I’m really pleased that I decided not to attend this years Labour Party Conference because I would have left it feeling even more disappointed with the party than I was before I arrived which is a shame because I thought it would be a good one. The previous year had not been that great with key figures in the party appearing not to be singing from the same hymn sheet however, reports of the 2016 gathering sound like something out of Game of Thrones. Critics from all sides of the political spectrum described the Labour conference in Liverpool as having the mood of a funeral. The Times journalist and Tory supporter, Matthew Paris however, disagreed with this analogy, commenting that funerals have focus, certainty and dignity none of which were evident at the Labour conference. From all reports, it sounds like there were two political parties in the conference hall, both calling themselves Labour. I even suspect that the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, has assumed the higher rank for one of the two groups and is more obviously attempting to split the party by aiming his criticism of Corbyn and his supporters more forcefully at those on the left of the party. However, it is all very well calling out for supporters to embrace Tony Blair’s achievements when they amount to very little domestically and yet overwhelmingly catastrophic outside of the UK. Ordinary people, those that the PLP appear to neither recognise nor understand, are reminded every time they turn on their televisions or radios of Blair’s legacy and they are not likely to be singing his praises.
Another fierce critic of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, Sadiq Khan, made no attempt at the conference to hide his dislike of the elected Labour leader when he dismissed his appointment using the common phrase, “yeah, whatever!” In my opinion, Khan comes across as a very arrogant individual who believes himself to be more important than he actually is. Sure, he is the elected Mayor of London but outside of the capital, he means almost nothing to any of us and if I’m allowed to say it without being ejected from the party, Zac Goldsmith was the better candidate for the job by far. Apart from Mr Khan, there are so many individuals in the party now who consider themselves to be more significant than they actually are, people such as Rachel Reeves and Jess Phillips, that even lightweights such as Liz Kendall have gained more credibility since Corbyn became party leader than she had prior to his appointment. However, regardless of what goes on behind the doors of Westminster the only thing left for me to decide is whether to remain a member of a party that is actually two parties or do what so many people choose to do and simply ignore politics altogether. However, for a former Politics student, someone who has been active in local politics over the past forty years, that is much easier said than done. So what has gone wrong for me?
I began supporting the Labour Party when Harold Wilson was the leader and subsequently Prime Minister although I was too young to vote for him until 1970. Wilson’s achievements as party leader make Blair’s appear minuscule by comparison. He brought Labour back into government after thirteen years in the wilderness and he kept British armed forces out of the Vietnam conflict. To his eternal credit, Wilson never once said “How high” whenever his American counterpart said “Jump”. However, whilst never claiming to be a socialist, Wilson always believed that Labour was the natural government for Britain which I interpreted as meaning that only a Labour government would place the interests of ordinary people above those of the rich and powerful. This is not to imply that Wilson or any other Labour PM could not engage successfully with all sections of society but that the welfare of the lower classes would always be of paramount importance as the Rich can look after themselves [ and do so ] whereas the majority largely depend on a democratically elected government for their welfare. In some respects that is also what Corbyn believes and is why I support him. However, whilst I remain what can best be described as a “moderate” I am above all, a pragmatist therefore, I prefer facts to theories. I like the fact that since Corbyn first became leader of the Labour Party, membership has risen by over 300,000 but I dislike the theory [ put forward by Corbyn’s enemies ] that many of these new members are either mis-guided, politically naive or trots. However, disregarding what the Parliamentary Labour Party [PLP] thinks of the new members, they have been more than happy to take their money without giving them anything in return.
It was a disgrace not to allow new members to vote in the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader regardless of the fact that he was certain to win with an increased share of the vote. The entire leadership challenge was a total fiasco from start to finish anyway with the sole challenger, Owen Smith coming a respectable second, once the ABC [ Anyone but Corbyn ] vote had been counted. However, I suspect that even a glove puppet would have done as well as Smith. Sorry if I’m theorising now but you see my point. The biggest problem with the Labour Party is it’s inability to look at the facts. It refuses to believe that the general public want to see an effective opposition, one that doesn’t simply offer a slightly less Right-Wing approach to government than The Tories, before they ever consider voting them into power. The PLP keep on about Power being the only thing worth chasing but what about representing the people who voted in those Labour members of parliament, do they not matter now that they’ve got the jobs? They have to be careful though, Ed Balls forgot about his constituents long enough to lose his seat in the 2015 general election and his wasn’t the only safe seat to disappear. Goole was a safe Labour seat for years but it was lost in 2010 to a hard-working Tory and I suspect that it will remain in Andrew Percy’s hands for a long time to come. Labour will never accept the fact that in this era of uncertainty, ordinary people are less likely to concern themselves over things that they largely feel, is beyond their control. Far too many people don’t bother to vote for any party because they believe all politicians to be the same therefore, on a low voter turn-out the most recognisable candidate is likely to triumph.
