Tuesday 27 June 2017

A Tale of Two Campaigns | #GE2017 and some of its legacies

In the weeks leading up to the general election on June 8th the streets of my home town, Falmouth, were festooned with 'Vote Labour' posters. On the day there were approximately 300 activists on the streets of the Truro and Falmouth constituency. We walked, rode in cars, on bikes and even on a tractor. The mood was optimistic and the camaraderie enriching, as were many of the doorstop conversations, the waves from people of all ages and car toots of support. I was up early on Thursday the 8th to finish my notes for two hours of teaching in Exeter the next day. After going to the local polling station to vote myself I spent seven hours or so working for the campaign. Back home by mid evening the wait for the exit poll seemed interminable. When it came I knew that there would be no sleep for me that night. Nevertheless, the eight hour round trip to Exeter plus the lecture/workshop did not feel like too much of an effort; the adrenaline was what kept me going I’m sure. Truro and Falmouth (one of the last constituencies to declare) stayed blue BUT Labour increased its vote share from 14% in 2015 to 37.7% in 2017; the second biggest swing to Labour nationally. Next time. . . 

As I have written previously (see for example http://arwenackcerebrals.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/whats-being-nice-or-nasty-got-to-do.html and http://arwenackcerebrals.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/what-have-love-and-hate-got-to-do-with.html) all in the all the Labour campaign, For the Many, Not the Few, both locally and nationally, was full of detail, positivity, energy, and hope; lots of hope, for a better future for all. The Labour leader himself appeared at 90 events; many of which were attended by hundreds or thousands of people. The shadow cabinet, Labour MP candidates, celebrities and other supporters talked, wrote, sang, canvassed, shared (in persona and online) positive messages and more in a gloriously public and open campaign which, if not always represented in full by the mainstream media, was evident in all its splendour to anyone with even a cursory interest in social media. 

By contrast the Conservative Party played up to the politics of fear and hate in their skimpy, U-turn filled campaign, which supported by many media outlets, was more often than not conducted in private, at invite only events. Hubris, vanity and arrogance are all words that have been used to describe the attitude of the Prime Minister, her advisers and ministers with reference to the calling of the election and the operation of the campaign. This conceit, this sense of entitlement, did not however stop Mrs May and others taking every possible opportunity to smear the opposition (especially Jeremy Corbyn and those parliamentary colleagues most close to him), mislead (I'm being generous here) the electorate in terms of their own attitudes and policies (or lack of them) and those of the other parties. Sometimes it was difficult to comprehend the (and I'm using the following phrase deliberately) line of attack. Who thought that this - easily proved untrue by a quick glance at the Labour Party Manifesto - was a good idea I wonder: 

Not least because it was so easy to do this →→

And yet, despite an obvious rocky campaign, Theresa May and others continued to tell us again and again that only she could offer a 'strong and stable' government and Brexit deal, in contrast to a weak 'coalition of chaos' headed by Jeremy Corbyn. We were told also that the offers by Labour - for example to properly fund the NHS, to increase the number of public sector workers, to provide free school lunches for all primary school children and abolish university tuition fees - were fantasy. As Theresa May herself said to a question from a nurse concerning public sector pay rates: 'There isn't a magic money tree we can shake that suddenly provides for everything people want'. And if all the unwarranted attacks and the lies (there, I've said it) were not enough it seems that the Conservatives may have broken the law during the campaign in an attempt to secure more votes https://www.channel4.com/news/revealed-inside-the-secretive-tory-election-call-centre Now where and when have we heard that before?  

