the anti-war protests was not to speak out more clearly about the evils of Saddam Hussein’s regime. It was a vile genocidal power with whom the West should never have dealt and should never have armed.

Many MPs told me that they had concerns about the plans for war but were nervous of being linked in any way with Galloway. They wanted the comfort of more ‘reasonable’ figures to ally with. Events in the Middle East should rarely be depicted and debated in such black and white terms much as the media may prefer it. Choosing between the two Georges should not be the only option.

Chris Doyle is Director of @Caabu (Council for Arab-British Understanding).

Why can’t we just spend more on benefits?

by Don Paskini     January 22, 2013 at 10:00 am

Kate Green, Labour MP and former CEO of Child Poverty Action Group, has forgotten more about social security than I’ll ever know. Her defence of Labour’s spending on social security is well worth a read:

Prior to the recession, expenditure had remained pretty constant, falling slightly from 11% of GDP in 1997/08 to 10.9% in 2007/08. But, more importantly, we were spending more on Labour priorities – cutting child and pensioner poverty – and less on the costs of unemployment: spending on children had increased from 1.3 to 1.9% of GDP, spending on pensioners increased from 5.7 to 5.8% of GDP, while spending on working age benefits (including JSA and Working Tax Credit) decreased from 3.9 to 3.2%. As a result, over that period, child poverty fell by 500,000 and pensioner poverty by 200,000.

Sounds great, right? Spending less on working age benefits as a result of falling unemployment, and using the resources freed up in order to reduce poverty amongst children and pensioners. But there’s just something which troubles me about this argument.

What Kate didn’t mention was that reduced spending on working age benefits led to a rise in poverty amongst working age adults. Their rate of poverty increased throughout the decade that Labour was in power, reaching 20% in 2009/10, and they were likely to be in deeper poverty than other age groups. So not such a success.

Then I looked at the different policies which have been advocated by Labour and lefties in order to ‘cut the benefits bill’. I read the Resolution Foundation report on the living wage, a terrific piece of work about a fantastic policy. I found that the living wage would save up to £2bn in reduced social security payments – or ‘a tiny proportion of the overall welfare budget’ as we call that sum of money when referring to the similar amounts lost in fraud and error. In addition, far from the living wage replacing the need for benefits and tax credits, it relies on them – if benefits go down, the amount needed for the living wage goes up.

A jobs guarantee for long term unemployed people? It would reduce the amount spent on unemployment benefits, but it has a net cost to the taxpayer. Reducing housing benefit by building more homes involves the government borrowing tens of billions more, and may involve stuffing the mouths of buy to let landlords with gold. Increasing employment rates and productivity through universal childcare could be funded by equalising pension tax relief, but it still involves higher spending by the state.

For all our economic problems, we live in a country where we collectively have the means to ensure that everyone lives in a decent home, has the opportunity to work and earn enough to live on, where the costs of care are made more affordable for those that need them most, and where people unable to work are able to live with dignity. The policies which are currently being considered by Labour and the left have the potential to take a big stride towards creating this society.

In the long term, I am absolutely on board with the argument that such a society would enable everyone to contribute more and therefore be enormously more productive and better off. But in the short to medium term, getting from here to there involves spending more, not less, on social security.

It’s a tough argument, but I think we need to persuade people that creating this kind of society is something worth spending the money on, rather than competing with the government about who’s got the best ideas for cutting the benefits bill.

Why Labour’s economic policy needs independent research

by Don Paskini     November 22, 2012 at 1:58 pm

LabourList’s Mark Ferguson notes that “Adopting a Tory-lite line on the economy may pay polling dividends for Labour.

But then again, it might not. And that – in electoral terms at least – is Labour’s big dilemma. It also shows why it’s foolish to make policy calls on the basis of polling (not least because of the law of unintended consequences).”

I agree that this is a dilemma, but I don’t see why it follows that it is foolish to make policy calls on the basis of polling. Instead, this seems like a case where further research would be particularly valuable.

There are some people in the Labour Party who believe passionately that Labour needs to adopt a more fiscally conservative approach. Others believe that Labour needs to develop a fiscally realistic approach while avoiding being locked into Conservative spending limits. Still others think that Labour needs to be stronger in resisting the cuts and spelling out a more radical alternative.

So Progress are spending money on roadshows about ‘what would we give up to get universal childcare’, while the Fabians hold a Commission on Future Spending Choices, and the trade unions fund the new Class think tank. Substantial amounts of time and money are poured into this in order to influence the Labour leadership.

This is not an effective use of resources. No pressure group will pay for research which asks the toughest questions of its own proposals, or which doesn’t find support for their cherished causes.

