Monday, 21 September 2009

Peter Hain is my anti-guru

Although I’ve never met him, Peter Hain inspired me to get involved in politics after 30 years spent avoiding it like the plague.

A year spent as president of the student’s union at Hornsey College of Art in the mid-seventies was enough to put me off participation in politics for life.

Ideological warfare between the (Trotskyist) Revolutionary Socialist League - later known as the Militant Tendency, and the Broad Left - an anti-Trotskyist alliance of just about everybody else of a red-hued persuasion including a group calling itself ‘Operation Icepick’ [sic] - Leon Trotsky was assassinated with the pointy end of an ice axe - destroyed my political ideals as completely as the Spanish Civil War did for those of George Orwell.

Elsewhere, Peter Hain was committing himself to ‘social justice and equality’ by leaving the Liberal Party (he had been Chairman of the Young Liberals) to join the Labour Party (then in government) and by ‘sponsoring’ (presumably with money) the Anti-Nazi League, a front for the (Trotskyist) Socialist Worker’s Party that, as I recall, organised rock concerts and was ultimately the subject of claims of financial impropriety.

I was fighting my own war of conscience at the time, but my battles were on the streets against the boot boys of the National Front. Whilst my NUS comrades were arguing over the exact form of words to be used in letters expressing our union’s solidarity with political prisoners in Chile, I was charging around Hackney and Southall exchanging blows with racist skinheads. I never once saw Hain on the front line, nor in the magistrate’s court the following day.

Contrary to ‘Hainist’ mythology, support for the National Front was in decline before the Anti-Nazi League was formed. After the ‘Battle of Lewisham’, in which local youths broke up a deliberately inflammatory march through a predominantly black and Asian area (with little help from the anti-fascists who were too busy laying into the police), the NF’s supporters deserted in droves, many joining Margaret Thatcher’s slightly more respectable Tories. Hain’s original Anti-Nazi League had long since collapsed, bankrupt, when the Tyndall-led Front finally imploded.

With the benefit of hindsight, my direct action was pathetic. But it was no more or less effective than my comrade’s interminable points of order or whatever it was Hain did to take credit for the Anti-Nazi League. My excuse is that I was 18 years old and na├»ve. I thought I had all the answers. I wasn’t afraid to mix it up with a bunch of mindless thugs and there didn’t seem to be anything worth debating with racists.

If I learnt anything, it was that politicians have a symbiotic relationship. They depend upon each other for reasons to get up in the morning. They feed each other and off each other. The right defines the left and vice versa. The needs of the proletariat are merely coincidental.

At a time when, incredible as it might seem now, Peter Mandelson was a communist and Charles Clarke, Trevor Phillips and Jack Straw were the leading lights of the Broad Left fraternity, Hain was employed as a researcher for the Union of Communications Workers and was already set on a political career. So it makes sense that he would desert a party of ‘also-rans’ (Hain’s words) like the Liberals to join a party with career opportunities like Labour.

He’d earlier achieved notoriety as leader of Stop The Seventy Tour, an organisation that campaigned against apartheid by disrupting a rugby tour by the then all-white South African Springboks. But it still took him 14 years to find a safe Labour consistency that would accept him as its candidate.

Since I don’t live in Neath, I wasn’t aware that Hain had won the by-election in 1991. I didn’t notice him becoming Secretary of State for Wales in 2002 either. But when he wrote an article in the Western Mail to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, threatening the Welsh with ‘Balkanisation’ and the loss of ‘£1,000 a head per year in public spending’ if they failed to vote Labour in the Assembly elections, I woke up.

Now I define my politics by those of Peter Hain. He inspires my efforts because he represents everything I find abhorrent in our morally bankrupt, unrepresentative, undemocratic political system. In common with so many of his peers, Hain is a charlatan and a careerist, venal, self-serving and mendacious. A quick glance at his voting record dispels the myth that he has even the slightest commitment to social justice and equality.

Even when the shit sticks to him, he keeps calm and carries on regardless. He hasn’t struggled up through the ooze to become the biggest fish in our small Welsh political pond to let a few accusations of impropriety stand in the way of his glittering career. When he was found guilty of a ‘serious and substantial’ breach of the rules regulating political donations, Hain appeared on television claiming he had been ‘exonerated’. He went on to blame his campaign director who was subsequently given no opportunity to dispute Hain’s version of events.

And Hain deftly sidestepped the inconvenient revelation that of the £103,000 improperly declared, £82,000 was laundered through a non-functioning ‘think tank’ called the Progressive Policies Forum. This included money from Willie Nagel, a South African diamond broker and Isaac Kaye, a South African-born businessman with an Irish passport and an extensive Israeli business portfolio, who had previously bankrolled the pro-apartheid National Party in South Africa.

After the briefest possible period in the sin bin, Hain elbowed out his blood replacement, the hapless Paul Murphy, to claim his old fiefdom back. Last week he wrote a letter to the Guardian as the de facto Governor of Wales, warning the Welsh to do what they’re told unless they want another taste of the dragoons.

His letter informs the Welsh electorate that if they vote for any party other than Labour they’ll end up with a Conservative government. His message amounts to: ‘you’ve got no choice, that’s the way the system works, so tough’. He then goes on to claim, inexplicably, that either Labour or Wales won the Ashes, it’s not clear which because he uses the word ‘we’ rather liberally.

My contribution to Welsh politics is Newid, a ‘political party’ that is the antithesis of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the United Kingdom Independence Party, the British National Party and even the Green Party. It’s objective is to establish a demarchy, a simpler, more efficient, more progressive form of democracy that will mean we’re no longer under the thumb of manipulative individuals like Peter Hain. Once its aims have been achieved, Newid will disband. Politicians and political parties will no longer be necessary and ordinary people will be able to govern themselves.

Peter Hain may have provoked my involvement in politics but I still have no interest in a political career. I may be Newid’s ‘leader’ but I have no intention of standing for election myself. And although I grudgingly have to admit that Hain has done rather well for himself, I may yet turn out to be a late developer and do well for others.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Beware of MPs promoting electoral reform

You’d have to assume that when Ogmore Labour MP and UK government minister Huw Irranca-Davies proposed in the Western Mail last week that a switch from the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system to an alternative vote (AV) system would ‘help restore public engagement with politics’, he was either being ironic or disingenuous.
Under the AV system, MPs would be elected in single-member constituencies as they are now. But instead of placing a single ‘X’ against their preferred candidate as in the FPTP system, voters would rank all the candidates in order of preference (1, 2, 3, etc).
If no candidate achieved more than 50% of first preferences, as is often the case with the FPTP system, second preference votes would be redistributed, then third preferences and so on until one candidate achieved an overall majority.
Under the current system, a candidate can win by a single vote even though he or she might have polled as little as 25% of the total votes cast. With AV, a candidate who finishes a close second in such circumstances might win on second or third preferences. The winner would be able to claim legitimacy having achieved a majority of overall preferences.
On the face of it, AV would be of greatest benefit to the Liberal Democrats since polls consistently suggest that both Labour and Conservative supporters would be more likely to back them as a second preference. So what’s in it for Labour?
Irranca-Davies rambles unconvincingly about his constituents being able to send him messages but the real answer lies in the second preferences of Liberal Democrat supporters. Liberal Democrats are more inclined to give their second preference to Labour than the Conservatives meaning that some second-placed Labour candidates would be able to defeat first-placed Tories.
Although the Tories enjoy a double-digit percentage lead over Labour in all the opinion polls, they would only manage a majority of around 50 seats under the present system. With AV, the Tories might find it impossible to win any kind of majority at all since Labour and the Liberal Democrats might expect to win a dozen or so extra seats each on second preference.
Having found what looks like a get out of jail free card, the challenges for Labour now are how to hoodwink the electorate into believing that AV represents the sweeping electoral reform the party promised before it won such a massive majority in 1997, and how to get away with holding a referendum on the issue before the next general election. Hence the bit of puff in the Western Mail.
The Electoral Reform Society, meanwhile, is pressing for a referendum on the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, which also works on a preferential basis but is far more equitable in that it minimises ‘wasted votes’ and provides an outcome of proportional representation.
Labour is strongly against STV. It doesn’t suit the interests of Labour MPs like Irranca-Davies whose seemingly impregnable seat in Ogmore, whether under the current system or AV, would appear to give him a well-paid job for life.
He claims he works hard to represent the interests of his constituents, irrespective of whether they vote for him or not. No doubt he works hard, but junior ministers don’t climb the party ladder by representing the interests of their constituents. They make themselves useful to the leadership by putting their consciences aside and slavishly supporting the government in whatever it chooses to do. If proof of this were needed, take a look at his voting record. Are the people of Ogmore strongly against transparent government do you think?
The recent expenses scandal proved that MPs can’t be relied upon to regulate themselves, but there is an alternative system that would remove the need for politicians and political parties altogether. It would help restore public engagement with politics by giving every citizen an equal opportunity to make decisions in government. It does away with self-interest and political corruption. It’s called demarchy and it’s the principle on which Newid is founded.