Tony Benn

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Book Review: Searching for Socialism: The Project of the Labour New Left from Benn to Corbyn by Leo Panitch and Colin Leys

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/07/2020 - 9:44pm in

In Searching for Socialism, Leo Panitch and Colin Leys bring out the continuities in the policies and aspirations of Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn in seeking to transform the British Labour Party into an instrument of socialist change. While urging for greater efforts towards instilling socialist values and objectives within the Labour Party, the authors conclude that without a compelling socialist ideology capable of overcoming the contradictions of 21st-century capitalism, we remain searching for socialism, writes David Lane.

Searching for Socialism: The Project of the Labour New Left from Benn to Corbyn. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys. Verso. 2020.

Leo Panitch and Colin Leys’s Searching for Socialism brings out the continuities in the policies and aspirations of Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn in seeking to transform the British Labour Party into an instrument of socialist change. Searching for Socialism is arranged chronologically. The first five chapters summarise the content of The End of Parliamentary Socialism, published by the authors in 2000, which covered the period of Benn’s challenge to the rise of New Labour under Tony Blair. The remaining chapters consider New Labour in power and its contest with Labour’s ‘new left’, culminating in the leadership of Corbyn, and end with the defeat of the Labour Party in the UK General Election of 2019.

What Benn and Corbyn hold in common is a belief that socialism can be achieved by parliamentary means, through the ballot box rather than on the streets; by voting rather than fighting; by compromise rather than civil war. The authors reiterate Benn’s insistence that reform must ‘protect our people who are now locked into [the system] while we change [it]’ (98). The authors emphasise that Benn and Corbyn insisted that the social-democratic agenda for political transition is predicated on transforming property relations through public ownership of the means of production which can only be achieved by democratic means. Public ownership of property and a people’s democracy are crucial in their understanding of a social-democratic transition. The detailed discussion in the book records how the Labour Party since the end of the Second World War has failed to promote these ends and analyses the underlying causes. The remedies, the authors contend, lie in the ‘Labour new left political project’ (3) pursued by Benn and Corbyn.

Their critique of the shift to the right in the Labour Party epitomised by Blair’s New Labour somewhat underplays the initial support for the New Labour ideology and dwells on factional differences between various groups both within the Labour Party and the wider labour movement. The authors point out, however, that Neil Kinnock received a standing ovation at the Labour Party conference in 1985 (119) and Blair’s deletion of the old Clause 4 (on public ownership) received 90 per cent of the constituency delegates’ votes (126).

The discourse in the book deals in detail with problems confronting the Labour left in establishing itself in power. Here considerable attention is given to the endemic conflict between the Parliamentary Labour Party and its ties to the Party leader, the Party conference and National Executive Committee and Party members as the legitimate sources of authority. The authors show how the parliamentary leadership under Blair effectively made policy and turned the Party conference into a ‘hugely symbolic event’, a ‘showpiece’ (129). Under Blair the revised Clause 4, with its emphasis on a dynamic economy, a just society, open democracy and a healthy environment (127), became the essence of New Labour’s form of managed capitalism. Institutionally, New Labour became an acceptable face of Thatcherism and a form of leadership democracy exerting power through Labour Party officials (‘social-democratic centralism’), with the Labour Party being converted into a ‘plebiscitary party’ (157-58).    

However, in following the conventions of the US Democratic Party by extending the franchise for the election of Party leader to Party members and supporters, the New Labour administration accepted the procedure of One Member One Vote, which paved the way for the unexpected election of Corbyn.  Panitch and Leys detail the revolt against New Labour and the failure of Ed Miliband in accepting the mantle of responsible capitalism to provide an alternative to the market-oriented Conservative-led Coalition government. They show how extra-parliamentary forces, particularly Union commentators such as Andrew Murray and Len McCluskey, Kate Hudson (CND) and Ken Loach, contributed to a major political realignment, similar in character to socialist developments in Greece (Syriza), Spain (Podemos) and Germany (Die Linke).

Within the book, there are good accounts of the new economic strategy. These developments shifted the ideological and political focus to global economic power and, as Murray shrewdly put it, politics became ‘more class focussed than class-rooted’ (183). Corbyn became the focal point of the Labour left’s counter-movement against austerity policies and the market-based assumptions informing Labour Party policy.  The objective now was to transform the Party from its traditional parliamentarianism into an agency for socialism (199). The authors show how Momentum, supported by the Unite Union, was instrumental in the rise of Corbyn, and how Labour’s policies of greater state intervention, proposals for public ownership and greater democratisation regenerated the Labour Party both as an organisation and as an electoral force. But it was not enough.

