I think it was Harold Wilson who said that a week was a long time in politics and that certainly proved to be the case over the past seven days for his beloved Labour Party. The week began badly with the fall-out over the collapse of the BHS store chain with the predicted loss of thousands of jobs, a fact unlikely to excite trade unionists but a devastating blow to British Home Store’s loyal work-force all the same. This was followed by the first “all out” 48 hours strike by junior doctors working in the NHS frustrated by the Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to listen to their concerns regarding unsafe working practices within the NHS. Then we had the “Anti-Semitism row” within the Labour Party which threatens to derail the party just as it was making steady progress towards success in the May elections. However, whilst all eyes and ears were on the turmoil within Labour’s rank and file, the Culture Minister, John Whittingdale, released his White Paper on the future of the BBC which along with BHS and The Labour Party, looks likely to become a thing of the past. It was indeed, a long and miserable week, not just for Jeremy Corbyn and The Labour Party but for those ordinary, hard-working people that this government claim to hold in such high regard. People that will, most probably, be going to the polling booths next week to express their views on who they want to be represented by. Unfortunately, we do not as yet have proportional representation in the UK therefore, whoever the public decides to vote for will largely depend on whatever political discourse is circulating in those few days prior to May 5th. However, in an attempt to offer a balanced view of current events I want to share my concerns regarding certain developments in the past week that will have negative repercussions for most of us.
The problem with the retail industry is that it relies heavily on customers which might sound a tad simplistic but is correct nonetheless. It is all very well having fabulous shops and stores located in prime positions, filled with an assortment of merchandise that you believe customers will buy in their thousands if you don’t actually have what it is that customers want to buy. This is at the heart of the problem for retailers. There is now, possibly, too much choice and far too many outlets competing for sales. On top of that, there is the internet and online shopping. Personally, I’m not a fan of shopping but I still need things and will go to my favourite retailers whether in-town or on-line to purchase stuff. For example, I might buy Marks & Spencer’s clothing on-line and have it delivered to my local branch for my collection or I might travel to one of their bigger stores and make a day of it. I think this is known as “retail therapy” but I’ve never found parting with money to be that therapeutic personally, necessary yes but unlikely to leave me with a warm inner glow. However, retailing is one of the most honourable professions or at least, it was until recently. Now it seems that the big high street names are fair game for unscrupulous carpetbaggers who sense an opportunity to make a quick and easy profit without putting anything back into the companies they raid. The NHS on the other hand, is an essential service that cannot be treated in the same way as a retail business and yet, this is exactly how the current government views it. Jeremy Hunt may well state that Minister for Health will be the last “Big Office” he holds but we all know that the rewards he will gain from privatising the NHS will more than compensate for his renunciation.
The Labour Party has never really taken much notice of the retail industry, possibly because the millions of people employed in it are not particularly well-paid nor active within the trade union movement. NHS workers, on the other hand are relatively well paid by comparison and are certainly highly unionised. However, we should not assume that shop-workers do not aspire to earn more, or, wish to become a recognised profession, it’s just that they are usually too busy dealing with customers to worry about such things. I mentioned the names of two of our most successful retailers earlier, Mr Marks and Mr Spencer, whose beginnings as market traders in the city of Leeds is well documented. I don’t believe that these Jewish entrepreneurs were ever knighted for their achievements, unlike some modern day equivalents however, they certainly made shop work respectable as well as pleasurable. Bradford MP [ Lab ] Naz Shah might not agree with me on this point especially since her own beliefs about Jews generally, has sparked off a row within the Labour Party which is likely to lose them a lot of votes in the forthcoming elections. Why individuals holding responsible public positions believe that it is appropriate to express their personal beliefs on social media is beyond my understanding. However, whilst Ms Shah may have been naïve the same cannot be said of Ken Livingstone who proceeded to make the situation worse by introducing Adolf Hitler as a witness in her defence. Now, the first rule you learn in Hitler School is that you don’t mention him in any contemporary sense whatsoever but it seems that Ken never attended Hitler School, he prefers to gen up on the dictator by reading an obscure book written by some crackpot who probably, also denies the Holocaust.
We now have an almighty row raging within Labour with Jeremy Corbyn looking like he will be the next casualty. However, if Jeremy steps down who will replace him? Having attended the hustings last year and followed events since Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, I cannot see a possible replacement other than John McDonnell but he’s doing a good job as Shadow Chancellor and would be better staying there. Andy Burnham has matured recently and could well be in the frame as a future leader but not right now. Ben Bradshaw is popular amongst his colleagues but then he comes out with such nonsense as suggesting that Ken Livingstone was a Conservative spy who had been planted in the Labour Party and was now trying to inflict as much damage on the party as he possibly could. Well, we all know that Ken can often be found amongst pond-life but a Conservative spy? I don’t think so. Seriously though, not that Bradshaw wasn’t being serious when he expressed his concerns about Livingstone, the row about Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has been created by the right-wing media, helped considerably by Naz Shah and John Mann, the Labour MP who chose to let fly at Ken Livingstone in full view of the television cameras. John may have believed that he was defending the vast majority of people in the Labour Party who condemn any form of racial prejudice but it was not the place to go effing and blinding at the former Mayor of London. Perhaps, Mr Mann is the Conservative spy? Whatever the truth is, the public will view the Labour Party as being so disunited and discredited that it will simply not trust it with their votes. I don’t know where those votes are likely to go, if anywhere however, the loss of public confidence in Labour is a huge blow to our democracy.
I often wonder what people understand by the term Democracy ,or, even more puzzling, what they expect from it? Personally, my idea of Democracy is simply based around the notions of Liberty and Free Speech. I consider a democratic society to be liberal, tolerant and above all, one in which each individual can choose for themselves, what to believe in, whom to love, where to live and so on. Obviously, there are limits as to how an individual should or should not express themselves as highlighted by the MP Naz Shah and her now infamous Tweets. However, apart from not contravening UK laws, most people are free to do whatever they want, when they want and with whoever they want but this is about to change. The aforementioned MP, the Right Honourable John Flasby Lawrence Whittingdale OBE wants to limit our choice of television viewing. He doesn’t want us to watch less television which might actually be good for us, he wants us to watch more commercial channels, the ones with all the advertising so that his “friends” can extract even more money from us. The minister’s white paper, unbelievably, dictates that popular BBC programmes be shown at times that do not clash with any of the popular commercial television programmes. Note that Whittingdale doesn’t suggest that it should be the other way round. What he has clearly indicated is that a BBC programme such as “Strictly Come Dancing” should not go out at the same time as an ITV programme such as, “X Factor” which means that anyone wanting to settle down on the sofa after dinner to watch Strictly will now have to wait until bedtime or when ITV’s revenue from their advertisers starts to decline, before it can be broadcast. This is a direct assault on our liberty, we pay a licence fee to watch the BBC and no politician should interfere in our viewing habits. However, we are dealing with a man who has already shown himself ready to do the bidding of powerful individuals like Rupert Murdock, a man who believes that “press freedom is a vital component of a free society” which seems strange coming from someone who has himself, been a victim of media intrusion into his private affairs.
The week has ended on much the same low note as it began and with the local elections coming up, I don’t anticipate there being much to sing about in the days ahead. I do hope however, that Labour’s core voters and those newbies inspired by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. Labour has never had it easy in UK politics and in many respects, it is a wonder they still exist. However, when the party gets it right there is no doubting that, as the late Harold Wilson always protested, Labour is the natural choice to govern the UK. It would be overly-optimistic of me to think that Jeremy Corbyn will rally the troops behind him in time to avoid any serious damage to his party on May 5th just as it would be foolish to imagine a buyer stepping in to save the jobs of all those thousands of BHS employees but we can hope. We can do the same for the NHS however, we shouldn’t allow our fears to dissuade us from supporting the junior doctors. There has been an enormous amount of miss-reporting about the strikes just as there has been about the junior doctors themselves but the fact is that they know better than anyone, what is going wrong in our national health service and they want to put things right. The strikes are not about wanting higher wages or longer holidays, they are about making our NHS hospitals safe to work in and therefore creating better outcomes for patients. As for the threat to the BBC, I can only suggest that the millions of licence fee payers make their voices heard and don’t let this man, Whittingdale, get away with it. If he thinks that by simply shifting a popular BBC programme to the Twilight Zone, more of us will tune in to watch rubbish conjured up by the likes of Simon Cowell or Ant and Dec then he clearly shouldn’t be the Minister for Culture.