I have to congratulate the participants in Rio 2016 [The Olympics] not just because they have been exceptionally brilliant this year but for bringing some much needed relief from the dire state of British politics. Each and every competitor has shown the watching world how great a human being can be if they put their minds to it and I’m not just talking about winning medals. The athletes have been amazing and the commentators, with one or two exceptions, have been equally impressive. Clare Balding, in particular, deserves a gold medal for her performance at the velodrome! However, the games will shortly be over and our television screens will be full of the same old dross as before, debates around Brexit, debates about the Labour leadership contest, more hand-wringing over the refugees situation etc. Fortunately, the football season has started so that might pick our spirits up a little and of course, there’s the long run up to this years “Strictly come dancing” to keep us on the edge of our seats. Will ex-Labour MP, Ed Balls live up to his name and crash out in the first round or will he turn out to be a bit of a bobby dazzler on the dance-floor? One of his predecessors, Denis Healey, was known to be pretty nifty in the ballroom so perhaps he will take after him. Exciting stuff indeed but we will have to wait a few months before we know the answer to that particular question.
Members of the Labour Party however, have only a week to wait before they can cast their votes for whoever they think should be leader of the party. That’s providing that the PLP doesn’t come up with another reason to delay things. They’ve already refused to allow thousands of new members the vote which I feel is absolutely disgraceful and only goes to reaffirm just how remote from ordinary members the parliamentary Labour party has become. Those who are eligible to vote only have a choice of two names, Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith unlike a year ago when there were four candidates to pick from, each of them more credible than the current contestants. And before anyone points out that Corbyn was one of those previous four names I’m simply inferring that the pre-2015 election Corbyn was a much more attractive choice than the one standing now. That’s not to imply that Jeremy is not by far the best candidate, it’s just that the previous twelve months have detracted from, rather than added to his general appeal. We can only blame two groups for that, the PLP and the right wing media which tends to forge public opinion in Britain rather than simply reflect it. Jeremy has made mistakes as well but then, he was bound to considering the position he held within the party. Corbyn despite being a successful, popular constituency MP has long been seen by the PLP as an outsider, a “trot” as they like to call him, an often despised figure unlike their dearly beloved “trots”, Michael Foot and Tony Benn. I have to agree that both Foot and Benn were far greater orators than Corbyn but neither of them improved the party’s chances of reaching government. Michael Foot was sixty-seven years of age when he became Labour leader, same age as Jeremy Corby but the latter looks twenty years younger. Tony Benn on the other hand, remained youthful and in my opinion held similar beliefs to those of Corbyn.
Margaret Beckett, someone who appears to have been an active member of the PLP for decades without actually ever doing anything in my opinon, said this week, that vast numbers of Corbyn’s supporters did not care about Labour’s core values. I believe her to be wrong on several counts, especially in her interpretation of “Core” values. I’m a member of the Labour Party and I know what it says on my membership card however, that should not be confused with the notion of core values. We all have “core” values, they are buried deep within us and whilst, not entirely unique to each and every one of us, they remain constant through our evolution as human beings. As we grow we “adopt” other beliefs or values, some of which we retain and build upon, others we discard. However, our “core” values remain and it is these that forge our personalities, influence our friendships and even dictate which political party we are likely to support. Beckett’s idea of core values appears to me as no more than a bunch of ideas or policies that someone has drawn up to represent where the Labour Party stands at this moment in time. In other words, they are “adopted” values subject to change or in many instances, simply abandoned whenever it suits the PLP. Ironically, it was Margaret Beckett who encouraged Jeremy Corbyn to stand in the 2015 leadership contest, obviously thinking he wouldn’t win but certain that it would show the PLP in a good light. It must have come as a great shock when Beckett and her PLP cronies discovered that there remained an awful lot of “left-wingers” amongst Labour party members and not all of them were “trots”. Many, like myself, are best described as “moderates” however, I like to think that the majority who voted for Jeremy in 2015 did so because deep down inside, those core values again, they felt an affinity with him in the way they never did with Brown or Blair.
