Monthly Archives: May 2015

The biggest crime you’ve never heard of

The biggest crime you’ve never heard of
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
29 May 2015

They must have known, mustn’t they? How could they not? Perhaps they chose not to know? With the world commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi-run death camps the question of what ordinary Germans knew (and did) about the genocide their government was perpetrating has once again been in the news.

Of course, the assumption behind much of the coverage of the liberation of Belsen and other camps is that we, living enlightened lives in contemporary Britain, are lucky to live in a society where horrendous crimes do not happen. And if they did, they would be quickly reported by our free and stroppy media and quickly halted.

But what if our own government has been responsible for genocide-level suffering, without the media raising the alarm and therefore leaving the general public in a state of ignorance? What would this say about our political class? What would it say about the media? And what would it say about us?

Unfortunately this isn’t a hypothetical debate but the cold, brutal reality.

To understand this distressing fact we need to return to February 1991 when the US-led coalition kicked Iraq out of Kuwait, which it had illegally invaded in August 1990. According to John Hoskins, a Canadian doctor leading a Harvard study team, the US-led air assault “effectively terminated everything vital to human survival in Iraq – electricity, water, sewage systems, agriculture, industry and healthcare”. Purportedly to compel Saddam Hussein’s government to give up its Weapons of Mass Destruction, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, which lasted until the 2003 invasion. The sanctions regime was enforced by the US and UK who took the toughest line on compliance.

“No country had ever been subjected to more comprehensive economic sanctions by the United Nations than Iraq”, notes Hans von Sponeck, the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, in his 2006 book A Different Kind Of War. “Communicable diseases in the 1980s not considered public health hazards, such as measles, polio, cholera, typhoid, marasmus and kwashiorkor, reappeared on epidemic scales.” In 1999 the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five had died because of a lack of medication, food or safe water supplies.

To counter some of the worst effects of sanctions, in 1996 the UN set up the Oil-For-Food Programme, which allowed Iraq to sell oil in exchange for food, medicine and other goods. However, the programme was far from adequate. “At no time during the years of comprehensive economic sanctions were there adequate resources to meet minimum needs for human physical or mental survival either before, or during, the Oil-For-Food Programme”, von Sponeck notes in his book. In 1998/99, each Iraqi received a food allocation of $49 – 27 cents a day – for a six month period. In contrast, the dogs the UN used to help de-mine Iraq each received a food allocation of $160.

In protest at what seventy members of the US congress called “infanticide masquerading as policy”, Denis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq who ran the sanctions regime, resigned in 1998. Noting the sanctions were causing the deaths of up to 5,000 children a month, Halliday bluntly stated “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.” Speaking to journalist John Pilger, Halliday later explained “I was instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”

Halliday’s successor, von Sponeck, resigned in protest two years later, asking in his resignation letter “How long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?” Later he told Pilger “I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable”.

Making a hat-trick, Jutta Burghardt, head of the UN World Food Program in Iraq, resigned two days after Von Sponeck, describing the sanctions regime as “a true humanitarian tragedy.”

With a few honourable exceptions such as Pilger, Tony Benn and George Galloway, the response of the British political class and media was to either to ignore or dismiss the fact sanctions were killing Iraqis on a mass scale. According to the media watchdog Media Lens, in 2003 Halliday was mentioned in just 2 of the 12,366 Guardian and Observer articles mentioning Iraq. Von Sponeck was mentioned a grand total of 5 times in the same year. Von Sponeck’s book on the sanctions has never been reviewed in the British press, and has been mentioned just once – by the veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk.

Echoing the denials of New Labour ministers such as Peter Hain and Robin Cook, in 2002 Observer Editor Roger Alton responded to a reader challenging him about the sanctions, stating “It’s saddam who’s killing all the bloody children, not sanctions. Sorry”. The highly respected Middle East specialist Professor Fred Halliday was equally dismissive, rubbishing “claims that Iraq still lacks the means to provide a basic supply of food” in a book review in the Independent in 1999.

