Echos of the miners strike: 30 years on

David Hamilton MP

miners01 The recent revelations about the secret tactics and aims of the government during the 1984 miners’ strike came as no surprise to people, like me, who were personally involved at the time.

Since becoming an MP I have used Freedom of Information requests to try to obtain papers from No 10 and the Home Office – but have always had my requests rejected.

I believe that the papers released at the start of January under the 30-year rule only scratch the surface of the truth that has been kept from us.

While the revelations provided a level of vindication for me and my colleagues involved in the strike it would be wrong to consider them in a purely historical context. The impact of the miners’ strike still lingers today and there remains a real danger that we will let history repeat itself.

There is a common judgement that the “miners lost” and Margaret Thatcher won.  But perhaps we should seek to see the bigger picture and wonder if the miners’ strike was merely the most high-profile battle in the war between workers and extreme free-market Thatcherism.

Even by 1984 Thatcher was changing Britain but the Thatcher revolution was boosted after the end of the strike.

It was after that victory that she was able to deregulate, remove financial controls and unleash the “big bang” in the City.

We still live with the consequences. The inequality, the consumerist society and the acceptance of unemployment and poverty as “the price worth paying.”

Would it have been different if we’d known the truth during the strike?

Thatcher lied about the number of pit closures. She wanted to close 75 pits, not the 20 she said in public. She refused to say in public which pits would close or that 64,000 people would lose their jobs. If we’d known just how many pits she planned to close would the communities involved have fought back even harder and stopped her?

Would the Nottingham area have backed the strike until the end had they known their pits were on her agenda to close?

If the public had known that the government was considering the use of the army to transport coal and passing an Emergency Powers Act to impose a state of emergency would they have reacted to this abuse of power?

Would the country, Parliament or even the Tory Party have seen this as an unnecessary act of hostility and defended our civil liberties?

Were the lies the only thing that kept Thatcher from defeat?

Even if the result of the miners’ strike didn’t change the course of history what do these lies and deceit tells us about our government today?

That Tory government refused to publish the truth, telling us then that it would only be 20 pit closures and that the mining industry would not be dismantled.

Today’s Tory government refuses to publish the risk register for its health care reforms but tells us that this isn’t the start of the dismantling of our NHS. Maybe we’ll find out a different truth in 30 years’ time.

I fear that not even these recent revelations tell us the true story of the lengths to which Thatcher went to beat the miners.

We realised phones were tapped throughout the strike centres and we were able to prove this on numerous occasions.

One example was when the 26 strike centres of Mid and East Lothian phoned each of the offices to inform them we would be picketing the following morning at a particular place in East Lothian, at the same time as we sent out runners giving the true location of our plans.

The police turned out in their droves at Dunbar and the striking miners were elsewhere. A victory to the miners that day.

Victimisation and blacklisting followed and 30 years on Parliament is still debating these issues in today’s world.

The carrot was dangled before police officers – overtime payments not a problem, increased wages not a problem, whatever the police wanted they got, thus making them compliant.

If they did not agree with the line being taken by their senior officers, they found any chance of promotion was blocked.

Are these concerns merely a relic from the past? Were they a tragic breach of my civil liberties which could not happen again today?

I find it hard to believe that there are not meaningful parallels between the deceit and lies that occurred during the miners’ strike and the world we find ourselves in now.

The Snowden revelations tell us that government still seeks to monitor those it doesn’t trust.

The undercover police infiltration and subsequent mistrial of environmental protesters tells us that the police are still politicised, seeking to curtail the political behaviour of left-wing protest groups.

The world has changed in the 30 years since the miners’ strike but the more things change the more they stay the same.

The released papers are not a mere historical footnote. They are a warning for society on the lies and deceit of the government.

This is why the calls for full inquiries which have been made in both Westminster and Holyrood, along with the release of further suppressed papers and a full public apology to the miners and their communities, are so important.

We cannot stop history repeating itself until we learn the full lesson, admit mistakes and offer justice to those who have been wronged. At the end of the strike 1,000 miners were sacked. Some were lucky enough to return to work.

However although they won in industrial tribunals many did not get the opportunity to return – blacklisting followed. I myself was unemployed for two-and-a-half years and many more were in the same situation.

We must stop history from repeating itself.



Katy Clark MP: view from parliament

‘Whilst the Party structures at a UK level has been pre-occupied with the Labour – trade union link, the constitutional debate in Scotland continues as we head towards the referendum in September. Meanwhile the Tories are rolling back the state. The welfare state and public sector are under attack as never before. Austerity economics and the so called need for cuts are going unchallenged. The UK wide cost of living crisis is not going away.

Most people are not experiencing an economic recovery in any part of the UK. Real wages have fallen so far now that for the first time the majority of those living in poverty are in work. Absolute poverty has risen by 1.4 million since 2010.  We have seen serious erosion in our pension provision and levels of child poverty are on the increase. We are experiencing real misery and a lack of hope in many of our communities.

At Westminster Labour MPs have won a number of votes so far in 2014 – on the bedroom tax, the Shrewsbury 24, to set up a Commission to investigate the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms on the incidence of poverty. This Government however say they do not need to pay any attention to such “backbench” votes and it is only defeats in legislation they need to take into account.  We have a crisis in democracy from a Government formed of two Parties pursuing a cuts agenda which was in neither manifesto at the last General Election. We need to win the argument in our communities that these cuts are not necessary and that there is an alternative.  Facilities and services which have been struggled for over many generations are being lost every week. Whatever happens at the referendum in September that challenge will not go away. We have to fight to defend the values our movement. We have to remember what previous generations have fought for and the achievements made in far more difficult circumstances than we face today.

Over the next few months we have to have the confidence to make a radical offer to the people of Scotland. We need to have a good enough offer at both a Scottish and a UK level.  Let’s show that we understand how to  take on vested interests and challenge wealth and privilege. We need to explain where the wealth is and how it can be shared more fairly. We should make the case for progressive taxation and why it is necessary to pay more for better schools and hospitals. We must also however make the case for  a living wage and remind people of the success of Labour’s national minimum wage.  We have to  explain how we will raise  funds to build council houses to tackle the housing crisis but also in the construction sector. We need to show we will give power back to local government, re-regulate the buses and that we will protect our public services from privatisation.  We need to offer good quality apprenticeships and training which re skill our economy.

Yes we want redistribution within Scotland but that is not enough. The complex and intertwined  economies of these Isles  will be extremely difficult to disentangle  as the current debate shows. Scotland may have volatile oil but the power house still remains in the City, in London and the South-East of England with the rest of the UK suffering as a result. We need to explain how redistribution  is best done at a UK level.
The UK economy needs to be rebalanced. The way to do that is not to walk away from where the economic decisions which affect our lives are made. Instead we need to step up to the challenge of how we bring those decisions under some sort of democratic control. Yes let’s develop policies for the Scottish Parliament which will make a real difference in Scotland. And if the Parliament does not have the power currently to implement them make sure it gets those powers. But the main problem that the Scottish Parliament has at the moment is not a lack of powers but the lack of vision.

