The Problem of ‘Experts’ In Cultural History

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Image from Another Angry Voice

Today we rely upon experts. When we have health issues we go to our GP and hope that they have the expert knowledge to help us get well. And if not, we hope they can make us an appointment to see a consultant who will use his or her considerable expertise and the use of other medical experts to sort out all our health problems.

Every day we rely upon expertise to get us from A to B: the designers of cars, and buses and trains; the designers of roads and rail systems; the engineers who confounded 19th century beliefs by digging deep underground to build tube systems and make them safe.
When we fly, we not only rely upon the expertise of the pilot, but also of all those aircraft designers, engineers and mechanics, not to mention air traffic control operatives and those experts who designed the original ATC systems.

Scientists help us understand our world and over time have helped to make it a safer place for us. Architects and Engineers have built structures of all shapes and sizes which assist with everything from transport of goods and of us, to living accommodation, factories, roads, bridges, etc…

And so on…

An ‘expert’ is usually considered to be someone who has studied and practiced in a particular field, to the extent that they know their field so well we can rely upon them to control that ‘field of expertise’.

Nowadays, when we hear the ‘too many experts’ charge, we laugh at the crass lack of intelligence this remark demonstrates. And we feel correct in doing so. In our busy and fast-moving world, we need experts to deal with a host of things which we are not capable of dealing with ourselves.

Without experts, our lives would be very different and in most cases much less acceptable.

However, this does not mean that there is no problem with the term ‘expert’. But we need to go back in history to understand why.

In Britain and in Europe until the 17th Century, when a person was ill they went to see a ‘wise woman’ or a ‘herbalist’ or similar. These people studied herbs and other elements provided by nature to make ‘potions’ and healing implements. The wise woman would also provide her services to assist a difficult childbirth.

But the 17th century onwards also saw the rise of ‘professionals’. These were relatively wealthy members of society who paid to study new practices. Doctors in particular became part of a profession.

Being a professional usually meant belonging to one of the new rising ‘professional societies’, open only to those who had gained the necessary qualifications and therefore ‘expertise’.

This was definitely class and gender based in that it was usually only the sons of the rising upper middle classes who had the chance to study to become doctors (or scientists or top level engineers), but at least it provided a path to better living standards for all (although this would take a very long time in reaching the less wealthy members of society).

But the rise of the professional was also exclusionary in other ways.

By outlining who exactly was a ‘professional’ or ‘an expert’, this also cast aside all those previously practicing, particularly in medicine, healthcare and childbirth, because they were no longer considered to have the ‘correct’ knowledge.

Even worse, with the Early Modern European witch hunts, not only were those practising healing by other than now ‘accepted’ methods hunted down and murdered on behalf of religious fervour, the fear and hatred of ‘witches’ was aided and abetted by the growth and acceptance of new ‘professionals’.

Over the centuries, the rise of the ‘expert’ has occurred alongside the outlawing of methods accepted over previous centuries (whether good or bad) and, with the growth of Capitalism, has led to workers having a complete lack of control over production and of attaining a living from their particular skills handed down throughout the centuries.

In other words, seen this way, the rise of ‘the experts’ was very bad news to ordinary people. It was like a smack in the face to everything they knew and a total disregard of their own teachings and commonly shared knowledge.

This could go some way to explaining the ‘anti-expert’ rhetoric we hear today, especially when it comes from members of the working class or from those hoping to appeal to them for political gain.

We all need experts in our lives and we need to encourage our children to become experts in their chosen field too. But perhaps, rather than simply being scornful of those who dismiss experts, we need to go some way towards understanding why for some people being ‘anti-expert’ is seen as a source of their own identity.

And then just maybe we can include their thoughts and fears in our search for a way out of the political mess that the appeal to ‘anti-expert’ feeling has brought us to.

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Today’s March for Europe was great, so why do I feel so angry?

Demonstrators take part in a Unite for Europe march, as they head towards Parliament Square, in central London

Today 10’s of thousands of people marched in London to #UniteForEurope.

Reports so far say that the #MarchForEurope had between 25,000 and 100,000 marchers. I would say there were at least 50k people there, but spread out over the march and with people constantly joining, it was difficult to count.

There was friendliness, unity and hope, but many are, quite rightly, angry at what Brexit will mean for them and their children.

And, although today I met many positive people, the openness and unity of the march today has left me feeling sad for what might have been. And so I do feel anger:

Anger that Brexit is very unlikely to offer my children the opportunities to travel, work and study throughout Europe that I had.

Anger that my friends in France and Spain (and those who are now in the UK working) have been made to feel so unwanted and a burden by a country that relies on their hard work, skills and friendship.

Anger that the Leave side told so many lies and kept repeating them regardless. And that people actually believed them! That people believed the writing on the ‘NHS bus’ beggars belief!

Anger that the loudest voices for ‘Leave’ spoke of immigration and the country being ‘swamped’ with people from other countries (and many chose to ignore the European bit and concentrated on all immigrants) and that so many people fell for this bullshit bigotry.

Anger that many in the Leave campaign were openly xenophobic and used rhetoric and images resembling Nazi propoganda. The racism and hate stirred up during the Referendum was shameful and frightening to witness. And when some ‘Leavers’ on social media dismissed discussiion of the savage, hate-induced killing of MP Joe Cox as ‘they are using that to win votes’, I felt ashamed to share the same country as these hateful bigots.

Anger that ‘experts’ were ridiculed and ignored by the Leave campaign, while ignorance, Forest Gump style, was almost actively encouraged.

Anger that the media gave publicity to those on the Remain side who were pompous capitalists, like Osborne and Cameron, while virtually ignoring the left wing Remain argument which was carried up and down the country by Labour and Jeremy Corbyn (and of course the coup that followed when the Labour right cut its own party’s throat by blaming Corbyn for Brexit…)..

Anger that the Remain side (the one on TV anyway) concentrated on scare mongering and patronising platitudes when there was so much more to talk about. The EU is far from perfect and needs changing from within by its members. No one should have ignored that and in doing so they lost credibility among voters.

Anger that so many on the left decided that a vote to Leave would bring in the socialist revolution (last I read, socialism was internationalist, not isolationist, unless of course you were Stalin).

Anger that, for all the brave attempts to get Brexit discussed and voted on in Parliament, because of the Tory majority, May’s government can steam roller through a hard Brexit whether we want it or not.

Anger that, despite my knowing that he was stuck between a rock and a hard place, Jeremy Corbyn actioned the three line whip to get Article 50 passed in order to win a couple of by-elections. I’m understanding, but still finding it hard to forgive what seems to me like a sell out of Labour values on internationalism and multiculturalism for an ‘old’ set of values more appropriate for the 1950s than the 21st Century.

And anger after Brexit with those who appear to be so afraid of ‘losing’ their ‘Brexit win’ that they insist on shouting down any questioning of Brexit and how exactly it is to be carried out. If I hear one more cry of ‘just get on with it’ or one more call to ‘shut up you remoaners’, I really will not be responsible for my actions!

But now I have got all that off my chest, do I feel any better?

Not a lot.

But it was a great march!

Labour and the Continuing Fight for Democratic Socialism

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The Labour Party is a party of Democratic Socialism. It says so on the membership card.

But let’s make something plain. The Labour Party has never been a party of socialist revolution, and, because it is a political party standing for election within a parliamentary system of democracy, it is reformist rather than revolutionary. But in the United Kingdom, with its tradition of and emphasis on parliamentary politics and universal suffrage, Democratic Socialism is considered to be the best and the most effective way to ensure equality and justice for the majority of people.

In other words, a revolution might well be favoured by socialists, including some in the Labour Party, particularly those who follow the Marxist tradition (rather than, for example, the paternalistic socialism of Robert Owen), but it is a dream for the future, rather than the present. And the present badly needs attention right now. So the Labour Party as a Democratic Socialist party is not and never will be ‘extreme left’. It is no threat to Parliamentary Democracy.

Nevertheless, as Labour Party members try to define and assert their fight for democratic socialism, you may have thought that our whole way of life is under threat having read the mass of right wing newspapers.

So how and why is this misreading and misrepresentation of the Labour Party by the media, especially Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, happening? Let’s look at recent history:

………………………………………

Many socialists have joined the Labour Party over the last couple of years in the hope of being able to play a part, however small, in not only helping the party regain its Democratic Socialist position, but in helping Labour candidates at local and national level to win elections and eventually to bring in a Democratic Socialist Government and local authorities run on the Democratic Socialist principle.

But those hopes for the Labour Party and for a future Labour Government will be very difficult to fulfil. And we can see that clearly in the treatment that staunch Democratic Socialist Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters suffer every day, not only in the media, but by some in their own party.

Watching the media attack Corbyn (‘gently’ by ‘suggestion’ at first and then with ever more harsh, out and out attacks) even before he won his first leadership election in September 2015, it was painfully obvious right from the start that there were those in the establishment who would do anything they could to prevent Corbyn gaining power. But I guess that was to be expected, given that the media during the Blair years had pulled back on their attacks but had then increased their attacks even on his successor, Gordon Brown, and even more so on Ed Miliband. So, they were bound to greatly increase their attacks when faced with someone who insisted on keeping his word to follow the path of Democratic Socialism and all that entails for the establishment.

Because, at the base of all those attacks on even slightly ‘left sounding’ Labour politicians like Miliband was an unsaid (in public anyway) agreement that anything which affected the position of the establishment and the Neo-liberal trend for the economy must be stamped on, crushed to tiny pieces, and then thrown back into the garbage of History. Anything slightly more ‘left’ than ‘New Labour’ and its politics of ‘gentle’ Neo-liberalism could never be allowed to prosper.

So, as the Blair Government came to an end, it appeared that even a slight and very tentative ‘turn towards the left’ in the Labour Party would never again be welcomed. And, for those media players who portrayed themselves as ‘left of centre’ (The Guardian, The Mirror…), it was one thing to support the Liberal Democrats, knowing that they were unlikely ever to be a majority party (and that while they may have sounded ‘left’, they still supported Neo-liberalism), but it was quite another thing to support a more left wing Labour who dared to question ‘austerity’ and who could quite possibly gain power.

In fact, so ingrained upon the political psyche was the ‘need for austerity’, that any party or party member calling for anti-austerity measures was seen almost as a traitor. Ed Miliband was left in 2015 with policies which were only just a little ‘softer’ than those of the Tories, and on national TV was forced to argue against parties with anti-austerity policies on their manifestos when it was plain for all to see that a left of centre Labour Party should have been arguing on behalf of ordinary people alongside the anti-austerity parties (and finding other points to differentiate on instead).

But why was Miliband left with such a weak manifesto to fight back against the Tories? Many long-standing Labour supporters argue that some of the economic policies put forward to the 2015 manifesto by then shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, were very similar to those put forward more recently by John McDonnell (and now considered radical). So were they that weak? Or could it be the way these policies were presented that was so weak?

It was the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum who laid out the manifesto. Ed Miliband merely had to learn and repeat it. And, because of Labour’s fear of being accused of ‘not being able to manage the economy’, those, basically Keynesian economic policies were put forward with the proviso that ‘Britain must balance its books’. In other words, despite those (gently) left-of-centre economic policies, the end note, on the economy and on everything else, was ‘don’t rock the boat. Labour must be seen as a safe pair of hands’. And in doing this, Labour fell straight into the trap of repeating Tory-designed rhetoric.

After Labour’s defeat in the 2015 General Election and Ed Miliband’s resignation, the election for a new party leader at first brought forward three candidates: Andy Burnham, seen as ‘more to the left’ than the other two, perhaps for his strong opposition to the government’s Welfare Reforms Bill; Yvette Cooper, campaigning on a message of hope and the only candidate to say categorically that Labour were not responsible for the fall in the economy as argued by the Tories; and Liz Kendall, always considered ‘the outsider’ and ‘a Blairite contender’, whose main focus was in ‘making the party electable again’.

All were perfectly sound candidates with the strong CV to go with their application, but it did appear that when it came to policies there was little to choose between them. In other words they were not going to ‘rock the boat’. They were instead, all ‘safe hands’ to present to the voters.

But from a voter’s point of view, neither were any of them likely to inspire a passion to go out and vote for them!

Then along came Jeremy Corbyn, just scraping onto the ballot with enough supporting MP votes at the very last minute. He spoke about taking the railways back into public ownership; about his support for NHS reinstatement, about spending money on jobs, health and welfare, rather than on the defunct Trident; and he dared to speak about ‘austerity’ as something to be opposed, rather than complied with.

It was a breath of fresh air for all those who had felt that Democratic Socialism had been lost for good.

Knowing the sheer animosity produced in much of the media and aimed at Ed Miliband for his rather tentative ‘slightly leftward’ stance, no one expected Corbyn to have an easy ride. But few expected the total vitriol that would be aimed at him, with his every move and statement analysed, criticised and vilified by all means available.

But even more astounding was the total animosity aimed at Corbyn from some in his own party.

This was a party who had, on the whole, stood by Blair even when many feared that ‘things were going too far right’. Some Labour MPs may have stood up in Parliament and opposed Blair’s stance on Iraq, but they did not belittle him and they did not go to the gutter press to vilify him. Members left the Labour Party under Blair, but of those who stayed, they agreed to stand by their leader. They may have disagreed with him on some views, but generally they did not call for his resignation.

So, why did many Labour MPs and certain Labour Party members think it was okay to write to the newspapers complaining about Corbyn? Why did groups like Progress think it their duty to plot against him at every opportunity? Why were new members after Corbyn’s election (deemed to be Corbyn supporters even when they were not) excluded from CLP meetings, mocked by some older members, and generally feared by others?

Of course, despite the events of the 1980s being over three decades ago, for some older Labour Party members, the influx of so many new members (especially those who joined Momentum [mainly because their own CLPs excluded them from participation]) brought fear into their hearts. They remembered Militant and the animosity throughout Labour at that time. They saw new Corbyn-supporting members as ‘a new Militant’ and no way did they want to go down that road again.

But, even allowing for a fear that history would repeat itself felt by some older members, that does not explain the sheer animosity expressed by some Labour CLPs towards Corbyn supporters (especially when most Corbyn supporters made real efforts to fit in with older members and allay their fears). After Cobyn’s election as leader in 2015, many CLPs simply stopped telling new members about meetings, while others belittled new members with counter-arguments about ‘rules’ given when any new member tried to speak (even though the Labour Party Rule Book had been largely disregarded by the majority of ordinary members up until this point).

But it was much worse in Parliament for Corbyn and the small group of MPs who supported him. When Labour should have been fighting the Tories and supporting their leader at PMQs and in all other Parliamentary debates, Corbyn was opposed by many in his own shadow cabinet; everything he said or did was criticised in the press by a small number of his own MPs, and then he was mocked on social media by members of his own party. Strangely, these members were hardly ever called up by the Labour Compliance Unit to explain their actions, and yet Corbyn supporters began to be suspended at a rapidly-increasing rate for comments they had made on social media.

In fact, mass suspension of Corbyn supporting Labour Party members began with and continued through the ‘coup’ of Summer 2016, when Corbyn was repeatedly asked to resign by his own MPs; a drip-feed of resignations from his shadow cabinet accompanied this; and then a ‘motion of no confidence’ by 172 MPs followed. Thus resulting in the Labour Leadership election September 2016.

I won’t bother to go into detail about the efforts made to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper for the leadership election; nor about the decision to increase the affiliated supporter payment to £25; nor the NEC decision to prevent newer members (from the end of January 2016 onwards) from voting (despite the Labour Party website claiming they would be able to vote), and trade union affiliates being refused in the same fashion; nor about the thousands of new applicants for membership being refused, while others found themselves suspended for the strangest of reasons (the person who particularly liked the Foo Fighters comes leaping to mind…), while others were not even told why they had been suspended…

All of that is past history. But it is a history that demonstrates an almost total obsession to prevent Jeremy Corbyn, the man who speaks the language of Democratic Socialism, from power. And that happened within the party of Democratic Socialism itself.

………………………….

Today we await May’s triggering of Article 50 and setting Brexit negotiations fully in motion.

A ‘hard Brexit’ will go against everything that Democratic Socialism stands for. It will leave workers with little defence in the workplace; our human rights could be in tatters with the new ‘British version’; our welcoming of migrants will be at an end, along with our generosity to a wide range of cultures; our children’s education will be further limited, this time by the curtailment of access to share education across borders; and our solidarity with workers in Europe will only be enabled only at a distance because free movement across the EU will have ended.

To add to this, the country will be poorer; everyone but those who can afford to buy themselves out of trouble, will be worse off; our NHS will be in even more danger of privatisation, this time at risk of being sold off to US companies; and all those ‘extra homes and jobs’ we so badly need will not materialise just because EU workers have left…because they will not be available in the first place.

And here comes the rub… to be a democrat means to agree to represent the majority, and the majority ‘won’ Brexit. So, despite a hard Brexit going against everything that socialism aims towards, Labour is stuck with repeating the May-designed mantra, “We must follow the will of the people”.

Over the last few weeks, it is my personal opinion that Jeremy Corbyn has faced and still faces the biggest threat to his leadership yet. And this time it is going to come from the left as well as the right.

Although many on the left voted ‘Leave’ in the EU Referendum, just as large a number on the left of the Labour Party voted ‘Remain’, particularly younger members. Many of those members who voted Remain also canvassed for Remain on Jeremy’s behalf before the Referendum. Make no mistake, it is highly unlikely that such a large number of people would have turned out to canvass for Remain had it not been that they also supported Corbyn. Now, exactly how many of them feel betrayed we will see over the coming weeks.

Corbyn’s reason for calling the three line whip on Article 50 has been made clear to those who want to listen, but not everyone does and others take a different view (including, it has to be said some Corbyn-supporting MPs).

Of course, alongside the ‘wobbles’ felt by some on Labour’s left over the article 50 vote, we again find increasing pressure from Labour’s right wing. As last summer, they are saying that Corbyn’s leadership is not effective, but now they have added support from so-called left wing journalists like Owen Jones.

The future for Corbyn’s leadership is now far from certain. And the sad thing is, the huge movement behind Corbyn was never a ‘cult’ as described by detractors: it was a movement for real, Democratic Socialism. The left of the Labour Party may never have another chance for years to achieve this, because no MP from the left of the Party is ever likely to get on the leadership ballot paper again.

And the ironic thing is, for all the onslaught of the media and right wing Labour MPs, it is a dilemma over democracy that is threatening to bring Corbyn down, plus, it has to be said, those socialists who vote ‘Leave’ because they felt that Britain outside ‘fortress Europe’ could become a socialist society despite knowing of the continuing strength of the Tories and firm resistance from the establishment.

If Labour is to become a fully Democratic Socialist Party, having this as a description on membership cards is nowhere near enough. Those who have this vision for Labour need to work for it and fast, because it is rapidly slipping out of grasp.

The Loss Of Copeland: Was Any Of It Corbyn’s Fault?

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The Copeland result was devastating for Labour. There is no denying this. But why did it happen? I’ve tried to lay out a few of the possible reasons for this below. They are ‘in no particular order’ (more of a brainstorm really), but when read together they add up to a worrying picture which must be dealt with ASAP. So, I have also added a few suggestions as to how I personally feel this should be done.

The Resigning MP:

MP Jamie Reed represented New Labour, which is out of touch with the ordinary people of Copeland. There is a general antipathy to New Labour, especially in areas like Copeland, and no recognition that Labour has changed from this, so Reed’s replacement would more likely be seen as someone who would continue along the same pattern, unless voters were persuaded otherwise.
Mr Reed’s constant message that Corbyn was not suitable as a Labour leader certainly wouldn’t have given voters confidence either.

There is also the point that, although candidates for both Copeland and Stoke were anti-Corbyn and had spoken about this, Tristram Hunt could more easily be seen as a ‘shoe in’ candidate, whereas Jamie Reed embraced Copeland and its main industry (even while not supporting its welfare benefits). So, we have to ask, did Jamie Reed’s ‘warnings’ over Corbyn hold more sway than those made by Hunt?

Was the Labour Message Put Across Effectively?

It does appear that Labour didn’t really get their message across that they were no longer the ‘New Labour’ embraced by MPs who had failed their respective communities (or even how Labour as it stands now differs from ‘New Labour’). And in the case of those voters who did listen and agree that Labour’s emphasis has changed, it will take a long time for voters to trust a party that has grown out of touch with them over the years. Things are not seen to change overnight and even when they do, astute voters know that changes can easily be brushed over in support of political expediency.
It would certainly have helped if Labour party members and supporters had held a clear message on how Labour had changed that they could truthfully tell to sceptical voters. But of course, when Labour Party members’ hopes for a more caring, inclusive and anti-austerity Labour Party are constantly under pressure, it must be difficult to feel certain that the policies you are promoting on the doorstep will actually be the policies that Labour carries forward into a General Election.

The Media:

There is no doubt that media blocking of positive Labour coverage, along with constant ‘digs’ at the leadership, was and is a huge problem.
But this leads again to ‘more effort required’ on the part of those who promote Labour Party policies and who organise Labour campaigns.

Corbyn’s ’10 Pledges’ are vote winners, but they need explaining to the voting public in a clear and concise way and they also need adapting to fit local circumstances. All this should be possible in a well-organised party, but somehow it didn’t appear that way.

Is it more that those ’10 pledges’ of Corbyn’s, which many local Labour groups are eager to get on and promote, are seen as less attractive by some of those who organise campaigns precisely because they are Corbyn’s?
I don’t know, but I think this could play a part in what happened, however small.

Voters Felt Forgotten by Labour:

Voters felt that Labour didn’t care about them, telling canvassers again and again ‘we only see you at election time’. Again, the resigning MP must take some blame for this, but also the local CLP, plus regional and national campaign coordinators needs to recognise that they have been found wanting too.

Labour should have been out there in the community long before the Copeland and Stoke by elections, but it appears that they were not, preferring, as in so many CLPs, to discuss and argue about policies in private.

Was Copeland Really ‘a Labour Stronghold’?

Despite what the media tell us, Copeland had not been held by Labour for 80 years – it became a constituency in 1983 and became much more marginal as a seat for Labour after the 2010 boundary changes which brought more Tory-voting areas into the constituency.
The Labour share of the vote had also been dropping continuously since 1997 and between 2 and 5 thousand votes each time, so, although the 2k loss was very disappointing, it followed the pattern rather than being extraordinary.

The Nuclear Issue:

There can be little doubt that Corbyn seen as anti-nuclear cannot have helped, especially when people already didn’t trust Labour because they felt that they didn’t represent them in the past.

Much more emphasis should have been put on Labour support for Sellafield and emphasising that, whatever Corbyn’s views (and he confirms this) Labour policy is to support nuclear plants.

Plus, there is no guarantee from the Tories that they will protect Sellafield workers in the years to come, and Labour should have been emphasising this, rather than seeming to give in to the ‘fact’ that the Tories were ‘the party of nuclear power’.
Labour should have been spreading doubt on that Tory claim, at least when it applied to local jobs and communities. But it seems that the Labour tactic was more a case of ‘deflect from Nuclear to NHS’ rather than to be prepared to face the situation head on and give good, clear and confident answers to voter fears.

Concentration on The NHS:

Our NHS is vitally important and Labour needs to continue to push their policies on it, but Copeland shows that all other policies need to be pushed too, and particularly those that effect local politics.

Copeland voters wanted assurance on jobs first and foremost. Concerns about the NHS most likely came second.

It probably didn’t matter so much to many Sellafield voters that the UK as a whole needs urgent action on the NHS if their main concern was jobs and protecting their local community. So we cannot really blame Copeland voters for that (as some have done) – but we should be blaming Labour, particularly at local level, for not realising this and working with it.

It has also been pointed out to me that the major employer, Sellafield, has a scheme in place for its workers which may have left NHS campaigners a little on the back foot. Evidently the Sellafield employer offers a worker scheme of shared payments into private health insurance. Therefore, although the NHS campaign by Labour was essential, especially considering the closure of local NHS services, it may not have had such a strong effect on Sellafield workers as in some other parts of the country.
If this is the case, why weren’t the local campaign officers made aware of this so that they could moderate their canvassing messages accordingly?

Brexit:

Both Copeland and Stoke were strong ‘Leave’ constituencies and Labour had hoped to show voters in both constituencies that they did support their views and their right to  Democratic acceptance of the Leave vote. Thousands of campaigners went to Copeland and Stoke to support labour candidates with this message in mind, but was it a case of ‘one campaign fits all’? These were both ‘leave’ constituencies, but they still had local concerns specific to each area.
Labour’s pushing of the fact they supported triggering Article 50 may well have helped in Stoke, but was it used as well in Copeland and was the same campaign as effective?

In Copeland, the Tories gained hugely from ex-UKIP voters. In fact, that swing from UKIP to the Tories was enough to seal the win for them. Whereas in Stoke, it was Labour who had felt most under threat from UKIP and they gained from the incompetence of Paul Nuttall as UKIP candidate.
So, in Copeland, it was the Tories who had previously lost votes to UKIP, but got those votes back because:
a) The Copeland UKIP candidate wasn’t very assertive or prominent.
b) by often being more UKIP than UKIP in their statements and policies, the Tories provide an established voice for those voters.
Stick that on top of the failure to fully address the Sellafield issue while the Tories pushed it hard, and Labour were in a very dire situation.

Supporting Canvassers:

A friend who attended the Stoke canvassing said that Momentum had arranged for supporters from ‘down south’ to go to Stoke, while those from ‘up North’ went to Copeland.
Was there a problem in this strategy? Could it have meant that there was more concentration on Stoke than on Copeland from a movement with its head office based in London?
Reports from the doorstep and from phone banks say that it didn’t matter where the canvasser was from, they received the same welcome (or non-welcome depending on who they spoke to). But I’m just wondering if the same numbers were there for Copeland as for Stoke. Only time and a chance to look at canvassing figures will tell on this.

The Candidate:

There was a fair bit of ‘regret’ on the left when the Copeland candidate was not the one Corbyn recommended and in fact was instead someone who had spoken out against Corbyn in the past. But, the chosen candidate was local, a doctor and NHS worker, so I can see why her name was put forward.

This of course goes back to the point above – was the Labour campaign in Copeland, in concentrating so much on the hospital closure and NHS in general the best course of action, considering the overriding spectre of Sellafield and the future of jobs?

Either way, the candidate should have known her stuff and have been strong enough to fight a rigorous campaign, including watching Labour’s back on ‘less helpful’ subjects for Copeland. But reports (which I am really hoping are incorrect) say that she could have done better. She missed interviews and an initial hustings and when Sellafield was mentioned, after saying that she fully supported it, she hastily moved on to the NHS.What about stressing again and again that it was Labour party policy to support Nuclear industries and local jobs?
Perhaps she did do that and her words were not reported…?

Which brings me on to…. The media were tireless in their pursuit of Labour candidates in both Copeland and Stoke, but while the Stoke candidate overcame this (and it appears also overcame dislike from some Labour voters), the Copeland candidate appeared to back off, with her helpers shielding her from confrontation.

Now, we have seen this with Corbyn being shielded at times, and it doesn’t work. It simply gives the media another stick to beat the candidate with. Labour needs to deal with the way ‘assertive questioning’ from the media is dealt with, and quickly.

Then there is the case of opposing candidates. Unlike in Stoke, where the Tory candidate appears to have been a ‘you’ll learn from this for later use’ candidate, the Tory candidate in Copeland was strong, assertive and well-chosen. And it showed. Copeland CLP and Labour central office chose their candidate later than the Tory one. Surely they should have looked at what they were up against?

It is said that the Corbyn-supported candidate was stronger, but that may just be wishful thinking. I don’t know. But for Labour to win elections it can no longer give the candidate position to someone just because they are liked by the CLP or who local members feel loyalty to for long service. The candidate has to fit the locality and the current situation. Gillian Troughton may well have been an able candidate in another constituency, particularly where the main issue is NHS cuts, but I’m not sure at all that she fitted the bill for Copeland.

Interference from ‘the moderates’:

Blair and Mandelson both intervened at a time when anyone who really wanted Labour to win Copeland (or Stoke) should have realised that their intervention was unhelpful to say the least.

To have an ex Labour PM calling for people to fight to Remain in Europe after Corbyn had assured the public that Labour would abide by the Leave decision, was undermining, and showed to people who didn’t really take that much notice of Labour infighting that Labour politicians could not be trusted to represent the people.

Mandelson’s attack on Corbyn, saying that he fought every day against him as Labour leader, demonstrated to voters that Labour was divided and that there are powerful forces in Labour who appear hell-bent on destroying the party unless it follows their particular vision.

Both of these interventions were bound to have an effect on the Labour vote, but luckily (and thanks to the extremely hard work put in by canvassers and candidate), the interventions failed to stop Labour winning Stoke (although it may well have lessened their votes). But in Copeland, a much more marginal seat, combined with all the other factors, they no doubt had an effect.

And then of course there was storm ‘Doris’:

It is often said jokingly that if God exists then she would be a Tory. Well, on Thursday ‘she’ also became a Tory force of nature, whipping through Copeland and Stoke, making all but the keenest voters doubt whether it was a good idea to risk the trip to the polling station that day.

Again, much credit to the canvassers who managed to get so many voters out to the polling booths and to those Labour voters who braved the storm to get there.
But storm Doris most likely had some effect on the turnout figures in both seats and it seems that a low turnout usually does not favour Labour…

Jeremy Corbyn:

Was the loss of Copeland Corbyn’s fault?
No. Despite the media doing its best to tell us otherwise. It was not.

But let’s be honest here. We cannot deny that while Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party the Party as a whole faces an even tougher fight to get their message out to the voters than they have had for years.
So, if Labour Party members want to keep Corbyn as leader, then they need to allow that things are going to be difficult (and often seem impossible) and find ways to counter this.

Does that mean that Corbyn has to be replaced (simply because it might be easier to get Labour’s point across with a different leader)?
No, certainly not. the last thing that Labour needs right now is another Leadership election. (although we must consider that a man in his late sixties should at least be considering a successor within the next few years).
But those around the leadership must work harder; much harder perhaps than they would have worked under a Labour leader from the right of the party.

What Needs To Be Done:

It is no longer simply a case of protecting Corbyn from the undoubted onslaught from the right, but a case of protecting and projecting his policies.
At the moment, if Corbyn resigned, a leadership election would not see any candidate from the left of the party able to get enough MP votes to stand, so Corbyn’s policies would be resigned with him.
Labour members cannot allow that  to happen.

Sustained attacks from the right-wing of Labour, coupled with a biased media, are making it very difficult to get a positive view of Corbyn across, despite his policies which, if shown to be effective, are vote winners.
And Corbyn and his team must find a way to get his message across in a way which will appeal to ordinary voters.
No longer can they fall back on the ‘it’s the media’s fault’ excuse. Yes, it often is, but Labour now needs to quickly find effective ways to counter that.

Many Corbyn supporters are arguing that Corbyn needs to be stronger – to sack the detractors in the party.
But he is unable to do that, because he cannot rely upon the backing of Labour’s ruling body, the NEC.

However, the time has passed when members could fall back on blaming the NEC; the right of the party; ‘moderate’ CLPs; etc. If the Labour membership accepts that it wants Corbyn and his policies to remain then they have to fight for them.

In fact, all those who wish to keep Corbyn as leader really need to get their act together at every level.
Members need to ensure that they are working hard in their CLPs and applying for EC and even NEC places, plus membership of the policy forum and as delegates at regional; forums and at Labour’s next conference.
And this time those delegates need to be as sharp as the right-wing Progress and Labour First groups, and ensure that nothing is allowed to happen behind their backs.

It was all very well that Momentum had a great event called ‘The world Transformed’ as a fringe meeting at last year’s Labour Party Conference, but while that was going on, the right of the party brought forward and won the vote on changes to the NEC which were favourable to them. And the left were well…left unprepared.
This cannot happen again.

Corbyn supporters must be sharper, smarter and at least as ruthless as Labour groups on the right of the Party.

Any less than this and Corbyn, his policies and the movement which has grown around him will be pushed to the wayside and we will be back to a right-of-centre Labour Party which will not win at the ballot box, despite the ‘moderates’ assertions that it will.

Copeland was a bad result for Labour. Even considering all the points I’ve made above, it was still devastating to hear that result read out.
Labour cannot let that happen again.

We’ve seen some of the reasons why this happened (and I’m sure others could find more). Labour no doubt needs to learn from them, but they also need to learn how to move forward.

And for goodness sake do it quickly!
The country needs a strong Labour Party now.
Without it we are all sunk. Well, 99% of us are anyhow…

The sociology and psychology of xenophobia | openDemocracy

[Thoughtful article on the complexities of white, working class reaction to what has happened to their communities and suggestions as to why a helplessness and blame culture has developed.]

In votes for Brexit, and in Trump, we are hearing an indivisible claim for a national, ethnic, gender and class identity. But the claim emerges not from pride, but from shame.

Source: The sociology and psychology of xenophobia | openDemocracy

Labour’s (and my) dilemma

nbc-graph
Graph on Brexit voter choices from NBC News July 17th 2016

I am pro-EU and strongly anti-racist.
I’m not pro the EU in its present structure and economics, but I am pro remaining as part of the EU and reforming from within, because I truly believe that there is a strong movement throughout the EU which could come together and bring about that reform.
In fact, to leave now is a lost opportunity to take part in this movement (note to self – is that why those on the right/leave side want us to leave?).

So, although I understand why Jeremy Corbyn decided to put in a three line whip to get Labour MPs to support Article 50, I cannot support it.

But most of all, I cannot support this because I am an anti-racist and I just cannot condone any part of the Leave campaign; its focus being so much on immigration and pushing the falsehood that immigration is the main problem in our country.
And neither, I think, should Labour.

People will of course tell me that there are many Leave voters who did not have immigration as their main issue over the EU and I believe them:

  • I saw what the EU did to Greece (or to be more precise, what they were able to do because Greece is part of the Eurozone [we are not]).
  • I know that the neo liberal economic structure in the EU is thriving only for the rich on the back of a totally unsound economics of austerity.
  • I know that EU expansion into Eastern Europe is sending out worrying signals for those who want peace in Europe (and the world).
  • I therefore know that the EU, in its present structure, is no friend of the working class, the poor, the old and the sick or the pacifist.

But I go back to my earlier statement. I truly believe that we cannot solve these problems by turning into an isolationist nation, and ‘socialism in one country’ has already been tried… So for those on the left telling me that ‘the brave British working class will send out a fine example of how socialism can be achieved’… you are kidding me, right?

And I cannot agree with any result brought in on the back of anti-immigration scaremongering. Because, even though there were Leave voters who voted leave despite the ‘immigration issue’ rhetoric, it cannot be denied that ‘immigration’ was a major focus of the Leave campaign.

All of this has left me with a huge dilemma.

I am a Corbyn supporter. I believe that, if allowed to reach fruition, his policies are sound. His ten pledges are sound. And I want to see a Socialist Labour Party win elections.

But, for me, along with all this, I need to see a full-on anti-racist rhetoric.
I don’t want to see Labour picking up and discussing ‘immigration policies’ which take on the populism of the anti-immigration lobby.

Labour shouldn’t be being led by the ‘immigration’ lobby; they should be making and leading their own political agendas.

And that brings me in a roundabout way back to my dilemma…

The majority of Labour MPs voted to trigger Article 50 because ‘the people had spoken’ and ‘we have to follow democracy’.

I’m sorry, but to me that sounds like pandering to a confusion of fascist rhetoric with ‘the will of the people’ and a strange understanding of democracy.

I’m not going to go along the road of ‘the referendum wasn’t a democratic mandate’; I haven’t time for that here. I’m more interested in the image that Labour is projecting – that ‘the people’, as some mass ‘lump’, are above democracy – if you ‘speak’ in large enough numbers, to hell with the outcome, we will follow you anyway…

Sod the fact that MPs are representatives not delgates; in fact, sod Parliamentary democracy anyhow; and sod any feelings/knowledge that Brexit is so wrong and harmful for the very people who voted for it.

And sod the fact that any demigogue who has the money and the contacts to speak loudly enough and to enough people can say that he or she ‘represents the will of the people’…

‘The people have spoken’ and Labour, along with all but one of the Tory party are so afraid of losing votes in current and upcoming elections, that they will work ‘on the people’s behalf’.

I think this was a bad move by Labour as a whole (well, except for the 50 ‘rebels’, some of whom sadly had their own agenda…).
It wasn’t just Corbyn’s three line whip that was wrong. It was and is the whole misperception that ‘immigration is a major problem’.

Austerity politics are the BIG problem.

Anti-austerity may not provide such good ‘soundbites’ and the economic arguments can be complex, but I cannot believe that there is not someone in Labour who could not provide the arguments in a fashion that will catch people’s attention and immaginations.
Look at what happened when Corbyn spoke, off the cuff, about capping bosses’ salaries. Some in the Labour Party hated this ‘unplanned statement’, but it was an attention grabber…and people loved it.

So, please Labour..I know you have two by-elections to win (some would say) against the odds, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that hiking onto the populist ‘immigration is a big issue’ bus is the answer to your electoral needs.

You may win votes in the short term, but you will lose others:
Because voters will not believe you and think you are simply being opportunist.
Or…
Because your core vote is anti-racist and anti fascist rhetoric and will not be prepared to take on anything that has elements of fascism at its base.

Either way, the ‘immigration is an issue’ part of the Brexit campaign should not be taken on by the Labour Party.
I really hope you are better than that….

Feeling Very Unsure About Labour’s Reaction To May’s Tactics on Article 50

labour-party-leader-jeremy-corbyn-speaking-in-parliament

Okay, so I’m struggling now.
The Brexit vote won 52% to 48% Remain. Therefore Britain has voted to leave the EU.
I get that….It was close (and had it gone the other way, the Leavers would had been campaigning constantly in the streets…), but I get that….

So, the Labour Party leadership and most Labour MPs agree that they must carry out the voters’ wishes and vote for the Article 50 Bill. I get that too…

I get it even though it’s hard to take, and, although I definitely did not want us to leave the EU with the Tories controlling proceedings, I understand why Labour feels that we must do this…

Well, I did ‘get it’ up until yesterday, when May responded to the High Court ruling that there must be a Parliamentary debate before the triggering of Article 50, and she responded with a real ‘gotcha’..

May ‘gave in’ (but not really…). She has produced the called-for White Paper for MPs to debate. But the White Paper is short; there is hardly any wording to make ammendments out of, and May has set the debate as short as she possibly can.

These are all steps to ensure that Article 50 is triggered in such a way that no concessions are made to workers, to human rights… to anything that isn’t part of the Tory plan for Britain.

Nevertheless, Corbyn’s response not only says that Labour should let the Article 50 Bill go through unopposed, but that he will set in place a three-line whip to make sure that Labour MPs vote for it.

May has wrong-footed Corbyn and thwarted his plans that Brexit should ensure a good deal for workers, families, human rights, and the environment. But despite this he is sticking to his plan that Labour MPs should not oppose what is seen as a democratic vote to leave the EU.

Those Labour MPs who represent constituencies where there was a strong Remain vote will be expected to vote for the triggering of Article 50, despite no safeguards being put in place for their constituents.

Now don’t get me wrong… Although I have always seen the EU Referendum as an advisory vote rather than a firm mandate, I do understand that MPs feel that they must support the winning Leave vote in order to maintain Democracy. In legislative terms, that is debatable, but I can understand why Labour MPs, especially those from consituences that voted Leave, should feel this way.

But what I cannot understand, is how it is considered ‘democratic’ to ask an MP to vote in opposition to the majority of those who voted for her/him in their constituency.

Surely, under democracy, an MP ‘represents’ their constituents?

I realise that this means that they are not pressed to vote exactly as their constituents say, but in what they consider to be their constituent’s best interests.

But voting against their constituents and triggering a bill which the majority of them would oppose, and, more importantly, when you know that this is not in their constituent’s interests…
That, I believe, is plain wrong.

Of course, alongside all this is the feeling, from those on the left of the Labour Party, that the article 50 debate and bill will form part of a new ‘coup’ against Corbyn’s leadership.
MPs who oppose Corbyn will vote against the whip not so much because they are thinking about their constituents (and here I agree in the case of Owen Smith, the majority of whose constituents voted Leave) but because they oppose Corbyn as Labour leader and will seize this chance to call for another vote of no confidence against him.

To make matters even more complicated, Clive Lewis had been speaking out against the Bill and had been touted as the new replacement to Corbyn. A left-winger who didn’t mind speaking out against the leadership when he felt he must. In which case, the assumption goes, he could be ‘brought around’ to more ‘moderate’ thinking…

However, Clive Lewis has now stated that he will vote with the party and will not oppose Article 50. This has not halted the ‘whisperers’ however – they have just changed their agenda to say that Lewis has ‘spoilt his chances’ of ever becoming a Labour Leader (they are nothing if not vindictive…).

Now, I see all these shenanigans (as my gran would call it) going on and I despair.

I do not want to leave the EU. Europe is as much my home as is England. I have many family and friends there.

But I do not like the character of the EU itself – its neoliberalism, with anti-austerity measures that are bankrupting many countries; its expansionism which I deem to be dangerous; and it’s growing ‘fortress’ mentality towards immigrants and anyone from other nations who does not have mega-bucks.

What I wanted to see was a way to change the EU – for workers across Europe to get together to fight for their rights and for the rights of others.

This was never going to be easy to achieve, but any workers’ movement trying to achieve this outside the EU and under an increasingly right-wing, authoritarian government as is growing in the UK (and now in the hoped-for [by May] sickening ‘special relationship’ with the Trump administration) stands little to no chance at all.

I actually feel in depair at this point.
I had real hope for Corbyn and his policies.
But I feel no assurance that Labour will be able to get the concessions they say they will out of the Article 50 debate.
We are now told that ‘after the Bill goes through’ Labour will get their say and influence, but I wonder….

I want to follow the line that ‘we are playing the long game here’ and that this is all that Labour can do at this point, having been placed in a bad position. And that with hard work we can still save worker’s rights, human rights, the NHS, the environment….
But I’m not so sure anymore…