Posts Tagged ‘Labour Party’

A Rare Moment of Wisdom at the Heart of British Democracy

Gerry Hassan

The Scotsman, August 31st 2013

Parliamentary debates about military intervention are often rightly solemn occasions. They carry the weight of history and memories of past triumphs and disasters.

The Syria debate this week had initially been downplayed by the Cameron government as it faced the realities of parliamentary arithmetic and the possibility of defeat. But this was historic, evoking past even more momentous debates, and opening a chapter in British foreign policy which could see military intervention in Syria without the UK.

The entire parliamentary debate on Syria was coloured with the shadow of Tony Blair and Iraq hanging over it. At times in the last week it seemed like Groundhog Day Britain replaying the tensions, controversies and even the same terminology as March 2003 over Iraq.

There was the veracity and claims of intelligence, the issue of legal advice from the Attorney General, the role of the United Nations, and parliamentary approval (or non-approval as it turned out). There was even the intervention of Tony Blair, making the case for war and democracy (the last of which extended to support for the Egyptian military coup). Read the rest of this entry »

Debating the Future of Labour: A Conversation with Polly Toynbee

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, August 28th 2012

The Edinburgh of Scotland’s late summer is awash not just with rainstorms but a plethora of festivals and happenings: the International Festival, the Fringe, the Book Festival, Television Festival, and even a Festival of Politics in the Scottish Parliament.

If all this sounds like an expression of the Scots ‘democratic intellect’ or a modern day ‘Enlightenment’ city, while conversations, deliberations and cultural happenings cover a multitude of concerns, there is usually an absence of connection to the host city and anything seriously Scottish.

This year the Book Festival has tried to overcome some of this with a range of packed political discussions – international, British and Scottish; Gordon Brown on social justice; considerations on Scottish independence; and a wide ranging, provocative international writers’ conference. One such discussion before a sold out Saturday audience was myself and The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee examining what future there was for British Labour.

This was a genuine conversation and exchange which established real common ground and difference; it was an occasion where Polly Toynbee, an important figure on the British centre-left and in senior Labour circles both engaged with different views, while surprising myself with some of the views she articulated. Read the rest of this entry »

Scotland, nationalism and the left

A conversation between Douglas Alexander and Gerry Hassan

Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture, Summer 2012

Douglas to Gerry

Before we get to where we’re going, I think it makes sense to be clear where we come from …

My mother worked as a doctor in the NHS. My father was a Minister in the Church of Scotland. Both of them were inspired by their Christian beliefs to engage in the common life of the community. My first home was ‘Community House’ in Clyde Street, Glasgow: the mainland base of the Iona Community. We lived above a café for the homeless and a meeting room in which UCS Shop Stewards gathered and the Scottish Branch of Anti Apartheid was formed. I was delivering Christian Aid envelopes even before I was delivering Labour Party leaflets. In the kitchen of my father’s manse was a poster that read ‘Live more simply so others can simply live’.

Tony Blair famously said he chose the Labour Party. I didn’t – I was born into it.
My father and mother are both lifelong Labour members. My dad joined Glasgow University Labour Club in the late 1950s alongside his friends John Smith and Donald Dewar. My mother is active in the local Labour Party in Renfrewshire to this day.
I joined the Labour Party in 1982, motivated to do so by the unemployment and loss of hope I witnessed following the closure of the Linwood Car Plant.

My earliest and formative experiences of politics were not of repeated success but of bitter defeats – in 1983, 1987 and 1992. Part of my response to those defeats was a growing consciousness of the Scottish dimension of my politics. I was there protesting outside New College when Margaret Thatcher came to deliver her infamous ‘Sermon on the Mound’ in 1988, and in George Square in support of the Scottish Parliament, and in the Meadows in 1992, when we were gathered to reflect what John Smith described so well as ‘the settled will of the Scottish people’. Read the rest of this entry »

The Limits of Modernisation: Blair, Cameron and Salmond

Gerry Hassan

The Scotsman, May 12th 2012

‘Modernisation’ is one of the defining words of our time, along with ‘legacy’ and ‘journey’. It is a word used by Tony Blair, David Cameron and Alex Salmond.

It is an in-word for those who feel they shape and define the age, change and the world. It has had an interesting trajectory; it was once bright, shiny, confident, swaggering with confidence, impatient with opposition, and believing the future was theirs for shaping.

It became associated with Tony Blair and New Labour; modernisation was about ‘the project’ and ‘the narrative’; it was against ‘old Labour’, dinosaurs, vested interests, and ‘the forces of conservatism’.

Modernisation was in Blair’s view about optimism and embracing globalisation as a force of liberation. This was ‘an unstoppable force’ and one for which he had no time for opposition, putting it to the 2005 Labour conference that people who wanted ‘to stop and debate globalisation’ might as well ‘debate whether autumn should follow summer’: an elemental view of the change sweeping the globe.

New Labour’s reactionary politics might be obvious to most now, but it did for a period pre and post-1997 open up new questions. There was an awareness that Labour had to change and understand aspiration, transform public services, look at the role of civil society, and challenge the conservatism of trade unions. Read the rest of this entry »

The Continued Legacy of Britain’s South Atlantic Adventure

Gerry Hassan

The Scotsman, March 31st 2012

The 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Falklands war is next week, a conflict that matters to this day.

Like many at the time, I had to first find the South Atlantic islands on a map, then put them into my leftist anti-Thatcherite view of the world, and then observe the mood of a Britain I barely recognised.

The Falklands war raised so many questions then and now. Was this a war of principle or pride? What did this say about Britain’s self-image and who ‘we’ were as a ‘people’?

Would Margaret Thatcher have survived without retaking the islands? And would the Tories have won in 1983 without military victory? Definitely not and arguably; Thatcher herself concedes the former in her memoirs. Read the rest of this entry »