I was invited to Mustard TV studios on Thursday to appear on their weekly discussion programme ‘This Week’. The topic this week was the future of the Labour Party and the leadership election.
I was speaking in favour of a change of leadership within the Labour Party, while I was joined by Emma Corlett, who was speaking in favour of the status quo. Callum Ringer (also from North Norfolk Labour Party) appeared as an ‘undecided’ voter, while Professor John Street from UEA provided his own perspective as a political commentator.
The programme aired in Norfolk on Mustard TV on Thursday night, and is available online for a limited period of time. You can watch it back by clicking here.
If you get a chance to watch this please let me know what you thought in the comments section.
Martyn Sloman (left) appearing alongside Professor John Street (right)
Taken together the results of North Norfolk Parliamentary Seat and the Glaven Valley District Council seat were pretty much what was expected.
The Parliamentary result was in line with my prediction in yesterday’s blog. Norman Lamb’s majority fell to 4043 and Denise Burke increased the Labour vote from 2896 to 5043. This was a really impressive performance on a dismal night for the Labour Party. In Glaven Valley I secured only 78 votes with the LibDem elected. This was a disappointment and I can offer two possible explanations. The first is that the LibDems have built up an effective organisation, particularly in the harbour town of Blakeney and worked hard, with a very ambitious candidate, to win the seat from the incumbent Conservatives. It was the only LibDem gain of the night. The second is that my popularity increases the further the distance from my home, especially when I cross the Equator. My lecturing has always proved to be at its most effective in Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. On this basis I doubt if I could ever be elected to anything in Norfolk.
One way and another I’m battered if not bruised and want to take time to recover. I will be able to do that in this in our village – at times like this rural tranquility has its attractions. It was not like that when I worked in the City in the 90s. The election that really hurt was when Neil Kinnock lost in 1992. One of my colleagues at NatWest Bank, who was certainly a Tory, rang me at home the following evening and hummed the death march down the phone. He was genuinely disconcerted when I told him he was intruding and his call was not welcome. Still worse, when I narrowly lost a close Parliamentary election myself in 1974, was the colleague who offered ‘congratulations on saving your deposit’. Fortunately our closest friends in the village understand that my political values matter greatly to me, indeed that they are part of my identity. Although they don’t share my politics they treat them with respect.
Two weeks ago I was delivering leaflets in the market town of Holt along with our District Council candidate, my friend Jono Read. It is a sedate place with most electors polite in their response and the occasional bored person keen to chat. It therefore came as a shock when a somewhat disheveled young woman opened her door and crumpled up a leaflet that we had put through her letterbox. She shouted so all in the street could hear: I’m fed up with the election and I won’t be voting.
I will be voting today. I intend to be the first at the polling station in our Village Hall when the poll opens at 0700 (I have scheduled today’s blog in advance using the excellent facility available on WordPress). However after 38 days of relentless activity I have some sympathy with the first half of the angry woman’s sentiment: I too am fed up. It has been a very long and exhausting campaign.
It will also be a very long day today. One of my sons has kindly agreed to act as my driver and, after I have voted, we will travel the 23 miles to North Walsham and assist in one of our best prospects for a Labour District Council seat. We will then tour the other polling stations in this large constituency to ensure that there are no impediments to voting. I know of one area where it is the Local Conservative candidate’s practice to stand at the entrance accompanied by his singularly unpleasant dog. I hope to take a break before departing for the election count, again in North Walsham, to discharge my responsibilities as Labour Party Agent and designated spokesperson should any dispute arise on the validity of a ballot paper or the accuracy of the figures. The count starts at 2000 on Thursday and could well go on to 0400 Friday morning: the count for the District Council will follow on Friday afternoon.
I have scheduled a prior prediction of the result here in North Norfolk so it appears as tomorrow’s blog. I will take a short break to recover over a weekend that fortunately includes a televised rugby game involving my beloved Cardiff Blues – this time it is their annual humiliation away at Llanelli. I fear that at least this a result that is predictable
As the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Agent one of my responsibilities is to check the polling stations on election day: to ensure that nothing happens to deter people from voting and the party tellers who stand outside are not behaving in an inappropriate manner. On 7th May it is my job to make immediate representation to the electoral Returning Officer in the event of any problems.
This may appear to be a demanding task but I had not seen it as such. The election rules are clear and observed by all parties; the local Council’s team has been impressively efficient to date. Moreover most Norfolk electors are docile in their behaviour: if you find yourself on a train with a group of Norwich City football supporters on an away trip your biggest problem is likely to be fending off their repeated offers of a sandwich. However, since this with the first time that I had undertaken the role, I asked, at a meeting of our Campaign Committee, whether any problems had been experienced in previous elections. It transpired that one had arisen in the 2013 County Council elections in the sedate Georgian town of Holt.
The polling station in Holt is the town’s Community Hall; this is a widely used resource managed by a rather proprietorial local committee. On polling day 2013 they made a room available to a group who were demonstrating and testing hearing aids to interested local clients. This demonstration took place in an annex close to the larger room where ballots could be cast; the entrance was common to both.
As the electors entered they gave their polling numbers to the party tellers and this led to complaints from the hall management: hearing tests were disrupted by the noise and it was impossible to assess results at lower decibels. The hall management blamed the tellers who rightly pointed out that some noise was inevitable and a good proportion came from the voters chatting loudly to each other. A compromise was reached which involved the tellers standing further away from the door – mercifully the weather was fine. Unfortunately this compromise was disrupted in the early afternoon when members of the local jigsaw club arrived to return and exchange puzzles; they needed to be informed, with the tellers the first point of contact, that the location of their room had been changed. Some of them were hard of hearing and needed repeated, patient explanations leading to further complaints about noise from the hall committee.
