The Enemy Within - MI5 and the miners' strike

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! - no 123 - February/March 1995

MAXINE WILLIAMS reviews a new account of how the British state dealt with 'the enemy within'.

On New Year's Day 1995 the few remaining coal mines in Britain passed quietly into private ownership. In the past fifteen years 200 mines have been closed, with a loss of 200,000 jobs. There are now only 7,000 miners left in Britain. Mrs Thatcher's final solution to the problem of the militant miners was to destroy their industry. It served not only as a dreadful revenge against the miners but also a terrifying warning to what remains of the organised working class.

Seumas Milne's book The Enemy Within is the revealing and powerful story of the covert means used by a coalition of the rich, their state apparatus, their Labour Party allies and the media.

It is a shocking story. The NUM and Arthur Scargill were victims of a level of state violence and harassment more commonly used against the Irish people. Nor is the similarity coincidental. When Mrs Thatcher called the miners 'the enemy within', she effectively labelled them 'terrorists'. She said:

'At one end of the spectrum are the terrorist gangs within our borders and the terrorist states which finance and arm them. At the other are the hard left, operating inside our system, conspiring to use union power ... to break, defy and subvert the laws'.

As Milne says: 'As far as the Thatcherite faction in the Cabinet and their supporters in the security services were concerned, the NUM under Scargill's stewardship was the most serious domestic threat to state security in modern times. And they showed themselves prepared to en-courage any and every method available — from the secret financing of strikebreakers to mass electronic surveillance, from the manipulation of agents provocateurs to attempts to "fit up" miners' officials — in order to undermine or discredit the union and its leaders.' (p5)

MI5's 'Get Scargill' campaign

To all who witnessed the methodical and violent police operation against the miners' strike, it was clear that the government had prepared and mobilised unprecedented resources. Indeed Nigel Lawson (former Chancellor of the Exchequer) was later to say: 'It was just like arming to face the threat of Hitler in the late 1930s'. 11,000 miners were arrested, thousands suffered severe beatings and pit villages were under police occupation.

It is now clear that an equally well resourced covert operation was underway. In 1990 disaffected employees at GCHQ (the government's communication monitoring organisation which employs 11,000 people to tap phones and faxes) told The Guardian that Thatcher personally authorised a 'Get Scargill' campaign both during and after the strike, aimed at destroying him 'politically and socially'. This was run by MI5, GCHQ and the Special Branch. The MI5 campaign was organised by Stella Rimington, whose sterling work led to her promotion to head of MI5.

Throughout the strike, MI5 leased a building directly opposite the NUM's Headquarters in Sheffield. The phones of NUM leaders, local officials and activists were tapped. The scale of the tapping was so great that at one point, in what was code-named the Tinkerbell Operation, the overloaded system ground to a halt.

The GCHQ employees said that the operation included an unsuccessful attempt to deposit £500,000 in a Scargill-linked bank account in Dublin with the aim of making Scargill look like an embezzler.

Thatcher had personally authorised a vast electronic eavesdropping operation, using GCHQ and US National Security Agency facilities across Europe to trace the miners' funds. Banking operations in Europe were monitored, particularly those involving named NUM members and also transfers from socialist countries. By these means, following the sequestration of their assets by the courts, NUM funds were traced and seized and those running the strike were forced to spend much time and effort raising money and disbursing it in cash. The information that enabled Price Waterhouse to trace carefully hidden NUM funds came directly from GCHQ. It was no accident that it was on the issue of funding that the second stage of the 'Get Scargill' operation, the 1990 accusations of theft/corruption, was centred. The GCHQ workers confirmed that MI5 had set up the Mirror campaign against Scargill.

It is worth noting that before approaching The Guardian with this information, the GCHQ employees had given details of it to a Labour MP close to Kinnock. They were surprised that nothing had happened as a result.

So widespread was MI5 interference during the strike that police feathers became ruffled. Scottish officers repeatedly complained to Tam Dalyell MP about interference by the intelligence services. One Chief Constable reported that at one meeting of Chief Constables, Mrs Thatcher's dissatisfaction at the poor level of police intelligence gathering was conveyed. She urged them to set up a Public Order Intelligence Unit to monitor and infiltrate groups and activities which, although legal, 'threaten public order'.

