Category Archives: Politics

Who does Labour represent now?

With Jeremy Corbyn’s latest decisive victory in the Labour Leadership election, I am led to ask the question, who does Labour represent now? It certainly doesn’t represent the centre left, nor does it seem to be in a position to form an effective opposition at a time when one is badly needed.

Having been a Labour supporter for 40+ years and a member from 1997-2013, I am used to differences of opinion in the party. I used to console myself with the thought that ‘Labour is a broad church’. But eventually the ‘church’ began to narrow and some members, like myself, found ourselves heading for the exit.

What is different about Jeremy Corbyn’s position is that he has been elected by overwhelming support from members who have a very idealistic position, but little practical understanding or appreciation of the kind of politics that is needed to make a party capable of forming an electable government that can deal with the many issues the UK now faces. It doesn’t help that Jeremy himself seems to be stuck in the 1970s, still talking about renationalisation, and advocating the reduction of austerity by throwing money at the problem without any consideration of where it might come from.

It remains to be seen what moderate Labour MPs will do, who don’t identify with Jeremy’s agenda. I know from my days as a member how loyal Labour supporters are, but if the situation becomes intolerable for them, and the party splits, there is an opportunity for an amalgamation of ideas and possible cross-party links with social democratically minded LibDems like myself.

Just over a year ago I joined the LibDems, partly in anticipation of what was likely to happen in Labour, but also because I saw them as a party where my centre left views might be better represented. Through LibDemVoice I got in touch with George Kendall, and together we have set up the Social Democrat Group, whose aim is to reach out to moderate Labour members so links can potentially be built. So far we have held successful fringe events at the Spring and Autumn LibDem conferences, and attended the Fabian and Progress summer conferences, with future meetings planned.

Going back to the title of this post, it is clear that Labour as it is doesn’t now represent many of the people who need it most. The formation of a new centre left grouping, formed by a social democrat consensus between moderate Labour and LibDems, might fill that gap, and in the coming weeks, months and years we hope it might become a reality.

You can find out more about the Social Democrat Group by visiting our Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/SocialDemocratGroup/, or following us on Twitter at @socdemgroup.

Brexit thoughts

It’s ironic that I should be sitting here in Lyon writing this. I’ve been too upset and horrified by the Brexit vote to write anything in the 2+ weeks since the vote. But travel enables one to be slightly detached, and now I feel able to say a few words.

First, it is clear that the vote was mostly not about our EU membership, but it was a protest against many people’s perception of how life had become for them, and who was to blame for what they saw as negative changes. The government, in fact the past few governments, should take a share of the blame. Under-investment in social housing and infrastructure has meant that immigration has put a strain on  local resources in some parts of the country, while much of our press has continually put out the message that the EU is responsible for immigration (in spite of the fact that, as I mentioned in a previous post, most EU immigrants get well-paid jobs and contribute to the economy through taxation). Then there was the nonsense about the mythical money that could go to the NHS if we left the EU, and scaremongering about Turkey joining (which won’t happen for years if at all).

Second, the government has made it quite clear that it will respect the verdict of the referendum. There will be no second referendum, in spite of the widely supported petition. We are where we are, and have to move forward as best as we can.

My greatest concerns are those that affect my work, namely what will replace EU research funding, and will free movement of staff and students within the EU be adversely affected. I have discussed these concerns at length before.

One thing is clear, and that is that nothing will happen for some time. Until we have a new Prime Minister, the exit and negotiation process cannot even begin. And Labour’s likely split is not helping as we have no effective opposition either. We just have to sit tight and see what happens. Writing this in Lyon naturally makes one think about the possibility of moving to an EU country. But attractive though that sounds in theory, it’s simply not a practical proposition. We live in worrying times.

Are we sleep walking ourselves to Brexit?

When I wrote this back in December 2015 it was in the spirit of a ‘worst case scenario’. Sadly, how true it turned out to be ):

Rob Jackson's Blog

As far as I am concerned, there is no question that the UK should remain an EU member, for a multitude of reasons. These include trade, security, freedom of movement as well as educational opportunities and research funding. And I don’t know anyone who disagrees with this.

Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate the terms of our EU membership are both unnecessary and doomed to failure. The only reason he’s doing this is to pacify the right wing of his own party (and to minimise the threat from UKIP), but he won’t achieve enough ‘concessions’ to change their mindsets. Added to this is the undoubted effect of the Murdoch press.

The worry is that many of the benefits of our membership are not understood or appreciated by a majority of the electorate. Instead they will respond to Cameron’s likely failed negotiations and the screaming newspaper headlines by voting No. And before we…

View original post 54 more words

Some final words on the EU Referendum

Well, we’re almost there, folks! After weeks of campaigning, finally we will vote tomorrow.

As the weeks have progressed, I’ve had times of feeling negative (e.g. see my last post), and times when I have felt that things may be going the way of the Remain camp. But to be perfectly honest, now I just don’t know.

As others have commented, the No camp have been tapping into a kind of resentment of authority and experts that seems to have been simmering below the surface for several years now. There have been plenty of theories expounded of where this resentment has come from, and I won’t add to these except to say that successive governments have avoided having a proper national conversation about contentious topics like immigration. Had these been held, more people might realise, for example, that immigrants are not to blame for job losses, or strains on local housing/schools.  They might appreciate that in the vast majority of cases, they are doing important jobs, which for various reasons are not filled by local residents, and that it is the fault of succesive governments for not providing finance to provide the necessary infrastructure to support them. But these national conversations have not been had, and the resentment has built up. It will be very unfortunate if the vote is for a Brexit partly as a result of this.

I don’t need to list again my reasons for supporting Remain. Apart from the economy, justice, and freedom of movement, there are the very serious consequences for universities (research funding and teaching cooperation) that would result from a Brexit.

All I can do now, in closing, is to hope for the best outcome on Friday morning. The No campaign have been very vocal, but I know that there are many who support Remain. It’s very difficult to judge, and after the 2015 election, opinion polls have lost their kudos somewhat.

Here’s hoping that we are still #INtogether on Friday.

Brexit contingencies and coping strategies

As I’m sure you’ll know from my FB and Twitter feeds (if you read them), as well as a previous blog post, I’m going all out for a vote for the UK to remain in the EU. At this point, with less than 3 weeks to go to the referendum, the leave camp are capitalising on the immigration question, using largely inaccurate and misleading data, but getting a lot of publicity in the process. The vote will undoubtedly be close, and I still believe remain will win the argument. But suppose we don’t, and we wake up on 24 June to a Brexit result?

I’ve been discussing with family and a close colleague what we will do if this happens. There will be the amusing spectacle of the Tories tearing themselves apart, but that will be something of a pyrrhic victory. But what of the other consequences?

First, David Cameron may either just resign, or a leadership election may be forced, which might result in Boris Johnson becoming PM. Second, the Brexit result could lead to the SNP demanding another Scottish Independence Referendum, and winning it, thus breaking up the UK. These are terrible consequences, but they could happen.

By facing these worst case scenarios now, I am trying to prepare myself for the worst possible outcome. By doing so, this is my coping strategy for the future. This might avoid what happened after the last General Election, where I was totally unprepared for the result, and the seismic shock waves it produced.

Of course, if the worst happens, those of us who are unhappy with the result will have to regroup. It might just force a realignment of some political parties (not just the Tories), but this is a high price to pay for such a change.

Having said all that, I’m still trying to stay positive!

The EU Referendum: a month to go

With a month to go before the EU Referendum, I thought it would be timely to write a quick post about why it is so important to me that we vote to remain. So, if someone asked me why I think this, these are the three points I would make:

(i) from the point of view of the UK as a whole, being part of the single market is essential for our future prosperity. If we left the EU we might be able to negotiate joining it, but at a cost, and we would not be in a position to influence any decisions made by member states.

