The Left Berlin News & Comment

This is the archive template

A NIP in the air

Why the new Northern Independence Party could cause problems for Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour


Something interesting is happening in the North of England. As Andrew Burgin from Left Unity posted on facebook, “Until last week the Northern Independence Party (NIP) existed solely as a humorous twitter account. In the last couple of days 1000 people have joined it.” Burgin quoted an article by James Matthewson, a “Labour Party communications expert” who argues the following:

“The Northern Independence Party is the best (by which I mean worst) example of the fetishisation of Northern working-class culture by privileged, middle class hard-left ideologues. Only a political party founded by somebody living in Somerset could demonstrate this level of cultural insensitivity and Partridge-like parody. Even now it pains me to write that the party’s logo features the silhouette of a whippet “

The references to Alan Partridge – a spoof sports reporter – and whippets – a dog associated with old men in the North which has been adopted as part of NIP’s logo – show the concerns of the old Establishment which is unable to cope with the fact that its opponents may play by different rules and even use humour. Critics who focus on the whippet logo or the issue of Northern Independence singularly miss the point of what is happening.

It is true that people from the North of England (like myself) have long been disgruntled at the media and political concentration on London, and were the main victims of Margaret Thatcher’s policy of deindustrialisation, which was carried on by Tony Blair. But it’s about much more than this – and many in the South feel similarly disenfranchised. This week also saw a similar electoral challenge to Labour in Luton, where the former chair of the Constituency Labour Party will be standing as a Communist Party candidate.

Why now?

I think that the sudden surge in support for NIP is the result of two related things. The first is the inability of Sir Keir Starmer, Jeremy Corbyn’s successor as Labour leader, to offer an electoral challenge to Boris Johnson’s increasingly dangerous Conservative government. Although the Tories are responsible for over 100,000 Covid deaths and a billion pounds worth of government contracts given to their friends and relatives, Starmer has preferred to open fire on members of his own party,

Writing in the Guardian, the paper which arguably did more than anyone to enable Starmer’s rise, Maya Lothian McLean summarizes Starmer’s record:

“Starmer has upset trade unions with his attack on the party’s left wing, and dissuaded teachers from taking strike action over being forced back into schools. He’s been outflanked by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, on raising corporation tax, despite an explicit pledge to reverse Tory corporation tax cuts at the top of his leadership manifesto. It’s all very confusing.

Repeated directions to Labour to abstain on controversial legislation, such as the “spy cops” and “torture” bills, haven’t helped clarify Starmer’s mission either, especially for someone lauded as a human rights lawyer. Neither has the alienation of marginalised groups, such as black and Muslim voters, over perceived inaction on racism within the party.

There have been no clear nods to future policies, beyond a leaked memo reporting that a paid consultancy had advised the party to ‘use the [union] flag’ and ‘dress smartly’.”

Between 3rd November 2020 and 16th March, Starmer’s personal approval polls dropped from 45% to 32% while the number of people feeling he was doing a bad job rose from 29% to 45%. Only 44% of Labour voters found he was doing well – a fall of 20% in less than 6 months.

Who can we trust?

Then there are the cases of Liverpool and Hartlepool, both in Northern England. When Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson was accused of bribery and witness intimidation, he was forced to stand down, causing new elections. The Labour shortlist contained 3 women, but the day that ballot papers were supposed to be sent out, Labour suspended voting, telling all 3 that they would not be considered in the re-organised vote. No explanation was given. A candidate more amenable to the London party leadership was selected this week.

Meanwhile, unelected commissioners appointed by Conservative secretary Robert Jenrick have been placed in charge of Liverpool council. This measure has been supported by Keir Starmer. So we now have Tories in charge of Liverpool, although the last time the Conservatives won any election in Liverpool was when Steve Fitzsimmons was elected councillor for Woolton in 1994. Fitzsimmons later defected to Labour.

Shortly after the Liverpool debacle, Hartlepool Labour MP Mike Hill resigned over allegations of sexual harassment. Although Labour fears losing a once safe seat, it imposed a list of possible parliamentary candidates containing just one name – that of Paul Williams, director of a private company profiting from the National Health Service and a defender of the Saudi régime who is also notorious for a Tweet asking “Do you have a favourite Tory MILF”? For those who have missed this unfortunate part of popular culture, a MILF is a “Mother I’d Like to Fuck”, a term who’s offensiveness should be quite clear.

