Whither centre-left politics in the UK?

At a time when it seems likely that Jeremy Corbyn will be elected Labour leader, people like myself who position themselves on the centre-left of the political spectrum may find themselves asking two questions: (i) where will  their views be represented in UK politics, and (ii) given the answer to (i), how can these views be aired in the future (with the hope of any impact)?

There is, of course, the ‘wait and see’ approach. How many Labour MPs and members will feel able to remain in a Corbyn-led party is open to question, and a split akin to the SDP split in 1981 might occur. Alternatively, with their new leader, Tim Farron, the LibDems offer some hope, and this is the approach I have taken, as discussed in my previous posts.

On the general subject of Corbyn’s appeal, there was an interesting piece by Tony Blair in today’s Observer (link here). Of course, there are some who are totally prejudiced against Tony, and refuse to read anything from him, but (as always) he makes some good points. One that particularly resonated with me was a general point about politics today: ‘There is a politics of parallel reality going on, in which reason is an irritation, evidence a distraction, emotional impact is king and the only thing that counts is feeling good about it all.’  In his piece, Tony also mentions political developments in Greece and France, showing that it’s not just something that’s happening in the UK.  10 days ago I asked this question of Corbyn supporters on Twitter: ‘Are you putting political ideology before future electability of Labour?’. I only got one reply, on the lines of ‘wait and see what he does’. Fair enough, but there’s a lot at stake here!

Having good opposition is essential, especially with Tories effectively running riot. How well a Corbyn-led Labour parliamentary party can achieve that remains to be seen, but it may not be as effective if it doesn’t give house room to centre-left as well as left wing policies. And I’ve said nothing about the likely contribution of the press!

Political confusion and frustration

Two of my recent posts have documented my decision to join the Liberal Democrats, after many years of supporting Labour. It’s nearly four weeks since making this somewhat momentous decision, and is perhaps an appropriate time to reflect on it.

In terms of communications, the LibDems have not exactly excelled so far. I would have expected to have received a welcome pack by now, for example. I have joined a couple of Facebook groups, and liked some of their pages, so I see some of what is being posted on line. Similarly I’m following the relevant Twitter feeds. It’s all a bit quiet just now, but maybe things will liven up a bit next month when the conference season starts.

In terms of politics, I’ve realised that I can never be a traditional Liberal, but I am more aligned with the former Social Democrat Party (SDP) which merged with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats in 1988. Whether the combined party still has enough Social Democrat character in it for me remains to be seen!

In 1981 the SDP was formed as a result of Labour moving to the left, and, depending on the outcome of the leadership election, something similar could happen again. My decision to leave Labour (back in 2013) has been vindicated by the very fact that Jeremy Corbyn is being viewed as a realistic leadership contender. I despair when I hear it said that his campaign has somehow ‘energised’ the party, and led to people joining who would not have done so previously. Are their eyes and ears closed to reality? I am as against austerity as a doctrine as is Corbyn, but the deficit can’t just be ignored in hope that it will go away (look at what has happened in Greece!). I had hoped that Labour would have pursued more of a ‘deficit reduction by growth as an alternative to austerity’ agenda in the last parliament, but it never seemed to figure prominently in the Ed Miliband/Ed Balls plans. That was one of the many frustrations that led to my final separation from the party. It was a policy that has never had the discussion and consideration it deserves, despite the fact that it worked successfully in the USA (for example).

So, for now, I am a member of the LibDems, and I will do what I can to promote those of their policies I can closely identify with, including EU membership and human rights, and in so doing, try to help them to improve their position.  The outcome of the Labour leadership election is still nearly a month away, but what happens then will be significant. If it led to a split, and the formation of an ‘SDP mark 2’, that might be a better home for me. I’ll have to wait and see.

Great British Beer Festival 2015: 11-15 August 2015

I have just returned from the 2015 GBBF, and can report that it was up to standard, and if anything, better than last year. Once again I attended the trade session on the Tuesday, most of Wednesday, and Thursday afternoon. This worked well, except that by around 4:00 pm on the Thursday it was getting uncomfortably busy. I have commented in the past that the GBBF has become a victim of its own success. Obviously it’s great that so many people are attending now, but it has started to attract some who are less real ale enthusiasts, and more just wanting to have a good time. The result is that you now see visibly drunk people at the festival, which should never happen. It’s an unfortunate consequence of changing times and attitudes, I suppose.

Anyway, going back to the beers, this year I made a target list with Angela’s help before the festival. The beer finder one the web site is a bit clunky, and is really designed for those who are looking for specific beer types (e.g. dark milds), but you can get a list of everything by ticking all the categories. Having a prepared list was a great help, and although not everything on the list was available, most were. Here’s a list of what I tried (mainly half pints although there were a couple of thirds).

