Herald letter- “Take Scottish NHS Out Of Politics” (No £)

DOUGLAS Mayer (Letters, August 30) suggests that politics should be taken out of the NHS, a suggestion in which there is a great deal of merit. It was of course a proposal made by Scottish Labour’s then leader Johann Lamont in October 2014, when she said: “My offer to Nicola Sturgeon and the other leaders is to fix our NHS by putting party politics aside and working together in the best interests of the people of Scotland. I fear that if we do not take this opportunity, our NHS will continue to decline and patients will pay the price.”

Unfortunately, the idea was ignored – presumably because the First Minister has other priorities, like visiting EU capitals to hold meaningless discussions with minor functionaries.

Herald letter – GERS (No £)

YOUR correspondents (Letters, August 24) are quite right to point out the detrimental effects of the referendum vote to leave the EU.

At the same time, it is even more important to imagine the catastrophic outcome if Scotland had voted in September, 2014 to leave both the UK and the EU in March this year.

Likewise, we can foresee that if the First Minister is misguided enough to secure a further independence referendum, business confidence in Scotland will go through the floor as the prospect of still more instability and the loss of fiscal transfers (as shown in the latest GERS figures) loomed.

It would be better if Nicola Sturgeon dropped the idea right now; to do otherwise displays a boneheaded dogmatism which flies in the face of the available evidence.

Peter A Russell,

Herald letter: “Union that has helped so many Scots to achieve greatness” (No £)

IAIN Macwhirter (“Is there a sporting chance for Britain?”, The Herald, August 16) asks whether Team GB is the last bastion of Better Together – in fact it is the embodiment of the principle that a union creates an outcome that is greater than the sum of its parts.

This can also be seen in the relative weakness of Scottish teams and individuals in sports where Scotland is still competes separately – such as football and rugby –and above all in the way in which individuals thrive when succeeding in the more challenging UK context.

Kenny Dalglish was of course an excellent player at Celtic – but only became a great one after he moved to Liverpool and the old English First Division. Likewise Denis Law before him – it hard to see that he would have been the same player if he had stayed in Aberdeen.

We can all think of examples in other fields that follow this paradigm such as Alexander Fleming in medical research, or Keir Hardie (or Gordon Brown) in politics. The (Scottish) former Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor likes to point out that Adam Smith was a visitor on the first day that establishment opened: a Scot benefiting from the access to the world-class knowledge that the wider union afforded.

Team GB is sign of the great success of the Union, and the opportunities which it will continue to offer Scotland and Scots. In fact, in the slim chance of there being a further independence referendum, “Team GB” might be just the inspirational message to secure a handsome victory for Remain.

Peter A Russell

Letter in Herald (no £) -[contains old joke]

ALASDAIR Galloway is obviously unhappy with the Scottish Government’s GERS figures and the picture which these paint of the economic risks posed by the ever-more ill-advised case for independence.

As this is was used by the SNP as the basis for its referendum White Paper Scotland’s Future, he will undoubtedly agree with every No voter on the aptness of that document’s anagram: “Fraudulent Costs”.

Peter A Russell

Movement Socialism – No Thanks.

In his excellent  2007 book The Conscience Of A Liberal, Paul Krugman describes the need for a new liberal politics in the USA in a number of ways, but primarily in terms of developing an alternative to the growth of Movement Conservatism in that country:

A small movement then known as the “new Conservatism” was, in part, a backlash against the decision of Dwight Eisenhower and other Republican leaders to make their peace with FDR’s legacy…Over the years, this small movement grew into a powerful political force…

We now know that it is the intention of Jeremy Corbyn and of his supporters in Momentum to turn the Labour Party into a social movement.

In its way it can be seen as a mirror image that has grown out of a backlash against the decisions of the Labour Party to make their peace with capitalism in the long term (and with Thatcherism in the medium term and most recently with globalisation.)

So a small movement based on radical far left groups has coalesced around the Corbyn cause and grown to oppose that accommodation and to supplant it with a socialist alternative. So what could possibly go wrong? And why are so many longstanding Labour Party members so opposed to Movement Socialism, and why does this include 80% of Labour MPs?

The answer for this longstanding member (since 1977) is that it is not the commitment to socialism that is the problem, although I have spent most of a lifetime discussing what we mean by that and how it can be best applied for practical uses. It the use of movement politics to achieve our ends.

There are three main objections which I have to Corbyn’s Movement Socialism: in ascending order these are: its rhetoric, its mythology and above all its political stupidity.

