Saturday, 23 November 2013

Tory Ministers & UCL academic plotted together against ant-fees protestors (in 1988)

With some University administrations trying to criminalise student protest, a good time to republish this article of mine based on Freedom of Information docs showing a bonkers plot between a UCL academic and the Tory government to attack student anti-fees protestors

Morning Star
March 31, 2011 Thursday
Solomon Hughes

The last time a Tory government pushed university costs onto students in the '80s, a big demonstration ended in police fighting with protesters. But after the clashes Tory ministers entered a bizarre scheme with a Lib Dem peer and leading academic to create a dossier to "point the finger at the SWP" for the disorder. The scheme, which involved leading London University historian Conrad Russell, is revealed in papers released under the Freedom of Information Act. The plan fell apart when Russell's students blamed a police cavalry charge for the violence.
Thatcher's government replaced grants with loans in 1988. Students responded with a 30,000 strong demonstration. The protest ended with the "battle of Westminster Bridge," with police horses charging against students who were trying to reach Parliament. The Mail and Telegraph reported this was a "riot" involving a "mob" and "agitators," but the role of the police soon came under question. The Daily Mirror headline read: "Riot cops charge students at demo: Fury at police brutality." The Times reported: "Police brutal at demo, say MPs." The Metropolitan Police were clearly shaken by the protest and rushed out a report for Home Office ministers the day after the demo blaming "at least 2,000 Socialist Worker Party, Socialist Worker Student Society and 'black' anarchist members" for the disturbances. The police report has a paranoid tinge, shown in this paragraph. "When the march set off 1,000 SWP members had congregated together in the first 2,000 marchers. The remainder which included Greenpeace and the LSE contingent of the SWP had placed themselves in a like formation at the centre of the march. "The anarchist group infiltrated various university groups throughout the length of the march. When close to police observation points the anarchists quickly lowered their black flags so as not to be easily recognised. "This particular organisation circulated throughout the march, as did the more active SWP members. Their tactic from the outset was clear to infiltrate, persuade and later lead the more moderate factions away from the march. "Portable telephones were prominent, regular calls appeared to be made and it is suspected this method of communication was part of the ploy." The documents show that, despite the combined efforts of the Daily Mail and police and their tales of undercover agitators using "portable telephones," home secretary Douglas Hurd received many complaints of police brutality at the demonstration. But his minister Earl Ferrers did get one offer of help from Earl Russell, aka Conrad Russell. He was son of philosopher Bertrand Russell, the first Liberal Democrat peer and a history professor at University College London. Russell wrote to the Home Office to say: "My colleagues at University College have been talking to a lot of our more reliable undergraduates who had the misfortune to be on Westminster Bridge last Thursday. "If it would be any use, we could make a valuable dossier of their statements, which tend to point the finger at the SWP. Is there any use and, if so, to who should we send it?" Ferrers wrote back to Russell, encouraging him as "our information suggests however - as does yours - that there were other elements intent on causing trouble and disorder. "We would of course be interested in any evidence which University College felt we ought to be aware." An internal note from an official in "F8 division" of the Home Office shows that it welcomed the dossier offer as a relief from the many complaints about the policing of the demo. The note for the minister reads: "You sought advice on the attached letter from Lord Russell concerning the SWP's involvement in the student day of action in London on 24 November. "We agreed over the telephone that it would be inappropriate for the department to give any appearance of actively commissioning material of this kind, but that since there is already a post-mortem under way (by means of P[arliamentary] Q[uestion]s and MP cases etc) into the allegedly heavy-handed policing of the demonstration, it was clearly wrong to overlook any evidence which shed reliable light on events." Correspondence about the proposed dossier takes up a considerable proportion of the file on the 1988 demo, suggesting that the Home Office had high hopes of Russell's proposed "evidence." With ministerial encouragement, Russell sent a questionnaire to students about the demonstration, demanding they reply "with scrupulous honesty." The questionnaire does not make clear his intention to "point the finger at the SWP." Russell was a leading historian of the English civil war, but the amateurish and leading questionnaire he prepared doesn't show an impressive approach to historical evidence. Unfortunately for Russell and the Home Office, his students failed to do as expected. Russell wrote to the Home Office on December 15 and expressed his "disappointment" at the lack of evidence against the SWP and at the way his students instead focussed on a "cavalry charge" by the police. Even the earl was forced to admit the use of horses seemed "rather Cromwellian." The police have always denied their horses charged. The Home Office, in its extensive notes on Russell's proposed "dossier" also admits to its disappointment. A note to minister Lord Robin Ferrers from officials in F8 division says: "Lord Russell's intention was to volunteer a dossier confirming that SWP activists were to blame for the disorder which broke out. "The depositions have proved to be less forthcoming in this respect than he had anticipated and a number of them express the same concerns about police action that we have seen in other correspondence." So the papers show that in 1988 Tory ministers spent time and energy working behind the scenes to show a demonstration was all about "elements" causing "trouble and disorder." When the evidence actually pointed to a police cavalry charge as the shocking event of the day, they shuffled their papers and buried the facts. Faced with a new wave of protest, today's Tory government is publicly making the same noises about "agitators" - and presumably privately burying any inconvenient evidence.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Project Tristram, a Sainsbury product

With Tristram Hunt being promoted to the Shadow Cabinet , here is a 2012 piece I wrote on the man.

No one will miss Stephen Twigg, the useless Blairite he replaced, but Hunt is really a more effective Blairite.

Now read on.....

Hand in Glove
Morning Star
Solomon Hughes
12 July 2012

Last week I wrote about millionaire Lord Sainsbury's various projects to make politics more millionaire-friendly.
Sainsbury put big money into big schemes to promote low tax, low regulation, pro-privatisation groups like the Social Democrat Party, Blairite secret society Progress, or the creepy Institute for Government.
But there's one small Sainsbury project that also deserves a mention - Project Tristram.
Tristram Hunt, the new-Laboury MP for Stoke, is often called a "Peter Mandelson protege."
But he is really a Sainsbury scheme - Hunt did a summer job helping lobbyist Derek Draper write a book on Tony Blair's greatness in 1997.
But both men were working for Sainsbury, who wanted to build his Progress organisation around the soon-to be-disgraced Draper.
Lord Sainsbury then hired Hunt as his own spokesman. And while Sainsbury has stopped funding Labour because he thinks Ed Miliband is too red, he did put £3,000 into Hunt's Stoke constituency Labour Party.
Sainsbury's money is supposed to secure Hunt's place in Stoke after the local party objected to him being forced on them as a candidate in 2010.
Hunt's progress shows exactly how the culture of favours and "internships" promotes public schoolboys over ordinary folk, even in the "people's party."
Hunt doesn't look as right wing as some of his sponsors, but this is mostly an issue of timing. He arrived too late to push the high new Labour policies like war and privatisation. But look closely and he often is rightish.
He's is a member of the "constitutional reform" MPs' select committee. Last year it vigorously investigated business lobbying.
But Hunt was cautious, arguing that "lobbyists can play a useful and effective role in the legislative process."
Coincidentally lobbyist Tim Allen also funds Hunt's constituency party, giving it £2,000 this March.
Allen is the managing director of Portland, a lobbyist group representing arms firm BAE as well as Coca-Cola and McDonalds. Portland's latest client is scandal-hit Barclays.
Mike Craven, founder of lobbyists Lexington, also gave £1,000 to Hunt's constituency party.
His clients include the giant vampire squid of banking, Goldman Sachs, and health privateer Bupa.
Hunt makes occasional windy attacks on "predatory capitalism," but is friendly with some of its sly beasts.
Hunt wrote a reasonable book about Engels. But, to paraphrase Lenin, "in their lifetime great revolutionaries are reviled, but when they die the ruling classes try and turn them into harmless icons by getting some public-school twerp to write their biography."

Engels used cash from his business to fund one of capitalism's greatest critics. Sainsbury uses his cash to fund Hunt, who mumbles the odd complaint while trying to keep Labour basically compliant.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Pro-Nazi Daily Mail owner Viscount Rothermere praises Hitler's anti-Jewish moves

July 10th 1933,

Pro-Hitler Viscount Rothermere, Great Grandad of current Mail boss (who is also called Viscount Rothermere) praises Hitler for ending "abuses" by "Jews" and "Israelites" - 

see the last paragraph headed "Alien Elements"

“The German nation , moreover , was rapidly falling under the control of its alien elements. In the last days of the pre-Hitler regime there were twenty times as many Jewish government officials in Germany as had existed before the war. Israelites of  international attachments were insinuating themselves into key positions in the German administrative machine . Three German Ministries only had direct relations with the press, but in each case the official responsible for conveying news and interpreting policy to the public was a Jew.

It is from such abuses that Hitler has freed Germany..." now read on

Daily Mail owner's Grandad boasts of being Hitler's house guest in pages of Daily Mail

The Mail is currently owned by Viscount Rothermere. His Grandad, also Viscount Rothermere, founded the Mail empire. Here is grandad Viscount Rothermere in a full page Mail spread in  May 1937, boasting about being Hitler’s guest, proposing a British pact with Hitler

“Let us rid ourselves of the delusion that Hitler is some sort of ogre in human shape. I have been his guest at Berchtesgaden and had long conversations with him there “

This is one of many, many pro-Hitler articles in the Mail from that period. Now read on....

Daily Mail's pro-Hitler editorial from 1937.

Pro Hitler Editorial from the Daily Mail from February 1937 " No man has ever done so much in so short a time for his country as Herr Hitler for the German nation...."  Particularly praises Hitler for  'crushing communists' - that is , backs Hitler's murders. Now read on.....

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Those Barclay's Qatar payments are linked to the Libor scandal

Barclay's scandal shows Banks= Failures, Liars and maybe Crooks

Those Barclay's secret payments to Qatar that Robert Peston was on about this morning ? They are closely related to the LIBOR scandal. Like LIBOR, they show Barclay's  lied to cover up their failure. In brief: All British banks were about to be nationalised in 2008, because they were collapsing thanks to their rubbish investments.  Barclay's managed to stay independent - but only it turns out, by lying. Firstly, they posted fake "LIBOR" figures to pretend they were in better health. Secondly, they managed to get an £8 billion investment from Qatar to stay afloat.
However, they secretly paid around £300 million TO the Qatari's to get £8 Billion FROM the Qatari's. They kept these payments-for-loans secret because they look shady and sleazy. They don't look like what a healthy bank would do to get a sensible investment. Barclay's may have to pay a £50 million fine to the Financial Conduct Authority just for keeping the payments secret. But they may also face more fines and prosecutions if the US Investigators (The SEC and Department of Justice) find out the payments-for-loans were actually bribes. The moral is : All the banks failed so badly they had to be nationalised. The only reason Barclay's were not nationalised is because they lied with LIBOR rates and lied about secret Middle Eastern Payments. So Banks = failures and liars. And maybe, Banks= failures, liars and crooks.

There is some more about Barclay's in this piece I had in the Morning Star in May (Especially the bit in italics)

Barclays' dodgy deals hit the headlines

Morning Star
Thursday 23 May 2013

Barclays Bank is under investigation by the US Department of Justice over whether it made improper payments to a Saudi prince so he would get his government to fix its problems with the sheikhs.
Barclays' desert pal is Prince Turki bin Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz, seventh son of Saudi dictator King Abdullah.
The Financial Times has reported that Barclays hired the despot's lad to help with two problems.
First, in 2003, the bank lent £600 million to another sheikh's firm to build military bases in the kingdom. These were leased to the Saudi armed forces.
But the borrower, the Compound Lending Corporation, didn't pay its first £70m repayment.
Barclays reasoned that because a sheikh ran the corporation and the bases were leased to the army, the Saudi government would sort out the repayments.
But the kingdom shrugged its shoulders and ignored repayment demands even when Barclays took it to court.
Second, in 2008 Barclays needed a licence from the local regulator, the Saudi Capital Markets Authority (CMA), to keep doing business.
Barclays admits that it hired the son of the king to help out. It says he was "acting through his corporate entity, Al Obayya, to advise it on strategic issues in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as on its CMA licence application."
But it denies any wrongdoing.
But you can see why US authorities are investigating.
Paying the king's son for help with a licence from his government, or to sort out loan repayments on army bases, looks like paying for influence.
Barclays won't enjoy the focus on its Middle East business.
Because the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) back in Britain is also looking into the bank, investigating how it escaped the 2008 financial crisis with Middle Eastern help.
All the big banks in Britain went bust in 2008 and needed bailing out. We part-nationalised top banks such as RBS and Lloyds.
Barclays was the exception. It managed to avoid nationalisation thanks to a $12 billion (£8bn) investment from the royals of Qatar and Abu Dhabi.
But the bank paid out a whacking $300m (£200m) in "commissions, fees and expenses" to get this investment.
The deals were put together with the help of glamorous men and women.
Amanda Stavely, a former model and one-time girlfriend of Prince Andrew who is close to the rulers of Abu Dhabi, got £29m for helping put the deal together.
Roger Jenkins, an international financier and boyfriend of Elle MacPherson, got a big payout for helping arrange the Qatari side of the deal.
But the SFO is investigating to see if the deal was also lubricated with any illegitimate payments.
We know Barclays acted dishonestly in other ways to avoid being nationalised.
Barclays posted its fake Libor rates to give a false picture of economic health, avoiding a humiliating bailout.
So the SFO is looking to see whether making dishonest payments as well as publishing dishonest figures was part of the escape strategy.
This could be the gathering of a perfect storm for Barclays. The Saudi case may show Barclays made illegal backdoor payments to Middle Eastern royals to fix loans.
The SFO investigation may show that it made dubious payments to guarantee other loans.
Barclays' claim to have turned over a new leaf would be shown to be false - because it denies the charges.
Of course, sometimes what looks like a storm turns out to be nothing. The clouds gather, but disperse without thunder and lightning.
The investigations may show that the bank did nothing wrong.
The Barclays board must be praying it doesn't rain right now.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Labour "Big Beast" Alistair Darling is the bankers pet

Labour’s right wing have launched “operation self destruct” – they hate Ed’s slight shuffle to the left so much that they launched  the entirely made-up fuss over Unite “Fixing” the Falkirk MP’s selection. Unite had done no wrong, but the the Dodgy Dossier style claim promoted by the New Labour gang was enough to divert Ed Miliband into a self destructive battle with the unions.

