Category Archives: Politics

Corbyn, Conference, Commentariat

I haven’t said or written too much lately.

1) I’ve been thinking
2) I’ve been listening (to borrow from the new Labour leader’s speech)
3) I’ve been reading
4) And perhaps… I’ve been holding my breath

Conference is a beast. It’s long, it’s tiring – that’s democracy for you. Motions are debated and defeated or carried. People huddle furiously in corners, rewriting wording, writing words, lobbying, networking, finding the fringe. By the end, everyone is exhausted – which is more or less the point at which Jeremy Corbyn had to give his so-called make-or-break speech.

I am not uncritical of Corbyn. His attachment to mismatched jackets reminds me of English teachers from my 1970s childhood – but it’s not a deal-breaker and it’s shallow enough of me to even mention it. More substantially, the autocued performance in his speech today was a bit distracting. And the repetition about his mandate is starting to wear thin. Still, that’s nit-picking and I am glad I voted for him. Let Corbyn get on with his big tent, bottom up approach to policy and see where it gets us. It’s an experiment, there are no guarantees, but at least there is hope for a robust opposition and an alternative message for many of us – something that has been lacking for a long time.

I woke on the morning after the last general election fearful that the country I live in had gone mad. That my neighbours and colleagues were all closet Tories. That society was gone to the dogs and it was every woman, man jack for themselves. When I hear Corbyn speak, I see it is not so. When I watched people at conference today, getting to their feet, applauding, I feel it is not so. When strangers on Twitter confess to a tear in their eye when Corbyn speaks about mental health for all of us, I know it is not so. For now, that’s enough for me.

As conference wends its weary way home tomorrow, the commentariat will be left clucking for the next story. As autumn turns into winter Corbyn is not probably not knowingly going to give them one – they’ve had their initial feeding frenzy after his election, after all.

The fact is that true democracy is a cumbersome creature. It is based on consensus, collaboration, debate and negotiation. It can take hours to navigate and achieve – in action, its daily operation is boring, punctuated by the odd high (and low). Democracy in action is not the headline-grabbing duel that parliamentary ritual makes it out to be. It is not the abusive, name-calling, character-attacking charade that the print press constantly twist it into. Corbyn’s respectful approach will make the jobs of those attached to that modus operandus harder going forward. At the risk of using a double negative: I can’t say I’m not sorry.

For the first time in my life, I can actually see, hear and read what the Labour Party have to say for themselves, unmediated by the media. That’s a privilege; I intend to use it wisely. I hope I will not be alone.

JC: The Crucifixion

I often wake with ideas, most of which I forget, but the one this morning seems to have stuck. This morning’s metaphor was slightly muddled, but bear with…

I woke with a strong association between Jesus Christ, who I like to think of as a radical humanist activist and teacher (that’s courtesy of the philosopher Don Cupitt at Philosophy Bites) and the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The similarities are obvious and go slightly deeper than their initials and a beard. The religious thing is trickier, as Corbyn is an atheist. In terms of the minor particulars, no-one knows if Jesus wore a vest, or if he refused to sing the Roman national anthem.

Jesus was popular with the people. He decried the money lenders and he defied the establishment. The powers that were back then in Jerusalem weren’t having any of it, so they arrested the trouble-maker at night but nailed him to a cross in broad daylight.

Jeremy Corbyn is popular with some of the people. And the majority of the media are keen to crucify his reputation and principles by butchering his interviews for decontextualised soundbytes, whilst incessantly ridiculing his values and beliefs. (I am aware the Garden of Gethsemene comparison would work better if the newspapers were less a digital creation and the news still broke at dawn with the paper hitting the mat).

The country could be divided down one line this evening: on one side those of us who couldn’t give a toss whether he moved his lips to music in a church with others, to those who feel that failure to fully partake of a musical ritual, whilst not wearing a suit, is an abomination on the face of this earth.

Is it the same line that divides those of us who think that refugees are first and foremost people and should be treated in a humanitarian way, or those of us who think it’s all a crafty ploy to get an easy life, and potentially smuggle in a member of ISIS whilst one is at it? Probably not, people are more complex than that… aren’t they?

If nothing else, Jeremy Corbyn’s election is serving to show me how this country sees things. Oh, and I never knew anyone could be crucified over a song.

