Workers' Weekly Masthead

Volume 29, Number 21, October 30 to November 13, 1999

House of Lords Reform Will Not Bring Democracy Nearer:

Democratic Renewal of Political Processes and Institutions Is Needed for the People to Exercise Sovereignty

Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

House of Lords Reform Will Not Bring Democracy Nearer:
Democratic Renewal of Political Processes and Institutions Is Needed for the People to Exercise Sovereignty

For Your Reference:
Reform of the House of Lords

Youth and Students Hold Successful Meeting: The Future Belongs to the Youth!

Resolutions of the Meeting "The Future Belongs to the Youth!"

Safeguarding The Future of the Health Service
NHS Support Federation Public Conference "Our NHS" Exposes New Labour's Agenda for NHS

82nd Anniversary of the Great October Revolution

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House of Lords Reform Will Not Bring Democracy Nearer:

Democratic Renewal of Political Processes and Institutions Is Needed for the People to Exercise Sovereignty

The voting rights of all but 92 hereditary peers came to an end when parliament was prorogued on Thursday, November 11. A further 10 hereditary peers have been made life peers. A Royal Commission is also set to make proposals by the end of the year for how the House of Lords should ultimately be reformed.

These measures have been described by Tony Blair as a blow against "feudalism", against privilege. But the question arises, does this reform bring democracy nearer? Is it a step in the direction of the people exercising sovereignty and governing themselves?

The hereditary peerage has long since ceased to be a significant force in society. Those who have wealth put their money into the big monopolies and financial institutions. They are part of the financial oligarchy. Nor, as the hereditary peers depart the scene, has the second chamber significant power. Its legislative power has been steadily eroded until at present it can at most act as an "embarrassment" to the government in delaying certain Bills. In targeting the hereditary peerage as a block to progress, Tony Blair is creating an air of achieving some important democratic reform, but is in effect consolidating the political status quo.

Naturally, the voting rights of a section of society who obtain these voting rights by being the first sons (or other next of kin) of their fathers should be swept away. But how a second chamber should be reformed is the more relevant issue. Even more relevant is the democratic renewal of the political process and institutions as a whole. If democracy, government by, of and for the people, exists then indeed what is the role of a second chamber at all? The question also arises, how can this present reform of the Lords be a blow against "feudalism" when the feudal remnant which does actually play a role in holding back progress remains intact? If it were the hereditary principle that is being aimed at, then clearly the first reform would be to abolish the monarchy.

This highlights that it is thorough-going democratic renewal which is needed. The present system is one in which the people are prevented from participating in governance, from deciding their own affairs, are reduced to mere voting cattle every four or so years, by an archaic institution described in constitutional terms by the phrase "monarch-in-parliament". This is the system which has remained fundamentally unchanged for 339 years and which was established to protect the interests of the "men of property". Over those years it has developed with the growth of parliamentary parties and the cabinet system. Thus the Prime Minister and Cabinet of the day can, using the Royal Prerogative, declare war, sign treaties, even declare a State of Emergency and suspend all rights, without even consulting parliament, let alone the electors. It is the continued existence of the monarchy and the Cabinet system of the House of Commons, not some hereditary Lords, which ensures that parliament still serves the interests of today's "men of property", those whose bidding the Cabinet inevitably carries out, the financial oligarchy.

Tony Blair's programme for the "Reform of the House of Lords" therefore more than anything else underlines the fraud of the whole system of parliamentary democracy. It underlines that in the present system the people take no part in self-governance, and the "reform" is being carried out in the context of Labour's whole programme of so-called "constitutional reform". This has the aim of consolidating the status quo and keeping the people on the margins of society, away from being able to control their lives. The terms of reference for reform of the House of Lords make it clear that the executive is to remain supreme. The second chamber is presented as part of the "checks and balances" that are supposedly required in order to moderate the power of the first chamber which embodies the party system of government. It is further suggested that there should be a balance of parties in the second chamber, so even more entrenching the party system. The fundamental reform where it is the people themselves who have the right to select candidates, not the political parties, where the electorate have a right to recall their representatives – this fundamental reform is not even hinted at. Instead, it is suggested that some further form of political patronage is appropriate for the second chamber.

The programme of the working class for democratic renewal is summed up in the demand for a modern written constitution. Such a constitution would vest sovereignty in the people themselves, and enshrine the rights and duties of all citizens. It would embody the fundamental law that elected representatives and all institutions must be subordinate to the electorate. It would enshrine that the executive power must be subordinate to the legislative power, to a parliament where elected representatives share power with the electorate. Nothing less than depriving all elites of their positions of political power and privilege is what is required, not some "reform" which takes these positions of privilege from one elite and places them with others, while consolidating the political power of yet other elites. What is blocking progress is not an unreformed House of Lords, and that when this reform takes place progress is guaranteed. Far from it. What is blocking the path to the progress of society is that sovereignty is not vested in the people where it belongs. Rather than privilege being summarily shifted from one elite to others, the right of the people to govern themselves, to elect and be elected, must be recognised. The reform of the institutions that is needed is one in which such a right is turned into a reality, which ensures the maximum participation of the electors in governance.

Article Index


For Your Reference:

Reform of the House of Lords

The 1997 Labour Party Manifesto contained the following pledge:

The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. This will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative. The legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered.

The system of appointment of life peers to the House of Lords will be reviewed. Our objective will be to ensure that over time, party appointees as life peers more accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election. We are committed to maintaining independent cross-bench presence of life peers. No one political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords.

A committee of both Houses of Parliament will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change and then to bring forward proposals for reform. We have no plans to replace the monarchy.

House of Lords Act

The Act removes the entitlements of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. Peers will retain their titles and be allowed to pass them on. They will also be given the right to vote in, and stand as candidates for, Parliamentary elections. The Act does not affect the position of either the Law Lords or the Bishops.

The Weatherill amendment allows 92 hereditary peers to survive the Bill's enactment. Two hereditary peers, the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk; and the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Marquess of Cholmondeley; have ceremonial roles and thus did not have to stand for election. They will continue in office. The first election was held on 27-28 October, for 15 deputy speakers and other office holders. All hereditary peers who registered were entitled to vote. The second round of elections was held on 3-4 November, for the remaining 75 peers: 42 Conservatives, 28 cross-benchers, 3 Liberal Democrats and 2 Labour hereditary peers. Only peers from each grouping could vote in the elections for those who remained.

Wakeham Commission

The terms of reference of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords are:

Having regard to the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent chamber of Parliament and taking particular account of the present nature of the constitutional settlement, including the newly devolved institutions, the impact of the Human Rights Act and developing relations with the European Union:

  • to consider and make recommendations on the role and functions of a second chamber;
  • to make recommendations on the method or combination of methods of composition required to constitute a second chamber fit for that role and those functions;
  • to report by 31 December 1999.

The last public meeting of the Royal Commission was held in London on 27 July. Lord Wakeham and his team are being asked to consider the Second Chamber not only in terms of its relationship with the Commons, but also its relations with the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, the London mayor and possible future regional assemblies will all have to be taken into consideration. The commission will also have to consider the effects of the recent incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.

Article Index

Youth & Students Page

Youth and Students Hold Successful Meeting: The Future Belongs to the Youth!

The Youth and Students Conference, "The Future Belongs to the Youth!", was held in an atmosphere of great enthusiasm on Sunday, October 31, 1999. At the meeting a Preparatory Committee was formed to organise a National Conference of Youth and Students in the year 2000. This was the focus of the conference and is a step of far-reaching significance in building a new youth and student movement in Britain.

Representative of the Central Committee addressing the meeting

The content of the conference summed up in the title, "The Future Belongs to the Youth!", which is that to deal with their future, the youth must end their marginalisation and build a bright future for themselves.

The conference was extremely successful and vigorous, marked by the full participation of the youth present – young workers, university youth and school youth, including second and third generation national minority youth – in setting their agenda and carrying it out.

Twelve youth from all over Britain attended the conference in central London, as well as a representative of the Youth Organising Project (YOP) from Canada. The conference opened with welcoming remarks from a representative of the Workers' Weekly Youth Group (WWYG), the organisers, who also gave a brief account of the work of WWYG since its formation in response to the call of the 3rd Congress of RCPB(ML) to organise the youth for modern communism and to participate in political affairs. Organising the youth to open the path for progress, irrespective of their ideology, was the spirit of the conference.

The keynote speech was given by a representative of the Central Committee of RCPB(ML). He pointed out that not only must the problems of the youth as a collective be sorted out by the youth themselves, but they can only do so by opening the door for the progress of the society. The important thing, he said, in the period where the ebb of revolution has not yet changed into its flow is to make all the necessary decisions so as to prepare for when the flow of revolution is once again upon us. He pointed out that all the problems facing the youth have their objective basis in the society as it exists today. From an analysis of the source of the problems, he said, it has to be concluded that the issue facing the youth is to build a bright future for themselves and end their marginalisation from the affairs of society by taking up the programme to open the door for the progress of society.

