Friday, 26 July 1991


Tribune leader, 26 July 1991

The government's Citizen's Charter, unveiled on Monday, is based on two contentious underlying  assumptions. The first is that "citizenship" is all about being a consumer: there is nothing in the Charter's 50-plus glossy pages to suggest that citizenship has anything whatsoever to do with political rights or active participation in the democratic political process. The grand themes with which the idea of citizenship has always been associated – freedom of speech, conscience and assembly, the right to vote and so on – are entirely absent. John Major's idea of an active citizen is someone who wants to complain about the lateness of the 7.55 train from Surbiton.

The second assumption is that the problem with Britain's public services is their lack of efficiency. If only the chaps who run our hospitals, schools, trains, buses and council housing pulled their socks up, its reasoning goes, everything would be fine and dandy. The Charter is essentially a list of measures designed to secure "value for money": improved complaints and compensation procedures, consumer rights to information, performance-related pay for public service workers and the opening up of yet more of the public service sector to competition through privatisation.

Some of the Charter's proposals, such as those on consumer rights and complaints procedures, are perfectly sensible if unexciting. Others are simply banal. Controls on coned-off lanes on motorways and the introduction of name-tags for public service workers who deal with the public are not urgent priorities.

In many areas, the Charter does not go far enough. It contains no commitment to a Freedom of Information Act and there is nothing at all on extending consumer rights in the private sector. Its proposals for strengthening the power of regulatory bodies are tame and its ideas about tenant control of council housing stop far short of advocating democratic self-management of socially owned housing.

Worse, several of its proposals are the sort of baloney that only dogmatic free-marketeers could advance with a straight face. The service provided by the Post Office would be severely harmed if a private rival were allowed to cream off its most profitable business, and the privatisation of British Rail and London Buses would only worsen the crisis in Britain's creaking public transport system.

The main problem with the Charter, however, is that its identification of what is wrong with Britain's public services is extraordinarily wide of the mark. The reason that British Rail, London Underground or London Buses run such lousy services is not that they are particularly inefficient but that they have been starved of investment since the Tories came to power in 1979. Streamlining the complaints procedure will not make the trains run on time. Similarly, the main reason that hospital waiting-list times are too long is not that the National Health Service is inefficient (although it is) but that the NHS does not have enough money. Tougher standards for schools and publication of exam results and truancy rates are all very well but, without more cash, the education system will continue to fail. Much the same goes for the social security system.

The Citizen's Charter is an attempt to get quality public services on the cheap. For all the hyperbole in the Tory press, Mr Major's "big idea" is really rather threadbare. It is certainly not an election-winner.


Tribune, 26 July 1991

Gerald Kaufman's attempt to 'clarify' Labour's policy on nuclear arms reductions leaves it as ambiguous as ever, writes Paul Anderson

The current dispute over Lab­our's policy on nuclear weapons, which has been sim­mering since Gerald Kaufman, Lab­our's foreign affairs spokesman, hinted in a Guardian article a fort­night ago that a Labour govern­ment would keep nuclear weapons “as long as anyone else had them”, is unlikely to degenerate into inter­necine strife as previous Labour defence rows have done.

With the possibility of a general election in November, even the ster­nest Labour critics of the leader­ship's apparent political trajectory are likely to fall silent in the in­terests of party unity. Unless it does something really stupid, the worst the leadership can expect is a few murmurs of dissent at October's party conference.

Unlike in 1983 and 1987, it is the anti-nuclear Left rather than the pro-nuclear Right that is unhappy about the policy – and, however fractious in between election cam­paigns, the Left at election time tends to keep its reservations to itself. The Right, as James Callaghan demonstrated famously in 1983, is often less self-disciplined.

Nevertheless, Kaufman's remarks have undoubtedly touched a raw nerve. He wrote that "Britain should remain as a participant" in nuclear arms reduction talks "until they are successfully and finally concluded with an agreement by all thermo-nuclear powers completely to eliminate these weapons", and journalists were apparently briefed that this implied that Labour would keep Britain's "independent deter­rent" for as long as the other nuc­lear powers retained nuclear weapons.