The governing elite, assisted by a pliant media and the silence of much of academia, have carried out a magic trick of epic, sinister proportions: in a world of 24-hour news culture they have effectively managed to bury the bodies of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died as a direct result of British foreign policy. The lack of coverage, concern or discussion today about the sanctions shows how shockingly successful they have been in this endeavour.

As Harold Pinter sarcastically noted in his Nobel Peace Prize speech: “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”

No conspiracy is needed. “The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban”, writer George Orwell argued in his censored preface to Animal Farm. He provides two reasons for thought control in democratic society: first, the owners of the British press, socially, politically and economically part of the governing elite, “have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.” And second, he explains that “At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it”.

As always, it’s up to those who care about the lives of people regardless of their nationality or skin colour, who care about truth, who take their responsibility as world citizens seriously, to raise their voice and remember this moral and historical outrage.

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The terrifying truth about the two degrees climate target

The terrifying truth about the two degrees climate target
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
26 May 2015

Earlier this month the International Energy Agency released its annual flagship energy technology report, explaining “clean energy progress is falling well short of the levels needed to limit the global increase in temperature to no more than 2 degrees C.” The inadequacy of the world’s response to climate change was further confirmed by a study led by Lord Nicholas Stern, which also noted the commitments made by nations to cut carbon emissions by 2030 fall about half short of the reductions needed to restrict warming to a two degrees celsius increase on pre-industrial levels.

As many readers will know, two degrees celsius is the global temperature increase world leaders in the West agree we cannot exceed if we wish to stop dangerous climate change.

Contrast this with statements recent made by the top climate scientist Professor James Hansen. “It’s crazy to think that 2 degrees celsius is a safe limit”, Hansen told ABC Radio in Australia, noting it was “prescription for disaster” which would lock in several metres of sea level rise by 2050. “The consequences are almost unthinkable”, Hansen explained. “It would mean that all coastal cities would become dysfunctional.”

The inescapable, terrifying conclusion is this: the climate target that Western governments have agreed on is not even close to being achieved. And even worse – the agreed target that we are failing to reach is not in itself strong enough to stop dangerous climate change.

Other recent dispatches from the environmental frontline are equally disturbing. “A team of scientists, in a ground-breaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them”, the New York Times noted in January 2015. Similarly, last year the generally conservative UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems”.

So what has been the British media’s response to the growing climate crisis that threatens humanity and the planet?

Research conducted by Vicky Dando from the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies has found there was a five-fold decrease in press reporting of climate change between 2007 and 2012. Richard Thomas, from Cardiff Business School, has completed (soon to be published) research that shows a similar reduction. Comparing the 10pm weekday flagship news bulletins on ITV and BBC in 2007 and 2014, Thomas has found environmental issues had almost disappeared from our screens by 2014. In 2007 the percentage of news time devoted to environmental issues was 2.5% on ITV and 1.6% on the BBC. By 2014 this had dropped to just 0.3% on the BBC and 0.2% on ITV.

“In 2007, the Madeleine McCann story, on its own, commanded as much attention as the total number of environmental stories broadcast that year”, notes Professor Justin Lewis from the Cardiff School of Journalism, summarising Thomas’s research. “Remarkably, seven years on – well after the Madeleine McCann story has faded from the news agenda – this comparison holds up. By 2014 there were still as many broadcast news stories about Madeleine McCann as there were on the range of environmental issues.”

Has there ever been a more shocking example of how the media has failed the British public and their future children, grandchildren and great grandchildren? When will our supposedly stroppy and independent fourth estate wake up and realise it’s not just Rome burning but the whole planet?

Depressingly, the media blackout has been mirrored in the General Election campaign. “The future of all nations is irrevocably and immediately threatened”, explained Peter Wadhams, a Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Cambridge, in a letter to The Independent in April 2015. “Yet we see little or no discussion of this by any of the main political parties during this general election campaign.” Other than a brief mention by Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, climate change was completely absent from the televised leader debates.

In 2013 Professor Kevin Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said that to avoid an increased in temperature above 2oC the world would require a “revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony.”

