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All Places that the Eye of Heaven Visits

Mark Rylance and Shakespeare’s Globe brought a company of 23 actors to Westminster Abbey for a unique event to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday. They created a beautiful and unexpected world where you could meet the war-weary soldier or the hapless lover, behold a great Monarch or bide awhile with a lone and prayerful soul as you explore the famous Abbey. This is a collection of fleeting and intimate encounters with Shakespeare’s drama, poetry and song beneath the soaring ribs of London’s tremendous Westminster Abbey. And it’s sold out, so you need to book for next year.

As you wander the Abbey you can be accosted by a player or two, some like students with backpacks emerging from the the strolling crowd, others in full Shakespearean dress, others just idling in jeans and sweatshirt by the tomb of this or that monarch. Each deliver a passage from a play or sonnet – some well known, others less so (to me at least). You can’t see everything and don’t worry about what you miss. What you do see will be worth it.

Having been last year we knew what to expect. It is tempting to follow the crowd but we knew that you soon split naturally into smaller groups so we immediately left the madding crowd for one of the aisles of side chapels. And almost immediately fell in with Mark Rylance himself, one of our finest current actors whether in a Shakespearean or contemporary setting. Rylance clearly enjoys bringing Shakespeare closer to the people and he is as content performing to the two of us (and a few others who had followed our lead) as to 2,000 on a wider stage. He did some more theatrical speeches elsewhere in the evening but for us – Sonnet 81:

Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

In his battered suit with a raincoat over his arm, he was a man of the people as he wandered the Abbey.

And at the end as we all reassembled close to the tomb of the unknown soldier, summoned by mournful Elizabethan horns, Rylance mingled with the crowd, greeting old friends and acknowledging the good wishes from others. The Abbey columns were illuminated with gentle coloured lights. And then the whole of the players joined the audience and then made their way to the centre, voices raised in a soaring spring-themed song.

Only an hour and a quarter, but so much packed in to a truly wonderful experience. Watch out for tickets next year – but not until we’ve got ours.

To Kill a King

That’s what many people think Rufus Norris has done with his new production of Macbeth in the National Theatre. Take a stalwart of Shakespearean drama and completely murdered it. Many critics were scathing about all aspects of the play. “It is ugly to look at” – What’s on Stage, “bleak and often brutal” – Henry Hitchings, “the play struggles to rise about the sheer Stygian ghastliness” – Ann Treneman, and largely summed up by “The aim, I presume, was to create an especially atmospheric Macbeth, one seeped in inky-black mystique. But unfortunately the result is bizarrely flat,” – Rosemary Waugh.

In fact, most of the criticism was directed at the stage design rather than the performance, but I found that one of the most attractive things about this production. This is not the best Macbeth I have seen. Not by a country mile. But it is not the complete turkey that the criteratti set out to find.

Let’s deal with that set design first of all. The backdrop to this massive stage at the National was what seemed to be crumpled black plastic drapes, twisted and heavily layered, sheet upon sheet. At times it gave an immense depth to the play acting out in in front of you. At others it limited the vision to the a more intimate portion of the stage. Someone described it as seaweed crossed with shredded bin-liner, and that’s exactly what it looked like. When it wasn’t looking like Highlands of Scotland, or tapestries in Cawdor Castle, or Burnham Wood.

A rotating castle set exposed different rooms of Cawdor and other castles, and a sweeping runway gave height and depth to the broader action on moor and mountain.

It was on this runway we first meet the witches. No mysterious phantoms these. A simple threesome. No animatronics or flying trapezes, but one takes a high-speed run around the place, with an equally high-speed trill of a cackle.

And for the main parts? For me this is where the disappointment, if there is some, lay. Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff take the lead roles and whilst some argue that the cuts to the script made by Norris left them little to play with, I think it was the playing which lacked something. This was an ordinary bloke (and his ordinary wife) who was told by some witches that he would be King. An ordinary bloke would have said “OK, that’s nice. Let’s see what happens.”