On this interpretation, Kaufman was flagging a radical change in Labour policy. The party had never before advocated retaining nuclear weapons until everyone else got rid of theirs. Unsurprisingly, the reac­tion from the Left was unenthusiastic.

Bruce Kent, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon, writing in Tri­bune last week, said that the article was "a final surrender to David Owen, Peter Jenkins, Robert Max­well, Alf Garnett and all".

But it is possible to put a different spin on Kaufman's words. It is perfectly feasible for a country to remain a participant in arms reduc­tion talks after its own stocks of a particular sort of weapon have been negotiated away or unilaterally abandoned.

Indeed, that is precisely the situa­tion Britain is in today in the talks aimed at the elimination of chemic­al weapons: Britain unilaterally abandoned chemical weapons in 11957 but has remained a partici­pant in talks ever since.

On  this  reading,  Kaufman's statement did not imply that Lab­our would keep the bomb as long as anyone else had one. All he was saying was that a Labour govern­ment would stay in nuclear arms reduction talks to the very end – which would include the possibility that Labour would bargain away the "independent deterrent" but stay in the talks in order to press the remaining nuclear powers to reach agreement on reductions.

Stated explicitly, this would in­deed have been a clarification of Labour policy rather than a change. But Kaufman has refused to elabo­rate on the precise meaning of his words. His intervention has merely stirred some already muddy waters. Labour's position on Britain nuc­lear arms remains as ambiguous as before.

According to the policy passed at party conference in 1989, the year that Labour dropped unilateral nuc­lear disarmament, the line is that British nuclear arms do not consti­tute a deterrent: they are useful only as "bargaining chips" in nuc­lear arms reduction negotiations.

Because it would be too expensive to cancel the Trident nuclear mis­sile submarine project at this late stage, a Labour government would build three of the four boats cur­rently planned. But it would attempt to get Trident and its Polaris predecessor included in the second round of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START-2), and it would drop Tory plans to replace the ageing WE-177 free-fall nuclear bombs with new air-to-surface mis­siles, either bought from the United States or developed jointly with France.

The crucial vagueness in the poli­cy is that it says nothing about how Labour would get Britain into START-2 and little about what its negotiating position would be once it was in.
In part, this is for the very good reason that no one could possibly know in 1989 what the situation in the START process would be when Labour came to power. But the vagueness was also a means of papering over differences.

Those on the Left accepted put­ting British strategic nuclear forces into START-2 only on condition that the talks would quickly result in a deal to bargain them away; those on the right saw the policy as meaning that Labour would keep the deterrent if Britain's entry into START-2 was blocked or if the talks got bogged down.

Kaufman's intervention is perhaps best understood as a piece of "kite-flying" to see what would happen if he made an explicit commitment to keeping British nuclear arms as long as anyone else had them. He expected to he de­nounced by the hard left and by the peace movement but to be given the benefit of the doubt by the centre-left of the party.

Instead, the centre-left, includ­ing senior Shadow Cabinet and National Executive Committee politicians and the normally mild-mannered Labour Co-ordinating Committee, stuck its neck out. It is clear that Kaufman would provoke a really serious row if he tried explicitly to change the position on START before the manifesto is drawn up and it seems likely lhat he will now let the matter rest.

Which is not to say that Labour's position on other nuclear weapons isues will remain the same. The party is coming under increasing union pressure both on Trident and on Polaris, and the signs are that, at least on Trident, the leadership is set tn change course.

The unions at the VSEL shipyard in Barrow-in-Furncss, situated in a Labour target marginal constituen­cy, are pressing hard for Labour to commit itself to building lour rather than three Tridents because the yard will shed thousands of jobs, and almost certainly close, if the fourth submarine is not built.

