Friday, 29 December 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 29 December 2000

There are probably only four or five months before the next general election, but it is remarkable just how little interest the impending contest is creating.

The assumption of just about every pundit – with some justification, given the opinion polls, the recent round of by-elections and the dire state of William Hague's Tories – is that Labour will walk it. The big questions about the election are the turnout and the size of the Labour majority. In other words, one, will anyone bother? And, two, how easily will Labour win?

The two questions have related answers: the fewer people bother, the fewer seats Labour will win, because the voters most likely to abstain are those who would vote Labour if they could be bothered. For what it is worth, my hunch is that, come election time, abstention will not deny Labour a clear majority, but I'm not putting money on it. Sorry to be boring, but, like every other hack on every other paper, I think that – barring accidents (and I'm not ruling them out) – we're looking at a second term for Tony Blair and his crew.

Which means that the really juicy story is who's in and who's out in the New Labour Government after it is returned. Over the past couple of weeks, the papers have been filled with speculation. Will John Prescott be given the heave-ho after his miserable performance in the transport brief? Perhaps he will get Cabinet enforcer? Will Robin Cook survive at the Foreign Office, which Peter Mandelson so covets? After Nice, he looks safe, or maybe not. And what about David Blunkett's apparent desire for the Home Office – or is it something else? Could there be a constitutional supremo, and if so who should get the job?

I do not pretend to have inside information on any of this – and you should not trust any journalist who claims otherwise. But I know what I think Tony Blair should do. And this is it:

Get rid of Jack Straw as Home Secretary. He has always been one of Labour's most useless chumps, ever since his days as president of the National Union of Students. In his current job he
has been an authoritarian-populist useless chump, responsible for a succession of idiotic illiberal law-and-ordure measures that have had no effect whatsoever on crime rates but do untold damage to the most vulnerable people in our society. Give him the Cabinet Office or something else where he cannot do any more damage. And, whatever happens, keep him away from anything to do with abroad, where his idiotic Europhobia would do untold damage.

Don't give Blunkett Straw's job. The current Education Secretary is even more of an intuitive authoritarian than the Home Secretary. Keep him where he is, where he has done some good work – and do not move him to anything to do with abroad unless it is the Ministry of Defence, where his antipathy to wasting money on stupid projects would be quite useful (and in line with what Gordon Brown would like).

Abandon Derry Irvine. The Lord Chancellor is not only a pompous twit – he is also indolent, incompetent and a constitution al conservative. Time for Blair to sever the sentimental link. (The
same goes for "Proper" Charlie Falconer.)

Keep Cook as Foreign Secretary. He has done a good job. If he moves, it should be to take responsibility for constitutional reform, with an out-and-out pro-European replacing him at the FO. That means not Straw, Prescott, Margaret Beckett or any of the
other obvious figures apart from – I never thought I'd write this – Peter Mandelson.

Kick Prescott upstairs. His performance over the past three years has been risible, particularly on transport. He's almost as useless as Jack Straw. (But do not give his job to Gus Macdonald, once a Tribune office boy: he is even worse in his current role than he was here. Michael Meacher – no, I mean it – would be a better bet.) Deputy PM with no departmental responsibilities is just about Prezza's level.

Fire a few Brownies. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has done a reasonable job in his own department, but his accolytes elsewhere have by and large been dreadful.

Don't promote the clones. Stephen Milburn, Alan Byers, Patricia Morris, Estelle Clarke – you know who I mean – give us a break – please.

Oh well, at least we can dream.


Finally, an admission. I got it wrong in a column earlier this year on the state of football, in which I predicted tough times for my team, Ipswich Town, in the premiership this season. As I write, we are third in the division, and the North Stand is singing:
We can’t read, we can’t write
But that don’t really matter
We come down from Ipswich Town
Riding on our tractors
It's much more fun than politics.

Friday, 8 December 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 8 December 2000

Alf Lomas, the former Labour MEP for North East London who briefly led the British Labour Group in the European Parliament during the 1980s, was never my favourite politician. A numbskull Europhobe, he seemed to me to represent the worst of the old Labour left. I met him only once, when I debated the merits of the single European currency with him at a sparsely attended party meeting above a Labour club in Hackney. I remember him as extraordinarily rude – while I was speaking he made a point of noisily tearing up pieces of paper in a childish attempt to put me off – though I think his hostility might have been the result of some idiot telling him I was after his seat.

Nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him last week when he became the latest victim of the Sunday Times in its long-running campaign of naming and shaming supposed one-time Soviet bloc agents in the Labour movement. The allegation that he was an informant for the Stasi, the East German secret police, is not radically at odds with his publicly expressed sympathies for the police states of "actually existing socialism". But given the Sunday Times 's record of making preposterous claims about reds under the bed – most notoriously when it claimed in 1995 that Michael Foot was a KGB agent – it is difficult to have any confidence in its judgment.

This sense is reinforced by what the paper did with what appears to be the most solid piece of evidence it has managed to dig up on this story, an index of key Stasi reports relating to Britain from the 1970s and 1980s. In print, the Sunday Times told a gripping tale of how it came to light, selectively reporting its contents to suggest that important figures in the Labour Party colluded with the East German spooks. It was only when readers went to the paper's website, where the document was published without comment, that they could see what to any unblinkered observer is the real story it reveals – the extent to which the Stasi's efforts in Britain were concentrated upon and directed against Labour and the non-communist left.

Dozens of the reports listed in the index relate to the internal affairs of the Labour Party: it is clear that the Stasi had informants, witting or unwitting, at party headquarters throughout the 1970s and 1980s. But far more of the entries are on the peace movement – with a particular emphasis on European Nuclear Disarmament, the campaign set up in 1980 by Edward Thompson, Ken Coates, Mary Kaldor and others to push for a "nuclear-free Europe from Poland to Portugal".

END (of whose magazine I was deputy editor) made a point of opposing Soviet nuclear arms, supporting independent movements in the Soviet bloc against them. As well as playing a key role in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – notably in ensuring that its pro-Soviet minority was effectively marginalised for most of the 1980s – its activists visited eastern Europe to engage in face-to-face dialogue with dissidents and peace groups. To the Stasi, we were the enemy, a "hostile peace movement", and the Sunday Times document suggests that the East German spooks had at least eight people filing reports on our activities.

I was never so naïve as think the Stasi would have turned a blind eye to END, and last year a television documentary by the journalist David Rose revealed that it had a mole inside the organisation in London. But the scale of Stasi attention suggested by the Sunday Times document is genuinely surprising. END, though undoubtedly influential, was always a small group, with a core in Britain of some 200-300 people and perhaps a few thousand active sympathisers who read the magazine, came along to meetings and gave the group money.

So how come the Stasi took us so seriously? It doesn't fit in with the Sunday Times view of the world, according to which everyone on the left is tainted by being "soft" on communism, but the reason is that we were a thorn in the side of the Soviet bloc authorities. By shouting loudly about Soviet militarism as well as Nato's nuclear modernisation, we effectively undermined their efforts to portray themselves as the friends of the peace movement – which in turn ensured that the pro-Soviet caucus in CND never got anywhere. And by engaging publicly with dissidents and independent peaceniks in the eastern bloc, we challenged in a small way the legitimacy of single-party police-state socialism.

Of course, it's ancient history now. But as long as the likes of the Sunday Times see fit to smear the left as dupes of Moscow and its satellites, it remains essential to make it clear that, in fact, most of us weren't.

Saturday, 11 November 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 11 November 2000

First the nation's rail service grinds to a halt after a fatal accident, apparently caused because routine maintenance is considered a luxury by the privatised company responsible for rail infrastructure. Then the long-awaited report on mad cow disease shows a quite extraordinary dereliction of duty by government and officials convinced that the agricultural industry needed less intrusive regulation in order to flourish. Almost simultaneously, a spell of inclement weather reveals that recent relaxations of the rules governing new building have led to thousands of homes being built where they are likely to be flooded any time it rains a lot. And now we're all on tenterhooks awaiting the next round of protests against fuel taxation to see whether a handful of fat blokes will again bring the country to its knees by blockading the handful of refineries that normally supply our oil products "just in time".

Yes, the past few weeks have given us a string of wonderful advertisements for letting the spirit of enterprise run free (or rather with the lightest of regulatory touches). It all looks marvellously dynamic for a while, a few people make a lot of money by cutting corners on safety and otherwise ripping us off – and then everything either collapses in scandal or seizes up completely.

Sorry, but things look a lot better the other side of the Channel. All right, I know all about floods in Italy, BSE and farmers' fuel protests in France and truckers creating mayhem in Germany. But at least over there they manage to keep the trains running, if not always on time.

For all the fashionable nineties neo-liberal talk about "Eurosclerosis”, no continental European country has been reduced to the pitiful state of Britain by the tribulations we have all suffered in the past few months.

I'm not arguing that the rest of Europe is perfect, or even that deregulation is always wrong (have you tried to buy a loaf of bread in Germany on a Sunday?). It seems to me incontrovertible, however, that economies in which the essentials are more strictly regulated, with key transport and other infrastructure in the public sector, work better overall – even if, week-on-week, when everything is going well, they seem to accountants to be less efficient.

A genuinely pro-European social-democratic government in Britain would now be making the case vigorously for the European model of regulated capitalism against those who would let the free market rip. By contrast, Tony Blair and friends have kept mum. I’d like to think that they’re embarrassed by the way that they embraced so wholeheartedly the neo-liberal enthusiasm for deregulation. But I have my doubts . . .


On a different matter entirely, I’m amazed at the scanty coverage in the national media of the crisis that has hit the London borough of Hackney in the past month. To cut a long story short, the council will be declared bankrupt unless it makes gigantic cuts in spending – to the tune of £18 million – to claw back a £40 million deficit. Half its council tax is uncollected. More than 17,000 residents are owed outstanding housing benefit. Hundreds of local businesses have not been paid for work they have done for the council. Estimates of the number of workers Hackney will have to sack range from 500 to 1,000. Just about every senior officer is desperately searching for some way of jumping ship.

It is not quite on the scale of New York in the 1970s, but it’s big news all the same – not least because it raises serious questions about the much-vaunted pragmatism and responsibility of New Labour in local government.

It is true that, since the mid-1990s, Hackney has not been the Labour stronghold that it was before, and that at least some of the mess can be put down to a brief spell of Liberal Democrat administration and before that to a bout of vicious in-fighting among Labour councillors that resulted in a substantial breakaway from the Labour Party. But Labour councillors close to the party leadership nationally have been the dominant force in Hackney politics since the mid-1980s, and they were in power for most of the long period of incompetence and mismanagement that has led the borough to the brink. Anyone who suggests that Hackney’s problem is the loony left running riot is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

Wednesday, 1 November 2000


Paul Anderson, Chartist column, November-December 2000

All the gossip around Westminster suggests that Labour is on the verge of ruling out British membership of the single European currency for the next parliament. So far, I’ve not met anyone who can do more than repeat the circumstantial evidence for this that has appeared in the press since the middle of October – and most of it is extremely circumstantial. But on the principle that in politics there is usually no smoke without something at least smouldering, it is worth taking the rumours seriously, if only as indicating a possible course of action that is being taken seriously in Labour’s upper reaches. Who knows? By the time you read this it could be policy.

First, though, the evidence of impending change, if you can call it that. The most important thing that has emerged in the past few weeks is clear the level of hostility to the euro in the Treasury. It’s not that Gordon Brown has declared publicly against joining the euro – but then his style has never been to say what he means. Rather, it is that, thanks to new books by Andrew Rawnsley and Geoffrey Robinson, more details have emerged of the famous row in autumn 1997 that followed the revelation by Brown’s spin-doctor, Charlie Whelan, that the Chancellor was going to rule out participation in the euro for the duration of this parliament.

Precisely who said what to whom and who behaved like a complete shit can be left to the squabbling principals and their interlocutors. What is important is that Brown won the argument against stiff opposition from the pro-euro camp (or, more accurately, those who thought the issue should be kept open), led by Peter Mandelson – and that now the chancellor is more than happy for the world to know not only that he stuffed Mandelson but that Mandelson has been making trouble for him ever since.

Meanwhile, a long-brewing crisis in Britain in Europe has come to a head. BiE was originally set up by the European Movement and others as a nominally cross-party outfit, backed by business and pro-European unions, to campaign for joining the euro. But it has consistently done the bidding of new Labour: even before its launch last year it was persuaded by Tony Blair to tone down its message so as to become a champion merely of British membership of the European Union. Last month, BiE’s high-ups announced a de facto suspension of activities until after the next election – to the consternation of ordinary supporters but with the backing of Peter Mandelson (funny how the same names keep cropping up).

Almost simultaneously, Tony Blair announced that he would vote no to euro membership if a referendum were held right now – and with that, the newspapers filled with mysteriously sourced speculation that, because Philip Gould’s focus groups were so unsympathetic, Brown was adamant that euro membership was not on and Alastair Campbell, John Prescott and others supported him, Blair had been persuaded to match the Tories’ promise of staying out of the single currency until the election after next.

We will find out soon enough whether all this is a matter of excitable journalists putting two and two together to make six. What is clear, however, is that, even if Labour does not rule out euro membership for the next parliament, it will almost certainly make little effort to persuade the sceptical British public of the case for the single currency between now and the election – which makes a referendum on the euro early in the next parliament somewhat unlikely. And this in turn makes it more likely that the referendum won’t take place at all before the election after next, regardless of what is in the Labour manifesto.

Whatever transpires, it is hardly surprising that other EU governments are becoming increasingly dismissive of Labour’s protestations that it wants to play a constructive role at the heart of Europe – and their mood has not been improved by Blair’s much-hyped speech in Warsaw last month on institutional reform of the EU to cope with enlargement.

Billed as the British contribution to the great debate inaugurated in the spring by German foreign minister Joschka Fischer and French president Jacques Chirac, Blair’s speech made some important points about the EU’s urgent need for greater transparency and democratic accountability. But his proposed solutions leave a lot to be desired.

Blair put forward three key reforms: a greater role for the Council of Ministers; a reduced role for the European Commission; and a second chamber for the European Parliament drawn from the membership of national parliaments to keep the existing directly elected chamber in check. In essence, his argument is that the supranational institutions of the EU should yield power and influence to intergovernmental institutions, on the grounds that national governments enjoy popular legitimacy that the supranational European institutions do not.

The problems here are twofold. Firstly, at the centre of Blair’s proposals is a misidentification of the locus of the EU’s democratic deficit, which is not in the role of the Parliament but in the lack of accountability of the Commission and, especially, in the secretiveness and horse-trading that characterises the intergovernmental Council of Ministers. Only an increase in the powers of the Parliament could really address this problem – yet this was explicitly ruled out by Blair.

Secondly, although Blair’s intergovernmentalism is viewed sympathetically by the French, it is anathema to the Germans and nearly everyone else – while his downplaying of the role of the Commission is anathema to the French. So his vision is not merely wrong in principle but poor Realpolitik.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Labour’s European policy is a shambles.

Friday, 27 October 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 27 October 2000

Like most other political journalists, over the past month I’ve spent rather more time than is healthy immersed in books that might be described as the continuation of internal Labour politics by other means – first Andrew Rawnsley’s chilling Servants of the People, then Julia Langdon’s somewhat disappointing life of Mo Mowlam, and now Geoffrey Robinson’s The Unconventional Minister.

Of the three, Robinson’s is the least revealing in conventional journalistic terms. The Daily Mail spent a lot of dosh on the serialisation rights, and it cannot be very pleased with what it got: the former Paymaster General’s account of how he came to lend Peter Mandelson the cash for his Notting Hill pad; a few snippets adding telling detail to what we already knew about the late-1997 crisis over Government policy on the euro; and, well, that’s about it apart from a lot of self-serving drivel. “My business dealings were never dodgy, I never tried to buy influence and it’s not fair that they’ve ditched me” pretty well sums it up.

But it would be a mistake simply to dismiss the book as a damp squib, showing at most that Robinson is a political ingénue and a Quixotic axe-grinder. Robinson’s memoirs might be short of hot poop, but the stench of ordure that hangs about them is so nauseating that it cannot be ignored.

Here, for the first time, we have a key New Labour player blowing the gaffe on the record about the internal workings of the Government. (The inverted commas are entirely appropriate, for there is nothing new about Robinson, an old Labour Eurosceptic Right-wing tribalist, apart from his money.) The Unconventional Minister confirms what we all knew but had hitherto been relayed only via unattributable briefings: that Labour’s upper echelons are dominated by competing cabals characterised by petty vindictiveness and personal hatreds. Robinson’s authentication of the viciousness at the top of New Labour – particularly when it comes to Europe policy – is invaluable.

And Robinson was a key player. He not only provided Mandelson with a lifestyle appropriate to his station and bankrolled the private offices of Gordon Brown (directly) and Tony Blair (indirectly, or so it seems). He also “delivered” the New Statesman to New Labour in 1996 by stepping in to buy it at the request of Brown and Blair, appointing their chosen candidate as editor and then pouring millions in to subsidise its losses. And for a couple of years his largesse supported a New Labour salon. In 1996-98, if you weren’t part of the Grosvenor Hotel set, you weren’t anyone. In 1997-98, during his brief spell as Paymaster General, Robinson was a senior member of Brown’s Treasury team with responsibility for a crucial area of policy, the private finance initiative.

Now, Robinson is not my favourite politician. I had dealings with him briefly after he bought the Statesman, when he reluctantly made me acting editor for a few weeks following the resignation of Steve Platt, whose deputy I’d been. I found the new proprietor rude, patronising and deeply unattractive politically: in fact, everything about him, right down to his pungent aftershave, gave me the creeps. It was a relief when the magazine’s new editor, Ian Hargreaves, unceremoniously fired me. And I must admit that, when I heard about the resignation of Robinson and Mandelson from the government in 1998, I ordered champagne (which was easy, because I was in a Soho restaurant at Tribune’s Christmas lunch).

But it’s not hard to see why Robinson still feels peeved at the way he was treated by New Labour. His reward for all those favours, all that disinterested generosity, was to be dumped without so much as a “thank you” – while Mandelson, whose failure to declare the house loan was a real scandal, returned to the Cabinet after a few months in the wilderness.

My hunch is that Robinson’s attempted revenge is unlikely to have much immediate effect beyond turning the stomachs of many of his readers: he certainly has not made Mandelson’s position untenable and – god forbid – might even have made a few people feel sorry for him. In the longer term, however, some good might come of his self-pitying tale. If nothing else, it should at least deter other plutocrats from flashing their wads around the Labour Party.

Friday, 13 October 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 13 October 2000

Tony Blair’s speech in Warsaw last Friday on the future of the European Union was supposed to provide him with a golden opportunity to display his statesmanship after a week of Tory amateurism in Bournemouth.

As it happened, however, events intervened to blow him off the front pages - and what events! First, Slobodan Milosevic met his well deserved end in Belgrade. And then the Tories imploded after several Opposition frontbenchers admitted past membership of the Camberwell Carrot Tendency.

Of the latter, more anon. But the failure of Blair's Warsaw speech to make a splash was a pity, not because it was brilliant – it was not – but because the issues he raised deserve discussion.

