Family, friends and a legacy

Sloman family Hannah and Richard

I have an enormous tribal loyalty to the Labour Party, as do the rest of my family, and I am not going to change.  I fully understand that many progressives, particularly our local LibDems, find such behaviour a source of frustration. I don’t need to justify it to other people; I vote, by secret ballot, as I wish.  I do, however, sometimes feel the need to justify my obduracy to myself.  My grandparents were said to be founder members of the Labour Party in Cardiff. I have doubts whether this was strictly true. Most of our family stories do not stand up to scrutiny. I have little evidence, for example, to support the tale that my father and his cousin were arrested and detained on their way to fight join the International Brigade in Spain; all I can say with certainty is that they never got there.

It was my own experiences in a difficult adolescence that forged this tribal political loyalty. It was the adults in the Labour Party who took an interest in me and encouraged a burgeoning awareness that matured into activism.  Indeed I would not have gone to University to read Economics had it not been for an intervention from the local organiser of the Workers Educational Association.

My much younger sister was brought up in similar circumstances; she has remained in Wales and brought up her family not far from where we all used to live. She had the opportunity of voting Plaid Cymru (wholeheartedly pro-remain) and, in our conversation, told me that it posed the most difficult dilemma and she did not make her mind up finally until she was at the polling station.  In her words ‘if people like me, with my background, are feeling like this, heaven help the Party’.  One of my sons told me that his daughter, my 8 year-old granddaughter, urged him to vote Green.  Several my close friends have told me that they failed to vote Labour for the first time in their lives.

None of the above will come as any surprise to anyone who reads a newspaper.  What however does surprise is the complacency of so many of the supporters of the Corbyn project.  There seems to be a belief that this will all blow over and loyalties will drift back to where they were before divisions over Europe were put into sharp focus in the 2016 referendum.   This is a forlorn hope and is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of political legacy.

The sort of intense tribal loyalty that my immediate family and I experience is unusual. For most of the population their involvement with politics is far more tenuous and any ties much weaker.  The wider Labour legacy in the industrial areas was forged through shared employment and community traditions.  I came up through the coal industry and twice stood as candidate in a mixed constituency with several pits and mining villages.  It wasn’t just about miners voting Labour: the vote was dependent on them getting their sons, daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends to go to the polling stations. This is all now history and, as Scotland has shown, once the link is broken it is very difficult to restore it.

In the aftermath of the European referendum there is a growing recognition that the nature of politics in the UK has irrevocably changed. An appeal to class has no resonance. People no longer define themselves politically in terms of economic status but in terms of remain or leave. As the excellent Philip Collins, writing in the Times, put it ‘Between the person who believes immigration to be good and the person who believes immigrants be bad there is not much ground.  Lifetime liberals do not share a common ground with votaries of traditional values’. [1]

In Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has emerged as an impressive politician who so far has been able to bridge this divide.  Jeremy Corbyn in England does not even recognise its existence.

This summer while the Tories are choosing a new leader, Labour progressives will be seeking to ensure that the Party commits firmly and irrevocably to remain; this is probably too late in electoral terms but I will support these efforts.  I will also be preparing evidence on an incident in our local Party and submitting it formally to the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party. I have described the incident in a previous blog. [2] Given its sensitivity I will not at this stage be disclosing further information here so I will now will take a break and resume at a later stage.

[1]Brexit has left Corbyn a politician out of time, Times 31stMay 2019

[2]Strange goings-on in North Norfolk https://wordpress.com/post/leftyoldman.wordpress.com/1150

I WILL NOW TAKE A BREAK FROM BLOGGING (though continuing to tweet at @eugrandparents).  If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs when I resume, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

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A non-event of considerable significance

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When, on 7th May, the de-facto Deputy Prime Minister, David Liddington announced that, out of necessity, the elections to the European Parliament would take place, our two major parties did not want to know. The Mays and the Corbyns resembled a mutually antagonistic set of parents obliged to attend a wedding that both sides wished wasn’t taking place. Pretend it isn’t happening and get through the day in the hope that normal relations with everybody else could be restored afterwards.  However, as the People’s Vote campaign argued in their final supporter’s mailing “With Farage’s Brexit Party moving ahead in the polls, it is vital for everyone to get out and vote for pro-People’s Vote parties tomorrow”.

People’s Vote were correct: the extent of the Remain versus Leave vote will prove to be of considerable importance. So also will the share of the vote across the competing parties.

