Raring to go? Our NNLP selection conference

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.

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Celebrations in 1959 as Edwin Gooch holds North Norfolk

 

I was there – but others said it better

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There are times when other people can say what you want to say better than you can.  Yesterday I travelled down from Norfolk for Saturday’s Peoples Vote Demonstration.  I am glad I marched  – together with one of my oldest friends, one of my sons, his wife, and two of my grand-children.  I was there.  However, it was Will Hutton, in an excellent Observer opinion piece today [1], who captured where we are and where we must go: it was headlined: “We marched for a People’s vote with hope but few expectations.  Yet history will side with us”.  Too true.

In his piece Will Hutton said, first looking at how we got to where we are:

British democracy has mutated from an arena where those with a different hierarchy of values try to deploy the best argument into faith-based politics – matched on the left by the ultras around Corbyn, the complement to the Tory Spartans. For them, the greater issue is not to win a general election with an attractive, broad-based Labour party. Instead, it is to retain control of the party as a Corbynite tribune in the wake of what promises to be a devastating defeat.

And how we might recover:

The searing lived experience of economic closure, the splitting off of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the diminution of a once great country will change minds – and give a younger generation of politicians the powerful inner conviction to combine reason and passion. Some spoke yesterday. Britain will one day again make common cause with friends and allies in Europe – we millions who marched are not going away.

I saw a lot of those younger generation – together with many of an older generation who are still positive in their outlook on life – on that march yesterday.  They are concerned, determined and clever – as their banners testify.  I will therefore conclude this short blog with a selection of the best compiled by my friend Jono Read of The New European; the full set is available on the site at

https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/people-s-vote-final-say-march-protest-signs-pictures-1-6331535

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/19/we-marched-for-a-people-s-vote-with-hope-but-few-expectations-history-will-side-with-us

 

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.

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How ugly can it get?

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Bendigeidfran the giant acting as a bridge

 

We are just weeks away from a General Election.  It is likely to be a thoroughly unpleasant experience with the two leaders of our major parties willing to use arguments and language that appeal to the worst side of human behaviour.  It is as if, at a tense derby football game, the competing managers stood in front of their group of supporting fans and led them in the most hostile and aggressive set of chants.  No-one would wish to take their family to such an event.

The two party leaders behave in different ways but both can threaten civilised democratic discourse.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes concerted attacks on elites: apparently defined as anyone who is professionally successful and who takes a more informed and measured view of the country’s future.  As an Eton educated Prime Minister his populist views apparently exclude him from any charge of elitism.  Jeremy Corbyn has a different style. He is unrelentingly courteous in Parliament but shrugs his shoulders at the excesses of behaviour from his supporters at local levels.  Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are most comfortable when whipping up the faithful at rallies.  Neither are thoughtful politicians – let alone coalition builders.

All in all, it is not looking good.  Whatever the result of the election, I hope that one consequence will be the subsequent emergence of a concerted campaign to restore the best traditions of our democracy and the need to conduct elections in a civilised fashion.  This involves treating your opponents with respect.

Nostalgia is not always productive but I look back almost half a century to the first election where I stood as a candidate.  In 1970, as a twenty-three-year-old I was the Labour Candidate in the safe Tory seat of Leominster, a huge chunk of rural Herefordshire.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  The nearest I encountered to overt hostility was when a young farmer and his mate deliberately revved up their tractor engines to drown out my loudspeaker speech.  This gave me useful headlines in the local paper.

Moreover, I can recall being treated with the utmost courtesy by the local committee of the National Farmers’ Union when asked to address them “It’s clearly no good asking you questions in detail so we can do no more than thank you for coming”.  One incident in particular will stay in my memory.  At a public meeting in the market town of Ledbury the local Conservative Chairman, a retired military gentleman turned up and asked a question about reform of the taxation system.   I did not agree with his premise but, fresh from an economics degree, offered him a considered reply.  At the end of the meeting the gentleman concerned stood up and said, that on behalf of those present, he would like to wish the young candidate every success in his endeavours in life.   It was only later that I fully appreciated the generosity of this gesture.

I doubt if incidents of this type will feature in the forthcoming General Election.  One can just hope that nasty chanting, egg and milkshake throwing and the drowning of legitimate interventions from working journalists will be kept to a minimum.  Set against this, there is no way that Internet abuse and threats can be controlled.

By tolerating these assaults on democracy, we have lost something important.  However, if enough people desire it, tolerance could eventually prevail.   There are sufficient people from the traditional mainstream in both parties who would like to see this happen but it requires leadership willing to reach out and include rather than reinforcing prejudices.

There is old Welsh proverb, taken from the folk stories known as the Mabinogi: “A fo ben, bid bont” translated as “He would be a leader, let him be a bridge” (or “bear the load).  Bendigeidfran the giant laid down across a river to let his forces walk across his body when on a mission to rescue the maiden in distress.

I doubt if Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn will behave like Bendigeidfran the giant but they could begin by trying to keep their more extreme supporters under control.

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.

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From the 1970 General Election

 

Because I say so (or words to that effect)

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To my surprise and pleasure I received some positive feedback from my previous blog, the one in which I paid tribute to our retiring local LibDem MP Norman Lamb.  Several people took the trouble to tell me that is was good to see something positive said about a political opponent.  Perhaps this is what Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn meant when he made his plea for a kinder, gentler politics.

This aspiration, articulated almost exactly four years ago, has, of course, been totally ignored in practice.  Politics has taken an unpleasant turn with stories fabricated and motives impugned on all sides.  Both major parties have saddled themselves with unsuitable leaders, neither of whom is interested, let alone capable, of building consensus; both are happiest delivering market place oratory to the faithful. Over the last week it has been the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who has chosen to show the worst aspect of his character with a display of bombast that has descended into the ridiculous.

On Sunday, in a newspaper interview, Boris Johnson vowed that the UK would leave the EU by aping the behaviour of the Marvel character ‘The Incredible Hulk’.  For those who are not into comic books, Bruce Banner, Hulk’s physically weak alter-ego, morphs into a huge green-skinned giant when angry.  According to our Prime Minister: “Banner might be bound in manacles, but when provoked he would explode out of them”and “Hulk always escaped no matter how tightly bound…that is the case for this country. We will come out on October 31stand we will get it done”.

Such childish macho-talk takes me back to a bizarre interlude in my working career.  For six years I was head of human resource development at what was probably the UK’s worst-managed investment bank, and that really is going some.  After the changes in the financial and regulatory system introduced at Big Bang in 1986, our home-grown firms were unable to compete with the onslaught from US competitors.   The domestic response was to throw money at the problem and hire more and more highly-paid and ultimately unsuccessful managers – a bit like an over-resourced struggling football team

The most egregious example was our appointment of a new Deputy Chief Executive whose arrogant self-belief and crude management style led to resignation of some of the more thoughtful staff.  See the obvious parallels with our two major parties?  I couldn’t afford to resign so I simply tried to keep my head down.  Unfortunately, our new boss decided we needed a programme to recruit MBAs, a subject about which he knew nothing.  I was given the job of investigating the feasibility of such a scheme.

My investigations rapidly revealed that it was not a runner. Our business areas were hostile and, given our reputation, no-one any good would wish to join us.  ‘Never let your boss receive bad news as a surprise’is a standard management maxim so, when I saw the Deputy Chief Executive who was taking the escalator, I moved alongside him and gave him the news. His response was to turn to me, put his face about three inches from mine, and deliver the following motivational message: “It’s going to f***ing happen and you know why it’s going to f***ing happen?  Because I say it’s going to f***ing happen and I when I say things are going to f***ing happen round here, they f***ing happen.  Get the message?”.

So, what did happen, or, in short, “Did it f***ing happen?” Unsurprisingly the answer is “No it f***ing didn’t”.  Our macho manager left the organisation shortly afterwards and I often wonder what happened to him. Most probably he went in to psychotherapy or personal life style coaching; certainly, that is where many of his ilk ended up.

Later this week I will summon up the energy to attend my local Labour Party.  I have put forward a motion that unequivocally supports the Remain position. I am not deluding myself that a motion agreed by a group of people in North Norfolk will make the least bit of difference.  It is simply that we should all be prepared to do whatever we can, and for heaven’s sake, let reasonable argument prevail over crude sloganising.

 

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.

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Time to speak: a hashtag for Jeremy

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Given the maelstrom that is the current political scene there is a surprising consensus on the way that events could unfold.  This is because the position and ambitions of our Prime Minister are so transparent.

For Boris Johnson, like his opposite number across the Atlantic, ego dominates and reputation is all.  What matters is what appears or can be said to happen, not what actually happens. He has staked his reputation on delivering Brexit on October 31st.  If it doesn’t take place as predicted it will be everybody else’s fault  – the EU, the Irish Government, unsupportive MPs.  That will set him up nicely for a people vs. parliament General Election that will be the nastiest any living person has ever witnessed.

Many parliamentarians on all sides of the House are endeavouring to prevent this dreadful scenario from taking place.  They are determined to do all in their power to prevent both a head-on attack on the principles of representative democracy and the consequent delivery of an economic disaster.   Some of them, for example Philip Hammond, Dominic Grieve and Justin Greening from the Conservative side, have already displayed great courage.  We can be sure that there is a huge amount of organising and planning taking place across the party divide in advance of the resumption of Parliament on September 21st.  However, there is nothing that we ordinary voters can do to assist them beyond demonstrating our strength of feeling and wishing them well.

It is the Labour Party that concerns me.  It would: I have been a member for over 50 years.  The continued ambiguity of the Party’s position is a cause of distress.  Alan Johnson, an Education Minister under Tony Blair and someone who would have made an excellent leader himself today, described Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Europe as a total disaster. “He’s not a leader. He’s never going to be a leader, never wanted to be a leader, and is totally uncomfortable in his role of leader”.

Whatever one’s opinion on Alan Johnson’s scathing judgement, it would be a mistake to write off Jeremy Corbyns’ potential contribution to overturning Brexit.  His ability to motivate and inspire his younger supporters was much in evidence during the 2017 General Election, though sadly absent in the Referendum that took place in the previous year.  We need him, first, to stop equivocating and to offer the clear message of Remain.  Every recent national and local poll has demonstrated that this is a political necessity if the Party is to offer a serious challenge in a future General Election.  Jeremy Corbyn still enjoys a following and we need him in play to mobilise his supporters and we need him in play now. It is no good to waiting until late September after Labour Party Conference.  Moreover the mechanism exists, through the Momentum network, to mobilise pressure, should he choose, through social networking.

In an article, published in the New European in February 2018, I wrote, “Future generations will be amazed at our lack of action and the total impotence that so many progressives feel today…. I will learn from the success of the Corbyn campaign and use social media to promulgate my position and my concerns.”I went on to establish a twitter account @eugrandparents.

Eighteen months on I still feel isolated and impotent in my North Norfolk retreat but more than ever believe that we should all do what we can. Accordingly I have established, and will be promoting a new hashtag #jeremyMIAJeremy missing in action’ – to see if we can embarrass him to do his bit before it is too late.

A version of this article has appeared on The New European website

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.

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A non-event of considerable significance

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When, on 7th May, the de-facto Deputy Prime Minister, David Liddington announced that, out of necessity, the elections to the European Parliament would take place, our two major parties did not want to know. The Mays and the Corbyns resembled a mutually antagonistic set of parents obliged to attend a wedding that both sides wished wasn’t taking place. Pretend it isn’t happening and get through the day in the hope that normal relations with everybody else could be restored afterwards.  However, as the People’s Vote campaign argued in their final supporter’s mailing “With Farage’s Brexit Party moving ahead in the polls, it is vital for everyone to get out and vote for pro-People’s Vote parties tomorrow”.

People’s Vote were correct: the extent of the Remain versus Leave vote will prove to be of considerable importance. So also will the share of the vote across the competing parties.

Indeed, looking at the results, it may be that this unwanted poll will prove to be a significant milestone in reshaping our political landscape.  The UK turnout at 37% was as high as could be expected. The woeful Conservative performance will have a major influence on the competition to succeed Theresa May as leader. Labour cannot pretend that ambiguity on the most important issue of our time is seen as anything other than a dereliction of duty. Labour’s share of the UK vote at under 15% puts us well behind the LibDems and only two percentage points above the Greens. In the North Norfolk District Labour polled just 1325 votes (a miserable 3.8%) and finished in sixth place, even behind the near extinct UKIP Party.  Will our local party finally get the message, I wonder?

Worse still for Labour the European elections will go down as a massive missed opportunity to redefine ourselves: we will only survive as a progressive 21st century movement by adopting an international perspective.  So many of the problems that matter to us and the voters we care for  – combatting terrorism, climate change, regulation of the technology giants, economic opportunities for school-leavers – require committed international co-operation. Labour should have campaigned as an unequivocal ‘remain and reform’ party, to use Deputy Leader Tom Watson’s term.

The national Labour leaflet that was delivered to my doorstep could best be described can be dismissed as a desperate attempt to save a failing relationship: ‘please don’t leave me whatever you think of my behaviour’. At the local level our Party Chair adopted a more forthright tone: “The reality of a no deal Brexit would be for the wide boys of the city to make shed loads of money whilst life for working class people would get even harder than it is under the Tories now”.Using language like this, a hangover from the class war of the 1980s, will have limited appeal to successor generations.

Yes indeed Brexit will drag on and on.  The Tory leadership election will be the focus of national attention but it will take us no further forward in the short term. Brexit’s resolution could be quicker, however, than reversing the Labour Party’s decline as our legacy vote disappears.

I have now decided to attend some local Labour Party meetings. I am curious to see if the bombast when Corbyn became leader has been replaced by a more reflective tone.  I have incidentally been told that the local party will be raising my online behaviour with the Labour Party Eastern Region Office. It may be that they are nominating me for an award, but I doubt that this is the case.  One way or another I would have thought that the Regional Office of the Labour Party would have other things to do and I await developments.

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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.

A depressing doorstep encounter in Wells-next-the-sea

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Three distinct events took place on Wednesday 30thApril; separately and together they caused me to reflect on the uphill task faced by those of us who are mainstream Labour members and are staying in the Party. It is not looking good in the short-term.

The first occurred in the morning in the attractive coastal town of Wells-next-the–sea.   My good friend Mike Gates was standing for the District Council.  His political perspective is similar to mine; we have been Labour activists for many years and have seen it all before.  Mike had previously represented Wells on the North Norfolk District Council and was guardedly optimistic about his prospects this time round.  Neither the LibDem nor the Tory Candidate lived in the town and Mike was well known locally; he had recently retired as the local postman.  Sadly, like all North Norfolk Labour candidates, he was unsuccessful when the poll took place the following day.  I will comment on the local results in more detail in my next blog.

I spent a morning delivering leaflets for him in a large estate that had been built as council housing but was now the usual mix of owner-occupancy and social housing.  Mike had warned me to expect apathetic indifference and occasional downright hostility towards politics and politicians.

I should know better than to indulge in arguments on the doorstep.  The standard advice, if someone disagrees with you, is to move on as quickly as possible. However as I grow older I am getting (even) more intolerant and more irritable. I handed a leaflet to an elderly man watering his garden.  When he found out it was Labour he rudely told me to clear off; I moved on to the next door but foolishly responded, rather than ignored, his shout of ‘let me ask you one question?’  Inevitably it was about Brexit.

There followed a wholly purposeless dialogue.  He began by grumbling about the money we were paying to bureaucrats; I said it was all about securing 21stcentury jobs for our grandchildren.  There was not the slightest prospect of any common ground. My lasting impression however was how strongly he felt: with some justification he believed he has been let down by a political process that promised but failed to deliver.  He was desperate to tell someone, even someone he despised.  Suggesting that he had been on the receiving end of a wholly dishonest leave campaign – he had been lied to – would have had no effect.  I am sure that such conversations are being repeated up and down the country.

That same afternoon the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee announced its manifesto position for the European Elections of May 23rd.  It is one that, despite my long-standing membership, I would find impossible to defend on the doorstep. It has been comprehensively analysed in the newspapers but, for the benefit of overseas readers, it maintains the fiction that there is  ‘Labour’s alternative plan’which could deliver Brexit and honour the referendum result. In this way “Labour is the only party which represents both people who leave and remain.  We are working to bring the country together after the chaos and crisis created by the Tories” (to quote from a Party spokesperson).

Stuff and nonsense.  There is a hard choice to be made here – in or out of the EU.  There is no way I and the man I encountered on the doorstep in Wells can be brought together until this whole debacle over the EU is resolved; if it results in a UK exit the fractious debate will rumble on for the next decade.  David Cameron caused the problem but Jeremy Corbyn and his entourage have exacerbated it through such dishonest opportunism.

Given this, the final depressing event of a miserable day came as no surprise. I received an email from a young man in his early thirties who I first met when I transferred my Labour Party membership from London to North Norfolk.   He was brought up in the nearby town of Holt and is an individual of considerable capability and immense promise.  He wrote: “I’m afraid I’ve resigned from the party, today’s manifesto fudge was too much … I’m not joining any other party, but I’m not sure I can stomach voting for the pro-Brexit manifesto in the European elections”.

This is all very sad, especially in the centenary year of the foundation of the North Norfolk Labour Party.  Can we rebuild and if so how?  My pal Mike Gates remembers the 1980s and thinks we can and will. History will repeat itself. I hope he’s right, but at this stage I cannot bring myself to share his optimism.

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.