Saturday, May 31, 2008

Unfeminine Women In Feudal Kent

I stumbled across this gem of an article in the Daily Herald, 7 September 1921:

STRUCK MATCH ON BREEKS! - Councillor Clark Shocked By a Land Girl - "IN FEUDAL KENT"

"When I was home on leave during the war, a land girl came into the local inn, called for a pint of beer, took out her cigarette case, tapped a cigarette, and struck a match on her breeches! I had to ask whether the creature was a man or a woman."

This experience befell Councillor Donald Clark, of Tonbridge, who has been interviewed on the new fashion of cigar-smoking for women.

"This new feminism," he says, "means that women are rapidly losing all their old charm. Down here we do not yet see women smoking cigars, but even in feudal Kent, they smoke their cigarettes quite unashamed."

In short, Councillor Clark thinks that the cigar-smoking young woman is gravely imperilling her chance of marriage.

What a corker. It reminded me of an article in the Hackney Gazette in the 1990s by our then Labour MP (now LibDem ex-MP) Brian Sedgemore. He used his MP's column to rave against the evil weed, commenting that there was little he found less attractive than a woman smoking. I replied to the following week's letters page, pointing out that there are many compelling reasons for women to give up smoking, but becoming more attractive to Brian Sedgemore was not one of them.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Oaxaca Teachers Are At It Again

Following their protests of two years ago that attracted worldwide support, Mexican teachers in Oaxaca are on the march again.

The report is from the newish and really rather good International Teacher Solidarity website.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Left Womens Network Statement on LRC MPs and a womans right to choose

The Left Womens Network today agreed to submit this resolution to the Labour Representation Commitees LRC)National Committee (NC)
(The statement is only slightly amended from what Tami originally proposed and Stroppy blogged about yesterday)

*The Left Women's Network understands that 3 of 9 LRC affiliated MPs did not vote in favour of maintaining the 24 week time limit to ensure safe and legal abortions for women

* The Left Women's Network understands that 1 LRC affiliated MP voted in support of a reduction to 12 weeks - something that would in effect make abortion illegal for many women

*The Left Women's Network understands that, in addition, the 3 aforementioned MPs also voted against the right of lesbian and single women to have IVF treatment by supporting the amendment calling for "a father" to substitute "supportive parenting"

* LeftWN believes women's rights and LGBT rights are not secondary to other political positions such as racism or war

* LeftWN believes that as the women's affiliate to the LRC we must address that this has occurred

* LeftWN resolves to post our disappointment in the 3 LRC MPs on the LWN website

* LeftWN resolves to submit this to the LRC NC for immediate discussion at its next meeting for the LRC NC to agree to;

* LeftWN resolves to write to the 3 MPs concerned expressing our disappointment in the way they voted and clearly setting out our opposition to lowering the time limits.

* LeftWN resolves to write to the LRC NC to request that there is link put on the LRC website to the LWN statement on the positions of these LRC MPs

Russian CP Wants Indy Banned

Something about this tickles me. It seems that the Russian Communist Party has taken great exception to the new Indiana Jones film on the grounds that it is not an accurate portrayal of history.

My my, anyone who pursues self-education in history by going to see Indiana Jones films is, erm, probably going to the wrong place. Try your local college.

If the Russian CP has been learning history from Indiana's previous outings, I am going to have to gently break it to them that there is not actually a 700-year-old knight guarding the Holy Grail, and neither does the Ark of the Covenant contain magic dust with the power to shoot out beams of fire and slay Nazis.

It's a fictional movie! A story! And I rather enjoyed it. It's exactly the same as its predecessors, though thankfully of the standard of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Last Crusade rather than the weak and sexist Temple Of Doom. It has the same delectable contrast between polite university corridors and wild truck chases, the same silly but fun action sequences in which every enemy bullet mysteriously misses its target, the same storyline in which the baddies make Indy find the desired relic for them only to fall for its destructive powers because their motives are less academic than his, the same just-about-plausible first two hours culminating in the fantastical climax.

Actually, at the start I had a tweak of worry that it was a mite cold-war red-bashing. But it goes on to knock the FBI's anti-communist witch-hunting as much as it mocks the Soviets.

But the most amusing thing about this news story is, I think, the Russian CP getting all upset about inaccurate portrayals of history. You'd never catch them doing that kind of thing now, would you?

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Call to the Labour Representation Committee on Abortion and LGBT rights

This is a guest post from Tami and is also on her blog Unknown Conscience and Shiraz Socialist.

I am posting it here as I think the left need to address this issue and the Women's Left Network will be doing so in light of the LRC supporting MPs who voted to limit a woman's rights to control their own bodies and to deny lesbian and single women fertility treatment. There needs to be discussion as to when someone's conscience overrides basic socialist principles of women's rights and equality for lesbian and single women families.

Should socialists (especially men) be voting against these rights and telling us how to live our lives ? Why is this 'conscience' and not other issues and why does religion excuse it? Why can they impose their values on women and not allow women to exercise their judgement and conscience rather than telling us what to do. There is a difference between conscience exercised for one's own actions and when it it used to control the actions of women and LGBT people in a way that is contrary to basic socialist principles. Oh and why is it women and LGBT's rights that are somehow negotiable on the left and accorded less priority ?

Men on the left might want to ponder why women get so angry at having to argue for our rights with them and ask themselves would this be acceptable for any other groups wanting to challenge discrimination , for example white people limiting the rights of black people and using 'conscience .'

They might want to look at why so many of the 'leaders' are men and why in general women are less involved in left politics.

Anyway enough from me, over to Tami ...

As my good blog readers will know, I have been out of blog land for the last few months due to a very heavy workload at university. I came back to discover that Andy Newman at Socialist Unity Blog - a blog I refuse to link to because of the behaviour of its moderator and a blog that I refuse to read - had launched an attack on me and the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) for my continued and principled oppsosition to George Galloway’s horrible position and record on abortion rights. He attacked me claiming that a conversation that I had in the comments section with people on Liam MacUaid’s blog meant that I was being a hypocrite for criticising Galloway because David Drew, an LRC affiliated MP, had a rubbish record on abortion rights as well. These were comments that I made months ago as anyone who knows me will know that I haven’t written anything on the abortion issue for some time. I had not known who David Drew was previously but Andy pointed out that he had a horrible record on abortion rights and LGBT rights.

“Fair enough” was my reply and I then said that I would raise it and speak with the LRC about it - and I did. I had informal conversations with a number of members over the last few months about what we should do about the issue and am now making a public appeal through the LRC women’s organisation, the Left Women’s Network (LWN), to release a statement about the 3 of 9 LRC affiliated MPs who voted to reduce the time limit and also voted in favour of a proposal which would make it impossible for single women and lesbians to have IVF treatment.

This is something that would have come about regardless but for Andy Newman scoring cheap shots by brow beating me for not knowing who David Drew was all those months ago, calling me a “liar” for pointing out that he did not include my original response in his attack on me and now attacking me once again for an article I wrote defending the Hands off the People of Iran (HOPI) organisation from the Stop the War Coalition last year are more important than having a civil discussion and work rather well to deflect attention from the record of his own MP over which he and his orgainsation have full control, George Galloway.

I have been consistent in my call for MPs to be held to account. Andy Newman has been all over the place on his blog about women’s rights, sexism and LGBT rights. Far from creating “left unity” his blog does nothing but divide the ranks of those who should be working together. Hold your MP to account Respect Renewal - don’t allow an opt out for women’s rights!