I should discuss the other contender in the contest, Owen Smith however, I find it extremely difficult to offer a balanced view of the man. In my opinion, Owen Smith is a total phony and I find it incredulous that a party with so many genuinely talented people in it’s ranks have nominated him. Personally, I would have put Caroline Flint or Yvette Cooper up against Corbyn but that’s another story. Smith is trying to appeal to party members who know very little, if anything, about him and yet, he treats them with contempt. For example, Smith claims that the Tories have a “secret plan” to dismantle the NHS along with other key parts of the welfare state however, none of this is secret. The Tories first announced their plans to dismantle the NHS in 2005 and clearly, they have steadily progressed their plans ever since, sometimes with the assistance of the Labour Party. Elsewhere, especially in the education system, the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Work and Pensions, there have been huge changes which directly impact on the most vulnerable sections of society. It may have come as a surprise to Owen Smith but all of these changes have taken place in the most transparent manner by a government that feels no shame. The Tories or Conservatives to give them their official moniker have not always been the “Nasty Party” as Theresa May once called them, they have previously been a more moderate bunch than they are now. However, since Thatcher imposed her “monetarist ideology” largely influenced by the American economist, Milton Friedman a leading proponent of “Free Market Economics”on the country, the Tories have become less interested in society as a whole and disproportionately interested in the more affluent sections of it. The Labour Party lead by Tony Blair had the opportunity, when it replaced the Tories in government, to undo a lot of the damage done by Thatcher but it chose not to, in fact it simply continued along the same lines even going to war on the lamest of excuses with devastating consequences for all of us.
Watching the Rio Olympics over the past week or so has completely distracted my mind away from politics, my previous blog “That’s all for now” indicated my feelings at the time. I was totally fed up of reading about the problems in the Labour Party and the media appeared so biased against Corbyn that I was even turning off The Today Programme as soon as a politician came on. However, I and all those other voters will have to come out of our living-room bunkers shortly and think about who they want to vote for and why. Interestingly, coming up with reasons why seems a lot more difficult than deciding who I might vote for. I will undoubtedly vote for Jeremy Corbyn but only because the other contestant is simply the wrong man altogether. However, whilst I share much of what Corbyn says he stands for, I don’t believe he fully understands the role of leadership. To return to Thatcher, as an example, I discovered from reading her biographies that she would hatch an idea and then present it to her cabinet with an instruction to go away and come back with a policy based on that idea. This possibly sounds like a dictator at work but I suspect it to be the most efficacious way of doing things as long as the person coming up with the ideas has a sound mind and has fully thought things through. However, some of the ideas that Corbyn is coming up with appear not to have been given very much consideration apart from the fact that they might attract public support. Take his pledge to return our public transport systems to public ownership as an example. Jeremy is a similar age to myself but I haven’t spent all of life living in London where commuters are well catered for by their buses, trains and tube operators. Yes, they have problems but nothing like you get outside of London. We all know that back in the early sixties the railways were moth-balled to appease both the construction industry which was wanting to build roads all over the country and the car manufacturers. Putting transport or any other utility back into public hands is not going to improve matters unless the people put in charge of them already deploy or are willing to adopt modern business methods.