Neither Macbeth, nor – crucially – Lady Macbeth have that pent up psychopathic fervour which drives them in other productions. And so it all becomes slightly unbelievable. A bit soft round the edge where it should be hard as steel.

So. It’s not great. But it’s not as bad as some critics say. Definitely give it a go if you get the chance. It won’t stand comparison with the great productions – Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth on stage, Michael Fassbender in the recent film – but, to borrow a phrase from the Good Doctors’ film reviews, it’s not entirely without merit. And if you like seaweed crossed with shredded bin-liner you’re in for a treat.

☆☆☆

Fix the problem, not the process

Today 40 MPs and Peers escorted their colleague Ruth Smeeth MP to give evidence at a disciplinary hearing of a member of the Labour Party, Marc Wadsworth, accused of antisemitic behaviour. A protest in support of Wadsworth had been arranged at the (not so secret) venue.

Whilst, no doubt, their support would be welcome at any time, how has it come to this?

As one of the MPs present, Wes Streeting, said, “I was proud to see so many Labour MPs and peers from across the party – including shadow ministers – accompanying Ruth this morning in a show of friendship and solidarity. But no victim of abuse should ever have to walk through a protest against them to give evidence to a hearing. It is an appalling state of affairs.” Particularly poignant following on the day after the much-heralded meeting between Jeremy Corbyn and members of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD).

If accounts are correct, Labour’s response to the meeting was to spend the time available talking about process rather than action. That was wholly wrong and a completely wasted opportunity, but no surprise.

When Seumas Milne, the Leader’s Spinner and now de facto General Secretary of the Labour Party, came to see me two years ago it was to ask advice about how the Labour Party might best deal with the allegations of antisemitism that were already beginning to dominate the news agenda.

I gave some advice about how to deal with antisemitism, but that wasn’t what was required. It was the symptoms he wanted treating, not the cause. And it’s still the symptoms, the bad publicity, that most concern him today. The only thing which concerns him.

And it’s so obvious that we seem only to care about symptoms that when I went to see comedian Bill Bailey at the weekend, his attack on Labour (balancing his attacks on May for Windrush and Cable for irrelevance) were entirely about this current ‘Whack-a-Mole’ approach to dealing with the issue. A racist pops up here, and when s/he is dealt with another pops up there. An endless cycle of cause and effect where the effect is actually contributing to the next effect, and no-one is tackling the cause.

But why does this matter? Surely the Labour Party has to have the right process for dealing with complaints and investigations. Of course. And any process can benefit from being improved.

But any process, whatever ‘improvements’ are made, will falter at the hurdle of getting approval from the Office of the Leader of the Opposition (LOTO) for any action being proposed. It took three conference calls with Seumas Milne and others over several tortuous hours (and John Mann chasing Ken around with a TV crew) to get agreement that Ken Livingstone should be suspended for the allegations of antisemitism made against him.

More recently LOTO are trying to row back on the adoption of the definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) which was adopted by the National Executive Committee (NEC) in December 2016. Although it was adopted partly to avoid being outflanked by the Tories, this internationally accepted definition was a welcome addition to the fight against antisemitism in the Labour Party. Together with the examples of antisemitic actions and language, which were also accepted, this provided a clear (or, at least, clearer) framework within which those charged with investigating allegations could operate.

But I now am told by members of the NEC that LOTO are recently trying to say that the examples of antisemitic behaviour weren’t accepted and should not be used. Yes they were, and yes they should. For those who are interested in such things, I’ve include the definition and the examples at the end of this piece. Maybe LOTO would like to say which of the examples concern them and why. It would be even more instructive if they were to say which of their friends are likely to fall foul of these examples.

There has been much said in recent days, not least at Jeremy Corbyn’s meeting with the JLC and BoD, about process. Jennie Formby has been told dealing with allegations of antisemitism is her top priority. But all the words emanating from LOTO and from the General Secretary’s Office are about process and implied criticism of the staff for not dealing with issues quickly enough – it is always the staff.

