Tory Story: stop me if you’ve heard this one

Turns out some of these short-sellers that have been speculating against banks are donors to the Tories. As well as those hedge fund types

As Bradford & Bingley, the last of the independent former building societies, is shared between Santander and the state, the Tories have been attacking New Labour – whose economic policies (light-touch regulation, privatisation of public services) they have supported.

[On that B&B bail-out, the BBC’s economic correspondent Robert Peston notes that “For taxpayers to lose a penny Bradford and Bingley’s future losses would have to be unthinkably huge.” That doesn’t mean that it’s a good move, mind…]

Why it’s conference season, and the Tories are in Birmigham – and they’re not complacent, honest.

Aside from promises to stand Tory candidates in the six counties (AKA Northern Ireland), carry on state harrassment and demonisation of Muslims, and cut council services, we have an overture to Blue Labour ministers:

Senior Blairites could be offered jobs under a David Cameron government in the ‘national interest’ […] in a bid to poach some of Labour’s brightest talents and split the party.

Michael Gove, the shadow children’s secretary, singled out Schools Minister Lord Adonis, but also warmly praised current cabinet ministers James Purnell and the ‘outstanding’ Hazel Blears.

As for the Tories economic proposals, Green leader Caroline Lucas says we need more people power, not quangoes:

“We are in the middle of a financial crisis caused by a lack of democratic control of the economy, and the Tory response is to marginalise democracy even further. It’s what they call ‘disaster capitalism’ – seizing on an emergency as an excuse to drive through a hard-right ideological agenda.

“The Tories want to outsource oversight of government fiances to a quango they call the Office of Budget Responsibility. But we already have an Office of Budget Responsibility. It’s called Parliament.

“We don’t need another quango, filled with the same corporate bosses that got us into this mess, with a few Tory donors and ultra-right think-tank wonks for good measure. We need real democratic control of the economy, with power returned from multinationals to parliament and, most importantly, to ordinary people.

“The Tories want to outsource the handling of failed banks, too. When a bank has to be nationalised, it should be dealt with for the benefit of ordinary savers and borrowers, but George Osbourne wants banks handed over to the Bank of England for another dose of the insular City thinking that caused the problem in the first place.

“Under a Green New Deal, banks that failed would be restructured into more, smaller companies, so that any problems they have in the future can be contained without putting the whole economy at risk. High-street banking would be separated from high finance to improve the security of people’s savings and mortgages. We would restore some of our lost building societies, which added much-needed stability to the market. We would get finance, and the economy as a whole, working for people rather than distant corporations.

“The Tories want to cut public investment just at the time we need it most. Their attitude is ‘you’re on your own’. A Green New Deal means government doing its job: investing in keeping our economy healthy and building a sustainable economy for the future.

“By borrowing from the people through local bonds, government can create a secure investment for savers. That would allow us to revamp our public transport, energy supplies and housing, generating jobs, revitalising money flows, loosening ties to unreliable oil markets and cutting carbon emissions.”

Advertisements

Church of England leaders attack greed of capitalists

The two top Anglican leaders have spoken out against the unproductive financial sector which has come to dominate our economy at the expense of productive sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture.

Says Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in an article for The Spectator:

It is no use pretending that the financial world can maintain indefinitely the degree of exemption from scrutiny and regulation that it has got used to. This crisis exposes the basic level of unreality in the situation — the truth that almost unimaginable wealth has been generated by equally unimaginable levels of fiction, paper transactions with no concrete outcome beyond profit for traders.

Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves; he was right about that, if about little else.

The last bit leaves the impression that Williams hasn’t read much of Marx, who wasn’t some kind of anti-capitalist Nostradamus. But good on the Archbishop for saying it.

Kudos too for Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York for saying the following in a speech to the annual dinner of the Worshipful Company of International Bankers on Wednesday night:

To a bystander like me, those who made £190m deliberately underselling the shares of HBOS in spite of a very strong capital base, and drove it into the arms of Lloyds TSB, are clearly bank robbers and asset strippers.

We find ourselves in a market system which seems to have taken its rules of trade from Alice in Wonderland.

Our country has built its financial strength historically on the manufacturing of goods, where money was the medium of exchange. In the last week, we have seen its systems come close to ruin because now money is no longer being the medium of exchange for goods, but rather is the very item that is being traded.

[…]

One of the ironies about this financial crisis is that it makes action on poverty look utterly achievable. It would cost $5bn (£2.7bn) to save six million children’s lives.