The rhetoric of MS is immediately obnoxious: all opponents are traitors and careerists. They care only for their own position in power and their own incomes and privileges, especially if they are MPs.

There is no consideration that an MP is a fellow Labour Party member, signed up to the same objectives as every new member, who devotes seven day weeks to their constituents, and who confronts their problems every day. Nor, for that matter, is there any consideration that such people might deserve more respect than scorn for having secured the votes of tens of thousands of real people in hard fought elections. For Movement Socialists, the rhetoric of treachery beats any such reality.

And in its mythology, those who defend the work of the Labour Party in government from 1997 to 2010 are likely to be even be still worse, indeed they likely to be “Blairites.”

To the Movement Socialist, Tony Blair was not a socialist of any kind. Indeed, he and his Labour governments were Thatcher’s Fifth Column, which deliberately and wilfully privatised the NHS, created widespread poverty and inequality, encouraged the Muslim world to attack us and invaded to Iraq to murder millions.

It is of course impossible to argue that the Blair governments (and that of Gordon Brown) did not make mistakes – for example Tony Blair’s over-estimation of his influence over George W. Bush and his White House, and his under-estimation of the pent-up loathing of the west and between sectarian factions which would lead to the bloodbath in Iraq after the invasion.

But what Movement Socialists will do is to fail to take a balanced and rational view of the record of Labour in power.

So in the case of Iraq, those who supported the invasion and welcomed the overthrow of a genocidal fascist dictator, such as the Kurds and many incredibly brave democrats and socialists risking their lives for those causes, will be ignored. The balanced view is to take both into account.

In the case of inequality, the fact that the UK became more equal in 1997-2010 if the growth of the ultra-rich is discounted will be swept  aside, as will the growth in the real incomes of every part of society especially the least well off. Movement Socialists will also ignore that Tony Blair inserted the word “socialist” in the Party’s constitution for the first time, saved the NHS by doubling and tripling its budgets and that the purchase of private provision for NHS patients eliminated many waiting times for operations.

Again, a Labour member or supporter will take all sides into account and give credit for the achievements while learning from the failures. The stupidity of Movement Socialism means that it must dismiss all of the achievements while damning Labour governments for their irredeemable failures and cowardly compromises. It also extends to historical ignorance and prejudice, as witnessed by Corbyn supporters groaning at the mention of Nye Bevan’s name and heckling his multilateralism.

However, such historic myopia is not the biggest problem: that will be the implications for future policy.

Again, we can look to the American experience.   Movement Conservatism used the rhetoric and mythologies of betrayal to develop its momentum but then ran up against the realities of electoral and constitutional politics. It response was not to retreat but to redouble, breeding first the Tea Party, then the monster amongst its followers that has resulted in the Republican Candidature of Donald Trump.

Closer to home, we can see that the SNP has is now the party of Movement Nationalism, and that it now also suffers from its inherent  stupidity. For example,  Nicola Sturgeon insists that Scotland needs stability in the wake of the Brexit vote, but cannot contribute to that aim by ruling out a further independence referendum: the Movement will not allow it.

For Labour, the danger of Movement stupidity is that our own dogmas will become entrenched in our policies.

The most obvious example is that of unilateral nuclear disarmament.

My own view is agnostic on the question, as I do not regard nuclear weapons as uniquely evil: conventional fire bombs killed about the same number Japanese citizens in Tokyo as each of the nuclear weapons at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Likewise, it is hard to see how it is more moral or worthy to have turned the city of Cologne into a bonfire the height of Ben Lomond in 1942 than it is to have possessed nuclear weapons for 70 years without ever having used them. Like Bevan I am a multilateralist.

But for many Labour voters, the issue of nuclear disarmament is practical and for the Labour Party it is political. As we found in the 1983 General Election, it is hard to sway voters away from their devastatingly obvious conclusion that we should not give up our nukes while others keep theirs.

The question confronted by Neil Kinnock was whether it was worth keeping the policy of doing so, if it was going to contribute to keeping Labour out of power indefinitely. His answer was no:  Labour should rather “face the challenges of power, rather than indulge in the indignation of defeat.” It is no surprise that Neil Kinnock features high in the mythology of treachery of the Movement Socialists. Nor will be any surprise when this decision is overturned, and Labour activists again feel  good about themselves while rendering the party unelectable.

