Spycops & the Freeborn Englishman

In Uncategorized on October 24, 2020 by kmflett

SpyCops, Starmer & the Freeborn Englishman

The decision of Keir Starmer to dictate a Labour abstention on the ‘SpyCops’ Bill in the Commons saw the biggest Labour revolt yet against his abstentions policy including front bench resignations.

The Bill in effect legalises illegal acts by undercover Government agents or spies as they are known historically.

Government spies have been used for undercover and often illegal purposes since the late eighteenth century. They were active around Peterloo in 1819 and the Cato St Conspiracy in 1820

This is not just a matter of history. Infiltration into and surveillance of legal radical campaigns and trade unions continues in the modern era.

Traditionally spies who were responsible for illegal activities would conveniently disappear- often abroad- before trials where they might have to appear.

It’s more difficult to do that now hence the ‘SpyCops’ Bill.

Neither what William Cobbett called the Freeborn Englishman or the forbears of the modern labour movement would be impressed that Labour Leader Keir Starmer abstained on the Bill.

The historian and activist E P Thompson was spied on by the security services after 1945 certainly up to 1963 (most MI5 reports on him are available at the National Archives). Perhaps needless to say Thompson was not involved in anything untoward unless you view trying to democratise society and advance socialist measures in that light.

Thompson however was the historian above others who revealed the origins of Government spying in the modern British State, discussing the activities of Oliver the Spy in the Making of the English Working Class. The State was concerned about the activities of the Luddites in the early years of the nineteenth century and sought to infiltrate them.

Thompson by contrast drew attention to the Freeborn Englishman, someone who cherished liberties, albeit limited ones, (for most the vote did not come until much later in the nineteenth century or even 1918). More particularly he did not like being interfered with either by his own State or by the agents of other States.

Thompson summarised the perspective in this introduction he wrote to the Secret State (1978):

In area after area, the ‘common people’ insisted that the civil rights of the ‘freeborn Englishman’ were not the privileges of an elite but were the common inheritance of all: freedom of press, speech and conscience, rights of assembly, inhibitions upon the actions of military or police against crowds, freedom from arbitrary imprisonment or unwarranted arrest and entry upon private premises.

He argued that The insurgent British working-class movement took over for its own the old Whiggish bloody-mindedness of the citizen in the face of the pretentions of power.

It would be wrong to suggest that either the Labour Party or unions don’t have and have had right-wing figures who are not sympathetic to civil liberties.

In 1978 the Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees deported the former CIA Agent Philip Agee and US journalist Mark Hosenball who had been exposing some of the less than savoury activities of the security services.

He also backed the prosecution under the Official Secrets Act of a former solider John Berry, and two journalists Duncan Campbell and Crispin Aubery who were investigating CIA links with GCHQ. It became known as the ABC case with significant public backing for the three.

Keir Starmer before he became Director of Public Prosecutions was a noted human rights lawyer. He defended the McLibel Two in a celebrated case against McDonalds where one of the defendants Helen Steel had been involved with someone later revealed to be an undercover police officer.

He used material from that campaign in his campaign to be Labour leader

One wonders if Starmer has ever read any labour history.

This post originally appeared in the Morning Star


The Tories & school meals: ‘he that does not work,neither shall he eat’

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2020 by kmflett

The disgraceful position that the Tories in England have pursued over a refusal to provide free school meals over school holiday breaks for those who get them when at school is well known.

Tory MPs (with 5 exceptions) backed Johnson’s refusal to change the position in the Commons this week. Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner referred to one Tory MP as ‘scum’. She apologised. While what she said was true it was of course ‘UnParliamentary language’.

Full marks to Marcus Rashford for once again leading a school meals campaign and now that the Tories wont act, sorting out provision of meals anyway.

The Chartists in the 1830s and 1840s had a slogan for the rich who lived well,often not from their own labour but from exploiting others, while those who worked could not afford to eat.

It came from the New Testament but it resonates in the world of Boris Johnson still:

‘he that does not work, neither shall he eat’


Furlough,unemployment & high COVID-19 rates in London.Class & the Coronavirus

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2020 by kmflett

Furlough, Unemployment & high COVID-19 rates in London. Class & the Coronavirus

The London Evening Standard has published an interesting report on the levels of furlough, unemployment and COVID-19 infection rates in London Boroughs. Not all the figures cover the same period (the COVID-19 figures are the most uptodate) so the unemployment figures may well now be understated as the existing furlough scheme concludes.

Two paragraphs are extracted below together with a link to the full report.

While the report is of interest and in terms of highlighting some kind of link between furlough, unemployment and COVID-19 infection it doesn’t spell out what it is. Given George Osborne’s role at the Standard we can certainly understand that.

The link however is more or less the same as in any epidemic.

Low paid and insecure work, often in less than COVID-19 secure conditions, combine with poor housing and health.

Don’t expect this point to feature in a Government press conference any time soon

Six boroughs across the capital – Newham, Haringey, Barnet, Brent, Hounslow and Waltham Forest – have suffered the double whammy of the highest levels of furloughed workers in the UK and soaring numbers claiming unemployment benefits.

Nine of the 14 borough areas which have seen a rise of 10,000 in the claimant count now also have a coronavirus rate above the key threshold of 100 new cases a week per 100,000 population.

The rate in Ealing for the seven days to October 17 was 151, Hackney and City of London 146, Redbridge 134, Enfield 131, Tower Hamlets 126, Newham and Haringey 120, Lambeth 116 and Barnet 107.


John Foster, socialist historian & Communist at 80

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2020 by kmflett

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is classfoster.jpg

John Foster, socialist historian & Communist at 80

John Foster the socialist historian and Communist was 80 during the week.

He was honoured in the Scottish Parliament which might tell you that things do go on a little differently north of the English border. I don’t think Boris Johnson has sent him a birthday card.

An appreciation of Foster’s life and work (which continues btw) is in the Morning Star

His activity as a socialist historian first came to wider attention with the publication of Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution. A ground breaking study which looked at the development of Chartism in Oldham and compared it with other locations.

He has been a member of the Communist Party, first the CPGB and now the CPB for over 50 years.

Suffice to say that I don’t agree with the conclusions he reaches in ‘Class Struggle’ and his wider perspectives on the development of the Victorian labour movement and the labour aristocracy. He has repeated them quite recently but I still don’t agree 45 years on.

Neither do I agree with his politics although we have much in common in respect of an understanding of the significance of Marxism, the importance of class analysis and the role of political organisation.

These are however matters for fraternal and sometimes sharp debate and in no way takes away from recognising the stature and importance of Foster’s work.


David Starkey stands by remarks on slavery

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2020 by kmflett

The Met Police have dropped an investigation into right-wing historian David Starkey over remarks he made in a lengthy social media interview he gave to Darren Grimes.

In the interview Starkey opined that slavery was not genocide, the proof being that there were ‘so many damn blacks;.

The remarks were held to be racist by many and Starkey was removed from a number of official positions that he had held.

Starkey apologised for his ‘deplorable choice of words’.

A complaint was made to the police who investigated if Starkey and Grimes had been responsible for inciting racial hatred. They have now concluded they were not.

While it may be thought not a police matter in reality all kinds of matters are investigated. If it served as a warning to Grimes and Starkey, who is a long term transgressor when it comes to making what many would see as racist remarks that there were in danger of crossing a line it may have been worthwhile.

Perhaps needless to say Starkey responded that nothing he said was racist ‘in fact or intent’.

In other words despite the apology he stands by his original comments.

A lengthy period in the archives surely should beckon for Starkey now.

BBC Report


Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith excluded from Parliamentary Beard of the Year vote after ‘school dinners remarks’

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2020 by kmflett

Beard Liberation Front

21st October

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said that Tory MP for Bassetlaw Brendan Clarke-Smith has been excluded from consideration for the annual Parliamentary Beard of the Year Award.

The Award is given each December after an on-line vote. It is designed to highlight MPs who have improved the public perception of beards by their Parliamentary performance during the year.

The decision to exclude Mr Brendan Clarke-Smith comes after he spoke in a House of Commons debate on a Labour motion to provide free school meals during holidays for those who receive them during term, against the background of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19

He opined that to do so would be like nationalising school children.

The Labour motion was lost.

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, of course these things are a matter of opinion but voting against free school meals for those who may well otherwise go hungry does sound like something out of Oliver Twist. In this case we think that were Mr Brendan Clarke-Smith on the Parliamentary Beard of the Year ballot it would risk bringing hirsute MPs into disrepute.


Johnson didnt mark the 200th anniversary of Peterloo as PM. His contempt for Manchester continues

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2020 by kmflett

Johnson didn’t mark the 200th anniversary of Peterloo as PM. His contempt for Manchester continues

The Conservative Party Conference met at Manchester Central for its 2019 Conference which stands on an area that was part of where the Peterloo Massacre took place. The new monument to the Massacre by Jeremy Deller is immediately adjacent.

The Massacre in which 18 died and hundreds were injured in a protest to demand the vote took place two hundred years ago on 16th August 1819. Boris Johnson was silent on the anniversary itself.

There is no question that the Conservatives have baggage when it comes to Peterloo as the man who sent the Yeomanry in on horseback to disperse the crowd, William Hulton (1787-1864) was a lifelong Tory and after the 1832 Reform Act a founder of the South Lancashire Conservative Association.

It would be odd even so if the leader of a democratic political party meeting on the site of Peterloo in the 200th anniversary year had not acknowledged both the dreadful events of that day and the important role they played in the history of British Parliamentary Democracy.

Johnson did not.

A little over a year later he provoked a row with the Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham over Government financial aid to cover the impact of increased COVID-19 restrictions for the area. In the end it appears an amount £5m short of the minimum amount the Mayor thought essential is being paid, £60M.

The £5m difference to Burnham’s £65m is neither here nor there to Johnson financially, the man who wasted millions on a non-existent garden bridge,

Ideologically it is key though. The shortfall means those who cant work as a result of the restrictions wont get anything like a full wage and will struggle to pay costs.

Just as in ignoring the anniversary of Peterloo Johnson is still putting two fingers up to Manchester.


Geoffrey Boycott at 80 ‘Teach him to whack it!’

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2020 by kmflett

Geoffrey Boycott at 80 ‘Teach him to whack it!’

Its Geoffrey Boycott’s 80th birthday today.

He is a controversial character who many feel we have already heard quite enough from.

He has given an interview of Nick Hoult the Telegraph’s cricket correspondent which of course is behind a paywall. If you are keen there are ways to read it still, visiting your local supermarket for instance.

It will not be a surprise however that he simply underlines many of the positions he is well known for (aside from blocking cricket balls). These include:

A continuing denial that he did anything wrong in the French Court case

A belief that life is faster now than when he was a lad so it should be 4 day Tests and bowlers should bowl overs more quickly.

A view that the BBC should be privatised although he doesn’t think this will happen for a while

His repeated point that Test Match Special is focused on questions of gender and race (& by inference that tedious right-wing views are not wanted)

On more interesting notes;

He wants his ashes scattered in the North Sea off Scarborough. His family don’t seem to agree with this plan.

He can’t find it within himself to believe in God because of the suffering he has seen in others in local hospices and so on.

He also understands the attraction of T20 cricket particularly for players who can stand to make good money at a young age.

His advice to his new grandson Joshua is below:

he will not be teaching young Joshua the merits of a solid forward defensive stroke any time soon. “Teach him to whack it!” he cries. “If he does that he can be rich before he is 30.”


Solidarity with Manchester. People ‘forgotten by those in power’ North & South

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2020 by kmflett

Solidarity with Manchester. People ‘forgotten by those in power’ North & South

The breakdown of talks between the Government and Manchester leaders on financial support to cover the impact of additional COVID-19 restrictions is styled in some media as a north-south issue.

It isn’t as a comparison of the October 2020 claimant count for Tottenham in North London and Manchester Central below underlines (other Manchester Constituencies have similar figures)

It is about working people ‘forgotten’ by the Tory Government or perhaps as likely people they never knew existed.

People here have been living under restrictions for three months, he says – and it’s taken “a heavy toll”

“To accept any further restrictions would be certain to increase levels of poverty, homelessness and hardship,” he says.

People “too often forgotten by those in power” are most affected, he says.

Andy Burnham (reported BBC)

This isn’t about Manchester, Liverpool or any other part of the North vs London. It’s about communities up & down this country who are ignored, their representatives sidelined & belittled by an ideologically driven, out of touch & centralising Westminster & Whitehall #solidarity

Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney

Claimant Count October 2020

Manchester Central 9,740 7.8%

Tottenham 12,665; 12.7%


Brexit, the Freeborn Englishman & ‘No Wooden Shoes’

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2020 by kmflett

Brexit, The Freeborn Englishman & No Wooden Shoes.

Edward Royle in his book Revolutionary Britannia suggests that the Freeborn Englishman saw patriotism as meaning three key things at the most basic level:

Roast beef

White bread

No Wooden Shoes

We can perhaps understand what the beef and bread  were about (although I will post further on that)  but in 2020 the ‘no wooden shoes’ seems odd.

There was in fact a serious politics behind it

In 1768 Joshua Reynolds wrote to Edmund Burke from Paris that he was ‘well acquainted with the opinion the English entertain in regard to the French that they wear nothing but wooden shoes

The slogan ‘Popery and Wooden Shoes’ was a reminder of the priest ridden and clog wearing peasants on the other side of the Channel.

This became a particular focus after the French Revolution when reactionary opinion in England sought to claim that it was the English who had political rights (not including the vote) whereas the French were impoverished by revolutionary events and ideas.

E P Thompson in the Making of the English Working Class notes of a meeting in this late eighteenth century period:

In Lancaster a ‘Jacobinical mob’ was addressed by a lady who told them the ‘contest was between shoes and wooden clogs, between fine shirts and coarse ones, between the opulent and the poor and that the people were everything if they chose to assert their rights’

Here a class aspect is added. A meeting supporting the French Revolution saw clogs as something the poor had to wear for lack of money to buy shoes.

At Peterloo once the crowd protesting for the vote had been violently dispersed by the Yeomanry both discarded shoes and clogs were to be found.

As with most things to do with the Freeborn Englishman there is a mixture of progressive and reactionary ideas in play.

The modern parallel with statements by right-wing Brexiteers is however striking. Brexit will reinforce traditional British superiority and make a break from the practices of the EU which have been holding the country back, at least according to them.