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).

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Stella Creasy’s second daft initiative

A month ago I drew attention to a daft idea that Stella Creasy outlined in a campaign e-mail: that local Labour Parties should produce recipe books.   Another e-mail I’ve received from her has prompted me to produce a similar blog. I’m sorry to have to do so. I haven’t decided my vote yet but someone whose opinion I rate highly has commended her in the following terms:

I think there is scope for Labour in being a dynamic, feminist movement. The Tories are vulnerable on gender, and we should push Labour as the party for the liberation of the human potential.  Stella Creasy is a high-energy campaigner and I think this could work with the more studied approach of Yvette Cooper. It’s also a very serious statement about a different type of politics.

Fine, but I wish she’d raise her game.

Now to her latest idea.

The e-mail I received from her on 10 August carried the promising headline of ‘Here’s how Labour’s fightback starts with us all’. However when you drill down the content consists of a PowerPoint presentation for a workshop intended to encourage members to campaign. I spent three decades in corporate training and, in my professional opinion she is offering a reasonable product, if over-wordy and over-reliant on bullet-points.

However the more important question is whether she should be doing this sort of thing at this time. The Party is heading for a severe, possibly terminal, crisis. We are in the mess we are because we are desperately short of a big picture that inspires. Once we get that doorstep campaigning will be easy. Without it we are dead in the water.

My next few blogs will discuss some aspects of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign.

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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.

Up with people

As the Labour Party lurches towards it existential crisis it reminds me of the Democrats in the US at the time of the Vietnam War. In 1968 I spent the summer working in New Jersey for the campaign of the anti-war US Presidential Candidate, Eugene McCarthy. I was present at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. This was the occasion of what became known as a police riot: the contrasting feelings of mainstream America and of the peace movement spilt over into violence. I was far too cautious to get involved but I do have a walk-on cameo in a film made at the convention (Medium Cool by Haskell Wexler).

I have one abiding bizarre memory of the occasion. While the Democratic Party was about to tear itself to pieces, a large, syrupy choir of young people called ‘Up with People’ opened the Convention. It was the incongruity of their performance that struck me. Their superficial optimism bore no relation to the gravity of the political situation that was unfolding.

I feel the same way about the regular e-mails I receive from the Labour Party’s Training and Communication’s team. I know I shouldn’t be too hard on them but as a former training manager I can’t help feeling a dose of realism is needed urgently. There is no point in pumping out the old favourites when an organisation is in meltdown.

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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.

4 out of 10 for Yvette’s team

Living in North Norfolk you inevitably feel isolated. Our constituency is half way to Lithuania; getting as far as Norwich is an effort. I was therefore not able to attend the regional Labour Leadership hustings that were held in Harlow, Essex – they might just as well have been in Truro. In making my choice I have had to reply on what I pick up from the media coupled with the incessant bombardment of marketing e-mails that I and other Labour Party Members receive from the candidates. These are competing for space in my inbox with special offers for the Rugby World Cup.   Both sets of e-mails are well presented but are equally lacking in substance.

Accordingly, on 13th July, I sent all nine Leadership and Deputy Leadership Candidates the following e-mail:

In my view the major task facing our new Leader and Deputy is the formulation of a coherent over-arching policy narrative for Labour in the 21st century, which, in co-operation with others, can be translated in to vision that inspires.  What is required is a clear statement of how modern global capitalism can be organised to deliver growth without producing obscene levels of inequality, and how that growth can be harnessed to fund a well-managed welfare state. Are you able to direct me to any of your thinking and writing on this topic?  I look forward to hearing from you.

I expected nothing back. Understandably all the candidates are on transmit rather than receive. Their declarations that they are seeking members’ view should be treated as token window-dressing: if they hadn’t by now made up their mind on what needs to be done they shouldn’t be standing for the position.

I sent my e-mail to the House of Commons addresses and received a number of perfectly reasonable automated responses describing their policy on responding to unsolicited e-mails. That’s understandable given the pressures and their primary obligation to their constituents. To my surprise I did, however, receive three replies. The first was impressive under these circumstances: Tom Watson responded immediately by acknowledging the importance of the question and referring me to a thoughtful article he had written on the effect of technology on jobs. It contained the phrase ‘Reforming socialists have always believed change can be harnessed so that is produces better outcomes for everyone’ and went on to talk about how this can be implemented in the digital age.

I also received a fuller e-mail from someone in Yvette Cooper’s office. This was a cut and paste job evidently based on previous e-mails sent for other purposes. In no way did it answer my question but 6 out of the 22 sentences included had some vague relevance to what I asked (the others, for example, concerned house building and child poverty).

Given this I must award Yvette’s campaign good marks for effort if poor marks for answering the question – 4 out of 10 overall. This does however put her slightly ahead of Andy Burnham in my estimation. His team replied on 10 August.  They told me that Andy would ‘bring forward a balanced Labour plan for a sustainable economy, based on growth and investment, fair pay, a re-balanced tax system and a labour market that works for all’. Fine, but how will he deal with modern global capitalism?

In my next two blogs I will Jeremy Corbyn’s views.

Footnote

On 21st August I will be publishing a short e-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.