Labour has representation at all levels and our challenge in all parts of the UK is to show that  we are worth listening to and that we have the courage to make the changes which will make real differences to people’s lives.

The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners

30th anniversary edition Seumas Milne  Verso 2014 

enemywithinKeeping a lid on the dustbin of history is a full time job. Re-emerging as farce where once it was content as tragedy, the past does not have to come back to haunt us. Instead it remains a constant spectre, a landfill of un-recycled events which creep up on those who fail to heed its lessons. As ‘revelations’ confirming the infiltration of dedicated undercover officers into the ranks of anti-racist and environmental groups as well as the grieving family of Stephen Lawrence emerged in the media last year, past and present mining communities must have experienced a collective shudder at memories of the aftermath of the 84-85 strike.

The lengths to which the security apparatus were prepared to go to scandalize public opinion, to smear and defame the leaders of the NUM Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield, and to create the political space to facilitate both the tethering of the NUM as an effective trade union and the closure of all but a handful of pits in the early 1990s is a case study in the assertion of class power.  Seumas Milne’s pacey, iconic exposure of intrigue and dirty tricks against Mrs Thatcher’s ‘enemy within’ should have clarified once and for all exactly whose interests are deemed to coincide with our national security. Recent ‘shocks’ should therefore be regarded as an upgrading of shop-worn tales from the Zinoviev Letter onwards.  Edward Snowden may have courageously exposed the extent to which new technology has allowed the state to extend its reach into the most intimate redoubts of private life, but ‘The Enemy Within,’ first published in 1994, stands comparison as a benchmark of investigative journalism.

Beginning with the 1990 Daily Mirror headline ‘Scargill and the Libyan Money: the Facts,’ Robert Maxwell personally oversaw a campaign of vilification against Scargill and Heathfield. The rest of the printed press smelled a feeding frenzy and television soon followed suit with Roger Cook door-stepping Scargill at his Yorkshire home. As the manufactured hysteria grew, the stories became increasingly lurid; Scargill had stolen money collected by Russian miners and arranged for donations from Colonel Gadaffi’s slush fund for subversive causes to be salted away to pay for his mortgage. Never one to pass up the opportunity for some easy moral posturing, Labour leader Neil Kinnock joined the fray. It looked for all the world as if the leaders of the NUM were bang to rights, up to their elbows in greed and hypocrisy. Allegations became daily more outlandish. During the strike, Scargill had demanded not only cash from Gadaffi, it was claimed, but guns. Until that is the simple journalistic expedient of fact checking was exercised, and the truth began to emerge.

Milne exposes the NUM’s Chief Executive Roger Windsor as an MI5 plant. Neither Scargill (who had in fact paid his mortgage off) nor Heathfield had received any monies at all. Whistle-blowers from GCHQ (denied the right to join a trade union by the Conservative government) began to come forward with tales of state subversion headed up by Stella Rimington, newly appointed Director General of MI5 but at the time of the miner’s strike in charge of ‘monitoring’ the trade union  movement.

Officers involved in the shameful distortions and cover up of Hillsborough point to the impunity inferred by Thatcher’s militarisation of the police force in Sheffield. Today, in an attempt to secure retrospective justice for miners and their families, Neil Findlay MSP campaigns to have the Scottish parliament review the convictions of 500 pit workers. National security is codified as anything contributing to the prosecution of the War on Terror (with the occasional diversion of resources into the equally effective War on Drugs), and the state networks Milne describes become, as their global systems stagger from the aftershock of the financial crash, ever more sophisticated and amoral in their efforts to ‘police the crisis.’

For anyone still labouring under the comforting delusion of a pluralist state mediating between competing interest groups, ‘The Enemy Within’ makes for sobering reading. The state may discharge hard won obligations in the form of welfare and social security, redistribute wealth through taxation or process the odd just legal judgement. The Left should take care to defend its more progressive mechanisms against the laissez faire ideologues of both Tory and New Labour zealots. But when the battle lines are drawn, all ambiguities become clarified. On the 30th anniversary of the miner’s strike, its lessons and ramifications continue to reverberate.


This issue of The Citizen covers two particularly significant issues for the future of the Labour Movement in Scotland. One is the future of the Union — Labour Party link and the second the future of the Union or the UK.
Though I say that these are of particular significance for Scotland, both are in fact of significance for the whole of the UK. Whatever happens in the Scottish referendum it cannot help but have implications for the rest of the UK.
At the turn of the 19th century, the trade union activist and organiser Keir Hardie could have devoted his efforts to recruiting trade unionists to the Scottish Labour Party and later the Independent Labour Party until it was strong enough to challenge the Liberals and the Lib-Lab members of Parliament who were usually trade union leaders. He did not. He understood that what was needed was an organisation that had the collective organisation of trade unions linked to a party with a socialist vision.

It took many attempts before the TUC finally agreed to establish the Labour Representation Committee along with the ILP and SDF. He recognised the benefits of bringing a united trade union movement into a new party that would give a collective voice to working people. Keir Hardie and others went into that new organisation knowing that it was not going to be a revolutionary socialist organisation, but they recognised the benefit of having a Party that included within it the collective power of the unions. It is that element that is often forgotten in the debate today.
Unfortunately Ed Miliband in his speech to the TUC Congress looked back to Edward Stanley and Disraeli for inspiration for his peculiar ‘One Nation’ approach and neglected the thoughts of Keir Hardie.

He was trying to be conciliatory with many references to “friends” and he stated that he wanted to give trade union members “a real voice in our party founded on an active role”. He went on “You have been telling me that the Labour Party isn’t sufficiently connected to working people” and his plan would change that.

He did not, however mention Falkirk and unfortunately the leadership’s behaviour over that says more about his approach than soothing words at the TUC.

The root of the problem in Falkirk was that trade union members did become active in their local Labour Party. They joined up as individual members in order to have influence. That is what Progress and others objected to. Union members dared to want someone sympathetic to trade unions as their candidate at the next Westminster election.

The case for encouraging individual membership is of course very persuasive, and what a difference thousands of new members in our local parties would make, but that does not mean that the link with the organised trade unions should be abolished. All those thousands or millions of members who will not join the Labour Party should still have their voices heard within it. That is the nature of the Union— Party link. That is not to say that those members have always been well served, but that battle should be fought within the trade unions for greater democratic accountability for those representing them on Labour Party bodies such as the NEC and the National Policy Forums.

