Friday, 16 December 1994


New Statesman & Society leader, 16 December 1994

The former president of the European Commission will not stand for the French presidency next year. That’s bad news

The decision of Jacques Delors not to stand as the candidate of the left in next year's French presidential election has devastated his Socialist Party (PS) colleagues. They know that, without Delors as their candidate, it will take a miracle for the left to win. The PS fared disastrously in the 1992 general election and in the 1994 Euro-elections. Apart from Delors, it has no popular leader. The question now is whether there is any future for the party that as recently as 1988 won 260 out of 556 National Assembly seats.

By contrast, John Major is crowing. In the Commons on Monday to report back on the European Union sum­mit in Essen, he appeared happier than at any time since sterling rumbled out of the exchange rate mechanism in September 1992. If there's no chance of Delors becom­ing French president, he believes, there's no chance of the 1996 intergovernmental conference on European integration coming up with federalist proposals that will split the Tory party. For Major, Delors' decision is the best piece of news he has had in a long time.

It is difficult, in the circumstances, not to share the French socialists' gloom. Although it is undoubtedly true, as Delors said in defence of his decision, that, as president, he would have faced the difficult task of deal­ing with an unremittingly hostile right-wing majority in the National Assembly, there is little doubt that he could have exercised significant influence. And, although it is true that Delors could not on his own solve the French left's crises of confidence and of ideology – they really are too profound for that – his presence in the Elysee Palace would at very least not have exacerbated them. Delors, with his emphasis on social solidarity and on the importance of the European project for the French left, comes as close as anyone to having a coherent concep­tion of how his party can rescue itself from its current dire predicament.

But it is not just in domestic terms that his decision smacks of capitulation. On the European stage, Delors has, as president of the European Commission, been one of the most consistent advocates of a Europe that is not a free-trade area of competing nation-states but a democratic federal entity capable of acting to ensure common social and environmental standards and, cru­cially, economic growth.

In league with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, Delors as president of France would have formed a pow­erful alliance to push the 1996 IGC to agree both a mas­sive expansion of the powers of the European Parliament (at the expense of the intergovernmental Council of Min­isters and the unelected Commission) and an enhanced social and economic role for the EU. Instead, with a Gaullist in the Elysee, as seems inevitable, the balance of power at the IGC will be radically different – and far more favourable to the anti-federalism of Major.

Of course, it would be wrong to claim that the French Gaullists are quite as close to the British Tories as Major would like to think. On several key questions, Jacques Chirac and Edouard Balladur, the two Gaullists most likely to succeed, differ fundamentally from the British right. They want to keep the Common Agriculture Policy much as it is, and they would prefer the Western Euro­pean Union rather than Nato to be the basis for security policy. Most important of all, they are both quite happy about the idea that a Franco-German alliance should be at the heart of Europe and are far more enthusiastic about a single currency than most Tories.

Nevertheless, Chirac and Balladur remain committed to the key Gaullist nostrum that national sovereignty should be paramount in Europe: neither is likely to back the democratisation of the EU's institutions, and the simultaneous strengthening of their powers to act, par­ticularly on macroeconomic policy, that the continent so desperately needs.

The upshot, ironically, is that Europe's best hope lies with the Tory Eurosceptics in Britain – not because of what they think about Europe, but because of what they might do. A continued Eurosceptic rebellion can only hasten a general election – and the earlier the general election,  the less likely the Tories are to win it. With Labour, or, better still, a centre-left coalition, in power in Britain, the chances of a democratic federalist outcome to the IGC would be improved dramatically. NSS wishes Teresa Gorman and company continued happiness in their independence for 1995.

Friday, 2 December 1994


New Statesman & Society, 2 December 1994

Kenneth Clarke's second budget was a bore – but the Chancellor has set himself up for massive cuts in income tax this time next year. Paul Anderson reports

It was, as the official Financial State­ment and Budget Report put it, "broadly neutral in its effects on the public finances, given the changed paths of output and inflation since last November". But Kenneth Clarke's pack­age on Tuesday is carefully designed to give him the maximum room to deliver pre-election tax-cuts this time next year.

As expected, Clarke decided not to cut taxes. Instead, he used the windfall he has been given by lower-than-expected infla­tion and higher-than-expected growth to make drastic public spending cuts in cash terms  and to revise the timetable for reducing Britain's public sector borrowing requirement. The Trea­sury believes that the PSBR should be down to zero by 1998-99, two years ahead of last year's estimate. Of course, all these projections take as given the massive tax hikes and spending cuts announced last year: as Tony Blair said in his reply to Clarke in the Com­mons, there was little in the budget to alleviate the effects of the medium-term austerity programme that is underway apart from extra cash for pensioners to compensate for 17.5 per cent VAT on fuel.

Income tax cuts were limited to small increases in the tax-free personal allowances for pensioners and a small expansion of the band on which tax is payable at the lower rate of 20p in the pound. In macroeconomic terms, the budget's measures to combat unemploy­ment are also minor, as indeed are the tax-breaks for investment in small busi­nesses and the compensation to firms hit by rate increases.

In any case, the effects of such mea­sures are to a large extent counteracted by further cuts in public spending on top of those already in the pipeline. Although Clarke decided to increase spending on the health service and the police, the more significant changes in expenditure are a squeeze on central and local govern­ment administration costs, long-term reductions in housing benefit payments to local authorities and savings from a clampdown on social security fraud. Overall, the total effect of the budget's changes amount to a cost to the exche­quer of a paltry £1 billion in 1995-96 and less in subsequent years.

In the context of the rigour of i993's austerity, Tony Blair was right to denounce this as a harsh budget. The Chancellor did nothing on Tuesday to make himself popular, and Labour will be able to milk outrage about VAT on fuel and dissatisfaction with stagnant living standards well into next year.

But the budget is not without its prob­lems for Labour. Most important, there can be no doubt that Clarke has set him­self up skilfully for generosity closer to the election. On the Treasury's figures, he should be able to cut up to 5p off the basic rate of income tax next year. And if the assumptions on inflation and growth on which the budget's projections are based are, like last year's, pessimistic, he could go even further.

The Treasury forecasts GDP growth of 4 per cent in 1994-95 declining to 2.75 per cent from 1996-97 until the end of the century. Yet the likelihood is that, with the economies of continental Europe and Japan recovering rapidly over the next couple of years, British growth rates will be sustained. On infla­tion, although the Treasury's forecast of a slight increase in 1995-96 is probably correct – due to pressures caused by falling unemployment and commodity prices rising as a result of recovery in Europe and Japan – it would be no sur­prise if the rate remains as low as it is now.

For all Blair's confidence on Tuesday, Labour knows this – and the alarm bells are beginning to ring. The Labour line that the Tories are the party that increased taxation after promising to reduce it has worked wonders so far and is not obsolete yet, but it will be difficult to sustain after November next year if Clarke is able to unveil thumping income tax cuts.

There are other, less important, diffi­culties for Labour in the way that Clarke has stolen Labour's clothes in several key areas. He made a big point on Tuesday of his enthusiasm for bringing private-sector capital into the public sector John Prescott-style, and his declaration that "in some cases, taxes actually do some good, by helping markets work better and by discouraging harmful or wasteful  activities" could have been taken out of a Labour (or Liberal Democrat) environment document.

But the most important steal was over the question of what to do about unem­ployment. The worst that Labour can say about the anti-unemployment measures announced is that they are too little, too late – for in principle they are precisely the sort of things Labour has been think­ing about itself since it joined the post-Keynesian consensus and decided (as Clarke put it eloquently on Tuesday) "that demand expansion on its own is not enough to produce a sufficient fall in unemployment".

For a start, there is a string of incentives for employers to take on people who have been out of work, particularly the long-term unemployed: rebates in employers' NICs for employees taken from among the long-term unemployed plus overall reductions in national insurance contri­butions paid by employers for low-paid workers, expansion of "work trials" schemes allowing employers to try out unemployed people for three weeks while they continue to claim benefit, grants for employers taking on the long-term unemployed. All these measures are in line with what Labour has been arguing for years.

Similarly, Clarke's ideas for using the benefit system to ease the transition from unemployment to work and from part-time to full-time employment bear a remarkable similarity to those com­mended last month by the report of the Commission on Social Justice: speeding up Family Credit and housing benefit payments to people starting low-paid jobs after unemployment, grants for ini­tial work expenses, a tax-free "back-to-work bonus" for people coming off income support after doing some part-time work, extra Family Credit for low-paid people working more than 30 hours a week, more Community Action places, a pilot scheme for a new benefit for child­less couples and single people who take low-paid work. The last of these is partic­ularly significant, because it indicates that the Tories are seriously considering responding to Labour's proposals for dealing with poverty pay by way of a mini­mum wage by extending the benefit net to those low-paid workers who can't claim Family Credit.

So although it's undoubtedly a "steady-as-she-goes" budget, and as such a grave disappointment to everyone who was hoping for some relief from austerity, it" s also extremely cunning. Clarke might not be able to prevent his party tearing itself to pieces over Europe – indeed, he could well exacerbate the divisions with his unashamed pro-Europeanism – but he's doing his damnedest to make sure that his economic policy is as suited to the Tories' electoral needs as it can be. This budget won't rescue Dudley West, but it could pave the way for a credible general election campaign.

