Friday, 20 December 1991


Tribune leader, 20 December 1991

This week, Tribune returns to 12 pages after more than ten months at eight pages a week. The reason is simple: using desktop publishing equipment, it now costs us very little to produce extra pages. Before DTP, a 12-page paper cost around £500 a week to type­set and paste up; using DTP; the equivalent process costs under £200. After two months of learning how to use the DTP equipment, we can just about manage to produce 12 pages instead of eight on current staffing levels. We work harder: you get more for your money.

Despite the expansion, Tribune remains in a finan­cially precarious position. Sales and advertising rev­enue are stagnant, partly as a result of the recession and partly because we have not had adequate funds to spend on promotion. Next year, the paper will have to raise at least £30,000 in donations just to ensure bare survival. More is needed if the paper is to expand its circulation as well as the number of pages.

It will not be easy to secure the funding we need. The trade unions, on which Tribune has relied for much of its recent life, are broke. Although several have pledged sub­stantial support, the total guaranteed is down on last year. Most unions are spending all their political fund cash on helping Labour – itself in dire straits – to win the general election.

This means that, yet again, we will be asking you, our readers, for your support. In the past 12 months, you have given more than £20,000, enough to allow us to in­troduce the new technology. In the coming year, we will have to ask you to give as much again.

Is it worth it? We think so, and not just because our livelihoods depend on keeping our jobs. A lively, open, democratic left press is an essential element of our political culture – and without Tribune, there would be precious little of the democratic left press left.

The past five years have seen an extraordinary casualty rate among left publications in Britain. The Labour Party killed off Labour Weekly then let New So­cialist die on the vine. Incompetence destroyed News on Sunday. City Limits ceased to be left in any mean­ingful sense last year when it was forced to sell up to Bernard Clark. This year has seen the end of Sanity and the death of Marxism Today. Discounting local and specialist periodicals, the democratic left press in Britain now consists of the New Statesman, Tribune and socialist, the new Socialist Movement fortnightly, which has just announced that it needs £60,000 by March if it is to survive.

Marxism Today would have it that the reason is sim­ple: that sadly there is no market for left periodicals and that the left no longer has anything to say that anyone wants to hear. Many of its obituarists in the na­tional newspapers gleefully agree. But that is too easy an explanation. Nearly all the left press failures of re­cent times have been publications that simply did not have enough money to promote themselves adequately in the modern marketplace. For the most part, the left press, caught in a vicious circle of undercapitalisation and declining subsidies of various kinds, starved of commercial advertising, has never had the opportunity even to find out whether it has a mar­ket.

We are as confident as we can be that Tribune will survive. But mere survival is not enough. We need to break out of the vicious circle – and to do that we need serious money or a Labour government to establish the right to distribution for political papers. The latter is more likely, but anyone offering us £100,000 will not be turned away lightly.

Friday, 13 December 1991


Tribune leader, 13 December 1991

As expected, the past week has seen the expulsion of Dave Nellist and Terry Fields from the Labour Party. Whether or not they should have been expelled is, in Tribune's view, solely a matter of whether there really is adequate evidence of their current membership of Militant.

Militant is a political party with its own rules, programme and democratic centralist discipline which has run candidates against Labour and plans to do so again. On Monday, Militant launched Scottish Militant Labour in Glasgow, the main purpose of which is to fight selected constituencies – probably Garscadden, Donald Dewar's seat, and Pollok, Jimmy Dunnachie's – against Labour at the next general election. Other Mili­tant candidates are likely to stand in Merseyside.

Labour's rules clearly and quite rightly exclude from Labour Party membership members of rival political parties, and MPs are no exception to the rules, however hard-working, however pleasant and however popular with their local constituency parties.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to judge whether the evidence shows that Mr Fields and Mr Nellist are lying or telling the truth when they say they are not current members of Militant. Labour's policy on disciplinary hearings is that they are private and that evidence is confidential; and no one has leaked the documentation on Mr Fields and Mr Nellist to Tribune or, as far as it is possible to judge, anyone else.

If justice has been done, it has not been seen to be done. No one wants show-trials but, unless some way is found to open Labour's disciplinary processes to scruti­ny by party members, many will continue to suspect that it is arbitrary and unfair. Worse, they could easily be right.

John Major's shabby deal

The spin from the government's public relations boys is that Maastricht was a grand victory for John Major. But in domestic political terms he has got a very bad deal. His agreement in principle to eco­nomic and monetary union will alienate the anti-European right of his own party even with the "opt-out" clause; and his "success" in avoiding the social dimen­sion agreed by the other 11 European Community states is an easy target for Labour attack.

The provisions of the social chapter of the treaty, par­ticularly after they had been watered down in a vain at­tempt to secure British agreement, could cause offence only to the most diehard anti-worker free-marketeer. Mr Major's stance in Maastricht is proof, if any were needed, that the Tories are opposed to any extension of workers' rights. The original draft of the social chapter proposed that workers should have the right to be con­sulted and laid down minimum wages and limits on the length of the working week. Much of that was ditched during the negotiations as the 11 tried to get Britain on board – but still Mr Major held out, even against the vaguest of formulations of rights to health and safety, information and equal opportunities for women. It was a shabby performance in defence of the worst forms of exploitation for which Mr Major should be attacked re­lentlessly in the run-up to the general election.

Friday, 6 December 1991


Tribune leader, 6 December 1991

Labour’s opposition to common European Commu­nity defence and security policies, whether based upon the EC itself or the Western European Union, is long-standing and commands widespread assent in the party.

On one side, the Atlanticist Right believes that com­mon European defence and security policies would has­ten American military withdrawal from Europe and the collapse of NATO. On the other, the Left, still essential­ly anti-nuclear (if, in many cases, only in private), be­lieves that they would result in the creation of a new nuclear-armed super-power – particularly if based on the WEU, a relic of the cold war which excludes the EC's neutrals and NATO's least enthusiastic members.