But the truth of the matter lies in quite another direction.

When the cancer of Militant Tendency was removed from the Labour Party, months and months were not wasted on process. A battalion of lawyers was not put in place. No General Counsel had to be hired before action could be taken.

Instead, and to borrow an unfortunate phrase used highly inappropriately elsewhere, a hostile environment was created, making it clear if you were a member of Militant you were not welcome as a member of the Labour Party. Speech after speech by the Leadership of the Party, a handful of high profile expulsions, including those of two MPs, and action by local constituency parties supported by the NEC gave no hiding place. Members of Militant Tendency left the Labour Party to gather under the banner of Militant Labour to begin the long march to obscurity.

Of course, antisemites are not a political party. They are not an entryist organisation which can be dealt with en-bloc. But they should face the same hostile environment.

Instead Labour has become a safe haven for the weird and the whacky, and, worse, for the racist bullies who believe it is OK to level the vilest abuse at those who seek to speak out against this current cancer at the heart of Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn believes that he doesn’t have the power to tackle these issues. He believes what Seumas tells him, that he can only ask the General Secretary to look at improving the process – tweak the rules, hire a lawyer, blame the staff.

But I have news for you Jeremy. You are Leader of the Labour Party. What you say will, 99 times out of a hundred, go.

You may not be able to stop Chris Williamson MP physically sharing a platform with a member of the Labour Party suspended for antisemitism, but you can make it abundantly clear that you expect, and would support, charges of bringing the Party into disrepute to follow.

You may not be able to stop people using the hashtag #JC4PM alongside their antisemitic vitriol. But you could have a member of staff responding to each and every one saying it is not acceptable and nor is their membership of the Labour Party. And cheaper than a barrel of lawyers.

If you expect LOTO to have an eye on which disciplinary cases should be treated more or less seriously – and currently you do – then you should also be prepared to speak up and make it clear that you expect individuals who express the views that Ken Livingstone did to be expelled from the Labour Party. The National Constitutional Committee which hears these cases is not blind justice. They are aware of ‘mood music’ emanating from the Leader’s Office. That is why Ken wasn’t expelled at the first attempt.

And yes, have a look at the process too. It should be possible within a fair process to get people like Livingstone out of the Party without months and months of case preparation. If people want their day in court, then let it be at the Strand rather than Victoria Street.

Jeremy, there are still a few outliers, like Williamson, who believe antisemitism is a plot (probably dreamed up by the Jews) to attack your Leadership. You at least recognise that it is not. It is a real issue. It has real consequences. And it must be really dealt with. Not the symptoms. Not by Whack-a-Mole. But by tackling the causes by straight talking and honest-to-goodness action. Today.

And just to make it clear action today is possible here is a draft to-do list:
1. Make it clear that elected representatives must not share platforms with people facing charges of antisemitism.
2. Challenge individuals using social media to conflate JC4PM with antisemitism or gaslighting about smears.
3. Make it clear what action you, as Leader, expect to follow when named individuals engage in antisemitic behaviour.
4. Be quicker to welcome Marc Wadsworth’s expulsion from the Labour Party (or condemn the fact he has not been) than you were to recognise the retirement of Arsène Wenger.

If we seek the trust of the people to govern, they are more likely to trust our actions than merely oft-repeated words.

 

FOR INFORMATION

IHRA Working definition of antisemitism

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Examples of antisemitism under this definition

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
• Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
• Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
• Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
• Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
• Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
• Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

The Best Man

Gore Vidal’s play of the battle between corrupt and honest (or less corrupt) politics of the 1960s still resonates today as it has done under different guises throughout the ages.

Richard III, the West Wing, House of Cards, the Thick of It. They all carry similar themes, but the Best Man takes us to the heart of how candidates are selected to become the representative of a party in the US presidential elections. Something we seem to ask a lot this side of the pond. Who…? How on earth…?