In many parts of Britain, including the old industrial heartlands of Northern England, Johnson’s Tories are hated while Starmer’s Labour is deeply mistrusted. Meanwhile, that other institution of state control – the British police – is proving itself to be just as oppressive as its more notorious US-American counterparts.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a policeman was charged with the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard. The policeman, who was licensed to carry firearms, had previously been accused of exposing himself on 2 separate occasions. A peaceful vigil of women for Sarah on Clapham Common was violently attacked by his fellow-policemen.

This was not all. A peaceful sit down protest in Bristol against the new draconian Police Bill was also bludgeoned by police. Police claims that officers had suffered broken bones were later found to be a lie to distract attention from their own brutality. Only this week in Manchester, police stripped a female protestor in broad daylight.

Challenge in Hartlepool

This is the background to NIP announcing that they would be standing Thelma Walker at the Hartlepool by-election. Walker is a former Labour MP, who resigned from the Labour Party in November last year, the day after Keir Starmer refused to return the Labour Whip to Jeremy Corbyn. She was also Parliamentary Private Secretary to Corbyn’s former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, and is clearly a big deal. And unlike her Labour opponent, Paul Williams, Walker was democratically chosen as a candidate by party members.

All this makes her a highly potent symbol for those appalled at the fact that the man who inspired many people to join Labour is still not allowed to sit as a Labour MP. The Hartlepool election could provide a lightning rod for all those who are outraged by Starmer’s behaviour towards his predecessor as Labour leader.

It is only a few years since hundreds of thousands of mainly young people streamed into Labour, causing it to be the largest political party in Western Europe. This was not just a question of numbers – a large number of people wanted to actively change the world. This was visible at the huge rallies which were inevitably accompanied by the chant “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!” This built on earlier initiative like the People’s Assembly which mobilised people in their communities against Tory (and Labour) cuts.

This enthusiasm and dynamism has been squandered. Many have left the Labour Party, no longer able to continue making apologies for a party that clearly no longer represents them. Most remain largely isolated and atomised. Many others remain inside the Labour Party but are unable to affect the party’s inexorable drive to the right.

Challenge on the streets

Starmer’s weakness could and should be a fillip to Britain’s activist Left, and indeed to a degree it has been. Movements like the campaigns against colonialist statues to Sisters Uncut, which has mobilised against the Police Bill and institutional sexism have flourished, despite the difficulties affecting protests caused by COVID-19. Corbyn himself has launched the Peace and Justice Project, which aims “to bring people together for social and economic justice, peace, and human rights, in Britain and across the world”.

And yet none of these campaigns has so far been able to provide the political focus that we need to challenge the Hydra heads of Johnson and Starmer. By “political focus”, I do not just mean an electoral challenge, but the ability to inspire the victims of neoliberalism that an alternative is possible.

Unless something earth-shattering happens, it is unlikely that NIP will win the Hartlepool election. To be honest, it is more likely that they will split the “left” vote and let in a Conservative MP. For this reason alone, some on the Left are warning against supporting NIP.

But Labour has no reason to expect that it can count on our votes and we must just sit back and accept everything (following the old Chumbawamba lyric “they break our legs and we say thank you when they offer us crutches”). If an NIP election campaign means that the Tories have a majority of 81 instead of 80 then so be it, as long as it also means that our side sees that Left opposition to Starmer is possible.

The role of the organised left

There is a final actor that I have so far neglected to mention – the organized extra-parliamentary and revolutionary Left. Three of the most important political campaigns in Britain in the last 50 years – the Anti-Nazi League, the campaign against the Poll Tax, and the mass protests against the Gulf War were mass actions initiated by the revolutionary left outside Labour.

In the past 20 years, the extra-parliamentary/revolutionary left has suffered splits and crises and does not necessarily have the same pull as during its heyday. The hundreds and thousands – if not millions – who were disillusioned by what I elsewhere called the Lonesome Martyrdom of Jeremy Corbyn did not flock into existing Left organisations. I find this a shame, but to a degree understandable.

This does not mean that the organised left – and left-wing ideas in general – are now irrelevant, quite the reverse. The outrage at both Johnson’s bumbling incompetence and Starmer’s contempt for democracy means that many people are interested in not just the ideas of our side, but in how we can actively change the world. The current protests are one side of this, but threatened strikes of gas workers, deliveroo riders and even nurses could be even more important.

