Jul 21

Rowing against the tide...

Why I think Mr Corbyn should no longer be leader of the Labour Party

I have thought a lot about the I difficulties in the Labour Party. I am ashamed Labour cannot get its act together in the face of Brexit and a neoliberal Tory firestorm which is turning the NHS into a Poor Law service, allowing working conditions to slide back to Edwardian standards and sitting complacently by while all that has been achieved with Europe is being unpicked. But almost the worst thing is the sheer nastiness of the debate in Labour. It appals me, as well as the juvenile level of exchange and the the puerile black and white thinking passing for political analysis. So I have had a think and put a few thoughts below, commenting on several of the themes currently around.

Backstabbing PLP, the coup and ‘plotting’

Our MP David Crausby from day one said in CLP meetings that he was unhappy with Mr Corbyn as leader. He disagrees with some of his views, but thinks he is not a competent leader. I have not checked but I am certain he was part of the 172 MPs who have no confidence in Mr Corbyn. He is therefore viewed as one of the ‘backstabbers’. Well, in my view this is front stabbing – having a clear view of what should happen and sticking to it. And the rage at the so called coup against Mr Corbyn I find a bit odd. Politicians manoeuvre and plot with each other to get what they want - surely not? That’s never been done before has it? Look, get a life - Politicians have done this sort of thing since the beginning of time. Why is it a shock? And Mr Corbyn’s support of Momentum, a party within a party, is that not plotting?

Mandate

OK, but Mr Corbyn has a huge mandate as leader – over 50% of the party membership voted for him. The PLP and whole party should rally behind him. That makes sense and supporters criticise those opposed to his leadership as if their opposition is somehow undemocratic. But wait a minute, the Brexiters won the referendum. That is a fact. But I don’t have to be happy with it and don’t have to keep quiet about my view that we should not leave. Is it undemocratic for me to express that view and work towards what I believe is the greater good of the country? No, of course not.

But what about the mandate, you might say? Well yes Mr Corbyn has a mandate. How long does it last? There is no fixed term for it. David Cameron had a mandate. (An oddity this as only something like 24% of the electorate voted Tory, which gave him a 12 vote majority in the commons; madness). Cameron had a mandate, but he cocked up with the referendum so he decided he had to go. Quite right too. 172 Labour MPs decided that Mr Corbyn had cocked up by being incompetent so wanted him to go. You may want Mr Corbyn to be leader, but the 172 MPs expressing their view that he should step down is hardly undemocratic. How can it be? He had a strong mandate, but has done nothing with it.   He’s blown it.     

‘Tory Lite’

This phrase is used to dismiss the actions of the Blair/Brown governments of 1997/2010. Blair is rightly castigated for Iraq. Brown made sure the city of London continued to make money. PFI was a mistake, though it did lead to the unprecedented construction of hundreds of new schools and hospitals, reviving a decaying public sector realm left to rot by 18 years of ‘Tory Heavy’. And in the limited world which I had expertise in the positive impact of the administration between 1997 and 2010 was unbelievable. I’ll not go on about increased numbers of doctors and so on, but the outcomes. By 2010 cancer survival rates were approaching European standards, from a starting point in 1997 when they were near the bottom of the European League. The same can be said for heart attack survival rates. Also by 2010 the numbers of disabled people supported in their own homes rather than in some sort of institution had doubled. Sure Start Centres, the minimum wage, peace in Northern Ireland, the beginnings of Lords reform, the beginnings of devolved government across the UK, interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone which were both successful in preventing massacres and were welcomed by local people. Life for working people has certainly by any measure got worse for working people since 2010. So why dismiss this stuff as ‘Tory Lite’? But if you do give me ‘Tory Lite’ anyday rather than endless ‘Tory Heavy’ which is what we have suffered for six years and face for the foreseeable future.

The good and the best

‘But we should stick to our principles’, you say, which Mr Corbyn does. Of course there is merit in that, but there are also problems with it in running the country, in that one person’s principles are another’s anathema. If several of us have equal responsibility for something; a household, an organisation, a government and we have different principles some sort of balance has to be achieved in order to get things done. Nelson Mandela understood that in his negotiations with the apartheid regime. Obama understands that. Look at his record. He wins some things, he loses others. His Obamacare was a pale imitation of the original plan. But Obama thought it was better to accept what he could rather than get nothing. As he says there’ll always be a next time. Claire Short always used to say ‘never let the best be the enemy of the good’, meaning that you set out for the best but sometimes have to accept the good. (Sometimes of course accepting the ‘good’ may be a mistake. Michael Collins, under direct threat from Lloyd George accepted ‘Free State’ status for part of Ireland in 1922. De Valera and others were scandalised and this led to the Irish Civil War [and Collins’ death]. But would the Irish have achieved more had they stood up to Lloyd George? Who knows?) The point here is that ‘sticking to your principles’ is only one aspect of successful politics. You might have to bend a bit because other people’s principles might be as deeply held and as intellectually and emotionally valid as yours.           