Robust procedures – pull the other one

All those who wanted to vote in Labour’s Leadership elections needed to register by close of play on Wednesday 12th August. Here in North Norfolk, in this geographically remote and, for Labour, politically hopeless constituency, the numbers eligible to vote have more than doubled.

The party line is that there is a robust process of verification in place for handling this surge in membership. To quote from guidance we have received:

‘Nationally there has been, and will continue to be, an extensive and robust process of verification of those who seek a vote either as a new member, affiliated supporter or registered supporter. This process checks that they support the Labour Party and are on the electoral register.’

The guidance goes on to invite us to contact the central membership team if we have any concerns and we have evidence that someone does not support the Labour Party. Flatteringly we are told that our knowledge and information is important to uphold the integrity of the leadership election.

We are a widespread constituency with no full-time officials, no office, and are entirely reliant on part-time volunteers. There were 48 council seats contested in North Norfolk at the May elections. The Conservatives, Lib-Dems, Ukip and Greens fought most of them. Every nomination required 10 signatures. We could, it is true, run a check on these 1500 or so signatories – if we had the time, energy and implication. It may be that we would recognise one or two prominent names simply by looking at the list of those joining. But even that is doubtful.

However the truth is that anyone who is prepared to pay £3 can vote – irrespective of their political views. The only checks are whether a person is on the electoral register and whether they have publicly or prominently campaigned against the Labour Party recently. To pretend otherwise is nonsense. The procedures are about as robust as the sandcastles my grandchildren built at Wells-next-the-sea last week.

Labour’s Blind Date

In a previous blog I wrote that Labour’s Leadership campaign was just like The Apprentice – the television programme where brash and pushy young people try to persuade Lord Sugar to give them a job. To do this they seem to find it necessary to exude total self-belief and self-confidence.   A reader of this blog contacted me and pointed out that another TV programme, Blind Date, also offers a useful analogy.

Blind Date has been off the air for some time. It was presented by the highly successful entertainer and singer Cilla Black who sadly died earlier this month.  On the show a young person is given the opportunity to chose between three others of the opposite sex (the programme never faced up to the challenge of different sexual preferences – this was the 80s). The three on offer are not visible so the choice is made on the basis of their answers to superficial questions: ‘what is the craziest thing you have ever done?’ or ‘if you could have super-power, what would it be?’

I refreshed my memory of the show’s entertaining awfulness by watching some extended clips on YouTube. One of the questions in a clip was ‘Sometimes my conversations with my friends become boring. If your friends were boring you what would you do to change the conversation?’ The best received of the three answers was ‘Don’t’ change the conversation – change your friends’. Here there may be an analogy with some current thinking in the Labour Party – if the electorate find us unacceptable don’t change our conversation, change the electorate. Here I detect a slight resonance in the apparent approach of some supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s retro-candidate.

I know I’m being over-cynical. I used to enjoy watching Blind Date with my sons when they were too young to leave the family home on a Saturday evening. However there is a serious underlying point to be made. The selection process on Blind Date in no way served its purported purpose: to bring compatible young people together. It wasn’t meant to – the programme could only be judged as an entertainment vehicle. Our selection process in the Labour Party does not serve its purpose either. This is how we ended up with Ed rather than David Miliband. It provides no test of the breadth of vision, personal resilience or of the judgement needed to make the Party effective and relevant in the 21st Century. We have only ourselves to blame.

International socialism revisited?

The barrage of e-mails continues and makes me more depressed. Like many Labour Party Members I am looking for someone to offer some new thinking, a vision that inspires, and an indication that some thought has been given as to how we may get there. Instead I am getting a load of marketing tat.

Last week there were two stories that, to me at least, underline the argument for democratic socialism and the need for a fresh approach to its delivery. The first concerned international money laundering and its consequences. On Tuesday, speaking in Singapore, Prime Minister David Cameron argued that foreigners must not be able to buy UK homes with plundered or laundered cash as part a global effort to defeat corruption. He suggested that London had become a place to stash dodgy cash. Luxury properties in our capital have escalated in value while remaining unoccupied

The second story broke the following day. It was revealed that one of a Minnesota dentist had paid $50000 to destroy a lion for pleasure in Zimbabwe. It was disgraceful on so many levels.

There are important links to be made. Obscene wealth is not only toxic in its consequences but must be seen as an international problem.   The Labour Party must develop a clear statement of how modern global capitalism can be organised to deliver growth without producing obscene levels of inequality. Such a statement and the related policies can only be developed on an international basis.

So far none of the candidates have convinced me that they are even thinking about the topic. However here is a quote from a recent newspaper interview with someone who is not running. What is needed is, he said, is:

‘a confident internationalist, European outlook, learning lessons from the SNP in Scotland and Syriza in Greece’ and ‘the party should be arguing for a progressive and interventionist state to support citizens and communities in confronting the challenge of globalisation’.

The interview was with Tristram Hunt, MP, who served as Labour’s Shadow Education Spokesperson. He failed to get sufficient momentum to run for the Leadership – rumour has it that Liz Kendall moved earlier in securing support from a receptive group of MPs. This is a shame. Articulating the problem is a long way from offering a coherent solution, but it’s a start.