Dear Jennie Formby – my welcome letter

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My inbox often contains unexpected communications: on Monday I received two bizarre emails from the Labour Party.

My guess both is that both were sent as a result of repeated public complaints that many members, particularly those who joined recently, have not received ballot papers for the leadership election. However, I responded immediately to these two most friendly overtures; it would be impolite to do otherwise.  Below is the reply I sent to the General Secretary:

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Dear Jennie Formby

It is always a pleasure to hear from the central administration of the Labour Party and I was delighted, if a little surprised, to be the recipient of two emails on 10th March.

The first, which arrived just before four p.m. from the Regional Office, was a most pleasant welcome to the party (we are delighted to have you as part of our movement).  The second, two hours later, was sent by the National Party (reply to Jeremy Corbyn) and began: Now you’ve had a chance to settle in, we would love to know more about what motivated you to become a member of the Labour Party.

For the record I joined the Party in Cardiff on my sixteenth birthday, fifty-seven years ago, and have remained in continuous and unbroken membership since then.  This, I may add, contrasts with many of the controlling clique in the North Norfolk Labour Party (NNLP), some of whom have displayed the political consistency of the figures in an Alpine Weather House*. In fact, June 18th this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the first time that I stood for office as a Labour Candidate (in the 1970 General Election).  Turning to the question asked in the second email, I joined because I believed in the promotion of social justice, the elimination of poverty, and the protection of the less able.  These values have stayed with me throughout, but, over time, I have come to realise that delivery is more important than slogans and rhetoric. This last is a view that has dropped out of fashion in the Corbyn era.

It is evident that both the emails I received were intended for new members rather than the old guard.  Could I ask you to investigate what has happened? To assist, could I offer two possible explanations.

You will be aware that central Labour Party Departments have acquired the reputation for tardy action – this has been particularly pronounced in the appalling way that a backlog of complaints over antisemitism has been allowed to accumulate.  Could it be that, under our current leadership, a decision has been made to write a welcome all members and the process has now reached those who joined in 1962?

A second and more likely explanation concerns the well-publicised fact that significant numbers of new members have not received ballot papers for the leadership.  Given this, as a result of over-enthusiasm or ineptitude, someone in the database team either chose to play safe or simply pressed the wrong button and a sent a ‘new member’ email to a batch of long-standing members.  I cannot believe that I alone have been selected for this treatment, and I know that at least one other NNLP member has erroneously received these emails.

Whatever the explanation, it does not reflect well on the Labour Party as an organisation.  Looking forward I can only take comfort in the fact that Keir Starmer for five years led a high-profile organisation, the Crown Prosecution Service, where this sort of cock-up would not be tolerated and the circumstances that led to such a mistake thoroughly investigated.

I hope that you will agree that I am right to draw this matter to your attention and wish you well.

*In an Alpine Weather House, male and female figures ride on a balance bar, which is suspended by a piece of catgut or hair. The action swings one figure or the other out of the house depending on the humidity

 

Leftyoldman is taking a break from regular blogging until the shape of left of centre politics becomes clearer – though, as on this occasion, I will continue to make the odd incursion when I have something to say. If you would like to receive email notification of future leftyoldman blogs, please press the ‘follow leftyoldman’ button on the left-hand side above.  

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A fine contribution from Norfolk from the next generation

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My inbox on Valentine’s Day, February 14th contained one of the most interesting communications that I’ve received for some time: although not of a romantic nature, it made me think a lot.   A young, rising star in our North Norfolk Labour Party, Jasper Haywood, has produced a fine dissertation for his Master’s thesis at the University of East Anglia. Entitled Betrayal in the Labour Party: irrelevant divisions and silent debates it brought home to me the extent of the problem that will face Keir Starmer, who, if the bookies are right (and they are seldom wrong), is about to be enthroned as our Next Labour Party leader.

Over my years of activism, I’ve come to recognise that, to succeed, the Labour Party needs to maintain a balance between a balance between an ideological Marxist influenced left and a pragmatic social-democratic right.  Both factions have a great deal to contribute: the left always demonstrate great commitment and can generate enthusiasm, particularly amongst younger members: the right will ask the hard questions involved in delivery, something that is essential if the party is to be seen as a credible electoral force.

