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.

 

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Who will fight North Norfolk? – apply on the website

Anyone with an appetite for detailed political analysis should take a look at the excellent Electoral Calculus website maintained by Martin Baxter: http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/homepage.html

In this site he takes an overall prediction based on current national polls (Conservatives at 43.5%, Labour at 25.7%, LibDems at 10.5%) and translates it into votes at constituency and even ward level. Fascinating stuff for the election nerd.

On this basis he is predicting that the incumbent LibDem MP, Norman Lamb, will hold North Norfolk in June with a 5.4% lead over the Conservatives. My guess is that it will be much tighter, but what is of more interest is his prediction that the Labour vote will drop to 6.4% from the 10.2% we achieved at the 2015 election.

For overseas readers, a deposit of £500 is required for a candidate to stand at a general election and this is paid by the local party. I was the Parliamentary Agent in 2015 and was obliged to withdraw cash (cheques not acceptable) from a Cromer bank and take it a mile up the road to the Council offices. A deposit is refunded only if a threshold of 5% of the votes is achieved. In other words, if things get any worse as this election progresses there is a risk of the humiliation of a lost deposit here.

In the 2015 election we were most fortunate with our candidate. We had plenty of time to choose and our Party Chair, Denise Burke, put her name forward. At the formal selection evening, when the candidates were due to present their views at hustings, she faced just one challenge: a young man whose name I cannot recall and who was based in London. We all assembled in the Cromer Community Hall and a series of mobile telephone exchanges with Denise’s challenger took place. He first revealed that he was on his way, then that he had lost his way, and eventually simply did not appear. Although we all wondered where he had ended up, there was relief all round when we were able to select Denise. She proved to be an excellent candidate who, in happier times, would have made a very good MP. Undoubtedly our poll benefited from her energy and enthusiasm.

This time round the unexpected election call means that the timetable for selection will be compressed. Our Labour Party Regional Office is charged with contacting Denise and seeing if she will stand again. We shall see but my guess is that, regrettably, this is unlikely.   The next stage in the process is, to quote, from the guidance we have all received: “adverts will be placed on the Labour Party website from Friday 21 April and applications close on Sunday 23rd April at noon inviting applications from party members seeking selection…. Candidates will also be asked to indicate their preference of seat in which they are seeking selection”. The Regional Office will then approve and allocate candidates.

I cannot believe that anyone outside North Norfolk will express a preference for our seat. It is a very long way to come, although it may appeal to someone whose hobby is bird watching. We have a Dad’s Army Branch of Momentum operating in our seaside town of Sheringham and, heaven help us, they may make use of their network and seek to find someone of like persuasion. I will await further communications from the party with interest.

 

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Why I won’t vote for Norman

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Seen at the end of the Unite for Europe march

The Lib-Dems will be defending nine seats at the snap June general election: my home constituency of North Norfolk will be one of them. It was captured by our sitting MP, Norman Lamb, sixteen years ago; in 2015 his majority fell from 11600 to just over 4000 ahead of the Conservatives. It is a highly marginal seat and there will plenty of hopefuls seeking the Tory candidature.

Lamb himself is an affable individual. He runs a well-managed office and always replies to letters. He is anxious to avoid offending anyone: his appeal locally has always been to offer politics for people who don’t like politics. For example, he and his local party adopted a very low profile on Europe, aware that North Norfolk is a stronghold for Brexit, while the LibDems nationally were committed to remain. Lamb himself abstained in the February 2017 Parliamentary vote to trigger Article 50 and start the exit process.

Such ambiguity will only take him so far in his attempt to hold on to his seat in June. A key LibDem tactic has always been to squeeze the Labour vote; this stood at just over 5000 at the 2015 election, due in no small measure to our excellent candidate. LibDem election literature, at both local and national elections, is often illustrated with claims, based on spurious opinion surveys, that the Labour vote is crumbling. They are eager for local Labour supporters to hold their noses and vote tactically for the LibDems.