Mr Corbyn’s principles...

...are often the basis for people’s admiration of him. But ones principles can be dangerous. I have an example from Bolton Labour Party sticking to its principles which was exactly the wrong thing to do. In January 1943 the Branch discussed the Beveridge Report – you know the report identifying the five giants to slay; poverty, ignorance, sickness, idleness and one other I cannot, for the moment, recall. It included a set of plans which the Attlee government used as a template for their actions from 1945. However in 1943 Bolton Labour Party stuck to its principles and rejected the Beveridge report because it ‘accepted the continuation of the capitalist system and would lead to the unemployment of thousands of insurance agents’. How clever was that? Their principles had led them into a hole. Beware.  

I have also just come across the note of Mr Corbyn sending e-mails to MPs post Brexit praising Kate Hoey and Gisela Stewart (chief Labour Brexiteers), implying that he too thought Brexit was a good idea. So where do his principles sit when he was supposed to be supporting remain, which he seemed to do so half heartedly? Something does not add up principlewise.

And while I can see the problems with other potential leaders and debate with myself and others the merits of one or another policy, criticism of Mr Corbyn does not seem to be allowed by his supporters. It’s as if he can do no wrong. This emerging Corbyn Personality Cult, I am sure not actively perpetrated by him, is nevertheless palpable; a strange and unwelcome development.  

NEC voting

There’s a lot of rage about the NEC changing the voting arrangements for the leadership – restricting voting to those who have been members for six months or more and to ‘registered supporters’. This restricts democracy, according to Mr Corbyn’s supporters and is a stab in the back for Mr Corbyn. But this is the same NEC which allowed Mr Corbyn’s name to go forward to the leadership contest without the nomination of 50 MPs. I think natural justice required that and the interpretation that he needed to garner 50 MPs nominating him would have led to an immediate split, I am sure. But the rage against the ‘undemocratic’ decision to ‘disenfranchise’ new members is misdirected. Political parties ALL require members to be of good standing before they can nominate candidates for council or seek nomination themselves or take part in internal votes – that usually means them joining and waiting a period of time before they can take part in internal voting. There was a furore six months ago in Bolton when Cliff Morris and other council leaders wanted to nominate as a candidate for a vacant council seat a woman who had joined the party barely two months before. I was outraged (yes I get outraged too) that they wanted to circumvent the rules for their chosen one without her showing she was committed to the party, being only of two months standing before being nominated as a council candidate. So should she have been allowed to be nominated? Absobloodylutely not.  

Doing what the NEC did was partly reverting to the status quo. But what an odd status quo. The rules of voting were created by Ed Milliband, but based on the heritage of having four groups of Labour power brokers: Unions, PLP, Constituency parties and individual members. The ‘Registered Supporters’ idea is frankly barking, allowing in last year’s election, such people as Toby Young and Katie Hopkins the chance to pay their three quid and vote for our leader! We need a clear out and if we’re going to have direct democracy we need members to sign up and wait six months before they can vote...and for only paid up members to have a vote.      

Democracy

Democracy is a subtle and delicate genus, which has many types of flower. At the moment we are in the thrall of ‘direct’ democracy, i.e. all constituents having a direct vote for whatever is under discussion. Mr Corbyn’s mandate is one such example. The Brexit referendum was another. It’s a crude tool though. Direct democracy led to the condemnation and execution of Socrates in Athens and Jesus in Jerusalem. No doubt if we were to have a direct referendum on hanging it would be restored. But of course direct democracy is legitimate. However in the UK for centuries (but without many people having the vote) we have used ‘representative democracy’, in which we vote for representatives who we pay to consider issues carefully and to make decisions for us. They are not ‘delegated’ to follow their constituents every whim – indeed that would be impossible because there are many views on every issue. We also have a poor version of a dual cameral system, where one chamber checks the proposed legislation of the other. Our dual system involves the deeply undemocratic Lords.   But the system is what I believe in; representative democracy in a dual cameral parliament.    

