two months after the general election the simmering divisions within the Tory
party that were quieted by the outcome of the December contest, bubbled back to
the surface with Sajid Javid’s dramatic resignation as chancellor on February
The immediate cause was Boris Johnson’s ultimatum that
Javid’s advisors be sacked, echoing the conflict between Margaret Thatcher and
Nigel Lawson, who resigned as chancellor in October 1989 just a year before her
own mortal wounding by the mass anti-poll tax non-payment movement (in which
the Socialist Party’s predecessor, Militant, played a critical role).
The general election
in Ireland saw a seismic change in the electoral landscape, with a big surge in
support for Sinn Féin. Presenting itself as a radical, anti-establishment
alternative, Sinn Féin was able to channel much of the voters’ anger,
especially among the youth.
The party, which had its first TD (a
member of the Dáil – the Irish parliament) elected in 1997, took 24.5% of the
vote, winning 37 seats out of 160. Prime minister Leo Varadkar’s right-wing
Fine Gael was pushed into third place on 20.9% (35 seats).
At the end of January, the
British Broadcasting Corporation announced the latest redundancies in its drive
to ‘save’ £800 million between 2016 and 2022, following reductions to its
licence fee income. Fresh lay-offs in news will exceed 500 as the division
works towards its allotted £80 million share of the cuts. Michelle Stanistreet,
general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, called it “part of an
existential threat to the BBC”.
The need to defend these
jobs is not in question. Trade unions organising in the BBC must urgently
discuss with members and propose industrial action to stop the cuts. But what
of the institution itself? What is the real role of the Beeb – and the media
The United Nations
Climate Change Conference, COP26, is to take place in Glasgow in November. This
conference is seen by climate scientists and activists as critical to cutting
carbon emissions and increasing investment in green renewable energy. These
measures are essential if there is to be any chance of reversing catastrophic
But already it has blown up in
political controversy. Former Tory energy minister Claire O’Neill, appointed to
lead the summit, was sacked by Boris Johnson for questioning his commitment to
tackling the climate crisis. She was punished for stating that the UK was way
off target in cutting carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
PETER TAAFFE reviews an important contribution by Britain’s most
prominent trade union leader to the vital task of building a new generation of
conscious class fighters for union rights and socialism.
Why You Should be a Trade Unionist
By Len McCluskey
Published by Verso, 2020, £7-99
It says everything about the current weakened state of the trade
unions in Britain and worldwide that Len McCluskey in this powerful book argues
effectively for workers today to join a trade union and use their collective
power to carry through further victories. It is in part a history of working
class endurance and tenacity, and also his own experience in fighting for trade
unions. This was achieved through the many battles of the British working class
in the never-ending struggles against capitalism for democratic and trade union
the most prominent and influential left trade union leader in Britain today. It
is a fascinating and instructive account of his own trade union and political
journey in Liverpool and later as national leader of Britain’s biggest, and strongly
militant, union Unite.
relationship between fighting women’s oppression, identity politics, and the
struggle for socialism is a feature of many debates in the workers’ movement
internationally. Mistakes made on this question by the Irish Socialist Party
were central to the division that took place in the Committee for a Workers’
International in 2019. In the wake of the Irish general election HANNAH SELL
draws up a balance sheet.
In 2019 a major debate took place in the Committee for a Workers’
International (CWI), the international organisation to which the Socialist
Party is affiliated. The debate resulted in a split in the CWI with some of its
former supporters moving in a rightward opportunist direction.
the main triggers for the debate was the mistaken approach of the leadership of
the Irish Socialist Party (then the CWI’s affiliate in Ireland) towards the fight
against women’s oppression, and its relationship to the struggle for socialism.
The debate on these issues has important lessons for the workers’ movement
internationally, particularly in this period where identity, rather than class,
is frequently put forward as the central divide in society by individuals and
forces who claim to be on the left.
The critical role played by women activists in the formation and
development of Britain’s labour and trade union movement is often overlooked.
CHRISTINE THOMAS reviews a recent book that aims to redress the balance.
The Women in the Room: Labour’s forgotten history
By Nan Sloane
Published by IB Tauris, 2018, £20
Labour’s general election defeat raises questions about the future
of Corbynism and by what means a genuine workers’ party might take shape in the
future in Britain. In that context, The Women in the Room is an interesting
read. It is fundamentally a brief history of the foundation of the Labour Party
and its early years (up to the end of the first world war), but with a
difference: making visible the participation of women. In weaving together the
three main strands of trade unionism, political representation and women’s
suffrage, it shows that identity politics is by no means a modern phenomenon
and intense debates over the relationship between class and identity were being
waged from the very beginning of Labour’s history.
Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing
By John Boughton
Published by Verso, 2019, £9-99
Reviewed by Niall Mulholland
From 1945 to
1981, over five million council homes were built in Britain. This is celebrated
by John Boughton in Municipal Dreams:
The Rise and Fall of Council Housing. “Historically, councils have made
an enormous contribution to meeting our housing needs and in doing so, they
have transformed the lives of many millions for the better. Not every home was
a ‘Buckingham Palace’ to its new residents, though many were, but to nearly all
those who lived in them council housing provided a decent and secure home”.
Electoral Shocks: the volatile voter in a turbulent world
By Edward Fieldhouse, Jane Green et al
Published by Oxford University Press, 2019, £25
Reviewed by Clive Heemskerk
December’s general election outcome
produced a flurry of capitalist media commentary hailing a new era of prolonged
Tory rule and the possibly terminal demise of the Labour Party.
Blairite Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland was just one among many when he
wrote of “Labour’s worst election performance since the 1930s… that broke new
records for failure” (14 December), in order to feed the narrative – promoted in
the immediate aftermath of the result by Tony Blair himself – that, unless ‘Corbynism
was ditched’, Labour would be finished.