Friday, 11 November 1994


New Statesman & Society leader, 11 November 1994

The American election results should provoke some sober reflection by Labour in Britain

The mid-term elections in the United States have turned out to be precisely the disaster for Presi­dent Bill Clinton that everyone expected. Throughout the country, in Congressional and gubernatorial contests, the voters turned on incumbent Democrats and sent them packing. The Republicans now have majorities, albeit small, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Unless Clinton suddenly turns into a significantly more effective political operator than he has been so far, he will spend his last two years in the White House as the lamest of lame-duck presidents. 

The fact that the electorate dumped on Clinton is not surprising. He has proved singularly inept in his two years in office, and the voters, whose approval of Clinton was never more than tentative, feel badly let down. At home, "Clintonomics" has been little more than an embarrassment, its "supply-side" measures failing to deliver promised jobs despite a vigorous recovery. Clin­ton's attempts to reform America's shambolic health­care system got nowhere in the face of Congressional opposition; and the "tough" parts of his programme –  the twin assaults on crime and on "undeserving" welfare recipients – have so far been ineffective where they have not been counterproductive.

In foreign affairs, the administration has basked in the reflected glory of peace in the Middle East and Ireland, and it has had an apparent success over Haiti (although whether it will seem that way in six months is another matter). But on everything else, from Bosnia and Cuba to the adapting of international institutions to the end of the cold war, it has been characterised by incompetence and uncertainty, the only constant being the president's desire to improve his opinion-poll rating.

In the circumstances, it seems almost churlish to remind readers of the euphoria with which Clinton's vic­tory was greeted by much of the British left in 1992. After the disappointment of the British general election that spring, many in the Labour Party saw Clinton as a model to be emulated. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and the rest of Labour's "modernisers" were particularly impressed: Blair's "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" and Brown's "new economics" both owed a lot to Clinton's election strategy.

Neither Blair nor Brown is quite so keen to advertise his admiration for Clinton today, to be sure; and both could plausibly argue that it's one thing to learn from Clinton's successful election campaign and quite another to be tarred with the brush of his failure in office.

But this argument is not entirely convincing. While it is undoubtedly true that Clinton's inability to manage relations with Congress or his dithering in foreign policy cannot be traced back to his campaigning message, his problems are not completely unrelated to the pro­gramme on which he was elected. In particular, the fail­ure of Clintonomics to create jobs and cut taxes and the ineffectiveness of "toughness" in social and penal policy raise real questions about the credibility of Clinton's whole approach – and should be setting the alarm bells ringing in the Labour camp.

Put simply, the problem is that Labour, having adopted substantially the same politics as Clinton did, could all too easily find itself two years into government facing much the same voter disillusionment. On economic pol­icy, Labour, like Clinton, argues that old-fashioned "tax-and-spend" "Keynesianism in one country" is dead and that the key to success in the modern world is the supply side (essentially improving education and training). That goes down well with middle-class voters who shunned Labour in 1992 over tax. But what happens if supply-side interventions fail to make a dent in the unemployment figures and taxes remain at the same level? Similarly, while "toughness" on crime and its causes might strike a chord with voters today, what hap­pens if it doesn't make any difference to the level of crime? The British electorate might not be quite as volatile as the American, but the potential for spectacular switches in allegiance is undoubtedly there.

To be fair, Blair has made it clear that he is aware of the problem of a Labour government failing to satisfy raised voter expectations: one of the main themes in his keynote speech to Labour conference last month was the danger of making false promises to the electorate. Awareness of the problem, however, is not the same thing as having a solution. The American mid-term elec­tions should provoke some serious thinking by the Labour leadership.

Friday, 4 November 1994


New Statesman & Society, 4 November 1994

Paul Anderson and Nyta Mann report on the likelihood of the new Nolan committee on standards in public life doing its job properly 

The remit handed by John Major last week to the new committee on standards in public life looks spectacularly wide-ranging.

Lord Justice Nolan and the nine newly appointed members of the body he will chair are: "To examine current concerns about the standards of conduct of all holders of public office, including arrange¬ments relating to financial and commercial activities, and make recommenda¬tions as to any changes in present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life."

Nolan's brief may read like a radical attempt to address the manifest growth, to the point of corruption, of political patronage. But the Prime Minister's intention is clear: damage limitation.

Take, for starters, the restriction of the committee's scope to investigate, as Major put it in the House of Commons last week, "general procedures, rather than . . . individual cases". Major has made plain that he wants Nolan to steer clear of the specific allegations that have so far resulted in two ministerial resignations (junior Northern Ireland minister Tim Smith and corporate affairs minister Neil Hamilton) and internal investigations – albeit less than half-hearted – into the activities of two cabinet ministers (Home Secretary Michael Howard and Treasury Chief Secretary Jonathan Aitken).

But it is precisely these individ¬ual cases, involving exclusively Conservative politicians, that pushed Major to set up the new committee in the first place. Next, there is the Prime Minister's assertion that Nolan will not look into the funding of political parties (see below). In response to a question from Peter Shore MP last week – now Labour's representative on the Nolan committee – Major insisted: "This inquiry will deal with government matters, government appoint¬ments and government behaviour. It has nothing to do with the financing of political parties, which has been dealt with by the Home Affairs Select Committee."

To thus remove the murky area of Tory Party funding from the committee's independent examinations makes a nonsense of an inquiry set up in order to quell anxiety over, among other recent scandals, the "cash-for-questions" episode. For if a Tory MP is considered improperly beholden to a company that pays him a few grand to table a parliamentary question, what does that make the obligation owed by the Conservative Party as a whole to those companies that so amply bankroll it? And where does that obligation place the party when it is in govern-ment, and for so long a stretch as the past 15 years?

Added to these omissions is the fact that the body Lord Nolan presides over is simply a committee of inquiry. It has no legal or constitutional powers. Witnesses can be invited to help it with its inquiries, but may not be compelled to appear before it. Following its deliberations, the committee can come up with any recommendations it likes, but implementing any of them will rely on M Ps voting in par¬liament to do so.

But to be fair to Nolan and his committee, they may yet prove themselves to be as awkward as an independent inquiry should be. Nolan himself has already declared that although the investigation of individual cases is up to the Commons Privileges Committee, his own inquiry "will be equally anxious to find out just what has happened, what has gone wrong and what we can learn from it". We can presume also that two of the party political appointments to the committee – Labour's Peter Shore and the Liberal Democrats' Lord Thomson of Monfieth – will do their utmost to ensure that party funding finds its way onto the agenda.

The seven non-politician members of the committee may themselves prove determined to examine whatever "sleaze" issue takes their fancy. As one put it to NSS:" I was struck by the fact that Number 10 phoned me up and asked me to be on the committee without looking into my background at all. They don't know what I think about anything."

Another member echoed Labour leader Tony Blair's accusation that the setting up of the inquiry was "decision-making on the run" on the part of the Prime Minister: "I don't think Major's thought it through properly. If you look at our brief, we could actually look at anything we want to. This is a bit of a ticking time-bomb for him."

But even if the Nolan inquiry does ignore Major's advice on what it should look at, it is unlikely to get very far. Labour members of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which last year looked at the whole issue of sources of party funding, know only too well that attempting to shed light on Tory Party finances is a difficult game. "Even if Nolan does look at that, whoever the committee asks in to give evidence will just stonewall him, like they did to us," predicts Chris Mullin MP, a member of the Home Affairs committee. "Nolan won't get any information out of anyone. It's a subject the Tories cannot afford to permit anyone to look into."

Party funding – the elephant in the room
However Nolan ends up interpreting his remit, the first areas the committee will look into are those that have dominated the news over the past fortnight: members' interests – in particular, gifts to ministers and other MPs – and appointments to quangos.
On these, the Conservatives have themselves acknowledged that it may be time for a tightening of existing rules. But on the bigger questions, it would be wise not to hold your breath. Bankrolling the Tory party Whether or not Nolan looks at the delicate question of funding of political parties is a moot point.
But it is difficult to see how the committee can proceed without considering party funding. The problem, simply put, is that there are good reasons to believe that the Conservatives have systematically taken money from companies and individuals who are in the business of buying influence.
The Tories' finances are one of the great unsolved mysteries of British politics. They publish only the skimpiest of accounts themselves (which show that the average they raised annually between 1987 and 1992 was £33.7 million, compared with Labour's average off £15.9 million and the Lib Dems' of £2.9 million), and they have operated several "front organisations" for channelling funds discreetly into their own coffers-most notoriously British United Industrialists, which was closed down in 1991.
 It is only through the assiduous work of the non-party Labour Research Department, which trawls through companies’ accounts looking for political donations (all companies must by law declare all political donations of more than £200, although many don't), that a partial picture of the Tories' corporate backers is available: details of laundered company donations and donations from individuals (often in fact the same thing) are even harder to come by. Of £37.9 million received by Conservative Central Office between April 1987and March 1991, £21.9 million cannot be traced from any published source.
By contrast, all trade union donations to Labour (which make up more than half the party's income) are declared in the unions' accounts, and Labour has announced its willingness to declare all individual donations of £5,000 and over. 
What's known about the Tories is that they have received substantial sums from companies and individuals with commercial interests in government spending and policy decisions. The big corporate donors in the past 15 years include defence, engineering and construction companies that have benefited from large government contracts, tobacco companies that want to prevent legal constraints on advertising their products, and privatised utilities. 
Between 1979 and 1992, the top ten corporate donors to the Tories were United Biscuits (£1 million); Hanson Trust (£852,000);Taylor Woodrow (£837,000); British & Commonwealth (£824,000); George Weston Holdings (£820,000); P&O (£727,500); Forte (£694,000); Westem United Investments (£620,000); Glaxo (£600,000);Trafalgar House (£590,000); Newarthill (£560,000); and Barings (£537,000).