Both sides fear that France and Germany would call the shots on common EC defence and security policies, that there would be an expansion of capacity for mili­tary interventions "out-of-area" if the EC took up a de­fence role and that an EC defence role would put off neutral countries which want to join the EC.

There are some sound arguments here. In particular, it is crucial that Labour continues to resist creation of a new nuclear super-power, with its own rapid deploy­ment force to police the Middle East and with the French force de frappe playing the role that American nuclear weapons played during the cold war.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons for reconsider­ing Labour's antipathy to the EC taking on a defence and security role. It is becoming more and more obvi­ous that NATO is moribund, incapable of working out its raison d'etre in the post-cold-war world and utterly closed to the former communist countries of Eastern Europe. The Americans, meanwhile, are already with­drawing from Europe: soon their military presence will be little more than symbolic. With the whole of Eastern Europe increasingly unstable and the former Soviet Union breaking up, the creation of a new European se­curity structure is an urgent necessity.

The best means of achieving this would be a transna­tional body including the United States and Russia as well as the countries of central and western Europe: the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) has frequently been suggested for such a role. The problem is that the other countries of Western Eu­rope show no enthusiasm for any such thing – which effectively rules it out. As time goes by, a defence and security role for an EC open to the east is looking more and more like the only viable basis for a peaceful conti­nent.

Defence of privilege

There is no doubt that Greville Janner, the Labour MP for Leicester West, was the subject of an appalling slander during the Leicestershire children's home child abuse trial, to which he could not respond because of the law of contempt of court. He deserves ev­ery sympathy. But it would be a mistake to conclude from his ordeal that the principle of absolute privilege, which means that reporting of proceedings in open court is not open to prosecution for defamation, should be abandoned. The Solicitor-General, Sir Nicholas Lyell, is right, for once. The right freely to report pro­ceedings in open court, like the right freely to report parliamentary proceedings, is a crucial press freedom that must not be ditched simply because of the irre­sponsible actions of certain newspapers.


Tribune, 6 December 1991

Labour's leading Euro-maverick is the veteran Peter Shore. Paul Anderson asks him what makes him tick

No one could accuse Peter Shore of inconsistency on the European Community. He was one of the most prominent Labour opponents of British entry into the Common Market in the early seventies and one of the most senior cabinet figures to call for a "No" vote in the 1975 referendum on EC membership.

He has stuck to his guns ever since, consistently railing against what he sees as the absurdities of the Common Agricultural Policy, the wastefulness of the Brussels bureaucracy and, most crucially, the threat to British sovereignty from creeping European union.

In recent months, he has been by far the most outspoken Labour critic of the direction the EC has taken in the run-up to next week's Maastricht summit, which – John Major willing – will result in agreement among the EC's 12 member states on economic and monetary union (EMU) and Euro­pean political union (EPU).

Shore's willingness to ally with right-wing nationalist Tory anti-federalists has earned him fierce criticism from his colleagues on the Labour benches. But, although he shares many of the dissident Tories' worries, the focus of his concern is different. Shore is an old-fashioned expansionist
Keynesian who sees the nation-state as the main instrument of economic policy. Far from singing the praises of "sound money", he wants to devalue the pound.

"What is proposed in the eco­nomic and monetary union side of the treaty is the renunciation of the remaining strategic controls over the national economy without establishing any alternative con­trols at the European level," he says. "The danger to the next Labour government is acute. The disastrous decision to join the ex­change rate mechanism of the Eu­ropean monetary system makes us a prisoner of the Deutschmark. We're in the middle of a great re­cession and we know that one of the most urgent steps needed is a radical cut in the interest rate. But we can't do it because it will break us out of the ERM bands.

"I see no possible way that the British economy can converge with the strong German economy without changes in the present burden­some interest rate and without an adaptation of the exchange rate."

So why not go for a one-off de­valuation, followed by renegotia­tion of sterling's ERM band before accepting EMU, the policy advo­cated by Ken Livingstone and oth­er pro-European devaluationists?

"That would be quite unrealis­tic," says Shore. "It would be possi­ble to stay within the ERM if it were possible to move the currency in a way that restored competitive­ness. There's nothing wrong with a system of 'fixed but changeable' ex­change rates. But you must be able to change when a fixed rate be­comes no longer sustainable. The real danger is that we shall not be able to move the exchange rate at all because we're already in the first stage of economic and mone­tary union. The aim of virtually ev­eryone in it is to go straight to­wards absolutely rigid exchange rates followed by a single currency and a central bank."

The official Labour position, of course, is that devaluation is not on the agenda. The Shadow Chan­cellor, John Smith, and his team have concentrated on the need to make the European central bank politically accountable, suggesting that the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers, Ecofin, should be given an enhanced role in over­seeing its workings.

Shore is scathing about this po­sition: "There's no way that a Eu­ropean central bank could be made accountable to European finance Ministers collectively," he says. The Dutch draft of the Maastricht treaty, the basis for the current ne­gotiations, "contains provisions specifically designed to maintain the inviolability of the bank from political interests".

"This is what it says about inde­pendence in Article 107: 'Neither the European central bank nor the national central banks shall seek or take instructions from Commu­nity institutions or bodies from any Government of a member state or other body.' The rest of the clause is very significant: 'The Community institutions' – that includes Ecofin – 'and bodies and the governments of the member states undertake not to seek to in­fluence the members of the deci­sion-making bodies of the Euro­pean central bank and the nation­al central banks.'

"Tough stuff, and to make dou­bly sure, the president of the Euro­pean central bank is appointed for one term only of eight years. If that doesn't secure his indepen­dence, nothing else will."
Worse, he says, the draft treaty virtually guarantees the imposi­tion of tight fiscal policies, dashing the hopes of those who would like Europe to adopt expansionary poli­cies.

