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As Emily Thornberry said this morning, “There is nothing stronger than a person of principle…. Thanks to Jeremy Corbyn’s inspirational leadership, and the efforts of all the people in this room, it’s time to put Labour values back into government.” Everything has now in fact changed. This is not merely because the Conservative party, and their bullshit such as £350 million re-invested in the NHS, is a ‘busted flush’. It’s much more than that. I first went to the Labour party conference in 2010 in Manchester. It was in fact a few months before my father was to die. I remember my time there crystal clearly. I remember meeting John Prescott for the first (and only) time in a curry restaurant in the Curry Mile, and various people who were both very young and very energised about being in the Labour movement. David Prescott kindly helped me across the street, avoiding being run over by the trams. I had become newly physically disabled at the time, due to meningitis. In fact, I remember going to a fringe event at breakfast time in Manchester Town Hall on the subject of how to engage ‘missing voters’. Ellie Mae O’Hagan was there. Some brilliant contributions from Matt Zarb Cousin stuck in my mind. I wonder what happened to him.
At the time, I was in the ‘top ten’ Labour blogs. But now is much better. I think this Labour conference in 2017 in Brighton is full of optimism and hope. Labour for the first time in ages, I feel, has a realistic chance of being the party of government. I think we very mostly agree Jeremy Corbyn has turned ‘pro’. He batted away questions on striking from Andrew Marr with amazing ease yesterday morning. The hacks have made it an open secret that they have no conflict to discuss. The observation that Brexit is not one of the motions for debate is the only thing that desperate hacks can cling onto, but you only have to look at the list which has emerged – which includes the NHS, social care, growth and investment and employment issues – to see that there is no existential crisis in the Labour Party. Not at all. It is a party which is prepared to govern for the many, not the few.
The Tories’ economic model of delivering shareholder dividend with rocketing prices, suppressed wages with inflated cost of living, is not appealing to the vast majority. The ‘work til you drop’ approach is terrifying. The way in which disabled citizens have lost their personal independence payment is nothing short of the ultimate in unacceptable morally. Corrupt capitalism has had its day. Grenfell paid testament to that. Outside of the hall, it is very clear that many delegates have been speaking to some of ‘the many’. There has been a strong sense from speakers from the floor to speak out about issues of social justice, in the quest for equalities and fairness. There has been reference to homeless people, which Tony Benn famously used to congratulate market forces for. There has been a clear drive to reset the narrative to appreciate and value migrants and asylum seekers. The Momentum festival has been well received. There is no sense that Polly Toynbee needs to visit it to provide it with external validation. Trade unions defend public services, campaign to prevent abuses of workers and employees, and are no longer a ‘dirty word’.
I voted for Jeremy Corbyn twice as leader of the Labour Party, and, like many, it is tempting not to forget so easily the time which has been wasted in setting out the case for Corbyn again and again and again, the carping and criticism from 170 or so Labour MPs, or the whingeing from senior people in the Labour Party keen to ‘blame’ Corbyn for Brexit. Nor is it quite so easy to forgive and forget the amount of time, effort and money taken by the NEC to stop people voting for Corbyn as leader out of fear that all the new members of Labour were Marxist throwbacks from the 1980s. But the surge in membership of the Labour Party is entirely genuine, making Labour a massive democratic party. This is an especially amazing achievement, given the context of how parties such as ‘Alternative for Deutschland’ with an anti-Muslim and anti-migrant, far right, agenda have garnered support to fill the ‘political space’. True that the Labour Party is not entirely a socialist party, although it has socialists in it. But it is also true that there are many more people are loud and proud to be associated with the socialist ideals and values which have been promoted by the current leadership of the Labour Party.
Whilst the ‘we want a Jobs first Brexit’ is in danger of being a vacuous phrase, there’s no doubt about the dependence of certain sectors, not least the NHS and social care, on EU citizens living in Britain. If it turns out that the Conservatives are simply unable to negotiate a meaningful settlement with the European Union within two years, it is quite possible that the Labour Party will have to do something drastic about deciding upon a post-Brexit future. Jeremy Corbyn openly explained on #Marr yesterday that it was possible that state aid rules had not made it possible to intervene in industries as he would have liked, and actually had helped to privatise certain industries such as rail. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that there had been concerns about how TTIP might stitch up a trade deal with the US over the NHS, but now the threat to the NHS from Donald Trump and Jeremy Hunt is far greater. Free movement of workers has had problems also with employees, particularly of multi-national corporates, effectively leading to wage suppression, but this fundamentally was always a problem presented by employers. But Labour is well aware that the UK economy could easily tank on Brexit especially on leaving membership of the signatories to the rules of the “single market” or “customs union”, and the devaluation of the pound sterling and exodus of jobs abroad are both already alarming. But if you think to choose who you want driving the car – Boris Johnson, David Davis and Priti Patel or Sir Keir Starmer, I know who I prefer.
Members of the media have consistently been spitting bullets at Corbyn. James O’Brien on LBC spent substantial daily effort into rubbishing Corbyn. The 2017 Labour manifesto was a massive triumph, propelling Labour to its largest vote this century. The Tories claim they even put Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper the first time around. Various people sneered at the rallies held by Corbyn across the country, claiming simultaneously that Corbyn had a ‘bunker mentality’ which prevented him from meeting the general public, and saying that there was no such social movement. But it is clear that there is something material and significant happening under the RADAR, as Jess Phillips, Clive Lewis and Laura Pidcock are treated like rock stars rather than members of parliament. Paul Mason, I remember, was often criticised for claiming that “strong and stable” Theresa May would not be returned with a stonking majority, and Paul Mason’s views and opinions, for example, on topics ranging from tuition fees to bellicose nuclear speak from Donald Trump are taken with considerably more gravitas than other commentators. The whole team are pretty awesome now, including Barry Gardiner who is prepared to call out people talking nonsensical crap.
