Finding new interests

Irrespective of the consequences of retiring from paid employment, I now need to discover some new interests.  The two great passions in my life outside my family, the Labour Party and Cardiff Rugby Club, are in sharp decline.  Both have hit hard times and have acquired new leaders.  Given time, results could improve for Cardiff under coach Danny Wilson – I hope that this is the case.   By contrast the longer Jeremy Corbyn stays in office the worse the prospects are for the Labour Party.  In both cases there is nothing I can do to influence events and my role as spectator simply makes me depressed.

Fortunately, as well as writing a blog, I have developed a new hobby: Scottish country dancing. I have joined a group at Blakeney Scout Hut every Monday afternoon between 1400 and 1600 and thoroughly enjoy it. It came as no surprise to me to discover that I was no good at it. I have never had any athletic ability: I was always the last boy to be picked in the school playground and the one left out if there were uneven numbers. I have now discovered yet another activity where, however much enthusiasm I display, I will struggle to achieve competence. However, and this is the nice thing about it, everyone who attends tries to help everyone else to get to the right place in the sequence at the right time. The better dancers display immense patience with those who are struggling since, as our excellent instructor, Eddy, puts it ‘it is a team activity’.

scottish dancing

This contrasts with another hobby of mine – cryptic crosswords. Here I have some talent but not very much; I am good enough to know that I will never be good enough. Having more time on my hands I have started to tackle the famously difficult Listener Crossword that is published in The Times on Saturday; I find I can complete about one in six puzzles. This can be frustrating on occasions but there are websites (for example answerbank) where you can ask for help from other solvers if desperate. This is often effective but there is a downside. The better solvers use the site as an opportunity to say how easy they found a particular crossword (often ones where I have made no headway), and hope that future puzzles will be made more difficult. I prefer the approach of the Scottish dancers.

Advertisements

The party that goes wrong

We’ve all read the story. It makes excellent copy for a local newspaper. A teenage boy or girl takes advantage of their parents’ absence on holiday and holds a party to celebrate the end of exams. Foolishly they put the details on Facebook. Hundreds of young people turn up and cause a disturbance in the street; neighbours ring the police; there is some minor damage to the neighbours’ gardens and rather more to the host’s house. The parents return and are furious with their offspring. All involved have their pictures in the newspaper. After a week they make it up and the story runs out of momentum. Relations with the neighbours are strained in the short-term but even that is forgotten over time.

It would be nice if our Labour Party’s open invitation were to have such limited long-term consequences. However, quite apart from the strong possibility of a wholly unsuitable leader, the rise in numbers is bound to have an effect, but this is far less predictable.

As is happening elsewhere our numbers in North Norfolk have risen threefold – if we include new members, affiliates and registered supporters. We have been invited by our national headquarters to inspect the list and return with the names of any those who we believe do not share Labours’ values.   We are not equipped to undertake such a vacuous task but will do our best. What can we expect? My initial thoughts are as follows.

The number of outright entryists or saboteurs will be negligible. We are not an area where militant adherents of the far left are likely to congregate and our local Tories are stupid rather than devious. My guess is that the upsurge will be drawn from three categories.

The first will be people who were Labour Party supporters at some stage or other but felt they were let down by Blair, particularly over Iraq.   The second will be young people who are enjoying the feeling that they are part of the vanguard of change. The third will be those who have some political interest but vaguely feel that he existing party system is no longer appropriate – these are the people who voted SNP in Scotland.

Now none of these groups comprise bad or destructive people. They are the equivalent of the teenager who turned up the party for a night out, but would not destroy the neighbours’ gardens or the host’s property. However, and here is my main worry, they are likely to have little if any commitment or appetite for rebuilding a credible Labour Party in the long term. I am the local Party Treasurer and, when things have settled, will write out asking for donations to help fund our activities. It will be interesting to see how much comes back from the £3 registered supporters.

Labour’s failure and my small part in it: a memoir for my grandchildren Martyn Sloman

Download here Labour’s failure and my small part in it

This short book is based on experiences of 50 year’s activism, despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that are needed to regain credibility. It is available free of charge as a download on this blog site (above) and on a personal website http://www.martynsloman.co.uk. A Kindle edition, priced 99p., the minimum permissible by the publisher, is also available (details on the personal website).

No Lauren, I haven’t voted yet

It’s always nice to make new friends. At ten-o-clock last night an e-mail arrived in my inbox. It was from Lauren Allpress, a name I did not recognise; on inspection it turned out to be from the Yvette Cooper campaign. It asked ‘Martyn –have you voted yet?’ and went on to tell me that Lauren herself ‘was pretty excited when I got my voting details, so I did it straight away!’ (note the exclamation mark).

