Thursday 29 September 2016

The Labour Party Conference 2016 - Good feeling of Sunday lunchtime unity lost by the evening

I have realised that the problems encountered on Sunday evening at the Labour Conference are the cause of my tardiness in writing these blog posts. I needed a little time to calm myself to ensure that my words were balanced and objective. To be honest I was shaken up a little and if I was other than I am, a grizzled old bloke with decades of experiences to fall back on, what happened when my wife and I visited the Momentum Conference held in the Black E would have been very upsetting.

The Black E. Photographed by the BBC on a quieter day

We were interested in attending the debate on anti-semitism that was hosted by Momentum. I was very pleased that they decided to explore this theme as the accusations made against Labour have to be fully discussed if only to satisfy those critics who believe that the Labour Party does contain elements who are anti-Jewish. The list of speakers was impressive and this seemed like a go to event but unfortunately we could not get in as there was a long queue to get into the building (I estimate a couple of hundred of us). To the credit of Momentum we were kept informed about how long we would have to wait but, in the end we were told that despite the switching of this meeting to a larger room that was now full so we could not get in. As to what happened in the meeting I depend upon this report of proceedings: New Statesman report by Anoosh Chakelian which contains some degree of criticism towards (amongst others) Jackie Walker the chair of the meeting. I do however take some comfort from the update to the article:

 Momentum appears to be distancing itself from Walker’s comments at this event. A spokesperson emphasises that the group hosted the discussion on antisemitism in light of the Chakrabarti inquiry “because it is absolutely crucial that our movement understands how antisemitism manifests itself, and works to stamp it out in society as a whole as well as in our party”.

That's well said and I do hope that the Labour Party can benefit from the wise council of the Jewish Labour Movement headed by Jeremy Newmark. Working together to prevent not just claims of anti-semitism but anti-semitism itself must be our goal. There has subsequently been published a fascinating article in the Guardian:  

This is truly a minefield and I comment on this issue with some trepidation so I urge you to look at both articles and make up your own mind. Such a pity that we could not get into the meeting.

What happened next

If we had managed to enter the Black E then the bit of nastiness that followed would not have happened. We stood to the tail end of the queue, very close to a group from the Wallasey Labour Party branch that has been suspended: see here for the BBC report on that suspension. I have some sympathy for branch members who are denied a voice but as all branch meetings were subsequently suspended across the whole country my interest in the plight of the Wallasey branch faded away. That is until Sunday evening when the Wallasey branch staged a street meeting beside the Black E queue where speaker after speaker spoke of their grievances at being suspended and in some cases expelled from the party. The atmosphere was becoming uneasy for some who are not used to such forthright street politics but in truth I had no problem as they were merely shouting out what they had to say but then a young woman went along the queue asking us to sign a Momentum petition for mandatory deselection of Labour Members of Parliament. When she asked me I had to decline, telling her that I would not sign because I did not believe that such a rule change was desirable.

Unfortunately the young lady then became very abusive stating with increasing decibels that I was obviously a Blairite in favour of government cuts and that there would be a purge of Labour members like me from the party (she could see my conference pass slung around my neck). I should have known better but I responded that just because a Labour Party member does not agree with a particular point of view does not mean that they should be shouted at and hounded out of the party but she would not have it. I did not wish to prolong the encounter and luckily we then realised that queuing to get in to the building would not be successful and a gentle tug on my arm by my wife who cleverly made the suggestion that we go for a beer. She knows me well only to well; with the merest hint of a beer I am as predictable as Pavlov's dog.

I do however have real fear that there are many who support mandatory deselection of out of favour MP's but also a purge of members who did not vote for Jeremy. Only last week I had 2 young local members asking me why I bothered to stay in Labour if I did not support Jeremy (I hasten to add that this is not typical of my fellow branch members). I also saw evidence within the conference hall itself of a certain ......... shall we call it a distance ......... between the traditional Labour members and the new entrants. In one case I saw an elderly black lady who seemed quite upset being told by a young man that she should not be so insulting to him on account of his youth. I did not see the start of that altercation but there really does seem to be a disconnect between parts of our party. 

Don't get the impression that it was all young against the old, far from it. I was talking with a shop steward in the bar of my hotel, a man about the same age as me who, when learning that I had not voted for Jeremy said that he could no longer talk with one such as me and promptly walked away to the other end of the bar. To his credit he returned 10 minutes later to apologise for his behaviour saying that he needed some time to get his head straight. I subsequently bumped into him at fringe meetings and then again at breakfast in the hotel and we were comradely to the point of enjoying each others company. We neither of us could understand why this rift within the party has developed or how we ourselves could become infected by it.

I spoke with many at the conference who were similarly bemused and were tentatively reaching out for some assurances that they were still valued as members of the party. I soon became adept at working out who had voted for Owen Smith or even abstained from voting in the leadership election because on first meeting there would be a degree of evasiveness before they would talk freely about their views. There was no hostility towards Jeremy but they all had deep concerns about the electability of Labour. I listened carefully to what each of them had to say and again and again it was the same story, that we were losing our core Labour support and therefore becoming a party that could not get into government ............. that the fervent Corbyn supporters were blind to this. I encountered this from average members such as myself to "beleaguered" senior local councillors.

I really am sorry if anyone has been offended by this post. Looking deeply inside myself I can genuinely say that I don't have a problem with any of the people I have mentioned. We each try to make meaning out of this confusing world whilst we are fed so much disinformation. Is it any wonder that when a strong clear message of hope comes along there are many who grasp it out of desperation. Thinking of that young woman who condemned me as a Blairite, a name that has now become shorthand for all the ills they perceive in the party, thinking of her I have to say that I admire her enthusiasm and the desire to act. We should be very thankful that there are still people who care enough that they give up their free time to pursue and oppose the injustices that best our society. We just have to work our way through these current difficulties and then I am sure that we will once again be on an upward trajectory.

That phrase from Saturday night keeps whispering in my head:

Love banishes fear

A week later and a late addition. I chanced upon a thought provoking article by Sarah Ditum which really got me thinking about my own views:

Labour can't solve its anti-semitism problem until it understands why the left needs to blame the Jews

The Labour Party Conference 2016 - An outbreak of peace and solidarity at lunchtime

Sunday was an amazing day here in Liverpool, the sun was shining, the Mersey sparkled and the delegates and visitors were still full of hope at the start of the conference. I have to admit that I nearly fell asleep in the opening hours in the main conference hall but how lucky I was in my choice of lunchtime fringe event.

The view of the Mersey from my seat at the Mirror/Unite Sunday lunchtime meeting

Real Britain Fringe: Reconnecting Britain

This was an event organised jointly by the Daily Mirror and Unite the Union with a range of very interesting speakers chaired by the well known Associate Editor of the paper, Kevin Maguire. The speakers included:

Dave Johns (the lead actor in I, Daniel Blake) who spoke about his experiences making the film with Ken Loach. Apparently Ken's directorial advice to the actors was that they should listen to each other - - something that we must be doing in the Labour Party.

Liz Carr, the actress (you may know her from her work in Silent Witness) and she gave a most impassioned speech about the evil of the Tories and their "tax" on the disabled and the awfulness of the disability assessments. She is a brilliant speaker who should be heard by a wider audience -------- so here it is, an embedded video in this Daily Mirror article:

You will notice Andy Burnham sitting beside Liz and being given the unenviable task of following her speech. I was willing him to do well because he lost a lot of support when he ran for leadership in 2015 and opened his campaign with an austerity-light speech. I was thinking of voting for him as I thought he was the best bet to unite left-right-centre of the party but there was no way that I and many others could endorse any Labour policy that advocated that the deficit should be contained by taking money away from the impoverished. Admittedly by the end of that campaign he had changed his position but by then it was too late. That said I could see that Andy was a force for inclusivity in the party and a person who could appeal to the ........... I am sorry for this but this is the accepted language ......... the broad church that is the Labour Party and those who vote for it. He did not disappoint me on Sunday with a speech that was strong on regional opportunities .......... not surprising given that he is our candidate for devolved Mayor of Manchester. He cemented his rehabilitation in my heart when he stated that under his leadership Labour would bring back all social services into municipal control, in effect reversing the privatisation that has so bedevilled the care of our elderly, vulnerable adults and special needs youngsters. This is what Manchester needs and let's hope the example of Manchester catches fire in the rest of the country.

Andy went on talk about the folly of Teresa May and her faffing around with the fate of EU citizens who live and work in the UK. Andy said that she should have granted them an assured right of residency on day one of her sojourn as Prime Minister. He is right. At a later meeting on Tuesday evening I leant that there are 191,000 non-British EU citizens employed in the social care system. Without them our care services would collapse. Come on Mrs May get real and show some backbone before you earn the soubriquet of Teresa May Not .......... ooops .......... too late.

All the other speakers were impressive and there was a genuine warmth in the room. This was a Unite the Union event and that was the atmosphere in the room ........... United.

Monday 26 September 2016

The Labour Party Conference 2016 - Saturday evening - Christians on the Left

The conference started on Saturday evening for me. Arrival in Liverpool was followed by an afternoon in the art gallery just opposite Lime Street Station; a dose of culture before immersing myself in the internal wranglings of the Party. That said, I was pleasantly surprised with the first fringe event, Christians on the Left - The Theology of Refugees.

This was a marvelous event ---- even for me, a decidedly non-believer in fact an atheist. The important thing was that all in the room were socialists and in this we were united. There was no debate about who we voted for to lead the party, this meeting was about refugees and how we should respond to their plight.

The main element was a forensic examination of what the Bible has to say about refugees presented by Tim Morley. As he started I braced myself for what was to come but within minutes I was fascinated with the story that Tim unfolded. I learnt that there are numerous references in the Bible to the alien, the stranger or the foreigner and in all cases there is the exhortation to treat them as you would be treated yourself ............ it even goes further by stating that we must honour and cherish them. After 50 minutes of carefully being led through both the old and the new testament I could understand why religious communities in Britain are so insistent that the Tories must change their policies towards refugees.

I left the meeting with my atheism intact but I did gain a profound respect for Christians on the Left and their message of love and understanding. There were a few statements that stood out:

  • Christians must love in both thought and action.
  • There is a place for righteous anger in the church.
  • Perfect love casts out all fear.
I think that these are ideas that even we atheists can accept and make a part of our lives. 

For those christians who might chance across this blog here are the references that Tim explored:
  • Leviticus 19: 17-18 and 33-34
  • Exodus 22: 21 and 23
  • Deuteronomy 10: 19
  • John 3:16-18
  • Leviticus again 24:22
  • Numbers 15: 15-16
  • Luke 4: 18-19
  • Matthew 25: 35-36

Friday 23 September 2016

The Labour Party Conference 2016 --- or Mayhem on Merseyside

The Summer hiatus is well and truly over and BelperStuff returns ----- not exactly refreshed and re-energised ------ more shaking head in amazement at what is going on. There have been many days when it was tempting to break the self imposed purdah and some posts were actually written but, as my finger hovered over the upload to the blog key the question was asked, "is this a useful addition to the debate or merely vanity on my part." The month of silence speaks for itself.

As you can see from the title of this post BelperStuff will once again be attending the Labour Party Conference, this year in Liverpool. The main event is as predictable as ever. Composite motions being voted for by delegates which will then become party policy. You can watch all this on television so what is the point of going to the expense and bother of physically being there? It's the fringe events that are the attraction; the only real problem being which events to attend and thereby which conflicting events to forego. It is wise to plan these things so choices have already been made:

  1. Saturday evening will see BelperStuff attending "The Theology of Immigration". Should be thought provoking.
  2. Sunday evening will be a visit to the Momentum parallel universe for a debate on Labour and anti-semitism. I am pleased to see them staging this.
  3. Monday is SERA day with one fringe event at lunchtime and two in the evening (luckily one follows the other)
  4. At the same time on Monday evening is the East Midlands reception and also the Rally for our EU rights. Somehow I plan to squeeze the East Midlands bash into the half hour gap between the SERA events and then attend the EU rally later in the evening. I should arrive back at the hotel just before they close the late bar!!!
  5. Tuesday provides the opportunity to attend a lunchtime event dealing with railways and in the evening the, "Universal Basic Income - Should Labour Lead the Way?" catches the eye and there is always a chance that, "What Would It Take For Labour To Win  General Election" can be squeezed in beforehand if light relief is needed.
  6. Wednesday has still to be decided upon .......... should it be child poverty or the Labour Energy Forum?
The backdrop to all this is the conference proper and the big question this year is .............. you can fill this in yourselves but I imagine that most will choose a wording that refers to peace breaking out. I am hopeful that this will be an opportunity for the massed ranks sitting in the main hall to magically give off a glow of solidarity which, over the course of 4 days brings about a feeling of unity between members, affiliates, officials and parliamentarians. Well one can dream. 

A thought on bloodletting

The use of bloodletting as a medical procedure endured for thousands of years but gradually lost favour in the 19th century. Strangely the practice jumped species, from the sick and injured to those afflicted with a belief in socialism. The more diverse the intensity of belief then the more need for the veins of the party to be bled. Let's hope that the anaemic body of Labour is now given time and space to replace the spent red corpuscles.

If my own constitution can stand the pace of conference then I will endeavour to report evryday much as I did last year: Labour Conference in Brighton 2015

Now, in true BelperStuff fashion I will sign off this first 2016 conference post with a return to the second best Liverpool band with this video, "When two tribes go to war"...... how precient: