Summary : Michael McCann, the Labour MP for East Kilbride, denounced last week’s Radical Independence Convention in Glasgow as “trots” and “extremists”. Yet he comes from a party with more than a bit of Stalinism and Leninism in its leadership’s dismissal of the views of ordinary members, and lack of internal democracy. Some senior Labour MPs actually started out in politics as actual Stalinists and Leninists. Despite being a bit over the top sometimes, RIC stands for clear progressive policies, the way the first post-war Labour government of Atlee and Bevan did. In just 5 years Atlee and Bevan created the NHS, a comprehensive welfare state and universal access to education. The last Labour government under Blair and Brown, given 13 years, managed only a handful of progressive policies while adopting many Conservative ones, including covert privatisation and PFIs in the NHS and “welfare reform”, both of which actually continued eroding the Atlee government’s creations. Ed Miliband’s leadership continues lack of democracy within the party and caving in to the agendas of the Conservative party and right wing elements in the media. Despite some decent people still being in the party, Labour has in practice long since ceased to be a party of progress and has become mostly about getting Labour representatives re-elected. As such it no longer deserves support – and polls suggest it will be almost wiped out in the 2015 General election in Scotland, even under an electoral system which favours it.
Labour MP Michael McCann denounced the Radical Independence convention in Glasgow as “trots” and “extremists”. His own party’s senior levels have mostly been purged of Trotskyists. Those would be far too close to democrats for the party leadership and machine’s liking. Instead Labour’s senior levels have been full of former Stalinists and Leninists for decades, with the party leader’s dominance in practice only exceeded in actual dictatorships like Stalin’s (1).
Jack Straw MP wrote in a letter to The Independent in 2004 that he had never been a “trot”, recommending a piece by Lenin denouncing trotskyists. As a student he frequently quoted Stalin. He’s had no problem with a Labour party in which votes by members on policy at conference have been considered “non-binding” – i.e ignorable by the leadership - since Kinnock in the 80s (2) – (3).
While Straw’s Stalin and Lenin quotes may have been intended as a joke, he extended an apparently genuine lack of concern for democracy after the Scottish independence referendum, by suggesting a US style law banning any part of the UK from seceding. His colleague John Reid (now retired) also began his career in student politics as a Leninist and Stalinist (4) – (5).
Some might object that Labour is not Communist. Stalin was more of a right wing Russian authoritarian nationalist from Georgia, dressed up in socialist rhetoric though.
Many Labour MPs seem, like Stalin, to be incapable of understanding democracy, whether inside their party or outside it. Or that their lack of democracy is the reason their party is losing more and more voters and members to the SNP, the Greens and others. Some Scottish Labour MPs also seem so obsessed with beating “the nats”, that they have become strident British nationalists themselves.
And many of them seem blind to the fact that many supporters of devo max, federalism or independence aren’t nationalists but former Labour voters sick of a Labour party which has adopted most of the policies of the Conservative party, from PFIs to “light touch regulation”
I was there when McCann was elected and ended a long tirade by quoting Tony Blair’s ludicrous final speech as PM about politics sometimes being about “noble purpose” .
In March this year McCann condemned the Scottish Labour party’s proposals to devolve income tax powers to the Scottish government as he was “ a member of the British Labour party”. So he’s one of the “dinosaurs” that Johann Lamont referred to when she resigned over London Labour’s refusal to give the Scottish party any autonomy (6) – (7).
Polls suggest their political extinction might happen soon (8). In 2010 many Scottish voters voted Labour “to keep the tories out”, and the tories still got in, so in 2015 that line is not going to carry the same weight.
I’m not denouncing all Labour party voters and members. Many of them are genuinely good people pushing for democracy , less inequality and for help for those in poverty. There are even a minority of MPs who still put their constituents’ interests above those of elected representatives of the party and donors to party funds. The party leadership, most candidate selections, and the way party policy has been formulated for decades, are anything but democratic though.
Add party leaders who, as soon as there’s any criticism of the party in the media, cave in to it immediately, the way Ed Miliband did when Emily Thornberry MP tweeted a photo of a house in Rochester with three English flags on it. After wild claims in the media that Thornberry’s tweet was “snobbishness” against the working class, Miliband immediately raised a single white flag and sacked her as a spokesperson. Labour MPs declared Miliband “the angriest I’ve ever seen him”, while MPs of the three main UK parties competed to show the greatest respect for Johnny three Flags– sorry, I mean, white van man – as if the two were always identical (9) – (11).
Thornberry actually grew up from the age of 7 in a council house, and her brother has worked as a builder (12).
A more reasonable interpretation might have been “Rochester has a fair number of right wing nationalists in it”, given the widespread adoption of England flags by the English nationalist right.
As one commenter asked, why did he need three England flags? Was there a house down the road that had two and he had to go one better? Was there a guy further down the street with four England flags who thought the other two guys were a couple of snobs?
Add party leaders who make policy not by even making any serious effort to influence public opinion through debate, but who let the tories and the newspapers and TV stations create public opinion almost unchallenged. They then relying on polls and focus groups to decide policy, adopting the agenda their opponents have set.
Add party leaders and MPs who think their members and voters job is to support whatever line the party leadership takes unquestioningly, with any dissent being “disloyalty” or “betrayal”. Who think greater devolution has to be stopped because the SNP have a majority in the Scottish parliament. Who don’t realise that devolving all domestic policy, and the revenues for it, is about the only way they might manage to slow or halt the rising support for independence in Scotland.
You have a recipe for a party whose senior ranks have mostly lost sight of any distinction between what’s good for them - the easiest way for them to get re-elected with the least effort - and what’s in the interests of the people they’re meant to represent.
You have a recipe for the Labour party to keep on slowly dying in Scotland as more supporters switch to the SNP, Greens and others ; and likely end up losing votes to both UKIP on the right and the Greens on the left in England.
And it’s not because of “indiscipline”, or “disloyalty” or “snobbishness”. It’s because of a Stalinist attitude towards internal democracy in their party; and Labour’s adoption of most of the Conservative party’s policies and rhetoric.
The Radical Independence Convention’s ‘people’s vow’ was more than a bit over the top with its claim to be “eternal” and on behalf of all future generations, but at least RIC have some clear policy aims in clear opposition to Thatcherite – and beyond Thatcherite - policies. What has the Labour party stood for from Kinnock on? What does it aim at in practice?
Atlee and Bevan Versus Blair, Brown and Miliband
To me it seems to stand mostly for getting Labour representatives elected and re-elected and disciplining or expelling anyone who opposes leadership policies which most of the party’s members have had no input into.
There are exceptions, but compare the achievements of the first post-war Labour government under Atlee, with those of the last Labour government under Blair and Brown.
The first, in just 5 years, created the NHS from scratch, universal access to education and a comprehensive welfare. The last, given 13 years, brought in a national minimum wage, tax credits, some devolution, a peace process in Northern Ireland, and that’s about it for anything progressive. Most of the rest was adoption of Conservative policies .
The most glaring difference from Atlee’s government was Labour eroding the NHS through covert privatisation. PFIs draining the NHS and schools of funding and trained staff. Labour Health Secretaries contracting out as many NHS Services as possible in England to private firms ; and in the cases of Alan Milburn and Patricia Hewitt taking paid adviser-ships with some of those same firms when they left government (13) – (15).
Privatised railways publicly subsidised at higher levels than British Rail got. A level of continued “light touch” regulation that ensured Britain and Scotland got the full force of a banking crisis which Norway and Canada avoided by regulating their banks and hedge funds more strictly.
An immigration policy of “detention centres” surrounded by barbed wire and deporting people who faced torture or death – including Afghans back to the Taliban, and black Zimbabweans fleeing Mugabe’s dictatorship.
