Friday, 23 July 1999


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 23 July 1999

I'm afraid I came away from last Saturday's Tribune-sponsored conference, "Democratic socialism or 19th century liberalism?", feeling rather depressed.

It would have been the same whatever had been said. After more than two decades of going to left-wing conferences of one kind or another, I can no longer spend more than a couple of hours listening to even the best speeches without getting the blues. And it's always worse if it's a beautiful summer's day outside or if the speakers drone on or if most of the contributors from the floor are nutters.

Last Saturday was relatively nutter-free, and not too many people droned on, at least in the bits I caught. But it was a beautiful summer's day outside, which meant that the main hall in Congress House was stiflingly hot and stuffy. At one point during the morning, I dozed off — to be awoken with a start by a speaker demanding that the left take seriously "the nudist position on Ireland". "Hey," I thought, "naturism as the key to unlocking the peace process. That's novel." But then he mentioned the "new disposition" a second time and I drifted into slumber again.

My problem with left-wing conferences is that I find them for the most part brain-numbingly predictable. I'm pretty familiar with the British left. I've been around it for a while, and I read all its main magazines and newspapers. I don't want to come across as a know-all, but most of the things people say at left-wing conferences I've heard or read already.

So why do I persist in turning up to them? Well, it's always good to see old friends and have a natter during breaks, then down a few beers in the evening before going off for a curry. I suppose my ideal left-wing conference would have 15-minute opening and closing plenary sessions, 30-minute workshops, one-hour coffee and tea breaks and two hours for lunch, with a really massive party in the evening.

Of course, such an event would be useless as a means of attracting new people to the cause, forging new alliances and doing all the other serious things that left-wing conferences are supposed to do. But I'm not sure that the traditional-format talk fest is much better.

Last Saturday's do, for instance, was intended as a consolidation exercise for the Labour left. The organisers' idea was to bring together the constituency activists involved in the Grassroots Alliance's successful National Executive Committee campaign along with MPs and trade unionists critical of the Government's direction. And indeed, they all turned up — the stalwarts of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Briefing and Labour Reform, Barbara Castle, Ken Livingstone, Tony Benn, John Edmonds, Jimmy Knapp and a load more — and they all agreed that they didn't much like new Labour's control freakery and obsession with appeasing the Daily Mail-reading middle classes.

But what beyond this do they have in common? Enthusiasm for more union-friendly labour laws and opposition to various aspects of the Government's welfare reform programme, certainly — which is fair enough. But even on these issues there are massive differences over what should happen instead of what new Labour is actually doing.

Otherwise, there really isn't much to unite the disparate band that came along last Saturday. People pushing positive alternatives to new Labour policies were conspicuous by their absence. A lot of speakers expressed hostility to the Liberal Democrats and proportional representation, and there was a virulently anti-European tone to several contributions. Nearly everyone cheered wildly at Tony Benn's closing speech, reasserting the eternal verities of the old Labour left just as he did in the early 1980s.

But the truth is that these days the Lib Dems, PR and Europe divide the Labour left — particularly PR and Europe. 'Unity' on a platform of first-past-the-post and anti-Europeanism would be the unity of an impotent rump. And although Benn remains an impressive orator, sentimentality for the good old days when the left was a power in the Labour Party will not make it vigorous again.

So although the organisers did a great job, and although it was great to see everyone again, I don't think we're now on the brink of a great left revival. What last Saturday showed was that as much still divides the Labour left as unites it, and that it will be some time yet before it is able to offer a serious comprehensive project to rival New Labour's. Which is roughly where we've been since the late 1980s.

Friday, 9 July 1999


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 9 July 1999

I suppose I shouldn't go back to the Euro-elections after all this time, but everyone I know is still talking about them — and I still have an overwhelming urge to have my say.

The reason is simple. The 1999 European Parliament election was a disaster for Labour. It saw the party running its most risibly incompetent campaign in a UK-wide election since 1983. All that was lacking was an election broadcast featuring a swaying Denzil Davies in a kipper tie, valiantly attempting to put his point to camera in a force ten gale.

Labour has come up with all sorts of pathetic excuses for its failure. The official line, it seems, is that the voters were simply too content to bother to turn out. Radical dissidents from the line — well, actually, Margaret Beckett and Pauline Green — have blamed the crisis in Kosovo. The first-past-the-post mob have had the temerity to claim that no one understood the new electoral system, which in fact was easier to grasp than the national lottery. It's only a matter of time before someone blames the miserable performances of various national sporting teams.

The truth, however, is that Labour dug its own grave. Everything it did from the point at which it started to think about the 1999 Euro-elections might have been designed to undermine the enthusiasm of its activists and supporters.