The final chapters of the book explain left Labour’s dismal electoral defeat in 2019 and dwell on how the Labour Party might be turned to adopt socialist principles. The authors point to the strength of campaigns (both within and outside the Party) against the Corbyn leadership. As well as being a response to investigations into antisemitism within the Labour Party, negative media coverage, they contend, reflected hostility to Corbyn’s policy on the part of state institutions like the Treasury and the civil service, the City of London as well as external interests such as NATO and the USA. Implementing a policy inimical to global capitalism and the City of London would present unsurmountable problems for a socialist government. Corbyn was subjected to a character assassination in the British press, including the Guardian, which usually backs Labour. The authors raise the problem of how a Party based on socialist principles can transcend a socially managed type of capitalism.  While critical of the way that Labour’s election manifesto in 2019 was constructed, they also raise fundamental problems of capitalist society which predisposes people to capitalist ways of doing things. The media is crucial as a socialising agent.

Throughout the book the authors emphasise the importance of extending democracy both within the Labour Party and in society, and in this they are to be applauded. Building a democratic base in the Party however, in my view, would not necessarily ensure the kinds of policies advocated by a Labour new left. A party with an open membership, as anticipated by Blair’s reforms, gives a vote to anyone who wishes to join. Democracy is a mechanism and can be used by any faction to promote their own views, policies, interests and candidates. Party members and supporters may well support a socially managed type of capitalism. Social-democratic centralism (authority taken by officials in the party apparatus), which was used against Corbyn’s campaign, raises the question of bureaucratic power. Continental social-democratic parties, despite giving party members and party conferences greater control over elected deputies, have also been subject to the domination of the centre, as described in Political Parties, Robert Michels’s classic study of the SPD in Germany in the early twentieth century.

Curbing media ownership by democratic means is clearly desirable on political grounds but Corbyn’s suggestion to elect editors by journalists would not necessarily lead to socialist-leaning media. The socialisation of the ethics of capitalism and the market as a way of life is very deep-seated and provides a third dimension of power blocking out socialist values and policies. This poses questions about electoral democracy as a route to socialism. As Karl Kautsky pointed out: socialism without democracy is impossible, but democracy can flourish without socialism. Any alternative to promote a socialist worldview would require a thorough recasting of the educational system, social science research and the means of mass communication.

The authors are aware of these problems and they urge greater efforts to instil socialist values and objectives within the Labour Party. In their final section the authors call for new political forms to address, and ‘popular capacities to overcome’, the contradictions of 21st-century capitalism (255). The Labour Party election manifesto of 2019, if fulfilled, would certainly have been a step towards socialism. But new left Labour is very far from articulating a counter-ideology on which the authors’ call for policies and forms of organisation is predicated. A socialist party in power in an electoral democracy will find itself in a quandary:  in the UK, really significant moves to public ownership (say, nationalising financial companies in the City of London) will lead to economic sanctions and economic collapse – and rejection at the polls. Whereas marginal changes (enhancing the welfare state, even putting employees on boards of companies) over time leads to assimilation into, and gives even greater legitimacy to, the capitalist system. Without an alternative socialist ideology, achieving socialism through the Labour Party is likely to be what Ralph Miliband called a ‘crippling illusion’ in his article ‘Moving On’ for The Socialist Register (Miliband, 1976, 128). As Panitch and Leys rather pessimistically conclude, overcoming this illusion is ‘the central dilemma for democratic socialists, not just in Britain but everywhere’ (255). As the title of their book proclaims: we remain ‘searching for socialism’.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Banner image: Tony Benn, 2008 (Glastonbury Left Field CC BY SA 2.0).

In text image: Jeremy Corbyn, 2019 (Jeremy Corbyn CC BY 2.0).

Feature image: Amalgamation of Tony Benn, 2008 (Glastonbury Left Field CC BY SA 2.0) and Jeremy Corbyn, 2019 (Jeremy Corbyn CC BY 2.0).

 


Lobster: Integrity Initiative Working to Privatise NHS

Remember the Integrity Initiative? That was the subsidiary of the Institute for Statecraft that was found to be a private enterprise propaganda outfit working with the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. It was set up after former New Labour PM Gordon Brown read a piece about the IRD’s activities during the Cold War and thought it was a good idea. IRD was the branch of the British secret services that was supposed to counter Soviet propaganda. It did this, but also branched out into smearing Labour MPs like the late Tony Benn as Communist agents and IRA sympathizers. The Integrity Initiative was caught doing the same, spreading lies about Jeremy Corbyn and a host of European politicos, officials and senior military staff because it and its network of hacks decided they were too close to Putin.

