The Nether-World

May 17, 2007

A Sad Day For Democracy In Britain

Filed under: Gordon Brown, John McDonnell, UK Politics — netherworld @ 3:45 am

thatcher.jpgIt’s over! We now know for certain (barring the unexpected) who the next Prime Minister of the UK will be. There was never really any doubt about the outcome. The sad thing is that a much needed debate within the Labour party has been stifled by the Brown camp. Labour party members have been denied any say in who their leader will be and it was only the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) who got to decide, ignoring the views of the thousands of rank and file Labour supporters. I was realistic about John McDonnell’s very slim chances of becoming the leader of the Labour party but I did think (wrongly it turns out) that he’d be able to get onto the ballot at least.

I made no secret of the fact that I supported John McDonnell who, in my opinion, offered a clear alternative to the New Labour/Tory domination over British politics, which has resulted in a lack of any meaningful debate. Now that John McDonnell has thrown in the towel after it became evident that there was no way for him to gather the necessary 45 votes to get onto the ballot, that debate will be delayed for another two years when I expect Labour to lose the next General Election because it has nothing new whatsoever to offer other than a continuation of ‘Blairism’ which everyday shows just what a bankrupt and failed ideology it is. For this reason the PLP went out of its way to prevent a challenge. I cannot believe that no heavy pressure was put on PLP members to vote for Brown. Just look at the figures; 308 nominations for Brown, 29 for John McDonnell. Realising that Brown would eventually win the contest, they voted in the only way that ensured they kept their privileged positions or gained new ones.

I think John McDonnell fought an honourable and inspiring campaign and behaved thoroughly decently throughout. I hope he continues to fight for those old Labour values he believes in which have been undermined by Blair and Brown in a decade of betrayal. I hope he also continues to fight for the now disenfranchised Labour party members who have been told in no uncertain terms just how little their views matter to the PLP. New Labour likes to portray itself as a party that offers choice, whether in health services or in education, but despite its rhetoric it offers no choice when it comes to selecting a leader. I doubt this page will remain long on the Labour website (via Blairwatch).
As Ringverse says:

The leader of this country was decided over a meal in an Islington restaurant in 1994.

We will now be treated to a coronation instead of a contest and this will be spun as some kind of victory for democracy when the opposite is the case. The anger amongst Labour party members is palpable. I’m not a member of the Labour party. I used to vote Labour before Blair took over and transformed the party so radically, and I was prepared to vote Labour again in the event of John McDonnell winning the leadership. If I was a member though, I think I would now be tearing up my membership card after realising the contempt that the PLP shows for ordinary party members. I wonder how many party members will be doing just that. Under Blair membership of the Labour party halved, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this trend continued under Brown.

Gordon Brown promised us a a “new kind of politics” when he takes over. I think we can now see that for the empty rhetoric it is.

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May 13, 2007

Why John McDonnell Should Be Labour Leader

Filed under: Gordon Brown, John McDonnell, UK Politics — netherworld @ 4:22 am

awip.jpgThis blog is not affiliated with any political party. I like it that way as it means I feel free to criticise any party I like. However, a quick look at what I write should tell you that I can be broadly described as left or lefty liberal etc. Since Blair became leader of the Labour party, I haven’t felt able to vote Labour. I never trusted Blair. I did originally think that the ‘Demon Eyes‘ poster put up by the Tories in 1997 was unfair because all Blair was to me at the time was a slightly milder version of the Tories. Now I think that poster was spot on, in fact, if anything, it didn’t really go far enough, but then who could have guessed at how bad things would turn out? Not finding a party that I felt enthusiastic enough about to vote for has been extremely frustrating this last decade. I’m not going to be able to bring myself to vote for Gordon Brown either. I’ve never voted Tory and have no intention of doing so and the Lib Dems, though they have some policies I support (not least ending our involvement in Iraq), don’t seem to me to be strong enough to be in government and they are trying to appeal to ‘left’ and ‘right’ and pleasing no one.

Why mention all this? Well, as I have spent a lot of energy criticising Blair and New Labour, I have also thought about what alternatives might exist. As far as I can see there is only one person in the Labour party offering an alternative to the more-of-the-same deceit offered by Brown and the rest of ‘New’ Labour, and who is untainted by the wars and sleaze of the Blair era. That alternative is, of course, John McDonnell. Over the last year I’ve referred to him obliquely and linked to his website from time to time both here and on Blairwatch but I haven’t leapt right out and said that I fully support him because, as you’ve seen above, that isn’t really my style. However, I’ve seen Gordon Brown being portrayed as the only option as leader of the Labour party and attempts to stifle any deviation from that view in true New Labour fashion by the current bunch of cabinet ministers. We are now in the ludicrous position where there will be a leadership contest with just one contestant until either John McDonnell or Michael Meacher stand against him, if they can get the required 45 votes to get on the ballot – and it is still far from certain that either of them will be able to do so.

So what we may end up having is a coronation dressed up as a leadership contest. This isn’t healthy in a democracy. Whatever people may think of the other potential candidates, their ideas should be aired so everyone can scrutinise them and either agree with them or debunk them. Let’s assume that John McDonnell does challenge Brown for the leadership (as I hope he does). Once he is on the ballot, it is still highly improbable that he will win (from what we are constantly being told) but the media will finally have to stop marginalising him and listen to what he says…so will Gordon Brown. In order to win Brown will have to answer the questions McDonnell poses and vice versa, and if the arguments are sound, concessions will have to be made and the eventual leader will not only have a stronger mandate but also some more well-formed policies. This strikes me as obvious.

The fact that John McDonnell hasn’t been getting very much in the way of media coverage only made me want to find out more about his policies. And after reading what is on his website and watching his broadcasts on YouTube, I liked what he had to say. He seems to be making similar arguments to the ones I have been making. Not only that but he seems a damned site more straightforward than either Gordon Brown or Michael Meacher. His voting record is easy to look up and is consistent with what he says (unlike Meacher’s). His policies are clearly defined whereas Brown is either keeping his cards close to his chest or doesn’t have that much to offer that’s vastly different from Blair. Other than some anodyne crap about ‘Britishness’, Brown hasn’t really put his cards on the table the way McDonnell has. After a decade of Blair, I find McDonnell’s kind of openness refreshing. I’ve never met him (although I did hear him speak at an anti-war rally) but people who have met him comment on how straightforward he is.

Anyway, I was intrigued enough to lash out £2.50 on the small book he’s published (it is very small, about the size of a CD and not much thicker). It’s like the old tradition of pamphleteering. The book outlines what John thinks is wrong with our current policies and proposes his ideas on how to improve things in a clear and easy-to-understand way without being patronising as New Labour often is. I’m even more convinced now that John McDonnell would be the best person to salvage what’s left of the Labour party and restore its credibility, not by going backwards but by rediscovering its original values which have been swept aside by Blair and Brown’s rush towards unrestrained market dominance over everything. With John as leader, I would be enticed to vote Labour again but I’m not under any illusion that he will easily win the contest. I think there is a small chance he could do it, however, if more people saw what he had to offer.

So, because I agree with much of what he says and because he has been so marginalised by Labour and the media and also because an outbreak of democracy is so badly needed in the Labour party, I’m declaring my support for John McDonnell in the coming leadership ‘contest’. Not that I’ll get to vote, of course, but when the next general election does come, it would be nice to be offered a genuine choice for once.

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February 21, 2007

Parliament Under New Labour

Filed under: Bliar, Democracy, Gordon Brown, Nu Labour, UK Politics — netherworld @ 4:46 am

The recent resignation of Labour MP Alan Simpson from Parliament, is a loss to British politics. The Labour party now has even fewer politicians with the conviction to stand up for its principles. When I read the reasons Alan Simpson gave for his resignation, I was reminded of some of the things Tony Benn said when he retired from Parliament in 2001. There is a similarity in their statements and the reasons given are a damning indictment of what Parliamentary politics has become under Nu Labour.

Tony Benn on his retirement from Parliament:

It is difficult to get this [the issues Benn had pledged to fight for that brought him into conflict with his party] across inside parliament at the moment because politics is reported in such a shallow way… The issues that face us are difficult, challenging and interesting—and the level of political discourse is shallow, abusive and personal…

I am not retiring from politics, but I believe the work that needs to be done now to rebuild the Labour Party is best done from outside. If you are in parliament at the moment you are asked to do a lot of things that run absolutely contrary to the pledges I gave my constituents and to my own convictions. All progress has always come from outside parliament.

Alan Simpson MP on the announcement of his resignation from Parliament:

“I never went into Parliament to have a career. I went in to change the world. I’m leaving because I still want to change the world, and I don’t think you can do that in this Parliament,” he said. In a letter to his Nottingham South party, he said: “My worry is that it has become a comfort zone in which MPs are paid more and more to stand for less and less…

“There are good people in the Parliamentary Labour Party; just not enough of them. Many MPs complain of a government that no longer listens to the party, but they dutifully walk through the division lobbies to vote for whatever regressive measures Downing Street asks for. At times I feel that colleagues would vote for the slaughter of the first-born if asked to.”

Mr Simpson is giving up a relatively safe Labour seat with a majority of more than 7,000 at the last election. Asked why he does not stay and fight, he said: “Because I don’t think the changes are going to be driven inside Parliament. There is a desperate short-termism that consumes you. Parliament is dominated by playground games: who’s gang are you in?

“I think the danger is that Parliament becomes a politics-free zone, where people are more interested in their careers than the issues that really matter to people outside. People position themselves around loyalty and career opportunities and the debate is arranged around short-term options – should we lock up more prisoners, not should we be looking at alternatives to prison?”

If politicians of conviction feel that they can no longer fight for the issues they believe in inside Parliament and think they have a better chance of affecting change from outside, what does this tell us about Nu Labour and our Parliamentary system at the moment? And what danger does this pose for the future? For me this highlights an urgent need for change in our political system. Perhaps things might improve once Tony Blair has left office but I doubt Gordon Brown will be much different. As Alan Simpson says:

Choosing between Blair and Brown is like choosing between Saddam and Uday … They’re as bad as each other.

Another interesting quote from Tony Benn illustrates part of the problem with Nu Labour:

It’s very interesting to me that some ex-communists in the Labour party have been able to shift from Stalin to Blair and it hasn’t been much of a shift… the shift from Stalin to Blair is a minor adjustment.

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September 14, 2006

Me talking about Gordon Brown on American radio

Filed under: Bliar, Blogging, Gordon Brown, Media, UK Politics — netherworld @ 1:29 pm

Well that was an interesting experience! Yesterday I was invited to record my thoughts on Gordon Brown for a discussion about the rise and fall of Tony Blair on an American radio show. The hour-long conversation I had was edited down to about a minute for the broadcast so many of the points I made were lost unfortunately. However it was a very interesting show which featured Rachel from North London, Iain Dale and Robert Guest, Washington Editor of The Economist.

Open Source Radio is unlike anything I’ve come across before; part radio show and part blog. It gave plenty of time to really explore a topic. As Iain points out on his blog:

I can’t imagine the BBC devoting an hour’s radio time to this or any other subject. After all, they think we can’t concentrate for more than four minutes at a time. Think how often you hear a BBC interviewer say the words ‘that’s all we’ve got time for’.

Rachel and Iain came across very well, both of them managing to describe the political climate in Britain at the moment in different ways.

You can listen to the show here.

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September 10, 2006

Pots and Kettles

Filed under: Bliar, Gordon Brown, UK Politics — netherworld @ 4:29 am

Quote of the week

From Tony Blair:

“I have never known how mendacious [Brown] was, how full of mendacity.”

Really Mr Blair? Perhaps Gordon is fit to carry on your legacy after all.

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