NEW COMMUNIST Party leader Andy Brooks and Robert Laurie from the Central Committee attended a celebration at the Marx Memorial Libraryon 10th December to mark the 75th anniversary of its foundation. Prof David McLellan and Dr John Callow both spoke on Marx in London and in the world and a recently donated portrait of Paul Robeson was unveiled on the second floor.
THE PASSING of a comrade is a sad event at any time. It is much, much more so when that comrade’s life is cut short in the prime of her life. Stella Moutafis battled against mental illness for the best part of her life but she struggled against adversity till the end. Stella joined the New Communist Party in October 1990 and she devoted her life to building the Party and the New Worker from the start. She worked as a volunteer at the Party Centre and an activist in her branch and the London District Committee. Every week Stella would join the dedicated early morning team that despatches the New Worker on Thursday, joining in the lively discussion on the news of the day or telling us of the antics of her pet budgie, who we all heard cheeping away in the background whenever we rang her at home. But while the “wrap” was a constant in her calendar Stella also came down from Epsom most Mondays or Tuesdays to help out at the centre or prepare for campaigns in the capital, cheering us all up with her enthusiasm and commitment to the cause. Stella loved to be active in the broad movement as well as the Party working in solidarity with Cuba, Korea and Vietnam, CND, the Marx Memorial Library and the Labour Representation Committee. London District was reorganised following the rule changes in 2003 and Stella played a leading role in developing the Metropolitan Cell’s New Worker Supporters’ Group, the biggest in the country. Stella had a thirst for knowledge, embracing the age of the Internet as soon as free access became available at her local library and then obtaining a home computer to explore the Web and develop her creative writing skills. But she always returned to books. She studied the classic works of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Stalin as well as those on contemporary politics, and took part in many local and national schools. She was always a delegate to Congress and she ably represented the Party at many ceremonial events and embassy receptions over the years. On demonstrations, and there were few she missed in London, she was out there through thick and thin: giving out leaflets, selling the paper or helping the team to carry the NCP national banner. The Party was an important part of her life but it wasn’t a one-way road. She brought her love of the countryside, wild-life, music, science fiction and movies to us and this was reflected in her words. Stella’s letters brightened up the columns of the New Worker, Morning Star and the local Epsom press and her keen observation, humanity and humour were demonstrated in her reviews of the London cultural scene that frequently appeared in our paper. Above all Stella worked to see the Party and the New Worker grow. She was tremendously cheered to see the first colour edition of the New Worker come out in November. Sadly that was the last edition she ever saw. Always modest and unassuming she never fully realised how she touched the lives of all those who had the privilege of knowing her. Stella was a great friend and a great comrade. She will never be forgotten.
Stella Moutafis died on 23rd November 2008. Her funeral, a small private ceremony at her family’s request, took place this week. NCP leader Andy Brooks and Dolly Shaer from the Political Bureau, paid their last respects on behalf of the Party. A New Worker memorial meeting will be held early in the New Year.
TUC GENERAL secretary Brendan Barber last Saturday told the annual Progress conference at TUC Congress House in London that “it’s time to ditch New Labour”. His speech marked a distinct leftward shift for the TUC. It did not reach the point of raising awareness of basic class conflicts and the nature of capitalism but nevertheless indicated a complete rejection of the free market concepts that have dominated Labour and Tory governments for three decades now. He said the global financial crisis had put “the right on the intellectual back foot”. He said: “This autumn, the world has changed. We’ve witnessed a global financial crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes. “In the past few months we have seen the collapse of the dominant neo-liberal consensus of the past three decades. “All over the world, the right is on the intellectual back foot. Its most cherished nostrums – a minimal state, deregulation, privatisation, liberalisation – have been brought into disrepute. “It’s up to us on the progressive left to articulate a compelling alternative. “The TUC welcomes much of what Labour has done since September – a genuinely radical, imaginative response to the downturn. “In particular we applaud the hugely symbolic pledge announced in Monday’s [24th Nov] Pre-Budget Report to introduce a new 45 per cent tax for the richest one per cent of our society. “This is evidence of how far the terms of the political debate have shifted in the past year. Indeed we’ve nothing to fear from being bold – thinking what was once the unthinkable. “Events this autumn have reminded us that where the market has failed, the state can be a powerful force for good. This has profound implications across the policy spectrum; from the way we deliver public services to the way we respond to the housing challenge. “And the election of Barack Obama suggests there is a huge clamour for change among ordinary people. “We believe there is a burning desire for fairness: for fair tax – where everyone pays their fair share; for fair rewards – where hard work takes precedence over speculation. And for fair chances – where everybody is given the opportunity to fulfil their potential. “And at the heart of all of this – what kind of economic settlement we build out of the wreckage of our broken financial system. “Indeed, I believe the single most pressing challenge for progressives is to set out an alternative vision of the global economy. “Avoiding the false security of protectionism, and instead showing how globalisation can deliver for the many not the few. Addressing the real insecurities felt by ordinary people in their workplaces and their communities. “The centre-left should be confident about taking the lead on this – it is natural territory for us.We are freed from having to make an uncomfortable accommodation with neo-liberalism. The new ideological terrain is ours to forge. “So let’s find the ideas to capture people’s imagination and let’s find the language to get our vision across. “Because if there’s one outstanding lesson from the American election, then it’s surely this - people can be inspired by change. “It’s time to ditch the New Labour discourse – of stakeholder partnerships, joined-up Government, outcome-driven policy and all the rest of it – and get our message across by using altogether more inspiring language. “The language of equality, fairness and social justice.” Other speakers at the conference included James Purnell MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; Lord Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform; and Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Also speaking were Hazel Blears, Martin Bright, Chris Bryant, Andy Burnham, Liam Byrne, Charles Clarke, Derek Draper, Caroline Flint, Kate Green, Peter Hain, Tristram Hunt, Tessa Jowell, Peter Kellner, David Lammy, Tony McNulty, Fiona Mactaggart, Alan Milburn, Ed Miliband, Trevor Phillips, plus many more.
THE OUTGOING Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, last week issued a warning to politicians that they must give “breathing room” to senior officers to run their police forces without politically motivated interference. He said that frontline policing was a high-risk business and Scotland Yard must “move on” from its “occasional disasters”. Blair was speaking on his last day in office and said that running the £3.5 billion organisation of some 50,000 employees has been “99 per cent enjoyable”. serious mistakes But he admitted many will focus on the other one per cent, including the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Forest Gate raids and a string of serious mistakes. Blair’s remarks came after he blasted Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson for forcing him to resign after taking charge of the Metropolitan Police Authority. He said standing down was the “only honourable course”, despite retaining the support of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, when Johnson said he did not support him. Blair admitted that the upper reaches of Britain’s largest force have “got a bit like politics” with one side briefing against the other. Speaking about diversity, Sir Ian said the Met had made “extraordinary strides” since the death of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
THE FALL-OUT from the Baby-P case has begun to hit various officers and staff at the London Borough of Haringey with blame and recriminations being thrown around – and recalling the findings of the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, also in Haringey. That inquiry painted a clear picture of insufficient numbers of social workers, some of whom were only partially trained and inexperienced in legal child protection work. Staff were dealing with 19 caseloads at a time when 12 was the recommended maximum. Managers then blamed the front line staff for failing to report that they were not coping. The inquiry found that managers were “way out of touch with what was happening at the grass roots and did not really seem to care”. Ms Bradley, a social worker in one of the long-term teams and a Unison representative, described the situation as “conveyor belt social work”. She said that the “ethos seemed to be particularly about getting the cases through the system and meeting the targets, meeting the statistics, getting them through the system”, rather than doing the work that needed to be done. This refrain will strike a chord with most people who work on the front line in various civil service, local authorities and NHS services. And it’s all down to a culture of cuts and privatising services that goes back to the Thatcher years. On the front line staff leave and are not replaced; workloads grow. At the same time a culture of targets is introduced and pressure is put on management to continually “improve” the services with fewer and fewer staff. Those who fail fear they will be among the next round of cuts. The targets cannot really be met so the statistics are doctored to make it appear so; middle managers spend all their time becoming accomplished spin doctors, neglecting all other duties. And upper management levels never hear any bad news from below. They live in a world of sugary optimism and fantasy while oblivious to the crumbling mess that the services are turning into below them.They call this “positive thinking” and wage a continual war against “negative thinking” – or objective reality as the frontline staff and their clients would see it. When cuts and services fall below a certain level in most areas they will provoke a public outcry. Closed schools, hospitals, libraries, parks and playing field will spark local protests. The more middle class the area, the more articulate the protests will be generally. Councillors who wish to be re-elected will spread their limited funding accordingly. There are few protest demonstrations on behalf of the really poor and disadvantaged; the mentally ill, the disabled, the downtrodden, disillusioned and alienated. Abused children are powerless to organise a protest and demand more social workers. So these are the departments that get cut and cut and cut. The media pay no attention until a scandalous tragedy happens. Then there will be outrage in the papers, an inquiry and a plan of action. In a few months’ time Haringey council will report that it has put into action a new plan to improve social services, with targets, deadlines and all the rest. The statistics will soon show the plan has been implemented and is working well – more “positive thinking”. And only the frontline staff and the abused children will know what is really happening. Haringey is not alone. This is happening all around the country and it is a miracle that cases like Baby P do not happen more often. The real answer is to recognise that the narrow bourgeois family is an unnatural institution that isolates vulnerable children and women into tiny cells that can and do go very wrong; that the whole of society has a responsibility to take a share in the rearing and nurturing of children. The wider families of pre-capitalist times, involving umpteen grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to the umpteenth degree are gone and need to be replaced by crèches, child centres, after-school centres, youth clubs, young pioneer palaces and so on where young people can be taught that society welcomes and values them. We need a society that values children and parenthood and is prepared to support both much more closely. We need socialism.