Corbyn, Labour and Immigration

14th January 2017

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-By Cllr Sean Woodcock-

Corbyn, Labour and Immigration

Muddle. Mess. Chaos. Disarray. These are just some of the words that were used to describe Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘populist relaunch’ this week.

They describe how the Labour leader appeared on the issue that has been drawn into focus by the result of the EU referendum last June; immigration.

Corbyn has been under pressure, from northern Labour MPs in particular, to take a much tougher stance on immigration which so clearly contributed to the Leave vote in so many of their constituencies.

The briefing ahead of his speech suggested that he had moved from his previous, very relaxed position on immigration and that Labour was “no longer wedded to Freedom of Movement”.

But then in the interviews and speech, altered at the last minute, he suggested another thing entirely; namely that the only thing Corbyn wanted to stop was the exploitation of immigrants, not reducing the number of them who come in.

It is fair to say that the way this relaunch was handled could have been better.

But the key reason why it went so wrong was because Jeremy Corbyn was asked to suggest that he would deliver something which he did not truly believe in; reducing immigration.

It should have surprised no one when Jeremy, pressed by John Humphrys on Radio 4’s Today, refused to put a number on what he considered acceptable immigration levels. He doesn’t believe in one. Immigration is not a matter of grave concern for him, rightly or wrongly.

This puts Corbyn seemingly at odds with an increasing number of his MPs, with Stephen Kinnock, Chuka Umunna and Emma Reynolds as well as the likes of John Cruddas and Andy Burnham calling for limitations on Freedom of Movement in response to the Brexit vote.

I have a lot of respect for MPs like Cruddas who have persistently over a number of years spoken or written about the need for Labour to get to grips with this issue. As a councillor I encounter the issue of immigration regularly on the doorstep. I have also written on this site about the need for Labour to deal with the issue and that was before the EU Referendum.

The problem is, unlike Corbyn, their position is not based on genuine conviction. It is largely pragmatic. The proof of that lay in how many of these MPs campaigned for a REMAIN vote in the first part of last year. They knew then, as they know now, that staying in the EU, or even the Single Market, meant accepting Freedom of Movement. Throughout the campaign to REMAIN, there were very few calls from Labour MPs for reform of that key plank of EU membership.

Instead, what we heard, if immigration was mentioned at all, was about how immigrants made a positive contribution to our country. Which is true. We heard how we need immigrants because of our demographics in order to plug gaps in the skills market and to pay for our pensions. Which is also true.

That explains why so few MPs spoke about reforming Freedom of Movement during the campaign.

So why, now, are so many coming down hard against Freedom of Movement? Yes, a conversation about immigration is necessary in the context of BREXIT. But surely Labour MPs, following on the referendum campaign, should be arguing for at least some retention of Freedom of Movement as hard as they are arguing to remain in the Single Market? The answer as to why they don’t is that they worry about the electoral consequences of taking a pro-immigration stance.

This is important because it lies at the heart of the party’s current impasse. Seemingly struggling to convince the UK electorate that Jeremy Corbyn should be Prime Minister with a PLP that clearly does not have confidence in him, yet with a party membership that refuse to countenance removing him as leader.

Corbyn’s popularity with members is rooted in the perceived authenticity of his views. His views are seen as having been consistent throughout his time in Parliament.

Against him are moderate MPs who are perceived by the party as careerist and unprincipled. This is unfair. But when Labour MPs can go from staunch advocates of the European Union with Freedom of Movement to wanting to end Freedom of Movement as a matter of urgency with such seeming ease because they think it will help them to win an election, is it any real surprise that members opt for Jeremy, the ‘man of principle’?

Mark Pack, contributor to Lib Dem Voice, wrote recently that in the Copeland by-election, his party should not be afraid to put off voters by being openly against nuclear power. His logic being that whilst it may put off voters involved in the nuclear industry, it would set out an honest stall of what the party stood for, building up a core vote for them to take forward to take to the next general election. It would also help counter the perennial accusation against the Lib Dems that their views changed from constituency to constituency depending on who their biggest threat was.

And I think he has a point. Labour are a party aiming for government and so should want to win elections. But we want to win elections in order to improve or transform people’s lives.

