TWO EVENTS NOT TO MISS

Before I depart on my summer vacation, I should like to draw attention to two important events while I am away:

1. Red Star Festival, Marx Memorial Library, 31 July – 2 August, 37a Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU. A weekend of debate, discussion, comradeship and fun. Book your place at http://www.communist-party.org.uk.

2. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leadership front runner

Tuesday 4 August 2015, 7pm, Croydon TUC, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon, CR0 1BD

No need to book, just turn up.

There is no Communist University in South London in August. We are holding a planning meeting in September and classes resume in October – both on the first Tuesday of the month, 7 pm at Ruskin House

Dooming the Labour Party Forever?

Liz Kendall, the Blairite candidate in the Labour Leadership election, received a respectable 41 nominations from her fellow MPs, including one from our very own Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North. Their hopes of a payback for this support must be fast diminishing.

Liz Kendall’s bid to become Labour Leader didn’t come out of the blue. Before the general election the Independent on Sunday said she had “emerged” as the favourite among Blairites who were impressed by her TV performances. What a mistake that turned out to be! She fell flat on her face in the first televised hustings, finding herself unable to establish any rapport with an audience of potential Labour voters.

She was also tipped by the odious Daily Mail in January as a potential future Labour Leader. Their source was not disclosed, but the Mail would probably not have gone ahead with such a puff without sounding out Miss Kendall first. They made much of her membership of a mysterious ‘breakfast club’ of right wing Labour frontbenchers, including Chuka Umunna and the dire Tristam Hunt, who reportedly met regularly prior to the full shadow cabinet to discuss such matters as who should succeed Ed Miliband. With the election still some months away, one has to sympathise with the hapless Ed. Who needs enemies when you have friends like these?

Despite preparing the way so assiduously, things have not gone well for Liz. Ladbrokes are now offering 10:1 on her winning this four horse race. Jeremy Corbyn’s odds, on the other hand, are shortening by the day. It seems to have come as a shock to our so-called ‘opinion formers’ that there are so many of us who are demanding radical reform and more. Not everyone has, however, woken up to this yet. The slumbering Daily Telegraph has called on its readers to register as Labour supporters and vote for Corbyn in order to “doom the party forever”. Calling on them to vote for Liz Kendall would have been a far more effective way of achieving this.

The only good news for Liz in the last few weeks has been a paltry third endorsement by a Constituency Labour Party. Regrettably for those of us who take pride in Croydon, it was from Croydon South CLP.

Jeremy Corbyn, if elected Labour Leader, would face huge difficulties with the Parliamentary Labour Party. No doubt he would seek to build bridges with the many pragmatic (if not to say self-serving) Labour MPs, but the hostility of much of the party and especially the Blairite rump – a group so disengaged from reality that they thought Liz Kendall was the solution to the problem – will mean a very real risk of another SDP-style break away if Jeremy is elected. That’s no reason, however, not to register, if you can, as a Labour supporter and vote for Jeremy. If you have any doubts about the quality and integrity of the man, would like to know more about what he stands for or if you would simply like to express your support for him, come along and hear him speak at 7.00 pm on Tuesday, 4 August at Croydon TUC, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD.

LOOKING THE OTHER WAY AGAIN

Sir Howard Davies’ long-awaited report from the Airports Commission was finally published last week. Predictably, he delivered what Big Business wanted: a recommendation to build a new runway, ideally at Heathrow, and silence on the impact it would have on the UK’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 2050. Howard Davies is, however, an expert at looking the other way when needed. He was the founding Chairman of the Financial Services Authority, luckily standing down sufficiently prior to the financial crash in 2006-7 to escape the criticism heaped on the head of his hapless successor. No matter – he had delivered for his political masters the ‘light touch’ self regulatory regime they wanted. How could he be blamed that it was totally unfit for purpose? His subsequent career as Director of the LSE did come unstuck following its acceptance of money from Gaddafi  – looking the wrong way again but this time a self-confessed “error of judgment”. Just the man then the government needed as Chairman of the Airports Commission!