A good place to start this revolutionary change would be our corporate-owned, advertising-dependent, growth-obsessed, power-friendly media.

The Stop the War Coalition, The Socialist Workers Party and Iraq

The Stop the War Coalition, The Socialist Workers Party and Iraq
by Ian Sinclair
New Left Project
4 April 2013

In the last few weeks I have been doing a number of talks around England to promote my new book ‘The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003’. At a couple of talks a few people have raised objections to some of the criticisms of Stop the War Coalition (STWC) that I make. Below, I attempt to address these objections by summarising my findings about STWC and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) from the more than 110 interviews and research I conducted for the book.

STWC has been the leading organisation in the UK anti-war movement since its establishment in 2001. In particular, it was the most significant member of the tripartite coalition that led the movement against the Iraq War – the other members of which were the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Given the importance of the STWC, then, it’s worth considering one of the main debates that surrounded it – the role of the SWP.

According to many people I interviewed, STWC started out as a broad-based coalition. However, the SWP gradually came to dominate its leadership and effectively took control after 2003. Senior members of the SWP Lindsey German, Chris Nineham and John Rees (all of whom left the party in 2010) organised STWC’s founding meeting, and have made up the core leadership ever since. Importantly, many of the other senior members of STWC such as Andrew Murray, Andrew Burgin and CND’s Kate Hudson are close allies of German, Nineham and Rees.

As the chief architects (along with CND and MAB) of the 15 February 2003 anti-war march in London – the largest demonstration in British history – I applaud and am thankful to the STWC leadership for their extraordinary level of work. However, many of the people I interviewed were often frustrated and/or angry about the SWP’s dominating role in STWC. As peace activist Gabriel Carlyle told me: “I would put it this way: the SWP were probably the anti-war movement’s best asset and, in some respects, its greatest liability as well.” The SWP were the movement’s “best asset” because, as many people agreed, they were excellent organisers and extremely dedicated activists who helped to quickly build one of the largest social movements in our nation’s history. As Carlyle amusingly put it: “If it had been up to the traditional peace movement to organise the response [to the impending invasion of Iraq], they might have had a candlelit vigil with 200 people.”

In terms of the SWP being the anti-war movement’s “greatest liability”, many people I interviewed, including people previously centrally involved in STWC, criticised the SWP’s centralised style of working and methods which were felt to be controlling, aggressive and bullying. This destructive behaviour, according to activist Yasmin Khan, “played a part in the downfall of the movement.” Carol Naughton, the Chair of CND from 2001-3, noted in a ‘Strictly Confidential’ June 2003 memo that STWC “did not seem to understand or accept the culture of working in partnership once we had agreement to go ahead with joint events.” More concerning, Naughton reported that she “was on the end of some very unpleasant, aggressive and abusive phone calls from the Coalition” and that she “was lied to and misled by [STW] Coalition leadership” who she found “to be duplicitous and manipulative in trying to get my agreement when I had given them a decision that they disliked.”

STWC had a Steering Group, made up of representatives from different organisations, which met regularly. However, according to Mike Podmore, who was on the Steering Group himself in 2003, the SWP “orchestrated these meetings completely” with dissenting views “argued or shouted down.” James O’Nions, a former member of the SWP and member of the Steering Group, agrees with Podmore. For O’Nions, the Steering Group:

Was run a bit like any Socialist Workers Party conference. You had a member of the SWP central committee give a spiel about what we should think about a certain thing, and then there would be a discussion.  But there was no common attempt to find a solution. Rather the solution had already been agreed, and the session was about the officers of the Stop the War Coalition winning over everyone else to what they wanted and trying to get people to mobilise them around it. That is how the SWP operate basically.

Mike Marqusee, a veteran activist and press officer with STWC from 2001-3, goes further:

They [the SWP] used methods to isolate or exclude people or discredit people who were questioning their leadership that are not acceptable, including smearing people, misrepresenting them and whispering things about them that weren’t true. There was a fear of what they considered to be mavericks or loose cannons. What is an anti-war movement without mavericks and loose cannons? I mean please. The anti-Vietnam War movement wouldn’t have got anywhere if it had excluded those people because they were doing the whole show from the beginning.

