It’s always nice to hear from Momentum

The name that an organisation chooses can be deceptive. For example, two pressure groups in the Church of England were called ‘Reform’ and ‘Forward in Faith’. Both opposed the ordination of women and neither was in favour of reform nor  in any way forward-looking. In current politics, ‘Momentum’ was established as a Jeremy Corbyn Fan Club and, since it has achieved its purpose, may well have run out of steam altogether.

Two distinct sorts of people joined Momentum. The first were the young who branded their Facebook site and competed for a selfie with the messiah. They transferred many of their commendable hopes honestly but misguidedly to his campaign; they cannot be blamed for the resulting debacle. The second group were ageing lefties who were determined to exact some revenge against Tony Blair; characteristically were they were likely to have been in and out of Labour Party membership over the last two decades. Given the age profile here in Norfolk it is the second group that dominates the branches of Momentum in the market town of North Walsham and the seaside resort of Sheringham. It came as no surprise, when they captured the North Norfolk Labour Party, that their first action was to seek to spend hard-earned party funds on a charabanc trip to a factional demonstration in London.

Momentum claim to be creating a new sort of politics. It is hard to see what this involves behind an extensive use of technology, particularly social media. This they deployed most effectively to insert Jeremy Corbyn into the leadership and support him when he faced a subsequent challenge. I’ve always been a sceptic on how far such use of technology will influence behaviour where it really matters, that is in the privacy of the ballot-box in a public election. However, out of a desire to know what they are doing, I’ve subscribed to their mailing list and was therefore interested to receive an e-mail from them that began with the sentence ‘I’m incredibly excited to announce Momentum’s new campaigning tool – MyNearestMarginal.com’. Momentum numbers some clever nerds amongst their supporters so this was worth investigating.

The e-mail arrived in my inbox on 11th May. At the time I was staying with friends just outside Edinburgh prior to a trip to Murrayfield see the European Rugby Cup Finals. I therefore put their postcode into the site search box and the results are shown in the picture below. Barrow in Furness is identified as the nearest marginal to East Lothian, Scotland. This is a distance of 180 miles or just under four hours by charabanc.

 

Now the people who run Momentum may be blinkered but they are fully aware that there are elections in Scotland; indeed one of their past claims was that Scotland would revert to Labour if the traditional voters were offered an aggressively left-wing programme. There are two possible explanations for their embarrassing oversight: the first is that they had not got round to loading the Scottish information; the second is that Momentum may not be functioning outside England. Bluntly I don’t care. What irritates me are claims that Momentum is producing some great breakthroughs in our approach to political activity. It isn’t and hopefully Momentum is about to run out of momentum.

 

leftyoldman will be blogging regularly through the election campaign. To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

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Regaining trust – is am-dram the answer?

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The second half of 1985 was without doubt the worst period of my working life. I had spent some 17 years at the National Coal Board and we were all reeling from the effects of the year-long catastrophic strike. I had then been promoted to a job teaching at the industry’s internal management college, where we received instructions that our Chairman, Ian MacGregor, required us to devote all our efforts to improving the communication skills of colliery managers. He seemed to believe that the strike was a result of a corporate failure to put his message across at the coalface (for once a literal use of the term).

Opinions may differ on the causes of the strike, and what should have been done, but all of us knew that MacGregor was totally wrong in his analysis. The nature of the mining industry meant that there was plenty of contact and exchange between management and workers. They lived in the same communities and often had close family connections. The issue was not communication: there was an underlying political and economic agenda that needed to be resolved.

All this came flooding back when I saw Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to the recent disastrous bye-election result at Copeland. “… Our message was not enough to win through in Copeland” he said “ To win power to rebuild and transform Britain, Labour will go further to reconnect with voters, and break with the failed political consensus.” This echoed his supporters’ underlying belief that, if their perspective was not distorted by a hostile media, the voters would immediately return to Labour.

This is, of course, nonsense. Flooding the estates with imported bands of Momentum activists would only make things worse. It would serve to remind the electorate of how detached the Corbyn supporters are from the aspirations and ambitions of most people, and how shallow the solutions on offer are. Banging on doors simply serves to remind the electorate of our malaise and, indeed, could make traditional Labour voters further question their intentions.

In recent blogs I have drawn attention to some defections of prominent North Norfolk individuals from Labour to the LibDems. I greatly regretted the departure of a former Mayor of Cromer: he was a fine young man. Before he resigned from the party he circulated his concerns over a members’ meeting held in November. The agenda included “role play activity which was aimed at developing skills and confidence in campaigning on the doorstep”. This, the former Mayor, described this as ‘unrealistic am-dram’.   However it was adjudged a success by the organisers and, on the Saturday immediately before Copeland, a morning session was scheduled where “through role play we will show different ways to engage with residents, discuss issues and find out whether they support Labour”.