The representative of YOP shared their experience in building a youth movement in Canada. She congratulated the British youth for their initiative in organising this conference and stated that the Canadian youth felt it is of utmost importance that the youth and students build their future together. The youth then devoted two sessions of the conference to discussing the problems they face in the context of the keynote speech, the necessity for the youth to be in the forefront of the struggle to open the door for the progress of society.

All the participants then involved themselves in drafting the resolutions of the conference. These resolutions, centring around establishing the Preparatory Committee for a National Youth and Students Conference, were presented in the final session and were passed unanimously. They are printed below.

Hail the Decision to Establish the Preparatory Committee for the National Youth and Students Conference!

It Can Be Done! It Must Be Done!

Article Index


Resolutions of the Meeting "The Future Belongs to the Youth!"

(All passed unanimously)

1. Recognising the necessity to build a bright future for the youth, and for the youth to be political, so as to put an end to their criminalisation and end their marginalisation from the affairs of society, this "The Future Belongs to the Youth!" conference resolves to form the Preparatory Committee for the National Conference of Youth and Students to be held in the year 2000.

2. This meeting calls on its participants to come forward to join the Preparatory Committee. The Preparatory Committee resolves to hold regular meetings to address the issues facing the youth, and take responsibility for organising the National Conference of Youth and Students.

3. The Preparatory Committee resolves to contribute to the work to make the Workers' Weekly Youth and Students Page a success by writing for this page on its work.

4. The Preparatory Committee resolves to respond to the demand for more discussion groups, organised by the youth. It believes that the government should stop dictating what it believes is best for the youth, and that the youth need to have their own voice.

5. The Preparatory Committee resolves to take up the slogan It Can Be Done! It Must Be Done! as a guide to action.

Article Index

----- Safeguarding the Future of the Health Service -----

NHS Support Federation Public Conference "Our NHS" Exposes New Labour's Agenda for NHS

On Saturday, October 23, the NHS Support Federation organised a one-day public Conference in Conway Hall, Central London, entitled "Our NHS". Over 250 people attended the conference with many people travelling from London and other areas. The participants included consultants, GPs, nurses and other health staff, as well as a number of campaigns fighting to save hospitals and hospital and community services. Members of the Kent and Canterbury Campaign organised a coach to come to the conference, and a number of campaigners from Health Concern Kidderminster and Crawley Hospital Campaign also attended.

One of founding members of the NHS Support Federation and President Professor Harry Keen welcomed people to the conference. There then followed a session on "The future of our health service" in which speakers were invited to address the conference and examine in some detail the agenda of New Labour on Health Care. Dr Ron Singer, NHS Primary Care Alliance, said among other things that much of the "new money" that the government has announced for the NHS comes from the operational fund. But, he said, "Like fishes and loaves the fund seems to stretch and stretch to the 'waiting list initiative', then to 'information technology', 'cardiac surgery' and so on." This all comes from the operational fund. So, he said, it is so difficult to know how this new money arrives at health authorities and Primary Health Care Groups. "There is a feeling of sleight of hand," he remarked. At the same time, in his remarks the speaker outlined the role of the Primary Health Care Alliance, his role, as one of "helping the government to turn their notions on Primary Health Care into reality". He characterised the role of the 450 new Primary Health Care Groups and Primary Health Care Trusts that will emerge from them as "no longer pretending" that the NHS will provide comprehensive health care. He explained how that even with lay representatives such bodies would take decisions on "what would not be provided" rather than what would be provided by the NHS. He said that this was because the under funding of the NHS would continue.

Dr Ron Singer's remarks showed that New Labour has no intention of ensuring that the economy is organised to provide the investments needed for even the "health initiatives" that they have undertaken. New Labour's vision for health care in the next century is one in which the provision of comprehensive health care has been removed from the agenda. The remarks emphasised the direction of society under New Labour's "modernisation" of public services as in fact retrogression to eliminate all the gains over medievalism and to eliminate all notions of a modern society providing for health care, public welfare and social provision.

Professor Allyson Pollock also addressed the conference. She spoke about the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle in November with 134 member states taking part. She said it was very important because the transnational corporations were seeking at this meeting to open up every sphere of public life to the market. They were seeking to roll back national sovereignty and the restrictions which governments have in place as to the extent which public services can be opened up to the market place. She said that the profits of the transnational companies have fallen and they are now seeking to target public funds. They have two agendas, one of targeting public funds for health education and welfare, and the other of targeting by privatisation the very services that are being delivered. She pointed out that this global agenda, as well as the European agenda, is a major agenda in public services and public utilities. She said that what is going on in Primary Care Groups and Primary Care Trusts is part of this agenda with the private companies providing both capital and services. The Norwich Union, for example, has put up £100 million for which it has now got in Bradford a huge Primary Care Health Centre.