As regular readers of this column will know, I have been underwhelmed by this Government's performance on European policy. Everything started well enough in 1997, when Blair and Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, made it clear that Labour in office would end the Tory policy of obstructionism on Europe. But from there it was downhill all the way. The Government failed to seize the opportunity in late 1997 of holding a referendum on British participation in the single European currency, and ever since has appeared increasingly uncertain on the issue, despite the best efforts of Cook, Stephen Byers and – ahem, but praise where praise is due – Peter Mandelson.

Just as important, even though the EU's institutions were going through an ever more apparent crisis of democratic legitimacy, and even though imminent expansion of the union made radical reform of its structures imperative, the Government failed to make any coherent statement of its vision of the future of Europe.

Warsaw was Blair's chance belatedly to put that right – and he fluffed it. He showed that he recognised the EU's biggest problems, which are the lack of transparency and democratic accountability in its decision-making procedures and the concomitant absence of a strong sense among the EU's citizens that Europe is theirs. But his proposed solutions were – are – way off the mark.

At their core is a retreat from supranational institutions into intergovernmentalism as a way of coping with enlargement. Essentially, he wants a bigger role for the Council of Ministers, a reduction in the responsibilities of the European Commission and a new second chamber for the European Parliament, drawn from the membership of national parliaments, to keep the existing directly elected chamber of the European Parliament in check.

The problem with this is simple: the root of the EU's crisis of democratic legitimacy is precisely the intergovernmentalism that Blair wants to enhance. The least democratically accountable institution in the triumvirate of Council, Commission and Parliament is on the face of it the Commission, which is wholly appointed and supposedly supranational. But the crucial thing about it is that it is composed of the placemen and placewomen appointed by national governments, which have deliberately refused to enhance its democratic credentials lest it prevent them from carving up all the business of the EU in the closed sessions of the Council – where the real power lies.

The only EU institution directly answerable to the citizens of Europe is the Parliament. And although it has asserted its authority against the Commission and the Council it has been consistently held back by national governments fearful of a democratic challenge to their right to rule the roost with their secret deals.

Far from requiring a check in the form of a second chamber along the lines suggested by Blair, the Parliament needs to be set free to become the tribune of the European citizenry, with powers to elect the Commission as a Cabinet and to legislate in those areas assigned to it by a future federalist democratic European constitution.

To give it such powers would be to create a truly European democratic polity – and people would soon recognise that it mattered rather a lot. As with local government, the way to respond to popular disenchantment with supposedly democratic institutions that in fact have very few powers is not to decrease those powers but to increase them and the democracy. Blair's scheme gets it completely arse about face.


Back, though, to our dopey Tories. Who would have believed it? David Willetts as a one-time Furry Freak Brother. Lord Strathclyde as Cheech – or was it Chong? – coming into Los Angeles, bringing in a couple of keys . . . Is that how you spell it? Sorry, my mind was wandering . . . Well, I've shared a fair few spliffs with sitting Labour MPs and have friends who have done the same with another couple of dozen, including Cabinet ministers. I have no intention of joining the Mirror's shameful campaign to out senior Labour tokers – but unless they cough up some bread for Tribune's new appeal for funds, and do it soon, it might be time for a few signed affidavits. We know who you are. A mere £100 guarantees anonymity. You think I'm joking?

Friday, 29 September 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 29 September 2000

The mood at Labour conference this week has been more nervous than for years – which is hardly surprising. The last time that Labour met for its annual beano neck-and-neck with the Tories in the opinion polls was in 1991, and then the party was in optimistic mood because it seemed to be regaining the ground lost when John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. Every year from 1992 to 1999, Labour enjoyed giant opinion-poll leads at conference time.

This week, Labour has been meeting in the shadow of a massive slump in its popularity as a result of the fuel crisis. Everyone in Brighton has been wondering whether it’s just a blip or whether it means what was until a fortnight ago almost unthinkable – that Tony Blair could lose the next election.

My hunch is that it’s a blip, but then I’ve learned through bitter experience not to trust my hunches when it comes to general elections. Although I didn’t expect Labour to win in 1983, I didn’t foresee the rout that transpired. I felt Labour victory in my bones in 1987 until well after the Greenwich by-election. And in 1992 I was still optimistic when we finished the celebratory champagne in the small hours of election night, though by that point I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on.

All the same, there are good reasons to expect a Labour recovery. For a start, although people are angry about the price of petrol, with exceptions they’re not that angry. It should not be too difficult for the Government to come up with some formula for tweaking the transport taxation regime to make it fairer to car-reliant people without getting too much egg on its face (or losing revenue).

More generally, there is plenty of mileage for Labour in knocking the Tories, who still look a bunch of dangerous third-rate lunatics.

Nevertheless, to use the cliché of the moment, there is no room for complacency. Labour’s collapse in the polls after the fuel crisis might well be reversible – but the very fact that it has happened is a serious warning to the government.

It is evidence that the electorate is volatile even in circumstances – more than three years of near-to-full employment – in which it might be expected to be quiescent if not grateful. It demonstrates that many voters do not believe that the greenhouse effect is a problem of any urgency. And it shows that tax remains Labour’s Achilles’ heel even though the government has stuck to its promises on income tax.

A substantial section of the electorate has rumbled the sleight of hand involved in shifting taxation from income to consumption. The trick that allowed the Tories to retain an undeserved reputation as the tax-cutting party right up to the 1997 election no longer works – at least in Labour’s hands.

Now, Gordon Brown has plenty of room for manoeuvre here: he’s sitting on piles of cash, and if he wanted he could use quite a bit of it simply to buy off disgruntled motorists – and to hell with the consequences for revenue or anything else. To do so, however, would be a grave mistake. As a surrender to ignorance of the danger of global warming, it would destroy the government’s already dodgy reputation on environment policy. And as a capitulation to “I’m all right Jack” anti-tax populism, it would kill Labour’s credibility as a social democratic alternative to the Tories. Labour’s members and core supporters would desert it in droves.

In short, the government needs to make two parallel arguments: for reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and for maintenance of public services. Any changes Brown makes to the transport taxation regime should be revenue-neutral and should retain disincentives to car use. Otherwise there will be a big electoral price to pay.

Or to put it more positively, Labour has got to come out as enthusiastically green and make the social democratic case for tax and spend. Which shouldn’t be a problem – except that it’s precisely what it has failed to do in the three years it has been in power.

Friday, 1 September 2000


Paul Anderson, Chartist column, September-October 2000

It was difficult to disagree with the Europe minister, Keith Vaz, when he complained at the beginning of September about the "xenophobia" of much of the British press over Europe.

The week he made his remarks, Fleet Street's finest were in a wild anti-foreigner froth over the French fishermen's blockade of Channel ports. In the Telegraph, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan fumed that the events in Calais and Boulogne showed that respect for the rule of law was "peculiarly Anglo-Saxon". The Sun denounced "the Paris regime" for compromising with the fishermen. The Mail complained that the "regime" was "chronically unstable".

Nor was this exceptional. Day after day, week after week, year after year, the right-wing press in Britain has kept up a relentless anti-European barrage. If you believed what you read in the Telegraph, the Mail, the Sun and the Times, you would think that everything Britain held dear was under threat from a giant European conspiracy led by the domineering Germans, the arrogant French, freeloading MEPs and corrupt Brussels bureaucrats.

All of which is, of course, inaccurate and reprehensible - and a major cause of the unpopularity of "Europe" among British voters. Vaz was quite right to say that rabid press Euroscepticism is one reason that it is extremely difficult to have a rational debate on Britain's place in Europe.

But it is not the only reason.  Almost as important is the failure of pro-Europeans of any persuasion to put their case with conviction or credibility. And here the government - and particularly Tony Blair – must take at least some of the blame.

Labour came to power in 1997 promising constructive engagement with Europe, and its victory was widely welcomed across the political spectrum on the continent: the sense of relief that the Tories' histrionic obstructionism was a thing of the past was palpable.

In practice, however, the Blair government has proved rather less pro-European than its first days' rhetoric suggested it would be. Most crucially, Blair and Gordon Brown spurned the chance to hold the promised referendum on British participation in the single European currency in 1997, at the height of the government's popularity. Ever since, the government has held to a position – or rather a non-position – of  "wait-and-see", making only the most half-hearted case for joining the euro at some unspecified point in the future. So far, the best it has come up with is to say that, if we join, businesses and holiday-makers will not have the inconvenience and cost of changing money. That hardly counts as a killer argument.

In the meantime, the government, like its Tory predecessor, has made much of its successes in "standing up for Britain", in the name of the US model of deregulation and enterprise, against other European governments and the EU. The most notable of these have been to block extensions of workers' rights and steps towards tax harmonisation - thereby effectively endorsing the Eurosceptics' assumptions. Even the most significant collaboration between British Labour and its continental sister parties, Blair's Third Way initiative, was an attempt to redefine European social democracy in American deregulationist terms.

To make matters worse, the government has treated the European Parliament (and Labour's MEPs) with contempt, and has so far failed to make any coherent statement about how the EU can be made more democratic and accountable – a particularly important question in the wake of last year's European Commission corruption scandals and in the light of the impending enlargement of the EU into central Europe.

I have a hunch that it would all have been a lot better if Blair and Brown had given Robin Cook greater leeway on Europe policy. In 1997, Cook was the most sceptical of Labour's "big four" about the euro. But his experience as foreign secretary changed his mind, and since last year he has been the main protagonist in the cabinet for the single currency. At the same time, he has been a consistent enthusiast for democratic reform of the EU's institutions and for maintenance of the "European social model" of a comprehensive welfare state and "social partnership" between capital and organised labour.