This production at the Playhouse Theatre has assembled a stellar cast to play the fictional characters. That fiction means you won’t necessarily know the result before it arrives and you will have no plot spoilers from me today.

The one big advantage of placing your story in the convention hotel where the party is meeting to choose its candidate is that all the rooms look the same. So you only need to change the people inhabiting it to change the scene, and that was done with swift expertise throughout. That gave this witty production a pace which one imagines would be similar to that experienced at a real world event – even if the truth is a little slower.

Martin Shaw appears to be Vidal’s favoured candidate – as was JFK until he fell out of love with him – but he is the flawed Secretary of State, Bill Russel. Certainly a womaniser. Possibly with mental health problems. His opponent, Senator Joe Cantwell is played by Jeff Fahey (an American actor with an American accent just about as believable as Shaw’s) as a brash, do anything, shaft anyone to win sort of guy – who could that be? Certainly this is played as good against evil. We are more used to bad against slightly less bad.

The battle for votes is adjudicated by the dying former President played by Jack Shepherd who fails to declare his support for one or the other before expiring without influencing the vote one way or the other. When they came to take their curtain call Shepherd still looked at death’s door, so he’d obviously put a lot into his performance.

As in many political tales of this era, the real business is done by the men, the candidates and their campaign managers. The women – the wives, the representative of the women’s caucus – are the bright lights which illuminate the murkier politics. But they do reflect their male counterparts – slightly good, slightly bad, slightly vacillating. Maureen Lipman in particular has an archly comic presence as the voice of women’s suffrage, Sue-Ellen Gamadge. She could easily have morphed into Lady Bracknell at any time.

Running at two hours 30minutes, for some reason it had a start time of 7.45pm so it was touch and go for the train home at a reasonable hour. Nevertheless, a tight production of a classic play. At times tense, always smart and witty, occasionally laugh out loud. And with a neat twist (no plot spoilers). Well worth seeing.

☆☆☆☆

The Plough and the Stars

The Plough and the Stars

The last time we saw Seán O’Casey’s great play about the events surrounding the Easter Rising of 1916, it was at the National Theatre (in London, rather than Ireland) and it was firmly set in the tenements of Dublin. The rising shaped the events. Shaped the people. The realism of the setting of the play gave it exact context.

This version at the Lyric Hammersmith is without doubt about the people, and their stories unwind on a backdrop that could certainly be Dublin in 1916. But it could also be Romania in 1989, or Mexico in 1994. Or a dystopian Los Angeles of 2049. The troubles here, as in all great plays, are the troubles of relationships rather than the troubles of the bomb and the bullet.

The play is bookended by songs. The Soldier’s Song is a poignant opening as Mollser, played by Julie Maguire, collapses in a bloody coughing fit which heralds the tuberculosis which will kill her later. She inhabits the stage throughout, neglected and ignored, save by a drunken Protestant neighbour who delights in singing Jerusalem and waving the Union Flag. The solider who arrives to escort her coffin for burial, plaintively sings Keep the Home Fires Burning to close the play.

The open, scaffolded set allows both the sense of any place, and the specific cheek by jowl place of the Irish tenements of 1916 and provides the backdrop for the over-arching themes against which these complex and simple relationships are played out -“Ireland is greater than a mother” and “Ireland is greater than a wife.”

The lives of the women of the play are the strongest themes. Nora Clitheroe’s descent into madness as she loses her husband Jack to the Irish Citizen Army, and then her unborn baby to the stress of battle almost mirrors that of Lady Macbeth. One trying to hold her husband to a normal family life, the other trying to promote him out of it. Nora reflects the ordinariness of family life in 1915, managing the household while uncle and cousin and neighbours talk the talk of revolution at home and in the pub. But when the second half starts in 1916 she is powerless to halt the words turning to actions as the bullets begin to fly.

