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.

 

leftyoldman will be blogging regularly through the election campaign. To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

Advertisements

Why I won’t vote for Norman

image2

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.

 

 

To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

 

Joining a march again

The first London march that I attended took place in 1963. I was a teenage member of the Cardiff Young Socialists and we had been infiltrated by a Trotskyist element based at the university, though I was too naive to realise it at the time.   I was excited to learn that they were organising a coach to London to join some demonstration or other and, not least because I was keen on a girl who I knew to be going, I eagerly consented.

All I remember about the occasion is that we could not find the event. I had the humiliating experience of wandering round in a group in Central London asking various pedestrians if they had seen a march. I recall little of the cause – though it was almost certainly not one I would support today – but I do remember that, given this inauspicious start, my intended relationship did not progress. All in all a disappointing experience.

Over the subsequent decades I became a regular participant in such activism: I marched against apartheid and against various military interventions, most noticeably the Vietnam War. My elder son has told his friends that I participated in the Chartist March to Newport in 1839 and the Tonypandy riots of 1910.   Whatever the reality I thought that, at my advanced age, my marching days were over. It was a push from generations below that made me take to the streets again.

At the instigation of one of my sons I joined the Haringey Labour Party contingent on the ‘Unite for Europe’ march on March 25th.   Two of my granddaughters (aged 5 and 3) came along with their parents and so did my 15-year-old niece who travelled up from Wales with her father. It was an inspiring occasion. Most of those present seemed to have strong personal motives: one woman was wearing a t-shirt that read ‘my husband is a migrant and he is the only person in our village with an OBE’; another had a hat that read ‘I am German, I am a chef, I work here’. The extreme left were nowhere to be seen, which meant to my relief that there were no indigestible and unreadable Trotskyist publications on sale.   At the end of the event many people, my son included, laid floral tributes at Westminster Green in memory of the policeman who died last week defending our democracy.

It is this sort of vision and spirit that brought me into activism. Dare I believe that we are starting to build a progressive alternative?

To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

A strange defection in North Norfolk

screen-shot-2017-02-18-at-16-43-44

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.

Another dismal North Norfolk bye-election

norfolk_broads

The late Earl of Leicester, a local aristocrat and wealthy local landowner, once described the North Norfolk division where I now live as follows: “the one constituency in England where, in 1964, it was so feudal that it had to be explained to the electors that the ballot was secret.” He was incorrect. It may be out of the way, but North Norfolk has a sophisticated electorate and a surprising history of radicalism.   Not only did Labour win the seat in 1964, but that election produced the Constituency’s fourth Labour MP – the first being elected in the 1920s. The agricultural workers were well aware that the ballot was secret; they organised and they and their families went to vote in large numbers.

This is now a historical footnote. The Labour candidate who won in 1964 lost the seat to the Conservatives in 1970; in 2001 a Liberal Democrat captured it, and he continues to hold it through a combination of affability, good local organisation and an absence of strong opinions on anything political.

Organised agricultural workers are no longer a political force in the area. This is an inevitable result of the move from labour intensive to capital-intensive production in the arable farms of Norfolk. The farm owned by my wife’s family, seven miles from our home, once employed eight full time workers and between three and five casual labourers. Mechanisation meant that there was insufficient work simply producing sugar beet and barley and the farm has become the basis of a most successful business offering bed and breakfast and holiday lets and now employs only a part-time cleaner.

Given the changing composition of the population, with many retired people moving to this attractive coastal area, it is hard to see how Labour could ever again become a serious contender for the Parliamentary Seat. As I indicated in my previous blog, the class basis of politics has faded over the course of my political lifetime. The votes of progressively minded people, and there are many about even in North Norfolk, must be secured through other routes. I am increasingly convinced that the argument for economic and social justice must be deployed internationally; it will take us a long time to get there but I believe that the process has begun.

Unfortunately such optimism means that we will have to wait in North Norfolk. On 9th February we had another District Council bye-election; this time in the Waterside Division, which abuts the Norfolk Broads. We had a fine candidate who lived nearby and was a former Councillor. He is a committed amateur historian of the local labour movement and reminds me much of the sort of elder statesman who took the time and had the patience to encourage me when I first joined the Party as a teenager.

Sadly our candidate polled only 41 votes compared with 210, albeit on much higher poll, for the leading Labour candidate in the same area two years ago (a drop from 8.5% to 3.5% in Labour’s percentage). I have just received an e-mail in which our Constituency Secretary crassly copied in details of all current members: this indicated that in total there are some 420 full Labour Party members in North Norfolk. It seems that we are rapidly approaching the situation where we have more people signing up to vote in Labour’s leadership election than are prepared to vote Labour at the ballot-box. Earlier this year our rising local star, an able young businessman who became Mayor of Cromer in his 20s, resigned from the Party citing disaffection with the national leadership. The local Labour Party Chairman responded to this resignation by telling our newspaper that the local party was ‘going from strength to strength’. ‘Alternative facts’ are not the exclusive preserve of Donald Trump.

We could indeed have a long wait for any recovery to reach darkest Norfolk, but I live in hope that it will happen eventually.

Save the Sharrington phone box?

phone-box-2

 

One downside of living in a small Norfolk Village is that very little happens. When it does, however, word gets round quickly: the incident becomes a much-repeated topic of conversation. Our communal village facilities consist of the Church, a Village Hall and a telephone box. Shortly after we moved here there was an event that caused great excitement: it transpired that, for several days, the telephone box had become the temporary overnight shelter for a passing itinerant. Eventually the person moved on and things went back to normal. The box has remained empty and unused ever since. See the picture above that draws attention to the spiders’ webs and intruding greenery.

I have made this a topic of my blog because our local our local Labour Party has embarked on a bizarre campaign to safeguard the future of this amenity. BT (British Telecom) is proposing the removal of over seventy phone boxes in rural villages in the county. Although BT has stated that it will not remove boxes in areas where the mobile signal is poor, their commitment is treated with scepticism. Hence the North Norfolk Labour Party’s initiative: it is “opposing the removal of this lifeline in our rural communities”. Note the word lifeline.

We first came here in 1997. Over that 19-year period I have never once seen anyone enter and use the phone box; I did not witness the passing itinerant personally.  Some good friends who live opposite the box tell me that, very occasionally, they have seen men in flashy cars pull up outside and make a call – the purpose of which is unclear. So if the box is removed we could be making it more difficult to make untraceable calls, thus diminishing local provision for illicit relationships and for criminal activity. As for the ‘lifeline’ argument, I am sure that any real emergency would be dealt with by a landline call from the home of a sympathetic resident.

Locally–driven political campaigns need to be carefully judged. In North Norfolk our Labour candidate at the last General Election, the excellent Denise Burke, built up her reputation with a well-researched, high profile campaign on deficiencies in the local ambulance service. The local Labour Party has continued this theme with a petition on excessive charges for parking at local hospitals. Such campaigns have a resonance because everyone feels they might, at some time, need an ambulance or spend long periods visiting a relative in hospital. This doesn’t apply to telephone boxes; they are a charming relic of a bygone age, now only used in period drama. I am sure that those behind the phone box campaign are well intentioned – but the Labour Party needs to be identified with forward thinking and new solutions not nostalgic retrospection.

 

phone-box