Arguably the SWP’s domination of STWC led to organised direct action and civil disobedience not being pursued fully by the anti-war movement in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. What the interviews I conducted show was that after 15 February 2003 there was an attempt to have a serious debate in STWC about how to move the movement forward, and whether direct action should be pursued. However, according to Marqusee an open discussion “was not favoured by the SWP or a number of the other leaders of the Coalition.” Instead, according to Marqusee “they began labelling people who were saying they wanted a different [tactical] emphasis as divisive.” Not only did STWC not support groups looking to carry out organised direct action, according to Naughton they actually tried to undermine it. In her ‘Strictly Confidential’ CND memo she notes:

Incidents happened that were actively countering the work that CND was doing such as the office of the [Stop the War] Coalition telling callers that the CND [direct action] event[s] in Whitehall and the Fairford and Menwith demos were all cancelled when in fact all of these were well and truly going ahead. I have personal experience of this as I received the emails and phoned myself to check it out.

Interestingly, despite multiple defections from the SWP since 2003, there seems to be agreement between current and former senior members, in that they all see the role of the party in STWC as an unqualified success. For example, Alex Callinicos, a current member of the SWP’s Central Committee, recently amused himself by noting journalist Owen Jones agreed with him that the SWP played a vital role in STWC. Despite strongly challenging the SWP leadership over the party’s on-going rape scandal, influential former member Richard Seymour broadly agrees with Callinicos on STWC. Replying to journalist Laurie Penny’s assertion that the SWP “has been at the forefront of every attempt to scupper cohesion on the left over the past decade” the Lenin’s Tomb blogger praised the SWP’s role in STWC, which he described as “perhaps the most high profile campaign of the last decade… which brought together Labour party members, CNDers, members of various far left groups, and – once again – SWP members in a leading role.” Finally there are German, Rees and Nineham and their supporters, who left the SWP in 2010 to form Counterfire. As noted these people were the senior members of the SWP in STWC, and still effectively control STWC. The two books they produced on the anti-war movement – Chris Nineham’s ‘The People v Tony Blair’ and Stop the War. The Story of Britain’s Mass Movement, the official STWC history of the anti-Iraq War movement written by Andrew Murray and Lindesay German – are both uncritically positive about SWP’s role in STWC. The latter book bears mentioning for another reason as well. One interviewee told me they considered this book a “joke” because it “looks like something from Soviet USSR – just like Lenin was airbrushed out of history by Stalin, key figures in the Stop the War movement were eroded out of history by the SWP.” Thus, except for one passing mention, the important role played by Marqusee who fell out with the leadership in 2003, is missing from the book.

Lastly, as far as I can tell*, there was no serious attempt to reflect critically on the strengths and weaknesses of the anti-Iraq War movement at the ‘Confronting War 10 Years On’ conference organised by STWC in London on 9 February 2013.

These considerations support the judgement of Marqusee, made after he parted company with STWC, that “the SWP by and large will not engage in critical examination of their own history or current analysis and practice. When events embarrass them, the error is buried in silence. There is a fear of looking harsh realities or awkward questions in the face and a reluctance to spend time addressing them.”

I would like to reiterate I think the STWC leadership did a brilliant job in growing and leading the largest social movement in recent British history. However, we cannot escape the fact that while the anti-Iraq war movement had many important achievements, it was unable to exert enough pressure on the Government at the crucial time. We will never know, but it is worth noting the possibility that different organisational and tactical approaches could have led to a different political outcome regarding the Iraq war – a sobering thought.