Another finger in the pie

One of the major propaganda tools used against the miners was the existence of the working miners. The main financial backer and organiser of the scabs was David Hart, a millionaire with close personal and political ties with Thatcher and the intelligence services. Touring pit areas in his Mercedes, he put together twenty five cells of dissident miners under the auspices of the National Working Miners Committee. From this came the 'political roots of what would later become the Union of Democratic Mineworkers'. (p266)

Hart reported regularly to Mrs Thatcher and was virtually inseparable from Coal Board Chairman, Ian MacGregor. Using his own money and half a million pounds raised from sources such as Sir Hector Laing (United Biscuits) and Lord Hanson, Hart devised a strategy aimed at paralysing the NUM. He used legal actions by working miners to get the strike declared unlawful and the NUM fined. When the union refused to pay the fines they were declared 'in contempt' and their assets subject to sequestration. The government came closest to defeat in the autumn of 1984 when it looked as thought the pit deputies union, NACODS, might join the strike. Hart made frantic efforts to prevent this, meeting with right-wing members of NACODS. The pit deputies decided not to strike for reasons which Thatcher said were 'unclear'. Others believe that some NACODS officials were offered money, jobs and special pensions to ensure that the pit deputies stayed at work and thus the working mines remained open.

Throughout, Hart maintained close links with MI5's Stella Rimington. He stiffened the resolve of McGregor not to pursue a negotiated settlement, convincing him that the fight against the NUM was a crusade for democracy against Marxism. 'It was essential, Hart believed, that the miners should be forced to return to work without a settlement — which, at the initiative of Kim Howells (now a Labour MP) and others in the NUM's South Wales Area, is what eventually happened.' (p270)

And Hart? Since the strike he has acted as an adviser to Michael Portillo and been employed as a consultant to Minister of Defence, Malcolm Rifkind, advising on defence privatisation. Apparently he also made £1m on property deals for British Coal's pension fund. Oh yes, and he has been publishing British Briefing, 'an intelligence analysis of the activities of the extreme left.'

M15 inside the NUM

In 1993, Roger Windsor, former Chief Executive of the NUM, was named by MPs as an MI5 agent sent into destabilise the NUM. They based this on information from previously reliable senior Whitehall sources. Windsor previously worked for over 10 years for Public Services International, an international trade union body with long-standing CIA links. His behaviour both while he was Chief Executive of the NUM and after, when he sold his fictional revelations about Scargill to the Daily Mirror, certainly show a man who was adept at causing trouble.

He came to public attention when during the strike, in a gift to government propagandists, he was shown on TV embracing Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. The NUM's aim in sending Windsor to Libya was merely to try to cut Libyan oil supplies to Britain during the strike. Windsor apparently insisted on meeting Gaddafi and embracing him on TV. His other coups as Chief Executive included: forging a UDM member's signature, an act which cost the union £193,000 in damages and costs; obstructing negotiations and, after the strike, collaborating with the Eurocommunist wing of the CP in the NUM on fomenting splits.

It is known that MI5 had been actively seeking an agent to 'park... alongside Scargill' in preparation for the coming strike. MI5 officer Cathy Massiter revealed that MI5 had considered Harry Newton for this role. Newton, an MI5 operative for 30 years, masqueraded as a socialist and was active in the Institute of Workers Control, CND and the labour movement. He knew Scargill well but was too ill to undertake a post with the NUM. But MI5 definitely placed someone 'high up' according to Michael Bettaney, former MI5 agent currently serving 23 years for trying to pass information to the Soviet Union. (Interestingly Bettaney also said MI5 had an agent in the union TASS whose identity remains unrevealed).

But it was Windsor's work after-wards that was to prove most deadly. The allegations that he made in 1990 caused enormous problems for the NUM at the very time when the next stage of the government plan to close the mines and destroy the union was in preparation.

Enter Maxwell

In 1984 Robert Maxwell bought the Daily Mirror and rapidly turned its editorial line against the miners. As the Mirror was the only mass pro-Labour newspaper this was of considerable value to the ruling class. But it was in 1990 that Maxwell turned in his finest performance for them. Roger Windsor, having left the NUM, approached the Mirror claiming that Scargill and Peter Heathfield, the General Secretary, had used Libyan money to pay off their personal mortgages. The Mirror paid Windsor £80,000 for this nonsense and ran it as a huge story with an editorial personally signed by Maxwell.

The Mirror story was used to attack the NUM, and Scargill in particular, in a media frenzy. A Cook Report programme for Central TV (in which Maxwell owned 20 per cent of the shares) elaborated the fictions and added a few more. Scargill had sought not just money but guns from Libya.

The major problem with the Libyan money story was that it was immediately arid easily shown to be false. Scargill had paid off his mortgage out of his own savings months before Windsor's Libyan trip. Heathfield's home was owned by the Derbyshire NUM. At the time of the strike both houses were in the process of being bought by the NUM and to keep them from being seized by the sequestrators there were some financial transfers made. All were transparently above board.