Here is a letter I wrote yesterday to members of the Left Women’s Network:

Hello Sisters and Comrades,

Many thanks to all of you who worked so very had to ensure that the right wing was not able to push women’s rights further backward with the recent prosposed amendments on to the Human Fertalisation and Embryology Bill. However sisters, I am afraid that there is an elephant in the room with the results that we need to address urgently. Of the 9 affiliated LRC MPs 3 voted to oppose keeping the 24 week time limit. These were Bob Wareing, David Hamilton and David Drew. The first two voted for a reduction to 22 weeks with David Drew voting for a reduction to 12 weeks. Further, the 3 aformentioned MPs voted in favour of a proposed amendment to deny IVF treatment to lesbian couples and single women.

While it may be difficult to do, we must be openly critical of these MPs. The Left Women’s Network is seen as the women’s section of the LRC. We would be completely remiss to not say a word about the votes of MPs who we are affiliated with. In light of this, I propose the Left Women’s Network adopt the following as a matter of urgency and print it as a matter of public record on our website:

*The Left Women’s Network understands that 3 of 9 LRC affiliated MPs did not vote in favour of maintaining the 24 week time limit to ensure safe and legal abortions for women

*That 1 LRC affiliated MP voted in support of a reduction to 12 weeks - something that would in effect make abortion illegal for many women

*That, in addition, the 3 aforementioned MPs also voted against the right of lesbian and single women to have IVF treatment by supporting the amendment calling for “a father” to subsitute “supportive parenting”

*That given that the LWN believes women’s rights and LGBT rights are not secondary to other political positions such as racism or war

*That as the women’s affiliate to the LRC we must address that this has occurred

*That the Left Women’s Network will post our opposition to these votes publicly on our website

*That we call on the LRC as an organisation to publicly state its opposition to the positions of these LRC affiliated MPs

*That we submit this to the LRC NC for immediate discussion at its next meeting

I hope that LWN is going to be the kind of organisation that not only fights for women’s rights, but is able to be critical of our allies when they have taken the wrong position. Too often abortion rights and LGBT rights are seen as simply “matters of conscience” but the reality is sisters, that war, racism and discrimination are all “matters of conscience” and we do not allow our political allies “opt out” clauses on these issues. This is an extension of the false belief in the distinction between the “private” and “public” sphere and we must reject the Victorian notion that these issues are somehow outside of the realm of “real politics”. Our sisters in the 1970s taught us that “the personal is the political” and I believe that this is in fact still the case. We must ensure that we address these issues both inside and outside of our movement in order to have a strong socialist feminist organisation in the coming months and years.

Comradely and in Sisterhood,
Tami Peterson

You will see no such letter from Andy, Liam or anyone else in Respect Renewal about George Galloway - that’s because although they have the power to hold him to account, they prefer to allow him the ability to opt out on women’s rights. Some of us are consistent with our principles and if that is something that others want to continue to attack me for then that must mean I am doing something right. I will continue to fight until women’s rights are not seen as “optional” or “secondary”. It’s a fight worth undertaking - both inside and outside the left and one that I hope we will eventually win.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

A friend and comrade has died

Today in Edinburgh up Corstorphine Hill at a woodland funeral , Kenny Skeel was laid to rest. On Sunday last week in Edinburgh we lost a friend, neighbour and activist. He was one of my neighbours in the Canongate where we are campaigning against developers Mountgrange. Kenny was an artist and an artisan - he painted beautiful pictures and murals for a living but as an activist he was always painting banners, attending campaign awareness raising events and so on. He even completed a painting he was doing for the Save Our Old Town campaign while he was in hospital in the last few days of his spectacular life. He was one of the founders and stalwarts of the historic vigil for a Scottish Parliament that set up camp on Calton Hill for five years between 1992 and 1997. This helped paved the way for the creation of a Scottish Parliament, keeping the issue in the forefront of Scots' minds 365 days a year. He was a gem, a real human being, the greatest story teller I have ever known. The poster you can see is one of Kenny Skeel's pieces of art work - a poste r he did for the Declaration of Calton Hill in October 2004.

This notice appeared in the Herald last week. My thoughts are with his partner Nell.

SKEEL — KEN. Peacefully, at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, on Sunday, 18th May, 2008, Ken Skeel, aged 61, brilliant artist, dancer, story teller and passionate campaigner for Truth and Justice in the world. Dearly loved and loving partner of Nell, uncle of Gale, friend and great inspiration to many. Funeral at Corstorphine Hill Cemetery, Edinburgh, on Monday, 26th May, at 2.30pm, to which all friends are respectfully invited. Donations in lieu of flowers to ‘SOOT’ (Save Our Old Town), at or Plant a Tree.

Kenny travelled the world, he especially loved Afghanistan and India. He was a fighter against injustice, the war, for better communities and for Scotland's right to self determination.

“This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. Whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass: and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.” - Patrick Geddes

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hackney Council Withdraws Door-To-Door Recycling

It takes a lot to shock me, especially when it comes to Hackney Council, but my gob was well and truly smacked when I got a letter through my door telling me that the Council is stopping door-to-door recycling on my and other estates.

Apparently, we now have to take our recycling to the bank of recycling bins on the other side of the estate. Problems:
  1. That's not so easy, for example for those of my neighbours who have mobility problems, or those who can't just 'pop out' with a big bag if they have babies or young children.
  2. You can only recycle paper, glass and tins at the recycling bank, whereas the door-to-door service additionally collects plastic containers, clothes, shoes, batteries and food waste.

The result will surely be a significant reduction in the amount of waste recycled in Hackney, with all those plastic milk bottles, old clothes etc now going in the bin and onwards to the landfill rather than in the recycling. The loss of food waste recycling is a further blow, as it has a proven effect of reducing rat and other vermin infestation on estates.

The Council's excuse? Two, actually: door-to-door collections were only a trial, and that trial has come to an end; and the boxes might possibly constitute a fire hazard in blocks with a single staircase.

Firstly, the whole point of trials, I should think, is to continue them if they are successful. According to the Hackney Homes website, these trials had a massively positive impact when they started, and there is no reason to believe that this did not carry on.

Secondly, the issue of fire hazard may be valid for some blocks, but it is no excuse for withdrawing door-to-door collections from street-level homes. Neither can I see that it is a reason to withdraw food waste recycling, as it would surprise me if the very small food waste box could realistically be considered an obstruction or a potential source of fire. It seems to be that the concerns expressed by the fire authorities have been taken by Hackney Council and used as a convenient pretext for a much larger withdrawal of recycling services.

I'm sure (not) that it is entirely coincidental that this move falls halfway between elections. Two years ago, Hackney Labour's election material boasted of its commitment to recycling with so much vigour that it seemed that little else mattered. It used recycling as its 'left flank' - so Hackney Council might be allowing estates to crumble, but hey, it was saving the planet with its super-human recycling efforts. With the next election a comfortable two years away, the planet-saving stuff can be allowed to slip. Maybe six months before the next election, they will restore door-to-door recycling and then boast in the election about how much they have increased recycling in the last year!

Two days after receiving the letter, I got my Hackney Homes magazine through the door, the front page of which reminded me to recycle as much as possible. I also remember that in March last year, recycling became compulsory for all street-level homes in Hackney. So Hackney Homes and the Council intend to browbeat us to recycle, but then take away our facility to do so.

What a waste.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Antis Vow To Fight On

The anti-choice brigade have pledged to keep up their fight to restrict and deny women the right to control our own bodies.

Ergo, the pro-choice movement needs to ensure that our laurels are not rested on. We need to be vigilant against further attacks from the antis, but we should also use the momentum of our successful defence of the 24-week time limit to demand liberalisation of the law and better access to abortion facilities.

One thing that bothered me about recent campaigning was its virtually entirely defensive nature. The mainstream pro-choice movement - perhaps represented by Abortion Rights - seemed highly reluctant to propose improvements in our rights, for example:
  • Removing the requirement for two doctors' authorisation for a termination, especially in the first 12 weeks;
  • Extending legal abortion to Northern Ireland;
  • Ensuring that NHS abortion facilities are freely available to all women who need them.

Given the vote against cuts in the time limit, which was maybe more comfortable than many of us had feared, positive amendments would have had a decent chance of being passed - had they been moved. Moreover, while we were defending the existing time limit, 24 weeks seems too restrictive to me. The time limit used to be 28 weeks, and when Parliament cut it to 24 weeks, that was a defeat for women's rights - a defeat that we should aim to reverse. It's time to go on the offensive.

Interestingly, the antis now appear to be pinning their hopes on the election of a Tory government. Given the self-destruction of New Labour, its wilful discarding of working-class votes that it took for granted, that seems a pretty good bet. So how should we respond? By forgiving and forgetting New Labour's crimes, and rallying round them for fear of the Tories and anti-abortionists? I think not. We need to go into the next General Election with a working-class party with socialist policies including support for women's repreoductive rights. That, I am well aware, is easier blogged than done.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Trade Unions under attack in Pakistan

Hat tip to Faryal for this interesting and important article.

We have no option but to fight back

By: Farooq Tariq

Trade unions activists in several cities are facing arrests, tortures and kidnapping by the bosses and state agencies. Workers are fighting back against these attacks with utmost sacrifice. The announcement by the Pakistan Peoples Party government lifting restrictions on trade union activity has brought a new wave of unionization in many private industries.

The bosses are not used to it. They have made tremendous profits under General Perez Musharraf’s eight years of dictatorship. Although he is still “president” there is some breathing space. Wherever workers have tried to form new unions, bosses have tried their best to intimidate the union activists with false cases, arrests, torture and kidnapping. The Pakistan People Party government has yet to respond against these abuses by the bosses.

Along with several trade union leaders, I addressed a press conference on 18 May at the Lahore Press Club to put the spotlight on these abuses. Malik Tahir of New Khan Metro Bus Workers and Staff Haqooq Union Lahore was kidnapped and tortured on 16 May in Lahore by the bosses of the private bus company. He showed several wounds on his body to the media.

His crime? Apparently it was attending a press conference and demonstration of the union condemning the sacking of 80 New Khan Bus Company drivers and conductors. After the union was registered on 6 May 2008 by the Labour Department, over 80 members of the union were terminated, including its leadership.

The union is the first formed in the bus company. A Muslim League Member of Parliament Mr. Umer Hayat Rokri owns the company. He was a member of the Musharraf-supported PMLQ. After 18 February, he changed his political affiliation and joined the PML (Nawaz Sharf’s group). Lahore has no public bus service and his bus company, operating several hundred buses, dominates the Lahore transportation.

All workers at New Khan Bus Company are on contract. Drivers are paid a maximum of Rupees 5500 ($90) and conductors Rupees 2500 ($48) a month plus a commission system of 2.5 percent of the daily income. The majority of the drivers and conductions earn less than $50 a month. But they also are subject to fines and the company has a record number of accidents. Drivers must complete an entire route three times a day and this is an impossibility to accomplish in eight hours. Because of this pressure, there are a high number of accidents. The company takes care of the bus but not the employees. They have to take care themselves.

Because no one has permanent employment, no worker has a social security card. The company does not abide by labour laws and employed a group of gangsters at the depots. They beat the drivers and conductors for any small mistake. Under the Musharraf dictatorship, this behavior has been overlooked by the Labour Department.

Some workers deiced to fight back against this brutal behavior even at the cost of their jobs. Workers organized secret meetings following the general elections. Finally they decided to form the union. They contacted LPP office and the first union poster was printed by Pakistan Trade Unions Resource Center run by the Labour Education Foundation in Lahore . When workers went to fly-post the poster at different bus depots, several were beaten by the gangsters and later were handed over to police. The police registered false cases against the leaders, arresting three. Two were released on bail; one is still in jail.

This all was going on while I was visiting UK from 8 May to 15 May. On my first day at the LPP office on 17 May, I interviewed Malik Tahir who had been brutally beaten up the previous night. Textile union leaders from Qasur and Faisalabad also reported attacks on their members as well.

At Faisalabad , five workers have been in jail for the last eight days. The police, carrying out instructions from the textile bosses have registered a false case against them. They all belong to Labour Qaumi Movement, an organization fighting for textile workers’ rights in Faisalabad . The LQM mobilized over 2000 workers in protest.

At Qasur similar incidents have happened and the boss who is responsible kidnapping and torturing on union activists is still not arrested despite a massive demonstration by the union in the city, and filing a case against him.

As a first step, the LLP called all labour leaders to tell their stories to the media. There were more journalists than expected. Almost all the private television channels were there and most of the print media as well. It was a well-crowded press conference. We do not know how many will actually print or broad cast our news, but we had a friendly encounter with the journalists.

At the press conferences we announced that on 22 May, the Labour Party Pakistan will picket (Gherao) the New Khan Metro Bus Company in Lahore if the bosses are not arrested for kidnapping and workers rehired. The following day the LQM would block Faisalabad, Pakistan ’s third largest city.

Workers have shown their real commitment to form unions. However the PPP government has yet to fulfill their promises of a free and fair atmosphere where workers can freely organize. We appeal to the PPP government to take notice of the situation or we will have no option but to organize demonstrations, rallies and strike for the defense of our basic democratic right to form the trade unions.

Farooq Tariq
Labour Party Pakistan


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Meet Tim Parker

Finding out you have a new boss is usually a cause for anxiety. But this one could cause worse than a minor panic attack - major job cuts, if his track record is anything to go by.

Funny things is, apparently to be in charge of London's transport, you don't actually have to have a great deal of expertise in, erm, transport. Just a great deal of expertise in attacking workers and accumulating obscene sums of money. So that's why Boris likes him so much.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Last nights pro choice demo

Think I'm the last to post on the demo!

Met with Jon and MarshaJane in the pub first, well need a few drinks before facing the reactionary god bothers that we knew would be there .

The pro choice demo was lively . Now I have probably missed people out, but I spotted the RMT, NUT, Respect Renewal, Socialist Resistance, Left List, SWP, AWL, Feminist Fightback and the LRC/Women's Left Network in attendance . Oh and of course Abortion Rights; as we approached their pink placards and balloons stood out especially against the plain banners of the men telling women what to do with their bodies. Yep, this isn't a balanced post :-)

It was a good humoured demo, and although smaller than pro choice demos of old, it felt positive and noisy with a fair few stroppy women!
Afterwards back to the pub to calm our nerves whilst waiting for the results .

I'll post my thoughts in a few days about where next for abortion rights.

Here are a few pictures, they aren't great as I used a camera phone and didn't manage to get a picture from a good enough angle to show the size of it.