But of course, direct democracy is legitimate. However it offers little to the losing side. I am one of the 48%. There are nearly 16 million of us. But because Brexit got 17 million votes the 48% get nothing. Can we leave 52% of the EU? No, of course not. It does not work like that. So, as democracy disenfranchises the losers, the winners have to accept that they govern for all of us, not just their supporters. This is supremely important – the majority have a responsibility for the minority. I am not sure if Mr Corbyn and Momentum accept that. The prospect if Mr Corbyn wins the leadership in 2016 is of wholesale deselections – deselections of all MPs who opposed him. Is that democracy? It is of course, but only if you accept Mr Erdogan’s Turkey as your democratic template.      

Competence

There are Labour MPs who did not agree with Mr Corbyn’s line on anything. Jamie Reed (Reid?) for instance refused to serve in his shadow cabinet. How Hilary Been lasted so long as Foreign Secretary (shadow) I have no idea. They do not like his ‘left wing’ views. But it seems to me that the crux of the no confidence vote was not his position on things. True, many Labour MPs support Trident renewal, a strange idea to me – but how much water is there between most of them and what Mr Corbyn stands for? Not much really. No, the 172 have no confidence in him because they believe he is not competent to be the party leader and cannot win a general election. And look at his record; appointing two MPs to one cabinet post, Labour always being a day late with press releases, promulgating no new policy ideas, two highly regarded members of Mr McDonnel’s Economic forum (M. Piketty and ‘Danny’ Blanchflower) resigning, Mr Corbyn only ever going to supportive Jollies like the Durham Miner’s gala and the Tolpyddle Martyrs do, persistent stories of him not being available to talk to his own MPs, not being able to find enough MPs to fill the front bench, an omnishambles of a debate on Trident and avoiding in interviews difficult issues like immigration. Does he not know UKIP are biting at Labour’s tail?

And these 172 MPs, all of whom are castigated as disgruntled ‘Blairites’. Does that hold water? Might some of them not also have principles? Have not many of them worked for the Labour Party for decades? Is it really believable that all 172 are conniving dupes, whose only thought is to do down Mr Corbyn? Might not some of them have the best interests of the party and the country uppermost in their minds? Does their collective view of his competence, the people who work closest to Mr Corbyn, not bear consideration?

(And let’s, while we’re at it, quash the idea that Mr Corbyn’s press is uniquely hostile. Look back at the anti-semitic, family directed tirades directed at Ed Milliband. Look at what was done to Neil Kinnock. Look to at the uniformly antagonistic press experienced by Clement Attlee, from both the right as well as the Daily Mirror and Daily Herald. Being Labour Leader attracts attacks from the right wing press. It comes with the job. Get used to it. And booing Laura Keunsberg for asking a difficult question of Mr Corbyn makes the Labour Party look both pathetic and bullying at the same time. Some trick).       

Nastiness

Finally, of course, I can remember the 1980s. Like now I was not much involved with the Labour Party, but went to a few Chorlton Labour Party meetings and did some leafletting. There was a hard core of militants there. There was a tinge of nastiness around, but the thing I remember most about the militants (and the SWP for that matter) is how boring they were – droning on and on, with no humanity, no humour, no give and take. OK, that was then. Today Momentum are similar to Militant; boringly monotonal in their statements and devoid of debate – we’ve all made up our minds you see, apart from the plotting ‘Blairites’. But today with social media, the nastiness is much worse, much much worse. I think part of it maybe the simplicity people want from their politics these days. They want black and white. We’re right, the others are stupid, conniving, hateful bastards. This is upsetting, terribly sad and just not good enough. We all need to grow up a bit. And I am not here talking about bricks or death threats, of which I know nothing. I am talking about the crude dismissal and brutish insults which appear daily for all to see on Facebook and Twitter. So just stoppit and take a breath to think a bit.

OK, runoutofsteam

Dave, 19 July 2016     

Nov 5

October: Ashbourne, Staffordshire

Ashbourne has more pubs than a small market town really needs, most of which are fairly ordinary.  Smith's Tavern though is a fine real ale pub.  (Odd that the chair of the local CAMRA group now runs Smith's and Smith's has won the best pub in Ashbourne Award from the local CAMRA for the last three years.  How does that work?)  But surely there are more antique shops (NOT junk shops, proper antique shops) than in any other town across the British Isles?  What's that about?    

