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Archive for the ‘Longer Essays’ Category

Goodbye to Gordon Brown and All That

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, May 6th 2010

The last act of Gordon Brown has surely arrived. A gruelling election campaign fighting on two fronts. Three years of leading a disunited, unpopular government. Thirteen years in office and a culmination of mistakes made and enemies created.

Gordon Brown is as well as being the Prime Minister for the last three years and a senior Labour politician for more than two decades, a prolific writer who has ‘written’ and ‘produced’ more than a dozen books under his name.

In the last few weeks, Brown has produced one Fabian Society pamphlet, ‘Why the Right is Wrong’ (1) and another book of collected speeches, ‘The Change We Choose: Speeches 2007-2009’ (2), which complements the previous volume he published, ‘Speeches 1997-2006’ (3).

The Fabian Society pamphlet is the latest in the series of publications to come from Brown when Labour have been in trouble in elections. The first was ‘New Scotland, New Britain’ (4), published by the Smith Institute in the run-in to the 1999 Scottish Parliament elections; the second, ‘Stronger Together: The 21st century case for Scotland and Britain’ (5), published by the Fabian Society for the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, which Labour lost to the SNP. Read the rest of this entry »

The Battle of Britain 2010 Edition and Living in the Shadow of Empire

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, April 6th 2010

After a seemingly never-ending period the ‘official’ election campaign has finally begun. The 2010 British general election will be about many things: thirteen years of New Labour, Cameroon’s Conservatives, the state of the economy, public services and public spending, and the condition and character of our politics, political system and democracy.

Underlying all of this is a wider set of questions and issues which can be summarised as: who are we, what do we want to be, what kind of country and society do we aspire to be, and where and how do we see our collective futures. This finds voice and form in debates around Britishness, which connect to these areas and how we see our country, its different nations, politics and democracy.

Last week at the Political Science Association Annual Conference I took part in a panel discussion on this question to mark a special issue of ‘Parliamentary Affairs’ alongside Andy Mycock of the University of Huddersfield, Ben Wellings of the Australian National University, Bhikhu Parekh, writer and academic, and Michael Hechter of Arizona State University (1).

This debate touches on a whole host of issues and concerns about the UK’s past, present and future, and goes way beyond the ‘banal nationalism’ of Gordon Brown and David Cameron, and even the areas explored in the special issue of ‘Parliamentary Affairs’ this year or the ‘Political Quarterly’ special the year previous (2). Read the rest of this entry »

Doctrine and Ethos in the  Scottish Labour Party

Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw

Paper to the Political Studies Association Annual Conference,’Regionalist Parties and Territorial Politics’

April 1st 2010

Before I was born my father was involved in socialist politics and from boyhood I have known all the great men – Hardie, Maxton, Tom Johnston and Wheatley. I have heard some describe the wonderful society that socialism will bring to the working class.

All of them went down to the Parliament in London, and from there they could never deliver socialism to the Scottish working class. It is only when our people realises that all of our socialist dreams have been destroyed by the London connection that we will make any progress. We need a Parliament of our own. That’s our only hope.

Retired miner, 1979 election meeting, Netherthird, Cumnock (Sillars, 1986: 75)


The Scottish Labour Party has contributed significantly to the politics of Scotland and Labour more generally. It has articulated a politics which has embodied both a sense of Scottish distinctiveness and British interests, and acknowledged the role and overlap of Scottish and British identities whose subtlety and nuance has often wrong-footed its opponents.

This is a party which is seen by some as a ‘unionist’ entity, as a flag carrier and apologist for ‘Old Labour’ by others, and even by some cyber-nats as not existing: this latter group arguing that ‘the Scottish Labour Party’ cannot be found registered at the Electoral Commission and that it is merely the branch line of the British Labour operation. There have been many narratives of Scottish Labour over its history and recent past, many emphasising the supposed radical character of the party and how it is the direct descendant of Keir Hardie and Red Clydeside. In the last decade one of the dominant perspectives of how the party is perceived and portrayed from outside it has been a negative one: talking about Scottish Labour as a ‘political machine’, conducting Tammany Hall style politics, and gaining strength and influence through the ‘networked’ and ‘extended state’ (Hassan, 2004).

This is a party with a distinct sense of itself, its place in the world, a set of myths and reference points, and its own unique history which feeds into but is separate from British Labour. It is also a party which has as a centre-left political force had an impressive record of electoral success, achievement and support consistently over its history, and in particular since 1945. Much of how the party defines itself, how its opponents see it, and how it is seen in wider Scotland and the UK, stems from this record of winning votes and elections. Read the rest of this entry »

Goodbye to ‘Churchillism’: From Munich and Suez to the Iraq War

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, March 5th 2010

Gordon Brown’s role in the Iraq war will come under focus today when he gives evidence to the Chilcot inquiry.

The Iraq war is the point where Tony Blair lost his political touch, and became ‘Bliar’ in the eyes of many voters. Despite four previous inquiries into the war, none of them as comprehensive as this, a sense of anger, frustration and lack of trust now pervades how the public view politicians and the conflict.

Much of this anger is addressed personally at Tony Blair, his role in making the case for war, the ‘sexed-up’ dossiers, the dissembling and spin, and the relationship with George W. Bush. Gordon Brown faces questions about what his views were in the crucial months leading up to war, why he didn’t oppose it, and when it was set to happen, the contentious issue of funding it.

However, the Iraq war did not happen as an isolated event, or just because of the perfidy of Blair and acquiescence of Brown. It happened in the context of where Britain sees itself in the world, how it understands its past, and its strategic interests. In particular, if we examine the two British foreign policy disasters of the last century, Munich and Suez, we can throw wider light on the Iraq war. I am drawing in my understanding of these episodes from John Darwin’s magisterial text, ‘The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World System 1830-1970’ which addresses the carefully nuanced way the British created an elaborate system of networks, lines and bases which gave succour to the empire at its peak (1). Read the rest of this entry »

An Age of Anger: The London Review of Books and the British Crisis of Democracy

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, March 1st 2010

The current crisis of the British state, politics and democracy should be a golden moment for radicals, constitutional reformers and campaigners. It should also be an era in which left and liberal publications have the opportunity to engage and involve a wider audience about the state of the nation and democracy.

One of those publications is the ‘London Review of Books’, which sees itself as urbane, cosmopolitan, liberal minded, addressing British concerns and global issues in a challenging and open-minded way. In particular, LRB has made a name for itself addressing such issues as the nature of the Israeli state and power of the Israel lobby, which most mainstream media would not touch. It is all the more interesting that the one area in which it has consistently failed to find an authentic radical voice is in its coverage of contemporary British politics.

LRB’s coverage of British politics often entails what are presented as thoughtful essays by Ross McKibbon, but there is always something missing in them, a lack of forensic detail, or more acutely, what case the analysis presented is meant to be building towards. Most pieces on Britain feel like a liberal dinner table conversation of the sort you would find parodied on ‘Bremner, Bird and Fortune’. Read the rest of this entry »

The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party
Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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