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.