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.