Holt has an elderly population and closes down early so the problem disappeared by mid-afternoon. On May 7th 2015 I plan to arrive in Holt late in the day. I have formally appointed the local Labour council candidate as a sub-agent for the polling station in the hope that he will deal with any similar issue in the meantime. . There are 123 polling stations in North Norfolk which offer a perfect excuse to spend time elsewhere.
My hopes for a tranquil run up to election day in my home village in rural Norfolk were shattered over the last weekend. I no longer receive any LibDem leaflets through my letterbox: the Labour posters in my front window act as a deterrent. However one or two friendly neighbours pass them on to keep me informed. I was therefore shaken out of my complacency when I read, in a LibDem newsletter specially produced for the occasion, the following headline: Result in Glaven Valley: Too Close to Call. As the Labour Candidate this came as a surprise to me.
Some background may assist. There are 48 District Council up for election in North Norfolk with polling on the same day as the General Election (May 7th). We in the Labour Party had decided to fight all of them though we are only likely to win a few – in our best year we held ten. My main responsibilities are to act as agent for our excellent Parliamentary Candidate, Denise Burke, but I was happy to let my name go forward as a District Council candidate on two conditions: first, that the seat I was allocated was not too far from my home (distances are vast here in North Norfolk); secondly that there was no prospect of me winning. I have no desire to attend meetings in winter evenings at the Council offices in Cromer.
There was no problem in meeting these conditions. The Glaven Valley seat fits the bill admirably. It includes my home village of Sharrington and is probably the safest Conservative seat of all 48. At the last contest in May 2011 the winning Conservative polled 500, the LibDem was in second place with 232, Labour secured 95, the Greens 84 and UKip 83.
This time round the LibDem candidate is pleasant enough young man who works in the office of the local MP. He is obviously taking the campaign seriously but has experienced some difficulties. On his leaflet he has reproduced a telephone number with the qualification that: I have had some problems with this line recently but it is now fixed. This is the first time that I have seen such statement on a candidate’s promotional literature and can only assume that it is a way of demonstrating his ability to solve problems.
His main tactic seems to be to try to squeeze my vote. Again to quote: But the Conservatives will still win if people vote of Labour or the Greens: this time the result will probably be within a few dozen votes. He may be right in his prediction, but he has no way of knowing: the area, with the exception of the small harbour town of Blakeney (pictured above), is impossible to canvass as the properties are too dispersed. I don’t blame him for his tactics; however I have to report that my soundings suggest that they are not working. I have spoken to the six people who have said they will vote for me (this figure includes myself) and they are standing firm. We shall find out what happens when the result is declared on Friday.
Until last weekend I’d rather enjoyed the campaign here in North Norfolk. I’m not saying that we have made spectacular progress, but the sun has been shining and the atmosphere on the doorstep tolerant and pleasant. Unfortunately that changed temporarily because of an unfortunate incident very close to home.
I regularly attend at our local Village Church and am the Church Treasurer. It is one of group of nine Parishes in a Church Benefice (to use the technical term) looked after by one Rector who has his office and home in a nearby village. On Friday 24th all the Churchwardens received an e-mail from the Benefice Administrator which read: ‘Short notice, but the Rector has issued an invitation to you and anyone in your parish to meet Norman Lamb at the Rectory, this Sunday 26th April, from half past one o’clock. Drinks!’. Norman Lamb is the local LibDem candidate and is defending the Parliamentary seat.
In my capacity as Labour Party Parliamentary Agent I immediately responded requesting equal treatment for all candidates and stressing that, once the election had been declared, Norman Lamb was no longer an MP. It was essential that the Church, locally or nationally did not express a preference for any single candidate or party. I received a quite extraordinary reply that included the statement “There was never any sense of a political gathering in this invitation – Norman is very well liked by many people of all political persuasions …”. Meanwhile the local LibDems had leafleted our area describing the meeting at the Rectory as a chance to ‘Ask Norman Lamb’ and ‘hear more about his priorities for North Norfolk in the coming years’. It was an overtly political event, featuring just one candidate among five, organised by the Church, in the middle of a General Election.
The pattern of campaigning has changed in the Internet age and it is good news that Churches are willing to step in and organise hustings. However it is important that good practice is observed and any hint of partiality avoided.
On 1st May I received a greetings e-mail from one of the older members of the North Norfolk Labour Party: David Russell, a retired health service worker and former trade union official. I was touched, particularly since it featured a picture (reproduced above) of Robert Tressell the author ‘The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists’ – a seminal work first published, after the author’s death in 1911. Robert Tressell was the nom-de-plume of Robert Noonan, a house painter; he chose the name Tressell in reference to the trestle table, an important part of his kit as a painter and decorator. The book is a scathing analysis of the relationship between the working-class people of the time and their employers. The ‘philanthropists’ of the title are the workers who, in Noonan’s view, acquiesce in their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses.
My guess is that most current Labour Party members under the age of 40 will not have heard of Tressell, yet ‘The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists’ had a huge influence on previous generations on the political left. It is one of the very few books that I can remember my own father admitting to have read. His father, my grandfather, worked as a bricklayer and could easily have been a character in the book.
On receiving the greetings e-mail, I paused to reflect what Tressell would have made of the 2015 campaign. Initially he would have struggled to understand the forces that led to significant changes in the economic system – technology, globalisation and the rise of the consumer. He would have been gratified that the debate on the health service is about protecting a system offering universal care rather than establishing one. He would also have been pleased about the progress made in educational opportunities.
However my guess is that would have been angry to see that the exploitation of the workforce continues, even though it has taken new guises. He would have been writing about the one-sided nature of zero hours contracts and free labour described as internships. I’d also like to think he would have swiftly seen the international dimension of the problem and the need for global solutions to end exploitation. Nostalgic sentiments, admittedly, but we need voices like his today.