Indeed, looking at the results, it may be that this unwanted poll will prove to be a significant milestone in reshaping our political landscape.  The UK turnout at 37% was as high as could be expected. The woeful Conservative performance will have a major influence on the competition to succeed Theresa May as leader. Labour cannot pretend that ambiguity on the most important issue of our time is seen as anything other than a dereliction of duty. Labour’s share of the UK vote at under 15% puts us well behind the LibDems and only two percentage points above the Greens. In the North Norfolk District Labour polled just 1325 votes (a miserable 3.8%) and finished in sixth place, even behind the near extinct UKIP Party.  Will our local party finally get the message, I wonder?

Worse still for Labour the European elections will go down as a massive missed opportunity to redefine ourselves: we will only survive as a progressive 21st century movement by adopting an international perspective.  So many of the problems that matter to us and the voters we care for  – combatting terrorism, climate change, regulation of the technology giants, economic opportunities for school-leavers – require committed international co-operation. Labour should have campaigned as an unequivocal ‘remain and reform’ party, to use Deputy Leader Tom Watson’s term.

The national Labour leaflet that was delivered to my doorstep could best be described can be dismissed as a desperate attempt to save a failing relationship: ‘please don’t leave me whatever you think of my behaviour’. At the local level our Party Chair adopted a more forthright tone: “The reality of a no deal Brexit would be for the wide boys of the city to make shed loads of money whilst life for working class people would get even harder than it is under the Tories now”.Using language like this, a hangover from the class war of the 1980s, will have limited appeal to successor generations.

Yes indeed Brexit will drag on and on.  The Tory leadership election will be the focus of national attention but it will take us no further forward in the short term. Brexit’s resolution could be quicker, however, than reversing the Labour Party’s decline as our legacy vote disappears.

I have now decided to attend some local Labour Party meetings. I am curious to see if the bombast when Corbyn became leader has been replaced by a more reflective tone.  I have incidentally been told that the local party will be raising my online behaviour with the Labour Party Eastern Region Office. It may be that they are nominating me for an award, but I doubt that this is the case.  One way or another I would have thought that the Regional Office of the Labour Party would have other things to do and I await developments.

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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.

Is social media the answer in Norfolk?

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It is rare for North Norfolk to feature on the national news but the LibDem’s capture of the District Council on May 2nd made the following day’s headlines. The apolitical but energetic LibDems won 30 seats; the antediluvian Tories took 6; some nondescript others 4.  For the Labour Party the results were dismal: in 2015 we polled 14.9% of the vote; this time round we polled 6.4%.  The highest percentage Labour vote, at 27.8%, was achieved by my friend Mike Gates in Wells (see previous blog).  The highest number of votes recorded by anyone with Labour persuasions was the 238 achieved in Gresham by a promising young party member; however, he ran without party affiliation and is now the subject of disciplinary action.  Not a good day for the Labour Party locally.

Inevitably analysis of the overall national results has concentrated on the implications for the Euro-elections and the future of Brexit.  Much of it has focused on the drift away from Labour amongst leave voters in the industrial north and amongst remain voters in the south.  Now, while North Norfolk is typical of nowhere but itself, dig deeper and we can offer some insights about the nature of left politics in the internet age and about the state of the Labour Party

As I have observed in previous blogs, as a corollary of Jeremy Corbyn’s barnstorming leadership election campaigns, North Norfolk Labour Party underwent a hostile takeover by Momentum.  The previous Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, introduced a scheme to allow affiliated members and £3 supporters to join full members in voting in leadership contests.  Vote they did.  Most voted by internet but a local hustings meeting in Cromer took on the atmosphere of a 19th revivalist gathering; it was packed with Corbyn supporters who had played no part in the Party previously nor were to do so subsequently.  Numbers on the books increased from 175 to over 600: we were told that the local Party was going ‘from strength to strength’. The subsequent small print gave a rather different picture.  To quote from the annual report ‘the challenge has been to activate the new membership in campaigning and participation in meetings’.

Too true.  For the first time since I arrived here Labour failed to find enough people to stand for election.  We did not field candidates in three of the North Norfolk seats including the market town of Holt.[i]

I cannot entirely blame our Momentum controlled local Party Executive, although their adolescent infatuation with Jeremy Corbyn undoubtedly led to a number of mainstream members, including myself, deciding not to stand this time; others ran against the Party as independents. There is, however, a more fundamental problem at issue.  The nature of political involvement has changed and will continue to change with the emergence of social networking.

Our local campaign, such that it was, seemed to place a deal of emphasis on a succession of posts, featuring individual candidates and some local issues, on the North Norfolk Labour Party Facebook site.  They were well produced and, to the Executive’s credit, regularly updated.  I doubt, however, if any uncertain voter accessed the site or anybody’s vote was changed as a result of the content.  This is simply the disciples talking amongst themselves: it is not where the effort should be placed if you are fighting an election.

Further, few of the newer members participated in the campaign. Certainly for the younger recruits it seems to be all about demonstrating commitment on-line: the political equivalent of the Bay City Rollers phenomenon. Here I am showing my age. The Bay City Rollers were a Scottish rock band who achieved worldwide teen idol popularity in the 1970s. Musically the band broke no new ground and had little lasting influence, but their fans were able to declare their identity by adopting a distinctive style of dress; this featured calf-length tartan trousers and tartan scarves.  Today Corbyn disciples declare their loyalty not through their style of dress but by decorating their Facebook sites with pictures of their idol. There is, as a consequence, a huge and growing gulf between those who profess support on-line and those who control events in the Party structure locally and nationally.

In an earlier blog, “ Strange goings-on in North Norfolk”, I drew attention to the bizarre decision of the North Norfolk Labour Party to devote much of its last pre-election meeting to a motion that began “This CLP applauds the efforts of the LP leadership under Jeremy Corbyn to weed out and deal with antisemitic behaviour appropriately”.  Just over a month later, in the middle of the election campaign, a news item appeared prominently in the North Norfolk News with the heading ‘Labour defends council candidate following anti-Israel Facebook posts’. The item can be accessed using the link below (the typo in the link is a mistake by the publisher).

https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/politics/allegations-of-anti-semetism-jean-thirtle-1-6008101?

Given the wider context of the shameful antisemitism crisis in the Labour Party it would be hard to construct a more damaging headline.  As the much-despised but extraordinarily perceptive Tony Blair put it: “The trouble with people from that tradition of the left is that they combine a huge degree of commitment with intolerance and misunderstanding about the nature of people and their relation to politics”. [ii]

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.

[i]There is a boundary anomaly in the County.  The District Council boundary is not contiguous with the North Norfolk Parliamentary boundary.  There was a similar lack of candidates in District Council seats that fell in the Broadland Parliamentary Constituency

[ii]This quotation is taken from Kogan, D., Protest and Power: The Battle for the Labour Party, Bloomsbury Reader, (2019), p. 37.

A depressing doorstep encounter in Wells-next-the-sea

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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.

A slow crawl to remember

ooh look

Saturday’s People’s Vote March was a remarkable event in many respects.  The organisers claimed that a million people attended.  No-one could possibly have counted but it was densely crowded throughout; for a long time it was impossible to move and we made very slow progress.

Together with my friends and family I arrived in Park Lane just before noon.  There were so many people and we did not move at all for two hours before getting to St. James’s Street at 1600.  At this point the remaining 70 year olds in our group peeled off exhausted.  For the benefit of my friends in North Norfolk Momentum may I emphasise that we finished just outside James Lock & Co., where I buy my hats, and Berry Brothers which sells very good champagne. Perhaps this could be noted at the next meeting.

If sheer numbers was one remarkable feature of the march a second was its good nature and cheerful spirits, despite the enormity of the challenge ahead. There were no stewards and need for them; the only hostility I witnessed was from a taxi driver who shouted abuse at my wife.  There was just one seller of an indigestible Trotskyist newspaper in evidence and he looked like an exhibit in a museum.

The third feature was the nature of the participants.  All age and ethnic groups were in evidence and it evidently cut way across the traditional party political divides.  Without any planning, an informal competition for the wittiest placard seems to have taken place.  On today’s Labour List blog site Sienna (!) refers to ‘embarrassingly twee protest signs reeking of privilege’. I thought they were jolly funny.  I 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/placards-posters-from-peoples-vote-march-in-london-1-5955453

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.

Project(s) Reset

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Given my South Wales background, two institutions have defined my identity.  Both are in a chaotic state.  One is Welsh Rugby: I saw my first game at the Arms Park when still at primary school. The second is the Labour Party which I joined at the age of sixteen.  l have an emotional commitment to both institutions but despair of them.  It’s like the pull of a family member who continually lets you down; you never give up and always remain hopeful of better behaviour.

The tribulations facing both entered a new stage earlier this month, a time dominated by the collapse of May’s Brexit strategy. Both institutions have been in continuous discord for some time and their latest upheavals mark another step along the road, but, importantly, a step that takes us no nearer a harmonious solution.

Lets start with rugby.  The governing body, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU), and almost everybody else, has for a long time recognised that the current structure for our national game cannot be sustained commercially.  There are four professional teams in Wales and the solution the WRU offered was to merge two of the South Wales teams (Ospreys and Llanelli) and establish a new side in North Wales – hence Project Reset.  This solution, we were lead to believe, had secured wide agreement following extensive discussion and consultation.

