79996 to go – Labour’s Green Opportunity

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This last week was National Apprenticeship Week 2020: an annual celebration designed to “bring the whole apprenticeship community together to celebrate the impact of apprenticeships on individuals, employers and the economy”.  I doubt if many people noticed that this national celebration was taking place. For my part, rather than donning a party hat, I was concentrating of my role as mentor at our local state comprehensive school.  Each year my wife and I offer support to a selected small group of Year 12 (17-year old) students.

We enjoy our work at the School.  We have developed a deal of respect for the professionalism and commitment of the staff and find the energy and optimism, albeit sometimes misplaced, of the students refreshing. My generation of baby-boomers needs to recognise how lucky we were to enter a workforce with a booming employment market and we need to understand how much tougher things are today.

Reflecting on my practical experience at the school and building on my earlier professional experience writing and lecturing in this field, has reinforced two firm conclusions. Both have important political implications as we begin the long and tortuous process of rebuilding the Labour Party’s credibility.  The first is that we should focus less on the needs of the 50% of the population who are heading for University and more on the 50% who are not going on Higher Education.  It is the latter who face challenging life opportunities.  The abolition of all student fees might be a vote winner but it is hardly good socialism to invite a less privileged section of the population to subsidise a more privileged section. My second conclusion, underlined by the empty propaganda of National Apprenticeship Week, is that apprenticeships lost their traditional meaning some time ago, and that far more honest reporting and less hype is needed.

No government has been able to deliver their propaganda targets for apprenticeships, and the current situation is dire.  In, what was for them, a remarkable intervention in the free market, Theresa May’s government introduced an apprenticeship levy on employers in April 2017. It has failed. According to a recent research report* much of the levy has been spent on jobs “offering minimal training and low wages” or on “rebadging” jobs already offered by employers as apprenticeships.  Indeed, the report goes so far as to describe 50% of apprenticeship courses introduced since 2017 as “fake”, saying they do not “relate to helping young people get started in a skilled job or occupation”.

It is a sad reflection on the Labour Party that this debacle did not feature prominently in the December 2019 General Election, but let’s turn to something that did: The Green New Deal.  This idea is a central plank of Rebecca Long-Bailey’s leadership campaign and she claims credit for its authorship. The Green New Deal appeals to all factions of the Labour Party and beyond to uncommitted voters – particularly young people.  It is an idea whose time has come.

Given this, it is essential that The Green New Deal is well-grounded and credible.  It cannot be mere aspiration: if we are to regain the electorate’s confidence, we must show that we are capable of delivering what we promise.  We have a long time to get things right and I make no apology for asking some hard questions now.

In a speech delivered to the Confederation of British Industries Conference in November 2019, Jeremy Corbyn introduced the idea of climate apprenticeships:  “Under the plans, businesses will benefit from an average of 80,000 people per year being trained as apprentice engineers and technicians in renewable energy and transport, civil engineers and skilled tradespeople in sustainable construction, designers, welders and fabricators in low carbon industries, and sustainable agriculture and forestry specialists.”.  The 80,000 annual figure was translated into a commitment to deliver 320,000 such apprenticeship in the first term of office and has been repeatedly used in all discussions on The Green New Deal. This idea is attractive and seductive.  It is also totally unrealistic.

To return to an earlier point, we must be honest in our promises, particularly those that affect young people.  Let me go back to one aspect of my work at the local Sixth Form.  For those mentees who are not contemplating University I make use of the official Government ‘Find an apprenticeship’ online tool**.  Out of curiosity I fed in ‘climate apprenticeships’ into the search engine.  It produced four responses across the whole of England, one of which was bogus as the tool had picked up the phrase ‘a positive working climate’ in a logistics firm.

Now I know I am being unfair: neither Jeremy not Rebecca Long-Bailey had the opportunity to put their scheme into practice.  I do however question how much serious thought has gone into the delivery of climate apprenticeship, or even if anyone has worked out what it actually means.  Accordingly, I have endeavoured to contact anyone and everyone to ask how the figure of 80,000 was derived and who derived it.  I have had no replies on this and must reluctantly conclude that it was plucked out of the air to give Jeremy a chance for a headline.  If so, this was quite unscrupulous.  We are going to have to do much better going forward.