As on arms sales policy, however, he has been squeezed out of the policy-making loop by Brown and Blair. The chancellor is basking in glory as he presides over a sustained boom outside the euro-zone; the prime minister is imprisoned by the focus groups and opinion polls telling Philip Gould that Europe is a no-no. Both find the US far more exciting than Europe in every way.

We are promised a keynote Blair speech on the future of Europe some time this autumn. It  should make the case explicitly for Europe as the best hope for sustaining a modernised welfare state as a bulwark against the Wild West capitalism of the US – but somehow I have a feeling it won't.

Friday, 4 August 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 4 August 2000

I have been taken to task over the past couple of weeks by friends in Make Votes Count, the proportional representation campaign, over my interpretation of last month’s Labour National Policy Forum shenanigans over electoral reform.

In case you didn’t read my last column – or, perish the thought, you read it and forgot it instantly – I was not at all happy about the Forum’s agreement to postpone indefinitely Labour’s long-promised referendum on electoral reform for the House of Commons or about what I saw as its effective rejection of a variety of PR as the putative replacement for first past the post that would be put to the people in the referendum.

The Forum’s line, I thought, means that a referendum probably will not take place at all – but that if it does it will offer a choice between the status quo and an even less proportional system than FPTP, the alternative vote. And that, I concluded, is a Bad Thing.

My MVC friends, however, think I’ve bought the spin from the opponents of electoral reform. In fact, they say, the Policy Forum was not too bad. It didn’t rule out a referendum forever. And it certainly didn’t endorse an FPTP-AV choice in the referendum. There is, they say, everything still to play for – which is a lot better than it might have been.

So – is the glass half-empty or half-full? I accept that things could have been much worse. But I still think half-empty, because I believe that the Labour leadership could and should have told the union barons that are the financial and political mainstay of Labour’s constitutional conservative camp to get lost, or else bought them off. The “mo”, to use an American term that was all the rage eight years ago but now seems strangely archaic, is now with opponents of reform.

Nevertheless, it is true that the door has not been slammed shut. If at some point – probably not in the next parliament, maybe in the one after that – Labour needs Liberal Democrat support for a Commons majority, a referendum on PR could once again find itself very much on the agenda.

A Labour government reliant on Lib Dem support would also be forced to restart its stalled constitutional reform programme – a democratically legitimate second chamber, regional government for England – and take a much more positive line on Europe. It would be unable to get away with the crass illiberal populism that has characterised Jack Straw’s Home Office. And it would probably be rather more active in defence of the welfare state and on the environment.

For all these reasons, it makes sense for constitutional reformers and pro-Europeans, civil libertarians and environmentalists, socialists and social democrats to do what they can to ensure as large a Lib Dem contingent as possible in the next two Parliaments. And that means that Labour members and supporters should vote Lib Dem in the next general election wherever there is a sitting Liberal Democrat MP – sorry, no exceptions -- and wherever the Liberal Democrat is better placed than Labour to oust a sitting Tory, the 20 most winnable of which (in descending order of marginality) are the following:

Dorset Mid and Poole North
Norfolk North
Tiverton and Honiton
Dorset West
Surrey South West
Dorset North
Southend West
Wiltshire North
Worcestershire West
Westmoreland and Lonsdale
Worthing East and Shoreham
Bournemouth East

Don’t worry – the Labour candidate in all these seats will be either a local council worthy standing to remind people to vote Labour in the local elections or a fresh-faced wannabe career politician (probably Millbank-approved) showing willing in the hope of getting somewhere winnable next time. They really won’t mind if you don’t vote for them – and it won’t do any harm at all to the socialist or working-class cause. Take my word for it.

Friday, 14 July 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 14 July 2000

I’m afraid you won't see me this Saturday if you're going to the "Democratic socialism in the 21st century" conference at TUC Congress House.

It's not that I've given up on democratic socialism, which remains as good a thing this century as it was last. It's just that I'm fed up with left-wing borathons in general, and think that this one in particular is based on a singularly specious premise – namely, that Labour should be concentrating a substantial proportion of its fire in the run-up to the general election on the Liberal Democrats.

One of the key points in the statement put out by the organisers of the conference is "rejection of 19th-century Liberalism" – by which of course they actually mean "No to co-operation with Charles Kennedy!" - and one of its main sessions is on "Defeating the Liberal Democrats".

Sorry, comrades, but this is what the New Labour spin-doctors would call "a load of bollocks".

Of course, there are lots of urban areas where the Liberal Democrats have in recent years become serious challengers to Labour in local government, in some cases ousting Labour from power. I wouldn't expect Labour activists in, say, Liverpool, Islington, Sheffield or Oldham to feel very friendly toward the Lib Dems. As it happens, I myself don't like them very much in Tower Hamlets, where memories of the local Liberals' disgraceful racist campaigning in the early 1990s are still fresh.

But these parochial rivalries are wholly beside the point. At national level - where it matters rather more - the imperative is to put all hostility to the Lib Dems aside until after the next genera election.

Put bluntly, Labour does not need to "defeat" the Liberal Democrats at the next general election. It needs Lib Dem supporters to vote tactically for Labour where the Labour candidate is better placed than the Lib Dem to defeat the Tory - as they did in 1997. Without Lib Dem tactical voting, Labour will lose scores of seats, perhaps even its parliamentary majority. Self-interest dictates that Labour puts its energies into offering the hand of friendship to Charles Kennedy - and that's even before it starts thinking about possible post-election coalition partners should things go really belly-up.

Unfortunately, last weekend saw Labour putting its relations with the Lib Dems in serious jeopardy, with a shabby stitch-up at the party's National Policy Forum on electoral reform. Faced with demands from a handful of trade union barons that Labour abandon its promise of a referendum on a more proportional system for elections to the House of Commons, Tony Blair agreed to kick the issue into touch.

Instead of backing a referendum in the next parliament on "AV-plus", the watered-down form of proportional representation recommended by Lord Jenkins's Independent Commission on the Voting System, the Forum adopted an amendment expressing "serious concerns about the acceptability" of the Jenkins system and putting off the referendum until - well, probably for ever.

According to the amendment, "Labour will allow the changes introduced for elections to the European and Scottish Parliaments and for the Welsh and London Assemblies to become familiar and allow time for all the consequences to be felt before deciding on any further proposals for electoral reform". Look out for further thoughts some time around 2015.

So far, Liberal Democrat leaders have affected an insouciant air over all this - but they are not well pleased, and I'm prepared to put money on the Lib Dem grassroots being very angry indeed once the news has sunk in that PR is off the agenda for the forseeable future.

For what it's worth, I'm pretty angry too. As regular readers of this column will know, I believe that PR for the Commons is essential if Britain's parliament is ever to regain the popular legitimacy it has been losing for the past 20-odd years.

I'm not going to rehearse all the arguments here yet again. But I do think that Blair has blown an opportunity that will not come around again for another generation. His casual agreement to indefinite postponement of the electoral reform referendum, along with his de facto acceptance that even a diluted form of PR is not a runner, confirms my long-standing suspicion that, deep down, he's a constitutional conservative who accepted what he did of Labour's constitutional reform agenda back in 1994 only because he had no choice.

Friday, 30 June 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 30 June 2000

The word around Westminster is that Tony Blair has decided to come out against proportional representation for the House of Commons and in favour of the system known as the alternative vote. If so, he should think again. AV is the worst possible electoral system for general elections – much worse than the first-past-the-post status quo – and it would almost cer­tainly be disastrous for Labour in the medium term.

Of course, it is not difficult to see why Blair might be tempted by AV. He is in a bit of a hole. As things stand, it looks as if the leaders of the big trade unions, who are opposed to PR for the Commons – even the diluted version recommended by Lord Jenkins's independent commission on the voting system – will succeed in getting a motion to ditch Labour's promise of a refer­endum on electoral reform on to the agenda of this year's party conference in Brighton. If it is debated, it stands a good chance of being passed, largely because the union barons will put their block votes behind it.

That would be a disaster, not only for Blair but also for the Labour Party. A defeat of the leadership by the block vote is the last thing the party needs in what could be the last conference before a general election. It would wreck Labour's relations with the Liberal Democrats, whose continued co-operation is predicat­ed on the referendum being in Labour's manifesto. And this, in turn, could switch Lib Dem voters off the idea of voting Labour tactically to keep the Tories out. Result: dozens of Labour seats lost unnecessarily, possibly even a Tory victory.

In the circumstances, it would be surprising if Blair were not casting around for something - anything - that might keep the union barons at bay and the Lib Dems on board. And at first sight AV looks as if it fits the bill.

For a start, it is not a system of PR – which means that it could well be acceptable to the unions and those Labour MPs who object to PR. Under AV, single-member constituencies are retained. All that changes is that voters do not mark their ballot papers with a single "X" next to the name of their favoured can­didate but instead rank the candidates "1, 2, 3, 4 ..." in order of preference. Unlike any PR system, AV would not necessarily re­sult in a reduction of the proportion of seats won by Labour. Indeed, all the evidence suggests that Labour would have won even more seats in 1997 had AV been in place.

At the same time, AV would also almost certainly increase Lib Dem representation. Not by as much as a PR system, granted, but it might just tempt Charles Kennedy into acquiescence, par­ticularly if the prospect of further change is not ruled out.
Here it is worth remembering that the system recommended by Jenkins was "AV-plus", in which AV would be used for single-member constituencies and topped-up from lists of candidates in mini-regions to make the overall result more proportional. It must have crossed Blair's mind that AV on its own might be saleable to the Lib Dems and other supporters of PR as a first step toward introduction of a Jenkins-type system.

All of which would be fine and dandy – were it not for the fact that AV on its own is so flawed as an electoral system. Its main effect would be to ensure that results in marginal seats were determined in most instances by the second prefer­ence votes of supporters of third- or fourth-placed candidates.

