What do we do next?

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The battle for the Labour Party is over for the time being. Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn have won: he has been re-elected as leader and will be in place until the next general election; our party here in North Norfolk has been captured by his supporters. An inevitable consequence, at least in the short-term, is that the Labour Party will cease to become a potential party of government. It will be incapable of achieving change through democratic means by winning elections and will degenerate into a mere protest group,

For many us who were brought up a tradition that saw the Party as the best way of achieving social justice, this is a sad conclusion. These are depressing times. The question is whether the situation is irreversible and if so how. I have little doubt that, at some stage, new voices will emerge, and that they will offer radical economic and social alternatives that extend beyond slogans and soundbites. It is uncertain whether such voices will be based in the Labour Party or come from an entirely different political tradition and background.

This is an issue that I discuss over the occasional lunch with a friend who teaches at the University of East Anglia. He, like myself, is a long-standing party member and we were both asked to allow our names to go forward for the list of candidates in the next set of County Council elections, due to take place in May. Standing would amount to no more than a gesture: there is absolutely no prospect, in the current climate, of winning in our part of North Norfolk. In a previous blog I drew attention to a local District Council bye-election that took place at the end of September (http://wp.me/p5dTrr-cH). Labour polled 23 votes. 10 people signed the nomination papers and both I and a member of my family voted Labour. That means that only 11 others out of an electorate of 1800 gave the Party their vote – despite energetic leafleting in the area. It could hardly be worse.

The question is what should we do. Let me quote from my friend’s response to the invitation he received:

I do not wish to put myself forward as a candidate. To do so would be to ask voters to support also the current leader of the party, his ill-conceived ideas and the entryists and anti-Semites who thrive under his leadership. … I cannot publicly support the Labour party for as long as Jeremy Corbyn remains its leader, nor will I support the party either through donations or by giving advice, as I have done in the past. I very much hope that there will come a time, and soon, when I will be able to resume an active role in the Labour party again

I entirely agree with his position and would emphasise his last sentence. Once there are indications that the Labour Party is ready to become the basis of a credible social-democratic alternative to the market fundamentalism of the current government, I will again give it time and money.   The good news is that there are now some indications that this could happen. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London is a principled, capable and articulate politician who is building his own power-base; Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper have taken on the Chairs of two important Select Committees of the House of Commons; Keir Starmer, a lawyer with enormous intellectual strengths, has accepted a role in the Shadow Cabinet and will provide the necessary and overdue challenge on Brexit.

Who knows, within a year or two it might be time to start going to the meetings to support such people. My guess is that many of those currently in control locally with have lost interest by then.

Looking outwards and forward

imagesJeremy Corbyn

There is no doubt that Yvette Cooper has had the better of the second half of the campaign. The bookmakers certainly think so and she has become second favourite, overtaking Andy Burnham in the odds they are quoting. Her growing momentum must, in part, be due to her confident presentation on international issues. Over the last weeks the migrant crisis and the collapse in the FTSE 100 caused by problems in the Chinese economy underline the fact that we cannot solve our problems in isolation; we need international allies.

Given this, the prospect of a Corbyn leadership looks worse by the day. Whatever the advisers are cramming into his policy papers the man himself has not advanced in his thinking since the 1980s. This was the period of the disastrous alternative economic strategy – an entirely inward-looking approach to economic and industrial policy that tried to pretend that the rest of the world did not exist.

Anyone who watched Monday’s Panorama special on the rise of Jeremy Corbyn will have witnessed the two factors that will lead to his downfall. The first is his past association with malevolent, anti-Semitic, organisations. Corbyn’s sincerity is not in question but his judgment and behaviour are. The second factor is his petulance when questioned. Faced with reasonable questions from interviewer John Ware, Corbyn bridled at the very idea that anyone would challenge him in this way. He is not used to it and ill equipped to deal with it. Much, much worse is to come.

Given the Party’s ill-considered electoral system there now a distinct prospect of a nightmare result as well as a nightmare leader. That result is that Yvette Cooper could win in the membership category of voters, but Jeremy Corbyn gains overall victory because of a commanding lead in the £3 registered supporters. If this happens appeals for unity behind the winning candidate are likely to fall on stony ground.

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Labour’s failure and my small part in it: a memoir for my grandchildren Martyn Sloman

Download here Labour’s failure and my small part in it

This short book is based on experiences of 50 year’s activism, despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that are needed to regain credibility. It is available free of charge as a download on this blog site (above) and on a personal website http://www.martynsloman.co.uk. A Kindle edition, priced 99p., the minimum permissible by the publisher, is also available (details on the personal website).

Is Yvette Cooper the best bet?

After a lot of thought

After a lot of thought

The Labour Party is desperately in need of big idea. Indeed Ed Miliband’s most significant failure lay in the one area where he would have been expected to succeed: the formulation of an over-arching economic policy narrative for Labour in the 21st century which, in co-operation with others, could be translated in to vision that inspired. What was needed was a clear statement of how modern global capitalism could be organised to deliver growth without producing obscene levels of inequality, and how that growth could be harnessed to fund a well-managed welfare state.

Ed Miliband’s approach seemed to involve floating a series of ethereal concepts that no one, with the possible exception of his super-clever education spokesperson, Tristram Hunt, was capable of interpreting. Such concepts included one-nation, productive capitalism and pre-distribution, all of which were rapidly confined to the dustbin of Labour history.

If this the problem, which of the candidates is best placed to come up with a solution? Before giving a name let me offer another observation.

My great hero will always be the US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who formed a progressive alliance between those in need and those who cared. His New Deal policies were based on Keynesian principles, using government expenditure to stimulate where the market had failed. However FDR did not enter office as a Keynesian. In his 1932 campaign he espoused orthodox fiscal beliefs, promising to balance the budget and eliminate the national deficit. When in office he realised the need for increased public expenditure to put people back to work.

The important lesson is that he surrounded himself with able advisors and listened to what they were saying. This is where Ed Miliband was so poor – he surrounded himself with the wrong people who told him what he wanted to hear.

Now it is impossible to be certain which of our candidates will be able to make the right sort of choices. However, judging by their policy statements, Yvette Cooper would seem to be the most likely and we should take a punt on her – I’ve done so.

The last pit closes

As well as fighting for the leadership, Yvette Cooper is struggling with a constituency problem: the loss of a major local employer. Kellingley was the last remaining colliery and its closure marks the end of deep mining in the country. I worked for the National Coal Board between 1968 and 1986 and undertook my most successful project at Kellingley when I investigated the potential of new types of geological surveying. It was all a long time ago. So also was the Miners’ strike of 1984-85 that followed after the 1983 election. Both were political disasters for the left in the UK and we should not allow the lessons to be lost in a fog of romantic hindsight.

By the early 1980s the economics of production meant that there was little long-term future for the industry. UK deep-mined coal was becoming increasingly expensive compared to the more convenient fuels of oil and gas, and indeed to coal produced overseas. However the manner of the industry’s destruction was a tragedy for all sides. From March 1984 the coal industry experienced the most extensive and intense industrial dispute that had been seen in Britain since the 1926 General Strike. The strike lasted 358 days but despite the rhetoric and the subsequent romantic image it was never a demonstration of solidarity. Area ballots held in the Midlands, North East and North West coalfields produced heavy votes against the strike. NUM members in the most profitable NCB area in Nottinghamshire continued to work throughout. Support from other trade unions was variable and some were publicly hostile.

However, it made Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader, the hero of the left. One of the most uncomfortable aspects of this awful period for me was attending Labour Party meetings in Islington and hearing the class rhetoric. There was a vicarious enjoyment of the strike from those for whom nothing was at stake. Moreover, mining, a dangerous and unhealthy occupation, was for ‘other people’s children’. The children of the Islington middle class would work in marketing, publishing and broadcasting while hard graft could be done by others in the North.

Ultimately, and probably inevitably, the miners’ strike was a complete triumph for the politics of Margaret Thatcher. The miners returned to work in March 1985 without a settlement. What should have been at issue was the management of change and how necessary but painful economic transitions could be accomplished.

Inevitably, with the benefit of intervening time, romantic folk myths have emerged. The most pernicious is that it marked the beginning of a new awareness and solidarity. There may, it is true, have been some politicisation of the odd individual, however there is not slightest evidence of widespread sustained commitment, even in the mining areas.

This really came home to be in 2005 when, working as a writer and researcher on training, I visited a large call centre in the UK to write a case study. The centre, then branded as Ventura, was located in the Dearne Valley – the heart of the former Yorkshire mining area (and firmly Scargill country). Indeed the modern centre had been built on a former colliery site. The contact centre displayed all the necessary conditions for the emergence of a trade union. Staff were working closely together, many were from traditional mining families; they were not particularly well paid; if they took action the effect on output would be immediate. Yet there was no trade union presence and that tradition was completely absent. For many of today’s workforce the miners’ strike might have taken place 130, not 30, years ago.

*See Episode 6 in my book ‘Labour’s failure’ for the miners’ strike

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Labour’s failure and my small part in it: a memoir for my grandchildren Martyn Sloman

Download here Labour’s failure and my small part in it

This short book is based on experiences of 50 year’s activism, despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that are needed to regain credibility. It is available free of charge as a download on this blog site (above) and on a personal website http://www.martynsloman.co.uk. A Kindle edition, priced 99p., the minimum permissible by the publisher, is also available (details on the personal website).

No Lauren, I haven’t voted yet

It’s always nice to make new friends. At ten-o-clock last night an e-mail arrived in my inbox. It was from Lauren Allpress, a name I did not recognise; on inspection it turned out to be from the Yvette Cooper campaign. It asked ‘Martyn –have you voted yet?’ and went on to tell me that Lauren herself ‘was pretty excited when I got my voting details, so I did it straight away!’ (note the exclamation mark).