Two on-going trends make the critical perspectives I present above all the more important. Firstly, the Government’s increasingly bellicose foreign policy means we desperately need an active and effective anti-war movement. And secondly, the same people who dominated – and continue to dominate – STWC are now leading the Coalition of Resistance, the group which seems to be taking a lead role in the movement against the Government’s austerity agenda. Surely, then, if we want to have the broadest, most effective anti-war and anti-cuts movements, we need to be aware of, and have an honest and open discussion about, the problems within STWC in the early 2000s?
*I didn’t attend the conference but have watched many of the videos of the talks from the day.

Interview with David Gee, co-founder of Forces Watch

Interview with David Gee, co-founder of Forces Watch
by Ian Sinclair
Camden Review
14 May 2015

Speaking to me on his houseboat moored on the canal near Angel, David Gee explains Britain has historically been a very militaristic society. However, he believes there has been a recent upsurge in militarism – the topic of his new book Spectacle, Reality, Resistance: Confronting a Culture of Militarism.

So what lies behind Armed Forces Day, Help for Heroes, the Troops to Teachers programme and the media scrum around the military funeral repatriations in Wootton Bassett?

The government presents these pro-military schemes as an attempt to encourage understanding and appreciation for the armed forces. Gee, the 42-year old co-founder of the Islington-based activist organisation Forces Watch, is unconvinced.

Citing opinion polls, he argues the general public “are becoming more sceptical of Britain’s wars in faraway places” such as Iraq and Afghanistan. “This has worried the armed forces, it’s worried the government and it’s worried the establishment”.

For example, in 2009 Chief of Defence Staff Sir Jock Stirrup declared that the “declining will” among the public to support the war in Afghanistan was more of a threat to British troops’ morale than the Taliban’s roadside bombs.

For Gee the initiatives above are a response to this change in public opinion, “intended to embed the armed forces and what they call military values into civilian culture so we are more supportive of the next war”. Indeed Stirrup himself also stated “Support for our service men and women is indivisible from support for this mission.”

“There has been in the media a lot of jingoistic support for what the armed forces are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq”, Gee says. And while he stresses the varied coverage of the BBC, he notes there has never been an example of a serving British soldier criticising a war on BBC television news. Strict rules ban soldiers saying anything that embarrasses the armed forces or the government. However, Gee also believes the BBC is a strong conservative force when it comes to the armed forces. “The BBC would not want to show that on the eve of a war soldiers have doubts about what they are being asked to do”, he says. “They are much more comfortable with saying ‘Soldiers are ready to go’ and ‘They’ve got a job to do’ and the rest of it”.

Turning to the future, Gee is keen to see significant change in British foreign policy. “Given the ghastly mess that the US and the UK have made of the Middle East, really creating the grounds for ISIS’s rise, the first thing I would like to see – and I don’t think I’m alone – is for the UK and the US to stop invading other countries, to stop thinking it is their job alone to solve problems abroad”.

And what about the armed forces? “In most states across Europe, across most of the world, armed forces are there to defend the territory of the realm in the event of the attack”, he says. Therefore, Gee hopes British armed forces will be used “much more explicitly for defensive purposes” in the future. As we end the interview he explains the government spends around £38 billion a year on its military “while saying we don’t have enough money to staff the NHS properly.”

“It is irrational”, he concludes.

Spectacle, reality, resistance: Confronting a culture of militarism is published by Forces Watch, priced £7. www.forceswatch.net.

Review: We Are Many documentary

Review: We Are Many. Directed by Amir Amirani
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
19 May 2015

Four stars

15 February 2003 “was the single largest mobilisation of people in the history of humanity – bar none”, notes US analyst Phyllis Bennis in We Are Many, Amir Amirani’s brilliant new documentary about the global anti-war movement against the Iraq War.

Beginning with the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Amirani uses tons of stirring archive news footage and original interviews with key figures like Tony Benn, Clare Short, Jesse Jackson and Noam Chomsky to tell the story of that momentous day. Around 30 million people marched in 789 major cities in over 72 countries across the world. A small rally even took place at the McMurdo research station in Antarctica.

With over a million people marching through London in the biggest protest in British history, in one sense the story will be familiar to many Morning Star readers. However, the film includes many important and interesting snippets of information.