Gains such as Canterbury and London Kensington and Chelsea have been amazing. Amber Rudd’s seat in Hastings is now up for grabs. Nobody can fault how amazing Andy Gwynne has been. Of course, much blood has been spilt and this is to be expected from a broad coalition of sorts. I no longer speak to the Socialist Health Association because of their open support for marketization of the NHS, PFI and Owen Smith. Tom Watson is no longer on Len McCluskey’s Christmas card list. I think critics within Labour have really got the work cut out if they wish not to help Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party prepare for government. You can tell from the reception to the limp interventions from Ben Bradshaw and Heidi Alexander over the single market that they are not the future now. But supporters of Labour fundamentally know that they did not introduce austerity. Vince Cable, on the other hand, did. The Liberal Democrats cannot be absolved from their blame on the bedroom tax, either. The Fabians, with their star turns, are having trouble trying to reverse the deluge of criticism they have doshed out to Corbyn and colleagues. The Twitter community, with Chunky, Rachael, Steve, Matt, Tom, Peter, Liam, “Scouse Girl”, EL4JC, Michael, WowPetition, Éoin, Matt, Ellie, or Paul, of course going from strength to strength. Labour’s policies speak to the concerns of the many not the few – such as personal debt, only today, being worked up by John McDonnell and Rebecca Long-Bailey. I agree with Jeremy Corbyn that he will need at least two terms of government to get the UK back on course, but there is a real sense of energy, positivity, drive and optimism which means that Labour and its social movement deserve every success.
I’m a card carrying socialist. I don’t know whether I’m a Marxist Trot, but my views are in keeping in what most people would view as for the public good but not in a way dictated by markets free or otherwise.
Not that it matters, but I’ve always voted Labour. The defining event for me was in fact going to Margaret Thatcher’s last ever Prime Ministers Questions. I lived mainly in London in 1990, a stone’s throw away from Leicester Square – and I remember the Poll Tax riots and the tail end of the Thatcher government vividly. I remember the politics of the 1980s vividly, as a child, and I committed never to vote Tory again. I fulfilled that promise, as it happens.
It’s well known I’ve spent far longer as a NHS patient, with an adult onset physical disability as a result of meningitis in my mid 30s, than as a practising junior doctor, though I remember my time as a junior doctor with disproportionate affection. Hospitals for me provoke mixed emotions – I survived a six week coma in one, I saw my father have the cardiac arrest team around him before he did in the same hospital as it happens, and it’s one where I have much goodwill for their ‘dementia friendly’ approach given my current interest as an academic physician in dementia predominantly.
I am not a ‘celeb blogger’ – but then again I loathe the media, and the media hate me. I tweeted recently that ‘I don’t believe a word that Jeremy Hunt says’ – this is on the basis of how his legal team had emphasised he had never imposed the NHS #juniordoctors contract despite him saying on numerous occasions he was imposing it.
But the thing to remember for me is that Jeremy Hunt as such does not ‘act alone’. He went into Theresa May’s first cabinet reshuffle expecting to be dropped like a lead balloon – hence the lack of lapel on his jacket – but he emerged happily in situ. So Jeremy Hunt is fallible – he expected to be sacked.
He sincerely believes what he does – which I think is ‘liberalising the market’, ensuring that Mid Staffs never happens again, producing a workforce less dependent on immigration, and so on.
As it happens, I profoundy disagree with his view on the NHS. I dislike the fact he rarely comments on the idea that provider competition has not improved quality in the NHS, how he has a total blindspot for the social care profession, how he seems in total denial about the catastrophic finances of the NHS, how his electronic IT programme is way off track, and so on.
But again I wonder to what extent this lack of trust in him is entirely his fault. For example, I don’t think the BMA acted par excellence, and I myself wondered how on earth these strikes were not impacting on patient quality or safety. But then again if it’s the case that NHS Providers and NHS hospitals can send out strongly worded letters with impunity then that is that.
The General Medical Council don’t appear to wish to comment much on rota gaps, and general morale, or how #juniordoctors might refuse to sign a contract if they feel uncomfortable, and so on. I’m not in fear of the Council, it’s just I have nothing much to do with them. My personal view is that they could have been far more respect and responsive of the patient safety views of doctors, that’s all.
It says in our code of conduct that if we feel uncomfortable about resources we should say so. Some of us have repeated this ad nauseam – so now what?
I like James Titcombe hugely. I find the story of Joshua incredibly fertile in what we could do for learning from mistakes from the future. But, despite the best will in the world, if Katrina Percy refuses to resign having won once a HSJ award that’s where we are. If I can live with a mistake for the rest of my life, and others don’t, so be it.
I like Deb Hazeldine equally hugely. I can’t even begin to imagine what she feels everyday.
I enjoy my work which is basically advocating for people with dementia. As a carer myself, I am interested in that too. But I know my boundaries. Me ‘hating’ Jeremy Hunt will achieve nothing – he is doing his job albeit with a workforce some of which want to emigrate.
Cuts and low morale I think are a threat to patient safety – but if the General Medical Council feel comfortable with that in their remit, nor with giving proper support to Chris Day’s whistleblowing case, there’s not much many of us can do about it.
I don’t actually ‘hate’ Jeremy Hunt. He MUST, I’m sure, know that the NHS and social care need more money, the workforce largely don’t trust what he says, doctors in India no longer wish to work in the UK whether or not he needs them, and so on.
But it’s Jeremy Hunt – too surreal to fail.
I’m 42 – and I’m a lifelong Labour voter.
And I’ve also never known a leadership election like this.
At his victory speech at the Labour election-night party, Royal Festival Hall, London, 2 May 1997, Tony Blair uttered the now famous words, “A new dawn has broken, has it not?”
However, the way in which this particular #LabourLeadership election was run was dreadful.