In nearly all the Labour-Tory marginals that decide British general elections, that would mean Lib Dem voters deciding whether they would rather keep Labour or the Tories out.

AV would reinforce the already stifling trend in British poli­tics toward lowest-common-denominator politics. And, as Lib Dem voters' second preferences piled on the agony for whichever of the major parties they disliked more, it would also exacerbate the in-built tendency of FPTP to yield landslide election results

Although in 1997 this would have benefited Labour, through­out the 1980s, when Liberal and Social Democratic Party voters generally saw the Tories as less bad than Labour, it would have given Margaret Thatcher even more commanding majorities than she actually won. The chances that AV could deliver a Tory landslide at the election after next or the one after that should not be dismissed lightly.

In short, far from yielding a House of Commons that more ac­curately reflects the spread of party support across the country, AV would make the Commons less representative. It is not a step toward proportional representation but a step away from it – and as such deserves nothing but contempt from democrats.

Friday, 16 June 2000


Tribune column, 16 June 2000

I have always had my doubts about the journalistic value of the long "backgrounder" news features that have become a staple of the Sunday broadsheets.

More often than not, they are exercises in padding, ludicrously detailed narrative accounts of domestic political events about which we know quite enough already. Even the best of them rely a little too much on unnamed insiders as sources - and sometimes it's clear that supposedly telling detail is made up by a hack desperate to fill the space he or she has been told to fill.

Nevertheless, I am a great fan of the genre - for one simple reason. The breathless, earnest prose in which Sunday backgrounders are typically written is often unintentionally hilarious, particularly when the subject matter is, as it so often is, mundane. And last Sunday, the Observer came up with a real gem on Tony Blair's reception at the Women's Institute conference.

Under the headline "End of the affair for Tony and his women", Kamal Ahmed and Gaby Hinsliff turned the incident into a drama worthy of a television mini-series. Here's a taste:

"... At Wembley, the fleet of cars ready to whisk Blair away con¬tained a chastised set of occupants. In the first car, Blair sat with [Anji] Hunter. In the second car came Lucie McNeill, of his strategy team, and David Peel, of the press office. McNeill had spoken with the WI director of communications about setting up interviews with 'modern looking' WI members who could give their reaction to the Blair speech. All the plans had to be abandoned. Hunter said she felt personally let down by the WI. Their rudeness was inexcusable.

"At Millbank, an ashen-faced Phil Murphy, the deputy general secretary of the Labour Party, was on the phone to the BBC. . . Staff watched in silence as television screens revealed Blair's disaster. Many knew it had been a mistake. By tomorrow they would he in action. . ."

OK, I admit it, I inserted "an ashen-faced". But you get the drift, and there are another 1,500 words in the same vein. All on a story that was not only straightforward and rather less than breathtaking - "Prime Minister heckled at meeting while giving over-hyped duff speech" - but had already filled three days' worth of papers. It is not quite in the class of the two hacks who managed two years back to make three-quarters of a book out of what Charlie Whelan said in the Red Lion one evening in 1997. But it is quite a feat none the less.

Of course, the WI incident is significant even if it does not deserve quite the treatment that the Observer gave it. It is one of several recent indications that the government has run out of ideas - and that everybody, even rhinoceros-brained Tory ladies from the shires, knows it.

I must admit to being extremely disappointed by this. When Labour was elected in 1997,1 didn't expect that the new government would usher in the New Jerusalem. For nearly a decade in opposition the party had followed an ever-more cautious, pro-business line in every aspect of policy.

But I did think it possible that a "safety-first" Labour administration might acquire a taste for radicalism. Labour's commitments on constitutional reform were very much the "unfinished business" from the Kinnock and Smith years, to which Blair was not particularly committed - but I really hoped that, in power, New Labour would come sooner rather than later to see the benefits of a comprehensive overhaul of Britain's creaking constitutional machinery, including proportional representation for the Commons, regional government for England and a democratic second chamber.

Similarly, on Europe, although it was clear that Labour was badly divided on the key question of British membership of the single Euro¬pean currency, I didn't think it Utopian to expect that the Labour government would overcome its hesitations and make the necessary leap. Much the same went for the potential for shifts in policy in every area from the welfare state through workers' rights to foreign policy.

Instead, what has happened is that New Labour has, in almost every field, done the bare minimum it promised in 1997 - then taken fright. The constitutional reform programme has run out of steam and the much-vaunted constructive engagement in Europe appears increasingly chimerical in the absence of any initiative on participation in the euro.

Meanwhile, Jack Straw is engaged in a futile attempt to outdo the Tories in populist illiberalism in home affairs. New Labour today is the party that wants to build more roads, sell more arms, means-test more benefits. Any hope of a radical manifesto for a second term seems to have vanished completely.

It could all have been so different....

Friday, 2 June 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 2 June 2000

I am, at the time of writing, in a very good mood — such a good mood, in fact, that I'm not bothered in the slightest by the hangover I acquired after spending last night on the razz (as they say where I come from).

The reason is simple. On Monday the football team I have supported since I was a kid, Ipswich Town, won promotion to the Premiership by beating Barnsley four-two in the First Division play-off final at Wembley. We'd reached the play-offs the three previous seasons, but each time we'd fallen at the semi-final stage. This time, after beating Bolton in the semis, magnificent goals from Tony Mowbray, Richard Naylor, Marcus Stewart and Martijn Reuser — and some equally magnificent goalkeeping from Richard Wright — sent us back where we belong.

I've still got the chants of the jubilant Town fans ringing in my ears:
Are you watching
Are you watching
Are you watching Norwich scum?
(Actually, that bit was just to wind up Tribune's ad manager. He is a secret Norwich fan, so ashamed by his team's miserable performances in recent years that he pretends to follow the Arsenal — or is it Spurs this year? I don't really condone the description of Norwich supporters as "scum". They're just fickle, that's all.)

Seriously, though, I'm not expecting the elation to last too long into next season. Ipswich play attractive football, and we've got some good players. But we are going to struggle to compete with the big boys in the Premiership.

The average gate at the Town's ground, Portman Road, is just under 20,000. That is nearly one-third of the gate at Manchester United, England's biggest club — and Portman Road's capacity is being increased by 5,000 over the summer. But Ipswich have only the tiniest fraction of Manchester United's resources.

Last year, United made a profit of more than £30 million on a turnover of more than £110 million excluding transfer dealings. Ipswich lost £1 million on a turnover of £7 million, making up the shortfall (and a bit more) by selling our best player, Kieron Dyer, to Newcastle United.

Of course, the Town will benefit from going up, to the tune of something like £12 million a year next season, and more once a new broadcasting rights deal, currently under negotiation, is finalised. To clubs still stuck in the First Division — let alone to those in the Second and Third Divisions — it looks as if we've joined English football's elite.

And in a way we have. But even among Premiership clubs there are extraordinary disparities in wealth — and they are getting bigger by the year as cash from broadcasters and commercial sponsors floods into football. In financial terms, Manchester United are now almost in a league of their own, with a turnover nearly twice that of Chelsea, the next richest club. Then there are another half-dozen clubs of roughly comparable wealth, then another half-dozen with reasonable hopes of matching them some day — and then the rest.

It is no accident, to use an old Leftist cliché, that as the richest half-dozen clubs have become ever-richer they have increasingly come to dominate the game. They can afford the best players and managers, and teams with the best players and managers are most likely to win matches. In the past five seasons, only one club outside the richest dozen, Leicester City, has won a major domestic trophy.

All of which is just the way it goes, you might think. But in the long run football with an ever-smaller number of serious contenders for honours is a real turn-off for everyone apart from supporters of the big clubs. Unless the money in the game is spread around more evenly, it will not be long before English football becomes almost as predictable as Scottish football, in which Rangers are champions nearly every year and only Celtic ever have a realistic hope of catching them.

There is a strong case, in other words, for believing that the health of football requires an urgent redistribution of wealth — something that the big clubs will never sanction. Which is where legislation could come in. It's a mark of the superficiality of "New" Labour's much trumpeted commitment to the beautiful game that it has never apparently considered any such thing.


On a different matter entirely, the most shocking thing about the elections to Labour's National Executive Committee — apart, of course, from the editor losing his seat — was the small number of people who voted.

Precisely how small is a matter for conjecture. Even members of the NEC were not told how many ballot papers were sent out and how many members returned them or phoned in their votes: all they were given was a figure for turnout, 25 per cent, along with the number of votes cast for each candidate.

Because no one could vote for more than six candidates, it is easy enough to work out that at least 60,823 people voted. (You just have to add all the votes cast for each candidate and divide by six.) But of course not everyone did voted for six candidates, so that's not the actual number.

It is difficult to explain the reticence about hard figures unless Millbank is trying to cover something up. But what? Is it just trying to play down the low turnout — which would be peculiarly stupid — or has there been a slump in total party membership over the past year? As the late John Junor used to put it, I don't know, but I think we should be told.

Friday, 5 May 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 5 May 2000

One of the most dangerous temptations of writing for a political weekly is to anticipate Thursday's news. Tribune, like the New Statesman and the Spectator, goes to press on Wednesday, but most readers don't get their copies until Friday. It is sometimes difficult to resist referring to events that are "on diary" for Thursdays as if they have already happened.

But resist one must – because there's nothing more humiliating for a weekly than getting a Thursday story wrong. My old mate Steve Platt still shudders when he thinks of the issue of the New Statesman (of which he was then editor) that arrived on subscribers' doormats the day after the 1992 general election. Its cover story was a big piece by Sarah Baxter, then the Statesman's political editor, declaring that John Major was yesterday's man.

So I'm not going to congratulate Ken Livingstone on his easy victory in the London mayoral election. By the time you read this he might just have been abducted by aliens from outer space.


On a different matter entirely, I am disturbed to hear that opponents of electoral reform for the House of Commons are making a concerted effort to get Labour conference this autumn to ditch the party's promise of a referendum on the voting system.

The issue is currently in the hands of a party policy commission, which has been sounding out party members' opinions on the system of "AV-plus" proposed by Lord Jenkins' Independent Commission on the Voting System. The policy commission is due to report to Labour's National Policy Forum in July, and the word is that it will recommend retention of the referendum pledge.

But supporters of first-past-the-post think they have found a way of killing off the referendum. If they get enough backing at the July policy forum for a minority report recommending abandonment of the referendum, it will automatically make it on to the Labour conference agenda. If it is debated, such a report stands a good chance of being carried at the conference by the block votes of a handful of large trade unions.

As regular readers of this column will know, I am a supporter of proportional representation for the Commons – so it is hardly surprising that I am unhappy at the prospect of the referendum being ditched. The referendum is the only hope of getting even an approximation of PR in the foreseeable future.

But that's not the only reason I'm distressed at the first-past-the-post lobby's antics. The point about the promise of a referendum, first made by John Smith, is that it is a pledge to "let the people decide" on the electoral system they want. The first-past-the-post lobby is doing its damnedest to ensure that the people are [itals]not[close itals] allowed to decide – that the decision is fixed by a cabal of trade union delegates at Labour conference.

Of course, every Labour Party member has the right to attempt to change any aspect of party policy, and I'm all in favour of the party conference having real debates on substantive issues. But if the first-past-the-post lobby prevails it will be a victory for anti-democratic machine politics of the worst kind. What's more, it will look that way not only to the Liberal Democrats – whose support Labour may well need after the next general election – but also to most individual Labour Party members and, most importantly, to the voters. The anti-referendum campaign should be sent away with a flea in its ear.


Finally, although I know it's bad form for columnists to use their privileged position to respond to critical letters, Judith Orr's missive last week attacking my "venomous" column a fortnight ago on Tony Cliff, the late leader of the Socialist Workers Party, deserves a reply.

She says that, "far from putting people off revolutionary politics", Cliff inspired "successive generations to socialist ideas". I wouldn't dispute the second part of that statement. Indeed, I'm happy to place on record that, according to a reliable source who was for years a senior SWPer, Cliff's party has managed to recruit 800 to 1,000 people every year since the mid-1970s. The problem, however, according to the same source, is that the same number have left it every year. By my reckoning, that's at least 20,000 put-off people – but maybe my maths is insufficiently revolutionary.

Friday, 21 April 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 21 April 2000

I never met Tony Cliff, the guru of the Socialist Workers Party, who died the weekend before last. But I'll always be grateful to him. Back in the mid-seventies, a brief encounter with the International Socialists, as his tiny political sect was then called, inoculated me against Leninism for life.

It happened like this. I was a bored teenager at a public school in Ipswich — and, under the combined influence of the New Statesman, Tribune and my grandfather, I'd come to the conclusion that capitalism was a bad thing that ought to be overthrown.

But how to go about it? I flirted briefly with the idea of joining the Labour Party, but the prospect of being associated (however distantly) with Harold Wilson's Government was too much to bear. The Communist Party locally consisted of a dozen or so pensioners whose hard-line Stalinism was a real turn-off — and the couple of Workers' Revolutionary Party members I knew were stark raving bonkers.

Then, however, I started to read Socialist Worker, the IS newspaper. Unlike Tribune and the New Statesman, it had no qualms about attacking Wilson for being a reformist toe-rag — and unlike the Morning Star it was not hung up on the supposed wonders of the Soviet police state. The slogan underneath the masthead on each issue, "Neither Washington nor Moscow but international socialism", seemed to express in a nutshell precisely what I wanted. And the paper's preferred means of achieving this state of bliss, a revolution led by rank-and-file workers, appeared absolutely spot on. (OK, I know it seems completely quixotic now, but at the time, just after the 1973-74 miners' strike and in the middle of the Portuguese revolution, it wasn't quite so daft. Honestly.)

Anyway, after a couple of months of following Socialist Worker's inspiring reports of class struggle throughout the world, I decided to send off the form in the paper asking for more information. A few days later two long-haired beardies from the Ipswich branch of IS presented themselves at my parents' house — much to the consternation of my Tory grandmother, who was staying with us at the time and answered the door to them.

I started going to local IS meetings, selling the paper to my friends at school and reading my way through massive piles of IS pamphlets and books. I didn't actually join — I think I was too young to be a member — but for six months or so I was as immersed in IS as I had previously been in railway modelling.

Then, however, all of a sudden, it all went sour. For reasons that were unclear even then, Cliff decided that the time was ripe to turn IS, at the time a relatively pluralist outfit that allowed serious differences of opinion in its ranks, into a "proper" disciplined Leninist revolutionary party. He set up a central committee to run the organisation and gerrymandered the annual conference to minimise dissent. Then he launched what seemed to us a ridiculous campaign demanding the "Right to Work" — East Anglia at the time still had full employment — and expelled everyone who disagreed with him, including the six or seven most active members of the 15-strong Ipswich branch.

It was hardly on the scale of Stalin's Great Terror. Indeed, to the outside world all it meant was that no one sold — or attempted to sell — Socialist Worker outside the town hall and Crane's engineering works.

But the arbitrariness of Cliff's purge came as a real shock to me. I couldn't see how he could justify chucking people out of IS just because they disagreed with him about organisational structures, campaigning priorities or the likelihood of revolution in the next couple of years. He was, I thought, a bright bloke — but no brighter than plenty of other people in IS. He certainly did not have a monopoly of truth. And if he could behave like this towards comrades in a tiny organisation on the political margins, what on earth would it be like if the IS seized state power?

A couple of the people who had escaped expulsion tried to explain that Lenin's theory of democratic centralism dictated that, once decisions were made, every member of the party had to stick to the line. But I was unconvinced. Indeed, the more they talked about Lenin, the more I wondered whether what went wrong in Russia after 1917 might not have had a lot to do with Lenin's conception of the revolutionary party.

I started to read everything about Lenin and the Bolsheviks I could lay my hands on — and before long, thanks to Leonard Schapiro's The Origins of the Communist Autocracy, Gabriel and Daniel Cohn-Bendit's Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative and Robert V Daniels' The Conscience of the Revolution, my suspicions were amply confirmed. I'm pleased to say that I've never been tempted by Leninism in any shape or form ever since.

The same is true, of course, of thousands of other people who left IS or the SWP disillusioned over the years. I'm not sure whether Tony Cliff put more British socialists off Leninism in the last quarter of the 20th century than anyone else — but my guess is that he's up there with Gerry Healey, a much nastier man who ran the WRP.

Friday, 7 April 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 7 April 2000

The names David James Watson and Richard Bartlitt will not mean a lot to readers of Tribune who are not subscribers to Free Press , the newsletter of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.

If you take Free Press , however, you will know that they are two MI6 officers who are alleged to have had knowledge of an assassination attempt against Muammar al Gadhafi, the Libyan leader, in 1995.

Their names have been known to many British journalists for some time, and on 10 March they were published by the Portuguese satirical weekly Tal&Qual . Subsequently they have appeared on several websites, one of which is Yet not one national daily or Sunday has published them in Britain.

The Observer came close to doing so on 27 February but was legally prevented from going ahead by the terms of an injunction covering information originating from David Shayler, the dissident MI5 officer, who first broke the story about the attempted assassination.
After that, no one dared mention the names in print until Stephen Dorrill, the author of a new book on MI6, did so in the issue of Free Press published this week.

The main reason for this reticence is simple: editors are worried by how the secret state might hit them if they publish.

So far, the response of the authorities to publication of materials relating to Shayler's allegations has been little short of draconian.

On March 6, a young student supporter of Shayler, Julie-ann Davis, was hauled out of a lecture theatre at Kingston university by the Special Branch, arrested and bailed – apparently in connection with the publication on the internet of an internal MI6 document giving details of the Gadhafi plot.

Subsequently, the Observer and the Guardian were served with a court order requiring them to hand over all materials relating to the Shayler case – a move provoked by the story that the Observer did run on February 27, without the names, written by Martin Bright after interviewing Shayler. The court order amounts to a trawl for information that might or might not be used in a legal action that might or might not take place. Yet if the two papers continue to defy it, journalists could be jailed.

All this is despite the fact that, so far, Shayler's allegations have stood up well to scrutiny – which means that there is a prima facie case for taking them very seriously.

Getting involved in assassination attempts on foreign leaders is not the sort of thing that MI6 should be doing in any but the most exceptional circumstances – if at all. And there appears to be no reason that Gadhafi, however unpleasant a dictator, was in any sense a legitimate target in 1995. Shayler wants an official inquiry into the alleged plot; at very least, it is in the public interest that his claims are examined openly and in public.

Yet the security state is doing everything in its power to prevent discussion of Shayler's allegations, even though there is no question that any MI6 operations, or officers' lives, could be put at risk by such a process. Any damage that Shayler's claims could possibly do – and there are grounds for thinking that they were never harmful to anything MI6's reputation – was done a long time ago. To put it bluntly, if Libyan intelligence officers are unable to read Portuguese, they must at least be assumed capable of surfing the internet.

What is most worrying about this whole obscene spectacle is that it is a Labour government that is presiding over it.

