Two glimmers of light amidst the gloom

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 06.33.11

This last week has been a dispiriting one for those of us of a progressive, international disposition. On Sunday (15thApril) Sir Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame launched the long-awaited ‘People’s Vote’ campaign for a fresh referendum.  The timing could not have been worse; it could hardly have made less impact.  Understandably it was entirely overshadowed by the attacks on Syrian installations that manufactured, stored or supported the use of chemical weapons.  This catastrophe puts all our economic concerns into context.

Later in the week it was revealed that the Home Office had behaved disgracefully in its treatment of long-standing British citizens who settled in the UK from Commonwealth countries before 1971 – with the highest profile victims being the Windrush generation, so-called after the ship that arrived in 1948.

The Government’s performance has rightly been criticised: on Syria for not recalling Parliament; on the treatment of immigrants for its slow response and late apology.  We need an effective opposition and moreover one with the courage to put an unequivocally international perspective. Sadly Jeremy Corbyn has retreated into his comfort zone of pious platitudes on international conflict.  Worse still he seems incapable or unwilling of dealing with continued evidence of antisemitism in the Party he leads.   A House of Commons debate was held on the subject on Tuesday.  Veteran Labour MP Margaret Hodge, once my Councillor In North Islington when Jeremy Corbyn was my MP, was moved to say,  “I never ever thought I would experience significant antisemitism as a member of the Labour party…I have, and it has left me feeling an outsider in the party of which I’ve been a member for over 50 years… I have never felt as nervous and frightened as I feel today about being a Jew. It feels that my party has given permission for antisemitism to go unchallenged. Antisemitism is making me an outsider in my Labour Party.” (and this is 21stCentury Britain).

If ever there were circumstances that underlined the need for Britain acting as a progressive voice as part of the international community they have been abundantly evident over the last seven days.  So, in a gloomy blog, let me offer two threads of comfort. First, French President Emmanuel Macron delivered an inspiring speech to the European Parliament showing the leadership so sadly lacking this side of the channel.  He warned that “there seems to be a European civil war between liberal democracy and rising authoritarianism…where nationalism and egotism takes precedence over what brings us together”; he urged the EU to renew its commitment to democracy. Secondly the House of Lords inflicted a major defeat on the Government by requiring ministers to report on steps to negotiate a continued EU-UK customs union. This may be no more that the latest stage in a long battle but, at last, we can chalk up a win.  The campaign for a Peoples’ Vote may have been derailed, but there are some glimmers of light to beckon us forward.

If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs when they appear, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

Advertisements

A shameful episode in Labour’s history

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 14.48.49

This column was written on 29th March, a year to the day before the UK ends its membership of the European Union and enters a transition period. Ideally I would be out with the local Labour Party handing out leaflets in Cromer demanding a fresh referendum. I doubt if it would do much good up here but it’s a sunny day and a nice place to be.

Instead I was obliged to undertake two activities that I sincerely wished had not been necessary. The first was to send an email to a valued family friend in New York to say how ashamed I was about the outbursts of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The second was to undertake an interview for BBC Look East expressing my view on how such incidents had arisen and the way that they had been handled.

For overseas readers the facts are these. Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn has issued an apology for declaring support for those opposing the removal of a mural, unquestionably anti-Semitic in tone, in London’s East End. Secondly, Christine Shawcross, who Corbyn’s supporters had made Chair of Labour’s Disputes Committee, was obliged to resign. She had sought the reinstatement of a local council candidate who had circulated material which denied the holocaust. These facts are not in dispute and we have witnessed an entirely understandable reaction from leading Jewish organisations, and many others from all sections of the community who support them.

Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly emphasised that he is not personally anti-Semitic and will not tolerate such views. What I said to Look East was that we should take him at this word. The charges against him and his leadership are different. First he has always been injudicious in his choice of allies and in the company he keeps. I was an active member of his local party in Islington for many years and know that be especially true on the politics of Ireland and the Middle East. Secondly there was an unwillingness on the part of both Jeremy and Christine Shawcross to investigate and research the detail before pronouncing; an aversion to detail is a characteristic of the extreme left with their preference for a slogan that you can put on a coffee mug or a t-shirt. Thirdly Jeremy Corbyn himself was slow to recognise the extent of the problem and even slower to act up on it.

So there we have it. At this time, more than any other, the Labour Party should be looking outwards and offering hope for the future by making common cause with European social democrats. Instead all the focus of the last few days has been on limiting the damage – a terrible reflection on the style and quality of current leadership. I was able, in my BBC interview, to offer one slight ray of hope for the future. There are many members of the Labour Party who feel like this and we do not intend to leave, however ashamed we feel. We will stay in and fight for the values of the party we joined.

If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs when they appear, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s welcome

skynews-jeremy-corbyn-jeremy-corbyn-mp_4240775

It gives me a deal of pleasure to be able to resume my weekly blog on a positive note. At long last there has been some shift in the Labour leader’s position. Now we are in favour of continued customs union membership. To quote from his Coventry speech:

“Labour would seek a final deal that gives full access to European markets and maintains the benefits of the single market and the customs union… with no new impediments to trade and no reduction in rights, standards and protections.”

No one should underestimate the extent of the shift and the opportunity that this provides for avoiding the Brexit catastrophe. Well done to all those who, over time, persuaded Jeremy Corbyn to shift his position.

I can’t include myself in that number, although at one time I knew him moderately well. I was a very active Labour Party member in Corbyn’s North Islington from the mid-70s to 1987 and did not hold him in high regard – I am sure that this feeling was reciprocated. In fact my Islington period covered the year when Corbyn was alleged to have consorted with a secret agent from the Czech republic. The idea that, at that time, anybody would have told him anything that mattered and that he would then have remembered it is absurd. However, in fairness, he has developed skills since becoming leader and is now pointing in the right direction.

The next challenge is to get him off the hook that the referendum vote must be treated as a considered and definitive decision that cannot be reversed – whatever the subsequent facts that have come to be light. In the course of a New European podcast published as recently as February 23rd , just three days before the Coventry speech, he was asked if Labour’s position on Brexit was shifting. He replied: “What we have said is that we accept the result of the referendum. We are leaving the European Union… We can’t be members of the single market because we won’t be members of the European Union”. *

The EU negotiators will not allow us to cherry-pick (or, as the Spanish apparently call it, sherry-pick) in this way. Signing up to everything that matters while pretending you are leaving may get the Labour Party through the next two years but it is not a strategy for Government.   Sooner or later political leaders must tell the electorate that they got it wrong. However let’s be thankful for some progress after a dreadful 2017.

*Listen on http://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/jeremy-corbyn-brexit-labour-1-5406396

 

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.

It’s all happening – except in North Norfolk

IMG_1530

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

IMG_1515

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.

IMG_1514

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.