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


Crosswords for mental agility

In my previous blog I referred to an informal discussion with a local GP on the subject of declining powers, and my fears of dementia. One sound piece of advice he offered was to develop new mental skills by taking on new challenges. It gave me the opportunity to raise some concerns I had over my crossword activity. In any other context these concerns would, perfectly correctly, be dismissed as self-indulgent nonsense. My doctor friend was more generous in his response. I expect that he is used to dealing with eccentrics and obsessives.

For over three decades I have tackled, and almost always completed, the AZED crossword in the Observer. It is amongst the most difficult of the crosswords that is set by the same person each week. It has a unique charm. Every four years or so AZED solvers hold an event in Oxford to pay tribute to the setter, Jonathan Crowther, who, before his retirement, was a distinguished lexicographer with the Oxford University Press. Colin Dexter, the author of the detective novels, is a regular AZED solver. Indeed he named his character Inspector Morse after the late Sir Jeremy Morse, another AZED enthusiast.

My efforts with AZED, while richly satisfying in themselves, have brought my limitations home to me. I have entered the clue setting competitions but never appeared in anything but the lowest category. However, and here is the link with ageing and dementia, I seem to be getting better. In retirement I am tackling the even more difficult Listener crossword in Saturday’s Times.

When attempting the Listener, I need to make extensive use of the electric version of the Chambers Dictionary that is available as an IPhone app.   Key in the four character string ‘??jj’ and it produces ‘hajj’ as the only feasible match; even better, key in ‘horsecart’ (or theses nine letters in any order) and it produces not only ‘cart-horse’ but the anagram ‘orchestra’. I’ve often wondered if this should be regarded as cheating – though if so I am only cheating myself.

I ran this trivial moral dilemma past my Doctor friend and was greatly reassured by his answer.   The key thing is to strive to learn new things and, if this technique encourages this activity, it passes the test. I no longer have any concerns and will continue. However I will not enter any technologically enabled solutions for the trivial prize that is offered each week; I would see this as unfair competition.

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Ageing and dementia

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My happiest childhood years were spent in a council house on a large estate on the western fringes of Cardiff. I attended the local church and was an enthusiastic member of their cub group. Now in later life, when I visit the city for the rugby internationals, I make a point of attending the early morning communion service: it is a heartening experience as the church is prospering under an exceptionally able vicar and offers an outstanding ministry to a disadvantaged local community.

The sick are remembered in prayers during the service and last time I went I recognised one of the names: it was a classmate of mine at the local primary school. He was a lively boy and a talented footballer – centre forward for the school team. He is now 70 and I was shocked when the vicar told me that my former classmate was struggling with dementia.

As a baby-boomer enjoying a comfortable retirement dementia is one of my biggest fears. I have no skills or talents beyond the cognitive and I dread the loss of this capability; I have been giving the matter a deal of thought – possibly, because of my anxiety, too much thought. There seems to be an endless flow of newspaper articles summarising, and almost certainly over-simplifying, the latest research. Unfortunately most often they are no help at all.

What has proved of value was an informal discussion I had with a local GP; he isn’t my doctor but is a personal friend. In summary his views were that we must all come to terms with a decline in our powers as we grow older; this decline embraces both cognitive and physical skills. The challenge is how we cope with that decline. The sound advice he gave me has been repeated a thousand times: keep yourself healthy by taking exercise, have a good diet, avoid excessive alcohol consumption and don’t smoke. In addition develop new mental skills by taking on new challenges.   As he put it to me: ‘when dealing with patients I often think, (but cannot say), what part of this don’t you understand?’.

I can’t help but feel that my generation has developed an unfortunate mind-set. We seem to believe that we have a right to expect GPs and hospitals to offer cures for everything – irrespective of our own behaviour. You don’t have to be a Thatcherite to recognise that individual obligations must run alongside social provision.