Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What Are Your Responses To Ken?

Below are two related items from Ken Curran who is a regular at our Discussion Meetings. Responses are welcome in our comment box.

(1) Is Labour in Terminal Decline?

The signs are certainly not good across Europe. The Democratic Left are in trouble. All the various opinion polls tell a similar story. Democratic Socialist Parties across Europe are failing to present alternative policies to the electorate which would give the electorate confidence in a socialist alternative. The reason being that our parties are not opposing free market and finance capitalism. We occupy the same middle ground as those we are supposed to oppose.

To the average voter. our parties are almost indistinguishable. None of Europe's Democratic Socialist Parties present an alternative to free market and finance capitalism. While many of us know the present system is completely unsustainable, our leaders fail to admit the inescapable reality. There may be some excuse for many who fail to quite understand what is happening to our world in both economic and environmental terms. There is no excuse for those amongst us who do have an understanding. The silence on part of many of our political class is nothing short of criminal negligence. Since August 2008 our economies have been in chaos. Five years on and we are still no further forward. None of Europe's so-called Socialist Leaders have, to the best of my knowledge made statements presenting socialist alternatives which will give voters confidence to support our Socialist Parties. All across Europe, the political establishment appears to suffer from mental paralysis. They appear to live in fear of saying anything in case they frighten the very monster which is currently devouring Europe - namely Finance Capitalism.

During the late 19th Century and the 20th Century, Democratic Socialism offered hope to the poor and the dispossessed. Today we have no vision. The only hope we offer are food parcels and sympathy. Ed Miliband's "One Nation" Labour statement which was enclosed to Labour Party Members along with a ballot paper for selecting Labour Euro Candidates is about as exciting as a wet Sunday in Doncaster. In spite of all the dire information about climate change, future famines, floods and people losing their homes - none of these are mentioned. We genuinely deserve better leadership than this. We are just being fed the same kind of trash which we have heard many times before. It is rather wearing that the quality of the thinking is as poor as the so-called solutions. If Democratic Socialism can produce nothing better than "One Nation Labour", then Europeans should fear for the future.

(2) Building a Socialist Vision for Europe.

A Guardian leader column back in 25 May about Europe's centre-left was headed "A Programme Without Frontiers". It dealt with the question of the decline in Europe's electoral support for all of the centre-left parties in Europe. The article raises the question which a number of us in the Yorkshire Co-operative Party have pursued for some time. It asks whether Europe's Centre-Left Parties would have more credibility if they could offer a European-wide centre-left programme. In the light of the experience since the collapse of the Banks and the Market in 2008 one would have thought that Europe's Socialist Leaders would have been trying to find solutions to the present crisis which were more akin to their political ethics.

Up to the present time there has not been any real sign of seeking a collective approach based upon socialist ethics. The Democratic Left are failing to create a political vision for Europe which the electorate of all of Europe would be able to identify as being different from the Centre Right. This is just like when the Democratic Left failed to create the great European Vision sort by Keir Hardie before the First World War and then failed again in the 1920s and 1930s with the rise of Fascism and the Second World War. The political inertia in Europe should concern us all. We have to learn that it is just that form of indecisiveness which provided Hitler with the circumstances which led to the Second World War.  Within the Democratic Left there is no dialogue with our comrades in Europe. When our leaders meet, regrettably they are not discussing alternative solutions where our political ethos can be distinguished from the politicians of the Centre Right. There is a distinct lack of serious discussion amongst the Parties of the Democratic Left in Europe to create a comprehensive debate which is inclusive and gives individual members the opportunity to help to build a socialist vision of Europe. Our leaders are so committed to finding quick and easy solutions to the problems of climate change and the economy that, by and large, they apply sticking plaster to wounds that actually require major surgery. They paper over the cracks in the wallpaper of capitalism, leaving the problems, whilst trying to secure the political power they seek by pragmatism.  By and large, Europe's Democratic Left have neither a Map nor Compass in order to plot a political course.

We need to make our own links with our sister parties in Europe and begin the process of creating a structure which could lead towards forming an alternative structure which could lead forward towards creating an alternative Democratic Socialist vision of Europe. We need to act quickly as events may overtake us, leaving the Democratic Left without hope or influence in the future.   

Ken Curran, Chair Sheffield Branch of the Yorkshire Co-operative Party. Democratic School or Socialism        


  1. Ken : At times it is important to shout "stinking fish" at those who are failing us in the Labour Movement, for it can startle them. You do this well. But don't we then need to find ways and means to get our targets to move onto the correct track?

    You raise the point about Labour Party members receiving a document that was issued with their Euro Candidates’ Ballot Paper; entitled “One Nation Labour”. It lists nine policy pledges.

    A fruitful approach could be for Democratic Socialists who are Labour Party members to press around these claims. Not only does what One Nation Labour has to say require clarification, but we should have ideas on how its brief points can be developed to fit in with our own perspective. For each policy claim is in need of improvement. But in the absence of Labour not now being an open and democratic Party, we currently need to find alternative ways to engage with the Labour Leadership on such matters. Part of our aim needs to be to encourage the Labour Party to adopt policies which are in line with Democratic Socialist values.

    For now I will only pursue one of the One Nation proposals. Namely, to "Stand up for patients and protect the NHS". It is an appropriate matter to pursue as tomorrow is the 65th Anniversary of the NHS's establishment. Just what is a Democatic Socialist vision for the NHS? I am clear as to what I see as the long-term objective. Health care should be readily and universally provided. And should be free of costs to the user. This should entail an eventual end to all private health provisions. Not only would this mean an end to the dominance of private dental services; but it would mean that the current services provided by opticians, chemists and drug manifacturers would all also be taken under public control. Contracts for private services within the NHS would come to an end. With a monopoly purchasing position on buying provisions for the NHS, this public service would have a strong financial hand. This is a vision which even takes us a stage beyond Nye Bevan's great achievement.

    Yet the vision is not without potential problems that will need to be tackled. How far should such a Health Service be centrally controlled? How would the wide-ranging democratic controls needed to prevent such abuse, be put in place? Then how can we progress towards such an all embrassing structure? What practical first steps towards this pattern would we like to see adopted by an incoming Labour Government – even if it does not share this full vision? How do we create a public service etthos amongst those who operate such a service – at whatever levels?

    If we adopt the above approach, then how do we set about pressing a more modest first stage of this proposal upon the leadship of the Labour Party? Does it mean that we seek to need find ways and means of engaging with Ed Miliband and those around him, despite the shortcomings which are spelt out in your two articles? If not, what alternative can be achieved within the framework of the Labour and Co-operative Parties?


    1. Harry / Ken,

      There are some good Labour thoughts mentioned in Ken’s article and I certainly support Harry’s on the NHS. For me I think it’s going to be how to distil a theme that a majority of Labour Party members and voters can agree upon – perhaps that best represents their feelings – from now up to the 2015 General Election.

      Ken’s assertion free market and finance capitalism somehow needs replacing with socialist planning by wishing to go back in time – I’m guessing 1945 – is mistaken. This is not to suggest I disagreed with these ideas but they require resetting for our time going forward to the next election. European socialist parties are suffering because their ideas are not registering with their electorate and to some extent this also applies to Ed’s Labour Party. Yes bad finance has left the least well off with the largest burden. It seems the upper classes remain unaffected. Labour members need to accept the financial markets (capitalism) is a part of a successful economy, all be it one that needs better regulation. I agree with Harry that we need to engage the electorate, Labour members using existing structures with re-tuned ideas such as; cooperative or not profit companies.

      I fully support your thoughts on the NHS. It is sad when we should be celebrating the NHS success story but instead we have awful shortages and cut back stories. The latest one is the Health Secretary is no longer responsible for the NHS...and this will now rest with GPs, private companies, foundation hospitals and CCG (Clinical Commissioning Groups). Fragmentation of the NHS is now on the agenda which will lead to the lowest common denominator of service/s from private sector (as per academy and free schools operating for profit). On the one hand we have schools being centralised at the Dept of Education and on the other the NHS being decentralised. I think we need to embrace private sector efficiencies with limits on how profits can be disbursed. They should be distributed between the investor and the local community where it is located.

      The Labour Party needs to assess what ideas work in the South East with a view to keeping a social conscience.

      Regards Jon Williams