Friday, 30 June 1989


Paul Anderson, review of A Rational Advance for the Labour Party by John Lloyd (Chatto, £2.99), Tribune, 30 June 1989

Written before the publication of Labour's policy review, John Lloyd's pamphlet, for Chatto's inaptly named and over-priced CounterBlasts series, has a curiously dated feel to it. It is an eloquent plea for Labour's leadership to do much that it has already done or signalled its intention to do in the battle for the centre ground: endorse "enterprise" and the market, drop the idea that public ownership is a matter of principle rather than expediency, abandon unilateral nuclear disarmament and antipathy to the European Community, weaken links with the trade unions, and adopt policies to make welfare bureaucracies more "transparent" and accountable — in short, turn Labour into a modern consumer-friendly social democratic party.

There are places where:Lloyd differs from the policy review. He embraces the rhetoric of °democratisation" much more enthusiastically and is much keener on constitutional reform, proposing proportional representation, an elected second chamber and a reduced role for the monarchy. He wants much swifter action to end the block vote than any Labour leader would dare suggest. And he is more open to electoral pacts with the centre parties than are most of the Labour right — at least in public.

Nevertheless, Lloyd must be well pleased. Labour has gone a long way to meeting his demands: only sentimentality now stops Labour from describing itself as social democratic. The right of the party is everywhere triumphant, and the left is marginalised.

But that doesn't mean that Lloyd's arguments are very convincing.

Most obviously, on defence and foreign policy, he displays the naive optimism of one who hasn't yet realised that George Bush is President of the United States: oblivious to the increasingly apparent deadlock in super-power diplomacy, he trots out all the tired old stuff about drifting with the tide of international relations and acting responsibly in international forums to encourage detente, disarmament and development.

But the main problems with his argument are to do with domestic policy. He's right in some rather trivial ways. Labour should be distinguishing its programme from "free-market neo-liberalism which allocates no place to democratic politics beyond periodic electoral contests" and from "extreme visions or realities of socialism which put politics in charge of everything and allow little or no choice". But only a few nutters believe otherwise. The key question dividing left and right in the Labour Party is not (and has never been) whether markets should have some role: it is how far markets should be left to their own devices and how far they should be over-ruled.

The Labour left wants democratic politics in firmer control of more markets than does the Labour right. It's a difference in degree rather than, as Lloyd pretends, a difference in kind, and it's a difference that has to be argued out market-by-market and control-by-control. Lloyd, however, is effusive about the wonders of markets in general. Markets mean "prosperity" and "choice", he believes: Labour should be trying to appeal to the beneficiaries of Thatcherism on Thatcherism's own terms. He seems to have forgotten that markets also mean insecurity, exclusion from prosperity and choice, economic instability, concentration of power and damage to the environment.

Indeed, the environment is the loose thread that threatens to unravel Lloyd's whole case. Firstly, his assumption that Labour's priority is to chase "never had it so good" Tory voters into the political centre with promises of more of much-the-same is seriously undermined by the willingness of 15 per cent of the electorate to vote Green in the European elections earlier this month. That shows that a significant proportion of the well-off are beginning to have doubts about the supreme value of ever-increasing consumption.

More important, though, there's the question of dealing with the environmental crisis itself. Lloyd himself writes that this may "require a profound change in consumption levels and expectations if disasters for at least part of the globe — they are likely to be the already-poorest — are to be averted". If this is so, as more and more evidence suggests, the necessary changes cannot be managed unless politics is put firmly in command of markets. That doesn't mean emulating the Stalinist command economies, but it does mean measures as antipathetic to market forces as any advocated in the past 30 years by the Labour left. Lloyd's recycled centrism simply doesn't take Green politics seriously.

Friday, 16 June 1989


Tribune, 16 June 1989

The opinion polls suggest that when the Euro-election results are announced on Sunday, there will have been a massive surge in the Green Party's vote. Paul Anderson looks at the greening of British politics and talks to David Gee, shortly to become director of Britain's most important environmentalist pressure group, Friends of the Earth

The past six months have seen something unprecedented in British politics: all the major political parties trying to outdo one another in expressing their concern for the environment.

