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Friday, 23 September 2016

The Noble Sayings of Lord Bassam & The Mask of Castleraigh

From Squatter to Hired Lackey 
Career Without Principle
A Political Sketch by Tony Greenstein
£300 a day attendance allowance proved too attractive as the fiercely hostile Republican took his seat in the Lords
Nearly 20 years ago I penned a satirical pamphlet on someone who, at that time, personified the Labour Right in Brighton.  Today he has handed on the Right's crooked baton to people like the Leader of the Progress Party on the Council, Warren Morgan, a man who, if he had a personality could be dangerous.  Other luminaries include Peter Kyle MP for Hove about whom I remarked, when he won Hove from the Tories, that the most right-wing candidate had won!
I mention all this because when the Left won the elections at Brighton and Hove Labour Party AGM on July 2nd, they were promptly annulled and the party itself suspended.  It was a rerun of what happened in 1992 except that then the Party was suspended first and I and 30 others were suspended or expelled afterwards.
Bassam's cynical strategy  memo for the directly elected mayor campaign - spin fell flat in the face of a widespread community campaign despite the support of the local Argus and Tory businessmen
I was suspended in March and the Party was suspended nearly 4 months later.  The reasons for the suspension were that the Left had won out over the Right.  The pretexts for the suspension were allegations of intimidation etc.  The usual lies and deceptions from the Right.  One particular incident came to symbolise the lies of the Right - that a member of staff at City College, where the AGM was held, was spat and sworn at by the left-wing thugs who had attended the meeting.  Our brilliant elected Secretary, Greg Hadfield did an amazing job in taking witness statements from people directly countering these allegations. He even managed to get hold of a CCTV video of the alleged incident.  It showed that nothing whatsoever happened.  
Greg Hadfield -  former Fleet Street journalist was elected on July 2nd as Secretary and was deposed in a coup 3 days later.  Hadfield has led campaign to uncover the truth of what happened.
Karen Buckingham, the Labour Party apparatchik conducting the 'inquiry' into what happened (first they suspend B&H LP and then they annul the elections and finally they hold an inquiry) has refused to even look at the video which shows Cllr. Warren Morgan out to be a liar and Cllr. Emma Daniels, who also testified to spitting, to be an accomplice liar.
Katherine Buckingham, LP apparatchik's invitation to a fake inquiry
Why do I mention all of this?  Because I was outside the Brighton LP AGM on July 2nd. Being suspended I could not attend but I met my family who were attending so that I could take charge of one my children.  And who should I meet but the Leader of Labour in the House of Lords, Lord Bassam.  Labour peers have virtually declared independence refusing to accept the authority of the Leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  Bassam was appointed to the peerage under Tony Blair and has done his master's bidding faithfully.  
Katherine Buckingham's redacted memo which I obtained under a Subject Access Request - she is in the thick of the witch hunt
When he saw me, Lord Bassam looked as if had seen Banquo's Ghost as he turned a paler shade of white.  It was as if the guilt of Brighton's Macbeth had returned as some form of apparition. No doubt Bassam was answering the call of his Progress friends to help save their bacon. For my part, when I saw Bassam I recalled Shelley's Mask of Anarchy, written in response to the massacre  of Peterloo.

I met Murder on the way -
He had a mask like Castlereagh -
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:

This is the pamphlet I wrote circa 1997 which had a wide circulation at the time, including a caustic review by Adam Trimmingham in the local Argus.  I cannot help but feel it would be helpful!

Tony Greenstein
I attacked Bassam many years ago, as Secretary of the local Unemployed Centre, for his role as a consultant to a company which had contracts with the Council of which he was leader

