Newsnotes 003 – July 1987


by Madawc Williams

Front Lines in Hackney

Diane Abbott’s election as MP for Hackney was well-deserved. She must have known that a black woman with a hard left reputation would face problems. In fact, she kept nine tenths of Labour’s majority. Considering that Labour did rather badly in many parts of London, this was a very sound result. Much the same was true of Bernie Grant’s success in Tottenham. It seems that the average white Labour voters are quite willing to vote for a black candidate.

Hackney is a mixed area – some poor and unemployed, some employed workers, some moderately well off white-collar workers. Our dear Local Council has been good enough to label us “Britain’s poorest borough”, which is silly. Poverty in Hackney is not noticeably worse than in other parts of London, and not so bad as in less fortunate parts of the U.K. What Hackney does not have are any noticeably rich districts – which improve the average figures without noticeably benefiting the poor. The borough of Fulham, for instance, has many poor areas. It also has Chelsea.

Diane Abbott has been wiser. In an address to voters in Hackney North News, she argued simply that Thatcher has been bad for Hackney. She was careful on the race issue. No mad denunciations of Labour as “a racist party”. No talk of race at all, in fact. I expect she knew that a lot of traditional white Labour voters were a little bit racist, and had to be handled with care if they were to vote for a black candidate.

The ultra-sensitive matter of police and policing was treated with a nice delicacy. The slogan was “A police service, not a police force” – which sounds nice, though it’s hard to see just what it means. Choosing her words carefully, she complained that “Crime is on the increase and the clear-up rate has fallen. As worrying is evidence of worsening relationships between the police and some sections of the community.”

(During the campaign, someone set fire to the local Tory headquarters and left it gutted and useless. But Labour can hardly be blamed for that – it was almost certainly the nutters from “Class War”, an anarchist group who preach revolution and practice vandalism and hooliganism. In a less tolerant society than Britain, they’d have been rounded up and jailed months ago – or else murdered by “death squads”. But even by British standards, they’ve overdone it.  I’d be very surprised if there were not some mass arrests of “Class War” activists over the next few months.)

Diane Abbott is far removed from such foolishness. Clearly, she is trying to please everyone – and that, after all, is the function of an MP, to make some attempt to balance different needs and desires, instead of treating Labour voters as a fiefdom. She may have come from the Far Left, but I would be very surprised if she stayed there. Nor will Bernie Grant – the man was educated by Jesuits, after all.

Unlike the Ken Livingstones of this world, Labour’s Black MPs are not a fringe movement. They are the strongest representatives of a community that is gradually finding its place in British society. Livingstone can play games – it doesn’t matter much. But if Abbott and Grant don’t do their job properly. lots of people could suffer. It’s not impossible that Britain’s blacks could become a sort of permanent semi-criminal substratum. Black MPs should be able to prevent this.

(There are two other non-white Labour MPs. One is an Asian. Since Asians have already found their niche in British society, it won’t matter all that much if he turns out well or badly. The other is Paul Boateng, who saw fit to link his election victory to the struggle in Soweto. I wouldn’t be expecting too much from him.)

Of course, Diane Abbott is careful to seek support from all sorts of groups outside the black community. In Hackney North News, page two is full of messages in a range of languages and alphabets. I did notice one oddity – the Greek section is in the Greek alphabet, naturally enough. apart from the words “LABOUR” and “ABBOTT”, which are in the Roman alphabet. None of the other non-English messages have such a thing. Is there a Greek-speaking reader who could enlighten us?

I also noticed that there was no attempt to address the constituency’s Irish population in Gaelic – reasonable enough. since very few of them would have been able to follow it. But a bit of pandering to cultural nationalism might have been in order.

The back page of Hackney North News has been made into a small poster – black and white on a red backgro1md. The red Labour rose is there – but as a photographic negative, transformed into a black rose. Perhaps we should start calling Diane Abbott “The Black Rose of Hackney”!

Two Nations?

Far too much Labour propaganda has been talking about the supposed division of Britain into Two Nations, the Haves and Have Nots.

Now whether you look at the statistics, or just observe the world about you, it should be obvious that life is not so simple. There is a complex and continuous graduation from the very richest to the most miserable and poor.

It is without doubt true that Thatcher has increased the number of the poor and unemployed. and that the very well off have done far better during the Thatcher years than anyone else. But the daily reality for most people – including the bulk of the working class – has been a moderate but steady increase in prosperity. Any argument that hopes to convince people has to accept that observable reality.

You could look at the process as an f-shaped curve.Created by Readiris Pro, Copyright IRIS 2017

This isn’t meant to be exact, but you can see the rich moving ahead fastest, the middle class not quite so well,· the working class less well than the middle class, and poor really being left behind. “To him that has much, even more shall be given; and to him that is in. want, little or nothing shall be given”. That might have got through to people. But tell them that there are two nations, and most of them will decide that they’re in the one that’s doing rather well!

[I was already aware in 1987 that Thatcherism was a swindle.  It got much worse later: see Feed-the-Rich Economics.

[Britain was however milder than the USA.  There, the ‘Reagan Democrats’ thought that the state was their enemy and social control needless.  Those people have seen no gains since the 1970s.  Elected Trump in 2016 and may do so again.

[For my part, though I noticed that the rich were taking too much, I failed to realise how bad things were getting.  Said little more until several years later.]

Saunders of the Swamp

At the time of writing, the matter of just what former Guinness executive Ernest Saunders did or did not do is still a matter for the courts. He may be guilty or innocent; that is not the main point

As I see it, the main point is that the Stock Exchange is a kind of glorified casino or gambling house, where the owners of money (or their agents) can come and try to secure even more money for themselves. They engage in a number of complex and curious games in order to try to increase their money (that is, to become the legitimate owner of money that used to be owned by somebody else).

There is simple speculation.  You buy shares, in the hope of selling them at a higher price. Or you sell shares that you do not in fact own, in the hope of buying them at a lower price before you actually have to deliver them. And of course, any player may end up losing money (forfeiting ownership of money he used to own).

These games only work if everyone plays by a given set of rules, within a common sub-culture. (In some ways, the City resembles a village-full of peasants, in which everyone knows everyone else and has a good idea of what can be expected of them.)· The games would lead to total chaos if the rules were ignored – but, as in a game of football. success can come from bending the rules just a little. During the election campaign, for instance, the market would react sharply when each poll gave the Tories a greater or smaller margin of victory. Steps had to be taken to try to stop any bright sparks taking advantage of this.

Takeover battles are the biggest game of all. They are also the most complex, and the most open to huge gains or losses. Two or more groups of executives try to persuade shareholders that a given takeover would (or would not) be good for them. All sorts of strange manoeuvres are possible- some legal, some not .And though the battle is fought out only on paper, it can get almost as bitter as battles fought out with fists or with guns.

In the case of the Guinness takeover of Distillers, things seem to have gone over the top. Both sides started abusing each other in large newspaper advertisements. Such behaviour broke the unwritten rules of the City sub-culture, even though it was entirely legal. And, apparently, some illegal deals were done to secure victory.

Should the rest of us care what the owners of money get up to? Unfortunately we must. Because the games that they play on the stockmarket may end up affecting all of us. More importantly, British managers spend a lot of their time planning takeovers, or planning how to fight off takeovers, instead of working out how to boost production. This happens to some degree in all capitalist economies – but in Britain,· the “City” is unnaturally large and powerful when compared to the actual industrial and productive sector of the economy. The owners of money do very well, while too little effort is put into the actual production of goods.

In the 1970s, there was a chance to break the system – not by abolishing the stock exchange, but simply by giving workers equal rights with shareholders within their own company. At present, managers and directors only have a duty to the shareholders. They are under no pressure to trim profits slightly in order to benefit the workers – in fact they could be taken to court for doing so.

The Bullock proposals for workers control would have changed all that – but the chance was missed. The Labour Right mostly preferred to keep things just as they were; the Labour Left were certain that they could win power if only the workers were not distracted with such

[Saunders was convicted, but then released early.  The Wiki says:

He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, but released after 10 months as he was believed to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which is incurable. He subsequently made a full recovery.

[It was part of an ongoing pattern of probable frauds resulting in little or no punishment for the rich business people who did them.  The actual pusnishments mean that no one near worry if they are rich.  And Guinness did at least survive, though it is run from London as part of a larger group.]

No tits – and no balls either

News on Sunday is turning out to be a very dull newspaper. It decided to launch itself as a Left alternative to papers like the Sun and News of the World, which were feeding the proles rubbish and right-wing ideas. News on Sunday would defeat them by feeding the proles rubbish and left-wing ideology.

They might have got away with it, if only they hadn’t tampered with the formula. (Usually it is called “tabloid journalism”. But News of the World is not a tabloid, and some local papers are tabloid but entirely serious). This type of journalism (which was actually developed first by the Sunday press) depends a great deal on smut and references to sex. But feminists had been campaigning against this sort of thing, and it was judged necessary to leave it out. I don’t know if anyone considered trying out a non-smutty eroticism – in any case it was not tried.

An attempt was made to make a virtue of this deficiency, with the slogan “No tits – but plenty of balls”. The trouble was, few of those who might buy a “tabloid” would be personally offended by the smutty stories and pictures. People may like such things, or be indifferent to them. But they are upset by the notion of how other people might be affected by them. And in truth, News on Sunday had little else to offer. It is already in deep financial trouble. I doubt if it will survive very long.

(The weekend before the election, News on Sunday had a special supplement on poverty, complete with grim photographs, to show how socially concerned they were. The effect was slightly spoiled by a couple of advertisements included in that same supplement – for a camera costing £70, and for custom built kitchens with ” … up-to-the-minute laminates, luxurious real wood veneers, beautifully traditional solid wood like oak, cherry, pine and mahogany”.

It has been left to Robert Maxwell to launch a leftish newspaper that is actually worth reading. (It shouldn’t have to be left to a socialist millionaire. The Labour movement should be able to come up with something decent on its own account – but the signs are that it cannot.) People outside London may not have noticed the appearance of the London Daily News, but it is well worth a look.

Tabloid in size, the London Daily News is fairly solid and serious. It acts as a forum for a considerable range of views. Ken Livingstone has a regular weekly column – but many other points of view are there, including some from conservatives. It follows a tradition of solid local-paper journalism that often seems much sounder and more serious than the hype and razzmatazz of Fleet Street.

It is currently locked in a bitter circulation war with the right-wing London Evening Standard – there is some doubt if London can support two serious local papers. Its survival is not completely certain. But – unlike News on Sunday – it at least deserves to survive.

[It perished.  There is now only the Evening Standard, given away free and pushing right-wing politics.]

These newsnotes appeared in July 1987, in Issue 3 of Labour and Trade Union Review.