In the Unfinished Revolution, the late Philip Gould wrote about how voters in the focus groups in the mid 90s talked about their willingness to pay more tax. This didn’t fit with what Labour modernisers wanted to hear, so they simply ignored it and assumed that people were lying.

Instead, if these different groups decided to pool their resources and work together, then the results could be much more interesting. Each could come up with their best messages, and then these could be tested against each other both quantitatively and qualitatively to see which ones connected with the public.

They could develop the toughest attack messages against each other’s proposals, and see whether these moved the focus groups and polls. We could really start to find out whether spelling out plans to cut services for pensioners would be applauded as Labour ‘getting it’ about the need to reduce spending, whether working class people would rally behind a strong no cuts message, whether Labour could win greater support by pledging to cut less and tax more, and all the other assertions which are regularly made.

No piece of research will ever prove what a political party should do. There are all sorts of reasons why it can be right to do something which seems or is unpopular with a majority.

But rather than wasting money on preaching to the converted, wouldn’t it be refreshing if different groups which passionately believed that their approach will help Labour win the next election were prepared to work together and put their ideas to an independent test?

What kind of freedom does the Left want?

by Guest     June 23, 2012 at 10:08 am

contribution by Luke Martell

Discussions about the values or policies of social democracy are usually about equality and collectivism and how to revise or achieve them. But freedom is also important and connected to left values.

Libertarian and Marxist socialists believe in self-determination and many social democrats like equality and collectivism because they can be the basis for liberty.

But freedom is a liberal value and compared to equality and fraternity it’s not itself what makes social democracy distinctive.
continue reading… »

How can the Labour left make their vision a reality?

by Don Paskini     June 16, 2012 at 10:00 am

The decision by the GMB union to try to ‘outlaw’ New Labour group Progress has led to praise for the Labour Left from some unlikely sources. “Politics is about organisation, commitment and belief. The left currently have all three and are campaigning to make their vision of Labour a reality”, according to Atul Hatawal. “In political terms it’s devastatingly effective”, writes Dan Hodges.

“This new idea of the left is a big idea, an important idea, an idea worth taking seriously”, says Hopi Sen, who goes on to add that while he welcomes taking on the Left in debate, he ‘expect(s) to lose very badly indeed, in the short term’.

But while Labour moderates run fleeing in terror from the resurgent Left, I’m afraid that, as a Labour leftie, I’m a bit more underwhelmed by where we’re at. continue reading… »

Why the Wisconsin defeat isn’t an omen for Obama

by John B     June 7, 2012 at 5:25 am

After a massively high-spending recall campaign in Wisconsin, union-busting Republican governor Scott Walker has held onto power with a slightly increased majority. But he lost control of the state senate.

Naturally, the oh-so-left-wing US media are spinning this as Terrible Democrat Defeat, Disaster Due for Obama in November, etc.

It has been pointed out in various places that the Walker campaign spent $7 for every $1 his opponent could muster. But this is not really a feasible plan for the November election (not even for someone with Mitt Romney’s wallet).
continue reading… »

Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left?

by Guest     May 31, 2012 at 1:55 pm

contribution by Evan O’Quigley

With polls showing support for the Irish Labour Party plummeting amidst poor performance as the junior-party of the current coalition government (akin to the liberal democrats across the sea), some in in the Republic of Ireland are looking to Sinn Fein as a credible left alternative.

A Sunday Times and Behaviour and Attitudes poll has put Sinn Fein’s support at 25%. Though, is it wise to trust that the Shinners will stick to their promises of equality and solidarity, or is there newfound commitment to equality simply for electoral reasons?

What is interesting about Sinn Fein is their ability to campaign.
continue reading… »

Three key lessons for the Labour and the Left from Australia

by Guest     May 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm

contribution by David Ritter

There are at least three parallels from Australian politics of the last two decades that are germane to present circumstances in the UK, each suggestive of specific strategic and tactical implications for progressives.

First, in relation to Labour’s great internal debate as to whether to move to the left or right in opposition, it is worth recalling the Australian general election of 1998.
continue reading… »

UKuncut and targeting Nick Clegg: why it won’t work

by Sunny Hundal     May 27, 2012 at 11:11 pm

I’m almost always supportive of UKuncut actions and took part in several during the early days last year. I also fully defend their party yesterday and think much of the faux-outrage implying the party folks “threatened and intimidated” Clegg’s kids is simply absurd. Some are even comparing to an EDL demo, which is mad (though I defended their right to march too!).

I think the street party was nevertheless counter-productive in its tactics.

By that I’m not referring to the claim it brought out sympathy for Nick Clegg. I just think it makes more sense to target Conservatives than Libdems on this issue.
continue reading… »

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