With the Libyan story damaged the Mirror turned to that good old standby - Soviet gold. They accused Scargill of diverting Soviet donations to an international fund set up to further his personal ambitions. The Soviet story is a very complex one but is revealing. Soviet mining unions had provided material aid to the miners during the strike and had ended oil and coal exports to Britain from the Soviet Union. Scargill visited the Soviet Embassy and asked the unions to send urgently needed money and an amount of just over $1m was agreed. This money, never having been received by the NUM, proved a continuing source of rumours. The money had in fact been paid not to the NUM but to an international miners' solidarity fund. This, it later turned out, was the result not of NUM wishes but of a split in the Soviet Central Committee. The darling of the Western world, Gorbachev, was against sending aid to the miners in Britain, fearful that it would offend his friend Mrs Thatcher. Behind the scenes such much-vilified figures as Gromyko lobbied for the British miners. In vain. Soviet money was never sent to the NUM and most of the money which was sent to the international solidarity fund came after the strike was over. Eastern European countries did send money during the strike.

Several points emerge from this. Firstly, it was clear that from its earliest days the Gorbachev faction was anti-working class on an international scale. Secondly that, whatever faults could be found with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, there were forces there still in the 1980s which were socialist and which did provide a serious source of support for the international working class.

A Moscow gold story is always a good one for the British intelligence services and the hounds unleashed by MI5 and Maxwell were many and various. Labour MP Kim Howells demanded that the Fraud Squad be brought in and by July 1990, seven legal actions, prosecutions and investigations were launched against Scargill, Peter Heathfield and the NUM.

Milne gives enormous detail in rebutting all the charges against the NUM. In the course of it, he shows that MI5 was the hidden hand behind the Windsor story and subsequent media onslaught and legal actions that so split and exhausted the NUM. It is a supreme irony that whilst the story about Scargill and the NUM was shown to be false, his two main accusers have been shown to be dishonest. Maxwell stole £400m of pension funds and Windsor actually did use NUM funds to pay off his mort-gage. The NUM is taking proceedings against him in the French courts for the return of this money.

Enemies in the camp

The least publicised part of Milne's book is that which deals with the Labour Party's actions against the NUM. Yet it is clear that the Labour leadership wanted Scargill finished off as much as the Tories did. When the Mirror/Cook Report allegations broke, Kinnock and Willis lost no time in calling for a public inquiry. Labour coal spokesman (and NUM-sponsored MP) Kevin Barron, and former NUM worker Kim Howells, both Kinnock lieutenants who had appeared in the Cook Report, joined the chorus of calls for investigation.

Kinnock was widely known to loathe Scargill and all he stood for (ie the working class), describing him as the 'labour movement's nearest equivalent to a First World War general.' (p196) He carefully avoided all picket lines and rallies whilst holding regular private press briefings against the strike and blocking parliamentary debates. He condemned the `violence' of the miners whilst ignoring the overwhelming evidence of police violence. As Kinnock purged the left out of the Labour Party and made his famous appeals to semi-detached Britain, the militant miners became a political obstacle. With Scargill still undefeated in 1990 and a possible merger between the NUM and TGWU on the cards, Labour wanted to finish off Scargill.

Who better than Labour's old friend Robert. Maxwell who, in between embezzling pension money and sacking union members at his plants, provided the Labour Party with funds, practical help with electioneering and a newspaper. The Labour leadership knew in advance about the Mirror smear and the active involvement of Howells and Barron showed that the smear campaign had the full backing of the Labour leadership. Both had been previously identified with the left of the Labour Party and NUM during the early part of the strike. Towards the end, Howells had called for a return to work without a settlement. That this meant abandoning the sacked miners did not disturb them. Howells was part of the South Wales group which planned the back to work move with support both from Kinnock and the Eurocommunist wing of the Communist Party. During the Mirror smear Howells and Barron 'were ready whenever necessary to provide a Labour face for the media campaign'. Kinnock later, even after the Mirror stories were discredited, presented the British Press Awards 'Reporter of the Year' prize to the Mirror smear team.