The idea for writing this pamphlet came after reading about the new Blair supporters club, Members’ First.  Its spokesperson was none other than that well-known grassroots activist, his Gracious and Noble Lord Bassam.  This couldn’t be the Steven Bassam who I stood shoulder to shoulder with, as the Police battered their way into our squat at Temple Gardens in 1975, or who – a decade later - was a founder member of National Labour Briefing?  Was this the same Steve Bassam whose commitment to members first was such that he single-handedly arranged, in the early 1990s, that 26 of us should be suspended or expelled from Brighton Labour Party for exercising our rights as members to challenge his leadership of the Council?
The newly re-established Brighton Unemployed Centre (which Bassam had done his best to close) led the campaign against a directly-elected Mayor
I have known Steve (sorry my noble Lord) Bassam since I came to Brighton as a student in the autumn of 1974.   Since then I have been mercilessly teased, by miscreants such as Andy Ward, about “your old squatting mate Steve Bassam”.  Having selflessly borne such taunts for years, and having refused on principle to disavow an old comrade because he entered the Lords in the line of duty, I feel entitled to put pen to paper in order that a little light is shed about our gracious Baron Bassam.
It is true that we squatted together, or rather we were part of Brighton Squatters’ Union.  But even in our earlier days, our noble Lord was apt to compromise, to look for the least line of resistance, despite his avowed anarchist politics.  A graduate from the Sussex University school of anarchism, if his actions were somewhat less than revolutionary then his rhetoric was always fiery and radical.  Many people are puzzled that ex-squatter Lord Bassam, who once turned a flashing red nose to that caricature of a reactionary judge, His Honour Justice Grant, has now made it into the citadel of hereditary privilege that he once decried.  How is it that someone who once told me – after we had given a talk to the Labour Party in the mid-1970’s – that he could never join the Labour Party, it was far too right-wing for him, could turn out to be the most sycophantic, on-message cipher for all that New Labour represents?  Someone whose first vote in the Lords was in support of Rupert Murdoch!!

The purpose of this pamphlet isn’t simply to single out one particular individual who tailored his political views to the needs of his political career.  Nor is it an excoriation of all that New Labour’s sharp-suited clones stand for.  Rather it is to use Lord Bassam as an example of the corruption at the heart of New Labour.  It is a corruption that isn’t merely financial, though there is plenty of that (Bernie Ecclestone, Draper, Liddle et al.) but a corruption of the political process itself, which hides behind the soundbite and verbal chaff.  It is a corruption which seduces perfectly decent people into trading political integrity for personal advancement.  It is this that Lord Bassam represents so clearly.
My response in the local Argus to Bassam's elevation to the House of Lords
Lord Bassam has made the transition from radical politics to New Labour clone effortlessly.  His ideas and beliefs are as durable as the message on the mandatory New Labour pager.  New Labour may, in many ways, be the logical culmination of Old Labour, with its class collaborationism, but it is also a break with old Labour.  In particular it reviles the organisations that the working class threw up, the Trade Unions and Friendly Societies.  Socialism and class-solidarity are part of the dark past.  The market, globalism, cheap and flexible labour are the new gods.  The political lobbyist – Ben Lucas & co. – are the real practitioners of the art of politics.  The role of New Labour is not merely to destroy the Left, but to remould that Left by reuniting the Liberal and Labour traditions.  Blairism, despite its toying with a 'third way', 'stakeholding' and much other verbal nonsense, struggles for anything new to say.  Its goal is to reverse the tide of history and go back to the golden age of Gladstone and the Midlothian campaign.
My letter to the Argus in response to a Review by New Labour supporting   columnist Adam Trimmingham

Blairism first learnt its lessons at the feet of Bill Clinton and the New Democrats.  It seeks to remodel British politics accordingly.  Its goal is the destruction of socialist politics, the idea that there is any alternative to the present way of organising society.  It seeks instead to replace the present party political system with two openly capitalist parties – Tory and New Labour/Liberal Democrat – each seeking to outbid the other in their attacks on welfare and the poor.  When political differences between parties disappear, then it is inevitable that personal advancement and corruption follow in their wake.  It is no accident that the sleaze of the latter years of the Tory Government has appeared within the first year of New Labour.  Bassam's appointment as 'consultant'  to KPMG is merely a local manifestation of the Draper, Robinson phenomenon.

New Labour’s greatest strength is its opponents' weaknesses.  Not only the weakness of the Left and the organised working class but the divisions in the Tory Party over Europe.  It was the self-destruction of the traditional party of the British Establishment that gave, and gives, Blairism its seeming strength.   The ranks of New Labour, and Lord Bassam is as good an example as any, are teeming with the superficial and mediocre, distinguished only by the extent of their ambition.  But those who live by spin and the sound-bite will also die by them.  Historically New Labour is a passing and temporary phenomenon with as much significance as the opposition of the Duke of Wellington to the Great Reform Bill.  The greater the heights of New Labour’s popularity today, the greater will be the depths of its unpopularity tomorrow.

We are all entitled to amuse ourselves at the verbal indiscretions of our rulers, their foibles and pretensions.  It needs no Oscar Wilde to point to the absurdities of ruling class speech and manners when we have the clichés of Bassam past.  Of course it is easy to quote back what people have said in different circumstances and different times.  Most peoples’ views don’t remain static.  There are those, Tony Benn for example, who have moved to the Left with age.  There are others, such as Roy Hattersley, who have travelled to the left merely by standing still, as everybody around changed.  Our noble Lord is the perfect example of the political chameleon, whose views change in perfect harmony with his surroundings.  Political principle is not only completely absent from Lord Bassam’s career, it is a concept that he would have genuine difficulty understanding.  I therefore offer, with as little comment as possible, some of the choicest sayings of the Noble and Gracious Lord Bassam, from his many interviews and recordings, and leave it to others to judge the mettle of the man.   If it takes a long spoon to sup with the devil then Lord Bassam can truly be said to be a man of many spoons.

A little background information may be useful to the reader.  In 1987, when our noble Lord became Leader of the Labour Group on Brighton Council, there was a rule that nobody could be leader for more than 3 years.  His predecessor, Dave Leppar (now MP for Brighton Pavilion) had abided by this rule but Bassam made it his first objective to overturn this particular encumbrance on his career.  In this he was successful as he carved a thin majority among his Council colleagues by promising positions and sinecures to those who proved malleable.   Those Councillors who refused to support him or his policies were subject to various levels of vendetta.  Six councillors had the whip withdrawn in 1991 because they refused to support prosecuting those who refused to pay their Poll Tax.  Others who were in the ‘soft-left’ also fell out of favour.  One particular example of personal vindictiveness that remains etched in my memory is the treatment of long-standing Councillor Joyce Edmond-Smith.  The position of mayor had always gone to the longest-serving councillor, alternating between male and female.  When it came to Joyce, the majority of the Group, after Bassam had done his usual fixing, voted not to support Joyce as mayor.  Others Councillors were simply whispered against and maligned and deprived of seats on Council committees.

Our Steve started his life strong on civil liberties, squatting, opposition to state abuse of power.  He used to sell Statewatch magazine and was active in a local radical paper, Brighton Voice (indeed he was its Treasurer for a long time).  At the GLC he worked hard in the Police Committee exposing the racism and thuggery of the Metropolitan Police.  Today, as Jack Straw reduces the right to trial by jury and gives immigration officers the right to enter any home without warrant, Baron Bassam remains silent and supportive of all that New Labour does.  Today Lord Bassam is a ‘consultant’ to Accountancy firm KPMG.  KPMG are, of course, ‘experts’ on the privatisation of Council Services, and who better as an adviser than a noble Lord who just happens to be leader of the Council.  Of course, none of this is corruption and, as Mark Anthony noted, he is an honourable man.  Of one thing we can be certain.  Lord Bassam has certainly earned his place in a future government reshuffle. 

With a glittering future ahead of him, Lord Brownnose – as he is known to his colleagues – certainly deserves greater recognition for his past.  The erudite philosophy that he espoused, the thoughtful answers,  the dedicated commitment that he showed, all of these demand a wider audience.  Perish the thought that my intention is to steal a cheap laugh at Lord Bassam’s expense.  There may come a time, when New Labour is just a bad memory, when our noble Lord will rediscover his roots, and the word ‘socialist’ will once again grace his most noble of lips.  What could be more useful than a compendium of his noble Lord’s sayings?

In His Own Words
The  Wit & Wisdom of Baron Bassam

The Role of a Labour Council

Q:        What  do you think will happen if Labour finally gains control of Brighton Council?
Bassam:        "We will start implementing a radical left-wing socialist programme."

Q:        "Surely that will lead to… conflict with the government over ratecapping?"
Bassam:        "Conflict will be of the Government's making, not Brighton Labour Party's.  If there is a conflict then I'm sure Brighton Labour Party and members of the Labour Group  will take up the issue and fight a campaign to ensure Brighton's services are maintained."

Question concerning the "failure" of the last Labour Government and a future Labour government.
Bassam:        "I hope we can make the PLP much more accountable to Conference decisions.  We must ensure that we have a decent minimum wage….I shall not be part of a Government that urges wage restraint and holds  back the demands of working people."  [Bassam at this time was Labour PPC for Brighton Kemptown]  "I think the Campaign Group has provided a very useful focus in Parliament fore the activism in the Labour Movement."  [Interview in Brighton Labour Briefing, June 1985]

In another interview which I conducted shortly after Steve Bassam was selected as Labour’s PPC he made it clear that “I am committed to fundamental socialist change, … giving workers a controlling stake in all sections of the economy…We do have to have massive wholesale nationalisation which will mean rolling back the denationalisation process… and no compensation except in cases of proven hardship.”   

Accused of being “an old-fashioned Tribunite” our future Lord reminded us that “You cannot correct the problems of capitalism by taking hold of the capitalist structure and reforming it.”  
On the Militant Tendency (now the Socialist Party) Steven was warmly appreciative: “I recognise that they work very hard in local govt. and in Liverpool Militant comrades have taken a decisive role in campaigning and have undoubtedly mobilised large sections of the working class behind a very strong defence of local government democracy.”  

When Leader of the Council he launched on a purge of  Militant Councillors and supporters.  

Asked about his attitude to Sinn Fein he was equally effusive.  “Sections of the Party will react with undeniable indignation when they talk about not having SFG coming to the GLC or House of Commons.  That is a lot of nonsense.  I agree elements of SFG policy would form part of a socialist programme and its vital that we develop some of those links, particularly since there is an electoral force now developing within SFG capable of commanding broad based support among working class catholics.” [BLC May-June 1985]

In May 1986, in a front page article our Steve was quite explicit about the task ahead.  “The challenge for the party is then to sustain the Labour Group as it battles with a largely conservative bureaucracy to implement its programme… and how to mobilise public support for policies which means a profound shift of power away from vested interest groups of estate agents, hoteliers and the business elite that have run Brighton Council for decades, to working people.”  

Expanding on his themes of empowerment, Steven explained that “Tackling discrimination within the Council’s service for oppressed groups and opening up council services to those excluded because of disability or sexual preference is vital if the Party’s manifesto commitments are to mean anything.”  Quite, and no doubt the hounding from pillar to post of travellers was uppermost in the mind of the yet-to-be enobled Bassam as he warmed to his theme.  Nobody  can accuse him of underestimating the task ahead.  

“One of the important lessons of the demise of the GLC was the failure of the Labour administration to develop a soundly based working strategy with unions to oppose abolition.  Trade Union activity in the Council must be taken seriously by encouraging time off for TU work and participation in vital decision committees.”  

He also recognised that “At some point, a degree of conflict with central government is likely….We will need a campaign unit within the Council… in order to implement the programme.  A Programme Officer will be needed to ensure the even moving into place of key parts of the manifesto.”  Does anybody know the name of this person?  All of this would, of course, require “a more open and democratic relationship with the Labour Party… to project socialism by the sea an exciting experience worth being part of.”  

Socialism by the sea became transformed into the City by the Sea. [Brighton Briefing, May 1986, ‘Brighton’s Going Labour’]

Seeking Selection as Parliamentary Candidate

In February 1996, in an article for Brighton Briefing, Steve Bassam found himself up against a fellow Cllr. Richard Stanton (who later had the whip withdrawn by Bassam’s administration).  Steven waxed lyrical about the “cosmetic electoralism” of the Labour Party, and the “Labour’s shabby electoralism was such that it failed to set the political agenda.” 

On Privatisation the future consultant for KPMG wrote that “…when the profit motive is introduced” wrote, “the standard of services declines.  We must highlight the need to take control of the industries de-nationalised (without compensation).”  [BLB 2/96] 

“So far the Labour Group has used its strength to successfully resist the privatising of council services.  The logic of central government moves against local government spending make it inevitable that further efforts will be made to drive council services further into the hands of the privateers."  Clearly the ‘logic’ of the situation demanded that we would have to wait for a Labour majority before services could be effectively privatised! [BLB October 1984]

And Bassam railed against “Arch privateers Price Waterhouse [who] have got their hands on Brighton Council.  They are proposing a Council reorganisation package which has as its main objectives cuts in services, redundancies and a running down of the local democratic process.”  Clearly what the then Deputy Leader of the Labour Group objected to was the fact that it wasn’t KPMG, with him at the helm, who were making the proposals.  

And what were these rascally accountants proposing?  “…to reduce the number of Departments from 14 to 10.  They would like to reduce them still further to 4 but realise that Labour Opposition will prevent them going that far.  If approved there would be less democratic control over the activities of Chief Officers.”    

Unlike today of course when there are even fewer departments and Glynn Jones is an island unto himself.   And in case we didn’t get the message, Bassam explained that if PW got their way then “Power would rest in the hands of a special Chief Executive Dept. team of officers, with an elite of 7-8 making policy decisions and recommendations.”  Err, isn’t that what happens now?  “The town hall trade unions are all against the amalgamations, job cuts and threats to democratic accountability contained in these proposals…. We must take up the challenge and campaign to force out PW – the sequestrators.”  (referring to their role vs the NUM).  [Brighton Labour Campaigner, March-April 1995]