The reason is simple: opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that voters are turning environmentalist in ever-increasing numbers. Unless the major political parties can show that they share the voters' concerns, the tiny Green Party is set to steal votes in elections.

Last month, it took an average of 8.7 per cent of the poll in the seats it contested in the county council elec­tions; in parts of the south-west it took 14 per cent, and in much of south well over 10 per cent. An opinion poll in the Daily Telegraph last week put the Greens' support at 5.5 per cent nationally, above the Social Democrats and not far behind the Social and Liberal Democrats.

As Tribune went to press this week, British Greens were confident of getting 1 million votes in the Euro-elections, in which they were contesting every seat in Britain and Northern Ireland.

The first-past-the-post electoral system means that the Greens are not well placed to win seats at any Level. In the county council elections they won only one, in the Isle of Wight. But the major parties are worried in the short term about the impact of substantial Green votes in marginal constituencies, and in the longer run about the possibility of a breakthrough.

The British electorate has become increasingly volatile and unpre­dictable as the loyalty of voters to their" parties has weakened since the war, another Chernobyl or food poisoning scare, and who's to say that the Greens could not emulate the successes of the Social Democratic Party in the early eighties?

The growing electoral threat to the major parties posed by the Green Party is not, however, largely of its own doing. The Greens are growing fast, at a rate of .600 re­cruits a month. With 11,000 mem­bers the party now has more paid-up members than the Social Demo­crats or Communists. But it is still  not big enough to be more than an electoral machine riding on changes in public opinion for which it deserves little credit.

The greening of the British electorate upon which the Green Party's rise has depended has been the product of a gradual change in political culture in which non-party pressure groups have played the crucial role.

Of these, the two most important are Greenpeace, with 250,000 sup­porters, and Friends of the Earth, with just under 100,000. They share many objectives and campaign on many of the same issues; both are part of worldwide environmentalist organisations; both have highly re­garded teams of expert researchers; and both have grown dramatically in the past two years.

But they differ radically in their chosen political strategies. Greenpeace has adopted spectacular direct action as its central means of gaining publicity, while FoE has concentrated on a more traditional pressure group role, aiming, in the words of Jonathon Porritt, its cur­rent director, "to provide accessible, authoritative information; to target politicians and other decision-makers to bring about appropriate policy changes; and to promote posi­tive, sustainable alternatives to these policies which now so comprehensively threaten the environ­ment".

In the early days of the current environmentalist movement, when green issues were dismissed by the mainstream political parties and the media as the prerogative of sandal-wearing freaks, there can be little doubt that Greenpeace's "stunt poli­ties" had the greater impact on public opinion. Today, with the en­vironment at the top of the party-political agenda and never out of the headlines, it is FoE's strategy that is in the ascendant.

“It's fair to say that we're now setting the environmental agenda," says one FoE campaigner. "On a whole series of questions, from air pollution to the tropical rain forests, we've got journalists and politicians - and even some industrialists - queuing up for our opinions." On present trends FoE looks set to be one of the most influential Brit­ish pressure groups of the nineties.

In such circumstances, it is rather surprising that the media hardly noticed that the man chosen earlier this year to succeed Jonathon Por­ritt at its helm has a very different background from that usually associated with environmentalists.

David Gee, who takes over from Mr Porritt next year after a year working as campaigns co-ordinator and director designate, has spent most of the past IS years working as a trade union official, first for the TUC and then for the General and Municipal Workers' Union (now the GMB).

At the TUC, he was involved in launching the ten-day training scheme for workplace safety repre­sentatives in the wake of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act At the GMWU, he continued to work on workplace safety issues.

"Occupational risk and environmentalism are next-door fields," he says.” Increasingly I found myself working on workplace issues that spilled out into the wider commun­ity.

"Perhaps the principal one was asbestos, where the union's mem­bers had long been involved in making asbestos and in sticking it into buildings and ships. We'd had an active campaign for years. But after 1982, when a television pro­gramme alerted the wider public to the hazards of asbestos, there was a lot of community action against asbestos. We produced a leaflet to hit that market, -Asbestos in the Community. We got rid of thous­ands and thousands. There was no other organisation producing that sort of information.

“Then we went on to things like radiation, pesticides and other tone chemicals, the dangers of explosions in chemical plants, the transport of hazardous chemicals and so on - all workplace issues that have an im­pact on the community.

“In the past six or seven years, the public has come to realise that it's in the firing tine from risks emanating from workplaces that somehow spill out. Bhopal is the classic example.''

His increasingly broad environ­mentalist campaigning did not go down too well with some of his colleagues, however, not least be­cause he was a thorn in the side of British Nuclear Fuels, which em­ploys many GMB members. He was given his cards after accompanying his wife to Australia in defiance of a union decision that he could not have unpaid leave to go.

He is unwilling to go into detail about the incident. "The only thing I'd say is that when you're in the business of reducing risk, whether it is occupational risk or environmen­tal risk, you do come up against some very powerful vested in­terests, people whose short-term in­terests at least in maintaining the status quo." He is nevertheless opti­mistic about the possibilities of greening the trade unions: “The trade unions need to take on environmental issues because they affect their members and affect communities. They've tended to ignore environmentalism in the past, and there are good objective reasons that environmentalism is difficult for unions because of their stake in the status quo. But there are ways of overcoming a lot of that.

"Simultaneously, green groups have tended to ignore the trade unions, with a few notable excep­tions such as the co-operation of' Greenpeace and the National Union of Seamen over dumping at sea.

“One of my first tasks at FoE has been to draw up a strategy document on green groups and the unions, outlining why they've found it difficult to embrace one another, then explaining how it is in the  interests of both to come  together and suggesting practical steps we can be taking.”

Mr Gee is a member of the Labour Party, though by no means an un­critical one: the party's policy re­view document is, he thinks, weak in many areas. He is also keen to emphasise the non-partisan nature of his new job:

"I'm happy to work with any political party as long as if s going down the right road," he says, There's a fundamental shift in poli­tics going on throughout the indus­trialised world, and it's going to continue for the foreseeable future.

"Labour is joining it rather late, with some outdated ideas. It hasn’t yet got to grips with some of the best and most radical thinking in the environmental movement, for ex­ample the United Nations Brandt-land report, Our Common Future, which talks about sustainable de­velopment and says that the way economies are growing in the indus­trialised west is just not on.

"We've got to replace the sterile debate of ‘growth’ versus ‘no growth’ by talking about how we can carry on improving our quality of life without consuming all the world's resources so that there's nothing left for the next generation.

"Labour's policy review document is particularly weak in its thinking about the international measures needed to protect the environment. There is hardly any mention of Europe, yet almost all regulatory progress on pollution in the next decade is going to have to come out of Europe. International regulation is clearly going to be necessary to ensure that recent protocols on ozone and global warming are actually adhered to - and that means some form of global inspecto­rate."

By contrast, FoE is currently planning to step up its efforts in Europe, possibly putting full-time staff into Brussels.

On nuclear power, which the policy review suggests will be kept well into the next century, Mr Gee is scathing. “Labour needs to face up to the economic reality of nuclear power. Its time is up, particularly given the fact that it is going to be privatised.

“Previously, it was cushioned from the commercial world. Now it will almost certainly go the same way as it has in America. Renewables are coming on stream and we know more and more about energy efficiency. The apparent need for nuclear power will simply disappear.

On the other hand, he believes that the left has much to gain from environmentalism. “The reason environmentalism is not now a fringe issue is that people are realising that environmentalism brings up the age-old political questions of distribution on power and resources. Unless those two political issues are addressed, you can’t be serious about environmentalism.”