This lies at the heart of Jeremy Corbyn’s current strategy of populism in the vein of Donald Trump. Not mirroring Trump in policy or style but in being seen as genuinely authentic. This is why members like him. It is why he had such a difficult day earlier this week; because he was trying to advocate something he didn’t want to advocate. My advice, were I one of Corbyn’s advisers trying to sort out the presentation issues, would be to be himself and say what he thinks.

My advice to moderates is that it is no longer good enough to be focused on winning elections.

The Owen Smith campaign showed that it is not enough to simply tell the Labour membership that you have a better chance of winning an election than Jeremy Corbyn.

This means refusing to follow the electorate everywhere they want to go, especially when you know it will damage the country. And that means not necessarily going with them on immigration.

So for Moderates instead of showing how their programme will improve Labour’s fortunes and dabbling with policies or politics that they nor the party genuinely want, should instead be showing how their programme will improve people’s lives. Or there is no point to them.

By Cllr. Sean Woodcock

Councillor Sean Woodcock, The Labour Party Candidate for Banbury Constituency in the 2015 General Election


Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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Through The Storm

5th January 2017

 -By Steven Duckworth-

Through The Storm

Over the Christmas period I had the pleasure of reading an interesting blog post by Peter Hurst.

In the post Peter takes his readers through the current political landscape and how the rise of populists politicians and movements is shaping it. He has a particular interest in how a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party might harness populists sentiment. I want to suggest here why I think this isn’t a moment for a left-wing populist movement in the UK and even if there were some ground for the left to build in this regard, Jeremy Corbyn is not the man to lead the project.

Peter begins his piece with a quote from the philosopher Julian Baggini who has suggested that populism is not defined by left and right. Up to a point Baggini is right. If you listened to the sentiments expressed by supporters of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the recent US presidential election, you would have found many overlaps and similarities – challenging elites and the negative effects of globalisation being two obvious points of convergence.

Where I take issue with this analysis is that it fails to recognise that there are different hues of populism and these movements tend to wrap themselves around existing political ideologies, most obviously nationalism and socialism. So while the rhetoric is similar, the politics still fall out into right and left wing variants.

One major obstacle to the development of left wing populism is its narrowness. Yes, the left can legitimately make a case about the effects of globalisation on jobs and wages and it can make a case that it opposes the political and business elites, but so can right wing populists.

What characterises the current mood is a nativism that can spill over into xenophobia and racism, social conservatism and isolationism. These are not sentiments that the left can exploit and neither should it want to.

Even on the populist issues that the left can get some traction on, Jeremy Corbyn is singularly ill-equipped to exploit them. Populist leaders bask in the limelight, while the Labour leader skulks away from news cameras and disappears from the public’s gaze for days on end. Populists come across as spontaneous and authentic; Corbyn’s Virgin train stunt was the antithesis of both. Finally, while populists don’t need to be overwhelmingly popular, they do need to have some support. In the latest You Gov poll, Jeremy Corbyn has a net approval rating of minus 43%.

In his piece Peter highlights the problems that populism poses for the centre left. He is right to suggest that centrists are in a perilous position. Centrists value pragmatism and incremental improvements over big narratives and grand gestures; in the populist zeitgeist this is, with some justification, seen as trying to preserve the status quo. But that is the only place Labour can realistically position itself. It can’t outgun the right through a narrow expression of populist sentiment, so it must stay with its view (until recently held) that freedoms are important, whether trade, movement or societal. But it must also commit itself fully to security, whether it be in terms of defence or the economy. There is absolutely no doubt that some communities feel left behind in the complex and constantly changing world and Labour must have some plan to address their concerns. It isn’t enough to just redistribute money to support these areas, though it would help. It is essential that Labour recognises that the cultural impacts of globalisation have been significant on certain communities and starts to address some of these concerns. Labour has a solid history of communitarian politics. It must rediscover them now. It must also trust some of our liberal institutions, such as the separation of powers and the sovereignty of parliament and rather than trash them must realise that they are an effective bulwark against this current populist spasm. Because despite all the predictions and analysis, spasm it is. More people voted for Clinton than Trump, the Brexit vote was narrow and the centre will almost certainly see off the populist right in France and Germany this year.

