Search topics on this blog

Showing posts with label Len McCluskey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Len McCluskey. Show all posts

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Johann Lamont and Gary Robertson interview – Sunday Politics Scotland

LETTERS 30th Oct 2013 "TV interviewers must do better" John Kelly

I took issue with John Kelly on a number of observations and facts, and sent a letter to the Herald setting out my core point. It wasn’t published, probably because the Letters page was full of much more topical and vital material on subsequent days, so I have no complaints about the Herald’s priorities and editorial decision.

However, I thought my more extended analysis of the Lamont/Robertson interview might be worth setting out here.


Reading John Kelly's letter I wondered if he watched the same Sunday Politics Scotland broadcast as I did.  The anchorman was not Andrew Kerr, as stated by Mr. Kelly, but Gary Robertson, a highly experienced television and radio journalist and expert political interviewer. In just over eight and a half minutes, while allowing Johann Lamont every opportunity to answer questions and make her case, he managed to reveal the gaping holes and contradictions in her position on welfare and benefits, and a misleading an inaccurate campaign leaflet distributed in the Dunfermline by-election by Labour.

It is not the purpose of daily newspapers to hold our elected representatives to account - that is the job of the electorate and, where appropriate, the law. The role of newspapers and the media in general is to tell the truth to power by informing the electorate of the facts that politicians often do not wish the public to know. One of the most powerful tools for doing that is the televised political interview.

A television interviewer’s job is not to act as a a chat show host, allowing his or her celebrity guest to use the 'interview' as a platform for their unchallenged views or as a party political broadcast - the interviewer's role is to explore with penetrating questions the contradictions inherent in all political policy and to elicit answers to questions that the politicians do not want answered, or at least make it starkly evident that the politician is either unable or unwilling to give such answers.

Reading John Kelly's letter I wondered if he watched the same broadcast I did. The anchorman was not Andrew Kerr but Gary Robertson, a highly experienced television and radio journalist and expert political interviewer.

Robertson, on the Grangemouth crisis, asked: "Had you been in Alex Salmond's position, would you have been compromised by being a member of Unite?"and also Lamont’s position on the central role of Stephen Deans in the dispute and police involvement over emails.

She denied seeing the emails, and tried to move away from the issue, denying that the shambles in Falkirk was over the manipulation of candidate selection. It patently was.

Robertson's question on the Dunfermline by-election victory margin and its significance produced an extended reply, with only one minor query from Robertson, and the observation that by-elections rarely change anything, adding that an IpsosMori poll showed 57% electorate support for the Scottish government, and that they seemed to be doing well. Lamont said it "didn't feel like that" to her. Robertson put all his questions briefly, courteously and concisely and Lamont was given every opportunity to respond, which she did at length.

Robertson went on by saying that Labour had said what it was against - independence and the bedroom tax ("eventually") - but what was it for, what was it pro? He interjected - as any competent interviewer would - to try penetrate vague generalities that came in response, asking "What are the issues you are for, then?" Lamont simply persisted with a recitation of problems - all without offering a single policy or what Labour would do about them.

Robertson then moved to the contradictions inherent in the election leaflet put out in Dunfermline, and Lamont's own position on welfare, the welfare budget and her Cuts Commission, contradictions between Labour’s and their key policy adviser Professor Midwinter's views on welfare, council tax, and his position that it was an inefficient use of public funds.

In just over eight and a half minutes - while allowing Johann Lamont every opportunity to answer questions fully and make her case - he managed to reveal the absence of any coherent Labour policy, and gaping holes and contradictions in her position on welfare and benefits.

Gary Robertson did his job superbly well – perhaps that is what really bothered Mr. Kelly.

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Unions and Scotland’s independence

Last night’s interviews and statements by Len McCluskey are very significant events indeed, and perhaps the media and the strategists of SNP and YES – usually astoundingly naive about industrial relations - will now wake up to their significance for independence at this critical time. I reproduce the interviews here and let them speak for themselves. For those of you with the time and energy to read my previous thoughts on trades unions and independence, proceed below!

I wrote this in 2011, in the context of some very dodgy contracts sealed by Glasgow City Council affecting union members -


Labour, especially Glasgow Labour, has systematically betrayed the interests of trades unions, their main party funders. To be more accurate, they have betrayed the interests of trade union members, but advanced the interests and political ambitions of  some trades union officials, who have never doubted where their unswerving loyalty lay - not to their members, but to the Labour Party machine that was going advance their ambitions.

A harsh judgement maybe, but it must be seen in the context of my spending a large part of my life in industrial relations, dealing with union members, union representatives and full time officers across a range of industries in in different areas of the country. I have attended the TUC Conference and have been party to high-level discussion between senior managers and directors and union officials.

As a consistent supporter of the role and function of trades unions (often in career-threatening situations!), despite being on the other side of the table from them most of my life, I think a strong trades union movement is vital to the functioning of an effective democracy and essential to maintaining justice and equity for working people. 

In consequence, I take a keen interest in the dynamics of the Scottish Trades Union movements stance on independence, and the complex interaction between individual unions, the STUC and the Labour Party. This is especially true because the Scottish National Party and the independence campaign, at least up until YES Scotland was launched, showed very little real understanding of trades unions or the left in Scottish politics, especially in Glasgow (comparatively few SNP MSPs have any industrial/trades union experience of any kind at first hand, in marked contrast to Labour) and little awareness of the widening rift between union members on one side and Labour and the official union hierarchy on the other.

However, things have changed, not only in Scotland, but in the UK, with an even wider fissure appearing between Labour and some of the major trades unions and their general secretaries, e.g. Bob Crowe and Len Mc Cluskey.

At the time of the Falkirk.Labour/Unite spat, the false initial instinct of the SNP and the YES Campaign was to take pleasure in Labour and Unite’s difficulties, and I warned against this superficial analysis and reaction at the time. I wrote this on 8th July 2013 at the time of the Falkirk debacle -


N.B. From here on in, I don’t pretend neutrality, and only as much objectivity as I can muster, because I am of the Left in politics and I am also a Scottish nationalist – not a SNP member or member of any party, but wholly committed to a socially democratic independent Scotland.

Labour has a long history of fights with the trades unions. Unions are by far the Labour Party’s principal source of funds through the political levy (optional) that members pay, and unions apply the funds in various ways, including sponsoring specific MPs. In return for this, they not unreasonably expect the MPs and the Party to serve the interests of their millions of members in addition to serving the whole electorate. This has always led to tensions between Party and unions. Exactly the same practices apply on funding to all political parties, with the key difference that the Tory and Liberal Democrat parties, for example, get their funds from organisations and individuals, a very much smaller group of large donors in comparison to the millions of small donors of the trades unions.

The key difference is that these corporate donors and individuals operate to a large extent behind closed doors in pursuing what they expect for their money – and they all expect something – whereas the union interaction tends to occur in a blaze of publicity.

To try and contrast the two systems in a nutshell – the trades unions, an imperfect but functioning democracy representing millions of UK workers interact with a much larger imperfect democracy in the Labour Party, whereas totally undemocratic organisations and individuals in commerce, industry, armaments and interest groups not confined to the UK interact with the imperfect democracies of the Tory and LibDem parties. Ultimately, in both cases, the trades unions interact with the over-arching and highly imperfect democracy of the UK Government.

The problem of the union conflicts with the Labour Party over the last half century (e.g. Clause Four) created  - or were alleged to have created – the problem of electability, and this was specifically what Blair, Brown and Mandelson set out to remedy after  Neil Kinnock had done some of the spadework. They created New Labour and it worked – Labour was elected and re-elected. The results, over 13 years, are now history. Two wars, one illegal, the deaths of hundreds of thousands, terrorism brought to UK by the Iraq War, the gap between rich and poor widened, corruption of Parliamentary institutions, the prosecution and imprisonment of Labour MPs, the resignation of the Labour Speaker of the House of Commons in disgrace, the corruption of the Press and the Metropolitan Police, the banking and financial collapse, cash for access, etc.

Hardly a success, except in one key aspect – Blair, Mandelson, Brown, Labour defence secretaries, Labour ministers and many Labour MPs got very rich indeed, in the case of Blair and Mandelson, egregiously rich.

The revolving door between government ministers, civil servants and industry – especially the defence industry – spun ever faster and more profitably. And the military/industrial complex rejoiced and celebrated New Labour’s achievements.

Meanwhile, the trades unions were marginalised, and the benches of Westminster became increasingly populated by MPs who had never experienced the real, harsh world of Blair’s Britain, MPs who came directly into politics waving their PPE degrees through internships as SPADs, etc.

This great divide, this yawning chasm has widened between the trades union movement and the political machine for enriching politicians and their friends that New Labour has become. After being finally destroyed electorally, Labour was replaced by a Coalition that is almost indistinguishable in its right-wing practices from the right-wing Labour Party. As an opposition, Labour has been feeble and equivocal. The trades unions, having placed brother Ed Miliband at the helm, vanquishing ultra-Blairite brother David Miliband, have been bitterly disappointed in their choice. And now he attacks them, setting the police on Unite.

The Falkirk debacle is symptomatic of this – a war between the Blairites (led by the noble Lord Mandelson, who cannot conceal his visceral distaste for trades unions)and what is left of the Left in the Labour Party, which is mainly the trades unions – some of them at least.


All of the above has been gone over with a relatively fine tooth comb by the UK/metropolitan media. They see the Falkirk Affair in a UK context, from a UK perspective. The fact that Falkirk is in  Scotland, that Scotland played a major role in the foundation of trades unions and the Labour Party is ancient, and mainly irrelevant history to them. This superficiality and parochialism is what Scotland has come to expect from London media. From time to time, Scotland intrudes rudely on their consciousness, and they are aware that Scottish voters are effectively disenfranchised and don’t get the government they vote for on occasion, but then, Scotland is just another region of England (sorry, Jock – UK!)

What is almost unforgiveable is that the Scottish media has swallowed this narrative whole, and conceives its duty done when they passively regurgitate it to Scottish voters. Consider the following examples -

To listen to this duo, one might think the Falkirk debacle had nothing whatsoever to do with Scotland's independence, and had no significant implications for it.