Known individual donors since 1979 include:
  • Asil Nadir, disgraced head of Polly Peck and currently a fugitive from British justice in his native northern Cyprus, whose contribution Tory funds totalled £440,000; 
  • John Latsis, the Greek shipping magnate and one-time backer of the Greek junta.who reputed to have given £2 million; 
  • Octav Botnar, former head of Nissan UK, currently in exile, wanted for defrauding the government of £97million in unpaid taxes, who gave £1 million in the early 1980s; 
  • Li Ka Shing, the richest man in Hong Kong who gave £500,000, and Tsui Tsin-tong, another Hong Kong businessman with strong links with China; 
  • Harrods boss Mohamed AI-Fayed, who revealed a fortnight ago that he had given a total of £250,000 in the mid-1980s when the government was being lobbied by his arch-rival Tiny Rowland to take legal action against him over the Harrods sale. 
Donors to Tory funds have been rewarded with honours and with positions on government-appointed bodies. Between 1979 and 1993,18 life peerages and 82 knighthoods were given to industrialists connected with 76 companies which between them gave£17.4million to the Conservative Party and its various front organisations. 
Labour MP George Howarth last month produced a study of appointments toquanj thatshows widespread favouringof people associated with companies that have given the Tories. Funding of political parties has long beer source of controversy – and it is unlikely that Nolan committee will be able to come upwii proposals acceptable to all sides if it does address the problem. 
The Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs considered the issue between 1992 and 1994, but split down the middle between its Tory and Labour members when it came to producing a report in March. On the casting vote of its Tory chairman, it endorsed by six votes to five a report proclaiming that little is wrong with the British system of funding, and recommending only improved party accounting practices and a new code of conduct governing donations to parties. 
An alternative report drafted by Labour MP Chris Mullin, rejected by the same margin demanded a string of reforms all directed al Tories: compulsory publication in party accounts of all donations of more than £5,000; a ban on donations from foreign individuals and companies; strict limits on national party spending during general election campaigns; mandatory ballots of shareholders to approve political donations companies; a ban on honours for industrialists whose parties have given to political parties and a ban on political donations by recently privatised companies. If Nolan gets on to this subject, he is likely to find opinion on his committee just as radically divided. 

 MPs for hire: outside interests
One of the questions that Nolan will definitely address is that of MPs' outside interests-the extent to which MPs use their position to pursue private interests and what can be done to control it. 
This is at the centre of the most recent scandals to have rocked the government-junior Northern Ireland minister Tim Smith and corporate affairs minister Neil Hamilton were both forced to resign from the government after Mohamed Al Fayed's allegations that he had paid them to ask parliamentary questions while they were backbenchers.
Eariier this year, in a sting operation mounted by the Sunday Times, Tory MPs Graham Riddick and David Tredinnick agreed to table questions for a bogus company for £1,000 a time. Both were suspended as parliamentary private secretaries. 
But there is more to the issue than the specific allegations of "cash-for-questions" currently under investigation by the Commons Select Committee on Privileges. More than 200 of the 651 MPs, most of them Tories, declare in the most recent Register of Members' Interests that they are employed as parliamentary consultants to lobbying firms and other commercial organisations. 
Many Tory MPs also have substantial interests as directors and shareholders of private companies: most of the 290-plus paying directorships declared in the Register of Members' Interests are held by Tories. By contrast, all but a handful of Labour MPs receive nothing other than income from occasional journalism and trade-union sponsorship (the latter nearly always passed on to their constituency parties). 
Ministers are covered by strict rules governing their outside interests, laid down in Questions of Procedure for Ministers: on appointment, they are required to resign any directorships they hold (with some exceptions) and to dispose of investments that might give rise to a conflict of interests. 
David Mellor resigned as heritage secretary in 1992 after it was revealed that his holiday was paid for by the daughter of a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and Northern Ireland minister Michael Mates went in June 1993 after questions were raised about his relationship with fugitive businessman Asil Nadir. 
The furore over Jonathan Aitken and who paid his Paris hotel bill has reached fever-pitch because of concerns about a possible conflict of interest between his strong business links with Saudi Arabia and his position as a junior defence minister. 
Rules governing other MPs are much laxer. There is a longstanding practice of the Commons that MPs should declare any relevant material interest when speaking in the House orin committee, and since 1974 they have been required to complete entries for the Register of Members' Interests. 
The register was set up in the wake of the Poulson scandal "to provide information of any pecuniary interest or other material benefit which a member receives which might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions, speeches or votes in parliament, or actions taken in his or her capacity as a member of parliament". 
MPs complete their entries themselves and are supposed to declare remunerated directorships of companies, outside employment, any clients for whom they have rendered services as an MP, donations and gifts received (including paid-for foreign trips), and property and share holdings. Crucially, however, MPs are not required to declare how much they get or what precisely they do – and, because the duty to register in full and accurately is not determined by statute, the punishment for failing to comply is whatever the Commons decides its hould be after the Commons Select Committee on Members' Interests reports on any complaint (which is usually not much).
The result is that the register is less informative than it could be. Nolan is sure to hear calls-rejected by the Members' Interests Committee last year-both for requiring MPs to declare exactly what they do for what sum, and for making it a statutory duty for MPs to complete the register fully and accurately.

Friday, 21 October 1994


New Statesman & Society, 21 October 1994 

Levitating parliament, an anarchist football match and a Smut Fest mark this week's 'Ten Days That Shook The World' festival. But will the likes of Class War ever move beyond the political subculture, asks Paul Anderson

The right-wing tabloids reacted predictably after the police fed them copies of a leaflet supposedly proving that last week's Criminal Justice Bill riot in Hyde Park was all the fault of anarchists – in the words of Chief Superintendent Richard Cullen, "a hardcore of six or seven hundred people... the same old faces who try to hijack all these events".

"Anarchist thugs drew up sick plans to smash cops," screamed the Sun headline above a story reproducing the leaflet, published by the anarchist group Class War, which urged CJB demonstrators to "have a pop at the bill" and advised: "We should pick our own pitch for the battle." The Daily Star described the anarchists as "scum" – "the truncheon is the only law they will respect," it opined – and the Mail splashed "Blueprint for a riot" across its front page, above a lead story billed as the "truth about anarchists who planned the violence weeks before".

It was all sensationalist nonsense, of course. True, Class War had produced and distributed the leaflet. True, there were a few people, some of them members of Class War, who had gone on the demo "tooled up" and looking for an opportunity to "have a pop" – much to the dismay of the march organisers, many of whom are anarchists or direct actionists themselves but of a non-violent kind ("fluffies", as Class War newspaper disdainfully calls them). But the idea that a riot can be "organised" in advance by anyone, let alone by a declining group that has at most a couple of hundred supporters nationally, is ludicrous: what happened in Hyde Park, as Tim Malyon and Steve Platt argued last week in NSS, would not have happened had the police not adopted such stupid tactics.

Still, Class War isn't complaining about the coverage. It never makes a fuss when newspapers claim that it is the shadowy force behind public disorder – which they do regularly. Since the group was set up in 1982, it has been blamed for the 1985 inner-city riots, fighting on CND demonstrations, the 1990 poll tax riot in Trafalgar Square, last year's fracas on the Anti-Nazi League march in Welling and a whole lot more besides. And each time it has revelled in its notoriety. Anarchists feel good when they are portrayed as outlaws, and anyway it's a massive hoot when straight-laced hacks take seriously Class War's comic-book enthusiasm for "working-class" violence againstthecops.

Not that Class War isn't serious – indeed, it has grown ever more serious in the past few years, acquiring many of the trappings of the Leninist revolutionary groups it so despises: a statement of "What we believe" prominently displayed in each issue of the paper, a national membership organisation complete with national secretary and a tele-phone hotline, and a dire "theoretical" journal (The Heavy Stuff). After 64 issues, Class War the paper is still selling well (it claims a circulation of 10,000), but these days it is more like Socialist Worker than the scurrilous rag it once was, its irreverence dissipated by long boring articles on political strategy. Partly because of this, it needs the publicity. The word elsewhere on the anarchist scene is that Class War has lost its touch and is on the way out. "They're really just a few dozen old-fashioned lefties these days," says a former sympathiser from the early 1980s.

One reason for Class War's problems is that the moving spirit behind the group for its first decade is no longer with it. Ian Bone, a talented publicist whose exploits had included an anarchist punk band and several alternative local papers, formed Class War in 1982 after moving to London from Wales, aided by a handful of kindred spirits associated with the late and much lamented Rising Free bookshop in Islington: it was his sense of humour, his populist instincts and his unerring ability to provoke outrage that gave Class War the paper its distinctive flavour. But he left three years ago after an acrimonious dispute over the group's political direction. Typically, although he now says he was "completely stale and knackered", he didn't go into political retirement for long. Last year, after the annual anarchist book fair in London, he and a few mates decided that it would be a good idea to hold an anarchist festival after this year's book fair.

The idea caught on, and this weekend London sees the start of "Anarchy in the UK: Ten Days That Shookthe World", an extravaganza of political meetings, theatrical performances, films, parties and music that is expected to attract several thousand anarchists, including many from abroad. There are more than 100 events listed in the programme: the highlights include a "levitation of parliament" this Sunday, gigs by The Levellers and Conflict (among others), a "Smut Fest" of anarchist strippers and other erotic artistes, an exhibition of "autonomous publishing" at an anarchist centre in Brixton, and an anarchist football contest. Bone has cast his net wide, getting everyone from anarchist academics to practitioners in "Thelemic Magick" to organise discussion meetings.

"I reckon it's going to be the biggest anarchist get-together ever in Britain," says Bone, "certainly the biggest gathering of revolutionaries since 1968. It's really taken off – and the reason is the Criminal Justice Bill. It's really brought people together – the fucking lot. The great thing about the festival is the sheer diversity. There's greens, animal rights people, Spanish veterans from the 1930s, even some comrades from Nigeria. The bands have been incredibly supportive. Everyone is going to be there."

He's probably right. Although Class War has studiously declined to mention the festival and the current issue of Black Flag, the anarcho-syndicalist magazine, carries an article grumbling about Bone, the event has grown to such a size that no one on the anarchist scene will risk missing it. Class War has organised a rally in London for next Wednesday that conveniently clashes with nothing on the festival agenda apart from a poetry evening and the London Pagans' Forum.

Fittingly, the fun starts with a big rally tonight (21 October) against the Criminal Justice Bill at Conway Hall. The CJB has had a tremendous mobilising effect on Britain's anarchists over the past six months, not least because many of its targets – travellers, ravers, roads demonstrators, peace movement trespassers, hunt saboteurs and squatters – are Britain's anarchists. Most of the time, they constitute less a movement than an untidy collection of disparate groups and individuals communicating with one another little if at all (and then often squabbling). But the campaign against the CJB has forced everyone together. And, although there is no shortage of disputes about how to proceed (most obviously between the likes of Class War and the proponents of non-violent direct action – who include the majority of those who have come from anti-roads, peace movement and hunt-sabbing backgrounds), there's a real sense among anarchists that they are on a roll.

Whether or not they really are is a moot point. On one hand, there's no sign that the CJB will be any less of a unifying factor once it becomes an act: if anything, the implementation of its provisions is likely to stimulate the campaign against it. More generally, the rightward drift of Labour in recent years (and Tony Blair's embrace of social conservatism on the family and civil liberties) and the quite apparent irrelevance of the Leninist sects are both likely to push disaffected young people at the very least into social movements where anarchist notions of the value of self-activity and direct action are taken for granted.

On the other hand, however, there's no sign that this anarchist revival will be any more sustained than previous ones – or that the current crop of anarchists have much idea of what they are about apart from direct action. British anarchism has had a habit of ebbing and flowing throughout this century, virtually disappearing after the first world war, finding support among the intelligentsia in the late 1930s and 1940s, declining until the first wave of CND revived it, gaining a great deal of support among revolutionary students in the late 1960s, falling back in the early 1970s, returning with CND second time around. There has never been a successful national anarchist federation here; and insofar as anarchist magazines, newspapers, publishers and bookshops survive the ebbs and flows of the me ment, it is through the persistence small groups of individuals.

Most obviously, the continued survival of Freedom, the venerable anarch newspaper first published in 1886, with its associated publishing arm and bookshop, has owed everything to the efforts of Vernon Richards, the current editor, who revived what was then a moribund title in the 1930s and has kept it go with different small groups of collaborators for most of the past 60 years.

But Freedom is not alone in its reliance on dedicated individuals. Peace News, the anarcho-pacifist monthly, would unable to continue without the commitment of its two super-exploited staff; Anarchy, the monthly edited by Colin Ward that was one of the two best magazines of the 1960s anarchist revival, went into terminal decline after he moved in 1970 after a decade in the chair; Solidarity, the other one (which owed as much to libertarian currents in Marxism as to anarchism and which also had much-admired line in pamphlets), only kept going until 1992 only by the super-human efforts of its (latterly three-strong) editorial group, finally succumbing to financial crisis and exhaustion.

Anarchy and Solidarity both made a priority of engaging with events in the real world and, equally important, people and ideas from outside the anarchist ghetto – and nothing remotely as substantial or stimulating has has emerged in recent years from the anarchist milieu. The quarterly Freedom Press journal, Raven, does its best, as does the Glasgow-based magazine Here and Now (which is heavily influenced by situationism), but most anarchist periodicals, from Green Anarchist to Black Flag, are crude agittional tools – some of them laughably quixotic. The same goes most home-grown books and pamphlets from anarchist publishers: the exceptions are the (often excellent) studies of and collections from figures from anarchism's heroic past.

The problem, simply put, is that British anarchism needs something more than on one hand, the action-oriented sub-culture celebrated by next week's fest and, on the other, the anarchist intellectuals' obsession with the creed's heroes and martyrs – something that reaches beyond the ghetto into everyday life as experienced by people who aren't hardcore punks, ravers, squatters and travellers.  Until it gets it, the best that the anarchists can hope for are spectacular headlines the tabloid press. But at least they enjoy themselves. An event at which you see Jean Vigo's movie Zero de Conduite, play football, listen to Captain Sensible and levitate parliament beats Labour conference any day – and has no less influence on what Tony Blair will do when gets to Number 10.

Friday, 30 September 1994


New Statesman & Society, 30 September 1994

In a Brighton courthouse, the government is being put on trial for its Criminal Justice Bill. It has the right to remain silent – but not for much longer. Steve Platt and Paul Anderson report

"Order!" demands the judge. "Disorder!" shouts a man with a mohican haircut in the public gallery. And the jury cracks up laughing – followed by the judge, who is wearing a bright blue mask and a fake leopardskin rug for a robe.

Then the counsel for the defence joins in too, along with the witness in the witness box (who looks a little the worse – or should that be better? – the wear for drugs). Everyone in the public gallery cheers and whoops. A large black dog barks wildly and runs around the courtroom floor wagging its tail. "Everyone should get mellow and party," says the man in the witness box, and the cheering and whooping in the public gallery start again.

Not Alice in Wonderland, but a courtroom in Brighton, opposite the Royal Pavilion. The setting is authentic enough, but the old courthouse hasn't dealt with the usual round of drunk and disorderlies, prostitutes and petty crooks for five years.since a new courthouse was built up the hill. The "trial" taking place opposite the Pavilion has no legal status – indeed, under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill, which, barring a political earthquake, should complete its passage through parliament next month, it could itself be an illegal act. For the courtroom has been squatted, and the trial participants are trespassing.

Which, of course, is precisely the point. Brighton's old courthouse was squatted a fortnight ago in protest against the Criminal Justice Bill by Justice?, a local campaign collective, which, in less than 72 hours, transformed it into a social centre with a vegetarian cafe, meeting and exhibition spaces and regular film, music and poetry events. More than 600 people passed through its doors in the first few days afterits occupation. The "trial", with the government in the dock, is being staged by the squatters, with the help of a handful of outside witnesses (Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes, down in Brighton for the Lib Dem conference, is one) as an alternative to a boring public meeting. As with the other events organised by the old courthouse's new occupants, it works. Some 200 young people turn up to pack the public gallery – and they love it.

One of those present is Clara, 16 years old and, with all of three months experience now behind her, a hardened campaigner against the bill. She comes from a council estate in Nottingham, where 600 turned out for a protest march last Saturday. Her grandfather used to be "something to do with the Labour Party", but she "hadn't had a thing to do with politics" until someone told her that the outdoor party she'd enjoyed so much earlier this summer would be illegal under a new law going through parliament, and the people organising it would be liable to arrest and imprisonment, and their vehicles and equipment seized by the police.

Now she can recite chapter and verse on the bill's provisions. "Did you know that if 20 of you get together to have a protest against what they're doing, the police can ban it – and stop anyone coming within five miles? You could be having one in the town where you live arid they could stop you going home. That's like China or Haiti orsomewhere."

Her friend, Millie, pierced lips,Lycra leggings and a lurid pink T-shirt, is slightly less well-informed but no less articulate. "If you're homeless, they can arrest you. If you're arrested, they can fit you up. If they fit you up, they've got new prisons waiting to take you in. And all because they don't like your way of life. What's so good about theirs that they take all this trouble to stop us living ours ?"

She offers a leaflet, all swirling patterns and packed text. "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything," it announces. It's a "Free Information Network" publication, listing more than 200 events for September alone, music mixed with anti-motorway protests, a "Glastonbury Tor Gathering" with a "Walk for Wildlife", a demonstration against the occupation of Tibet in London, a "Buskers Against the Bill" parade in Guildford. A list is printed of Lords to be lobbied: "Write now to the Lord of your choice!" it reads. "(But don't ALL write to the ones with silly names.)" The address given is "The House of the Living Dead", London SW1A 0PW. "It's got the postcode, so they'll get the letters," says Millie.

