Friday, February 26, 2010

Second Time Around: A classic revisited

Herald Angels
Bill Hagerty

The Miracle of Fleet Street: the Story of the Daily Herald, by George Lansbury (Labour Publishing Company, 1925, price unknown; republished by Spokesman Books, 20009, pp168, £15.00)

This is not exactly the whole story of what, in the early 1930s, was to become Britain's biggest-selling daily newspaper. Those wishing to learn about the ferocious pre-Second World War circulation battles, or the anguished slide that saw the paper metamorphose into the short-lived IPC Sun before being given garish new clothes and soaring away under the control of fledgling emperor Rupert Murdoch, must look elsewhere.

Having been born in 1911 as a daily strike-bulletin when London print Unions came out for a 48-hour working week, and resurrected the following year with capital of around £300 as a co-operative Labour venture, the Herald had been publishing consistently for only 13 years when Labour leader-to-be Lansbury recounted its trials and tribulations — there were many —on the way to relative stability.

An editorial published on October 26, 1912 told of the campaign to put the paper on a sound financial footing and how a woman had visited the House of Commons to tell Lansbury: “My husband has sent me with this message. ‘We have only saved a little, but here is £50. Do not let the Daily Herald die’ .” A Socialist parson presents a cheque for £150, while “another man” said: “Let the landlord go hang for his rent. I am sending it to you.” “Was there ever a daily newspaper that had such wonderful support as we are getting?” asked the editorial.

Probably not. But never before or since has there been a similar David of a newspaper struggling, against the Goliath of capitalism, on behalf of which most newsprint manufacturers later refused to supply a paper that was pro-women’s suffrage and supported both the Russian revolution and trades union strikes. Agents scoured the country to buy paper secretly.

Having been able to publish only weekly during the First World War, the Herald campaigned on behalf of workers both in print and with a series of rallies, another of which was planned, to support Labour and to announce that daily publication would shortly be resumed, in November 1918 at the Royal Albert Hall. Four days before the meeting, with 19,000 people having requested tickets, the Hall management cancelled the contract, citing “demonstrations of a revolutionary nature” at previous meetings. Time for the workers of the world to unite: the Electrical Trades Union removed all the fuses from the Hall and suggested that unless permission to use it was restored the whole of Kensington might be plunged into darkness. Oh, and no trains would stop at local stations and taxi drivers would not ply for hire near the Hall. Thousands had to be turned away from the two meetings that subsequently took place.

From its very beginning the Herald produced challenging journalism — the headline “Women and children last!” swiftly followed the loss of the Titanic, which sank and drowned more than half the children travelling in steerage as the first issue of the paper was going to press. Observed the Herald of the White Star Line’s profits: “They have paid 30 per cent to their shareholders and they have sacrificed 51 per cent of the steerage children.”

Most opposition papers remained hostile to the Herald, and after Lansbury visited Russia in 1920, Lloyd George’s Government proclaimed it had evidence that diamonds brought to London by a Russian delegation had sold for between £40,000 and £50,000 and the “Bolshevik gold” donated to the paper. The Herald famously insisted that “NOT A BOND, NOT A FRANC, NOT A ROUBLE”, though confirming that £75,000 had been offered and pointing out that “if we accepted the offer from Russia (with which this country has been technically at peace since 1855...), we should have done nothing dishonourable and we should not be at all ashamed of ourselves”. Such intrigue, such drama; what a movie the early years of the Herald would make.

Lansbury, an MP and the chief shareholder early on, became editor by accident, pitchforking himself into the role for a nine-year tenure in1913 after several predecessors had lurched from one calamity to another. “How many more years of life remain for me, it is impossible to say,” he wrote, “but whatever the future may be ... nothing can happen to me which will bring me more satisfaction or more joy than the memory of these great years spent in company with, and service for, the readers and friends of the Daily Herald.”

The paper was owned from 1922 by the TUC and the Labour Party, with Odhams Press obtaining 51 per cent in 1929. Lansbury lived to see sales top two million in1933 and died seven years later, long before his dreams were shattered by savage decline and the beginning of the end with the 1961 takeover by IPC, then a publishing giant dominated by Mirror Group. In republishing Lansbury’s long-neglected book — a love story encumbered only by too much detail of political skirmishes — Spokesman has restored an important chapter of newspaper and social history.

© Bill Hagerty, British Journalism Review December 2009

Friday, February 19, 2010

Public cost of private benefit - A review

Global Auction of Public Assets
Dexter Whitfield

Dexter Whitfield has been one of the most well-informed and effective critics of the whole programme of privatisation of Britain's public services, begun by Margaret Thatcher and continued by New Labour. He is the director of the European Services Strategy Unit, continuing the work of the Centre for Public Services, which he founded in 1973, and has more recently sought to spread his critique worldwide, as more and more countries have begun to move their social infrastructure from a public service into private profit-making businesses. This new book is the result of this extension of his interest. It is, as were his earlier books on the attack on UK public services, both thoroughly researched and immaculately presented.

What began as a specifically British exercise by Thatcher to strengthen the power of capital in relation to labour has been taken up by giant corporations of capital operating in both the developed and developing world. It is the claim of all the new forms of infrastructure organisation that they are public private partnerships is generally a very unequal one.

Dexter Whitfi eld describes it as 'public cost and private benefit'. In this book he presents detailed accounts ot PPPs not only in Europe, where his new strategy unit is based, but in the US, Australia, South Africa, India, Brazil, Russia and even
China. As the PPPs spread across the world, more and more of the giant international finance and commercial corporations become involved. Whitfield concludes that, because the relative scale of manufacturing in the g1oba1 economy is declining, investment in the infrastructure becomes of increasing interest for international capital.

The privatisation process began with the physical infrastructure the railways and roads, energy supplies and telecommunications. But Whitfield shows how it is being extended into social provision. The privatisation of social infrastructure has been seen by many commentators simply as a means for governments to finance projects, especially buildings, without increasing their capital expenditure beyond their budget limits. The PPP private partners, however, have begun increasingly to take over more responsibility for whole projects – not just for the building, but for the governance management, consultancy, employment of staff, receipt of revenues, and reinvestment of funds.

This has the effect of removing from national or local public control and accountability the operation of social services. Health and education are key examples, where Whitfield shows particular cases of the shift in responsibilities for a social service.

The analysis in this book is closely related to the latest developments in the worldwide financial crisis and in governments' responses to the dangers of climate change. Whitfield is able to show the extent to which the private ownership of public assets, and the income streams flowing from them, are used by financial institutions as leverage for further profitable lending. The state guarantees that are generally present in social infrastructure provide a base for private speculative activity in what has become a casino of public finances.

At the same time, the effects of climate change are demanding increasing expenditure from governments on national infrastructure that can provide some degree of protection against rising sea levels, more and more damaging storms, heavier rainfall in some areas, drought in others. Extended investment to meet these demands cannot be left to a casino,

The arguments that have been employed in favour of privatisation are shown by Whitfield to be largely spurious. The chief of these is that the costs in the public sector are higher than in private provision. Whitfield shows this is manifestly untrue when all costs incurred in the long run are taken into account.

It is also said that public projects frequently over-run their budget in time and cost. Whitfield shows that such claims are seriously flawed and cannot always be checked because so-called commercial secrecy can be invoked by private suppliers to prevent publication.

Finally, there is an argument about innovatory design and managerial efficiency, which is said to favour privatisation. This can be easily refuted by the large number of PPP projects that Whitfield lists as abandoned, distressed or failed.

It is a pretty well unanswerable case that Whitfield mounts in defence of the public sector – and well worth quoting for its wide-ranging assembly of the evidence.

Michael Barratt Brown in Red Pepper, Feb/March 2010

Friday, February 5, 2010

Regime Changers Anonymous

Spokesman 107
Edited by Ken Coates

'The Security Service was officially launched in 1909 with a staff of two, who were supposed to defend the realm against Germany. Later they made a painless adjustment and began to defend it against Russia. As the two engaged ever larger numbers of accomplices it became clear that the realm which they defended consisted of ever smaller tracts of establishment England, setting its bounds somewhat short of the area occupied by the masses of the British common people …

… What can be done to clip the wings of all these spooks? Well, first of all, as far as the junior members of the team are concerned, substantial cuts can be made in their budgets. What precisely is all this intrigue for? How is it to be justified? It should surely be possible to control the expenditures of this kind of service in such a way as to reduce them to a minimum.

Then we shall be told that we need an intelligence service to apprehend terrorists. There are, unfortunately, numerous problems which the anti-terrorist services closely share with the warriors against subversion ... At the very least, there is a case for a close enquiry into this aspect of intelligence work. To learn the lessons of the wave of student arrests in Lancashire early in 2009 might be to discover some arguments for stringent budgetary controls.

But, disturbing though the activities of junior officials may be, the huge and overriding question which hangs over our political system, is how to get the spooks off the Downing Street sofas and to put politics in command.'

Ken Coates, excerpts from his Editorial. The full text can be read here.

Regime Changers Anonymous - Ken Coates

Fixing the Intelligence? - Tony Simpson

Law and War - Lord Goldsmith

The legality of the invasion of Iraq - Lord Steyn

Who killed David Kelly? - David Halpin


Haiku - Alexis Lykiard

Gallows - John Arden

The US and Israel - Noam Chomsky

Al Rabweh - John Berger

The Dice Player - Mahmoud Darwish

Reviews: Bruce Kent, Stan Newens, John Daniels,
Michael Barratt Brown, Romy Clark and Abi Rhodes

You can buy this issue or subscribe to The Spokesman from our website.