Martin O'Neill, Labour's defence spokesman, has already indicated that a Labour government might build the fourth submarine if can­cellation charges in the (yet-to-be-signed) contract made it more ex­pensive to cancel than to build. Further movement is expected in the run-up to the election.

Polaris is a potentially far more difficult problem. Unions representing fitters working on maintaining the ancient and decrepit Polaris fleet are becoming increasingly con­cerned at the radiation exposure dangers their members now face.

Only one of the four submarines is now fully operational: the other three are suffering from cracks in the coolant systems of their nuclear reactors. Fitters are being exposed to levels of radiation close to or above the maximum permitted in a desperate attempt to patch up the damage so that Britain has a nuc­lear missile submarine force until Trident becomes operational in the late nineties.

If the unions' radiation exposure fears prove justified in the run-up to the election, Labour will have little option but to say that it will scrap Polaris on safety grounds. Because the missiles for the Trident sub­marines have been seriously de­layed by the inability of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Aldermaston to build the war­heads, this would effectively amount to ial least temporary) un­ilateral nuclear disarmament. The more cynical Labour leaders must be praying that no one comes up too soon with authoritative evidence that Polaris is too dangerous to keep afloat.

Friday, 19 July 1991


Tribune leader, 19 July 1991

Labour’s National Executive Committee is right to have launched an investigation into Terry Fields, the MP for Liverpool Broadgreen - although not because he deserves to be disciplined simply for his refusal to endorse  or campaign  for Peter Kilfoyle, the Labour candidate in the recent Walton by-election.

Inaction or lack of enthusiasm during election cam­paigns is not in itself grounds for disciplinary investiga­tion of Labour Party members by the NEC, nor should it become so: members of the Labour Party have a perfect right to be as indolent and unenthusiastic as they choose. Terry Fields's lack of support for Mr Kilfoyle is on a par with the refusal of Frank Field, the MP for Birkenhead, to endorse Lol Duffy, the Labour candidate for Wallasey in the 1987 general election. Frank Field's reasons may have been rather better than those of Terry Fields (Mr Duffy was a member of Socialist Organiser, a Trotskyist entrist group), but that is beside the point. Were it a simple matter of refusing to endorse an official Labour candi­date, Terry Fields would no more deserve investigation than did Frank Field.

But Terry Fields's lack of enthusiasm for Mr Kilfoyle is not the reason that the NEC has set up the investigation. Nor is it that he has made a fool of himself by getting himself banged up for non-payment of poll tax. Rather it is that the NEC believes that there is now enough evidence of his membership of the Militant tendency to have him expelled from Labour.

If indeed there is such evidence, he can expect no sympathy from the democratic libertarian Left if he is given the boot. The same would go for Dave Nellist, the MP for Coventry South East, if an investigation were to find against him on similar grounds. Membership of Militant, a Trotskyist entryist party with its own disci­pline and programme, is quite simply incompatible with membership of the Labour Party, a democratic socialist party. That goes for MPs as much as for anyone else.

Nothing perfect

The weighty interim report of Labour's working party I on electoral reform, chaired by Raymond Plant, is right to reject the idea that any particular electoral system is intrinsically the fairest, and it is right to insist that the system used to elect the House of Commons should maintain the link between MPs and constituen­cies.

Although the Additional Member System yields repre­sentation in parliament approximately proportional to votes cast, it has the disadvantages of creating two classes of MPs and of virtually guaranteeing Centre parties far more power in coalition governments than their support warrants. The Alternative Vote system gets round the problem of two classes of MP, but most versions yield excessive representation in parliament to MPs from Centre parties elected on second-preference votes. The Second Ballot system suffers from a similar weakness and, like the status quo, tends to produce parliaments in which the seats held bear scant relation to the votes cast.

In short, nothing is perfect, and Tribune will continue the debate. The priority, however, is winning under the current system. It would be a mistake to distract Labour from that mammoth task.