Those who believe that the unions would be better outside the Party because they could help form a new socialist party will be sadly disappointed. The Unions are not in business for that; they are in business to protect their members.
It is only when you go out of Scotland that you realise the debate around the referendum is not the most talked about issue in the daily papers and on the evening political discussion programmes. It is, however, as I have said, something that could have an impact across the UK.

The book “Class, Nation and Socialism: The Red Paper on Scotland 2014” starts with the question: what constitutional arrangement is more likely to allow greater democratic control of our economy and retain the ability to redistribute wealth from richer to poorer and geographically from wealthy parts of the UK to those less wealthy. Independence, the book argues, does not achieve this, but neither does the status quo.

From England, in particular, it may look as if the an independent Scotland would be adopting radical policies but if you look at the SNP programme (the Party that would actually take power) it will retain sterling and therefore City of London control; keep the monarch; apply for membership of the EU (which will require adopting EU fiscal disciplines) and NATO (which will involve pressure to delay any removal of Trident). No wonder the Red Paper argues that there needs to be political change rather than constitutional change.

The Citizen is the journal of the Campaign for Socialism. If you would like more information contact:
Paul McFarlane
Flat 12/15 Albion Gardens Edinburgh EH7 5NS
07800 851 638

Stan Crooke: Taking Labour out of the Labour Party – the “consultation”

The History

“The Labour Party is based on an out-of-date doctrine. Its social basis does not match modern social structures. Its dependence on the trade unions ties it to conservative sectional interests. The ‘labour coalition’ of the party and the unions should be scrapped and replaced by a regrouping of non-Conservative forces”.

This was the advice helpfully offered to the Labour Party in 1943 by The Economist magazine.

Two years later the Labour Party won a landslide general election victory, hailed by its national election organiser as the moment when “the working classes, hitherto a subject race, succeeded in the organisation of political power and became the ruling class in their own land.”

There is nothing new in calls for the Labour Party to cut itself loose from affiliated trade unions as its only means of survival. According to Lewis Minkin’s definitive history of the Labour-unions link, ‘The Contentious Alliance’:
“For the Centre and the Right, it became a priority to seek the destruction of the union – Party relationship. Often they diagnosedi nevitable degeneration or suicide as the future of the labour movement.”

But when Minkin spoke of “the Centre and the Right”, he was referring to the centre and right of the political spectrum as a whole, not to the centre and right within the Labour Party.

In fact, for virtually the entire twentieth century even the Labour Party right wing accepted the Labour-unions link as the bedrock of the movement. And more often than not, it was usually the right wing who benefited the most from the link.

Even the future leaders of the breakaway SDP such as Bill Rodgers acknowledged just two years before its split that “there is no salvation for the Labour Party in a break with the trade union movement.” The subsequent fate of the SDP was to prove him correct.

The fact that the ‘traditional’ right wing treated affiliated unions as the natural allies of the Labour Party – even if that alliance, to use Minkin’s expression, could sometimes be “contentious” – underlines the seismic shift represented by the emergence of Blairism in the Labour Party in the 1990s.

The Blairites were hostile not just to the policies which the party might adopt because of its links with the unions. They were hostile to the links themselves. They were the leaders of a labour movement which they did not think should even exist. For some Blairites the solution was to reduce the role of the unions in the party to such a degree that it became meaningless. For others, the solution was to break the link completely.

Two years after Blair’s election as party leader his ally and fellow Labour MP Stephen Byers was already briefing the media that the Labour Party might sever its links with the unions.

In 2005 the ex-CWU general secretary and then Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson advocated that the unions’ share of votes at Labour Party annual conference be cut to 15%. In early 2007 Johnson lined up with former TGWU general secretary Bill Morris and the fake-left Jon Cruddas MP to advocate further reductions in the unions’ role in the Labour Party.

In late 2010 Blairites returned to the attack on Labour-union links. MPs Andy Burnham and Tessa Jowell “questioned” affiliated union members having a vote in Labour Party leadership elections. Margaret Hodge MP advocated that Labour “cut the umbilical cord” with the unions on the grounds that they were “irrelevant in British society”.

And ex-MP Alan Milburn – so right-wing that some Tories wanted him to be offered a post in the Con-Dem coalition government – proposed that the unions “should no longer have a structural relationship with Labour.”

In February of this year Alan Johnson again raised the issue of reducing the unions’ role in the Labour Party. In an interview with Progress he attacked union leaders as “fat, white, finger-jabbing blokes on rostrums shouting and screaming” and called for their share of the vote at Labour Party conference to be cut to “about a third”.

Unsurprisingly, when Miliband announced his proposals to replace ‘opting out’ by ‘opting in’, they won applause from these old-time Blairites and from Blair himself (“bold and strong … long overdue and probably, frankly, I should have done it when I was party leader”).

Miliband’s proposals are not, as Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey has claimed, “an opportunity rather than a threat.” His proposals represent the latest stage in the long-term Blairite project of destroying what defines the Labour Party as the party of organised labour in Britain. If the recent “interim consultation” about yet another batch of party reforms is anything to go by, the “major consultation exercise” due to take place after this year’s party conference could easily end up as an empty charade.

Launched after Ed Miliband had proposed sweeping changes in the relationship between the party and affiliated trade unions, the interim consultation will present its findings to this year’s party conference. This is to be followed by what has been described as “a major consultation exercise”, culminating in a special party conference in the spring of 2014.

But the interim consultation was one in the worst traditions of New Labour. Although supposedly open and participatory, it was really designed to drum up support for the party leader’s proposals.

Given the summer break, many trade union and Labour Party branches and CLPs would not even have met during the period of the interim consultation (mid-July to mid-September). They would therefore have been unable to contribute to the consultation.

The closing date for submissions to the consultation was just a week before the start of the party conference to which its findings are to be presented. This suggests either that only a limited number of submissions were expected (which defeats the purpose of the exercise) or that however many submissions were sent in, little or no notice would be taken of them (which likewise defeats the purpose of the exercise).

The two-page leaflet produced by the Labour Party to accompany the consultation – “Let’s build a better Labour Party, so we can build a better Britain” – consisted of a single statement in the name of Ed Miliband.

This did not map out the basic issues at stake in the consultation. Nor did it give over any space to different points of view. Instead, it merely presented a one-sided outline of Miliband’s proposals. The article promised “a new way of doing politics”, by “taking the big money out and allowing the people of Britain back in.” On closer inspection, however, the article proposed to do the exact opposite. After a lengthy paragraph highlighting the support which Tories get from rich people, the article concluded:

“That’s why we need historic change in Labour’s relationship with (affiliated trade union members).” But the fact that rich people have always backed the Tories explains why the working class needs its own party. It does not explain why there should suddenly be a radical change the relationship between the Labour Party and its affiliates. Miliband (or whoever wrote this nonsense in his name) continued: “These three million people (affiliated union members) should be at the heart of everything Labour does. I want to hear their voices louder and clearer than ever before.” But replacing ‘opting out’ by ‘opting in’ would have the opposite effect.