As Greenpeace commented, the topic of carbon emissions is largely absent from Howard Davies’ report. Where it is addressed, it is with calls for marginal improvements such as increasing airport charges for older aircraft and mandating “green slots” under which less polluting aircraft take up the new capacity. No doubt aware of this deficiency, Davies wrote to Lord Deben of the Climate Change Committee when the report was published, pointing to the need for “a more significant package of measures” than appeared in his report. His ideas for these? A huge increase in the carbon price, which would presumably obviate the need for a new runway in the first place, and the pipe dream of bio fuels to replace aviation oil. It cannot be produced without reducing food production and starving the poorITS .

Frequent flyers are predominately drawn from the wealthiest 10% of the population. 15% of the British population who flew three or more times last year accounted for 70% of all flights. More than half the UK population took no flights at all. We don’t need a new runway – we need the wealthy to fly less frequently. Building more runways at Heathrow or Gatwick is not the way to go about this.

EU REALITY CHECK

The events in Greece this week will have come as a reality check to the diminishing number of people on the Left who still cling to the belief that the EU is anything other than government by the bankocracy on behalf of Big Capital. The irrelevance of the forthcoming Greek Referendum demonstrates that popular democracy is meaningless within this capitalist superstructure.  The only hope the Greek people have of avoiding decades of austerity and forced economic emigration is to free themselves not only from the shackles of the Eurozone but also from the entire neo-liberal  edifice that is the EU. The Greek people are not being offered such an opportunity in their forthcoming referendum, but such an opportunity has been opened for us in Britain by the forthcoming EU referendum. If we too are to avoid decades of austerity, we should seize this opportunity. It won’t be easy, not least because by campaigning to leave we on the progressive Left will appear to be on the same side as parts of the Right, some of whom are racist and most of whom will be campaigning on the wrong issues. Rather than making  lack of democracy and workers’ rights the primary issues in the campaign, the Right will be campaigning to leave in order to cut the minimal employment legislation imposed by the EU, to remove the remaining entitlement to UK welfare payments by EU immigrants (or indeed, remove these immigrants physically) and to assert various specious issues of petty nationalism.  In addition, the referendum campaign will be conducted with Cameron claiming to have achieved a number of irrelevant ‘reforms’ designed to appease his critics on the Right and with the pro-EU lobby in a position to outspend the Out Campaign many times over. Furthermore, many on the Left may opt to keep their heads down rather than be associated with the right wing opponents of the EU, opening the way for the mass media, including the already cowed BBC, to report only two views: those of the government to stay in and those of its right wing opposition to leave.

The opportunities that will open up to us if we leave the EU are, however, too valuable to throw away without a fight. These include, amongst others, the opportunity to switch away from a regressive VAT to a progressive Land Value Tax,  the opportunity to slam the door on TTIP currently being negotiated between the USA and the European Commission and, most important of all, the opportunity to begin to regulate, tax and eventually appropriate Big Capital after it has been stripped of the preference and protection that the EU affords it. Leaving the EU won’t guarantee that any of these will come to pass, but if we stay in they will remain  unattainable.

25 Years of live music in the garden

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On Saturday 11 July we will be celebrating 25 years of live music in the garden at Ruskin House. The Communist Party in Croydon is supporting this event with enthusiasm and is encouraging local members and comrades from further afield to attend. We are planning to have a stall selling Party literature and the Morning Star will be on sale.

Ruskin House is not only the Party’s  national administrative centre, it is also one of the few labour and trade union centres left in the country. Its survival when many other labour clubs have folded is something to celebrate. This survival cannot, however, be taken for granted. Profits from the day will be donated to the Ruskin House Restoration Fund, much needed to fix leaks in the roof caused by the theft of lead and to repair window frames and brickwork.