To give a focus to this resistance, the left needs political representation. Not just – or even primarily – in parliament, but as an organisation which cannot be ignored – like die LINKE in Germany or (despite its recent mistakes and compromises) Podemos in Spain. I don’t believe that NIP will provide this focus, but it could be the midwife, the John the Baptist say, which paves the way towards the regrouping of the left that we all need.

Thelma Walker herself has said that this could be the beginning of the coalition that she hopes will lead to a new Democratic Socialist Party. It is too early to see what sort of impact NIP will have, but we can hope.

As the great men said, we have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win.

Many thanks to Andrew Burgin, Rob Hoveman, Carol McGuigan and Anna Southern for commenting on an earlier version of this article

France: The government is fighting against the Left and Muslims

The term “Islamogauchisme” and the new French law against separatism are attempts to stigmatize both Muslims and the Left


Under the name of “Islamo-Gauchisme”, the French right wing has found a new battleground which brings two of their bogeymen together: Muslims and the Left. The debate about a so-called “Islamo-Gauchisme” is related to a new law against separatism, which is above all aimed against Muslims.

The French government has implemented the bill “to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic”. There was resistance to the bill from both Left and Right. While the Fascist Party Rassemblement National criticized that the danger of Islamism had not been sufficiently confronted, the Communist Party, and in particular La France Insoumise, made the criticism that the law stigmatizes all Muslims, as the chair of La France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon declared.

In this context, it is illuminating that the French interior minister Darmanin accused Rassemblement National of being soft, because they said that Islam could be united with the French state. This shows very clearly what the aim of the law is: namely to brand Islam as anti-French.


Shortly after the bill was passed in parliament, French finance minister Frédérique Vidal, who is on the ring wing of the French government, commented that “Left Islamists would poison the French Universities”. She demanded an “investigation into the devastating influence of Islamo-Gauchisme” and declared that “Certain academics – surely a minority – use their title and their aura to promote the radical and militant ideas of Islamo-Gauchisme, by regarding everything according to their desire to divide, to fragment and to name enemies”. She went on to criticize the influence of post-colonial researchers who also endangered freedom of expression.

Her comments rightly led to outrage that it would endanger free science if the State were to decide which research is acceptable. It led to sharp criticism from the Universities. Among others, the President of the Sorbonne, Jean Chambaz, warned that with such measures, France threatened to align itself with Hungary, Poland and Brazil. A statement from the conference of University Heads was similarly damning: “Islamo-Gauchisme is not a concept but a pseudo-term, of which we can hope in vain for only the start of a scientific definition”.

The political Left also judged the debate to be an attack on freedom of opinion and research, as well as being a method of defaming the Left and Muslims.

Left Solidarity with Muslims is Necessary

The French Left’s rejection of the law, and the ministers’ accusations is fully correct, as is the engagement of La France Insoumise, which took part in several protests against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism. In 2019, anti-Muslim racism in France led to 798 reported crimes, from insults via threats to actual attacks.

The French – and the German – Left have the task of standing together with the victims of racism, following both right wing attacks and attempts at criminalisation by the government. Our task is to act together against anti-Muslim racism and to resolutely oppose the growing propaganda against minorities.

For the real danger to democracy in France, as in Germany, comes from the Right, not from the religious minority of Muslims.

Christine Buchholz is the religious political speaker of the LINKE fraction in the German parliament, a member of the Bundestag defence committee and a deputy member in the human rights committee. This article first appeared in German on the freiheitsliebe Website. Translation: Phil Butland. Reproduced with the author’s permission

A threat to our civil liberties

Why all who campaign for a fairer society should oppose the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’


No more noisy marching for the NHS?

As a campaigning organisation, protest is the lifeblood of ‘Keep Our NHS Public’. We take the arguments out onto the streets in forms that vary from a few people leafleting on a stall, to static demonstrations in Westminster or hundreds of thousands marching through central London. During the pandemic we, like others, have been constrained by the sweeping powers given to police to restrict our rights, on top of the extensive powers they already had to limit protests. These restrictions have been accepted by a populace often more convinced of what needed to be done to reduce the spread of coronavirus infection than government itself. Now, however, those in power are moving opportunistically towards permanently eroding the right to protest. This could mean no more marching for the NHS and no more ad hoc protests like our candle lit vigil or pay protests outside Downing Street, and fines of £2,500 for a single protestor with a megaphone or melodeon!

What is the legislation for?

