Friday, February 18, 2011

“Progressive London”: A Popular Front for reactionaries

I have an aversion to the word “progressive”. My grandparents were lifelong Stalinists, and used the word to refer to those who were not actually Party members but were sufficiently fellow travelling for their tastes (“useful idiots” being the less polite behind-the-scenes designation).

Today in Britain, the Cameron/Clegg Coalition government has annexed the term to refer to the social liberal, One Nation Tory and civil libertarian veneer thinly stretched over their slash and burn neo-liberal policies, further devaluing the word.

Ken Livingstone is among those seeking to recapture “progressive” for the mothballed left that used to own it outright. He is hosting a big shindig of the old left at Congress House today entitled “Progressive London”, under the strapline of “protecting London, opposing Tory cuts”.

I agree almost word for word with Ken’s criticism of the Cameron government and Boris Johnson city hall. The Tory cuts bite harder on London than on many parts of the country, and already London is seeing higher transport fares, chaos for commuters due to staff shortages and mismanagement, and cuts in the number of police on the streets. Boris has defended the interests of high finance, been needlessly belligerent with transport workers, and dismissed the interests of the large number of FE and HE students in the capital who are financially affected by the cuts.

But Ken’s “Progressive London” tent presents a poor alternative.

Ken is facing two wrong directions at once. On the one hand, he has secured nomination for Labour’s candidate for London mayor, so he needs to play to the party, and so speakers include Labour local authority mayors and MPs. Local Labour parties are in an unenviable position. The Coalition cuts are allocated politically, and fall disproportionately on Labour authorities (averaging 7%, as oppose to 6% for Lib Dem councils and 5% for Tory councils). As people feel effects of reduced council services much more immediately than they feel effects of cuts in central government budgets, and the Comprehensive Spending Review asks councils to start their cutting much quicker than it asks government departments, citizens will feel resentment against the councils who will be withdrawing their services. A situation reminiscent in some ways of the Thatcher years, when Labour councils had the job of implementing the hated Tory poll tax. In these circumstances, an anti-cuts campaign that puts Labour councils at its heart has very little scope for making a difference.

On the other hand, Ken’s big tent seems to have the most room for forces outside the Labour Party and indeed on the extreme right. While the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is co-opted into a military junta that is seeking to crush working class militancy, Ken has Salma Yaqoob speaking, a representative of the Brotherhood’s UK franchise, the Muslim Association of Britain, and its electoral front, Respect. While the theocratic regime in Iran cracks down on democratic and trade union dissent in a wave of arrests and executions, Ken has Mehdi Hasan speaking, an apologist for the Ahmadinejad regime.

There’s Ismail Patel of the British Muslim Initiative and friend of Hezbollah; Intissar Ghannoushi, their speaker on Tunisia, also comes from the BMI, i.e. representing the Islamist movement in Tunisia and not the pro-democracy movement. There’s Sarah Colborne of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign; Bob Lambert, Moonie-funded ex-copper and apologist for Islamists. Also speaking are Kate Hudson of CND and John Haylett of the Morning Star, both members of the Communist Party of Britain, which is progressive like Joseph Stalin is progressive. We have ambassadors from Bolivia and Cuba, members of the ruling oligarchies of an authoritarian and totalitarian state respectively. We have Viva Palestina, an organisation closely tied to the fascist Hamas. And we have Lindsey German, representing Stop the War, a woman who has described organisations of the far right, like the Iraqi insurgency, Hamas and Hezbollah, as “the resistance”, and equated them with democracy, and who described gay rights as a “shibboleth” created by Zionists. There is the London correspondent of Al-Jazeera, a former PLO representative to the UN,

So, a whole host of speakers who make the word “progressive” at best a joke, at worst a swearword.

Also pertinent is the question of what these speakers have to do with London. An internationalist viewpoint is essential, and London’s radicals have always been connected to liberation struggles elsewhere (from the time of the London Corresponding Society in the 1790s, which closely followed the French revolution, to the South London draymen who threw the Austrian general who crushed the 1848 revolution into the river Thames, to the Reclaim the Streets activists who made common cause with the Zapatistas in the 1990s). But it seems highly imbalanced to devote such a large part of an event supposedly about “protecting London” to an eclectic collection of distant struggles.

Actually, although eclectic, the selection is not arbitrary, but reflects Ken’s pet passions, which in turn reflect the cultural code of the most cobwebbed part of the left from which he comes. Hence no representatives of Tamil resistance to Sri Lankan genocide, no representatives of Iran’s Green movement, no one speaking for the Pakistani women locked up for blasphemy, no one speaking about the horrific conflicts across Africa, no delegations from Chinese trade unions.

I’m not sure about a “progressive” London, but it seems to me that a radical London needs to take as its starting point the everyday issues that ordinary Londoners are dealing with: endless waiting lists for council housing, libraries and children’s centres being closed down, the socially divisive secondary school situation that means children are travelling miles every day, hospitals in need of sustained investment, a transport system crumbling under the weight of so many million commuters, the constant danger of terrorist attack, the degradation of our public spaces, gang and knife culture among our youth, the processes of gentrification that are driving us out of our neighbourhoods, the slow death of our pubs, the fatal funding cuts faced by our community organisations, the vulnerability of those employed in the largest sectors in the capital such as cleaning and hospitality, the growing gap between the lifestyles of the rich and poor.

Previous: Carnival of socialism; Internationalism and other left-wing ideas; Boris, Bob, Ken and social cleansing; Harryism and the Ken clique; Ken's finest moment; 2010 election analysis London.

13 comments:

skidmarx said...

we have Lindsey German, representing Stop the War, a woman who has described organisations of the far right, like the Iraqi insurgency,
Stop there a minute. Gross abuse of the term far right. Makes a change from alleging that she's a supporter of jihadi mass murderers, but still is part of the unthinking destruction of the language as a communication tool that diminishes any subsequent argument.
... Hamas and Hezbollah, as “the resistance”, and equated them with democracy,
Can't really do better than to repeat Lenin's comment on the post linked to: "Hamas had just won a popular election and was resisting a Fatah-Israeli putsch, while Hezbollah was defeating an Israeli invasion. Their defeat in either case would have been a defeat for democracy."
...and who described gay rights as a “shibboleth” created by Zionists.
Of course the quote begins "I'm in favour of defending gay rights."
Apple falling far from tree.Doesn't.

Andrew Coates said...

Coming from a background where my grandparents and parents had lots of Communist friends, in the Heimat of North London, I too cringe when I hear the word 'progressive'.

This event makes me cringe as well.

I wonder if Livingstone is setting up his own Foreign office, with all the dodgy relations.

Maybe he thinks he can outbid the kind of dealing described in Mark Curti's secret Affairs (on UK collusion with Islamists):

http://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/secret-affairs-britain%e2%80%99s-collusion-with-radical-islam-mark-curtis-review/


Good post Bob. You did however forget to mention that Livingstone also broadcasts for blood-stained Iranian state on Press TV.

bob said...

Thanks Andrew.



The German quote: "I'm in favour of defending gay rights. But I am not prepared to have it as a shibboleth, [created by] people who . . . regard the state of Israel as somehow a viable presence." As obvious from clicking the url I linked to. No falsification involved. What she said is ridiculous and disgusting.


The Conservatives and Lib Dems here between them have the majority of the popular vote. Do we hail them, therefore, as heroes of democracy? Hamas and Hezbollah are anti-democratic, regardless of whether they win elections or not.

James Bloodworth said...

"The German quote: "I'm in favour of defending gay rights. But I am not prepared to have it as a shibboleth, [created by] people who . . . regard the state of Israel as somehow a viable presence." As obvious from clicking the url I linked to. No falsification involved. What she said is ridiculous and disgusting."

Ridiculous and disgusting on more than one level.

skidmarx said...

I think these points are a side issue to the post,on which I'd agree with many of the individual points made at the start but would disagree with the attempt to make out the irrelevance of the speakers, the truth would seem to be that you don't like them and use costantly contentious interpretation to attack them.
That you and James can find a statement starting "I'm in favour of defending gay rights" ridiculous and disgusting says more about you than about her. It seems perfectly simple to me :Respect was always going to be based considerably in the Muslim community, and to insist that everyone be signed up to a gay liberation agenda before letting them join was going to impede its growth (something those opposed to it from the beginning would of course have been overjoyed by). Didn't as I recall stop the question of whether to have a Respect presence at Gay Pride being precisely one of the things the SWP fought with Galloway about later. And on the anti-Israel thing, I assume it is probably the AWL that is referred to, whose Third Campist position vaccilating on the "War On Terror" would certainly not be the political highground when advising a party being set up to fight the war on Muslims and civil liberties.

Laban said...

"The Coalition cuts are allocated politically, and fall disproportionately on Labour authorities (averaging 7%, as oppose to 6% for Lib Dem councils and 5% for Tory councils)."

That's a tad disingenuous. Local authority funding from central sources is historically redistributive - more money going to poorer boroughs. You have no right to criticise the cuts as 'allocated politically' unless you also accused Labour of the same when the inner-city allocations rose disproportionately after 1997. Did you ?

By 2005 a Tower Hamlets school had a per-capita endowment of £6,500 - which where I live would have bought a place at a private primary. The allocation for Gloucestershire was less than £4,000.

The BBC had an item a week or so back on the council cuts, showing that an inner-city authority (Brent I think) was going to lose x-hundred pounds per head, compared with a Tory LA only losing a hundred. Seemed terribly unfair.

But they then revealed that the Labour borough was, after the evil Tory cuts, still getting over £2,000 per capita from central funding, compared to £900 for the Tory one.

So it's a little more complex than what you're giving us. Indeed, if it's true that the Labour boroughs are only being cut 2% more than the Tory ones :

a) I'm amazed at Tory moderation

b) central grants to LAs are still massively redistributionary. Something I presume you'd be in favour of.

James Bloodworth said...

"That you and James can find a statement starting "I'm in favour of defending gay rights" ridiculous and disgusting says more about you than about her."

I think you will find she said "I believe in gay rights, BUT..."

modernity said...

In fairness to Lindsey German, she was just openly articulating what many SWP leaders, etc have practised for years:

making it clear that political expediency wins over principle

It shouldn't come to us as any surprise that politicos, politicians are happy to junk their temporary commitments to gay rights, etc when it is overridden by the politics of the moment, that's what they are all about.

And, ultimately, that's why they are so unsuccessful.

darren redstar said...

Excellent post Bob, and a telling reminder, if one is needed, that the enemy of ones enemy is not necessarily ones friend, and is in fact another enemy.
I once upset a pub full of self congratulatory Guildord lefties who were planning a joint paper sale (by selling their various rags together, they were proving just how united and unsectarian they were..) by informing the elderly CPGBer there that I wasn't his comrade, and that given the history and aims of his own and his fellow leninists' organisations any revolution that they were involved in I would be on the other side of the barracades

bob said...

Laban, you are probably right that the cuts are not allocated politically but reflect the fact that voting patterns broadly follow class, and poor people are more likely to vote Labour. However, I think it is the case that the cuts blunt the redistributive nature of local government funding, which I see as a bad thing, and it is also the case, and this is more important, that they fall much more heavily on places where there are more poor people.

-

Re Skid
the attempt to make out the irrelevance of the speakers, the truth would seem to be that you don't like them and use costantly contentious interpretation to attack them.
I don't think I have taken anyone out of context in quoting them. It's not a question of me attacking them because I "don't like them"; I don't like them for the reasons made cleer in the post.

I should have said that there were a fair few speakers at the event talking about local cuts- and union-related issues, and not just speakers on these international issues. But it is striking who the international speakers are - not one from a trade union, feminist or pro-democratic movement elsewhere; a very uneven representation of the world (none from sub-Saharan Africal; none from non-Muslim parts of Asia); the only ones who are leftist are from the authoritarian state socialism of Chavez and Castro.

-

Further:
http://yourfriendinthenorth.blogspot.com/2011/02/how-bizarre.html

http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/when-some-on-the-uk-left-supported-gaddafi-and-accepted-his-money/

http://hurryupharry.org/2011/02/21/the-guardian-and-the-ghannoushi-clan/

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/palestine-an-obsession-of-radical-west-not-arabs/story-e6frg6zo-1226006572220

darren redstar said...

as if by magic, that arch crony of Galloway and apologist for dictators and thugs the world over; andy newman has launched a witchhunting attack on anarchists who refuse to kowtow slavishly to the 'leaders' of the Tuc and 'bland labour.
the comments have taken off into an orgy of a trotty partridge shoot.
the 'comrades' can taste blood and want their fill of anarchist flesh.
they seem to saviour crushing us even more than they salivate over the killing of jews

Waterloo Sunset said...

Yeah, but quite honestly, I'd be more worried if Newman supported us. Considering both his stalinism and his 'loyalty' to every previous group he's been in. (The SWP, Respect)

Besides, do you actually think we're under any genuine physical threat from Newman and his mates? The Undertaker is so obviously an internet tough guy that he's fully in the realms of self-parody by now.

Not one of them will have the bottle to say anything to a single anarchist at the TUC demo. (Although someone giving Andy a slap would be kinda funny, just for the hysterical blog post that would be bound to follow).

bob said...

Just noticed this post seems to call Bolivia an authoritarian state. That's not at all something I think. I will at some point check if I meant Venezuela, which is an authoritarian state, or else will delete it. Either way, I was being pretty stupid.