Saturday, February 28, 2009

Liberty, human rights and the grassroots

Dave e-mailed me a few days ago to ask that I contribute a blog post on the theme of 'socialism and modern liberty' to the Carnival of Socialism.

A lot of the discussion on both of these subjects is quite downbeat and depressing, so I'm going to tell a cheerful story. A couple of weeks ago, I was helping a community group organise a workshop discussion and training in human rights to be held in a community centre in an estate in West London. Somewhat optimistically, the organisers planned for between 20 and 25 people to turn up.

In fact, over 120 people attended, mostly younger people, and a roughly equal gender balance.

A few weeks earlier, I spoke at a conference alongside a whole host of speakers including Shaykh Kabbani, an internationally renowned Sufi scholar, and, um, Chico from the x-factor. Shaykh Kabbani and two other scholars who spoke were speaking about how extremists misrepresent Islam.

He spoke about how people feel angry when they see injustice, whether in their own communities or when seeing and hearing the news from Gaza and other parts of the world. But for people living in Britain, where the laws allow human rights and free expression, this is not a reason to turn to violence. Instead, he taught that people should do three things - ensure that they themselves make every effort to help those weaker than themselves and look after others when they need it; to pray; and to engage in peaceful protest against injustice. (Incidentally, this is a good example of how many of these anti-terrorism laws which undermine the right of peaceful protest play rights into the hands of violent extremists).

Over 300 people turned up on a Saturday evening for this conference, again, mostly younger people and with roughly equal numbers of men and women.

I think that all of this is particularly interesting, whatever you think of human rights or Islamic scholarship, because it shows that discussions about liberty aren't, contrary to the myths, ones which are only of interest to 'chattering classes', but that there is a lot of interest in working-class communities to discuss and debate these issues, whether as part of more secular discussions about human rights and equalities, or in a more religious context.

I think this enthusiasm for discussing modern liberty is one that socialists should be part of and encourage. One of the things that I find difficult about the 'mainstream' debate about civil liberties at the moment is that I don't agree with the vast majority of the government's laws restricting liberties, but at the same time I don't think that Britain is a police state, I think most people have greater freedoms than a decade ago (let alone at the time of Magna Carta or whatever).

I think a debate about modern liberty which is shaped by discussions and debates and led by the grassroots in local communities up and down the country is likely to be infinitely richer, more thoughtful and more rooted in people's experiences and needs than the theoretical and often very polemical debate that seems to dominate at the moment.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When is our government going to admit the obvious about Iraq?

Bad decision by the government not to release the minutes of the Cabinet discussions about Iraq.

It's not that the publication of the minutes is going to change anyone's mind - there's not going to be anything in them so earth-shattering that will change the minds of supporters or opponents (if there was then it would have been leaked by now). And they are now a historical period piece - it will be many, many years before another British government is confronted with the choice about whether to follow the lead of a far right, incompetent American President in waging war against a fascist dictator.

But it's a sign of how, in fact, the government isn't prepared to take tough decisions which might actually impress undecided voters. The official line of the Labour government about Iraq - 'it was the right thing to do but can we please talk about something, anything else' - is out of step with the vast majority of people in Britain. What today's decision does is to help push people who might vote Labour and who certainly don't want a Tory government into voting for one of the minor parties or not going to vote at all.

On a related note, if David Miliband wants to be the next leader of the Labour Party, and if he wants to do the right thing in terms of helping to rebuild the Labour Party, now or soon (maybe the 6th anniversary) would be a good time to make a speech which sets out the obvious - that the decision to back Bush in 2003 was a disastrous error - and sets out the lessons learned to make sure that nothing like that would happen in the future under a Labour government.

It would cause a brief flurry of excitement amongst journalists, but the longer term consequences would be all positive. All the policies pandering to right-wing newspapers in the world won't help to put the coalition of support which Labour had in 1997 and 2001 back together. What smashed the New Labour coalition more than any other single event was when people voted Labour because they wanted a fairer Britain, and instead discovered that their support had been used for an invasion of another country which went wrong in just about every way imaginable.

