Posts Tagged ‘Ian Stewart’

Why is Ed playing into the Tories hands on the union link?

10/07/2013, 06:06:30 PM

by Ian Stewart

Before I get flamed here, let me declare two interests – I am a member of both the Labour party and Unite. I am as concerned as anybody else with what may or may not have happened in Falkirk and other places, but am trying to pass comment here only upon what I know.

I believe that having a solid link between organised labour and our party is one of the great strengths we have. At its best, it means that we have to at least consider ordinary peoples’ daily lives, rather than simply what sounds good on telly.

If you were to ask most party members which legislation they would be proudest of over the past century, my guess is that after the foundation of the NHS, the list would include equal pay, anti – discrimination laws, John Wheatleys’ housing act, the wages councils, their successor the minimum wage, the dock labour scheme, the expansion of education, including the open university and health and safety at work.

It is a long list, and by no means exhaustive. What is striking is that in these cases and many others pressure for reform came not from some arid Fabian pamphlet, but from the trades unions affiliated to the Labour party. Hell, even when we had less than 100 Labour MPs back before the great war, the Liberal government passed the national insurance act, in part to head off a rising tide of militancy.

So I have watched the growing fuss over Falkirk with impotent rage. In simplest terms, those shouting loudest for my general secretary’s scalp have their own agenda. It is clear and simple to Msrs Hodges, Murphy et al – the union link must die. It is the major block to a “realignment” of the “progressive” parties in the UK, which, shorn of any link to ordinary people, could then unite and deny the Conservatives any power for a generation.

Of course, the fact that their preferred progressive partners, the Lib Dems, are in government with the Tories, and presiding over the biggest slump in living standards since 1929 may mean that this is utter tripe, but no matter. Never mind that the other parties of the centre left – the Greens, Plaid, SNP and Respect have gained votes from us by outflanking us to the left, and are looking to replace us, rather than do deals.


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For pity’s sake, stay at home tomorrow

16/04/2013, 07:00:32 AM

by Ian Stewart

For the past week those of us who remember the 1980s have been in our own ways reliving them. It has been neither a pleasant nor edifying spectacle to watch friends and family tear lumps off each other over the legacy of the frail old woman who died at the Ritz. Facebook accounts are now covered in the detritus of real life as well as online friendships wrecked by casual or bombastic posts that reopened the wounds long thought healed.

To watch a crowd of idiots vandalise my local cinema – which by the way was showing the excellent Spirit of ’45 – and then break the windows of the bastion of Thatcherism that is Brixton’s Banardos shop defied all logic. I mean, Foxtons – I understand that, but Banardos? Please explain?

I still cannot forgive or forget Mrs Thatcher and her government – not for the miners, nor for Corby, nor for letting the free market rip in such a way that highly skilled industrial jobs in my home town were butchered (Lowestoft men built the Virgin Atlantic Challenger that won the blue riband – using state of the art plasma welding – then were left on the scrapheap). I doubt that Germany, Holland or Norway would have done the same. Eastern Coachworks shut down, north sea oil and gas money frittered away, leaving behind an economy reliant on food processing plants and moving away as the only serious option if you have ambition.

What I also cannot forgive is the fact that ever since 1990, every single succeeding government has attempted not to alter the Thatcher consensus, but simply to give it a “human face”. Up until the great crash Major, Blair and Brown had all seemingly achieved this – balancing social spending with deregulation, further privatisation and tax cuts for the rich.


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Ed, on Leveson: you say compromise, I say stitch-up

20/03/2013, 11:34:40 AM

by Ian Stewart

Before New Labour, in the mists of time before the red rose and “Meeting the Challenge, Making the Change” (remember that?), we used to have a wonderful little enamel badge, now beloved of collectors. Round, in red and white with gold detail – the pen, the shovel (workers by hand and brain), the torch and three simple words. “Labour”, “Party” and perhaps most importantly “Liberty”.

Yes Ed, “Liberty” – not “censorship”, not “revenge”, not even “royal charter”, just liberty pure and plain. It is a word that is threaded through the tale of radical and socialist politics of these islands for hundreds of years.

Every assault on power and privilege since the middle ages has met with repression and censorship together. Under the tyrant Charles 1st, Freeborn John Lillburne and William Prynne were imprisoned, censored, flogged and in Prynne’s case publicly mutilated.

In the early nineteenth century, owning Tom Paine’s “Rights of Man” would get you a free trip to Australia. Early feminists who wished to spread sex education and contraception were prosecuted under obscenity laws. Every faltering step forward by our side has seen gagging acts, libel actions by the wealthy, repression and imprisonment.