Of course, historically, Labour is no stranger to the persecution of journalists and whistleblowers in the interests of the secret state. The last Labour government deported the journalist Mark Hosenball and the former CIA agent Phil Agee on the grounds that they were dangerous subversives. After that, it used the Official Secrets Act to prosecute two radical journalists involved in the Agee-Hosenball defence campaign, Crispin Aubrey and Duncan Campbell, and a former signals intelligence soldier they had interviewed, John Berry.

But I really thought Labour had learned its lesson from the 1970s. During the 1980s, Labour was sharply critical of the Tory Government's prosecutions of Sarah Tisdall and Clive Ponting for leaking official secrets. Although it had little of substance to say on the biggest official secrecy fiasco of the decade, the Spycatcher affair – to which the Shayler case bears an increasingly sharp resemblance – it seemed inconceivable that a Labour government would ever allow the full force of the law to be used to defend the secret state from legitimate public scrutiny.

Even as recently as five years ago, Labour's pursuit of the Tory government over its attempts to cover up the arms-to-Iraq scandal – led by Robin Cook – appeared to be a harbinger of a much healthier attitude to the misdemeanours of the secret state once Labour won power.

Today, Cook is reportedly outraged by the heavy-handedness of the reaction to the publication of the Gadhafi plot materials. If the reports are true, that is to his credit. But the government's credibility among believers in freedom of expression and supporters of democratic accountability for the security and intelligence services will be shattered unless it stops the campaign to suppress discussion of Shayler's allegations right now.

Saturday, 1 April 2000


New Times, April 2000

Paul Anderson talks to Matthew Taylor, new director of the Institute for Public Policy research, the leading centre-left think-tank

'For me the most wonderful thing about this job is that I can say what I like without having to ask permission first,' says Matthew Taylor, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research. 'It's the best job I've ever had.'

If this sounds like a swipe at his previous employer, it is – but only a gentle one. Before taking the helm at Britain's biggest centre-left think-tank at the end of 1998, Taylor, now 39, was a senior Labour Party apparatchik, working as director of policy in the run-up to the 1997 general election and then as assistant general secretary. And although he is keen to emphasise IPPR's (and his own) independence from the government, he is just as insistent on the need to maintain friendly relations with new Labour.

'There are times when the message I get from the government is that I've gone massively offside, that I'm showing worrying signs of disloyalty, and that I'm forgetting who the real enemy is,' he says with a grin. 'This government has got a problem with those it can't control.

'But from the point of view of journalists and my mates, I'm too new Labour, and I don't take enough risks. The fact is that we work very closely with people in government, simply because it's our job to influence public policy. But that doesn't mean that we're at their beck and call.'

'Of course, it's hard to occupy a position of critical engagement with this government. Journalists just want you to be critical, while the government just wants you to be engaged. But we're an independent think-tank, and we have to tread that path.

'Sometimes it's uncomfortable, but the reality is that if you say something that embarrasses the government, you spend 24 hours with people ringing you up and shouting and screaming at you and then 48 hours later they'll ring up again and tell you: "We wish you hadn't done that but let's carry on talking."'

The IPPR has had to reinvent itself in the past three years. From its foundation in 1988 – largely at the instigation of Neil Kinnock, with cash from the tycoon Clive Hollick – until 1997, its role was that of chief policy trouble-shooter and wonk-recruiter for the Labour leadership. In the wake of Labour's 1992 defeat, John Smith gave it the task of sorting out the mess of party policy on the welfare state, setting up the Commission on Social Justice under its auspices. Although Tony Blair rejected most of the commission's recommendations, he took on its chief researcher, David Miliband, as his head of policy. Subsequently, Blair gave the IPPR a major part in his drive to get business leaders on side. In 1995, the IPPR set up the Commission on Public Policy and British Business, dominated by prominent business people and chaired by George Bain, principal of the London Business School, 'to investigate the competitive position of the British economy and the role that public policy should play in it'. Blair's launch of its report in January 1997 was a key moment in new Labour's campaign to persuade the business world that it was absolutely committed to flexible labour markets.

The IPPR has continued since 1997 to provide new Labour with personnel – in the past year alone, three of its staff have moved on to become senior government advisers. But after Blair became prime minister, it lost its function as chief policy trouble-shooter. In government, new Labour was able to call upon the vast resources of the civil service to do the detailed policy work in which the IPPR specialised. Suddenly, it was by no means clear what it was for.

'I think it's fair to say that the institute went through a crisis of confidence after the 1997 election,' says Taylor. 'Then after that there was a long period between my predecessor Gerry Holtham leaving and my joining. I inherited an institute that had a good reputation, but its reputation was in the past. We were in financial difficulties and we had a profile problem. I spent my first year here trying to get the place back on its feet.'

Taylor says that he is reasonably satisfied with progress so far. 'We've doubled in size, and the more projects you've got the more news coverage you can generate. Our profile has risen a lot. In the beginning I think it was because I was quoted as a former Millbank insider, but now I think we're getting the coverage for our work. We've also brought some good people in.'

He says that the IPPR has a broader range than any other think-tank and reels off a list of projects currently under way or soon to start – on the private finance initiative, the future of work, reform of the criminal justice system, the relationship between parents and schools, the prospects for social housing. 'And that's just a small part of it.'

But he admits to frustration too. 'There's not much of a tradition in Britain of people funding think-tanks,' he says. 'I'd love one of these internet millionaires to come along and say: "Look, here's a million quid." All the think tanks are scratching around for a few bob here and a few bob there. I've never explicitly competed with another think-tank for money, and I've got a great deal of respect for Tom Bentley at Demos and Michael Jacobs at the Fabian Society. The problem is that I get corporate sector people coming into see me -- one of them said: "I've got 10 grand to give to a think-tank. Tell me why yours is the best." So in those circumstances you have to sell the place. But it's not what I'm all about. I want to make the cake bigger rather than fight over the slices.'

Most IPPR research projects are self-generated, but lack of money means that what corporate funders are prepared to back is always a consideration. 'There are certain things we don't do work on because, although they're really interesting, there's no chance of funding. We're realistic about what is likely to get funded and what counts as an area of public policy.'

What government wants is also a factor. ' We don't get phone calls from government saying "Do this work",' says Taylor. 'But you hear speeches, you read articles and you think: "The government's got a problem here." And then you do something about it.'

Taylor is insistent that this approach is consistent with a commitment to being visionary and innovative. 'Think-tanks are only as good as their last idea. No one says: "We've got to listen because it's IPPR." The fact is that we've got a consistent record of developing good ideas and good policies. The important thing is to have a strong brand image. We're a progressive think-tank that develops policies that can be applied. We are not a think-tank that says we're above politics, neither left nor right but floating in the ether. We don't just have ideas that are visionary, we try to come up with things that can be done.'

So what is IPPR doing about 'the vision thing'? 'Politics is about changing practice,' he says. 'But it's also about creating a climate of opinion that enables you to change practice some more. Labour's strategy of progressive policies but centrist and sometimes reactionary rhetoric is proving counter-productive. You've got to create a mood.

'It's possible to imagine public spending in Britain at around 4 to 5 per cent more of GDP, with taxation at a higher level, a world where public services are things we're proud of rather than things we feel are crisis-ridden. We need to think about flexibility in the labour market that works for employees as well as employers. And we need to express a sense that the rich have responsibilities as well as the poor.

'While I agree with most of the things this government has done, I don't think it's changed the climate of opinion. On the constitution, Labour has created new political institutions – which are wholly welcome – but hasn't created a new political culture. But the worst example is Europe. The gap between Denmark and England in terms of quality of life and quality of public services is as big as that between England and Turkey. One of the priorities for IPPR in the next year is to shout about the best practice that takes place in European countries. To shout about the fact that in Belgium, every employer is required to let their employees work a four-day week if they chose to, about the quality of schools in Germany, about the quality of health-care in the Nordic countries.'

Friday, 10 March 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 10 March 2000

Hate campaigns in politics are always good fun for onlookers - and the Labour leadership's assault on Ken Livingstone since he announced he would be running for London mayor as an independent is nothing if not hugely entertaining for most of the population. But in the long run it would make sense for New Labour to lay off the mud-slinging.

Of course, in Labour Party terms, Livingstone has done wrong. He has committed the cardinal sin of declaring that he will stand for elected office against the official Labour candidate – and to make matters worse he has done so after he promised he wouldn't.

But – like it or not – the voters, and most of the Labour Party in London, think that he has been badly treated by the Labour machine and are minded to use the mayoral election to treat it a lesson. Everything suggests that he is going to win, and that Dobbo will have his day made by not getting the job he didn't want in the first place.

Opinion polls might not always be accurate, but the 55 percentage point lead that the Guardian's ICM poll gave Livingstone this week suggests that only a quite extraordinarily dynamic campaign could hope to stop him.

And, despite all the best efforts of the party machine, Dobbo's campaign has all the momentum of a dead dog. Even if most Labour Party members in London decide not to jeopardise their membership by actively campaigning for Livingstone, hardly anyone is going to lift a finger for Labour's official candidate. (And I wouldn't be at all surprised if a majority of party members vote for Livingstone.)

This means that, after the votes are counted on 4 May, it is likely that the Government is going to have to work with Livingstone as London mayor – and that Labour as a party is going to have to woo back vast numbers of Livingstone supporters, both activists and voters, before the next general election.

In this light, spending the next eight weeks slagging Livingstone off as a liar, an ego-maniac, a traitor, an extremist and worse is not, to put it mildly, very intelligent politics. It would be more sensible by far for the Labour machine to write off the London mayoral election as an inevitable defeat, run a gracious, low-key (and low-cost) non-campaign and then, as soon as possible after Livingstone wins, find a way of getting him back into the party fold.

