Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Labour : Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

"Labour Leader" 13 July 1895.

Gilbert and Sullivan's "Iolanthe" was first performed at the Savoy Theatre  on 25 November 1882. One of their songs includes the words - "...every boy and every gal that's born alive, is either a little Liberal or else a little Conservat-ive!"

This sentiment reflects the state of parliamentary politics in that era. The results in the two preceding General Elections were - 1874 : Conservatives 350, Liberals 242 (Prime Minister - Disraeli) - 1880 Liberals 352, Conservatives 237 (Prime Minister - Gladstone). The only MPs from outside these camps were those elected as Home Rule candidates from Ireland,  60 of them in 1874 and 63 in 1880. For Ireland was not to gain its full independence from the United Kingdom until 1921.

Given the dominance of Con-Lib politics, the feasible avenues which those with socialist and labouring interests should then pursue was very unclear. Here were some of the alternatives they employed.

1. The avenue with the earliest element of success was via labour movement activists working with and through the Liberal Party.  The above 1874 figures for Liberal MPs include Thomas Burt and Alexander MacDonald, both of whom had trade union and mining backgrounds. In 1880, they were joined in the Commons by the Secretary of the TUC’s Parliamentary Committee, Henry Broadhurst. These were known as Lib-Labs.

In constituencies where working class men formed a good percentage of the electorate, the Liberal Party were at times willing to run such candidates. For the workers could deliver votes. The extension of the franchise in 1884 to wider groups of working class men who lived in rural areas (including many more miners) added to this trend. As did a fairer system of constituency structures in 1885. So by we reach 1906, 24 MPs were elected as Lib-Labs. But when the Miners' Federation finally voted to affiliate to the Labour Party, 14 of the Lib-Lab MPs from their Union followed this line and moved over into the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1909.  Lib-Labism then went further into decline as the Labour Party grew.

2.  In 1881 Hyndman founded the Democratic Federation, which became the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1884 which then had an explicitly socialist platform.  Hyndman having written a work called "England for All" which was based on Marx's "Das Capital". The SDF had a chequered history. It joined with TUC, the Independent Labour Party and the Fabian Society in 1900 in the formation of the Labour Party: which from 1900 to 1906 was known as the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). But it then left LRC quickly and did not even appear at the LRC Conference by 1902.

In parliamentary elections between 1885 and 1918, it ran 46 parliamentary candidates. The only two of its candidates who ever came near to being elected were those it ran in 1900. The General Election fell in the short spell when the SDF was affiliated to the LRC - so these were also really LRC candidates. One was Will Thorne who stood in West Ham South with a vote of 44.7%. The other was George Lansbury with 36.7% at Bow and Bromley. These were hopeful performances as the LRC only took its first two seats at that election. Yet the SDF then left the LRC in August 1901 and thus any real hope of electoral success.

Although it had a chequered history, many who continued on the SDF route ended up in the Communist Party of Great Britain when it was founded in 1920.

3. The Fabian Society was founded in 1884, with Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw coming to exercise a considerable influence over its approach. At a time when labour interests were making only a marginal parliamentary impact, they adopted a policy of seeking to permeate their views via any avenue they judged to have political influence or power. This meant socialising (in deep political debate) with prominent Liberals and even Conservatives. And working from 1888 via the Progressive majority on London County Council. They were also, however, keen to influence fellow socialists and would readily meet with labour movement activists such as Keir Hardie. They also became part of the LRC from the time of its formation. As Labour progressed, Sidney Webb became more deeply involved with the Labour Party. In 1918 he shaped Labour's former Clause 4, which committed it to the "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". He also had a major impact in drawing up Labour's 1918 election manifesto and in propounding his socialist views on the "inevitability of gradualism".

4. William Morris had been a member of the SDF, but soon in late1884 he broke away from them to set up the "Socialist League" which advocated revolutionary international socialism and had an anarchist tendency. He decided the Fabian Society had too many middle class values for him to move to them. The Socialist League only lasted until 1889.   