Friday, 12 July 1991


Tribune leader, 12 July 1991

The humiliating defeat of Militant's Lesley Mahmood by Labour's Peter Kilfoyle in last week's Liverpool Walton by-election has caused widespread rejoicing on the democratic left.  Ms Mahmood's miserable per­formance shows conclusively that Leninist vanguard politics is incapable of securing popular support in this country unless it has the cover of the Labour Party.

Indeed, considering everything that appeared to be going in her favour – in particular Liverpool City Coun­cil's redundancy programme but also Militant's uniquely strong local base – Ms Mahmood's showing was derisory. She and her comrades in Britain's largest Leninist party, backed to the hilt by Britain's second-largest Leninist party, the Socialist Workers' Party, have made revolu­tionary vanguard politics of any variety a laughing stock.

In the process, they have also managed to give added impetus to the Labour Party's attempt to rid itself of Militant. Campaigning for anti-Labour candidates is rightly considered one of the most serious disciplinary offences in Labour's constitution, and those who cam­paigned for Ms Mahmood, many of them shipped in by Militant, are now going to get their come-uppance: expulsion from the Labour Party. They deserve no sympathy and they will not be missed.

Members of Militant who did not campaign for Ms Mahmood, particularly the two Militant MPs, Terry Fields and Dave Nellist, pose a thornier problem. This is not because it is somehow wrong to expel members of Militant from the Labour Party. The Militant tendency, more properly speaking the Revolutionary Socialist League, is a manipulative authoritarian sect with its own disciplinary structure and its own (deranged and in many ways reactionary) programme. Its ideology and practice are utterly incompatible with democratic socialism, and it has no legitimate place in a democratic socialist party.

Rather, the difficulty is the practical one of ensuring that those expelled for Militant membership really are members of Militant. Democratic socialists who accepted Labour's rules were often in the past disciplined merely for expressing opinions at odds with those of the leader­ship, and it is better to err on the side of caution than to allow that to happen again. If, in the aftermath of Walton, Labour decides that it is time to accelerate the currently steady but slow process of expelling Militant, it is essen­tial that the party adheres scrupulously to the principle of presumption of innocence and uses reliable evidence only.

Kaufman's capitulation

The announcement by  Gerald  Kaufman,  Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, that a Labour government will remain in nuclear arms reduction talks until all nuclear weapons are eliminated was rightly reported as an indication that he believes Britain should keep nuclear weapons as long as anyone else has them. As such, it represents a breath-taking capitulation to the Conserva­tives. Instead of simply ignoring Tory jibes that Labour remained unilateralist at heart, Mr Kaufman has panick­ed. In the process, he has effectively promised to retain the "independent deterrent" well into the next century if not for ever, even though it has no function other than reinforcing Britain's delusions that it is still an imperial power. With half-a-dozen ill-chosen words, Mr Kaufman has gone against the spirit and letter of Labour policy, which is based on a rejection of nuclear deterrence.

Friday, 5 July 1991


Tribune, 5 July 1991

What’s it like to be Britain's first black trade union leader? Paul Anderson talks to Bill Morris, who has just been elected head honcho of the Transport and General Workers' Union

“Coming in as a new general secretary, you have to have a sense of your priorities," says Bill Morris, who last month won the election to take over from Ron Todd at the head of the Transport and Gener­al Workers' Union, Britain's largest union.

Morris is in no doubt about the most urgent task facing him be­fore he takes over from Todd in March 1992. "Priority number one is to unite the TGWU," he says.

His battle for the general secre­taryship against George Wright, the TGWU's Welsh regional secretary, was one of the hardest-fought union elections in recent memory and, although Morris won clearly with 118,206 votes to Wright's 83,059, the union re­mains divided as it meets for its biennial conference in Blackpool next week.

The next challenge is to do something about the TGWU's fi­nances. Since the Tories came to office in 1979, the TGWU's membership has fallen by 40 per cent, from more than 2 million to just over 1,200,000. Last year, the union's income of £54 million fell short of its expenditure by £12 million.

