Category Archives: Politics

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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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.

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!

1997-2017: A political transition from triumph to despair

Just over 20 years ago, on May 1 1997, a General Election took place which Tony Blair and Labour won decisively. After years of supporting the Labour Party, and having become a member earlier that year, it was a wonderful time for me, full of hope for the future and a belief that things really ‘could only get better’. To put the icing on the cake, GB won the Eurovision Song Contest a couple of days later with Katrina and the Waves, with their song ‘Love shine a light’!

I have often asked the question ‘what went wrong’? World events didn’t help, and although I supported our intervention in Iraq at the time, clearly Labour lost a lot of support because of this. Making Gordon Brown leader didn’t help either (he was a great Chancellor of the Exchequer but no leader). In politics, parties tend to lose support after a long spell in power, and the 2010 election result was no surprise. Since then we’ve had 5 years of coalition government, and less than 2 years of the Tories, with David Cameron presiding over the EU Referendum with its disastrous result, and Theresa May taking over as PM. Now we have another election on June 8th, with an almost certain outcome of a large Tory majority and a hard Brexit. Labour have made themselves virtually unelectable thanks to their leader (and some of his shadow cabinet) , and it’s too soon for the LibDems to make much of a comeback, although they are making a spirited effort, which I am trying to help.

For me, we have truly gone from a time of positivity and belief in the future, to one of sheer despair. Sad times indeed.

 

My thoughts on the triggering of article 50

I haven’t posted about Brexit since my post of 10 July last year. Since then not a lot has happened; there’s been plenty of talk, but because we were (and still are) EU members, nothing of any consequence changed. But today article 50 is triggered, which sets us on the irrevocable road to leaving the EU.

I heard Nick Clegg speak on Radio 5 live this morning; not someone I’ve ever had much time for, but he does speak sense on the EU. He reminded us that the EU referendum was set up by David Cameron to deal with a rift in his party, rather than thinking about the national interest, and also expressed the view that I share, which is that many people’s vote for Brexit was a protest vote against many things, some of which had no connection with our EU membership. I covered this latter point in my post which is linked in the last paragraph.

If I think back to when we joined the (then) Common Market in 1973, I was 16, and politically aware enough (thanks to my parents), and I was very much in favour of us joining. Two years later, Harold Wilson called a referendum on our membership, and I remember wearing a ‘Keep Britain in Europe’ badge to school. Now I am probably coming to the last few years of my working life, and I do worry for the future of the United Kingdom outside the EU, especially if, as is likely, Scotland votes for independence in a few years time.

In terms of how leaving the EU will affect me job wise, I am concerned about the loss of EU research funding, and the effect on student mobility. Hopefully the negotiations that will start from tomorrow (presumably) will take these issues into account, but unfortunately I have no confidence that Theresa May and her team will give priority to these issues. All we can do is watch this space. To misquote Gloria Gaynor, we will survive, but our country will change, inevitably, and not necessarily for the better.