 

* The report Runaway Training was published January 2020 by the think tank EDSK:   see https://www.edsk.org/publications/runaway-training/ and https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-50973579

**https://www.findapprenticeship.service.gov.uk/apprenticeshipsearch

 

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North Norfolk Labour’s Game of Thrones – our nomination meeting

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Having been brought up in a family where everyone had strong opinions but no-one ever listened to anyone else, I was well-placed to attend Thursday’s North Norfolk Labour Party’s Leadership nomination meeting.  I went with low expectations but departed feeling optimistic that the Party will survive, although it will take many years to win back the confidence of the electorate.

For those who are not familiar with the process, local Labour Parties such as North Norfolk, can hold an All Members Meeting to choose which, if any, candidate to nominate to succeed Jeremy Corbyn; however, the ultimate decision will be taken by the forthcoming national ballot when every member will have an individual vote once the ballot opens on February 21st.  So, to some extent, this week’s event in Cromer was a pointless exercise, no more than a test of strength for the competing factions:  it offered Corbyn supporters the opportunity to demonstrate continuing ascendancy locally; it offered mainstream counter-insurgents the opportunity to rally for the first time since we were crushed in 2016.

From my point of view the meeting began well.  At 7.00 p.m. the Chair warned all those present that the formal proceedings would begin at 7.05 p.m.; anyone who turned up after this would not be allowed to vote.  At 7.10 p.m. a hard core Corbyn supporter who had been gratuitously offensive to me and had been obliged to send a churlish apology* arrived with two other people; once the situation was explained to him, he promptly departed.

It is of course the numbers that matter.  There were 32 members present.  Since there are over 500 members currently in the North Norfolk Party this is a dismal turnout.  Significantly it was half the number present in August 2016 when Jeremy Corbyn defeated his challenger Owen Smith by 44 to 15 in our local vote.  This time our mainstream candidate, Keir Starmer, defeated the anointed heir to the Corbyn project, Rebecca Long Bailey, by 18 votes to 12.  Set against this, these figures were reversed in the contest for the Deputy Leadership where leftish Angela Rayner defeated mainstream Ian Murray by 18 votes to 13.  However, this all indicates a major shift in mood, albeit in a remote and wholly unrepresentative part of the UK.

I am sure that no-one came to this meeting with an open mind nor was influenced by anything that took place there.  Any discussion was simply a necessary ritual to be undergone before the vote took place.  However, the meeting was well-chaired and all those who spoke made their points in a non-aggressive, often reflective, manner.  Indeed, what was most evident was both a collapse of bombast and a lack of organisation from the Corbyn faction.  On the same evening we were asked to put forward nominations for Labour’s National Executive Committee – the NEC.  This might not sound important but Momentum, the Corbyn faction’s organisational arm, have captured this body to do the leader’s bidding.  In due course the NEC will be held to account for the shameful failure to deal with antisemitism in the party. Significantly this time Momentum could not produce and communicate an agreed slate of candidates for the NEC.  I was able to secure the Constituency support for Gloria Mills (recommended to me by the mainstream Labour First faction) as our BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) nominee in the absence of alternative names.

The meeting finished early and I left in time to get home and indulge in my current binge watch: I am working my way through a box set of Game of Thrones, something that I never saw on live television.  Late on Thursday I watched the final episode of Series 1.  It ended with a slightly built fair-haired woman trying to regain a throne by hatching a number of dragons from their eggs, and thus commanding huge loyalty from a warlike tribe. If Thursday’s North Norfolk figures are any indication, Rebecca Long Bailey will have to produce some similarly unexpected initiative if she is to win.  I am hopeful that she will not be able to do so.

*See my previous blog I’ve told to send it, but I didn’t mean it.  https://leftyoldman.wordpress.com/2019/10/21/ive-be-told-to-send-it-but-i-didnt-mean-it/

 

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A fine mess you’ve gotten me into

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During my professional days in management education and training one of my jobs was to mentor new managers.  One question I frequently encountered was “I am inheriting a right mess – how can I protect my own position if things go wrong?”.

My advice was, first and foremost, document the full set of horrors that you are facing, and date the document so you can always produce it in a crisis.  My next step was to ask the new manager what the general opinion in the organisation was of his or her predecessor.  It was easy to deal with a situation where everyone recognised the departing manager was inadequate.  If the person leaving was popular, and most people most people thought he or she had done a good job, it was far more difficult.  I encountered the latter situation once myself.  I took over a crumbling department from someone who had immense face validity – he was well liked – but as far as I could see had done very little for the last eighteen months.  When I tried to introduce changes, I met a deal of resistance from those who had rated him.

Labour’s leadership contest has caused me to reflect on this advice – not that Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long Bailey or the other contenders have sought my guidance.  The list of horrors that they face is easy to construct: a complete lack of credibility with the electorate; ambiguity on the central political question of the day, Brexit; lack of imaginative and relevant thinking on pressing 21st century issues; inadequate and underperforming shadow ministers; a National Party Executive captured by a destructive faction; the failure to deal with antisemitism; a deeply divided membership in the country.

This list would be enough to keep anyone awake at night.  They should however be able to take comfort in the fact, turning to the second part of my guidance to new managers, that nobody thinks that their predecessor had done a good job.  To misquote Laurel and Hardy, he has got them into a fine mess.

There is, however, always the odd exception.  Things can be different in Norfolk.  This time the example comes not from my own North Norfolk Labour Party, but from the neighbouring constituency of Broadland.  At their first meeting after the General Election, on a Saturday morning in January, the membership in Broadland was asked to support the following motion, which was presented by member of the Regional Executive of the Labour Party.  I might add that I have no idea what is meant by the word ‘comparable’ in this context.

Broadland CLP records its gratitude to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell for their work over the past four and a half years, in moving the policy agenda forward so that the Labour Party now has policies that are comparable with most European social democracies.

The secretary is instructed to write to the NEC (via the General Secretary) to formally record our thanks with a copy to the respective offices of the Leader and the Shadow Chancellor.

The classic model for dealing with loss talks of seven stages of grief.  It seems that some in Broadland are unable  to move beyond the first stage of the process – that of denial.  With members like this a hard road lies ahead for our new leader!

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Oh no Rebecca

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It comes as no surprise that candidates for Labour’s leadership intend to massage the ego of the Party membership.  Telling members that their emotional spasms in 2015 and 2016 saddled the party with the most ineffective leader witnessed by anyone under the age of 90 is not likely to garner many votes.  A more circumspect approach is needed.

Understanding such caution does not, however, excuse the need to challenge absurdities when they emerge and I want to begin my new year threads by concentrating on a statement made by the front runner of the Corbynite legacy, Rebecca Long-Bailey.   Setting out her pitch in the Guardian this week she wrote:

Labour’s trade unions and our party members will be crucial. They are our roots in every workplace and community. They bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience. We can’t take them for granted, and our promise to democratise society will ring hollow if we can’t even democratise our own party. We must take the conversation from Westminster to the workplaces and social spaces of our communities,

What on earth is meant by such a statement?

Now, to his credit, Jeremy Corbyn was more explicit about what he would like to see happen.  To quote from his 2016 leadership statement “Labour should transform itself by making a break from the top-down centralisation of the New Labour year’ and become a mass movement that is a vehicle for community empowerment”.  Subsequently a community organising unit was established to help build alliances so that the party could become ‘a social movement rooted in communities’.

At that time our North Norfolk Labour Party was still in a state of rapture with the leader.  The same month that the community organising unit was established at national level, in January 2018 , our local party conducted a survey of its then 600 members.  The survey included the following questions: “are you currently involved or have links to any community organisations based in North Norfolk? If yes do you feel that Labour Party Members could contribute to these groups?”  The survey was doubtless well intended, but the result was clear.  Of the 600 who received the survey, to quote: “only ten people replied to our recent members’ survey, so it’s impossible to draw any generalisations from these results”.  It was not impossible to draw conclusions: what was evident was that the overwhelming majority of paying members were not in the slightest bit interested in such social activism.  Moreover, our local community bodies, of which there are many, were scarcely likely to welcome a visit from evangelists representing a body undergoing existential crisis.

There are no circumstances in which I could ever support Rebecca Long-Bailey However, at this important time, a little bit of honesty and realism would not go amiss.  So, here’s a question for her.

In 2019 I participated, with my family, in the Peoples Vote marches in London.  In the last of them some 700000 people were involved – far more that the national membership of the Labour Party.  My fellow marchers came across as thoughtful and progressive and we need their votes if we are every likely to attain power.  My guess is that if they voted Labour in 2019 they did so with great reluctance; they held their noses.  How, Rebecca will you capture their support and  enthusiasm in the future?  They are certainly not likely to be attracted to the Corbyn legacy.

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So now we know

For the period of the election I produced no blogs and no tweets: this reflected some old family advice.  My mother always said if you can’t say anything nice, it’s best to say nothing at all – though she rarely followed her own guidance.  My father, a Labour and trade union activist, taught me that if you didn’t like the way the election was organised you should remain silent until the results were in and have your say afterwards.

It is therefore some relief to be able to ease my built-up tension and express my opinion.  Labour’s leader was a disgrace; the campaign wholly ineffective; the manifesto misdirected and undeliverable.  There was a huge appetite for a plausible, credible left of centre party capable of tackling the poverty experienced by the underclass, addressing growing inequalities of income and opportunity, and rebuilding public sector provision.   What we offered the electorate instead was old-fashioned class rhetoric and mass rallies.  Ironically all the fulmination against elites and billionaires resulted in many in those old mining areas that I knew so well voting in support of an old Etonian.  We could hardly have done worse.

I would not wish to finish this diatribe without saying a word on the manifesto.  Generally, this seemed to be based on a  belief that any problem can be solved by throwing money at it.  There was no thought whatsoever about what is involved in the delivery of services, for example on productivity in the public sector.  Meaningless slogans and soundbites were on offer – a ‘National Education Service’ was the most obvious.  The electorate were all too aware of the underlying problems but they had lost all trust in the party to deliver any solution.

Nevertheless, I voted Labour and I am glad that I did.  It will make me feel more comfortable as I make my contribution, however modest, towards building this credible centre-left party of the future.  The failure,  pre-election, of alternative new parties, together with the poor electorate performance of the LibDems, means that this must come from the ashes of the Labour Party.  Expect a sustained battle between the Corbynistas and a sensible candidate in the mainstream tradition.  I hope that this mainstream candidate will have the courage to offer an uncompromising rejection of the politics of class war and residual Marxism.

So, it looks as though  I will have to start attending meeting on a regular basis.  For the record we had, in the context of the night, a reasonable result in North Norfolk.  The Tories gained the seat from the LibDems with a comfortable majority, but Labour held their deposit with 3895 votes (7.7% of the total cast).  We had a good candidate, but the local party, firmly in hands of ageing Corbynistas was incapable of delivering an effective campaign.

We shall see what emerges locally in the battle for the soul of the Labour Party.  I will resume blogging in the new year when I have something to report.

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Raring to go? Our NNLP selection conference

On Sunday afternoon I attended the North Norfolk Labour Party hustings called to choose our Parliamentary Candidate to fight the (ever forthcoming) General Election.   I set off on the 40-minute drive from Sharrington village to North Walsham with a heavy heart.  Our local Labour Party is still in the hands of true believers in the Corbyn project and most mainstream members have left or simply stopped attending meetings.

My mood was not improved when the person sitting on my right at the selection meeting audibly proclaimed: ‘at last we have some candidates worth voting for, which is more than I have been able to say for the last fifty years’.  Sitting on my left was Mike Gates, a fine individual, who had been our candidate in 2001.

Despite this unpromising start, I have to say that I returned from the meeting somewhat heartened.  The event was well organised with 26 members in attendance and, to my surprise, we had two capable, even commendable, candidates.  Moreover, on reflection, the meeting led me to adopt a more positive perspective on the future of the Labour Party –  though goodness knows the short-term prospects are dismal.

Let’s start with the candidates.  Both women lived in Norfolk; both presented themselves well, and were highly articulate.   They had professional backgrounds and were now juggling the demands of a family with political activism.   Both currently held leadership roles in minority Labour groups on local councils and made their experiences the main focus of their opening address: how cuts in Government funding were having a catastrophic effect on specific local services.  Neither mentioned the national issues that are undermining Labour’s electoral prospects: incoherent ambivalence on Brexit; a woefully inadequate leader; a party riven by factionalism.   Jeremy Corbyn was first mentioned by name in a question forty minutes into the process and Europe first mentioned in the one that preceded it.  The Party’s attitude on antisemitism was not mentioned at all.

Whether these omissions were deliberate tactical decisions by the two contenders or just instinct on their part is beside the point.  It made me aware of two things.  First,  we would be better off without a national campaign.  Secondly, either of the two women offered the best that we could expect under current circumstances.   Someone with hard local government experience will play well on the doorstep, and hold up a declining Labour vote that will be under a great deal of pressure in a critical LibDem-Conservative marginal. Certainly, the winning candidate, Emma Corlett, (see the North Norfolk Labour Party  Facebook website https://www.facebook.com/northnorfolk/ for details), will make mincemeat of the lack-lustre opponents chosen by the main contenders.  I wish her well.

Having said that, it would be nice if I could wholeheartedly cheer on my political side: Jeremy Corbyn’s limitations, his shameful behaviour on antisemitism, and the ‘constructive ambiguity’ on Europe make that difficult.  From a narrow Labour Party point of view the sooner the election is over and he goes the better.  However, there is one side that retains my unqualified support. On that same Sunday a gallant, injury-ravaged, Welsh team played their hearts out and contested to the end, but were narrowly beaten by a South African side that simply had a better pool of players.  I will happily rise to my feet in the Principality Stadium when the Welsh team take the field in the home international championship this spring.  I am proud of that red jersey.  Sadly, I doubt if, in the foreseeable future, I will see either Wales win the World Cup or another Labour Government in power.

leftyoldman blogs will appear occasionally as the Brexit battle continues and the shape of post Brexit politics emerges.  If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above. I continue to tweet at @eugrandparents.

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Celebrations in 1959 as Edwin Gooch holds North Norfolk

 

I’ve be told to send it, but I didn’t mean it

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Our political process is in a terrible state.  Reasoned argument is losing out to emotional, often aggressive, behaviour.  There are childish and petty displays by those in a position of power who cannot get their own way.  Our Prime Minister has set this tone and, seemingly, made it acceptable.  Parliament instructs him to send a letter requesting an extension to the Brexit process; the Courts stand ready to enforce it.  A Conservative Prime Minister responds by sending the letter but refusing to sign it.  A stroppy teenager could behave in this way, but hopefully would grow out of it.

Let me offer another political example of stroppy teenage-like behaviour, this time at a local level.  Our North Norfolk Party is firmly in the hand of a small group who are Corbyn loyalists.  Notoriously and incredibly, in March this year, they passed a resolution which stated: “This CLP applauds the efforts of the LP leadership under Jeremy Corbyn to weed out and deal with antisemitic behaviour appropriately”.[1] The reaction from anyone I have told about this is to laugh.  However, I do care and it prompted me to go along to meetings and to get stuck in again.

I have tried to rally mainstream Labour opinion locally by writing and circulating short papers: for example, I prepared evidence on this particular bit of local lunacy to the Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into antisemitism.  The initial response of the North Norfolk party leadership was to try to supress my dissent by warning me that, if I continue to communicate in this way, I could fall foul of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This is, of course, nonsense.  I therefore sent round a separate missive on these GDPR requirements.  In return I received an email from one member of the Executive (who I will not embarrass by naming), copied to all the others, that said: I have absolutely no wish to receive any more of what I regard as spam mail from Sloman. What action is needed to stop this unfortunate from ignoring Labour Party rules?

Unfortunate is a bit unpleasant – I consider myself to have been very fortunate in life.  Accordingly, I put in a complaint and was told that I would receive an apology from the person concerned. I can do no better than reproduce an extract:

 

Dear Comrade
Massive apologies for the unfortunate e-mail you were inadvertently copied into. It would never be my intention to cause such distress to a comrade in arms at this moment of great peril….. What I meant to say was ‘unfortunate matters’ i.e. this infernal unsolicited e-mail affair. I would never regard you as an unfortunate – how could I? And then I referred to you as ‘Sloman’! Again how could I? I can only assume that I was in a rush and had no idea that you’d object so to being referred to by your surname and that I would then become the target of your official complaint partly because of missing that all important pre-fix ‘Mr’. I can see how you might even interpret that as disrespectful but absolutely no disrespect was ever intended. How could I ever disrespect you? …

Sincerely yours – a Comrade in arms

When Neil Kinnock was fighting to save the Labour Party in the 1980s he referred to travelling long distances to meetings and then being on the receiving end of ‘carefully studied insolence’.  I know exactly what he meant.

I continue to attend our local meetings and have noticed a softening of attitude.  I was even asked to serve as auditor –  a measure of desperation rather than a recognition of anything I could offer to the party.  It is far too late to pretend that the cry for a kinder, gentler politics ever meant anything at all.  It has been a rough period for mainstream Labour activists.

 

leftyoldman blogs will appear occasionally as the Brexit battle continues and the shape of post Brexit politics emerges.  If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above. I continue to tweet at @eugrandparents.

[1] See an earlier blog ‘Strange goings-on in North Norfolk

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