The bill is almost 300 pages long, yet was made available for scrutiny only a week before debate opened in parliament. Two days later, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published its plans for the future of policing protests. The report outlines a “need to develop” covert intelligence gathering methods and an increased use of facial recognition technology. This despite a court of appeal ruling that the use of such technology breached privacy rights and broke equality law. It also supports expanding stop and search “to prevent serious disruption caused by protests”. This is partly a response to recent effective environmentalist actions.

The government does not anticipate that the new ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ will actually reduce crime. The Home Secretary has tried to sell it by saying it will see sexual offenders face longer sentences and new crimes will be added to the statute book. However, the fact that the police would be given new powers to tackle non-violent protests deemed likely to have a “a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to parliament”, was not highlighted. Nor was it revealed that these new powers would include setting conditions on the duration of protests, maximum noise levels and location.

In fact, there is little in the bill to protect women, more than 1.6 million of whom experienced domestic abuse during 2019 while only a tiny minority of those who committed the assaults were charged. Meanwhile, the budget to the Ministry of Justice (“working to protect and advance the principles of justice”) has been cut by around 25%, and the Ministry is currently setting its sights on how it might curb pesky judicial reviews. Incongruously, and as an example of the ongoing ‘war on woke’, damage to a statue such as that of Bristol slave owner Edward Colston, could attract a custodial sentence of 10 years, twice as long as one for rape. Among other unacceptable features, it is the bill’s intent to criminalise the living circumstances of Gypsy, Roma and Traveler communities.

The ‘Old Bill’ and the new bill

The bill wants to allow police to impose conditions such as start and finish times and maximum noise levels at static protests. HMICFRS is calling for organisers to provide advance notice of their plans and the enabling of police to ban assemblies of what are now termed “aggravated activists”. The police can impose restrictions simply if demonstrations are noisy or likely to cause “serious unease” or “serious annoyance”. Such vaguely worded terms allowing wide interpretation are clearly a huge danger to our democratic rights. The Home Secretary would have powers to create laws without parliamentary approval, to define “serious disruption” to communities and organisations, which police can then rely on to impose conditions on protests.

What it means

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has made no secret of where her sympathies lie. She describes those standing up in peaceful protests for the dignity of Black lives and against police brutality as “dreadful”, while referring to Extinction Rebellion as “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals”. The recent brutal response of the Metropolitan police force to the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common has shown how during a pandemic the misuse of police powers is a genuine threat, and makes the argument that giving them even more powers is the wrong thing to do. It appears that the Home Secretary made it clear to the police that she wanted the vigil stopped.

The whole point of protest is that it does have an impact and may well cause unease or annoyance to those who do not agree with its aims. The value of our freedom to assemble peacefully and express our views is supremely important, and protected in law by the Human Rights Act 1998. The proposals in the bill are clearly a clampdown on protest with too many discretionary powers being given to the Home Secretary and the police. More than 150 groups, including human rights charities, unions and faith organisations have warned that it will have a hugely detrimental effect on civil liberties.

While some politicians are always keen to appear tough on law and order they are commonly less concerned with the victims of crime. Many people who were not moved to defend environmental or black lives matter protestors have now seen the shocking spectacle of a peaceful vigil organised by women broken up by police. The proposed legislation is meant to have a chilling effect on protest and has been described succinctly by the civil liberties group Liberty as an “assault on our rights”, that carries a risk of “stifling dissent and making it harder for us to hold the powerful to account”. The government’s brand of authoritarian populism is trying to channel nationalism behind a cry of ‘order’, but all those who want to defend the right to protest need to engage in the fight against this bill – health campaigners as much as anyone else. Look out for events near you.

News from Berlin and Germany: 27 March 2021

Weekly news roundup from Berlin and Germany


Compiled by Ana Ferreira



Protests against eviction of left-wing scene pub

Hundreds of people demonstrate in Berlin against the eviction of the pub “Meuterei”. Police officers were injured during the protests – but the behaviour of some emergency forces was also problematic. Many demonstrators wore Corona protective masks. The eviction of the “mutiny” is seen in the leftist scene as a symbol for the displacement of alternative places in Berlin. Later, during the night, high-value cars were burned all over Berlin, according to police. A connection with the left-wing protests is being investigated. On the internet, “decentralised resistance actions” by the left-wing scene were announced throughout the city. Source: spiegel