Nov 5

September: Rammy

Ramsbottom is just up the road from us, a former mill village.  Yes, Ramsbottom is its name, and despite that it is the coming place.  Like many Yorkshire and Lancashire working villages it has had to rethink itself with the closure of mills and pits.  It is in a steep sided valley - the reason why, before steam, water powered mills were built - but does not have that dark and terribly closed in feeling of places like Hebden Bridge or Todmorden.  In fact the flood plain at the foot of the valley is broad and wooded, housing a decent park, a compact football ground and a surprisingly expansive and attractive cricket ground.  Its only claim to fame historically was the Grant family, mill owning philanthropists.  Have you noticed that every mill town seemed to have more philanthropists than money grubbing capitalists.  A wonderful thing surely.  So how come the mill operatives still never saw the light of day, died early of 'forelock tugging' disease, lost their arms, hands, children in the machinery and were always ravished (or had their true loves stolen) by the Young Master?  So it goes, I suppose...although Dickens saw fit to memorialise the Grants as the Cheeryble brothers, Kind Hearted employers of Nicholas Nickelby.  Perhaps it's also worth mentioning that the name Ramsbottom comes from Ramsen Bottom, Ramsen being the local name for wild garlic - so nothing agricultural livestocky about the name at all.  But like everywhere else in the 1960s and 1970s all the mills closed.  Worse, Ramsbottom was cut off from both Burnley and Manchester in 1972, when British Rail closed the line for passengers up from Bury - even coal deliveries stopped in 1980.  But harken!  A group of dedicated volunteers nurtured and polished the line and it re-opened as a 'fun' passenger line between Rammy and Bury in 1987.  It now operates all the way to Rawtenstall, a full timetable all summer and weekends through the year, using steam trains.  Steam trains, with that delicious smell and characteristic chuff chuff clankety clankety sound.  Can't beat it.  Now in Rammy there are Sunday markets, woo woo shops, a range of smashing cafes and restaurants and it's attracting young people to live there.  Hooray!  Even Rammy United, a tiny club, is now in the Evo Stik Northern Premier League.  (Sorry this last is immensely esoteric, but is important, as Evo Stik it is only one step down from the professional English League.  Hey, it's important.)              

Nov 5

More August: Greystoke!

English Lakeland is a mere hour and a half from our Bolton Home - two hours if you want to push onto the likes of Bassenthwaite, Buttermere, the quaint decay of Whitehaven or Maryport, or the eighteenth century certainties of Cockermouth, but we go less often than we should.  So a trip to Blencowe Hall for a long weekend with 'Deckchair' was a wonderful opportunity.  The Hall itself has been imaginatively restored to it's...sixteenth...seventeenth (?) century glory.  It is a fortified manor house, with an internal courtyard and two fakish, turret like corner embellishments.  I suppose this was a nod to the defensive Riever architecture which landowners had to employ for the earlier centuries of cattle rustling, border raids and sundry outrages in this no mans land between England and Scotland - a place where the Turnbulls, Armstrongs, Coulters and so on paid little heed to the so called 'governments' whose writ ran out some days travel from their homes.  Anyway, a devastating, almost pantomime crack had appeared down one of the turrets, looking like a like a child's representation of a lightning strike.  In the restoration however the architect had retained the crack, placing a three story glass panel behind it and turning the crack into the windows of three storeys of bedrooms.  Clever!  Blencowe is just outside the National Park and a bit of a drive even from the closest fell, Saddleback or Blencathra (Lakeland Fells are like Characters in Lord of the Rings, they all seem to have two names).  But we were all intent on other activities, so no fells were climbed.  We did go into Greystoke itself a few times though - a fine estate village, i.e. a place that would not have been there save for the efforts and needs of the family of landowners who built and lived at the Hall itself.  And live there they do.  'Private' says the sign outside and Private it is - no tours round this pile - unusual in contemporary Britain.  The landowner families have intermarried and changed and slid around over the centuries, and writing this in October I cannot recall any of their names - Dacre, is that one of them?  But of course it's not necessary to know any of these inconsequential names because Greystoke today is only associated with one person - Tarzan.  The tourist economy of this tiny village where the stately home is not open to the public is built around Edgar Rice Burroughs' character, photos of Johnny Weissmuller and Christophe Lambert adorning many a wall.  Funny that a man who did not exist and whose imagined existence was in Africa should be found in such proliferation here in this quiet, beautiful village at the end of summer.  The pub on the green had a regular Sunday afternoon band playing sixties and seventies music very loudly - just to let the toffs at the Hall know they were there I suppose, and that they were having a good time.                    

Nov 5

August: Exeter

...one of Scott's sledge flags is on the nave wall of Exeter Cathedral - suitably battered.  But we weren't there in the South West to see any sights.  Linda's aunt had died and we went down for the day, flying no less, for the funeral.  The meander round Topsham, about five miles south of the city, was a delight; it has all the qualities of both a typical English market town but it has a fairly elaborate quay as well, looking out over the lower reaches of the Exe.  This is a small river but widens south of the city into a Mighty Estuary, Mississippi like in its width and sluggishness.  And the quay is neither given over to South Coast marina flashness, nor stuck in a decaying post fishing economy sepia world.  A delight.