Instead of cutting cozy establishment deals with the Tories to save the blushes of ministers, it's in Labour's interest to state the obvious about Iraq, apologise and explain how Labour has learned the lessons. This would help to make an important point. The Tories, after all, backed the war on Iraq, most of them still think it was the right thing to do, and if a right-wing American President wanted their help for something similar in the future, they'd give it gladly.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lessons from Swanley

Last Thursday the BNP defeated Labour in a by-election in Swanley on Sevenoaks District Council. I thought this comment, from a Labour activist who campaigned in the by-election, was interesting in explaining this result:

"I was there in Swanley defending the Labour voters, leafleting and canvassing(because I am a Labour councillor) and voters told me why they were going to vote BNP was because the Labour Government has done nothing for them except take away thier wefare benefits, not building anymore council housing,(not that we have any because the tories sold it all off) and they feel abandoned by labour, so unless Labour find a way of building more Social housing and does more for it's core supporters, then the BNP will get more votes, As rightly said in the media we are a small labour enclave in a tory district area and that same tory district council does nothing for Swanley, The Labour Town Council even got 50 new jobs here for people at the other end of the Town, most voters believed the BNP when they told them that Labour and the Tories were not going to stop immigration and soon they would be out of work and on this the BNP said British jobs for British workers and it worked! So now what must happen is that Gordon must do is build more social housing and stop the wefare reform bill until thing get better and people stop losing thier Jobs, if he don't then we could lose more elections later this year ie County council in June! I was there on the front line, so I know."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Immigration rights and wrongs

I should write about conferences which I'm not planning to go to more often, judging by the range and quality of comments I got last time I did so.

I promised Paul Kingsnorth a separate response about why his arguments about immigration and overpopulation (he agrees with Phil Woolas) were terrible nonsense, but happily Matt Sellwood has done an excellent job on this before I got round to writing anything. So I'm just going to pick up on a few points.

To start with, Paul writes that, "On immigration itself, whatever your view on the matter it is hard to deny that the way it has been handled over the last decade has been deeply undemocratic...For a decade they [Labour] have engineered a situation in which public discussions about immigration are taboo, by hinting darkly at the motivations of anyone who tries to hold them."

I remember the past decade. Similar policies to the ones which Paul wants to see adopted on immigration were put forward by the Conservative Party in 1997, 2001 and 2005, and decisively rejected each time. Barely a day went past when the newspapers didn't have one or more stories about immigration. Almost yearly, the government passed immigration bills through Parliament. There's been plenty, almost endless, debate about immigration ever since Labour came to power.

Paul is specifically worried about overpopulation. He writes that "The UK's population is currently almost 61 million. But it's predicted to rise to a staggering 77 million by 2051 if current levels of immigration continue." But 'current levels of immigration' are very different now, compared even to 2008 or 2007. Scare stories about overpopulation based on assumptions that levels of immigration will continue to remain at the same levels for the next 40 years is a MigrationWatch or Taxpayer's Alliance kind of argument. Even Paul goes on to write that "now that many Eastern Europeans are returning home, where their economies may end up doing better than ours". He hasn't actually suggested, though, what he thinks the population limit should be.

And so to his solution, which is that "immigration and emigration should be pretty much balanced. This means a big cut in immigration from the present numbers", and that Phil Woolas and Frank Field are on to something when they propose a population limit.

I'm not sure that Paul comprehends what the actual consequences would be if the government were to follow his policy advice. The current immigration system is cruel, vicious, discriminatory and pointlessly vindictive. A 'one in, one out' policy would be massively more so, requiring a vast increase in the amount of money that we spend trying to stop people coming to Britain, on surveillance and repression and on bureaucracy.

Phil Woolas, Frank Field or Michael Howard are, understandably, all for this, but it is a pretty weird argument from someone who is speaking at a conference next week about the erosion of civil liberties. As Matt says, it is pretty sad when the policy solutions which Paul is proposing draw more on a politics of repression and lockdown than on a politics of global redistribution of wealth and low-carbon living. Policy proposals have consequences, and the consequences of this policy would be rancid.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How to get engagement, respect and votes

There is lots of speculation at the moment about who the next leader of the Labour Party should be. Some say Harriet Harman, some say Alan Johnson, some say Ed (or David) Miliband, some say Yvette Cooper. That's even without mentioning Ed Balls, James Purnell or Andy Burnham.

So many exceptional, talented choices, we are spoiled for choice, are we not? Obviously, only a blithering idiot would imagine that changing our leader at the moment would be a remotely sensible idea, but it is always good to plan for the future, and in a few years when thoughts turn towards securing that historic fifth term, decisions will have to be made.

I'm sure you all read the Bickerstaffe Record every day (if not, you should). Paul came up with an analogy for political pamphlets, which I think actually works even better as an explanation of the qualities that the next leader of the Labour Party should have:

"My very real experience over 25 years of all this being a nurse union/’community development/political bollox can be condensed to a pretty straightforward maxim: treat people as grown ups who are serious but also like a laugh, and you’ll get both ‘engagement’ and respect (and votes) back the other way.

