Friday, 21 June 1991


Tribune, 21 June 1991

Paul Anderson visits the by-election campaign in Eric Heffer's old seat

The by-election campaign  in Liverpool Walton got under way in earnest last weekend as members of the Militant Tenden­cy from all over the country arrived to canvass for Lesley Mahmood, the Militant  member  standing  as  a "Real  Labour" candidate  against Labour's Peter Kilfoyle.

Most went home on Sunday, but there is still a large Militant pre­sence on the rubbish-strewn streets of the north Liverpool constituency, dishing out leaflets and stickers printed in the same colours as Mr Kilfoyle's, though without the Labour rose. "They're doing their best to confuse the voters," says one of Mr Kilfoyle's campaign workers. "They're trying to give the impress­ion that Kilfoyle was imposed on Walton by the Labour leadership even though Mahmood was the loc­al choice. They're also insinuating that Kilfoyle voted for redundancies on the city council - and he's not even a councillor."

Ms Mahmood, a Liverpool city councillor expelled from the Labour Party this year for opposing the setting of the council's poll tax, denies the charge that she is run­ning a dirty campaign or trying to confuse the voters. "I don't see how anyone can be confused," she says. "We are the real Labour Party in this city. I was selected by Walton Real Labour supporters. They've built the party in the area. I wouldn't want to be known as the official Labour candidate. He's Kinnock's yes-man."

Mr Kilfoyle makes a great show of steering clear of arguments about Liverpool Labour politics and Mili­tant, at least for the time being. Labour is confident that Ms Mahmood will do herself damage by her constant repetition of Militant slogans – "everything from nationalise the top 150 monopolies to a workers' MP on a workers' wage," says a Kilfoyle supporter – and that any confusion about the identity of the Labour candidate will be quickly cleared up by the media coverage of the campaign.

The unspoken fear is not that Labour will lose but that its victory will not be crushing. Militant has few firm friends among the Walton electorate: an opinion poll pub­lished in the Liverpool Echo on Tuesday gave Mr Kilfoyle 40 per cent, with Paul Clark, the Liberal Democrat candidate, on 16 per cent and Ms Mahmood trailing on 9 per cent, just 2 points above the Tories' Berkeley Greenwood.

Nevertheless, there are worries in the Labour camp that the Kil­foyle campaign could be hampered by Militant intimidation of canvassers and that Ms Mahmood could yet benefit from popular opposition to the 1,000 council job cuts current­ly planned by Liverpool City Coun­cil's official Labour group in the face of a growing financial crisis.

The council is the largest single employer in the city, and feelings are running high, particularly among the council bin-men, whose industrial action against the cuts has left 12,000 tons of rubbish on the city's streets.

Ms Mahmood supports the in­dustrial action. She is campaigning on a platform of "no redundancies and no rent rises", and is hoping to emulate the success of the "Real Labour" candidates run by the Mili­tant-dominated Broad Left in last month's local elections. Five out of six candidates put up against offi­cial Labour candidates for the city council won their seats, one of them in Walton.

Her opponents argue that she is advancing not practical policies but Trotskyist "transitional demands", designed to be attractive but im­possible to implement. The idea, according to the theory, is that workers "taken through the experi­ence" of having their hopes dashed will become more receptive to re­volutionary socialism.

If there is any place where work­ers should have been radicalised by Militant slogans, it is Walton. The constituency is the cradle of the entrist sect: as long ago as 1955, Ted Grant, the leader of the Trots­kyist group that became the Revolutionary Socialist League later the same year and started pub­lishing Militant newspaper in 1964, just missed being selected as Labour parliamentary candidate for Walton. In the 1959 general elec­tion, the Labour candidate, George McCartney, who lost to a Tory, was an RSL sympathiser.

Although Eric Heifer, who was MP for Walton from 1964 and whose death caused the by-election, was never in Militant, Walton was the base that Militant used to ex­tend its influence throughout the Liverpool Labour Party as the old right-wing Labour machine de­clined in the sixties and seventies, coming eventually to dominate the city council in the early eighties.

Even though its sway over the constituency Labour Party has been much reduced by expulsions in the past five years, many of them the responsibility of Mr Kilfoyle, until recently Labour's north-west re­gional organiser, the tendency re­tains a strong influence in the area, particularly in the trade unions. The Walton by-election seemed to Militant to be an ideal opportunity to exact its revenge on its tormentors in the Labour Party nationally and locally.

If the opinion polls are anything like accurate, however, it seems more likely that Militant, either through desperation or stupidity, has overplayed its hand. Certainly, whatever happens in the by-election, the future now looks almost impossible for Militant in­side the Labour Party.

It is difficult to see how Militant supporters who have managed to stay in the Labour Party since the expulsions began can possibly sur­vive the wrath of all sections of the party after their organisation has run a candidate against Labour in a parliamentary by-election: the posi­tion of the two Militant MPs, Dave Nellist and Terry Fields, is particu­larly sticky.

Militant knew this before decid­ing to run Ms Mahmood, but was gambling on using a good showing in Walton as the basis for estab­lishing itself as a credible Leninist party far more outside Labour than inside. If, however, as seems likely, Ms Mahmood does badly, the Tendency's credibility will be wrecked. As Trotsky himself might have put it, The Revolutionary Socialist League seems to be head­ing straight for the unemptied dust­bin of history.


Tribune leader, 21 June 1991

Last week's official announcement that, in 1990, 539 warrants to tap telephones were authorised by the Home Secretary and the Scottish Secretary sounded very reassuring. It gave the impression that there is only one tapped telephone for every 100,000 people hi Britain. Given the prevalence of crime and terrorism, we are supposed to conclude that the extent of telephone-tapping could not possibly concern anyone but a con­firmed paranoiac.

Unfortunately, the official figure is absolutely meaning­less. Only one warrant is required to cover an entire organisation. According to insiders in British Telecom, the number and deployment of telephone engineers and support staff employed on tapping are consistent with many more lines – possibly as many as 35,000 – being snooped upon by the state.

If anything like accurate, these estimates are cause for serious concern. They indicate that the state has an unprecedented and frightening capacity for engaging in surveillance of the population. Perhaps we are not yet staring 1984 in the face, but the right to privacy is being systematically undermined.

Labour is committed to bringing telephone-tapping under tighter control, but a Labour government will have a hard time putting the party's commitments into practice against the resistance of state surveillance and security bureaucracies. As became clear last week, police plan­ners are already meeting in secret to work out how they will obstruct or circumvent a Labour government's attempts to carry out policies they do not like, among them the proposed restrictions on telephone-tapping. If Labour is serious about even modest reductions in the size and influence of the surveillance state, let alone about making what remains democratically accountable, it will have to be well prepared for a very tough battle.

What's wrong with federalism?

It is always pleasant to see Tories at each other's throats, and it is quite understandable that Labour is for the moment sitting back and laughing as they tear one another to bits over Europe.

In the longer term, however, the Tories' current row raises a crucial question that Labour cannot duck. Giving the vague impression to the voters that Labour is now the pro-European party is all very well, but before many months are out, Labour will have to decide whether it is in principle in favour of the eventual creation of a federal united states of Europe.

Largely because it knows what damage splits on Europe can cause to British political parties, Labour has concentrated on more immediate, everyday matters of European Community politics – the Social Charter, re­gional policy, making the Commission more democrati­cally accountable, ensuring that a European Central Bank is supervised by elected politicians, reforming the Common Agricultural Policy and so on. If Labour be­lieves Britain is in the EC to stay and if it endorses, with whatever conditions, European Monetary Union and a European central bank, it makes sense for it explicitly to embrace the idea of giving directly democratically accountable all-European institutions the primary re­sponsibility for European government within 20 years.

Friday, 14 June 1991


Tribune leader, 14 June 1991

The Militant tendency had few friends even on the far-left of the Labour Party before the Liverpool Broad Left, which it dominates, decided to field its own candidate, Lesley Mahmood, in the by-election for the Walton seat left vacant by the death of Eric Heffer. Now it has quite simply put itself beyond the pale.

Peter Kilfoyle was chosen 16 months ago as Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Walton accord­ing to the party's agreed selection procedure. It is wholly irrelevant that many people believe that the selection procedure needs to be reformed: it is the one the party has lumbered itself with. It is equally irrelevant that Mr Heffer did not approve of Mr Kilfoyle: Labour MPs do not appoint their successors as prospective parliamentary candidates, nor should they.

Like him or loathe him, Mr Kilfoyle is the official Labour candidate, and publicly to support rivals to official Labour election candidates is rightly considered by the party constitution as one of the most serious disciplinary offences a party member can commit. Party members who campaign against Mr Kilfoyle will deserve no sympathy from anyone, left or right, when they are expelled.

Nevertheless, the most important thing about the Broad Left's decision to run a rival candidate is not what it means for Labour Party members who back that candi­date but its impact on Labour's chances in the general election.

If Mr Kilfoyle is beaten as a result of the Broad Left intervention, either directly by Ms Mahmood or because she takes enough votes from Labour to allow a Liberal Democrat victory, Labour's standing nationally will be severely damaged, just as it was by its by-election defeats in Bermondsey in 1983 and Greenwich in 1987. The damage might be reparable, but it will be far better for Labour if the Broad Left challenge in Walton is crushed.

Whether it will be depends on how far the Broad Left is able to turn the substantial support it has had in local politics into by-election votes, and there are good reasons for believing that it will not. Militant and its dupes and cronies inspire no great loyalty or idealism among the people of Liverpool: it is just that many people in a city where the council is the predominant employer and provider of housing are prepared to vote for prom­ises of no cuts in council jobs and no increases in council rents. That the gang making the promises is corrupt and dishonest is well known – Alan Bleasdale's portrayal of brutish boss politics in his GBH will strike a chord throughout Merseyside – but short-term self-interest easily trumps such considerations for many voters at local election time.

In the by-election, on the other hand, self-interest on the part of the voters could well work against the Broad Left. Although the Militant central committee might consider it worth taking the risk of sabotaging Labour's chances in the general election on the grounds that a Labour government led by Neil Kinnock would be worse than a Tory government, it is unlikely that the voters of Walton agree. If Labour can convince them that voting for the Broad Left is the most effective way of helping the Tories to retain office, Mr Kilfoyle will be returned with a thumping majority.

Friday, 7 June 1991


Tribune leader, 7 June 1991

This week, Neil Kinnock delivered a speech to Euro­pean socialists in Luxembourg in which he argued that the European Community's council of economic and finance Ministers – Ecofin in Europeak – should play a "strategic role" in formulating member states' domestic monetary policies, overseeing the operations of a new European central bank.

As the Financial Times said, the speech was "the clearest indication yet that Labour is ready to hand over some control of the UK's internal economic policy to a supranational agency".

For many on the left, the idea of relinquishing national sovereignty over key elements of economic policy to any supranational agency is anathema. Yet national sovereignty over the economy is, for countries as small as Britain, part of the past. Like it or not, supranational agencies are essential for the development of viable alternative economic strategies: the crucial question is whether they are democratically accountable.

A European central bank, overseen by national econo­mic and finance ministers who are answerable to nationally elected parliaments, is of course much more democratic than a European central bank overseen by bureaucrats who are not answerable to any elected body. But it is far less democratic than a European central bank overseen by directly elected MEPs.

Labour shies away from any such arrangement, believ­ing that the powers of the European Parliament "must complement but not replace" those of national parlia­ments. In line with this, during his visit to Luxembourg Mr Kinnock made clear his opposition to the creation of a single European socialist party.

But it is difficult to think of any reason apart from sentimentality for this attitude. If Labour accepts that national sovereignty over the economy is now severely limited and that economic policy should be determined at a European level, it should surely accept that the Euro­pean Parliament will increasingly replace Westminster as the focus of democratic politics.


It is unusual for Tribune to agree with Judge James Pickles, but his call for the decriminalisation of cannabis makes perfect sense. Use of cannabis is now so widespread in Britain, among all classes and ethnic groups, that the law banning it has become a joke – except for the 30,000-odd people convicted each year for posses­sion of small quantities for personal use.

The drug is not addictive and there is no evidence that it causes significant harm to health, as alcohol and tobacco undoubtedly do. If a tiny proportion of cannabis-users move on to addictive and debilitating illegal drugs, it is not because of any property of cannabis but because its very illegality means it is sold by black-market traders who also sell drugs that are dangerous.

Decriminalisation of possession would not remove can­nabis from the black market – supplying it would still be illegal – and it is arguable that complete legalisation, with the state regulating or even monopolising supply, is a more coherent option. But Judge Pickles' proposal is at least a step hi the right direction.

By contrast, merely adjusting the law to make posses­sion a less serious offence, as Justice, the British section of the International Commission of Jurists, recommended this week, would continue unnecessarily to clog up the courts. Dope-smokers have found an unlikely friend.