You don’t need to have ever been Prime Minister to know that it cannot be easy governing a country like Britain. We are probably one of the most densely populated nations on the planet filled with a diverse, contradictory mix of individuals. For example, we consider ourselves a predominantly Christian society and yet people, generally, rarely ever visit a church. I’m not saying that people who don’t visit churches cannot claim to be Christians after all, there are those who claim their religious belief to be Klingon and they’ve never visited a far distant universe in their lives. However, that’s Britain for you. We like to believe that we are a tolerant nation which we are to a large extent however, try reversing into someone’s parking space or stepping out of turn in a queue and we’re not so bloody charitable. The question of who is best placed to govern our country is almost impossible to answer unless, of course, people look beyond their own personal preferences to what would be in the best interests of everybody. It’s the same with the NHS question. No one can seriously object to private health care just as long as it does not undermine the performance of the public sector. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening and unless we elect a government that is fundamentally opposed to any further privatisation of the NHS then ordinary people will suffer. I think it is quite significant that since the beginning of the 20th Century Britain has elected three Liberal Prime Ministers, seventeen Conservative PMs and only four Labour PMs. On each occasion when the public elected a Labour government, the country was experiencing massive social upheaval and as soon as things settled down, the public voted the Conservatives back in again. Britain was on its’ knees in 1945 but people were prepared to give Labour their opportunity to truly govern the country and they were repaid with the Welfare State.
Although the plans for the British Welfare State were drawn up by a political coalition during the latter part of World War Two led by the economist William Henry Beveridge, no other party would have delivered it so successfully and so extensively. However, two years after the NHS opened to the public in 1948 the Labour government was looking decidedly tired and its’ ministers were openly fighting with each other over aspects of policy. Not surprisingly, the public sensing that the hard work had been done reverted to type and voted the Conservatives back in. This became a familiar pattern but one that showed the British public to be less interested in personality politics and more interested in which party had the most power and influence. Britain went through another major social upheaval in the mid sixties when suddenly, teenagers appeared. Previously, young people simply looked and behaved like their parents or in some cases, like their grandparents. It was Pop music, largely, that brought about this change although, we had been listening to popular music for at least a decade. However, this was different because the Pop music of the sixties was being made in Britain and the entire world wanted to buy it. Music became a huge industry, young people became rich and famous and riding on the back of all that came Harold Wilson puffing on his pipe and giving everyone that cheeky little smile. Notwithstanding his popular image, Wilson was a very clever man and it was clear why people liked him. Labour grandee Sir Gerald Kaufman MP claims that Wilson was one of the nicest politicians he has ever known, demanding yes but very even-tempered, funny, a master tactician and highly principled. That’s not a bad reference is it? However, there are those in the Labour Party who, unlike Kaufman, were not part of Wilson’s inner circle and for various reasons have a different opinion of the former Prime Minister.
I cannot compare Jeremy Corbyn to Harold Wilson for two reasons, firstly, Wilson was closer to being a Social Democrat than a Socialist although, he truly believed in both supporting and empowering the working-classes. Secondly and I don’t wish to suggest that Corbyn is a wimp but Wilson despite coming from humble beginnings could hold his own against any adversary and would not be pushed around. There is no doubt in my mind that Jeremy has struggled in his role as leader of a party that never wanted him to lead them and to a large extent, he has sought to prove his leadership credentials by pointing to the huge wave of public support he receives. However, this is not the right approach as anyone who has ever undergone management training knows. There are basically four different styles of management with the best managers, in my experience, being able to adopt all four styles. Jeremy however, doesn’t appear comfortable operating in any particular style of management, he’s certainly not the coercive type as we saw in his relationship with Hilary Benn and others in his cabinet and so far, we’ve not seen anything that suggests his performance is driven by a high level of expertise. I’m not trying to be unfair, I like Jeremy however, he is making silly mistakes and the biggest of all was allow members into his cabinet who clearly did not support him. His performances at PM’s question time have been poor compared to his public rallies which have been great. However, the PLP appears to be against Corbyn regardless of whatever he does and are using everything and anyone they can to bring him down. I’ve seen this collective approach so often in business where a person is systematically demoralised into submission. They are even using people such as Neil Kinnock who lead the party to four successive election defeats during the period 1982 – 93, to canvass against Corbyn and then, we have individuals like Margaret Beckett questioning members values. However, the Labour Party is now, thanks to Jeremy Corbyn, much bigger than any of them and my advice to those PLP members who are opposed to Corbyn would be to seriously think about joining another party.