It’s all happening – except in North Norfolk

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Flocking to the polls in Sharrington Village Hall

There are times in your life when you have to admit that you were totally wrong. For me, as for many others, the 2017 General election will be one of them. There can be no question but that Jeremy Corbyn has proved to be an excellent campaigner: he achieved resonance with those who wanted to maintain the welfare state, and with those who found gross inequality offensive. Above all he inspired young people to register and to vote.   Uncertain times lie ahead but social democrats of an international perspective must remain in the Labour Party, bite their tongues, and wait to see how events unfold.

These last five years have indeed been depressing times and, although the result defied expectations, the fact remains that the Conservatives have won their third General Election in succession. Following the shattering June 2016 referendum result we are negotiating our way out of the European Union; worst of all, President Trump is bombastically and ignorantly striding the world stage.

Let’s therefore strike a positive note. British democracy works and works well. The electorate have an uncanny ability to get the result that they want: they refused to fall into line with Theresa May’s wishes and deliver support for a hard Brexit. Early analysis indicates that this election was the revenge of the remainers, particularly young remainers, including rich young remainers who live in Kensington.

Moreover there were two terrorist attacks during the course of the campaign but they had no effect on people’s willingness to cast their ballot. Turnout was up. There was no friction or aggression reported beyond an unseemly struggle between two photographers competing for a picture of the LibDem leader voting in Cumberland.

It was certainly a peaceful election here in North Norfolk where, in keeping with our local traditions, nothing happened. In fact the 2017 result for the main parties was almost exactly the same as the 2015 result. Despite incessant communications – both electronic and hard-copy – from retiring MP LibDem Norman Lamb that the result was too close to call he held on conformably with a majority of 3512, just over 500 down on last time.   Our energetic Labour candidate polled 5180, up just 137.

At some stage I will start re-attending local Party meetings, particularly if there is there is a groundswell of support for a soft Brexit, or even a second referendum. However for the time being I will allow the Corbynistas their moment of triumph – like Leicester City supporters they are entitled to it. This does not mean that I have much in common with them beyond voting Labour, and I will not donate any money in case it is spent on a celebratory charabanc outing.

 

leftyoldman will now take a break and resume blogging when he has something worthwhile to say. If you would like to receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

Campaign technology hits Norfolk

On Bank Holiday Monday I received two emails inviting me to assist organisations through the use of campaign technology. Neither came from bodies that I support. I therefore do not propose taking any action as a result, but they have caused me to reflect on the way that technology, particularly social media, could have an impact on the election here.

The first of these emails came from Momentum, the retro-left group set up to propel Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership and defend him against any subsequent questions on his suitability for that position.   As is always the case, the email solicited a donation from me, which they assuredly won’t receive. This time, however, it also invited me to tweet and Facebook during the televised May-Corbyn interviews that evening, or to retweet their Momentum material. Although I was assured doing so would make me part of the ‘digital feedback’, I cannot see for the life of me what possible difference it would make.

I hope that at the end of the campaign someone will do a serious analysis of the value of social networking. In his September 2016 manifesto, when seeking to secure re-election as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn began by stating that that he has a serious plan with a “focus on winning the next general election to rebuild and transform Britain”. Moreover, “At the heart of my strategy to win is growing our movement through organising communities to win power through the most advanced techniques online and offline”. If this strategy is in place I haven’t seen any evidence of it. The only manifestation is a load of puerile on-line abuse from both sides that follows any Guardian article on the future of the Labour Party.

The second email seeking my support through on-line campaigning came from our local LibDems, who can always be relied upon to position themselves well to the back of any curve. Some time ago I signed up to their digital updates out of curiosity. Monday’s email came from the defending LibDem candidate Norman Lamb. It began, as ever, by informing me that it was neck-and-neck between him and the Tory candidate. This is a permanent refrain from him and every LibDem council candidate and sooner or later it was bound to be true: he is unquestionably facing a tough re-election battle.   Accordingly the email asked if I was active on social media in which case “one of my team will email you when we post something that we need your help to get out there” as doing so “will help us get traction on social media”. I again responded out of curiosity – I have no intention of helping him in any way – and received my first request from his office the following day. This told me “Norman’s just uploaded a photo on his Facebook page, if you could share away (sic) that would be fantastic”.