First, it arranged an electoral system for the European elections that gave voters no option but to choose among lists dictated by parties, with no possibility of discriminating among individual candidates. Then it ensured that Labour Party members were given only the most nugatory role in choosing their candidates – and no role whatsoever in ranking them on the party's lists. The result was Labour lists in which independent-minded candidates, whatever their support in the party, had at best an outside chance of winning. What a brilliant way to enthuse the members!

Next, to put the icing on the cake, Labour decided to run a Euro-election campaign that was low-key and – insofar as it existed – entirely concentrated on domestic political concerns as divined by the focus group 'experts'.

The party put next to no effort into the campaign. It did little to mobilise its core working-class voters. It did little to persuade its middle-class voters not to vote Liberal Democrat, Green, Plaid or Scottish National Party. It did little even to persuade its members that the elections mattered.

I'm not saying that everything would have been OK if Labour had been a bit more traditionalist. PR means that every vote counts, so it's necessary to bring out the core vote. But by the same measure it's crucially important to hang on to Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman. Tony Blair is right to reject calls to adopt a "class against class" politics.

But something has to change. The Euro-elections showed the Millbank apparatus utterly incapable of handling its most basic task, of getting the party to mobilise for an election. It is amazing that heads have not rolled.

It is almost as incredible that the "solution" most touted for Labour's failure is the return of Peter Mandelson to overseeing the party's election campaigns. Party members know his role in instituting the regime of control-freakery and focus-group fetishism that led to the debacle.

As for the calls of the first-past-the-post lobby to ditch any thought of PR for the Commons, they are laughable. Labour's haul of seats in the Euro-elections would have been no better under FPTP than it actually was under PR, so dismal was the party's showing. The principle that you shouldn't win a majority of seats even when you don't have a majority of votes still applies as much as in Margaret Thatcher's pomp.

And it would be daft for Blair now to recoil from putting the case for British participation in the single European currency. Euro-sceptic parties did relatively well in the Euro-elections, but they managed to secure the votes of less than 10 per cent of the electorate. Rather than suggesting that the case for joining the euro faces is necessarily doomed to defeat, this should encourage supporters of British participation to increase their efforts to persuade the people.

The one heartening thing about the Euro-elections was the performance of the Greens. I am of course sad that they beat Carole Tongue and Shaun Spiers in London and Anita Pollack in the South East. They are three of the best MEPs Labour has ever had. But I have hopes that Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas, the Greens who won in London and the South East respectively, will prove themselves just as forthright and just as independent-minded. And they'd better make sure they keep a finger on the Labour heartbeat. I voted Labour for Tongue and Spiers, but nearly everyone else I know, including Labour Party members, sneaked out to vote Green. The new Green MEPs have a lot of Labour hopes riding on them.

Thursday, 1 July 1999


New Times, July 1999

Mary Kaldor talks to Paul Anderson about the implications of what happened in Kosovo

'It would be a big mistake to see what has happened in Kosovo as a success for bombing,' says Mary Kaldor, looking out of the window of her office at the London School of Economics. 'Nato has been presenting the Serbs' withdrawal as a vindication of all its actions. What we need to remember is that the bombing failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing in the first place. Indeed, it accelerated it.

'I'm not trying to be wise after the event, but there really were options that could have been taken before the bombing started that would have prevented the ethnic cleansing. No one can say that we didn't know long ago what Slobodan Milosevic wanted to do in Kosovo. If the international community had been committed to a policy of humanitarian intervention to protect civilians on the ground, he could have been stopped long ago without Nato bombing.'

Even as late as the beginning of the year, she says, it would have been feasible for there to have been a limited intervention on the ground in Kosovo organised by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to give protection to the Kosovo Albanians. This OSCE force could have been supported by a Nato deterrent force in Macedonia which would threaten ground invasion in the event that the OSCE couldn't carry out its job.

'The problem was that the Americans were intent on bombing to teach Milosevic a lesson — a position that Milosevic was quite happy with because it would give him the excuse to expel the Albanians from Kosovo. So nothing was done to organise a limited military operation to set up safe zones in Kosovo, and when the Rambouillet talks broke down, there simply wasn't the capacity for ground intervention. To cap it all, Nato then made the huge mistake of ruling out ground forces when it started to bomb. The British government realised the mistake and started pressing for ground troops – I think sincerely – but the damage had been done.'