There are historical precedents for this. Labour ran magisterial non-campaigns in several by-elections between 1992 and 1997 where the Liberal Democrats were the main challengers to the Tories, most memorably that in Newbury, which was masterminded by Peter Mandelson. And Labour has not always treated its prodigal sons and daughters by casting them into outer darkness for ever.

With all the talk from the Dobbo camp of Oswald Mosley, Ramsay MacDonald, the Gang of Four and Militant, it is easy to forget that many who have left Labour have returned and been forgiven their sins – among them such luminaries as Aneurin Bevan, Stafford Cripps, John Strachey, Jennie Lee and Fenner Brockway.

Given that Livingstone is not planning to set up a political party to rival Labour, has argued for supporters in the Labour Party to stay put and has advocated Dobbo as second preference, there is no good reason that he should not be back inside the party by the end of the year.

Reason has long since ceased to have anything to do with the mayoral race, however. "New" Labour appears to be bent on playing as dirty as possible, and hang the consequences. As things stand, it is no more likely that the party leadership will see the sense of damage-limitation than that Dobbo will be mayor on 4 May.

Wednesday, 1 March 2000


New Times, March 2000

Paul Anderson reports from Vienna on the opposition to the new coalition between conservatives and the far-right Freedom Party

The police said there were 150,000 people there, the organisers 300,000. Whatever the true figure, the 19 February rally in Vienna's Heldenplatz against Austria's new coalition of conservatives and the far-right populist Freedom Party (FPO) was impressively massive.
Four feeder marches converged on the square – chosen as the gathering point because it is where Hitler addressed jubilant Austrians in 1938 following his incorporation of the republic into the Third Reich – after a day of protest throughout the city centre. People were still arriving long after the speeches began.

All sorts braved the miserably wet and windy weather to take part in the demonstration, the culmination of a fortnight of popular protest against the "black-blue" government. There were pensioners and teenagers, trade unionists and artists, Christians and environmentalists, social democrats and anarchists. The mood was determined, peaceful and remarkably upbeat.
One demonstration organiser delighted everyone by distributing fake banknotes to the crowd – a joke against Jorg Haider, the FPO leader, who had claimed the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party had paid youngsters between 1,500 and 1,800 schillings (£75-£100) to come to the rally. Another organiser was cheered wildly when he declared: "You only have to resign and the demonstrations will stop very quickly."

Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel has dismissed the protest movement against his decision to invite the FPO into coalition with his conservative People's Party (OVP) as an "emotional outpouring". "Things will soon calm down," he told a Swiss newspaper.

But he has good reason to be worried. The latest opinion polls show that support for the OVP has slumped since the formation of the new government, which followed the breakdown of talks between the OVP and Social Democratic Party (SPO) aimed at salvaging the SPO-OVP coalition that had ruled Austria since 1986.

The FPO's support remains at around the 27 per cent it won in last October's general election. Then, it narrowly beat the OVP into third place, precipitating a protracted government crisis as SPO leader Viktor Klima, chancellor since 1997, desperately tried to dissuade Schussel from carrying out his threat of walking out of the coalition if his party failed to come second.

In recent weeks, however, there has been a surge in support for the Greens, who have been in the forefront of anti-government protests. Led by the charismatic Alexander van der Bellen, it now has 16 per cent support compared with the 7.5 per cent it won last October. A general election now could well give an SPO-Green coalition a parliamentary majority.

Not that the SPO is currently in the best of shape. In power constantly since 1970, it has not found it easy to adapt to opposition. Although it remains the largest party in parliament, its performance last October, when it took 33 per cent of the vote, was its worst in any general election since 1920. Most worryingly, it lost large swathes of its traditional working-class support to the anti-immigrant FPO and did particularly poorly among younger voters.

Klima resigned last month as SPO leader to be replaced by party secretary Alfred Gusenbauer, who at 40 is the youngest leader the party has ever had. Gusenbauer, a former leader of the SPO's youth wing and spokesman on overseas development, is a popular and dynamic figure whom many commentators see as the Austrian Tony Blair. He made clear his goal at a press conference after his appointment: "We want to renew the SPO from head to toe and become a party for the youth of our country."

Opponents of the new government have promised to take to the streets once a week in demonstrations modelled on those that brought down the communist regime in East Germany: they have even adopted the 1989 East German demonstrators' slogan 'Wir sind das Volk' ('We are the people'). Whether the strategy works remains to be seen, however. Although public opinion seems to be moving in the protesters' direction – largely  because of worries about the damage to Austria's reputation caused by the FPO's arrival in government – the coalition has a comfortable parliamentary majority.

The far-right in Europe
The rise of Jorg Haider's Freedom Party (FPO) has been protracted and by no means smooth. Until the early 1980s, the FPO was essentially a free-market liberal party with a small pan-Germanic right wing. The right, led by Haider, grew in strength after the party leadership entered into coalition with the Social Democrats in 1983, and in 1986 seized control of the party. Under Haider's leadership, the FPO adopted a stridently anti-immigrant, anti-EU populist rhetoric.  Haider himself made a string of pro-Nazi remarks, praising Hitler's 'orderly employment policy', describing SS war veterans as 'respectable' and referring to the concentration camps as 'punishment camps'. From taking 5 per cent of the vote in the 1983 general election, the FPO won 9.7 per cent in 1986, 16.5 per cent in 1990 and 22.5 per cent in 1994. The party slipped back to 21.9 per cent in 1995 but took 26.9 per cent in last October's election, beating the conservative People's Party (OVP) into third place. 
The three far-right parties in Germany - the National Democratic Party (NDP), the Republicans, and the German People's Union (DVU)-have never won the 5 per cent of the vote in federal elections to win representation in the Bundestag. The NDP is a tiny party of skinhead thugs and out-and-out Nazis, but the Republicans and the DVU - which are scarcely less vehemently racist – have enjoyed some electoral success since German unification. The Republicans, founded in 1983, are currently represented in the state parliament of Baden-Wurttemberg. The DVU, led by the millionaire Munich publisher Gerhard Frey, has found significant support among the young unemployed of former East Germany, its best result coming two years ago in Saxony-Anhalt, where it won nearly 13 per cent two years ago. Many Germans worry that the far right could exploit the current crisis of the Christian Democratic Union to its advantage. 
The far-right Italian Social Movement (MSI) consistently won between 5 and 7 per cent of the vote in general elections from the 1950s until the 1980s, but its growth was checked by its nostalgia for Mussolini's fascist regime and its association with terrorism. Under the leadership of Gianfranco Fini, however, it made a bid for respectability, changing its name to the National Alliance (AN) and dropping most of its overtly fascist political trappings. Largely untouched by the corruption scandals that ripped through Italy's political class in the early In the 1994 election, the AN took  13.5 per cent of the vote and entered Silvio Belusconi's short-lived right-wing coalition government; it increased its share of the vote to 15.5 per cent in 1996. The AN, with its core support in the poor south of the country, tends to avoid anti-immigrant populism, which in Italy has tended to be directed by northerners against their southern compatriots as much as against foreigners. Not so Umberto Bossi, leader of the secessionist Northern League (LN), who shared a platform with Jorg Haider at an anti-immigration rally last year. The LN won 10 per cent of the vote in 1996 -- and like the Austrian FPO, its supporters are overwhelmingly affluent. 
The far right in Belgium – particularly in Flanders – is able to exploit not only widespread distrust of immigrants but also the country's linguistic divisions. The extreme Flemish nationalist Vlaams Blok (VB) first won parliamentary representation in 1978 but has grown alarmingly since the late 1980s, taking 6.6 per cent of the vote in 1991, 7.8 per cent in 1995 and 9.8 per cent in 1999. Its stronghold is the city of Antwerp. The VB demands an immediate halt to immigration and a policy of "national preference": the other parties in Belgium have responded to its rise by freezing it out of power and enacting tough legislation against incitement to racial hatred. 
In the mid-1980s, the virulently anti-immigrant French National Front (FN), led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, was by far the most electorally successful far-right party in western Europe, winning nearly 11 per cent of the vote in the 1984 European election and 10 per cent (and 35 seats) in the 1986 National Assembly election. Its successes, particularly marked in the south of the country, prompted president Francois Mitterrand to change the electoral system to exclude it from parliament, and in the 1988 National Assembly election, on a similar share of the vote, it won a single seat. But the FN continued to make gains in local government and Le Pen won 15 per cent in the first round of the 1995 presidential election; the party took much the same in the 1997 National Assembly election. In 1998, however, the FN split into two after a leadership battle between Le Pen and his deputy, Bruno Megret, with Megret (who declared that he wanted to become part of the 'respectable' right) forming the Republican National Movement (MNR). In last year's European election, the FN took 5.8 per cent and the MNR 3.3 per cent, with much of the FN's former support rallying behind ex-Gaullist Charles Pasqua's Eurosceptic list.
In last October's general election, the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Swiss People's Party (SVP) emerged as the most popular party, with 23 per cent of the vote, up from 15 per cent in 1995. Led by businessman Christoph Blocher, who has built up a significant power base in the eastern German-speaking regions of Switzerland during the past decade, it has a single minister (from its moderate wing) in the four-party coalition government. This makes it the only west European far-right party apart from the Austrian FPO currently holding national government office. The SVP, formed in 1971 from a merger of centrist and farmers' parties, is now organising a petition calling for tougher asylum laws. 
There has been a dramatic growth of support in the past few years for the Danish People's Party (DF), led by Pia Kjaersgaard. It won 7.5 per cent of the vote in the 1998 general election and recent opinion polls suggest it could double that at the next general election. Anti-EU and anti-immigrant. 
The Progress Party, led by the charismatic Carl Hagen, took second place in the 1997 general election with 15 per cent of the vote. Ultra-free-market in economics, it is also hostile to immigration and virulently anti-EU.