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Posts Tagged ‘Labour Party’

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 »

The Comeback of ‘Gorgeous George’ and What It Says About British Politics

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, March 30th 2012

A seismic shock has been delivered to the British body politic and its insular, complacent, steady as she goes assumptions.

It is one with many levels, layers and complications: the return of George Galloway as the ‘Respect’ MP for Bradford West overturning a Labour majority of 5,763, winning by a margin of 10,140 over Labour, with an impressive 18,341 votes (55.9%), considerably more than the combined Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem vote of 12,402.

Already the qualifiers are out, implying that really the status quo is fine. Nick Robinson says it is, ‘An extraordinary result but surely a one-off political coup by a political one-off’ (1). Then there are all the qualifiers about Bradford West and ‘Gorgeous George’. The seat is unique; it swung against the national mood in 1997 and 2010. I even heard someone from Labour put down the ‘George’ surge to his celebrity status and TV appearance on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’. Read the rest of this entry »

What do you do when democracy fails you? The crisis of Scottish Labour

Gerry Hassan

The Scotsman, October 15th 2011

Scottish Labour has at last awoken from its slumber. Douglas Alexander’s speech at Stirling University on Thursday was an important moment for the party and wider body politic.

Alexander expressly admitted that the traditional Labour approach is over, conceding that ‘the old Labour hymns’ have become ‘increasingly unfamiliar to an audience increasingly without personal knowledge of the tunes’.

He recognised the need for ‘an alternative story’, ‘a renewed story’ and ‘a new statecraft for this new decade’.’ Old Labour’ has ran its course, while he partly concedes the cul-de-sac New Labour boxed itself into.

Much of this speech is cathartic, cleansing, talking to the party in the way the outside world sees it. But after a good start, I would say a good opening two thirds, it falls away in the final third. It is critique, not an inspiring call to action. 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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