Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2009

The Blaenau Gwent by-election isn’t the first time the people of Ebbw Vale have expressed their anger at Labour’s betrayals. This photograph, from 1975, shows steel workers confronting their local MP MIchael Foot (right), then employment secretary in Haro

The Blaenau Gwent by-election isn’t the first time the people of Ebbw Vale have expressed their anger at Labour’s betrayals. This photograph, from 1975, shows steel workers confronting their local MP MIchael Foot (right), then employment secretary in Haro

Old Labour fights back

The people of Blaenau Gwent in South Wales have delivered a stinging blow to New Labour. The victory of Dai Davies in the recent parliamentary by-election and Trish Law in the Welsh Assembly seat show that the result at the last general election was not just a flash in the pan.

Labour has made two claims in an effort to expunge its shame. One is Labour chair Hazel Blears’s preposterous statement that her party is “going in the right direction” because “ Dai Davies’s majority was “only” 2,484. Yes, you’re at the edge of a precipice, Blears - keep going.

The second claim is that the result simply reflects local issues. Certainly there were local questions about the behaviour of Labour in the area, but the general rottenness of Labour was the real question.

Ask yourself why Tony Blair never visited the constituency during the campaign. He sums up the pro-war, pro-privatisation, pro-business, anti-union, anti-working class attitude which saturates the party under his leadership.

Rhodri Morgan, the Welsh first minister, was right when he said that Labour got a kicking in the by-elections because voters were angry over “everything from potholes to Iraq”.

Old Labour reasserted itself in this campaign - and I believe this has lessons for elsewhere. I am not sure whether Labour can be recaptured by the left, but those Old Labour members who have real roots in their communities should seriously consider standing against the New Labour clones.

I have admiration for Respect’s achievements in England, but I think it is much more likely that we will revive politics if true Labour members break away from Blair and Gordon Brown’s chains and confront those who have hijacked the party.

Sometimes we will win. If not, we can terrify the leadership into accepting change.

Angharad Rees, Ebbw Vale

Alex callinicos is right to point out how bad the Blaenau Gwent by-election is for Labour (By-election blues for both big parties, 8 July). But the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election spells even worse news for Tony Blair.

Labour came fourth, beaten by the ludicrous UK Independence Party and only just saving its deposit with 6.6 percent of the vote. It is decades since a governing party has done so badly in a parliamentary by-election.

It could be argued that a “leafy suburb” such as Bromley is hardly natural territory for Labour. But the party came second there in last year’s general election with 22.2 percent - and running the same candidate, Rachel Reeves.

Reeves ran a horrible right wing campaign promising to “support ID cards to help our security and beat benefit fraud” and “back investment in tough immigration controls”. So in a sense she deserved all she got. But I worry that with such a poor result for Labour, there is a real danger that the Tories could get back in next time.

Jiben Kumar, East London

Brutalising prisoners

The report of the public inquiry into the murder of Zahid Mubarek at Feltham young offender institution six years ago (Killed by the racist prison system, 8 July) gives a glimpse of a child prison with a long and notorious reputation. It has maltreated its inmates and driven a disproportionate number to self harm and suicide.

Feltham has for years been infamous for its cruel conditions, and Zahid’s death there was hardly surprising when seen in the context of the vicious racism that permeated the institution.

Had it not been for the tireless and determined struggle of Zahid’s family to discover the truth about his death, there would have been no official inquiry. Zahid would have just been forgotten, another victim of a system that allows racist prison officers to freely terrorise and brutalise young black men.

No one in any position of authority at Feltham or prison service headquarters ever felt inclined to raise the alarm about the culture of violence and fear that prison officials had created.

Even since the publication of the inquiry’s report, not one of the officials named in it has been disciplined. The governor in charge of Feltham at the time of Zahid’s murder, Nick Clifford, has since been promoted.

In an interview with Channel 4 News, Colin Moses of the Prison Officers’ Association tried to portray the prison officers ultimately responsible for Zahid’s murder as victims of what he called a “blame culture”.

The reality is that in the current social and political climate of witch-hunting offenders and scapegoating minorities, prison officers are being actively encouraged to brutalise prisoners.

And they are operating in the context of a country that now locks up masses of its people on a scale never before seen in Britain and far in excess of most other countries in Europe.

Zahid Mubarek certainly won’t be the last prisoner of colour to be murdered by an intrinsically racist prison system. But his family have shown that it is possible to put that system in the dock and expose the racists and sadists who administer and operate it.

John Bowden, HM Prison Edinburgh

CPS advice on Azelle Rodney case

Azelle Rodney, a 24 year old man from west London, was shot dead in the streets by Metropolitan Police officers on 30 April last year.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has now informed Azelle’s family that it has advised the Independent Police Complaints Commission that there is insufficient evidence to bring any criminal charges against any Metropolitan Police officers involved in the shooting.

