Thursday, 31 July 2008

Stop the Plotting and Have an Honest Politcal Debate.

In all the media melee on the Labour leadership issue the Left must rise above all the personality politics and backroom plotting. We have always held a principled position that open political debate and democratic elections based upon politics not personalities should always be the method of operation for a socialist party. The Guardian's Comment is Free website asked me my views and so I wrote the following so that people know where we are coming from.

Comment is Free Guardian Thursday 31st July

Why is New Labour so worried about elections?

Before the degrading spectacle of candidates coyly jockeying for position gets worse, the party needs to invite open debate on the leadership with voters

John McDonnell MP

I've kept my head down over the last few days since the latest round of Labour leadership election fever broke out. Trying to get a rational debate going about the politics and policies needed to address the issues our country and indeed our planet are facing just isn't possible when all the media wants you to talk about is who is stabbing whom in the back.

What is it about New Labour and democracy? Why is everyone so worried about democratic elections? Last year I was urging everyone in the parliamentary Labour party to lighten up and to allow a range of candidates to come forward for the Labour leadership election, so that we could have an honest and good-natured debate that genuinely reflected the wide range of views of our party members and supporters.

I thought then, as I do now, that this would have shown Labour politics at their best. We could have the type of open, creative debate that British politics desperately lacks at the moment. After that we would have been in such a better position to unite and defeat the Tories.

Before the final nomination process last year, I toured round the country for a year speaking to meetings large and small, in community centres, trade union branches, church halls and workplaces, talking to people who just wanted to talk about the politics of their everyday life. It was just fascinating to listen to people. Most felt completely alienated from party politics and cynical about politicians.

You can't blame them. They feel that they are mostly ignored by government. They rightly see parliament as largely toothless and the media as a small, self-obsessed clique. If the current Labour leadership debacle plays itself out in the same way as the last few weeks cynicism will increase not just at a cost to the Labour party but to politics as a whole.

It just becomes embarrassing and a bit degrading to watch candidates for the Labour leadership slyly position themselves to either bring about or opportunistically gain from the fall of the very person they so sycophantically rushed to nominate only 12 months ago. You have to feel for Gordon Brown having to rely for his future on such colleagues.

If Miliband, Harman, Purnell, Johnson or any others fancy their chances as leader of the Labour party why don't they just explain why and have a go? Writing articles, holding press conferences and having your friends brief the media are clearly designed to stake a claim for the leadership, so why not be straight about your intentions?

What has also become obvious from all the manoeuvrings so far is that the debate about the leadership is devoid of policies, so let's hear some politics rather than have the party being forced into some media fashion show.

The best process for the Labour party would to accept that there is a need for a debate about the future of Labour in government and to invite an open publication of the political programmes advocated by the different factions within the party and to get out and about around the country to openly debate these ideas. This is no big deal. It doesn't have to be divisive. Most social democratic parties across Europe have a similar sort of open democratic process for deciding their political futures.

No matter how hard people tried to make the Warwick mark 2 process more engaging, it has come across as a traditional internal party stitch-up and has hardly produced a political programme that will set the world of British politics alight.

Instead the Labour party could also learn a lesson or two from the new social movements that have emerged in recent times, like the Climate Camp. Last Saturday I was at the Climate Camp conference on opposing Heathrow expansion. It was just exhilarating to get involved in such a creative and exciting discussion not only about policy issues but also about the action needed to change policies.

Increasingly I believe that the Labour party will only survive and succeed if it rediscovers its roots as a social movement,a mass movement for social justice, of course, but also inherently democratic. Why not start this process of re-democratising the party with a democratic election for the leadership and political programme of the party?

There just can't be another coronation for the leader of the party. Our members and the electorate just wouldn't put up with another one. I am up for a leadership election at any time but it has to be about beliefs, about a political analysis of the world and about the political solutions we can promote to regain control over the destiny of our planet.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Sorry but Warwick 2 will not be Enough to Save Labour

I read Jackie Ashley's column in the Guardian this morning and couldn't find the apology anywhere.

Only twelve months ago she headed up the media dinner party circuit that urged upon the Labour party the strategy of "the smooth transfer of power" from Blair to Brown. Ms. Ashley and vitually all the other media commentators arrogantly dismissed a leadership election enabling ordinary party members to engage in an honest political debate about the future of Labour as just a distraction.

This morning she urges the party to dump Gordon Brown and states that "the party desperately needs a debate about its future direction."

Just as Ms. Ashley and other media commentators were part of the process last year of preventing party members having a say over the leadership of the party now their articles over the last few days are already trying to limit that debate and limit the participants in the debate.

Already elements in the media have selected for us ordinary party members and trade unionists who will be on the shortlist for any future leadership election. The range of potential candidates has already been restricted by these media commentators to those, who like them, supported Gordon Brown and the thrust of New Labour policies over the last decade. The media is reducing the most important debate about Labour's future into the equivalent of a political fashion show catwalk for the sole enjoyment of the gliterati of central London.

What this fails to appreciate is that the vast majority of party members understand that it is a radical change of politics that is needed and not just a new face. Labour Party members must not allow the debate about the future of our party to be dictated by the small clique of media commentators.

That is why the discussion of Warwick 2 is critical. From what we now know about this weekend's agreement, Warwick 2 may contain some very limited advances in the preparation of a policy agenda that could limit the damage to our party at the next election but it is equally clear that it does not go anywhere near enough. Indeed in some areas such as the endorsement of the Government's reactionary welfare reform programme and support for academies it is a retrograde step towards the loss of even more of our supporters.

Over the coming months in the run up to the LRC's confrence in November my role will be to promote a rank and file discussion about the future political direction of the Labour party. This will be led by members not the media. If that discussion leads us to the conclusion that the debate about the future of our party should include a change of leader that that decision will not be determined by media commentators but by ordinary members of our party and our trade union supporters.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

The Test of Whether the Left Should Challenge for the Future of Labour will be if Warwick and the Party Conference Delivers Radical Policy Change

There is something nauseating in watching all those MPs and Cabinet Members now turning on Gordon Brown when only 12 months ago they so grovellingly nominated him in such large numbers that they blocked an election for Leader of the Labour Party.

The issue is not whether Gordon Brown is a personal liability or whether he is capable of getting Labour's message across to the electorate.

The reason people have turned away from Labour is the message not the messenger. Shooting the messenger and replacing him with yet another New Labour MP who has supported the politics that have nearly destroyed the Party would be absolutely futile.

The electorate aren't stupid. They would see through this stunt within weeks.

If Labour is to survive in Government and even as a party we need a new politics and a new policy programme. All of those mentioned in the fashionable media jockeying for the leadership contender position from Miliband, Johnson, Harman, Purnell and Cruddas have voted for and supported virtually every New Labour policy laid before them from the disaster of the war in Iraq to the 42 days latest assault on civil liberties.

If Labour is to survive we need a radical break with this type of opportunist politics.

Labour has a last chance to demonstrate political change through the policy programme that comes out of Warwick this weekend and is agreed by Labour Party conference in September.

If that opportunnity for radical change is not taken, it will be then that the Left will need to take the decision to challenge for the future direction of our party. Our challenge would be based upon political principle and not the career planning and plotting of politicians.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Reaction to Glasgow By-election Result

I have sent out the following press release as a first reaction to the disastrous by-election result in Glasgow.

Fatal to dismiss Glasgow result as protest vote.

Commenting on the result of the Glasgow by election Labour MP John McDonnell said If this result does not demonstrate to the Labour Government the need for change nothing will. It would be a fatal mistake to dismiss this result as a by election protest vote. The message is straightforward. Labour must change or we are finished.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

New Labour attacks welfare . . . again

Yesterday, the Government set out its new plans for 'welfare reform'. The plans reform both Jobseeker's Allowance and Incapacity Benefit (soon to become Employment Support Allowance).

The proposals include compulsory community service for those on unemployment benefits (equating benefit entitlement with criminality), and a range of punitive measures for people on incapacity benefit.

At a time of increasing unemployment such draconian measures will not only prove counter-productive, but the requirement for forced labour and the greater harassment of disabled people is a moral disgrace.

Allowing the private sector to make money out of the unemployed and those on incapacity benefit is a step further than even the Governments of Thatcher or Major went.

The Government has sacked 30,000 staff in DWP since 2004 and now it is proposiing to give more of their jobs to the private sector through letting private companies deliver welfare programmes.

I will be standing in solidarity with the unemployed and the disabled, as well as PCS members working for Jobcentre Plus, to defend public services and welfare rights.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Solidarity with public sector workers

From tomorrow, public sector workers in local government and across the civil service will be taking industrial action to demand that their pay reflects the rising cost of living.

The Government appears clueless about the depth of anger among public servants facing pay cuts while energy, fuel and food prices are letting rip.

These strikes are just a reflection of the strong feelings public servants have because the Government has ignored their worries and refused to act.

I'm calling on the Government to review its pay strategy so that public sector workers are protected from the economic crisis and recession that we now face.

In solidarity with all Unison, Unite and PCS members on picket lines.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Housing Crisis Worsens but Government Dithers.

I was in a succession of meetings at Hillingdon Council yesterday accompanying local families to meet housing officers in the hope of persuading them to give the families a council house. The families were living in appalling housing conditions, overcrowded, damp, and subject to the harrassment of their private landlords.

This is a weekly event for me, following up cases from my weekly advice surgery. It is one of the most depressing experiences. The housing officers are struggling to do their best but are faced with a housing shortage on a scale we haven't seen since the Second World War.The families are desperate to get a decent home and to feel settled, instead of subjecting their children to the constant moving from house to house and school to school as the private tenancies run out.

Buy to let landlords, who have been promoted by Gordon Brown, are profiteering from housing benefits. They are often maximisimg their profits by charging extortionate rents and minimising their costs by doing the least possible to maintain the standard of their properties. The promotion of buy to let landlords is creating a modern form of slums. It was exactly to deal with this private landlordism that over a century ago council housing was created.

The refusal of the Government to allow councils to build homes once again has resulted in a doubling of homeless households from 40,000 in 1997 to 80,000 today. True to Brown's neo-liberalism the Government has relied upon the private sector to deliver the homes we need and of course not only has it dramatically failed to deliver it is now in crisis. The house building industry is collapsing fast and the Government's target of 3 million new homes by 2020 is looking extremely unrealistic. The aim was to build at least 250,000 nrew homes each year. The estimate for this year in at best 100,000 and falling.

The Government's solution is to give more public funds and public land to the private sector. This will just increase private sector profits.

The solution which the Government will inevitably have to implement is to ask local councils to take the lead in building new council homes on a massive scale aiming at a target of 500,000 a year. In the short term we have a house price slump,(today we hear that house prices have dropped for the 8th month in a row),many private landlords wanting to offload properties and over half a million homes are standing empty. Local councils shoud be given the ability to borrow in order to purchase properties lying empty in their areas. If landlords resist a reasonably priced sale local councils should be able to use speeded up compulsory purchase powers.

The scale of the housing crisis requires an emegency programme. The days when I have to witness parents pleading in tears for a decent settled home for their children could so easliy be put behind us if the Government had the will to act.