As Dr Éoin Clarke had tweeted,
Weighing up all available evidence I’ve spent months gathering, about 250,000 who wanted to vote for Labour Leader were unable to do so pic.twitter.com/Wo59L3wXzs
— Éoin (@LabourEoin) September 23, 2016
I’ve known Liam Young, who supports Jeremy Corbyn, for a long time. His recent piece in the Independent details in full gory detail how, despite his best efforts otherwise, he ended up not voting. I can vouch for Liam’s commitment, having known him for years.
“I have been a member of the Labour for the last six years, and involved with the party for as long as I can remember. I remember heading to party conference in 2010 at the tender age of 15, and my grandparents often fondly remind me of the times they used to take me out canvassing in my pushchair – my grandfather was the leader of the local city council and mayor at one point. I had countless unrelated “aunties” who I grew up with, assimilated into my extended family by virtue of the Labour work they did with my relatives.
So this month, I was surprised when I didn’t receive my ballot in the normal timeframe for this leadership contest.”
The comments to this article make for desperate reading. Most authors, especially ones for The Guardian newspaper, never read the submitted comments, but I strongly suggest Liam has a look.
Here is a typical comment.
The whole Owen Smith campaign was a fiasco.
In fact, what happened from the time at which Hilary Benn threw his early morning temper tantrum was a full blown disaster.
Believe it or not, I had not intended to blog much about this #LabourLeadership election, though I’ve doing some sort of Labour political blog for about 7 years now.
Looking back on it now, the entire anti-Corbyn campaign imploded from the very beginning. The ‘challenger’ was implausible, the policies half-baked, the campaign sodden with gaffes, and, put simply, an insult to the wider Labour Party membership “electorate”.
I charted some of this mess in various blogposts including “Saving Owen Smith“, “The inevitability of death, taxes and Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as leader of Labour“, and “Owen Smith MP must surely have been aware that the NHS is being rapidly privatised?“.
Some of my time had been taken up the desperate moves of the NEC to thwart people voting in the law courts, and that was before the #LabourPurge2 had gathered full momentum (pardon the pun).
The mainstream media were reluctant to cover the bare essence of the illiberality of the legal manoeuvring, astounding given the overwhelming ‘liberal’ press.
Such blogposts included “The Court of Appeal judgment was profoundly illiberal, and the issues need scrutiny notwithstanding“, “Nobody is above the law not even in the Labour NEC“, and “Tom Watson MP says he doesn’t believe in conspiracy theories, and nor do I“.
Ed Miliband MP, like other failed leadership contenders Liz Kendall MP, Lord Neil Kinnock and Gordon Brown (2010), stuck the boot in, possibly even adding to Jeremy Corbyn’s credibility, viz. “The overall incompetence of Ed Miliband’s opposition should still raise alarm bells“.
But there was no doubt at all, that if Owen Smith MP was the answer, the question was not even worth thinking about.
The Owen Smith MP candidate was the talk of the town – for all of the wrong reasons.
It never gained any credibility.
For example, I wrote on “Why has Owen Smith MP lost all momentum in his leadership campaign?“, “Owen Jones’ interview reveals Owen Smith MP is dangerous for the nation’s health“, “The Parliamentary Labour Party cannot cope with the decline and yet further decline of New Labour“, “Owen Smith’s campaign blowing up on lift-off is not a good look“, “Owen Smith is ‘reconstituted Labour’, but still a disastrous recipe“, and “Owen Smith MP is swimming in the deep end with armbands. We can’t go like this.”.
And it seems now that Angela Eagle MP’s leadership was merely now a ‘bad dream’.
This is where it all started: e.g. ““Saving Labour” or “Crushing Corbyn” – that is the question?“, “Why the level of vitriol against Jeremy Corbyn?“, “Angela Eagle’s “Contrived Leadership” was overbranded and under authentic“, “The emphasis of Hilary Benn on “winning” ironically explains a lot Labour’s failure“, “For me, Angela Eagle is part of the problem for Labour’s electability, not the solution“, and “If Labour can’t unite behind a democratically elected leader, it doesn’t deserve to be in government“.
I feel hugely excited about this morning. I have had enough of trolls suddenly popping up on Twitter, and lying to me – I don’t have to waste hours trying to work out why they are shilling on behalf of a certain lobby any more.
I don’t have to think about reasons why Corbyn would be a ‘disaster for Britain’, or why Jeremy Corbyn ‘does not believe in winning’, or how Labour ‘has become the party of permanent protest’, or how Labour is now full of far left Trotskyist individuals allegedly, and so on.
For me, it feels as if a noose has been finally removed from my neck. There’s about 10 or so Labour MPs I think their local constituencies should examine as to their suitability for parliamentary election. I don’t think any candidate should be renominated under duress if (s) he disagrees strongly with party policy. Democratic re-selection is very healthy for the party. As in all good teamwork, it’s a question of give and take. I don’t see a case for the parliamentary Labour Party having bullied their way into this all-consuming leadership election, detracting attention from the split and division within the Conservative Party, to call any shots. Most scandalous of all, the entire NHS is collapsing, grammar schools are on the way back, the foreign policy with Libya for example has been utterly discredited, and Owen Smith MP is obsessed about talking about he (not the House of Commons or Lords) ‘won the PIP debate’.
Too many people in the Labour parliamentary party love themselves, especially the ones who are now acting like spoilt brats having been to one of the big 4 accountancy firms.
I don’t mean him…
Or Andy – who has been utterly brilliant throughout.
The other bunch of loudmouth talentless Labour MPs, the “deplorables”, rather need to step up to the plate, contribute policy – or else get out of the party.
They should stop fanning their own egos in TV studios with vitriolic bile against Corbyn.
They need to do some actual work in making Labour look like a serious political party. The membership are overwhelming sick of their narcissistic putrid selfish self-centred behaviour, rotten to the core.
