Because I say so (or words to that effect)

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To my surprise and pleasure I received some positive feedback from my previous blog, the one in which I paid tribute to our retiring local LibDem MP Norman Lamb.  Several people took the trouble to tell me that is was good to see something positive said about a political opponent.  Perhaps this is what Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn meant when he made his plea for a kinder, gentler politics.

This aspiration, articulated almost exactly four years ago, has, of course, been totally ignored in practice.  Politics has taken an unpleasant turn with stories fabricated and motives impugned on all sides.  Both major parties have saddled themselves with unsuitable leaders, neither of whom is interested, let alone capable, of building consensus; both are happiest delivering market place oratory to the faithful. Over the last week it has been the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who has chosen to show the worst aspect of his character with a display of bombast that has descended into the ridiculous.

On Sunday, in a newspaper interview, Boris Johnson vowed that the UK would leave the EU by aping the behaviour of the Marvel character ‘The Incredible Hulk’.  For those who are not into comic books, Bruce Banner, Hulk’s physically weak alter-ego, morphs into a huge green-skinned giant when angry.  According to our Prime Minister: “Banner might be bound in manacles, but when provoked he would explode out of them”and “Hulk always escaped no matter how tightly bound…that is the case for this country. We will come out on October 31stand we will get it done”.

Such childish macho-talk takes me back to a bizarre interlude in my working career.  For six years I was head of human resource development at what was probably the UK’s worst-managed investment bank, and that really is going some.  After the changes in the financial and regulatory system introduced at Big Bang in 1986, our home-grown firms were unable to compete with the onslaught from US competitors.   The domestic response was to throw money at the problem and hire more and more highly-paid and ultimately unsuccessful managers – a bit like an over-resourced struggling football team

The most egregious example was our appointment of a new Deputy Chief Executive whose arrogant self-belief and crude management style led to resignation of some of the more thoughtful staff.  See the obvious parallels with our two major parties?  I couldn’t afford to resign so I simply tried to keep my head down.  Unfortunately, our new boss decided we needed a programme to recruit MBAs, a subject about which he knew nothing.  I was given the job of investigating the feasibility of such a scheme.

My investigations rapidly revealed that it was not a runner. Our business areas were hostile and, given our reputation, no-one any good would wish to join us.  ‘Never let your boss receive bad news as a surprise’is a standard management maxim so, when I saw the Deputy Chief Executive who was taking the escalator, I moved alongside him and gave him the news. His response was to turn to me, put his face about three inches from mine, and deliver the following motivational message: “It’s going to f***ing happen and you know why it’s going to f***ing happen?  Because I say it’s going to f***ing happen and I when I say things are going to f***ing happen round here, they f***ing happen.  Get the message?”.

So, what did happen, or, in short, “Did it f***ing happen?” Unsurprisingly the answer is “No it f***ing didn’t”.  Our macho manager left the organisation shortly afterwards and I often wonder what happened to him. Most probably he went in to psychotherapy or personal life style coaching; certainly, that is where many of his ilk ended up.

Later this week I will summon up the energy to attend my local Labour Party.  I have put forward a motion that unequivocally supports the Remain position. I am not deluding myself that a motion agreed by a group of people in North Norfolk will make the least bit of difference.  It is simply that we should all be prepared to do whatever we can, and for heaven’s sake, let reasonable argument prevail over crude sloganising.

 

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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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.

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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What would Caerwyn have made of it?

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Yesterday’s by-election result in Brecon and Radnorshire came as no surprise.  For the past thirty years the seat has been a LibDem-Tory marginal and the leave-remain divide just adds another overlay.  Labour’s share of the vote, at 5%, though dreadful for the main opposition party, was widely predicted.

It however did lead me to still more reflection on some questions that have been occupying my thoughts over the last few months: can the Labour Party be saved and, indeed, is it worth saving?  My musing was given a further stimulus because of some of my own Labour Party history, in particular my years as a precocious teenage activist in Cardiff.

The Chair of the Cardiff North Labour for much the mid 60s was Caerwyn Roderick, a secondary school teacher.  He was a most generous man and patient and helpful to me.  I can remember how grateful he was for my maladroit efforts on the doorstep in one of the 1964 General Election. Now, like many agricultural areas, Brecon and Radnorshire was not always a hopeless prospect and it has been a Labour seat.  In the early 1970s Caerwyn became the MP and held on despite changing demographics until he lost to the Tories in 1979.  During his time in Parliament he continued to offer me much helpful advice and indeed came to speak on my behalf when I became a candidate myself.

Last week I delved further into Caerwyn’s background and politics.   He came from Ystradgynlais a mining village that was at the top of a South Wales Valley but geographically part of Breconshire (now Powys).  It was one of a group of similar communities that gave Labour its core vote.   Unsurprisingly Caerwyn had been a great admirer of Nye Bevan.  In Parliament he joined the Tribune Group and was Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to left-wingers Eric Heffer, Tony Benn and Michael Foot.

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Caerwyn Roderick in retirement

Now to aspire to power Labour has needed to maintain a balance between an ideological, Marxist influenced, left, and a pragmatic social democratic right.  Nye Bevan always appreciated that fact: he could not have had the opportunity to implement the social transformation that was the National Health Service without reaching an accommodation with the pragmatic Ernest Bevin and Herbert Morrison.

The leader of the time, Clement Attlee had both the ability and determination to hold the Labour coalition together.  This has been true of all his successors until, but not including, the current leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.  One of these successors, Neil Kinnock wrote of his struggles in the 1980s: ‘The contest in the Labour Party was between those people who put a premium on getting power in the Labour Party and those on getting power for the Labour Party’. [i]This is even more so today.  Many hard-core Corbynistas are simply interested in control of the Party as a vehicle in preparation for some fantasy revolution.

So, returning to my questions, it is because of people like Caerwyn Roderick that I will stay in and join the efforts to save the Labour Party. I retain that emotional bond. Accordingly I have renewed participation in the All Members Meetings of the North Norfolk Labour Party – and an extraordinary experience it has been.  At a poorly attended July meeting the person sitting next to me took it upon himself to interrupt every time I sought to make a point.  He moved on from counter-arguments to interjections of balderdash and then finally in desperation resorted to loud theatrical coughing.  So much for the kinder, gentler politics that we were all promised when Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Now, to be fair, several members present attempted to intercede on my behalf.  More importantly the current Chair intervened to try to give me a decent hearing and indeed has subsequently written out reminding the Executive of the Party’s Code of Conduct.  This is to his great credit since he has a very different perspective on the state of the Party to the one that I hold.

Attending local Labour Party meetings these days is like being in the wrong stand with opposing supporters at a football match.  They suddenly discover you are not one of them and act with hostility.  The factional divide is now so deep that the Party may not continue to be a credible force, bumping along polling around the high 20%s in a good election year.  I wonder what Caerwyn would have thought.

 

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]See Kogan, D., Protest and Power: the Battle for the Labour Party, Bloomsbury Reader (2018), p.47

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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Family, friends and a legacy

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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.