Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Ken Curran is "Seeking A Way Forward" (Part 2).
Part 2 : Today's Lessons From The 1940s
(For Part 1 see here.)
Labour should use the present crisis to spell out the alternatives for the Democratic Left, as opposed to the laissez-faire and 1930's style so-called solutions of the coalition government. The current government are on a very dangerous road, they have scrapped any genuine commitment towards fulfilling previous promises on climate change policies. All experts in the field recognise time is of the essence if we are to avert the worst of the forecasted consequences. I cannot state strongly enough the urgency for Labour to make a comprehensive case for alternatives to the present mumbo-jumbo which is supposed to address the issues. Labour has a commitment to the pioneers of the Democratic Left. To ignore the need for a truly radical rethink would be tantamount to a betrayal of Democratic Socialism.
Returning to the past, I believe the present leadership has much to learn from the Cabinet and Parliamentary Labour Party of 1945-50. This was a group of well over 300 men and women, largely self made, many having endured the terrors of two world wars.. They had been forged in the crucible of hard times and shaped by the experiences of our industrial heritage. By and large, they were both ordinary and extraordinary people. They had seen all the horrors of war and long years of unemployment and poverty. They had spent years waiting for an opportunity to break with the nightmares and fears of the past. Fear of poverty, ill health, unemployment and wars.
In order to change all of that, they were both prepared and did keep the House of Commons in session, night after night in order to ensure that Labour fulfilled its manifesto promises. The Tories were furious and angry, complaining that they were lacking in sleep through all night sittings. Labour MPs reminded the Tories that millions of workers spent hours working long shifts doing harder work than sitting in a warm and comfortable House of Commons. I use this story to demonstrate the past determination and zeal of Labour to serve the people, although they were saddled with huge debts incurred during six years of war. These men and women were prepared to take big risks to deliver their promises. I believe the debts of the 1939-45 war were only finally settle whilst Tony Blair was Prime Minister.
The economic problems were not the only issues which the 1945 Government had to face. The winter of 1947 was absolutely awful. From late November, serious frosts and bitterly cold winds, followed by driving snow covered Britain several feet deep. Unknown in living memory, rivers and harbours closed. In quite a number of places, the sea froze. Where I lived the Tyne froze. This river was vital to Greater London as the Power Stations all depended on Colliers (coal boats) from the Tyne for supplies. With all the roads and railways under many feet of snow, it was vital for the Colliers to reach London by sea. With supreme effort, mobilisation and organisation, it was achieved. What I have described in terms of getting London supplied is from my personal experience. Yet my stories could be repeated by others of my generation, where their towns and villages were cut off for weeks. Thousands of volunteers were called upon to help troops and other servicemen to help get the country moving. The Government used the special powers available to it, to mobilise the nation. The people responded right across the land and whilst much snow was still on the ground in early May, Britain had got moving long before the snow melted. I only use these stories to demonstrate the sort of problems which the Labour Government of Clem Attlee had to face. Frankly I don't know how the people and government of today would perform in the environment of the 1940s.
In 1989 people celebrated the collapse of communism and the demolition of the Berlin Wall. The right wing press and politicians hailed the event as the triumph of capitalism over both communism and democratic socialism. That so called triumph is proving to be short lived, the events unfolding across the world suggest that capitalism is not really successful. As those of us who regard ourselves as democratic socialists know, our political recipe has not really been on offer, apart perhaps in Scandinavia where it seems more popular than the current Anglo-American model of capitalism.
The problem we are facing is the failure of capitalism. It is failing humanity on many fronts as poverty is spreading across the world. It is failing to tackle climate change. Crops are failing. Workers are thrown out of work. Health is breaking down, even in some of the richer countries. The financial system is both corrupt and out of democratic control or influence. Young people throughout the world are asking whether they have any future and if capitalism can solve these problems. I have no confidence that it can, beyond perhaps finding some short term respite from the chaos, only for it to return with even greater ferocity later. Under these circumstances life will become increasingly intolerable.
Labour has to respond and give people hope that there is a better life to be had under democratic socialism. All of what I write presents a huge challenge to the Labour Party and in particular to our leadership.
In conclusion, I return to the issue of the North-South divide which I covered in Part 1 of my analysis. My final suggestion, fits in with the West to East rail development I proposed, with their opening to European markets. I propose the building of a new Eco-City on the banks of the Humber. In my view, the Humber River Estuary has never been valued and used to its potential. A new Eco-City can produce much of its own power from a combination of water driven turbines, designed to automatically respond to the change in tidal flow. Every building would be insulated with green roofs, plus solar panels. The objective is to create a flagship Green City where new jobs would be created by new thinking and the use of new technology. This proposal linked to a new rail-ferry terminal should certainly begin to counter the trend to the South-East as being the only centre for wealth creation in Britain. My ideas on the West to East rail development and the establishment of a Humber based Eco-City have to be seen as a combined activity, one stimulating the other and building a momentum as it grows. I, therefore, ask that these ideas are seriously considered and used in creating a new Labour Manifesto.