But these journalists accurately reflect a Scottish press and media that is either so locked in a UK mindset that they are oblivious to them, or are so caught up in editorial policies that don't wish to highlight them that they are hamstrung as professional journalists in telling the truth to the Scottish electorate by fully analysing a political event that is shaking up UK politics and is central in many ways to the great independence debate.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The working class can kiss my **** - I’ve got a Labour job at last …

I’ve been banging on about the Scottish trades unions, the political levy and affiliation to the Labour Party for some years now. For the record, I’m opposed to trades unions affiliating to any political party - it’s bad for their members and bad for democracy.

Events of the last couple of days lead me to think that this post in the middle of last year is worth a reprise -

REPEAT POST: Sunday, 18 July 2010

The English Trades Unions wake up to the Labour betrayal – when will the Scottish Unions do likewise?

The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival 2010 has been taking place this weekend. The Politics Show was there to take the temperature of the unions over the impending cuts. On the ground, the message was clear – a deep suspicion of the LibDem coalition and its plans to ‘reduce the deficit’, code for attack the living standards and amenities of those least able to afford it, and entirely blameless of ruin of the economy by the Labour Government and the banks.

Quote -

“At least back in the eighties there was a state to dismantle. At the moment, we’ve only got the precious things left – the Post Office, the Health Service, the schools, the education service, and they’re coming for it.”

Quote -

Nobody should be under any illusion whatsoever – the 1980s were awful, and this government is far more right wing in our view. I tell you, the battle is coming very shortly and it’s going to be massive. The trade union movement has got to come together, and cannot rely, unfortunately, on our allies that we’ve had in the past.”

That last remark, in my view, is trade union code for “we cannot rely on the Labour Party ---“ and the interviewers comment, “maybe the Labour Party as well?” and the nod that followed it confirmed this.

Both these quote were from Communications Workers’ Union representatives. The interviewer moved on to a lady from the National Union of Teachers.

In response to a specific question about the Labour Party and the Trade Union leadership, Rachel Thomas replied -

I don’t think we can put our hopes in any of the major parties – they’ve proved, time and time again, they’re the parties of big business – they’ve given billions and billions to the banks, and we want some of that for public services --- I think the trade union movement – the TUC – needs to get some rocket boosters – in order to fight back.“

(The comments on Lord Mandelson’s memoirs were wisely censored as “not really printable.”)

We then move back to Jon Sopel and his guests in the studio, Fraser Nelson and Jackie Ashley.

Jackie Ashley – Mrs. Andrew Marr - is a television newspaper reporter and New Statesman and Guardian columnist. She fought her way up from humble beginnings as the daughter of Jack Ashley – Baron Ashley of Stoke – and a grammar school and Oxbridge education.

Fraser Nelson, a Scot (born in Nairn) and educated at Nairn Academy, Dollar Academy, Glasgow University and City University, London. A historian and journalist, Fraser Nelson is also editor of The Spectator, and has a healthy media career as a panellist and commentator.  He is a right-wing conservative, a board director of The Centre for Policy Studies. He is described as an economic libertarian, or neoliberal.

Before you try Wikipaedia  on the term neoliberal, I should warn you that the definition there is ‘contested’. By whom and why, I leave you to judge for yourself.

The BBC and The Politics Show presumably selected these two guests as offering some kind of political balance in the great question of the moment, namely, who f****d up Great Britain and what should be done about it?

How qualified are these privileged, comfortable and possibly very rich people to consider the plight of the low-paid, the elderly and the sick people who will suffer the impact of the cuts, the bankers’ greed and recklessness and the Labour Party and Gordon Brown’s ineptitude in government?

One thing is for sure, they will both be totally insulated from the draconian cuts to come, indeed they may confidently anticipate even more lucrative media appearances as they survey the wreckage of our society and pontificate on it.

They have the task of trying to question Bob Crow of the RMT – introduced by Jon Sopel as “one of the most prominent, some would argue militant figures in the Trade Union movement.

Since the formidable RMT man understands what his role is very clearly, and is unafraid to cut through cant and the special pleading of the rich and powerful by concise and blunt statements of fundamentals, this is no easy ride for our privileged duo, not to mention Jon Sopel.

I leave to you watch and listen to Crow as the media trio trot out their feeble and predictable mantras. He makes them sound like Marie Therese, wife of Louis IV commenting on the plight of the starving poor - “Qu'ils mangent de la brioche …

It all reminded me of a freezing February morning in the late 1970s, when my MD decided to address a large group of truculent draymen in Newcastle about the need for retrenchment. He jumped up on to the back of a lorry, and said “Gentlemen, we must all make sacrifices …”

There was a long, icy pause, then a voice from the throng shouted “What f*****g sacrifices are you going to make then?

The MD hastily jumped off the lorry and handed the meeting over to me, but I had no answer either …

The English members of the trade union movement are at last realising the depths of Labour’s betrayal, and the horrors facing them from the LibCon government, and they intend to do something about it. They had no choice at the general election, but the Scottish electorate did have a real choice – the SNP, yet voted Labour again, in increased numbers.

Among that electorate were many trades unionists. When are you going to wake up, Scotland?