A foreign policy of doing whatever whoever is President of the US at the time wanted them to do.
Are the Conservatives’ policies in government still worse than Labour’s? Absolutely. But from Kinnock on Labour has always chosen the easiest route, mostly adopting Conservative policies and rhetoric rather than challenging them, so in the long run the tories still win even when “New Labour” wins some elections.
Even half the most notorious policies of the Conservative led coalition were already planned or begun under Labour – for instance many of the “welfare reforms” (including the ATOS contract) – again eroding Atlee and Bevan’s achievements.
And Miliband shows no signs of either allowing greater internal democracy in his party, or of caving in to the Conservative (and now UKIP) agendas any less.
Sadly Labour has long since ceased to be a party of progress and most of its elected representatives have become mostly focused just on winning elections the easiest way possible – by adopting most of their opponents’ rhetoric, policies and ideology.
It looks to me like the SNP jibe that Labour are the “red tories”, while not true of everyone in the Labour party, nor all its policies, has far too much truth in it, at least for its leadership, many of its MPs and their policies.
Michael, McCann, MP, MPs, Labour, trots, Stalinist, Straw, internal, democracy, Scottish, party,
Leninist, Thornberry, snob, England, flags, Miliband, Atlee, Bevan
(1) = Herald 25 Nov 2014 ‘New home for those who feel left behind’,
(2) = Independent letters 16 Nov 2004 ‘Not a Trot’, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/bbc-fights-for-the-arts-celebrity-help-for-starving-people-and-others-6157963.html
(3) = Observer 25 July 1999 ‘Jack Straw: Jack of all tirades’,
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/1999/jul/24/labour.jackstraw ; 18th paragraph, 3rd sentence ‘His election slogan was 'respect, but not respectability', and his favourite quotation was Stalin's dry epigram: 'Once the political line has been settled, organisation counts for all.'’ (paragraph begins ‘He was no long-haired hippy leftie’)
(4) = Times 20 Sep 2014 ‘Let’s preserve our Union in law to stop the SNP pulling it apart’,
(5) = Guardian 23 Sep 2006 ‘The dark horse’,
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2006/sep/23/labour.uk ; 12th paragraph, 4th sentence ‘Approaching Jim White, the secretary of the Young Communist League, Reid professed to be a convert seeking membership. "He told us he was a Leninist and Stalinist," White recalls.’ (paragraph begins ‘One year’s exposure’)
(6) = Herald 09 Mar 2014 ‘Labour split deepens as MP blasts Lamont's bid to devolve tax powers’, http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/labour-split-deepens-as-mp-blasts-lamonts-bid-to-devolve-tax-powers.23643212
(7) = Herald 25 Oct 2014 ‘The inside story of Lamont's downfall’,
(9) = Guardian 21 Nov 2014 ‘Emily Thornberry feels full force of Miliband’s ire after Rochester tweet’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/21/emily-thornberry-ed-miliband-rochester-tweet
(10) = ITV 20 Nov 2014 ‘Miliband 'absolutely furious' over Labour MP's England flag tweet’,
(11) = Independent 26 Nov 2014 ‘Donald Macintyre's Sketch: This blessed plot, this realm, this White Van Man...’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/donald-macintyres-sketch-this-blessed-plot-this-realm-this-white-van-man-9885775.html
(12) = Guardian 28 Nov 2014 ‘Emily Thornberry a snob? Don’t be daft, says van driver brother’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/28/emily-thornberry--van-driver-brother-ben
(13) = Colin Leys & Stewart Player (2011) ‘The Plot Against the NHS’ Merlin Press Ltd, Pontypool, Wales
(14) = Guardian 17 May 2011 ‘Former Labour ministers rushing to take private sector jobs, report finds’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/may/17/labour-ministers-consultancy-private-sector
(15) = Telegraph 12 Jun 2012 ‘Social mobility man Alan Milburn is on the way to a million’,