World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they tell us that action for the poorest is too expensive?

Pertinent questions indeed. The answers are clear enough: the system works best for the capitalists, they rule. What do they care about eradicating poverty? They won’t be able to have any more lavish charity dinners or auctions.

At the A World To Win blog, Paul Feldman has some criticisms of Sentamu and Williams:

The archbishops would like to return to a more benign form of capitalism of the 1960s, before the globalisation genie was let out of the bottle. Those of a mature age like myself would love to go back 40 years, which shows how the imagination can run riot. It is far easier to conceive of a future based on co-operation expressed through common ownership and democratic control of the resources of the global economy.

Of course, the Church of England cannot help in this respect. Since the Reformation, it has provided the theological justification for capitalism. Money-lending and the accumulation of individual wealth through land grabbing, slavery and colonial possessions were generally blessed and approved of by the church, which is an integral part of the British state. Rather than limiting ourselves to Sentamu’s and Williams’ criticisms, the action of Jesus in driving the merchants and money-lenders out of the temple would be a far better starting point!

Hear, hear!

Mind you, there are signs that the CofE will act, in as much as it can, by changing its investment rules:

The Church does not regulate the practice of “short-selling” by firms in which it invests.

However, a source close to its Ethical Investment Advisory Group said he thought the archbishops’ intervention “might prompt a rethinking of the rules”.

“It would not surprise me if the General Synod (the Church’s governing body) did not raise concerns about investment and business practices in future,” he said.

A Church spokesman said that while its fund managers were banned from short-selling, the rules do not apply to the firms it invests in.

The CofE already has an “ethical investment policy” governing how it invests its money. Examples include a ban on armament and tobacco firms, and any companies involved in the pornography industry.

Although the Church’s investment in private equity firms, which aren’t listed on the stock exchange and are subject to less regulation, is worrying. (The bit about fund managers above makes me think: one very important reform under capitalism would be to allow more ethical investment, to give incentives for investment in the domestic economy – in manufacturing and agriculture – most especially to worker co-operatives.)

I look forward to hearing what England’s other faith communities have to say on the economy. A multi-faith alliance to tame the multinationals? I live in hope.

By the way, plutocrat Richard Branson was yesterday forced to defend plutocracy in the Daily Mail. (Well, actually he’s written a book. Not surprising really, greedy pig.)

And again in the Mail today he’s bitterly whining that he didn’t get Northern Rock.

Politicians shouldn’t be allowed to run businesses, he says. True, but beither should capitalists. Democracy, Richard, that’s what we need in our economy!

The mutual banking sector hasn’t experienced much trouble. In fact, the Co-operative Bank’s profits are up, despite the trade turned away on ethical grounds. Depositors are rushing to building societies to stash their cash.

And north of the border, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) is arguing for a national bank to be set up, asking the nationalist-led government to “establish a Scottish Investment Bank to provide patient, committed long-term capital to growing Scottish companies”.

One hopes the English TUC will suggest the same. Northern Rock was a lost opportunity…

New Labour’s nuclear meltdown?

PM and Labour leader Gordon Brown survives party conference – with the help of his wife Sarah, who acted as compere when he gave his big speech. And she gave him the kiss of life, as the papers said.

Next morning, transport minister and Opus Dei member (whip it!) Ruth Kelly resigns from Brown’s cabinet. (She wants to spend more time with her kids… yeah, right, that’s why she’s staying on as an MP, is it?)

Is this a sign of things to come? Well, one of those ministers rumoured to be planning a resignation (if a windfall tax was imposed on energy monopolies) is CBI-favourite John Hutton. He’s no doubt brimming with joy that British Energy has been bought out by EDF ( in which the French state has an 85% stake) meaning that a majority of the UK energy industry is now controlled by multinational corporations. Will this mean lower prices? No, but it will mean bigger profits.

As Tony Woodley said, to much applause, at Labour’s conference – if the utilities won’t cut their bills, they should be taken back into public ownership. In fact, sod the ifs and buts – they should be renationalised.

And what was in Brown’s speech? Well, free prescriptions for cancer patients in England… to be expanded. A trial run of free school meals for all children… a policy the unions are pushing for as it will benefit working people greatly at this time. No mention of a windfall tax on the greedy energy companies – which though it would alienate the scumbags in the City, would re-engage millions of traditional Labour voters across the country.