Right up until polling day Labour and the Conservative continued with their differential approach. The Tories, supported by publications such at The Mail, The Sun and others continued with an 'attack dog' style that left many feeling sick and angry whilst the Labour Party's final broadcast (available on the YouTube Official Jeremy Corbyn Channel) evoked very different emotions. I've watched it half a dozen times now and it still makes me cry a little:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeuH7FG9mSA

Nineteen days on from the general election and a deal - described by many as shabby, grubby, irresponsible - was made between the Conservatives and the DUP which costs the tax payer 1.5 billion (in the first instance) prompting Emily Thornbury MP, in reference to the magic money tree, to ask 'have they found the key to the secret garden?' @LabourLeft has similarly revisited some of the Tory attack lines over the last couple of months. Thus:
Flag seen at Glastonbury
Rather than increasing her mandate at home and abroad, and rather than assuring anyone of her strength and stability the Prime Minister appears more weak and wobbly than ever before. The general election, which no Conservative MP will (publicly at least) admit was a mistake for them, has led to, in very many ways, increased insecurity for all of us. So, despite Mrs May's, now infamous admission, that the 'naughtiest' thing she has ever done is 'run through fields of wheat' as a child we can only hope that many more people are becoming aware, if they were not before, of the plethora of other actions, deals and decisions that are far, far worse.

So what of Labour? The increased power of the Party is evident in terms of the increased number of MPs; a 40% share of the vote (a rise of 9.6% since 2015 and the largest increase in a single election since 1945) and the dramatic change in the polls which now put both Labour and the Corbyn ahead of the Conservatives and May. At home and abroad there has been some change in the mainstream media, although the smears and untruths continue (more of that another time). If you haven't yet read 'The Book of Jeremy Corbyn' published in The New Yorker on the 9th June please do; bound to make you smile http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-book-of-jeremy-corbyn

Another Glastonbury flag
And although I agree with those that say 'it's a movement not a man' I also strongly support the view, voiced recently by Alex Nunn (worthy winner of the Bread and Roses Award for his book The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn's improbable path to power), 'without @jeremycorbyn's endurance it'd have been neither'. So, whilst we watch with horror the continued focus on the few by the government, and remain on general election alert, let's carry on working for positive change for the many and be encouraged by the continued and growing support for this endeavour. For not only is the Labour Leader's name chanted at music festivals, cricket matches, and in school playgrounds (which is clearly unnerving some; just one example here with a blatant lie at the end of Johnson's speech https://www.thecanary.co/2017/06/27/boris-johnson-finally-loses-claims-corbyn-supporters-part-brainwashed-cult-video/); not only are Corbyn and Jeremy gaining popularity as birth names but there is even a politically appropriate sandwich for those of us on the left. As the Unknown Stuntsman - @ustuntman - tweeted recently from a cafe in York: 'look what's on the menu: Ladies and Gentlemen THE CORBYN':

Sounds good to me. 

Sunday 18 June 2017

The Personal and the Political | #GE2017 and beyond

Like others I have experienced a range of emotions following the Grenfell Tower fire in West London. A cursory glance at mainstream, alternative and social media highlights the grief, the sadness, the rage but also the love and care for others the catastrophe has engendered. Residents, community workers, emergency service professionals, politicians and concerned others have expressed anger at the lack of a good enough government response to the needs of those affected and/or are protesting – verbally and on foot – in light of the growing evidence of cost-cutting, disregard and malpractice. One response to this has been criticism of displays of so-called inappropriate emotions and the apparent ‘politicising of a tragedy'. Such judgements are at best naive, at worst way beyond offensive. Just look at these two examples (plus counter responses

What the fire of Grenfell Tower and the official response (or lack of it) clearly shows is the deep divisions, inequalities and power differentials within society. Many commentators have written about this; just one example:

In the richest borough of one of the wealthiest countries in the world, people in social housing, many on low incomes, were killed and injured in a fire that could have been prevented or contained. Rather than diverting blame from those responsible, or treating it as an act of nature, our responsibility is to ask why it occurred.

Time and again, residents reported serious concerns about the safety of the building to the management organization, the local council, and the member of parliament (recently unseated in the general election). They were met with silence, and several told me on the scene they were convinced it was because they were poor, living in a rich borough that was determined to socially cleanse the area as part of a gentrifying project. 

Today's fire in Grenfell Tower is not outside of politics - it is a symbol of the United Kingdom's deep inequality. The block of 120 apartments housed between 400 and 600 people, some in very crowed conditions. Tenants reported problems with elevators, emergency lighting, wiring, and boilers. Even the most minor improvement required constant badgering. People were given the message that they were lucky to have any home at all, let alone in a borough that harbored such wealth. (Dawn Foster, 'A Very Political Tragedy '

Everything, absolutely everything, is political and the political is always personal: what we wear, what we eat, where we go to school, the monetary value put on the work that we do, where we live, how valued or not our voice is and so on and on. Every experience we have, every choice we make, often within (and I make no apology for paraphrasing Karl Marx here) conditions not of our own making from the moment of our conception to beyond our last breath is political. Thus, our gender, ethnicity, age, dis/ability, sexuality, alongside our economic and material conditions and our geographical location is of political significance.

As a mature student studying Sociology in the late 1980's my own political education was greatly enhanced by much critical reflection on the beginnings of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy and a detailed consideration of gender politics. These studies have informed my teaching, research and writing over the last nearly 30 years. Although I have again and again been reminded that the personal is indeed political I have at times been frustrated by the lack of political interest and engagement from the students I have taught. Additionally, I myself have been less active than I could have been. I have always attempted to do research that matters, with and for, rather than just about, those involved and I have always tried to communicate to students the importance of a thorough understanding of the breath of in/justice and in/equality in our society and in global terms. And yet, my public political engagement has been somewhat lacklustre until recently. Like many, many others from all age groups I have, over the last year, become much more politically energised, engaged and, I hope, effective. And despite being labelled (amongst other things) a ‘deluded extremist’, a ‘Trot’, even a ‘fucking fool’ I have continued to be inspired, and motivated to action, by a Labour leadership and movement that offers hope for a society that works ‘for the many not the few’. 

My late husband John, himself a Sociologist, was very politically motivated; evident through his teaching, his long term friendships and much of his musical and reading taste. More and more music artists (from Grime4Corbyn to Lily Allen), actors, comedians and sportspeople are coming out in support of the leader of the Labour Party and his team and Jeremy Corbyn’s name (whether he is present or not) is chanted on marches, at sporting events, in clubs and at concerts. Again we are told that culture, art, music, sport is not political. I could write a long correction here, but one word will do: DUH.

One of the things I have missed the most over the last 12 months is the conversations I would have had with John. The weekend of the FA Cup Final was particularly poignant for me. As well as going to see the match (before which he tweeted a series of quotes from socialist managers and players) Mr Corbyn had a kick about with some girls and boys on Hackney Marches and announced a number of policies in support of grassroots football. John loved football (different team for him, Manchester United rather than Arsenal) and I think it likely I would have stayed to watch the match on TV with him that Saturday to talk football-related politics rather than retreat with a book as I used to do more often than not. 

Amongst the many positive doorstop discussions I had whilst canvassing for the general election earlier this month there were some upsetting ones. Although the conversation with one man with multiple disabilities and a portable oxygen tank whose postal vote was for the Conservatives distressed me I felt even more wretched when people told me that they were ‘not interested’ and had ‘no intention of voting’. I read recently that the average person thinks about politics for four minutes a week. This, alongside the 'don't politicise' arguments (ironically encouraged by those attempting to score political points themselves (see Johnson's tweet above)) disheartens and enrages me. YET, YET the scores of people joining the Labour Party since 2017, the continued discussions between friends and amongst strangers (that I overhear on trains, in cafes, on the streets), the increase in social networking and political learning, the tweet from a mother reporting her eight year old's desire to watch the news to 'see how Jeremy Corbyn is doing' are the things to focus us. Things are changing, things have changed, there's more to come.... 

Saturday 10 June 2017

For the Many . . . .

There are lots of positive writings about Jeremy Corbyn and Labour this weekend and in my next couple of Blog entries I'm going to add to these messages. Having supported Labour all my adult life I joined the Labour Party last summer (I'm sure I don't need to say why) and since then I've been writing prose and 'fiction' in support of the current leadership and/or challenging the Tory Government. In August last year I wrote and published here a short story. Here it is again: 

Sticks and Stones

Once, not that long ago, in a land, not that far away, there lived a man, who worked very hard. He dedicated his life to fighting injustice and was always the first to stand with those suffering discrimination or oppression. He travelled far and wide offering support to people who needed it and challenging those who put the wants of the few before the needs of the many. Unwavering in his principles the man’s views were not always popular although his good heart and his steadfastness became legendary across the kingdom. More often than not his beliefs and predictions proved to be grounded in good sense. When not at work the man lived a simple life, his lack of interest in material things unusual for the time.  