The one and only MarshaJane :

General demo pics :

Feminist Fightback:

Respect Renewal :

(I was told by one of their members that if Galloway didn't vote to support a woman's right to choose, RR policy, they would have words with him. Horse,stable door , bolted springs to mind.)

LRCers demonstrating team work putting up the banner while I stand by and take pics, helpful like.

Hymn singing non murderous non whores

More at Liam's, F Word, HarpyMarx, Union Futures and "Shut Up, Sit Down "has links to lots of other posts and pics.


Good news on Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill and Mehdi Kazemi

Its like buses, you wait ages then three come along .

First off as Janine says, the attempts to restrict abortion rights were defeated last night, as were Tory attempts to block the move to 'supportive 'parenting that would allow single women and lesbian couples access to fertility treatment and be considered valid families.

And even more good news is that Mehdi Kazemi has been granted asylum.

I'll post on last nights demo, with pics and some thoughts later.

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MPs Vote to Keep 24-week Abortion Limit

Monday, May 19, 2008

Update on the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill

So far today :

Legislation to widen the scope of medical research has cleared its first hurdle as a bid to ban hybrid human animal embryos was defeated by MPs.

Tory MP Edward Leigh's attempt to outlaw the creation of hybrid embryos was voted down by 336 votes to 176.

He argued the technique was "a step too far". Catholic cabinet ministers Ruth Kelly, Des Browne and Paul Murphy voted for a ban. PM Gordon Brown opposed it.

MPs are set to vote on whether to allow "saviour siblings" at about 2230 BST.

Tomorrow its the vote on the anti abortion amendments.

Another part of the Bill that hasn't received so much attention is the one to remove the requirement of clinics to take into account the need for a father.

Pink News explains

At present the law requires that NHS fertility clinics take account of the "need for a father" when assessing women for treatment.

In practice this can lead to clinics deciding not to accept lesbians and those women instead using "DIY" methods in order to conceive.

"Lesbians tend to be refused service or made to pay for it under the current arrangements," explained Ruth Hunt, head of policy at gay equality organisation Stonewall.

"Some clinics have a blanket ban on same-sex couples and ultimately it is down to the clinicians.

"That leads many lesbians to have to use informal methods, which can lead to legal difficulties.

"Lesbians should have a choice."

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill contains new rules that will allow gay and lesbian couples to become the legal parents of a child conceived through donated sperm.

The provisions also mean that lesbians will have equal access to fertility services, which could mean IVF but is much more likely to mean assisted conception.

The new rules would mean that civil partners will automatically become the legal parents of the child, even if the child is conceived 'informally' ie: not through a clinic.

The two people named on the birth certificate would also be legally responsible for the child.

On dissolution of a civil partnership the current law allows the courts to consider maintenance payments for the child.

DIY sperm donation will still be legal but under the proposed laws the non-birth mother not in a civil partnership could not be on the birth certificate.

The advantages of using a fertility clinic mean that the donor is registered, and cannot be legally held responsible for the child's welfare or upkeep.

His name does not appear on the birth certificate.

Details of the donor, such as his last known address, name and medical information are kept and can be shown to the child when he or she reaches 18, or before if the legal parents consent.

For men who may be asked by a lesbian friend to donate sperm, there is the legal reassurance that they can donate informally if they want, become a registered donor, and know that they will not be legally responsible for the child's maintenance.

This seems to give both children and parents a stronger legal footing and surely must be better for them ,unless of course you see all this as 'pretend' families. A heterosexual marriage certificate does not guarantee a happy or stable childhood. Lesbians, or gay men, can make great parents or crap ones, just like heterosexuals.

The New Tories of course are not really that 'progressive,' and are none to keen at this proposal .Seems they are being encouraged to vote against it.

Brown, not really great on judgement at the moment, is willing to dump the rights of lesbians to avoid further defeats :

The Prime Minister has accepted that he will have to sacrifice a measure on parenthood in order to save legislation to allow new embryo research and treatments.

Labour MPs determined to oppose the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill are being quietly urged to direct their anger at proposals to scrap the requirement that IVF clinics consider the child’s “need for a father”, The Times has learnt. Equality campaigners say that the requirement breaches the human rights of lesbians seeking fertility treatment. But ministers believe that the measure is marginal compared with tonight’s key votes on allowing the creation of human-animal hybrid embyros and so-called saviour siblings.

Yep, LGBT rights are 'marginal,' I'd never have guessed. And when did equality become a matter of conscience ? Would it be acceptable, as a Labour MP, to vote for inequality based on race or gender ?

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Graffiti Attack on Hackney Synagogue

Graffiti has appeared on Hackney synagogues declaring, amongst other things, 'Jihad to Tel Aviv'.

If anyone would like to put the case that this action is not anti-semitic but actually legitimate criticism of the Israeli state, then the comments box is open. You'll have an argument back from me, though.

In much the same way, if someone daubed 'bomb Iran' on the walls of a mosque, I'd consider that to be an Islamophobic action (a term I've never been very comfortable with, but does seem to have properly entered the vocabulary now).

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Bush gave up golf in solidarity with the troops in Iraq !

Its all to easy to mock Bush, but hey credit where it is due; he has made great sacrifices to support the troops out in Iraq. 
While families, partners and friends see loved ones return home in a body bag, good ole George wants them to know that he isn't having fun :

In an interview with the Politico website, the president said he took the decision because of the war. "I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."

Bush said he laid down his clubs after the August 2003 bombing of United Nations offices in Baghdad that killed the UN's top official in the country, Sergio Vieira de Mello. "I remember when de Mello got killed as a result of these murderers taking this good man's life. I was playing golf - I think in central Texas - and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, 'It's just not worth it any more'.

Seems some are none too impressed by this:

Brandon Friedman, a veteran US infantry officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Press Association: "Thousands of Americans have given up a lot more than golf for this war. For President Bush to imply that he somehow stands in solidarity with families of American soldiers by giving up golf is disgraceful. It's an insult to all Americans and a slap in the face to our troops' families."

They just don't realise what a fine president they have. Commies the lot of em.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Prison Campaigner Pauline Campbell Found Dead Near Daughter's Grave

Terrible news today, as prisons campaigner Pauline Campbell has been found dead by the gates of the cemetery containing her daughter's grave.

Pauline had campaigned for the rights of women prisoners since her daughter Sarah died in Styal Prison in 2003 from a drugs overdose. She continually mounted one-woman protests outside women's prisons, drawing attention to the number of deaths of women prisoners - numbers which would be shocking if people actually got to hear about them. Thanks to Pauline, more people got to hear about them than otherwise would.

It is devastating that her protests have come to an end in such a tragic way.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Abortion Rights and the Left

Abortion rights are once again under attack with amendments to the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill.

The left need to unite behind the defence of the 24 weeks limit. They also need to work with feminist groups to push for a liberalisation of abortion law ,as a minimum a move to one doctor’s signature and preferably abortion on demand.

Abortion, and of course the wider issue of reproductive rights, still seems to be an area that the left need to be pushed on. Yeah they will often make the right noises, but they will make excuses for anti abortion men such as Galloway, and yet I can’t see them being quite so tolerant if someone was, ooh let’s say pro war. But abortion is a women’s issue isn’t it, it’s not quite up there with the serious male leftie men and their real politics about war and arguing the toss over the finer obscure theoretical points of Marxism or who did what when to whom in 1983.

