Friday, 27 November 1992


Tribune leader, 27 November 1992

The shabbiest performance by a gov­ernment minister this week – and, like most weeks recently, it has been filled with shabby performances – was provid­ed by Malcolm Rifkind, the Defence Sec­retary, on television last Sunday.

Questioned by Brian Walden about the government's policy on Bosnia, he ac­cepted that the war there was the worst thing to have happened in Europe since the Nazi Holocaust. But, he opined blithe­ly, there really was no point in trying to do anything serious about it. Military in­tervention to support "safe havens" for the besieged Bosnians like those provided for the Iraqi Kurds was out of the ques­tion.

On one hand, the situation in former Yugoslavia was a "civil war” and there was no precedent for United Nations mili­tary intervention in civil wars. On the other, any military intervention would in­volve the "probability, if not the certain­ty, of very large casualties". "We might very well be there for many years," he said. "I do not think it would bring the fighting to an end."

Mr Rifkind, in other words, has no re­grets about the obvious failure of the west's Bosnia policy in the past year and the government has no intention of changing tack now. The desperate plight of the Bosnian Muslims as winter takes its grip, the rising tide of refugees and the unchanging Serb policy of territorial aggrandisement and ethnic cleansing nuke not a blind bit of difference. All we can do is give a little protection to hu­manitarian relief convoys, maintain inef­fectual sanctions against Serbia and Mon­tenegro – and wring our hands.

The message is one that will confirm the Bosnians’ sense of hopelessness and isolation while giving the Serbian aggres­sors yet another fillip as they pursue their bloody goal. What Bosnia needs, what Bosnia has always needed, is the means to loosen the aggressors' strangle­hold.

Militarily enforced "safe havens" at this stage are not as good as international military guarantees of Bosnian borders would have been six or nine months ago. But they are the least that the international community should be insisting upon. Not to insist upon them (as a mini­mum measure) is to give up on Bosnia. That would be disastrous for the Bosni­ans, disastrous for the Kosovans and Macedonians who are next in line for Ser­bian ethnic cleansing and disastrous for the principle of self-determination of sovereign peoples, a cornerstone of democracy.

With notable exceptions, Labour has unfortunately still not recognised this. Af­ter a summer when the front bench wit­tered on about the complexity of the situ­ation when it should have been pressing for military intervention, it has treated the war as little more than a refugee is­sue.

Of course, the refugees are important, and the government's refusal to take in more is despicable. But the refugee crisis will not be solved unless Serbian aggres­sion is stopped. Unless the world acts now it will be too late. Labour should come out now both for the United Nations to create adequately defended safe havens in Bosnia and for an end to the arms embargo against Bosnia. If that means more deployments of troops and air power, so be it: the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

Friday, 20 November 1992


Tribune leader, 20 November 1992

There is, of course, plenty in Norman Lamont's public spending plans, an­nounced in his autumn statement last Thursday, with which Labour can make hay. It will give little in the way of a boost to the economy, as Mr Lamont's own growth projections testify. He decided not to increase taxes or borrowing but to stick to the public spending target set months ago by the Treasury. As a result, every pound of extra spending on one scheme is paid for by cutting spending elsewhere.

Spending will decline in real terms in several crucial areas: local government, the National Health Service, defence, ed­ucation and training, transport, legal aid and overseas aid. Because of inflation, the public sector wage freeze of 1.5 per cent next year is a programme of vicious pay cuts for some of Britain's worst-off workers. Millions will feel the pinch of Mr Lamont's measures.

In line with the general modesty of the statement, most of the positive elements of the package are not as positive as they might have been. The relaxation of the constraints on use of money from council-house sales should have covered past re­ceipts - all £5,000 million worth - as well as those for the period between now and the end of next year.

Similarly, Mr Lamont could easily have relaxed the Treasury rules on capital spending much more than he did and giv­en British Rail freedom to lease-buy trains where it needed them rather than arbitrarily limiting the concession. Mere generally, the measures in the autumn statement relating to transport favour read over rail, which is a ludicrous poli­cy, both on environmental grounds and because the railways have been starved of investment for so long.

Add the small scale of the tax-breaks for investment, of the export guarantee cover and of the direct intervention in the housing market, and it might seem that Labour should have no problem in savaging the Government's plans.