"Article 105 reads: ‘The primary objective of the European system of the central bank will be to main­tain price stability.' Nothing is spelt out in the treaty about furthering other economic priorities apart from one single clause say­ing 'We shall go for growth, em­ployment and all these other good things.' It's a purely declamatory article. All the detailed clauses are about the independence of the bank and the relationship between the bank and the Council of Minis­ters or Ecofin.

"So you have to be a great opti­mist, frankly, to believe that this treaty allows for any development of the kind that's wanted. The plain truth is that only some Gov­ernments in Europe are actually in the expansionist high-employment tradition. Many of them are not. Germany is quite content with a tough deflationary bias."

"There is nothing in the draft treaty which foreshadows interventionism at the European level. At least two or three of the gov­ernments sitting round the table claim to be socialist but they have put forward no such proposal – or if they have done their voices have been so feeble that they have not been reflected in a single draft clause of the treaty."

Shore is also critical of the draft treaty proposals on excessive bud­get deficits. "Article 104b reads: 'Member states shall avoid exces­sive government deficits' – a plain, unequivocal instruction to all governments. And then an ex­cess deficit is defined. The public sector borrowing requirement must not be more than 3 per cent of gross domestic product. And government debt must not be more than 60 per cent of gross domestic product. We're caught badly on the 3 per cent rule. No Labour govern­ment can afford to have its hands tied on public expenditure and the borrowing requirement."

"We abandoned controls over trade when we went into the Euro­pean Community. More recently, we have abandoned control over capital. The Single European Act allows for the totally untrammeled movement of capital, forbids any preferential use of public purchas­ing power to assist our own nascent or troubled industries as we have done in the past, and pro­vides for any takeover bids and mergers to be decided only by the European Commission.

"All those powers of intervention have gone and we're left with just two macro-economic powers: one is to determine interest rates and exchange rates, and that goes completely if you have a single curren­cy; the second is, of course the PSBR. That is what is being hand­ed over. You tell me what a Labour government can do."

"Supposing all the arguments of the front bench are right and all we need to do is converge. How on earth do you converge? The economy is already in a state of mass unemployment, the balance of pay­ments problem is worse than it's ever been. How do you deal with that, frankly, without changing the value of the pound? Supply side measures are excellent, but they take five years before they begin to yield a dividend. And if, in the end, we've trained and educat­ed people to find jobs somewhere on the Rhine, that isn't what the British people want. Is Labour go­ing to live with more than 2 mil­lion unemployed for five years? That would show an extraordinary poverty of ambition and relaxation of the political will."

As for the notion that a Euro­pean federal interventionism might develop in the longer term, "It's wishful thinking. If you say to me 'Right, take a really long view, after 20 years of miseries inflicted on the whole of Europe, after the breakdown of the system that's now being envisaged, is it possible that something might emerge, a federal Europe government, with federal powers of intervention across the whole continent?' Well, nothing is impossible, but it's a long way off."

In any case, he says, he does not find a federal Europe particularly attractive or believe it workable. "I'm not basically wedded to the idea that good government comes on a continental scale. The United States is the only example we have of a modern continental economy but, my god, very special circum­stances enabled it to be created. People were poured into a pre-set institutional mould. There was a common language and a lot of oth­er things which have made for rea­sonably strong federal govern­ment. Try to translate that into European terms."

The British, he says, "have much more confidence in trying to decide their own fate through their own elected institutions rather than putting their faith in a Euro­pean Parliament in which we'd be one-seventh of the total and which would involve, if it were to be workable, huge transfer payments from the wealthy countries to those that are most disadvantaged."

So what should Labour be say­ing about Europe? "There's no question of withdrawal from the European Community," says Shore, nor should the EC simply be left as it is: he agrees with the front bench that the Community should be extended to eastern and northern Europe. But that is about as far as he is prepared to go in praising Labour's official line. He does not even accept that, bad as EMU and EPU might be, the alter­native of staying out would be even worse.

"We've handled it very badly tac­tically as well as strategically," he says. "For reasons that I really don't understand, we've been say­ing that we ought to immerse our­selves ever more deeply in a feder­al Europe.

"The clear message to the British people is that the Labour Party no longer believes that it can seriously solve the problems of the United Kingdom without embark­ing on the wrong and perilous path to a federal union in which all the strategic decisions affecting the welfare of the British people are taken by others and not by people who are directly elected. That is a terrible thing to have to deal with in terms of winning the battle for public opinion.

"I'm not saying that I hope there is hostility towards Europe in British public opinion. That kind of sentiment is no good at all. But there is still a very strong belief in this country that despite all our imperfections we can run our own democracy pretty well. Long may we continue to believe it."

Friday, 29 November 1991


Tribune leader, 29 November 1991

For British politicians of all persuasions, the year since John Major moved into Number Ten Downing Street has been the jumpiest and most exhausting in living memory. With the exception of the period of the Gulf war, all the parties have been on permanent election alert;   electioneering rhetoric, speculation about the date of the election and talk of opinion polls have drowned out just about everything else for all but the past couple of months, when the Tories’ deep splits on Europe started to make the headlines again.

It has not been a bad year for Labour. Major's eleva­tion was a blow to the party, which had carefully con­structed its political strategy on the assumption that Margaret Thatcher would not be removed in mid-term. After the success – in military terms – of the Gulf war, Labour politicians were terrified that Major would go for a "khaki election" in the spring and win.