That’s not to say the majority of the left aren’t pro choice and I’m not going to bang on about Galloway as it’s pointless. Those who support him will just get defensive and start going on about what the SWP did when they were in Respect blah blah blah and that we are all hypocrites blah blah blah. That of course misses the fact that those who are critical are not all SWPers (I have never been a member) and have been raising these issues well before the spilt.

So let’s not get diverted. Galloway will be off to his lucrative media career in a few years anyway.

Back to the subject, the left and pro choice, why should they get their finger out on this?

Much has been said on this, so I will try to focus on what I see as specific issues for the left, starting with the fact that working class women are those who lose out the most when abortion rights are restricted. Money has always helped procure such services from discreet private doctors. Working class women, pre 1967, had to make do with the back street abortionists and the resultant risks to health, potentially fatal.

Some on the left get caught up by the reasons for abortion and then sympathise with the conclusion that abortion should be restricted or is a bad thing.
Many argue that it’s wrong that women should have to have an abortion because they can’t afford a child. Well yes, but the answer is not to make it illegal, all that does is put those women at risk. The left need to fight for better childcare, benefits, wages.
Even with improved finances some women may still decide that they don’t want more or even any children and that should be their right. And some won’t feel bad about it or suffer psychologically, especially without the guilt trips from others .

An issue that the left should grapple more with is disability rights. People with disability are often angry that it’s a ground for abortion. Are we trying to create perfection? On the flip side some with a disability, such as the hearing impaired, argue for the right to have a child with the same disability as them.

Now within the world of disabilities there is a wide spectrum. There was a case a while back of a teenager in Ireland who came to Britain for an abortion. She was refused it at home even though the baby would have died very soon after birth so severe were the disabilities. This case illustrates the lack of humanity of some anti abortionists, who would make a young girl suffer like that .No matter what we do, situations that sad will probably always occur.

Greyer areas are more complex. The reality is that, adopting a social model of disability, its society that causes the most problems. People with disabilities have less chances to earn a good wage , expectations of what their life will be like is lower and benefits inadequate. The physical environment is disabling. Many people, the left included, are still patronising and paternalistic to those with disabilities. Parents, and especially mothers, struggle to care for and bring up a child.

So what should the left’s response be to the conflicting views of women’s and disability rights?
I would argue the left must support the current rights women do have and argue for their extension as well as challenging the way disabled people are viewed in society, campaigning for better support for parents and their children with disabilities. We should challenge what is the norm and the increasing pressure for ‘perfect’ children,to argue for difference and diversity in people .We do not though make it more difficult for women to have an abortion and force them to have a child they do not feel they can cope with.

Finally, some point to left currents that are not pro choice, Nicaragua being one such example.

Nicaragua highlights the dangers of the left going along with religion and ignoring women’s rights. In Nicaragua it is a crime to have an abortion, even if the woman’s life is in danger. A report last year in the Guardian highlighted the costs to women of this law. It hits the poorest .

This central American country has become the third country in the world, after Chile and El Salvador, to criminalise all abortions. It is a blanket ban. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or life- or health-threatening pregnancies.

"Nicaraguan doctors are now afraid of going to trial or jail and losing their licence," says Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine. "Many are thinking that instead of taking the risk, it is better to let a woman die."

For the Nicaraguan rich, a problematic pregnancy need not be a death sentence. You can fly to Miami or bribe a discreet private clinic in Managua. But in this wretchedly poor country most young women do not have money. Their choice is to go through with a pregnancy that may kill them, or attempt a DIY termination that may kill them.

As a result of the blanket ban enacted last November at least 82 women have died, according to advocacy groups.

The anti-abortion camp, in contrast, is euphoric. The new law, it says, is a beacon in the fight to protect the unborn. It is time to celebrate. "Now it is all penalised. And Catholics agree that is should be this way," says Roberto González, 50, a Franciscan priest in Managua. "The population sees the church as behind the law - behind the pressure that succeeded in getting the government to change the law."

Abortion has long been illegal in Nicaragua but there had been exceptions for "therapeutic" reasons if three doctors agreed there was a risk to the woman's life.
It is a grim irony that this is happening under a Sandinista government - a movement whose ranks once included advocates for feminism and abortion rights. That was in the 1980s, when the Sandinistas were secular marxists, wore combat fatigues and fought a bloody civil war against US-backed Contra rebels. Things changed. The war ended and the Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, lost the presidency in a 1990 election. Church and state were supposedly separate but clerics wielded political clout, none more so than Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. His hostility sank Ortega's attempted comebacks in 1996 and 2001 elections.

In the run-up to last November's election, the cardinal spearheaded a campaign for a blanket abortion ban. Ortega, desperate to regain power, mobilised the Sandinistas behind the cardinal's campaign and helped get the ban enacted just days before the poll. The former revolutionary, now reinvented as a devout Catholic, was rewarded with the presidency.

The stories highlighted in the report show it’s the poorest who are most affected, that young women die and children are left without a mother, often going into care. I expect many of these women were catholic, allowed to die for the sake of a foetus that didn’t even survive.

The left needs to keep this in mind when it bows to religious groups. Where abortion is limited or illegal women die, the poorest suffer the most. It does not stop abortion happening, it does not reduce the causes and reasons for abortion, it does not mean people are more accepting of disability or difference. The left need to focus on reducing the causes, not excuse religious reactionary views on what women can do with their bodies .

The left needs to campaign to improve disability rights, access to good sex education and contraception, tell religious leaders to butt out and work to improve the rights, support and attitudes to disability and difference.

The left should accept that whatever we do to improve the financial situation of women, availability of contraception and quality of sex education, attitudes to disability and support available, that women still have control over their own bodies. That control should not lie with men, the state or any religious groups. It lies with the woman ‘our bodies, our choice’.

Also a guest post over at Liberal Conspiracy as part of their Coalition for Choice campaign.

Update :It seems some on the left feel that even if a woman would die, well so be it . Btw this is a man, who will never be faced with dilemas as being raped and then pregnant or dying in childbirth.So he would watch his partner die when she needn't? Hey, these religious types are so compassionate aren't they. Oh and its also a CLP blog.


*Please take 10 minutes out of your day to write to your MP* DEFEND A WOMAN'S RIGHT CHOOSE

Left Women's Network are reminding people to contact their MPs to defend abortion rights.Its not about time limits, its about defending the limited rights women have at the moment. The 20 weeks debate is a salami tactic, the anti abortionists won't be happy till its illegal full stop and sod what happens to women. Check out the amendments, they include a limit of 12 weeks .

LWN says :

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was debated in parliament yesterday.
We are expecting that the right will use the bill to attack abortion rights and the rights of lesbian women’s to access IVF treatment.
The important votes on these issues will take place on 19th/20th May and will be subject to a free vote.
There is an emergency protest called by Abortion Rights @ 5.30pm 20th May 2008 Parliament Square
It is really important that you lobby your MP to defend a woman’s right to choose.
You can find loads of information on the LeftWN Website*Please take 10 minutes out of your day to write to your MP*

Or ring or e-mail , but do it. It seems the anti abortionists are busy doing this and the pro choicers aren't. So do !

The debate from Monday, and how MPs voted is here.


Satisfaction Survey

The Tribunals Service has written to me asking me to take part in a survey on my experiences of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal.

Ha ha ha.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bosses' 'Blacklist'

Have a gander at this. It seems that bosses are getting together to conspire to refuse jobs to workers who may have been accused of wrongdoing.

