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Labour must confront the financial establishment

Labour must recover the spirit  of Bryan Gould if it is to not only win but govern again.

Two major problems now confront the Labour party – and each needs to be differentiated from the other: viz., the election of a leader, and the formulation of a programme for long term success. As Andrew Marr pointed out, the way “the party speaks … (is) vastly more important than who the next leader is.”

The reason for this is that none of the five or so candidates present an obvious ideal choice. All are defined as occupying an indefinable spectrum along the left/right divide by a variety of criteria. In addition, all are defined according to their support or apathy towards “business” or “wealth creation,” but again, this is a meaningless guide to real intent.

The Labour party long ago reneged on any convictions it may formerly have held on the future of the financial-industrial system. When it speaks about “business” or “wealth creation,” these terms can only be understood in the established or orthodox sense in which they actually exist today. And as the Tories are far better at playing the game of both, it is unlikely that the voter is going to opt for Labour in managing the economy more effectively.

And if “business” or “wealth creation” means advancing the polarisation of wealth between the super-rich and the rest as it is acted out at the present time, then anyone who believes in a just and equitable society is unlikely to approve of such a system irrespective of where their political allegiances may lie.

Hence Labour needs to emerge from its almost exclusive status as a public sector movement, and grapple constructively with the problems of capitalism as it once attempted almost a century ago. This entails formulating a new vocabulary drawn from a new understanding and perspective of the financial-industrial system, so that Social Wealth Creation is contrasted clearly with Unsocial Wealth Creation with all its abuses.

If there was an ideal candidate for the Labour party who promised real change in reforming the financial-industrial system in boosting home-based productivity, and creating a truly just and equitable society, it would be necessary to go back for more than two decades. The year 1992 was a crossroads for the Labour party, and its outcome was a disaster for the integrity of its progress and underlying principles. The failure of Bryan Gould to gain the leadership of the party was a tragedy beyond comprehension as he was seemingly the only candidate and leading politician at the time (and since) with an in-depth understanding of the essentials of business and social wealth creation.

Not only did he have a sound grasp of general economic issues, but more significantly, he understood the mechanisms of funding industrial investment and the role of the banks in facilitating this. As a shadow cabinet minister between 1986-94, and as the author of numerous Fabian tracts and several major books, viz., A Future For Socialism (1989) and Goodbye To All That (1995), it might have been thought that his political status and intellectual authority would have carried him forward to greater success at the time. The outcome was a bitter disappointment, and turning his back on the party, he returned to his native New Zealand to be appointed Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University.

It may be asked as to what motivated his sudden departure from Britain, which, in view of his political success until that date, was extraordinary. The real reasons may never be known, but one may speculate on the possibilities. It may be taken as almost certain that his critique of the financial establishment and the role of the banks upset leading figures in the City and that this was brought to his attention and to that of other leading Labour party members who may have been seen as rivals. This may easily have resulted in a nasty spate of in-fighting concocted by the Machiavellian intrigues of City magnates.

The fact that much smaller fry than a shadow cabinet minister in the Commons have been targeted by representatives of the City makes it all the more probable that the latter made evident their dislike for the views of Bryan Gould. The discretion with which any such approaches may have been made in no way diminishes the extent of the underlying threat.

The City of London has long been hypersensitive not only to criticism of the financial establishment but also to any discussion suggesting the need for change of any kind. This raises a serious question since it touches on the necessity for democratising institutions directly affecting us all, or more bluntly, it is a question of blocking the possibility for extending democratic rights where they are urgently needed in raising the material standards of the majority.

In elaborating on this matter and in demonstrating I am not the victim of paranoia, I must refer to an episode brought to my attention by two colleagues with whom I formerly worked in promoting the reform of the financial-industrial system. When I published my first pamphlet, New Life For British Industry in 1985, it attracted the attention of a senior official of a public authority, and when we met, we soon realised our ideas coalesced, and we set about founding the Campaign For Industry (CFI). George T. Edwards and John C. Carrington had shortly before been students at Edinburgh University engaged in a comparative research project on banking institutions in varied major economies and they were appalled at what they uncovered.

Whilst British banks and allied institutions lent short-term at high rates of interest to enrich a small investing elite on a usurious basis; those in Continental Europe and amongst the Far East Tigers, concentrated on the purpose of employment-giving industrial investment for the enrichment of the majority populations of their nation states. Edwards and Carrington had at once uncovered the major underlying cause for Britain’s catastrophic industrial record in the post-War period. This resulted in their writing four groundbreaking books, all published by Macmillan, over the next ten years. The first two, Financing Industrial Investment (1979) and Reversing Industrial Decline (1981) were authored jointly.