It would permanently exclude the bulk of those three million affiliated members from “the heart of everything Labour does.” It would effectively silence their voices. The overall result would be to exclude “the people of Britain” – in the form of three million affiliated trade unionists – from politics and thereby allow “big money” to exert an even bigger influence than it does at the moment. In fact, the superficially democratic language used by the article – in which individual voices are prioritised above collective concerns – was a throwback to Thatcherism. “I care very deeply about individuals – I don’t like treating people as block votes,” said Margaret Thatcher during the 1987 general election campaign.

Exactly the same sentimentsfound expression in Miliband’s leaflet: “I want … an active, individual choice (by union members) on whether they become part of our party, not to see them affiliated automatically. It’s time Labour heard each trade unionist’s own individual voice.” With unconscious irony the article ended with the words: “All of our country’s history shows that change does not come just from a few people at the top … from Prime Ministers or party leaders. Change comes when individual people come together to demand it.”

But “individual people” did not come together to demand the changes proposed by Miliband and advocated in the article. The reforms came very much “from a few people at the top” and then began to be foisted onto the party and its affiliates. And that, in reality, was what the interim consultation was all about. Not an exercise to ascertain the views of individual members and affiliates. But a stage in an undemocratic process designed to undermine still further the voice of working-class collectivism in the party.

Vince Mills: The Primary Question

The introduction of primaries will vastly reduce the left influence in policy development and the selection of progressive candidates. Ideas and attitudes are shaped by a range of forces in our society almost all of these conservative – especially the local and national media.

What a left political party, or a party influenced by the Left (our aspiration for the Labour Party) can offer is a space where ideas different from the mainstream support for individualism can be developed over time.

It would be ridiculous to say that a political Party can inoculate members from the wider society, but progressive political Parties at least allow the possibility of hearing alternative ideas and engaging with these, although it has to said that this is only possible if membership is engaged with the community the party creates. This is hardly a revolutionary idea. Learning theorists Lave and Wenger argue that meaningful participation more than anything else, creates ‘communities of practice’.

Registered voters would not be part of this community and their ideas and political priorities will therefore not be shaped by participation in the political community that local parties create. It is true that the ideas of members in local Labour parties have changed and become more right wing and individualistic since the nineties, but such communities are not hermetically sealed and indeed the influx of new ideas and activity was being felt in Falkirk CLP and may well have led to a significant shift to the left. The introduction of primaries will, for the most part, make it much more difficult for the left to create communities seeking to redress inequality and its roots, since the sphere of influence of left ideas is much more limited than that of local and national media. The other probable consequence of this is to devalue party membership making it less, not more attractive.

Changing the nature of party membership and diluting the role of the activist are both long term objectives of the Blair/Brown project for the Labour Party. In 2009 Brown endorsed The Change We Need a Fabian tract which questioned the need for traditional membership arguing instead for ‘networks’ supported by the new media, as well as primaries. As one of the contributors Ben Brandzel put it:

“Mass movements open to anyone who can log on or get together when they have a spare moment will always be pulled towards the common sense centre. It’s why Wikipedia can self-police for accuracy, why Obama’s open forums never seriously embarrassed the candidate and why the London Citizens’ agenda called for things like ensuring the Olympic Village creates public housing – not erecting statues to Che.”

Here is an alternative: in relation to selections, concerns about flooding meetings could be addressed not only by ‘cut off dates’ but also by participation criteria, that is to say you can only vote if you can demonstrate some level of participation in the democratic life of the Party. Admittedly this will be difficult to define because, for example, there are a range of people who cannot participate for legitimate reasons and these people would have to be exempted from the rule. Generally, however, participation would provide opportunities for members to consider other perspectives than those offered by the mainstream media.

Ed Miliband has announced the Collins Review as his way of responding to a crisis which he has, to a large extent, created. The Collins Review will focus on:

  1. The use of primaries in the selection of Labour candidate for London Mayor and in other circumstances
  2. The conduct of parliamentary selections to ensure fairness and transparency
  3. The development of a new relationship between the Labour Party and individual members of our affiliate organisations
  4. Constituency development agreements between affiliate organisations and constituency Labour parties.

So how should we respond to the Collins review?

We should oppose primaries in favour of membership rights contingent on participation.

Participation in parliamentary selections should depend on evidence of being a participating member for the Labour Party able to make informed decisions based on engaging with the discussion, debate and campaigning activity.

We should retain affiliate status for unions contingent on the affiliating organisation allowing democratic participation of Labour policy to its levy paying members.

We already have development plans with affiliated unions, and some unions have, not unreasonably, been asking what sponsored public representatives are doing to promote the interests of the relevant trade union. We should defend legitimate democratic pressure.

John Slaven: Face the future and reform

Socialists should seek a political fund: that provides workers with a collective voice in the Labour party at local and national level; that provides working people with a means to participate in the democratic process; and that compels the Labour party to listen to the collective experience of millions of teachers, nurses, factory, rail and postal workers.

The current political fund achieves none of this and that is why socialists should welcome the opportunity to reform it to ensure working people can once again have a voice in the party of Labour that their fore parents founded.
The starting point of reform is to acknowledge that the majority of trade unionists do not vote Labour. While at the same time the percentage of trade unionists paying the political levy can reach 90% within some unions. It does not take Sherlock Holmes to smell a rat. The reality is that they are millions of trade unionists who are unaware they were paying the political fund and many more who could not be bothered to withdraw to save a few pence. No socialist should support such a shoddy system that treats union members as passive voting fodder.

The undemocratic nature of the current fund contributes to a system that embeds the status quo and enables the Labour hierarchy to ignore the voice of organised labour. The CWU – ignored as the last Labour Government tried to sell off the Royal Mail. ASLEF – ignored as rip of rail privatisation continued, with even failing rail franchises fattened up and handed back to the private sector. The POA – ignored as the prisons were privatised.

We do not even have the influence to stop Labour condemning far less insisting that it supports democratic industrial action such as the 2011 pension strikes.

“I believe the strikes were a mistake, I still believe that.” Ed Milliband 2011 TUC Congress

As for reforming Thatcher’s anti trade union laws well I will tell the jokes.

It is a masochistic relationship that involves unions paying out millions of pounds to be ignored or condemned when they try to fight against the injustices workers face over pensions, pay freezes and much beside.

So we need to reform a system whereby union members are conscripted into the political fund creating a system of massive but passive membership that provides the Labour Party with a ready stream of income but no obligation to listen.

No doubt some trade unions leaders found this cosy arrangement convenient, but there is evidence that some among the current leadership want to preserve, but make changes to the existing relationship that does not serve trade unions needs . The irony is that in trying to break the link those clever Labour apparatchiks have lost their compass and may help revive it.