Yes, that's right, accused. Not even found guilty. Even if you were exonerated - even if the accusation was malicious - employers are preparing to have it follow you around forever and ensure that you never darken their morally-superior doorsteps with your demand to work for them and help them make profits.

None of that bloody 'innocent until proven guilty' lark round here, no sirree. You might have to endure that woolly liveral nonsense in a court of law, but when it comes to allowing members of the capitalist class to pick and choose who they exploit, no such standards need apply.

Mind you, while there will hopefully be an outcry against this persecution of the innocent, let me also say that this is outrageious treatment of the guilty too. Someone who has in fact been dishonest or nicked from their boss may well expect a punishment, but they also deserve a second chance. There is such a notion of 'paying your debt' and then being allowed to move on and have a fresh start. In my experience, bosses give themselves and their gopher managers second, third and thousandth chances on a regular basis.

Conspiring to permanently exclude a person from gainful employment for eternity seems to me the most effective way possible to enlist them in a life of crime.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

More action on the Human Fertility and Embryology Bill

Just come across this site , the Coalition for Choice :

Coalition For Choice is an online network of concerned individuals who are broadly for choice, equality and women’s rights.
We consist of writers, bloggers, activists, journalists, academics and many more from different fields.
This coalition was put together specifically to support the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, though it will continue afterwards in campaigning for women’s rights.
Sounds well worth supporting .

There is info on events and ways to offer support, including :

White Coat Protest

Second Reading of Human Fertility and Embryology Bill - House of Commons 12th May 2008

Please join our “Scientists, doctors (bring white coats please!) and patients “Show of Support” at 1pm-2pm including media photocall outside Parliament
12th May 2008
Venue: At Old Palace Yard

Followed by drop in meeting with leading scientists, medics, patient representatives and politicians in Committee Room 7 from 2pm-3.30pm

Followed by the opportunity to watch the debate when it starts at 3.30pm live in the public gallery of the Commons chmaber

On 12th May 2008 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons.

Over the past months, there has been intensive lobbying of MPs, particularly from groups who are opposed to embryo research. MPs may not have heard quite so clearly from the patient groups, medics and scientists who strongly support the proposals in the bill and know that it is vitally important that the legislation is not watered down.

On Monday 12th May 2008 outside the Houses of Parliament we will seek to represent the breadth of the support for the Bill just before the debate begins by bringing representatives from the hundreds of patient groups together with scientists who support the Bill.

A YouGov poll in August 2005 showed that 77% of people accept embryo research for life-threatening diseases. But For far too long the only public shows of feeling on this issue have come from those who wish to vote down these much needed and progressive measures permitting carefully regulated embryo research and important and ethical clinical interventions like pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. So for the first time science and medicine is going to show its support for the bill.

So please join us to represent this majority and progressive opinion across the UK.
For more information please call Becky Purvis in the office of Dr Evan Harris MP on 0207 219 5128

Check out the site and do support it.
Update Check out Penny Red for 24 reasons to keep the 24 limit.


Sex, drugs and drink;shock new findings

Some researchers were asked to find out about the links between sex, drink , drugs and young people. Hmmm.

They :

They questioned young people in nine cities, one each in the UK, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Slovenia - who all routinely went to pubs, bars and nightclubs.

They found out that:

Drunkenness and drug use were found to be strongly associated with an increase in risk taking behaviour and feeling regretful about having sex .

Those who had been drunk in the past four weeks were more likely to have had five or more partners, sex without a condom and to have regretted sex after drink or drugs in the past 12 months.

Cannabis, cocaine or ecstasy use was linked to similar consequences.

Study leader Professor Mark Bellis, director of the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moore's University said: "Millions of young Europeans now take drugs and drink in ways which alter their sexual decisions and increase their chances of unsafe sex or sex that is later regretted.

"Yet despite the negative consequences, we found many are deliberately taking these substances to achieve quite specific sexual effects."

And to save them further research I would suggest that similar results would be found for the not so young as well.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

A better class of gun crime under Boris ?

For a more considered response click here.

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Emergency Protest on abortion rights

Details received from Abortion Rights:

Emergency Protest – as MPs vote on women’s abortion rights

Tuesday 20 May, 5.30pm Outside Parliament - details to be confirmed
Defend 24 Weeks – no reduction in abortion time limit
Tube: Westminster

Called by Abortion Rights

On Tuesday 20 May Members of Parliament will debate and vote on the anti-abortion amendments to the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill. The key amendments aim to lower the time limit for abortion. This vote is taking place much earlier than expected and with very little notice. In the limited time available, it is vital that everyone who supports a woman’s right to choose does everything they can to show their opposition to any reduction in the time limit. Please attend this crucial protest – and encourage your trade union, women’s group, student union or other organization to send a presence. Please also write to your MP in advance of 20th to urge them to vote against any amendment to reduce the time limit. A model letter is available at

We say:

Women must come first. There is no significant scientific or medical support for any reduction in the time limit. Yet a handful of anti-abortionists are using downright propaganda and misinformation, hoping to intimidate and mislead MPs into attacking women’s rights. An overwhelming majority of the public supports the right to choose: MPs should uphold choice and vote down amendments by Nadine Dorries and any anti-abortion MPs.

Less than two per cent of abortions take place after 20 weeks. If successful, a lowering of the abortion time limit would be devastating for a small number of women in difficult, unforeseeable and individual circumstances and would encourage further anti-abortion attacks. Contrary to anti-abortion hype, research shows there has been no increase in survival rates for births under 24 weeks. There is opposition to any lowering of the time limit from the British Medical Association, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, British Association of Perinatal Medicine, Royal College of Nursing, TUC and national trade unions, the Department of Health and MPs across all three major parliamentary political parties.

Write to your MP

Please try to write to, email, phone or visit your MP before this vote to urge them not to vote for any lowering of the abortion time limit. If you wish you can use the model letter on Abortion Rights website or the Abortion Rights postcard.

Funds needed

Abortion Rights urgently needs financial support in organizing this protest and in covering the costs of the campaign that has been organized. You can help by making a donation online or by cheque to ‘Abortion Rights’ and encouraging your organization to do so. You can also help by joining and by your organization affiliating to Abortion Rights.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

An Oasis In An Electoral Desert

Good news reaches us from the polling stations of Barrow-in-Furness (where, entirely co-incidentally, my uncle used to be the MP). Anti-Academy campaigners stood six candidates and won four seats, and ousted the Tory Leader of the Council. Of the two who did not get elected, one missed out by just one vote.

I wouldn't want to leap to any hasty conclusions, as I don't know anything about their broader politics. Maybe they will disappoint. But it does tell us something about fighting neo-liberal attacks at the municipal ballot box. Although some may be tempted to conclude that the lesson is to fight on single issues, I'd say that instead, the key issue is that successful left candidacies must come from genuine mobilisations of local working-class people.

Anyway, here is the campaign's website.

Hat tip: Patrick

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Guest post - Following May Day debacle the coffee smells strong

A specially commissioned guest post for Stroppyblog from George Binette Peterson, variously known to some as the cleverest man on the left and the real gorgeous George ...

After weeks (in some cases months) of furious tapping at keyboards by the denizens of the blogosphere spewing vitriol and insight in unequal measures, the results of the English and Welsh local elections are finally in. At a general level it would be difficult to dissent from the mainstream media’s pundits: Thursday’s polls were an undeniable disaster for Gordon Brown and New Labour, while providing the strongest indication yet that David Cameron is the most likely occupant of 10 Downing Street in two years time.

I would, however, suggest two caveats: the Labour Party’s overall performance was only marginally worse than in 2004 (projected national share of the vote at 24% as opposed to 26% in 2004 when the Iraq war admittedly had far greater electoral salience) and in a number of London constituencies there was actually a substantial swing to Labour on an increased turnout that reached 45% London-wide. Still, Gordon Brown’s premiership is in deep trouble as his replacement of Tony Blair has done nothing to revive generally flagging fortunes and even in one-time Welsh fortresses Labour’s vote plummeted with the Tories making gains. Under Brown Labour’s malaise has worsened, as the new administration clings to its neo-liberal fundamentals, while general anxiety about the economy post-credit crunch, compounded by the reality of sharply rising costs for utilities and basic foodstuffs, has exacerbated the erosion of Labour’s electoral base. For some, the axing of the 10p tax rate was simply the final straw.

Of course, for most leftists and consistent social liberals, Friday night had an especially unhappy ending with Boris Johnson’s clear-cut victory in the London mayoral contest and the announcement of the BNP achieving long-standing aim of a seat on the Greater London Assembly (GLA). These developments warrant a separate analysis beyond the available space, but it is clearly the case that among white voters there is a substantial core vote for the fascist right in a ring that stretches from Havering & Redbridge in the north east through Barking & Dagenham, and southwards into Bexley & Bromley and even Greenwich & Lewisham. In the latter the candidate for the National Front (an organisation that today barely registers on the radar of those of us who aren’t deemed anti-fascist anoraks) garnered over 5% of the vote.

For those on the left waging electoral campaigns against Labour the results from Thursday offered a few crumbs of comfort (a council seat for Respect Renewal in Birmingham Sparkbrook, 37% of the vote in one Preston ward for a Left List candidate and 23% in Sheffield’s Burngreave), but it remains to be seen whether they also provide a remedy to self-delusion. The stark reality is that the elections signaled a rightward move within the electorate and a handful of mildly encouraging results cannot disguise this.

In London the fragments of the Respect project, the SWP-dominated Left List and the admittedly indefatigable George Galloway’s Respect Renewal managed a combined total of 3.35% of the list vote, notably below the Respect tally in 2004 and two percentage points behind the BNP’s tally. The Left List contested all 14 of the GLA constituency seats, gaining over 3% in just two of them – North East (3.04%) and Enfield & Haringey (3.48%). Elsewhere, the tallies were frequently below 1% of votes cast.

These Left List results were notably worse than what Respect scored in 2004, while in the one GLA seat where Respect Renewal stood (City & East, comprised of the borough of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking & Dagenham, as well as the sparsely populated City of London) it saw a slight increase in its share of the popular vote from last time to 14% and easily eclipsed the vote of Left List candidate, the victimised local trade unionist, Michael Gavan. While Respect Renewal supporters have evidently found solace in that result the organisation’s post-election statement peddled a very distorted picture of the situation in East London: “The local roots Respect has established in East London checked the forward march of the BNP. Without Respect East London could have begun to look like the 1970s with the BNP pushing into third place.Instead, Respect is one of the two major parties along with Labour inparts of Tower Hamlets and Newham, we beat the BNP on the list vote and pushed the Liberal Democrats into fifth place.”

Certainly, Respect Renewal’s Hanif Abdulmuhit did beat the BNP candidate by five percentage points, but this ignores the dramatic demographic changes that have taken place across the boroughs over the last three decades. The reality is that the Galloway-led version of Respect has established a foothold within the Bangladeshi and to a lesser degree other South Asian communities in Tower Hamlets and Newham. It has not progressed beyond those sections of the electorate. Meanwhile, the BNP garnered more than 9% of the vote in the same constituency and given the overall make-up of the electorate across the three boroughs it must have gained more than 20%-25% among white voters in a number of wards, mainly in Barking & Dagenham.Under the election label Socialist Alternative the Socialist Party retained a contested seat in St Michael’s ward in Coventry as voters returned Dave Nellist for still another term, but its lone GLA candidate barely exceeded 1% of the vote in Greenwich & Lewisham, finishing behind even the abysmal tally for the Left List candidate. Thus far, I have not been able to find any other results for Socialist Alternative candidates, but there is precious little evidence to suggest that the Socialist Party or the allied project of the Campaign for a New Workers Party is going from strength to strength.

To me these results demonstrate that a decade or more of attempts, both honest and disingenuous, to construct broad parties to Labour’s left, based on programmes of more or less radical reform, have yielded little or no fruit. Indeed, they have now reached an impasse. Surely, the dreadful drubbing of Rifondazione Comunista in Italy last month should at least give pause for reflection, given the fact it supposedly exemplified the broad party to which many claimed to aspire.

The abject failures in Britain have many causes, not least the frequent and seemingly incurable sectarianism of various tendencies, but more fundamentally there have been consistent underestimations of both the lingering impact on the structure and consciousness of the working class across Britain of nearly two decades of Thatcherism and the quiescent effect of a real if contradictory economic upswing, which has now come to an end. Leaving aside the tragicomedy of the history of the Scottish Socialist Party and then Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity, the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Alliance (to me the most promising in England and Wales), Respect and now the divided halves of it have all shown that there is little to be gained, even in electoral terms, from diluting one’s politics and pretending to be a rebranded party of reform.

None of this is to deny the potential virtues of contesting elections against Labour, but to echo a letter from John Nicholson published in the “Morning Star” on Friday 2 May, there is a need for a new clarity about the purpose of any such candidacies. In the context of a first past the post system that still prevails in almost all English elections, the prospect for any kind of electoral breakthrough seems especially remote. But in the event of a surprise win at the polls what are the mechanisms for holding to account representatives in councils or parliament (the Galloway question, in short)? Alternatively, how important are candidacies in advancing an overarching political (dare I say revolutionary?) programme to a wider audience?

To state the obvious, there are no easy answers in the short term, but there is a need for a genuine honesty and humility that has also too often been absent in the posturing between tendencies and the unceasing promotion of wildly optimistic perspectives that cannot withstand exposure to objective realities. I hardly expect that many (any?) comrades are about to ditch their current project in the here and now, though reading between the lines of the Left List I drew the conclusion that the SWP leadership now sees its shelf-life as very limited.

Meanwhile, where does the Labour Representation Committee fit in following the disastrous results of 1 May? A number of more or less plausible scenarios emerge, including another leadership challenge by John McDonnell, but for the time being I think that unlikely along with the short-term prospect of the LRC leading a break from Labour itself. While it does have affiliations from a handful of important trade unions, it currently lacks the essential activist base in the unions and communities that the left organisations outside of Labour still possess to a greater or lesser extent.

Perhaps the Convention of the Left in Manchester, coinciding with the Labour Party conference in late September, will start providing some answers or will at least clarify where the “far left” can indeed work effectively together whether in the unions through the National Shop Stewards Network, combating state racism, defending abortion rights or developing serious and sustained initiatives against climate change.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Who's Sorry Now?

The Left List's explanation of the results of Thursday's elections strongly suggests that the SWP is stubbornly refusing to learn the lessons or even face reality. We can only hope that some of its more thoughtful members will notice that their emperors have neither clothes nor answers, and will call them to account and/or join with others in renewing and reorienting socialism.