Robin Ramsay has more to say about the II in his ‘View from the Bridge’ column in the recent edition of Lobster, issue 80. He makes the point that superficially the II would be acceptable if all it did was counter Russian propaganda. He argues that few on the left seem to accept that the country really is a kleptocracy that murders its opponents at home and abroad, and reminds his readers that one of the watchwords of the old left was ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’. This is right, but history and the career of the II itself has shown to date that British counterpropaganda goes well beyond this into operations that seriously compromise democratic politics at home, and frequently overthrow it abroad. Like the coup where British intelligence worked with the CIA to overthrow Iran’s last democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq.

But II isn’t just working to smear decent, respectable left-wing politicos like Corbyn. It’s now attacking one of the fundamental modern British institutions: the NHS. Among the hacks recruited by the II is the American journo, Anne Applebaum, who has written for the Economist and the Spectator, amongst other rags. But the II also includes a subgroup on NHS reform, which has nothing to do with Russian propaganda. Ramsay instead argues that its purpose is instead to counter opponents of NHS reform. In other words, it’s been set up to promote NHS privatisation. Which means it has a neoliberal agenda.

See his section ‘Ah yes, the USA as moral leader’ at

Click to access lob80-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

Given the extreme right-wing politics of British counterpropaganda operations, this is almost certainly right.

Which means that at least part of the British secret state is lying to us to support the Tories’ and New Labour privatisation of the NHS.

 

Tony Benn on Overseas Investment at the Expense of Britain’s Workers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 17/05/2020 - 8:57pm in

A few days ago I posted up a piece about Shaw’s critique of British imperialism. As I said in the earlier piece, Shaw wasn’t against imperialism in itself, if it had been genuinely for the benefit of the conquered peoples. But it wasn’t. It was really to exploit them, as a cheap workforce unprotected by the Factory Acts in Britain which protected domestic workers. The result was the exploitation of non-Whites abroad, while British manufacturers were ruined by the import of the cheap goods they produced, and British workers made unemployed.

This situation still remains, thanks to globalisation and the rise of the multinationals even though the British empire is no more. Tony Benn was a staunch opponent of the multinationals and the same abuses of overseas investment. In a 1985 speech in parliament on unemployment, Benn said

We would have to stop the export of capital. Since the government came to power, for every family of four, £4,300 has left Britain. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that we must tighten our belts because that is the way to solve the problem. But if a worker tightens his belt, the employer sends the money to South Africa, where the wages are lower still, because Botha’s police will not allow the unions to organise. The export of capital could not continue if we wished to solve the unemployment problem.

Ruth Winstone, ed., The Best of Benn: Speeches, Diaries, Letter and Other Writings (London: Hutchinson 2014) p. 166.

That’s still very pertinent today, when Tory donor James Dyson has moved his plants to the Far East and Jacob Rees-Mogg has investments all over the world, including in a condom factory in Indonesia.

Tony Benn – the greatest Prime Minister this country never had.

Lobster on the Prosecution of Craig Murray and Mountbatten, Mosley and the Abortive 1968 Coup Against Wilson

Robin Ramsay, the head honcho of the parapolitics site Lobster, has just updated the ‘News from the Bridge’ section of the current issue, no. 79, with some very interesting little snippets. One of these is about the current prosecution by the Scots authorities of Craig Murray for contempt of court.

Craig Murray and the Possible Framing of Alex Salmond

Murray’s crime is that he commented online about Alex Salmond’s trial while it was happening, stating that he believes that Salmond was framed by the Scottish state. Murray also knows four other people, also supporters of Scots independence, who have similarly been visited by the cops from the ‘Alex Salmond’ team, because they also blogged or posted about the case. Murray says, as quoted by Lobster,

The purpose of this operation against free speech is a desperate attempt to keep the lid on the nature of the state conspiracy to fit up Alex Salmond. Once the parliamentary inquiry starts, a huge amount of evidence of conspiracy which the court did not allow the defence to introduce in evidence during the criminal trial, will be released. The persecution of myself is an attempt to intimidate independent figures into not publishing anything about it.The lickspittle media of course do not have to be intimidated. To this end, I am charged specifically with saying that the Alex Salmond case was a fitup and a conspiracy in which the Crown Office was implicated. So I thought I would say it again now:

