Years ago, when I was working as a management trainer, a key part of our teambuilding days was an activity called ‘sorting out our differences’. It was a powerful exercise: participants were put into pairs and asked to produce three adjectives describing the other person’s strengths and three describing the other person’s weaknesses. The pairs were re-allocated and, over the course of an hour or so, participants were given a clear idea of the way their colleagues perceived them and where they could benefit from an adjustment in their behaviour. Most of the feedback was positive and course members were pleasantly surprised.
Unfortunately, I was not similarly uplifted by the feedback that I received this week from some comrades in the North Norfolk Labour Party. I am sure they would argue that I deserved it; I brought it on myself by offering a challenge to our controlling clique.
Let me first say how the situation arose.
All local Labour Parties are unable to hold meetings or take any decisions during the lockdown period. However, I fell that we should use the hiatus to consider the best way forward, both nationally and locally. Together with my friend Jasper Haywood, I produced a short paper which was subsequently published on the Progress Online website. The link is below  and, although the paper offered a clear viewpoint, I thought the contents were innocuous. I sought our relevant local Party Officer’s permission for it to be circulated to members. He requested a minor amendment (which I made) but told me that it should wait until the next meeting; this will probably not take place until September at the earliest, when much of the contents would be out-of-date. I treated this as yet another clumsy attempt to supress any dissenting views so I circulated the paper widely myself.
I am pleased to say that I had some positive, and on occasions, congratulatory, comments in return. Set against that I was on the receiving end of some profoundly negative feedback. One recipient, who was known for her volatility, described me in an email as an “obsequious, pompous, xxxx”. A second, who holds a senior party position and should know better, used “disingenuous, divisive and vindictive”. The redacted word in the first list is defined in my dictionary as vulgar slang for (in my case gender inappropriate) genitals; I also suspect ‘obnoxious’ was intended rather than ‘obsequious’. Probably there is some grain of truth in the rest of the adjectives, though it would have been nice to have seen some positives included. However, neither of these lists fall within the clear rules of ‘sorting out our differences’ – they do not indicate how I can go about improving my performance or rebuilding relationships. So, what can be learned from this unfortunate exchange?
Ironically the main lesson was set out most clearly in the section of our joint paper which drew on Japer Haywood’s excellent research – see my earlier blog below “A fine contribution from Norfolk from the next generation”. This pointed to the continued lack of trust and mutual respect which is likely to pervade the Party at grass-roots level for some time ahead. The Corbyn era sharpened all our differences and phrases like ‘we have more in common than divides us’ are meaningless in the current climate. We are more like two sets of aged heavyweights slugging it out on the undercard when it is time to hang up our gloves. The Labour Party has excellent new leadership at national level and we desperately need the next generation to echo this by taking over at local levels.
I genuinely regret the hostility from the second respondent, since I think under different circumstances, and in different times, we would have got on well together. As it is, I think it’s best if I give any post-lockdown celebratory barbecue a miss and take my excellent Papworth Farm (advertisement) sausages elsewhere and await the return of the much promised kinder, gentler politics.
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