For this to happen unions have to create their own vision of a participatory political fund and a road map on how to achieve it.

Unions should take the radical step and ask their membership in a democratic ballot if they wish to continue to fund the Labour party.

If successful we should set up a system where members actively have to join the fund as an act of political choice.
Increase the rate to make the commitment real and include a minimal commitment in terms of attending their local party.

As a condition of affiliation the political levy must provide a collective voice for trade unions at both local national level in the labour party.

No funding is paid to the Labour party out with the political fund without the explicit consent of the union’s membership.

These simple changes create a new dynamic whereby the Labour party has to actively appeal to trade unionists to join and remain within the political fund knowing that no other funding will be provided. Even the most extreme Blairite would understand that support for privatisation, blanket condemning of democratic strikes and support for cuts is hardly a recipe for mass membership.

For too long unions have endured the status of unwelcome elderly relative at posh cocktail party. We have been needy as we begged for approval from New Labour. It is time to create a new dynamic and a new political engagement that re-connects us with membership and ensures the siren voices of big business and the chatterings of the Islington intelligentsia is replaced by wise the voice of working people.

The Latest Falkirk Fiasco

Kate Arnot is Treasurer of Fal-kirk Constituency Labour Party
Kate Arnot

The roots of the latest fiasco in Falkirk lie back in 1998 when Dennis Canavan was excluded from the panel of candidates to be Members of the Scottish Parliament. Dennis stood as an Independent candidate, winning an outright, and largest, majority in Scotland. The decision to exclude Dennis was made by outsiders to Falkirk whose lack of political acumen was matched by the inability of officers to explain the decision to the local party.

Falkirk CLP lost half its membership who resigned to campaign for Dennis, an excellent left wing MP and an excellent MSP who should have been a Labour MSP.

After May 1999, I was told and witnessed that officers of the Scottish Labour Party were heavily involved in the selection of Eric Joyce as the candidate for the bye election when Dennis resigned as an MP.

Eric made headlines for all the wrong reasons, his claims for expenses, which were the highest in Britain, followed by convictions for drink driving, assault, and removing his tag. His rare visits to CLP meetings were often unpleasant and he only carried out surgeries when the CLP told him to do so. I am sure he will not resign before 2015.

I am the Treasurer of the CLP and a member of Unite, but I should add I haven’t asked anyone to join the Labour Party for years. When the selection process began, the Executive of the CLP asked the office bearers to issue a questionnaire to all members asking e.g. what date would suit you for the CLP to meet, what time, do you agree to an all women shortlist? Although I was not at the Executive meeting having been injured in a fall, I understand that it was agreed that Unite would meet the costs. I received the questionnaire and separately a letter from the Scottish Labour Party encouraging me to complete it. I was made aware that Unite was campaigning for the candidate to be a woman.

At the end of March 60 members attended a CLP meeting with an outside speaker on the Bedroom Tax. This was both an encouraging meeting (such a large turnout) and difficult as there was already constant press sniping and disclosures about what was supposedly happening in Falkirk.

Arising from a “complaint” that an unknown number of people/one family had been signed up as Labour Party members without either knowledge or consent, the Labour Party at a British national level set up an enquiry. Labour Party members in Falkirk were neither informed of this nor were interviewed, so far as I know and I’m the CLP Treasurer. A report was then produced. No one locally has seen this. Falkirk Labour Party members have no more knowledge than anyone else dependent as they are on press, radio and TV. Our views are not wanted, we have no voice, we’re told nothing – a re-run of 1998. We understand from a very good Radio 4 programme that not even the National
Executive of the Labour Party had seen the whole report!

Now we are told that that no organisation or individual has been found to have breached the rules, but regardless of that the ‘special measures’ which deny legitimate members a vote are to be left in place. Cryptic comments about “key evidence” being withdrawn leaves a bad taste without allowing any further investigation.

This possible small local difficulty could have been easily resolved. If people were signed up as members without either knowledge or consent apologise and cancel their membership. Instead in stunning over reaction which included involving the police, this has been ineptly blown up into a full scale re-evaluation of the Trade Union’s role within the Labour Party. Or perhaps it’s not so inept but was planned. I don’t know. Either way it’s lose/lose. The wider picture is most important, but for me, it’s ensuring Falkirk CLP survives. We’ve suffered enormously from outside interference, losing the good years when we had Dennis, coping with the lean years with Eric and what now?

Falkirk CLP has been punished enough and I do feel that for some there is unfinished business with us for supporting Dennis. We don’t need the whole of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions, especially Unite, to also suffer. It’s not too late to have some strategic thought and wise political sense to be activated.

Powers for what purpose?

Class, Nation and Socialism
Pauline Bryan and Tommy Kane

It is over two years since the Red Paper Collective came together to consider the implications of constitutional change.

The book ‘Class, Nation and Socialism: The Red Paper 2014’ is we hope a timely contribution to the Scottish constitutional debate. The contributors are prominent trade unionists, politicians, political activists, academics and researchers and the book takes an unashamedly class based perspective on the question of constitutional change. The central question the writers address is how best can the interests of working people be advanced.
The Red Paper Collective is critical of the stagnant debate of the competing nationalisms of both the Yes and Better Together Campaigns and poses a political challenge to both independence and the status quo. It also goes beyond the limited procedural and technical perspectives of Devo Plus and Devo-Max with their thinly disguised commitment to neo-liberalism. Its primarily concern is to win powers for a purpose: powers that will enable us to tackle the huge social and economic problems that Scotland faces.

It is quite understandable that people may want to escape the possibility of a further assault on our welfare services by Cameron and Clegg, and ask what is there to lose from a Yes vote. The answer is: a great deal. A Yes vote would break Scotland away from the democratic structures of the UK without breaking the control of Scotland’s economy that is overwhelming in London.

Constitutional change does not mean social change and many of the promises of a progressive Scotland coming from the left of the ‘Yes’ camp are more to do with their own hopes rather than realisable goals based on the political and economic realities of 21st century Scotland. We should remember that the Party that delivers independence will deliver the constitution and put an ideological stamp on the future development of Scotland that would be hard to undo. The SNP will not conveniently dissolve itself and create space for the creation of a left based alternative. Its very strength lies in its cross class alliance that is committed to lowering corporation tax, keeping the monarchy being part of a sterling zone and NATO and the EU.

The referendum could, however, be a turning point in Scotland even without a vote for independence. The remaining 12 months before the referendum provide an opportunity to raise fundamental questions about current political and economic conditions and to explore political alternatives which would be beneficial for people across Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The Red Paper argues that any constitutional change must be measured against its potential to challenge the power of international capitalism and bring greater democratic control of our economy. Democratic control could encompass a variety of forms of public ownership including co-operatives and mutual ownership which would help build a sustainable and secure economy and redistribute wealth from the rich to the rest of the population and geographically from areas of greater wealth to areas of need. In short, developing a society founded on social ownership will to help to build an economy in which we all have a stake and from which we can all benefit.