The family is extremely disappointed with this decision, but not at all surprised. Once again, the family is dismayed that misinformation is being released about this case.

Contrary to a statement issued by the Metropolitan Police, “three loaded and fully operational guns” were NOT recovered from the car that Azelle was travelling in when he was killed. The CPS has also confirmed that the officer who killed Azelle “never claimed to have seen a man in the back holding a gun”.

The family wants the inquest into Azelle’s death to be reopened as soon as possible so that all the evidence can be examined in public by a jury.

With the family having access to all the evidence - which they have not had until now - all of the outstanding questions can be put to the officers involved. Before then, any decisions on possible disciplinary action would be premature.

Susan Alexander, Spokesperson for the Azelle Rodney family campaign

Race and empire

One of the main features of recent apologetics for empire has been a tendency to downplay the centrality of racism in colonial society.

It is thus understandable that Eddie D’Sa (Letters, 8 July) is suspicious of any tendency to marginalise what he rightly refers to as the malevolence of racism and its centrality to European colonialism.

However, while all empires involved exploitation and greed, it is also true that the emergence of racism as a distinctive ideology is most clearly associated with the transition from the European trading empires to the fully fledged “empire of free trade”.

This process peaked with the British Empire of the 19th century - with the institution of slavery acting as a bridge between the two phases.

The precise connection between capitalism and racism is something which socialists can debate. But the massive transformation in race relations in colonial society which occurs during this period strongly suggests that it was not racism which caused colonialism, but the other way about.

Recognising this by no means implies downgrading the importance of racism, as those such as Niall Ferguson do. On the contrary, it highlights the deep connections between racism and empire in the age of capital.

John Game, Middlesex

We need a ban on ‘trans fats’

Further to your interview with Joanna Blythman (Bad food Britain, 1 July), the most sinister addition to ready made food are “trans fats” such as hydrogenated vegetable oil.

They need many more calories to burn them away than so called bad fats such as butter. They are found in cakes, biscuits, ready meals and some margarines.

Trans fats help foods to keep longer and thereby increase profitability. This being the case, the government does nothing to ban them.

Meanwhile children will die younger from clogged up arteries. This liquid plastic causes huge weight gains that are hard to lose.

Monica Lissak, South London

Assassination in Morocco

With immense grief and sadness, Attac Morocco has learned of the assassination of Moustapha Laarej, a militant trade unionist in the Moroccan Workers Union of Tiffelt.

Moustapha was killed by repressive government forces who barbarically intervened to suppress a peaceful national march by trade unionists in the capital Rabat on 29 June.

During the resulting bloodbath, 17 militants were wounded and hospitalised and 30 others arrested, although they were released shortly after.

These painful events expose the iron will of a despotic state to subject an entire people to its neo-liberal agenda by repressive means.

Attac Morocco, by fax

Brown nosing to the US elite

“Perhaps Gordon Brown wants to prove to the US that he is a safe pair of hands,” suggests Socialist Worker ( Replacing Trident will be dangerous and wasteful, 1 July).

Spot on. Brown will be every bit as keen to do the US’s bidding as Tony Blair is. He will make sure Trident is replaced - and not because he or any Whitehall mandarin thinks that Britain’s interests are best served this way.

Rather it is because he knows where power lies - in the hands of big business which, while transnational, has deep roots in the US and its economic system.

That most of the public thinks democratically elected MPs should decide the matter will be of less concern to him than showing the ruling powers that this “brown noser” is every bit as fit for purpose as the poodle incumbent.

Joseph Dormer, Yorkshire

A cycle ride to end the war

On 23 July I will be setting out on a three week bicycle ride from London to Prague in protest against George Bush and Tony Blair’s “war on terror”.

I will be meeting with peace organisations in Belgium, Germany, and into Czech Republic on the way to invite them to “ping for peace” by handing out bicycle bells.

My “ping for peace” bicycle ride is ridiculous and I admit it. But what our leaders are doing is repulsive, so I’m matching our government’s lunacy with some lunacy of my own. I’ll be charting my trip though blogs on

I hope you can join me on 23 July at 11.30am in Parliament Square in London.

Matthew Hahn, West London

Let’s abolish tax havens

The channel Island of Guernsey has announced plans to abolish corporation tax on businesses registered there.

Many more British businesses will now register in Guernsey. This will result in them avoiding up to £500 million each year in taxes, perhaps more.

There are many ways in which these “financial rogue states” could be brought to heel, if the political will was there.

For instance, we could refuse to allow companies registered there to operate in the European Union (EU), or we could institute a universal tax system throughout the EU.

Andrew Stephenson, East Sussex

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 15 Jul 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2009
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.