Buy at the bottom

In the early 1990s I was head of training for one of the UK’s least successful investment banks and had responsibility for the graduate scheme. I organised events at universities, involving the more articulate of the business heads in selling the bank to potential applicants.   On one occasion we attended an evening presentation when, on the previous day, our parent bank’s Chairman had announced, that, unless there was a rapid return to profit, he would close the investment subsidiary. No graduate in their right mind would choose to join us over our competitors. Ever imaginative, one of the business heads told the audience that a sensible market aphorism was ‘buy at the bottom’ and this was what they would do by joining us. A moment’s reflection demonstrates that there is no logic in the underlying argument but it had superficial credibility.

There is more substance in the case for voting Labour in the forthcoming local elections. Certainly, given the inept leadership and growing chasms between the factions, it is ‘buy at the bottom’. I shall vote Labour because I always have and don’t think I could do anything else – a poor reason I know. Like many others I want the party to survive and at some time return to mainstream credibility.

Our local party has succeeded in finding a full slate of candidates to fight all twelve County Council seats in North Norfolk. However the idea that there has been some rejuvenation as a result of the huge influx of people who joined to vote for Jeremy Corbyn has been exposed as nonsense. As the annual financial report coyly put it, despite the surge in membership: “the challenge has been to activate the new membership in campaigning and participating in meetings”.   Too true: as far as I can tell only one of the candidates is under the age of 40 and most have been around for some time, albeit some of them in the Greens.

However all credit to the candidates for their willingness to fight a pretty hopeless cause.  The leader of the County Council Labour Group was the guest speaker at the February meeting. The minutes record that the response included “questions on alternatives to implementing cuts such as joining with other councils to rebel against cuts”. Old habits die hard and it is almost touching to see such nostalgia for the gesture politics of the 1980s. Sadly, if the current polls are anything to go by, there will be few councillors elected here to join this forthcoming Trotskyist insurrection.

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Militant and me – why we didn’t get on

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Groups that predict the end of the world have always fascinated me. This year the End Times Prophecies Group claimed that it would occur some time on July 29th. On that day stars would race across the sky and magnetic poles would flip; we would all be judged. My 70th birthday fell on July 31st and I have no recollection of an apocalypse taking place two days earlier. However, what really intrigues me is not how the Group’s authorities came to their conclusion, but what happened to the convinced adherents as a result of the non-event.

My guess is that those who are totally committed find a way of carrying on and maintaining their faith regardless of circumstances. I have seen this form of behaviour in politics. For many years I was a member of, and occasional attender at, a ‘London General’ branch of a clerical trade union. The branch served little useful purpose but was kept alive by a small group of ageing hardcore members of the Communist Party. During this period the Eastern Bloc imploded but the devotees seemed totally oblivious and carried on referring to the imminent collapse of capitalism.

The same imperviousness to the realities of change also applied to the revolutionary Trotskyist group of Militant. I first encountered the group during my teenage years in the Welsh Young Socialists (though they did not use the name Militant until later). We had decided to hold a one-day conference and a small team met to determine the programme. The representative from the Chepstow Young Socialists moved that we invited Ted Grant, Militant’s leading theoretician, to be the main speaker. None of the rest of us had heard of him and a one-day event was held in Splott, Cardiff with the sitting MP, James Callaghan (the subsequent Party leader and Prime Minister) and Ted Grant as the speakers. Grant proceeded to harangue Callaghan and deliver a diatribe that even as a 17-year-old I recognised to be absolute gibberish.

Anyone with any doubt about the intentions and aspirations of the group should read the glowing obituary of Ted Grant on the web at

http://www.marxist.com/ted-grant-obituary.htm

In that obituary it is stated with pride that “At its height, Militant had around 8,000 members, a big centre in London, three members of parliament and more full-timers than the Labour Party.” It was always an entryist organisation acting as a tightly disciplined party within a party, seeking converts, and peddling dated Marxist nostrums.

Militant’s influence in the Labour Party came to an end in 1985. At the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth that year, Neil Kinnock took the opportunity to launch an attack on the Militant Tendency. His marvellous uncompromising speech included the following two sentences. “We know that power without principles is ruthless, sour, empty, vicious. We also know that principle without power is idle sterility.” He claimed that Militant members were sticking to a “rigid dogma, a code… outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real need”.

Historically Militant was more of a nuisance and an irritant than a threat. I have always been curious about what happened to its members, many of whom were still young, when they realized that the collapse of capitalism was not about to take place. Did they go off and do other things: are they working in the City or running a retail business?   Well some of the old guard have stayed true to the faith regardless of changed circumstances. Sitting behind me at the North Norfolk leadership nomination meeting was an individual identified in Michael Crick’s book on Militant as a member of the Group’s Central Committee. This was, it is true, some time in the past. However, judging by his contributions his views do not seem to have changed much and I cannot see that he and I have anything in common politically. The founding editor of the Militant newspaper Peter Taaffe, who was expelled from Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party in 1983, has announced that he intends to rejoin the Party under Corbyn. It would doubtless serve some interests to let him do so, but it would be an ominous sign of changing times if it were permitted.