For Kinnock's Labour Party, the miners were the real enemy. They represented a fighting spirit that was a continual threat, having come closest to defeating Thatcherism and providing a lead to the rest of the beleaguered working class. As Milne comments: 'The Scargill Affair depended on a coincidence of purpose between an exotic array of interests, foremost among which were the Thatcher administration and the Labour leadership'. (p24)

It is interesting to note that the Eurocommunist wing of the Communist Party played a major part in fighting for Kinnock's line in the NUM. Martin Jaques has since boasted about this. He has not, to my knowledge, boasted about the fact that after Roger Windsor fled to France, where he set up business as an estate agent and translator: 'one British network he was able to draw on for his business was a group around the Democratic Left, the organisation set up by the Euro-communist faction of the old Communist Party ... Peter Carter, the CPGB's ex-industrial organiser who played such a key role in stoking the internal opposition to Scargill's leadership during and after the 1984 strike, even did some building work for Windsor in France'. (p168)

Not the first time

Shortly after Milne's book was published, the 1964 Cabinet Papers were released under the 30-year rule. They showed that when Macmillan was Prime Minister, the government funded a secret anti-trade union organisation - the Industrial Research and Information Service (IRIS) to build anti-communist cells in the unions, target left-wing activists and 'inspire' media stories culled from 'secret sources'. They were keen to enlist the help of the Daily Herald and, later, the Daily Mirror. A committee of industrialists, bankers and 'outsiders' working with the 'security people' was set up. The funds came from the secret vote, an unaccountable budget used to finance MI5 and MI6, as well as from Ford, Shell and other companies. It was set up by Lord Shawcross, a former Labour Cabinet minister who defected to the Tories. He boasted that it had influenced elections in the National Union of Mineworkers.

The Committee had US links and fed Labour Party officials information about left-wing MPs and activists. It helped to defeat the left in the engineering unions and swing unions against unilateral disarmament. It continued operating in the 1970s and '80s.

And, obviously, provided a model for the operation against the miners.

A warning

Milne has done an excellent job in not only examining the forces that lined up against the miners but also warning of what will face other sections which fight back against the British ruling class. As MI5 daily discovers new internal foes which must be combated, all those in struggle should be alert to their methods. No doubt watchful eyes are there at the anti-Criminal Justice Act activities, Brightlingsea, the anti-roads struggles, the Kurdish events. And amongst the watchful eyes, doing deadly work for the state, are many newspapers and media outlets. The spies are, by definition, hard to spot. There are more obvious sources of trouble which can be dealt with at once. First and foremost - the Labour Party. They are the real enemy within and should be treated accordingly.

The Enemy Within: MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair by Seumas Milne, Verso 1994, £16.95.

From the second Labour Government to 1939

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 120 - August/September 1994

In his previous article in this series on the labour aristocracy, ROBERT CLOUGH showed how the organisations of the labour aristocracy — the Labour Party and the trade unions — became institutionalised during the 1920s at a variety of levels, whether in administering state welfare at a local level, or being allowed to participate in governing the British Empire, as Labour was in 1924. However, the thirties were a period of transition, where the British working class was substantially re-structured in the aftermath of the slump of 1929, and where a new labour aristocracy arose, whose interests the Labour Party and trade unions sought to represent.

The start of the world slump coincided with the election of the second minority Labour government in 1929. Completely committed to the interests of banking and finance capital, the government supported the maintenance of the gold standard whilst endorsing the need for a massive rationalisation of British industry. Only as the full import of this programme became apparent in the slump of 1930-31 did any splits appear. The cuts in unemployment benefit and public sector pay proposed by the May committee in the summer of 1931 and accepted until the final moment by the majority of the Labour cabinet proved too much for the TUC General Council. The political representatives of the labour aristocracy split, and a section went over to the National Government.

However, to conclude that therefore the other section somehow returned to the working class would be quite wrong. Elsewhere, we have shown the absolute hostility of the official labour movement to the unemployed, and how the unemployed and their organisation, the National Unemployed Workers' Movement, were constantly attacked and isolated (Labour: A Party Fit for Imperialism, pp134-147). However, what is important here is to recognise how the labour aristocracy played a full part in policing the poorer sections of the working class. Much has been written on Poplarism, the short-lived support given by Poplar Labour Party to the unemployed in the immediate post-war period. But it was just that —short-lived, and nowhere else was there ever to be such a degree of unity between all sections of the working class in defence of its poorest sections. Quite the opposite: trade unionists were throughout this period to sit in judgement on the unemployed: 'On the Courts of Referees, on Local Employment Committees, on Boards of Guardians, as members of the Boards of Assessors and later on the Public Assessment Committees, local trade unionists, not the leadership, played a crucial role in the "search for the scrounger".' (K Mann: The Making of an English Underclass? p 65).