Relationships between those two broad factions have now become toxic.  Mutual respect has disappeared and trust broken down.  In our local Labour Party, our ruling clique seems to be motivated mainly by a hostility to Blair and his government, particularly over Iraq.  For my part I feel resentful that they saddled us with the most ineffectual party leader seen in post war Britain, and moreover one who through indifference and incompetence failed to deal with the emergence of antisemitism.  This is something that will return to haunt us

Jasper, having interviewed 34 Labour members in the North Norfolk and Norwich North constituencies, underlines how this lack of trust and mutual respect has affected the Labour Party leadership election. To quote:

Evidently, decisions over leadership have less to do with the likelihood of winning power for the party, and more to do with who can establish power within the party. The outcome of this is that party engages in a perpetual disagreement over its aims, and results in a tyranny of the majority. In essence, changes of leadership are a reaction against the past, not a response to the future.

And

the process of changing leader becomes an opportunity to enact retribution, impelled by lack a trust and dictated by an overwhelming sense of betrayal. When combined, the party’s contestation of its aims and the centrality of retribution to membership consolidate the disparate ideological views into a core diametric. Ultimately, this limits the extent of alternative policy narratives.

Jasper has generously allowed me to include a condensed version of his thesis on this blog as a downloadable word file.  If this analysis is correct it is scarcely surprising that, in policy terms, the last thing Keir Starmer would wish to do is to alienate people who, if the party settles down, he would much prefer to have on board.  He would recognise, more than anyone else, the extent of current mutual hostility and the huge difficulty in overcoming it.

Despite its depressing tone, Jasper’s paper was a welcome Valentine’s day present.  It certainly served to underline the extent of the challenge that we all face.  There is precious little desire for unity, however much the leadership candidates call for it; it will certainly be a very long time before love is in the air.  As a Welshman, I’d look for guidance to our equivalent St. Dwynwen – the Welsh St. Valentine – whose day is celebrated falls on January 25th.  Dwynwen fell in love with a local boy called Maelon, but her father had already arranged for her to marry another prince. Maelon took the news badly, so the distraught Dwynwen fled to the woods to weep, and begged God to help her. She was visited by an angel who gave her a sweet potion to help her forget Maelon, which turned him into a block of ice. Dwynwen then became a nun.

This cheery tale seems to reflect the mood I am encountering on the future of the Party, but to support Keir Starmer, who may well prove to be the outstanding leader we so desperately need, I will on hang on in and continue to attend meetings.

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I will now take a break from regular blogging until the shape of left of centre politics becomes clearer – though I may make the occasional incursion if I have something to say. If you would like to receive email notification of future leftyoldman when publication resumes, please press the ‘follow leftyoldman’ button on the left-hand side above.  

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North Norfolk Labour’s Game of Thrones – our nomination meeting

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Having been brought up in a family where everyone had strong opinions but no-one ever listened to anyone else, I was well-placed to attend Thursday’s North Norfolk Labour Party’s Leadership nomination meeting.  I went with low expectations but departed feeling optimistic that the Party will survive, although it will take many years to win back the confidence of the electorate.

For those who are not familiar with the process, local Labour Parties such as North Norfolk, can hold an All Members Meeting to choose which, if any, candidate to nominate to succeed Jeremy Corbyn; however, the ultimate decision will be taken by the forthcoming national ballot when every member will have an individual vote once the ballot opens on February 21st.  So, to some extent, this week’s event in Cromer was a pointless exercise, no more than a test of strength for the competing factions:  it offered Corbyn supporters the opportunity to demonstrate continuing ascendancy locally; it offered mainstream counter-insurgents the opportunity to rally for the first time since we were crushed in 2016.

From my point of view the meeting began well.  At 7.00 p.m. the Chair warned all those present that the formal proceedings would begin at 7.05 p.m.; anyone who turned up after this would not be allowed to vote.  At 7.10 p.m. a hard core Corbyn supporter who had been gratuitously offensive to me and had been obliged to send a churlish apology* arrived with two other people; once the situation was explained to him, he promptly departed.

It is of course the numbers that matter.  There were 32 members present.  Since there are over 500 members currently in the North Norfolk Party this is a dismal turnout.  Significantly it was half the number present in August 2016 when Jeremy Corbyn defeated his challenger Owen Smith by 44 to 15 in our local vote.  This time our mainstream candidate, Keir Starmer, defeated the anointed heir to the Corbyn project, Rebecca Long Bailey, by 18 votes to 12.  Set against this, these figures were reversed in the contest for the Deputy Leadership where leftish Angela Rayner defeated mainstream Ian Murray by 18 votes to 13.  However, this all indicates a major shift in mood, albeit in a remote and wholly unrepresentative part of the UK.