No one here is a hero. Everyone is ordinary. The soldiers suppressing the rising are not imperialist bullies. Bessie, the drunken Protestant, is not the only one to question the rising, but the fact her son is fighting in the trenches of the first world war is a clear challenge to the priorities that confront these families. Apparently when the play was first performed in Ireland in the 1920s the audience rioted. It was all a bit too raw then.

O’Casey doesn’t rail against independence for Ireland, just the means of getting it, ending with overwhelming sadness and loss for those with little to lose. This play brings out all of that emotion and is well worth seeing, particularly if you have seen one of the more traditional period costume drama versions from recent times.

☆☆☆☆

Ross’s Gull - eventually

Ross’s Gull – eventually

The cafe at Ferry Bridge, on the causeway which joins Weymouth and Portland, is not to be missed.

Any time were in the area we will likely end up there at some point. Traditional breakfast to set us for a day’s birding. Afternoon tea to cheer us up after a disappointing day’s birding. A good range of food, and wildlife shop, window seats for non-stop birding. What’s not to like?

So when we saw that the Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) – our reason for being in Weymouth rather than Southampton – had not been seen for the last couple of hours, we decided to go straight for a Sunday morning breakfast. Always popular, the cafe was three-quarters full, but we got a window seat next to some fellow birders who were just finishing off their refuelling stop. Unusually, the table service was a bit slower than normal so we hadn’t ordered when the next message came through – the gull was back at Radipole Reserve.

We ignored the slightly smug grin of those who had already eaten, and left without breakfast. Radipole is only 10 minutes away. Eight minutes later the next message tells us the gull has flown south out toward the bay. Back where we’ve just come from.

Experienced hands that we are, we decide there’s more chance of the Ross’s Gull making its way to another regular site at Lodmoor just a few minutes away, and we can at least have a pork-pie and bar of chocolate from the goodie-bag in the back of the car. We head to Lodmoor. No one else thinks this is the place to be looking. And what’s worse, there is no goodie-bag in the boot. Still on the kitchen table apparently. Still we have a mooch round Lodmoor, and then decide we really do need food.

Back to Radipole. Lots of birders. No bird.

But we did spy a cafe a few minutes walk away opposite the station, and we discover that this is another little gem. So at least we’ve added to our food stops, if not our bird list. Anyhow, back to Radipole. Still lots of birders and no bird. We can either wait in the hope the Ross’s Gull puts in an appearance. Or we can take a bit of a stroll and see what else the reserve has to offer.

Ross’s Gull - eventuallyLast time we were here it was full of dog-walkers and child-buggy pushers. Now the cold weather and the threat of rain keeps the paths free for a quiet stroll. And was it worth it? Oh yes. Three Water Rails (Rallus aquaticus) right out in the open. Not a sight you often see. I gave half a thought to nipping back to the where the gull wasn’t to encourage the other birders to get their legs moving and see some Rails. But they would be hard to drag away from their main target so we left them to it.

As the rain started to come down, and the parking ticket ran out we decided to cal it quits and head for home. And then the next message slides in. Fortuneswell, right of the yellow buoy, in Chesil Cove, tho distant.

Hmmm.

And we’re off. We get to the site. We find the guy who called it in. He points out the yellow buoy – just visible in the mist through our scopes – we start looking  for any gulls let alone the tiny bird we’re after and then ‘ping’. Next message. It’s back at Lodmoor.

It would appear our new found friend had misidentified the bird at the Chesil Cove. Shit happens. We all head back to Lodmoor. And now we are armed with the information from our misinformer about where the bird normally likes to roost.

Fortunately when we get to Lodmoor someone who has just seen the bird tells us where we should actually be looking and off we trot. And finally, after several hours of missed breakfast, missed birds, found breakfast, and found birds, there it is. The first Ross’s Gull we’ve seen in the UK and a splendid view it was too, although a little too far for any decent photographs.

And then, just moments later, it was gone. All the birds launched off the mud and barrelled upwards as a peregrine swooped low over the scrape.

Ross’s Gull - eventually

Straight talking? Honestly? That's politics.

Straight talking? Honestly? That’s politics.

When Chair of the NEC Andy Kerr (union puppet rather than puppet master) rose to shout at Labour’s National Policy Forum that they had no right to elect a new Chair of the NPF at their meeting in Leeds it was another shameful act in the lengthening list of abuse of power by those who now wield it.

This should have been a simple thing to resolve. The National Policy Forum had a vacancy for Chair since Ann Cryer had announced her intention to stand down. The NPF Officers had agreed the timetable for the election which was due to take place today, Saturday.

However, NEC Officers were gathered to an unscheduled meeting two hours before the vote was due to take place and the vote was stopped on the spurious reason that seven days notice of the ballot was required. This is an entirely made up version of the rules. Having spent some considerable time in the High Court defending Labour’s rule book against all comers, I have a reasonably clear idea how to interpret the written word of Labour’s sometimes impenetrable  and arcane rules (my offer to re-write in plain English remains on the table). Seven days notice of this election has never been required, and was not required today (although four days notice was given of this emergency item of business).

The NEC Officers’ reasoning was that “the Representatives [attending the NPF] are entitled to receive copies of relevant documents at least seven days before the Forum takes place.” However, there is nothing in the rules of the NPF which requires that a casual vacancy must be advertised seven days in advance of the meeting. Nor do any of the general rules or procedure of the Labour Party require that seven days notice is given to fill such a vacancy.

The election could and should have taken place today. Late registrations were allowed to ensure the highest possible attendance, and members of the NPF tell me it was indeed one of the highest turnouts in recent times. Candidates were in the field, the election was scheduled and sufficient notice had been given. But there was a major problem – Ann Black was likely to win. And Momentum and the Leader’s Office couldn’t allow that to happen. So it was stopped. In a traditionally robust way.

Despite the obvious desire of the majority of those in attendance to hold the election as advertised, the NPF and its officers were bullied out of it. No election was held. Not because the rules were broken. Or because the procedures hadn’t been correctly followed. But because the faction in charge of the Labour Party was probably going to lose.

I have no problem with Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum running the Labour Party. They won the votes to give them the right so to do. But when they start making up the rules to allow them to keep control, serious questions need to be asked.

And just as worrying is that a source at the behind-closed-doors event in Leeds told the Press Association: “This morning symbolised the old-school male union bullying that is determined to keep Jeremy Corbyn’s people in control no matter how bad it looks to the outside world.”

Labour MP Luciana Berger said she was “ashamed” to witness the “disgraceful treatment” of acting NPF chairwoman Katrina Murray at the event.

If Corbyn wants to hold to his slogan of ‘straight talking, honest politics’ then he needs to do some straight talking to some of his own team. Otherwise his quest for Number 10 will be derailed by internal factionalism. If not of his own making, of his own consent.

 

A Sure Thing. Maybe.

The path of any relationship is full of uncertainties. And Heisenberg at the Wyndham’s Theatre demonstrated that in full. Starring Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham, Heisenberg is a romance which may or may not have had one or more sub-plots. One of which may or may not have been true. And given the American lead character, there may or may not have been some moral tale to tell.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle was referenced several times just to make sure you got the point. Or the wave. If the Principle is unfamiliar- look it up. This is science, do your own research.

Oh, OK then. I’ll do it for you. In simple terms it’s the discovery in the 1920’s that it is not possible to measure with precision simultaneously both the position and the momentum of quantum object. I’m fairly certain about that.

The romance between Alex, the level-headed 75-year-old, and Georgie, a 42-year-old woman who admits most of what she says may be untrue, is developed by a series of apparently random events, starting with a chance meeting, performed on a stage which itself is unstable. The simple but beautifully lit black and white set expands and contracts – a railway platform, a shop, a bedroom, a river bank – but (more Schrodinger-like than Heisenberg) it doesn’t resolve until it is observed.

With the plot we never see enough to resolve whether this is a true love story or a fraud. But it has a charm (see what I did there) and stylish wit throughout. Cranham gives Alex the patient wisdom and self-sacrifice often attributed to those who grew up in London’s wartime. With Duffy’s Georgie you are never sure who she really is – lover, mother, fraudster. At times hysterical, thoughtful, passionate, caring, uncaring.

As with any play about relationships, you need to buy in to the characters, in to the conceit of the play. I did. But I can’t say for certain if you will.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Not in accord with the rules

In 1995 the Labour Party changed its rules to end the direct sponsorship of a Member of Parliament by a trade union in the wake of the financial scandals surrounding the Conservative Party and the work of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Unions are able to direct financial support to individual constituency parties, but the perception (albeit wrong) of control of a single MP by a union paymaster was removed. The negotiations to effect this change were led not by the centre of the Party, but by John Prescott, the Party’s Deputy Leader, and Bill Morris General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (now Unite the Union).

And since then there has been no doubt that Labour Party candidates are candidates of the Labour Party – or in 38 cases currently, of the Labour and Cooperative Party with which the Labour Party has a national agreement.
Until now.

But Momentum have now introduced an accord, a contract, which anyone who seeks the backing of Momentum must sign. Notwithstanding the Labour Party’s rules, the Labour Party’s selection procedures, the candidate contracts which the Labour Party itself has established, Momentum (in true Leninist democratic centralist style) has effectively said, that’s all very well, but we are the vanguard of this particular Corbynite revolution and you will dance to our tune above all else.

So why should anyone care about that? Surely if people don’t like the offer, they simply refuse to sign. If any other local organisation said, “support us or we won’t support you” they would be given very short shrift by any candidate. Well there are two obvious reasons from the point of view of the individuals being asked to sign. Firstly, sitting MPs remain fearful of deselection if they are in any way seen to be opposed to the Momentum ‘line’. And, secondly, the fact that Momentum continues to punch above its weight. The most obvious recent example was when they were able to instruct their supporters at Party conference to keep any meaningful debate about Brexit off the agenda despite the overwhelming pro-European make-up of the Party membership. These two reasons combine to make it easy to believe that even a popular local candidate could be overturned if the vanguard instructs that it shall be so.

But more importantly, it’s just wrong. The Labour Party is the custodian of its own rules, procedures and, thereby, candidates. No third party, whether or not it is largely made up of Labour Party members, can require a Labour Party candidate to toe their particular line, for the exclusive benefit of their aims and objectives. Of course, I’m sure Momentum will excuse the accord, the contract, by saying it is all parenthood and apple-pie. Who wouldn’t support it?

And that’s how it starts. The Russian Dolls of vanguards within vanguards seek to move the power away from the Labour Party to Momentum.
Is any of that the fault of Momentum? Or of Jon Lansman Director of MOMENTUM CAMPAIGN (SERVICES) LTD and sole director of JEREMY FOR LABOUR LIMITED. Momentum’s own statement says, “Momentum is the successor of the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign and is independent, and supportive of, the Labour Party and Labour leadership.” And yet this independent supporter of Labour now wants the final say on who shall or shall not be an approved candidate worthy of support.

Momentum clearly has considerable support inside and outside of the Labour Party. It trots out the straight talking honest politics mantra seemingly without any critique of what it actually says or does. And one can pretty much forgive that, given they have demonstrated it is possible to energise people, particularly young people, to take a view of the politics which affects their lives and the lives of millions across the country. But having woken them up to politics, the National Coordinating Committee of Momentum must now let them make up their own views.

The revolutionary vanguard must step back from dictating who may or may not be a Labour Party candidate. It’s not your job, it’s the Labour Party’s.

The Nolan Report
The Seven Principles of Public life
Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
Integrity – Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
Objectivity – Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
Openness – Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
Honesty – Holders of public office should be truthful
Leadership – Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

Click here for redacted version of the Momentum accord to remove identifying names and dates.