This is more than a keep calm and carry on strategy. Left leaning centrists particularly need to start to rethink their offer to voters on issues such as the changing economy, developing technologies, health and education to name but a few. Nothing will happen overnight and Labour centrists need to recognise that Jeremy Corbyn is a symptom of the crisis facing British social democracy, not the cause. Moderate Labour supporters need to hold their nerve because one thing is clear – chasing the right down the rabbit hole of populism will not win votes for Labour but it will leave it severely hamstrung once the current storm has passed.

By Steven Duckworth

@FoxHedgehog

RELATED

By Stephen Bush on Labour’s populist turn:“Before the financial crisis, Labour’s ability to appeal to compassion, justice, wealth and security overcame its inability to address anger. Now, Labour is only able to appeal to two of voters’ appetites: for compassion and for justice”.


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Happy New Year!

1st January 2017

By Tim C-

Farewell 2016

For many, 2016 will go down as the year of celebrity deaths. If you spend much time, or anytime at all on social media, it was relentless. Actors, musicians, writers and many others died.

Our grief was public and our tributes were tacky, beautiful and heartfelt – often we managed all three at the same time. At some stage between the death of George Michael and Carrie Fisher a friend commented “can you imagine if Twitter was a thing when Diana died?”

I tried to imagine and I shut down my imagination almost immediately. I had imagined love filled messages – all I saw was the spewing out of hatred.

But all of that is about something we cannot stop or control. Death comes to us all. Death is part of us.

I am not sorry about death. It happens.

But 2016 also saw Trump, Brexit and hate triumph.

A quick look at 2016 and much of our political system appears to be broken. I am sorry that because it is broken people are suffering. More than that I am sorry that it isn’t going to be fixed any time soon.

And that means more people will suffer. I can, and will never be able to forgive those who are causing this suffering.

I have tried to listen. I have tried to join in and be part of the new politics. But I can’t. It is based on a lie. No hope is offered. Just structures and a different committee format.

We are told it is about values. But it isn’t; it is about envy. It is about class war. But more importantly it is about a vanity project. And it is also about petty vengeance. Vengeance of second-rate politicians who peddle false dreams dressed up as hope.

They know they are unelectable, but that doesn’t matter to them. Destruction of the Labour Party is their aim. Pure and simple.

They hate the Labour Party being in government. They hate anything other than the purity of their project.

And what they are doing breaks my heart.

We are promised that 2017 will see the Corbyn-led Labour Party ‘FIGHT BACK’.

Early reports suggest that this will involve re-branding the leader as a populist, anti establishment figure. A left of centre Trump. The Party will become a coalition of protest groups rather than a political party seeking to govern.

My prediction is that this means more envy, more trashing of our past and more suffering.

It took me quite a while to feel this way. I was never fully signed up to Corbyn but he was/is our elected leader and at the moment that is how it will stay.

Not once in the the last year has he asked me how I thought he was doing as leader or what I thought the Labour Party was doing right or wrong. But he took time out to ask Momentum supporters those questions (or similar). He spends more time worrying about an external organisation than he does about the Party he is supposed to be leading. And that HURTS.

But away from all of that internal stuff, I am sorry. We should all be saying sorry to those who need a Labour Government – it is them that we are betraying. It is them we are letting down.

We should be offering them hope. Hope that things will get better. Hope of a better future.

But we are offering them years of Tory rule.

Because our current leadership is selfish.

Because we are no longer an electoral force capable of winning power.

Because we have a leader who doesn’t care enough to want to win.

For that I am so bloody sorry.

I remain a Labour Party member. My values haven’t changed.

I supported the PLP (the brave and resilient 172) and their attempts to restore purpose to our politics.

I am proud of what we achieved in government.

With local elections coming up we could lose hundreds of great local councillors because of the public perception of our leader.

Labour Councillors who everyday work to make a difference.

Labour Councillors who continue to deliver for local people.

I hope other so-called ‘moderates’ battle weary like me, will stay and help.

The Labour Party is bigger and better than Corbyn.

But more importantly people need Labour in power making lives better and we must never forget that.

So in 2017 we must not leave Labour. We must stay and fight. Fight for our values. Campaign alongside our Councillors and fight to help them retain their seats.

Walking away betrays those who need us most.

By Tim C


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“Welcome to the Newly Opened Brexit Superstore!”

19th December 2016

By Keith Nieland-

“Welcome to the Newly Opened Brexit Superstore!”