Clearly I have taken a somewhat reductive approach to a burning issue, but I am boggled by how worked up people get about honouring war, the monarchy, and the singing of a rather rubbish song. I asked my children what they thought – they said they don’t even know the words to the national anthem. I think I’ll leave them in their ignorance, until they move into politics or the armed forces, or the guides.

O Frabjous Day

The results of the Labour leadership election were announced today. I was pretty confident that it would be Corbyn who was victorious, not least because Paddy Power paid out on the bets backing Corbyn weeks ago on August 18th. When a bookie pays out early – you know. Jeremy Corbyn was returned with a stunningly wide share of the vote 59.5% overall – a mandate that will surely stun the naysayers into silence until Christmas, at least.

The last Frabjous Day the blog enjoyed was the Scottish Independence Day.  Except it went a bit awry, and lost a bit of frabjousness along the way, because one too many of our Scottish brothers and sisters voted the wrong way.

Now today is the one true Frabjous Day and although we may have to wait a little while for the denouement, in which our own dear beamish boy Jeremy Corbyn slays the Jabberwock at the despatch box, in the media, and beyond, currently the blog is pretty stoked.

And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

I don’t agree with everything that JC says, but, his main themes: equality, pacifism, social justice through anti-austerity and a humanitarian approach to displaced people resonate. Not since Tony Benn have I found a politician quite as compelling in terms of values and vision.

It’s not a slick vision. Like me, it’s a bit snaggle-toothed and whiskery round the edges. On a bad day it’s a bit crumpled and snappy. But it’s real and it makes sense and it offers hope.

But it can’t be delivered to us, the public, by the politicians alone – not even JC can achieve that. What’s needed is for all of us to step up, to speak out, to live the values everyday that politicians are so good talking about. Jeremy Corbyn, to his credit, understands this. After the event where he became the Labour Leader, along with Tom Watson as his deputy, he attended a march of solidarity with refugees. Then his team dropped Labour members an email. I’ll be holding David Cameron to account on Wednesday at PM’s Question Time. What do you want me to ask him.

Now, that is democracy in action. Don’t watch this space though – get up and play your part because we all, all, all have a part to play.

We just need to figure out what it is.

The Problems with the Parliamentary Labour Party

2015-07-24 10.14.08

As I see it.

My fingers have been hovering over the keyboard for nearly a week about this post because I don’t quite know what to make of it all.  Last night I remembered the Isaac Asimov quote – that writing was thinking through his fingers – so here goes.  Not quite sure what will come out…

  1. Moving left is not going backwards.  It’s moving left.
  2. Moving left does not mean that the centre is completely abandoned
  3. Actually, all this moving anywhere stuff is completely bogus (backwards, left and centre) because no-one is moving anywhere.  It’s like a heated argument over a map between a party of broke ass backpackers before they leave the hostel after a heavy night.  Direction is meaningless unless you put one foot in front of another first.
  4. Jeremy Corbyn is probably appealing to people because he is moving, at least somewhere.  The rest of the candidates are literally stuck, squabbling over the map, too scared to raise their arms in public lest they be counted.  Hardly leadership behaviour.
  5. John Prescott is right; the conversation needs to turn to policies.  The problem is that some of the candidates don’t seem to have any that they can articulate without sounding like they want to get into the tent with the Tories.
  6. Some party grandees and intelligentsia have it wrong.  Young people want change – this does not make them naive and misinformed.  Young people are fighting for a future and socialist values speak to that.  This does not mean they are ‘dragging the party back to the 1980s’.  If they pay their dues, they have an equal chance to shape the future of the Labour Party, whether the Roy Hattersleys of this world like it or not.
  7. The Labour Party has a long history and some members rightly fear that history will repeat itself in terms of electability.  I would say you can’t tailor your message to appeal to what you think the electorate want or need because that’s a shifting sand place to stand.  That’s counter-intuitive, I  know.  The Tories succeed because they have set an agenda that fits their values and ideology and whether we agree with it or not, the message continues to ring out across the right wing media, assured and clear.  It is a message to organise around for most Conservative MPs.
  8. The Labour Party should stop worrying about getting right, and start focusing on articulating its message.  That’s why Jeremy Corbyn is apparently doing better than other candidates.  We know where he stands.  This makes us feel safe.  The other candidates might know that life’s not like that, that everything is more complex and nuanced than Jeremy makes it sound, but people want to feel that they are in safe pair of hands.
  9. The English electorate, particularly, are at heart conservative with a small c.  To appeal in those heartlands the Labour Party needs to have a clear message that makes them feel safe.  The Parliamentary Party might be up front behind the wheel, lost in the wilderness enough to beggar belief, but the kids in the back don’t need to know that.  Occupy them with I Spy until we reach the destination,  otherwise they will pick up on your fears and become unruly and intractable.
  10. And finally, despite his own beliefs that he was manifested somewhere in heaven, before being sent to earth to save us with his New Labour project, Tony Blair came on the back of Michael Foot, the ‘unelectable’ Neil Kinnock and the radical heft of John Smith.  The party he took to power, was shaped by previous incumbents.  That’s how things work on the arrow of time continuum.  You can never go back.

Come on Labour Party.  Stop playing this out in public.  Stop making idiots of yourselves on air and in the House trying to be smart and clever and (some of you) downright rude to Mr Corbyn.  Put up or shut up until September.  The fact is not one of you will be leading us into the next election – whoever is elected you will be in the caretaker seat for now – and that’s the only outcome I would be inclined to back at the moment.

Labour = Social Justice, Equality & Fairness

Under its One Nation banner, these are the values that the Labour Party stands for. I am hoping that whoever ends up leading the party into the next election, these are effectively and tirelessly communicated to the populace.

Meantime, at Number 10, David Cameron has appointed two anti-gay equality politicians to ministerial posts: Minister for Culture and, ironically, Minister for Equality.

I don’t know my history well enough to say where the political terms left and right came from, but it occurs to me that they are not helpful – why should social justice, equality and fairness be ‘left’ values, when they are so self-evidently right for everyone.

And in making these appointments David Cameron is all in the wrong.

On Britain: Sleepwalking into a Nightmare – Part II

After last week’s general election the dust is settling… or is it?

Nigel Farage who resigned, is back in charge of UKIP; the Tories, unbridled by the now decimated Lib Dems, have gone immediately on the offensive. As was their modus operandus last time around, they are going to cut hard and fast at the beginning of the term, and hope the good times are sufficiently rolling in 2020 so that most of us will have all but forgotten the pain of the now. If you dare to read their first 100 days in power plan, you may agree that their ruthlessness is breathtaking.

2020. Sobering to type that date. I am old enough to almost think 2020 belongs in the domain of sci-fi. Sadly it does not – if the Conservatives have their way, it will be how long we have to wait before we are given the opportunity to shake them loose once again.

Sadly, I believe we will be saddled with them until that far-off and frabjous day and furthermore that they will ride us hard. I never, ever, thought the coalition government that formed in 2010 would hold. I was convinced that the Lib Dems would revolt, at least once, more, if I’m honest. However, for whatever reasons, they did not. The cynical amongst us may say it was so that they could hang on to some sort of power, at least. Nick Clegg would say it was so that he could be the No man to the worst aspects of David Cameron and his gang’s policy of slash and burn. Since all these Nos came behind closed doors, I am not convinced. Clegg says that the history books will judge them more kindly than the electorate did – I am not so sure.

And so to the Labour party. I am afraid I misjudged the electorate as much anybody in the Miliband inner circle. I took it as a self-evident fact that the Tories, even with the Lib Dems tugging at their trouser hems, were a destructive force across the country. I thought that even those people who were not being demonised as workshy would grasp the fact that they too would be at the mercy of the great Tory monster, were they to ever stumble and fall. I thought that the safety net of the welfare state and the NHS would be too precious a resource for the electorate to gamble with. I thought that the words of Neil Kinnock, before the general election in June 1983, would be remembered or, at least, recalled.

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday–

– I warn you not to be ordinary

– I warn you not to be young

– I warn you not to fall ill

– I warn you not to get old

But in May 2015 it seems that the electorate preferred to gamble on keeping the little money they had in their pocket now, rather than the certain but temporary inconveniences and inevitabilities of life. Somehow, over the last five years, the Tories had controlled the popular narrative. Somehow, the party called Labour, was not the party of the worker – the Tories were. Somehow Labour stood for taking money to give to the poor. Somehow the nonsense that held that Labour had caused the deficit had stuck and try as he might, Ed Miliband could not persuade the public otherwise.

I have learned this. Winning the next election starts the day after the last election. Controlling the narrative from the centre-left is hard when the majority of the print press is centre-right, if not outright right. People are influenced by what they hear and read, almost subliminally during a term of government and if the message has taken hold, you can’t turn it on a sixpence in the six weeks of an election campaign before the ballot. The message has to appeal to the majority for the majority of the time.