Kaldor has been a critic of western foreign and military policy, as academic and activist, for a long time. The daughter of Nicholas Kaldor, the eminent Keynesian economist and adviser to Harold Wilson, she first established a reputation for hard-hitting work on the military-industrial complex in the late 1960s as a young researcher on the arms trade at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which she joined after reading PPE at Oxford.

In the 1970s, back in Britain working at Sussex University, she was a key figure in the Labour Party's defence study group, which in 1977 (to the embarrassment of the then Labour government) put forward detailed proposal for radical defence spending cuts. The next year, she published The Disintegrating West, a path-breaking and prescient analysis of the transatlantic tensions over economic and foreign policy that exploded in the 1980s. During the 1980s, as well as publishing a string of books and articles, most notably her account of the military's fixation with technology, The Baroque Arsenal, she was one of the leading lights in European Nuclear Disarmament. (END was the pressure group that gave the movement against nuclear arms its intellectual dynamic and, more importantly, inoculated it against apologists for Soviet militarism.) Since 1990, while continuing to write prodigiously, she has played a major role in END's successor organisation, European Dialogue, the British affiliate to the Helsinki Citizen's Assembly, the transnational movement for democracy and human rights.

Until Kosovo, however, Kaldor was always a critic of western foreign and military policy from a perspective that emphasised the pursuit of policy by peaceful, political means rather than by military means. On Kosovo, her argument has been that Nato used the wrong military means – bombing not ground troops. Some of her former allies from the 1980s peace movement accuse her of abandoning her principles and becoming an armchair general.

She dismisses such criticism emphatically. 'I'm not a pacifist. I respect people who are, but a lot of the people who oppose intervention really don't seem to care very much about ethnic cleansing. They have been exclusively concerned with the effects of Nato bombing. I was at a big peace movement conference in the Hague in May where there were passionate demands for an end to the bombing – but people were nothing like as energetic in condemning what had been done to the Kosovo Albanians. The rest of the world could not have stood by and watched. Military intervention was essential. The problem was that the Americans were insistent on bombing, and the rest of Nato allowed itself to be pushed by the Americans.

'What I proposed in any case was humanitarian intervention, which is quite different from war-fighting even though it may involve use of troops. A weak version of it was UNPROFOR in Bosnia, which imposed safe havens and humanitarian corridors which were backed by the UN Security Council but not negotiated with the Bosnian Serbs. The mistake in Bosnia was that the troops were poorly armed and ordered not to use force even though they had a mandate to do so, and their lives were privileged over those they were meant to protect.'

So what should happen now that Milosevic has withdrawn from Kosovo and the province is under the control of foreign armed forces? 'The first thing is that it is essential to come up with a settlement for the whole Balkans region,' says Kaldor. 'The international community should recognise that it was a great mistake to deal with each of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia one by one. Every partial agreement covering one area has led to a war in the next one. The partial agreement on Slovenia was followed by the war in Croatia. The agreement on Croatia in early 1992 was followed by the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And the Dayton agreement on Bosnia was followed after a brief respite by the eruption of conflict in Kosovo. There's now a real danger of wars in Macedonia and Montenegro – and who knows where' they might spread to?' Some of the ideas for south-east European integration envisaged in German foreign minister Joschka Fischer's proposal for a stability pact are very relevant, she says.

'Secondly, as everyone now admits, it was a terrible mistake to negotiate with Milosevic. He should be totally sidelined. As long as he remains in power, the violence is bound to spread because sooner or later he will need an international emergency – that's the way he rules. He is at the apex of a system involving extreme nationalists and a mafia who have a vested interest in continued violence. There is an urgent need to provide assistance for democracy in Serbia: there should be support for independent media to counter official propaganda and also support for bottom-up political initiatives – non-governmental organisations, city twinning and so on. And a way has to be found of giving economic aid to Serbia without dealing with Milosevic.'

In the long run, however, what is required is nothing less than a complete reorientation of foreign and military policy to take account of the changing nature of warfare. Kaldor's most recent book, New and Old Wars, gives a panoramic overview of the way that war has changed in the second half of the 20th century. Her thesis is that war in the sense of large-scale organised violence between states is becoming an anachronism. Instead, armed conflicts today are likely to be fuelled by ethnic hatreds and be fought by paramilitary groups, mercenaries and warlords as well as regular forces.

'What I call "new wars" are in practice a mixture of war, organised crime and human rights violations,' she says. 'In all of them, it's possible to identify islands of civility where local groups have defended an inclusive set of social arrangements. Any international effort to solve these wars has to build on these islands of civility. Politically the aim has to be to strengthen those groups offering a real alternative to the politics of exclusive identity. Militarily, peacekeeping has to be rethought as international law enforcement, as the protection of civilians.'