Similar steps away from public opinion to meet the requirements of the Movement are likely to be on energy security and nationalisation.

On the former, it is hard to see the Movement approving of either regulated fracking or new nuclear power: so Labour will support neither. We will then have to convince the public between the relative merits of being willing to either buy power from the likes of Putin’s Russia or to let the lights go out.

And on nationalisation, if rail is taken as the priority we will risk being seen to be espousing an outdated  model as a matter of dogma, rather than on the rational grounds that public ownership and investment will lead to greater efficiency, economy, efficacy and equity (the 4 Es of public policy appraisal) – does it make it quicker, cheaper, better or fairer?

In short, the stupidity of Movement Socialism will make Labour unelectable, by ignoring the needs and the views of the voting public and eschewing rational approaches to policy making in favour of sloganising and herd mentality prejudices.

And when that happens, Labour becomes first irrelevant and then an indulgence.  And meanwhile those who need a left of centre alternative will be at the mercy of the real Tories.

Jeremy will have his Movement Socialism, but at a high cost to many who cannot afford it.

Something To Look Forward To…

(I am not saying it will happen, but it could…)

Prime Minister May waited for the cars to come for the State Opening of Parliament and reflected. The big change had come after the Labour Schism of autumn 2016.

The failed Parliamentary Labour Party coup of the summer of that year had led to the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as the votes of supporters outweighed those of the Party’s members. As a result, the vast majority of MPs found themselves effectively at odds with the voting membership. They had two options: either to accept that Labour had become a party of the wider left, including the former Militant tendency and the Socialist Workers and people who had previously opposed Labour itself such as Greens and unattached radicals; or to maintain the party’s tradition of parliamentary sovereignty, as set down by its founders and set out in its constitution. All efforts compromise had failed, and the different visions of a progressive party became increasingly entrenched and estranged.

The result of the second Corbyn election was announced at the end of September, and within a week it was clear that the majority of the PLP would not accept his leadership. Labour party conference was a bloodbath, as MP after MP stood at the rostrum setting out how they would fight and fight again to save the party they loved, to be followed by CLP delegates and trade union leaders denouncing them as traitors, “Red Tories” and (in their eyes) most damning of all “Blairites.”

The low point came when the PLP staged a walkout during Corbyn’s Leader’s speech, when he compared them to Ramsay MacDonald: it was precisely the effect that the speech’s progenitor, Seamas Milne, had expected and desired.

And so the PLP became two groups: 140 traditional MPs, and 90 Corbynites. The latter also contained some soft-left faces, notably Andy Burnham (“showing solidarity”) as well as those who had received unexpected promotion in the pre-schism Shadow Cabinet resignation debacle.

The 140 rebels grouped themselves around a new leadership of Hillary Benn and Caroline Flint, and sought urgent talks with the Speaker in their bid to become the official opposition as “Labour Democrats”. However, to their dismay they found that they had been pre-empted by the Corbynites. These had already established their right to the title “the Labour Party” but had also been in secret talks with other parties. One of their rising stars, the ambitious MP for Norwich South, Clive Lewis had earlier in 2016 put forward his case for a Progressive Alliance, to include not only his version of Labour, but also Greens and nationalists. Therefore it should have come as no surprise when Corbyn presented his new Parliamentary grouping to the Speaker. His 90 MPs, plus 54 SNP, plus 3 Plaid Cymru and the Green MP Caroline Lucas became the opposition coalition.

As part of this deal, Lucas became Shadow Secretary for the Environment, and Angus Robertson became Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. The latter appointment (and the arrangement with the SNP) caused outrage in the Scottish Labour Party, with mass resignations only averted by the astute move of its leader Kezia Dugdale to put the issue to the membership of the party in time for a decision at its spring conference in 2017. The result of this had been to face both ways: to support the Radical Alliance at Westminster while continuing to reject independence and to oppose the SNP at Holyrood.

Another turning point was the new leadership of UKIP. Its strategists had long seen the potential for the party to attract disaffected Labour voters in the same way as the SNP had done in Scotland, and the first move was to take steps to move on from the EU debate. To do this, they set out the future of the party not as UKIP the “UK Independence Party” but as UKPP the “UK People’s Party.” This was not only an echo of successful populist parties elsewhere in Europe (such as the Österreichische Volkspartei in Austria) but also a bold statement that it would attend to the issues of those who felt marginalised by “elite” traditional politics.