The Alex Salmond case was a fit-up and a conspiracy in which the Crown Office was implicated, foiled by the jury. If Scotland is the kind of country where you go to jail for saying that, let me get my toothbrush.’ (emphasis in the original)

I honestly don’t know how credible this allegation is. Unfortunately, powerful men do take sexual advantage of the women around them, as the Harvey Weinstein scandal has glaringly showed. But Salmond was acquitted because he was able to show that he was not where he was alleged and with the women he was accused of assaulting at the time the attacks were supposed to have been committed. The suggestion that Salmond was framed by the Scots state, presumably to prevent Scotland gaining independence, does seem to pass beyond the limits of credibility. It looks like a conspiracy theory in the pejorative sense of the term.

Unfortunately, the British state does smear opposition politicians. IRD did it in the 1970s when they falsified all manner of documents and manufactured fake reports, published in various newspapers and magazines, that Labour politicians like Tony Benn were IRA or Communist sympathisers and agents of the Soviet Union when they definitely weren’t. We’ve seen the same tactics revived just last year, when they were used by the Democracy Initiative and its parent body, the Institute for Statecraft, against Jeremy Corbyn and other European politicos and public figures, who were deemed too close to Putin. And far from being a private company, the Democracy Initiative had links to MI5 and the cyberwarfare branch of the SAS.

The Beeb also played its part in broadcasting disinformation about Salmond and Scots independence. Remember the way the Corporation successively edited the answer Salmond gave Nick Robinson to a question about how it would affect the Edinburgh financial sector. Robinson asked him if he was worried that the big financial houses in the Scots capital would move south if Scotland ever became independent. Salmond gave a full reply, stating that this would not be the case. This was edited down during the day so that first it appeared that Salmond didn’t give a proper reply, before it was finally edited out altogether. Nick Robinson then claimed in the final report about it that Salmond hadn’t answered the question.

Britain has also intervened in other countries to remove politicians that were deemed an obstacle or a threat to British interests. These were mostly interference in the elections and politics of former colonies and independent states in the Developing World, like the coup that overthrew Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953. But the British governor of Australia was also persuaded by the Tories to remove Gough Whitlam from office in the 1970s in an overt display of British power.

Scottish independence is a threat to the continued existence of Great Britain as a state. It also has powerful implications for Britain as a global power. Mike or one of the great left-wing bloggers has stated that if Scotland did become independent, Britain would no longer be large or populous enough to hold a position on the UN security council. While a covert campaign to frame and discredit Salmond seems incredible to me, I honestly don’t think it can be fairly discounted.

Mountbatten and Mosley as Figureheads for an Anti-Wilson Coup

The other snippet that I found particularly interesting ultimately comes from Andrew Lounie’s new e-book The Mountbattens. The books follows a number of others in stating that in 1968 the former viceroy of India was approached by the chairman of the Mirror group, Cecil King, to help overthrow Harold Wilson and form a government of national unity. This is similar to the proposals for other coups against Wilson made in the middle of the next decade, the ’70s. See Francis Wheen’s book, Strange Days Indeed. What boggles my mind, however, is that before King approached Mountbatten, he’d gone to Paris to ask Oswald Mosley if he’d be interested. How anyone could ever believe that a Fascist storm trooper like Mosley could ever be an acceptable leader of any kind of British regime, or that a country that had interned him and fought against the political order he represented during the War would ever accept him, is frankly incredible. Mountbatten had met King with the government’s scientific adviser, Solly Zuckerman. When King mentioned that he’d met Mosley, Zuckerman walked out followed by Mountbatten. This is the standard version of the event. Lounie’s book differs from this by claiming that Mountbatten didn’t particularly object to becoming the head of such a junta, and was even taken with the idea.

The book also claims that Mountbatten was bisexual, and recklessly pursued younger men. He was also, it is alleged, supplied with boys from the Kincora Boys’ Home.

I hadn’t read before that King had tried to interest Oswald Mosley in leading a British government after a military coup. This is significant in that it shows that some elements of the British media establishment were more than willing to install a real Fascist as leader rather than tolerate a democratically elected socialist government under a leader they despised, like Wilson. 

See:https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster79/lob79-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

and scroll down to find the snippets ‘Craig Murray under attack’, and ‘The Mountbattens’.

 

Tony Benn On The EU

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 6:23pm in

The Euro Area’s response to the covid-19 crisis is austere. This might lead to more dissatisfaction with the European Union project as many are predicting.

Yanis Varoufakis has been more critical of the Euro Area and the European Union in general in recent times, although he says he is in the team which wants to reform the EU from within. In a recent interview with Unherd, he makes it clear why the UK Labour lost the recent election: the push for a second referendum wasn’t liked by the voters and vote was a backlash against them.

Anyway I found a great clip from Tony Benn, the great leader of Labour, and it’s clear how the EU was hated by the left-wing but that it’s different now, unfortunately.

Tony Benn, in Parliament, 1990 (53:00 in the full video, clipped below):

Is the Prime Minister aware that what we are really discussing is not economic management, but the whole future of relations between this country and Europe? This issue is not best expressed in 19th-century patriotic language or in emotive language about which design is on the currency. The real question is whether, when the British people vote in a general election, they will be able to change the policies of the previous Government. It is already a fact, as the House knows full well, that whatever Government are in power, our agricultural policy is controlled from Brussels, our trade policy is controlled from Brussels and our industrial policy is controlled from Brussels. If we go into EMU, our financial policy will also be controlled. It is a democratic argument, not a nationalistic argument.

However, given that the right hon. Lady is a member of the Government who took us into the European Community without consulting the British people, given that she was Prime Minister in the Government who agreed to the Single European Act without consulting the British people, and given that she has now agreed to joining the exchange rate mechanism without consulting the British people, we find it hard to believe that she is really intent on preserving democracy rather than gaining political advantage by waving some national argument around on the eve of a general election. That is why we do not trust her judgment on the matter.

click to view the clip

There are many clips of Tony Benn on the EU on YouTube, but this is my favourite.

Tony Benn on the Security Service’s Hostility to the Labour Movement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/02/2020 - 10:28pm in

The revelation last year that Tweezer’s government was funding the Democracy Initiative and its parent organisation, the Institute for Statecraft, revealed that the British secret state was still hostile to the Labour movement and determined to attack and disrupt any political figure standing for radical change. The Initiative was supposed to combat pro-Russian propaganda on the Net, but instead focused on smearing and trying to discredit British and foreign political leaders, of whom it disapproved. One of them was, surprise, surprise!, Jeremy Corbyn. Although supposedly a private company, the Democracy Initiative had extensive links to the British secret state and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. As the election rolled on, we also saw various army chiefs and spokespeople for the intelligence agencies tell the Tory papers that they regarded Corbyn as a threat to national security.

In fact the British secret services were always suspicious of the Labour Party. They’re part of the establishment, and so regarded the Labour movement as a whole as subversive. There is considerable evidence that MI5 was behind the rumours in the 1970s smearing the Labour premier Harold Wilson as a KGB spy. Lobster has published a series of articles about British intelligence’s campaign of disinformation against Labour, including how the IRD – a now defunct intelligence department – published fake documents and news during the 1970s to smear Labour politicos like Tony Benn as IRA sympathisers and Communists.

Benn was very much aware of this, and discusses it and the establishment’s general animosity towards the Labour movement in many of his books, including the volume: Tony Benn: Arguments for Democracy, edited by Chris Mullin. Benn wrote

The security services, or at least an element within them, regard those who work within the Labour movement, especially its socialist activists, as being a security risk for that reason alone. Conservatives would not be so classified.

This interpretation of a security risk has never been publicly discussed by ministers, although, if it is as widespread as I believe it to be, it raises major issues of public policy and civil liberties. For it means that the security services, far from being limited in their work to the discovery of direct external and internal threats to our democracy, are also active indirectly as the upholders of the status quo in our society and are treating socialists who wish to change that status quo by democratic means as potential enemies of that democracy.

In the long run this is the biggest threat to political freedom from the state. In the short run it is used to justify a degree of surveillance of certain organisations and individuals in Britain which goes far beyond what is publicly admitted.

The methods used include the widespread interception of communications, the extensive tapping of telephones, and the maintenance of a bar upon employment for people in both government and sensitive industrial work against whom no conceivable charge of treason or subversion would stand up for one moment in any court of law, nor would it command public support if it had to be justified publicly. Hence the secrecy.

The trade unions are of course a special target for surveillance by the security services. The evidence recently published by the Post Office Engineering Union must be taken seriously in this context. There is no room for doubt that active trade unionists do have their telephone calls regularly intercepted,. and this surveillance is redoubled during industrial disputes, as in the miners’ strikes in 1972 and 1974. I was present on one social occasion when a former Labour prime minister indicated this quite clearly.

