It is rare for North Norfolk to feature on the national news but the LibDem’s capture of the District Council on May 2nd made the following day’s headlines. The apolitical but energetic LibDems won 30 seats; the antediluvian Tories took 6; some nondescript others 4. For the Labour Party the results were dismal: in 2015 we polled 14.9% of the vote; this time round we polled 6.4%. The highest percentage Labour vote, at 27.8%, was achieved by my friend Mike Gates in Wells (see previous blog). The highest number of votes recorded by anyone with Labour persuasions was the 238 achieved in Gresham by a promising young party member; however, he ran without party affiliation and is now the subject of disciplinary action. Not a good day for the Labour Party locally.
Inevitably analysis of the overall national results has concentrated on the implications for the Euro-elections and the future of Brexit. Much of it has focused on the drift away from Labour amongst leave voters in the industrial north and amongst remain voters in the south. Now, while North Norfolk is typical of nowhere but itself, dig deeper and we can offer some insights about the nature of left politics in the internet age and about the state of the Labour Party
As I have observed in previous blogs, as a corollary of Jeremy Corbyn’s barnstorming leadership election campaigns, North Norfolk Labour Party underwent a hostile takeover by Momentum. The previous Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, introduced a scheme to allow affiliated members and £3 supporters to join full members in voting in leadership contests. Vote they did. Most voted by internet but a local hustings meeting in Cromer took on the atmosphere of a 19th revivalist gathering; it was packed with Corbyn supporters who had played no part in the Party previously nor were to do so subsequently. Numbers on the books increased from 175 to over 600: we were told that the local Party was going ‘from strength to strength’. The subsequent small print gave a rather different picture. To quote from the annual report ‘the challenge has been to activate the new membership in campaigning and participation in meetings’.
Too true. For the first time since I arrived here Labour failed to find enough people to stand for election. We did not field candidates in three of the North Norfolk seats including the market town of Holt.[i]
I cannot entirely blame our Momentum controlled local Party Executive, although their adolescent infatuation with Jeremy Corbyn undoubtedly led to a number of mainstream members, including myself, deciding not to stand this time; others ran against the Party as independents. There is, however, a more fundamental problem at issue. The nature of political involvement has changed and will continue to change with the emergence of social networking.
Our local campaign, such that it was, seemed to place a deal of emphasis on a succession of posts, featuring individual candidates and some local issues, on the North Norfolk Labour Party Facebook site. They were well produced and, to the Executive’s credit, regularly updated. I doubt, however, if any uncertain voter accessed the site or anybody’s vote was changed as a result of the content. This is simply the disciples talking amongst themselves: it is not where the effort should be placed if you are fighting an election.
Further, few of the newer members participated in the campaign. Certainly for the younger recruits it seems to be all about demonstrating commitment on-line: the political equivalent of the Bay City Rollers phenomenon. Here I am showing my age. The Bay City Rollers were a Scottish rock band who achieved worldwide teen idol popularity in the 1970s. Musically the band broke no new ground and had little lasting influence, but their fans were able to declare their identity by adopting a distinctive style of dress; this featured calf-length tartan trousers and tartan scarves. Today Corbyn disciples declare their loyalty not through their style of dress but by decorating their Facebook sites with pictures of their idol. There is, as a consequence, a huge and growing gulf between those who profess support on-line and those who control events in the Party structure locally and nationally.
In an earlier blog, “ Strange goings-on in North Norfolk”, I drew attention to the bizarre decision of the North Norfolk Labour Party to devote much of its last pre-election meeting to a motion that began “This CLP applauds the efforts of the LP leadership under Jeremy Corbyn to weed out and deal with antisemitic behaviour appropriately”. Just over a month later, in the middle of the election campaign, a news item appeared prominently in the North Norfolk News with the heading ‘Labour defends council candidate following anti-Israel Facebook posts’. The item can be accessed using the link below (the typo in the link is a mistake by the publisher).
Given the wider context of the shameful antisemitism crisis in the Labour Party it would be hard to construct a more damaging headline. As the much-despised but extraordinarily perceptive Tony Blair put it: “The trouble with people from that tradition of the left is that they combine a huge degree of commitment with intolerance and misunderstanding about the nature of people and their relation to politics”. [ii]
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.
[i]There is a boundary anomaly in the County. The District Council boundary is not contiguous with the North Norfolk Parliamentary boundary. There was a similar lack of candidates in District Council seats that fell in the Broadland Parliamentary Constituency
[ii]This quotation is taken from Kogan, D., Protest and Power: The Battle for the Labour Party, Bloomsbury Reader, (2019), p. 37.