It was at that point that the City of London began to take a curious interesting these remarkable men. They were approached at first with compliments on their perspicuity and intelligence, and then with offers of permanent highly-paid posts accompanied with the perks of worldwide travel and luxury cars – but only on condition they would cease their line of research and return to financial orthodoxy. John Carrington, who was then a director of British Telecom, declined to accept any of the lucrative inducements but was sufficiently cowed never to set pen to paper again – at least not on that topic. In fairness, however, I should add he was nonetheless prepared to lend his name as a board member of the CFI.

George Edwards, on the contrary, an abrasive Scot (who was eventually elected Vice-Chairman of the CFI) was sufficiently outraged to defy his tempters by telling them he would stand by his principles. He was then confronted by the threat that steps would be taken to ensure his dismissal on the grounds that as his employer was the Post Office and that as the latter was a savings institution, he should not be allowed to risk casting a shadow over their operation.

Edwards then went on to write, How Economic Growth & Inflation Happen (1984), and, The Role of the Banks in Economic Development: The Economics of Industrial Resurgence (1988), in which he called on readers to support the Campaign For Industry. He was then seconded by the Post Office for a two-year period to work for another institution, and subsequently he was released from their employment.

The above story may be depressing but in the search for truth in striving for a just and equitable society it should act as a stimulus to resistance against the secretiveness of a world that only flourishes in the half-light.

At the start of this article I referred to Bryan Gould in the past tense. I now want to refer to him in the present tense. It is true that his name has almost been wiped from the memory of existence – certainly from that of the Labour party. Few satisfactory references to him are found through Google. It is as if history has been re-written by the power brokers, and as in ancient Egypt, as if his image has been erased from stone. The good news, however, is that he is very much alive and the author of two recent books: viz., Myths, Politicians & Money: The Truth behind the Free Market (2013), and more recently, together with John Mills (another outstanding economist I have known personally), Call To Action: Britain’s Economic Problems & How They Can Be Solved.

The following is taken from the blurb of the first book: “Recent revelations by whistle blowers only add to the sense that powerful forces control our lives and that we have no say in what they decide. There is, in general, a distinct loss in confidence in the democratic process.” The book, “exposes why politicians around the world distort economic policy against the interest of ordinary people, how neo-liberalism has been allowed to rise to prominence.”

The following is taken from the blurb of his latest book: the authors “provide a searing critique of the decisions behind the current UK economic policy and provide a clear step-by-step account of how to revive it, with little or no increase in inflation. Things cannot go on as they are – this book delivers a fresh roadmap to improve our quality of life and Britain’s economic stability for future generations.”

The chance of persuading Bryan Gould to stand as leader of the Labour party may be negligible, but would it be beyond the bounds of possibility to persuade him to stand as a special policy adviser? In an age when leading politicians are incapable of writing their own speeches or hardly possess the capacity for thought, he would stand as a giant amongst midgets in view of those now posing with ideas of grandeur. How well known are his latest books to the Labour party leadership? How well read are they amongst the broader membership?

Unfortunately, it is a well known fact in publishing circles that the vast majority of political texts achieve minimal sales, and hence inevitably, the slow development of new ideas and desirable reforms in improving the life of peoples and the stability of nation states. Political science does not capture the imagination of the many, and is too complex for others. Perhaps the human brain is not of sufficient size to sort out the grain from the chaff, or is just too impatient to comprehend the complexities and mechanisms of what Carlyle dismissed as “the dismal science.”

In view of these difficulties, of which I have long been aware, the only effective mode of communication for the political sciences is to use the emotive language of secular ethical values addressed to men and women irrespective of culture, status, or nationality, etc. Politics should never be an esoteric study but always a universal study addressed to all, since all are included within the remit of its authority. For this reason, in my book, Social Capitalism in Theory & Practice, I have sought to use a vocabulary of key words that ordinary people may adopt in expressing their innermost feelings on political issues. That is, words that express their likes and dislikes, and helps to make sense of their wishes and the environment in which they live.

I might conclude by remarking that Bryan Gould has already achieved in his writings what I suggest above. He may also fulfil those two requirements addressed at the start of this article, viz., offer a programme for the long term success of the party, and if he may not accede to the leadership, then at least he may be adopted as the intellectual father of the party. 

Robert Corfe is a social thinker, political philosopher and author of multiple books, including Social Capitalism in Theory and Practice, published by Arena Books.

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Barb Jungr’s diary: Apart-hotels, scattered families and bringing the Liver Birds back to Liverpool

My Liver Birds reboot, set in the present day with new music and a new story, is coming to life at the Royal Court Theatre.