Yes, you have to work at it, but it’s worth it.

The first time you meet a person who’s had a big disabling stroke and is so pissed off about it that he takes it out on you, her/himself and the rest of the world to the best of her/his remaining abilities (otherswise termionolgised in the nursing notes as ‘difficult stroke patient’, it’s pretty bloody difficult for both of you.

Keep treating with respect, keep having as good a laugh about stuff as you can in the circumstances, keep trying to work out what you can do together, keep seeing each other as people, and you’ll almost always get somewhere, unless one of you dies in the meantime (not uncommon).

Politics is like nursing, and pamphlets need to be same - keep them coming, keep doing the little things that count, keep your respect for people with less power than even you’ve got (reading Kant obsessively helps), keep making cunning plans even if they don’t come off."

So, which of our leadership contenders best exemplify these values?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Against All Odds

Philip Collins, Tony Blair's former speechwriter, writing in the Times, has a suggestion for how Labour can revive its political fortunes. He suggests that they need to adopt the public service reform policies of the, erm, John Major government.

"It is no coincidence that the Blair Government slowly came to the same conclusions on public service reform that the Major Government had come to. A decade of trying to flog improvement from the centre ends in the conclusion that nothing more can be done that way.

A few years ago, I took the Conservative manifesto for the 1997 general election, deleted all the insulting references to the State that would never appear in a Labour document, and circulated the expurgated text as if I had thought it all up myself. My colleagues in Downing Street thought it was an accurate but uninteresting account of the Labour Government's policy. They were mystified as to why I thought it worth sending round."

I read this and all the rest of the drivel in his article, and it gradually dawned on me where Labour had gone wrong since 1997. I dimly remember that Phil Collins threatened to leave the country if Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister. No wonder things started to go wrong when instead of doing so, he started writing Blair's speeches.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'm not going to the Convention on Modern Liberty

I liked the idea of the Convention on Modern Liberty, and I'm instinctively sympathetic to its arguments - I'm against ID cards, I think campaigners should be allowed to photograph policemen and shouldn't be arrested as terrorists for doing so, last weekend I helped organise a conference training more than 100 young people about human rights, and so on. So I had a look at their website to see who the speakers were at their event on the 28th February.

Alarm bells started to ring when it became clear that some of the speakers make Henry Porter seem modest, self-deprecating and measured.

There's not just a token Tory, but a whole host of them, nasty and stupid alike, from David Davis giving a keynote speech, various shadow ministers, Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home, through to the buffoon 'Red Tory' Philip Blond.

There's Gerard Batten, a United Kingdom Independence Party MEP.

There's the increasingly ridiculous Nick Cohen.

One of the event's co-sponsors is the Countryside Alliance.

And there are people like Paul Kingsnorth. He of the 'I can't imagine how a Tory government could be worse than the present government', the 'this Labour government is more right wing than Thatcher' and the, erm, 'I agree with Phil Woolas about immigration and overpopulation'.

I know about building broad coalitions and all, but this is something else again. A glance at the programme suggests that there is an excellent game to be played of 'Modern Liberty Top Trumps', where you have to decide which of the 22 sessions is likely to be the most toe-curlingly awful - my vote goes to 'Liberty and the National Question' (though there are some other incredibly strong contenders).

Of course, there are also some very good speakers who will have sensible and intelligent things to say. But there must be and are easier ways to find out what they've got to say than giving up a Saturday to go to a conference which features so many horrors all in one place. I can't believe that this is really a good way to campaign for civil liberties.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cheery bye, David Freud

Government welfare adviser David Freud has announced that he is going to be joining the Tories, for a transfer fee which appears to amount to one peerage and appointment as a minister in a future Tory government.

The Observer reports that:

"The move is a coup for the Tories, harnessing not only Freud's expertise on the welfare system, but also his knowledge of the City - as a former investment banker - to beef up policy-making on the recession."


Let's get this right. The Tories have signed up an adviser on welfare who 'knew nothing about welfare', whose ideas don't work, and who doesn't even understand his own policies (see the comment at 11.43). And for a special bonus, it is extra good for them because he'll be able to advise on sorting out the recession, because he used to be an investment banker?! Because we all know that investment bankers make for super awesome policy advisers and are really, really popular at the moment.