Twide, as a minister, I was told categorically that the candidates I had proposed for major public appointments were not acceptable on security grounds. The two men concerned were senior members of the General Council of the TUC, active in the Labour Party, and each was then playing a key role in supporting the policies of the then Labour Government. In each case it took a letter from me to the prime minister personally, and in one case a request for a meeting with him, to discuss the matter, to have these objections overruled. Had I not done so, the men would have remained disqualified from public service on security grounds.

Ministers who have direct responsibility for the work of the security services, if asked about the way they exercise their responsibilities, always insist that their control is direct, personal and complete. I very much doubt whether this is the case. If it is so, the Labour ministers must have authorised the incidents of which I have personal knowledge, and this they certainly should not have done. But in my view it is much more likely that the security services do not inform the ministers of what is going on, or cover up their activities in phrases designed to secure acquiescence. (pp. 75-6).

He adds further details to this description of the activities of the British secret state in note 5 to that chapter, ‘Civil Liberties and the Security Services’ on pp. 241-2. This states

According to Mr Chapman Pincher in his book Inside Story, Sidgwick and Jackson 1978, MI5 have files on more than two million people and our security services apparently believe that 59 Labour MPs in the 1974-9 Parliament had ‘current or recent connections with Communist, Trotskyite and other Marxist organisations’. The Special Branch also appear to take a close interest in politics and trade union affairs. For example, during an occupation to prevent closure of a British Steel subsidiary in Greenwich, workers came across Special Branch reports on two of their colleagues. For details of this and other cases see Crispin Aubrey, Who’s Watching You, Pelican, 1981, pp. 36-7.

Benn produced a list of his own suggestions for combating the threat to British democracy from the security services, the civil service establishment and new technology. These were

  1. An analysis of the dangers to the security of the state, external and internal.
  2. A study of the technology now available and the use to which it is being put by other comparable countries.
  3. To consider the case for publishing every year all information that could be published without endangering security, including: i, The budget and staffing of the security services. ii. The names of those in charge of them, as in the USA. iii The guidelines issued to those services relating to their objectives and methods. iv The numbers of dossiers in existence relating to political activities. v A report on the reasons for collecting these dossiers and an account of what happens to the information acquired for inclusion in them. vi An annual report on the total number of interceptions of communications by telephone or mail. vii The full list of foreign security services with which UK security services have arrangements for reciprocal exchange of information, or with which they work.
  4. To argue the case for a special House of Commons select committee, meeting, when necessary, in secret, composed exclusively of privy councillors empowered to question both the responsible ministers and security chiefs on the whole range of their policy and activities – to report annually to Parliament in a form which can be published.
  5. To press for an appeals procedure for citizens reporting to the select committee on matters concerning their own records only.
  6. To have the same rights to information for citizens about records and files kept on them as are enjoyed by US citizens under contemporary US legislation.
  7. To secure the introduction of a ‘Security Services Annual Act’ under which, as with the Army and the Airforce Acts of earlier years, Parliament gains the ultimate control of the security services. (p. 89).

These are all excellent suggestions, but there is absolutely no chance that they’ll ever get passed in the foreseeable future. Boris has an overwhelming majority, which means that he will have no trouble blocking any attempt to reel in the security services. There would also be strong opposition from the Blairites in the Labour Party. When Blair got into power, he and his cabinet were not at all interested in making the security services more accountable. This was so even when MI5 had kept many of them under surveillance as potential subversives. It is symptomatic of this attitude that although Jack Straw was offered the chance of looking at his MI5 file, he didn’t.

And so unfortunately the security services will continue to work against Labour activists, viewing them as subversives, even when they are no such thing.

Rejoice! Murdoch Press Losing MILLIONS

Here’s a bit of good news amidst the horrors of this Tory government, the floods, deportations, rampant racism and the Coronavirus: the Murdoch press is losing money. Very big money. Zelo Street has just put up a very revealing piece about their accounts for the period ending June 2019. This reveals that the Murdoch empire has been hit with a charge of £26,721,000 for one-off payments for legal fees and damages paid to the claimants in the phone hacking scandal. They’ve also incurred other one-off costs for UK newspaper matters of £25,737,000. Other charges include £1, 549,000 for the Management and Standards Committee. This means that the total damage is £54,007,000. Mind you, the directors still remain handsomely rewarded. They have been paid £5,191,000. Of which Rebecca Wade got £2,787,000. Overall, the company lost a total of £67, 952,000. The total loss for the financial year is £67,952,000. Which means that even without the phone hacking scandal, the company would have lost £14 million.