I know Labour is the party of working people, but that needs communicating at every opportunity from this moment forth. I know Labour isn’t out to take the money from the modestly off to give straight to the poor, but that has been people’s fear. I know that when I vote in a general election, I’m voting for my local MP and not the leader of the party, but the self-evident fact is that hardly anyone sees it that way, so a party leader has to have kerb appeal. I know I won’t look down the list of candidates at the next election and wonder what he or she can do for me, but I’ve come to realise that is how some people approach the vote.

So what I’ve realised is that I have fallen into the trap of thinking that others see what I see. I’ve realised that as much as political parties want to change the world, the effect they can have in terms of the majority and how they choose who to vote for is limited. I may belong to the Labour Party with grand aspirations of making society a better place for all, but the fact is most people don’t have the time for all that jazz. I can’t expect people to use their precious vote in an solely altruistic manner once every five years. Although I would disagree with Richard Dawkins and his belief in the selfish gene, and go to my grave insisting compassion and selflessness is the only way forward, I have to admit that for many, life ain’t like that.

We might want to change the world, but the electorate don’t want to know that. They want to know how they might be a little bit better off than they were before you were elected. They want to know that their lives will continue as usual or better. They want to know that nothing remarkable will ever happen. The facts are that the English, for whatever reason, are conservative (with the small c) in nature. Labour can aim to change the world for the better, for all, but for the next five years they are going to have to make sure they are planning to do it quietly.

Personally, I’d rather we went down the radical route of the SNP in all its social justice glory. But actually, based on the numbers, the SNP can’t afford to do it, without the English tax payer. And that’s the problem with English socialism I suppose, that people think that Labour are good at spending money, but really crap at creating the conditions in which people can start making it.

I may prefer to hug trees and hope we move to a post-capitalist society in my lifetime but the electorate don’t seem much up for it. That being so, for the next five years the Labour Party, myself included, will simply have to work with what we’ve got and make sure we make a better fist of it than last time

On Britain: Sleepwalking into a Nightmare – Part I

The general election has been a huge wake up call, both for myself and the Labour Party. Since the BBC released their exit poll at 10pm on Thursday night I’ve been through just about every emotion there is – even schadenfreude when the Wirral West recount went against the Tory Esther McVey. I’ve plenty to more to say on this but it’s currently percolating. In the meantime, amongst all the anxiety that is rightly felt about what the future holds for the majority of us who voted to not have 5 more years, I have to look on the bright side. Three positives to take forward:

  • Nicola Sturgeon is the best thorn in David Cameron’s side that I could have dreamt of
  • Boris Johnson back in Parliament offers a rival which rebel Tory MPs (and there always are a few) can rally round to rattle David Cameron
  • Ed Miliband can stop taking so much horrible personal flack, which was an absolute low in my view, despite his own previous fratricidal tendencies

We rolled the dice

Voters

A dear friend always insisted that there was no point betting on anything that the public have a say in because what you may get, is what you least expect. It will be interesting to see then, tomorrow, how things finally shake down in the voting booths as compared with the incessant polls that have the two ‘main’ parties in a photo finish.

It will be interesting also to see how many of us turn out. I am glad Russell Brand changed his tune on not voting, and I credit Ed Miliband, at least to some extent, with influencing that particular U-turn. If you do not use your voice to make a difference, then a difference will not be made. We all need to make a difference tomorrow, whatever that turns out to be.

These are two disgruntled characters, on the sofa. One can’t vote because he is an immigrant. No matter that he volunteers hours of his time keeping the street crime free. No matter that he single-pawedly keeps the marauding packs of urban foxes and delinquent nature-murdering felines in line. He is from Ireland, he has no vote. He’s been upset, lately, by the anti-immigrant rhetoric he’s heard bandied about. All he wants is a better life for himself, and his family, and he’s prepared to work for it.

His friend is a member of the so-called underclass. She didn’t register to vote because she didn’t think that she could make a difference. I think if she could vote, her vote would be one of the most important of all. We all know the choice available has turned out to be a bit of a dog’s dinner, but sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.

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Tricky Nicky and the Lib Dem Difficulty

I was going to call this post On Liking Nick Clegg but that sounded rather like I might be one of the women in that hen party that had a selfie mob with Ed Miliband’s battle bus last week, so I changed it.