And so the man’s life continued for many years. Quietly spoken and physically unassuming the most powerful people saw the man as little threat to their position of privilege. For a long time this was the case. Despite the man’s efforts and those of a few others like him the kingdom, and other lands around it, became dark and dangerous places to live in. More and more people were reduced to existing in sorry conditions. At its worst this meant that some had no access to adequate food and shelter, or to good education and health care. Inequality sometimes led to prejudice and often the most powerless were unfairly blamed for social evils well beyond their control. Then came an opportunity when the man put himself forward for a more powerful position amongst those responsible for governing the kingdom. Slowly, but with gathering momentum, ordinary people throughout the land began to listen more closely to what the man had to say, and to join him in his commitment to social justice for all. In short they began to hope.

Watching the growing interest in and acceptance of the man’s message the rulers and those who would be rulers began to fear. Having greater access to the kingdom’s Magic Streaming Mirror (popularly known as the MSM) than the man and his supporters they began to spread false tales about him. Aware of the people’s regard for the man and his work they began by criticising his ability; ‘he is a good person but not strong enough to lead us’. When this didn’t work they moved to an attack on his ideas; ‘he’s talking rubbish, don’t listen to him’. Then, not surprisingly given the increasing obvious acceptance of them, they began to adopt, even to claim as their own, the man’s suggestions for action. At the same time they argued; ‘nobody likes him, he can’t deliver his promises, don’t trust him, trust us instead’. The critical messages were personal as well as political; indeed the personal is always political. So the man’s long-time principles were questioned, his character besmirched, and his lifestyle, choices, appearance and general self-presentation insulted. Through it all the man stood tall and got stronger, supported by the people who believed in him: young people and older ones, workers and those unable to work, those with enough to live a good life, others much more disadvantaged. They didn’t all agree with everything the man said, just as no one should, unthinkingly, uncritically, accept what they are told by others. But what all these people shared was a respect for the man’s obvious principles and they believed, like him, that the kingdom could be a better, fairer, brighter, happier place, if everyone worked together to make it so. And hence the Magic Streaming Mirror responded branding these people as naïve, as stupid, as wicked and worse . . . Its magic power was strong as it twisted the words of those who spoke in support of the man and magnified the voices of those that didn’t. And yet, many were able to question the dominant and dominating bewitching messages emanating from the Magic Streaming Mirror which championed the proclamations of those who wished to dispose of the man and take power for themselves. The people who resisted took comfort in, and drew strength from, communication and comradery relationships with each other. So much so that even when they were told, repeatedly, in various different ways, that they were not ‘real’ they knew that this was a lie.


The end of this story is yet to be told. The man and the people who accept and help to promote what he stands for remain under attack. The often confused and confusing negative stories continue to fester. But the resistance of many continues also. Although the kingdom is in many ways rotten, and there is a real danger that things could get even worse, there is also much hope for a better world. Many more people believe in fighting for a more positive future. Many more people believe in the power of community and the value of people powered politics. What is clear is that whatever happens next things will never be the same again. 


Ten months and many adventures on we have just had a General Election that demonstrates that those of us who had faith and hope that things could change were not as deluded as many would have had us believe. Listen to this by Jon Snow: https://www.facebook.com/Channel4News/videos/10154921679231939/

There is of course much, much more to do. . . . (more of that another time). But what is clear is that Labour’s message 'for the many, not the few' is being listened to by increasing number of people and a positive, inclusive, respectful, just and kinder future is possible.  

OK, off the write The Tale of Two Campaigns next. 

Wednesday 7 June 2017

#VoteLabour OR What's Everything Else Got to Do With It? | TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May

Second post of the day. Last one before we all vote. I'm just in from canvassing, bit chilled and hoping that the rain blows itself away before tomorrow. 

I’ve run out of time… There were so many more pieces I wanted to write in my What’s …. Got to Do With It? series.... On my list I have Education; Life and Death; Health and Illness; War and Peace; Arts and Creativity; Animal Rights; Poverty; Difference and Diversity... and more.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has liked, commented on and shared the pieces I have written in the run up to #GE2017. Whatever happens on June 8th, whatever the result, I will continue to write about my political concerns, but more of that another day. For now just a reference to a piece I read today that helped me to reflect on the last few weeks and then a few personal thoughts.

Yesterday Edward Luce published an article entitled ‘Britain’s Voyage to Inglorious Isolation’ in The New York Times. He wrote:  

First there was the Brexit drama. Now comes the farce. Almost a year after a narrow majority of Britons voted to pull out of the European Union, British voters face a general election on Thursday that was as unwanted as it was unexpected.

One thing on which all people agree about Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May: She knows how to keep a secret. Even senior party colleagues were taken unawares by the timing of the snap June 8 election. Most still appear to be in the dark about what their campaign message is supposed to be. The prime minister’s mantra, ‘Strong and stable leadership,’ was fine as far as it went. But to what larger purpose?

‘Brexit means Brexit’ also has a clean ring to it, but Mrs. May has had trouble spelling out what a post-European Britain would look like. There is a world of difference between an amicable divorce and a messy one.

A more honest slogan would be: Making the best of a bad job.


Later in his article Luce continues:

As Election Day approaches, Britain’s voters seem disenchanted with the choices offered. The recent terrorist attacks, first in Manchester, now in London, have only reinforced the public’s sceptical mood about their political leaders — all of which raises the chances of a hobbled British government even less able to handle the Brexit negotiations than before. 

Here, I have to disagree. As innumerable people, including even Tory politicians and Right leaning journalists, are saying Labour’s election campaign
has been head, shoulders, torso, legs and feet above that of the Conservatives and the enthusiasm, energy and positivity of Labour’s shadow cabinet, members and supporters has surpassed many people’s expectations. Jeremy Corbyn and others have been almost constantly on the road speaking to huge crowds enjoying the sun or huddled under umbrellas: public sector professionals and celebrities have come out in force in support of Labour and the internet has been full of feel-good stories, vids and memes to counter the hostile coverage from much of the mainstream media.

So some final declarations. It’s obvious of course where my vote will go, but just in case: I’M VOTING LABOUR. I’m voting Labour for hope in the future. I’m voting Labour for the many not the few. I’m voting Labour to save the NHS. I'm voting Labour because I believe in the opportunity of a good education for everyone. I’m voting Labour for a better future for those who are younger than me. I’m voting Labour for better care for those that are older than me. I'm voting Labour for myself. I’m voting Labour for a safer world. I’m voting Labour because I too have a vision for a shared society. I’m voting Labour because I want no one, no place or no community to be left behind. I’m voting Labour because I do not support cuts, closure and privatisation. I’m voting Labour for Jeremy Corbyn for PM.


What's Democracy Got to Do With it? | TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May

Much of my writing over the last few weeks has focused on topics that I think matter in the lead up to #GE2017:  gender, age, leadership, love and hate, propaganda and so on. Here I am concerned with our political system itself: democracy, defined as:

. . . a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

- which is important both in terms of the challenges to democracy during this election and the future of democracy after polling day.

Let’s just reflect on a few issues of significance right now:

-      Following seven assurances that she would not call an early general election Theresa May presented the country with a largely un-costed manifesto on which there have been innumerable U-turns/changes. When Labour (and other political Parties or an occasional journalist) points this (and other deficiencies in the Conservatives plans) out Mrs May tells us that ‘Jeremy Corbyn is trying to sneak into No 10’ or ‘Jeremy Corbyn is just trying to get votes’.

It’s confusing I know as to why these are problems during a general election.

-      In the run up to the final date for new voter registration Labour and other Parties issued numerous reminders of the importance of suffrage – in speeches and through social media – with details on how to register. The Tories on the other hand not only did little or nothing to encourage new/additional voters but even attempted to block out Labour’s adverts with anti-Corbyn propaganda.