Ruskin House is owned collectively by the local labour movement. This means that Labour Party branches as well as trades union branches share in the ownership. Historically, the former have not been particularly supportive – unlike the trade unions they provide no funding and in the past have supported moves to sell the building and pocket the proceeds  – moves that were only defeated by a combined effort by local trade unions. The Labour Party has, however, a chance, perhaps its last chance, to turn away from such discreditable behaviour by rejecting the three pseudo-Tories standing for Leader and electing Jeremy Corbyn, the Left candidate. In addition to the CP stall and the Morning Star sales, both supportive of Mr Corbyn, Jeremy’s supporters will be present in large numbers to state the case themselves. This need not be just a fun day for all the family, it could also represent a great political opportunity. Be there!

Jeremy Corbyn’s nomination and the Communist Party’s response

There was much rejoicing on the Left when Jeremy Corbyn  secured  the support of 35 MPs needed to stand in  the Labour Party Leadership Election this week. It certainly gave much confidence to the massive anti-austerity demo organised by the People’s Assembly in London yesterday (Saturday). Jeremy Corbyn is a principled socialist who shone in the televised hustings that followed shortly after his nomination. His rivals came over as completely hopeless. Liz Kendall would not be out of place at a Tory hustings while Yvette Cooper  and  Andy Burnham appeared like rabbits caught in headlights and could only appeal to the ‘aspirations’ of Labour voters  to better themselves and abandon their fellow workers.  When it comes to socialism, they didn’t have a clue.

Given everything pitted against him (press, money, business, manipulated public opinion),  the odds are still stacked against Corbyn.  Should he, however,  overcome these obstacles and be elected Labour Leader, he will still have to come to terms with the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). Even if there were enough MPs who think as he does (there are not), he won’t be able to pick his own team. As Harold Wilson discovered , Labour Leaders from the Left have to compromise and make allies with those on the Right, however treacherous, like Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams, they turn out to be.  A Labour Party with Jeremy Corbyn as Leader with support from the affiliated trade unions would, however, be a more progressive entity than it has been in the past. So where does this leave the Communist Party? Should we be pressing for Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader?

There is a problem, but it is not of our making.

The Communist Party adheres to the principles Marx and Engels set out in the Communist Manifesto more than 160 years ago. In this  they state that

  • Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working class parties
  • Communist  Party has no interests separate and apart from workers as a whole
  • Communists  disdain to conceal their views and aim, which is to overthrow the existing social conditions, i.e. capitalism

For Harold Wilson, a week was a long time in politics, but we in the Communist Party have held true to these principles since we were formed in 1920. The first two principles above suggest that Party members who have been invited via their union, or directly by representatives of the Labour Party, to register as ‘Labour Party Supporters’ could do so, being able to accept the necessary declaration:  ‘I support the aims and values of the Labour Party, and I am not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it’. The sticking point is, however, not at heart the fact that we stand a few candidates against Labour in general elections – we are always careful when we do this to ensure our involvement will not result in Labour losing to right wing parties – it is rather the third principle: Communists do not conceal their views and their membership of the Party. In this they stand in proud and sharp contrast to members of Trotskyist and other supposedly revolutionary socialist parties and groups who habitually conceal their membership, primarily to engage in so-called ‘entryism’. This is the reason why these parties don’t stand candidates. But it is a dishonest strategy and one that has undermined John McDonnell’s efforts to re-found the Labour Representation Committee. It damages the credibility of their members.

Another less profound objection to CP members infiltrating the LP and voting for Corbyn is that, if our entire membership we to do so, it’s still unlikely that we would affect the overall result in Corbyn’s favour. Yet, if  Corbyn wins, vested interests will seek to over-turn the result on the grounds that the electorate was corrupted  by entryism.

Many CP members will be disappointed by the guidance offered by our General Secretary, Rob Griffiths,  this week that we should indeed not sign up to Labour and vote for Corbyn.  Nevertheless, this was undoubtedly the correct call. If members wish to influence the  ballot in Corbyn’s favour, they should do so legitimately by persuading friends, family, neighbours and workmates to sign up and vote for him. CP members can do this secure in the knowledge that Communists are respected  as straight talkers and straight dealers who don’t  hide their membership or conceal their views. We may be  foregoing one vote,  but we are then in a position to influence scores of others.

The Fortcoming EU Referendum

The Croydon Assembly last Saturday (6 June) was a great success. The Cedar Hall at Ruskin House was full and, with workshops in the morning and a plenary in the afternoon, it was more a day for debate and deliberation than a time to sit back and listen to leading figures on the Left give us their views on the way forward after the General Election.  Two of the key speakers, Philipa Harvey, Chair of the NUT, and Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, nevertheless, gave us plenty to think about.

Philipa Harvey, a classroom teacher in Croydon until she began her term as NUT President, described the folly of over-testing and over-examining school children. While Labour must share some of the blame for this, it is the Tories, driven by their pathological distrust of the teaching profession and fuelled  by the knowledge that their kids are taught under a different system (i.e. privately), who have pressed this to the extreme. Children, Philipa explained, are now to be tested from the age of four.  Yet the most successful education system in Europe (Finland), has one exam when kids complete their education and no formal testing.

The immense personal courage displayed by Mark Serwotka as he continues to battle for his public service members under continuous attack by the government while waiting for a heart transplant can only fill one with admiration. It makes a mockery of the ‘honours’ to be ‘bestowed’  on the great and good in the Queen’s Birthday Honours tomorrow. How disappointing that so few of those offered gongs and titles have the integrity to decline them; how disappointing that so many people who, until then we respected , lap them up while disingenuously claiming that they did so on behalf of their colleagues or their organisation. It was, however, on this occasion Mark’s views on the forthcoming EU referendum that attracted attention. Mark invariably talks sense, so it was something of a jolt when he argued that the forthcoming referendum would be a distraction for the Left and we should not get entangled in it.

It is certainly the case that the trade unions will be split over continued membership of the EU while the Labour Party under any likely new leader will support continued membership even on the existing terms. Cameron’s strategy is clearly to obtain some cosmetic changes to these terms, probably no more than restrictions on who can claim welfare benefits. This, he hopes, will be sufficient to buy off any revolt within his own party. Those on the anti-EU wing of the Tories and UKIP will concentrate on the free movement of labour within the EU, a line that would have some logic if it were accompanied with restrictions on the free movement of capital, but without this it will tend to degenerate into xenophobia and racism. The big issue for workers is, however, their powerlessness within the EU due to the almost total absence of democracy and the corresponding influence of Big Business within its structures  – an influence so great that TTIP can apparently be rammed through regardless of any opposition workers within the EU can mount.  But do these difficulties mean that the Left and, in particular, the Communist Party can afford to turn its back on the EU Referendum?

Seamus Milne argued in the Guardian on Thursday (11 June) that what has been happening in Greece demonstrates that the case for radical change in Europe and a break from anti-democratic and corporate-controlled structures cannot be abandoned to the Right. Who is correct over this, Mark Serwotka or Seamus Milne?  I would tend to back Mark against Seamus nine time out of ten. This, I think, is the one in ten exception.

Peggy Seeger at 80- Queen Elizabeth hall- 6th June

It doesn’t seem 10 years ago when I reviewed
Peggy Seeger’s 70th birthday concert for the Morning Star. That concert was a bringing
together the best of the British and US folk tradition to pay tribute with
brothers Mike and Pete Seeger as guests. Sadly they are no longer with us and
with Peggy Seeger herself having experienced serious illness last year this
concert could seem a somewhat low key affair in comparison.

Those fears are
soon laid to rest however in what is a good humoured and crowd pleasing concert
interspersed with amusing anecdotes about growing old. Backed by her sons Neil
and Calum MacColl and with guest appearances by Paul Brady and Eliza Carthy
Seeger is easily able to get the audience singing in chorus with a range of
instruments including guitar, banjo, concertina and piano. Her songs reflect her
political concerns including trade union rights and environmental destruction.
Particularly noteworthy are “Sing About These Hard Times” and the poignant
“Aragon Mill.”

The second set sees Seeger sing a couple of songs from her new
CD “Everything Changes” including the title track with reflections on her mother
Ruth Crawford Seeger and “Swim to the Star” a haunting song about the Titanic
disaster. Then we have Neil and Calum MacColl leading on two of their father
Ewan’s songs “Sweet Thames Flow Softly” and “The Joy of Living” followed by
Seeger singing the song MacColl wrote for her “The First time Ever I Saw Your
Face.”

Finally all artists come on stage for a rousing rendition of “Get Up and
Go” a fun song about the trials and tribulations of growing old made famous by
legendary US folk group “The Weavers” whose members included Pete Seeger and the
recently departed Ronnie Gilbert. This is a truly joyous occasion leading many
audience members coming away thinking perhaps growing old won’t be such a bad
thing after all.

STEVEN JOHNSON

General Election Blues

No one should be in any doubt that the outcome of the general election last month was anything other than a defeat for the Left and progressive forces in Britain. The SNP managed to obliterate Labour in Scotland by positioning itself to the left of Labour but, given our first-past-the-post voting system for parliamentary elections, it succeeded only in strengthening separatist tendencies in Scotland and entrenching the forces of reaction elsewhere. The Tories secured the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate but enough to give them a comfortable overall majority. We should, however, not cling to the illusion that a Labour government under Ed Miliband would have been able to deliver the goal of greater equality – now identified by Miliband’s critics inside the Labour party as Labour’s mistaken dominant electoral message. How strange that we, the electorate, didn’t notice this at the time!

So where are we now? According to Martin Kettle writing in the Guardian today (Friday, 5 June), we should take Cameron’s claim to head a one-nation government supporting blue collar workers seriously. According to Kettle, even our concerns about the NHS under the Tories are unfounded. He says that Jeremy Hunt is not repeating the mistakes made by his predecessor, Andrew Lansley: according to Kettle, the NHS will “still be there in 2020”. Complacency? With more anti-trade union legislation promised in the Queen’s speech, if that’s not clinging to illusions, I don’t know what is.

Croydon TUC, supported by the communists on its Executive Committee, has long taken a more realistic view about what we could expect following the General Election whoever won. That is why it formed well in advance of the General Election the Croydon Assembly as a way for the trade unions to reach out to the wider community beyond the boundary of organised labour to raise awareness and to encourage people to organise against austerity, privatisation, growing inequality and cuts in public services. CTUC took the view that these would continue whoever won the election. Given the apparent inability of the left within the Labour Party to summon up a mere 30 Labour MP’s to nominate a left candidate to stand as Leader, who can argue that this assessment was incorrect?

The Croydon Assembly reconvenes tomorrow, 6 June, 10.30 am to 4.30 pm, at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD.  There is a stellar cast of speakers including Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, Philippa Harvey, President of the NUT, and John McDonnell MP but much of the day will be given over to discussion by those who attend. If you can get there, forget the General Election Blues, come along and join in.

Croydon’s Communist Party Sets Out Measures to Tackle Britain’s Housing Crisis

There are 5,000 people on the Croydon council housing list, many of them officially homeless. This is only likely to increase as people are being forced out of Lambeth and other neighbouring boroughs due to the increasing cost of housing. Many have been put in temporary accommodation. Across Britain, around two million families are stuck on council and housing association waiting lists, with the Tories spitefully striking off 113,000 people by changing the way in which people qualify.

Ben Stevenson, Communist Party general election candidate for Croydon North, said, “I think this is a scandal and is symptomatic of the Tory-Lib Dem Government’s refusal to tackle the country’s housing crisis. Britain has the seventh largest economy in the world. We should be building decent homes for all who need them. Instead, we are failing those least able to defend themselves, forcing them to squeeze in to B&Bs. Not only are the conditions often cramped and squalid, but children suffer as they have no place to play or do their homework. These are modern day slums; and this is a massive waste of taxpayers’ money.”

House prices in London are continuing to spiral out of control. According to recent figures from the Land Registry, prices in Croydon have risen by 17% over the last year (against a London average of 11%). This is caused by a shortage of housing in the capital, the activities of ‘buy to let’ landlords and the Government’s fundamentally misconceived Funding for Lending scheme which fuels another speculative bubble.

The average property value in Croydon is now £324,000. According to ONS statistics, the average wage in Croydon is £24,336. As real wages have fallen for most people since the start of the recession, house prices in Croydon are now less affordable, compared to earnings, than ever before. It’s usually considered that a reasonable level for house prices is about three times that of earnings. But, for the first time, we are seeing average London house price which are thirteen times the average wage. People are being forced to take on absurd levels of debt to buy a home.

Mr Stevenson said, “Clearly, this isn’t sustainable. At some point the bubble will burst. Local politicians are failing to meet the housing needs of those least able to defend themselves: the poor, the vulnerable and the socially excluded. Meanwhile the number of new houses being built is falling to an all-time low. The only significant building projects that get the green light are those that promise yet more luxury apartments in an attempt to lure high earners away from Central London. The supply of social housing in Croydon is of course, woefully inadequate. Years of neglect by the local Tory council, along with central New Labour and Tory Government housing policies, has left Croydon with a smaller housing stock then almost any other London boroughs. Even the Council’s own Housing Strategy admits that Croydon is ill-equipped to meet housing need. An entire generation of people in Croydon are being systematically denied their right to decent affordable housing.

The communist party is absolutely clear. Having a decent place to live should be a basic human right. Labour has failed to take this issue seriously. Their policy on house building is opaque. Is it 200,000 or 250,000. Is that per year or just by 2020? Are those affordable homes or just more sky scrapers built to provide luxury apartments? How exactly is this meant to be achieved if not through a programme of council house building? In fact this policy commitment seems to be based on an expectation that the housing and construction market will itself magically deliver a solution.

We need, as a matter of urgency, to campaign for a significant council house building programme, an end to the bedroom tax, an end to council house sales, compulsory requisitioning of long term empty properties and rent controls in the private sector. Our immediate priority has to be to tackle private landlords. Rather than vague commitments to cap rents at CPI, I want to see an immediate rental cap of 50 per cent of average local earnings, driving it down until it’s 25 per cent.

Ultimately, we need more council housing across Britain. Just 37 per cent of accommodation let privately meets decent homes association standards compared to all council properties. We urgently need an inspection team – with the power to actually force landlords to act and to take properties into democratically accountable hands when they don’t. Only the Communist Party offers these and other progressive policies which matter to ordinary working people.”

Communists in Croydon published a pamphlet in 2014 on the growing housing crisis in the borough, Decent Homes For All: End Croydon’s Housing Crisis Now! This publication seeks to explain the why and how of Croydon’s housing crisis. Copies are available on this blogsite or by contacting us direct.

Notes to editors:
1. For enquiries phone 0208 686 1659 or e-mail croydon@communist-party.org.uk
2. Ben Stevenson is 30 years old and National Organiser of the Communist Party. Since moving to Croydon from his native Birmingham in 2005, he has been heavily involved in local labour movement politics through the Croydon Save Our Schools Campaign, the campaign against the Beddington Lane Incinerator and the Croydon Trades Union Council’s Executive Committee. He stood as a Communist Party candidate in the 2012 Croydon North by-election and the 2014 Bensham Manor local election.
3. The Communist Party was founded in 1920 and is part of an international movement involving millions of people in more than 100 countries across the globe.