(ii) the free movement of people between countries in the EU is particularly important for education and research in the UK. Our students can spend valuable periods of time at universities in EU countries, as can teachers and lecturers, and we can conversely benefit from the equivalent people from the rest of the EU spending time in the UK. This is very important for the education sector, and has knock-on effects in terms of creating and maintaining an internationally minded workforce.

(iii) all member states of the EU contribute to a research fund, and the funds are allocated to universities, research institutions and companies by a competitive application process. The UK does very well out of this, getting more out of it than it puts in. So much important research is funded from EU research grants, and if we left, we would lose this source of funding unless we negotiated to join the scheme from outside, which would involve extra cost and potentially less favourable terms.

There are plenty of other reasons to remain, but these are my main ones. Unfortunately the debate over the referendum has descended into a mud-slinging match between opposing sides, and there is the danger that some people might be put off voting at all. I will continue to try to put a positive spin on the case to remain in the EU, and hope others will do the same!

LibDem Spring Conference 2016: reflections

This was not just my first LibDem conference, but my first political conference. Hence I approached it with some anticipation and some nerves, if I’m honest! It was held in York, and I hadn’t been there for a few years, so I looked forward to renewing my acquaintance with a lovely city which had suffered badly in flooding earlier this year.

I stayed in the Hilton Hotel, partly because the fringe session I was helping to run was to be held there, but also because of getting a good rate by advance booking. It was as comfortable as expected, and located 10 minutes or so from the York Barbican, where the main sessions were to be held.

My feelings on arrival at the conference on the Friday night for the opening events can be summed up by confusion and being somewhat lost. I knew no-one, and at that point I hadn’t even met my session co-organiser! So I waited, had a glass of questionable white wine in the welcome reception, and eventually got a text from my session co-organiser to say he had arrived and was leafletting for our event outside. So I went outside and joined him, and was handing out leaflets within an hour of arrival! A baptism of fire, but I was glad to be doing something useful. There was plenty of interest in our event, which was a good sign.

When the time came for the Opening Rally, I went back into the convention centre and took my seat. It was good to hear Catherine Bearder speak on the INtogether campaign, and to hear Tim Farron’s passionate speech. I was less impressed by the inclusion of a junior hospital doctor who had just joined the party. OK, she made a good speech, championing her cause, but I did feel as if it was slightly a case of the LibDems jumping on the band wagon here. But overall the rally was a good way to get the conference ‘warmed up’, and I left on a positive note.

The following morning, Saturday, I made an early start to get to the convention centre to do more leafletting for our event, due to be held at lunchtime. I tweeted that there was some irony in that my fellow ‘leafleteers’ were from Friends of the Earth (anti-fracking), and Republic! (See https://twitter.com/robajackson/status/708608126627532800)

However we continued to get plenty of interest in our event, and when we stopped at about 11:00, we felt that we had certainly publicised the event as much as we could. After a much-needed coffee, it was time to go to the Hilton to set up for our event. The room we had been allocated was small and cosy, but we felt that a small full room would be preferable to a larger one with spaces!

Our event went well. After an introduction from Julie Smith, Roger Liddle started proceedings. He is a Labour Lord, but originally an SDP member. He was followed by Vince Cable, who has in his time been a Labour, SDP and Liberal Democrat member, and held an influential ministerial role in the coalition government of 2010-2015. I won’t attempt to discuss the content of their speeches, but they both talked about what was necessary for the centre-left to regain influence, and their talks were both interesting and inspiring. You can hear them both here.

Following our event, we had our first Social Democrat Group committee meeting, which was useful, mainly to meet people and find out their views of what the group should do in future.

After a brief trip to the Exhibition, which was busy and rather cramped, I returned to the hotel, and in the evening visited some interesting hostelries in York City Centre (as mentioned on Twitter and Facebook at the time).

On Sunday morning after breakfast I had a final trip to the York Barbican, and then headed back to the station and home. It had been an interesting experience, and probably certainly not my last LibDem party conference!