One of the co-presenters of the session has a history of revolutionary Trotskyism. In fairness to him I doubt if he intended to use the occasion to explore the Marxist concept of ‘false consciousness’ (the way in which material, ideological, and institutional processes in capitalist society mislead members of the proletariat*). He might just as well done so, for all the good that sessions like this are going to have at this stage. Simply promoting the Party on the doorstep will serve no purpose until we have something to offer that makes sense to the electorate.   Until and unless we address the underlying policy vacuum, and get a new leader, all that is on offer is further decline.

 

* Taken from the Wikipedia definition of the term

 

Leftyoldman blogs appear on occasional basis when I have something to say. Sadly very little happens in Norfolk so intervals occur. To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

United we stand! – as a family?

 

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Once I had recovered from my immediate depression following the Labour Party Conference I checked out the on-line site of our local newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press. Their politics page included a picture of local Corbyn supporters enjoying their triumph: ‘Jubliant (stet) Corbyn supporters and Momentum members celebrated the long-expected victory over challenger Owen Smith at a Norwich pub and called for unity behind the leader’. http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/politics/local_corbyn_supporters_call_for_unity_after_landslide_victory_1_4710124

The joint secretary of my local North Norfolk Labour Party was amongst those present and, it is reported, offered the following observation: ‘He (Jeremy Corbyn) has started uniting the party in his speech today by holding out an olive branch and reminding us we are all part of the same family. There are disagreements but we are together above all else’.  Well Sue, I take a different view; I’m not sure we have much in common. Indeed the reference to ‘part of the same family’ reminds me of an occasion when my mother was talking to one of my many Aunts about the Aunt’s 20 year-old daughter. My Aunt reported: “Susan and Jason (not their real names) are rowing with each other all the time. They’re going to have to get it sorted out because they’re getting engaged at Christmas”. They did indeed get engaged at Christmas, had a big wedding the following year, and divorced two years later.

Where real differences exist it takes more than an engagement ring or bland calls for unity to resolve them.

Our North Norfolk Labour Party is now firmly in the hands of the Corbyn supporters and it is down to them to deliver. They are not off to a good start – see my blog on the Glaven Valley bye-election http://wp.me/p5dTrr-cH – but in fairness they must be given time. It is evident that Jeremy Corbyn is unassailable as leader this side of a General Election and the first test here will be whether the Party advances or retreats in the County Council elections due in May 2017.

I have been a candidate (in hopeless seats) the last two occasions these elections were contested but will not put my name forward this time round. I cannot, in all integrity, commend Corbyn’s 1980s style social protest movement to the electorate. Neither, for the time being, will I go to the local meetings. In 50 years of political activism I have yet to attend a meeting of the Labour Party where anyone ever changed his or her mind as a result of any discussion that took place there. I doubt that it will be any difference over the next year.

At a national level I will be seeking to contribute to the revival of sensible centre-left politics, and reporting on progress.  I will, of course, remain a party member in the hope that the Labour Party will be the seedbed of such a recovery.

From now on my blogs will appear on a monthly, rather than a weekly, basis. I will try to look for something positive to say, which may not be easy – hence the reduction in output.

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Glaven Valley speaks

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One consequence of the Corbyn leadership victory is that the intricate over-analysis of any election result, however trivial or untypical, will continue. Those who support the new model Labour Party are keen to demonstrate that Jeremy Corbyn is an electoral asset; more grounded left-of-centre supporters know him to be an electoral liability.

As chance would have it a first public test following the Liverpool coronation of the new leader has, in fact, taken place in my remote corner of North Norfolk. On Thursday September 29th some 1800 electors in Glaven Valley voted for a new councillor to replace the previous incumbent Liberal-Democrat who has moved to London.

The last time the position was contested, in May 2015, I was the Labour candidate: I polled derisory 78 votes coming fourth coming behind UKIP and just above the Greens. This humiliation was no surprise to me. Our area mainly consists of retired people, most but not all of whom are comfortably off. This time round the Conservatives chose a somewhat unusual candidate for the area. To quote from his election address: ‘I once won a Porsche 911 Car in a beer competition beating 17,000 others!’ and ‘I have appeared on game shows, most notably “Blind Date” beating odds of 1000-1’. By contrast the Lib-Dem was carefully understated, claiming only to have been ‘Senior advisor across the Civil Service under David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair’.

I declined the opportunity to fight again – and clearly would have been out of my depth against such august opponents. Moreover I have decided that I cannot publicly support and campaign for the Labour Party while Jeremy Corbyn is leader.   I remain a committed member in the hope of better times.

Given the capture of our local Labour Party by the pro-Corbyn faction I had assumed that one of them would be keen to put their views to the test at the polling station. After all our membership has increased from 170 to over 600. However none of those in our ward attended the selection meeting and our constituency Chairman, who lives some 50 minutes away in this vast constituency, agreed to stand. I know him to be of a more traditional persuasion, politically experienced, and with considerable personal charm. His election literature avoided all mention of our new leader. When he called he assured my wife and I that he was concentrating on local issues and receiving a good response on the doorstep.

On election day (September 29th) the Lib-Dem candidate sent out an early morning e-mail that stated ‘The election today is likely to be the closest in this area for many years – probably within a few dozen votes’. I cannot believe she had any basis for making such a claim but honesty does not figure highly among LibDem considerations. Their tactic locally is to say anything that might squeeze the Labour vote. In the event she polled 429 and had a majority of 148 over the Conservative.

Labour polled 23 votes – just under 3% of the total votes cast. My estimate is that this figure will be very close to the number of people in Glaven Valley who signed up (as members, affiliates or registered supporters) to vote in the Labour Party Leadership election.   This is the lowest vote we have recorded in a District Council Election in North Norfolk this century. It does not bode well.

The generation game

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Opinion polls on Referendum voting intentions are producing an important message with practical implications. Those over 45 are inclined to vote for exit; those under 45 favour remain. Historically older people are more likely to vote than younger people so the challenge for those of us in ‘Remain’ is to maximize the youth vote. For this reason I shall be spending the last week of the campaign with one of my sons leafleting in North London rather than in my home patch in Norfolk.

Given the age profile of the population it will be tough going here. 32.0% of the North Norfolk electorate is 65 or over compared with 17.7% for the UK as a whole. This is apparent on the streets and in all forms of activity. So far I have seen no evidence of young people joining to reinvigorate the local Labour Party Indeed our local Momentum group (the organisation established to support Jeremy Corbyn) seems to be the Dad’s Army branch of the movement.

I will however miss the quirkiness of Norfolk politics during the final stages of the campaign. The county can always be relied upon to produce something to amuse – none more so than our local UKip activists who will form the hard core of Brexit locally. Following the elections of 2014 one elected UKip County Councillor resigned after admitting to shoplifting from Poundstretcher – the value store where ‘every penny counts’. More recently, a UKip candidate in the 2016 Norwich Council elections was reported to the Electoral Commission when a £5 voucher for his hairdressing business was delivered with his election literature. When interviewed on local radio the unfortunate man sounded bemused that it had become an issue. He is quoted as saying that he did not mean to ‘do anything sinister’.

Nationally this differential voting by age presents a challenge. My view is that those who have already determined to vote for exit will be difficult, if not impossible, to shift. They seem to be impervious to reasoned argument from subject experts. However Hilary Benn has come up with a good idea: to appeal to voters ‘as one grandparent to another’. ‘Ask your grandchildren’ could prove to be an effective way of shifting some votes. It would be sad to think that, on something as important as this, the future of the young would be determined by the prejudices of the old.

Braving the elements for Remain

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Nothing quite matches the charm of a North Norfolk seaside resort on a cold and rainy bank holiday.   We have our own microclimate here (the Humber shipping forecast is the best guide to the weather) and this often works to our disadvantage with sea frets that block out all sunshine. This year, on the bank holiday Sunday at the end of May, it seemed that everywhere in the country was bathed in warmth except the Norfolk coastline.

Despite the weather some twenty brave souls turned out at Cromer Pier as part of a Beach Parties for Europe event designed to underline the very positive effect that EU membership has in combatting pollution – clearly a problem that can only be addressed through international co-operation. It was a nice idea, and an important point to make, even if Remain for Nature t-shirts were worn over sweaters and in some cases anoraks.

This was an all-party event. Our Eastern Region Euro MP, Richard Howitt, was in attendance as well as a Conservative MEP, a sprinkling of Greens, and some euro-supporters of no firm party allegiance. As far as I could ascertain there was one LibDem present but no sign of the local LibDem MP Norman Lamb (see previous blog), despite the fact that his participation had been announced in our local daily paper, the Eastern Daily Press. Ironically, if he was trying to adopt a low profile, Cromer Pier on a rainy bank holiday Sunday would have been a perfect place to be – there were comparatively few passers-by and most of his constituents would have remained firmly indoors in the warm.

Also conspicuous by their absence were members of our local branch of Momentum – the ultra-left organisation established to protect Jeremy Corbyn’s position as leader of the Labour Party. They are displaying very little momentum, and certainly limited enthusiasm for the European cause. I wonder if the name they have chosen for their organisation is any longer appropriate. One of my all-time favourite misnomers was the group within the Church of England who styled themselves ‘Reform’. Their statement of principles included a recognition of ‘the unique value of women’s ministry in the local congregation but also the divine order of male headship’– code for keeping women in their place. Titles chosen by organisations can be most misleading.