Speaking about the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), Professor Pollock said that Tony Blair has continued this from Norman Lamont under the previous government. Tony Blair likes to rhetorically ask who can be opposed to the PFI when it is a new source of capital and a new source of funding for our public services. Professor Pollock emphasised, "This is a very important point. The PFI is not a new source of funding, it does not bring money in. It is simply a source of financing. Who picks up the bill for this financing? It is the public services and the NHS year, after year, after year."

Professor Pollock said that what we are seeing is handing over of our land and our assets, and a major shrinkage in our public space at our schools, hospital sites, our community centres, our playing fields and so on. She pointed out that at present 8-12% of the operational budgets of Health Authorities and Trusts are spent on servicing capital debts. At the PFI hospitals, this has increased up to 18% of the operational budget and at the same time each PFI project has greatly reduced the number of beds. Britain now has the lowest number of hospital beds per capita in Europe except for Turkey. She pointed out that the contracts guarantee no risk to the private sector in securing their profits whilst the risk to patients in not receiving services is not even mentioned.

Professor Pollock's remarks reflected the present situation which is one where capitalism is driven by the contradictions within it, by trying to counter the falling rate of profit so as to achieve the maximum profits possible regardless of anything else. This situation is different from the previous period. Finance capital and the multinationals are demanding changes at the World Trade Talks because capitalism has passed from a system where the state provided cheap nationalised public services to the monopolies so that they could make maximum profits by raising prices and holding down wages, to a system where through liberalisation and privatisation of those public services everything is being geared to paying the rich. National assets such as public utilities and health services are now sacrificed in pursuit of maximum profits and paying the rich from public funds, or by such mechanisms as the PFI, in an increasingly globalised economy.

In the afternoon session a number of campaigners addressed the conference from Health Concern Kidderminster, Watch/ Watford and Community Care protection Group Bromley. In one of the contributions, Dr Richard Taylor of Health Concern Kidderminster addressed the conference. He said that there had been three phases with the campaign to save the accident services at the hospital. He said that at first there was petitioning, demonstrations and the like. Then the decision went to the Secretary of State who rubber-stamped the closures. The Community Health Council then attempted a Judicial Review and this got nowhere. Within a very short space of time, he said, the campaign decided to go onto phase two. This was to "harness the power of the ballot box". In the May council elections the campaign fielded 15 candidates and got 11 of them elected taking 42% of the votes and displacing the Labour Party, who were supporting the health cuts, from control of the council. The first initiative of the councillors was to demand an immediate independent enquiry into the hospital closures and this was unanimously passed by the council.

Dr Taylor said that they were now onto the third phase which was a plan to organise such rigid monitoring of the Accident and Emergency Service that they will pick up the people who die in ambulances because they have to travel 35 miles from Kidderminster. He said, "We defy any doctor or paramedic to keep somebody alive for 35 miles in the back of a moving ambulance." He said that the monitoring will pick up any other disasters and because of the campaign's financial support it can afford to engage services of professionals to make this monitoring service fully independent.

Dr Taylor's remarks showed how unrepresentative the political process is, where the just concerns of the people, even those which are matters of life and death, are completely ignored. It shows how the people cannot rely on political representatives but must take up politics themselves. It also points to the need to take this further and fight for a political process that replaces representative democracy with a political system that empowers the people.

Following the address from the campaign, the conference was opened up for contributions from the floor, and 14 people spoke.

A representative of the Crawley Hospital Campaign spoke about the struggle of the people of Crawley against the downgrading of the hospital and the proposed closure of the Accident and Emergency unit. The speaker called on the NHS Support Federation to organise a national demonstration.

A representative of the Waltham Forest Campaign pointed out that the question of private multinationals being involved in controlling and running our health service for private profit is not a matter of arguments for or against coming from the "left" and the "right". It is a matter that such control by the private multinationals is incompatible with providing a service which meets people's needs and it raises the question of which direction do we want the economy to go in. She said this is something which has to become a national issue, which has to be very strongly included on the political agenda, that the present direction is not the direction that we want our society to go in.

A representative of the Workers' Weekly Health Group also spoke in the discussion. In his remarks, he said that the conference had raised some very important questions on what will become of the NHS in the 21st century. Rather than creating illusions, he said, the task must be to shatter the illusion that the Labour government can be relied on to defend the NHS. He pointed out that the morning's contributions had revealed that the New Labour government had been driving the NHS more effectively into the private sector than Margaret Thatcher could have done, and also driving the cuts more effectively. This is the reality.

He said that the issue for those in the working class and people's movement is not to take up the agenda of New Labour, discussing on their terms, which would only lead to further disasters in health care provision for the people, but it is to address our own agenda. He said that our agenda was that the right to health care was inviolable, a human right that everybody should be provided with health care equally, at the highest possible level. So if this was the principle, then the next question on our agenda was how should society be organised, the economy organised, so that all these comprehensive health care needs of the people can be met. He said that the question on the economy, on funding, that had come up in the discussion at the conference was that it was the responsibility of government to change the direction of the economy to meet the needs of the people. Clearly, the present government was not going to do that. They had not guaranteed health care for the people, they had not guaranteed beds for patients, or operations, but instead they have guaranteed that society will continue to be geared to paying the rich. He pointed out that the only way that society can satisfy the needs of the people is to change the direction of the economy and to stop paying the financial oligarchy and stop paying the rich so as to increase investments in the health service and all other social programmes. He concluded by saying that this should be firmly fixed as our agenda.

After the contributions from the floor, the Chairman concluded the conference by saying that all of the discussions and suggestions would be going to the next meeting of the Executive of the NHS Support Federation in November.

Article Index


82nd Anniversary of the Great October Revolution

One of the most significant events of the twentieth century, the Great October Revolution, took place in Russia eighty-two years ago on November 7, 1917 (October 25 in the old Russian calendar). The Great October Revolution ushered in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution, the era of the victory of socialism. The October Revolution changed the world and opened up a new path for humankind. For the first time in history the working class came to power at the head of all the exploited. The masses of the people were empowered and began to create a new society which put the interests of the people first.

On the eve of the 21st century and the new millennium, the bourgeoisie is doing its utmost to deny the great significance of the October Revolution and is celebrating the anniversary of what it calls the "fall of communism" in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The bourgeois media promotes the view that socialism failed in the Soviet Union because of some inherent flaw and that revolution and socialism are phenomena of the past. But the fact is that the conditions of imperialism which gave rise to the Great October Revolution still exist at this time. There is still the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed peoples and nations; between the imperialist countries and monopoly groups; and between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. As long as these contradictions exist there will be struggle to resolve them and to open the path to taking society into the 21st century on a new basis. This new basis must be a socialist basis, in particular the necessity to socialise the ownership of the means of production and thereby control the direction of the economy on a planned basis to serve the needs of the people. Only socialism can resolve the contradictions inherent to the present conditions and create this new society.

The bourgeoisie does not wish to admit that not only the same conditions of imperialism exist at this time, but that actually the situation has become worse. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the former people's democracies in eastern Europe has, in a big way, contributed to the crisis of capitalism. The conditions in the Russian Federation, for example, are worsening, as can be seen in the rise of poverty, unemployment, dislocation of the economy and all manner of crime and chaos in political and cultural life. It can also be seen in the jobless recovery, increasing polarisation and other ills of Britain and the other modern capitalist societies. The working class of the Russian Federation and the ex-socialist countries and people's democracies and the working class of Britain will only find their emancipation through the path of the October Revolution albeit in the new conditions.

On the eve of the new millennium, when the all-sided crisis of capitalism is steadily deepening, and when the bourgeoisie is even withdrawing the very notion of society, it is necessary for the working class to once again take centre stage. The working class must lead the people in uniting around their own pro-social programme in opposition to the anti-social offensive of the bourgeoisie. Our Party has put forward the programme Stop Paying the Rich! Increase Investments in Social Programmes! This is a contribution to the work to develop the independent programme of the working class that can move society out of crisis and towards the revolutionary transformation from capitalism to socialism. At this time of retreat of revolution there is a need to prepare, to get ready for the time when conditions will change, when ebb will turn to flow and the time will again be ripe for the decisive revolutionary battles. In this context, there it is the role of the Party to work to create the subjective conditions for revolution, to provide a vision of the new society arising out of the conditions of the old and to give confidence to the progressive forces of its realisability. The Party must continue to develop contemporary Marxist-Leninist thought so as to provide the working class with a revolutionary theory. This must of necessity take into consideration the entire experience of the application of Marxism-Leninism this century and in particular the road opened up by the victory of the Great October Revolution.

Hail the 82nd Anniversary of the Great October Revolution!

For a Socialist Britain!

Workers of All Countries, Unite!

Forward with Contemporary Marxist-Leninist Thought, Guide to Revolutionary Action!

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