In fact it fell apart on the day it was announced, with the Osprey’s Chairman tendering his resignation.  The Welsh XV players, due to take the field in a crucial game against Scotland that weekend, then lined up to express their anxiety and concern. To quote from the distinguished ex-player and now TV pundit Jonathan Davies: “It was a total shambles – the timing, how it was handled”. When asked if this debacle would be a distraction for the team and affect their performance, he replied “With Welsh Rugby there is always a distraction somewhere or other”. He was correct: the team won the game and the underlying problems remain deadlocked.

Now, despite dire opinion polls, the Labour Party leadership has not embarked on a Project Reset, nor is it likely to do so.  So long as Momentum retains control of the Party at local levels, and Jeremy Corbyn is unchallenged, nothing matters to the leadership faction. Those of a more social democratic persuasion who leave the Party in disgust can be dismissed as Blairites – ignoring the fact that Blair himself ceased be leader twelve years ago.

All credit therefore to Deputy Leader Tom Watson for very publicly establishing The Future Britain Groupto, according to his blog,  ‘restate those social democratic and democratic socialist values’. [i]Press Reports state that Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson, David Blunkett and John Prescott attended the launch event in the House of Commons, together with the alternative leaders of the Parliamentary Party, including Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn.   If the immediate intention was to persuade rank and file members not to leave the party he could hardly have assembled a stronger cast.

Given all this my dismal best guess is that both Welsh Rugby and the Labour Party will carry on underperforming for some time to come but terminal decline will be avoided.  For my part there is no way that I will change my allegiances however inept the leadership of both institutions.  I will continue to take my seat at the Principality Stadium.  I will also continue in membership of the Labour Party.  It is possible that some hard questions will be asked, both in the Norfolk party and nationally, after the May local elections.  Then we may see some progress.  For Welsh Rugby much will depend on the performance in this autumn’s Rugby World Cup. Time to be patient and see how things unfold.

[i]https://www.tom-watson.com/please_don_t_leave_the_labour_party

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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.

More life in a bottle of pop

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This blog was written towards the end of a thoroughly depressing week.  It will be my last for some time and a sad note on which to take a break. I can only hope things will improve before I resume.

Wednesday marked the failure to make any significant changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill – shortly to become the Withdrawal Act.  This was most disappointing, not least because of Labour’s deliberately ambiguous position in the Parliamentary debates that took place. I was deflated even further when I attended a meeting of my local North Norfolk Labour Party the following day.

The local meeting was held to give our Labour Member of the European Parliament, Alex Mayer, the opportunity ‘to answer questions on the Brexit process and how she sees the Labour position’.   I did not envy her this task.  She is in a very tricky position, not least because she will lose her job next year, and she deserves some sympathy.

Alex Mayer voted Remain, is aware of the damage that withdrawal will cause, and has publicly committed to the single market.  She must also be conscious of the dismal performance of Labour in Parliament and the cynical opportunism of the Leadership’s current position on Europe; doubtless this dominates discussions with socialist colleagues in Brussels, both from the UK and the other EU members.   However most local Labour Parties are in the hands of people who are infatuated with Jeremy Corbyn and this certainly true of North Norfolk. Like most doomed love affairs there is nothing to be done beyond letting events run their course.

How I wondered would Alex Mayer cope?

She is a competent person, thoroughly in command of her facts, and had hit on an ingenious solution to navigate the political challenge. This was to adopt a fatalistic acceptance that Brexit is going to happen, coupled with a vague hope that the length of the process might mean that things could improve over time.  She mentioned Jeremy Corbyn and his ambiguous stance just once. Her performance was capable but detached, almost an academic lecture, and offended nobody but it wholly lacked passion.  Brexit is bad but, like the weather, we should make the best of it.  Our local members seemed wholly satisfied with this defeatist attitude.  So long as Jeremy is not threatened, it seems they will go along with anything.

I can only say that this is simply not good enough.  A casual acceptance of something that will damage economic prospects for the next decade is a sign of a complete absence of political virility.   As we used to say on the football terraces, there is more life in a bottle of pop.

stop backing brexit

I do so hope that my mood will be lifted when I join with three generations of my family at the March for a People’s Vote on Saturday. Jeremy Corbyn should, of course, be leading this march.  Every local Labour Party should be out in the shopping centres and on the doorstep collecting signatures for a People’s Vote petition.  This would have massive long-term political advantages: it would consolidate the votes of many remainers who voted Labour in 2015 but are drifting away; Labour would be positioned at the centre of the debate on employment. Above all Jeremy Corbyn should be leading the march because it is the right thing to do.

 

I WILL NOW TAKE A BREAK FROM BLOGGING (though continuing to tweet at @eugrandparents).  If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs when I resume, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.