Well fantastic it may be, but would it be productive? I cannot believe that putting a candidate’s picture on my Facebook page would alter anyone’s vote. Moreover the North Norfolk electorate is not the most technologically adept. At a meeting held just three years ago one of the local Tory councillors stated: “It is not a village where many people work from home, so why do you need broadband?

Now I have no doubt that the electorate expects to be courted to some extent. We have received considerable amounts of literature from both Conservatives and LibDems. The Conservatives have also placed very expensive posters on the local farmers fields that abut such main roads that we have. People will be aware that an election is taking place and this may affect the differential turnout. However, after over fifty years of campaigning, I have doubts if anyone’s vote will be changed as a result. Exactly the same will apply to social media.

leftyoldman will continue to offer some reflections on the election campaign and the future of the social-democratic left. To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

Meet the alpacas

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Old habits die hard. Despite my misgivings over the national party leadership, I have placed a Labour poster in my window and decided I had to do something. So, here in North Norfolk, I began by delivering some Labour Party leaflets on a social housing estate in the nearby coastal town of Wells-next-the-Sea. Any visitor who arrives there with small children when the tide is out will discover that the town’s name is a misnomer; they can face a long walk for a paddle in the sea, but it has a lovely beach.

As the weather was fine, and I was working with an old friend Mike Gates, a former postman and party secretary, it was a most pleasant experience. I was delighted to see that the introductory leaflet extolled the local efforts of our Parliamentary Candidate and avoided any mention of Jeremy Corbyn or his front bench entourage. It may be that some disputes are taking place behind the scenes locally: the North Norfolk Labour Party website has oscillated from ‘Sign up to become … part of Jeremy Corbyn’s new politics’ to ‘Sign up to become … part of our new politics’ back to ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s new politics’ within the space of a month. It is vaguely reminiscent of the old battles in the Soviet presidium and doubtless there will be some recriminations after the election.

During our session at Wells we had one cheerful exchange with a former colleague of Mike’s who was delivering the post. We also encountered a group of alpacas that were being escorted round the estate by some tourists (or holiday-makers as we call them in Norfolk). However we had no feedback at all from any member of the electorate. Given this, I gathered no direct insights to explain reported movements in the opinion polls. For overseas readers, there appears to have been a gradual but perceptible upward movement in Labour’s percentage – nowhere near enough to make any difference to the final outcome – but otherwise no shifts in the relative positions of the parties.

We are coming towards the end of a very long campaign, interrupted by the terrible event in Manchester.  It is hard to judge how this will effect the electorate’s view of the parties and their performance, although hopefully it will underline a commitment to the democratic process,  Let me, however,  offer some tentative analysis and suggest some conclusions. The main surprise of the election to date has been the complete failure of the LibDems to make any progress. They have branded themselves as the only unequivocal pro-European Community party. Rightly or wrongly, however, the electorate is displaying no enthusiasm for a rematch on this issue – they feel that the referendum resolved the question for the time being.  Immediately before the atrocity of Manchester the Conservatives were delivering a poor campaign: Theresa May is not at her best at the hustings and made a mess of her party’s position on social care, thus undermining her reputation for stodgy competence. By contrast an election plays to Jeremy Corbyn’s strengths – he is an old-fashioned market-place orator who loves a rally. It doesn’t matter what he says, as no-one believes he will be in a position to deliver anything

Perhaps more importantly large swathes of the electorate believe that the election is unnecessary and will punish Theresa May by denying her the overwhelming majority she desires. If this analysis is correct there will be a low poll as people display a lack of enthusiasm for any option.  Overall the election will take us no further forward – a depressing conclusion for social democrats.

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leftyoldman will be blogging regularly through the election campaign. To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

It’s always nice to hear from Momentum

The name that an organisation chooses can be deceptive. For example, two pressure groups in the Church of England were called ‘Reform’ and ‘Forward in Faith’. Both opposed the ordination of women and neither was in favour of reform nor  in any way forward-looking. In current politics, ‘Momentum’ was established as a Jeremy Corbyn Fan Club and, since it has achieved its purpose, may well have run out of steam altogether.

Two distinct sorts of people joined Momentum. The first were the young who branded their Facebook site and competed for a selfie with the messiah. They transferred many of their commendable hopes honestly but misguidedly to his campaign; they cannot be blamed for the resulting debacle. The second group were ageing lefties who were determined to exact some revenge against Tony Blair; characteristically were they were likely to have been in and out of Labour Party membership over the last two decades. Given the age profile here in Norfolk it is the second group that dominates the branches of Momentum in the market town of North Walsham and the seaside resort of Sheringham. It came as no surprise, when they captured the North Norfolk Labour Party, that their first action was to seek to spend hard-earned party funds on a charabanc trip to a factional demonstration in London.

Momentum claim to be creating a new sort of politics. It is hard to see what this involves behind an extensive use of technology, particularly social media. This they deployed most effectively to insert Jeremy Corbyn into the leadership and support him when he faced a subsequent challenge. I’ve always been a sceptic on how far such use of technology will influence behaviour where it really matters, that is in the privacy of the ballot-box in a public election. However, out of a desire to know what they are doing, I’ve subscribed to their mailing list and was therefore interested to receive an e-mail from them that began with the sentence ‘I’m incredibly excited to announce Momentum’s new campaigning tool – MyNearestMarginal.com’. Momentum numbers some clever nerds amongst their supporters so this was worth investigating.

The e-mail arrived in my inbox on 11th May. At the time I was staying with friends just outside Edinburgh prior to a trip to Murrayfield see the European Rugby Cup Finals. I therefore put their postcode into the site search box and the results are shown in the picture below. Barrow in Furness is identified as the nearest marginal to East Lothian, Scotland. This is a distance of 180 miles or just under four hours by charabanc.

 

Now the people who run Momentum may be blinkered but they are fully aware that there are elections in Scotland; indeed one of their past claims was that Scotland would revert to Labour if the traditional voters were offered an aggressively left-wing programme. There are two possible explanations for their embarrassing oversight: the first is that they had not got round to loading the Scottish information; the second is that Momentum may not be functioning outside England. Bluntly I don’t care. What irritates me are claims that Momentum is producing some great breakthroughs in our approach to political activity. It isn’t and hopefully Momentum is about to run out of momentum.

 

leftyoldman will be blogging regularly through the election campaign. To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

The wheels come off in North Norfolk

Given the timing it was inevitable that the council elections held on May 4th would be regarded as a foreshadow of the June General Election. These May elections offered a large-scale national opinion poll that could endlessly be analysed for local implications. Nationally the Labour vote held up just about well enough for those infatuated with Jeremy Corbyn to claim that ‘with a vigorous campaign we can make up the deficit over the next few weeks’ – but nowhere near well enough for any sane person to believe him. Predictably the County Council results in North Norfolk were poor. Taking the full ten seats across the Constituency Labour polled just under 10% of the votes cast – down by a third from the 15% recorded in the last County elections which were held in 2013.

No amount of cheery optimism can disguise the fact that the Labour Party is likely to be facing the worst result in the lifetime of every member and supporter under the age of 80. To their credit the local Labour Party here fielded a full slate of ten candidates in the May County Council elections. In some of these county seats there was a deal of organised election activity. In our best prospect we had an excellent candidate who had fought this seat, where he lived, on several occasions: in 2013 he lost by 38 votes; this time he came third, more than 200 behind the winning LibDem . It is very sad, as he would have made a fine councillor.

Recently the New Statesman published an excellent analysis of the Corbyn phenomenon by a Leicester University academic and commentator, Daniel Allington http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/june2017/2017/04/jeremy-corbyn-has-attracted-socialism-fans-not-labour-voters

Although the article is not always the easiest of reads, and certainly offers no comfort to those of who seek changes in society rather than mere protests, it contains some impressive insights. The one that struck me is the idea that the Labour Party has been the subject of a successful hostile take-over, to borrow a business analogy. Executing a takeover is one thing, making a success of the business that has been acquired is quite another. All the indications are that no-one wants to buy the new product – whatever the extent of the activity on the doorstep and in social media. Indeed, we are now learning that explosions and expletives in social media rarely translate into worthwhile practical support.

It is some small comfort to me that, whereas in April the North Norfolk Labour Party website invited people to sign up and “become part of Jeremy Corbyn’s new politics”, in May it had been softened to “become part of our new politics”. Alas, at this stage, I can’t see that this subtle but important distinction will have any effect.

leftyoldman will be blogging regularly through the election campaign. To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

Vote Labour – there’s no danger of ending up with Corbyn

One of the more bizarre claims that will be articulated over the next six weeks is that the Labour Party is uniting and is rallying behind our leader. This is wishful thinking. Many of us who are long-standing party members believe that Jeremy Corbyn is not fit to serve as Prime Minister – and my guess is that this is still the view of most of the Parliamentary Party.   Nevertheless I will still vote Labour in my home seat of North Norfolk. I will do so for two reasons.

First, although the medium term prospects are poor, there is a need to maintain a strong Labour Party to revise and rebuild the case for democratic socialism. We need a rigorous understanding of the challenges posed by today’s service-led and knowledge-driven economy: it will not be solved by solutions embedded in nationalism or the ‘politics for people who don’t like politics’ of the LibDems. We have many Labour MPs who are capable of leading this necessary revisionist process. Tragically the best platform that was available to develop and communicate this new thinking was the European Referendum campaign of June 2016. It was a massive missed opportunity and rightly triggered the no-confidence vote in Jeremy Corbyn.

This brings us to the second reason for voting Labour. One can do so in the secure knowledge that Corbyn will never become Prime Minister.

If there were the slightest prospect of this happening I would find it very difficult to advocate a Labour vote. I knew Jeremy Corbyn well in my Islington days in the early 1980s when I was a member of his local Labour Party Management Committee.   His views were well entrenched by then and have not altered since. The ones that most disturbed me were his attitudes to terrorist violence, particularly his support of the IRA. Disturbingly one his first statements when becoming party leader in 2015 concerned the Paris attack that took place that November: in a BBC interview he expressed opposition to a shoot to kill policy in such circumstances. At some stage in the current election this statement will doubtless come back to haunt him and he remained silent on the subject in the recent London attacks. However the idea that a man of his views, and his limited ability, could be a key player in discussions with the police and emergency services when they are dealing with a terrorist threat is unthinkable.

This could not happen. Almost certainly Labour under Corbyn will not be a serious threat to the Conservatives. If there were any prospect of an anti-Conservative coalition the price that the Scottish Nationalists and the LibDems would demand would be a new Labour Party leader. They would be assisted by many Labour MPs who would be prepared to risk the sustained hostility from the ultra-left by supporting such a move.

This is a sombre blog to present at the start of an election campaign, so let me finish with an optimistic alternative. A distinguished Professor of History at the University of East Anglia (who lives seven miles down the road and is good friend of mine) had a letter published in the Times on 21st April. His subject was the hazards of snap elections and he drew attention to the Australian experience of 1983. There a Conservative Prime Minister called an election to take advantage of weakened Labour opposition which began by floundering politically; the Labour party then changed its leader and went on to win. Could this happen here with Yvette Cooper emerging as Prime Minister? Chance would be a fine thing but we can dream.

 

leftyoldman will be blogging regularly through the election campaign. To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

Buy at the bottom

In the early 1990s I was head of training for one of the UK’s least successful investment banks and had responsibility for the graduate scheme. I organised events at universities, involving the more articulate of the business heads in selling the bank to potential applicants.   On one occasion we attended an evening presentation when, on the previous day, our parent bank’s Chairman had announced, that, unless there was a rapid return to profit, he would close the investment subsidiary. No graduate in their right mind would choose to join us over our competitors. Ever imaginative, one of the business heads told the audience that a sensible market aphorism was ‘buy at the bottom’ and this was what they would do by joining us. A moment’s reflection demonstrates that there is no logic in the underlying argument but it had superficial credibility.

There is more substance in the case for voting Labour in the forthcoming local elections. Certainly, given the inept leadership and growing chasms between the factions, it is ‘buy at the bottom’. I shall vote Labour because I always have and don’t think I could do anything else – a poor reason I know. Like many others I want the party to survive and at some time return to mainstream credibility.

Our local party has succeeded in finding a full slate of candidates to fight all twelve County Council seats in North Norfolk. However the idea that there has been some rejuvenation as a result of the huge influx of people who joined to vote for Jeremy Corbyn has been exposed as nonsense. As the annual financial report coyly put it, despite the surge in membership: “the challenge has been to activate the new membership in campaigning and participating in meetings”.   Too true: as far as I can tell only one of the candidates is under the age of 40 and most have been around for some time, albeit some of them in the Greens.

However all credit to the candidates for their willingness to fight a pretty hopeless cause.  The leader of the County Council Labour Group was the guest speaker at the February meeting. The minutes record that the response included “questions on alternatives to implementing cuts such as joining with other councils to rebel against cuts”. Old habits die hard and it is almost touching to see such nostalgia for the gesture politics of the 1980s. Sadly, if the current polls are anything to go by, there will be few councillors elected here to join this forthcoming Trotskyist insurrection.

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