Well Lauren, my ballot paper arrived over a week ago but, unlike you, I am not excited. I am agonising over my choice. I have taken the paper out of the envelope several times, stared at it like a snake looking at a mongoose, and put it back unmarked.

Some elements of my choice are easy. I am firmly ABC (anyone but Corbyn). I have no doubt he would be a short-term embarrassment before he was removed and would do considerable long-term harm to the prospects for a left-of-centre government. Angela Eagle has expressed too much sympathy with his perspective so she is out. Ironically the Deputy Leadership candidate who has produced the most thoughtful material is Tom Watson. The problem here is that he is a clever political operator who, under a deputy role to Jeremy Corbyn, could well have his own agenda for keeping him in power for longer than the bare minimum.

Having followed events closely I know whom I want to win. In an extremely lack-lustre campaign, of which Corbyn’s emergence is a symptom, Yvette Cooper has been the most effective. She has brought forward at least some worthwhile ideas and has had the courage to distance herself from Corbyn. Andy Burnham in contrast has shilly-shallied on Jeremy Corbyn for opportunistic reasons disregarding the real threat to the Party’s long-term future. Moreover Andy Burnham put me right off with his claims that, because he comes from the north and supports Everton, he is not a Westminster insider. Who is he kidding? He hasn’t worked anywhere else since Cambridge.

My real dilemma concerns the Blairite candidates: Liz Kendall and Ben Bradshaw. I am not a Blairite but if we are to save the Party we will desperately need the faction organised round the Blairite Progress Group to be at its most effective over the next eighteen months. For that reason I’m tempted to vote Kendall 1 and Cooper 2 for the Leadership and Bradshaw 1 and Creasey 2 for the Deputy Leadership. But I still haven’t made up my mind and will go back to staring at the envelope.

I shall, of course, eventually vote by post since I have no confidence whatsoever in the Labour Party’s management of its computer systems (see my repeated blogs on the woeful Contact Creator system).

Stella Creasy’s second daft initiative

A month ago I drew attention to a daft idea that Stella Creasy outlined in a campaign e-mail: that local Labour Parties should produce recipe books.   Another e-mail I’ve received from her has prompted me to produce a similar blog. I’m sorry to have to do so. I haven’t decided my vote yet but someone whose opinion I rate highly has commended her in the following terms:

I think there is scope for Labour in being a dynamic, feminist movement. The Tories are vulnerable on gender, and we should push Labour as the party for the liberation of the human potential.  Stella Creasy is a high-energy campaigner and I think this could work with the more studied approach of Yvette Cooper. It’s also a very serious statement about a different type of politics.

Fine, but I wish she’d raise her game.

Now to her latest idea.

The e-mail I received from her on 10 August carried the promising headline of ‘Here’s how Labour’s fightback starts with us all’. However when you drill down the content consists of a PowerPoint presentation for a workshop intended to encourage members to campaign. I spent three decades in corporate training and, in my professional opinion she is offering a reasonable product, if over-wordy and over-reliant on bullet-points.

However the more important question is whether she should be doing this sort of thing at this time. The Party is heading for a severe, possibly terminal, crisis. We are in the mess we are because we are desperately short of a big picture that inspires. Once we get that doorstep campaigning will be easy. Without it we are dead in the water.

My next few blogs will discuss some aspects of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign.

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On 21st August I will be publishing a short 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.  I also intend to produce a Kindle edition.  The book is based on my experiences of 50 year’s activism, my despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that we need to take to regain credibility.

Up with people

As the Labour Party lurches towards it existential crisis it reminds me of the Democrats in the US at the time of the Vietnam War. In 1968 I spent the summer working in New Jersey for the campaign of the anti-war US Presidential Candidate, Eugene McCarthy. I was present at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. This was the occasion of what became known as a police riot: the contrasting feelings of mainstream America and of the peace movement spilt over into violence. I was far too cautious to get involved but I do have a walk-on cameo in a film made at the convention (Medium Cool by Haskell Wexler).

I have one abiding bizarre memory of the occasion. While the Democratic Party was about to tear itself to pieces, a large, syrupy choir of young people called ‘Up with People’ opened the Convention. It was the incongruity of their performance that struck me. Their superficial optimism bore no relation to the gravity of the political situation that was unfolding.

I feel the same way about the regular e-mails I receive from the Labour Party’s Training and Communication’s team. I know I shouldn’t be too hard on them but as a former training manager I can’t help feeling a dose of realism is needed urgently. There is no point in pumping out the old favourites when an organisation is in meltdown.

********************************************

On 21st August I will be publishing a short 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.  I also intend to produce a Kindle edition.  The book is based on my experiences of 50 year’s activism, my despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that we need to take to regain credibility.