Archives for posts with tag: Ed Miliband

I have been writing for the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion magazine under the column ‘Left Inside’ for about 18 months or so. It was intended to be a quiet expose of trying to stay left within a local Constituency Labour Party (Forest of Dean) under One Nation Labour, and being on its Executive Committee. In that time I was nominated the lead in the 2015 General Election FoD Labour Party manifesto drafting group for the District Council (in which we also laid out our Parliamentary Candidate’s priorities) and was Social Media Officer for the CLP on the Executive, and finally the Electoral Agent for our Parliamentary Candidate. That experience – but mostly the experience on the organizing body, and its conduct particularly since the Election – leads me to finally come to terms with my place in local Labour. And this, then is my final Clarion ‘Left Inside’ column…

LEFT INSIDE: welcome home. Time to leave.

After the defeat of Ed Miliband’s One Nation view of socialism under Labour, and despite a very progressive local manifesto (I should know, I lead the Manifesto Drafting Group who authored it, and it included all the things we so desperately need right now: a strong anti-fracking, anti-cuts and pro-public Forest stance), who would have thought that Labour would come back to its natural home?

The success of Jeremy Corbyn shows, to me, just how out of touch the Parliamentary Labour Party was with its own grass-roots membership.

But, while supporting Tom Watson as Deputy, Forest of Dean CLP actually voted to back Andy Burnham for leader.  And now there are rumours afoot within the CLP that Corbyn’s success and the left is tearing the local branch apart. But they’re just rumours. What I’ve seen is a fractured bureaucratic CLP Exec concerned more with rules and in-fighting than changing lives and building socialism, whichever brand you support.

And that’s why this will be my last ‘Left Inside’ column for the Clarion.

The Executive Committee, in my experience, despite its aims and objectives turns out to be an inadvertent vehicle for losing members and quelling activism.

On social media I touted the idea of a Red Labour campaigning group, but there just isn’t the support for that locally. Nationally, however, new members joined in their thousands following Corbyn’s success, but locally they’ll be (rightly) directed to the CLP first. But our CLP is, to me, little more than an extension of the District Council Labour Group, not an independent campaigning and organising committee for the success of the next Labour MP in the Dean, working to win a socialist sitting in Parliament for the Dean among other socialists in a majority Labour government.

Besides, in the meantime, we need to build support for the Dean anti-fracking campaign. Then there’s TTIP. Instead our CLP is bent on a long-running internal investigation on the appropriate use of members’ e-mail lists. A process so painful that even the incumbent acting Secretary won’t be seeking re-election in that role, after only a matter of months in the post.

As Agent for Steve Parry-Hearn (your Labour candidate in the last General Election), I continue to meet with Steve and his Campaign Manager, the hard-working Roger Gilson. All three of us welcomed Corbyn’s success. But I for one don’t feel that our current CLP is the vehicle to locally show that support let alone build on it. I will vote and continue to support Corbyn’s Labour but I no longer feel I am the ‘left inside’ in the local LP. Hopefully there are others, new faces which will re-purpose the CLP Executive.

For me, for now, thanks for the ride.

The above is an un-edited edition and might therefore differ from the printed edition of issue #119 (Oct/Nov. 2015). I expect to continue to write for the Clarion, but not in the Left Inside capacity. I will continue to support Labour. Especially Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

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an early un-edited edition of my latest Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion magazine article…

Never have I have invested so much so emotionally only to have been so heavily defeated.

It is with a heavy heart that I have mulled over Labour’s loss. I have been engulfed in shame and guilt that I didn’t work harder for local people and our local candidate Steve Parry-Hearn. Often I have been driven to anger. At other times I have been simply listless.

We fought the right campaign with the right candidate and – looking now at the new pretenders – the right leader. Our campaign was flawed only in its morally correct view of modern Britain. For me it was like Iraq all over again:  marching against the war, being on the losing side of the debate only to be proven right; to be on the side of the just counts for little in defeat.

And in my anger I know that it wasn’t Mark Harper or even the Tories who beat us, but by Murdoch and the Mail Group.

For sure there were gifts to the opposition of our own making. Our argument on austerity wasn’t strong enough. Scotland is proof of that.

And we failed to win the argument on the issue of the economy and the last Labour government’s rhetoric during the worldwide economic downturn. Damn that idle, stupid joke at the Treasury stating ‘There’s no money left’ which Cameron waved about with relish. If only it said ‘There’s no money left because we spent it all on building schools and hospitals and eliminating NHS waiting times.’

