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 were Labour supporters, and so it was probably only natural that I chose that political direction. We lived in East Anglia, in a solid Conservative area, but since moving to London and then 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. 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.

Goslar, Clausthal and Nottingham: research and external examining, June 2015

June has often been a busy month for me. Two years ago in June 2013, for example, I found myself doing two external examining trips and a PhD viva in a short space of time, which was made more interesting by the fact that the viva was in Amsterdam!

For the last few years I have been external examiner at two institutions at the same time; first it was Surrey and Kent, and then Kent and Nottingham Trent (NTU). Now that I have finished my four years at Kent (which I particularly enjoyed), it leaves NTU, more of which later.

I’m going through a rather lean spell of research collaborations at present. My collaboration with Brazil continues (and I’ve been hosting a PhD student from there), but I haven’t been able to work with my colleague there for some time. Hopefully we can arrange to get together before too long, but for now, our collaborative projects are effectively on hold. I was pleased therefore to be contacted by some ‘old’ collaborators from the Technical University of Clausthal in Germany, who invited me over there for discussions about a new project, and for me to give a seminar. Because of their commitments, there was a tight timeframe for the visit, and I travelled there on 2nd June, returning on the 4th.

To get to Clausthal requires some ingenuity: a flight to Hannover, then a train to the city centre, followed by another train to Goslar. Then a lift to Clausthal is required, unless you are sufficiently confident to use the local buses! Having previously had some issues with flying to Hannover with BA from London Heathrow, the last time I went there, in February 2014, I used FlyBe, who fly there direct from Manchester. It worked well then, so I did it again this time. Because the flight is in the evening, I booked a hotel at Hannover Airport. It was just as well, because the flight was two hours late in leaving Manchester (but not delayed enough for any compensation, of course). But I got there OK, and spent a comfortable night in the Maritim Hotel. The next day I travelled to Goslar and on to Clausthal as described above. The trip and seminar went well, and I am hopeful that it will lead to collaborative research and possibly some indirect funding.

Having got back from Germany, I had a few days turnround before heading to Nottingham for my external examining at NTU, from 9th – 11th June. This is my 3rd year of looking at their Forensics courses that have Chemistry/Physics content, and I am at last beginning to feel familiar with the system they operate, and what they expect from external examiners, which is different from the previous institutions I’ve served at. One of the problems with NTU is getting there; the campus I visit is located outside Nottingham (in Clifton), and the hotel they tend to use isn’t particularly close to either the city centre or the campus! So there is a lot of taxi usage, which I don’t particularly like (although of course the cost is covered). But putting that aside, it was a successful trip.

Now I am back at base. The Summer Vacation has started, but under our ‘new’ academic year, the next few weeks will be punctuated with exam boards. Unusually, I don’t have any conferences coming up. So hopefully I’ll be able to make use of this valuable time to carry out some new research, and complete some papers for publication.

Labour’s leadership election process – no lessons learned?

History does seem to be repeating itself. Last night I tweeted:

‘Sorry @UKLabour but I fear the same mistakes are being made as in 2010. A new leader is needed asap. September is too long to wait!’

It all takes me back to 2010, when a similar decision was made. Then I posted my concerns here,  and these concerns equally apply now. I prefer what the LibDems are doing; at least they will have a new leader in place in July!

There’s also been a lot of hand-wringing about what direction the party should take. I return to my point made many times that Labour can’t win if it only appeals to its ‘traditional’ voters (many of whom deserted them for UKIP this time round anyway). New Labour managed to appeal to a wide cross-section of voters, and while I’m not necessarily advocating a return to New Labour, the party has to position itself carefully. Ed Miliband may have been perceived by some to be too left wing, although that’s not my view.  But whoever takes over would be well advised to learn some lessons from the way New Labour were able to win three elections. Otherwise there will be a long period of opposition.

Foursquare/Swarm: return of badges, and mayorships (but not yet)

It’s almost exactly a year since Foursquare changed from its old form, and introduced the Swarm app for checking in. Since then both apps have evolved, but when mayorships were removed, Foursquare lost one of its best features.

I’ve continued to use both apps, checking in on Swarm, and occasionally adding reviews etc on Foursquare.  I have more or less got used to the new system, but now change appears to be in the air!

Last week, Swarm’s update on Android included some quite big changes. Full details are here, but essentially old badges that you gained from checking in are back (but now called stickers), and when you check-in somewhere you can search through your stickers to see if there is one to add to a particular check-in. And you can get new stickers through checking in to particular places (it didn’t take me long to get a bar-related one, for example!) The local crown stickers, for the most check-ins at a location among your friends, seem to have gone, but they were pretty meaningless anyway. Finally, the blog promises that mayorships will return ‘soon’. It seems that (at last), the Foursquare team realised that they had missed a beat by withdrawing them. I look forward to their return!

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