In the Observer one Cabinet member used Ed Miliband’s stumbling battle with the anti-union Labour right to call for  "the return of a big beast" like "Alistair Darling." If Darling is the answer, they are asking the wrong question : As I have shown in a few columns for the Morning Star, Darling has spent the last few years cramming his pockets with money from dubious bankers. He took £15,000 for doing his little turn for JP Morgan in May. I warned then that JP Morgan's London office was still up to dubious trading, even after the crash. Now US authorities have issued  arrest warrants for JP Morgan traders, who worked with the "London whale" Bruno Iksil, covering up their reckless losses. So the new Labour ministers think bringing back Darling just after his mates get arrested for financial misbehaviour is the best way to get the party fit and working again. Meanwhile the man himself is poncing off yet another bunch of bankers. In July Darling got £8,500 for four hours' work for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Merrill Lynch was absolutely central to the financial crisis, pumping out packages of sub-prime mortgages onto world markets. It lost $50 billion (£32bn) on dodgy trades - and its losses then helped throw the rest of the world's markets into crisis. Merill Lynch went bust and was bought by Bank of America, which itself was only afloat due to $20bn-worth of US government bailout. Bank of America paid a $33 million (£21m) fine to US regulators for hiding its intention to pay out billions in bonuses to the Merrill Lynch traders it had taken over. In 2010 it paid $137m (£88m) in fines to settle charges that they had defrauded hospitals, schools and US town halls over municipal bond sales. In short, Bank of America Merrill Lynch helped cause the crash, got billions in bailouts, paid billions in secret bonuses and cheated the public sector. It represents everything that is rotten in the financial sector. But to Darling, it's just a pay cheque. Labour needs another bankers' friend in the shadow cabinet like it needs a hole in the head. Unfortunately Labour  makes a habit of trepanning itself.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Bilderberg - a Dirty Weekend as Lawbreakers meet

I wrote the following piece as a second part of this  weeks  Morning Star column on Lycamobile- but didn't have enough space to fit it in, so   I thought I would put it here:-

A bunch  of the corporate executives  hobnobbing with George Osborne Ed Balls and Ken Clarke  at the Bilderberg Conference in a hotel near glamorous Watford this weekend (8th-9th  June) come from firms involved in serious lawbreaking.  Last December HSBC paid a $1.9 billion fine in the US to settle charges they had laundered $881 million of money from Mexican drug cartels – drug dealers were depositing so much money at HSBC’s Mexico branches that the criminals had special money boxes designed to fit through the space in HSBC cashiers windows. In America Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is outraged they got away with just a fine. She said “You know, if you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to go to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life. But evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night, every single individual associated with this. I think that’s fundamentally wrong.”

HSBC Chairman Doug Flint, Deputy Chairman Simon Robertson and Chief Exec Simon Robertson are all at Bilderberg.

Arms firm BAe Systems have repeatedly been investigated for bribery. In 2010 they paid  £257m in criminal fines to the US and £30m to the UK for bribery relating to Saudi, Hungary and Czech officials. Sherard Cowper-Coles, BAE systems “Business Development Director” for the Middle East will be at Bilderberg. Balls and Osborne probably know him already, as he had a long diplomatic career, including being Robin Cook’s PPS and  Britain’s envoy to Afghanistan before he joined the arms firm. According to a Wikileaks US telegram, when Cowper-Coles was UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia he had a “profound effect” on a Serious Fraud Office not to prosecute BAE Systems for bribery in 2007

Bribery is always an issue in the arms trade. Arms firm EADS had their German offices raided by Police last year looking for evidence of bribery in sales of Eurofighter jets to Austria. The Serious Fraud Office is investigating an EADS subsidiary over bribery in the Middle East. EADS boss Thomas Enders insists his firm did no wrong. He can tell that directly to Osborne and Balls as he too  will be at the Bilderberg conference.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Ed Balls has subcontracted Labour's policy to tax avoiding PriceWaterhouseCoopers : Over £600k "advice" from PriceWaterhouseCooopers to Labour

MP’s on the Public Accounts Committee attacked the way  the Revenue and Treasury took staff from accountancy firms like PriceWaterhouseCoopers to advise on tax “on secondment” – because those consultants go off and advise firms on how to exploit loopholes on the laws they drew up. It’s a “too cosy relationship”, with tax avoiding consultants shuttling between government and industry, advising on avoiding tax laws they helped design. It’s what Margaret Hodge calls  “Poacher turned Gamekeeper Turned Poacher again”

Margaret Hodge and the MP’s on the Public Accounts Committee are right.

But Ed Balls has also outsourced the Labour opposition’s economic policy to tax avoidance advisers PriceWaterhouseCoopers as well.