Will he survive? Well, if the upcoming reshuffle doesn’t result in the dumping of those who are conspiring against him, we can conclude that he’s just trying to hang on for as long as possible.

No democracy please, we’re New Labour

Diane Abbott, socialist Labour MP and guest on the BBC’s This Week explains why she isn’t at the party conference:

Gradually conference has become overrun with lobbyists. Fewer local delegates go. And, when the prime minister speaks, many find that their seats on the floor of the conference have been taken by party staff. This is because paid staff can be relied upon to clap to order. New Labour loyalists scorn how conference used to be. They point out how embarrassing the public rows about policy were. But a Labour party where ordinary party members had a real say would never have gone to war with Iraq or abolished the 10p tax rate.

The Tribune blog confirms the attitude of Blue Labour to democracy:

Ministers have required some basic education in the democratic process during the new arrangements for negotiating policy with party representatives under the National Policy Forum. One did not understand that everybody in the process had one vote and that ministers could not simply dictate.

Yes, presumably they thought “one man, one vote” meant “I’m the man, my vote decides it”…

The Prime Minister and beleagured Labour leader, Gordon Brown, has been forced to attack the greed of the corporate elite – for even the Tory press speaks about the City slickers with contempt.

Mr Brown said “irresponsibility”, driven partly by the bonus culture, had helped trigger this month’s markets crisis and that elements of the bonus system were “unacceptable” and had to be tackled.

At the same time he’s been stressing on The Andrew Marr Show that his government is pro-business and pro-markets.

Kitty Ussher, economy secretary at the Treasury, appeared at the Labour conference with media baron Rupert Murdoch’s favourite economist, Irwin Steltzer and the private equity boss Simon Walker, to discuss the economy:

Walker said the new crisis would mean more business for private equity and sovereign wealth funds – eg the Chinese and Indian governments — to invest in Britain. So that’s all right then.

However, the Labour faithful should not be too downhearted. Ussher kept calling contributors “comrade” throughout the proceedings.

It must be very disconcerting for these New Labour types.

Jon Cruddas, runner up in last year’s deputy leadership contest and distinctly Bold Labour, has called for a new 45% top rate of income tax to fund tax cuts for low and middle income workers:

Mr Cruddas said too many people had been caught by the current top rate of 40% – but those earning more than £175,000 should pay more.

Speaking at a Labour conference fringe meeting, he said the party needed “clear dividing lines” from the Tories.

He also savaged rebel MPs who have been calling for a leadership contest.

Mr Cruddas told the Compass fringe meeting that the financial turmoil of recent weeks had given Labour a chance to have a radical policy rethink and a “return to the values and ethics” the party believed in.

It should be noted, and noted well, from Frank Luntz’s Newsnight focus group that when a group of Labour and floating voters were shown Nick Clegg’s speech at the Liberal conference in which he called for tax rises for the rich and tax cuts for ordinary workers, the response was overwhelming approval…

HBOSses in trouble – workers will pay the price

So.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers means that three of the five biggest US banks are no more – not that Morgan Stanley an Goldman Sachs are doing well. The US government is using taxpayer money to bail out the the financial system – by nationalising the lame ducks to stop the contagion spreading. Russia’s market economy is being being rocked by this crisis (and post-war capital flight).

The UK is deeply invovled in this international economic crisis – thanks to globalisation.

Faced with the prospect of another run on a highstreet bank, the UKgovernment has allowed Lloyds TSB to take over Halifax-Bank of Scotland. In 2001, Lloyds was prevented from taking over Abbey National on competition grounds. These laws have been conveniently waived, allowing Lloyds to acquire a rival at a knock-down price.

As the News Line points out,

[Lloyds TSB-HBOS] will have 38 million customers, 27 per cent of the country’s mortgages, and each employs over 70,000 people, making for a joint labour force of 150,000 workers.

The advanced merger talks are being encouraged by both the Treasury and Financial Services Authority (FSA), as any deal, whatever the consequences, is viewed as better than the bringing down of the HBOS.

An amalgamation will bring with it not just a bigger mass, but also massive rationalisations, with as many as 40,000 sackings, hundreds of branch closures, as well as the closure of numbers of call centres.

Who knows what will happen next – it’s possible more banks could go under.

The response from pro-capitalist commentators has been curious, with condemnation of bankers’ greed. Mark Steel, writing in his Indie column, finds also finds it curious:

Because the explanation for the current crash from people like that is they were right to demand an unregulated free market, as society could only be run efficiently if the world’s finances were put in the hands of these bankers. But then it turned out these bankers were more interested in their private wealth than in the good of society as a whole – and fair’s fair, no one could possibly have anticipated that.

