Saturday, November 26, 2016


Who says Trump doesn’t make money for shareholders?

Astute IROs should restart the printing presses and ensure their own celebrity CEO adorns stock certificates
A few passing observations of the different operations needed to manufacture a sewing needle and of the practices of canny 18th century Scottish bankers gave Adam Smith the material for his concept of an ‘invisible hand’ that creates the wealth of nations. When great ideas and perceptions come into proximity at the same time, they can be sewn together to form a new pattern in the minds of men and women.
Our era is amazingly productive of such ideas. We have all sorts of theories, some contradicting each other, but happily adopted simultaneously by national and international leaders desperate to show they are ‘doing something’, as they boldly go across the thin economic ice where none has gone before. Along with trickle-down ‒ and trickle-up ‒ analysts try to cope with the increasing reluctance of economic reality to follow their prescriptions, let alone their predictions.
And alongside these macroeconomic fads is the cult of the celebrity executive, the CEO whose name is so numinous that it attracts offerings from awestricken investors. It surely betokens some deep anthropological need on the part of investors to gild their idols’ feet of clay, continually pumping money into companies whose falling profits and stock prices are inversely proportional to the compensation their management takes.
Ruminating on the news that the Federal Reserve, picking up from European central banks, was contemplating negative interest rates, I came across a scripophily advertisement that proves the point. Trump Hotels and Resorts raised $140 mn at its IPO 20 years ago ‒ and to show what made it attractive, its ticker symbol was DJT, and its snazzy certificate not only had the man’s signature but also had his portrait, hair and all.
Intriguingly, the prospectus invoked ‘THE TRUMP NAME’ (sic) claiming that ‘The Company capitalizes’ on the name’s ‘widespread recognition’, and ‘reputation for quality’. It overlooked mentioning that the huge tax losses on the properties had already been taken by the man selling them to the company that bore its name, indemnifying him against income tax for decades. The NAME notwithstanding, the stock price plummeted from $35 to 17 cents a share. Predictably, the eponymous holder of the voting shares took out more than $80 mn in pay and benefits even as the company lost more than $1 bn.
And in case readers think we are jumping on a bandwagon, I should point out that IR Magazine’s Speculator column first adumbrated Trump’s business acumen 18 years ago and returned to it 10 years ago.
Now some investors of little faith might have been tempted to sell that stock, but true believers in the Donald who held on to the share certificates gained the benefits of long-term investors. The certificate shown below, obtainable for mere pennies in 2004, is now selling for more than $140. Who said the Donald never made money for shareholders!
Taken together, this is inspirational for the investor relations community, introducing a whole new dimension to shareholder value. Throw in Trump, retail investors like those who bought into his company or Tyco, along with the idea of negative interest and we have, blazing like the military-style lasers probably spamming your mailbox now, negative dividends!This is surely a concept whose time has come, since it simply formalizes the common practice of shareholders paying for the privilege of compensating CEOs.
Since it is THE NAME that counts, astute IROs should restart the printing presses and ensure their own celebrity CEO adorns stock certificates and that stockholders are invited to regular bean-feasts with their idol with pictures, regular tweets and messages.
But we need to formalize the returns for the designated celebrity and not just rely on the vagaries of Chapter 11 ‒ hence the innovative idea of negative dividends. Ordinary shareholders should pay quarterly to the company to ensure the CEO has the lifestyle they emulate and want to vicariously share by being stockholders. Like a government run on a no-tax basis, there might be a few glitches to begin with, but the negative dividend has wings. It will fly – all the way to your favorite tax haven!
Trump share

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Arriviste Riche vs Arrivée Riche

Letter From America: Ian Williams

Written By: Ian Williams Tribune, London
Published: November 19, 2016 Last modified: November 17, 2016