-      Whilst the importance of voting and voting in an informed way, remains the focus of the Left (see for example Matt Turner’s Everybody’s Doing It, and you should too: 5 ways young people can help Labour win http://evolvepolitics.com/everybodys-5-ways-increase-votes-party-thursday/) there is much sneering elsewhere. Just a couple of tweets here as example (and there’s worse, much worse):

Under 30s love Corbyn but they don't care enough to get off their lazy arses to vote for him. (Tory candidate with 10 years commons experience).

Will defo vote but most young people don't & won't vote. They're naive & thick as dogshite. Simple as. Tory landslide. (Floating voter, 23).

(In contrast to this I, like many others, cannot remember another time when so many people (of all ages) were so engaged by and enthused about politics. On a walk into town yesterday I passed three mid twenty-something men. ‘The young have got to get out to vote though’, one said’. ‘Take your friends’, I shouted back to them. ‘Don’t worry, we will, we are’, they replied, smiling at me).

-      The Lobbying Act 2014 provides a set of rules for people and charities that publicly campaign on issues in the run up to elections to ensure they do not influence how people vote:

More than 50 charities, many of whom routinely campaign against Conservative policies, have signed an open letter to all main party leaders calling for a commitment to overhaul the controversial Lobbying Act ‘as a matter of urgency’ after the election on 8 June.

A spokesperson told The Independent: “The Lobbying Act is a democratic car crash; it weakens democracy and curtails free speech…. ‘Limiting charities’ engagement in political debate is detrimental to a healthy democracy. We’re urging the next government to commit to reforming the act,' http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/election-2017-uk-charities-ngos-gagged-lobbying-act-chilling-effects-a7775416.html

-      That the Conservative general election campaign is built on slogans (‘strong and stable’, ‘coalition of chaos’, ‘put your trust in me and my team’, ‘magic money tree’ and even just recently ‘make Britain great again’) and on the smearing of the opposition is clear to most of us. And yet it is hard to pick through the many lies that are being told, about policies and personalities, that offer an alternative to what we have now. Just as bad is the lack of attention given to the alternative; as messages of hope are drowned out by the cacophony of hate and fear. (I have provided many examples in previous blog entries see for example http://arwenackcerebrals.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/whats-propaganda-got-to-do-with-it-turn.html AND  http://arwenackcerebrals.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/whats-being-nice-or-nasty-got-to-do.html . Just one further example here https://www.thecanary.co/2017/06/05/tories-caught-spreading-fake-news-corbyn-labour-manifesto-images/ )

Labour's Money Tree
The Conservatives' Money Tree

-      The mainstream media has much to answer for. The BBC in particular has come under particular attack for its right wing leanings and there is much evidence to support this critique:  

'Thousands came out to see Corbyn yesterday. But you wouldn’t know that from watching the BBC' 

The recently released protest song Liar, Liar (currently at No 4 in the charts) is critical of Theresa May and the current government. This track is not played by, nor available to listen to, via the BBC because of so-called ‘impartiality’ during a general election. And yet headlines from such publications as The Sun, The Express and The Mail, which are anything but ‘impartial’ and very often draw on misinformation and lies are freely available on the BBC News Website and read out on TV and radio news programmes. Listen to Liar, Liar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxN1STgQXW8

Writing in yesterday’s Guardian (a supposedly Left leaning paper that has overall been less than helpful), Gary Younge argued:

In America, money selects the candidates before the voters get a look-in. ‘The ideas of the ruling class,’ Karl Marx pointed out, ‘are in every epoch the ruling ideas.’ That’s how a man who talked with Sinn Féin (a strategy that stood the test of time) can be constantly interrogated about his support for ‘terrorism’ while a woman who joined a party that branded Nelson Mandela a terrorist is never asked about her support for Apartheid.

There’s more I could write about, more examples I could give….