Another leaflet comes from a similar stable: "There is a need to dance. There is a need to travel. There is a need to squat. There isaneedfor protest. There is a need for open spaces. There is a need to celebrate. There is a need for community. There is a need to communicate. There is a need for tolerance. THERE IS A NEED to be heard."

Sixty thousand people made their voices heard against the bill earlier this year, when they turned out for a demonstration in London (see NSS, 29 July). On 9 October, perhaps twice as many again will express their opposition – including ten double-decker-buses-full mobilised by Justice? in Brighton. (We know it will be that big because the police have said so, refusing the organisers permission to rally in Trafalgar Square because "it won't hold 100,000 people or more".)

As with the last march, the organisation is proceeding along two rather different models. The first is a loose, often anarchic alliance of groups and individu¬als, many of them linked through the Freedom Network, which coordinated "DIY Week", a series of events around the country last weekwhose aim was, according to the Network, "to alert communities to the dangers of the Criminal Justice Bill. It is also designed to show the government that we are not dole-scrounging drop-outs but the voice of a new generation, which has more vision than all of the Tory cabinet put together. We feel we have been totally abandoned by this gov¬ernment and the only way we are going to get our voice heard is through peaceful direct action and encouraging people to become part of 'DIY Culture' – ie, 'There's no point in complaining about things. If you want change, you've got to get offyour arse and Do It Yourself.'"And people do – from a beach party in Scarborough to a banner drop in Archway.

The other organisational model is provided by the more traditional left, with the Socialist Workers Party – and, more recently, the whole gamut of other, smaller, left groupuscules – to the fore. It makes for interesting juxtapositions – the crustie traveller and the besuited trade unionist, the hardened raver and the committed anti-racist.

"Jimmy Knapp might be willing to speak at the demonstration," says a Labour left diehard at one of the organising meetings. "Who's he?" asks a man who's come to see how many sound systems they'll let him bring into Hyde Park. While one group of people talk about trying to get trade union backing for the Coalition Against the Criminal Justice Bill, another is planning to "squat" Hyde Park for the weekend of the march.

SWP national organiser, and Coalition steering group member, Weyman Bennett has mixed feelings about the organisational abilities of some of the newer activists involved in campaigning against the bill. For every successful event organised by the likes of Justice?, there is another that flounders in anarchic inexperience. "Sometimes they don't put the work in. They don't realise that protests don't just happen, even if people are angry about something. They've got to be organised."

Bennett and other opponents of the bill have spent a lot of time trying to get across that it's not just about ravers and travellers. They've tried to emphasise the abolition of the right to silence, the new police powers of stop and search, whereby if they believe a "violent incident" may take place in an area, they can search any person or vehicle without giving a reason, and the anti-terrorist provisions, whereby the possession of information or materials that may be of use to terrorists could result in prosecution.

Clara again: "Did you know that you could have a fishing line, scales, a clock and some harmless chemicals and you could be charged with 'going equipped for terrorism' and get ten years, and that it's up to you to prove that you weren't going to use them to make a bomb?"

Clara needs no lessons now about the far-reaching nature of Michael Howard's ragbag of prejudices. "They've united us all against them, haven't they?" she says. The government has been put on trial over the Criminal Justice Bill – and it's not only the young people of Brighton who are finding them guilty.

Friday, 16 September 1994


New Statesman & Society leader, 16 September 1994

Not for the first time, Bosnia faces a critical month – and, not for the first time, the story we are being told about it by the majority of the British media bears scant relationship to the truth

According to the received wisdom – and at times it's almost as if it were dictated by the Foreign Office directly to the leader-writers and television commentators – the danger now is that the fragile peace among the "warring factions" will collapse as a result of the intransigence of the Bosnian Serbs, who, unlike the Bosnian Muslims and Croats, have refused to accept the peace plan put together by the "contact group" of big powers, whereby Bosnia would be split in half between the Serbs, on the one hand, and the Muslims and Croats, on the other. To make matters worse, the United States is promising to lift the arms embargo on the (mainly Muslim) Bosnian government next month if the Bosnian Serbs do not accept the plan.

The upshot, according to the received wisdom, is that the two key priorities are, first of all, to persuade Radovan Karadzic and his Bosnian Serbs to change their minds; and, secondly, to persuade the US not to do anything so rash as lifting the arms embargo. In line with this, the British and French are using a mixture of carrot and stick on the Bosnian Serbs, leaning on Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to lean on Karadzic, and promising a tightening of sanctions on the Bosnian Serbs if they don't comply. Meanwhile, the British and French have threatened to with-draw their troops from the country if Bill Clinton lifts the arms embargo.

There has been barely a squeak of protest against this British and French strategy – yet the best that can be hoped is that it fails completely. It is utterly misconceived, not just in principle but in just about every detail. At root, of course, as NSS has argued consistently, the problem is that the British and French have always seen the Bosnian war as essentially a civil war, rather than what it is:

a war of aggression by the Bosnian Serbs, backed by Serbia, against an internationally recognised multi-ethnic democratic state. It is because of this misunderstanding that the British and French have been so tied to the idea that the solution to the crisis in Bosnia is some sort of "equitable" ethnic partition.

It should have become clear by now that this whole approach is not only repugnant, but is also doomed to failure because of its total misapprehension of the nature and aims of both Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs. Put simply, the Milosevic regime is a brutal expansionist dictatorship that will do anything to realise the dream of a Greater Serbia; and Karadzic, whatever appearances to the contrary, is Milosevic's puppet. Neither Milosevic nor Karadzic will settle for an "equitable" division of Bosnia: they want, if not the lot, then everything they have grabbed already and more besides. And they will play every diplomatic game to achieve their goal.

Right now, that means Milosevic posing as sweet reason, backing the latest partition plan, and Karadzic doing the hard-liner act. The purpose is to seduce the allies into removing the economic embargo on Serbia, which is currently the major obstacle to the achievement of Serbia's war aims and a source of growing popular discontent – and so far the strategem has worked perfectly.

Of course, the price for Milosevic is having to disown Karadzic – but mere words are cheap. Anyone who believes that there is now an unbridgeable gap between Milosevic and Karadzic, or that Milosevic will really participate in a blockade of the Bosnian Serbs, is living in a fantasy land. And in any case, if the worst comes to the worst, there's always the option of Karadzic being "persuaded" by Milosevic to back the partition plan.

After all, it does legitimise the Serbs' land-grab in Bosnia, even if it doesn't give them everything they want. And it wouldn't necessarily be forever: once the gaze of the international communitv was averted, it would be relatively easy to start the invasion anew. In the meantime, the Serbian dictator could bask in the glow of international acclaim as a man of peace. His position thus strengthened, Milosevic could turn confiden-tly to his next project, the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo and Macedonia.

The alternative to the bolstering of Milosevic through appeasement is simple: inflicting on his vile regime and its Bosnian Serb satellite a decisive military defeat. The Bosnian army is potentially in a position to do just that if it can acquire the arms – but it isn't quite ready yet. According to military experts, it needs another two or three months before launching a winter offensive against the Serbs' relatively immobile heavy tanks and artillery. In the meantime, Bosnia remains reliant on UN protection.

Which is why the British and French threat to withdraw their troops if the US lifts the arms embargo is doubly vicious. Lifting the arms embargo might not be completely necessary for the Bosnians to acquire the arms they need: since the peace deal between the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Croats, there has been a substantial flow of arms to Bosnia through Croatia. But lifting the embargo would undoubtedly be a major boost to the Bosnians' fighting strength – and, given the Bosnian Serbs' intransigence, there can be no excuse for refusing to do it.

For Britain and France to oppose the lifting of the embargo would be bad enough; to back up the opposition with the threat of withdrawal is little short of criminal. As Britain and France know, UN withdrawal from Bosnia would be tantamount to an invitation for the Serbs to take Sarajevo and the other beseiged Bosnian cities. It is true that lifting of the arms embargo would necessitate a different, more active and explicitly pro-government, role for foreign troops in Bosnia: but Britain and France should be spending the next few weeks working out what that role should be, not preparing to pull out.

Friday, 9 September 1994


New Statesman & Society leader, 9 September 1994

It would be easy to dismiss this week's TUC Congress in Blackpool as a complete non-event. There were no giant bust-ups, no gauntlets thrown down before the Labour leadership, no significant changes in TUC policy. The speeches were bland, the debates cursory, the fudges entirely successful.

But, in many ways, the absence of a story is the story. Just a couple of months ago, Black¬pool 1994 was being trailed as the first battle in the trade unions' autumn offensive to get Labour to embrace specific targets for full employment and for a minimum wage – so the fact that the big unions decided not to fire a single shot to spoil Tony Blair's honeymoon as Labour leader is extremely significant. The motions on full employment and the minimum wage were carefully composited to produce a lot of vague and unembarrassing flannel, and Blair had nothing to worry about when he arrived for supper with the TUC general council on Tuesday.

Although some in the big unions were hinting this week that they would be doing their utmost to commit Labour to specific targets when they come back to Blackpool in four weeks' time for the Labour Party conference, it seems that Blair's overwhelming popularity in the opinion polls has at least temporarily silenced his union critics.

The absence of any argument with Blair is not the only interesting non-story of this Congress. Quite a few commentators were looking forward to rows over the signal workers' dispute and over the "relaunch" of the TUC by its new general secretary, John Monks. In the event, neither happened. Monks defused potential left criticism of the TUC's inadequate support for the signal workers, by declaring that he personally supported them unequivocally, and by inviting RMT leader Jimmy Knapp on to the platform at an eve-of-congress rally. Acouple of Trotskyists hoisted a banner demanding that the TUC got off .its knees, but no one took any notice.

Monks' support for the signal workers also went a long way to silence the critics of the way he's pointing the TUC. What has grabbed the headlines in the year since Monks took over from Norman Willis has been his moderation: the arguments for partnership with industry, the openness to discussion with political parties other than Labour (even – horror of horrors – the Tories), the emphasis that unions are good for productivity.

Unsurprisingly, none of this has gone down too well with some on the left – and, to make matters worse, there's a definite touch of dangerous media-friendliness in the Monks regime. He has radically restructured and re-oriented the labyrinthine bureaucracy of Congress House, pruning its useless committees, and using the savings to establish a campaigns department to ensure that all the TUC's research work is pushed out to MPs, the media and pressure groups, instead of merely being "noted" at general council meetings. To traditionalists, it all seems a little too close to Mandelsonism for comfort.

The moderation and media-friendliness were on display in abundance this week – but so too was Monks' radicalism. It wasn't just a matter of the signal workers. Unlike his predecessor and most of the current generation of Labour politicians, Monks does not squirm with embarrassment at the thought of industrial action: he is perfectly at ease with the notion that, sometimes, strikes are essential for unions to do their job. He is equally at ease with the idea that, as the economy recovers, a rise in wage militancy can be expected. Once he'd made all that clear, there was little for the left to get its teeth into.

But if Monks is a breath of fresh air at the TUC, it's difficult to be entirely optimistic about the state of British trade unionism after this week's conference. The overwhelming gloom that hung over TUC gatherings in the last years of Willis has lifted, butjthe unions are still facing major problems. Membership is still falling, finances are still dodgy, the

government is still unremittingly hostile. Despite a widespread commitment to organising the increasingly large part of the workforce that is in casual, part-time or temporary work, the reality is that few unions have made significant headway in such recruitment. More and more employers are going for individual contracts with workers; unions are recognised in fewer and fewer workplaces.

Plenty of people in Blackpool were prepared to acknowledge all this – but few had many ideas for reversing the long-term slide in the unions' fortunes, apart from working for a Labour government, and continuing to improve the unions' services to their members and their overall image.

Of course, the unions' position would be improved by a Labour government, which would grant them the same rights enjoyed by their continental European counterparts. And, as many unions have already found, members and would-be members do find such services as cheap insurance and pensions schemes very attractive. But Labour in power and improved services are nothing like enough to cope with the changed conditions of the labour market. The growth in the importance of part-time, temporary and casual work demands nothing less than a transformation of Britain's trade union culture – a move away from the male domination (still) of most trade unions, a move away from the all-too-prevalent assumption that a workplace cannot be unionised if management won't co-operate and, most crucial of all, a move away from reliance on passive recruitment to active organising.

However much they have improved their services and their image, British unions, for the most part, still urgently need to improve their ability to get new members to join. This won't happen overnight – and it won't happen unless British unions adopt the American practice of employing full-time local union organisers to go into unorganised workplaces and recruit. It's time to get back to basics.

Friday, 2 September 1994


New Statesman & Society, 2 September 1994

A year after the BNP's Millwall by-election win, it is standing in nearby Shadwell. But this time the Labour Party is confident of victory, writes Paul Anderson

"This isn't going to be another Millwall," says Shadwell Labour councillor and Tower Hamlets council deputy leader Pola Manzila Uddin. "We're going to keep control of Shadwell on 15 September. If people round here were going to vote BNP this time, they'd have voted Liberal in May."

Her confidence is shared by other Labour activists in Shadwell, the ward in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets where the death of veteran Labour councillor Albert Lilley has necessitated a by-election. The fascist British National Party is standing a candidate, Gordon Callow, in the hope of emulating its success a year ago in nearby Millwall, the Isle of Dogs ward where Derek Beackon won its first-ever council seat, after a rancourous campaign in which both Labour and the Liberal Democrats shamelessly pandered to white working-class racism. But this time Labour does not feel vulnerable.

"It would be stupid to be over-confident," says Labour candidate Michael Keith, a 34-year-old urban geography lecturer at Goldsmith's College who lives in the area. "But the campaign's not going too badly, and if things continue as they have done we should be alright on 15 September." Labour ward organiser David Kershaw is more emphatic. "It's going absolutely superbly," he says. 'The canvassing has been more thorough than in the local elections in May. We had 25 people out last Thursday – unheard of in a council by-election. We reckon we can increase our majority."

It is not difficult to see the reasons for the optimism. Most obviously, Labour is starting from a far stronger position than it did in Millwall last year. Whereas in Millwall the party ran a shambolic campaign, even though it had barely scraped a victory against the Liberals in a by-election there a year before (in which the BNP took 20 per cent of the vote), in Shadwell it has a highly professional machine in place even though it appears to be a safe Labour ward and even though the BNP has no electoral base.

In May's council elections Labour swept away the Liberal Democrat administration that had ruled Tower Hamlets since 1986. Shadwell returned three Labour councillors for its three seats – just as it had in 1990. The late Albert Lilley topped the poll with 1,870 votes, with Uddin second on 1,652 and their colleague Abdur Shukur third on 1,635. The three Liberal Democrat contenders took 889, 776 and 730 votes, with the best-placed Tory on just 367 votes, behind a Bengali "Inde¬pendent Labour" candidate who had fallen out with Labour. The BNP didn't stand.

Given that Labour is riding high in the national opinion polls and that the new Tower Hamlets Labour council has not yet had enough time to make itself unpopular, it might at first sight seem odd for Labour to expend much effort in the run-up to the Shad-well vote. Yet the party is leaving nothing to chance.

The London regional Labour Party has made Shadwell its number one priority, and, for the past fortnight, teams of Labour canvassers have been tramping round the ward every weekend and most weekday nights drumming up support. The several hundred activists from all over the south-east who turned out to help Labour's succesful campaign to defeat Beackon in Millwall in May have been contacted again with a plea for help – and the response has been good. Any worries that Labour might have had about its Shadwell branch being a typically small and inactive inner-city party have been easily banished. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, still reeling after their drubbing in May following the row over their racist propaganda, are fighting an extremely low-key campaign, as indeed are the Tories.

So has Labour over-reacted? Not really. Despite the party's apparent strength, the belt-and-braces approach makes a lot of sense. Many if not all of the underlying social factors that gave the BNP its breakthrough in Millwall last year are present in Shadwell too – and it's better to be safe than sorry.

Like Millwall, from which it is separated only by the gleaming postmodern office blocks of the Canary Wharf complex, Shad-well is a place where the rapid development of London's derelict docklands in the past decade has created dramatic social polarisation. The ward is split in two by the Highway, one of two main roads running east from the City to Canary Wharf. To the north, towards Commercial Road (the other main east-west artery), is some of the most run-down council housing in London, much of it dating back to the 1930s, with unemployment running at more than 50 per cent in some places. To the south, between the Highway and the ward's southern boundary, the Thames riverbank between Wapping and Limehouse is a stretch of affluence: gentrified terraced houses (one David Owen's), converted-warehouse offices and yuppie flats built during the 1980s boom, with surveillance cameras outside and BMWs parked in their gated courtyards.

Many of the offices and flats are empty, but, just as in Millwall, the presence of con-spicuous riches right next to inner-city squalor has created massive resentment among local people, who feel – with reason – that they have not benefited from all the development and that they have been ignored by politicians of all parties. The turnout in May's local elections was just 40 per cent. There's plenty of potential here for a protest vote against the established political parties, even if it's more likely that disaffection expresses itself in still higher levels of abstention.

And then there's race. Shadwell has a far larger ethnic minority population than Millwall – 47 per cent, most Bangladeshi, as against 20 per cent in Millwall. But, because of the young age profile of the Bangladeshi population, only 30 per cent of voters are from ethnic minorities – so Labour cannot simply rely on mobilising the ethnic minority vote on 15 September. As in Millwall in May, to beat the BNP Labour will have to construct a multi-racial coalition.

And that cannot be taken for granted. There are real racial tensions in the ward. The Bangladeshi community is concentrated in the north west, the white working class in the north east. And, although police statistics show that, overall, Shadwell has nothing like the level of "racial incidents" found in Mill-wall and other parts of Tower Hamlets, the estates where the two ethnic communities meet have a reputation for racial violence. The worst single incident in the area came last September when a 17-year-old Bengali boy, Quddus Ali, was almost beaten to death by a gang of white men outside the Dean Swift pub in Commercial Road, Shadwell's north¬ern boundary. The Dean Swift subsequently gained a reputation as a BNP hangout.