“Welcome, Sir and Madam, to the brand new opening today of The Great British Brexit Superstore. Our guarantee to you is that everything we sell is manufactured in the UK by UK workers.”

“Excellent! Too many of our jobs have been going to Johnny Foreigner abroad. I say ‘British jobs for British workers’ that’s why I voted Brexit. We need to show those damn Europeans and Chinese a thing or two.”

“Fantastic! Now can I interest you in today’s launch special – this smart phone? I can assure it was made in the UK by our workers. Look here is the symbol of authenticity – this little union jack on the back.”

“Does it take good photos? Must keep up with the tech savvy grandkids. We oldies can show them a thing or two.”

“It certainly does and to the highest quality. Just right for Whatsapp and Facebook.”

“I will have one then. How much?”

“Well, with our special opening day discount just £650.”

“What?! I can get a similar model on the internet for £550. That’s a rip off!”

“But Sir I should explain. This model is assembled in this country from imported materials by our workers. We have to pay more to get the raw materials imported as they do not already exist in the UK and, of course, UK workers earn more than Chinese and Far East workers. This model is aimed at good, decent patriotic people like your good self who wish to support the post-Brexit economy.”Bak In The Day

“Not at those prices I don’t. I blame the unions and those overpaid, lazy British workers. I am off to the Apple Store.”

“But, Sir, you could consider our rental option.”

“Will that cost me more as well?”

“Only a tad.”

“Forget it!”

Back In The Day

Do you remember when Marks and Spencer proudly boasted that it made all its clothes in the UK? What about the Bruce Forsyth-led “Buy British” campaign from the 1970s? Both were short-lived as British consumers could not afford home-made goods at home-made costs with UK levels of wages. In order to sell, manufacturers searched the world for cheaper sources of labour and costs. This might have led to the decline of the home manufacturing industry but only crocodile tears were shed for closed mines, mills and factories as we lapped up imported clothes, cars and electronics at prices which brought more and more of these goods within peoples’ budgets. To replace lost industries the UK carved new niches in the service and banking sectors and focused on the added value and high tech worlds.

The problem was, of course, while the benefits of globalisation were gleefully reaped, the consequences were not properly attended to. The economic crash of 2008 saw the sticking plaster come off and ever since the UK has become a more and more unequal society and hence a divided one.

It may not be very scientific but from my own observations I see more and more people homeless and begging in various city centres while at the same time more and more upmarket shopping centres open and those that can afford it flock to them. Those wishing to know more about the consequences for unequal societies should dip into Richard Wilkinson’s and Kate Pickett’s excellent “The Spirit Level”.

The division in the UK is shown, according to the latest opinion polls, in the near even split between EU remainers and leavers. In the US it has been illustrated in the near 50/50 split in the Trump/Clinton popular votes even though the Electoral College tells another, perhaps misleading, story.

A Seismic Shift?

Is the UK on the verge of a seismic shift in political loyalties, not between Labour and Conservative, but between Remainers and Leavers? As inequality spreads, populist parties of the right gain traction. This has been seen to varying degrees across Europe in major countries like Germany, Italy, Austria, Holland and France. The far right may not be gaining power but they grow in popularity.

In the face of the economic consequences of globalisation combined with the aftermath of the economic crash, what has been the response? Have we looked back at the last time something similar occurred in the 1920s and 30s, learnt the lessons and applied new thinking? Sadly the answer appears to be a resounding “NO!” The call now, as then, is to tighten borders, repel immigrants, apply tariffs to imports and turn inwards to ourselves. For evidence we need look no further than Donald Trump’s attacks on China and threat to apply tariffs to imports. Trump is the modern day flag carrier for isolationism. We should not need reminding where the politics of blame and envy led the world in the 1930s.

Trade Matters

The reality is that ever since men and women first stood up and looked around we have migrated around the globe and societies have grown richer from trading. The British Empire grew on the back of trade – “the flag followed trade” – I well remember from school day geography lessons. Trade enriches us both personally and culturally. Our place as one of the richest countries on the planet owes itself to the foundations laid in the 19th century. A United States more unified after the Civil War of the 1860s industrialised and took its place on the world stage. China has done likewise since the 1980s.

If the world does not trade, individual countries become poorer and, of course, so do its citizens. Since its economic reforms of the 1990s, Vietnam has moved from having over half its population living in poverty and not being able to feed itself to now being a net exporter of rice.

How should progressives respond to the rise of the far right, isolationism and restrictions on trade aimed at boosting home markets? How should we also respond to the xenophobia, fear, hate and discrimination that are the markers of isolationism? Well, not by joining in or marketing a watered down version, that’s for sure.

Progressives should be promoting the benefits to economies and workers that comes from expanding markets through international trade. Just think of the benefits if a British company invented an easy to install conversion kit that changed the 7 million mopeds in Ho Chi Minh City from petrol driven to electrical power. Less pollution, lower running costs, etc.

While making trade more difficult by the imposition of tariffs may look attractive on the surface, there is no evidence home markets can compensate.

However, the left should be arguing that we cannot return to “business as usual”. There needs to be a stronger social and cultural influence on trade negotiations. There should be a focus on fairer tax regimes, particularly corporation tax, and explicit undertakings by governments expressed as part of trade deals that there will be a dividend for the whole of society in the form of skills training for life, improved housing, infrastructure investment and more equal wage structures. The government needs to be clearer about society’s dividend from striking trade deals. Trade deals are not just for the benefit of wealthy investors, shareholders and large corporations.

Progressives need to be honest with communities but at the same time be giving them hope by making commitments on infrastructure improvements and new work opportunities. It is just deceitful to hold out the prospect of coal mines, mills and factories reopening. What can work is building design and manufacturing around “added value” goods and services.

While the right looks to the failed and potentially dangerous solutions of the past the progressive left should be re-defining and promoting a new notion of “responsible capitalism” built on hope, opportunity and aspiration and attacking prejudice and social injustice. For the Labour Party this means truly becoming the party of work and workers and being willing to work positively in partnership with business.

By Keith Nieland


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An Apology

13th December 2016

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-By Cllr Sean Woodcock-

An Apology

Dear Editor, I write to do something that too often does not come easy for politicians; offer an apology.

Back in 2013 I backed the decision of the leader of my party, Ed Miliband, not to support the bombing of President Assad in response to his use of chemical weapons on rebel held districts in Syria.

I made this decision, as a new councillor ambitious to stand for parliament, but also with memories of Iraq, which I had opposed, in mind.

I now realise that this was wrong.

While the action proposed on 2013 was flawed and perilous, it turns out that not acting is worse.  By not acting, we gave a green light for all of the war crimes we have witnessed since.  By doing nothing, we told Assad and his perennial backer Vladimir Putin that they could act with impunity at the cost of what we have seen since…

  • The indiscriminate barrel bombing of civilians.
  • Doctors and nurses executed for being indiscriminate in who they cared for.
  • Firing squads for women and children seen as being on the wrong side.
  • Hospitals and schools bombed.
  • Murder, rape and torture.
  • The deliberate starvation of civilians.

By backing the decision of my then leader, I am at least in a small way responsible for our great country shamefully standing by as these things happened.

For that, I want to say I am sorry.

Yours,

Councillor Sean Woodcock The Labour Party Candidate for Banbury Constituency in the 2015 General Election

Cllr. Sean Woodcock


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Brexit, Corbyn, Farage and Trump – members of the same family!

10th November 2016

-By Tim Carter-

Brexit, Corbyn, Farage and Trump – members of the same family!

On Tuesday night, like most people (I jest, most people were tucked up in bed), I sat with my TV switched to the BBC’s news channel, staring at the US electoral map, checking social media and US news feeds. It was a long night.

First I convinced myself we had to wait for swing states; then it was the west coast big numbers; then it was a belief, or was it hope, that the Democrat barricade would hold. In the end I wasn’t even kidding myself. Trump had won and he had won big. He now holds a very powerful hand with enough support to do pretty much as he likes.

This morning a lot of my friends woke up feeling anger. Some were in tears and many spoke of fears about what the future holds.

But what is happening now in politics didn’t start last night or last year and those calling the electorate stupid (or worse) are, probably without realising it, highlighting one of the key issues we need to address.

Away from that we must always remember that democracy doesn’t always give the results you want as an individual but it is far better than the alternatives.