But it is not quite as simple as that. Whatever the many faults in Mr Lamont's approach, there is also no doubt that he has stolen many of Labour's best econom­ic policy ideas: interest-rate cuts, tax breaks for industrial investment, an end to car tax, lease-buying of trains, direct intervention in the housing market, free­ing of right-to-buy receipts.

That puts Labour in a difficult position. In economic policy, big differences in de-gree are differences in kind, and Labour's recovery package, announced last week by Gordon Brown, is significantly larger than Mr Lamont's exercise in trying to have it both ways.

But it will do Labour's credibility on the economy no good if it appears that all the party can say about most of the Gov­ernment's economic policy is that it would do the same only more so (or less bo in the case of spending cuts and con­straint).

It was Labour's failure to convince many working-class voters that its alter­native economic policy really would make any difference to their lot that lost the party the last general election. After Mr Lamont's big steal, Labour has an even bigger problem than it had in April in differentiating its approach from that of the Tories. More than ever before, Labour desperately needs an injection of radical new ideas.

Friday, 13 November 1992


Tribune leader, 13 November 1992

Following the collapse of the case against the Matrix Churchill company executives accused of busting the em­bargo on military exports to Iraq, at least four government ministers should resign at once.

Michael Heseltine, the President of the Board of Trade, Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, the Defence Secretary, and Tristan Garel-Jones, a junior Foreign Office Minister, all signed "public interest immunity cer­tificates” designed to prevent evidence reaching court showing the extent of Government encouragement of military-related exports to Saddam Hussein's Iraq between 1987 and 1990. If their efforts had not been ruled out of order by the judge in the Matrix Churchill trial, the three defendants could well have gone to prison for long terms.

The ministers say that they were only following orders, that they were under a legal obligation to attempt to prevent the secret documents from entering the pub­lic sphere. That is hogwash. So too is their claim that signing the certificates was not motivated by any desire to sup­press relevant evidence. The only con­ceivable reason for their course of action was to cover the government's tracks. If any of the four culprits had any decency, they would already have quit.

Instead, of course, the government has adopted the time-honoured strategy of announcing a public inquiry into the whole affair. It hopes that this gambit win turn what is currently a govern­ment-threatening scandal into a dull, technical matter with which the public and the media will be bored rigid.

Labour's task is to make sure that this does not happen - and the way to do that is to make sure that the main story is kept constantly in the public eye.

The story, in case anyone has missed it, is simple. Despite having announced an embargo on sales of military equipment to both sides during the Iran-Iraq war, the government did everything in its power to maximise exports to Iraq, delib­erately turning a blind eye to what it knew were exports with a primarily mili­tary use and deliberately taking no notice at all of the brutality of Saddam's regime.

Meanwhile, it deliberately misled Parliament and the British people about its policy. Finally, since Saddam's invasion of Kuwait exposed its encouragement of military exports as, at very least, a monumental error of judgment, it has contin­ued to go out of its way to attempt to sup­press the truth.

The four ministers caught lying about the relevance of the secret documents to the Matrix Churchill trial should be only the first casualties of the scandal. Both the Prune Minister, John Major, and the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hard, have played crucial roles in pulling the wool over the eyes of Parliament since the question of British exports to Iraq was first raised in the wake of the execution of the journalist, Farzad Bazoft, in 1990.

Even more crucially, Mr Major and Mr Hurd were the successive Foreign Secre­taries responsible for running the disas­trous "arm Iraq" policy from July 1989 to July 1990.

Given that it is extremely unlikely that the two most senior members of the gov­ernment will easily resign, let alone face charges for embargo-busting as they should, it is up to Labour in Parliament to hound them remorselessly until they are forced out of office. Mr Major's in­quiry should be treated as the attempt to cover up a cover-up that it really is.

Friday, 6 November 1992


Tribune leader, 6 November 1992

The second most important elections for Britain took place this week. Bill Clinton won the American Presidency and, understandably, much of the British Labour Party is very pleased. His success proves that incompetent right-wing gov­ernments elected on free-enterprise, fam­ily-values tickets can be beaten.

But euphoria is not in order. Mr Clin­ton's programme for the United States is better than George Bush's but by no means an adequate answer to the serious­ness of his country's economic and social crisis. He is likely to be as bad as his pre­decessors for the people who are most di­rectly affected by American foreign poli­cy. He is radically pro-Israeli and shows no sign of deviation from establishment wisdom on Latin America or the poor countries of the Pacific basin. Apart from boosting the morale of European social democrats, his effects this side of the At­lantic will be minimal unless he starts a trade war or brings the boys back home.