Workers’ control is the answer to economic woes

This week’s Socialist Worker provides a good introduction to democracy in the workplace:

What is workers control?
Following the recent state take-over of financial giants, Ian Birchall reveals the limits of nationalisation, and why socialists stand for a different vision – that of workers’ control

Can you do your job better than your boss could do it? Ask yourself this question. Ask your friends and workmates. Nine out of ten people will answer with a resounding and contemptuous “yes”.

Yet this question leads to the very heart of what we mean by socialism. Our society divides us into two basic classes. On the one hand there are those who make the things and provide the services we all need. On the other there are those who decide what shall be produced and provided in order to make the greatest profits.

All too often the supporters of socialism, as well as its enemies, identify socialism with state ownership. But as we’ve just seen in the US, even George Bush can resort to a form of nationalisation, taking over two giant mortgage corporations – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The Daily Telegraph thinks this is “a socialist response to market failure”. Outside the bizarre thought-world of the Telegraph nobody imagines that Bush is a socialist.

Socialists support nationalisation if it’s used to protect jobs. We oppose privatisation of public services because it means less public accountability.

But nationalisation is no cure-all. In 1947 miners welcomed nationalisation of the pits. Within a year Yorkshire miners were striking in opposition to their new bosses – and their union officials.

That is why workers’ control has always been vital to the real socialist tradition. As the British socialist GDH Cole put it, “Socialism cannot be soundly built except on a foundation of trust in the capacity of ordinary people to manage their own affairs.”

Syndicalism

Before the First World War syndicalist ideas were widespread in the working class movement. The syndicalists were opposed to state ownership – they believed the trade unions, as workers’ organisations, should take over and manage industry.

The French unions had the slogan, “The workshop will replace the government.”

In Britain syndicalism had great influence among engineers, miners and railway workers.

That is why, when the Labour Party adopted Clause Four of its constitution in 1918 it called not only for “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” but “the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”.

Labour never took any notice of this. The 1945 Labour government carried out several nationalisations, but Labour minister Stafford Cripps contemptuously declared, “I think it would be almost impossible to have worker-controlled industry in Britain, even if it were on the whole desirable.”

Just to make sure, Tony Blair abolished Clause Four in favour of some meaningless verbiage about a “spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect”.

In Russia after the 1917 revolution people responded at a higher level.

One of the first decrees issued by the Bolsheviks on taking power stated that “workers’ control over the manufacture, purchase, sale and storage of produce and raw materials and over the financial activity of enterprises is introduced in all industrial, commercial, banking, agricultural, cooperative and other enterprises”.

The real movement came from below. In many cases factory owners were driven out or fled. Workers had no option but to take over the workplaces and run them for themselves. John Reed, a US socialist in Russia in the early days of the revolution, describes this process:

“There was a committee meeting at one of the factories, where a workman arose and said, ‘Comrades, why do we worry? The question of technical experts is not a difficult one. Remember, the boss wasn’t a technical expert, the boss didn’t know engineering or chemistry or bookkeeping. All he did was to own. When he wanted technical help, he hired men to do it for him. Well, now we are the boss. Let’s hire engineers, bookkeepers and so forth – to work for us’.”

Survive

In the difficult circumstances of economic collapse and the invasion of foreign armies, these embryos of workers’ control did not survive long.

Sometimes workers’ control meant particular groups of workers putting their own interests before those of the class as a whole. To counter this the Bolsheviks had to take tough decisions. But those early attempts at workers’ control remain an inspiration to us today.

Over the last 90 years workers’ control has reappeared again and again. In Spain 1936, in France 1968, in Chile 1973, in Poland 1980 and most recently in Argentina, workers have taken control of their own workplaces and shown that the old owners and managers were quite unnecessary.

During the Hungarian rising in 1956 workers set up councils to manage production. These controlled basic wage levels, hiring and firing, and appointed the director.

Some former managers went back to work on the factory floor. At the radio station the workers’ council brought together actors, producers, reporters, technicians, garage hands and cleaners, all with equal rights.

In Portugal in 1974 the overthrow of the dictatorship led to workers taking over their workplaces. Tony Cliff, the founder of the Socialist Workers Party, gave examples of some of the struggles that took place there:

“In Charminha, a small garment factory outside Lisbon, [bosses] tried to pay salaries with bounced cheques. The Austrian manager fled the country, and the workers, mainly women, set up a cooperative to sell their work to the people.