Well Lauren, my ballot paper arrived over a week ago but, unlike you, I am not excited. I am agonising over my choice. I have taken the paper out of the envelope several times, stared at it like a snake looking at a mongoose, and put it back unmarked.

Some elements of my choice are easy. I am firmly ABC (anyone but Corbyn). I have no doubt he would be a short-term embarrassment before he was removed and would do considerable long-term harm to the prospects for a left-of-centre government. Angela Eagle has expressed too much sympathy with his perspective so she is out. Ironically the Deputy Leadership candidate who has produced the most thoughtful material is Tom Watson. The problem here is that he is a clever political operator who, under a deputy role to Jeremy Corbyn, could well have his own agenda for keeping him in power for longer than the bare minimum.

Having followed events closely I know whom I want to win. In an extremely lack-lustre campaign, of which Corbyn’s emergence is a symptom, Yvette Cooper has been the most effective. She has brought forward at least some worthwhile ideas and has had the courage to distance herself from Corbyn. Andy Burnham in contrast has shilly-shallied on Jeremy Corbyn for opportunistic reasons disregarding the real threat to the Party’s long-term future. Moreover Andy Burnham put me right off with his claims that, because he comes from the north and supports Everton, he is not a Westminster insider. Who is he kidding? He hasn’t worked anywhere else since Cambridge.

My real dilemma concerns the Blairite candidates: Liz Kendall and Ben Bradshaw. I am not a Blairite but if we are to save the Party we will desperately need the faction organised round the Blairite Progress Group to be at its most effective over the next eighteen months. For that reason I’m tempted to vote Kendall 1 and Cooper 2 for the Leadership and Bradshaw 1 and Creasey 2 for the Deputy Leadership. But I still haven’t made up my mind and will go back to staring at the envelope.

I shall, of course, eventually vote by post since I have no confidence whatsoever in the Labour Party’s management of its computer systems (see my repeated blogs on the woeful Contact Creator system).

Jeremy Corbyn and Hamas – the real problem

A fortnight ago Jack Straw, the former Labour Former Labour Foreign Secretary, said that the person who was most worried about Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader was Jeremy himself. We have now had a stark illustration of what he meant.

On Thursday Jeremy Corbyn appeared on BBC Radio’s World at One. All four leadership candidates have undergone this process: it involves responding to a mix of easy and demanding question from listeners. Inevitably he faced two tough ones. One concerned using the term ‘friends’ to describe Hamas at a meeting; the second concerned his contact with a Lebanese extremist, Dyab Abou Jahjah.

He could have expected both questions and there are a lot more to come. For over thirty years Jeremy has been a maverick backbench inner–London MP who has drifted from meeting to meeting studiously avoiding responsibility. Over time he will have donated to some daft causes, often by putting a fiver in a collection box; whether by accident or design he has associated with some very unpleasant characters. That is how he is.

What was interesting is the way he handled the World at One questions. On Dyab Abou Jahjah he firmly and repeatedly said he had never heard of him – a statement he was forced to retract. This is not good. What was more serious was the style, rather than the substance, of his reaction to the questions. Adopting a petulant tone he insisted that it was insulting to call him a racist. But what was at issue was his judgment and behaviour not his underlying principles. He will be held to account for his actions in a way he has not experienced before and which evidently makes him profoundly uncomfortable. He is not used to it. As I recall it he reacted with the same petulance when he was first selected in Islington and faced residual challenges from those had opposed him*.

All this is a long way from packed meetings of adoring supporters, a fact that may be starting to penetrate. Jack Straw was right.

Labour’s failure and my small part in it: a memoir for my grandchildren Martyn Sloman

Download here Labour’s failure and my small part in it

This short book is based on experiences of 50 year’s activism, despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that are needed to regain credibility. It is available free of charge as a download on this blog site (above) and on a personal website http://www.martynsloman.co.uk. A Kindle edition, priced 99p., the minimum permissible by the publisher, is also available (details on the personal website).

*See Episode 5 for the circumstances surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s selection in North Islington.

Labour’s failure: Book now available as free download

Labour’s failure and my small part in it: a memoir for my grandchildren Martyn Sloman

Download here Labour’s failure and my small part in it

This short book is based on experiences of 50 year’s activism, despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that are needed to regain credibility. It is available free of charge as a download on this blog site (above) and on a personal website http://www.martynsloman.co.uk.  A Kindle edition, priced 99p., the minimum permissible by the publisher, is also available (details on the personal website).

Episode 5 describes events in North Islington when Jeremy Corbyn was selected and Episode 7 considers the subsequent catastrophic miners’ strike – where the author was working in the coal industry. The last episode reflects on the last general election: both nationally and locally in North Norfolk.

Labour Party Membership Card 64

Jeremy Corbyn’s policy initiatives and Michael’s suit

Michael Foot was a decent and sincere man who was wholly unsuited to be leader of the Labour Party. I have one fond memory of his personal kindness. In the disastrous 1983 election I was a Labour Candidate in Nottingham; Michael came to speak at a big city rally and I was sitting next to him on the platform. Before the speeches began I waved to my two sons, then of primary-school age, who were sitting in the front row. Michael asked me if they were my boys and, once the meeting ended, as he left the platform they were the first two people that he approached to shake hands. He thoughtfully gave them an enduring memory.

Poor old Michael Foot deserved better than to be remembered as the person who produced Labour’s lowest percentage vote. It was an unusual set of circumstances that resulted in him defeating the far more suitable Denis Healey for the Party Leadership in 1980. The election was solely in the hands of MPs and stories circulated that some who were about to defect to the SDP voted for Foot to hasten the Labour Party’s demise. At the outset of the 1980 Leadership election many questions were asked about Michael Foot’s personal style. He responded by getting a haircut and buying a suit. Unfortunately he wore the new suit every day thereafter, merely reinforcing doubts about his sartorial savvy.

Jeremy Corbyn appears to be adopting a similar approach. Once he started to take his prospects seriously he produced a whole series of policy initiatives. Like Michael Foot’s shopping expedition to the tailors, such behaviour is wholly out of character. In the past Jeremy Corbyn has displayed little interest in policy: his taste is for the gesture politics of positions and slogans. He is of opposition not of government. There is always a place of such people in the Labour Party but never as Leader.

Neither can I be as positive about Jeremy Corbyn’s personal qualities as I have been about Michael Foot.   I had a great deal of contact with Jeremy in Haringey and Islington in the early 1980s. Winning elections did not seem to matter to him. He was an uncompromising factionalist who seemed wholly without the occasional redeeming passage of self-doubt. The crushing certainty of the evangelist never plays well with those who are not converts.

********************************************

On 21st August I will be publishing a short book:

Labour’s failure and my small part in it: a memoir for my grandchildren

It will be made available free of charge as a download on this site and my personal website http://www.martynsloman.co.uk.  I also intend to produce a Kindle edition.  The book is based on my experiences of 50 year’s activism, my despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that we need to take to regain credibility.

Jeremy Corbyn and Clause IV

In a recent interview for a Sunday newspaper, Jeremy Corbyn indicated that he wouldn’t shy away from public participation and public investment in industry. In particular he would take public control of the railways. So far, so good. However he went beyond that by floating the idea of the reinstatement of the original Clause IV. By doing so he displayed an underlying vulnerability, which is built on his complete lack of understanding of modern industry and society.

Clause IV (technically Clause IV, para. 4) of the Labour Party’s constitution was almost certainly written by the Fabian Sidney Webb. The Party adopted it in 1918. Webb would have been astonished to know that his words would be treated with such reverence almost a century later, – a century that has been transformed by the rise of consumer power, globalisation, and technology.

When I first joined the Labour Party as a teenager in 1961, Clause IV of the Labour Party’s Constitution was printed on my membership card. It stated:

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

It was replaced in 1995 by a new political statement of aims as part of Tony Blair’s modernisation of the party.

The old Clause IV did not refer to ‘nationalisation’ but to ‘common ownership’. One of the more important strands in traditional left-of-centre thinking has been the idea of co-operative ownership. The Co-operative Party, as part of its involvement in the leadership debate, invited all candidates to outline their position. Jeremy Corbyn, who increasingly seems to be ideologically stuck in the 1980s, began by quoting Tony Benn and went on:

“Tony was one of the few ministers of state to truly try to bring co- operative principles into the heart of government. As a young trade union official I had the pleasure of working with him when he was encouraging workers to come up with co-operative plans to save their jobs, like at Triumph.”

In fact not a single job was saved. Between 1979 and 1981 I worked at a public body called the Co-operative Development Agency (CDA. I became a firm advocate of co-operative forms of organisation, under the right circumstances. This would be a small-scale start up where there were realistic prospects of succeeding, not bailouts of collapsing firms. Benn’s embrace of the concept was to give support to failed manufacturing ventures that had no commercial future. A lot of decent people were misled. Not only is Jeremy’s analysis at fault but his memory appears to be failing.

********************************************

On 21st August I will be publishing a short book:

Labour’s failure and my small part in it: a memoir for my grandchildren

It will be made available free of charge as a download on this site and my personal website http://www.martynsloman.co.uk.  I also intend to produce a Kindle edition.  The book is based on my experiences of 50 year’s activism, my despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that we need to take to regain credibility.