5. The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was founded in Bradford in 1893. Keir Hardie was a major driving force behind its formation. He was one of three "Independent Labour" MPs who had been elected to parliament in 1892.  The idea in using the term "Independent" was to show that the ILP rejected the tactic of Lib-Labism and were entirely separate and opposed to the Liberal Party and its approach. The word "Labour" was used to indicate the class it was part of and whom it was making its appeal to. Although it saw itself as a socialist party, it did not wish to use that term in its title in case it frightened off working class support. For it might get confused in workers' minds with bodies such as the SDF. Then the ILP's socialist approach was not Marxist, but had more in common with the radical wing of the non-conformist tradition.  It has often been said that British Socialism had more to do with Methodism than Marxism. It fought for matters such as work for the unemployed, the eight hour day, healthy homes, fair rents and democratic government.

The ILP's parliamentary start was not promising. None of its candidates were successful in 1895, not even Keir Hardie.

6.  But then the ILP worked through the Parliamentary Committee of the TUC to help set up what later became the Labour Party. In 1900 delegates from the ILP, the Fabian Society, the SDF and (dominantly) a large number of Trade Unions met to establish the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), which became known as the Labour Party from after the 1906 General Election.  

In the 1900 election itself the LRC took two parliamentary seats. Keir Hardie winning at Merthyr and Richard Bell at Derby. Although he was the initial Treasurer of the LRC, Bell later developed strong Liberal links. But the sign that the Labour project was firmly on the road came in 1906, when Labour took 29 seats and elected Keir Hardie as the first leader of its Parliamentary Party.

Current Labour Party members who look back on the five options above are likely to identify themselves with the formation of the Labour Party itself and perhaps with the early role of the ILP.  Some may see themselves as also being in the Fabian tradition. But if we could somehow transport ourselves back to those times, the choices in front of us would then have been rather confusing. For we would by no means have been certain as to which approach would be the most successful.

In time, the above Gilbert and Sullivan song would merely be a matter of history. For in 1951 with a turnout of 82.5%, no less than 96.8 % of the electorate voted either Labour or Conservative. Labour winning marginally more votes, but the Conservatives taking more seats. It then seemed that "every boy and every gal that's born alive, is either a little Labourite or else a little Conservat-ive!"

But what of today?  At the last General Election some seven million people were missing from the electoral registers and that figure is likely to get much worse under the new arrangements for individual electoral registration. Then we only had a turnout of 66.1% in 2015. Within a climate of widespread non-registration and much non-voting, the Conservatives and Labour only managed 67.3% of the vote between them. With non-registration and non-voting, voting for the two "main" parties has now become a minority sport.

So what should a democratic socialist do today?  Here are some options.

a.  Plod on in the Labour Party. But if so how? At one end of the spectrum there is now Momentum and at the other end there is Progress. If neither attract us, then do we need to bang their heads together ?  Or should we work for some sort of synthesis which takes the best from the two extremes, whilst ditching the worst?  Then, perhaps working through groups such as the Fabians and the today's ILP (Independent Labour Publications) can help us maintain our sanity.

b. There is also the Co-operative Party - whether we also hold a Labour Party Membership card or not.  That may depend on the depth of our co-operative views.

c. Or should we look for other avenues ? What of the Greens, Ken Loache's "Left Unity", the Socialist Party as the successors to Militant, the Socialist Workers Party, Respect, the SNP if we live in Scotland and so on and on ?

d. Then there is the alternative (or the addition) of participating in forms of pressure group politics. There is the Trade Union Movement, 38 Degrees, We Own It  and over a 100 others listed on this link. We are all likely to have some connections with some of these and with local alternatives. But should we now opt for this avenue as our main approach and get out of Party politics? 

e. And what about international links ? Should they not be a key part of our agenda ? The European Union has the the Party of European Socialists with 33 full members in 27 of its 28 nations, plus Norway. Yet as the world becomes more interconnected and conflict driven, we often seem to fall back into our own shells.

Democratic socialists in Britain seem to me to be in the type of dilemma which they faced in the late 19th Century. What is the best path forward ?  But whilst we can survey the past and work for the future, we can't be sure which avenue (or any) will deliver.

At the moment I am for sticking with the Labour Party and working for a possible synthesis between its extremes as a means of tacking and manoeuvring in a democratic socialist direction, whilst encouraging avenues for pressure group politics and international agendas. But if I look as if I have got it wrong, please let me know the best alternatives.   

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Why Labour Lost The General Election

In the Labour Party Report "Learning the Lessons from Defeat" (by Margaret Beckett) there is an important section which states "for  all  the  strength  of  our  policies,  much  of  the  evidence  we  have  received  speaks  of  a  lack  of  public  awareness  of  much  of  their  content.  We  have  also  heard  of  a  perception  that,  while  individual  policies were  often  sound  and  popular,  we  lacked  the  early  adoption  of  a  consistent  overarching  narrative  or  theme,  which  could  be  simply  expressed  and  conveyed  on  the  doorstep,  or  in  the  studio."

Unfortunately, this point is not then elaborated upon and is not pushed to the top of the Report's analysis. It has been missed from most of the recent commentaries on the Report.

Yet Labour (especially via its Policy Forums) developed a comprehensive set of policies in the run up to the General Election, which should have been distilled and pushed for a considerable period before voting day. There were umpteen platforms that could have been used for this purpose. These platforms included the European Elections, the Scottish Referendum, the 2014 Labour Party Annual Conference and during the months running up to the fixed period of the General Election. In the circumstances (as time ran out) Labour was even late in publishing its General Election Manifesto. I wonder who ever even read it?

Whilst this was a collective failure of those at the top of the Labour Party and especially by Ed Miliband as our leader, it was a specific and direct failure by Douglas Alexander. He was Chair of Labour's Strategy for the General Election. Little wonder he then lost his own parliamentary seat in Scotland.

Labour had a mass of relevant policies for the General Election, which hardly ever saw the light of day. I listed 180 of Labour's proposals over 16 items on this blog between 8 and 20 November 2014. They can be found via this link.  These clearly needed distilling into a set of easy to handle points.Whilst this can technically be said to have been done in a ten point set of proposals which was eventually circulated on a single occasion, opportunity after opportunity was missed when contacting and organising Labour's membership. All that Labour was after was our money and canvassing activities, which had no real political script. Except, of course, for the big policy idea of that one off slab of concrete. Whoever looked at what that said?

I have made the above claims on various occasions and to Margaret Beckett's enquiry. See, for instance via this link. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Debating Labour : Its History and Future

‘Where’s it been? Where’s it going?’ are the questions being addressed at a series of day schools on the Labour Party starting in Yorkshire next month.

IWCE logoThe Independent Working Class Education Network are holding their first meeting on ‘The history and future of the Labour Party’ at Northern College in Barnsley on Saturday 23 January.
The workshop will cover the foundation of the Labour Party, some key 20th century issues and Labour today.
Attendance costs £25 and places are available on a ‘first come, first served’ basis as space is limited.
What: Labour Party: Where’s it been? Where’s it going?
When: Saturday 23 January, 10.30am-4.00pm
Where: Northern College, Barnsley, Yorkshire

To book a place contact Keith Venables by email:
Go to the Independent Working Class Education Network’s website for more details.
The second day school will be held in south London on 6 February.

Hat tip : Matthew Brown and Independent Labour Publications - click here. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

(Iraq 3) : No Guide For UK Forces In Iraq 1955/6

Guide for U.S. Forces Serving in Iraq, 1943 (Hardback)

When American troops moved into Iraq in 1943 to help to pursue their Second World War objectives, they were issued with a booklet which they could slip into their light summer-style tunics. It gave them some details about Iraq, its local customs and how to respond in a friendly and understanding way to the local population. It gave hints on Arabic translations and about the pronunciation of some 400 local words and phrases. Information was supplied about the local currency, weights and measures and about climatic and health problems. Care was taken so that the troops would not cause  offence to Muslims, especially about their religious practices and about the role of females within their culture.

A copy of the booklet was re-published in 2008 with a preface added to explain its purpose and  nature. The 2008 version can be obtained cheaply via this link.

Whilst a close examination of the document might produce criticisms and suggest shortcomings,  I would have found it invaluable to have been presented with an equivalent British document when I arrived in Basra in 1955 at what was my permanent RAF posting for the period of my National Service. But I never received any form of document to explain where I was, nor why, nor how to behave.  Neither were we ever given any verbal explanations about the equivalent matters covered by the United States' War and Navy Department's document. There was, for instance, no form of educational service at our small Movements Unit.

Beyond knowing that the local currency was Dinars and Fils and my being able to follow Arabic numerals and pick up some Arabic swear words from my fellow troops, I never learnt any Arabic. The Iraqis on our camp tended to talk English. This was whether they worked with us in our offices, drove us by boat on the Shat-el-Arab river to the docks in Basra, washed and ironed our clothing, emptied barges and transferred goods to railway containers, drove taxis into Basra town centre or served in shops and night clubs. At least they shared sufficient English for us to get by. When I regularly rang up a Basra railway official to book seats for troops on the train, I would say his name "Abdul Sarhib ?".  He would start to answer me in Arabic, then quickly realise that my accent did not fit and turn to English saying "Hello RTO", which was my RAF designation as a Rail Transport Official. My job included filling out Passenger Rail Forms and also forms for the transhipment of goods. These forms were in Arabic, but I merely knew what went into each box and I filled in these in English. I had little incentive to learn Arabic in order to get by.

Yet there were aspects of life generally on religion and politics which I was keen to examine. I wanted to test out and examine my preconceptions in these areas. But I never picked up on the tensions in Iraqi politics which existed round about me at that time. Life just appeared to me to be harsh (but tranquil) for the people living round about me. It was a misunderstanding that came from mainly being tucked away in an RAF camp which had its own separate form of existence.

I came almost weekly to make use of an English Book Shop in Basra Town Centre, which was run by someone who originated from India. I ordered the "New Statesman" whose air mail edition came out weekly on rice paper. I also ordered "The Observer" and "Reynolds News" which both came by sea and could be up to three weeks old before I read them. I was into reading plays having earlier been a regular theatre attender at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. So I ordered copies of the complete plays of both Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. I was also into reading Shaw on politics. Then Corporal Murphy and I used to debate religion, as I started out as a Methodist and he had been a Catholic who had become an atheist. Although I initially attended the Anglican Church in Basra, I too eventually became on atheist. My developing concerns about religion may have been pushed along by the fact that my bookseller had a good selection of books for sale by the Rationalist Press Association.  The local Anglican Vicar even preached a sermon against these, which only made them even more interesting for me.  Corporal Murphy also got me into ordering and reading books by James Joyce.

But I only picked up bits and pieces about Iraq and its past. And this was mainly ancient history, in works such as "Ur of the Chaldees : A Record of Seven Years Excavation" (Pelican 1954). Although this is a book which I might only have turned to on my return home.

During my time in Iraq, the major political events I was aware about which effected developments were (a) the signing of a Treaty known as the Baghdad Pact in 1955 and (b) the impact of the Suez Invasion as it reverberated in Iraq. But the latter only happened as I was moving to be flown out of Iraq at the end my National Service. So matters only touched my radar at the end of my time in the country - although this was to be in a big way. The Baghdad Pact also then took on more significance for me than it had at the time of its adoption.

Within less than two years of my leaving Iraq, there was a massive and dramatic change of regime. By then, I was aware that there were some things I had missed about developments in Iraq during my period of National Service.

I will try to fill in some of the gaps in my 1955/6 understanding in my next item on Iraq. I just wish I had known more about such things at the time. An equivalent to the booklet issued to the war-time American troops would have helped.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

(Iraq 2) : From Easington Colliery to Basra.

The area of Easington Colliery where I lived before I was sent to Basra in Iraq to undertake my National Service.

I was brought up at Easington Colliery on the east coast of County Durham. Before I was called up to undertake my National Service in the RAF in November 1954, I had never travelled any further south than York. That journey had been made two years earlier, when I had applied to be a railway clerk after leaving school. I then had to travel to the railway head office at York for an interview. It landed me a job which I then undertook covering passenger and parcels office work, mainly at Easington's neighbouring railway station which was at Horden Colliery. But it was a job that was to have bigger implications for my travels than I ever anticipated.

When I undertook my basic training in the RAF at West Kirby, I was interviewed by a Sergeant to help determine what form of work I should seek to undertake in the RAF. As I had been a railway clerk, he suggested that a position in a "Movement's Unit" might be appropriate. He pointed out that there was a large unit of this type at Hull.  I felt that would be ideal for me to be able travel home regularly. So that became my first and accepted option.

But amongst our Squadron at West Kirby where I did my basic training, I was the only person to then be sent straight overseas. For it was felt that I did not require any training for my post.  I could work and learn under a corporal who already was undertaking the tasks I needed to follow. These involved working closely with Iraqi State Railways in Basra.  RAF equipment and goods arrived at the port at Basra to then be sent by rail to Baghdad, from where they were collected by personnel from RAF Habbaniya to then be taken to their camp by road some 55 miles away. There were also regular (but limited numbers) of troop movements of those travelling by rail to and from Baghdad, which had to be catered for.  In English, I filled in arabic passenger forms and goods' notes. But no-one ever taught me any arabic. I just learnt what to put where, in English. The best I did was to understand arabic numerals. All the Iraqis I dealt with spoke English - including those who worked at our Movement's Unit which was situated on the banks of the Shat-el-Arab river. This included many Iraqis who undertook manual functions.

I regularly visited Basra railway station, its docks and its goods yards. Then when our Movement's Unit downsized, I also took up some similar clerical and organisation work with shipping companies, handling "Bills of Lading" relating to shipping merchandise.

Not only did the RAF fail to facilitate (or even encourage) us to learn arabic; no-one ever explained why it was that we were in Iraq. Furthermore, we were just a small movements unit with many of us being only 18 to 20 as we were undertaking our National Service. I shared areas of accommodation with those up to the rank of corporal and we socialised. But those in higher ranks lived a separate existence. Even our cricket team only contained two sergeants (which may, however, have been a fair proportion), the rest being entirely from lower ranks - including myself as the scorer and standby.  No one I ever came across used their holiday breaks to visit historical sites such as the Ziggurat of Ur, which was less than 100 miles away - although officers might well have done this unknown to us. But we only communicated with high ups in relation to our duties. Nor was information made available to tell us that Iraq covered land which had been the cradle of civilisation. Neither was there today's modern technology to click into, which can be used as a form of self-education. It was not for us to ask where we were, nor what we were doing there.

Yet my time in Iraq helped to transform my life. When I left Britain, I initially had a six day stay in the canal zone in Egypt,  I then boarded a flight to Habbaniya; via Jordon where we landed late at night and saw little but a landing strip, desert and the inside of a large reception tent.  At Habbaniya, I stayed for a period to undertake a weapons' course run by the  RAF Regiment. This gave me time to spend a weekend at the YMCA in Baghdad, travelling via Fallujah. Then when I finally travelled by rail from Baghdad to Basra, the train was delayed as we were due to pull out of the south of the Iraqi capital. I was looking out of the window at a scene which seemed to me to be from an ancient world. Everything was made out of mud. Mud houses, mud walls, mud walkways, open sewers cut into the baked mud, with a drinking well close by. Men and women were neatly and cleanly dressed in the Muslim tradition, with children playing beside them. But this was a world I had never glimpsed nor thought about before in a modern context. It came to have a huge impact upon me.

Mud houses in Iraq

Later in the dock area in Basra, I observed heavily exploited labour at work. For instance, men were bent double carrying what were huge (and now old-fashioned) commercial refrigerators on their backs. Manual labour still often being a substitute for the technology of that age.

A double question began to pray upon my mind. How could God and man allow such things to happen? Matters of a philosphical and political bent were emerging for a thinly educated young man. These would help to reshape my values, self-studies and key interests. But life at the Movements Unit with regular weekly trips into Basra town centre, gave me the false impression that Iraq was a place of peace and tranquility. The first seven sections in the previous item on this blog (click here) cover a brief military history of Britain's involvement in the area over the 41 years before I arrived in Iraq. When I now reflect that it is 60 years since I arrived in Basra; the preceding period of 41 years seems to be a relatively limited time span. Many of the Iraqis I met and passed had lived through those years of military conflict and imperial domination. Unknown to me, these were experiences that had not gone away from their minds.

The only hint that some problems existed was when I attempted to order a copy of Marx's "Das Capital" from an English bookshop in Basra. The proprietor who originated from India, later felt the need to check matters out with the local Chief of Police. He was not allowed to order a copy. I only learnt much later that the Iraqi regime had been in a period of conflict with its own home grown Communists - see Hanna Batatu's "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq" (Princeton University Press, 1978 and here).




Friday, November 06, 2015

(Iraq 1) : Britain's Military Heritage In Iraq - Started 101 Years Ago Today

1. 101 years ago today and just three and a half months after the start of the First World War, Britain invaded Mesopotamia. British troops (who were mainly from India) captured the old fort at Fao (al-Faw) which then formed part of the Ottoman Empire. Fao is located at the south of what is now Iraq. It is where the Shatt-al-Arab river flows into the Persian Gulf. The Shatt-al-Arab itself starts at a point where two other main rivers flow into each other. These are the Tigris and Euphrates. They both commence in what is now Turkey, with the Euphrates then cutting fully across a significant section of Syria.

The photograph below is of British troops in Mesopotamia during the subsequent campaign.

2. Mesopotamia is seen as the cradle of civilization. It was where the Garden of Eden is believed to have been. The story of Noah and the flood fits in with an ancient Sumerian legend about an old man who survived 40 days and nights in an ark. Its main rivers produced rich fertile soil and a supply of water for irrigation. The civilizations that emerged around these rivers being amongst the earliest known non-nomadic agrarian societies. In terms of written history alone, Mesopotamia goes back to 3100 BC. It has a rich cultural heritage. But numbers of its ancient sites are now being destroyed by ISIS.  Way back it was part of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires: with later periods in which (amongst many others) Alexander the Great, the Romans and the Persian Empire had a presence.

3. Britain embarked upon its invasion at Fao soon after the start of the First World War, because the Ottoman Empire (which then dominated much of Mesopotamia) had recently signed a treaty with Germany. There was a particular worry about the danger to Britain's oil supplies in neighbouring Persia, especially in relation to the Anglo Persian Oil Company.

4. A long and bitter struggle then took place. But when British troops captured Baghdad in 1917, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Britain then moved to unite and control what became the basis of modern Iraq in the vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. In 1919, however, it faced insurrections from the indigenous population who were far from keen about the prospect of having a fresh foreign imperial power emerging over them.

5. In 1920, however, Britain obtained a League of Nation Mandate to enable it to continue to play a major role in the development of Iraq. Following further unrest, Britain manoeuvred to create a situation in which a sympathetic regime under King Faisal was accepted in a carefully calibrated plebiscite, with a 96% endorsement.

Here is a link to a fine book which covers the above period. Note the comments about its considerable strengths.

6. Iraq operated under the British Mandate until 1932 when nominally it became independent. But before it gained its formal Independence, the United Kingdom achieved the Anglo-Iraq Treaty of 1930. This included permission to establish air bases for British use at Habbaniya and Shiaba, as British Crown territory. It was a situation that added to discontent amongst wide elements of the Iraqi population.

7. In April 1941 during the Second World War, there was a coup d'etat in Iraq when Rashid Ali ceased power and asked Germany for military assistance in the event of war with the British. Britain then sent troops into Iraq to topple the new regime and remained in effective control of the country until 1947 with a new Anglo-Iraqi Treaty being signed in Portsmouth the following year. This set up a joint defence board , but the Treaty was abandoned following mass protests in Baghdad known as al-Wathba (the leap). Britain, however, retained its bases in Habbaniya and Shiaba under the terms of the 1930 Anglo-Iraq Treaty.

8. In 1955 a pro-Western defence alliance known as the Baghdad Pact was signed between Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. As part of its terms the British Crown Territories at Habbaniya and Shiaba air bases were handed over to Iraq, although Britain still retained (but down-sized) it forces there and also at its Movements Unit which operated in Basra on the banks of the Shatt-al-Arab river. (Where I was undertaking my National Service at the time) The Baghdad Pact also led to the disbanding of a force called the Iraqi Levies. This force was made up mainly of Assyrians and had British Officers. It had originated as a local Arab armed scouting force during the First World War. On their disbanding, the Levies were given the opportunity to join the Iraqi Army, which then took over their previous facilities. But few Assyrians did this.

9. In one form and another Britain retained a continual presence and influence inside Iraq until the nation experienced a major regime change in 1958. The transformation in Iraqi politics in that year was itself stimulated by major unrest in Iraq over Britain's involvement in the Suez crisis of 1956. In 1959, the remaining RAF personnel and their aircraft were then obliged to withdraw from Iraq.

10. Britain's next direct military involvement in Iraq arose in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion and annexation of neighbouring Kuwait. Under "Desert Storm" in 1991, USA-led forces engaged in an air bombardment of Iraq. The RAF undertaking low-level attacks on Iraqi airbases. The Royal Navy provided scope for helicopters to destroy much of the Iraqi Navy. Whilst British Challenger tanks destroyed 300 Iraqi vehicles in both Kuwait and in pursuing Iraqi troops along the "road to Basra", until the plug was pulled on this military operation as the slaughter of Iraqi Troops was gaining bad publicity.

11. From 1992 up to the United States-led coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, two "No Fly Zones" were enforced upon Iraq by USA, British and French air forces. The zone in the north of Iraq was established shortly after the Gulf War, extending from the 36th parallel northwards and providing protection for Iraqi Kurds, who had faced genocidal attacks from Saddam Hussein's regime - especially back in 1988. A zone was also established south of the 32nd parallel to defend the Shia population from attacks by Hussein's minority Sunni based regime. In 1996 this southern zone was expanded from the 33rd parallel.

12. The US-led invasion of Iraq took place in 2003, consisting of 21 days of major combat. UK forces took responsibility for supervision in the southern area of Iraq around Basra. They mainly withdrew from Iraq in 2009, whilst leaving behind some troops for training purposes. The final 170 British troops departed in October 2012. US forces finally left in December 2012. Iraqi Body Count estimated that 174,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the conflict up to 2013. 4,779 Coalition troops were killed, plus a total of 1,674 in the categories of contractors, medics and aid workers. Sectarian conflict has continued to add significantly to the numbers of Iraqi killings.

Here is a most worthwhile history of Iraq which brings matters up to recent times. 

This telling blog entitled "Musings On Iraq" has been running since 10 September, 2008.

This is my own thread on Iraq. It has fallen away in recent years, but (hopefully) it will now be revived.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Improving And Using Labour's Policy Making


This is not a criticism of the work undertaken by Labour's National Policy Forums, nor of those who feed material into their deliberations. But we must seek to draw all the people who are part of the Labour Party as associate, registered or individual members into its policy-making procedures. This has not been happening. Only eight Constituency Labour Parties and one Branch have made submissions to the current work of the eight Policy Forum Groups whose work is to be examined at the coming Labour Party Conference.  

When Policy Forum reports are endorsed by Conference, the Labour Party in the past has made totally inadequate use of these.

For instance, Labour campaigned in the European Union Elections in May 2014 with little or no reference being made to the policy positions it had by then endorsed. Nor did it draw from the progressive policy programme which was adopted by the Party of European Socialists (PES). Yet we are one of the PES's 32 political parties from right across the EU, who are supposed to be our comrades.

Another chance to push our programme was seriously missed during the Scottish Referendum, which was held just days before our 2014 Annual Conference. Yet by then our National Policy Forum Report for 2014 was only awaiting Conference's rubber stamp. This programme could have been used in Scotland.  It could have come to have had an eventual impact on the Scottish General Election results,  saving us from the full disaster of what happened.

Even after Conference endorsed the 2014 Policy Forum Report, those at the centre of Labour's Campaign still dithered. The membership needed to be alerted to our policies, so that they could press its general principles when dealing with the electorate. Indeed if our members had been enthused by Labour's proposals, it would have further enlightened and directed their efforts. It would have added a cutting edge to the considerable work that was undertaken.

But even though Labour used its Policy Forum policies late in 2014 to publish a pre-Manifesto  entitled "Changing Britain Together", little campaigning use was ever made of this key document. For instance, when membership cards were posted early in 2015, no information was enclosed with these to spell out where Labour stood. When emails came out to members from Labour's National or Regional Offices they invariably concentrated on fund raising matters. Yet Labour's policies could have been pushed to inform and enthuse members - and that could actually have helped to bring in more donations.

Even when "One Nation" (the Labour Party's membership magazine) was circulated this February as a 32 page booklet, policy items were confined to a few items only on pages 12 and 13. It was a glossy document containing 35 coloured photos and much trivia, containing interviews with both a celebrity and a baroness both of whom I had never heard of.

We had to wait until the General Election was upon us before Labour's General Election Manifesto was issued. It was then far too late for Labour activists to do their own research to absorb what we stood for.

How we determine policy and then disseminate what we determine, now needs to be at the top of our agenda.  If members are fully absorbed into the policy-making process, then they can more easily pick up its outcomes. Yet we also need to publicise policies as soon as we decide upon them - and then keep on about them.

Click here for an avenue to masses of policies we had in place in the run up to the last General Election, but never properly utilised.