“In Eurofil, which makes plastics, fibres, rope and sacking, etc, and was run on 40 percent casual labour, the management tried to make the company go bankrupt. The workers occupied the factory and continued production. They have kept out the bosses and are demanding nationalisation without compensation under workers’ control.”

In Iran in 1979, when the Shah’s dictatorship was overthrown, workers established “shoras” – councils – to run the factories. The writer Maryam Poya described how they functioned:

“The shoras began to exercise their power at every level of factory life, in purchasing, sales, pricing and orders for raw materials. Different committees were organised to carry out various tasks. Guild committees to secure trade union demands with respect to wages, conditions, insurance, health and safety.

“Financial committees to control the incomes and expenditures of the individual factories and to watch over managerial financial affairs. Communications committees to maintain contact with shoras in other factories.

“Women’s committees, made up solely of women, to press women workers’ specific demands, especially in the chemicals and textiles industries where women constituted the majority of the labour force.”

Recently there have been warnings of another “Winter of Discontent” in Britain like that in the early months of 1979. What really frightens our rulers and their hangers-on about that period is the way that workers began to grasp control of industry.

A strike by lorry drivers in January 1979 led to the closure of petrol stations and threatened essential supplies.

The T&G union agreed to permit “emergency” supplies to be exempted. But the definition of an emergency was left up to local union officials, and shop stewards in different areas set up “dispensation committees” to make decisions.

In the same month there were strikes across the NHS. Again the definition of emergency became a vital question.

At the end of January a government minister announced that nearly half of NHS hospitals were only treating emergencies, that virtually no ambulance service was operating normally, and, worst of all, that ancillary health service workers were deciding which cases merited treatment.

Hierarchy

This was far worse for the government than just a strike for higher pay. It was a challenge to the whole hierarchy of the medical profession. Health service workers, who routinely saved human lives, had the impudence to claim that they were better qualified to define emergencies than politicians.

But under capitalism workers’ control can only go so far. There cannot be socialism in a single country and certainly no socialism in a single workplace. Even if workers take over their factory, they will eventually end up competing on the market and thus organising their own exploitation.

True workers’ control can only exist in the framework of a democratically decided general plan which sets overall targets and priorities.

Print workers alone can’t decide what we should read, or bus workers alone at what hours the buses will run. Sectional interests have to be balanced against the needs of society as a whole.

But workers’ control remains the key issue distinguishing what US socialist Hal Draper called “socialism from below” from “socialism from above”.

In some circumstances a reforming parliament can carry out nationalisations, or bring in real reforms that benefit workers, such as the NHS. But workers’ control can never be given – it must be taken by workers acting on their own behalf.

Till then every small victory in the workplace can represent what Tony Cliff called “creeping workers’ control”.

Every time we challenge management’s right to hire and fire by defending a victimised workmate, every time we prevent a deterioration of our working conditions in the name of “flexibility”, we strike a blow for workers’ control.

In doing so we increase our own self-confidence to challenge our rulers. As the world slides into recession, war and looming environmental disaster, we have to say to them – you can’t run the world, but we can.

English football – is the future co-operative?

Andy Burnham, minister for Culture, Media, and Sport in the British government, gave a speech to the Co-operative Party (which is affiliated to Labour) on the question of ownership of English football clubs.

I’ve always thought Burnham to be a New Labour clone, but credit where it’s due, he’s always held these views – though the timing of is dubious (party leadership bid? am I too cynical?). Good to see some debate on English sport, but how about politics – something on an English parliament?

The Politics for People blog reports on Burnham’s appearance at the Co-op Party conference:

Andy questioned whether the big money in football is having a positive effect and called for more fan ownership in football as well as rugby league and other sports.

Football grew out of community and workplace organisations, he reminded us, and that spirit needs to be retained and rebuilt. Of the rich owners now taking over the Premiership, Andy said, “We should not delude ourselves that the reason England is attracting so much interest is solely because of the quality of football. It is also because other countries, such as Germany and Spain, have football clubs which are mutually owned by their supporters, democratic and not for sale. I believe English football is at a crossroads and if it follows the same path in the next 10 years, there is a risk that it will lose touch with its core support.”

Recent protests by fans over the departure of manager Kevin Keegan from Newcastle United have led the club’s billionaire owner to announce he’s selling up.

Mike Ashley, whose empire includes JJB Sports (see here for the poor record on workers’ rights) is apparently going to offer fans the chance to buy out the club. The News of the World quotes a friend of Ashley:

“They say there are 400,000 Newcastle fans in the area. If they all put in £1,000 they can buy the club and run it themselves.

“They can have a website and vote for the manager. They can pick the team and choose the players they buy and sell. They can do it all.”

This is similar to an idea of fans who want to Share Liverpool FC, who have already been given some ministerial backing…

Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, Andy Burnham, endorsed the prospect of fans taking ownership of their clubs at a meeting to launch the next phase of ShareLiverpoolFC’s bid to takeover Liverpool FC.

The meeting took place before the second leg of Liverpool’s Champions League qualifier on Wednesday 27 August, at the Liverpool Lighthouse in Anfield with a high profile list of speakers, and was covered by local, national and international press, radio and TV.

Lifelong Everton fan and MP for Leigh, Mr Burnham put aside his personal allegiance to back a principle that he championed in his former role as Chairman of Supporters Direct.

Mr Burnham said: “I think it would be good for any football club. I think the principle is a good one, that the people who have built up these clubs over the generations and have invested millions of their money should control their future.”

The minister spoke passionately about how clubs belonged to their communities, and that the prospect of the Premiership becoming simply a financial league table of the world’s richest billionaires would render football a pointless and ultimately soulless exercise.

The minister gave encouragement to the audience, saying that over 140 Supporters Trusts had been set up since Supporters Direct was launched in 2000, and that 14 clubs, including Notts County, the oldest club in the league, were now run by their fans. “If we all believe, then this is achievable” he concluded.

Now it’s worth noting the money involved – a thousand quid being offered to each Newcastle fan for a share, five thousand for each Liverpool fan. This makes participation exclusive to those who are able to invest that kind of money at a time when money’s tight with rising food, fuel, and mortgages/rents.

So we could be looking at a kind of footie fan capitalism – but with the idealism perhaps trumping the profit motive.

But if anything comes of it, I am sure it will be an inspiration to working people that big clubs can be controlled by their supporters. And if big clubs, why not the biggest monopolies?

David Lindsay has a better idea for the Magpies:

With Newcastle United on the market, the owner of its sponsor, Northern Rock, should step in any buy it. In other words, nationalise it. And by no means only Newcastle United.

The nationalisation, leading to mutualisation and municipalisation as above, of these important focal points of local patriotism is incomparably preferable to their purchase by sovereign wealth funds, which are in fact foreign states. And it would set a very high-profile example, both of the new patterns of ownership and control in the post-capitalist world, and of the accompanying new regime of pay restraint at the very top.

A quick word on the Co-operative Party’s role – it is a sister party to Labour and also an affiliate to the bigger party. Recent motions to the Cooperative conference signal a shift away from New Labour.

I’ve no idea which of these motions passed and which didn’t, but here they are:

The attack on the Government’s foreign policy is led the Co-operative Group’s North London Party. A motion tabled by the party demands the removal of nuclear weapons from Britain; withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan; no war against Iran; an early solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and an enhanced role for the United Nations as the world’s peace-keepers.

The motion says US and British aggression has destabilised Iraq and claims that both countries are part of the problem and therefore cannot be part of the solution. On Afghanistan, the motion calls on conference to demand that UK troops be confined to barracks and withdrawn as quickly as possible.

In a separate motion on energy, Midlands Society Leicestershire Party urges conference to encourage more investment in renewable energy sources as opposed to the nuclear option, while an amendment tabled by the Co-op Group’s North West & North Wales Party urges the Co-operative Parliamentary Group to oppose the building of nuclear power stations.

A pithy 12-word motion from the Co-op Group Bristol Party calls for an end to the monarchy in its current form by asking conference to endorse the view that the next head of state should be elected (as opposed to the current hereditary principle which automatically hands the role to a member of the royal family).

An amendment to one of the motions on education tabled by Hertfordshire & Home Counties Co-op Party asks conference to press for the removal of the requirement for a daily act of worship in state schools and says the Government should consider phasing out faith schools.

Midlands Society Leicestershire Party has called on the Party’s NEC to conduct an inquiry into the NHS Foundation Trusts to establish how effectively co-operative values and principles are applied while a composite motion on the Northern Rock saga supported by four Party branches calls for the troubled Bank to be converted into an Industrial Provident Society once the organisation’s current position has stabilised.