This puts the Tories in a quandary. “The Tories realise that environmentalism is moving to the centre stage politically, and they want to give the impression of meaning business.”

In the next six months, he says, we can expect some token gestures – perhaps the sort of Environmental Protection Agency that's now being suggested by Hugh Rossi, the Conservative MP for Hornsey and Wood Green. After all, Margaret Thatcher is searching for international credi­bility following the recent ozone conference.

"But the Tories are in deep trou­ble on the environment. You cannot achieve environmental standards either domestically or international­ly without regulation. Even prog­ressive capital wants regulation to get 'a level playing field for all competitors'. You can't achieve that just with codes of practice.

"Even more fundamentally, the Tories are m trouble over their basic philosophy of who gets what in the division of resources. You can't get a sustainable world going without shifting a lot of resources to the Third World. The First World made the hole in the ozone layer. If we now want the Chinese and the Indians to give up certain chemicals because of the ozone layer and it's going to cost them a lot of money, then they'll want to be reimbursed.

"On the 'polluter pays* principle, the First World has got no case at all for not reimbursing them. That excites me as a socialist, because instead of aid to the Third World being a moral thing, it's suddenly in the First World's direct interests to transfer a lot of resources to the Third World so it can develop dif­ferently and not damage the en­vironment."

Unsurprisingly, Mr Gee is sceptic­al of the "Green consumerism" that some have hailed as the way for­ward for the environmentalist movement. Tin not against using endorsement of a particular com­pany's product as environmentally sound if it’s going to act as a lever for other companies to improve their standards,” he says. “But if ‘green  consumerism’ is just another marketing opportunity, which is largely what it is at the moment, it's not going to do much to alter the fundamental problems."

So what should FoE be doing? Mr Gee again mentions working with the unions and in Europe. "We've also got to go to the political parties in a more sustained way. We've got to be setting the agenda for two or three years hence.

"We're now in a position where people want solutions to problems. Drawing people's attention to prob­lems, whether through stunts or whatever, was the task of the past decade. We have got to come up with technically sound, economically sound, detailed policies that are the answers to the current environmen­tal crisis. That is a huge task. We've virtually got to create an environ­mental protection agency in exile to do it."


Paul Anderson,Tribune, 16 June 1989

C L R James, who died a fortnight ago in London at the age of 88, was one of the most important Anglophone left intellectuals of this century. He was born and educated in Trinidad, emigrating to Britain in 1932 and becoming cricket correspondent for the Manchester Guardian.

It is for his writing on cricket that he is probably best known in Britain: Beyond a Boundary, published in 1963, is a brilliant exploration of the game's relationship to class and colonialism that has yet to be surpassed.

But his most lasting work is undoubtedly his historical writing, particularly The Black Jacobins (first published in 1938 and just reissued by Allison and Busby at £5.99), his pioneering Marxist study of the 1791-1803 slave revolt in San Domingo led by Toussaint L'Ouverture.

He was not, however, just a great historian and cricket writer. All his life he was a passionate active opponent of colonialism.

His polemical writings and speeches inspired many of the first generation of post-colonial politicians, especially in the Carribean, though he was less than inspired by them, particularly after returning to Trinidad in the fifties.

Before that, in the late thirties and forties, he had been one of the leading figures of the Trotskyist movement in Britain and then the United States; in the early fifties, working closely with Raya Dunayevskaya after both had broken with Trotskyism over the nature of the Soviet Union and the role of the vanguard party, he had played a major role in establishing a humanist Marxist (though still residually Leninist) intellectual current that prefigured much of the sixties New Left (not least, according to critics, by fabricating "first-person" accounts of life on the factory floor).

James lived his last years In Brixton, in a flat above the offices of Race Today magazine, which under the editorship of Darcus Howe adopted James's workerism and his insistence on autonomous black organisation outside the established labour movement.

Never an easy man to get on with, James had plenty of detractors as well as fervent disciples. Many of his political judgments were to say the least questionable. But for all his faults, nobody can deny his intellectual stature: the world has lost a great man.