The Left List's claim that voters punished New Labour for ten years of privatisation and warmongering is not exactly wrong, but certainly simplistic. Of course war and privatisation are two of the main issues that have pushed voters away from Labour, major symptoms of the New Labour project of pushing the working class out of politics. But voting Tory, BNP or not voting at all is not a show of left-wing rebellion but of reaction and confusion. If this is 'punishing' Labour, then it is like punishing your husband for his excessive drinking by running off with George Best. This needs a response based not on soundbites about 'punishing', but on the need to renew working-class representation in politics.

Some things in the article are plainly true, such as New Labour's failure to defend its core working class voters and Livingstone also brought this defeat on himself. But it goes on to explain that Livingstone did this by associating himself too closely with New Labour, by rejoining the Labour Party and having Blair- and Brownites, and members of other parties, on his team. Valid points, but the SWP's criticism of Livingstone is limited to who he links up with, not his politics. So there is no condemnation of East London Line privatisation, the creation of City Hall fat cats, siding with the police over issues such as the Stockwell shooting, or Ken's advice to bosses to sack sick workers. Sure, the Left List made some of these points during the campaign, but omitting them from its post-election analysis seems more than careless. There are other unsavoury aspects of Livingstone's politics, such as his welcoming of al-Qaradawi, that we could not expect the SWP to criticise because they agree with them.

And the Left List's explanation for its own dismal vote? It was too
recent an invention to make its full mark on the electoral process
many people who voted for Respect did so in error, believing that it was
the old Respect
. Why bother with a political explanation when a couple of technical ones will do, eh? Even if every single person who voted for Respect did so thinking it was voting for an SWP front rather than a Galloway front, they would still have got only 3ish% of the vote! And obviously, not every single person did. The fact that the Left List was a 'recent invention' is not simply an issue of 'brand recognition' but a product of the SWP's political zig-zaggery, dumping the Socialist Alliance, lashing up with Galloway, then rebranding itself following the entirely predictable split.

The Left List says: What is necessary now is not a left that runs the line 'Labour at any cost' but a left that stands by working class people and struggles alongside them. That's true enough. But over the last few years, the SWP itself has failed to stand by working-class people, and instead moved away from working-class politics in pursuit of mythical shortcuts based on religious and communal loyalties. If it were now turning back again, then good, but I see little evidence of it.

'The Galloway operation' merits a whole paragraph of criticism, something which would have earned anyone else a denunciation for sectarianism until quite recently. But again, it is devoid of political criticism, and just crunches a few numbers. Nor does it acknowledge any role that the SWP have played in creating the Frankenstein's monster that now upsets them so. There is no attempt to distance themselves from Galloway politically - after all, that would inevitably open the questions as to why they were in bed with him previously - but rather, the SWP leadership is just faintly sneering that it has taken Galloway's footsoldiers away.

And what next? There is a hint of backing away from elections - This will not necessarily be a primarily electoral struggle - but also an indication that candidacies will continue - there will still be an electoral dimension, and claims of a few good votes outside London.

The article claims that The Left List does have serious trade union support. You are having a laugh. The honest version of this statement would be "Lots of SWP members hold posts in trade unions, and a few of them are quite popular". Any notion of the Left List having 'serious trade union support' beyond that is delusion.

And finally ... We must now use this to assist in the rebuilding of an alternative to New Labour that will not be derailed by the surge in Tory and Nazi support at the ballot box. If this meant, "We will admit our gross mistakes and turn towards unity with other socialists in renewing the cause of working-class political representation", then that would be great. But hands up who thinks that it actually does.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Away for a few days

So no blogging from me until monday.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Nightmare Awaits Us. Who Is To Blame?

The chances are that we will wake up tomorrow morning with Boris Johnson as Mayor of London and the BNP with a seat on the Greater London Assembly. It's a nightmare, and the monsters of the piece are the Tories, their cheerleaders in the Evening Standard, and the Nazi scum.

But Livingstone and the Labour Party will have brought it all on themselves. Which would be a cause for simple sneering if it weren't for the fact that they will have brought it all on working-class Londoners too.

Few of my workmates are persuadable to vote for Livingstone. Hardly surprising, since he has privatised one of their Underground lines, threatened to close their ticket offices, told them to cross their union's picket lines, and allowed - indeed encouraged - their managers to push them around.

Aside from Underground workers, many other people who might in the past have felt inclined to vote Labour are turned off by Livingstone's smooching with big business and his siding with police brutality against its victims. Even on issues where he is supposed to be progressive, such as anti-racism, he is seen to have created a race relations industry which lines a few pockets but does not touch real lives.

Thousands of white working-class Londoners have turned to voting BNP because they feel abandoned. They are vulnerable to the BNP's poisonous lies that the reason their estate is run down or their hopsital waiting list is so long is that immigrants are jumping the queue. Of course that is nonsense, but if their estate was not run down and their hospital waiting list not so long, then they wouldn't be tempted by the racists.

The anti-fascist movement must learn not simply to tell people off for voting BNP, but to tackle the reasons why they do. You can not destroy the nazis' base of support without taking up issues such as jobs, housing and public services. Neither can you win people away from the BNP by telling them that fat cat Alan Sugar says the BNP is bad, as 'Hope Not Hate' does. In the absence of better material, I cringed while dishing out such a leaflet at Hackney Central station the day before yesterday.

Working-class Londoners feel abandoned if not by Livingstone specifically, then by new Labour in power. Attacking the poor, cossetting the rich, waging wars that few supported, dishing out public money in spadeloads to bail out the private sector but begrudging every penny to public services. Mouthing off about crime but maintaining the social inequalities and problems that cause it. Sure, it is ridiculous and reactionary to turn to the Tories or the BNP for solutions to these issues - but don't be surprised when some do. It seems that if you vote Labour, you get Tories in the Cabinet anyway.

The left also shares the blame. The left deluded itself for years that Livingstone was a left-winger, when he had said and done easily enough to prove that the emperor was naked and he was right wing. There is a well-worn trail of 'lefties' entering local government as Labour councillors, promising to defy the law and refuse to make cuts, who ended up, erm, obeying the law and making cuts. Other sections of the left abstained from the fight within the Labour Party when there was still a fight to be had, and therefore made it easier for the right to win. Then when we had half a chance of a viable Socialist Alliance, the SWP and their hangers on spoiled it by going off on a doomed love affair with unprincipled fat cats and communalists.

And this time round? There should have been a socialist list for the GLA, made up of candidates with a genuine base in the trade unions and communities, standing explicitly for working-class political representation. We made moves towards that in the RMT, but although our regional council backed the proposal, the national executive put the kybosh on it. Sure, such a list would not have shaken the foundations of capitalism, but it would have given thousands of working-class people a reason to bother going to the polling station, people who will very likely stay away today and unintentionally let the right wing in.

Other unions not affiliated to Labour seem to have had very little to say about the election. Those that are affiliated have obviously backed Labour, but have campaigned so little that I assume they know there is no enthusiasm for Labour amongst their members. When it comes to today's election, the trade unions have been like rabbits caught in the headlights. In the absence of a genuine working-class, socialist list, we are left with those who helped wreck the prospects of that (Left List, Galloway, ...) begging for our vote. I will go and vote Left List and Livingstone with a heavy heart.

I genuinely hope that my nightmare turns out not to be true, even if that makes this post look premature and bitter. But even if Livingstone scrapes in and the BNP are squeezed out, the fact that the Tories and the BNP came so close is still reason to learn the lessons.

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