Labour pains

As I mentioned in a previous post, I rejoined the Labour Party in July after an absence of 4 years, and a 2 year stint in the LibDems. I felt I was aware of the risks, and thought that my issues with the current leadership of the party would be compensated by my belief that the party is a ‘broad church’ (a term coined by Peter Mandelson, but used/misused by others since), with room for moderate centre left types like myself.  Now I am having doubts. A number of factors have led to this, which include the refusal to debate Brexit at the party conference, and the antics of Momentum in threatening to deselect MPs on the centre left of the party. Then there is the proposed rule change (the ‘McDonnell Amendment’) about standing for party leader, which reduces the number of MPs needed to allow a candidate to appear on the ballot paper, thereby downgrading their influence.

Of course, I am not the only one with these concerns. I have joined Progress, who represent the centre left in the party, and yesterday the Progress director, Richard Angell has published a piece calling on moderates to resist calls from hard-left members to ‘shame them out of the party’.

So,  there is still hope, and I am not thinking of leaving yet. Instead I will try to build links with other moderates, which will hopefully convince me that it is still worthwhile remaining as a member. Otherwise another period in political no man’s land may be the only alternative, and I don’t want to go there again if at all possible!

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GBBF 2017

The Great British Beer Festival 2017 took place from 8-12 August at Kensington Olympia. It was as good as ever, and this year for the first time Angela attended the Trade Session with me on the Tuesday afternoon, as well as joining me on the Wednesday. I was pleased that the Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) was once again announced during the opening ceremony on Tuesday afternoon, instead of leaving it to an awards dinner later in the day. I would like to think that my representations to CAMRA about this after last year’s Festival made a difference, but no doubt I was just one of many people expressing this particular view. Incidentally, this year’s CBOB was Church End Goat’s Milk (3.8%). I didn’t sample it at the Festival (the queues were considerable once the announcement had been made), but I have tried it before, in 2011, at my local bar in Keele.

We did a couple of things differently this year, which made quite an impact on our enjoyment of the Festival. The first was to stay in a much closer hotel to Olympia than previously. Having stayed in the Holiday Inn Express Earl’s Court on two previous occasions for another event at Olympia, we decided to stay there for the GBBF this year. It’s about 10 minutes’ walk from West Brompton station, which is one stop by overground train to Kensington Olympia, and it is a comfortable, friendly hotel (with a good breakfast included!). Staying there meant our journey time to the Festival from the hotel was about 20 minutes, significantly less than travelling from one of our usual hotels in Bloomsbury. Secondly, Angela did a great job of bringing snack and lunch items with us, so we could concentrate on the beer! The food provision at the Festival has increased and improved greatly in the time I have been attending, but it is relatively expensive (this is not a criticism as the quality is generally very high). We saved a significant amount doing this, while still having our dinner there before leaving in the early evening.

In order to enjoy any beer festival, pacing is of the essence. Having one-third pint glasses means one can try more beers within one’s own limits. The Festival is at its best when it opens each day and for the first half of the afternoon, so it is best to arrive early and leave in the early evening when the after-work crowds arrive and it becomes busier. Having said that, I did stay for Thursday evening as a friend was having a birthday celebration there, which was a great success, although my pacing went out of the window then!

And so to the beer itself! As with last year, I won’t list every beer I tried (they are all logged on my Untappd account anyway), but this year I will give my top 5. It was quite hard to narrow the list down to 5, but the following were all outstanding, and in some cases a bit unusual.

Belvoir – White Knuckle Ride (4.3%) – the beer equivalent of a milky bar – bounty bar combination! Definitely a dessert beer

Mauldon – Blackberry Porter (4.8%) – a porter with strong blackberry notes. The tasting notes refer to ‘the blackberries coming through like a sharp and jammy compote on a warm sticky brownie’.

Metalman – Equinox (4.6%) – an intriguing wheatbeer described as having been aged on sun dried lemon peel and white pepper! The savoury notes certainly came through in abundance.

Tiny Rebel – Mojito Sour (3.9%) – I like sour beers anyway, but this was something special, with strong hints of mint and lime giving it a strong mojito flavour.

Yeovil – Hop 145 (4.2%) – A hoppy, citrus beer. Enough said! The tasting notes mention blackcurrant flavours, but they were not in evidence. However, the overall effect was very much to my liking (and I recommended this to friends later, who also enjoyed it).

In conclusion, GBBF 2017 was excellent, and with the CBOB announcement restored to the opening ceremony, it is really back to its best. I’m already looking forward to GBBF 2018!

Part of the union

Almost from the time I started working in academia, back in 1984 when I began my second postdoc position at Birkbeck, until 2005, I was a member of the AUT (the Association of University Teachers). I was even a member of the AUT committee at Keele for a few years. I remember that I got increasingly frustrated with them – they didn’t help us in my School when Chemistry and Physics were threatened with large scale redundancies (which thankfully never happened), but rather, got obsessed with ‘worthy’ issues like boycotting Israeli universities. When they merged with NATFHE to form the UCU in 2005/6, I simply didn’t join the new union.

Times change, however. As Acting Head of School, I am exposed and in the firing line if anything goes wrong, and the worrying news about the pension scheme at the weekend (which turned out to be exaggerated), led me to think again. UCU membership doesn’t come cheap, but they do provide an important service for their members, and they speak up for our interests in increasingly difficult times.

Anyway, the upshot is that I have joined the UCU. With it being less than a week since I re-joined the Labour Party, it does seem as if I am returning to something more like my old self, at least in political terms!

(The title of the this post is taken from the Strawbs 1973 song of the same name).

Another political about-turn

It is exactly 2 years since I wrote a post entitled ‘Adieu Labour – the end of a personal political era‘.  This post described my disenchantment with the Labour Party at the time, and my decision to join the LibDems, after 2 years of being a member of no party.  At the time I could really see no way back to Labour (for me), and genuinely believed some kind of realignment of the centre left in UK politics might become a reality. Thinking back to 26 July 2015, it was slightly less than a year before the Euro referendum, and like many, I expected a Remain result. I also expected Cameron’s government to run full term, to 2020. Fast forward a year, and the disastrous Brexit result, and then a year later, Theresa May’s snap election, and the whole political landscape looks very different. While Vince Cable will undoubtedly be a good leader for the LibDems, possibly even encouraging some social democratic thinking in the party, it will take a long time for that to have an impact, and time is something we don’t have!

As it is, May’s government continues to hobble along, supported by the DUP.  Labour did very well in the election, and although I did question at the time whether some of the promises made were deliverable, they are still the best placed party to win a future election, and to make a difference. I have some political differences with Jeremy Corbyn, but Labour is still a ‘broad church’, with a wide range of views represented. Chuka Ummuna, for example, strongly advocates remaining in the single market, and my local MP, Paul Farrelly, has been consistently strongly pro-Europe.

The upshot of all this is that I have left the LibDems and re-joined Labour. I want to do what I can to help them win a future election, as, in my opinion the country has had enough of the ‘pay the deficit or bust’ policies of the Tories. Unfortunately the LibDems have no realistic chance of any kind of influence at the moment, although I am grateful to them for having me for two years, during which time I had a lot of interesting discussions, particularly with George Kendall when we set up the Social Democrat Group.

So, somewhat unexpectedly, a new era starts. Having got involved locally with the LibDems, something I never did before with Labour, I will almost certainly do something similar locally with Labour. Interesting times lie ahead.

A tale of two tellies, travel shenanigans, and a late birthday celebration

I’m starting writing this post on 9th July, more than a week into the first month for some time when I’ve felt I had the time and mental space to write a blog post. Basically most of June passed in a blur; there were exam board meetings at Keele, external examining in Dublin and Sheffield, interviews for a new lectureship, and a lot of meetings associated with my position as acting head of school (now 7 months in and with no immediate sign of an end in sight!)

Starting with the ‘telly story’, our TV was beginning to show its age: it couldn’t pick up the HD channels (which was an issue when some favourite channels became HD only), and the remote control had finally given up the ghost having fallen from the sofa onto the floor one too many times. Of course, if the problem had only been with the remote, it could have been replaced. But for a number of years now we have debated whether we would buy a new TV or not. We don’t watch much television: the news channels, some sport (when it is shown), programmes like the various NCIS franchises (CSI having come to an end), and the odd drama series (often with ‘odd’ being the operative word). So it was decision time – to buy or not? Angela perused the sales; if we were going to buy it would need to be delivered, so that introduced some limitations. But she found a curved screen Sony OLED TV at a good price that could be delivered quickly for a very reasonable cost, and to cut a long story short, we went for it. We now have an amazing very large OLED TV which is a joy to watch. It actually doesn’t take up as much space as you might expect because it is really thin, so it can be positioned along a wall, occupying essentially dead space. We’ve had to invest in some adaptors to allow it to talk to our DVD player/VCR (!) and I still have to set this up, but the TV is great. We have been able to watch Wimbledon and the Tour de France as we have never seen them before, as well as some excellent drama series that have been shown recently.

Moving on to the travel story, on the last day of June we had a day trip to London to see the Hokosai Exhibition at the British Museum. It was amazing, and Angela is going to see it again next month. We had a nice day, and caught the 20:00 train back home to Stoke with no forebodings.  However, it slowed down a bit before Milton Keynes, and finally crawled into Milton Keynes station, where it sat for 4 hours! The reason: there was a person on the track near Rugby who was threatening suicide. The police tried to get him to move, and he then apparently got onto a bridge over the line and threatened to jump off. Anyway, it took 4 hours to resolve this, and get him to safety, and in the meantime all we could do was wait on the train. The buffet car had closed, and there were very few announcements (because the train manager was only getting very irregular updates). We had eaten just before catching the train, which was fortunate, but there was no free WiFi (Virgin Trains charge outside First Class) and phone reception was poor, so it was hard to find out what was going on. I had only brought one phone charger with me, and even that was running low. Eventually we got the all clear to move, and set off, finally rolling into Stoke station at about 01:30. Fortunately there was an enterprising taxi driver who had heard about the problems, and waited for the train. But ours was not the last train, so hopefully those on the later trains also managed to get to their destinations!

Finally for this post, I had my 60th birthday in January, but I was too busy with marking, teaching and administration to really enjoy it, so we delayed the celebration until July. We booked the KPA for 7 July, ordered a buffet and arranged there to be choice of real ales (including a personal favourite), and we had a great evening. About 20 people attended, and Angela provided an amazing pre-recorded sound track of 6.25 hours of music chronicling my life. The buffet provided by the KPA was great value, and definitely recommended.

Now it’s the 18th July, which gives you an idea of how busy I have been, even though it’s outside of our teaching semester. But I have managed to plan (and start) some new research projects, which is great. I’m not attending any conferences this summer, but next year we will have EURODIM2018 in Poland, so I need to prepare for that.

Looking ahead, a lot has happened very recently in politics on a personal level, but this is still rather in a state of flux. I hope to report more on this in my next post.

 

GE2017: concerns about the outcome

Following my brief post yesterday, here are some more thoughts on the General Election outcome.

Although the LibDems improved their position (12 MPs now), it was too early for them. They are still criticised for their role in the 2010-2015 coalition (which is unjustified in my opinion), and although Tim Farron is an excellent leader, he will always be a target because of his religious views. Whether this means they need a new leader is open to discussion, but now Vince Cable is back, he could provide an alternative, although he may be tarnished by his role in the coalition.

My main concern is actually with Labour’s performance. Yes, they did well, but Jeremy Corbyn still mainly appeals to those on the left of the party, and their good performance may have been partly due to the promises made, many of which were somewhat dubiously costed. Offering free tuition in universities for example undoubtedly enhanced the student vote, but it would be very difficult to actually deliver in practice. The problem as far as I am concerned is that Corbyn is now perceived to have ‘won over’ the party. He hasn’t, and there are many moderate centre left members and past members who are not convinced by him (myself included). I heard him saying this morning that he wants another General Election ‘soon’, and if this happened, and Labour won it, everyone would see for themselves that a lot of his promises are little more than hot air. I don’t want to see this happen to my old party.

And so I’ll end this post with the Tories. If Theresa May secures her deal with the DUP, it looks like it will be on a ‘needs’ basis only, and agreement for their support will have to be negotiated each time she needs a majority on some bill or piece of legislation. That is incredibly uncertain and unstable, and is no way to govern the country in these challenging times. A leadership election is almost inevitable, and unfortunately, another General Election once the DUP deal has fallen apart, as it certainly will. Difficult times lie ahead.

Brief thoughts on GE2017

The General Election that should never have happened has taken place, and the result was broadly in line with our predictions.

Theresa May misjudged the mood of the country, assuming she could get a large majority without trying. Labour engaged with the campaign, and Jeremy Corbyn showed more signs of leadership credentials than we have seen before. As for the LibDems, they improved their position and started the long road of recovery. I will write a longer post about the LibDem position when I have more time in a week or so. But the position now gives great cause for concern, with May depending on the support of the DUP to have a majority in parliament. Apart from the general undesirable qualities of the DUP, this is a very precarious situation to be in with the imminent Brexit negotiations coming up. We can only watch from the sidelines and hope for the best!

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