Archive for January, 2012

Campaigning for Ken and the GLA elections

Friday, January 27th, 2012

There are 100 campaigning sessions for Labour’s GLA and Mayoral elections taking place across London this Saturday. In Hounslow, there is a canvassing for Bedfont ward, meeting up at Bedfont Library in Staines Road at 10:30am.

If you are unable to help Ken’s campaign this weekend, there is canvassing on Sunday 5 February for Hounslow South ward, also at 10:30am (for details of where to meet, please email brentfordandisleworthlabour@googlemail.com). On Saturday 11 February, Osterley and Spring Grove ward is being canvassed with people meeting at 10:30am (email for details of meeeting place).

For further details about Saturday’s campaign, please contact James Swindlehurst on 07939 575 658.

French election comes to GC meeting

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Axelle Lemaire, the French Socialist party candidate for North Europe, arrived a little late at last night’s GC meeting but she more than made up for it, speaking fluently about how significant the forthcoming elections will be.

The Socialist Party, spearheaded by presidential candidate Francois Hollande, has an agenda of fiscal responsibility (readjusting the tax system to help the less wealthy while keeping expenditure down generally), investment in industry to promote growth, supporting the green economy and promoting the public education system. Hollande also proposes to grant more powers to the European Central Bank and a more decentralised state, giving local authorities more authority to raise taxes,

Axelle said the results in France will have a great bearing on the elections that take place in Germany and Italy in 2013 and 2014, where similar policies are advocated by social democratic parties.

Axelle is standing in a constituency that covers Britain, Scandinavia and the Baltic states and, if she wins, she would be representing 80,000 French people living here. The ballot for Northern Europe and those of other constituencies outside France will take place a week earlier than those in the mainland, with voters able to make use of the internet for the first time.

Axelle took part in a question and answer session and said she hopes to help Ken Livingstone’s campaign to become London Mayor. Anyone interested in supporting her is urged to contact her on Facebook.

Film review: The Iron Lady

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Guy Lambert on Meryl Streep’s latest role as the ferrous ex-Prime Minister

I have never before been asked to be a film critic, nor had any pretensions in that direction, but the cunning Crispin cornered me at a branch meeting and there I was, catched.

Of course, whilst I have never been a film critic, I find little difficulty, and can claim long experience, of criticising the subject of the film I am reviewing – The Iron Lady.

First a little semantics. Lady is a charged word in English, perhaps particularly so in England, and I shall leave it to my readers (if any) to form their own view of whether Lady Thatcher is appropriately so described.

Iron is a different thing. Those with a rudimentary understanding of metallurgy (A-level Chemistry lost in the mists of time in my case) will remember that iron is a wondrous material, being relatively easy to extract and work, strong and durable –give or take a little rust – and readily available in the British Isles. They will also recall the fatal flaw of iron, which has led to it being replaced in most applications by its alloy, steel. It is brittle and unbending, and its strength is of little use where any flexibility is required. The film confirms a view I have long held: iron – definitely not steel – is the perfect term for the character of Maggie.<

So to the film: I arrived at the Waterman’s for a 4pm Sunday viewing. The cinema was packed, including many of even less tender years than myself plus one or two children who I rather cynically thought had been brought for indoctrination.

As an enthusiastic, if irregular, filmgoer, one of the ways I judge a film is how long it is before I find myself checking my watch. The film started at 4pm on the dot ( a pleasing feature of our local Arts Centre) and I first consulted said timepiece at about 4.50. Fairly average, but the fact I consulted it again at 4.53, 4.57, 5.00 etc might suggest to you that I was finding things tedious. This suggestion would be spot on.

No doubt ‘proper’ critics will wax lyrical about Meryl Streep’s performance as the older Mrs T: I confess I am not a big Streep fan, however I would say that she carried it off OK. Jim Broadbent as Denis (one n – this I know because I named a cat after him) was a great deal more fun and it was generally a pleasure when he was on screen. Alexandra Roach as the young Maggie was altogether too attractive and whilst Harry Lloyd as the young Denis had no sex-appeal (to me) he was fun to watch and I have to confess that I found the proposal scene quite moving.

As to the political content, I would say they tried fairly hard to avoid taking sides. She is shown as resolute and strong, self-confident and irritating, all of which seem pretty close to the truth. That iron analogy is all over the film, in particular in the scene where she insists to the cabinet that the Poll Tax is right and that anyone who opposes it is a coward.

Did it shift my view of Thatcher? A little. Given what she did to the country, it’s easy for an old lefty like me to treat her with unalloyed scorn. However the film reminds you that she did have some remarkable qualities. She had to overcome those prejudices in the Tory party that not only was she a woman but, more damningly, a Grocer’s daughter and whatever we think of her policies and approach (and that Francis of Assisi speech is a classic case of saying one thing then proceeding to do the opposite – a bit like the NHS bill today) that courage of conviction is pretty difficult not to admire.

As to the ethics of producing and releasing this film, I have a deal of difficulty with that. It absolutely feels like a biopic of someone who is already dead and it is perhaps for that reason that I find the large part of the film that is dedicated to portraying her as a frankly bonkers old woman, hallucinating that Denis is still alive, rather dull and unsatisfying. Whether it has any basis in reality I have not a clue, and it is not something that can really be explored while she lives.