For the last three years I’ve been writing a musical. Based on Carla Lane and Myra Taylor’s Liver Birds characters Beryl and Sandra, but set in the present day with new music and a new story, it is coming to life at the Royal Court Theatre – in Liverpool, appropriately. Amazingly, the sun shines as the train ambles into Lime Street, where Ken Dodd’s statue has recently been customised with a feather duster tickling stick and some garlands of orange and lime green. Outside the station, composer Mike Lindup and I buy a Big Issue. We have a scene opening Act Two with a Big Issue seller and we are superstitious. We check into our “apart-hotel”. Apart-hotel is a new word and means a hotel room with a kitchen area you will never, ever use.

At the theatre everyone hugs as though their lives depend on it; we are all aware we are heading into a battle the outcome of which is unknown. There will be no more hugging after this point till opening night as stress levels increase day by day. I buy chocolate on the way back as there’s a fridge in my apart-hotel and I ought to use it for something.

Ships in the night

There’s no point in being in Liverpool without running by the river, so I leap up (in geriatric fashion) and head out into the rain. You’d think, since I grew up in the north-west and cannot ever remember experiencing any period of consecutive sunny days here, that I’d have brought a waterproof jacket with me. I didn’t. It springs from optimism. Misplaced in this case, as it happens. I return soaking but with a coconut latte. Every cloud.

We have been in the theatre for seven hours. Everything has been delayed. The cast are amusing themselves by singing old television themes. They have just made short shrift of Bonanza and have moved on to The Magic Roundabout. We may all be going very slightly mad.

As hours dwindle away with nothing being achieved, Mike and I pop to the theatre next door to enjoy someone else’s musical. In this case, Sting’s. It’s wonderfully palate-cleansing and I finally manage to go to sleep with different ear worms about ships and men, rather than our own, about Liverpool and women.

Wood for the trees

This morning “tech” begins (during which every single move of the cast and set, plus lighting, costume, prop and sound cues must be decided and logged on a computer). Problems loom around every piece of scenery. Our smiles and patience wear thin.

By the end of the 12-hour session we know we have the most patient, professional cast in the known cosmos. I, on the other hand, am a lost cause. I fret and eat, nervously, doubting every decision, every line, every lyric. Wondering how easy it would be to start over, in forestry perhaps? There is a drug deal going on across the road in the street outside the hotel. My apart-hotel kitchen remains as new.

First preview

I slept like a log. (All those years of working with Julian Clary make it impossible not to add, “I woke up in the fireplace”.) At the crack of dawn we’re cutting scenes in the Royal Court café like hairdressers on coke. Today is ladies’ day at Aintree, which feels apropos; tonight we open Liver Birds Flying Home, here.

The spirit of Carla Lane, who died in 2016, always dances around our consciousness when we are writing. She was very good to us when we began this project, and she was incredibly important to my teenage self, gazing out for role models across the cobblestones.

I grew up in Rochdale, a first-generation Brit. My parents had come here after the war, and what family we had was scattered to the four winds, some lost for ever and some found much later on, after the Velvet Revolution. I had a coterie of non-related “aunties” who felt sorry for us. Ladies with blue rinses, wearing mothball-smelling fur coats in cold houses with Our Lady of Fátima statues lit by votive candles in every conceivable alcove. To this day, the smell of incense brings it all back. Yet the northern matriarchy is a tough breed and I’m happy to carry some of that legacy with pride.

Seeing the theatre fill with people is terrifying and exciting in equal measure. We’ve had to accept that the finale isn’t in tonight’s show because of lack of technical time. I’m far from thrilled. The show, however, has a life of its own and the actors surf every change with aplomb. The audience cheers, even without the finale. Nonetheless, I slouch home in despair. Is it too late to change my name?

Matinee day

The fire alarm is going off. I know that because I’m awake and it’s 4am. As I stand in reception among the pyjama-clad flotsam and jetsam of the apart-hotel, I suspect I’m not the only one thinking: if only they’d had alarms this annoyingly loud in Grenfell. I don’t go back to sleep. I rewrite the last scene and discuss remaining changes for the morning production meeting with my co-writer, George.

The Saturday afternoon performance (which now includes the finale) receives a standing ovation in the circle. The ratio of women to men in the audience is roughly five to one. In the evening performance it is 50/50, so I’m curious to see how Beryl and Sandra’s story plays to the chaps who’ve been dragged out on a Saturday night with their wives. In the pub after the show a man tells Lesley, the actress playing present-day Beryl, how moved he had been by what he’d seen and heard.

A few years ago I stood behind Miriam Margolyes as we were about to go on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in a Christmas show. She turned to me, saying, “Why do we do this to ourselves?” We agreed: “Because we can’t do anything else!” I suspect forestry is out of the question at this juncture. 

“Liver Birds Flying Home” is at the Royal Court, Liverpool, until 12 May.

Barb Jungr is an English singer, songwriter, composer and writer.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge