Why I won’t vote for Norman

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Seen at the end of the Unite for Europe march

The Lib-Dems will be defending nine seats at the snap June general election: my home constituency of North Norfolk will be one of them. It was captured by our sitting MP, Norman Lamb, sixteen years ago; in 2015 his majority fell from 11600 to just over 4000 ahead of the Conservatives. It is a highly marginal seat and there will plenty of hopefuls seeking the Tory candidature.

Lamb himself is an affable individual. He runs a well-managed office and always replies to letters. He is anxious to avoid offending anyone: his appeal locally has always been to offer politics for people who don’t like politics. For example, he and his local party adopted a very low profile on Europe, aware that North Norfolk is a stronghold for Brexit, while the LibDems nationally were committed to remain. Lamb himself abstained in the February 2017 Parliamentary vote to trigger Article 50 and start the exit process.

Such ambiguity will only take him so far in his attempt to hold on to his seat in June. A key LibDem tactic has always been to squeeze the Labour vote; this stood at just over 5000 at the 2015 election, due in no small measure to our excellent candidate. LibDem election literature, at both local and national elections, is often illustrated with claims, based on spurious opinion surveys, that the Labour vote is crumbling. They are eager for local Labour supporters to hold their noses and vote tactically for the LibDems.

I haven’t voted this way and never will. It may be dire times for those of us who are democratic socialists, but we must hold true to some basic beliefs. Chuka Umunna expressed them brilliantly in a recent New Statesman article. “Labour’s historic role is to be the party of the national labour interest. Our purpose is to represent working people and to redress the imbalance of power between capital and labour. And we provide protection for those who cannot work or support themselves”. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/03/chuka-umunna-labour-alternative

Norman Lamb cannot, and indeed does not seek, to be part of that process. Shamefully at the 2015 general election he promoted the dishonest analysis that the international financial crisis had been a result of government overspending, when history will prove it was a result of global imbalances and irresponsible lending by the banking system. In this way he justified betraying a firm pledge on the abolition of student fees and entering a coalition government with the Conservatives that savaged public expenditure.

Judging by a recent communication Norman Lamb is now moving from favouring expenditure cuts towards an anti-politics position. In March he e-mailed: “We all know that vital health and care services are under increasing strain. It is my belief that the problems will only continue to get worse. Unless politicians put aside their party interests and work together with professionals, staff and patients to agree a new, sustainable future for the services we all rely on.”

The poor grammatical construction of the last sentence should not disguise the fact that a new way of being all things to all men is under consideration. It will not wash with me and will not wash with many others.

 

 

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the electorate has spoken

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.

Labour team at the count

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.

three days to go – the battle for Glaven Valley

blakeneyquay

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.

four days to go – it’s not political

Rectory

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.

six days to go – the vote I got wrong

As an activist I am intolerant of those people who won’t exercise their vote. Universal franchise was only achieved after an heroic struggle and we owe it to previous generations to make the effort. I would much sooner see people abstaining by spoiling their ballot paper with a rude comment than not bothering at all.

Given my values, and my undeniably tribal background, it would be hard to see circumstances in which I wouldn’t vote Labour. I did hold my nose when voting for some of our candidates in the worse excesses of the extreme left in Islington in the 1980s.   I often wonder where they ended up politically. My support was also tested in the later years of the Blair premiership.

There is however one vote that I cast that I regret. This was in the May 2011 referendum on electoral reform. To remind ourselves the question posed was: “At present, the
UK uses the first past the post system to elect MPs to the House of
Commons. Should the alternative vote system be used instead?”. The alternative vote (AV) would have allowed people to indicate a second preference on their ballot paper.

The result
of the referendum was an overwhelming ‘no’, with 67.90 % of the population voting against. I was amongst the 67.90% but I was wrong. I voted that way, like I suspect many others, to give the LibDems a bloody nose for their duplicity over student fees. They had made a referendum on electoral reform, for which they had campaigned for many years, a condition of their coalition agreement and jettisoned everything else to that end. I have always supported electoral reform and admit to some twisted logic by voting against. However the betrayal of the promise on student fees – the LibDems promised to abolish them and voted in favour of a three-fold increase – made me so angry.

Would AV make a difference to the result here in North Norfolk? My guess is that it could. UKip are likely to poll well but will not win. If we had AV the destination of their second preference could indeed alter the outcome, though it is hard to say which way. Their voters are a motley lot and our canvass returns suggest that are drawn from across all parties.

eight days to go – a time of transition?

It has been a long election campaign and a curious one. So far there have been no unexpected turns of events and little excitement beyond the odd spat between Labour and the SNP. There is no evidence of any significant movement in the opinion polls: it will be a close run thing between Labour and the Conservatives, with the largest party seeking to form a Government. This could be a minority government or some sort of informal or informal agreement. If this proves correct the big stories will be written on the weekend after the election. Currently the political journalists must be desperate to find something new to say.

However it will be a shame if, in the flurry of post-election, we lose sight of what may prove to be a bigger picture. As the election has proceeded I have become increasingly convinced that we are in a period of significant political transition. The two tribes, Labour and Tory, have consolidated and there is little prospect of movement between the two. A significant number of voters are disenchanted with both enough to vote for another party and are not susceptible to the argument that their vote will be a wasted vote.

My experience over fifty years of political activity has convinced me that the electorate, in their own often tortuous way, produce the result that they want. One argument, which will be much in evidence in the post-election analysis, is that the electorate now wants coalitions and the politicians had better get used to it. Certainly that will be the LibDem line since there is no other justification for their continued existence.

I’m by no means sure that this is correct. I prefer to look to an alternative explanation. This is that the electorate is waiting for the next big idea or grand vision. They cannot be enthused by a debate on how much austerity is needed and who will deliver it most effectively. For those of us on the left the formulation and articulation of this idea is our major challenge.

12 days to go – hoping someone takes notice

Friday’s front-page headline in the Daily Telegraph was ‘Labour Minister attacks Miliband’. It was the news I had been expecting. To date this campaign has been remarkable for the complete absence of open dissent in Labour’s ranks. Normally you can rely on a number of discontented mavericks to ‘gob off’ (to use the technical term) at some stage or other. Indeed in the 2005 campaign a retiring Labour MP announced his defection to the LibDems. The LibDem leader at the time, Charles Kennedy – who is about to lose his seat in Scotland – called this a pivotal moment in the campaign. It had no effect at all. Can any reader remember the name of the MP? – answer at the bottom of the blog [1].

It was therefore more in curiosity than trepidation that I picked up the Daily Telegraph at the newsagents, before, I hasten to add, returning it to the shelves and buying the Guardian. The critical Labour Minister turned out to be Lord Jones, who as Digby Jones was Director General of the Confederation of British Industry. He served as a Minister of State from 2007 to 2008 in Gordon Brown’s government but was never a member of the Labour Party. The only interesting point is not why he has spoken out, nor what he has to say which is entirely predictable. It is why the Telegraph has put it on the front page. All this serves to underline that this is an election in which nothing is happening.

According to the Telegraph, Lord Jones has toured the country meeting voters in recent weeks. Here I have some sympathy. I have toured North Norfolk meeting voters in recent weeks.   I suspect that we have met with a similar reaction: very few people want to listen to our views.

[1] Brian Sedgemore, retiring MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch