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!

leftyoldman blogs will continue to appear as the Labour leadership election progresses.  If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left-hand side above.

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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.

leftyoldman blogs will appear as the Labour leadership election progresses.  If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left-hand side above.

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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

https://wordpress.com/post/leftyoldman.wordpress.com/1150

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I was there – but others said it better

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There are times when other people can say what you want to say better than you can.  Yesterday I travelled down from Norfolk for Saturday’s Peoples Vote Demonstration.  I am glad I marched  – together with one of my oldest friends, one of my sons, his wife, and two of my grand-children.  I was there.  However, it was Will Hutton, in an excellent Observer opinion piece today [1], who captured where we are and where we must go: it was headlined: “We marched for a People’s vote with hope but few expectations.  Yet history will side with us”.  Too true.

In his piece Will Hutton said, first looking at how we got to where we are:

British democracy has mutated from an arena where those with a different hierarchy of values try to deploy the best argument into faith-based politics – matched on the left by the ultras around Corbyn, the complement to the Tory Spartans. For them, the greater issue is not to win a general election with an attractive, broad-based Labour party. Instead, it is to retain control of the party as a Corbynite tribune in the wake of what promises to be a devastating defeat.

And how we might recover:

The searing lived experience of economic closure, the splitting off of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the diminution of a once great country will change minds – and give a younger generation of politicians the powerful inner conviction to combine reason and passion. Some spoke yesterday. Britain will one day again make common cause with friends and allies in Europe – we millions who marched are not going away.

I saw a lot of those younger generation – together with many of an older generation who are still positive in their outlook on life – on that march yesterday.  They are concerned, determined and clever – as their banners testify.  I will therefore conclude this short blog with a selection of the best compiled by my friend Jono Read of The New European; the full set is available on the site at

https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/people-s-vote-final-say-march-protest-signs-pictures-1-6331535

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/19/we-marched-for-a-people-s-vote-with-hope-but-few-expectations-history-will-side-with-us

 

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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How ugly can it get?

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Bendigeidfran the giant acting as a bridge

 

We are just weeks away from a General Election.  It is likely to be a thoroughly unpleasant experience with the two leaders of our major parties willing to use arguments and language that appeal to the worst side of human behaviour.  It is as if, at a tense derby football game, the competing managers stood in front of their group of supporting fans and led them in the most hostile and aggressive set of chants.  No-one would wish to take their family to such an event.

The two party leaders behave in different ways but both can threaten civilised democratic discourse.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes concerted attacks on elites: apparently defined as anyone who is professionally successful and who takes a more informed and measured view of the country’s future.  As an Eton educated Prime Minister his populist views apparently exclude him from any charge of elitism.  Jeremy Corbyn has a different style. He is unrelentingly courteous in Parliament but shrugs his shoulders at the excesses of behaviour from his supporters at local levels.  Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are most comfortable when whipping up the faithful at rallies.  Neither are thoughtful politicians – let alone coalition builders.

All in all, it is not looking good.  Whatever the result of the election, I hope that one consequence will be the subsequent emergence of a concerted campaign to restore the best traditions of our democracy and the need to conduct elections in a civilised fashion.  This involves treating your opponents with respect.

Nostalgia is not always productive but I look back almost half a century to the first election where I stood as a candidate.  In 1970, as a twenty-three-year-old I was the Labour Candidate in the safe Tory seat of Leominster, a huge chunk of rural Herefordshire.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  The nearest I encountered to overt hostility was when a young farmer and his mate deliberately revved up their tractor engines to drown out my loudspeaker speech.  This gave me useful headlines in the local paper.

Moreover, I can recall being treated with the utmost courtesy by the local committee of the National Farmers’ Union when asked to address them “It’s clearly no good asking you questions in detail so we can do no more than thank you for coming”.  One incident in particular will stay in my memory.  At a public meeting in the market town of Ledbury the local Conservative Chairman, a retired military gentleman turned up and asked a question about reform of the taxation system.   I did not agree with his premise but, fresh from an economics degree, offered him a considered reply.  At the end of the meeting the gentleman concerned stood up and said, that on behalf of those present, he would like to wish the young candidate every success in his endeavours in life.   It was only later that I fully appreciated the generosity of this gesture.

I doubt if incidents of this type will feature in the forthcoming General Election.  One can just hope that nasty chanting, egg and milkshake throwing and the drowning of legitimate interventions from working journalists will be kept to a minimum.  Set against this, there is no way that Internet abuse and threats can be controlled.

By tolerating these assaults on democracy, we have lost something important.  However, if enough people desire it, tolerance could eventually prevail.   There are sufficient people from the traditional mainstream in both parties who would like to see this happen but it requires leadership willing to reach out and include rather than reinforcing prejudices.

There is old Welsh proverb, taken from the folk stories known as the Mabinogi: “A fo ben, bid bont” translated as “He would be a leader, let him be a bridge” (or “bear the load).  Bendigeidfran the giant laid down across a river to let his forces walk across his body when on a mission to rescue the maiden in distress.

I doubt if Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn will behave like Bendigeidfran the giant but they could begin by trying to keep their more extreme supporters under control.

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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From the 1970 General Election