US Air Force veteran Tim Goodrich blows apart the fiction that war was a last resort, noting that the US bombing of Iraq increased by over 500 percent in autumn 2002 “with the purpose of trying to goad Saddam Hussein into retaliating to give us a reason to go to war.” Elsewhere, Hans Blix, the Chief UN weapons inspector from 2000-3, amusingly explains the US and UK “were 100 percent sure that there were weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq though “they had zero percent of knowledge where they were.” And who knew Virgin boss Richard Branson had made an unsuccessful attempt to stop the war by flying Nelson Mandela to Baghdad on the eve of the invasion?

The film ends by exploring the long-lasting impact of 15 February 2003, including its role in shifting British public opinion so much that it made it impossible for the Coalition Government to go to war against Syria in August 2013. Amirani also tells the unknown story of how the global movement against the Iraq War inspired Egyptians to start protesting against President Hosni Mubarak. “That’s exactly when I was thinking, and others, that if we were triple that number, or four times that number, we could take down Mubarak”, notes one Egyptian activist about the 20 March 2003 protest that occurred in Tahrir Square against the war.

Writing in the New York Times, journalist Patrick Tyler commented that the global demonstrations were “reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” Taking its name from the last line of Shelley’s 1819 poem Mask of Anarchy, We Are Many is itself a moving and timely reminder of the power of activism and protest – the perfect antidote to the despair created by the new Tory majority government.

Ed Miliband and Labour: Russell Brand versus Eduardo Galeano

Ed Miliband and Labour: Russell Brand versus Eduardo Galeano
by Ian Sinclair
6 May 2015

To paraphrase the Artist Taxi Driver, after 312 episodes of critiquing mainstream media and politics on The Trews, publishing a book titled Revolution and fronting a film called The Emperor’s New Clothes, the comedian and activist Russell Brand has decided… to urge people to vote Labour at the General Election on Thursday.

Brand’s argument rests on two key points. First, he believes the “danger of the Conservative Party” requires “decisive action” – voting for the Labour Party. Second, Brand noted that Labour leader Ed Miliband said he welcomes pressure from the general public.

The former argument echoes the aged-old call for voting for the lesser evil. With the exception of Brighton Pavilion (where the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas is standing), Brand, like Owen Jones, urges everyone else in England and Wales to vote Labour. Though I don’t agree, I understand the ‘lesser evil’ argument, of course. However, it is important to note there are varying degrees of tactical voting to get the Tories out. For example, George Monbiot argues people should vote for a party that inspires them – such as the Greens – except in the 16 constituencies in which a strong Green swing away from Labour could hand the seat to the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats.

But it is Brand’s argument about Miliband that interests and baffles me most:

“One thing I agree very sincerely with Ed on is that politics doesn’t rain down on us, it comes from below… movements putting pressure on governments. We don’t know what the limitations of a Labour Administration are going to be but we have just heard the leader of the Labour Party saying that he welcomes and wants pressure from below… what I heard Ed Miliband say is ‘If we speak, he will listen’…. what’s important is this bloke will be in parliament and I think this bloke will listen to us.”

Compare and contrast this gullible wishful thinking with the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s power sceptical dictum: “In general, the words uttered by power are not meant to express its actions but to disguise them.” That’s right, you heard it here first: sometimes those in power don’t tell the truth. They might, shock horror, be trying to deceive the population.

Interestingly, Miliband’s view on social and political change closely follows public statements the current President of the United States has made:

“I believe change does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up. Dr. King understood that. It was those women who were willing to walk instead of ride the bus, union workers who are willing to take on violence and intimidation to get the right to organize. It was women who decided, ‘I’m as smart as my husband. I’d better get the right to vote.’ Them arguing, mobilizing, agitating, and ultimately forcing elected officials to be accountable. I think that’s the key.”

Yet Brand, like an increasing number of people, is largely immune to the skillful oratory of Barack Obama, even asking Miliband rhetorically in his original interview “We all got excited about Barack Obama. What happened?”