"It is essential that the union's finances are brought within credible bounds," Morris says. "We have a deficit, which was planned insofar as, when the first recession of the early eighties came, we took a very conscious decision that we would not pursue a policy of retrenchment, sacking officers and staff and closing pre­mises, because it would give the wrong signals to the Labour movement. A lot of people - and not just TGWU members - rely on the union. We would have been letting all of them down if we had said we weren't going to give any more voluntary support.

"Unfortunately, we did not see that the recession was going to last as long as it did and that we were going to have two recessions in a decade. Nor did we foresee that there would be a major shift from manufacturing into the ser­vice sector. We suffered from a double squeeze, a big shake-out where we were strong, while our organisation in the service sector was not well developed. We've spent the last five years re­positioning the union to cope with this change."

Morris has been closely associ­ated with the "Link-Up" cam­paign to recruit part-time, casual and temporary workers, particu­larly women, which has been cen­tral to this re-positioning. Since the campaign started in 1985, TGWU recruitment has risen from 220,000 to 285,000 a year.

"But 'Link-Up' wasn't simply a matter of recruiting a few tem­porary and part-time workers," he says. "It was about giving trade unionism back to the ex­ploited, the oppressed, those who need it most. It involved consoli­dating in our existing strongholds to take account of changes in the workplace, using modern methods to promote our values, and making structural changes in the union, for example to encour­age women to get involved. There had to be a cultural revolution here so that, when we spoke, people knew that we meant it."

Morris says he wants to build on the success of "Link-Up". "We need to rebuild the union's numerical strength. Along with robust recruiting and organising in the areas of the economy where we are already established, we need to pursue a strategy of mer­gers and joint ventures with other unions.

"The only criterion for mergers is the industrial logic of what we do," he says. Among the prime candidates for merger is the National Union of Mineworkers, also meeting in Blackpool next week. "We have spoken to the miners," says Morris. "Coal has to be at the heart of Britain's future energy strategy. I want to see a balanced energy policy. We be­lieve we can facilitate that pro­cess with a united energy orga­nisation and yes, there is a home for the miners in the Transport and General Workers' Union, ni be pursuing that vigorously."

Transport is another area for possible mergers, he says, and there are plenty of other ways that the TGWU under his leader­ship will be open to co-operation, particularly Europe, on which, he says, no single union has the resources to operate effectively on its own.

"I see the Europeanisation of labour and capital and the monet­ary and political developments as key issues which have to be addressed by trade unions work­ing together. It's a big challenge, the Europeanisation of trade un­ionism, but we've got to pick it up."

In   the   shorter   term,   Morris says, the main political challenge is closer to home: the election of a Labour government. He pledges full support for Labour's cam­paign from his union. "We are not going to wake up the morning after a general election with a healthy political fund and John Major still in Number Ten Down­ing Street. We will put the politic­al resources to work to ensure the election of a Labour government. The TGWU will be playing its usual special role in Labour's campaign."

Morris is keen on Labour's plans for a statutory minimum wage and critical of the leaders of craft unions who have attacked it for eroding differentials. "We're now convinced that there's no good reason that the state should continue to subsidise bad em­ployers who underpay their workers. That essentially is what is happening. People on low wages have to ask for income support handouts from the state. A statu­tory minimum wage is the way forward. But we've got to do more than make statements of inten­tion. If the statutory minimum is going to work, it will need proper enforcement.

"Of course people have to be rewarded for skills and for effort but, if we are serious about tack­ling low pay, to denounce the minimum wage at this stage, almost on the basis of greed in some instances, doesn't seem to me to be the best way of getting the debate going."

He is similarly enthusiastic ab­out Labour's plans for trade union law reform. "We need a new framework of labour law," he says. "What Labour has proposed so far is a major extension of rights. I've always been a suppor­ter of the closed shop, but we are in a new ball game. The unions' big problem today is riot main­taining the closed shop, it's get­ting recognition. If I have to choose between a closed shop and statutory recognition, I'll choose statutory recognition."