What follows is a bit of a rant that sails a little too close to gender stereotypes and may even be *whispers* non PC.

Nick Clegg is, I think, a reasonable man. If we may judge a man by his wife (and since we may not in normal discourse since Jane Austen I’m giving it a go on a blog) we might say that Miriam Gonzalez Durantez proves that Nick Clegg is not the paper-thin man he has appeared to be during the coalition years. One minute Nick Clegg was joshing with Cameron in a garden in Westminster, the next he had all but vanished.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez is a lawyer, has written a secret food blog with her children for years, and founded the Inspiring Women initiative where women donate an hour of their time a year to go into schools and talk to girls about their jobs. Does she sound like the kind of woman that would suffer a fool gladly? Who knows. For all that I have a hunch she would not, it’s perfectly possible that for the past five years when she offered her husband cornflakes or porridge he put Dave Cameron on speakerphone to decide.

The only impact I can recall Nick Clegg having in government is the free school meals for primary children under a certain age. I don’t remember the detail because my children, although primary, were too old. How easily we tend to forget policies that don’t apply to ourselves (see my last post regarding the Conservatives). I remember Clegg at a recent Lib Dem conference declaring himself the ‘brakes’ man to David Cameron’s Jeremy Clarkson – it wasn’t exactly a Maverick and Goose Top Gun moment though. Calling himself the No man in government might have been correct, but it left a negative imprint rather than a positive one. Sadly, the overriding impression I have of Nick Clegg in government is that he allowed university fees to rise to £9000 a year.

This morning Clegg popped up on the Today programme on Radio 4 to appeal to people like me. The Public Service workers he said had ‘done their bit’. Too true matey I thought. Too true.

Over the last five years I have been on the same pay scale, part-time, with one 1% pay rise. The monthly money runs out earlier and earlier every month. The job has become more and more stretched as people are made redundant, but their work becomes absorbed into the roles of those of us who are left, who take it and are grateful not to be made redundant.

Also this week I heard a radio interview with a young woman in London. She said to buy a house in the capital she and her friends needed to save between £80,000 – £100,000 deposit. She said that many colleagues were therefore moving out. I moved out of London in 2006 for that very reason – on one public servant salary. It was not news. Many other people were forced to do the same. Even now a form of social cleansing is going on in inner city London with social housing tenants being forced out of their neighbourhoods because rents are just too high. An hour down the road in Essex, the spill over is now affecting the rental market here. Competition for rented accommodation is fierce, with some estate agents charging eye-watering letting fees because people are desperate.

As much as I appreciate what Nick Clegg said this morning, the fact is that in order to be the brakes man on the Conservatives he has stayed in government whilst the economic divisions and social inequalities have sky-rocketed. A lot of the damage is done and it will not be easily repaired. So Nick, you may appeal to me personally this morning, but I have to judge you on your five year record. It’s a shame, because I think you have some good ministers in your team (Vince Cable for example) and the void left in the political centre is a worry, but in all conscience I think over the last five years, at certain points, you would have done better to have applied the handbrake to the coalition coach and made an EMERGENCY STOP.

Still your wife earns plenty and she seems super, so even if you lose your seat on May 7 you won’t suffer too much.

Conservatives: appealing to the selfish miser living in our pockets

Silas Marner is a complicated tale by George Eliot.  Falsely accused of theft, the weaver Marner leaves his hometown to start again, far away.  He lives an isolated existence, weaving and hoarding gold, until like his good name, his money is stolen from him.  Broken, his redemption comes through the lost child Eppie who he finds in the snow and raises alone.

The golden-haired girl’s love for the old miser transforms Silas forever.

The Conservatives speak of money and hard work and fairness, but there is no love in them.  There is no love for the poor, the sick or the frail.  There is no love for those who stumble or fall, or for those who make one mistake, let alone more than one.  The Conservative world is one that Silas Marner the miser would have cherished.  The bribes on the table to the electorate would have gone down well before Eppie arrived.  Right to buy for social housing tenants – check.  Shares in Lloyds for sale cheap to the public – check.  No tax rises – check.

But when love arrives in your life – love for another, the wider community, the world, the planet we live on, the Conservative way ceases to make the least sense of all, except to the grasping miser in your pocket.

Do not listen.

Vote for compassion and equity, not gold and greed.