President Trump will become a reality in January and if he keeps his word then his first day will see executive orders stripping away many of Obama’s orders. Some of them will hit those in need of protection and refuge. Others aimed at the gun lobby will probably include removing gun-free zones in schools.

But how did we get here?

The reaction to the Trump victory by many ‘on the left’ has been sadly predictable. When they are not busy claiming voters are stupid or that voters were duped, they resort to blaming the establishment politicians or suggesting that we need ‘a real left wing alternative’, whatever that is.

Does that sound similar? It should because there was the same reaction to Brexit.

But the left have to share some of the blame.

If you encourage people to hate the establishment surely you can’t be surprised when people vote for someone with that message.

If you spend years blaming bankers for everything – and if voters flock to someone with that message – then you must also share the burden of blame.

If you lead marches claiming politics is broken and urge people to vote for ‘a different way of doing politics’ again don’t be surprised when they do.

When you weaponise abuse & hate you don’t control who uses that weapon. But you created it so you have to accept the responsibility for it and understand that others will use it.

I am sure that many will disagree but I believe that Corbyn, Farage, Brexit and Trump are linked and that they all feed on the same thing. They feed on a message that is at its most base a message of fear and loathing.

They have created monsters out of bankers, politicians, institutions and pushed hate and fear in equal measures.

So we now have people, including Richard Burgon MP, citing Clinton’s closeness to bankers as her downfall – in doing so they are endorsing one of Trump’s key messages. A bit of a strange thing for a Labour former Shadow City Minister to do, but of course as long as it is an attack on ‘the establishment’ Richard Burgon MP and his type of politician doesn’t mind. They are encouraging hate. Their message is clear – vote against systems, vote against bankers, vote against pharmaceutical research. Vote against success!

Moving back to the US elections I have been reminded by an old political friend Steve Hanlon that Bernie Sanders marched a lot of people up the hill against Hillary (and elites, and bankers and others) and couldn’t march them down again after the primaries. Another example of the left being responsible for weaponising hate and losing control.

Travel further back in time and shortly after the global financial crash small groups from both the left and right started to demonise bankers. After the 2010 general election Ed Miliband started to create an atmosphere where ‘banker bashing’ was acceptable.

Activists (in most cases spreading a message of hate) spent Saturday mornings attempting to disrupt parts of our retail industry or marching through London wearing Guy Fawkes masks – again sending out a message that politicians and the political establishment were the enemies of the people.

As sure as night follows day these demonstrations fed the Brexit and Farage messages that our politics was broken and needed to change.  All it needed was someone to mainstream it.

And when that happened what was their answer? More demonstrations. A cry to move further left. And more masks and placards.

It would be unfair not to look at the moderate or centre-ground reaction to the anti-establishment message, or the general fear and loathing generated by the ‘anti politics brigade.’

We didn’t tackle the issues. We didn’t listen to the voters. We talked at them and not to them. We claimed to be ‘having a conversation with them’ but we were simply telling them what to do. We told them they were wrong.

When that failed we attempted to out-hate the haters!

And when that didn’t work we attempted to demonise their candidates or messages.

And when we lost – we blamed the voters!

Maybe we simply believed that we, and only we, had the right to win.

We need to make a positive case for the things we believe in. If we are campaigning to stay in the EU we need to do just that. Make the case for what we believe in and not just shout and yell about how crazy and dangerous those campaigning against us are.

If we believe in freedom of movement then we should say so and make the positive case for it and not retreat into a comfort zone of calling those who disagree with us racists or worse.

In the UK we need a national debate about our future. That has to include immigration. It has to include what type of country we want to be, and no matter how tough it is we must be at the heart of that debate.

It isn’t racist for someone to express their fears about the changing face of our country. It isn’t wrong for people to worry about employment and their job being outsourced overseas. It is natural for parents to worry about their children’s future.

I honestly don’t know what the Trump presidency will bring but I want politics to go back to being about hope and aspiration and not about hate and fear.

We need to make politics great again! We need to inspire and enthuse. We need to be at the heart of and working with our communities, listening, talking and championing causes.

Sorry if this has been a bit of a ramble. I have been trying to make sense of a lot of things and these are my early thoughts. In  coming weeks and months I hope to expand on them. Please join the debate about how we should rebuild the centre left.

By Tim Carter (@forwardnotback)

What Happens When Labour Is In The Wrong?

28th October 2016

-By Paddington Baby-

What Happens When Labour Is In The Wrong?

So the moratorium on Labour party meetings ended with the leadership conference and the sense of dread began as to what came next.  At least I made it to the London Labour reception up in Liverpool on the same day, and found reassuring evidence that Jeremy Corbyn was not universally fawned over.  He arrived and got up to speak and only a handful of those present bothered to come forward and pay attention.  The rest of us carried on with our conversation, leaving the newly re-elected leader to try and be heard over the top of all the talking and laughter as he was widely ignored!

“Would this be happening if Tony Blair was speaking?” someone asked me.  Perhaps not.

A couple of weeks later I went to the first meeting of my CLP and there were difficult matters to address as we made our way through the agenda.  The chair invited comments on the leadership election and inevitably there were calls for members of the party to desist from criticism of the leadership as some present regarded that to be against the interests of the party.  In their eyes it was those of us making the criticism on social media who were at fault for destroying our electoral chances.

But hang on a minute!  When were we expected to go along with all the words and actions of our previous leaders without question?  Surely even in the case of our greatest and most successful leaders such loyalty would be disadvantageous to those who need us most: the people.

ABERFAN

On the 21st October this year the people of Wales and the rest of the UK united to remember the tragedy of the Aberfan disaster.  One hundred and forty four people died, mostly young children, under the slurry of pit waste being stored on the hillside which fell upon the school and surrounding houses.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/aberfan-disaster-50-years-shows-9088872

“Not a single NCB official was ever sacked or reprimanded over Aberfan.”

The whole nation joined a tiny Welsh village for a minute’s silence – to remember the lives of the 144 people who died when a rock slide hit Pantglas Junior School

Excuse my ignorance, as I was born some years later, but before now I had never heard of the terrible events of 50 years ago and I was struck by disbelief that waste was being stored this way in the first place.  But then the full story came to my attention.

A disaster fund was set up with generous donations coming in from around the world, and after many protests prior to the disaster that the waste tip be cleared, the work would finally be done.  However, the then Labour government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson should have forced the National Coal Board to foot the cost. Instead, they took the money from the disaster fund.

news.bbc.co.uk
The first ever full academic study of the Aberfan Disaster – which claimed the lives of 144 children and adults – is published.

To my mind, this new discovery for me is perhaps the most shameful act of any Labour government.  The people certainly did not come first, but it was justified on the basis that as the National Coal Board was nationalised the taxpayer would then have to bear the expense.  I could add that such reasoning was not the best advertisement for nationalised industries either, so hardly helpful to support Labour party policy.

Then was certainly the time for the Labour membership to criticise the leadership.  And I say that as someone who admires so much of what Harold Wilson achieved as a leader and someone who could actually win elections and improve the lives of people. That makes this episode all the more disappointing.

Ron Davies was a Labour member at the time and remembered the taunts he endured as a result of the actions of his party in government.  He went on to become the Welsh Secretary in 1997 under Tony Blair and he ensured that the money was returned as he recognised the cruelty that the action had inflicted on the families of Aberfan.

THE parents could hardly believe their ears. Still fighting to come to terms with so many deaths, so many children, they were given the news that from the thousands …

I remember when Margaret Thatcher died, and receiving another revelation.

Tories appeared on television to say that Labour from Harold Wilson’s time onwards had closed more coal mines than Margaret Thatcher’s government.  I checked and it was true.  For all I have read about the miners’ strike of 1984-85 I’m left at a loss at to why the National Union of Mineworkers didn’t do more to protest at Labour, especially in the light of Aberfan.

Statistical data set. Historical coal data: coal production, availability and consumption 1853 to 2015

I have read and understood why mines were closing and it is a difficult case to argue with.  Some suggest that the fury was rightly directed at Margaret Thatcher because she was swiftly killing whole communities.  Well, many of those who lived in one particular community were killed in just one morning, and the National Coal Board and the Labour government should have been held accountable for anything they failed to do to prevent it, and for any actions they took afterwards.

Perhaps politicians in 1966 were not as forward-thinking about public relations as we are now, but there is no excuse for Labour party members now to fail to understand.

What our leaders say and do really matters and we have a duty to always remind them of that.

By Paddington Baby


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