The Red Paper Collective argues that the answer to the real problems facing us all will not be found in constitutional change, but in political change. If we can find a constitutional solution that enhances our capacity to make that political change and that meets the majority demand for greater devolution, it will allow the energies and imagination of all those concerned with a progressive future for Scotland to be put to more effective use. We could then begin to turn back the tide of austerity and rebuild a base for socialism in Scotland.

The Economy

The contributors to this section examine how to redevelop Scotland’s economy in the interests of the great majority of its people – those who depend for their livelihoods on their productive skills and abilities and who want a Scotland that is more equal and environmentally sustainable.

They look at what is wrong with Scotland’s economy: the erosion of its productive base, its lack of long-term investment and the very real danger that within two decades its remaining areas of productive strength will have been lost.

A generation ago the trade union and labour movement was still able to create alliances that turned the political tide in favour of state intervention and public ownership but does the potential still exist for such alliances today and how can the state intervene in a more globalised world? The policy structures in Scotland appear to be dominated by the neo-liberal assumptions of the banks and finance houses and to some extent globalization makes such assumptions inevitable. It is, however, argued, that the social base for current policies is very narrow and the great majority of smaller businesses are both disadvantaged and could be won for alternative policies. Elsewhere in the world, particularly where growth has been fastest, public sector involvement has been critical for economic development.

The section goes on to examine the growing evidence that greater social equality also promotes social efficiency and longer term prospects for economic development.

The conclusions are:

The importance of economic democracy and the development of public ownership at Scottish level. The ability to promote such ownership is an essential future responsibility for a Scottish Parliament.

The second conclusion is about political agency. The trade union movement has to bear the crucial responsibility for building such support and creating the wider alliances that will be necessary. The SNP is not likely to supply this. Its policy links are with those sectors of business that are integrated with finance capital at British level and its commitment to the EU would ensure that such pro-big business policies became constitutionally mandatory. But neither is the Labour Party – without the support of the trade union movement.

The third conclusion is about where and how such political pressure must be directed and the constitutional forms that best match these objectives. In light of current economic structures, these can be neither purely Scottish nor purely British. The key linkages between big business and political power operate at British level – on currency, credit, banking regulation and the allocation of public subsidy to the private sector. Ownership of productive resources is also primarily held at British level – as is, correspondingly, the extraction of wealth from labour. Political independence on SNP terms would change none of this.

What is required is therefore a two-part solution. Political mobilization has to be conceived and constructed at British level – and directed towards ending the policy grip of big business. At the same time the power to develop accountable and democratic ownership is one that can and must be exercised at national Scottish level. In order to salvage and develop the economy a Scottish Parliament needs, at minimum, powers to:

  • provide state aid to strategic and socially essential industries
  • develop various forms of public, democratic ownership
  • tax and borrow on a scale that matches these responsibilities

These powers are, however, only conceivable within wider policy structures at British level that permit:

  • taxation that addresses the extreme concentration of wealth both geographically and socially
  • fiscal and monetary policies that promote sustainable development
  • labour market regulation that sustains purchasing power and enhances skills and trade union rights

Winning these objectives would begin to lay the foundations for the political economy of social progress.

Democratic Government

This section considers the different layers of government and the areas of potential conflict and co-operation. Powers are often jealously guarded and sometimes devolved only grudgingly to other layers of government.

In the 1970s and ‘80s political conflict was not only at a national level, there were also major battles in local government that were to have a lasting impact on how councils and council services developed. Standing up to national government often came at a price such as in Clay Cross, the Greater London Council, in Lambeth and Liverpool and here in Scotland with the powerful Regional Councils. These were examples of how local government was an important vehicle in the defence of public services and the promotion and development of progressive social change.

The erosion of local democracy continues today with the constraints on local government by the Scottish Government. The council tax freeze denies council’s finance if they fail to implement the freeze. Since 2011 and the return of a majority SNP Government pressures on local government have intensified with Councils shouldering significant cuts with all the consequences that this entails. When we constitutional change is discussed the role of local government is often ignored.

The writers in this section argue for reform that reinvigorates local democracy and helps develop the progressive social change that historically local government has been so good at.

Public health is not simply a function of the NHS; at its core are good local public services. Scottish Civil Servants in Job Centres, working with the Border Agency, the Health & Safety Executive, employment Tribunals and elsewhere are often in the front line of managing the fall-out from UK and Scottish Government policies. Workers in these areas are often dealing withthe problems of welfare cuts and sometimes on the receiving end themselves.

Rather than allowing the Tories to dictate the terms of the debate, progressive politicians at local, Scottish and UK levels should challenge the perspective that says we must cut and that the only decisions are what to cut. They must, instead, restate the arguments for the welfare state that were won in the last century.

The Red Paper Collective believes in the principles of subsidiarity and local democratic decision making, but these have, up until now, been rarely mentioned during the referendum campaign.

Public services are an essential civilising force in our society. Within that, local authorities are a crucial mechanism for delivering democratic service at a local level and their future and that of public services will help determine our social and economic well-being. Local government could once again to be a driver of social progress.

Democratic Ownership

It is apparent that no matter what the result of the referendum is the battle for political direction will still have to take place; whether in a new Scottish state or in the current UK format. The political challenge is clear, not least because of the influence current neo-liberal hegemony.

A key part of this ideological penetration has been the privatisation, corporatisation and commercialisation of industry and public services with erosion of democratic control and ownership of industry, utilities, transport and other public goods and services.

With that has been a massive transfer of wealth from public to private coffers. The most recent cyclical failure of capitalism shows again how this is a political and economic orthodoxy in obvious need of challenge

The writers in this section cover many fundamental elements of Scottish society: housing, railways, energy and renewables, water and wastewater services, manufacturing and football (yes football). These services can be community led, fully nationalised, community owned or fan owned models. The hybrid nature of the suggested models highlights the scope for heterogeneous, not homogenous, forms of social ownership.

Arguably, these example, either individually or cumulatively, will not constitute a socialist revolution. But, we cannot sit back and wait for a full socialist transformation; incremental steps in the here and now can be thought of and fought for as progressive steps. As Bevan once said “there can be no immaculate conception of socialism”. The fight for socialism and socialist policies across all and individual sectors, in industry and public services, is a constant struggle and a key battleground in the battle of ideas.

The most recent cyclical failure of capitalism shows again how this is a political and economic orthodoxy in obvious need of challenge and overhaul. Andy Cumbers has written that “there is an increasing urgency for an alternative political economy framed around social and environmental justice”. The chapters in this section chime with this call made by Cumbers. Each author develops ideas which offer a pathway towards an alternative political economy.

They argue for the creation of a new political economy and within that, they call for a renewal of public ownership and reinvigorated public services that place the wider populace, the broad public interest and the workers at their heart. Whatever the outcome of the referendum next year, these chapters are valuable contributions to the advance towards the better society.


In introducing the first Red Paper on Scotland in 1975 the Editor Gordon Brown described its aims as being to “transcend that false and sterile antithesis which has been manufactured between the nationalism of the SNP and the anti-nationalism of the unionist parties”. It sought to achieve this objective by broadening the constitutional discussion, considering it from avowedly left perspectives and presenting ideas for shaping the future of Scottish society and Scotland’s economy on the basis of “co-operative, democratic and revolutionary” proposals to address “inequality of wealth and poverty”.

This section takes a broad view of class in Scotland historically and in the present day and how this impinges on the debate around independence.

It begins with a Marxist analysis of political, cultural and national questions, to outline how the nature of Scotland has historically been shaped by differing class interests. It contrasts the values and institutions of landowners and industrialists with those projected by workers in struggle, notably those involved in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in. Having explored this background it presents a case for working class unity based on the need to challenge state power at British level whilst harnessing the radicalism of the Scottish working class.

It goes on to look at the impact on working class communities in Scotland of so-called “economic regeneration” programmes, driven by the interests of developers, financiers and governments adhering to pro-privatisation and neo-liberal economic policies. In particular it points to the methods employed to draw communities into ‘partnerships’ with such interests and away from alliances between community and trade union activists which have proved, for example during the World War I Glasgow rent strikes and the UCS struggle, to be effective means of building working class unity and successful action.

The final chapter also refers to the UCS struggle and the subsequent effects of the Thatcher era before presenting a case for the need to develop working class consciousness, an understanding of the common purpose across the UK of defending and advancing trade union organisation and the welfare state and a strengthened democracy featuring more powers for the Scottish Parliament. The authors point out that the British Social Attitudes Survey shows how close the views of Scottish workers are to those in areas of England, notably those in the North of England.

The book keeps alive and further exploring the option of enhanced devolution, despite the outcome of the Edinburgh ‘deal’ between Alex Salmond and David Cameron, denying this as a specific choice for those voting in the referendum.

The labour movement has been the driving force for advocates of Home Rule as part of the wider struggle to win working class power over the economic, political and industrial decisions affecting the lives of ordinary people.

The Political Challenges

The Labour Movement faces some key challenges in the run up to the referendum. The authors consider the challenges for the environment, the EU, defence, within the Labour Party and Trade Union movement, for fiscal policies and for further devolution.

Whether independent or within the UK unplanned market capitalism drives our environmental problems. How do we integrate the labour movement’s traditional concerns for social justice, worthwhile employment, equality and human rights with the need to stop climate change? We know what needs to be done, but the demands of global capitalism prevent it happening. The tight grip of economic orthodoxy on both sides of the referendum campaign must be challenged.

The dominant issue relating to the EU has been squabbles between Better Together and the SNP over retaining membership which miss the point of what that membership means. While the EU has delivered the benefits of Social Europe currently workers across Europe are rejecting the EU imposed austerity. An independent Scotland would be in danger of walking blindly into an EU nightmare.

The defence policy of the SNP takes contradictory positions of agreeing that an independent Scotland would seek membership of NATO while at the same time demanding the removal of Trident submarines. The removal of Trident should not depend on a Yes vote at the referendum, but be fought for across the UK.

The Scottish Labour Party is struggling with the loss of support of working class voters and its breach with the trade unions. While Scottish Labour did not adopt the market-oriented policies of New Labour, it was reluctant to explain why. In Scotland it is challenged, not from the right, but by a Party which claims the mantle of social democracy.

The STUC and many of its affiliated unions have focused the referendum debate on how to achieve social justice in Scotland. It challenges both sides of the debate and it particularly asks of the Labour Party how Scotland would fare in a post Barnett formula financial settlement.

While the SNP may appear to have some progressive social policies it is tied to neo-liberal economic orthodoxies. It is often overlooked that Devo Plus strategies also adopt neo-liberal ideas of constraining the Scottish Parliament and limiting powers for redistribution. Fiscal policy should support the creation of a more equal society.

Finally there is a challenge to those who look to constitutional change rather than political change. If there is to be a lasting settlement for devolution, the status quo cannot be the only alternative. Along with the Labour Movements in other parts of the UK we should explore the best constitutional solution to enable fairer redistribution of wealth and greater democratic control of our economies.

Socialism First

The Scottish independence referendum in September 2014 presents a clear Yes or No vote: should Scotland be an independent country? Although there are only two possible answers, there is a plethora of reasons and justifications for reaching either opinions. Socialism First articulates the class-based reasons to vote No.

We will be expanding our campaign as the countdown to the referendum enters its final year. Below is the founding statement of Socialism First.

Statement on the Independence Referendum

Socialism First calls for a NO vote. It is not by choosing between ‘Scottish’ or ‘British’ identities, but by recognising and uniting around our common interests as workers, that we can most effectively resist attacks on our living standards and advance our interests.

Working people face the same problems throughout the UK irrespective of national identity. A ‘yes’ vote will divide the working class and its organisations along national lines, undermining the class unity fundamental to establishing a democratic and socialist society.

A separate Scottish state would weaken and not strengthen the working classes’ ability to challenge capital, and thereby also weaken its ability to re-distribute wealth and power in favour of the working class, the vulnerable and the poor. A separate Scottish state does not advance the struggle for socialism.

Rather than ‘progressive’ nationalism, we call for a united working class to organise for economic democracy and campaign resolutely for Socialism First, both domestically and internationally. This is the only road to socialism that there is.

To find out more contact the group organiser, Martyn Cook (email: mobile: 07827 962 960) twitter @socialismfirst.

How History Works

A Marxist History of the World : From Neanderthals to Neoliberals by Neil Faulkner
Review by Paul McFarlane

Archaeologist and historian Neil Faulkner’s (‘Rome: Empire of the Eagles’ , ‘The Rise and Fall of Roman Britain’ and ‘Apocalypse: the great Jewish revolt against Rome, AD 66-73’) latest publication, ‘A Marxist History of the World: From Neanderthals to Neoliberals’, is an interesting attempt to provide a concise, yet informative, synthesis of human history from a Marxist perspective.

Perspective must be stressed as the narrative and analysis may not always find universal acceptance from the tradition’s many adherents. For example, Faulkner insists on referring to the Soviet Union as ‘State Capitalist’ something which many may still take issue with. There is also the less contentious issue, at least in the contemporary sense, of describing the fundamental dynamic of the Roman Empire as military imperialism (‘competitive military accumulation’) and not, as Marx does in the Grundrisse, direct forced labour (particularly slave labour). Neither of these factors should be taken as points of absolute criticism although I do disagree with both. Indeed, debate, discussion and general stick bending should always be welcomed, even if the outcome is merely the strengthening of traditional perspectives. With this in mind the initial chapters concerning early human society are particularly worthy of attention, with Faulkner excellently utilising archaeology,history and Marxist theory.