Some journalists, especially at the Guardian, should stop preening their feathers, and stop spewing incessant negative junk in their low circulation papers.
Basically – anyone who is not up to the job of helping Jeremy Corbyn has overstayed his or her welcome -…
and should get out now.
And what have we learnt from all of this?
We now know that this man
doesn’t want Seumas Milne’s job now, nor in the future, here or in any other parallel universe.
As was in the statement to the press on arriving at Hillsborough Castle for the Northern Ireland talks, 7 April 1998, Tony Blair said, “A day like today is not a day for, sort of, soundbites, really – we can leave those at home – but I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders, I really do.”
Wherever Labour goes from this point onwards, today is a very special day.
My decision to vote for Jeremy Corbyn was not easy. I have learnt to desensitise myself from the hyperbolic shrill of Twitter, and the numbskull hashtag bandwagon campaigns.
First of all, I am mindful that voting for Jeremy Corbyn will be seen by some as a betrayal of the legacy of the Labour Party having made itself electable in the turbulent years in the since the mid 1980s. I should not go so far as to say ‘a pig with lipstick’ could have won the 1997 general election, but I do agree with a sentiment expressed in Liz Kendall’s final speech that Labour did not really have an adequate discussion of what it stands for for a very long time. Whether you agree it or not, there is a perception that Labour to get itself elected is ‘Tory Lite’. This is perceived as huge insult to those who believe in the policies which swept Tony Blair to power in 1997 by some. But it is the reluctance of those same people to ignore how ineffective we have become in opposition which truly worries me.
Get this. I am physically disabled, and I had to apply three times including a tribunal in Grays Inn Road to get my disability living allowance restored. I found my experience with welfare benefits traumatic, but this cannot have been said to be anywhere as traumatic as those people who took their own lives. Like the MP who spoke elegantly in the debate on assisted dying yesterday, I am loath to say ‘commit suicide’ in the linguistic conflation with the criminal law, such as ‘commit manslaughter’ or ‘commit murder’. I cannot think it is necessary for you to be physically disabled to understand the mental pain which has been brought about by the welfare reforms. but it sometimes feels like it.
When three of the candidates abstained on the welfare reform bill, it really was a massive kick in the groin for me. If anything, Andy Burnham’s explanation of the ‘reasoned amendment’ made it a million times worse. I am not a subscriber to Len McCluskey and UNITE but I felt more than a smidgeon of sympathy when he said he felt like sending Harriet Harman MP the dictionary definition of “opposition”. This single vote was a game changer for me. I had to look very hard to support Andy thereafter. I think his idea to bring together health and social care is much overdue. The reason for this is that the problems in the social care system have a direct effect on the operations of the NHS. But it cannot be ignored by me that Labour did much to bring about the mess of privatisation of social services either. I do not agree with the Foundation Trust policy, introduced by New Labour, as it is my perception that there are NHS Trusts, such as Mid Staffs and Morecambe Bay, which were more interested in their Foundation Trust status than their record on patient safety, and the ability of the clinical regulators to bring anyone to account for clear misfeasance is woefully inadequate. Foundation Trusts, and what has happened, a high proportion of Trusts in deficit in a market gone wrong, is not a legacy of New Labour I can agree with. I am sorry to lay this at the door of Andy Burnham partly, and I would not have minded had it not been for his stance on the private finance initiative (PFI). Andy uses PFI to argue that Labour mended the roof while the sun was shining, but it is shockingly and absorbingly transparently the case that the loan repayments have been unconsionably poor value, as admitted by Margaret Hodges’ committee, something has to be done about it fast. The fact that there are City traders who trade in equity in PFI tells you something about the machinery New Labour put in place over the NHS.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke to my values. I get the fact that he is very old (but that surely should not be a problem unless you are profoundly ageist which I am not?) I think the fact that he disagrees with PFI is a factor, but so is the idea that you invest in people. I remain aghast at how many people seem to think that nurses pay is a trivial idea, mainly from people who have never done had a hard day’s work in the NHS ever. But let me tell you one thing which is very important – nurses’ mental welfare is very important, and rewarding nurses for their difficult job is a step towards that, more useful than yoga classes or whatever the latest out of touch managerial initiative from NHS England is. I think also it IS a problem that Russian oligarchs can buy up new builds in London, and Boris Johnson for example is prepared promote that, at the expense of shoving up house prices in London making social housing in London unaffordable for many. The Blair Twelve, for all their verbal masturbation about how disastrous a Corbyn government will be, have never offered anything constructive on social housing. This is not an issue of “Blairite vs Brownite” for me, it just happens that the abuse from some of those people who have been classified as Blairite has been for me completely unacceptable. Likewise, I think the abuse that Liz Kendall has received is simply disgusting, on account of her standing up for her opinions legitimately.
Economists disagree. I know a reasonable amount of economics, to the point I came top in economics in my own MBA. I think the way people have dismissed a ‘people’s QE’ out of hand distresses me, as it shows that they are more driven by securing their own ideology than potentially helping others in society. It does distress me even more that we have continued with the destruction of delivery of legal aid as we “cannot afford it”. Remember – Sadiq Khan MP, newly elected Labour Mayor candidate – was unable to pledge the reversal of cuts to legal aid when Shadow Justice Minister. And so it goes on. There’s a Labour refusal to say that the £20n efficiency savings, now £30bn, is now unworkable because of the desperate need to hang onto austerity. I have found Yvette speaking too much ‘shrill’ in the debates, and, apart from her interesting anecdote about her Haribos factory, I have found her uniquely uninspiring in the debates. Cooper for example had nothing of interest for me to say on the NHS or social care. And we do know that austerity has failed in numerous jurisdictions – Osborne’s own plans for austerity have failed numerous times, as our national debt has exploded far more than under Labour. Cooper may want to reduce the ‘people’s QE’ as ‘PFI on steroids’ but the way in which Labour implemented QE was itself ‘on steroids’. As Jeremy Corbyn rightly points out, signing up to the Conservatives’ economic plan in 1997 meant us signing up to PFI at the time, and a huge number of contracts were introduced under Labour (even thougjh the Major tenure originally introduced it in 1993).
I think Jeremy Corbyn is a good speaker. He is a Facebook friend. Sure, I ‘get’ the concerns about him potentially leaving NATO and wider foreign policy, but I note that he has never said recently he will definitely leave NATO. For me, he has spoken much sense on the refugee crisis. I expect his Shadow Cabinet to be kept in check by a strong Shadow Foreign Secretary, as I think Hilary Benn MP might be. I as it happens feel that Angela Eagle MP would make an excellent Shadow Chancellor. It’s clear that Scotland rejected Labour. I think the SNP is nationalist rather than socialist, and will do anything to further their nationalist ambitions. But I do think Corbyn does have a chance in speaking to disaffected Labour voters who voted SNP or UKIP recently. I think Corbyn is far from perfect, but he himself has urged the need for a united party, where policy is going to be driven by the grassroots. One of my own personal unpleasant experiences was in the Socialist Health Association where I felt it was impossible to have your contributions valued despite the wealth of experience you can bring. I have no truck with this method of working from the SHA, and I think the whole Labour machine has been like that.
I would like to give Jeremy Corbyn a chance. I am genuinely sorry to those of you who will feel offended by this.
And so, as Mahatma Gandhi said once, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
I remember watching the BBC Newsnight Labour leadership hustings when they first happened, quite some time ago. I recall Jeremy Corbyn MP being introduced derisively as the old candidate who’d only just managed to make it onto the ballot sheet. And yet as I listened to Jeremy’s responses it became clear to me that his answers were addressing that significant electorate; those people who felt totally disenfranchised by Labour in the last ten years.
The odd thing about ‘choice’, so exuberantly espoused by both the Conservatives and Labour Party, in recent years is that you come in for rather heavy abuse, some of it of a rather personal nature, if your choice disagrees with someone else. I really can’t rationalise how Tony Blair came to think it was acceptable to state that if your heart is with Jeremy Corbyn you need a heart transplant. But as the campaign has progressed, things have been increasingly desperate. Every man and his dog from New Labour, including Alastair Campbell and David Blunkett, have been wheeled out to deride Corbyn. I am particularly puzzled how David Blunkett came to think he could produce the deal maker for the Blair era, when he has been happy being paid as an advisor on corporate social responsibility for the Murdoch operations.
That the main Union leaders wish to support Corbyn does not surprise me. That Keynesian heavyweight Lord Skidelsky has produced a coherent argument to explain why ‘Corbynomics‘ is not as extreme as some present does not surprise me either. That serious heavyweights in economics wish to lend their support to Corbynomics is not a shock, in addition. This was to be expected with the huge social movement which accompanied the work of Prof Kate Pickett and Prof Richard Wilkinson, for example “The Spirit Level”.
What I was seriously caught out by is how wise leading commentators, particularly at the Guardian, were so keen to sneer at Corbyn. I can understand the thing about not wanting to jump on the bandwagon, but their position was totally untenable. There was little attempt to engage with the actual policies, or to query why so many members of the general public had engaged in what was patently more than a mass hysteria ‘Corbynmania’. This does disappoint me, as some of the commentariat included bright people, sympathetic to the aims of New Labour and the Blair governments, who really could not meet half way with Corbyn.
If it happens that Jeremy Corbyn wins, and let’s face it the polls have been wrong before, I am hoping that members of Labour will pull ranks to help Corbyn. I as it happens have voted in this election, as I was entitled to as a Labour member. Not being offensive, but it might have helped that I haven’t left tweets and Facebook posts banging on about how wonderful the Greens are.
Rupert Murdoch commented in a tweet that Murdoch seems to be the only one who seems to be very clear about what he stands for. Corbyn has had plenty of time to rehearse the arguments in the front of the bathroom mirror, but I dare say he has thought exactly why he felt unable to support tuition fees, Iraq, or the private finance initiative, even having been elected on the same ‘disastrous’ Michael Foot manifesto which first saw him elected together with Tony Blair.
The arguments are very well worn. If there is money for war, why is there no money for social care? The criticism should not be why Corbyn is able to go over the same territory as the 1980s politically, but why these arguments have particular traction now. It is simply the case that the opposition from Labour has been unacceptably weak on the destruction of social care, which is a calamity in itself, but also disastrous from the perspective of how the National Health Service functions.
Repeated apologies for misdemeanours and misfeasance from the past have their place, but only if correct and authentic. The candidates for the Labour leadership have clearly been unable to settle with united voice on the actual reason Labour should be criticised; despite ambitious spending on public services (such as Sure Start or the infrastructure of hospitals), it was unable to regulate the City of London stringently enough. It happens that the Conservatives agreed with this light-touch regulation, and levels of public spending too, but that is not really the point as they were neither in office nor in government at the time.
Labour has never ‘apologised’ for the Iraq War, despite the sequelae, presumably on the basis that it feels it has nothing to apologise for. But there were screw ups in decisions from Labour. Many in the general public find it inconceivable that the Labour leadership, apart from Jeremy Corbyn, aren’t making more of a noise about the destruction of the Independent Living Fund; and abstaining on the welfare reform bill is testament to how some feel there is no alternative to austerity.
Currently a large proportion of NHS Foundation Trusts are in deficit. Many feel that some Trusts, in chasing targets and wanting to become Foundation Trusts, became extremely dangerous from a patient safety perspective, and this legacy from New Labour must not go unchallenged either. Whether or not Jeremy Corbyn can actually win in 2020 is in a way irrelevant to the huge strides forward in re-establishing socialist principles back on the political map. It could indeed be the case that Sir Keir Starmer QC MP is parachuted in just before the 2020 general election, but the ‘political left’ should not by this stage feel disappointed about their progress here. This progress might not have been what Progress wanted, but giving disenfranchised people a voice is a meritorious goal too.
And he might even win with the clarity of his arguments, even if you disagree with them. So get over it.
I must admit that I was taken aback when Gordon Brown quoted a former ‘successful’ Labour Prime Minister thus, “And, in Harold Wilson’s words, Labour is “a moral crusade or it is nothing”. I wasn’t so much amazed that Brown had decided to name drop a Labour Prime Minister who was well known for making policy up on the hoof, and possibly more into style than substance, but the fact that Brown had quoted one of Tony Benn’s favourite quotes ‘of Harold’. To understand the general approach of Jeremy Corbyn, you could do no worse possibly than to watch the film ‘Last Will and Testament’, where like Brown, Benn sets out the historical events which have inspired his quest for social justice. Brown’s penultimate line of conclusion was “And follow what Bevan called that decent instinct to do something that will help the lives of people most in need”, but I think that it is through looking that through this prism you can begin to understand the pain at the lack of efficacy of Labour’s so-called ‘opposition’. For example, Labour has never committed to reversing the destruction of the English legal aid system and the network of English law centres, claiming that such plans would not be possible given austerity. Austerity itself is the reason the NHS is being driven to do ‘more for less’, except the whole world and his dog knows that hospitals get by with the basic of staff on on-call cover, and idea of stretching out existing resources into a seven day way is laughable for most professionals within the service. It is therefore easy for me to understand the immediate popularity of Jeremy Corbyn; that he is defying the neoliberal doctrine, ‘there is no alternative’, with an alternative to austerity. This indeed is not an unelectable formula – look at Scotland (even though one can rightly moot whether SNP policies as actually legislated are particularly left wing). One can argue about whether Corbynomics will work, but the sheer defiance of the ‘there is no money tree’ with quantitative easing is worth raising an eyebrow at least. I have no idea whether Corbynomics is pro-inflationary, but then again no one else unless he or she happens to be an astrologer.
I went up to the Labour Party Conference in 2010 in Manchester. I got to Manchester Piccadilly precisely at the time that they were announcing the Labour Party’s new leader – who was Ed Miliband. Ed Miliband had defied the critics, and had come from nowhere to ‘seal the deal’. This was to much happiness of those who at that stage hated the Blairite wing of the party. I as such do not hate Blairism in the same way that I do not hate any corporates. I do not see Blairism as a social movement, but as a group of some extremely bright people but also some rather sanctimonious disparate people who can see no wrong in Tony Blair. I think many people use Chilcot as an excuse to hate Blair personally rather than a reason, but then again whether the UK went into war legally is a serious issue. I was greeted accidentally by Michael Meacher MP as I entered the ground floor of a pub in 2010 for the Socialist Societies meeting. I asked Michael if he was happy at Ed Miliband’s election: he said, “Not happy – ecstatic.” But he then added, “We’ve got our party back.” And I was to hear this phrase often during conference. And yet he struck me for the remainder of his term as leader that Ed Miliband was never a socialist, but a social democrat. That’s why I thought that the attacks of Red Ed were deeply fraudulent – but clearly not as ridiculous as the bacon butty jibes. When Gordon Brown referred continually to ‘Labour values’, this inevitably was a ‘fist pump’ moment for many, but it is essential to deconstruct whether Labour values, as espoused say by Keir Hardie, have been at the heart of the private finance initiative, where you end up paying for state assets through unconscionable loan agreements, or whether it is particularly Labour values to flog off the State’s infrastructure which you’ve invested in for decades. Lord Mandelson was one of the principal architects of the Royal Mail privatisation, so was it really possible for Labour to ‘oppose’ this when the time came? Is it a Labour value to remain relatively supine about the relative lack of nurses’ wages for many?
What has been incredible for me has been the sheer vitriol aimed at Jeremy Corbyn MP. Representing a different part of North London to the one I’m in, I ‘get’ his views on social housing. When you consider that the Mayor of London, currently Boris Johnson, does not have qualms about selling ‘new buys’ in Paris, making property prices unaffordable for residents of London, you get his point. When you also realise that without any forms of rent controls, landlords are regularly receiving state subsidy to provide accommodation at a huge profit, you see where Corbyn is coming from. However, there are substantial problems with Corbyn’s pitch in various areas, such as possibly exiting NATO. I remain unconvinced whether he really wants the Labour Party to stay in Europe. We all know his ‘friend and mentor’, as indeed he has called him himself, Tony Benn said ‘No Non Nein’ in the original EU referendum. Benn’s socialist reasoning was that he didn’t want everything to be run from unelected people in Brussels, which saw his logical reasoning go into an unholy alliance with the late Enoch Powell’s. But there is a substantial grouping within the Labour Party who do not see Europe as the great competitive nirvana that multinational corporates espousing free movement of capital and labour can do. They see it as a body which does not protect adequately workers’ rights. Corbyn may wish to take the EU negotiations from first principles with Labour. The attack on Labour during the Scottish referendum was that it was indistinguishable from the Tories – the scope for history repeating itself with the EU referendum is there too.
Harriet Harman MP was adamant that Labour should not be opposing for opposing’s sake, and that Labour had to have a moral drive and logic to its opposition. And yet it is Labour which perpetually gives the impression of being utterly toothless and taking it regardless. Its response to the Budget was pretty unmemorable, apart from Chris Leslie for all the wrong reasons. Andy Burnham MP somehow seems to arrived at losing from the clutches of victory, in no way helped by Harman’s stance on the Welfare Reform Bill. Burnham in ‘abstaining’ instead of giving an impression of firm opposition in the form of a ‘reasoned amendment’ which accounted for ‘collective responsibility’ looked instead as if he didn’t give a shit about the devastating effect of welfare cuts, including for the disabled community. Prof Germaine Greer in BBC’s Any Questions unsurprisingly therefore arrived at the conclusion that she expected HM’s ‘Loyal Opposition’ to oppose. There is clearly a feeling now that Labour should not oppose in a long-winged convoluted fashion. It is pretty hard to escape the conclusion that if you want to afford the NHS (not fraudulently articulated fraudulently in neoliberal language as ‘unsustainable’), you have to be willing to pay for it through general taxation. And yet Andy Burnham wants to set up a ‘Beveridge style Commission’ to arrive at this answer. His reasoning for this was presumably because his cherished National Health and Care Service, a great idea which would do much to make a ‘parity a reality’ (one of Burnham’s slogans before he railed against slogans), did not receive its democratic mandate. But there are vast swathes of NHS policy which seemingly do not operate on the basis of a democratic mandate, take for example the suggestion from McKinsey’s of £2 bn or so efficiency savings, or PFI. TTIP is yet another policy arm which, to give him credit, Burnham has been to Europe to oppose. Labour was not in government during the negotiations, but there is a general feeling that Labour did much to put in place the market infrastructure which made subsequent privatisation of NHS relatively easy.
(Cartoon by @BarkerCartoons)
As for Gordon Brown’s ‘Labour values’. where was tub thumbing Brown given the precipitous and disastrous privatisation of social care? It is a honest and settled view of many that social care funding is now on its knee, having not been ring fenced for the last few years. This simple fact makes Cameron’s view that England is the best place to live with dementia frankly delusional. A lot of reasoning behind Labour’s stance has been that it’s been ‘austerity lite’. Whilst socialism does need lots of money to succeed, or as the critics say ‘someone else’s money’, the state infrastructure does need a modicum of investment – even if the return of the investment is later to the City of London, as will inevitably occur when CrossRail or HS3 are flogged off. Tuition fees is another golden example of where a universal right to higher education has been marred with a requirement of an ability to pay. They say that somebody can easily land himself or herself a £60K debt bill at the end of university education, and I can well believe that. I am grateful for my university education, but equally I understand that university education is not the ‘be all and end all’ (for example we might wish to extend legal apprenticeships). I don’t like the A level system, as it’s my opinion it reflects more how well you’ve been taught than anything else, but there is so much mileage to be gained from my ‘I wouldn’t start from here’ arguments.
I do not happen to agree with the ‘savage’ attacks from the BBC in framing Gordon Brown’s speech as a devastating attack on Jeremy Corbyn MP. For example, Brown quoted Mandela in reference to the notion of the need for hope especially after years ‘in the wilderness’. My interpretation of what Brown was trying to say, albeit with a twang of ‘Don’t blame me if it all goes horribly wrong’, was that any Labour leader must receive the popular vote to get elected in the first place; but once elected it will require a huge effort from all sides to make Government work. I think this is particularly the case for Jeremy Corbyn. At one level, the popularity for him is not the same as left populism, it might be argued, and that the echo chamber Corbynmania and packed out lecture halls are not representative of the Labour voting public at large. We’ve been there before with a heightened sense of optimism, for example Milifandom. You don’t have to go far back in time to get constructive knowledge of polls which have been totally wrong – it could be all the ‘hard entryists’ into Labour do not vote for Corbyn at all, though I have no idea what a million Toby Youngs or Dan Hodges are like. There is a huge risk that Labour is about to enter an extended period of mockery, but you have to remember that Labour had relatively little hope of winning 2020 in any form anyway. Tony Blair is to blame in my opinion definitely for not having done the ‘succession planning’ properly; or you can argue that he is in fact an incredibly successful politician for having pulled the ladder up from underneath him. I think Blair has left in many areas a very formidable legacy as a social democrat, for example LBGT equality, public services reform, devolution, national minimum wage, but the essential problem with all of these policy planks is that we remain utterly clueless about the destination of travel. But the same can be said of Gaitskell or Wilson. But not Attlee – and therein lies some of the trouble. And as Nye Bevan said, “It’s not where you’ve come from, it’s where you’re going to” – or “If you remain in the middle of the road, you’re bound to get runover.”
Instead of a complicated voting procedure, some have called for the Labour leadership to be decided by a popular one-off vote like ‘X factor’.
The candidates might be ‘dreaming the dream’, but are any of them the political equivalent of Susan Boyle? That is, a humble person from a modest background, with remarkable talents, with a unique offering. Someone who can click with the audience?
It is likely that Labour is throwing itself full speed into something it doesn’t actually need. That is, to choose a leader before it has chosen (or written) any of its policies. It would probably have been sensible to choose a ‘caretaker leader’ before asking people to choose the new leader.
Already, the search for a leader seems to have made certain assumptions. The leader has to have appeal to ‘voters’ rather than ‘people’. This market segmentation was last tried in Miliband’s hugely unsuccessful “35% strategy”. Again, one assumes the emphasis will be on ‘hardworking people’, and the rest.
In yesterday’s Question Panel, very succesfully chaired by Kevin Peel, who is undoubtedly a future successful Labour MP, a question came up which asked for which car Labour would be if it were a car. I suggested on Twitter, a “lemon car” – this is a car which is defective, with the back soldered onto the front, but with a lick of paint hoping that nobody notices. This was my analogy to Labour embracing the market into socialism, to make a new hybrid economy which is equally defective. A tweep remarked simply: “a bad one”.
The Question Time panel then were faced with the question how to stop the social media preaching only to the converted. None of the guests actually answered the question, but it was a good one. I felt this with the numerous “tweet storms”. Don’t get me wrong. They were hugely successful, and got various memes trending. But there were always a sense that there were there to make the activists feel happy, rather than reaching out to new voters.
But some people in Labour do have very strange ideas. Tristram Hunt MP, who may or may not be known to you as the Shadow Education Secretary, wanted to reach out to the granola buying voters in Waitrose (he didn’t actually say ‘granola’ but he did say ‘shoppers in Waitress’). This might have been Tristram Hunt saying the first thing that came into his head, as he offered a much more sensible answer on Question Time on another occasion.
The broad consensus is that Labour now has to be a “broad church” or a “big tent”; except one gets the impression that Len McCluskey is doing the proverbial in the tent. Labour’s problems are not simply a ‘Southern Discomfort’ as identified by the Fabian Society after the 2010 general election. The results indeed represent an ‘All Round Discomfort’, with voters to ‘the left of it’ in Scotland (going to SNP), and voters to ‘the right of it’ (going to the Tories everywhere but particularly in the South West), “stuck in the middle of you”. But there’s also the UKIP contingent in the North East who are not ‘taking a second look’ at Labour.
Labour wants now to have a ‘radical change’ akin to the Philip Gould ‘Unfinished revolution’ which gave birth to New Labour. Labour is unable to implement any of its policies, left or right, if it is not in power. Tony Blair was the last Labour leader actually to win a General Election; but he was also the one, for many, to take men into an illegal war allegedly.
But many still feel uneasy but what happened in the very recent past. Jon Cruddas seemed to spend ages commanding the development of a new prospectus, along with Ed Miliband’s various thought leaders. The prospectus was generally thought to be ‘good’ but, as Jessica Asato commented yesterday, “did not have winner stamped on it”.
With Ed Miliband’s Labour rejected by the electorate, various members have booked themselves into the radio and TV studios of England. They include Alan Milburn, Charles Clarke, Peter Mandelson, David Blunkett, and Alan Johnson. Yes, a group of “has beens”, or “also rans”, from New Labour, who were themselves ‘the future once’.
But in picking over Miliband’s political grave, they have provided the incorrect analysis. They have produced nostalgia over the word ‘aspiration’, presumably thinking of the white van driver Labour seems difficulty in tweeting to. But they all seem to miss the point – is it particularly aspirational to have introduced tuition fees, was it aspiration to or introduce the policy of NHS foundation trusts which meant that hospitals were seeking gongs ahead of an ability to deliver patient safety?
Labour I feel was rightly criticised for offering a good critique, but not offering the ‘sunny uplands’. The Conservatives, on the other hand, offered a ‘sunny uplands’ which was devoid of any truth. George Osborne missed the majority of his own self-set ‘targets’ in his last term of office. He has urged voters to ‘stick with the successful long term political plan’, and yet in a bravura of cognitive dissonance is about to present yet another ‘emergency budget’.
The lack of vision means that Labour gets fixated on the problems, albeit problems which do matter to many voters. To take as an example, Andy Burnham MP is keen not to let go of the ‘NHS is being privatised’ campaigning theme still for leadership, even though this received a hostile reception from the Tory press. There’s talk too about failing A&E targets for the 30th week in a row, et cetera. But the fundamental issue still remains – what does Labour wish to do about it? The Conservative Party really now are in a fix, having pledged not to put up taxes, but it really is in trouble in that it has no public mandate to increase taxes to fund public services. The Labour Party, on the other hand, could say that it wants to integrate finally health and social care.
Integration of health and social care is in the Conservative Party manifesto and probably is not going to happen. The repeal of the Human Rights Act, popular with Daily Mail readers, is on the other hand about to happen. And guess what? A leading political editor for the Daily Mail has just been appointed to run George Osborne’s communication strategy. Amazing.
Not even the Conservative Party were expecting to win the election outright, though they probably thought they were in a chance when it became obvious that the English electorate were indeed terrified of a Ed Miliband run government only supported by Nicola Sturgeon. It’s pretty likely the Conservatives were hoping that some of their pledges would be lost in political negotiation in a ‘likely hung parliament’. The English probably felt as comfortable about being run by the Scots, as, as we are led to believe, they were as comfortable as being run by the welsh Neil Kinnock.
But the man upon whom Ed Miliband waged war, Rupert Murdoch, was clearly a winner. Murdoch has helped to further the meme that ‘a political party only wins when it leads from the centre’, which has left many in shock knowing that ‘the centre’ has drifted progressively ‘to the right’. The meme may itself as successful as Ed Miliband’s “Britain only succeeds when its hardworking people succeeds”, which might be on a good day described as ‘aspirational’.
But how can hardworking people succeed? They might not be in abusive zero hour contracts. Or their cost of living might be good? This should sound familiar as it is. But furthermore there is nothing more aspirational for people in employment than securing employment rights. It is difficult to be aspirational when faced with overwhelming insecurities. In other words, whether or not you believe in ‘left wing’ or ‘right wing’ is a bit immaterial, but it’s perfectly possible to adopt a left wing narrative on aspiration, if you so desire. Aspiration is not simply about amassing material wealth; it is very much to do with furthering one’s own wellbeing.
Labour may be ‘dreaming the dream’, but there’s no Susan Boyle on the horizon, so to speak. I am not even sure that the current leadership candidates can ‘talk a good talk’, let alone ‘walk a good walk’. But history is certainly repeating itself, with the Tory supporters talking of ‘turmoil’ and ‘crisis’.
But it is indeed a crisis entirely of its own making. There is a curious strong sense of denial which continues to engulf Labour, which means that it cannot engage with opposing points of view. This explains why, despite its target of a million conversations, it seems more stuck in transmit mode and centralist, than wishing to learn.
Take for example the assumption that Scotland voted SNP because the Scots want another referendum soon and they are simply nationalist. I dare say that if the UK were to reject the renegotiated settlement of the EU that would trigger another referendum, but that surely is not the point.
Scottish voters did not in the majority vote SNP because they’re nationalist; but because they’re not in the ‘centre right’ ground – they’re quite socialist. And if you think about the SNP have in fact on the whole drifted to the ‘left’ – and a landslide to show for it.