Dear Jennie Formby – my welcome letter

Wetterhaeuschen

My inbox often contains unexpected communications: on Monday I received two bizarre emails from the Labour Party.

My guess both is that both were sent as a result of repeated public complaints that many members, particularly those who joined recently, have not received ballot papers for the leadership election. However, I responded immediately to these two most friendly overtures; it would be impolite to do otherwise.  Below is the reply I sent to the General Secretary:

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Dear Jennie Formby

It is always a pleasure to hear from the central administration of the Labour Party and I was delighted, if a little surprised, to be the recipient of two emails on 10th March.

The first, which arrived just before four p.m. from the Regional Office, was a most pleasant welcome to the party (we are delighted to have you as part of our movement).  The second, two hours later, was sent by the National Party (reply to Jeremy Corbyn) and began: Now you’ve had a chance to settle in, we would love to know more about what motivated you to become a member of the Labour Party.

For the record I joined the Party in Cardiff on my sixteenth birthday, fifty-seven years ago, and have remained in continuous and unbroken membership since then.  This, I may add, contrasts with many of the controlling clique in the North Norfolk Labour Party (NNLP), some of whom have displayed the political consistency of the figures in an Alpine Weather House*. In fact, June 18th this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the first time that I stood for office as a Labour Candidate (in the 1970 General Election).  Turning to the question asked in the second email, I joined because I believed in the promotion of social justice, the elimination of poverty, and the protection of the less able.  These values have stayed with me throughout, but, over time, I have come to realise that delivery is more important than slogans and rhetoric. This last is a view that has dropped out of fashion in the Corbyn era.

It is evident that both the emails I received were intended for new members rather than the old guard.  Could I ask you to investigate what has happened? To assist, could I offer two possible explanations.

You will be aware that central Labour Party Departments have acquired the reputation for tardy action – this has been particularly pronounced in the appalling way that a backlog of complaints over antisemitism has been allowed to accumulate.  Could it be that, under our current leadership, a decision has been made to write a welcome all members and the process has now reached those who joined in 1962?

A second and more likely explanation concerns the well-publicised fact that significant numbers of new members have not received ballot papers for the leadership.  Given this, as a result of over-enthusiasm or ineptitude, someone in the database team either chose to play safe or simply pressed the wrong button and a sent a ‘new member’ email to a batch of long-standing members.  I cannot believe that I alone have been selected for this treatment, and I know that at least one other NNLP member has erroneously received these emails.

Whatever the explanation, it does not reflect well on the Labour Party as an organisation.  Looking forward I can only take comfort in the fact that Keir Starmer for five years led a high-profile organisation, the Crown Prosecution Service, where this sort of cock-up would not be tolerated and the circumstances that led to such a mistake thoroughly investigated.

I hope that you will agree that I am right to draw this matter to your attention and wish you well.

*In an Alpine Weather House, male and female figures ride on a balance bar, which is suspended by a piece of catgut or hair. The action swings one figure or the other out of the house depending on the humidity

 

Leftyoldman is taking a break from regular blogging until the shape of left of centre politics becomes clearer – though, as on this occasion, I will continue to make the odd incursion when I have something to say. If you would like to receive email notification of future leftyoldman blogs, please press the ‘follow leftyoldman’ button on the left-hand side above.  

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A fine contribution from Norfolk from the next generation

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My inbox on Valentine’s Day, February 14th contained one of the most interesting communications that I’ve received for some time: although not of a romantic nature, it made me think a lot.   A young, rising star in our North Norfolk Labour Party, Jasper Haywood, has produced a fine dissertation for his Master’s thesis at the University of East Anglia. Entitled Betrayal in the Labour Party: irrelevant divisions and silent debates it brought home to me the extent of the problem that will face Keir Starmer, who, if the bookies are right (and they are seldom wrong), is about to be enthroned as our Next Labour Party leader.

Over my years of activism, I’ve come to recognise that, to succeed, the Labour Party needs to maintain a balance between a balance between an ideological Marxist influenced left and a pragmatic social-democratic right.  Both factions have a great deal to contribute: the left always demonstrate great commitment and can generate enthusiasm, particularly amongst younger members: the right will ask the hard questions involved in delivery, something that is essential if the party is to be seen as a credible electoral force.

Relationships between those two broad factions have now become toxic.  Mutual respect has disappeared and trust broken down.  In our local Labour Party, our ruling clique seems to be motivated mainly by a hostility to Blair and his government, particularly over Iraq.  For my part I feel resentful that they saddled us with the most ineffectual party leader seen in post war Britain, and moreover one who through indifference and incompetence failed to deal with the emergence of antisemitism.  This is something that will return to haunt us

Jasper, having interviewed 34 Labour members in the North Norfolk and Norwich North constituencies, underlines how this lack of trust and mutual respect has affected the Labour Party leadership election. To quote:

Evidently, decisions over leadership have less to do with the likelihood of winning power for the party, and more to do with who can establish power within the party. The outcome of this is that party engages in a perpetual disagreement over its aims, and results in a tyranny of the majority. In essence, changes of leadership are a reaction against the past, not a response to the future.

And

the process of changing leader becomes an opportunity to enact retribution, impelled by lack a trust and dictated by an overwhelming sense of betrayal. When combined, the party’s contestation of its aims and the centrality of retribution to membership consolidate the disparate ideological views into a core diametric. Ultimately, this limits the extent of alternative policy narratives.

Jasper has generously allowed me to include a condensed version of his thesis on this blog as a downloadable word file.  If this analysis is correct it is scarcely surprising that, in policy terms, the last thing Keir Starmer would wish to do is to alienate people who, if the party settles down, he would much prefer to have on board.  He would recognise, more than anyone else, the extent of current mutual hostility and the huge difficulty in overcoming it.

Despite its depressing tone, Jasper’s paper was a welcome Valentine’s day present.  It certainly served to underline the extent of the challenge that we all face.  There is precious little desire for unity, however much the leadership candidates call for it; it will certainly be a very long time before love is in the air.  As a Welshman, I’d look for guidance to our equivalent St. Dwynwen – the Welsh St. Valentine – whose day is celebrated falls on January 25th.  Dwynwen fell in love with a local boy called Maelon, but her father had already arranged for her to marry another prince. Maelon took the news badly, so the distraught Dwynwen fled to the woods to weep, and begged God to help her. She was visited by an angel who gave her a sweet potion to help her forget Maelon, which turned him into a block of ice. Dwynwen then became a nun.

This cheery tale seems to reflect the mood I am encountering on the future of the Party, but to support Keir Starmer, who may well prove to be the outstanding leader we so desperately need, I will on hang on in and continue to attend meetings.

JH Betrayal Thesis 140220

I will now take a break from regular blogging until the shape of left of centre politics becomes clearer – though I may make the occasional incursion if I have something to say. If you would like to receive email notification of future leftyoldman when publication resumes, please press the ‘follow leftyoldman’ button on the left-hand side above.  

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

118 new members NNLP

 

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/

 

leftyoldman blogs will continue to appear as the Labour leadership election progresses.  If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs, please press the ‘follow leftyoldman’ button on the left-hand side above.

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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

 

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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Sir Norman bows out

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One thing that has certainly changed over my fifty years of political involvement has been the level of respect for Members of Parliament. Looking back, it is amazing how much esteem they were once shown, seemingly irrespective of their work-rate or their personality.  When I was seeking Parliamentary nominations in the 1970s and 80s it was not uncommon to be told by activists that they were looking for someone who was as much as possible like their retiring member – even when the individual concerned was well-known to be both idle and ineffectual.

What was behind this was the celebrity effect.   If a celebrity behaves graciously towards them, some people go weak at the knees.  This is most obviously at work with the Royal Family.  Recently I heard a woman on a crowded train ringing a family member to tell them, excitedly, that Princes Anne had waved to her from a car!  Whatever next! Similarly, in the past, if an MP wrote a nice letter of thanks or congratulations, and even better remembered the names of someone’s family members, that would be sufficient to earn him or her the reputation as a good constituency member with immense charisma.

This sort of respect for Parliamentary authority has now eroded.  Many of the zealots of the ultra-right who have captured their local Conservative Party, and the those of the ultra-left who have captured the Labour Party, are driven by a contempt for what they regard as ‘the elite’.  Such mentality has always led to distasteful behaviour: Neil Kinnock, when he was trying to save the Labour Party from Trotskyists recalled going to meetings only to receive ‘carefully studied insolence’. Now this is unremittingly delivered through social media.

It is one thing for this to take place within the confines of a political party – serves us right for being activists and attending unpleasant meetings. It is quite another for a disenchantment with politicians to lead to a rejection of the principles of representative democracy. Many, possibly most, MPs do a good job, and this cuts across the party spectrum.

I am writing this blog on a day when our Prime Minister is apparently seeking to bypass Parliament to enforce a political change which will be disruptive in the short term and damaging in the long term.  He is willing to lie to achieve his objectives. This same day our local MP, Sir Norman Lamb, has announced his retirement from Parliament; he has represented North Norfolk as a LibDem since he gained the seat from the Conservatives in 2001.  I would like to use this column to pay him some tribute and wish him the best for the future.

Norman Lamb has always run a most effective constituency office. Any letter was immediately acknowledged and any serious issue investigated.  His practice was to send legitimate complaints to the relevant Government Department, public or private body, and forward the reply to the constituent. He would often add a short hand-written note offering to take the matter further if requested.  Moreover, he was always ready to receive a delegation and listen to them – even when he knew that he would not agree.  In the days of the Cameron-Clegg coalition I organised a group of University academics to publish a statement on the dearth of local opportunities for 16-18-year-olds.  Norman Lamb was the only MP in our county willing to receive the delegation.

Before my local comrades get irate, let me state that, in my twenty years here, I have never voted for Norman Lamb, though many Labour supporters (and indeed members) will have done so in this most marginal seat. I have frequently and publicly disagreed with him.  This does not mean that I am unable to wish him well.  It is far too easy to be negative.  Those of us who believe in the Parliamentary system, and in representative democracy, need to say so before it is overtaken by an ugly tide of populism. Norman Lamb has been an assiduous and effective MP, albeit holding different views on many issues to the ones that I embrace.

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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.

Dealing with antisemitism in the North Norfolk Labour Party

Attached below is a link to a submission that I have made to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Investigation into the Labour Party.

The submission concerns a series of unfortunate and interconnected events that took place in the North Norfolk Labour Party (NNLP) over the period March-May 2019.  In summary the party passed a resolution applauding the efforts of the leadership under Jeremy Corbyn to ‘weed out and deal with genuine antisemitic behaviour appropriately’. The resolution was presented to the local party by an individual who was subsequently placed under investigation for alleged antisemitism and suspended by the national party.  The response of the local NNLP leadership was ill judged and damaging.

There are important lessons here in dealing with the antisemitism crisis that the Labour Party is facing.  Although I have taken a break from blogging this issue is so important that I am bringing this evidence into the public domain.

Dealing with Antisemitism in NNLP

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