In a section entitled Taking on the Strong State he noted that “The miners strike has brought the reality of the 6 counties of N. Ireland into our pit villages and shown us in the long term effects of militarised policing and repressive legislation.”  Speaking of “the dangers inherent in the Police Act 1984” he wrote that Labour must “avoid out-torying the Tories as previously Labour governments have done on prison and policing policies.”  And on Ireland Steven was equally forthright:  “To end the political veto of the unionists, the case for troops out and the disarming of the RUC remain convincing.”   It was all heady stuff, though it is doubtful if he meant a word of it. [BLB February 1985]

In 1993 Steve Bassam was instrumental in cutting of the grant of the Unemployed Centre for running political campaigns.  In the previous year Brighton Law Centre had closed when its grant was removed and partially reallocated to Brighton Rights Advice Centre.  BRAC too lost its grant and closed a year later.  In 1987 Council intervention, and a further freezing of funds, caused the Unemployed Centre to abandon any thought of future political campaigning.  All of this would not be worth mentioning except for an interesting article entitled ‘Benefit Take Up Campaign Takes Off” where our Steve states that “Most of all this is a POLITICAL CAMPAIGN, any criticism of the present inadequate benefit system must be.”  [Brighton Labour Briefing, May 1982]

Civil Liberties

In the course of a long, two-part article ‘Policing by Coercion’ Steve Bassam waxed lyrical about the attack on civil liberties that the Police Act 1984 represented.  “We urgently need a local campaign to highlight the Bill’s potential impact, we could do worse than create a Labour Party civil liberties group to give the issues of civil liberties and freedom from oppression a higher profile in our political work.”  [BLB March 1984]  

In the first part of the article he explained that “The Bill deserves to be a political priority this session because of its significance for civil liberties and organised opposition to Thatcherite policies…. Put simply, the Bill must be seen as part of the Thatcher strategy of disciplining the labour force… In short blacks, CND activists, trades unionists on picket lines, squatters, and those involved in the struggle for a united Ireland have experienced coercive policing for years.”  It was all heady stuff.

Election Results

In his role as Election Co-ordinator in 1984 Steve Bassam, noted that “hard –work around a radical socialist programme can work wonders for party unity and party morale.”  A few years later he would be singing a different song. [BLB, June 1984]

Defying The Government

In an article ‘Council Under Fire’ Bassam was withering in his criticism of the latest cuts from Patrick Jenkin, then Environment Minister.  “New public toilets… would stop.”  Unlike the later Bassam administration which introduced Shirley Porter super-loos and closed most of Brighton’s free public toilets (are there any left?!)  Roused to indignation, Bassam demanded that “Labour must confront the government and local Tories with a policy of non-compliance.”  Of course Steve could be excused the heady rhetoric, as the Miners’ Strike was still on.  “opposition must be built into our County Council manifesto and our alternative budget strategy.”  [BLB, September 1984] 


“Bad housing debilitates and depresses whole generations.”  wrote Steve.  “In Brighton we must work in the communities, the Town Hall, with the Unions, particularly UCATT and NALGO to get the message over – Brighton demands its right to good housing for all.”  (there was no caveat for the single homeless, travellers or other minorities that upset the good Lord) [BLB March 1985]  

Those with long memories will remember the eagerness with which the new Labour administration in 1987 moved to increase rents.  At one Labour General Committee, the then Mr Bassam seriously suggested that it was the tenants themselves who were demanding their rents be increased!!  It is amusing to note that prior to gaining power Bassam boasted of how “Labour Councillors successfully led opposition to the Tory’s 20% rent rise proposal at the last council meeting… Brighton’s case for cheaper rents is beyond question…  It matters not to most tenants whether the rise is £3 or £2 a week a rise at all will hurt most of the 8 000 tenants who pay all or part of their rents…”  

Alongside his Council Report was ‘Campaign Notes for Your Branch’ which called on members to distribute the NO RENT RISE poster door to door on estates. [BLB December 1984]  The previous month Bassam had written an article ‘Freeze Council Rents!’ “Brighton Labour Party can see no justification for the massive rent rises which have taken place… They represent part of the Tory offensive designed to make low income families pay more for their housing…”  except presumably when levied by Labour Council’s under Lord Bassam!! –BLB 11/94]

Looking back its clear that the future Lord Bassam was given an easy ride by the Left.  His clichés and waffling were rarely challenged (the interview in Brighton Labour Campaigner May-June 1985 was the exception).  It was also clear to some of us, even then, that the main interest of Steve Bassam was in fulfilling his political ambitions by paying lip-service to the current political fashions rather than using the achievement of office to achieve prior political aims.  I am left with only one question.  What would Steve Bassam circa 1985 would have made of the future Lord Bassam?

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