At least the Clintons are consistent. They maintained a serene sense of entitlement almost to the end of the election night count. They had explained that the cancellation of the victory fireworks display in the East River was a consequence of the lateness of the count rather than a lack of confidence in victory.
That complacency had been unperturbed by Obama’s victory over Hillary and hardly dented by the Sanders’ upsurge. They really did not see how much they had alienated their traditional constituency with the huge gap between what she was forced to support by the Sanders’ campaign and her actual delivery on these issues.
The emails were not the major treasonable activity that Fox News would have, but the whole episode and her treatment of it, betrayed an arrogance that epitomised her whole campaign. To take huge fees for speaking to the bankers in private while denigrating them to the electorate was insulting the intelligence of the latter, not least when she refused to disclose what she had actually said.
It was historic irony that two such well-heeled candidates, both ethically challenged, should have been appealing for the votes of the victims of the system that had enriched them both. In the end, however, as always in American politics, it was race that won the race. The ‘Centrist’ politics of New Labour and Clinton’s Democrats is a mixture of liberalism on social issues of gender and identity thinly veiling unabashed neoliberalism on economic issues. It has a superficial charm: bankers and billionaires can indeed be gay and broadminded racially and continue raking in the benefits of a government and fiscal system loaded in their favour.
But the New Democrats depend on minority votes, so the Clintons specialized in vociferously and publically courting them as a vote bank – while screwing them with neoliberal policies, just as New Labour took working people in Britain for granted, paving the way for Farage and his ilk.
During the Sanders campaign many leftists bemoaned his lack of traction in the black community. Whether designedly or serendipitously, the Freedom Road rider and struggler for civil and economic rights eschewed Clintonian verbal pandering to the black community. His approach might have cost him the primary –  but it very likely would have won him the election.
The polling data suggests that too many of the minorities saw through Clinton’s feigned affection, while many white working class voters were alienated by her ostentatious courting of black and Latin voters as she happily gadded with Goldman Sachs and the rich elite. Sean McElwee of Demos published some interesting data on the prejudices of white working class voters showing how they feared minority competition along with elite domination, and it is a convincing explanation of where Trump’s support emerged from on election day.
In the dewy-eyed New Deal nostalgia of the left, we often overlook FDR’s very cynical deal, which was to ensure support for its policies by excluding most American blacks from its direct benefit. Those attitudes are alive and well, even, one might say even more so, in a country with a black president in the White House, not least a technocrat President who integrated rather too seamlessly into the neoliberal Washington consensus.
With all that, however, the incestuous political punditocracy’s assessment of electability has proven completely wrong and polls suggest that if it were not for the machinations of the Democratic leaders we would now be cheering a President Sanders. They completely missed the louche charms of Donald Trump, who, despite his inherited wealth came over as an outsider, a brash self-made man not scared to confront the metropolitan elite and their consensual ranks.
Of course, he now has to meet the expectations his insurgent candidacy have raised, and, sadly, highly visible executive action like beating up on immigrants is far easier than actually creating the jobs and wealth he has promised his supporters. One of the iconic moments of the election day was Trump turning up to vote in New York and being booed by a typical Manhattanite crowd. But not all TV clips showed that, up on the scaffolding across the street, the hard-hatted construction workers were cheering a man whose first major project employed undocumented Polish workers, who had to spend years in court to get their minimum wages out of him.
They probably could not afford to live in Manhattan, let alone in the apartments they were building, but the unions that secured them a living wage will be under threat from Trump policies now backed by Republican majorities in Congress. Trump is no ideologue, but he has surrounded himself with as slimy a bunch of ethically challenged conservatives as ever slithered out of the undergrowth. One hopes his arrogance will cow Giuliani, Christie, Gingrich, Bolton and the like, who even the hard right Republicans had shunned. If he wants a second term, he has to meet the expectations he aroused in the Rust Belt.

Selfish Success and Succession!

Investor Relations magazine, Fall 2016

Gold-plated CEOs have little incentive to appoint successors

Ian Williams ponders the best way to hire a figurehead
There has been a recent spate of complaints that boards and CEOs are not planning for CEO succession. Why is anyone surprised? Imperial CEOs assume the company will go to Hell in a handbasket as soon as they leave, and if CEOs need their maws stuffed with gold just to deliver good results, why would they care what happens once they have landed with their golden parachute? 
Just how essential are a CEO’s talents for a corporation? Like the divine right of kings, the indispensability of the CEO seems deeply rooted – but rarely investigated – in IR lore. CEOs are surrounded with awe and pomp while in office but, with a few rare exceptions, in reality they are ephemeral shooting stars who are almost instantly forgotten when they go. Carly Fiorina’s inglorious executive career, for example, had been buried in the public subconscious until she chose to resurrect herself as a US presidential candidate, only to see her reputation reburied even more deeply. 
By contrast, we are likely to remember the Fords and the Bacardis and members of the House of Windsor: these bosses’ names evoke historically successful businesses. Dynastic succession does not always work, however. Many years ago I interviewed the bright and optimistic IRO of Seagram – just before perky young heir Edgar Bronfman, Jr took over and destroyed the company. Normally, family members care enough about their operation to keep upstarts on a rein, but young Bronfman was unconstrained. A good CEO might not make much difference to the upside, but a bad one can signpost the road to Hell.
In fact, one reason for lack of succession planning might be that CEOs are taking the Ottoman approach. The first thing a new Sultan would do is murder all the siblings who might threaten his position, and one cannot help but wonder whether CEOs paranoid enough to need golden parachutes and other protective paraphernalia to guarantee safe succession really want to identify potential rivals – other than to exclude them from the equation.
A CEO is indeed a figurehead for a company: the first person investors see. But if we examine the metaphor, the figurehead only appears to be leading the ship. In reality the engine room is below decks, while the vessel is actually steered from much farther back. But figureheads were often decked with gold, so there is indeed a resemblance to the modern CEO.
How necessary is all that gold, though? Ostentatious emoluments – the corporate jets, the golden parachutes, and the rest – are there like Queen Elizabeth II’s privy purse, crown and state coach: so the incumbent can live up to the expectations that employees and shareholders hold of the company. 
The purpose of pretending to try outside recruitment is to boost the myth that there is a market for CEOs, so that the compensation committee the CEO appoints will be trapped in the whirring treadmill, always paying more than the average, and the few who are appointed from outside contribute admirably to the expanding universe of executive pay by doubling their remuneration. 
Above all, however, it is clear that a CEO’s main tasks are to perform for the shareholders and public, and to boost morale in the company. It is not that high pay is necessary to incentivize these executives, for surely they would give their all for the company anyway, out of loyalty? No. 
Preferably, then, the CEO succession should be from within the company so the candidates know its idiosyncrasies. For the pool of CEO candidates, therefore, the line of succession should clearly come from the IR department. IR people need some coaching in the simulation of leadership – acting, voice coaching, deportment and similar skills – but no one can match their knowledge of corporate workings. At last, a figurehead that thinks!
Then again, CEOs should epitomize, not exclude themselves from efficient market theory, which suggests that CEO contracts, like all others should go to the best qualified – and lowest – bidder, which in turn reinforces using the IR department as the recruitment pool – because everyone knows that IROs come cheaper than all others. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Other 2016 Election

United Nations Report

The Other 2016 Election: for Next U.N. Secretary-General

By Ian Williams

EVEN WITH ALL the media attention swallowed by the Trump/Clinton battle, there is amazingly little attention given to the selection of a new secretary-general to replace the retiring Ban Ki-moon. Making it even more remarkable is that, albeit by the opaque standards of previous elections, this is the most transparent in the 70-year history of the U.N., where the selection of the world’s “secular pope” has traditionally been carried out in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms.
It is perhaps a blessing that both Trump and Clinton are too preoccupied to pay much attention to the secretary-generalship issue, as their influence on that election is unlikely to be constructive. It was, after all, Clinton’s close comrade-in-arms Madeleine Albright who used American veto power to ensure that Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the only Arab ever to hold the position, was not allowed a second term, and whose imperious attitude to the organization led to perennial tensions with even close U.S. allies.
Surprisingly, Trump has been too busy with populist xenophobia about Mexicans to bother about the U.N. It has not been one of his targets so far. It would seem that his supporters were a natural constituency for those who used to believe that UNESCO World Heritage sites in the U.S. were a U.N. land grab and potential bases for black helicopters to take over the country. Maybe looking for Mexicans and Muslims under the bed has diverted their attention—but, in any case, Trump’s nose for business would remind him that much of his shaky real estate empire in Manhattan would be adversely affected if the United Nations and its high rent diplomats were to quit. He built the ugly Trump Tower directly opposite the U.N. to cater to them, after all—and even offered his services as developer to Kofi Annan to refurbish the old U.N. HQ.
In any case, another president has intervened in a significant way. Danish Social Democrat leader Mogens Lykketoft was elected last year as president of the General Assembly, and as a few of his predecessors occasionally did, he decided to make his mark since his term coincided with the selection of the secretary-general. Although in practice it is overlooked, under strict diplomatic protocol the U.N. president counts as a head of state, with 21-gun salutes and all that, while the secretary-general officially is merely ranked as the equivalent of a foreign minister!
The actual power to nominate is still firmly in the hands of the Security Council.
In the real world, however, the secretary-general is there for at least one, and—except in the case of Boutros-Ghali—for two terms, while the presidency rotates annually. Lykketoft has made his mark on posterity by getting the Security Council to agree to a more transparent secretary-general selection process. With most of the membership backing him, he secured the Security Council’s agreement to make public the names and qualifications of the candidates and to present them to the whole membership of the United Nations.
That work was backed up by the various foundations and NGOs around the U.N., and meetings were held in New York and around the world for candidates to strut their stuff in front of diplomats, academics and human rights supporters, while governments and PR firms touted their candidacies.
Transparency has its limits, however. The actual power to nominate is still firmly in the hands of the Security Council, and thus subject to the veto power of any or all of the five permanent members. There have been three straw polls, with the last taking place at the end of the August, in which the Council’s 15 members record whether they would “encourage,” “discourage” or have no opinion about the various candidates. Under the official procedure, the president of the Security Council merely informs the General Assembly president that the poll has taken place—without sharing the results. Absurdly, most or all of the Council members immediately rush and tell the press what the voting results are. It is a secret ballot, leaving participants in the dark about whether the “discourage” votes imply a veto coming down the line.
Complicating the already arcane process are underlying presumptions, none of which are actual rules. Firstly, the East European group has never had a secretary-general and claims it is their turn. Against that is the reality that the group is a Cold War hangover, most of whose members have either joined or applied to join the European Union. However, Moscow, not traditionally favorable to the rotation principle—or indeed to the often anti-Russian governments of its former clients—has become more sympathetic to the idea, not least since several of the candidates were brought up and groomed in the Communist era and tend to pay attention to what Vladimir Putin would tell them. These are, of course, unlikely to attract enthusiastic support from the Western veto holders.
The second principle being invoked is that it is long overdue for a woman to take the position—which is, in abstract, entirely true. However, observation of the records of Margaret Thatcher, Albright, Golda Meir or Indira Gandhi in high office leads to questions about whether it follows that having a woman in office is good for women in general or the world—which leads to the final, and often overlooked, principle of the candidates’ competence and integrity.
Theoretically, the various hustings have allowed the candidates to demonstrate this to a watching world. The earnest assumption is that the Security Council members will have to take this into account when they make their final choice. But they have their ready-made excuses. A consistently clear front runner was the Portuguese former head of the U.N. refugee program, António Guterres, who has now managed to accrete several “discourages”—and one can be sure that the excuse is that Portugal is on the wrong end of Europe, and that he is male. On the other hand, one of the stars of the hustings was Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, a star of the Climate Change program, whom the audience clearly rated highly. But she has amassed a surprising number of “discourage” votes—the real reason being that she seems principled and outspoken, not least on issues like Climate Change, on which many member states are still shuffling their feet. And, of course, the excuse will be that while she is a woman, she is not Eastern European.
Other candidates have been amassing more and more negatives, and the field seems very volatile. If the Russians nixed Guterres, currently in second place is Slovakian diplomat Miroslav Lajčák, who has just surged from 10th place, implying some lobbying behind the scenes. A former communist party member now with EU credentials, he might bridge the gap. The runners up are Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian head of UNESCO, who seems to have Moscow’s tacit support based on close connections, and Vuk Jeremic of Serbia, whose vociferous opposition to Kosovar independence makes him unlikely to get Western support.
Bokova is close to the Russians, by family and upbringing, and has devoted her time at UNESCO to canvassing for the job, but the British and others are very suspicious of her sharp elbows and feel that her ambition led her to neglect her actual duties at UNESCO. But she is a woman, and she is Eastern European, so the question is how disgruntled they will be about her. She is certainly adroit, getting credit from the Non-Aligned Movement for allowing Palestinian membership in UNESCO on the agenda, while reassuring the Israelis (and their friends) that it had nothing to do with her!
As the process moves on, the polls will reveal whether the opposition to the various candidates goes as far as actual vetoes. Perhaps it is a blessing that so far the election is below the horizon for the various lobbies in Washington, since there are too many factors already complicating this process.


In the meantime, Ban Ki-moon is clearly in lame duck mode as far as the Moroccans are concerned. The Moroccans ritually abuse him in every speech, which is one thing. But the French and other Security Council members let them get away with it. Many of the MINURSO staff in Western Sahara have still not been allowed back into the country. The Moroccans and their French allies, with U.S. complicity, continue to fight off any attempts to include a human rights monitoring component in the mission, making it unique among U.N. missions.
As we go to press, there are signs that Morocco, emboldened by Franco-American acquiescence, is encroaching beyond the cease-fire line in the south, risking provocation with both Polisario and Mauritania. In an oblique way it shows the potential power of a secretary-general—if he (or she) is backed by significant powers. As Boutros-Ghali, exasperated with U.S.-backed mandates from the Security Council unaccompanied by any resources, complained, “I can do nothing. I have no army. I have no money. I have no experts. I am borrowing everything. If the member states don’t want it, what can I do?”
In his day, the only power in a position to provide support was the U.S., which would lead to palpitations in any secretary-general, whether it were Trump or Clinton in Washington. But the world has changed. Europe, even in its current disheveled state, China, even Russia, might be in a position to back an enterprising incumbent. Certainly Washington’s (and Congress’ and the Lobby’s) effective financial veto is not what it was.
But the new secretary-general will immediately cope with the impasse in Syria, where all the talk of a Brave New World of responsibilities to protect, collective concern for humanitarian law, and international action are going up in a firestorm stirred by cynical bystanders who are managing to give Levantine politics a bad time. Everyone’s enemy is someone’s friend, but the U.N. is supposed to be the enemy of inhumanity. And humanity has few friends in this fight. 

U.N. correspondent Ian Williams’ book Untold: the Real Story of the United Nations will be published by Just World Books in Spring 2017.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Best Person for the Job. UN SG Guterres.

Letter from America

Written By: Ian Williams
Tribune  Published: October 25, 2016 L
It was not good week for the bean counters. António Guterres is neither East European, nor female, but the newly designated ninth UN Secretary General is indisputably the best person for the job. In the end, it is almost reassuring to note that the permanent five and the other members of the Council care enough about the organization to choose the best candidate!
Guterres walked to an easy finish as soon as the first “real” straw ballot – in which the veto-holding permanent members showed their true colours by voting with red ballot papers. If those who wanted a woman had united behind one suitably qualified candidate, they might have won the day, but seven women running against each other made it easier for the best candidate to win. In fact, from the permanent five only Britain said it would prefer a female candidate, but presumably drew the line at an Argentinean foreign minister who wants the Malvinas back, or a Bulgarian apparatchik with Putin’s hearty support. The key issue was whether veto-wielding Moscow could take a West European democratic socialist. It was helped when Bulgaria supported a second Bulgarian candidate weakening the expedient Russian stand for an East European and a woman, by which they meant Irina Bukova the head of UNESCO.
The newly “transparent” procedure, under which candidates addressed the General Assembly with its 193 members, did expose the selection to the light of day. Even if the Security Council made the final decision, it did so knowing it had to choose from candidates who had been under the scrutiny of the Assembly and the public. One wonders whether Kurt Waldheim or Perez de Cuellar would have passed such scrutiny.
Guterres’ candidacy was also helped by support from African countries who maintain good relations with Portugal, whose socialist Rose revolution ended the colonial power’s wars of repression, and also by his record as head of the UN refugee agency, the most overworked, active and least hidebound section of the UN apparatus.
Not least, as a former Prime Minister of an important, but non-threatening power, with his relationships with world leaders going back years, not to mention contacts across the whole spider’s web of UN organizations, Guterres is not going to be a mere secretary, taking dictation from the great powers. He has an independent stature and presence that will help him tell the not-so-good great powers when they are failing in their responsibilities. Sadly, as we see in Syria, and indeed Yemen, that is all too often.
Intriguingly but understandably, the elephant in the room is that none of the candidates mentioned the Israel-Palestine issue, even though it occupies so much time and effort at the UN. This was an issue that Ban Ki-Moon had taken some time to acquaint himself with, and after visiting Gaza he quickly learnt that Washington’s views were not shared by the rest of the world. Within a short time, Ban was condemning settlements and assaults on Gaza with a brio that would have risked his suspension from the Labour Party as an anti-Semite.
In contrast, Guterres hits the ground running. As Portuguese Prime Minister, as President of the Socialist International, and above all as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he has been deeply involved in the Middle East in all its manifestations, not least in its tragic role as one of the globe’s leading producers of refugees.
He lamented in 2014, that the world’s various refugee crises “pale in comparison to the desperate situation of the Palestinians, the largest protracted refugee situation in the world”. He pointed out that Palestinians in Syria were “being forced to flee for the second time,” but it was “shocking” that Gazans “could not even flee to seek safety” from the latest Israeli onslaught. “No one wants to be a refugee. But for the people of Gaza, not even that was an option.”
The rational conclusion is that Israel once again faces a UN Secretary General who is quite prepared to talk to its leaders, some of whom he knew from the Socialist International, but who will firmly remind them that they are not exempt from the UN Charter and International Law.
A Secretary General has many other problems to face. Climate Change, world poverty, the teetering international financial situation and great power conflicts more threatening than anything since the fall of the Berlin Wall. On all of these, he can do little or nothing without the backing of the world’s major powers, but the evidence of his career is that he is in position to do better than any other candidate would have been. His election is good news for the UN and the world.
While in internationalist mode, Guterres is a former President of the Socialist International, from which the Labour Party withdrew with no debate or membership consultation a few years ago. It is now only an observer party,  though it actually refounded it in 1951, Neil Kinnock is still listed as an honorary President and its headquarters is still in London. The new Labour leadership may have other things to think about,but it would be good to rejoin the SI and align with the New Secretary General.

Whitewash or Ignorance? The US and the Phillipines

Do we wonder why US foreign relations are strained when the self-style newspaper of record shows such abysmal ignorance, or wilful self-deceit?

From today's New York Times on Duterte..
"The United States took the Philippines from Spain in 1898, inheriting Spain’s war against Muslim rebels who were seeking independence. Fighting continued for decades in the southern Philippines, where Islamic rebels still operate today.
In 1906, American troops massacred about 600 people — including rebels, women and children — who had taken refuge in the Bud Dajo volcanic crater on the island of Jolo."

From the US State Department Official History site!

The Philippine-American War, 1899–1902

After its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. On February 4, 1899, just two days before the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American forces and Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo who sought independence rather than a change in colonial rulers. The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.
“Battle of Manila Bay”
The decision by U.S. policymakers to annex the Philippines was not without domestic controversy. Americans who advocated annexation evinced a variety of motivations: desire for commercial opportunities in Asia, concern that the Filipinos were incapable of self-rule, and fear that if the United States did not take control of the islands, another power (such as Germany or Japan) might do so. Meanwhile, American opposition to U.S. colonial rule of the Philippines came in many forms, ranging from those who thought it morally wrong for the United States to be engaged in colonialism, to those who feared that annexation might eventually permit the non-white Filipinos to have a role in American national government. Others were wholly unconcerned about the moral or racial implications of imperialism and sought only to oppose the policies of PresidentWilliam McKinley’s administration.
After the Spanish-American War, while the American public and politicians debated the annexation question, Filipino revolutionaries under Aguinaldo seized control of most of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and proclaimed the establishment of the independent Philippine Republic. When it became clear that U.S. forces were intent on imposing American colonial control over the islands, the early clashes between the two sides in 1899 swelled into an all-out war. Americans tended to refer to the ensuing conflict as an “insurrection” rather than acknowledge the Filipinos’ contention that they were fighting to ward off a foreign invader.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Liverpool and Corbyn three decades on.

I fought the hard left in the 1980s. Now I’m backing Corbyn
Neil Kinnock should understand Corbyn’s plight – he once endured the same hostility from within his own party and the media
Guardian Saturday 24 September 2016 0
The impending Labour conference in Liverpool evokes a sense of deja vu all over again. Once more we will have a Labour leader confronting a clique that is seeking to seize the party machinery.

Analysis Jeremy Corbyn: is he really unelectable as prime minister?
Opinion in Labour circles is sharply divided about whether their new leader can take the party into government

Three decades ago, it was Neil Kinnock at the Bournemouth conference, making his famous speech about Militant, while I was in Liverpool fighting an attempt by a dedicated, well-organised group of entryists to seize the party structure and use it for its own political agenda. This time it is Jeremy Corbyn being denounced by Labour MPs and confronting the self-described party “moderates”.
Like many of the old left I frankly wondered about Corbyn when he stood – but in the end mostly found that the complete absence of personal ambition that had deprived him of experience for leadership was one of his foremost qualities, especially when faced with the blandly insincere, uninspiring, but patently ambitious New Labour clones who were competing with him.
Even now, I cannot truly understand the depth of the Labour establishment’s revulsion for Corbyn, because I have yet to hear or read a lucid case against his politics, except that he is deemed to be “unelectable”, which would be more convincing if it did not come from those who are working overtime to make it true.
The inarticulate anger about his candidacy reminds me of what George Orwell wrote about totalitarian literary language, that it has “a curious mouthing sort of quality, as of someone who is choking with rage & and can never quite hit on the words he wanted”. With Owen Smith having stolen Corbyn’s policies, it makes the rage even more perplexing.
orbyn supporters

 ‘Corbyn has inspired hundreds of thousands of formerly disillusioned members and newly motivated activists, joining what they consider to be the reborn Labour party.’ Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Kinnock, now canonised by the pundits as the man who paved the way for Labour’s electoral turnaround in the 1990s, should recognise the media’s treatment of Corbyn. When Kinnock was leader, reporters used to meet in the pub to sort out the “line” for events, even before they happened, and in one form or another I remember it was always “a slap in the face for Kinnock”. However, not even in the backstabbing tradition of the parliamentary Labour party were so many members so actively complicit in his attempted death by a thousand hacks.
Militant was eventually beaten, by a combination of administrative action and membership revulsion at its eminently parodiable oratorical style, pseudo-scouse accents and rigid self-righteousness. It was what we would now call the soft left, and the so-called Tribune group, that did much of the heavy lifting. We brought in John Prescott, Robin Cook and others to speak in the Militant Merseyside heartland and offer an alternative left vision to exorcise the ghosts of the Fourth Internationals.
If you want some flavour of that alternative vision it is worth looking at Kinnock’s famous speech, and even beyond his call “to strip ourselves of the illusions of nuclear grandeur”, to his stirring yet pragmatic invocation of Labour values. “There is no need to compromise values, there is no need in this task to surrender our socialism, there is no need to abandon or even try to hide any of our principles, but there is an implacable need to win, and there is an equal need for us to understand that we address an electorate which is sceptical, an electorate which needs convincing, a British public who want to know that our idealism is not lunacy, our realism is not timidity, our eagerness is not extremism.” That was the Kinnock on whose team I worked for the 1987 election.
Sadly the softness of the left was its primary characteristic. After Kinnock, Tony Blair’s people managed to swamp and dissolve the Tribune group and, in keeping with New Labour’s attempts to emulate Bill Clinton in the US, turned the party into a PO box for corporate donations. They squeezed out “special interest groups” like the unions, and took the core electorate of the party for granted – while filtering out potential parliamentary candidates who might put Labour values above their career, thereby disenfranchising the membership.
But as Kinnock went on to say: “We have voluntarily, every one of us, joined a political party. We wish a lot more people would come and join us, help us, give us their counsel, their energies, their advice, broaden our participation. But in making the choice to join a political party we took a decision, and it was that by persuasion we hoped that we could bring more people with us. So that is the basis on which we have got to act, want to act.”
Corbyn’s sincerity and vision is reminiscent of Kinnock in that speech and of the party pre-Blair and Peter Mandelson: the soft democratic left of that era,with its concern for human rights and socialism, the heirs to Nye Bevan. Corbyn has inspired hundreds of thousands of formerly disillusioned members and newly motivated activists, who are joining what they consider to be the reborn Labour party because they think that their views will now make a difference, not be ignored or pre-empted by controlling cliques from revolutionaries of the left or careerists of the right. Entryists hate such swelling membership rolls because they are inherently uncontrollable. They prefer a hollowed-out organisation they can control.
So instead of engaging in McCarthyite smears against the new and renewed members, calumniating them as entryists and disenfranchising them, those currently sitting on the benches of Westminster should be welcoming them and joining them on the streets to turn the tide for Labour.
orbyn confronted by reporters at a poster launch

 Corbyn confronted by reporters at a poster launch: ‘Kinnock should recognise the media’s treatment of Corbyn.’ Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters