Leading from the front without leaving anyone behind

3 Sep

A  friendJulia+JeremyCorbyn_Highbury_150816_AZI_5607 I haven’t seen for a long time contacted me out of the blue to ask who I was voting for in the Labour Party leadership elections. She was torn, she said, because, although she basically agrees with Jeremy Corbyn, she thinks he’s “a lousy leader”. This is the line being put by his opponents, including the charismatic Owen Smith himself. To paraphrase what seems to be the entire campaign: “Jeremy’s a nice chap, principled and all that, but not a leader.”

I’m so fed up with this claim that, with apologies to my poor friend who wrote me a quick three-line note and got this long reply, I decided to revive my old blog and publish my response to her.

Photo: Aziz Rahman

Yes, I’m not only voting for Jeremy Corbyn, I’m campaigning for him. I left the Labour Party in the 1980s because I couldn’t stand the unprincipled machinations of the leadership then (nor of my branch at that time, which was full of racists, baying for the blood of the travellers who lived in our ward). In the intervening years, huge numbers of people have left the Party for similar reasons and particularly over the Iraq war.

I’ve known Jeremy for a long time. I have continued to vote Labour all these years, despite the careerism, corruption, and indifference to ordinary people’s lives of so many of the Parliamentary Labour Party, because he is my constituency MP. I’ve seen him turn up to campaigns large and small, local, national and international, not for the photo-opportunity but because he understands the issues, knows about ordinary people’s lives and, as an MP, is able to help. I rejoined the Party after he won the leadership contest last summer because he is a principled socialist, anti-racist and defender of human beings and human rights – not just here but across the world.

His opponents say on the one hand that he hasn’t got “leadership qualities”, whatever they are (I assume they mean something like David Cameron or Tony Blair  or Margaret Thatcher – “leaders” who are detached from the people who did all the work to get them where they are); and on the other hand, he is like a cult leader and his followers are just mindless fans who can’t think for themselves. Well my experience is that his supporters are thinking, enthusiastic, hopeful people, young and old, and from many different income brackets and backgrounds who, for the first time since we were conned into the Iraq War, feel there is a possibility of retrieving what the Labour Party is meant to be.

I don’t know how he has managed to keep going given the relentless attacks there have been against him – his opponents were briefing against him as he was giving his victory speech after last summer’s leadership contest. They have displayed complete inhumanity to him and his family on a personal level, and an utterly cynical attitude to the membership of the party who have worked to win them their seats in parliament. And despite all this, over the last year, Labour has won every Mayoral election and every single by-election it stood in, some with increased majorities. And, above all, the party has recruited hundreds of thousands of new members.

Under Jeremy’s leadership the Labour Party has also won some crucial victories in the House of Commons such as the Tory U-turns on tax credit cuts and on Personal Independence Payments. And he has changed the Labour Party from a party that supported austerity a year ago, to one where every single member of the PLP, whether they are friends or enemies of Jeremy, now says they oppose austerity.

In my opinion, the coup is not just against Jeremy Corbyn or even his leadership team, but against all of us who dared to elect a socialist to lead the Labour Party. He is just saying what many people think but haven’t dared say during all these years of cuts and rising inequality: that we need to take back our money from the people who are siphoning it out of our public services and into offshore tax havens, depleting our housing stock, selling off our health service, running down our transport system, dismantling the education system and undermining controls on environmental degradation.

As for Smith, someone said to me that “voting for him would be like voting for a cardboard box”.  He just seems to be the only person they could find who didn’t vote for the Iraq war. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have much else to recommend him.

I meant this to be a short note but I was at a meeting last night with John McDonnell and a panel of others, some of them very young, in a packed hall in Walthamstow, an area I know quite well. It was standing room only, and many of those people were standing for two and a half hours listening to speeches which described ordinary people’s real experiences, struggling to house themselves, resorting to food banks, and all the rest of it. For the first time they can see a prospect of reversing the cuts that are undermining their lives, and they are being encouraged to participate and collaborate in making that happen.

London Russian Choir in Charterhouse Square 5 June 2014

6 Jun
Great performance by the London Russian Choir last night in the lovely surroundings of Sutton’s Hospital, Charterhouse Square. An amazing achievement for a choir that’s only been going just over a year. The event was a benefit for HealthProm, which works for children with disabilities in Russia.
The London Russian Choir, led by Polina Skovoroda-Shepherd, is open to all, and you don’t need to know Russian. http://londonrussianchoir.wordpress.com/
Here are two of the songs and some photos.

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Education is not a commodity

26 Apr

I’ve just written a feedback form for my campaigning journalism students about the educational and developmental merits or otherwise of the course. It is only for me so, in the event of the university employing me again, I can improve on the module and my teaching. It will spray indelible red paint over anyone who attempts to use it to market or advertise the course.

Hidden justice

21 Feb

If justice is supposed to be seen to be done, Woolwich Crown Court has been built to make that as difficult as possible. The only place it’s convenient for is Belmarsh Prison  next door, to which it’s directly connected by a a tunnel, and HMP Thameside, a new, privatised prison run by SERCO, next door but one.

Beyond those unhappy neighbours is bleak emptiness. A dual carriageway runs past the high fence and rubbish-strewn thorny shrubs. The cycle track alongside it is deserted, apart from a few straggling pedestrians making the 20-minute walk from Plumstead station through a threatening windswept industrial wasteland scattered with bottles, beer cans and plastic bags.

I’d never been to Woolwich Crown Court before yesterday, when I went to support Alfie and Zak. I’d only been to courts in the centre of London, which are grand old buildings, designed to overawe; a theatrical backdrop for the drama of a trial.  This court is sterile and impersonal. Long, blank corridors lead to waiting areas blasted with air conditioning, even in winter.  In this bland setting, the judge and barristers seem embarrassed by their wigs and gowns.

Hidden from sight and hard to reach, this court has no gravity, just cold, characterless buildings, making it almost impossible for family and friends to support defendants and sabotaging the principle of open justice.