Notes from the front – of 31/3/2016

Corbyn steps up Labour’s campaign into May’s elections

With elections due in five weeks, Labour is intensifying its campaign for an alternative to government policies. The current focus is on the steel industry whilst over Easter it was education. These campaigns follow on from Labour’s success in pressing the Tories to U-turn on their Budget’s proposals to cut disability benefits, maintain value added tax on women’s sanitary products and on solar panels.

Jeremy Corbyn has called for the recall of Parliament to deal with the threat to steelmaking jobs in Port Talbot, Rotherham, Corby and Shotton and demanded the government take a public stake in the steel industry if necessary. His petition rapidly secured more than 100,000 signatures.

Corbyn also placed Labour at the forefront of defending education from government attacks and addressed the National Union of Teachers conference on 25 March. He allied Labour with the teachers in opposing government plans to turn all schools into Academies or Free Schools. It was the first time since 2002 a senior Labour politician had addressed an NUT conference. The previous relationship between Labour and teachers had collapsed due to Blair’s support for privatisation and attacks on public sector workers.

The growing campaign against the government’s Academies plan is also affecting the Tory party, as its local councillors want to retain their powers over education. The chair of the Tories’ Bow Group, a right wing think-tank, has attacked this ‘break with the Conservative party’s previous commitment to localism’ and the Leader of the Conservative group within the Local Government Association signed a letter in the Observer on 27 March, jointly with the Leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups, attacking the ‘wholesale removal of democratically elected councils from all aspects of local education…’

The Tories are also facing a grassroots rebellion over Osborne’s devolution plans as some Tory-led councils do not want power taken away from councillors and placed in the hands of a directly-elected mayor.

Labour is continuing to set out a serious economic framework. As explained by James Meadway, an advisor to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, raising productivity and investment alongside reducing the Budget deficit are the main macroeconomic priorities. These are the core essentials for an anti-austerity agenda that can restore the party’s economic credibility.

Since the Budget the Tory poll lead has been reduced, prompting renewed concerns on the right that a Leadership coup could be more difficult if Labour advances at May’s elections. So attacks on Corbyn, including from Labour sources, are being stepped up.

Some on Labour’s right are determined to undermine the party’s election campaign by focussing political attacks on Corbyn, as for example reported here, here and here. One Blairite has even smeared Corbyn as supportive of terrorism.

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott points out those sabotaging Labour’s election chances want to depose Corbyn and are ‘gutted’ that recent poll results are improving for Labour. They prefer Tory policies to those of the Labour leadership. As Kevin Maguire describes the situation, ‘to them Prime Minister Corbyn is a bigger threat than a PM Osborne, Johnson or May. Treachery wears a moderate mask. ‘

Most Labour activists do not support blatant sabotage; their objective is that the party performs well. With 5 May approaching the priority for Labour members is to help step up the campaign.

Saturday 16 April – March for health, homes, jobs and education. End austerity now!

  • Assemble: 1pm, Gower Street / Euston Road, London NW1
  • Rally at Trafalgar Square.


As the Tories’ most recent budget confirmed again, the central purpose of austerity for capitalism is to increase the rate of exploitation. Income is being transferred from workers to business. The living standards of the poor and middle layers are being cut to increase the wealth of the rich.

The Budget cut public spending by a further £9.6bn over the life of the parliament, although Osborne later had to perform a u-turn on disability benefit cuts. Simultaneously £3.3bn was given away in tax cuts for businesses.

The key problem confronting the British economy is its very low level of investment. That is the fundamental weakness underpinning the latest crisis in the steel industry. The government has no plans to tackle this problem. Osborne’s Budget documents indicated that Government investment is only expected to grow by 0.2 per cent in 2016, having been 2.2 per cent in 2015. Investment growth is then expected to rise to just 1.9 per cent in 2017 before being cut by 0.3 per cent and by 0.2 per cent in 2018 and 2019. By 2020 Government investment will be a smaller proportion of GDP than at present.

This will damage the economy’s growth prospects, lead to job losses in steel and continue the attacks on the living standards of the majority.

The Tories want to avoid May’s election contests becoming focused on these issues so they have been trying to set an agenda on immigration, Muslims and security. Plus the right are trying to use the European referendum to emphasise a degree of Labour-Tory unity and minimise the contradictions between the two parties, which is also to Labour’s disadvantage, as graphically demonstrated in the Scottish referendum.

To maximise its electoral support Labour is putting forward an agenda to make people better off and fighting the Tories on issues of the economy, public services, living standards and welfare.

Framing the political agenda into May’s election around austerity will objectively assist Labour. The 16 April march called by the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity will help reinforce Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign.

Progressive people should mobilise for the protest to strengthen the fight for health, homes, jobs and education and to help set the agenda into May’s elections.

Victory in Palmyra

The re-capture of Palmyra by Syrian government forces is a major victory in the struggle against ISIS.

From the start of March to March 21st, over 800 air strikes were made in this battle by Russian and Syrian government forces. The ferocity of the campaign reflects its strategic importance.

ISIS is not going to be quickly rolled up, but they are forced entirely into defensive measures. IHS Jane’s 360 estimates that, in 2015, ISIS lost 14 per cent of the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria. In the first 3 months of 2016 the estimate is a loss of a further 8 per cent of territory.

The victory in Palmyra follows the Iraqi government forces’ recapture of Ramadi 3 months ago.

It might be natural to expect those calling for the defeat of ISIS to be celebrating the Palmyra victory. Yet neither the US President, nor the British Prime Minister have welcomed, or indeed responded to this signal event. Perhaps they regard ISIS’s continued presence a lesser evil than the continuation of the Syrian government under Assad?

And words, or in this case the lack of them, are paralleled by deeds. Between September 2014 and late February 2016, US air strikes ran at an average of 7 a day in Syria. Up to the same date, the Russian daily average for the duration of its involvement in Syria was 60.