Instead, luckily for Labour, the British public turned out to be more concerned about the recession, the poll tax and the state of the health service. The Tories lost Ribble Valley to the Liberals in March, did poorly in the local elections in May and lost Monmouth to Labour later the same month. Major abandoned the idea of a spring election, hoping to go to the country in the autumn. The Tories edged ahead in the polls by the end of the summer but then lost their advantage dur­ing the conference season. Major postponed the elec­tion again and hastily cobbled together a legislative programme to last until next spring. Today, the two main parties are neck-and-neck in the polls.

Labour can afford to be reasonably pleased with this position, but not too pleased. Given the Tories' record, Labour should be doing better. Very little of sub­stance has emerged from Major's year as prime minis­ter: a VAT increase to pay for cuts in poll tax, a handful of forgettable charters, a bill to replace the poll tax, another bill to tighten up asylum procedures, a slight relaxation in public sector borrowing. The Tories are in chaos on Europe, the economy is in deep recession and there is widespread popular concern about the fu­ture of the welfare state. Labour has a decent chance of victory, but it still has a mountain to climb.

Inadmissible evidence

Miscarriages of justice as a result of police fab­rication of evidence are inevitable under any con­ceivable legal system – but the English one is pe­culiarly prone both to convicting people for crimes they have not committed and to taking an extraordi­narily long time to make amends for wrongful convic­tions. The case of the Tottenham Three, Winston Sil­cott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite, wrongly convicted for the murder of PC Keith Blakelock in the 1986 Broadwater Farm riot, brings into sharp relief, yet again, the need for reforms both of the rules of admissi­ble evidence and to make appeal against conviction easier and quicker.

It is true that, since 1985, the police have introduced tape-recorders to interview-rooms, making the sort of fabrication involved in the Silcott case much more dif­ficult. But coercion before the tape-recorder starts run­ning remains possible even now. If the police are to be trusted, nothing short of making uncorroborated con­fessions inadmissible in court will do.


Tribune, 29 November 1991

Paul Anderson examines the tensions underlying Labour's apparent unity on European policy

Giles Radice, the Labour MP for Durham North, de­scribes Labour's change of policy on Europe as "perhaps the most profound and important in its post-war history"; the Sunday Times quotes with approval a Tory backbencher calling it "the most spectacular conversion since St Paul saw the light".

Indeed, party policy is emphati­cally not what it was in the early eighties. Then Labour called for British withdrawal from the Euro­pean Community. Now it is in favour in principle of economic and monetary union (EMU) and Euro­pean political union (EPU). It has spent much of the past year berat­ing the Government for its luke­warm attitude in the Intergov­ernmental Conferences on EMU and EPU in the run-up to next month's summit in Maastricht. The Labour message today is that Britain under the Tories lags be­hind the other 11 EC countries on the single European currency, the European central bank, the Social Charter, greater powers for the European Parliament, qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers and expansion of the EC.

As Neil Kinnock, Labour’s leader, put it this week: “It is essential that we are central to the process in the Community in order to serve the vital national interests of the United Kingdom in a future which is inextricably linked with that of the rest of Europe."

It would be wrong, however, to exaggerate the extent of the transformation. Labour's position falls a long way short of endorsing a fed­eral Europe. Indeed, it shows all the signs of being a compromise between Euro-enthusiasts and Euro-sceptics in the party leader­ship. It is skilfully constructed to allow everyone in the Parliamen­tary Labour Party but a handful of out-and-out federalists and diehard anti-Marketeers to inter­pret it as an endorsement of his or her own position - and it is quite feasible that Labour's unity be­hind it will hold until the general election. But it is a compromise nonetheless.

The commitment to a European central bank is qualified by a call for an enhanced role for Ecofin, the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers. If Labour had its way, Ecofin would set the external ex­change rate of the new single cur­rency. According to the Shadow Chancellor, John Smith, this week, this means that interest rates would be determined in the medi­um term by "a dialogue between Ecofin and the central bank".

The formulation is vague (al­though probably not vague enough to be acceptable to several EC countries, notably Germany, that want the central bank to be fully independent). But it is adequate to secure support not just from the PLP's growing band of Euro-en­thusiasts but also from those MPs, many of them centre-left former anti-Marketeers, who are worried that a central bank will be politi­cally unaccountable and inevitably fiscally conservative.

Similarly, the agreement in principle to a single currency is hedged around with the proviso that "real economic convergence" takes place beforehand. Again, the phrase is indeterminate enough for those who want EMU in any event but just enough to placate the large number of PLP doubters who believe that, in its current state (and at the pound's current valuation), the British economy simply cannot cope with EMU.

On political union, the story is much the same. Labour's endorse­ment of greater powers for the Eu­ropean Parliament and qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers on social and environ­ment policy is supported as a small step forward by Euro-enthusiasts; most Euro-sceptics are satisfied by its rejection of a "European federal super-state" and insistence that the EC be expanded as well as deepened.

In the same vein, Labour's firm stance against a European defence community pleases both the major­ity of the Atlanticist Right, which is concerned not to undermine NATO, and the tendentially (but these days not overtly) nuclear-pacifist Left, which does not want the creation of a West European nuclear super-power.

It is a measure of the success of the compromise on Europe that only 16 anti-Market Labour MPs refused to back the Labour leader­ship's amendment to the Govern­ment's motion on Maastricht in the Commons last Thursday. A mix of hard-left Campaign Group members and Atlanticist Keynesian right-wingers, they do not constitute a coherent group.

Most would agree with the as­sertion of Peter Shore, the veteran right-wing Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Stepney, that "we shall find ourselves handcuffed and chained under economic and monetary union. No instruments of policy will be left for us to use". Most would also accept his argument that British democratic self-gov­ernment is under threat. But the Campaign Group anti-Marketeers – now close to becoming a minori­ty even in the Campaign Group – are repelled by what they see as the anti-Market Labour right's nationalist rhetoric, its assump­tion that common European foreign policies are wrong because they would downgrade Britain’s alliance with the United States, and its willingness to work with Tory right-wingers for a referendum on EMU. The Labour anti-Marketeers are unlikely to be able to put up much of a fight in the next few months.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that party peace on Europe will be maintained much beyond the elec­tion, whether Labour wins or loses, if indeed .it lasts that long. Al­ready, politicians at every level of the party express worries, mostly off the record, about the ambiguities of the current policy.

By no means all of them are Eurosceptics. Although Mr Kinnock is scathing about federalism ("No one serious is arguing for it," he told a press conference this week) there are plenty of Labour MPs, from Ken Livingstone and Harry Barnes on the hard left, through several senior shadow cabinet figures on the centre-left, to the traditional right-wing Euro-enthusiasts, who are now prepared more or less explicitly to advocate federalism, in some cases even expressing support for a European defence community.

If the government manages to steal Labour's pro-Europe clothes by finding a way to sign the EPU and EMU treaties at Maastricht, there will be significant pressure for Labour to stop hedging its bets and adopt an even more pro-EC position before the general elec­tion.
But there will also be counter­vailing: pressure from Euroscep­tics, who, although diminished in number, remain a significant force even in the Shadow Cabinet. Ger­ald Kaufman, Bryan Gould, Margaret Beckett and Michael Meacher are discernibly cooler towards the EC than many of their colleagues, and will do what they can to resist embracing Europe any more enthusiastically either before or, more probably, after Britain goes to the polls.

There is little doubt that Labour is less divided on Europe than the Tories – but it is by no means as united as first impressions sug­gest. Even if the current compro­mise holds until the election, which is by no means certain, the party can look forward to some hard-fought battles over European policy in the next couple of years, particularly if it is in office.

Friday, 22 November 1991


Tribune, 22 November 1991

Britain's largest peace movement organisation is going through a difficult patch. Paul Anderson reports

It has not been the best of years for the Campaign for Nu­clear Disarmament.

Last autumn, despite all its ef­forts, it proved incapable of turn­ing public opinion against the use of force to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Once the war started, CND was marginalised and incapacitated by the political wran­gling among its supposed allies in the anti-war movement.

In the spring, it only narrowly missed severe political embarrass­ment when it went ahead with plans to hold its annual Easter demonstration in Barrow-in-Furness, where Britain's new Trident nuclear missile submarines are be­ing built, within a fortnight of the announcement of massive job loss­es at the town's VSEL shipyard.

Since then, CND has made the headlines less for its campaigns than for losing Neil and Glenys Kinnock as members and for being short of cash. Amid accusations of financial incompetence, its monthly magazine, Sanity, has been shut down. Staffing at every level of the organisation has been drastically pruned. Last week came the news that CND had lost the Glastonbury Festival to Greenpeace, the environmentalist pressure group.

But perhaps none of this should come as much of a surprise. CND grew in the eighties in response to a spectacular  increase in tension between the two superpower-dominated blocs, in the wake of the So­viet invasion of Afghanistan and, crucially, Nato's December 1979 decision to station new intermedi­ate-range nuclear force (INF) mis­siles (ground-launched cruise and Pershing II) in western Europe.

On the crest of a wave of popu­lar opposition to the plans for cruise bases at Greenham Com­mon and Molesworth, the cam­paign's national membership grew from 3,000 to more than 100,000 within a year of the Nato decision. But through the late eighties the international tensions which revived CND slowly disappeared.

Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union, wilting under the pressure of military spending, made concession after concession to the United States to secure de­tente and arms control. The 1985 Geneva summit between Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev broke a lit­tle ice; by the time of the Reyk­javik summit a year later, the thaw was well and truly under way. In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the INF Treaty, agreeing to scrap all ground-launched INF missiles. Commentators began to say that CND's work had been done.

At first, CND responded by em­phasising how much had not changed. Nato was still commit­ted to an aggressive nuclear war-fighting strategy and was planning "modernisation" of its non-INF nu­clear systems in Europe (short-range ground-launched missiles and artillery and air-launched and sea-launched weapons); Britain was still insistent on build­ing Trident.

True as all this was, however, it was increasingly unconvincing. CND seemed out of touch with popular sentiment: for most people in Britain, as elsewhere in Europe, the new detente meant that the threat of nuclear war had passed. The high-profile celebrity and intellectual supporters drifted away to other causes. CND's mem­bership slowly but inexorably de­clined.

The campaign's influence in par­ty politics went the same way. The peace movement, ineffective during the 1987 general election, was powerless to prevent Labour from dropping unilateral nuclear disar­mament in 1988-89. By the time that the 1989 revo­lutions overthrew the Soviet Union's client states in eastern Europe, the core message of the early-eighties peace movement seemed strangely obsolete even to many who had turned up on the big Hyde Park demonstrations.

In the face of all this, CND could have simply decided to contract and bang away regardless on the same old themes. Instead, perhaps over-impressed by the share of the vote taken by the Green Party in the 1989 European elections, it at­tempted to broaden its agenda, away from nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy and towards more general peace and security themes: the "peace dividend", low-flying military aircraft, the future of Eu­rope after the collapse of commu­nism and the Warsaw Pact, the arms trade, the Middle East.

The result was a much better magazine – Sanity was at its best in its last months – but an increasingly confused and direction­less campaign which did not seem to know its priorities. Morale in the campaign's head office reached an all-time low.

The international crisis that fol­lowed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August last year changed all that at a stroke. CND suddenly found a sense of purpose in oppos­ing military intervention in the Gulf.

Unfortunately, however, not least because it never managed to get its arguments for sanctions against Iraq to be heard above the din of Trotskyist calls for Iraqi vic­tory against the imperialists, that sense of purpose failed to make any impact on British public opin­ion.

After some impressively large demonstrations before war broke out, CND and the rest of the anti-war movement was sidelined dur­ing the conflict, its representatives reduced to claiming that the demonstrations would get bigger when the body bags started com­ing home. The rapid collapse of Iraqi resistance in Kuwait after the land offensive began left the argument in tatters and CND's credibility badly damaged. The Kurds rebel­lion saw CND as dumbfounded as George Bush. Since the end of the Gulf war, CND has drifted, its energies sapped by a burgeoning financial crisis and staff morale sinking ever lower as political differences have deepened.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace (which employs several former CND staff) has effectively taken over the CND campaign on the safety of Britain's ancient Polaris submarines. Other nuclear weapons issues are in­creasingly dealt with by former CNDers working independently, notably the British American Se­curity Council (BASIC), which has cornered the market on radical re­search into NATO. Unlike the en­vironmentalist pressure groups, CND now does little original re­search.

CND's annual conference this weekend in London is likely to see the fiercest argument for a decade over the campaign's direction. Es­sentially, the choice is between re­trenchment on CND's traditional anti-nuclear weapons platform and endorsement of a much more general anti-militarist perspective.

The campaign's chair, Marjorie Thompson, is in favour of broaden­ing, the agenda. "Trident, non-pro­liferation, the arms trade – all these issues, as well as beginning to right the wrongs perpetrated in our own lives by racism and vio­lence, form the basis of CND coming of age as a movement for peace and justice," she wrote re­cently in the New Statesman.

Others are sceptical about the desirability and feasibility of such a process, pointing to CND's per­ilous financial circumstances and to the unfinished business from the campaign’s traditional agenda: Trident, the surviving elements of Nato’s  nuclear moderni­sation programme, particularly the tactical air-to-surface missiles that are still planned to replace the alliance's stock of free-fall nu­clear bombs. Why bother to dupli­cate the work of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and anti-racist organisations, they ask.

As is the way with conferences, a neat resolution of the argument is unlikely to take place this weekend. Unless CND gets its act to­gether, however, it is difficult to believe that the future of the cam­paign will be anything but bleak.


Tribune leader, 22 November 1991

Unless there is a last-minute upset, the Communist Party of Great Britain will cease to exist this weekend. Few win mourn its death. Of course, many good comrades went through the CP. Even disillu­sioned former communists talk warmly of the rare sense of comradeship they experienced in the party. But in its three-quarters of a century existence, the CP has caused a vast amount of harm to the British left. In the end it is difficult to think of anything worth­while it has done that would not have been done as well by others in its absence.

Indeed, even without playing the game of "what if”, the list of concrete CP achievements is short. In the thirties, it organised the unemployed workers' move­ment and had a significant (although not dominant) role in opposing fascism on the streets and in the corri­dors of power. But it threw away nearly all its credibil­ity with its acceptance of the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939. Since then, practically all it has to boast about is some effective trade union organisation in the sixties and seventies, a certain amount of influence over Labour economic policy at the time of the Alternative Econom­ic Strategy and an almost-successful monthly maga­zine, now alas on its last legs, in the eighties.

Against this, there are the CP’s many failings. Most sickening, of course, there is its long acquiescence in the crimes of its Soviet master – Stalin's forced collec­tivisation of agriculture, the show trials, the commu­nist suppression of the radical left in the Spanish civil war, the imposition of communist dictatorship on east­ern Europe after 1946 and its maintenance by brute force.

Only in 1968, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslo­vakia, did the British party first distance itself from Moscow; it now emerges that it was still receiving substantial subsidies from the Kremlin as late as 1979.

But other, smaller things are almost as difficult to forgive: the attempts to take over autonomous move­ments, the front organisations, the ballot-rigging, the everyday lies, authoritarianism and manipulation vali­dated by the Leninist nostrum that the end justifies the means.

Enough, however, of the ashes. What of the phoenix apparently rising from them, Democratic Left? It is cer­tainly a very different creature from the old CP. It is no longer a Leninist "democratic centralist" party, and there is much in its programme with which anyone from the democratic left – an older, larger and livelier political current than that represented by today's "transformed" communists – could agree. The new par­ty (or non-party) looks as if it will be impressively open, democratic, libertarian, environmentalist and feminist. Perhaps, if we were starting to build British social democracy from scratch, we would start with something like Democratic Left rather than attempting to create the hotch-potch that is the Labour Party.

The problem is that we are not starting from scratch: Labour already exists, and, whatever its faults, they are not sufficient, at least in the eyes of most of the democratic Labour Left, to justify demolition and re­building. The ex-communists might be able to set up an interesting debating society and they might be able to initiate some successful campaigns. But Democratic Left is never going to attract sufficient support to be­come a significant electoral force or even to play a ma­jor role in setting the left agenda. It is difficult to see why the comrades did not simply dissolve the CP and join the Labour Party.

Friday, 15 November 1991


Tribune leader, 15 November 1991

Local government finance is hardly the most excit­ing political issue facing Britain today. But it is one of the most electorally telling. Local taxation affects everyone and one of the main reasons the Tories are in such a mess is their extraordinarily incompetent experiment with the poll tax.

The poll tax is unfair, uncollectable and universally unpopular and it is not surprising that the Tories want to put it behind them. They had been hoping, however, to do so in a leisurely fashion after winning an autumn election this year. Instead, the election was postponed in the face of opinion polls showing that the Tories would not win – and Michael Heseltine was made to bring forward the council tax legislation. The council tax bill will be rushed through parliament in time to give the Tories the option of calling the election before next year's poll tax bills, which are certain to be mas­sive because of the level of non-payment, drop on to the nation's doormats. With this in mind, the government has allowed the bare minimum of parliamentary time for scrutiny of the legislation.

The upshot is that we will be lumbered with a local government tax which, if marginally less regressive than the poll tax, is almost as unfair and just as un­workable. The council tax valuation process is laugh­ably arbitrary and appeals against valuation decisions will overload any conceivable system. The discount for single-person households is virtually an invitation to tax avoidance. And the retention of draconian central government capping powers makes a mockery of the principle of local accountability. Add the patent unfair­ness of the banding structure, which means that a fami­ly in a suburban semi will pay the same as one in a country mansion, and the council tax has all the makings of a disaster. A return to the rates with an improved rebate system, as Labour has advocated, would have been simpler, fairer and above all infinitely more practicable.

Facing up to racism

The Conservative Party has never been averse to us­ing race to win elections: since the fifties, it has con­sistently stood as the party that is "toughest on im­migration" and most insistent that minority ethnic groans conform to the "British way of life". The Asylum Bill, as mean-minded a piece of legislation as any put forward under Margaret Thatcher, is entirely consis­tent with the Tory record. So too is the slimy treatment meted out to Ashok Kumar by the Tories in the Langbaurgh by-election last week. However much Chris Pat­ten and John Major deny it, the Tories are playing the race card in the run-up to the general election.

That, however, is only the start of the problem. If a significant proportion of voters were not themselves racist, there would be no point in the Tories, or anyone else, trying to grab votes by playing up race issues. It is quite right for Labour to deplore the Tories’ tactics, but it would be far better for the party to spend a little more time and energy developing long-term policies to combat the racism endemic in British society. A Black Socialist Society within the party and pledges to tight­en up the law on racial discrimination are not enough.

Friday, 8 November 1991


Tribune leader, 8 November 1991

Whether he fell, jumped or was pushed from his yacht, Robert Maxwell is dead. Few in the Labour movement will mourn him, although many will claim to. He was never a popular figure during his brief period as Labour MP for Buckingham in the six­ties, and he made few friends as a businessman.

Yet many Labour politicians felt that they simply had to get on with him. From 1984, he was the megalomaniac hands-on proprietor of the Daily Mirror and its Sunday and Scottish sister papers - and the Mirror, Britain's second most-popular newspaper, was Labour's only friend on Fleet Street. The  politicians believed that Maxwell, accountable to no one, could make or break Labour and they acted accordingly: they crawled.

How far this affected Labour policy is arguable. But Labour would certainly have moved to the right dur­ing the eighties more slowly without the weight of Maxwell pulling it in that direction. And some felt that the influence of his uncritical enthusiasm for Israel on Labour's Middle East policy was considerable.

Labour is now watching nervously as the fate of Mir­ror Group Newspapers, 51 per cent of which is owned by the Maxwell family, is decided. The assumption is that Ian Maxwell, the deputy chairman until his fa­ther's death, will continue the newspapers' backing for Labour, but no one is sure. There is even speculation that the Maxwell empire's debt problems will force the sale of the family's share, perhaps to a Tory press baron, thus eliminating support for Labour from the popular press. This very possibility should stiffen Labour resolve to legislate to ensure press pluralism as soon as it comes to office.

Uneasy with Europe

The enthusiasm for Europe currently being shown by Labour stops well short of embracing the creation of a democratic federal European government, either chosen by direct election of a president or drawn from the European Parliament by a prime minister who is also an MEP.

The reasons for this are multiple. In the short term, there is no doubt that Labour's position is a simple matter of electoral opportunism: avoiding an explicit commitment to democratic European government avoids a damaging split in the party and does not frighten those of the party's older supporters who dis­like foreigners and believe that Britannia still rules the waves.

At a deeper level, Labour's leaders are all politi­cians who decided to make Westminster the focus of their political careers in the belief that the government of Britain was what really mattered. They are ill at ease with Europe and know that embracing the goal of democratic European federal government would amount to an admission that they were wrong – some­thing politicians hate doing. Far better for them to pre­tend that an ill-defined greater role for the Council of Ministers and other ministerial forums, along with a small increase in the powers of the European Parlia­ment, would suffice to keep the EC democratically ac­countable after economic and political union.

In reality, Labour's current proposals involve en­dorsement of plans to give more power to Brussels bu­reaucrats with only the scantest thought about how to make them more answerable to the people whose lives their decisions will affect. They are wholly inadequate if Labour really means to "democratise" the EC. If its rhetoric is to be taken seriously, sooner or later Labour will have to come out in favour of a democratically ac­countable federal European government.

Friday, 1 November 1991


Tribune leader, 1 November 1991

Labour has welcomed the draft treaty on European monetary union tabled by the Dutch presidency of the European Community this week, although it is rightly scornful of the ridiculous "get-out" clause in­cluded only to help John Major avoid a massive schism in the Tory Party. Labour believes that many of the points it has been arguing for have been taken on board by the Dutch – most of all, an enhanced role for Ecofin, the European Council of Finance Ministers, in overseeing the workings of the planned European cen­tral bank, particularly in determining exchange rate policy.

Tribune shares Labour's enthusiasm for a single Eu­ropean currency. Much detail remains to be sorted out, and the transition period in the run-up to Euro­pean monetary union will be difficult for a British economy weakened by more than a decade of Tory mismanagement. But there is no alternative: the era in which medium-sized nation states had the ability to exercise a substantial measure of control over their economies is long since past, and the creation of a sin­gle European currency is a precondition for the EC be­ing able effectively to fill the economic policy gap.

Labour is also right to argue that the European cen­tral bank must be made politically accountable. Its role will be far too important to be left to the Euro­pean equivalent of Treasury bureaucrats. But Labour's position does not go anywhere near for enough.

Giving increased powers of oversight over the central bank to the EC's finance ministers is better than nothing, but it is not as good as giving those powers to a select com­mittee drawn either from the national parliaments of the EC or, better still, from the European Parliament. The European Parliament is directly elected in EC-wide elections, and is the nearest thing we have to a democratically representative EC institution. There is no reason that it should not oversee the European central bank just as the United States Congress oversees the Federal Reserve.

Friday, 25 October 1991


Tribune leader, 25 October 1991

By-elections, particularly those just before gen­eral elections, have for years been national rather than local political events, and the cost of failure is immense. The defeats for Labour in Bermondsey in 1983 and Greenwich in 1987 dealt savage blows to the party's morale throughout the country and severely damaged its credibility with the voters.

No one in the Labour Party wants anything like those defeats to happen again, and it is reasonable for Labour nationally to do what it can to minimise the risk of by-election embarrassment. Regrettably, but un­avoidably given the vulnerability to hostile media cov­erage of Labour candidates, that includes the national party intervening in the local selection procedure to ensure that candidates can withstand the inevitable heat during the campaign – even in seats in which the proverbial donkey wearing a Labour rosette would have no difficulty in a general election. Hemsworth might be one of the safest Labour seats in the country, but then so were Glasgow Govan and Bermondsey.

That does not, however, excuse the heavy-handed way in which the National Executive Committee panel dealt last week with the selection for the November 7 by-election in Hemsworth in Yorkshire. Ken Capstick, the vice-chair of the National Union of Mineworkers  Yorkshire area, had been nominated by half the con­stituency's branches and most of its affiliated unions. Hemsworth is a mining constituency and Mr Capstick is, from all accounts, a decent man and a popular local figure. He is on the left and perhaps a little unenthusiastic about certain elements of current Labour policy; but he is by no means a wild-eyed Trotskyist, and it is no crime to have views at variance with party policy – just about everyone does on something or other. It is difficult to see how his selection could possibly have prejudiced Labour's chances in either Hemsworth or Langbaurgh, the Tory-held marginal which also has a by-election on November 7 and which Ashok Kumar should win for Labour.

In short, on almost any grounds Mr Capstick would seem to be an acceptable candidate. Yet the NEC panel decided to remove his name from the shortlist and, when the constituency party refused to make a selec­tion from a shortlist that did not include him, simply imposed Derek Enright as the Labour candidate.

The Hemsworth party is up in arms, and it has good reason to be, although not because the NEC committee decision has somehow deprived the NUM of a god-giv­en right to choose whomsoever it wants to sit for Hemsworth. One of the main advantages of an electoral system based on single-member constituencies is sup­posed to be that MPs are first and foremost representa­tives of a local community rather than mere parliamen­tary lobby fodder. For this reason, local parties should have the major say in selecting parliamentary candi­dates. In Hemsworth that did not happen.

Mr Enright is a good candidate and will no doubt get full support from the Hemsworth party as soon as the campaign gets into swing; he will undoubtedly retain the seat for Labour. But Mr Capstick was the members' choice. At very least, the members deserve an explana­tion of why he was deemed unsuitable: the criteria used by the NEC panel in judging by-election candi­dates should immediately be made public. In the longer term, the Hemsworth selection debacle should force Labour into a serious reconsideration of its procedures for by-election candidate selections.

Friday, 18 October 1991


Tribune leader, 18 October 1991

Like the Citizens' Charter before it, John Major's long, boring speech at Tory Party conference last week will soon be forgotten. Indeed, it is already difficult to remember exactly what it was about – apart, of course, from the boy from Brixton made good. Just about the only bit of policy that sticks in the mind is the pledge not to privatise the National Health Ser­vice, and it does so only because Tory party managers have spent so much time repeating in an attempt to wrest the initiative on health from Labour.

They are unlikely to succeed. Perhaps the Tories do not intend to float hospitals on the stock market. But their record of starving the NHS of resources suggests that they are quite happy to see it turned into a safety – net service used only by those who cannot afford to go private: in that sense, Labour has been quite right to accuse them of wishing to privatise health care. Equal­ly important, their current programme of introducing market forces into the NHS shows that they are more worried about the cost of the service to the taxpayer than its quality to the patient. Even if that is not, strictly speaking, privatisation (though it could all too easily be a prelude to it), it is commercialisation, an in­troduction of the ethics of private enterprise to a sphere in which most voters do not wish to see them.

The NHS is a potential election – winning issue for Labour: the party should shun the advice of those now suggesting that it should let up in its assault. But it will not be enough simply to attack the Tories. In the peri­od between now and the election, Labour must make its positive alternatives to Tory policies on the NHS much clearer and much more detailed.

On the wrong track

Two events in the past fortnight have illustrated perfectly how little John Major's 11 months in office have changed Tory policy on the railways.

First, Malcolm Rifkind announced last week that the high-speed rail link from the Channel Tunnel to Lon­don would not, after all, pass through Tory south- east London but would instead be diverted through Labour east London. The change means that the completion date for the line, already laughably distant by conti­nental standards, is put off to 2002 at the earliest — four years after the tunnel opens. British Rail, its plans in tatters, was understandably outraged.

Then, this week, BR announced fare increases of roughly double the rate of inflation (except, that is, on routes which Mr Major believes offer a poor service, in­cluding that from King's Cross to his own constituen­cy). The reason is simple. The government, alone in Europe, wants to privatise the railway system and, alone in Europe, is reducing its subsidies while BR, its revenue hit by recession, does not want to cut its in­vestment programme. BR's only option is to increase fares. The increase will drive more and more passen­gers into using the private motor car – leading to more pollution, more traffic jams and, unless there is a change of government, more fare increases next year.

Everywhere else in Europe, the railway has been recognised as worthy of massive subsidy and invest­ment on any number of economic and environmental grounds. Here, it is starved of cash and developed only half- heartedly and belatedly. The British railway sys­tem, once the best in the world, is now one of the worst in Europe. While the Tories remain in charge, it can only fall further behind.