Morris remains a firm oppo­nent of incomes policy and rejects the idea that Labour's proposed National Economic Assessment would effectively be one. "If the National Economic Assessment is about incomes policy then frankly the TGWU is not interested. I can't put it any clearer than that. If it's about informing bargain­ing, if it's about looking to see how we can influence priorities, seeking to develop a whole new debate about creating economic prosperity, we want to be part of the process."

"Whatever happens," he says, "we will be right at the sharp end attempting to influence develop­ments in the workplace. We will be very aggressive in maintain­ing living standards and in prom­oting training. We'll be pushing very strongly for a diversification strategy for the defence indus­tries and for infrastructural in­vestment in the regions. And we do not accept that there is inevi­tability about unemployment. We must restore the goal of full em­ployment."

Morris is, of course, Britain's first black trade union secretary and, according to the Financial Times, the most powerful black man in Britain. But he plays down the importance of his col­our. "We live in a society where people are judged not by their personality or their character but by their colour, which I find abhorrent. Because I am black, I think I'm best placed - I won't make any concession of modesty here - to understand the prob­lems of racism and discrimina­tion.

"But I said throughout my cam­paign that I was not the black candidate, I was a candidate who was black, and I was elected on my policies. My position is quite clear. I'm not a representative of the black community, I'm a pro­fessional trade unionist. My un­ion of opportunity will be a union of opportunity for all. No favours, no privileges, just sheer merit."


Tribune leader, 5 July 1991

Unlike previous Balkan crises, the current upheaval in Yugoslavia is hardly the stuff on which continental or world wars are made: the collapse of Soviet power in eastern Europe has seen to that. But this is not to say that the attempt of the Yugoslav federal army and airforce to suppress Slovenian aspirations to indepen­dent nationhood can be dismissed by the rest of Europe as an internal Yugoslav affair. Already scores of people have died in the fighting. To avert disaster, it is impera­tive that the other European states, acting in concert and using every diplomatic means available to them, do their utmost to secure a binding ceasefire and withdrawal of federal forces from Slovenia.

Nevertheless, it has to be recognised that such mea­sures will probably not be enough. The unavoidable fact is that Yugoslavia is falling apart. The Slovenes and Croats have had enough of being dominated by the Serbs and want to be out of the federation, preferably becoming part of an enlarged European Community. The federal armed forces, the last remaining functioning part of the old communist federal apparatus, whose officer corps is dominated by Serbs, are prepared to go to war to preserve Serbian hegemony.

Even if a ceasefire can be secured, it seems unlikely that the protagonists can be brought to the negotiating table; it is even more unlikely that negotiations will produce a way of keeping Yugoslavia in one piece. Sooner or later, probably sooner, the rest of Europe is going to have to decide whether it will take a constructive role in the creation of several new states out of Yugoslavia or whether it will merely be a passive witness as those new states attempt to go it alone.

Established governments do not like nascent states because such states are, at best, unpredictable and, at worst, pose a threat to international security; states that are the products of secessionism are almost anathe­ma. If Slovenia can do it, what about (to take just a few examples close to home) Northern Ireland, Wales, Scot­land, Brittany, Corsica, Catalonia and the Basque coun­try? It is perhaps hardly surprising that the chancellories of Europe have so far been unwilling to grasp the nettle of recognising Slovenia as an independent state.

Eventually, however, the nettle will have to be grasped – which in turn will raise the question of how the new state should be integrated with its neighbours. It is not too Utopian to suggest that the problem could best be solved neatly by rapid, simultaneous enlargement and deepening of the European Community. In a "Europe of the regions", with a judicious mix of pan-European control of economic, defence and foreign policy and regional (or small nation) control of most of the rest, Slovenian independence would threaten no one. But to get from here to there requires that the governments of the EC put aside the sterile debate between the deepeners, who want to exclude rich neutral and poor ex-communist states from an affluent militarist EC, and the enlargers, who want to hold on to national sovereignty at any price.

The real task is the creation of a democratic federal European polity that takes in the entire continent.