I’ve be told to send it, but I didn’t mean it

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Our political process is in a terrible state.  Reasoned argument is losing out to emotional, often aggressive, behaviour.  There are childish and petty displays by those in a position of power who cannot get their own way.  Our Prime Minister has set this tone and, seemingly, made it acceptable.  Parliament instructs him to send a letter requesting an extension to the Brexit process; the Courts stand ready to enforce it.  A Conservative Prime Minister responds by sending the letter but refusing to sign it.  A stroppy teenager could behave in this way, but hopefully would grow out of it.

Let me offer another political example of stroppy teenage-like behaviour, this time at a local level.  Our North Norfolk Party is firmly in the hand of a small group who are Corbyn loyalists.  Notoriously and incredibly, in March this year, they passed a resolution which stated: “This CLP applauds the efforts of the LP leadership under Jeremy Corbyn to weed out and deal with antisemitic behaviour appropriately”.[1] The reaction from anyone I have told about this is to laugh.  However, I do care and it prompted me to go along to meetings and to get stuck in again.

I have tried to rally mainstream Labour opinion locally by writing and circulating short papers: for example, I prepared evidence on this particular bit of local lunacy to the Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into antisemitism.  The initial response of the North Norfolk party leadership was to try to supress my dissent by warning me that, if I continue to communicate in this way, I could fall foul of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This is, of course, nonsense.  I therefore sent round a separate missive on these GDPR requirements.  In return I received an email from one member of the Executive (who I will not embarrass by naming), copied to all the others, that said: I have absolutely no wish to receive any more of what I regard as spam mail from Sloman. What action is needed to stop this unfortunate from ignoring Labour Party rules?

Unfortunate is a bit unpleasant – I consider myself to have been very fortunate in life.  Accordingly, I put in a complaint and was told that I would receive an apology from the person concerned. I can do no better than reproduce an extract:

 

Dear Comrade
Massive apologies for the unfortunate e-mail you were inadvertently copied into. It would never be my intention to cause such distress to a comrade in arms at this moment of great peril….. What I meant to say was ‘unfortunate matters’ i.e. this infernal unsolicited e-mail affair. I would never regard you as an unfortunate – how could I? And then I referred to you as ‘Sloman’! Again how could I? I can only assume that I was in a rush and had no idea that you’d object so to being referred to by your surname and that I would then become the target of your official complaint partly because of missing that all important pre-fix ‘Mr’. I can see how you might even interpret that as disrespectful but absolutely no disrespect was ever intended. How could I ever disrespect you? …

Sincerely yours – a Comrade in arms

When Neil Kinnock was fighting to save the Labour Party in the 1980s he referred to travelling long distances to meetings and then being on the receiving end of ‘carefully studied insolence’.  I know exactly what he meant.

I continue to attend our local meetings and have noticed a softening of attitude.  I was even asked to serve as auditor –  a measure of desperation rather than a recognition of anything I could offer to the party.  It is far too late to pretend that the cry for a kinder, gentler politics ever meant anything at all.  It has been a rough period for mainstream Labour activists.

 

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.

[1] See an earlier blog ‘Strange goings-on in North Norfolk

https://wordpress.com/post/leftyoldman.wordpress.com/1150

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How ugly can it get?

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Bendigeidfran the giant acting as a bridge

 

We are just weeks away from a General Election.  It is likely to be a thoroughly unpleasant experience with the two leaders of our major parties willing to use arguments and language that appeal to the worst side of human behaviour.  It is as if, at a tense derby football game, the competing managers stood in front of their group of supporting fans and led them in the most hostile and aggressive set of chants.  No-one would wish to take their family to such an event.

The two party leaders behave in different ways but both can threaten civilised democratic discourse.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes concerted attacks on elites: apparently defined as anyone who is professionally successful and who takes a more informed and measured view of the country’s future.  As an Eton educated Prime Minister his populist views apparently exclude him from any charge of elitism.  Jeremy Corbyn has a different style. He is unrelentingly courteous in Parliament but shrugs his shoulders at the excesses of behaviour from his supporters at local levels.  Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are most comfortable when whipping up the faithful at rallies.  Neither are thoughtful politicians – let alone coalition builders.

All in all, it is not looking good.  Whatever the result of the election, I hope that one consequence will be the subsequent emergence of a concerted campaign to restore the best traditions of our democracy and the need to conduct elections in a civilised fashion.  This involves treating your opponents with respect.

Nostalgia is not always productive but I look back almost half a century to the first election where I stood as a candidate.  In 1970, as a twenty-three-year-old I was the Labour Candidate in the safe Tory seat of Leominster, a huge chunk of rural Herefordshire.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  The nearest I encountered to overt hostility was when a young farmer and his mate deliberately revved up their tractor engines to drown out my loudspeaker speech.  This gave me useful headlines in the local paper.

Moreover, I can recall being treated with the utmost courtesy by the local committee of the National Farmers’ Union when asked to address them “It’s clearly no good asking you questions in detail so we can do no more than thank you for coming”.  One incident in particular will stay in my memory.  At a public meeting in the market town of Ledbury the local Conservative Chairman, a retired military gentleman turned up and asked a question about reform of the taxation system.   I did not agree with his premise but, fresh from an economics degree, offered him a considered reply.  At the end of the meeting the gentleman concerned stood up and said, that on behalf of those present, he would like to wish the young candidate every success in his endeavours in life.   It was only later that I fully appreciated the generosity of this gesture.

I doubt if incidents of this type will feature in the forthcoming General Election.  One can just hope that nasty chanting, egg and milkshake throwing and the drowning of legitimate interventions from working journalists will be kept to a minimum.  Set against this, there is no way that Internet abuse and threats can be controlled.

By tolerating these assaults on democracy, we have lost something important.  However, if enough people desire it, tolerance could eventually prevail.   There are sufficient people from the traditional mainstream in both parties who would like to see this happen but it requires leadership willing to reach out and include rather than reinforcing prejudices.

There is old Welsh proverb, taken from the folk stories known as the Mabinogi: “A fo ben, bid bont” translated as “He would be a leader, let him be a bridge” (or “bear the load).  Bendigeidfran the giant laid down across a river to let his forces walk across his body when on a mission to rescue the maiden in distress.

I doubt if Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn will behave like Bendigeidfran the giant but they could begin by trying to keep their more extreme supporters under control.

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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From the 1970 General Election

 

Time to speak: a hashtag for Jeremy

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Given the maelstrom that is the current political scene there is a surprising consensus on the way that events could unfold.  This is because the position and ambitions of our Prime Minister are so transparent.

For Boris Johnson, like his opposite number across the Atlantic, ego dominates and reputation is all.  What matters is what appears or can be said to happen, not what actually happens. He has staked his reputation on delivering Brexit on October 31st.  If it doesn’t take place as predicted it will be everybody else’s fault  – the EU, the Irish Government, unsupportive MPs.  That will set him up nicely for a people vs. parliament General Election that will be the nastiest any living person has ever witnessed.

Many parliamentarians on all sides of the House are endeavouring to prevent this dreadful scenario from taking place.  They are determined to do all in their power to prevent both a head-on attack on the principles of representative democracy and the consequent delivery of an economic disaster.   Some of them, for example Philip Hammond, Dominic Grieve and Justin Greening from the Conservative side, have already displayed great courage.  We can be sure that there is a huge amount of organising and planning taking place across the party divide in advance of the resumption of Parliament on September 21st.  However, there is nothing that we ordinary voters can do to assist them beyond demonstrating our strength of feeling and wishing them well.

It is the Labour Party that concerns me.  It would: I have been a member for over 50 years.  The continued ambiguity of the Party’s position is a cause of distress.  Alan Johnson, an Education Minister under Tony Blair and someone who would have made an excellent leader himself today, described Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Europe as a total disaster. “He’s not a leader. He’s never going to be a leader, never wanted to be a leader, and is totally uncomfortable in his role of leader”.

Whatever one’s opinion on Alan Johnson’s scathing judgement, it would be a mistake to write off Jeremy Corbyns’ potential contribution to overturning Brexit.  His ability to motivate and inspire his younger supporters was much in evidence during the 2017 General Election, though sadly absent in the Referendum that took place in the previous year.  We need him, first, to stop equivocating and to offer the clear message of Remain.  Every recent national and local poll has demonstrated that this is a political necessity if the Party is to offer a serious challenge in a future General Election.  Jeremy Corbyn still enjoys a following and we need him in play to mobilise his supporters and we need him in play now. It is no good to waiting until late September after Labour Party Conference.  Moreover the mechanism exists, through the Momentum network, to mobilise pressure, should he choose, through social networking.

In an article, published in the New European in February 2018, I wrote, “Future generations will be amazed at our lack of action and the total impotence that so many progressives feel today…. I will learn from the success of the Corbyn campaign and use social media to promulgate my position and my concerns.”I went on to establish a twitter account @eugrandparents.

Eighteen months on I still feel isolated and impotent in my North Norfolk retreat but more than ever believe that we should all do what we can. Accordingly I have established, and will be promoting a new hashtag #jeremyMIAJeremy missing in action’ – to see if we can embarrass him to do his bit before it is too late.

A version of this article has appeared on The New European website

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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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.

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.

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.

An intriguing doorstep encounter in North Norfolk

The District Council elections in North Norfolk are now in full swing, or as near to ‘full’ as any swing is possible in this rather quiet area.  My vote this time will be in the Stody Ward. In previous elections my area was known as Glaven Valley: I stood as the Labour candidate in 2015 going down to a humiliating defeat.  The boundaries may have changed but the prospects, in one of the most rural swathes of Norfolk, remain unremittingly dismal.

Someone else is standing as the Labour Candidate this time, and he has already secured my postal vote – irrespective of my views on the national leadership of the Party.  We do however appear to be witnessing a determined fight between the LibDems and the Conservatives reflecting a battle for overall control of the Council.  Both groups are fundamentally non-political, indeed often anti-political.   The main issue that seems to be exciting local passions is the fate of the Sand Martins at Bacton beach: the birds were prevented from nesting on the cliff-side by nets erected by North Norfolk District Council in an attempt to attempt to combat cliff erosion.  Their fate made the national news and the Council swiftly moved the nets.

The local LibDem flier that I received was predictably bland. The Conservative leaflet was far more forthright and even ventured into politics “The Liberal Democrats are supporting a campaign to oppose Brexit and hold another referendum, disregarding the will of the British people. We cannot risk sending an endorsement of their divisive politics”.  Quite what the District Council can do about this I don’t know, but for a Tory to talk about divisive politics over Brexit merely underlines the adage that criminals always return to the scene of their crime.

However something else in the Tory leaflet attracted my attention. Our local candidate’s personal statement on the back page of a generic publication began “I’m a working class man who is passionate about creating opportunities for others…”.  I would not have expected such self-description: most of our local Tories like to pretend to be toffs. All was explained when the candidate came to my door.  We had a most unusual encounter: in fairness to the man I was deliberately provocative.

I began by reminding him of the mass defection of previously elected local Tories to form an Independent Group on the Council before going on to his motivation.  He told me that he had been brought up on a Council estate in West London; I responded by telling him that I too was brought up on a Council estate – in my case in South Wales.  He rather lost the thread by asking me why I was living in a nice big house in a nice village and not in Wales and then advanced his view that it was because Wales was a Labour area and “Labour areas are sh***oles”.My assertion that we had retired to Norfolk because of my wife’s family connections, and also I liked it here, did not seem to placate him in any way.  His next question was “why aren’t you standing for the Council here – why are you standing in North Walsham?”  Clearly he had me confused with someone else. I am not standing anywhere but have had letters published in the local press.  North Walsham does however offer the best prospect for Labour and he proceeded to describe this attractive market town as another ‘sh***ole’ – evidently this is one of his favourite expressions.

The encounter was as intriguing as it was revealing.   I do not want to be too unfair to our Conservative candidate as doubtless he has personal aspirations that are well intentioned.   Our exchange did however remind me that class politics and class prejudice are alive and well: they are simply taking a different form up here.

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.