The obvious exception to this theory was the recent referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union [ the E.U.]. On this occasion, voter turn-out was much greater than at any other time because ordinary people felt that their views would actually go on record, it was a simple Yes No question and the people’s voice would be heard loud and clear. However, as soon as the result was announced, the “remainers” began screaming for a re-match whilst simultaneously rubbishing those who had voted for Britain to leave the EU. Remainers in the PLP even went as far as to blame Jeremy Corbyn for not leading a strong enough campaign in favour of remaining when in fact, it was Alan Johnson MP who was put in charge of Labour’s campaign. If anyone was to blame, it was Johnson not Corbyn. However, it appears that public opinion has still not been embraced by any of our political parties. Corbyn, post-conference has stated that Labour policy will be to retain “Open Borders” with Europe – the very thing that the majority voted against. No one is saying that we should bar foreign nationals from entering into the country but that every application to visit should be treated the same. In other words, if an employer feels the need to bring workers in from either European or Non-European countries then that employer should be made responsible for their welfare whilst they are here. The employer should also have to apply for the necessary permissions and be responsible for their workers return at the end of their stay. People from outside the EU are currently subject to harsh and often, highly subjective scrutiny when they apply for permission to enter Britain. Many of these applicants simply wish to join their families who are already living here but as many as four out of five applicants are refused entry. I don’t know where you stand on immigration but you must agree that the current system is grossly unfair.
Elsewhere in Corbyn’s embryonic Labour manifesto there are suggestions that he will connect with the general public in several areas, especially in his support for the National Health Service. I believe it to be a mistake simply to say that there will be no more privatisation because in many ways, the NHS has benefited by inviting private investment into the service ever since it began in 1948. However, the services I am referring to are neither clinical nor administrative, the NHS must retain control of the core functions which underpin the purpose of a public health service. In other areas such as facilities management including general maintenance, transport, shops and restaurants where both visitors and patients can purchase items, cash machines, garden areas etc. the private sector can easily co-exist within the NHS as well as provide additional revenue. At Addenbrooke Hospital in Cambridge where I visit occasionally, they even have a travel agency, a dry cleaners and a “pop up” shop for local artisans to sell their wares. At Salford Royal, they have a very busy M&S Foodhall which is popular with both staff and patients! They also have the most fairly-priced visitor car-parks of any hospital I have ever visited.
Whilst I guarantee that there will be huge criticism of many, in not all of my suggestions, mainly coming from the Trade Unions, I was surprised at the GMB union’s reaction towards Corbyn’s pledge to scrap Fracking. [ They want it simply because it could mean more jobs for their members. ] Does this suggest that GMB members are all city-dwellers who neither care about the countryside nor show any interest in the experiences of fracking outside of the UK. It was only a short time ago when Blackpool suffered a small earthquake thought to be the result of nearby fracking and almost all reports of fracking in the USA have been negative so far. Again, in The Times, there is support for Fracking, Shale is good for the economy. Government should help promote its extraction.
it demands. However, when a right wing voice claims something is good for the economy what they are really saying is, here is something else we can make a lot of money out of. [“we”is not to be interpreted as everybody] Scientists on the other hand, are well aware of the dangers associated with Fracking.
The other big fall out on both policy and possibly, Corbyn’s friendships was the apparent decision by Jeremy to agree with the renewal of Trident. Shadow Defence Minister, Clive Lewis, a rising star in the party and an ex-soldier was quickly replaced by Nia Griffiths who went to school in Hull, was elected following an all woman short-list and was later found guilty of overclaiming her MPs expenses. Now, I’m not implying that she doesn’t deserve to be an MP but I fail to see how she qualifies for the post of Shadow Defence Minister. Lewis feels, quite rightly, that the priority of the current government and any future administration is to strengthen our conventional armed forces rather than spend money on a defence system which, if ever deployed would eliminate ourselves, our enemies and millions of innocent people. If the thought confuses you then I suggest reading Neville Shute’s book, On The Beach, it was written in the 1950s but has remained entirely relevant ever since and perhaps, even more so today. I believe that Corbyn has been under pressure from the trade unions to change his position on Trident which, considering that he has long been an opponent to it’s renewal, speaks volumes. Another politician that was taking part in a radio debate recently, argued that if the over-riding reason for renewing Trident was to protect jobs then we might as well all pack up, go home and button down the hatches. He was right, why do we put jobs before lives?
