Three distinct events took place on Wednesday 30thApril; separately and together they caused me to reflect on the uphill task faced by those of us who are mainstream Labour members and are staying in the Party. It is not looking good in the short-term.
The first occurred in the morning in the attractive coastal town of Wells-next-the–sea. My good friend Mike Gates was standing for the District Council. His political perspective is similar to mine; we have been Labour activists for many years and have seen it all before. Mike had previously represented Wells on the North Norfolk District Council and was guardedly optimistic about his prospects this time round. Neither the LibDem nor the Tory Candidate lived in the town and Mike was well known locally; he had recently retired as the local postman. Sadly, like all North Norfolk Labour candidates, he was unsuccessful when the poll took place the following day. I will comment on the local results in more detail in my next blog.
I spent a morning delivering leaflets for him in a large estate that had been built as council housing but was now the usual mix of owner-occupancy and social housing. Mike had warned me to expect apathetic indifference and occasional downright hostility towards politics and politicians.
I should know better than to indulge in arguments on the doorstep. The standard advice, if someone disagrees with you, is to move on as quickly as possible. However as I grow older I am getting (even) more intolerant and more irritable. I handed a leaflet to an elderly man watering his garden. When he found out it was Labour he rudely told me to clear off; I moved on to the next door but foolishly responded, rather than ignored, his shout of ‘let me ask you one question?’ Inevitably it was about Brexit.
There followed a wholly purposeless dialogue. He began by grumbling about the money we were paying to bureaucrats; I said it was all about securing 21stcentury jobs for our grandchildren. There was not the slightest prospect of any common ground. My lasting impression however was how strongly he felt: with some justification he believed he has been let down by a political process that promised but failed to deliver. He was desperate to tell someone, even someone he despised. Suggesting that he had been on the receiving end of a wholly dishonest leave campaign – he had been lied to – would have had no effect. I am sure that such conversations are being repeated up and down the country.
That same afternoon the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee announced its manifesto position for the European Elections of May 23rd. It is one that, despite my long-standing membership, I would find impossible to defend on the doorstep. It has been comprehensively analysed in the newspapers but, for the benefit of overseas readers, it maintains the fiction that there is ‘Labour’s alternative plan’which could deliver Brexit and honour the referendum result. In this way “Labour is the only party which represents both people who leave and remain. We are working to bring the country together after the chaos and crisis created by the Tories” (to quote from a Party spokesperson).
Stuff and nonsense. There is a hard choice to be made here – in or out of the EU. There is no way I and the man I encountered on the doorstep in Wells can be brought together until this whole debacle over the EU is resolved; if it results in a UK exit the fractious debate will rumble on for the next decade. David Cameron caused the problem but Jeremy Corbyn and his entourage have exacerbated it through such dishonest opportunism.
Given this, the final depressing event of a miserable day came as no surprise. I received an email from a young man in his early thirties who I first met when I transferred my Labour Party membership from London to North Norfolk. He was brought up in the nearby town of Holt and is an individual of considerable capability and immense promise. He wrote: “I’m afraid I’ve resigned from the party, today’s manifesto fudge was too much … I’m not joining any other party, but I’m not sure I can stomach voting for the pro-Brexit manifesto in the European elections”.
This is all very sad, especially in the centenary year of the foundation of the North Norfolk Labour Party. Can we rebuild and if so how? My pal Mike Gates remembers the 1980s and thinks we can and will. History will repeat itself. I hope he’s right, but at this stage I cannot bring myself to share his optimism.
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.