As Mark Serwotka said on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions’ 3 weeks after the election, the narrative the potential Labour leaders have seemed to swallow is a need to move to the Blairist right within the Party. Because Ed Miliband was ‘too left wing’. And yet as Serwotka makes clear under Blair and Brown from 1997 Labour lost millions of votes. With Ed Miliband that trend had been reversed, which suggests a different story. The success of the SNP and their anti-austerity and anti-Trident message also suggests a different direction of traffic.

Or to put it another way, John Trickett, Labour MP for Hemsworth pointed out that “The average income is £26,000 a year or thereabouts. The tax we were proposing was for those on £150,000 or more. People on £26,000 are not aspiring or expecting ever to get to £150,000. And yet we have leadership candidates arguing that it is an obstacle to winning an election.”

Steve Parry-Hearn and Forest of Dean Labour’s manifesto was a manifesto which Clarion readers would recognise as their kind of Labour candidate and programme. Anti-Trident, anti-new nuclear at Oldbury, anti-fracking, strong on the protection of our Forest, strong on apprenticeships and even stronger on anti-austerity than the national Party line. Di Martin repeatedly lamented the bedroom tax and she carried her local comrades with her. A Labour-controlled local council was set to pause the destruction of our District Council and scrap local car parking charges. Nationally Labour would scrap the bedroom tax, bring in a mansion tax, and protect the NHS from the clutches of TTIP. But we’ve lost all that. That is the sum of our loss, not our lack of electoral success. The danger to our NHS now is truly frightening.

And yet while support for Labour in other constituencies plummeted, Steve Parry-Hearn and his campaign team lead by the inexhaustible Roger Gilson slightly increased our share of the vote in the Dean, snatching thousands of Lib Dem votes only to see our working class support slip through our fingers to UKIP and the Tories.

We shared muted elation at the strong performance of our Greens, beating the Lib Dems and gaining their first District Councillor for the Dean, but we were furious that Harper survived selling off our forest by proxy alone: the Conservatives won here despite their candidate not because of him. Their successes were in the media, not at the dispatch box and nor in the TV debates, their campaign merely exploited the media’s insatiable appetite for nationalism and fear.

But what now? What’s left for Labour? Is there any Left in today’s Labour?

In these vital coming months for our movement my advice is that we swell our numbers: join Labour today and have your say in choosing a left-wing candidate for the leadership.

It could be the last chance we have to save our Party for at least a generation.

SIGN THIS NOW: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/we-want-an-anti-austerity-labour-party-leader

WATCH THIS:

an early un-edited edition of my latest Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion magazine article…

There are many reasons to vote Labour come the General Election. Some might argue there is also reason not to.

I’ve written before in the Clarion about compromise, but some still feel a vote for the Greens is still the best way to deliver a left-wing agenda in Parliament.

The Greens offer much, but what can they actually deliver? The stark answer to this question is: very little without any MP’s – even Caroline Lucas will struggle to retain the Green’s only seat in Parliament. Recently though, the Greens do offer a leader to rival Labour’s own in terms of unpopularity – but that’s shallow thinking. The kind of which the media is so obsessed with.

Locally, James Greenwood – a prominent organiser for S.T.A.N.D. (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development) – is a passionate and skilled public speaker and a good Green candidate, but his party’s support is, as our own Clarion Comment editorial states in this issue, starting from virtually square one.

So we turn to Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn. How might he fare?

On core local Green Party issues he pretty much cleans up. Steve’s pledge card lays it down clearly: Parry-Hearn is against new nuclear power at Oldbury, against fracking in the Dean and against Trident renewal. All these policies are cornerstone reasons to vote Green. But you can get them locally and for real by voting Labour.

Furthermore, Steve Parry-Hearn is also a strong supporter of the NHS, apprenticeships and green industry but is equally passionate about scrapping the bedroom tax. The difference is, Labour can win here – the Greens will not.

Voting Green means the Tory will retain the seat (or possibly worse, what with UKIP having made the Forest a target seat). Either way, anything but a Labour win will mean your next MP will support Trident renewal, support back-door privatisation of the NHS and will be pro-nuclear.

Meanwhile Labour’s Parry-Hearn takes a risk with his position on these topics of nuclear power, fracking and nuclear weapons as Steve is running contrary to current party policy on all three issues. That’s good news for Clarion readers as it finally means we’ve got a candidate who is a strong independent voice in Labour. A man of conviction built from a bedrock of core Labour principles. What Clarion readers might recognise as one of their own.

But many will call this tactical voting. I call it pragmatic voting. It is all very well having a strong view on an issue, but to trade that passion for an unwillingness to compromise is a self-defeating way to hand victory to those supporting the exact opposite of one’s own view.