Finally, just a brief consideration of some of the things that we are voting for. If the Conservatives win changes will be made in terms of the conduct of elections and who and who is not allowed to vote. When implemented the boundary review of constituencies, the introduction of the need to produce ID when voting and other changes (see https://constitution-unit.com/2017/05/26/changing-the-way-the-uk-votes-the-conservative-manifestos-proposals-relating-to-the-conduct-of-elections/) will all benefit the Conservatives.

Just yesterday in a final attempt to strengthen her ‘weak and wobbly’ campaign, and to defend the increasing criticisms of her as both Home Secretary and PM, Theresa May announced ‘I’ll rip up human rights laws that impede new terror legislation’. Whilst we reflect on this new and (hopefully final) slogan of #GE2017 let’s just remind ourselves of the detail of the Human Rights Act:

SO: What’s Democracy Got to Do With It?
Answer: A LOT.

TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May

Thursday 1 June 2017

What's Being Nice (or Nasty) Got to Do With It? | TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May

On Tuesday (30th May) Theresa May gave a speech as part of the (relaunch) of the Conservative Party's Campaign in the run up to #GE2017. The branding was a little different with more emphasis on the Party rather than just the Prime Minister herself but otherwise little had changed. There was as usual a focus on Brexit; little detail but the insistence (as ever) that Theresa May is the only one strong enough to get ‘Britain the best deal’. Perhaps inevitably then the speech included the regular, and what has become frankly boring, attack on the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Over the last few weeks I have been shocked on very many occasions by both the lack of serious detail and debate provided by the Conservatives and the extent of the focus on personality politics. This speech shocked me once again. Mrs May said:

Last night [Battle for Number 10 debate] showed that Jeremy Corbyn’s minders can put him in a smart blue suit for an interview with Jeremy Paxman, but with his position on Brexit, he will find himself alone and naked in the negotiating chamber of the European Union. I know that’s an image that doesn’t bear thinking about…

There was some laughter and a pause for the Prime Minister to elicit a little more before she continued:

…but actually this is very serious. 

I was not the only one to immediately think that if this had been the other way around – i.e. Mr Corbyn speaking about Mrs May - there would have been, quite rightly, an outcry. As Corbyn himself has responded ‘I think it totally inappropriate to describe anyone as naked. Even me.’

A year or so ago I read a John Niven novel entitled The Second Coming (published by Vintage 2012).  Basically the plot is as follows (taken from the advertising detail):

God takes a look at the Earth around the time of the Renaissance and everything looks pretty good – so he takes a holiday. In Heaven-time this is just a week’s fishing trip, but on Earth several hundred years go by. When God returns, he finds all hell has broken loose. . . There’s only one thing for it. They’re sending the kid back. JC, reborn, is a struggling musician in New York City, trying to teach the one true commandment: Be Nice! (my emphasis).

I appreciate that this book will not be to everyone’s taste but from my reading of it (admittedly speaking as an uncertain agnostic) I would suggest that the work is not an attack on Christianity, or religion more generally, but rather a humorous book (drawing on a story most of us are familiar with) with a serious message: Be Nice. Surely this is a missive we can all support whatever our religion or political learning (or maybe not). Nice is not a word full of drama or razzmatazz. My thesaurus encourages me to replace it with charming, gracious, kind, commendable, admirable and other such words. But, in this context nice is more than good enough, encompassing as it does all of these other terms, so I’ll stick with it.

On Monday I travelled from my home in Cornwall to Aberdeen, where I’ve been working for the last couple of days (it’s a long trip which including one delay took me more than 12 hours in total and included trains, a plane and a taxi). At the start of the journey I met a group of German women who had spent the previous 10 days walking the coastal path. A little confused about our railway and ticket system they asked for my help. Consequently I not only spoke to the train manger on the branch-line train on their behalf but went with them to the ticket office at the mainline station where they were to catch the next train on their journey to Gatwick airport. This didn’t take up much of my time and I enjoyed talking with them. The group were clearly delighted with the small bit of help I’d given. ‘Everybody is so friendly here’, one of them told me. Attune to such encounters throughout the long journey I observed many small kindnesses - help locating seats, standing aside for others to go first – and friendly exchanges between people. There was also one incidence of ‘train-rage’ (an argument over the stowing of bags) that left at least a number of people upset. For all involved the nicer incidents were much more pleasant and far less stressful.

My heart, like that of many others, has been warmed by the much more significant and wide-scale displays of niceness by (most of) the people of Manchester following the terrible events there last week. I was online when the attack happened and it was wonderful to see the very many tweets and re-tweets with offers of shelter for the night, use of phone chargers, free taxi rides and food, plus the helpful phone numbers and other useful information. There was much evidence too of people rushing to help, to do whatever they could. I was appalled of course by the soon to follow reports of verbal and physical attacks on Mosques and Muslims in the streets, which ironically included, we have heard just recently, a Muslim surgeon who worked for 48 hours following the attack: ‘Go back to your own country you terrorist, we don’t want people like you here. Fuck off’, a man shouted at him when he was next on his way to work. Despite such hateful and sad displays of abuse the support worldwide and at home – from images of the Union Jack on buildings as far-spread as Toronto to France the day after the attack to a peace march for people of all religions organised by the Muslim community in Manchester on Sunday -  again lifted all our spirits.

From momentous events, such as the horror in Manchester to everyday mundane experiences, it is clear that there is indeed much niceness about. And yet we are living in a society where, as Ken Loach (and many others) has noted several times, our Conservative Government promotes and defends policies and practices that are ‘consciously cruel’. And this cruelty, this nastiness, extends to the Conservative Government’s behaviour during the run up to June 8th. Whereas the Labour Party Campaign continues to be about policy, policy, and more policy (and how to fund and enact said policies) the Conservative Campaign (such that it is) is focused mainly on personality. It seems however that this may be a mistake. More and more people are beginning to ask questions such as:

‘How can we believe the Prime Minister when she tells us that she is ‘strong and stable’ and the best person to ‘negotiate for us aboard’ when she avoids much of the public; difficult questions from journalists and face-to-face debate with the Leader of the Opposition?'

‘On what grounds can Theresa May and her ‘team’ claim to be ‘Compassionate Conservatives’ when what policies they have seem to continue the agenda of cruelty (towards many, many human and non-human animals)?'

‘How can we take the campaign seriously when every question about the Tories’ record or their plans for the future if re-elected is answered thus: ‘It was worse under the last Labour Government’ and/or ‘forget that let’s talk instead about something Jeremy Corbyn did or did not say 30 years ago?’’

A while ago I read an interesting article comparing Donald Trump’s behaviour in office to that of a child. For example; wanting to be the centre of attention, unable to take turns, shouting ‘it isn’t fair’ when things don’t go his way.  Personally, I think this is a little unfair to very many children. But footage of the US President pushing his way to the front in a recent NATO meeting with other world leaders and viciously pulling at rather than shaking the French President’s hand (presumably because he was not the first to receive a greeting from Mr Macron) certainly demonstrates his nastiness. As we see from the Tories’ record, current behaviour and plans for the future there is much nastiness on this side of the pond also. In another pieces I've read of Trump’s loneliness in power (which seems increasingly relevant to Theresa May’s position also) and in yet another both Trump and May  were described as 'victim leaders', as in: ‘I am great but everyone is horrible to me, and if you dare to disagree with me I’ll sulk and be nasty to everyone else’. Jeremy Corbyn’s approach and style on the other hand has been compared to that of a ‘servant-leader’: confirmed I’d suggest by his comments on Tuesday evening on BBC1’s The One Show https://www.thecanary.co/2017/05/31/forget-what-media-says-this-truly-important-part-corbyns-one-show-appearance-video/

Some argue that the term servant-leader has been in use for more than 2000 years. The terms was revisited by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 book The Servant as Leader thus:

The servant-leader is servant first … That person is sharply different from one who is leader-first. . .

Greenlead continues:

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
In other words the servant-leader is nice, VERY NICE.

So: What’s Being Nice (or Nasty) Got to Do With It?

Answer: A LOT


TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May

NB: as previously noted less references/links in pieces leading up to #GE2017 – apologies.