Sunday, February 28, 2010


Robert Owen (see final comment).

As advertised in our right hand column, Steve Thompson will address the next meeting of our Discussion Group on the topic "Collective Ownership, Labour and the Co-operative Movement".

Steve has a full involvement with the Movement and is elected onto the Regional Board of "The Co-operative (North Region)" as well as onto their "South Yorkshire and Chesterfield Area Committee". He is also a Board Member of "Cooperatives Yorkshire and Humberside". He is a member of both the Co-operative Party and the Labour Party. He will be speaking in a personal capacity.


(1) A recent article Steve wrote about the Co-operative Movement appears here. He commences "There is an alternative to capitalism, it’s called the co-operative commonwealth. It’s a way of living and trading with business which is run democratically for the benefit of the members and communities who use the services. These businesses are not run for the purpose of making wealthy people richer, as in the capitalist model."

(2) On the question "What Is A Co-operative?", see here and then follow the links provided.

(3) The Co-operative Party is a sister party to Labour Party and works for Co-operative principles. There are currently 28 Labour/Co-operative MPs. Here the Co-operative Party web-site explains its role and provides an important link to its Values and Principles.

(4) For the latest news about the Co-operative Movement see here.

(5) See details here on Robert Owen (1771-1858) who was a founder of the Co-operative Movement. Do his ideas have a special contemporary relevance?


Ken Curran (photo) is Chair of the Sheffield Co-operative Party and regularly attends meetings of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group. Below I present comments from him which arise from a discussion we held on 13th December about the work of Compass. However, I am presenting what he says here (an earlier version appeared on this thread about Compass) as his conclusion also fits in closely with the topic for this current thread which is about our next meeting on 14 March on the Co-operative Movement and the Co-operative Party. Ken writes -

"Alex Sobel of Compass suggested that 'Building coalitions with other groups was part of the Compass Perspective to secure a left of centre victory'. My words not his. While time didn't permit every theme raised about Compass to be followed, it left enough loose ends which require further analysis.

Bearing in mind that both the climate change dilemma and the current global financial crisis have a common root in the sense they are both bi-products of global capitalism, this suggests that Compass has not fully appreciated the true seriousness of the problems facing humanity due to the failure of capitalism. Both the Banking Crisis and Climate Change are due to Competition. One of the fundamental tenets of capitalism is the need for competition. Competition for resources, markets, profits, customers, land etc; none of our political parties actually call for another system on how to organise a humanitarian society on planet earth.

The only Political Party currently trying to present an alternative vision for mankind is the Co-operative Party, which makes me wonder why they are currently affiliated to the current Labour Party. As things stand, the two parties seem to have little in common. Common Sense and Co-operation go together. (New Labour still talks up competition). The disciples of New Labour fail time and again to produce any rationale to give support for their policies. On Climate Change and the Banking Crisis, New Labour seems reticent to engage. This is not at all surprising bearing in mind that it was New Labour who were in awe of Bankers, Wealth and Competition. (The truth is New Labour is a spent force. Its intellectual store was always rather bare. It is now empty).

When the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference failed to reach an agreement that would limit further temperature rises below 2% across the planet, all of our hopes and plans became academic as this signalled political failure and world wide chaos in the future.

The majority of Labour leaders are not leaders at all, they are followers. They have followed the noise of the uniformed mob. They have done this rather than engaging the people in a serious debate about the many problems of our very troubled world. They have spent years placating one group after another, rather than engaging with the electorate in a serious and honest way. The pragmatism of New Labour has led us into a morass of colossal proportions. If Labour really does badly in the May General Election, the Co-operative Party would in my view be the only political group with genuine alternatives to both the economic chaos and the challenges of climate change. It may then be their turn to call upon New Labour to stand aside and allow the Co-operative Party to assume the position of leaders of a new labour coalition.

I would love to think I am wrong."


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Yesterday In Parliament. Today In The Times.

Today "The Times" carries this article by Natascha Engel in which she further develops the analysis she presented to our December Discussion Meeting. The Select Committee Report which she criticised at our meeting and in her Times article was debated in the Commons yesterday. Here is a link to the full debate and here is the link to Natascha's contribution.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Which Road To The Reform Of The Commons?

Our Local MP, Natascha Engel (photo right) addressed the December Meeting of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group and presented her disagreements with the nature of proposals contained in a Report by a Commons' Select Committee for the reform of certain Commons' procedures. She had herself served on the Select Committee and had produced a Minority Report expressing her alternative viewpoint. Details of the thrust of her arguments are shown on the "Dronfield Blather" thread here.

Today's Tribune runs an article showing that the Report is due to be debated in the Commons on both 22 February and 4 March. Graham Allen the Labour MP for Nottingham North (photo below) is a strong supporter of the Report and the Tribune article is centered around what he claims are efforts by the Labour Leadership to kick it into touch. The Tribune article appears below.