Clearly it is a very short term blow for the government in that having his adviser goes off and joins the main opposition makes James Purnell look like a bit of a nob. And it reinforces the idea that the Tories are seen as a government-in-waiting when rich and powerful establishment figures want to join up with them.

But Freud's defection is not going to sway a single vote at the next election. And if the Tories were to win, the combination of Theresa May and David Freud would be comfortably the least competent ministerial team ever to grace the Department of Work and Pensions. The sight of this gruesome twosome trying to introduce complex welfare reforms will be good for all opponents of the Conservative Party (though very bad indeed for unemployed workers). There's definitely a strand of the Cameron Project which is about taking all the very worst ideas of New Labour and championing them.

And Freud's departure offers the chance, even at this late hour, to junk his failed policies and instead design a modern welfare system, free from the prejudices of investment bankers, which genuinely helps people to find work where possible, and enables everyone to live with dignity, whether in work or not. The Tories are very welcome to the advice of an investment banker who wants to let private companies make a fortune out of the unemployed - that's a political dividing line that Labour should relish.

In a news story with so much to celebrate, the only sadness comes from seeing Labour's response:

"Labour will, however, try to exploit differences between Freud and the Tories, such as the former's support for requiring single parents to seek work when their children reach seven, an idea opposed by the Tories."

Note to special advisers: I know that the political class think that welfare policy is a game which is about who can catch the other side out for not being 'tough' enough, but out here in the real world, this just sounds pathetic.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Landslide victory for Labour

Congratulations to Labour's newest councillor, Rohini Simbodyal, elected in Jubilee ward in Enfield:

"A LANDSLIDE victory for Labour has given the borough its youngest councillor.

AT just 21 Rohini Simbodyal triumphed at her first stab at a council election, gaining more than 50 per cent of the vote at yesterday's by-election.

Ms Simbodyal gained 1346 votes, almost 300 more than Conservative candidate Rick Deller.

But the other candidates lagged far behind.

Liberal Democrat Dawn Barnes, of Cricketers Close, Southgate gained 69 votes, Green candidate Douglas Coker, Foxwood Green Close, Enfield, got 60, UKIP's Madge Jones, of Greenwood Avenue, Enfield, walked away with 59 and Sarah McDonald, an Independent candidate who pulled out of the election after the ballot papers had been printed, attracted 41 votes."

Rohini grew up and went to school in the area, went out and met as many local people as possible and generally worked really hard during the election campaign. She'll be a great councillor and it shows what can be achieved even when the opinion polls aren't that clever for us nationally.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Bankers' Bonuses Tax Act 2009

Another day, another terrible opinion poll for Labour. This one has the Tories on 42%, Labour on 28% and Lib Dems on 18%.

What is particularly sad at the moment is that the government just seems so pathetic - like Gordon Brown (who I like and respect) urging the bankers not to take their bonuses and saying he is very cross about it.

He's the Prime Minister of a government which is going to be in power for at least another year with a comfortable majority. He doesn't have to "urge" bankers or express moral outrage about their behaviour - he can tell them what to do and if they don't like it then that's their tough luck.

And for all this 'it is in their contracts that they get bonuses', so what? Just pass a new law called something like the "Bankers' Bonuses Tax Act", which states that any bonus paid to a banker over £5,000 gets taxed at a rate of 110%. It probably doesn't even need an Act of Parliament.

It's a really galling contrast that when it comes to asylum-seekers or large families in social housing, policies to 'appease public concern' get dashed off with ease, irrespective of merit. And yet somehow when it comes to bankers behaving in the most disgracefully anti-social way and taking the piss out of the taxpayer on a gigantic scale, all our government does is tut and set up a review.

It is a horrendously difficult time for all government ministers, and Gordon Brown most of all, trying to help people in the midst of this terrible economic crisis. He's an intelligent, clever and decent man, and we'll miss him desperately if the polls are correct and the next Prime Minister is a man who has been wrong on every single important issue of the past few years and whose skills are all about public relations and little else. But one of the reasons Labour is getting kicked about at the moment is that it is all a mix of either crisis management and being 'tough' on the most vulnerable.

There is so much good that our Labour government could achieve over the next year, and that would help to revive our fortunes electorally. But it's got to start by standing up for the little guy and picking and winning some fights with the rich and the powerful, and there is no better place to start than with these bankers.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Using the red button to see the doctor

Every so often, a new report comes out which shows that one of the biggest costs to the NHS comes from people not turning up to their appointments with their GP. This usually prompts a round of suggestions that we should fine people who make appointments and don't show up, in order to penalise them for their bad behaviour.

In Kirklees, they took a very different approach to tackling this problem. Instead of assuming that so-called "DNAs" (Did Not Arrives) are caused by people behaving badly and irrationally, they decided to try and use new technology to make it easier for people to book appointments.

What often happens is that people who aren't feeling well have to wait until Monday morning to make an appointment. They then speak to a stressed and/or unfriendly receptionist, who tells them that they've got to come at such-and-such a time. That time isn't really convenient, but they don't want to argue the point, so just don't turn up.

So in Kirklees, they made the technology available so that people with digital TVs could book appointments at a time of their convenience using their remote control and their telly (you can find out more about this here). So when people felt poorly, they didn't have to wait til office hours or talk to anyone, instead they could use their telly to find a time and day which suited them and book it by pressing a button on their remote control.

Sound like a load of liberal hand-wringing nonsense, a typical example of how a bloated public sector wastes our taxes?

It cut the percentage of people who didn't turn up for their GP appointments in Kirklees by 70%.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Section 106

Over on LabourList, Dan McCurry has an article urging grassroots Labour members to join his campaign to tackle unemployment, crime and lack of housing by repealing section 109 of the Town and Country Planning Act.

Now I love a grassroots-led campaign aimed at securing a technocratic amendment to parliamentary legislation to further the cause of social justice as much as anyone, but this is one campaign I won't be supporting.

I was baffled for days about the relevance of section 109 of the Town and Country Planning Act to the social evils that Dan mentioned (it is about 'Apportionment of compensation for depreciation' in case you were wondering), and he was kind enough to clarify that he meant section 106.

Now section 106 is basically about councils being able to secure contributions from developers to help improve local communities (there is a better definition here). For example, a council might require the developer to make a certain percentage of the new homes that they are building social or affordable housing, or to make a contribution towards the upkeep of the local roads, or schools or parks or whatever. Section 106 arrangements are responsible for as much as half of all social housing built in the UK.

Dan's case is that in the current economic climate, developers won't build new houses because they can't make (enough of) a profit on doing so, with the result that skilled workers are unemployed even though their skills are desperately needed. If the developers didn't have to worry about section 106, then they would make a profit out of building new housing developments, so they would hire people to build new homes. So we should put aside our understandable but misguided aspiration to increase the amount of social housing, and not obsess about elections or the House of Lords or things like that, and focus on getting more homes built, and hence more jobs for construction workers.

Amongst the objections to this is the fact that affordable housing requirements are dependent on a scheme being viable with them, and developers can already negotiate down a requirement if it would render a scheme unviable. This is happening increasingly without any amendment to section 106.

But quite apart from the fact that he's identified a barrier to house-building that doesn't really exist, there are significant negative consequences to repealing section 106. There is already a desperate shortage, and increasing need for, social housing - this would ensure that less gets built. And it would starve local communities of the funds which they need to manage new housing developments. Not to mention the fact that the history of housing policy in the UK is not awfully supportive of the idea that we should build as many houses as quickly as possible without regard for the longer term consequences.

McCurry's proposal in practical terms involves taking money away from local services and cutting funding for social housing in order to increase profits for property developers. This is an unpromising cause for a grassroots movement of Labour supporters to rally around.

There are simpler, more effective ways - be it through tax breaks or more directly by the government funding local councils to build more homes - to help increase work available for construction workers, while steering well clear of section 106 (and section 109) of the Town and Country Planning Act.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Children's Society vs the Taxpayer's Alliance

I am enjoying the banter between Derek Draper and the Taxpayer's Alliance about tax avoidance by corporations (Derek is against it, Taxpayer's Alliance is for it).

But say what you like about the Taxpayer's Alliance, they don't half churn out the stupid. Yesterday, for example, they decided to have a go at the Children's Society.

The Children's Society have just produced a report with lots of thoughtful recommendations about how to make life better for children, including some suggestions for action that the government should take. They've involved parents, children and other experts in coming up with these ideas.

Here's what 'webmaster' at the Taxpayer's Alliance has to say about the Children's Society's recommendations (which he cleverly avoids linking to, in the hope that readers will take his summary as accurate) :

"If the authors think that parents are too overstretched financially, resulting in more time spent at work, less money to bring up their kids and a higher rate of divorce, then their recommendation for government policy should have been to reduce the amount of money the tax man takes from people's pockets. Instead, this convoluted and statist solution risks simply increasing the misery of our children further."

Shorter Taxpayer's Alliance: For the love of God, won't someone please think of the children and cut taxes now!11!!!

For those who were wondering, the 'convoluted and statist solution' which the Children's Society is recommending involves raising the pay and status of all people who work with children including teachers and child care workers; offering high quality parenting classes, psychological support and adolescent mental health services throughout the country; building a high quality youth centre for every 5,000 young people; raising child benefit and child tax credit as part of redistributing wealth from rich people to poor families and reducing inequality (plus lots else, those are the main spending commitments).

A majority of families would gain more financially from the proposals of the Children's Society than from those of the Taxpayer's Alliance, quite apart from the benefits of having high quality youth centres and parenting and mental health services.

But an even more overwhelming majority of rich people who fund the Taxpayer's Alliance would gain more from cutting taxes such as inheritance tax than from helping children (who don't pay taxes anyway, so presumably don't get to be in the Alliance).

They can't openly say 'we oppose making life better for poor children if it means our rich donors have to do a bit less tax avoidance', hence Newspeak like 'statist and convoluted solutions' which is Taxpayer's Alliance code for 'a new youth centre and more cash to spend on your kids'.

It tells you everything that you need to know about the Taxpayer's Alliance that they think that new youth centres, higher child benefit and better mental health services for teenagers will 'simply increase the misery of our children further'.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Honest reporting

I support completely what the strikers at the Lindsey Total Refinery in Lincolnshire are demanding. Their demands are:

* No victimisation of workers taking solidarity action.
* All workers in UK to be covered by NAECI Agreement.
* Union controlled registering of unemployed and locally skilled union members, with nominating rights as work becomes available.
* Government and employer investment in proper training / apprenticeships for new generation of construction workers - fight for a future for young people.
* All Immigrant labour to be unionised.
* Trade Union assistance for immigrant workers - including interpreters - and access to Trade Union advice - to promote active integrated Trade Union Members.
* Build links with construction trade unions on the continent.

I think the way that the media is covering this dispute is disgusting and very dangerous. They are trying to make the dispute about Labour vs the BNP and 'British jobs for British workers' protectionism vs the EU and free movement of labour.

Just one example, some BNP activists turned up at one of the demos, and the demo had finished by the time they turned up. But even though the demo was nothing to do with them, to the extent that they didn't even know what time it was happening, they still got interviewed by ITV.

Unlike the BNP, the Socialist Party have been actively involved in organising the strikes - they have members on the strike committees, and it was their demands that got adopted by the mass meeting in Lincolnshire. Based on the actual evidence of what is happening, the wider political analysis should be about whether these strikes, partly organised by trade unions and socialist activists, are part of the rise of the socialist left in response to economic crisis (as in Germany and Iceland to name but two countries).

These strikes pit the Labour government against its left-wing critics. Logically, this should lead to a rise in support for the socialists amongst those workers who agree with the strikers.

But the way that the media explains these strikes - in terms of a clash between British and foreign workers - plays into the hands of the fascists and does the work for them which their lack of organisation or roots amongst workers means that they can't do for themselves.

As Paul says, 'what’s happening is just a big load of class stereotyping, and has no actual basis in fact - it’s based on middle class people’s perceptions about how the working classes should react, given the right wing diet of media crap that they’ve been fed for years, and few people actually seem able to countenance that the working classes might actually be more resilient to this crap diet.'

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Maureen Christian

Sad news that Maureen Christian, former Lord Mayor of Oxford, city councillor, comrade and friend, passed away last Friday after a short illness. Tributes from those who worked with her - fellow Labour councillors, political opponents and council officers alike - are here, here, here and here.

A committed socialist, Maureen dedicated her unflagging energy and great intelligence to helping other people and to the causes that she was passionate about, particularly promoting arts and culture for all. Her efforts made the area of Oxford that she represented and the city as a whole a better place. People often disagreed with her on this or that, but they always respected and liked her. And she was particularly kind, generous and supportive to younger and less experienced councillors - I was just one of many to benefit from her wise words of advice and friendship.

In 2006, after 19 years of distinguished public service, she was narrowly defeated in the elections. Far from taking the opportunity to have a well deserved rest, she redoubled her campaigning efforts and came back victorious two years later. She is the only candidate in any election who I've ever had to ask to do less campaigning because they were working too hard.

Maureen lived the Good Life, and in these difficult times should be an inspiration to all of us. R.I.P.