However, when it comes to Ed Miliband and the Labour Party Brand throws any critical thinking out the window. With this in mind it is worth recalling Miliband’s actions on some issues that are of concern to millions of people across Britain, issues that campaigners have been pressing the Labour Party – trying to apply “pressure from below” in Miliband’s parlance – to act the right, humane way on.

  • In January 2015 Miliband voted for the Government’s Charter for Budget Responsibility, which included plans to slash public spending by a further £30 billion.
  • In November 2014 The Guardian reported “The Labour front bench has accepted over £600,000 of research help from the multinational accountancy company PricewaterhouseCoopers to help form policy on tax, business and welfare… The support to shadow ministers including Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt comes after the Guardian revealed PwC’s role in establishing potentially favourable tax structures for hundreds of companies around the world – including many British businesses – in Luxembourg.”
  • In March 2014 Miliband supported a national cap on benefit spending which limited each household to a maximum of £26,000 in benefits, a policy Save the Children said would push 345,000 children into poverty in four years.
  • In March 2013 Miliband abstained from a parliamentary vote on a bill that would prevent 250,000 “exploited” jobseekers from receiving £130m in rebates.
  • Miliband backed the 13-year war in Afghanistan, the disastrous 2011 intervention in Libya and the on-going bombing of ISIS in Iraq.
  • Miliband supports the retention of Trident nuclear weapons, which the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament estimates will cost around £100 billion over its 40 year lifetime.

On these issues Miliband did not welcome, listen to or act on pressure from below. Rather he ignored the voices of protest and concern.

As Brand has been influenced by Noam Chomsky, let’s leave the American dissident thinker with the final word. Speaking about Obama in 2009 Chomsky reiterated Galeano’s truism, explaining “It is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” because “deeds commonly tell a different story.”

The Labour Party’s Call for Tactical Voting Ignores Its Own History

The Labour Party’s Call for Tactical Voting Ignores Its Own History
by Ian Sinclair
New Left Project
27 April 2015

The argument will be familiar to anyone who has ever dared to suggest they will vote for a party to the left of Labour. ‘Like it or not, under the first-past-the-post system, every vote for the Green Party only makes it one vote easier for the Conservatives to win the election’, argued Sadiq Khan MP, who is leading the Labour Party’s anti-Green unit, last year. ‘It splits the progressive vote in many constituencies, and means that Tory candidates can win, despite a clear progressive majority opposed to them’. The Guardian columnists Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee have repeatedly made the same argument.

Many will be persuaded by these increasingly desperate calls for tactical voting. But what interests me is how Khan, Jones, Toynbee and other Labour supporters, by trying to scare people to vote for the Labour Party, ignore the proud history of the Labour Party.

Turn the clock back to the late nineteenth century and there were two main parties in Britain: the Tories, who, much like now, nakedly reflected the interests of the elite, and the Liberal Party, which attracted the majority of working-class (male) support following the expansion of the franchise in 1867 and 1884. The Liberals had a better record of supporting suffrage expansion and electoral reform, and were considered to have progressive stances on finance, free trade, religious tolerance and foreign policy.[1] ‘Activists were attracted into Liberalism… in order to promote, and hopefully achieve, specific objectives’, notes David Dutton, author of A History of the Liberal Party.[2] For example, trade unionists sought political representation through the Liberal Party, with a group of Lib-Lab working-class MPs in parliament from the 1870s onwards.

However, with working-class identity solidifying and working-class political activism increasing, this uneasy alliance was becoming increasingly strained. Many argued that the Liberals were unable to adequately reflect working-class interests, with local parties often refusing to adopt working-class candidates. According to Dutton, ‘Liberals recognised limits beyond which they would not go on issues of fundamental concern to the working-class, such as the right to work, strike action and a national minimum wage’.[3] Indeed, after the Liberals rejected a Stoke mining union leader as a potential candidate in 1875, the pro-trade union Bee-Hive newspaper warned, ‘If these blind and brutal prejudices against working men and trade unions cannot be overcome in the Liberal Party, it will be the duty of the working men of the country to separate from that party’.[4]

Tensions came to a head, according to Dutton, at the 1899 Trade Union Congress, which was ‘dominated by complaints about the failure of the working class to secure their objectives through the vehicle of the Liberal party’.[5]The Liberals’ lukewarm support for labour in its struggles with employers was a key concern, as was the ongoing threat from the political establishment to the very existence of independent trade unions.[6]

In response, the Labour Representation Committee (LRC)—an alliance of the trade union movement with the Independent Labour Party, Fabians and the Social Democratic Federation—was formed in 1900. ‘It [the LRC] originated in the desire of the workers for a party that really understands and is prepared to deal with their grievances… Upon this conflict between Capital and Labour neither a Liberal nor a Conservative Ministry can be trusted to stand by the workers’, the LRC explained in a leaflet titled ‘Why We Are Independent’.[7]

Barely born, the LRC won just two MPs in the 1900 election. Six years later the national ballot returned 29 LRC MPs to parliament and the party immediately changed its name to the Labour Party.

This extraordinary growth was far from a straightforward or inevitable process. Future Labour giants such as Keir Hardie, Arthur Henderson and Ramsey McDonald had all unsuccessfully tried to stand as Liberal candidates before they came to the conclusion that only a new political party would serve the interests of the working-class.[8] According to G.D.H. Cole, the Fabians has been ‘sceptical about the early attempts to form a Labour Party independent of Conservatives and Liberals alike’ with ‘some of their leaders… disposed to prefer a policy of permeating the existing parties with socialist ideas’.[9]

And of course, the decline Liberal Party, like Labour supporters today, criticised the new party and its supporters for splitting the anti-Tory vote. ‘An independent Labour organization will not catch a single Tory vote’, argued Lord Rosebury, then the Liberal Prime Minister, in 1894. ‘Such votes as it does carry away will be Liberal votes… it may hamstring and even cut the throat of the Liberal Party’.[10]

Rosebury was right to be fearful. Despite ‘the tremendous radical vigour’ of the reforming 1906-11 Liberal Government, Labour’s share of the vote continued to grow, with the party first entering Downing Street in 1924 as a minority government.[11] Two decades later a landslide Labour victory allowed the Attlee Government to introduce the welfare state that continues to bind the country together today—comprehensive education, the National Health Service, social security—as well as nationalising the railways, coal industry, the gas and electricity utility companies and setting up the national parks system.

‘At the end of the day’, notes Dutton, Labour overtook the Liberal Party ‘because individual Liberal voters decided to change their party allegiance or because the newly enfranchised among them failed to follow the voting patterns of their fathers and grandfathers’.[12]

Today, Labour continues to be one of the two main parties in British politics. But Labour was only in a position to introduce arguably the most important social reforms of the post-war period, and is only a serious contender for government today, because over 100 years ago people did not follow the conservative logic of Sadiq Khan and vote for the least worst viable option. Rather they turned against the established parties and voted for the party that best represented their interests, regardless of whether it had a chance of gaining power in the short-term.

In short, only once large numbers of people ditched tactical voting and started to vote on principle—as the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett is urging voters to do in the forthcoming election—did real change become possible.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He Tweets @IanJSinclair.

[1] Andrew August, The British Working Class 1832-1940 (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2007), p. 153. David Dutton, A History of the Liberal Party (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), p. 8.[2] Dutton, p. 6.
[3] Dutton, p. 50.
[4] August, p. 154.
[5] Dutton, p. 10.
[6] G. R. Searle, The Liberal Party. Triumph and Disintegration 1886 – 1929 (London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1992), p. 71.
[7] Keith Laybourn, The Labour Party 1881 – 1951. A Reader in History (Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1988), p. 59.
[8] Dutton, p. 10.
[9] G.D.H. Cole, A Short History of the British Working-Class Movement 1789-1947 (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1952), p. 288.
[10] Roy Douglas, The history of the Liberal Party, 1895-1970 (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1971), p. 66.
[11] Douglas, p. 90.
[12] Dutton, p. 3.