Is my blog a safety threat?

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Writing a blog is a useful way of venting my frustrations. I don’t delude myself that I am influencing the national debate; I am not a figure of importance and my readership, while welcome, is hardly likely to mobilise into action.

I get occasional bits of feedback from readers. Most of this is welcome but one set of communications was both puzzling and disappointing. Over the last months I have received two formal complaints: one from the Secretary and one from the Chair of the North Norfolk Labour Party. To quote from one of the e-mails: ‘We would ask that you refrain from posting blogs that appear to make the meetings and processes of the local party unsafe for party members. In addition, we would ask that you consider removing those blog posts that refer to internal processes of the local party”.

My reaction on receiving this was to feel flattered (not only was I being read but my words were having some impact) had it not been for the implication that I am in some way threatening the idea that members should feel safe in local meetings. This I find offensive – particularly in the context of the Internet bullying and the jeering of Owen Smith that has characterized the leadership election to date.

The North Norfolk Labour Party has attracted some veterans from Labour’s civil war of thirty years ago, some of whom who have recently defected from the Greens. I suppose that, at 70, I must also be classed as a veteran   Given all this, the major threat to personal safety at most Labour Party meetings, dominated as they now are by the Corbynistas, is for someone to fall off their chair. This would be a result of drifting into a doze induced by the boredom of listening to endless retro-slogans from the 1980s.   However, since it appears that my presence and reporting could constitute a safety hazard, I have decided it best not to attend for the time being.

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Mustard TV

Mustard wide

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.

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Martyn Sloman (left) appearing alongside Professor John Street (right)

A leader not a manager

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Sustaining a weekly blog on the Labour Party’s existential crisis is a difficult task: events are moving rapidly even here in far-distant rural Norfolk. In our constituency party committed people on both sides of the divide are determined to get their voice heard and to ensure that their views prevail. I am producing this blog edition at a time when there is a stand-off between the Parliamentary Labour Party, who have despaired of Jeremy Corbyn’s capabilities and approach, and many supporters in the country who are infatuated with his leadership.

For several decades, I taught human resource development on a part-time basis at various colleges and universities. In one of my standard topics I tried to engage the students in a discussion on the difference between leadership and management. I would set this as an essay topic and the more organised students would reproduce the following from one of my PowerPoint Slides: ‘The term ‘leadership’ is often used almost interchangeably with ‘management’, but leadership is different: whereas management is about rational thinking, leadership appeals more to the emotions’.

There are many theories of leadership and again I refer back to my old lecture slides. Two observations were of particular relevance. First that leadership is situational: the emotional appeal depends on the context. Secondly that leaders need followers: you are only a good leader if you can attract and retain followers who will offer commitment and support during bad as well as good times. Using this second observation Jeremy Corbyn is indeed effective. He is acquiring devoted supporters, but, and this is an important but, those supporters are interested in establishing a social pressure group, not a Parliamentary opposition, let alone developing a credible government.

Another slide in my standard lecture reproduced the national occupational standards for management that were in force at the time. Four component elements of management were listed: managing operations; managing finance; managing people; managing information. I don’t think I am doing him an injustice when I say that Jeremy Corbyn has not the slightest interest in management and probably doesn’t recognise it as important in any way. It is evident that his communication with those who he should see as team members – his shadow cabinet – has been casual to a degree. Reorganisations have been shambolic. Probably the worst example was the appointment of Ken Livingstone (unwisely pulled out of obscurity) as joint chair of the defence review without notifying his Shadow spokesperson, Maria Eagle in advance.

To his supporters, Corbyn’s sincerity and commitment, coupled with his ability, developed over years of practice, to rally meetings of the already committed, inspires great loyalty. They can turn a blind eye to his glaring deficiencies or ascribe them to unfair media coverage, plotting Blairites; even more disturbingly they can dismiss them as of no consequence. To his detractors, Jeremy Corbyn’s limitations and intransigence, and lack of even the most basic management competence, led to the overwhelming and unprecedented no-confidence vote from people who work with him most closely.

As I am writing this piece there are rumours of an attempt to broker a settlement. This will not work. Labour as a social pressure group and Labour as a potential party of government are wholly different objectives; they cannot be reconciled.

A sorrowful resignation

My working life extended over 40 years and included both good and bad times. There were three or four occasions when I felt a real buzz. These were mainly a result of being part of an effective team: people respected each other; had a high regard for each other’s talents; and pulled together in a shared purpose. Some of these high-points came to an abrupt end – often through organisational disruption or a change of boss.

I’ve just had a similar experience in a voluntary organisation, the North Norfolk Constituency Labour Party. Our excellent Parliamentary Candidate, Denise Burke, surrendered the Chair at the October AGM. Under her leadership we had increased the Labour vote in this tough constituency from just under 3000 to just over 5000; we were a most effective team and performed well under very difficult circumstances. Denise was succeeded by someone who promised much but delivered nothing, and resigned within three months.

Since the General Election we have had a surge of new members and I wait to see if any of them are willing to take on the hard grind of leadership. Sadly I find myself in little sympathy with the political perspective of some of these members and have decided to finish after five years as Party Treasurer. I have taken this step with considerable regret since I have greatly enjoyed my involvement

My disquiet was reinforced by this e-mail from one of the new enthusiasts: an e-mail that was proudly circulated by the short-lived new Chair.

After being a Labour supporter most of my life I became increasingly disillusioned by Labour’s dismal slide into insincerity and pointlessness, finally abandoning Labour to join the Green Party a few months ago.  Since then, my respect for the Green Party has only grown, and I fully intended remain a member for the foreseeable future

But then the Labour Party did an unexpected and remarkable thing – they overwhelmingly elected one of the most progressive, principled and honest leaders imaginable, and it has given heart to many thousands of ex-Labour voters like myself.  Perhaps more importantly, the vision and integrity of Jeremy Corbyn has encouraged thousands of energetic and enthusiastic young people to join Labour. … It is therefore with some regret that I respectfully request to end my membership of the Green Party in order to become a member of the Labour Party, but I will of course return to the Green Party if Corbyn is toppled by his opponents within Labour and replaced by yet another Tory clone.

The author of this e-mail and I dwell on different planets. He probably considers me to be a Tory clone supporting insincere politics. Perhaps he will take on the responsibilities and the considerable amount of work that being a constituency officer entails. Perhaps not. For my part I will never leave the Labour Party that I joined over 50 years ago as a 16 year old. I remain a committed member and hope for better times.

Denise Burke Board in Cromer

Well done Tony Blair

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Tony Blair has made a second powerful statement on the future facing the Labour Party– and attracted a great deal of personal vitriol as a result. He accused those backing Jeremy Corbyn of being in a parallel reality and emphasised that a Corbyn victory would spell electoral disaster. Amongst the other heavyweights who have delivered the same message are Gordon Brown, Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson, Alan Johnson, and Charles Clarke. The only important figure who has remained silent has been Ed Miliband who created the mess in the first place – history will not judge him kindly.

As many others have pointed out, Blair’s intervention is unlikely to make any difference and could, indeed, be actively unhelpful. I doubt that it will be counter-productive. By this stage everyone registered to vote falls into one of two camps: pro- or anti-Corbyn. There may be a few preference votes drifting between the other leadership candidates and the contenders for deputy but Tony Blair knew perfectly well his intervention would be unlikely to persuade anyone who supports Jeremy Corbyn to change their mind.

Blair is an astute politician. I have met him but once and never been a particular admirer. However on this occasion I thoroughly commend his intervention. Anyone with any political nous now recognises two things: one is that Jeremy Corbyn will almost certainly be elected; the second is that he is wholly unsuited for the role and that the Party will enter a most uncomfortable period when his inadequacies are ruthlessly exposed.

Tony Blair could have said nothing at all. He could have indicated, in a suitable coded form, that the Labour Party is now finished and it is time to consider, a new movement to advocate credible progressives politics. As my grandson said when I discussed what to do if he hit difficulties when he starts at nursery school next week: If someone ruins my game, I’ll play another’.

Thankfully Tony Blair has not suggested to his supporters that they should find another game to play. It seems that his commitment to the Labour Party may be greater than many of us thought and he is willing to assist the rebuild that will follow the catastrophe. I hope that is indeed the case. He has much to contribute.

Welcoming new members

Our valued new media officer has input the data from 250 new contacts for North Norfolk Labour Party (we had 170 at the election). We sent out a welcome e-mail from Denise Burke our candidate and chair. We were surprised to receive a few replies grumbling that they had only signed up to vote and wanted their names removed from the system.

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.