I am sure that no-one came to this meeting with an open mind nor was influenced by anything that took place there.  Any discussion was simply a necessary ritual to be undergone before the vote took place.  However, the meeting was well-chaired and all those who spoke made their points in a non-aggressive, often reflective, manner.  Indeed, what was most evident was both a collapse of bombast and a lack of organisation from the Corbyn faction.  On the same evening we were asked to put forward nominations for Labour’s National Executive Committee – the NEC.  This might not sound important but Momentum, the Corbyn faction’s organisational arm, have captured this body to do the leader’s bidding.  In due course the NEC will be held to account for the shameful failure to deal with antisemitism in the party. Significantly this time Momentum could not produce and communicate an agreed slate of candidates for the NEC.  I was able to secure the Constituency support for Gloria Mills (recommended to me by the mainstream Labour First faction) as our BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) nominee in the absence of alternative names.

The meeting finished early and I left in time to get home and indulge in my current binge watch: I am working my way through a box set of Game of Thrones, something that I never saw on live television.  Late on Thursday I watched the final episode of Series 1.  It ended with a slightly built fair-haired woman trying to regain a throne by hatching a number of dragons from their eggs, and thus commanding huge loyalty from a warlike tribe. If Thursday’s North Norfolk figures are any indication, Rebecca Long Bailey will have to produce some similarly unexpected initiative if she is to win.  I am hopeful that she will not be able to do so.

*See my previous blog I’ve told to send it, but I didn’t mean it.  https://leftyoldman.wordpress.com/2019/10/21/ive-be-told-to-send-it-but-i-didnt-mean-it/

 

leftyoldman blogs will continue to appear as the Labour leadership election progresses.  If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs, please press the ‘follow leftyoldman’ button on the left-hand side above.

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A fine mess you’ve gotten me into

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During my professional days in management education and training one of my jobs was to mentor new managers.  One question I frequently encountered was “I am inheriting a right mess – how can I protect my own position if things go wrong?”.

My advice was, first and foremost, document the full set of horrors that you are facing, and date the document so you can always produce it in a crisis.  My next step was to ask the new manager what the general opinion in the organisation was of his or her predecessor.  It was easy to deal with a situation where everyone recognised the departing manager was inadequate.  If the person leaving was popular, and most people most people thought he or she had done a good job, it was far more difficult.  I encountered the latter situation once myself.  I took over a crumbling department from someone who had immense face validity – he was well liked – but as far as I could see had done very little for the last eighteen months.  When I tried to introduce changes, I met a deal of resistance from those who had rated him.

Labour’s leadership contest has caused me to reflect on this advice – not that Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long Bailey or the other contenders have sought my guidance.  The list of horrors that they face is easy to construct: a complete lack of credibility with the electorate; ambiguity on the central political question of the day, Brexit; lack of imaginative and relevant thinking on pressing 21st century issues; inadequate and underperforming shadow ministers; a National Party Executive captured by a destructive faction; the failure to deal with antisemitism; a deeply divided membership in the country.

This list would be enough to keep anyone awake at night.  They should however be able to take comfort in the fact, turning to the second part of my guidance to new managers, that nobody thinks that their predecessor had done a good job.  To misquote Laurel and Hardy, he has got them into a fine mess.

There is, however, always the odd exception.  Things can be different in Norfolk.  This time the example comes not from my own North Norfolk Labour Party, but from the neighbouring constituency of Broadland.  At their first meeting after the General Election, on a Saturday morning in January, the membership in Broadland was asked to support the following motion, which was presented by member of the Regional Executive of the Labour Party.  I might add that I have no idea what is meant by the word ‘comparable’ in this context.

Broadland CLP records its gratitude to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell for their work over the past four and a half years, in moving the policy agenda forward so that the Labour Party now has policies that are comparable with most European social democracies.

The secretary is instructed to write to the NEC (via the General Secretary) to formally record our thanks with a copy to the respective offices of the Leader and the Shadow Chancellor.

The classic model for dealing with loss talks of seven stages of grief.  It seems that some in Broadland are unable  to move beyond the first stage of the process – that of denial.  With members like this a hard road lies ahead for our new leader!

leftyoldman blogs will continue to appear as the Labour leadership election progresses.  If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left-hand side above.

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