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Archive for May, 2018


I’ve just been listening to BBC reports on last night’s elections and the inevitable post-mortem questions, e.g. ‘Why didn’t Labour do better?’ ‘What caused them to lose votes when the present government is getting everything wrong?’ and, with wearying, growling persistence, a Jack Russell with teeth embedded in a teddy it pretends is a real live rabbit, ‘Is it time for Jeremy Corbyn to stand down?’.

I am nobody special. A Labour Party member since 2015 – and yes, the date is significant. I hadn’t been engaged with politics since the days of Thatcher, when I fought tooth and nail against the poll tax – even withholding it as part of a civil disobedience campaign. I did everything I could to stop Sizewell B, and saw the roads to Leiston being widened and strengthened for the lorries that would soon be trundling along it delivering plant for the nuclear power station BEFORE THE INQUIRY HAD EVEN FINISHED. Yes, that’s how certain someone was of winning this battle. Oh, and I regularly visited Greenham Common, where I learned a different way to get my views across, not by shouting at police or calling out the shoulder numbers of particularly rough ones, nor by chanting slogans, but by engaging the soldiers on the base in actual conversations, coupled with creative cookery which saw warm porridge being thrown at the windscreens of lorries taking the Cruise missiles out for their regular walks in the Newbury countryside.

I’d hardly registered the name Jeremy Corbyn. I knew of Tony Benn, of course, and Michael Foot, and Dennis Skinner, treated by the Tory press with the contemptuous affection you’d show to a smelly sheepdog, but Corbyn was an unknown.

Then Tony Blair burst upon the scene and everything changed. Labour voters having for decades been demoralised by the seeming invincibility of Thatcher and her juggernaut, had crawled away to lick their wounds when suddenly – a charismatic, handsome man stepped into the frame, a young man who was also fearsomely articulate and an extremely good psychologist [in those days], who gave Labour voters confidence that a Labour government could truly happen, and before our very eyes, it did. We weren’t to know how much time Tony had spent winning over the Tory media, schmoozing Murdoch and doing whatever needed to be done behind the scenes to get Tory minds seeking novelty ready to pick up their pens and vote red, for the first time in their lives.

The 1997 manifesto made ten promises:

Over the five years of a Labour government:

1 Education will be our number one priority, and we will increase the share of national income spent on education as we decrease it on the bills of economic and social failure.

2 There will be no increase in the basic or top rates of income tax

3 We will provide stable economic growth with low inflation, and promote dynamic and competitive business and industry at home and abroad

4 We will get 250,000 young unemployed off benefit and into work

5 We will rebuild the NHS, reducing spending on administration and increasing spending on patient care

6 We will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, and halve the time it takes persistent juvenile offenders to come to court

7 We will help build strong families and strong communities, and lay the foundations of a modern welfare state in pensions and community care

8 We will safeguard our environment, and develop an integrated transport policy to fight congestion and pollution

9 We will clean up politics, decentralise political power throughout the United Kingdom and put the funding of political parties on a proper and accountable basis

10 We will give Britain the leadership in Europe which Britain and Europe need.

And lo and behold, the miracle came to pass, and New Labour was in power. In those days, we did not learn our news from Facebook, there were no blogs, no alternative online opinions, and the policies Blair put into place were good, no question. Grants for graduates to come back and train as teachers, with a salary at the end of it, and huge amounts of cash poured into the NHS. Suddenly people were cheering up and saying ‘Why did we put up with the other lot for so long? I was abroad when this happened, feeling detached. That sense of dislocation continued until I came back to live in the UK in 2012 and saw how disastrously the country was being run.

So what made me, in my late sixties, never having joined any party before, become a signed-up party member? I’d seen Jeremy Corbyn get elected by the membership – a freak result, some probably thought, caused by Ed Milliband changing the rules and allowing the membership to vote for their leader, for which he has my gratitude. The extraordinary result sent Corbyn from zero to hero in a matter of weeks, a mass popular feeling so strong that when moves were made to take away his victory, by subjecting him to yet another election, where many of his supporters had their hands tied by rules making them ineligible, by charging members to vote, and by suspending others on the flimsiest pretext, in spite of all this, he was elected with an even bigger majority. Without this certainty I do not think Corbyn would willingly have sought the limelight. He leads because he has our mandate. From that moment he was under attack, not only from the predictably terrified Tory media, but from hundreds of his own MPs. I saw what the Parliamentary Labour Party was doing to one of their own, and I felt I simply had to stand up with him in solidarity. A decent man was being kicked around. I was only one voice to add to the many, I’m glad to say. His re-election was resounding, but not only that. I can’t have been the only person to have noticed the beginnings of a mass social movement during that campaign, built on hope, not greed, crafted from vision and ideals, not the lowest common denominator of getting rich quick. I pause to note that by now Blair was a very rich man indeed. Yet, somehow, those MPs who worked to topple Corbyn failed to grasp the size of the treasure that was within their reach. Far from embracing with tears in their eyes the elusive young who had finally been woken up to politics as ideas and vision, and who wanted the things that Labour, or Corbyn’s version of it, was offering, as well as being drawn by the warmth, sincerity and kindness of this new leader, they gave us all a chilly welcome, accusing us of being Trotskyists and implying that we were somehow pawns being manipulated by someone more powerful. I was made welcome by my branch, of course, and by my CLP, but from Westminster, only a brooding frown of disapproval. I thought it baffling that the right hand men and woman of Blair’s cabinets refused to serve and retreated to the back benches, where they sniped at their leader, then sneaked away and briefed the Tory media [in which I must reluctantly include the BBC] What a cock-up Jeremy was making of the leadership, according to them. Is it any wonder, when hardly any of the Westminster party wanted the policies he was offering?