When I started writing for the Clarion many years ago I was politically adrift. Back then in 2003 I was secretary of our local Stop the War movement but I belonged to no Party. I had left the Communist Party of Britain because it could never win an MP in my lifetime. At that time I couldn’t join Labour because New Labour supported Bush’s war. So the Lib Dems temporarily won my vote but like many I was let down.

Now I support Labour which is post-New Labour. I do so firstly because of my desire to retain the NHS as Labour built it; but I am also in the Labour Party because Ed Miliband was the choice of the trades union movement – the voice of the working class; and I am proud to support Forest Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn precisely because of his position on the topics mentioned above. All this would be for nought if a Labour victory didn’t represent the only realistic opportunity of keeping the right out of power in the Dean and in our Parliament.

Please join me in defeating the Tories.

An early un-edited edition of my next Clarion article

It’s time for One Nation Labour to set out its electoral stall for real now. Scotland has force the point, chased hotly by doubts over Ed Miliband’s ability to lead our party or being a suitable Prime Minister.

Scotland – and in particular the huge turnout of the Independence referendum – has given Westminster-based politics the kick up the arse voters knew it desperately needed.

Now there’s a leadership contest there and it proves to be shaping what Scottish Labour ought to look like and represent. Is it just a branch of Parliamentary Labour or something distinct in the Labour movement in Scotland?

Clarion readers will probably agree that the latter might also prove the kick up the arse our Parliamentary Labour Party needs to become meaningful for the electorate.

Given a meaningful choice on Independence, the voters demonstrated they are hungry to engage in proper change. Indeed, I doubt whether a remote branch in Scotland was what John Robertson and Jim Sillars had in mind when they first set-up the breakaway the Scottish Labour Party back in 1976. Instead they sought to be a voice distinct from Westminster.

I believe there’s appetite for more of that kind of independent thinking within Labour, and furthermore we can have that without having to abandon our Party. In fact, I’d wage it might be a way to electoral success.

I certainly witnessed this desire for local distinction among some of our number in the 2015 District Council Forest of Dean CLP Manifesto Drafting Group which I had the honour to lead. But this doesn’t have to be a binary thing: you can follow Labour Party principles and rules and still have a distinctive voice in local politics. In fact, I rather think it’s what the electorate expect of us.

Difference and choice are vital to voters. I am reminded of what George Monbiot once told me in an interview…

“Its mainstream parliamentary party politics we’re all pissed off with. You can choose between the party of big business and bombing, or the party of big business and bombing.”

It’s in looking for new choices that some have been persuaded by the shadowy repulsiveness of UKIP. We need to demonstrate that our Party and our local candidate, and indeed local and country councillors offer the electorate meaningful choice, not just more of the same.

The defence for the leadership of Milliband is mostly characterised by the principle of having to stick with the choice made a couple of years ago at the Leadership Election. But by that logic we would allow Ed Miliband to do virtually anything to destroy our movement before we’d kicked him into touch. Although I’m not saying he has or will destroy Labour, I’m just questioning the principled stand of permissiveness just for the sake of a principled stand. To me that’s not much of a defence.

The argument also goes that ‘we’re only 6 months away from an election!’ Agreed, not a desirable time to switch leadership. But again, says who? Based on what? If there’s evidence that the leader is not polling well when actually he should be at his strongest (into the final term of opposition) then that is an argument for decisive change not capitulation. If total unity isn’t the current, it won’t appear just because we’re running out of time. What you’ll get instead is internal maneuvering for the post-defeat Labour Party. Put another way, sticking with an unelectable leader just because we’re running out of time is not a good reason to stick with an unelectable leader.

The final argument appears to be that there’s no willing or able candidate to replace Miliband. Is the shadow cabinet really so moribund to not one capable shadow minister willing to stand up for our movement? I don’t think it is. So that too is a false defence.

If the NHS is the one binding element of our campaign which universally moves British people of voting age, then clearly the robust, capable and comparatively natural leader is the person leading that part of campaign: Andy Burnham. I’d support that move in a second, and I think the British people would too.

Voters would see a Labour Party willing to listen to the public (in their dislike of Miliband) and make meaningful change. If Burnham is seen as the saviour of the NHS in austerity, then he might just save our movement and the legacy of Labour. It should also guarantee us success at the next election.

True, a Burnham Labour won’t take us back to the manifesto of Michael Foot in 1983, but it wouldn’t be New Labour either.

Those who agree with my general argument might also take heart that when asked during the local Parliamentary candidate hustings as which member of the current shadow cabinet did he/she most admire or ally themselves with, our chosen candidate – Steve Parry-Hearn – cited Andy Burnham.

Andy BurnhamNOTE: The views expressed in this column are the personal views of C. Spiby and not the Forest of Dean Labour Party or Steve Parry-Hearn.