Given its wide scope, this book isn’t one which needs to be read from cover to cover (the chapters have also featured as serialised online essays), although only in doing so can Faulkner’s underlying method be fully grasped. He views the historical process as the interaction of three fundamental motors: the development of technique, ruling-class competition and class struggle. These motors dialectically react with each other at different times – to different degrees – eventually producing historical conjunctures (both quantitive and qualitive in scope). For Faulkner human history has witnessed three fundamental revolutionary transformations: the agricultural revolution (which created surplus), the urban revolution (which established class society) and the industrial revolution (which qualitatively altered the development of the productive forces making the material conditions for modern socialism possible). The fourth would be, if the masses led by socialist revolutionaries make it, the socialist revolution.

However, as Faulkner stresses socialist revolution is not inevitable. Of fundamental importance to Faulkner’s method is the superbly articulated point by Marx that, ‘men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past’. Faulkner rightly stresses that history depends on what people, as the agents of history, do in the circumstances they find themselves in. In the current economical and social climate this point cannot be stressed heavily enough; especially if the labour movement is to create a history which is not one of enforced austerity.

Unlike traditional Marxist texts this isn’t one which dwells in great detail on linear or even specific modes of production. I am in agreement with Faulkner that teleological historiography based on linear determinism is bad history; however, I am still not convinced that a Marxist analysis of history can afford to write modes of production completely out of the primary picture.

Nonetheless, writing a history of the world from any perspective is always going to be a titanic task. To his credit Faulkner has largely succeeded is writing an accessible Marxist text that fits this purpose, even if it is largely unorthodox in approach. The book begins by asserting rightly that ‘history is a weapon’ – a crucial reminder to all those who crudely interpret Marx’s final point in ‘Thesis on Feuerbach’ that, ‘the philosophers have only interpreted the world ….. the point is to change it’.The ideological struggles for the past are crucial to changing the world as is learning

Comrade Pop Star

popClampdown: Pop-cultural wars on class and gender
by Rhian E Jones
Published by Zero Books
Reviewed by Mike Cowley

‘You know, if the Prime Minister wants to come to your fucking place, it’s your fucking civic duty to welcome him.’
Alex James, Blur, 2012.

The Collins Review is discussed elsewhere in this edition of the Citizen, but the ease with which Ed Milliband has been manoeuvred into a scenario where open primaries are being contemplated for the London Mayoral elections and the role of the unions is again subject to interrogation should provide us with a sobering reminder of just how close the Shadow Cabinet remain to the hollow pieties of the Blairites.

That millions of people persist in seeking out mutual protection and solidarity in antiquated organisations known to cult-devotees as ‘unions’ apparently came as something of a shock to the Tory press, ConDem front bench and supporters of Progress within the Labour Party. Such has been the impact of the revelations emanating from Falkirk that all of the difficult-to-distinguish above have spent the last few months convalescing from the effects of a moral panic reserved especially for such occasions. In lapsing into their comfort zones, the Right really have provided us (free, and at the point of need!) with a real public service: namely, an authentic insight into just how deeply the fear and loathing of unmediated working class agency runs through the collective psyche of the British ruling class.

On ground familiar to readers of Owen Jones’ ‘Chavs’ and Mark Fisher’s ‘Capitalist Realism,’ Rhian E. Jones’ ‘Clampdown: Pop Cultural Wars on Class and Gender’ explores just how distorted popular perceptions of class have become. And in preoccupying herself with pop music in particular, Rhian Jones provides Socialists and music fans with an analysis essential to understanding the extent to which the rock industry has occupied a pivotal ideological role in legitimising and validating the cleansing of class and dissenting narratives from British cultural life.

More deterministic Comrades may blanch at the emphasis on culture presented here, perceiving an implied diversion from more pressing economic concerns. Who cares if Oasis offered a self-limiting, ‘hetero-normal,’ tabloid-placating version of male working class identity? Or that Brit-pop also-rans Kenickie represented something more ambitious, a proud, Northern, working class and feminist take on the guitar and drums template? Does it matter that Jarvis Cocker’s Pulp spoke effectively for a less traditionally masculine, more diverse and introspective working class culture?
But the ‘war of ideas’ is or ought to be a priority for the left. Cultivating an assertive, confident and self-defining class identity is rendered the more problematic where pop music has abandoned its role as the popular poet-in-residence for counter cultural sentiment. As Emma Goldman said, ‘revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.’

Jones convincingly argues that definitions of class have been so emasculated, so denuded of their fundamental economic and political elements that the likes of privately-educated aristocrat Guy Ritchie can parade their bespoke Mockney-isms with impunity, that the lad-mags (Loaded, GQ et al) can invite their readers into a ‘post-class’ caricature of male proletarian lifestyles (football, lager, cars and girls) without fear of ridicule, and that to demur from this Minstrel-ism is to expose oneself to accusations of a sterile, humourless approach to what are after all just media products. The Right then posit themselves as egalitarians, righteously forgoing snobbery and embracing a liberalising pick ‘n’ mix identity free for all.

It is this fatal lapse into the comforts of irony for which Jones reserves some of her fiercest polemic. In a culture where meanings are what you make of them, essentially nothing matters. To locate an ideological Sat-Nav behind the wheel of popular culture then marks the Left out as sack cloth and ashes kill-joys. Class society mutates into ‘class society,’ all meanings become captive of a debilitating nod and a wink. David Cameron can claim an affinity with the Jam’s ‘Eton Rifles’ (all that rugby puts hairs on your chest/what chance have you got against a tie and a crest?), while Cheryl Cole and Tulisa can be hounded across the print and on-line media for not subscribing to middle class norms, and we are all expected to shrug our shoulders as the spectacle roles on, gutted of politics and polarities.

It is in this context that the storm in a Falkirk tea-cup should be understood. When trade unions attempt to influence the outcome of a labour movement selection process and in doing so offer us a pro-active and politicised class identity its dissonance amplifies in the echo chamber of neo liberal assumptions. This is not how working class people – repositories of traditional ‘Britishness’ at one point, feral welfare cheats at another – are officially to be imagined.

Jones offers us fresh thinking also. If the left are to successfully revive our beleaguered movement, some creativity, even heresy on our part is essential. Or as ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ fanzine once said some decades ago, ‘Here’s one chord, here’s another, now go and form a band.’

This is an impassioned, accessible and, like the best three minute riffs, brief revisiting of some familiar
ground. Jones offers a socialist-feminist critique of contemporary pop music with flare and wit. It may even restore your faith in the transcendent and politicising (but currently latent) power of pop music.