Fullers: Oliver’s Island (3.8%)
Charles Wells: McEwan’s IPA (4.0%)
Hop Fuzz: Yellow Zinger (3.7%)
S&P: Topaz Blonde (3.7%)
Dunham Massey: Chocolate Cherry Mild (3.8%)
Rammy Craft: Rammy Ale (4.1%)
Outstanding: Ultra Pale (4.1%)
Atom: Schrodinger’s Cat (3.8%)
Red Cat: Prowler Pale (3.6%)
Clearwater: Honey Beer (3.7%)
Tatton: White Queen (4.2%) (taste)

Wapping: Indian Summer (4.2%)
Burning Sky: Plateau (3.5%)
Fuzzy Duck: Chieftain (3.8%)
Loddon: Hoppit (3.5%)
Treboom: Yorkshire Sparkle (4.0%)
Grafton: Apricot Jungle (4.8%)
Shepherd Neame: Red Sails Cherry Porter (4.0%)
St Austell: Liquid Sunshine (3.9%)
Birds: Amnesia (4.5%)

Salamander: Moaning Lisa (4.2%)
Clark’s: Merrie City Atlantic Hop (4.0%)
Little Valley: Hebden’s Wheat (4.5%)
Ossett: White Rabbit (3.8%)
Teme Valley: The Talbot Blonde (4.4%)
Hawkshead: Cumbrian Five Hop (5.0%)
Prescott Ales: Season’s Best Summer (4.5%)
XT: Pi (3.14%)
Grey Trees: Afghan Pale Ale (5.4%)
Otley: Hop Angeles (4.8%)

Counting the very nice Tatton White Queen, that was a total of 30 ales sampled. They were all good, and it’s hard to pick out any for special mention, but here are a few:

XT Pi for original name and abv (3.14%)
Salamander Moaning Lisa for the best name (and drinkable too)
Clearwater Honey Beer for the best honey based beer I’ve tasted.
Grafton Apricot Jungle for an amazing combination of fruit flavours.
Ossett White Rabbit for the citrus and malt combination.

All in all, GBBF 2015 surpassed expectations, and I’m already looking forward to GBBF 2016!

Adieu Labour – the end of a personal political era

In my last post, I mentioned that I had joined the Liberal Democrats, after a 40+ year association with the Labour Party.  Such a drastic change calls for some discussion, which I will attempt now.

My association with Labour can be dated back to my childhood and early teenage years. My parents both voted Labour, and so it was probably only natural that I chose that political direction. We moved from Ealing to East Anglia when I was 5, and lived in a solid Conservative area, but since moving back to London and then to North Staffordshire, I have always lived in Labour constituencies. The first General Election I voted in was in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher won.

With the current media frenzy over the Labour leadership elections a lot has been said about the 1980s. I remember clearly when Michael Foot was elected leader then. With Thatcher at the height of her powers, there was some euphoria that a left wing leader had been elected, but it all came crashing down when Labour lost the 1983 General Election. It took a long time, until Tony Blair’s election victory in 1997 to see Labour in power again, and I joined the party that year.

I identified with the New Labour movement, which I saw as a successful attempt to make Labour policies appeal to a wider audience than their traditional supporters, a definite prerequisite to winning an election (which is still true now). When Blair stood down and Gordon Brown took over,  things started going wrong, as I saw it.  Brown didn’t have the charisma to lead the party, and I felt that there were other more suitable candidates, but because of his infamous ‘pact’ with Blair, he became leader and PM.  With the banking crisis in 2008, and Brown’s unpopularity, Labour’s defeat in the 2010 General Election seemed inevitable.

After Labour’s 2010 General Election defeat, rather like now, the slow process to elect a new leader began. In my blog posts from the time, I talked about my support for David Miliband, and the election of his brother as leader was, I felt, counterproductive for the future success of the party. But I gave Ed a chance, and only finally resigned my membership over the Syria vote in 2013, although it was probably the last of a number of straws!

Since 2013, until a week ago, I continued to try to be a Labour supporter (if not a party member), and voted for them in the election this year. But my misgivings about the party had been building up for some time by then. The future of the trade union link, for example, seems very tenuous, and it is hard to see how the party will be able to survive in its present form without it. Then there has been the endless speculation about the leadership election, with none of the candidates convincing me that they could lead the party and give it meaning and worth once again. The worrying potential lurch to the left, with Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent popularity, reminds me of 1983 (as mentioned above), and there is no doubt in my mind that if Corbyn is elected leader, Labour will be in the political wilderness for even longer than during the Thatcher-Major years.

My decision to join the Liberal Democrats was partly a result of  my total frustration with Labour, but also because I wanted to be able to support the causes that are important to me, rather than listening to continuing bickering and infighting! The Conservative government have a small majority, but one which should enable them to do what they want, and Labour is no opposition at the moment (abstaining over the welfare bill for example). Issues like EU membership and Human Rights are important to me, and these are important for the Lib Dems too, while Labour seem to hardly discuss them.

It’s early times still, and I don’t yet know what contribution I’ll be able to make, beyond my membership, to the revival of the Liberal Democrats. But for now it is good to be a member of a party which has elected a strong leader and knows where it is going. I’m sorry for Labour, but it’s a relief that it is no longer my concern!

A political transformation

I’ve often said in this blog that I am a lifelong Labour Party supporter. I’ve voted Labour since my first General Election (in 1979), and was a party member from 1997-2013. Even after I left the party (for reasons discussed in a previous post), I continued to support them, including in the run-up to this year’s General Election.

I finally lost patience with them due to several factors, including the conduct of the leadership elections, and the deputy (and acting) leader’s actions with regard to the disgraceful welfare bill that was passed with a small majority last night. Had Labour not abstained, the bill would have been defeated. In doing this, Labour not only let themselves down, but everyone they stand for, in my opinion.

Things are pretty awful politically at the moment for anyone with centre to left leanings, with the Conservatives able to do almost anything they want, and I am frustrated if I can’t get involved in politics to some extent, and to try to do something about the many important issues like human rights, EU membership etc.

The result of all this is that yesterday I took the decision to join the Liberal Democrats. They seem to be the only decent party left in UK politics, and I have enough in common with them to agree with most of what they stand for.

So I enter a new political phase. I haven’t worked out all the details of this yet, but no doubt there will be some blog posts about this soon!

My recollections of 7/7/2005

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the London bombings on 7 July 2005, this is a brief post recalling what I was doing on that day.

In 2005, the Keele graduation ceremonies were in the week that began on Monday 4 July. The ceremony/ceremonies where my students were to graduate were held on Thursday 7 July.  I remember being at a ceremony in the morning, and coming out to meet the new graduates probably around 11:00. It was only then, when I switched on my phone (which was off during the ceremony) that I heard about the bombings.

My wife, Angela, had taken an early coach from Hanley that morning with the aim of going to London to see a matinee of ‘Billy Elliot’. I was intending to travel to London later in the day, and we were going to stay over in London, so that I could get to the Royal Institution on Friday 8 July to give a seminar. However, her coach was late leaving Hanley, and as a result, it had not reached London when the bombings occurred.  When the driver heard about what had happened, he turned the coach round and drove back, remarking that had he been on time, he might have been driving down one of the affected roads just when the bombs went off! So Angela got back late afternoon, thankfully safe. We cancelled the hotel and rebooked her show.

But I was not to be deterred from giving my seminar the next day. I took a train to London the next morning (the 0711 from Crewe, as trains from Stoke were reduced), and walked from Euston to Albemarle Street (many of the tube trains weren’t running).  I remember that the seminar was quite well attended, but some people travelling from within London didn’t make it because local transport was affected. But I was not going to let a terrorist attack stop me from giving my seminar. The Jackson show had to go on!

My introduction to the novels of Patrick Gale

I have always enjoyed reading, and since I started using a Kindle some years ago, I have extended my range of authors, often influenced by social media and interactions with the authors themselves. For the last few years, I have mainly read novels from the crime and spy genres, but recently I felt the need to try something new, which might be a bit more emotionally satisfying.

In mid-April, Angela and I were travelling to London for a short break and to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary. Angela was reading the May issue of ‘Woman and Home’, and showed me an article about an author by the name of Patrick Gale, describing his latest novel (see below). She thought it might be of interest to me, and sure enough I downloaded it.

Woman & Home piece
Taken from ‘Woman & Home’, May 2015, page 206

‘A Place Called Winter’ is based on the author’s family history. It describes how his maternal grandmother’s father emigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada, leaving his wife behind. As a result of this, she had a rather sad childhood, especially when her mother died, leaving her to be brought up by a succession of nannies. Why her father emigrated was unknown to any living relatives, but the author manages to fill in the gaps and create an excellent and totally credible story. I don’t want to say any more, for fear of giving too much away, but I recommend this novel highly.

Since reading ‘A Place Called Winter’, I have read two more of Patrick Gale’s novels. ‘Rough Music’ describes events that took place in two family holidays to Cornwall separated by more than 40 years. The story alternates between then and now, and the consequences of what happened all those years ago for present day events are described vividly. I loved this book, and didn’t want it to end!

‘Notes From An Exhibition’ starts with the death of an emotionally troubled artist, and pieces together her life and the effect of her creativity and bouts of depression on her family over a period of some forty years. I enjoyed reading it, but preferred ‘Rough Music’ in that it seemed to reach a slightly more satisfactory conclusion.

To conclude, an article in a magazine that I wouldn’t normally read (Woman and Home) introduced me to an new author, and a set of new novels. I’m continuing with these, and I’m going to read ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ next.

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