Category Archives: Politics

My Politics in 2019

This is a post that I have been intending to write for some time, but as with so many things, life intervened and distracted me! But 2019 so far has been a significant year, both for UK politics (which is desperate just now), and for my own political situation (which, oddly, is more positive, as I will explain).

Before talking about the awfulness of current UK politics, a word about my situation. As I’ve discussed before, I was a Labour member and voter for years, but finally left the party in 2013. I had two years in the political wilderness, although I voted Labour in the 2015 election. Finally, Corbyn’s election as leader gave me the motivation I needed to become politically active again, and I joined the LibDems in 2015. I got involved with my local party, and helped set up the Social Democrat Group to encourage dialogue with Social Democrats in other parties (principally Labour). I attended the two party conferences in 2016, but then had doubts about whether the LibDems were the right political home for me, with (seemingly) not much interest in the Social Democrat agenda at the time. I left in 2017, and rejoined Labour for a few months, only to quickly realise that Labour was definitely not the place for me either! So for about a year, from April 2018 I was back in the political wilderness, as I needed to think things through. Finally, a few months ago, I decided that the LibDems came closest to my political position, particularly with the Brexit situation (and I have to thank my political colleague George Kendall for saying at one point that one very rarely is a fan of everything a party does, and there was enough in the LibDems policies, particularly on Europe, for me to feel at home). So I rejoined, and was welcomed back both by my local party and the Social Democrat Group, for which I am very grateful. I even attended the party conference in Bournemouth last week, helped out on the Social Democrat Group stand, and voted in support of the motion to revoke article 50 if we form a government (unlikely though that is). The Social Democrat Group has also achieved some more relevance with the recent defections from Labour and the Conservatives, and we hope we can help the party to encourage more.

And so, to current politics. To summarise, Boris Johnson as PM has prorogued (suspended) parliament until the Queen’s Speech in early October. The deadline to achieve a deal with the EU is 31 October, but just before the proroguing took effect, opposition MPs united to pass a law to require that the government would have to ask for an extension to our membership if no deal is reached by 31 October. They also voted down the government’s call for a General Election, twice. Now we are in a waiting game, and it remains to be seen whether the government can reach a deal in the available time, and if not, whether they will obey the new law and ask for an extension (Boris Johnson has hinted that they might try to circumvent the law). The problem is that if no deal is reached, and no extension sought, there is the danger of leaving the EU with no deal, which would be an unmitigated disaster. Then there is a question of a General Election. If the government seeks, and is granted, an extension to our EU membership, the opposition parties will no doubt remove their opposition to having a General Election, and one might be held before the end of the year. Then I’ll be campaigning for the LibDems as best as I can, and there is a real opportunity that they will win seats from both Labour and Conservative, although probably not in enough numbers to form a government. But they may have enough to make a difference, and perhaps to enable a second referendum to take place, which would hopefully finish the Brexit nightmare once and for all.

So, with the new semester a week away, with all that involves, we are in very challenging political times. It remains to see what happens, and I will certainly write more posts as things develop.

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A political sabbatical

UK Politics is in a dire state just now. We are being ruled by an effectively lame duck government which nevertheless looks as if it will be able to hang on to power for the duration of its term, we look to be heading for a hard Brexit, and the Labour opposition are not capitalising on the undoubted advantage they have now to represent the increasing proportion of our population who regret the Brexit vote outcome. At present the Labour front bench won’t even support Single Market membership.

Last year, after two years in the LibDems in which I helped try to encourage them to pursue a social democratic agenda, I rejoined Labour. The reasons for my decision are given in a previous post and need not be repeated here. I have since joined a couple of groups representing moderate/centre Labour members (Progress and Labour First), but the prospect of them having any serious impact against the hard left group Momentum looks bleak just now. This article summarises the position well.

For the last few years I have put quite a lot of political posts on Twitter, and have sometimes got a response and sometimes not (recently more often not, which suggests I have less impact in this area than I did, say in 2010, possibly because my views are out of line with much current thinking in Labour). I have decided to stop these posts, at least for now. I will be taking a sabbatical from politics in general, at least for the next few busy months at work, and I will review the situation in the Spring. I haven’t lost interest, but I am thoroughly fed up and worn down by everything that is happening politically at present, and I need to concentrate my energies elsewhere.

Of course, I will continue to post on education and science, but no more political tweets for a while!

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!

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!