Germany locked down over Easter

Chancellor Merkel has agreed on new, stricter Corona measures with the heads of the federal states, Söder and Müller, as well as Vice-Chancellor Scholz. All shops will close between 1st to 5th or 6th April. Supermarkets are also partially affected by the measure. The stricter lockdown would extend the Easter holidays from three to at least five days, starting on Maundy Thursday until after Easter Monday. Referring to the “emergency brake”, Merkel said, according to participants: “We decide today that we will stick to what we decided last time.” Source: spiegel

Merkel in retreat

The German government’s Corona policy is in open crisis. Following a rebellion by parts of the CDU/CSU and forceful interventions by business associations, the Chancellor’s U-turn on the “Easter truce” seems to be turning into a general retreat or a major reorientation of the fight against the pandemic. Merkel gave a government statement to the Bundestag on Thursday largely limited to appeals and exhortations. She called on citizens to make use of free testing offers, saying testing was “the bridge to vaccination”. But harsh criticism came from the Left Party, with its co-chair, Amira Mohamed Ali, calling the crisis management a “shambles”. Source: jW

Special Forces Command awarded contracts unlawfully

The Special Forces Command (KSK) is once again facing a scandal: the elite unit of the Bundeswehr has apparently awarded contracts to companies since 2014 without adhering to the applicable procurement guidelines. According to a report, an internal review of the Bundeswehr revealed that more than 40 per cent of the contracts concluded for the KSK were unlawful. This new scandal comes at an inopportune time for the unit: Federal Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) wanted to present a report on the status of reforms at the KSK on Tuesday. The focus was to be on combating extreme right-wing tendencies. Source: nd

Right-wing extremist threat remains high in Brandenburg

The good news: Brandenburg recently recorded significantly fewer politically motivated crimes. The bad news: The right-wing extremist danger potential remains extremely high. More and more offences are shifting to the internet. According to the figures, the number of offences against politicians, district councillors and mayors in the state has fallen significantly. Last year, 136 cases were recorded, 25 fewer than in the previous year. The Brandenburg police chief, Oliver Stepien, emphasised that the greatest danger in Brandenburg comes from right-wing extremists: “Particularly in this area, perpetrators hide behind a supposed anonymity on the internet, openly engage in agitation and incite hatred,” Stepien said. Source: rbb

Palestine Digital Activism Forum

Discussing the challenges and possibilities of Palestinian Digital Rights

7amleh — the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, is preparing to host the Palestine Digital Activism Forum in its fifth and digital edition, which will begin in 29 March and last until 1 April. PDAF 2021 brings Palestinians together from all over the world to discuss the challenges and possibilities of Palestinian digital rights. The forum has wide universal, global, regional and local participation, which will open the space for people from all over the world to share their different experiences in the digital world.

The theme of the forum will be “Palestinian Digital Rights during and after the Coronavirus Pandemic.” The forum will host more than 35 digital events, including political discussions and digital talks that engage issues relating to digital rights. It will also host multiple workshops and trainings, that aim to develop and advance the practical skills of participants in different areas. This year’s forum will also host a number of exclusive talks and workshops which will be the first of their kind in Palestine and the Arab world, such as Twitter’s session on Social Change, a Q&A with Facebook on content moderation policies, and a session with Instagram on Social Good. In addition, we will host a very important conversation about the Palestinian elections in the digital era and the age of social media.

80 speakers will join our events from all over the world, such as the inaugural Director of Human Rights Product Policy at Facebook, Miranda Sissons, who will speak in the Facebook Q&A, and the Head of Public Policy, Government & Philanthropy for the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan at Twitter, George Salama. Further, in the first day of the forum, the deputy manager of the Norwegian Institute for Public Health will join us to talk about the protection of medical data, which will give us the opportunity to discuss the questions and privacy concerns that were raised recently in this regard.

We will also be joined by the chief of the section of Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists at UNESCO, Guilherme Canela, as well as Juri Schnoller who will join us in a workshop on the best practices in political campaigns and communication. Further, in the first and second days of the forum, we will have Palestinian inspirational speakers, including the Palestinian-American comedian Amer Zahr, and the youngest journalist in the world Janna Jehad, in addition to other experts and activists who will share their different experiences with us at the forum.

These activities will be organized in partnership with 70 local, regional and global partners, such as UNESCO, Amnesty International, UN Women, Access Now, United Nations Population Fund, as well as some of the largest social media companies, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

We hope that this year’s forum will transcend barriers and borders, and offer a safe and common space for the different groups of people who are interested in the digital world and in Palestinian digital rights, as well as a space that brings Palestinians together from all over the world.