Tuesday, 25 June 2013

THE ILP @ 120

Today our parliamentary democracy looks like it has failed. We feel that the elite leaderships do not represent people like “us” this is sadly not a new phenomenon and was abroad a hundred and twenty years ago when delegates came together in Bradford to form a new party to seek parliamentary representation for workers.

Amongst their number where some of the giants of the early labour movement, Ben Tillet, Robert Blatchford, Bernard Shaw, Pete Curran and Keir Hardie then MP for West Ham who was elected chair. Once born the Independent Labour Party with its strong ethical concerns set about in William Morris’s famous phrase to ‘make socialists’.

It saw creating a new political culture as the first stage in building a new society. To do this it had to open up some political space in which to operate. Like other young movements for emancipation this space was not to be found in the narrow way ‘politics’ was usually defined.
To create a socialist political culture they had to create spaces in which people could be “socialists”.  As well as publishing newspapers and taking to the streets, they established premises where they could meet, hear speakers, debate, share literature and learn. There was a great deal of self education but it was not just worthy activity they also set out to have a good time.
Good fellowship was the foundation of their politics. Many ILP branches set up their own venues and developed vibrant communities around them.
Often these activities where complimented by the Clarion movement. Founded by Robert Blachford in 1891, the Clarion reached a circulation of between 30 and 40,000 a month with its popular journalism. With all sorts of Clarion activities, including cycling and rambling, choirs and drama groups, whilst Blatchfords personal politics was an odd mixture his editorship of the Clarion bought a lot of joy into working class lives, introducing a sense of fun and freedom whilst in the process creating ten of thousands of socialists.
One example of this type of venue was formed by the Nelson Branch of the ILP. Founded in 1893for many years the focal point of their activities was the Labour Party Institute and Socialist Sunday School in Vernon Street, Nelson.  There where attempts to make fresh air and the countryside accessible to their members and a practice of acquiring Clarion houses in rural areas as retreats from the mills and factories developed.

Like Ewan MacColl’s Manchester Rambler, the workers of Nelson “may have been wage slaves on Monday but they where free men on Sunday”. They first established a Clarion House in 1899 and when this become too small they obtained another in 1903.

The current, yes current, Clarion House was inaugurated in 1912. It is located in Jinney Lane, Newchurch-in-Pendle, deep in Pendle Witch country, the historic towns of Colne, Clitheroe and Whalley are all within walking distance.

Nelson Clarion House celebrated its centenary last year safely in the ownership of the Nelson Independent Labour Party Land Society. Broadly committed to the principles of their ILP predecessors they describe their politics as “somewhat to the left of Old Labour”.

Their objective is to preserve for public benefit the Clarion House with one and half acres of land, tea rooms, wildlife corridor, pond and adventure playground.  It is maintained as a co-operative with any surplus to be used for the spreading of socialism. 

It is great that Nelson Clarion House is still carrying out the function that it was first opened over a century ago. It is also a lesson to us that socialism is about much more than shorter hours or higher pay. Tackling the alienation that is intrinsic to capitalism is a vital part of any socialist future.

One of the inspirations of the early socialists was the American poet Walt Whitman who greatly influenced people like Edward Carpenter and Robert Blachford as well as Irish co-operator Horace Plunkett.

In his essay Democratic Vistas written in 1871, he said, “Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruit in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between [people], and their beliefs -- in religion, literature, colleges and schools -- democracy in all public and private life....”

Today democracy has only scratched the surface of our lives and as a consequence has been easily subverted by capital. We need a deeper democracy based on equality and mutual respect. Those early ILPers and Clarion Socialists are still pointing the way to the future setting us the task of making our relationships one with another and our relationship with the environment truly democratic unmediated by the market. Showing us a land in which we can live, work and even play together in peace.

You too can still visit Nelson Clarion House see: www.clarionhouse.org.uk

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Capitalism in Football is Not Working!

Just days after relegation from the League Aldershot Town went into administration, formed following the demise of the old club in 1992, they had been back in the League just five years. Having failed to pay their April wage bill they became the 159th insolvency since 1992 in English football.

Amazingly since the Premier League was founded with the break away from the Football League in 1992 there have been seventy cases of insolvency in the top four tiers of English football – out of a maximum at any one time of just ninety-two businesses.

Insolvency is usually a business trading beyond its means which on this scale would normally attract the attention of legislators and regulators. Here we have a whole sector leaving an enormous trail of un-paid bills, wages, and taxes behind it.

The thing that seems to be the cause of this is the debt clubs are allowed to pile up.  At their most profligate, in the period from the 2001/02 season to the 2005/06 season, between them the 92 top-flight English clubs managed to clock up a staggering billion pounds in pre-tax losses.

These clubs often owned by wealthy individuals are involved in a reckless gamble to get rich that usually fails and results in the asset stripping of long standing community assets. Insolvent clubs are then bought from receivers for a song by rich individuals they splurge on debt end up bust and the cycle starts all over again.

There is an alternative to this wasteful business model, the European Cup showed the way, all four semi-finalists were fan owned clubs. Today many in the English game are looking at the Budesliga with its 50% plus one ownership rule as the future model for British football and where a club has not become insolvent for 42 years.

There is some hope that clubs and perhaps more importantly banks are beginning to see sense. Despite its terrible performances on the pitch, relegation to Division 2, the season was one of real achievement for Pompey. More specifically for the Pompey Supporters Trust, who became the owners of the club making it the largest club so far in complete fan ownership, this could be the turning point that those of us who support the co-operative football ownership model have been waiting for.  

The problems we have seen is that this option only gets serious attention when clubs are either in dire straits or in a few cases like FC United of Manchester or the new Northwich FC are in business terms start-up’s.
One of the few things to come out of the Blair Governments time in office of any value was Supporters Direct from the Football Taskforce. It is now working with over 180 supporters trusts’ with over 300,000 members, promoting fan ownership. There are now over 30 clubs owned by their supporters including AFC Wimbledon, Exeter City, AFC Telford, Wrexham, Wycombe Wanderers and now Portsmouth.
Despite the fact that many clubs are at a low ebb before turning to their fans this season we have seen some remarkable on the pitch performances. Wrexham became the very first Welsh team to win the FA Trophy after a thrilling penalty shoot out at Wembley.  Darlington became Northern League Champions having risen from the ashes, taking the League by storm, winning 40 of their 46 games, scoring 145 goals in the process and amassing 122 points, with over 2,000 supporters in attendance for their final game of the season at 'home' to Guisborough Town to celebrate promotion and see the trophy presented.
Also up north Scarborough Athletic became champions of the Northern Counties East League Premier Division. They have been on a steady climb from the Premier Division since gaining promotion from Division One of the League in 2008/2009. Currently playing nearly 20 miles away in Bridlington, they are working towards a return to the Borough.
Also Chester FC after only three years in fan ownership had silverware to parade as winners of the Conference North and the Cheshire Senior Cup. In the league they scored 103 goals and lost only three games.
Sadly for many peoples favourite fan owned club, FC United of Manchester, it was third time unlucky as they lost the Evo-Stik Premier Division play-off final 2-1 away to Hednesford Town in a closely fought match.
Fan owned clubs will come together at the F.A.’s National Football Centre St Georges Park for the inaugural Community Club Network Conference on Saturday 22nd June. Clubs that are majority owned by their supporters will have workshops to share knowledge and discuss ways to promote their shared values for mutual benefit.
Star turns are Swansea City FC and US Community Owned American Football Team the Green Bay Packers. Swansea has had a great season playing cracking football and lifting their first major trophy, the League Cup, they are standout examples of fan-involvement in UK football.
The way out of boom and bust in modern football has to be fan ownership but more fans need to understand the financial and legal tools needed to turn this kind of dream into reality. What is more bankers need to get wise to the fact that the fans are the true sponsors and funders of football. It may be a while yet before we see an English equivalent to Barcelona or Bayern Munich but that that day is drawing closer.