Zelo Street comments

‘Will the Murdoch press make money again in the next few years? Given the claims keep on coming, and the potential downside for the Sun titles if there is serious blowback (as happened with the Screws over the Dowler hacking), it’s not such a daft question.

Or is Rupe just in it for the political leverage? There’s a $64,000 question for you.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/02/murdoch-press-still-losing-money.html

That’s a very good question. A little while ago Private Eye raised the same issue regarding the Times. The actual amount of income generated by the Thunderer is so small, and its losses correspondingly so high, that if it was any other paper it would have been closed down years ago. But because it’s the British paper of record, Murdoch keeps it going because it gives him a seat at the same table as the politicos.

The Sage of Crewe recognises how influential the Murdoch titles still are. Tim remarks that the Murdoch’s goons still exceed the other titles, even those of the Heil, in the hate they can lay on their targets. The rest of the press follows their lead, and knows better than to mess with them. But the costs of the phone hacking scandal show all this is catching up with Dirty Rupe and his empire of sleaze.

Tony Benn in his book, Arguments for Democracy, points out that the Daily Herald didn’t fold because it lacked a popular readership. It collapsed, and then was subsequently bought by Murdoch and transformed into the scabby rag it is now, because it lacked advertisers. At the time its readership was bigger than the Times, the Groaniad and the Financial Times added together. What killed it is that its working class readers were too poor to appeal to the advertisers.

I’ve no doubt the paper’s sales increased massively after it was transformed into the Scum. But I also think that it was kept afloat because it was a Tory paper. It was the first working class Conservative newspaper, and so companies that would have had second thoughts about advertising in a socialist paper were probably more prepared to place adverts with Rupe’s mighty organ.

The question is, will that continue. If the Murdoch papers continue to lose readers, will there come a point when the advertisers demand that they’re not getting enough exposure for the money they’re spending, and demand that his newspapers cut their advertising rates. Which will mean another financial hit for them. And what will happen if Murdoch doesn’t shake off his newspaper’s reputation for gross breaches of journalistic standards. Of course the Scum’s journalistic reputation always was low, but in the 1980s and ’90s there was also a tendency to laugh it off as a joke. One of the silly parties standing in Gloucestershire in either the 1983 or 1987 election was the ‘Have the Sun Redesignated as a Comic’ Party. This shows how seriously some people viewed it. Which is unfortunate, as while the Scum certainly deserved its mockery, the joke also created a kind of complacency. For the more intelligent, the Scum was dire and a joke, but it still was massively influential, and the policies it and its master promoted – rampant militarism, welfare cuts, privatisation and a culture of ruthless selfishness and greed – were anything but funny.

But with the phone hacking scandal, some of that laughter has died, quite apart from the bitterness the good folk of Liverpool still feel about the paper’s gross libel of their fair city. How long before the paper’s reputation gets just that bit too toxic that the advertisers don’t want to risk their reputations by being associated with it. And if they go, the Scum goes too.

And hopefully, there’ll be a few more years where the Murdoch press makes such spectacular losses, that it won’t be too long in coming.

Tony Benn’s Suggestions for Media Reform

One of the other books I picked up going through the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham last Friday was Tony Benn: Arguments for Democracy, edited by Chris Mullins and published in 1981. Based on Benn’s speeches, articles and lectures over the previous two years, the book was Benn’s observation on the profoundly undemocratic nature of British society, and his suggestions for reform. He wanted to create a more democratic society that would empower ordinary people and move towards the establishment of socialism.

Although it was written forty years ago, the book and its arguments are still tremendously relevant. One of the chapters is on media bias against the working class and the Labour party. As we’ve seen over the past five years and particularly during the last election in December, this is very much a live issue because of the unrelenting hostility by nearly all of the media, including and especially the Beeb, against Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters and the Labour party as a whole. Benn discusses right-wing media bias in the chapter, ‘The Case for a Free Press’, and on pages 118 to 120 he makes his suggestions for its reform.  Benn wrote

‘Some Proposals for Reform

Reform of the media has only recently come to be taken seriously. The Glasgow University Media Group, the Campaign for Press Freedom, the Minority Press Group and academics such as James Curran at the Polytechnic of Central London have produced a wealth of carefully researched analysis and proposals for reform which would reward seriously study. At the time of writing the Labour Party National Executive Committee has a working party considering what must be done to obtain a media responsive to the needs of a twentieth-century democracy rather than an arm of the British establishment. I do not wish to anticipate the proposals of the working party, but in the interests of stimulating debate on this important subject I set out below some of the possibilities for reform which are now being discussed in the Labour Party and elsewhere.

  1. An Open Press Authority

This has been suggested by James Curran and Jean Seaton in their book Power Without Responsibility. This would be a public agency accountable to Parliament and it would aim to extend the freedom to publish. The OPA objectives would include the following:

i Provision off a launch fund, raised partly from a tax on media advertising expenditure, to assist new publications.

ii Grants to assist publications that have failed to attract significant advertising.

iii A National Print Corporation to extend modern printing facilities to a wide range of publications.

iv A guarantee of distribution for minority publications through a new wholesale organisation.

2. Anti-Monopoly Legislation

Considerations will have to be given to legislation to break up the huge newspaper monopolies; existing monopoly legislation has proved wholly ineffective for this purpose. Such legislation should also prohibit or severely limit investment by newspaper chains in television and commercial radio.

3. Reform of the Wholesale Trade

Wholesale and retail distribution of British newspapers and magazines in dominated by just three companies: W.H. Smith, John Menzies and Surridge Dawson. In many areas one or other of these companies has a complete monopoly. The result is that non-consensus publications have great difficulty in reaching the news stands. The French have solved this problem by imposing a legal obligation on wholesalers and retailers to carry, on request, all lawful publications excluding pornography. Publishers have to pay a handling charge on all returns. As a result the French public have access to a far more diverse range of political views than we do in Britain. The French example should be studied.

4 The Right of Reply

Where a newspaper or magazine has published a report about an individual or group which seriously distorts the truth, the person or organisation offended should have the right to set the record straight in the columns of that newspaper. The reply should be allotted adequate space and prominence and it should appear as soon as possible after the original story. It should be made legally enforceable. The Campaign for Press Freedom has set out the case for a right of reply in an excellent pamphlet.

5 Broadcasting

i Instead of being composed of the ‘great and the good’, worthy citizens chosen for their alleged impartiality, the boards of the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority should contain representatives of a wide spectrum of opinion and interest groups.

ii The proceedings of the two boards of governors and all internal directives on policy should be publicly available.

iii The IBA should be given a legal obligation when awarding franchises, to give preference to non-profit-making applications such as cooperatives; at present most franchises got to companies more concerned with profits than quality.

iv The BBC is too big. It should be broken up into separate independent units for television, radio and the overseas service.

v The BBC licence fee, which places the Corporation at the mercy of the government, should be abolished and replaced by a grant awarded by Parliament five years in advance.

vi The Fourth Channel, as presently constituted, is controlled by the IBA and will buy in programmes from commercial companies. It should be reconstituted as a separate, publicly financed cooperative which would act as a ‘publisher’ of programmes made by freelance and independent production groups.

6 Satellite Broadcasting

By the mid-1980s satellite communication systems will make it feasible for American or European commercial television to be relayed into Britain. The result could be a diversion of advertising revenue away from existing publicly regulated services and an end of any chance of creating and maintaining public service broadcasting. As a matter of urgency Britain must contact other European governments with a view to placing under international control all companies using satellites for this purpose.’

He concludes the chapter with this:

These are some of the ways in which the British media could be developed to serve democracy rather than a consensus which has long been overtaken by events. I list these suggestions simply as a basis for consideration in an area where, until recently, there has been very little positive discussion. The free flow of information is the life blood of democracy and the present ownership structure and organisation of our media is incompatible with democracy. At a time of crisis, such as we now face, itis important that people should be able to choose freely between the various alternatives that political parties are seeking to put before them. To do that they need to be properly informed. That should be the role of the media in a democracy.

I’m not sure how many of these suggestions are relevant today, given the expansion of satellite and cable broadcasting,  the establishment of Channel 5 and the rise of the Net. My guess is that much of it is still acutely relevant, and the situation regarding the press monopolies has got worse since Benn wrote this. Murdoch now has an even firmer grip on the press and his own satellite channel, Sky, which he’d like to replace the Beeb. The Beeb has shown itself craven and massively biased towards the Tories, but they’re going to break it up and sell it off if they can in order to please Murdoch and the other commercial broadcasters. I think most of these reforms are still very much needed, but can’t see them ever being put in place given the massive opposition they provoke among the press and media barons, who control public opinion.

Corbyn’s supporters found a way round that with the internet, and Richard Burgon at the recent Labour deputy leadership hustings in Bristol suggested that Labour supporters should look to this and other alternative media rather than the old media. There are problems with this too, as the right have also latched on to the power of the Net. But it might just be the best, or only, way to move forward.

 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017 - 8:11pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 01/02/2017 - 8:14pm in