Balls said PriceWaterhouseCoopers gave him a “"a research assistant/analyst to support me in my opposition front-bench role" for free last year. He’s not the only one. Since 2009 PriceWaterhouseCoopers have given over £600,000 worth of “advice” to the Labour Party’s front bench

In the latest Register of MP’s Interests, Labour’s Shadow Treasury team announce the latest PriceWaterhouseCoopers agents in the Labour Party.

Labour’s Shadow Treasury Ministers - Kilmarnock MP Cathy Jamieson and Nottingham MP Christopher Leslie  - both announce  the services of a Technical
Support Analyst to support me in my role as a Shadow Treasury Minister during the passage
of the Finance Bill 2013 committee stage, for three months between 18 March and 18 June” That “analyst” came from PriceWaterhouseCoopers: Labour let PriceWaterhouseCoopers help write up the way they take on  George Osborne – which is why they are so useless at taking on the Tory Treasury.

PricewaterhouseCoopers knows all about tax. It helped both Vodafone and Goldman Sachs on their controversial tax deals, spiriting billions away from the Treasury and onto corporate balance sheets. MP’s recently uncovered another 'extraordinary' structure 'to avoid tax on UK properties',

And it isn’t just tax:-  Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has subcontracted Labour's economic analysis to PriceWaterhouseCoopers - the firm which lumbered the last Labour government with PFI schemes, poor banking supervision and tax avoidance. 

Labour has started scoring a few hits on David Cameron by stepping outside the new Labour comfort zone - attacking health service privatisation and help-the-rich tax schemes. But Balls is stuck in 2010. Why get Labour or the unions to supply a research assistant when management consultants like PriceWaterhouseCoopers will help? 

Balls and his Treasury Team are not  alone. PricewaterhouseCoopers also supplied other Labour shadow ministers with research assistants. 

Shadow ministers getting free help from the firm include shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, shadow communities secretary Caroline Flint, plus Jim Murphy for defence and David Hanson for Treasury issues. 

When Ed Miliband reshuffled his shadow team the positions changed, but PricewaterhouseCoopers stayed the same. 

Umunna replaced John Denham, but the management consultants supplied assistants to both. The advice may be free, but it will cost the party dear. 

PriceWaterhouseCoopers was one of the main promoters of PFI and was also intimately involved in the financial collapse as Northern Rock's auditors. 

It saddled the party with crap, "business-friendly" policies that still damage Labour's credibility.
Its influence on Balls doesn't help Labour's attempts to shrug off some of the failures of the last government. 

Balls may not know what he is doing, but PricewaterhouseCoopers does. It plays both sides of Parliament. 

Before the last election it ran Frances Maude's "implementation team" which prepared Cameron's shadow ministers for government. Whichever way you vote, PriceWaterhouseCoopers wins.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

When We Beat Thatcher : The grassroots, rank & file and unofficial campaigns that beat the 'Iron Lady'

(This was my Morning Star piece for 12-Apr-2013. Usually they appear on The Morning Star website as well as in the print edition, but they were a bit busy and missed this off the Website this week)  

The Mail demand  we cry over Thatcher’s death. Self righteous Tories want national tears  , busily peeling onions to fake  their own emotions. Labour MPs try  looking somber, supressing smiles flickering at the sides of their mouths. Spontaneous street parties kick off from Bristol to Glasgow, singing what the Mail called a “chorus of hatred”.

All these conflicting emotions , but one agreement: We are sad or happy about Thatcher because she won. They are sad to lose their victorious champion, we celebrate our enemies’ loss.

That’s the big picture: Thanks to breaking the NUM and shackling unions with laws Thatcher severely weakened the oppostion. We live in a world she made –  perhaps a world  she broke - where  privatisation , deregulation and deindustrialisation gave us City dominance,  growing inequality, housing crises and poverty

But this wasn’t all one sided. We won battles while we were driven  back in the war:

Thatcher always faced some defeats. She won the Miner’s Strike, but in 1983 , after a month long strike, Thatcher gave water workers a decent pay rise. Wildcat action by waterworkers in the North two years earlier prepared ground for the strike. Thatcher paid up before suspended water maintenance made our taps and toilets sieze up. Many  people say  strikes are useless in our post industrial age, often while eating a slice of toast and drinking a cup of tea. But the electricity and bread in the toaster are both manufactured goods. Water comes through an industrial process. It’s harder to pontificate about post industrialisation while eating cold stale bread and drinking the juice from your last can of pineapple chunks. In the dark.