This is a topic which our Discussion Meeting intends to return to in the future.

MPs to defy Harriet Harman on Commons reform
February 19, 2010 12:00 am Tribune web editor frontpage, news by René Lavanchy

Plans to shift control of Parliament from government to MPs are doomed to failure because ministers are acquiescing in having them killed off by stalling tactics, an MP and reform campaigner has warned.

House of Commons Leader Harriet Harman has arranged for debate on a number of proposals put forward by MP Tony Wright’s reform committee, when Parliament returns from recess on Monday.

But Graham Allen, MP for Nottingham North (photo below) and a member of the Parliament First group, is unhappy that Ms Harman has chosen to use motions which can be defeated by a single MP shouting “object”. A further debate and vote have been scheduled, but he and other MPs on the reform committee fear that the large number of votes will leave MPs confused and open to manipulation by government whips.

Meanwhile, Parliament First has defied Ms Harman to demand a vote next month calling for a “business committee” to schedule readings for government legislation. Currently, parliamentary business is controlled by government through the Commons leader.

Mr Allen told Tribune: “There are a number of people prepared to screw up the business. You only need one person to shout “object”, which is why we think government haven’t been helpful. If it was something government would’ve wanted, they would not have built in this obstacle.”

Ms Harman has offered a motion on a backbench business committee. However, this committee would only be able to schedule non-government business.

Mr Allen said: “Government should get its business, but Parliament should get its scrutiny, and the only way is for parliamentarians to decide the actual timetable.”

More than 50 MPs from all major parties have signed a resolution for a full-powered business committee, and are hoping to force a vote on the issue when MPs debate the reform proposals on March 4.

One supporter, Liberal Democrat Evan Harris, said: “Now this amendment has the support of both major opposition parties and the nationalists, as well as scores of backbench Labour MPs, it looks as if Harriet Harman will have to support it or be seen to be standing in the way of necessary reform.”

Hat Tip - Tribune

Monday, February 15, 2010

Getting Onto The Right Rails

The House of Commons Select Committee on Transport published a Report on Tuesday entitled "Priorities for Investment In The Railways" (HC 38).

The Report includes written evidence submitted to it by Ken Turton who is a regular attender at our Discussion Meetings. Ken's submission also fits well into the case we developed for an Integrated Transport System.

Ken's submission to the Select Committee is given below.

Memorandum from Mr K Turton (PIR 55)

The finest form of railway permanent-way maintenance known to date is the labour intensive system which was abandoned by British Railways (BR) in the 1960s and 1970s. An inferior form of machine-operated maintenance was substituted in its place.

I put this point first because I hope to establish that the current railway industry is in no position to improve its performance. The present structure needs scrapping and a new industry needs to be built in its place dedicated to building a rail network which can tackle the problems I will raise.

It is because Britain had the first railway system in the world which emerged in the mid 19th Century, that we have inherited a totally outdated system. Indeed it was out of date by the end of the 19th Century itself. This is illustrated by what happened over an attempt at innovation with the development of the Great Central Line which emerged in this latter period. It had a continental-style infrastructure.

The Great Central Line ran from Liverpool to Marylebone via Manchester Central, Sheffield Victoria, Nottingham Victoria, Leicester, Rugby and High Wycombe. It dived off at Leicester towards Banbury, Reading West and Dover by-passing the London conurbation on its way to the south coast.

Initially, the Great Central Line was opposed by other railway companies who did not employ its continental-style infrastructure. Later it was closed by Beeching.

What we were left with after the closer of the Great Central Line are mainly main lines radiating from London which can not carry continental style traffic. Instead the emphasis for both passenger and goods services in this country has moved onto congested road transport.

Today's main railway lines are unsuitable for modern trains. Having rejected labour intensive forms of permanent way maintenance, a system of "Advanced Passenger Trains" on 125 Inter-City Services was introduced, which led to what were called "Tilting Trains".

To facilitate these moves a changed permanent way policy was introduced. It became known as the "Deep Dig Policy". But it was only applied to those lines which BR identified as being likely to achieve profitable services. This meant that few lines were ever set up with these provisions.

"Deep Dig" involved a traxcavator being employed to dig up the permanent way to depths of two or three feet, thereby tearing up track that had been pounded into a solid mass and which was the bedrock to which measured shovel packing could be applied.

Measured shovel packing involved the track itself being scientifically measured. When sections were identified as requiring to be lifted, measured amounts of grit were placed beneath each sleeper to keep the track at its correct height.

This all went on throughout the ganger's section each and every day. Different parts of each section needing such treatment.

