Greece

I don’t claim special insight into Greek politics – merely a strong emotional attachment. This dates back to the war (1939-45) – when Tony and Betty Ambatielou lodged with us in Cardiff. After the war, when Tony was under sentence of death and Betty led the international campaign for his release, all of our family was both politically and emotionally involved.

Later, during the military dictatorship, we helped several of the refugees and my personal emotional attachment became stronger. So I’ve followed every twist and turn in Greek politics for 70+ years and, naturally, was overjoyed by the rise of Syriza.

Syriza is not responsible for what previous governments did – the blame for the deficit rests squarely with the ultra-rich and their allies in Europe. The recent EU/troika ‘bailouts’ have been paid to the very people that caused the problem whilst, in contrast, the EU/troika insists that ordinary Greek people suffer through reduced pensions and other impositions.

So I was delighted to read this open letter from leading Trade Unionists, left-wing Labour MPs (naturally including Jeremy Corbyn), Plaid Cymru and SNP MPs and, naturally, Caroline Lucas. I have only one thing to add.

As Caroline has pointed out in a separate statement, in 1953 the wartime allies agreed to write off most of Germany’s historic debts, facilitating Germany’s economic recovery. It is ironic that the present German government is so resolutely opposed to Greece being given similar dispensation.  

We call on David Cameron to support the organisation of a European conference to agree debt cancellation for Greece and other countries that need it, informed by debt audits and funded by recovering money from the banks and financial speculators who were the real beneficiaries of bailouts. We believe there must be an end to the enforcing of austerity policies that are causing injustice and poverty in Europe and across the world. We urge the creation of UN rules to deal with government debt crises promptly, fairly and with respect for human rights, and to signal to the banks and financiers that we won’t keep bailing them out for reckless lending.
Frances O’Grady General secretary, TUC
Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite the Union
Paul Kenny General secretary, GMB
Manuel Cortes General secretary, TSSA
Sarah-Jayne Clifton Director, Jubilee Debt Campaign
Paul Mackney Chair, Greece Solidarity Campaign
Nick Dearden Global Justice Now
Owen Epsley War on Want
James Meadway New Economics Foundation
Ann Pettifor Prime Economics
Diane Abbott MP   Dave Anderson MP   Richard Burgon MP   Jeremy Corbyn MP   Jonathan Edwards MP   Roger Godsiff MP   Harry Harpham MP   Carolyn Harris MP   George Kerevan MP   Ian Lavery MP   Clive Lewis MP   Rebecca Long-Bailey MP   Caroline Lucas MP   John McDonnell MP   Liz Mcinnes MP   Rachael Maskell MP   Michael Meacher MP   Grahame Morris MP   Kate Osamor MP   Liz Saville-Roberts MP   Cat Smith MP   Chris Stephens MP   Jo Stevens MP   Catherine West MP   Hywel Williams MP

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Nick’s second speech

nick.jpg (400×400)I now receive personal notification of all speeches by and all questions asked by our new MP – from “They Work for You“.

You can do likewise, by clicking on the link. I recommend that readers of my blog do so – as I don’t propose to provide this service indefinitely !

However, as a taster, here are excerpts from Nick’s second speech in Parliament – during the debate on the new Scotland bill.  He makes interesting points about how the new arrangements for Scotland may affect Wales.

…. James Keir Hardie said, when asked about his socialist beliefs, that he saw them as arising from a rooted local culture. His belief in localism and the de-centralisation of power led him to a firm belief in devolution. In the career and beliefs of Keir Hardie, a Scot who represented a Welsh constituency, there are lessons for us in this debate.

Most of all, if we recognise the qualities and strengths of our family of nations here in these islands, we can strengthen our whole United Kingdom. I welcome a number of aspects of the Bill, which takes devolution to the next stage. … 

I also welcome devolution … in several areas of tax, including income tax, VAT, the aggregates levy and air passenger duty … however, there are ways in which the Government can go further, and I look forward to that in the course of the debates on the Bill.

Prior to entering the House, I lectured in politics. The first thing I taught at the start of every academic year was the UK constitution, and the one thing I always said to my students was never to see any single measure of devolution in isolation; they have to be seen in the context of the overall settlement and argument for the whole of the UK.

Lord Kilbrandon took over the royal commission on the constitution between 1969 and 1973, and it became known by his name. He said that any decisions and debates on public funding that we have here in Westminster affected “the whole of the United Kingdom”.

That quotation comes from a period before our modern devolution journey began, but I suggest that it is as relevant in 2015 as it was back in 1973. As we debate finance and funding, it is critical to bear in mind how those issues affect the different constituent parts of our United Kingdom.

My point as a Welsh Member — it is important that the voice of Wales is heard during the passage of the Scotland Bill — is that there is a long-standing public debate on the underfunding of Wales in the United Kingdom. It goes back to the Holtham commission of 2010, which identified £300 million of underfunding for Wales, and the same issue runs through part 1 of the Silk commission.

Even at this moment, the finance committee of the National Assembly for Wales is debating future funding for Wales. This is a crucial issue for Wales and my Torfaen constituents. I remind the Secretary of State that the Prime Minister promised earlier this year that Wales would not be left behind.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer originally promised a Wales Bill within the first 100 days of this Parliament. Unfortunately, all he has done so far for Wales is to promise a further £3 billion of cuts across the UK, about £84 million of which we expect to fall on Wales. That is hardly a great start when it comes to addressing fair funding for Wales.

The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, has made it clear that this issue of fair funding has to be dealt with, so I say that a great devolution debate must go ahead in this Parliament and the Secretary of State must bear in mind all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

History tells us that if particular issues are left untouched in devolution debates, they usually come back and need to be dealt with at a later stage.

I urge the Secretary of State to think again about ruling out, from the Dispatch Box, the idea of a constitutional convention, which would not only give all politicians a chance to contribute to the debate, but would involve the wider public in all parts of the United Kingdom. It is important that we end this Parliament with strong devolution within a strong United Kingdom.

Rewriting Labour history

HistoriansneedaHistoryAs a campaigner for 65 years, I can’t accept the media-rewritten history accepted by contestants for the Labour leadership. Its principle myth – believed within and outside the Labour Party (but not by Jeremy Corbyn) – is that Labour is unelectable if left-wing.

There is no hard evidence for this but, through constant repetition, it is widely believed. I will refute this with statistics but, after the boring stuff, contrast the Labour Party today with what I recall of its more inspiring yesteryear. 

[I wrote previously about the 2015 “Red Ed mythbut this post deals with other elections during my lifetime.]

The most left-wing Labour Party platform I recall was in 1945 – when it won 47.7% of the votes. This rose to 48.8% in 1951 when the Tories won with only 48% on an 82.7% voting turnout (compared with 66.1% in 2015). So there is no evidence there of left-wing policies alienating voters.

Labour’s share of the vote declined thereafter, in step with a rightwards drift in policy and, in 1979 was already 30% below its 1951 high.  The media blames the even lower vote in1983 to Michael Foot’s leadership, conveniently ignoring the previous 28 years, the disastrous right-wing Callaghan legacy and the SDP splinter (supported as much by the media then as UKIP enjoys now).

For me, my abiding memory of the 1983 election campaign was of Michael Foot speaking to packed audiences. These received hardly a mention in the media and were shunned by leading members of his ultra-right shadow cabinet – who openly briefed the media against the agreed Labour Party policy.

In my opinion, Labour’s low vote in 1983 was primarily due to the counter-briefings by right-wing Labour careerists, not to the policy as such. People don’t vote for a divided party and the right-wing saboteurs were at least as much to blame for this perception. Yet, measured by the enthusiasm at election meetings, the 1983 campaign was comparable with 1945, 1950 and 1951 – and not been bettered since.

During the Kinnock years Labour drifted right to become respectable, expelled left-wing members and ended any pretence of supporting the underprivileged (such as our mining communities). This decline was halted when John Smith became leader and, as the John Major government stumbled from one crisis after another, we were all sure that Labour would win in 1997.

This was confirmed in the Euro election of 1994 when, following the untimely death of John Smith and with Margaret Beckett as temporary leader, Labour achieved a massive swing from the Conservatives, polling 44% to their 28% (with the LibDems also doing well on 17%). From that day on, everyone expected a Labour victory in 1997. Tony Blair was never a factor.

In the event, Labour achieved 43.2% in the General Election of 1997 (slightly down on Margaret Beckett’s 44%) and the Tories recovered a little to 30.7%. It was a sweeping victory for sure – but in no way attributable solely to Tony Blair in the way the media now would have us believe.

Similarly, the subsequent Labour victories of 2001 and 2005 were not the unmitigated triumphs for Tony Blair now portrayed in the media. Labour’s % share declined from 43.2% in 1997 and disastrously from 40.7% in 2001 to 35.2% (!) in 2005 whilst, significantly, voter turnout declined from 71.4% to 61.4% over that same period! This was a major loss of support and the contrast with 1945-51 is stark.

Despite all this evidence, the right-wing media continue to peddle the line that Tony Blair was a great electoral asset (because they like him). The reality is, even without his criminal support for the invasion of Iraq – which has alienated millions of potential Labour voters – there is no evidence from the statistics that Tony Blair or his policies was an electoral asset for Labour.

But there is a greater legacy from the Kinnock and Blair years – Labour stopped being a campaigning party. I’ve already recalled how Michael Foot enthused members and supporters in 1983. Let me go further back – to my first General Election in 1945. I vividly remember trailing James Callaghan through Cardiff, with about fifty other 10-12 year olds, as he spoke at every available street corner to literally hundreds of local residents.

The Labour Party had been founded by activists who put heart and soul into building the party – and it did remain a campaigning party well into the 1980s. Since then, and particularly during the Blair years, its leadership has taken active steps to restrict internal discussion and demonstrative activity and relied more and more on top-down campaigning – through press releases and media interviews – to get its policies across.

Whilst I don’t deny the value of media coverage, I do think it naive to hope that a hostile media, with organic ties to the Tory ruling class, will give the Labour Party fair coverage when it speaks up for the underprivileged. So long as Labour accepts Tory values and a Tory agenda, Labour will get a sympathetic hearing – and might indeed be elected with a “Tony Blair Mark 2” leader.  But what would be the point?

Caution Media I think Labour has to rediscover its roots and become again a voice for the underprivileged. If it does not do so, it deserves to be replaced by one or more of the new left parties ready to take its place.