That is the crux. We have people sitting in Westminster as Labour MPs who have in the past voted for, and continue to vote for, Tory policies. They continue to undermine Corbyn, publicly and in the press.

What I accuse them of is a failure to understand themselves. Some of these right-wing ex-greats from Blair’s time talk about ‘the Party I love’, not realising that the one they love was an aberration, a freak construct of a brilliant strategic mind, who, if he’d chosen to join the Tories, would have rapidly risen to become PM, with Thatcher’s hand in blessing on his shoulder – well, he got that later. They think like Tories. They woo big business. They like to privatise. Some of them are ‘extremely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich’. So is it asking too much to suggest they abandon their beliefs, if indeed they are beliefs, and not ideas adopted ad hoc because they came with the glittering prizes Blair had to offer? In these days of spin, it’s hard to tell.

Because the Labour Party I care about is the party Dennis Skinner loves. And Diane Abbott, and Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn and many, many others. I’m not the only oldie who has come back to Labour after Blair drove us away, and he did. He drove many voters away, over his three triumphs. Perhaps it was the candidates he parachuted in, forgetting local loyalties and local party members. Perhaps it was the distancing of Labour from its industrial heartlands, a sense that no attention needed to be paid to then because they always voted Labour. Like Scotland. Perhaps it was the first steps into selling off our NHS.

I’m asking you affectionately-styled ‘moderates’ to look at our manifesto. Can you honestly support every one of the cornerstones of the next Labour government? Maybe you can say an honest ‘yes’ to nationalising water, our railways, bringing back the NHS to what it once was, undoing the damage and reckless privateering of the business model – but what about the things the membership wanted, but weren’t allowed to ask for. Like not renewing Trident – a heavily Tory policy? And I wonder, you pale blue leopards, if you, like Tories, view everything in terms of profit and loss? Is the Tony Blair model of successful post-leadership lifestyle [which is pretty well identical to Cameron’s, give or take a shepherd’s hut] jet-setting to exotic locations, giving expensive speeches to wealthy businessmen, and telling Labour and the Tories how they should do things – is that where you’d like to be in a few years’ time?

Why don’t you take a look at the LibDem manifesto? I am not trying to insult you, but you might be far more comfortable there, and you could certainly rise to the top very quickly, with your reputations and your abilities. There is talk in the MSM about the formation of a new, centrist party – are you waiting for that? I sense a hesitation there, it’s a gamble that might backfire badly.

The truth is, that your electoral success when the next General Election comes along is in the hands of your Constituency Labour Party. They are the individuals that will show up, wave the banners, phone potential voters, talk on doorsteps and in streets, telling them why you are the one they should vote for. But, I can imagine a potential voter asking, which kind of Labour is this one? Is she like Corbyn, or more like Blair?

Why should we put in a position where this question is even asked? Why can’t we all share one vision? I don’t see why any CLP should have to canvass on behalf of a sitting MP who in the past has told stories to the press, undermined Corbyn in and outside the house, and on the knife edge that is Brexit, not held their tongues and waited to see what mess the Tories get into before jumping onto a bandwagon which is lurching towards an unknown destination. If party discipline is irksome to you, maybe you should think about standing as independents. You might be successful, but at the moment, you’re offering the same half-baked Toryism that was rejected by the voters, along with Ed Milliband, in 2010.

I’m in Labour now, and nothing will make me leave. Do you truly feel the same way? Or are you working towards a return to the old days of New Labour, the happy shiny people making Britannia cool, where you [and the Tory media] will feel more comfortable?

It isn’t going to happen. The future is with the young, and they don’t want what you’re offering. They want uncool vegetarian cyclist Corbyn, with his earnestness and his old-fashioned courtesy. And you know why? Because he believes now in the same things he’s always believed in. Because he speaks honestly and sincerely. Because he listens to everyone with the same degree of attention. These are qualities to emulate, qualities that should make you feel humble because you don’t have them. To adopt Jeremy’s policies means to betray the values of Blair – in all honesty, how can you do that? So please, consider your positions. Don’t stay in a party that has moved on without you. Don’t betray your values, but go where they will be of most use. If not LibDems, then Tories would love to have you – they are very short of ideas and they currently lack any political talent at all. You could go far. And maybe that is what’s most important to you.

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