It is worthwhile at this stage to point out that in 1937 Mallard broke the steam locomotive speed record at 126 and a half mph on track just above Peterborough Station which had employed a similar method of track maintenance. It could not have been achieved otherwise. It gave a world wide recognition to this form of track maintenance.

When BR decided on Advanced Passenger Transport (APT) services, it was aware that its railway tracks were not suitable for the speeds envisaged because the tracks had too many bends.

For bends to be handled, they first need to be cambered. However, the maximum camber can only be seven inches high and this was not suitable for the very high speeds being reached on the continent. This is why the idea of tilting trains was put forward. This would have done the trick had it not been for the fact that BR decided that the necessary measured shovel packing was too expensive.

So a new method was adopted to alleviate the problem, with the Deep Dig team tearing up the track bed. It was then to be replaced by ballast along with eight cwt concrete sleepers, believed to be the best method of holding down the track at high speeds.

When this was tried with APT, the tilting took place as expected, but the movement took place from side to side and tended to cause sickness amongst the passengers. The tilting also caused the train to go out of gauge at certain points making it a totally unsuitable arrangement from a safety point of view.

The ballast bed which had been a solid mass before the Deep Dig was not so afterwards. Therefore, high speed running on these lines could not be achieved for the APT. Whilst all the miles of Deep Dig had made the lines concerned totally unacceptable for high speed running.

Hence we have two problems. Hundred of miles of railway are still carrying a 19th Century infrastructure, whilst those sections which now have their infrastructure in order have acquired a track bed which is totally unsuitable.

What BR had needed to do was to leave the track bed as it was and straighten out the many extensive bends on its lines. This would have been a considerable job as are the requirements today. The current task is still to put the track in order, but this now requires programmes of both (1) measured shovel packing as well as (2) the straightening of bends. If we want high speed trains and expanded rail usage in order to relieve road congestion, then these are the policies we must now start to pursue.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What Should Labour's General Election Manifesto Say? (Part 2)

See Part 1 here.

To date, 43 Labour MPs supported by the Coalition for Labour Victory and Compass have signed the following statement calling for Labour’s election campaign to be based on a "radical redistributive programme". The statement appears below.

"In order to mobilise the maximum number of Labour voters in preparation for the next election, we believe that Labour should now focus its campaigning around the following key principles:

A. The recession should be tackled not with cuts in essential public spending, but by massive public investment in house-building, infrastructure and the de-carbonisation of the economy.

B. Banks should be split up with their casino investment arms hived off. Publicly-owned retail banks should be required to meet new social and community objectives and support manufacturing, with lending to businesses and homeowners restored to 2007 levels. Pay and bonuses should be tightly regulated.

C. A clean break must be made with market fundamentalism – deregulation and privatisation. Public provision should be expanded – in health care, education, housing, pensions, energy and transport. Royal Mail must remain wholly in the public sector.

D. In the face of huge and unacceptable growth of inequality, a big redistribution programme must swing resources away from the rich to provide sizeable increases in pensions, the minimum wage, the lowest benefit levels, and to fund job creation and improved public services. Union rights must be restored – it is in economic crisis that workers are most in need of that protection.

E. To achieve the 80% carbon emission reduction target by 2050, renewable sources of energy should be promoted on a far bigger scale, industry (including airlines) should be required to reduce its climate change emissions by at least 3% per year, household carbon allowances should be introduced, and the UK targets should be fully met by domestic action and not by carbon offsetting abroad.

We also believe that if Labour is to revive its membership in numbers and activity, it must fully restore its internal democratic procedures so that the voice of its individual and affiliated members is listened to and taken account of. This process has begun with the adoption of all-member voting rights for the National Policy Forum. But we believe that several further reforms are needed, in particular to restore to the elected NEC full supervision and control over the party’s operation and finances, to introduce a charter of members’ rights and a Party Ombudsman to enforce them, and to renew for all party employees the core civil service values of impartiality, integrity, honesty and objectivity in the development of party policy and selection of party candidates."

Diane Abbott, John Austin, Colin Burgon, Ronnie Campbell, Colin Challen, Michael Clapham, Katy Clark, Harry Cohen, Michael Connarty, Frank Cook, Jeremy Corbyn, Jim Cousins, Jon Cruddas, Ann Cryer, Ian Davidson, David Drew, Bill Etherington, Mark Fisher, Paul Flynn, Neil Gerrard, Fabian Hamilton, Dai Havard, David Heyes, Kelvin Hopkins, Lindsay Hoyle, Brian Iddon, Lynne Jones, Andrew Mackinlay, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Alan Meale, Austin Mitchell, Chris Mullin, Gordon Prentice, Ken Purchase, Linda Riordan, Alan Simpson, Marsha Singh, Graham Stringer, Paul Truswell, Joan Walley, David Winnick, Mike Wood.

Hat tip - Labour List

Update 5 February : See coverage in today's "Tribune".