I have been wondering for some time: will John McDonnell jump ship? His latest article for the Morning Star was published on Saturday.

I doubt that there will be any movement from McDonnell or others on the Labour left until after the general election (which, I expect will be held in November – unless Brown bottles it).

Still, the gist of the piece is that “Reclaim Labour” is a dead-end; the focus should instead be on building a “movement of movements” – green activism, rank-and-file unionism, campaigns for council housing and workers’ rights. Where does this lead, I wonder?

AFTER the events at the TUC and Labour Party conference, it is time for the left to take a hard-nosed look at where we go from here.

First of all, we have to face up to the harsh realities of the new political world in which we are operating.

The historical path of the left stems from working people coming together in the workplace and discovering their strength through solidarity. Nourished by socialist ideas, they recognised that, if they wanted to exercise power beyond the workplace, they needed political representation. So the Labour Party was born.

Democratic party structures were established to develop the policy programmes to be implemented when power was achieved.

This week’s vote to close down democratic decision-making at the Labour Party conference and Gordon Brown’s first speech as leader demonstrated that the old strategy is largely over. The conference is now virtually irrelevant and its replacement, the National Policy Forum, is a behind-closed-doors exercise of centralised control of party policy-making.

Brown’s speeches at both the TUC and Labour conference demonstrated decisively how much he fundamentally believes in the principles of neoliberalism – the dominance of the market, flexible labour and privatisation.

Even if there was the potential to use what is left of the party’s structures to attempt to influence him, it is clear that the overall political direction of the Brown government is non-negotiable.

The left has the difficult task of accepting and explaining to others that the old routes into the exercise of power and influence involving internal Labour Party mobilisations and manoeuvres have largely been closed down. We have to face up to the challenge of identifying and developing new routes into effective political activity.

The contradiction is that the more undemocratic the Labour Party becomes, the more it cuts itself off from the real world at a time when new social movements are emerging.

People may be increasingly giving up on political parties, but they haven’t given up on politics. They still want to challenge the injustices they meet in our society and they are devising a multitude of mechanisms to do so, from independent media and climate camps to affinity groups organising direct action.

New social movements have mobilised on a vast array of issues ranging from climate change, asylum rights, to housing and arms sales. Many trade unions have also rediscovered their roots as social movements themselves in their new campaigns on everything from private equity to the exploitation of migrant workers.

New alliances are being forged and, where trade union leaderships have been incorporated as supporters of the status quo, rank-and-file activity within their unions is re-emerging and organising.

The difficult task for the left now is to appreciate that new strategies, new coalitions of forces and, above all else, a new dynamism are needed to deal with the new political environment where the traditional routes have been so narrowed.

The left needs to open itself to co-operation with progressive campaigns within our community, learning from them, treating them with mutual respect, rejecting any patronising or sectarian approach and, where needed, to serve as the catalyst to instigate and facilitate campaigning activity. Creativity is also needed to stimulate the analysis, debate and discussion of the ideas and principles which we may share in our wish to transform our society.

The main political parties are increasingly seen as irrelevant to the real-world issues facing our communities, resulting in declining participation rates and election turnouts and deepening scepticism.

This doesn’t mean that people are apathetic. Far from it.

There is a growing radical nature to our times and an opportunity for a period of exciting, frenetic activity capable of creating a climate of progressive hegemony which no government could immunise itself from no matter how ruthlessly it closes down democracy in its own party. [Emphasis added]

Govt raises minimum wage but will double income tax of low paid


Yes, first the good news:

More than a million low-paid workers — two-thirds of them women — will receive a boost to their pay packets from today. And millions more will be entitled to more paid time off.

The increases to the national minimum wage and annual leave entitlement are a significant part of the Warwick Agreement between trade unions and the Labour party.

The adult minimum wage goes up from £5.35 to £5.52 an hour, while the hourly rates for 18-21 year olds and 16-17 year olds increase to £4.60 and £3.40.

All workers will now be entitled to 24 days annual leave — four extra days’ holiday a year. And there’s more to look forward to in future, with the statutory minimum set to increase to 28 days from 1 April 2009.

Ah, yes. But in his last budget Brown announced that the 10% rate of tax paid by the lowest earners will be doubled…

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said later that the 2% cut in income tax would be cancelled out by the abolition of the 10p rate. […]

“And all that money he’s giving to people in that apparent income tax cut, he is actually taking back off them with income tax increases.”

He said someone with a salary of between £14,000 and £16,000 a year would probably see their income tax bill go up.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said it was “a Budget of missed opportunities” and abolishing the 10p starting tax rate meant income tax would be increased for many people.

“We are asking the poor to subsidise the rich,” Sir Menzies told MPs.

The Gord giveth and the Gord taketh away…

Benn to defy ban and march, Brown to defy marchers and bomb


Okay. Seymour Hersch has dropped another bombshell:

The bombing plan has had its most positive reception from the newly elected government of Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. A senior European official told me, “The British perception is that the Iranians are not making the progress they want to see in their nuclear-enrichment processing. All the intelligence community agree that Iran is providing critical assistance, training, and technology to a surprising number of terrorist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, through Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine, too.”

There were four possible responses to this Iranian activity, the European official said: to do nothing (“There would be no retaliation to the Iranians for their attacks; this would be sending the wrong signal”); to publicize the Iranian actions (“There is one great difficulty with this option—the widespread lack of faith in American intelligence assessments”); to attack the Iranians operating inside Iraq (“We’ve been taking action since last December, and it does have an effect”); or, finally, to attack inside Iran.

Rumours that Brown will call a general election in the next few months rather than sweat it out until 2009 can be seen in a different context if Hersch’s source is correct.

And it could be why the government isn’t too keen on the Troops Out demo to be held next Monday.

Tony Benn has today delivered a letter to the Home Secretary confirming that he will be marching on 8th October despite the attempt to use the arcane 1839 Sessional legislation to prohibit this march. The letter appears below. Tony will be joined at the front of the march by Walter Wolfgang, Brian Eno, Mark Thomas and many more people calling for the withdrawal of British troops and in defence of civil liberties.

Here’s Benn’s letter in full, with accompanying quotes from Eno and Thomas:

The Right Hon Jacqui Smith MP
Home Secretary
House of Commons
Monday, 1st October 2007

Dear Home Secretary,


I am writing to you as President of the STOP THE WAR COALITION, to give you advance notice that there will be a demonstration in Trafalgar Square the day Parliament meets calling for the immediate withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan at which I shall be speaking along with others.

Afterwards many of those present – including myself – will be marching along Whitehall to the House of Commons to meet MPs and urge them to support this call for a withdrawal, as I shall be doing in approaching Malcolm Rifkind my own local MP.

We shall be doing this in an orderly manner and I am making available to those who wish to have one, a postcard over my printed signature as a Privy Councillor, asking the police, and others to assist them.

I enclose a copy of this postcard.

The authority for this march derives from our ancient right to free speech and assembly enshrined in our history, of which we often boast and which we vigorously defended in two world wars.

I am copying this letter, and its enclosure, to Jack Straw, the Commissioner of the Metropolis, and as a courtesy, to the Prime Minister’s office.

I hope that you will be able to re-assure me that those who demonstrate and march down Whitehall will enjoy your full support and the support of the police.

But it is only fair to tell you that the march will go ahead, in any case, and I will be among those marching.

Yours in peace

If they are planning an Iranian attack they will have a public even more upset and disgruntled than before. This is what this tightening up is about. Civil liberties never seem very important until you need them. At times like this we need to be re-enforcing them — Brian Eno

This is rather a ham-fisted attempt to prevent us from demonstrating. What they (the government and police) do is up to them. We will just ignore them and we have the moral and logical high-ground. I will be marching on Monday, 8th October — Mark Thomas