North Norfolk Labour’s Game of Thrones – our nomination meeting

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Having been brought up in a family where everyone had strong opinions but no-one ever listened to anyone else, I was well-placed to attend Thursday’s North Norfolk Labour Party’s Leadership nomination meeting.  I went with low expectations but departed feeling optimistic that the Party will survive, although it will take many years to win back the confidence of the electorate.

For those who are not familiar with the process, local Labour Parties such as North Norfolk, can hold an All Members Meeting to choose which, if any, candidate to nominate to succeed Jeremy Corbyn; however, the ultimate decision will be taken by the forthcoming national ballot when every member will have an individual vote once the ballot opens on February 21st.  So, to some extent, this week’s event in Cromer was a pointless exercise, no more than a test of strength for the competing factions:  it offered Corbyn supporters the opportunity to demonstrate continuing ascendancy locally; it offered mainstream counter-insurgents the opportunity to rally for the first time since we were crushed in 2016.

From my point of view the meeting began well.  At 7.00 p.m. the Chair warned all those present that the formal proceedings would begin at 7.05 p.m.; anyone who turned up after this would not be allowed to vote.  At 7.10 p.m. a hard core Corbyn supporter who had been gratuitously offensive to me and had been obliged to send a churlish apology* arrived with two other people; once the situation was explained to him, he promptly departed.

It is of course the numbers that matter.  There were 32 members present.  Since there are over 500 members currently in the North Norfolk Party this is a dismal turnout.  Significantly it was half the number present in August 2016 when Jeremy Corbyn defeated his challenger Owen Smith by 44 to 15 in our local vote.  This time our mainstream candidate, Keir Starmer, defeated the anointed heir to the Corbyn project, Rebecca Long Bailey, by 18 votes to 12.  Set against this, these figures were reversed in the contest for the Deputy Leadership where leftish Angela Rayner defeated mainstream Ian Murray by 18 votes to 13.  However, this all indicates a major shift in mood, albeit in a remote and wholly unrepresentative part of the UK.

I am sure that no-one came to this meeting with an open mind nor was influenced by anything that took place there.  Any discussion was simply a necessary ritual to be undergone before the vote took place.  However, the meeting was well-chaired and all those who spoke made their points in a non-aggressive, often reflective, manner.  Indeed, what was most evident was both a collapse of bombast and a lack of organisation from the Corbyn faction.  On the same evening we were asked to put forward nominations for Labour’s National Executive Committee – the NEC.  This might not sound important but Momentum, the Corbyn faction’s organisational arm, have captured this body to do the leader’s bidding.  In due course the NEC will be held to account for the shameful failure to deal with antisemitism in the party. Significantly this time Momentum could not produce and communicate an agreed slate of candidates for the NEC.  I was able to secure the Constituency support for Gloria Mills (recommended to me by the mainstream Labour First faction) as our BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) nominee in the absence of alternative names.

The meeting finished early and I left in time to get home and indulge in my current binge watch: I am working my way through a box set of Game of Thrones, something that I never saw on live television.  Late on Thursday I watched the final episode of Series 1.  It ended with a slightly built fair-haired woman trying to regain a throne by hatching a number of dragons from their eggs, and thus commanding huge loyalty from a warlike tribe. If Thursday’s North Norfolk figures are any indication, Rebecca Long Bailey will have to produce some similarly unexpected initiative if she is to win.  I am hopeful that she will not be able to do so.

*See my previous blog I’ve told to send it, but I didn’t mean it.  https://leftyoldman.wordpress.com/2019/10/21/ive-be-told-to-send-it-but-i-didnt-mean-it/

 

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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!

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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.

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