I haven’t voted this way and never will. It may be dire times for those of us who are democratic socialists, but we must hold true to some basic beliefs. Chuka Umunna expressed them brilliantly in a recent New Statesman article. “Labour’s historic role is to be the party of the national labour interest. Our purpose is to represent working people and to redress the imbalance of power between capital and labour. And we provide protection for those who cannot work or support themselves”. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/03/chuka-umunna-labour-alternative

Norman Lamb cannot, and indeed does not seek, to be part of that process. Shamefully at the 2015 general election he promoted the dishonest analysis that the international financial crisis had been a result of government overspending, when history will prove it was a result of global imbalances and irresponsible lending by the banking system. In this way he justified betraying a firm pledge on the abolition of student fees and entering a coalition government with the Conservatives that savaged public expenditure.

Judging by a recent communication Norman Lamb is now moving from favouring expenditure cuts towards an anti-politics position. In March he e-mailed: “We all know that vital health and care services are under increasing strain. It is my belief that the problems will only continue to get worse. Unless politicians put aside their party interests and work together with professionals, staff and patients to agree a new, sustainable future for the services we all rely on.”

The poor grammatical construction of the last sentence should not disguise the fact that a new way of being all things to all men is under consideration. It will not wash with me and will not wash with many others.

 

 

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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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Jeremy’s tax return – the real problem

Like many of my generation I have made a transition from paid employment, through self-employment, to living on pensions with the odd bit of extra income.   Given this, for over a decade I have prepared my own tax return. It is becoming increasingly less arduous; my pensions are taxed at source and this year’s extra income amounted to £25.86. This was the royalties from six copies of A Handbook for Training Strategy; five of them were sold overseas. I wrote the book in 1994 and it is now hopelessly out of date. I wish I could find a way of returning the money to the purchasers.

Having completed and submitted returns for some time, I know that it is easy to miss a deadline, make a mistake, or overlook some detail, so I have some sympathy with Jeremy Corbyn. Last year he incurred a fine for late return. This year he made a big public statement by making his tax return publicly available in order to shame rival politicians into taking a similar action. Unfortunately it has all gone wrong and has proved to be another embarrassment, albeit minor. It is worth reflecting on why this is the case and what lessons can be drawn.

The tax return that Corbyn has published contained a small technical error. His £27000 salary as leader of the opposition was declared, not as income from employment, but as a state benefit. Tax on this element of salary was paid in full; there was no implication or any attempt to dissemble; it was simply an entry put in the wrong place. This is no big deal to the Inland Revenue, but raises an important question. Given that taking the return into the public domain was a planned political offensive, was it thoroughly checked before it was issued and if so by whom? Were adequate processes in place and were the individuals responsible for implementing them competent in the jobs for which they are paid? Had they ever completed a tax return themselves?

Inevitably a minor gaffe led to derision from a hostile press who, in a dull political period, are just waiting for the next dropped ball; the Leader’s office issued a predictable petulant response and yet another chance for a more serious debate was missed.

Labour supporters in the constituencies may well shrug their shoulders but, to the electorate as a whole, competency in office does matter. Those of us who have worked most of lives in corporate roles simply cannot understand why the even the simplest things can’t be done effectively at this high-profile and well-resourced level.

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Regaining trust – is am-dram the answer?

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The second half of 1985 was without doubt the worst period of my working life. I had spent some 17 years at the National Coal Board and we were all reeling from the effects of the year-long catastrophic strike. I had then been promoted to a job teaching at the industry’s internal management college, where we received instructions that our Chairman, Ian MacGregor, required us to devote all our efforts to improving the communication skills of colliery managers. He seemed to believe that the strike was a result of a corporate failure to put his message across at the coalface (for once a literal use of the term).

Opinions may differ on the causes of the strike, and what should have been done, but all of us knew that MacGregor was totally wrong in his analysis. The nature of the mining industry meant that there was plenty of contact and exchange between management and workers. They lived in the same communities and often had close family connections. The issue was not communication: there was an underlying political and economic agenda that needed to be resolved.

All this came flooding back when I saw Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to the recent disastrous bye-election result at Copeland. “… Our message was not enough to win through in Copeland” he said “ To win power to rebuild and transform Britain, Labour will go further to reconnect with voters, and break with the failed political consensus.” This echoed his supporters’ underlying belief that, if their perspective was not distorted by a hostile media, the voters would immediately return to Labour.

This is, of course, nonsense. Flooding the estates with imported bands of Momentum activists would only make things worse. It would serve to remind the electorate of how detached the Corbyn supporters are from the aspirations and ambitions of most people, and how shallow the solutions on offer are. Banging on doors simply serves to remind the electorate of our malaise and, indeed, could make traditional Labour voters further question their intentions.

In recent blogs I have drawn attention to some defections of prominent North Norfolk individuals from Labour to the LibDems. I greatly regretted the departure of a former Mayor of Cromer: he was a fine young man. Before he resigned from the party he circulated his concerns over a members’ meeting held in November. The agenda included “role play activity which was aimed at developing skills and confidence in campaigning on the doorstep”. This, the former Mayor, described this as ‘unrealistic am-dram’.   However it was adjudged a success by the organisers and, on the Saturday immediately before Copeland, a morning session was scheduled where “through role play we will show different ways to engage with residents, discuss issues and find out whether they support Labour”.

One of the co-presenters of the session has a history of revolutionary Trotskyism. In fairness to him I doubt if he intended to use the occasion to explore the Marxist concept of ‘false consciousness’ (the way in which material, ideological, and institutional processes in capitalist society mislead members of the proletariat*). He might just as well done so, for all the good that sessions like this are going to have at this stage. Simply promoting the Party on the doorstep will serve no purpose until we have something to offer that makes sense to the electorate.   Until and unless we address the underlying policy vacuum, and get a new leader, all that is on offer is further decline.

 

* Taken from the Wikipedia definition of the term

 

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A strange defection in North Norfolk

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After five decades of political activism I recognise that people are always entitled to change their opinions. Many well-meaning individuals were seduced by Jeremy Corbyn’s evangelism when he was elected Labour leader; now they are having doubts. Recently I’ve been on the receiving end of multiple shame-faced variants of “I supported him for his principles but he is not much of a leader’’.   As the football fans chant “It’s gone very quiet over there”. However if we are to move the Labour Party back to electability we must, I know, be prepared to forget the mistakes people made eighteen months ago.   Nevertheless some things really rankle.

On 13th October 2015, a month after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader a piece appeared in the New Statesman. It was written by a Norfolk-based journalist, Lauren Ravazi, under the headline: “It’s nothing radical: Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters on why his politics are just common sense”. It was adulatory in tone: “…. a widespread movement; people drawn from a variety of backgrounds who have come together under the umbrella of Corbynism to support principles of equality, fairness and democracy”…. ”Welcome to the new British politics”.

One of three people identified in the article was a local party member, a Cromer literary director Jen Hamilton-Emery. She was quoted as describing Corbyn as a man of strong and unshakeable principles. That same month Jen became Chair of the North Norfolk Labour Party and wrote to us all saying:

“I decided to stand as Chair after attending the recent Labour Party Conference in Brighton where I was reminded why I had joined the Party in the first place. The New Politics outlined by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell struck a chord with me: Labour values, fit for a modern age, where everyone is encouraged to express their views and have their voices heard”.

I’d always liked Jen and was disappointed with her seemingly uncritical support for Jeremy Corbyn so the starry-eyed comments in the Statesman piece jarred. I was even more disappointed, and somewhat surprised, when she resigned as local Chair just five months later citing personal reasons. Whatever the underlying causes, and we never found out, on a personal level I continue to wish Jen well.

What I do find extraordinary however is that that she has now defected to the LibDems. On 16th February she sent out an e-mail in which she said “I have never been a Corbin (sic) fan, but was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but his 3-line whip in support of May’s Brexit plan was the last straw”.   Even by North Norfolk standards, where defections are common (the Conservatives and LibDems seem to be both interchangeable and indistinguishable), such a complete reversal of opinion in a short period strikes me as odd.

Feeling a little aggrieved I contacted the Statesman journalist suggesting that she should produce a follow-up article on the change of heart. I received a prompt and courteous reply. Lauren Ravazi informed me that she too had now joined the LibDems and, moreover, “As for writing about any of this, I prefer to put pen to paper on issues of global development and space exploration these days.” I can only wish her well with the latter – with consistency like this we don’t dwell on the same planet.

Funny things happen in Norfolk.