Put bluntly, the US does not matter as much to Europe as it once did. If Ameri­ca's are the second most important elec­tions for Britain, the most important are Germany's - and the last ones, two years ago, were lost by the Social Democrats. After that, Helmut Kohl's ill-conceived programme for German unification plunged the whole continent into reces­sion. Mr Clinton has the power to make matters worse but is most likely to have no impact on Europe's economic predica­ment.

What will make a difference is the re­sponse of European Community govern­ments to the current mess. An immediate co-ordinated reflation of the EC economy is urgently needed, followed by rapid de­velopment of the democratically account­able EC institutions required to pursue employment-oriented macro-economic policies.

It is this message that Labour must press home at its European conference this weekend. After this week's (neces­sary) attempt to give John Major a bloody nose in the Maastricht "paving debate" in the House of Commons, which was still going on as Tribune went to press, the party must reassert its pro-European credentials and make clear its commitment to the process of European economic and political union laid out in the Maastricht treaty. Maastricht may not be perfect but the alternative, no progress at all towards European union, is even worse.

For too long, Labour has fudged its way through European policy, carefully avoid­ing mention of "federalism" and assuring us all that it believes Westminster to be where the most important decisions about Britain's future should be made. The party must show how it wants Eu­rope to evolve after Maastricht, in partic­ular how it would like to see the EC's "democratic deficit" addressed.

"Giving the principle of subsidiarity real force", "strengthening the appropri­ate powers of the European Parliament", "making the Commission more account­able" and "ensuring that the Council of Ministers is more open", the main propos­als in the policy document passed at last month's Labour conference, are not enough. Labour should embrace the idea of an EC in which an executive drawn from and answerable to the European Parliament takes control of macro-eco­nomic policy and sets a "level playing field" for social and environmental stan­dards. If that is "federalism", so be it.

Hitting the poor is no way out of recession

Westminster is buzzing with rumours that the government's brave new economic policy will have three key elements: increases in several of the supposedly index-linked welfare benefits well below the rate of inflation; a public-sector wage-freeze or something very close to it; and increases in public works programmes. In other words, spending on infrastructure will be paid for by some of the poorest in our society.

If this is indeed the government's plan, it is not only immoral: it also flies in the face of economic rationality. Keeping in­creases in benefits and public sector wages below the rate of inflation will cut the living standards of those who can least afford it: most public-sector workers are extremely low-paid. Worse, inflation is set to rise from now until this time next year because of the devaluation of the pound.

There is a morally preferable way which also makes economic sense: increasing taxes for those who can afford to pay rather than cutting real wages and benefits for those who cannot.

Poor people tend to spend rather than save their money and to buy goods pro­duced domestically rather than imports. Taxing the better off will have a less harmful effect on the level of demand in the economy than reducing the spending power of the poor. The Tories are clearly less concerned with growth than with not hurting their friends.


Tribune, 6 November 1992

The leader of Labour's contingent in the European Parliament talks to Paul Anderson

“I find it slightly strange that Jack Cunning­ham is responsible both for Outer Mongolia and for Europe," says Glyn Ford, the leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party. "It's not his fault. But it really is a different ball game. With Europe we're talking about day-to-day legisla­tion. With Outer Mongolia you have a crisis every ten or 20 years."

Ford, at 42 one of the most senior Labour politi­cians of his generation, is deadly serious about the importance of Europe to Labour. He hopes that the party's first-ever European conference in Brighton this weekend will get MPs and activists to stop thinking about the European Community as a "for­eign policy" question. For Ford, as for a majority of his fellow MEPs, Europe is a central domestic issue - and the future of the EC is still something that too many in the Labour Party have either not thought about sufficiently or, worse, have approached as if nothing had happened to the Common Market since Britain joined in 1973.

An MEP for Greater Manchester East since 1984, he has been leader of Labour's MEPs since just after the 1989 European elections, which saw the party take 40 per cent of the vote and 45 of Britain's 78 seats in the European Parliament. He is an unashamed Euro-enthusiast who describes the cre­ation of a democratically accountable federal execu­tive for Europe as "the direction in which things are going and the direction in which we should be go­ing". Mindful, perhaps, of Labour's official hostility to what John Smith calls a "European super-state", he adds diplomatically that he does not see a federal Europe happening in his lifetime.