The government can help create jobs in almost any way possible if it has the will to do so but not when it means building weapons of mass destruction. Remember Tony Blair? He brought the nation to its’ feet demanding that we punish those responsible for having “weapons of mass destruction” however, we failed to find Saddam Hussain’s WOMDs whilst our own sit quietly undisturbed in a Scottish Loch for all to see.Talking about jobs albeit indirectly, leads me to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell and his views on pay and the economy. John says that we shouldn’t be ashamed to call ourselves socialists and I don’t however, I found the scenes of Jeremy, John and their supporters singing “The Red Flag” at the end of the Labour Conference extremely off-putting. There is no doubt in my mind that McDonnell’s credibility will have been tainted by this unnecessary display. Neil Kinnoch, the ex party leader who knows more about defeat than any other Labour leader, along with the late Michael Foot, were often seen in similar situations and they both suffered as a result. John McDonnell however, has impressed me a great deal since he became a member of Corbyn’s cabinet and I sincerely hope he doesn’t follow Foot and Kinnoch into political obscurity.
John’s ideas originate from very secure sources, people who understand not only how the current economic system works but how an alternative system could work better and for everybody not only for the better off. Critics will say that McDonnell’s ideas are ill thought-out, idealistic or plain daft but that’s not the point. Anyone reading a political memoir or biography will come across numerous examples whereby the Prime Minister or another senior minister will come up with an idea which s/he then hands over to a small group of government insiders [policy makers] in order to develop. Once the “idea” has been fleshed out, it returns to the originator who, once satisfied with it, presents it to Parliament in the form of a “green” paper which if agreed by “the house” becomes a “white paper” and subsequently, Government Policy. John says that there will be no more “Phillip Greens under Labour” which we hope will be the case however, you have to blame the government for allowing people like Green to flourish in the first place and whether a Labour government would be any different is impossible to say. One thing McDonnell must not do is over-tax businesses and job creators. He says that he will increase the national minimum wage [NMW] to more than £10 an hour however, it doesn’t matter how high the NMW goes up if there are no jobs to be had. And, who can say what the NMW should be when or if ever, Labour return to government?
Another “idea”, this time coming from Corbyn is to have zero unemployment. This is a non-starter, you can never have full employment, there has never been full employment anywhere in the world. Why doesn’t Jeremy simply lower his sights and aim for something which is achievable such as unemployment running at below one percent? And going back to Labour’s pledge to keep the Open Borders policy despite Britain not being a member of the EU, how will our jobs market accommodate both our indigenous workers/job hunters as well as those crossing over from mainland Europe? Are we also to believe that a Labour government led by Corbyn will collect sufficient taxes from all those workers to fund the abolition of student tuition fees at a time when our universities are awash with students, many of whom will never put their learning to good use. I’m not wishing to deter people from going to university if that’s what really appeals to them but we all know that since Blair opened the floodgates, going to uni has become a more desirable alternative to going on the dole. What Blair should have done, what his successors promised to do and what Labour, whether in opposition or government, should be doing is widening opportunities for school leavers beyond going to university. It would be madness to introduce free Higher Education for all now that we have reached a situation whereby fifty percent of school-leavers are going to university. By all means allow them to make this choice but introduce a Graduate Tax in order to pay for it rather than dump the entire cost on the nation.
So where do we go from here, not back to the drawing board surely? However, what really matters is where do our young people go, those setting out in this terrible, uncertain world they/we inhabit. In the 1980’s I discovered that Post-modernity is an era personified by risk. Unlike the Modern era which some of us and certainly our parents lived through, very little could ever be taken for granted again. Some commentators remarked that the most significant aspects of the Post-Modern area was the absence of certainty in our lives and the constantly evolving demands of Change. People could no longer rely upon secure employment and with new, smaller, more flexible industries replacing the huge factories that had traditionally offered mass employment, thousand of jobs were lost. Eventually, Margaret Thatcher drove the nails into Modernity’s coffin lid when she ordered the closure of the pits and sold off Britain’s utilities to the highest bidders so that we are now importing coal, gas and electricity at an enormous cost to consumers.
Tony Blair chose to ignore the damage that his predecessor had done and subsequent Conservative governments have simply upped the anti by placing even greater burdens on the vulnerable. Corbyn claims that since becoming leader of the Labour Party they have managed to curb some of the governments attacks on the poor. He claims victory in the fight to retain welfare benefits, in particular, Family Tax Credits [FTC] and Personal Independence Payment [PIP]. However, my own experience as a Welfare Rights Worker and Advocate disputes Corbyn’s victory claim in this area and if anything, the already poor treatment of people claiming PIP or FTC by the Department of Work and Pensions has grown worse over the past year. I can only assume that Corbyn is either deluded or his cabinet, such as it is, is not fully informed. Elsewhere in the Labour Party but not in Jeremy’s group, there are MPs such as Rachael Reeves who feel that the Tories haven’t gone far enough in their Welfare reforms and who, I suspect, would have the poor and sick moved into some kind of modern day Gulag hidden away from the decent hard-working people she prefers. And that’s where I will leave it. My mind is now made up. I don’t want to be a member of a party that is, in effect two parties, neither of which has anything in common with the other. I’m not sure whether it is mutual but one of the two parties has no respect for the other and therefore, has no respect for moderate members like myself who sit in the middle whilst leaning towards the left.