The unemployed now included hundreds of thousands of workers who had formerly counted amongst the most privileged and 'aristocratic' sections of the working class — engineers, miners and steel workers. Yet to suppose that this meant the concept of the labour aristocracy was now redundant 'would be to miss the whole essence of the labour aristocracy, to see it purely descriptively, in just one of its forms, and ignore its historical role and development: as the active process by which Labour's class organisation was purged of anti-capitalist elements and made safe for economism and spontaneity.' (John Foster: Imperialism and the Labour Aristocracy in ed J Skelley: The General Strike, 1926).

The result of the 1931 election held a few weeks after MacDonald formed the National Government in alliance with the Tory Party was a disaster for the Labour Party. The number of Labour MPs fell from 288 to 46, of whom 23 were from mining constituencies. None were returned from the West Midlands, where 25 had been elected in 1929. There were none in the South outside of London. The bulk of the votes it lost were not in the areas most hit by the recession, but in those which were relatively secure — the South and the Midlands where either the new luxury industries were concentrated, or where the expanding service sector predominated. It was the votes of the middle class and the newly affluent skilled workers in these areas who had defected to the National Government and given it a landslide majority. And it was these votes which Labour would have to win back if it was to have any hope of forming another Government.

The changing structure of the working class

This then was the driving force behind the political standpoint of the Labour Party and the trade unions throughout the 1930s: to win the allegiance of relatively affluent, relatively secure sections of the working class living in the Midlands and the South, working in industries such as chemicals, electrical goods and the rapidly expanding vehicle industry. It would be these votes which would now decide the outcome of future elections. In this respect, there is a strong parallel between the 'New Realism' of the 1980s and Labour politics in the 1930s.

Changes in the structure of the working class were no less dramatic. Between 1923 and 1938, the number of miners in employment fell by 510,000; in the cotton and woollen industries by 127,000 from 695,000. In contrast, employment in electrical engineering doubled to 111,000 and by nearly the same proportion in the motor vehicle and aircraft sector (from 173,500 to 337,000). Employment in road transport reflected this: up from 227,000 to 384,000. Most dramatic were increases in areas of completely unproductive employment: in the distributing trades (up by 835,000, nearly 50%) and 'Miscellaneous Services', from 495,000 to 856,000. As GDH Cole commented, by 1938 Britain appeared to be turning into 'a nation of shop assistants, clerks, waiters and machine attendants'. (GDH Cole and R Postgate: The Common People, p609).

Thus employment increased in unproductive sectors and in luxury production. It was also geographically localised: it was concentrated in the South and East. Thus Welsh steel workers and miners trekked to Swindon and Oxford to seek work in the new automotive industries, Scottish steel workers went to Corby. Further, the employment figures disguise the large amount of short-time working that prevailed in the textile, steel and mining industries during this whole period. Given the further need to support unemployed members of the family, it meant that working class living standards in the so-called 'depressed areas' fell dramatically. This was compounded by the differing levels of unemployment amongst skilled and unskilled workers: in 1931, 30.5 per cent of unskilled workers were out of work compared to 14.4 per cent of skilled workers. However, where workers remained in employment, and where they did not have to support the unemployed, their living standards rose considerably as prices fell.

Thus the British ruling class was able to ride out the slump without serious social disorder. Its financial position cushioned the impact of the slump more than it did in Germany or the US. Its continuing control of the raw material and food sources of the Empire enabled it to take full advantage of the shifting terms of trade. Lastly, through superprofits it could support expanding luxury and unproductive sectors, guaranteeing employment and improving living standards to an increasing middle class and a significant section of the working class. Cole again: 'The main body of the employed workers did not revolt; for the most part it left the workers in the depressed industries to fight their own battles, or gave them but sporadic help'.(p609) And no wonder Bevin could declare that 'We have been left the . . . responsibility of an Empire and we will not break it up, we will not destroy it.'

Labour's response

Labour remained indifferent to the unemployed because it recognised that their votes or the votes of the industrial North would not win elections. It was also the fact that the unemployed were mainly unskilled workers. The only time Labour showed any concern for the unemployed was when they fought back, and such concern took the form of complete hostility. Thus Labour opposed all the national hunger marches — in 1930, 1932, 1934, and the two of 1936 which included the apolitical Jarrow march. It did not even debate the problem of the distressed areas of the North, Scotland and South Wales until 1936. In so far as there were any mass struggles against cuts in unemployment benefit, they were led by the unemployed themselves, especially in 1931-32 and 1935.

 One consequence of the 1931 debacle was that the Labour Party and the trade union leadership not only maintained but consolidated their reactionary alliance — the essence of social democracy — against the mass of the working class. Key to this was the new National Joint Council initiated by Citrine and Bevin which was set up in January 1932. Rather than meet quarterly as it had done hitherto, it now met monthly, on the day before the Labour Party NEC. With seven TUC General Council members and six from the Labour Party, the Joint Council virtually handed control of Labour policy to the General Council and therefore to Bevin and Citrine.

Saville says of the Labour leaders in the 1930s that 'they gave no hope or inspiration to their own supporters, and were tough, uncompromising and energetic only when their own positions of power were threatened, hence the political and industrial expulsion and excommunications' (ed Saville Essays in Labour History 1918-39). Thus it was not just unemployment that the Labour Party offered no opposition to the National Government. It opposed action taken by dockers to boycott goods destined for Japan after it invaded Manchuria in 1931. It opposed similar action against Italy five years later. In 1936 it supported the National Government in its refusal to send arms to republican Spain. Throughout this period, it opposed any action at home against the rise of fascism. In defending the refusal of Labour work with the CPGB in a united front against fascism, Bevin made his position brutally clear: 'if you do not keep down the Communists, you cannot keep down the Fascists' he declared at the 1934 Labour Party Conference. In short, whenever or wherever there was any significant working class action, it was almost always led by the Communist Party, and almost always opposed by the Labour Party. However, the fruits of this strategy were to prove very meagre for Labour. It made only a weak recover the 1935 general election; it won seats, but none of these were in Birmingham, for instance, and only three Labour MPs were returned south of the Midlands outside of London. Recovery of union membership was also limited with the exception of skilled workers. This was hardly surprising: trade unions seemed of limited relevance when living standards were rising without any widespread working class struggle. Not that the trade union movement suffered: its funds grew from £2.05 for each of its 4.15 million member 1926 to £3.80 per head of a similar number of members in 1936. In 1918 the amount spent on 'working expenses' was six times that spent on the fighting fund; in 1938 it was fourteen times, reflecting the absence of any significant strike activity. The limited struggles that did take place were often led by Communists. as it turned out, it was to take a world war to create an electoral alliance between the labour aristocracy and the mass of the working class on the one hand, and sections of the middle class on the other, sufficient to elect majority Labour Government.

The 1930s were years of transition as far as the structure of the British working class were concerned. The old export industries on which British industrial wealth had been based — coal, iron, steel, ship-building textiles — were decimated. The aristocratic sections of the working class employed in these sectors thrown into destitution. Meanwhile new manufacturing industries had arisen alongside a burgeoning service sector. A new labour aristocracy was in the making, of skilled workers employed in industries which would only fully develop with the advent war. Until that time, Labour attempts to organise these sections and to act as their political representative was to have limited success.

Labour Party: no end to its crisis as Corbyn accepts Tory cuts

On 20 January, after considerable delay, the Labour Party released the Beckett Report into its defeat at the May 2015 general election. The Report describes the mountain that Labour will have to climb if it is to win the 2020 general election. More immediately it faces council elections in May in which it is defending over 1,300 seats won at a high point in its electoral fortunes in 2012. Significant losses may trigger a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. In the meantime, however, Corbyn has instructed Labour councils to implement the massive cuts in jobs and services demanded by the Tory government from April. Those tens of thousands of people who have joined Labour since the 2015 General Election face a choice: either remain in the Labour Party or join a fight against war, austerity and racism. Robert Clough reports.

Corbyn remains isolated within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). His Shadow Cabinet reshuffle in early January led to the resignation of four members in protest at the dismissal of Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle, and Pat McFadden and Michael Dugher (Shadow Ministers for Europe and Culture respectively). Now cast as ‘authentic working class voices’, Dugher and McFadden are university graduates who had spells as Westminster-closeted special advisers (in McFadden’s case, to Tony Blair) before they became MPs: they are career politicians on £70,000 a year who have nothing to do with the working class. Dugher, a former vice chair of Labour Friends of Israel, says ‘Each time I visit Israel, my admiration for that great country grows.’

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Labour Party in crisis: Momentum taking us nowhere

The crisis in the Labour Party, the depth of which was exposed by its abject defeat at the general election and by Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the subsequent leadership election, shows no sign of abating. While the media pore over every word Corbyn utters and minutely scrutinise his behaviour, members of his shadow cabinet openly undermine him. The ruling class onslaught is, as expected, relentless: the aim is not just to crush Corbyn but also the very notion of fighting austerity. In response, pro-Corbyn MPs led by Clive Lewis have set up Momentum as ‘a grassroots network arising out of, and following on from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader campaign’. However, its purpose will be to ensure that any movement against austerity, racism or war will be tied arm and leg to the Labour Party. Robert Clough reports.

The last months have seen the tabloids pursue a range of apparently trivial gripes. Would Corbyn bow at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day (11 November)? Was the bow he did make deep enough? Would he kneel before the Queen when he was admitted into the Privy Council? Would he kiss the Queen’s hand? Yet these mask a far more fundamental concern: will a Corbyn-led Labour Party continue its slavish defence of Britain’s imperialist interests? The answer is yes. Whatever Corbyn thinks or says, the vast majority of the Shadow Cabinet and the Parliamentary Labour Party is determined to ensure it does. This is becoming clear on two key issues: replacing Trident and a forthcoming parliamentary vote to bomb Syria.

Labour backs Trident and its policy is to support its replacement which will cost more than £100bn, although Corbyn is opposed to it. Major unions also favour its replacement: both Unite and the GMB have come out in support because of the jobs it would create in the defence industry – the choice between having employment now and contributing to the potential annihilation of the human race is straightforward for the skilled workers these unions represent. When the Scottish Labour Party conference voted on 1 November to oppose a replacement, Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle stamped it down: ‘This does not change UK Labour Party policy,’ she declared. As she had previously told the September Labour conference, ‘Our policy is quite clear: it is as it was at the general election. It is in favour of procuring the successive submarines.’

On its potential use Shadow Cabinet members had no doubt. When, at the end of September, Corbyn declared that he would not sanction the use of nuclear weapons, he was immediately attacked by Eagle who told the BBC that ‘I don’t think that a potential prime minister answering a question like that in the way he did is helpful.’ She was joined by Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer, Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander and Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle who said ‘I don’t think that anyone in their right mind would want to get into a situation where it would be used. But if you do get to that situation you have to be prepared to use it.’ What they all pointedly ignore is that its use is under US control anyway. Helpfully, the chief of the defence staff General Sir Nicholas Houghton weighed in on Remembrance Day to say that he would be ‘worried’ if Corbyn became Prime Minister given his position on nuclear weapons and their potential use. Not wishing to miss an opportunity to undermine Corbyn, Maria Eagle backed Houghton up when Corbyn criticised the General for speaking out in public on a political issue.

Shadow Cabinet members have also been active in engineering Labour parliamentary support for airstrikes on Syria with Benn in the lead. They received a major fillip when the UN Security Council voted unanimously on 20 November to support a motion that called on those countries ‘with the capacity to do so’ to ‘redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts’ committed by ISIS. While this did not invoke Chapter VII authorising the use of military force, it was soon being used by Prime Minister David Cameron to obtain parliamentary support for airstrikes on Syria.

The following day, Corbyn argued that ‘The experience of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya has convinced many of our own people that the elite’s enthusiasm for endless military interventions has only multiplied the threats to us – while leaving death and destabilisation in their wake… It is the conflict in Syria and the consequences of the Iraq war which have created the conditions for ISIS to thrive and spread its murderous rule.’ He said that he would not allow a free vote in favour of military action; however, deputy leader Tom Watson has joined Benn in saying that it will be for the Shadow Cabinet to decide, with plenty of backbench MPs itching to support airstrikes. Benn and Watson are both for airstrikes. Corbyn’s appeal to party members to support his position caused indignation among many MPs who immediately started to complain about threats and intimidation.

As part of their drive to oust him, a meeting of Labour MPs on 16 November asked Corbyn if he agreed with a Stop the War Coalition article which had said that Paris had ‘reaped the whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in the Middle East’. He was howled down when he refused to condemn it although he thought it ‘inappropriate’. The same meeting saw MPs attack him for opposing a ‘shoot to kill’ policy for alleged terrorists. What does it matter to them that Harry Stanley and Jean Charles de Menezes are among many victims of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy already operated by British police when they see it necessary? The overriding concern of these venal careerists is to polish up their ruling class credentials and prepare to topple Corbyn.

Corbyn’s leadership election victory has not changed and will not change the Labour Party. The entire apparatus – MPs and their allies among thousands of Labour councillors, with their supporting machinery in ward and constituency Labour Parties and the trade union leadership – will ensure this does not happen. Labour claims that 180,000 new members have joined since the general election, 120,000 since Corbyn’s victory. But ordinary members have been deliberately excluded for years from having any influence over Labour Party policy and they will be unable even to change the vicious reactionaries who serve as Labour MPs. Corbyn himself has made it clear that he is against mandatory re-selection of MPs: he is aware that this would inevitably split the Labour Party which is the opposite of what he wants.

In an effort to create a counter-weight to the appallingly reactionary character of the Parliamentary Labour Party, a group of Corbyn’s close supporters have set up Momentum. A further reason for its establishment is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who supported his leadership campaign and who need to be kept tied to the Labour Party even if they are denied an active role within it. Momentum’s ‘Interim Ethical Code’ claims that it ‘is outward-facing’; that it ‘seeks to reach out across the community and encourages the participation of people who may not have been involved in political activities before’; and that local groups ‘must be democratic in their nature and be organised around a spirit of collaboration, inclusion and respect.’ It says it will support ‘the aims of the Labour movement and a fairer and more decent society’ – hardly a radical, let alone socialist, perspective. Yet this is what is on offer from a left which has given up on the struggle for socialism. More ominously, Momentum is committed to ‘supporting the Labour Party winning elections and entering government in 2020’ and that individuals or groups who do not adhere to this among other principles ‘will not be considered to be part of, or associated with Momentum.’ Already bans and proscriptions are hard-wired into its set-up and anyone critical of Labour excluded.

Momentum is now organising meetings and conferences around the country: it aims to place itself at the head of any movement against austerity and impose strict limits on its aims. Corbyn’s senior policy adviser Andrew Fisher, who was for a period suspended from the Labour Party because he tweeted support for a Class War candidate against the Honourable Emily Benn in the last general election and subsequently apologised, is a leading light in Momentum. His book, The failed experiment, an account of the current crisis which says that its origins lie in what he calls the financialisation of the British economy which Margaret Thatcher initiated in 1981, argues as do many on the left that there is a need to ‘rebalance’ the economy and lessen its dependency on the financial sector through investment in high-tech and green industries. He advocates nationalising the banks and abolishing the Corporation of London. That would require a revolution: there is no way that the British ruling class is going to surrender the core of its class power. At one point he writes:

‘The tensions in the UK economy between industry and finance are not new – indeed they date back to the early days of empire when Britain’s imperial expansion led to investment in developing trading routes, infrastructure and industry abroad. So even at a time when Britain’s industrial position was globally dominant, investment was not sufficiently directed into the domestic economy’ (The failed experiment, p61).

This completely misses the point: the dominant and most dynamic sector of the British capitalist economy since the beginning of the 20th century has been banking and financial services to which manufacturing and industry has been economically and politically subordinate. It was how British imperialism chose to compete with growing US and German industrial power, utilising the control of its colonial empire and its monopoly position in the finance of world trade. So when Fisher calls for the ‘rebalancing’ of the economy he is living in a dream world, even more so when he imagines this can be achieved by a Labour government. The reality is that it would require an assault on the citadel of British ruling class power – and, no matter who leads it, no Labour government will do this. It would not be allowed to take office.

Local Momentum groups in some areas are urging local councils to refuse to implement the next round of council cuts. This is fine and should be supported: but this call has been made by similar forces every year for the past five years and has had not the slightest impact on any Labour council. What is the evidence that this will change, that Labour councils will stop hiding behind the Tories and come out fighting? Will Momentum support or oppose Labour councillors who vote for local cuts when it comes to the May 2016 local elections? Any serious movement has to be built on the ground, not within the confines of the Labour Party or indeed the trade unions. Momentum cannot have it both ways. You can either fight austerity or you can defend the Labour Party. You cannot do both.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 248 December 2015/January 2016

Corbyn’s victory: Labour Party in crisis

Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election shows the depth of the crisis that is engulfing the party. The size of his majority may have quelled any immediate attempt by Labour MPs to unseat him, but they are already manoeuvring to challenge him over possible British military intervention in Syria and replacing Trident, using the fact that his support in the parliamentary party is negligible. Given his determination to maintain the unity of the Labour Party, Corbyn has already been forced to make concessions. He faces an insoluble contradiction: on the one hand, large swathes of the working class will no longer vote for a pro-austerity Labour Party, while on the other hand, the ruling class and its Labour MP hirelings will not accept a future Labour government led by Corbyn. Throughout the coming period, therefore, Corbyn will have to decide which is more important: building a movement against austerity or preserving the unity of the Labour Party. The two cannot be reconciled. Robert Clough reports.

By the end of the campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party, it was no surprise, even for his most stubborn and malevolent critics, that Corbyn won. But the scale of his victory, 59.5% in the first round, was a resounding shock. Despite the dire warnings of a string of Labour Party pro-imperialist grandees, 49.6% of party members supported Corbyn, as did 83.8% of registered supporters and 57.6% of affiliated union voters. The Blairite and openly ruling class candidate Liz Kendall was utterly trounced, obtaining a miserable 4.5% of the vote. Together, the other two establishment, pro-austerity candidates, Yvette Cooper and the one-time favourite to win, Andy Burnham, shared 36%.

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