All this time, she remembered, Theresa May was busy with Brexit, and had no need or wish for a General Election. The deal which her government finally developed was an Associate Membership deal with the EU, which maintained the UK’s place in the Single Market but which allowed some extra controls on movement of EU nationals under some specific conditions. These would also be allowed to other member states by application, but required treaty change and therefore the consent of all national governments. And this was the downfall of the deal: a number of states did not ratify, so it could not be introduced.

The choice for the UK was either to accept a deal outwith the Single Market, or to abandon Brexit altogether. Having reached this crisis, May was handed a lifeline in the shape of the Boundary Commission review. This was worth another 50 seats to the Tories, on top of the gains that could be made on back of the disarray in the Opposition. She went to the country in May 2020, recommending that the UK should abandon Brexit as she could not recommend a deal to the UK which would not be economically ruinous.

The other issue which raised the political temperature was that of fracking. Following the cancellation of the Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station, the May government had taken a strategic decision to protect the UK’s energy security by developing non-traditional gas extraction.

This was met by outrage by the liberal and green lobbies, and was the subject of mass demonstrations in all the major cities. The next step was a series of Green Camps at the prospective sites of fracking operations; both of these caused considerable civil unrest, as fracking became the most divisive issue in the UK since the Miners Strike of the 1980s.

It also became clear how the different parties would line up as the Radical Alliance put extra-parliamentary action above representative democracy, siding with those who advocated direct action and inevitably against the authority of the police and rule of law.

Against this background, the Labour Party was not only split between its membership and its MPs, it was in disarray over its organisation and its selection processes. Some CLPs had been swamped with new Corbynite “Momentum” members and set about getting themselves selected in place of sitting MPs. Other CLPs refused point blank to open the selection procedure against Labour Democrat MPs who were well-liked and established in the constituencies.

Many of these selections were unresolved as May called the election, so a patchwork of official/unofficial Corbynite/LabourDemocrat candidates emerged by Polling Day. The Radical Alliance sought to clarify its preferences by a Coupon Scheme, inspired by Lloyd George’s Liberal election tactic in 1919. In every constituency, there was single candidate designated as Radical who was recommended by the Alliance.

As the election results came in, it was clear not only that the Tories had won comfortably, but also that a major realignment had occurred in UK politics. The Radical Alliance lost half of its Labour seats, while retaining most of its SNP representation, although the Scottish Tories took five seats, mainly in the north and east of Scotland. Labour in England suffered badly at the hands of UKPP, especially in its former industrial heartlands. The UKPP case of course been massively boosted by the narrative of the betrayal of “Brexit means Brexit” – it was ironic that Labour, not the Tories, had been punished so severely. Nonetheless, the third party squeeze of the First Past The Post system and its own internal squabbles over the leadership of the party restricted the UKPP advance to 85 seats.

As a result, the rump of the old Labour Party as reduced still further to 52, many in London (the number of MPs led by Clem Attlee in 1935, the optimists pointed out.)

So that was the outcome of the 2020 General Election: Tories 389; Radical Alliance (inc Corbynites) 90; UKPP 85; Labour Democrats 52; LibDems 15; Northern Ireland 18; Speaker 1.

Mrs May had a good working majority and mandate to row back from Brexit, and the left was out of power indefinitely. There would be trouble ahead undoubtedly: UKPP would continue to gnaw away at its bone of grievance, and was likely to become the official opposition if it could transform its populist appeal into seats with better organisation and professional campaigning. Likewise, SNP would keep beating the independence drum, although the Scottish population had cooled its enthusiasm as the economic prospects outside the UK and the EU looked worse and worse. 2014 had been the high water mark, and the tide was going out steadily.

The economic disaster of Brexit has been averted, but she wondered at what cost?

These were the thoughts that began to increasingly preoccupy her as she began to look through the reports of the post-election riots: in all of the major cities, Radical Alliance demonstrations had sought to occupy public spaces and buildings as the Tory government had been returned. In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament had been occupied by Radical independence protesters. The police had fought running battles with UKPP crowds that had gathered to protest against the “betrayal” of Brexit. In the northeast of England and on Merseyside, the Radical Alliance and UKPP mobs had fought each other for control of the streets.

Mrs May looked out from the window of her Downing Street office and pondered that she had gained the leadership of her party and her position as PM easily, almost by default, and the collapse of the parliamentary opposition had made her election victory nearly as easy. But the task of government that had fallen so easily to her was looking more difficult than that of any of her predecessors since Churchill in 1940.