For all this, there is little in Shadwell of the siege mentality among working-class whites that is so characteristic of the Isle of Dogs – and little evidence of far-right activity in the area. Unlike the Isle of Dogs, it was something of a stronghold for Oswald Mosley both in the 1930s (Cable Street, where anti-fascists famously stopped Mosley's attempt to march through the then Jewish East End in 1936, runs through the ward) and when he tried to make his comeback in the 1950s. But it was not one of the areas where the National Front did particularly well in the 1970s, again unlike the Isle of Dogs. In recent years, by comparison with much of the rest of the East End, the BNP has for the most part been noticeable by its absence – with the exception of the immediate aftermath of the attack on Quddus Ali – and in the past couple of weeks it has been invisible. "We've not seen anything of them," says Labour organiser David Kershaw. "I'm sure they'll get a few votes, but I think this could be a real humiliation for them." Let's hope he's right.


New Statesman & Society leader, 2 September 1994

"The potential now exists to move the situation towards a democratic and peaceful settlement. I am satisfied that Irish nationalism, if properly mobilised and focused at home and abroad, now has sufficient political confidence, weight and support to bring about the changes which are essential to a just and lasting peace. This is the considered position I put to the IRA."

It was with these words on Monday that Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, gave notice that the Provisional IRA was about to declare a permanent ceasefire. And on Wednesday, the IRA announced a complete cessation of violence. Twenty-five years of bombings and shootings are coming to an end.

Of course, the ceasefire is a good thing. If Northern Ireland's problem isn't simply one of violence, stopping the violence is undoubtedly a precondition for any attempt to come up with a political solution. More than 3,100 people have died violent deaths since the beginning of the Troubles in 1969 – and more than half of them were killed by the IRA and other republican paramilitaries. The welcome for the IRA's decision to end its repugnant campaign of murder has to be tempered by the observation that it should never have been started in the first place.

The big question is what happens next. In the short term, it's relatively easy to predict. Already, Adams is being hailed in some quarters – particularly in the United States – as a great man of peace: the next few weeks will see a great deal of Sinn Fein triumphalism. On the other side of the sectarian divide, many of Northern Ireland's Protestants are already starting to panic about the IRA's coming in from the cold and what it means for them.

How all this pans out in the medium term, however, depends on how it is handled, particularly by the Irish and British governments. There is undoubtedly a real opportunity for bringing about a lasting peaceful political settlement – but there is equally a real danger of the simmering Northern Ireland conflict erupting into full scale civil war, complete with ethnic pogroms..

The crucial thing is to reassure the unionists that the IRA really has given up on violence and that there has been no shady deal stitched up behind their backs. This means that Sinn Fein should not be allowed into negotiations until the ceasefire has been in force for several months and that the ceasefire must be followed as soon as possible by the total disarming of the IRA.

Given that it is difficult to imagine the Proves unilaterally giving up their rifles and Semtex (although they should be challenged to do so), the most realistic way to disarm them is to get their agreement to a schedule for disarming both republican and loyalist paramilitaries and to a credible system for verifying the process. This makes it crucial that every effort is made in the next few weeks to persuade the loyalist paramilitaries that they, too, are welcome participants in multi¬lateral negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland if they, too, commit themselves to a permanent cease fire.

On the other hand, it has to be made clear by both Dublin and London that there is no way that constitutional change will be forced on the unionists against their wishes. The key here is to reiterate the principle behind the Downing Street declaration, that the only way to find a lasting solution to the Northern Ireland problem is for everyone involved to lay down their arms forever and talk until they can come up with a constitutional settlement that is acceptable to all, with all options open for discussion and neither Dublin nor London attempting to "persuade" other players of the desirability of any particular outcome. (As NSS argued earlier this year, this principle means that Labour should abandon its advocacy of "unity by consent" at the first possible opportunity.)

What such a constitutional settlement might be like is currently impossible to say – and there is certainly no quick fix. Republican dreams of an immediate withdrawal of British troops or of a rapid move towards joint British-Irish sovereignty over Northern Ireland are as much recipes for disaster as unionist schemes for some sort of repartition or for maintenance of an unreformed status quo. Of course, the upshot of the absence of quick fixes is that there is a real danger of patience snapping and the talks breaking down – and if that were to happen, the scenario would be bleak indeed.

But there are many ways in which the likelihood of securing agreement could be enhanced. As last year's Opsahl Commission report argued, there's plenty of room for all sorts of small confidence-building initiatives that, taken together, could have a major impact on the ways that the two communities in Northern Ireland relate to each other. The Opsahl recommendations – a mixture of de-volving power to the people, beefing up anti-discrimination legislation, developing North-South co-operation and introducing measures to stimulate economic and social regeneration – remain the best way forward.

Friday, 26 August 1994


New Statesman & Society leader, 26 August 1994

This week, Rupert Murdoch raised the price of the Sun from 20p to 22p – leaving it 5p instead of 7p cheaper than the Daily Mirror and just 3p cheaper than the Daily Star – amid speculation that a price hike was also imminent for the Times, which has been selling at 20p for the past two months.

The reason for Murdoch's move, and for the speculation about the Times, is simple. By the time most NSS readers get this issue, his company, News Corporation, will have published its full-year figures. Murdoch was worried that investors would be scared off by the hole that the newspaper price war has blown in News Corporation's profits – so it was necessary at least to make it look as if he was thinking of calling the whole thing off.

Whether he is really contemplating a truce only time will tell, although it would certainly seem to make sense with the Sun. The latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, pub¬lished earlier this month, show the Mirror's circulation increasing by 1.28 per cent in July despite its price disadvantage, while the Sun was up by only 0.31 per cent. After a year at 20p, the Sun's average daily sale has soared from 3.5 million to 4.2 million, while the Mirror's has declined from 2.7 million to 2.5 million. Now, however, the Sun has got just about all the readers that it is going to get by price-cutting – so it would be sensible for News Corporation to start paring back on the costs of the tabloid price war.

The quality market is more complex. Two months at 20p have seen the Times rise to an average daily sale of nearly 600,000. In the first half of 1993, the paper was selling just over 360,000. And the Independent, with an average of just under 260,000 in July, down about a third in 18 months, is suffering badly (although it claims to have recovered sales since it joined the price war it had hitherto shunned by dropping its price to 30p at the beginning of the month). Murdoch might well be thinking that it is worth keeping up the pressure on the Independent for a couple more months in the hope that it will be forced to close.

For that, quite simply, is the sole purpose of Murdoch's price-cutting. Newspaper reading is declining in Britain, and so is the newspapers' share of the advertising pot. There is, moreover, no sign of either trend being reversible – and for Murdoch that means one thing. He must kill off the competition to ensure that his titles increase their market share to compensate for the smaller size of the market. At the popular end of the tabloid market, the target is the Daily Star, a paper so bad that only its employees will miss it. In the quality market, the target is the Independent. But the loss of the Independent would be a serious blow to British public life.

This is not to claim that the paper's politics are wonderful: its mix of free-market economics, civil libertarianism and social concern is not particularly to NSS tastes. Still less is it to deny that the Independent is partially re¬sponsible for its current predicament: if it had not made the mistake of launching the Independent on Sunday to kill off the short-lived Sunday Correspondent, it would not have been forced into the bout of editorial cost-cutting and the desperate search for new investment that, along with a ham-fisted redesign, led it into the spiral of directionlessness and circulation decline from which it has never recovered.

But the Independent remains a serious paper, and its point of view deserves a place in the daily press. Murdoch's ability to subsidise a price war against the Independent with profits from other parts of his worldwide media empire – just as he used profits from the Sun to subsidise Sky television in its battle with British Satellite Broadcasting – is a grave threat to the press pluralism essential in any democracy.

Yet it is at just this point that Labour has chosen to indicate that it is thinking of relax¬ing its stance on media cross-ownership to allow newspaper publishing companies to own terrestrial broadcasting channels. Labour arts and culture spokesperson Mo Mowlam was reported a fortnight ago to have decided on an essentially deregulatory approach. Although she subsequently claimed that all that was happening was an open-ended review of Labour's media policy commitments, it is significant that she has not denied that Labour policy is moving in precisely such a Murdoch-friendly direction.

Why the change of heart? The charitable explanation is that Labour is simply recognising brutal economic realities – that, with the media increasingly global, it is going to be giant transnational media conglomerates that matter, and that if Britain is going to be home to some of the major global players, there can't be too many legal constraints on cross-ownership. That is a coherent argument, although not one with which this magazine agrees: limitations on the extent to which any particular corporation can dominate the media in Britain need have no knock-on effect on that corporation's ability to compete elsewhere in the world.

The more worrying theory doing the rounds is that Labour hopes to curry favour with Murdoch. Labour politicians know that he is not averse to backing parties nominally of the left when it suits his commercial interests – and of course he has indicated, albeit in the most guarded way, that it is conceivable that he might support Tony Blair. Labour's dalliance with deregulation, the argument goes, is in preparation for a pre-election Faustian pact like that between Murdoch and the Australian Labor Party of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. A glance at the cesspit that is Australian Labor politics should be enough to convince anyone tempted by such a course to reject it forever. Whatever he says, Murdoch remains the enemy of everything – equality, democratic pluralism, freedom of expression, decency and honesty – at the centre of the left's project.

Friday, 19 August 1994


New Statesman & Society leader, 19 August 1994

this week, Labour Party members should be receiving their voting papers for the first-ever one member, one vote elections to the constituency section of the party's National Executive Committee. This helps to explain, of course, the unusually high media profile of certain Labour politicians at a time when they are more normally to be found in their favoured holiday locations than floating ideas such as Mo Mowlam's peculiar suggestion about moving the royal family out of Buckingham Palace (whatever happened to republicanism anyway?). There are 21 candidates for seven places, and no one is quite sure what will happen now that they are no longer to be decided by constituency party block votes. The outcome will, however, be crucially important in helping to shape the kind of party that Labour becomes under its new leader.

The NEC is, as it has always been, the most powerful body in the party. Its composition will have a significant effect on the sort of campaign that Labour fights at the next general election. It could even have a significant impact on the next government if Labour wins. This year's election is rather more than a "beauty contest".

Of course, it is extremely unlikely that the NEC results will be a major upset for Tony Blair. The days are long gone when the constituency section returned a 100 per cent left slate as a two-fingered salute to the leadership. Indeed, the danger this year is that the NEC ends up without a single member in the constituency section who is not in the shadow cabinet. Although – because Blair, Kinnock and John Prescott have gone on to higher things – there are three constituency places up for grabs (one of which must go to a woman), if all the incumbents are returned, the consensus among the pundits is that the three most likely newcomers are shadow cabinet members Straw, Smith and Mowlam. This is a danger not because there is any¬thing necessarily wrong with any of them.

Smith in particular would bring a welcome green tinge to the NEC. Rather, it is because, as Peter Hain argued last week in NSS as he set out his platform, it is an inherently bad idea for the constituency section to be a mini¬ature shadow cabinet, bound by the principle of collective responsibility and all the inhibitions on free and open discussion that that entails. Neither does the shadow cabinet adequately represent the spread of political opinion in the party as a whole: instead it covers a narrow range between centre-left and right. A voice or two from the left – and the most cogent on offer this year is undoubtedly Hain's – would not go amiss.

More important than the NEC – and far more trying for Blair – is the shadow cabinet reshuffle that will follow the shadow cabinet elections in late October. Having spurned a reshuffle immediately upon being elected, this is effectively his only chance to change his team before the next election.

He does not have an easy task. He has no option but to use the material the Parliamentary Labour Party serves up to him – and it has a perverse habit at times of preferring the affable incompetent, the fixer or the bully to the intelligent, creative and able. Then he has to make sure that the best possible team is put together without causing offence to fragile egos that could turn dangerous if they feel that they have been snubbed.

But he is helped by two things: his own job at home affairs is vacant, and Jack Cunningham has put in such a miserable performance at foreign affairs that it would be no problem to remove him (if indeed he makes it back into the shadow cabinet – and there are some in the Blair team who are hoping for a Cunningham defeat to avoid the unpleasantness of a sacking). That means that two of the "big three" jobs are effectively open – which in¬creases his room for manoeuvre.

So what should he do? The crucial posts are shadow chancellor and shadow.foreign secretary. With the 1996 intergovernmental conference coming up and the economy still in a depressed state, Europe and the economy are set to dominate British politics in the next couple of years. Labour needs the right people in post to handle them.

Taking Europe first, because that is where the incumbent is so weak, what is needed is someone with an unerring enthusiasm for Europe and a proven ability to find gaps in the Tories' armour. Of the four shadow cabinet members who are serious candidates for the job, George Robertson has the former but not the latter, while Robin Cook and John Prescott have the latter without the former. The ideal candidate is Gordon Brown, who has been a consistent advocate of closer European political and economic union and, crucially, an enthusiast for pan-European alternative economic strategies – but the problem is that he's already got the other key post of shadow chancellor, in which he has done a brilliant job of labelling the Tories as a party of high taxation and low competence, but less well in communicating a convincing alternative strategy of the left.

The answer is to shift Brown sideways and promote Cook to shadow chancellor. In his trade and industry brief, Cook has again shown himself to be Labour's leading thinker. He understands the necessity for getting to grips with the structures of modern capitalism, as well as grappling with the ethics of modern socialism. He has an extraordinary grasp of detail, a sense of the "big idea", and he is a great communicator. Most important of all, his appointment would be a signal that a Blair government really would be interven¬tionist in its economic policies – Labour's greatest weakness on the economy these days is that it sometimes seems as if it wouldn't do anything different from the Tories except on education and training. If Blair wants the best possible government-in-waiting, he really ought to explore the possibility of building his team around Cook as shadow chancellor and Brown as shadow foreign secretary.

Friday, 12 August 1994


New Statesman & Society leader, 12 August 1994

There can be no doubt that Tony Blair's arrival in the Labour leadership has had the effect of inducing near-panic among the Liberal Democrats. With the opinion polls showing the Lib Dems los¬ing ground to Labour, three of the Gang of Four who left Labour in 1981 to form the SDP have declared that Blair is their kind of Labour leader, prompting Paddy Ashdown to disown them and their views. Lib Dem publications are stuffed with arguments about what to do next.

Old-fashioned Labour types who never much liked the 1980s fashion for talk about cooperation between Britain's two centre-left parties are crowing. But it would be wrong to take too much notice of them. Even though the Lib Dems are in a mess, they are not in such a mess that they can be written off as an electoral force. And there remain strong political reasons for the left to back cross-party collaboration.

To take the electoral arithmetic first: it is still the case that, in large parts of Britain, it is the Lib Dems and not Labour who are best placed to beat incumbent Conservatives at the next general election. In the current parliament, there are 92 Tory seats vulnerable on a swing of 5 per cent to the second-placed opposition party: on the 1992 result, the Lib Dems are the second-placed party in 19, mostly in the south-west and the rural south-east, with Labour the challenger in 70, mostly in the north, the Midlands, and the urban south. Even if one takes the extraordinary Labour performance in the 1994 European elections as a starting point, Labour can consider that only three of the Lib Dems' 19 most promising Tory-held seats are three-way marginals in which it has a realistic chance of coming from third to win.

The Euro-elections showed the Lib Dem vote holding up well in the areas where its key marginal Westminster seats are to be found even though the overall Lib Dem perfor¬mance a percentage of the total vote was poor. Much the same goes for recent opinion polls: the Lib Dems might be losing ground overall, but they are not doing as badly where it matters to them.

What's more, Labour has an interest in the Lib Dems doing well. As Labour's Last Chance?, the recent study of the 1992 election by Anthony Heath, Roger Jowell and John Curtice, shows conclusively, Labour is the main beneficiary of any shift from Tory to Lib Dem because, as the Tory vote falls, Labour starts to win seats where it is just behind the Tories, and there are far more of these than Tory seats where the Lib Dems are in second place. Heath, Jowell and Curtice calculate that a 4 per cent swing from Tory to Lib Dem would produce 29 Labour gains from the Tories and just 14 Lib Dem gains.

In similar vein, there is a serious downside for Labour if the Lib Dems do badly. Of the 11 Lib Dem seats that are vulnerable on a 5 per cent swing to the party placed second in 1992, three are vulnerable to Labour and eight to the Tories. A Lib Dem slump could be enough for the Conservatives to keep power.

But enough of psephology. No one knows what will intervene between now and the election to determine the performance of the parties on the day. Blair has not yet secured his passage to No 10: his honeymoon could prove to be short. With a little luck on the economy and a couple of tax-cutting budgets, John Major could still be Prime Minister in the year 2000.

In any case, the best argument for Labour's not writing off the Lib Dems was never about numbers but about policy. As NSS has argued consistently, there has been precious little dividing the two parties since the mid-1980s, when Labour ditched its Alternative Economic Strategy. Like it or not – and much of Labour's rightward drift has been far from the liking of this magazine – since Labour's late-1980s policy review, the policy differences have been so small as to be unimportant on

economic and social policy, on the environment and transport, on Europe, on defence, and on every important constitutional issue bar one – proportional representation. The Lib Dems favour a single transferable vote system for the Commons; Labour has promised only to hold a referendum on electoral reform, and Blair has made it clear that he is not prepared to take the party any further.

And this is precisely why the radical left really needs the Lib Dems. Without the introducion of proportional representation for the Commons, no package of constitutional reform will be adequate to the task, in other respects admirably embraced by Blair, of turning Britain into a genuinely pluralist modern democracy. Labour's commitments to a Bill of Rights, Scottish and Welsh parlia¬ments, devolution of powers to the English regions and abolition of the House of Lords are all excellent and long-overdue reforms – but the country also needs an electoral system for Westminster's lower house that allows it adequately to reflect the spread of opinion across the country.

Proportional representation is the great blind spot of those who style themselves "modernisers" in today's Labour Party. They are still, for all their rhetoric of pluralism, interested in the winner-takes-all game, still scared of sharing power, still afraid that their own party's culture would somehow be tainted by contact with the Lib Dems – not to mention the new green and left groupings that would come into being with the advent of PR. There is a serious danger that, when push came to shove, a majority Labour govern¬ment would decide that the promised referendum on electoral reform could wait until a second term or maybe even for ever. That's why NSS still reckons, as in 1992, that a degree of Liberal Democrat influence over any future Labour government would be no bad thing. Let's wish Paddy Ashdown a speedy recovery.