Unsurprisingly, he has little time for those Labour voices arguing that his Westminster colleagues should do all in their power to prevent rati­fication of the Maastricht treaty by voting against  the governments Maastricht Bill at Third Reading, although he backed the decision to vote against this week's Maastricht "paving motion".

He is in favour, he says, of ending the govern­ment's opt-outs on the social chapter and the single currency and is worried that the Tories are intent on watering down the provisions in the Maastricht treaty dealing with powers for the regions. But Maastricht "is the best we can get at the moment".

"Maastricht will allow us to move forward on eco­nomic and monetary, environmental and social is­sues," he wrote recently in Tribune. "Without it we will have a lopsided single market rather than a community, where the needs of business are paramount and the needs of citizens come a very poor second."

The core of Ford's case is simple: business is al­ready operating at a European level and, if the Left is going to have a hope of keeping capital under con­trol, it must create institutions at the same level. "What is done in a single member state does not control the multinational companies," he says. "We need economic and monetary union and political union, with elected politicians - that is the Euro­pean Parliament - having a much stronger say."

He dismisses the argument advanced by much of the Left that the conditions for economic and mone­tary union laid down by Maastricht are essentially deflationary. "The Treaty of Rome was written in the language of Keynesianism," he says. "Maastricht is written in the language of monetarism. But that's not actually a terribly important issue. The real problem in Europe is the balance of political forces -and the way to solve the problem is to get more so­cialists elected. We are in opposition in six out the 12 member states, in coalition in four and in power in two. The reality is that we don't have the majori­ty of voters on our side."

Instead of laying into Maastricht, says Ford, the left should be engaging with the reluctance of Europe's current governments to pursue co-ordinated economic policies to pull Europe out of recession. "What we should be arguing for is a pan-European reflation programme. If we win that argument, we have the capability, within Maastricht, to imple­ment those programmes. Maastricht in itself doesn't stop a Labour government from doing anything."

Of course, no one knows whether Maastricht will survive the Danish no vote in June's referendum - the reason Labour gave for voting against the Gov­ernment in this week's debate. Ford reckons that the Danes will find a way to ratify the treaty but the worst case could still just about happen: "a small in­ner core making a multilateral agreement, steaming ahead on economic and monetary union" and forget­ting all the social and environmental aspects of the Maastricht deal.


He is confident that Labour will not treat this week's paving motion vote as a precedent for swinging against Maastricht. Last month's Labour conference gave an overwhelming endorse­ment to the pro-Europe position that has been de­veloped in the past five years, he says. "There's been a massive change of mood," he goes on, quoting the very existence of this weekend's conference as evi­dence.

It is difficult to disagree with this sentiment. While, five years ago, Labour's Euro-enthusiasts cloaked their enthusiasm with criticism of the EC, today it is the Euro-sceptics who feel that they have to camouflage their opinions by asserting defensive­ly that they are "pro-European but..."

Even in the past six months there has been no­ticeable movement towards acceptance of Europe as Labour's future, perhaps most significantly in John Smith's ready endorsement of plans to set up a Eu­ropean Socialist Party, largely to ensure better so­cialist co-ordination in the European Parliament. Neil Kinnock had always blocked any such thing, Next week, a meeting of EC socialist parties in The Hague is almost certain to back the Euro-party, of which the EPLP will become the British section.

It will, of course, be a long time before most Labour Party members see themselves as members of a British section of a European party. In the meantime Labour has some serious business to do. The next national elections that Labour faces are the 1994 European Parliament elections. As things stand, Ford is optimistic that the party can do well in them, even better than in 1989. "We're in the po­sition where we could conceivably gain seats," he says. "There are three seats which we lost by less than 3,000."

Before the polls in 18 months there is another, possibly more lucrative, challenge. Last month, after having his draft definition of "subsidiarity" rejected by EC governments, the president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, offered £140,000 to anyone who could come up with a definition of the idea on one side of paper. Ford reckons that the prize would be easy money.

"I don't understand why Delors was so desperate­ly looking for a definition," he says. "In the Maastricht treaty there's a definition of subsidiarity which is that things should be done at (he appropri­ate level. That's perfectly logical. You do not empty dustbins at European level. Equally, you do not make foreign policy in the parish council. There are not insuperable problems in the US about what should be decided locally and what should be decid­ed. Why should there be in Europe?"

With Labour sacking headquarters staff and the trade unions broke, maybe Ford and his colleagues should enter Delors's competition.