Thatcher lost  much more often in the latter part of her reign : Winning the miners strike hammered the unions, but did not break them. Within three years the unions bit back and destroyed Thatcher’s annointed successor: In 1987 Thatcher appointed a new  Health & Social Security Minister, John Moore: He had film star good looks and right wing ideas. He was called “Mr Privatisation” .  There were serious discussions about Thatcher retiring to let  “Golden Boy”  John Moore take over  . In 1988  Moore and Thatcher  faced a series of unofficial , semi official and official pay strikes by nurses: Fighting  these at the same time as trying to increase NHS privatisation and implement health cuts became a political nightmare : “Thatcher Frightened of meeting nurses” ran one Times headline. Nurses made the Iron Lady look weak. The nurses strikes were scrappy and spontaneous and wildly popular. Thatcher tried using her personal authority to face them down ,  attackinh  nurses in Parliament, but lost. Finally, John Moore , who seemed to be disintegrating , threw money at the nurses. He then disappeared from the Cabinet, and then Parliament. Thatcher’s favourite “Golden Boy” has never been heard of since.

More strikes from supposedly “broken” unions nipped at Thatcher. In 1989 tube drivers showed anti-strike laws were not invincible: They took several, completely unofficial days strike action . Unlike the nurses, tube drivers were supposedly “unpopular”. The Evening Standard ran barmy propaganda about Civil Servants beating the strikes by punting up the Thames or skateboarding across London. But the secret mass meetings kept happening, the strikes remained solid, and the drivers won more pay.

The same year Thatcher faced another health strike : Ambulance crews took the most extraordinary action. First they struck. Then they occupied their stations and ran the ambulance service themselves with cash raised by the same networks who supported the striking miners. Thatcher talked tough. She sent in Ken Clarke to call the Ambulance unions a “sick joke”. They tried sending in the army to run ambulances. Then they admitted defeat. Clarke also tried to win back some popularity by introducing defibrillators into all ambulances – up until then they were only in ambulances thanks to fundraising by the crews themselves : If you are saved from a heart attack by an ambulance  defibrillator that’s thanks to striking union members.

Even before the Poll Tax campaign persuaded Tory Ministers to ditch Thatcher, there was a rising tide of dispute. There are three points about the anti-poll tax campaign, which delivered the final blow. First it was completely ‘unofficial’ , openly attacked by  Labour’s leadership, mostly ignored by union leaders. Secondly, it involved massive community organising by committed activists- socialists, anarchists, every possible member of the awkward squad. Thirdly, all this broad, community based movement came to a head at the Poll Tax demo of 1990. The march was massive, but just a few hundred people sat down outside Downing Street. Police attempts to push them out of the way sparked a riot, which most of Thatcher’s ministers now admit spelled the end for Maggie. The people now demanding respect for Maggie actuallyditched her in fear. If her funeral was really going to represent her life, a bevy of Tory ministers would have to rush forward at the end and throw her coffin into the street. A year before the  protest, Thatcher had steel gates erected at Downing Street, showing her growing fear of  the people. The sit down that started the riot that brought her down happened at those gates: They are her monument. Like Ozymandias statue, they were meant to show strength, but actually show weakness.

There are two points I am making here. The first is that even the strongest enemy can be beaten. The second is that much of the action that beat her was unofficial, or semi official grassroots stuff . Thatcher was stopped by democratic mass movements from below. Many of the battles that beat her were also not defensive: They were succesful strikes for higher pay, not a defense against cuts.

Unfortunately, the official oppostion of the Labour party  wasted some of this victory by losing the 1992 election.  It seems to me that the  spontaneous, grass roots protests over Thatcher’s funeral are a fitting memorial,  because they look like the movement that got her out of office.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Ten Proposals For a Memorial Statue for Mrs Thatcher

(1)   The Herald of Free Enterprise, bow doors open sinking, in Marble . (1987) 193 passengers and crew drowned on this passenger ferry . Working people, health and safety, trade unions, all thought less important than ‘unfettered free enterprise’ thanks to Thatcherism

(2)   Piper Alpha, wreckage, in twisted steel (1988) 167 dead on this North Sea oil rig. Reasons above

(3)   Kings Cross Tube Station, in blackened stone (1987). 31 dead because sacking the cleaners who removed flammable grease and dirt was how the Underground interpreted Thatcher’s “enterprise culture”

(4)   A frieze, in marble, of St Paul’s, Bristol, Brixton, Toxteth, Handsworth , all ablaze. Thatcherism made riots normal again.

(5)   A Policeman, in ‘Nato’ helmet, ‘Nato’ boilersuit, Short Shield, Long Baton, ‘Northern Ireland’ Gloves, in Bronze : The statue of the unknown snatch squadder: A new look Mrs Thatcher brought to our picket lines and inner cities to replace the old fashioned ‘Bobby’.

(6)   Sam Fox driving a tank through the Wapping Picket Line (1986) in Steel. Because strike breaking, legal and police attacks on workers and Murdoch were all part of Thatcher’s scheme. And all they brought us was more Page 3 and more ignorance.

(7)   A Homeless Youngster in a doorway, in stone: Removing benefits from youth -  especially  a bizarre 1985 scheme by Thatcher’s minister Norman Fowler slashing housing benefits for under -26’s to stop them “living off the state” caused the first big outbreak of homeless youngsters in my lifetime. Up until then we had homeless older people – so-called ‘tramps’, those who had lost their way in life. Thanks to Thatcherism we saw our youngsters living on the streets.

(8)   “Tell Sid” etched into concrete: Because Thatcher’s privatisations of gas, water and electricity created a brave new world in which bad managers can rip us off with incomprehensible “tarrifs”.

(9)   An MRSA bacterium, in glass: By privatising hospital cleaning, Thatcher enriched her friends, like Lord Ashcroft, who took over the new business. But left wards dirty and dangerous: As at Kings Cross, sacking cleaners kills.

(10) A burning flame, in Trafalgar Square: The last time there was fire in the square, it was thanks to the Poll Tax riot, which finally ended Thatcher’s rule.

Friday, 29 March 2013

What could Julie Sherry have said instead ?

SWP Central Committee Member Julie Sherry offered a response to charges of mishandling rape allegations in the Guardian . This was kind of a step forward, because she actually addressed the issue rather than writing a long essay about Lenin . It was also good that she said  Nor do we accuse those who raise criticisms "of being 'bourgeois media stooges' or, worse, police informants", as I am neither.

But  it was hard to imagine her statement making much difference to the SWP’s ability to build, to recover influence, to recruit new members. A current SWP member asked me  “What should Julie Sherry’s article have said” on Facebook. This was my answer – his version was actually much stronger on admitting faults and offering concrete changes, so this is the soft version of the minimum necessary change :-

"The Socialist Workers Party isn’t a party of the mainstream . Because the mainstream is rotten. When all the “respectable” parties and mainstream commentators said the Iraq and Afghan wars were a great idea, we knew they were lying, and put all our energy into building the anti war movement. When “sensible” political leaders like Ed Miliband say people should ignore demos by the right wing EDL and hope they go away, we know he is wrong, and build counter-demonstrations, so we can beat the far right like we have done before. When Labour talk about the danger of the Coalition cuts, but say they will just make kinder cuts , we don’t just nod and smile: We are for a movement that will overturn the bedroom tax now , not just ‘reform’ it in a few years time. We fought and won battles against “workfare”, but the mainstream Labour leadership  voted against giving  forced workers the back pay they deserve.
When it comes to Women’s rights we are not in the mainstream either, because the mainstream is rotten there as well : We don’t have a “sidebar of shame” like the Mail. We haven’t used our newspapers or hacked ‘phones to harass women about how they look or their private lives. We don’t think abortion rights are a ‘private issue’ for a free vote: They are something we defend on the streets. We’ve marched for abortion rights, were proud too join “Slutwalk” marches, and have fought for better childcare and pay for women for the entire history of our party.
But we all make mistakes. Rape allegations between our members were the most difficult issue. We took them very seriously. We didn’t hide them away , we debated the issue among all our conference delegates – twice, with passionate, concerned arguments. But we made the wrong decision. And because not being in the mainstream means you have to be strong willed – maybe even sometimes a bit pig-headed – it has taken us too long to get to the right answer. It didn’t help having all kinds of hypocrites – the sexist slime of the Mail, the journalists who argued for wars that led to untold bloodshed and vast numbers of assaults on women – jumping on the bandwagon and adding their misinformation to a genuine problem. But we’ve listened to our members. We’ve listened to our friends on the Left. We have thought hard and decided to make a change.
We can’t go back over the past, but we can make things better for the future : the leading member who was accused of rape has agreed to step aside from party roles for a few years while we look at our procedures . It doesn’t mean we think he is guilty, it means he thinks that having the space to look again at this issue is more important than his role. We have invited the women who were involved in any related complaints to talk to us about how we can improve our internal systems, and to offer them an apology if we dropped any of our standards . We are going to have a proper review of our disputes procedures. We are going to invite any member who was so angry about this issue that they felt they had to resign to rejoin right away.The four members who were expelled for the way they discussed this issue will also be reinstated.  If members think our leadership made mistakes, they will be up for re election at the end of the year .
We aren’t a mainstream party, we are a fighting party, and we are proud of our tradition. But sometimes you can pick the wrong fight, and need to make a change. We hope we have started to make that change, and look forward to joining people on the fight against austerity "

Now I am pretty sure that would buy the SWP a lot of breathing space, both internally and externally. It would I suppose weaken the authority of the current Central Committee a bit – but they could either win that authority back, or get replaced at the next conference. It’s so simple that you wonder why the current CC  don’t do it: I can only assume that they value the ability to enforce their  personal authority within the (smaller) SWP than the SWP’s authority in the labour movement.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Batang Kali

(My piece from the Morning Star, 27-1-12)

The Haditha prosection fizzled out with a suspended sentence for one US marine implicated in slaying 24 innocent Iraqi civilians in 2005.

It follows the pattern of cover-ups  and ineffective prosecutions following imperial massacres.

Last month  the Information Commissioner told me he was backing the Metropolitan Police , and  keeping secret  papers from an  investigation into a sixty year old massacre by British troops.

In 1948 Scots Guards  killed 24 Malayans in a village called Batang Kali.  One of the soldiers, Robert Brownrigg called it “a needless killing that was like murder under orders”

It was during the  Malayan “emergency” : The communist-led Malayan National Liberation Army were fighting for independence.  Britain responded to the mostly Chinese-Malayan freedom fighters by sending troops to defend  rubber plantations against the rebels.

During the emergency, the Morning Star exposed the atrocities in Malaya, unlike most of the press. But years later, in  1970 The People  newspaper investigated this  massacre. The People’s  shocking telling of the story spurred  the  Labour Government to start a Metropolitian Police  investigation. But a Tory government  elected  in 1970 stopped the investigation , burying  the issue.

I asked the Metropolitan Police for the papers from their 1970 Batang Kali investigation. They said “no” . I appealed , but the  Information Commissioner said the need for secrecy  “narrowly outweighs the public interest in disclosure” because exposure  might discourage witnesses in other investigations.

The Police did send me testimonies soldiers made to The People newspaper: This  was  helpful, although the Police  also wanted   to show the Information Commissioner they were not purely obstructive  to head off a   forced disclosure of their  investigation. These testimonies are publicly available in the National Archives, but deserve a wider audience.

The official record says the massacred men were  prisoners  who were shot during a “mass escape 

The soldiers say otherwise. Troops interviewed by The People in 1970 spoke with bravery and  shame about what happened.

They were primed for massacre by their commanding officers. Guardsman Victor Remedious, says their Captain  told us that the villagers were feeding terrorists and that every one of them should be killed

National Serviceman William Cootes  recalled arriving at Batang Kali, a village housing about 80 people in large stilted huts.

Cootes recalled one sergeant sending a  young villager  down a path. “He ran down the path, looking over his shoulder as he did so. I think he must have known he was going to get shot. When he had gone about 15 years, [Sergeant] Douglas dropped to one knee, aimed his rifle and shot the youth in the back”

I am quite sure this youth was not trying to escape. I clearly saw, and clearly remember, Douglas motioning the youth to go down the path ahead of him, I could see the youth on the path on his back and his stomach was ripped open by the shot”

The wounded youth was finished off with a bullet to the head from a sergeant's Sten Gun

The troops then held the villagers in their huts overnight. Cootes says

by this time It was clear that the intentions of the sergeants where that we were going to wipe out the whole village including women and children”. A lorry came in the morning  to take village  workers to the nearby plantation, but the troops made them take the women and children instead.

One sergeant “told the rest of us that we were going to shoot the 28 men left. He warned us that anybody who didn’t shoot would be shot by him. None of us protested. I think we were glad we had got away without having to shoot the women. We were well trained to obey orders”.

The Troops were divided into four groups and the villagers – “their ages raged from about 16 to 80 years”  - were brought from  their huts in  groups of seven. Cootes squad  encouraged their group of seven to run, so that they could fire on them, but the villagers stayed mostly still.

“Then we heard shooting from one of the other groups, so instinctively almost, we opened fire on the men.  Once we started firing we seemed to go mad. The old man died immediately from one bullet. The one that was furthest away at the time took about seven bullets before he stopped crawling”.

Cootes says  they all regrouped after the shoooting “some of the men were excited, some were delighted, some of us stayed quiet. It struck me we must be all out of our minds do do a thing like we had just done. The man with the Bren [Gun],  I can’t remember his name , boasted he had cut one of the Chinese in half with his bullets. Other members of the patrol were shouting about what they had done. Myself, I was feeling sick and just wanted to get away”

They burned down the village, leaving the dead where they lay

As soon as the killing ended, the cover-up began. According to Remedious in a day or so they were called to a military inquiry

I remember that Sgt. Douglas told us as we stood around in a barrack room that we would all be in serious trouble if the truth came out and that when we attended the inqury we should say that the men where shot as they tried to escape”. Cootes was  warned they would “ face 14 years in prison for the truth.”

According to Cootes, even though officials questioned them – about why all the bodies of the dead were found in groups – “I just repeated the story that I had already told him and I clearly remember his last words to me. he said he hoped we got away with it” adding “I remember reading about the incident in the Daily Mirror a few days later. The report told the story as we agreed it should be told, but we knew it was lies”.

It is a familiar warning from history . On one side , Imperial adventure reduced to massacres. Cover up by the officials. Lies in the newspapers. On the other, campaigners and newspapers who opposed the war and it’s attendant atrocities. Despite repeated attempts to bury the truth on Batang Kali , it keeps returning : Bindman’s solicitors are currently fighting for a judicial review over the current and previous government’s refusal to hold an  inquiry into the massacre.