You know this, you are not an ignorant man. So why have you conspired with Nick Clegg and David Cameron to limit not only press freedom, but also the right to free speech and free investigation for everyone who blogs or writes in this country? The hacking scandal, exposed by Nick Davies at the Guardian is a fine example of investigative journalism – so why have you now made Nicks job harder? Who benefits from this? Sure, Hugh Grant is probably a nice guy, a plank of wood on the screen, but ok enough for a lunch.

Last week the government you oppose announced that for the international wealthy, British justice is the best money can buy. With our repressive libel laws that treat corporations as individuals, this is so for every dictator, every oligarch, every tax-avoiding press baron out there. Your response? To further gag and limit journalists, on the pretext of aiding ordinary people. So please tell me:  how exactly does this help the patients of South Staffs NHS?


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No one should be making political capital out of what’s happening to the Lib Dems

26/02/2013, 09:34:58 AM

by Ian Stewart

Over the past two years or so a succession of awful scandals have come to light regarding sex and politics. Julian Assange and the defence of him by George Galloway have hit Respect hard. Then the truly horrific parody of “justice” SWP style as regards the “Comrade X” affair, along with other long standing members, including possibly a late leading member, and the scandal in its German affiliate party.

Then the Liberal Democrats. First the list of allegations of abuse by the late Cyril Smith, going back decades finally saw the light of day – remember that only Private Eye had kept up any pressure to have these looked into in the national media – after all Sir Cyril was a national treasure. Now Lord Rennard faces allegations of inappropriate behaviour within party HQ.

There is a temptation within politics to use any and every bit of bad news to give our opponents a knock. Those of us who remember John Major and “Back to Basics” also remember various cabinet ministers subsequently being caught having affairs – much hilarity ensued as hypocrites were caught out. True enough, some lives and families were ruined, but they were Tory lives, so who cares eh? Lets face it, those scandals of the eighties and nineties seemed to fit the Profumo template that seemingly has no end – Tory bigwig playing away whilst promoting family values. A bit of slap and tickle for the tabloids. Of course as in so many things, New Labour triangulated itself into the mix after 1997.

The recent allegations levelled at Liberals and leftists are far more serious. We are talking about the abuse of power by older men perpetrated on younger women and in some cases boys. We are talking about the use of idealism and loyalty to a cause or a party to shut the victims up. In some cases, we are talking about bullying and rape. This should never in any way be used to make political capital.

When Julian Assange fled from allegations of rape in Sweden, too few on the left made the point that the real victims were probably the two women who went to the police. After Galloway made his infamous comments, this number grew, Salma Yaqoob and others left Galloway in disgust. Recently, other high-profile supporters of saint Julian have distanced themselves from him, although some, like Jemima Khan still seem ready to defend him in extremis.


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Rugby union: it’s not just for the posh boys

01/02/2013, 05:17:28 PM

by Ian Stewart

Aside from politics, I find both codes of rugby excellent spectator sports, especially rugby union. I can’t say that I like football all that much, excepting an interest that Norwich City stay up, and Ipswich Town do badly.

I know this puts me in a minority, and in some leftwing circles such an admission seems as outrageous as professing a liking for bullfighting.

After all, isn’t the fifteen player game synonymous with class privilege, as in the Jam’s excellent “Eton Rifles” (unlike David Cameron, I actually do understand the point of the song), what chance do we have against a tie and a crest indeed?

From the historic meeting at the George hotel in Huddersfield in 1895, rugby league has been seen as the workers version of the game. True enough, the league sanctioned payment for players, was (and still is) firmly rooted in the working class culture of the industrial north, and quickly became the biggest code in more egalitarian Australia. Yet at the top, the game was still controlled by the same hard-nosed men as football, probably best portrayed as the Leeds United and Derby County directors were in the stonking “Damned United.”

Snobbery was out, but although workers could afford to honestly play, there would be no question of any workers control (Incidentally, what a history Huddersfield has – the best choral society, rugby league, the philharmonic, and the last British performance of the Sex Pistols in 1977, a benefit for striking fire fighters, puts other towns to shame.)

Yet in south Wales and south west England, rugby union remained a popular working class sport, both for players and fans. The 1908 county champions, Cornwall represented Great Britain at that year’s Olympics, gaining Silver against Australia, and although a lacklustre match, the team included a true working class hero – Bert Solomon.  A shy man devoted to his pigeons, this legendary winger sold the first dummy in international rugby.


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Could someone please be sensible about a Lib Lab coalition?

23/01/2013, 07:00:12 AM

by Ian Stewart

Thank you Andrew Rawnsley. No, really – this was exactly the right time to bring up the possibility of Nick Clegg clinging to office by whatever means necessary after 2015.

Of course, Andrew was simply doing what he is paid for – writing speculative fiction that tantalises Observer readers every Sunday. After all, with Len Mcluskey giving one of the most important speeches from any trade union leader in ages, it was obviously a slow week in politics. Oh, and Cameron running away (again) on Europe, those nasty cuts to all those skiving strivers in the NHS, the armed forces; the firefighters’ warning of a looming crisis in our emergency services, yes, nothing to worry the world of high politics.

Now predictably the reaction to Rawnsleys’ article on Sunday has fallen into two camps – those who are trenchantly against any co-operation, and those who, for all sorts of reasons, favour some kind of Lib-Lab alliance. I can find no coherent reason to join the latter camp, yet I also reject the former.

The situation as I understand it is this: Ed and Nick are no longer throwing dung at each other. Outside of Westminster, the Lib Dems still covet the ambition to replace Labour as the main contender to the Tories, and, in differing areas, act accordingly. Most true blue Tories still detest the orange bookers, and blame government failure on them, rather than on Osborne’s economic incompetence.


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Heard of Alexis Soyer? For anyone worried about foodbank Britain, he’s the type of celeb chef we actually need

21/01/2013, 07:00:57 AM

by Ian Stewart

So the annual blow-out is over, and those who invested heavily in the usual orgy of food and booze that dominates the end of December are now hoping to stick to their new year’s resolutions.

In the la-la land of TV commissioning, amongst assorted cop shows, property porn and reality dross, the food programme seemingly has no equal. After all, it is a catch-all subject isn’t it? We all have to eat, and thus food can be used in almost any situation, and the genre can be whisked, diced, stirred and folded to fit almost any situation. If you enjoy seething, duplicitous competition – and lets face it, I do – then Come Dine With Me fits the bill. If your tastes are more towards middle-England and Midsomer Murders, then the Great British Bake-Off will have you in its thrall.

Then we have the TV chefs and food writers – really quite a varied category, as some do actually seem to want you learn something practical (Delia, Nigel, Jamie), whilst others are simply selling an impossible dream (step forward Nigella and Heston). Not to mention various restaurant owners and chefs with cookware and an image to sell – Raymond, Aldo, Gordon, James and others to spare. Of course there is the big daddy of them all… Masterchef.  Re-jigged into a competition where hopeful amateurs may, if very lucky, parlay victory on telly into an actual restaurant, possibly even a chain with the right backing.

Weekly, when in season, John Torode and Greg Wallace torture innocent people wearing white jackets for our entertainment. Greg Wallace… the man fascinates me to a slightly unhealthy degree. Having started his media career on Radio Four’s exciting “Veg Talk”, the sometime onion seller now earns a living by repeating whatever John Torode says, but in a different order. “I like your food” becomes “your food – I like”, and the inanity-meter goes into overdrive – “that is a serious plate of food” or “your flavours are your strength,” (disturbing, if you think about it too much!).

In an age where food prices are almost constantly rising across the world and when many children will go to school with nothing in their bellies, a plate of food can indeed be serious. Yet you will find no reference to food as sustenance in most food programming – Jamie’s campaigns and the odd cooking on a budget series excepted. Nope, it is all about ‘food porn’ and the aspiration, apparently, to own a Dualit toaster, and cook on an Aga. To find out the reality of food in modern Britain, you would do much better to listen to the odd snippet on the news.

So, when kids fall asleep by mid-morning, when that charming euphemism of malnutrition, “food poverty”, is on the rise, the foodie celebs are next to useless. It hasn’t always been this way – there have been great chefs, great showmen, who actually affected ordinary lives for the better.

Step forward Alexis Benoist Soyer – cook to princes, dukes and assorted mid-Victorian useless mouths at the Reform club, the kitchens of which he also designed, introducing refrigeration, adjustable heat stoves, and cooking with gas.


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Labour’s caution on tackling poverty dishonours the memory of the hunger marchers

11/01/2013, 10:32:39 AM

by Ian Stewart

As reported in the press, Con Shiels, the last participant in the Jarrow Crusade died at the age of 96 on Boxing Day. With him dies perhaps the last living link to the great interwar struggles of the Labour movement against government indifference to suffering and want under the Tory and coalition governments of Baldwin, Macdonald, and Chamberlain.

No doubt Atul and Pete will come up with something more iconoclastic and humorous for this period soon, but I feel like sticking to the story right now.

I suppose that many of us, at least if we are over thirty, “did” the Jarrow march at school. I seem to remember it being of the same set of lessons when we were told that the then Prince of Wales visited depressed areas and murmured “something must be done”. We certainly did NOT learn at school that proud Edward thought that the answer to unemployment lay with Mr Moseley and Mr Hitler.

We did learn about “red” Ellen Wilkinson, and Jarrow, and unemployment, and “buddy can you spare a dime?” What we didn’t learn was that the 1936 Jarrow march was part of a bigger picture of resistance to unemployment and vicious cuts in outdoor relief.

From its creation by the Communist party, the national unemployed workers movement (NUWM) sought to do something that many trades union and Labour leaders thought undesirable, if not impossible – organise the unemployed to fight for a better deal.

And they did it. The NUWM had a life of its own, for despite leadership opposition, ordinary trades unionists and Labour members worked alongside the communists to make it work. There were marches to London in1922,1929,1930,!931,1932,1934, and 1936. From Cardiff and Glasgow they marched, to Bristol from the Rhondda in their tens, hundreds and thousands.


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Alex Salmond wants to disenfranchise millions of Britons. Don’t let him.

04/01/2013, 11:56:58 AM

by Ian Stewart

Forgive me, this is all going to get a bit Simon Heffer, but in a good way, I promise.

Sometimes it seems that the political class is intent upon the out-and-out destruction of Great Britain. Witness the lack of support for our national broadcaster, even before the Saville scandal, and its supreme lack of care at the ruthless gutting of the welfare state, let alone the NHS sell off. If you value your eardrums, never get me started on education either…

Yes, the political class – a thing that back in the fifties and sixties most of us would have thought near to death – has, by the grace of Margaret and Tony, been placed firmly back in control. I suppose that we should all be glad that we have no need to worry our little heads about the issues of the day, despite that pesky universal suffrage thingy. Let us all sit back and let assorted witless media-types, lawyers, bankers, tame academics, the odd ex-oil company exec and career politicians lull us all to sleep.

Large sections of this privileged, educated elite show supreme indifference as to the fate of the United Kingdom, whether they wield power in London or Edinburgh.

Despite leading the Conservative and Unionist party, and despite presenting themselves as inheritors of Macmillans’ one nation mantle to get elected, Cameron, Osborne, Gove et al have no love for the union. Why should they, when Scotland rejects modern Toryism by such a large degree? Yet a common cynical cause has been made with the fat, failed economist in Hollyrood. An outside observer might possibly see that however unlikely it may have seemed given the SNPs anti-Tory stance at previous elections, for nationalists, they main enemy has been Labour all along.

It goes like this – Labour lost the Scottish parliament because we deserved to. For far too long we practiced the kind of machine politics that belong to Tammany Hall rather than a modern state. Hopefully we are learning the lessons and reconnecting. However the result of the stitch-ups, the graft and the internal censorship has been plain to see.

So Alex Salmond, never one to exhibit an ounce of shame, was given an open goal. Never mind that his policies on the economy were in tatters by 2009, never mind the backing of religious reactionaries, or his blatant courting of dear Rupert, he beat us fair and square.


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Is the shire one nation? Are hobbits blue Labour?

03/12/2012, 02:54:47 PM

by Ian Stewart

Sometimes it is a good thing to have obsessions other than politics. There are times when your interests can coincide, and that’s good too, but we all need to have an escape from the world – even an atheist needs his “heart in a heartless world.”

Only a few days to go now comrades, and I am reaching a level of excitement normally only reached at election time, or during the six nations. Soon we will see the results of all that had work for ourselves.

Not a by-election, not a mayoral race nor even one of those exciting composite motions at the TUC, but the imagining of the wilds of Mirkwood. Yes, Mirkwood, across The misty mountains of middle earth, with Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and thirteen dwarfs, led by Thorin Oakenshield.  I really, really cannot wait to see what Peter Jackson has made of this children’s classic.

From December the thirteenth, we will finally get to see if the waiting has been worth it.  The production has been fraught with controversy, from Gulliermo del Toro being in, then out, to accusations of animal cruelty, to taking a pretty slim book and expanding it into three full-length feature films.

On top of this, the Conservative New Zealand government drove a horse and cart through workers rights to enable Warner Brothers and New Line to pay actors and extras below scale. From the outside, it has sometimes looked like a production doomed to failure, and what with the anti-union practices and threats, a deserved one at that.

Yet we all watched the Olympics, knowing full well that the companies who built the stadia were engaged in blacklisting health and safety reps, that the founder of the modern games was a proto-fascist who admired and applauded Hitler in 1936. All I will do is cut the films and Jackson a little slack.


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