Is it worth seeing? Well I suppose it is hard to avoid for those of a political persuasion, but I can’t say I would recommend it. One hundred minutes that had me yawning rather more than I would expect or want and, at the end, not really having learnt much that I didn’t already know.

The Iron Lady is being shown at Watermans, 40 High Street, Brentford, on 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 January, and 1 and 2 February. Phone 020 8232 1010 for tickets.

French parliamentary candidate to speak at Wednesday’s GC

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Axelle Lemaire, the Socialist Party candidate for the Northern Europe constituency of the French Parliament, has accepted an invitation to speak at Wednesday’s Brentford and Isleworth GC meeting (8pm on 25 January at 367 Chiswick High Road).

Axelle is keen to build up more dialogue between the French and British progressive parties. For her, international co-operation and better mutual understanding are key parts of the solution to the current financial and economic crisis. She believes there is a lot to learn from each other’s experience and proposals in order to rebuild a modern, efficient and fair society. The French Socialist Party is a sister party to the Labour party.

Eighty per cent of French people living in the consituency of Northern Europe live in the UK and there are polling stations in most cities.

The French elections take place on 3 and 17 June.

Book reviews – the myths behind our economic model

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Chiswick branch member and CLP Treasurer Dave McLoughlin reviews two books by the development economist Ha-Joon Chang (pictured)

Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism
Bloomsbury, 2008

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism
Penguin Books, 2010

The two Eds are having a tough time convincing the public that the government is cutting ‘too far and too fast’. The difficulty for the two Eds is that their master, Gordon Brown, accepted a whole set of explanations about how the economy works which have turned out to be wrong. Famously there would be ‘no more boom and bust’. ‘Light touch’ financial regulation was the way forward. All boats would float on the rising tide of the financial boom. Brown had little choice, Thatcherism and Reaganism (neo-liberalism) had superseded the post-war social-democratic consensus.

Four years after the crash of 2008 we’re still in the mire and the new consensus is that we need a ‘fairer’ capitalism. ‘Occupy’ movements have spread worldwide, bringing masses of people into politics. A principal criticism of these movements is that they propose no coherent alternative to ‘crony capitalism’. The Left has been unable to provide that alternative partly because it has not challenged the theoretical underpinnings of neo-liberalism.

Thatcher’s assertion that the national economy is the household economy writ large still trumps Keynesian explanations. It is a commonsense explanation, one of a set of stories about how the economy works. It was, of course, common sense for two thousand years that the earth was at the centre of the universe and that, too was part of a set of explanations about the physical world. Why make the connection between economics and history of science? Both deal in paradigms. I hear the yawns. The word has been devalued to mean any piffling change in an organisation’s structure.

Ha-Joon Chang, the development economist, is the more famous of two brilliant Korean brothers who teach at Cambridge University. His brother Hasok, is a Professor of History and Philosophy of Science (and taught me at UCL). Both economics and the history of science deal in paradigms. As TS Kuhn noted, if you want to find the current paradigm in any field of study, pick up a textbook.

Once a paradigm is accepted into people’s minds and becomes the official ideology, it’s very difficult to change, as Galileo found to his cost. Further, popular acceptance of the current paradigm has over the last 30 years, conferred considerable advantages on 1% of the population, which they will fight to keep. (See OECD : Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising)

What Ha-Joon does is to provide us with trenchant criticisms of the stories told in orthodox economic textbooks. Economics is usually seen as dazzlingly difficult for ordinary people. He explains in his introduction to 23 Things why this is not so and why we need to become ‘active economic citizens’. I won’t spoil it for you; go to the Amazon website and search for ’23 things’ and ‘look inside’ for a taste.

Dave Wetzel to speak at Land Value Tax public meeting

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Isleworth and Brentford branch member Dave Wetzel will be speaking at a public meeting on Land Value Tax this Thursday (12 January) at the George IV pub, 185 Chiswick High Road W4 2DR. The meeting starts at 7pm.

Dave is president of the Labour Land Campaign.

For more information, go to www.labourland.org.

New Year resolution: activists out in bleak rush hour

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

In the face of darkness, heavy winds and rain, Labour Party activists were out in force at 13 railway and tube stations across Brentford and Isleworth on the first morning after the New Year holiday.

Handing out leaflets outlining Boris Johnson’s policy of increasing rail and bus fares and Ken Livingstone’s pledge to reduce them, Labour members took part in an campaign which took in over 400 stations across London.

Crispin Flintoff, handing out leaflets on his own, in the open at Syon Lane station, was heartened to find that passengers leaving the train had already been handed leaflets further up the line at Whitton. ‘Although it was dark, windy and raining – and totally messed up my hair – it was great to think that there was some other party member in the same situation as me. And even though some of the commuters seemed miserable as they were going back to work after the Christmas and New Year holiday, they seemed impressed by the effort we had all put in.’

Lisa Homan, Labour’s GLA candidate for South West London, was under shelter at Gunnersbury Station with Penny Flood. Lisa went on to meet up with Ken Livingstone and Seema Malhotra, the new Labour MP for Feltham and Heston, to take a letter to Boris Johnson at City Hall asking him to rethink his hike on fares (see picture).

Voters will have a chance to decide on which transport policy is preferable in the GLA and Mayor elections on 3 May.