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.


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.

A proper thorn in the side

Since the general election I have not had much time to get involved in wider politics or the Labour Party (I’m too busy being retired) but I thought I’d break radio silence for just a moment to say I’m delighted to see that Johanna Baxter is running again for election to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party.

When I was writing reports for the NEC and its sub-committees you would get the usual unthinking support or unthinking criticism from one side or the other of the factional wings of the Party. But there a were a few people who would consistently give any report whether from Party Staff, or from the Leader, or from an external body a hard, properly critical review. Look at the public comments made by current and previous members of the NEC and it’s not too difficult to work out who is carrying out a real job and who is just carrying a slate.

Jo Baxter was a proper pain. Not only was she likely to have read every dot and coma of any report, but she would have done some of her own background research and was only too likely to come up with some ideas of her own. But whether she was coming up with new ideas, or tweaking the ideas of others, she always did it with the best interest of the Party and of the people we seek to represent at the forefront of the debate. Absolutely no-one could question her loyalty to the Party and to the various Leaders she has served as a member of the NEC over the years. As a former member of staff I was also always grateful to her (and to others on the NEC) who recognised the work of all the staff on behalf of the Party.

If you want someone on the NEC who is just going to toe one line or another then you might want to look elsewhere. But if you want someone who is going to speak up for ordinary members whilst being a loyal, but critical (in the best possible way) member of the NEC then Jo is definitely top of that particular tree.

As she says herself, “If you elect me you will have a representative who will be relentless in holding the Party to account to make sure we are ready for that election whenever it is called. You will have a representative who has a track record of working and campaigning with all sections of the membership, who has still visited more Constituency Labour Parties across the country to engage with members than any other volunteer and whose reputation as an NEC member was of hard work and fair judgement.”

That’s why I will be supporting Johanna Baxter. But you need to make your own mind up and you can read more at

The Clash of left and right

Darling you got to let me know

Should I stay or should I go?

If you say that you are mine

I’ll be here ’til the end of time…

Normally when I come out of the theatre (Don Juan in Soho, if you must know) I write a short critique, mainly for friends, giving my opinion of the play. Tonight, all thoughts of the play, terrific though it was, are swept aside by the almost incomprehensible news that Labour’s elected National Constitutional Committee has decided that Ken Livingstone’s unforgivable and unapologised for behaviour and comments merit a mere administrative suspension from holding office or representing the Labour Party. For 12 months.

And, of course, the decision of the NCC will remain incomprehensible since they do not publish their reasons. Nor are they required to do so under the rules of the Labour Party.

But all right minded observers and commentators, Party members and no, who have read the charges and defence and who have followed the case as it wound its way to today’s conclusion will be aghast. All charges brought against the odious Livingstone were found proven. And yet, unaccountably, the punishment didn’t even fit the least of these charges.

Or is it accountable? How is it that there is a climate within the Labour Party which allows ordinary, decent, elected members of a committee charged with upholding the moral compass of the Labour Party to think they should merely give Livingstone a slap on the wrist.

When Seumas Milne came to me for advice on how to close down the erupting row about anti-Semitism in university Labour Clubs and amongst the left of the Labour Party, I said it was simple. Get Corbyn to make a speech condemning anti-Semitism of the left and right and stating unequivocally that anti-Semites would not be tolerated in the Party. My advice was not sought on the issue again.

The failure of leadership over anti-Semitism – it took five hours and three tortuous phone calls to persuade the Leader’s office that Livingstone should be suspended in the first place – means that anti-Semitism has air to breathe in the Labour Party. And the Jew-haters and Jew-baters pretending that they are merely criticising the actions of the Israeli government have gained ground today. Not only is this an abject failure of justice in this case, but it gives carte blanche to the anti-Semites of the left and right – and mainly the Trotskyite left – to raise their evil standards on the parapets of the Labour Party. Apparently with Jeremy Corbyn’s calm indifference.

The question was posed today by Dan Hodges that:

It’s now morally indefensible to be a member of the Labour Party.

I responded, saying it was difficult to disagree. And it is difficult. I am so ashamed of my Party today that that it would be easy to log-on to the Labour Party web-site and cancel my membership. I know friends and former colleagues who are doing that right now.

Shall I stay or shall I go?

Well, no-one said being in the Labour Party was easy. And it’s my Party and the Party of the many millions desperate for a Labour Government. Not a Labour Party of street corner irrelevant protest. But a Party of power that can change people’s lives for better.

And that means two things. The ordinary decent Party members have got to make themselves heard. And Corbyn has to go. Now. Not to be replaced by John McDonnell’s next puppet, but by a Leader who will not tolerate the racists of the left any more than we should tolerate racists of the right.

Jeremy, last time I saw you I told you I could really recommend retirement. Then I was talking about myself. Now I mean you.

When the music has to stop

  • It’s 4.30pm on Friday 3 March 2017.

I no longer work for the Labour Party. Almost unbelievably, I have retired.

I cannot thank my friends and colleagues – and even some who would not fall in to either of those camps – enough for their kind words and warmth. Not just last night and today. But on each and every day of the 27 years or so I worked for the Party there would be someone with a kind word which reminded me, reminded all of us, why we devote our lives to trying to make the world a better place.

The individual random acts of kindness of one Labour Party friend to another are probably no more or no less than you would find in any other walk of life. But juxtaposed with the vile and unnecessary approbrium that members of staff and ordinary party members have suffered since the beginning of the 2015 leadership election, redoubled since 12 September 2015, those acts of kindness seem to have more value, more meaning than they would in other circumstances.

My count down clock to retirement, set ticking six months ago, was at first a source of amusement. Then concern. Then it was here. All too quickly the final month, week, day was here. I apologise deeply to my colleagues for the work I’ve left undone. But I don’t apologise for having retired. One of my proudest moments was to look at the team I leave behind to deal with the governance and legal issues of the Labour Party.

When the music has to stopAnd contrary to popular belief that’s not just about expelling Trots from the Labour Party – although they will continue to do that. Militant, Socialist Appeal, Alliance for Workers Liberty have no more place in the Labour Party than the BNP or the EDL.

No, the team I leave behind will spend the overwhelming majority of the time, as they always have, making sure that ordinary party members, the hard-working activists who organise the Party, run elections, raise the money have the tools and expertise to do that job within the law and and to the best of their ability.

And so I came to last night. My leaving do. Would anyone turn up? Well yes they would.

I knew it would be tearful. My tears started, to the bemusement of fellow commuters, on the train on the way to London, and continued on and off during the day. I almost had to run out of the office, to flee the desk banging, whooping and cheering which opened the floodgates again.

For my speech I wanted to remind people why we do what we do. If I couldn’t leave people who weren’t even born when I started working for the Party with a sense of purpose, an appreciation that what they do matters, then the whole of that 27 years would have been diminished.

This is the text of my speech. Apart from an opening tale of an ice-cream and an orgasm. Sorry, but if you weren’t there you’ll never know.

When the music has to stopI can’t name check all the great people I’ve worked with over the years. That would make this a very long few words. But I do want to mention the two women in my life and the very similar reaction they had last September when I finally decided that it was time to bring this career to an end.

I think I remember correctly what Emilie said –‘Fuck that – you’re not allowed to retire – what am I going to do without you.’

My partner, Jan, was pretty much identical – ‘Fuck that – what am I going to do with you.’

Obviously, I could drone on and on about my time with the Labour Party but I thought I would mention just a few experiences.

My first General Election as a member of staff was in 92 and my first Leader’s visit was with Neil Kinnock which included arriving by helicopter. Obviously, we had extensive staff training at that time, which was basically ‘find somewhere to land a helicopter – give me a call back in twenty minutes’.

That was relatively straightforward. Less straightforward was being told the day before the event that we had to have an arrival shot involving 1992 helium balloons to demonstrate our commitment to Europe if not to the environment. Clearly, that wouldn’t be needed today.

I managed to get free use of a warehouse overnight to house the balloons. I hired a professional balloon company to blow up the balloons. The bit that hadn’t occurred to me was the impact of a helicopter landing 50 metres away on 1992 helium balloons – but the arrival shots were spectacular.

We had recced a slightly more sedate visit – some giant lab up at Southampton University. Lots of dials and electronic flashes behind this thick glass window. Angie Hunter, who was running the show for Neil, asked if Neil could go inside to get better press pictures and we were told yes. Providing we didn’t mind sweeping Neil up with a dustpan and brush afterwards.

And of course, there was the election that never was. As conference ended in 2007 Peter Watt called all the organising staff together to tell us that there would be a snap general election. Print had been ordered. Gordon would call the election within days. All leave was cancelled.

I told Peter that whilst all leave might be cancelled, and his offer to buy out any holidays was welcome, I didn’t think he could afford to pay for all the consequential damages of me having to find a new home when I told Jan that our trip of a lifetime to the Galapagos was cancelled. Fortunately, Peter saw the sense of that.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t persuade him or anyone else that there would be no election. I didn’t see how a man who had waited ten years for the chance to be Prime Minister would gamble that away no matter how safe the bet. And that’s partly why I think today the next general election will be in 2020.

A little before the 2007 non-event, Peter had asked me to join the team at Head Office, managing the staffing changes in the four southern regions. I think the reality was that he wanted to remove me from bed-blocking younger, more talented people coming through the ranks.

And that’s how I came to be sitting next to Hilary, Alicia and Maz learning more about handbags and shoes then anyone needs to know. It’s just as well Emilie wasn’t in Head Office at that time or we could have opened an Imelda Marcos Tribute museum with no difficulty whatsoever.

And I think that’s probably what attracted me to Alastair Campbell’s interview with Ann Wintour. For the less fashion conscious in the room, she has been editor of American Vogue longer than I have worked for LP. In that interview Ann Wintour said “Leadership is coming up with an idea and executing it. Ideas themselves are a dime a dozen”. Worth remembering by any aspiring leader.

Working in Head Office I seemed to accumulate jobs by accident until I perfected my current Job title – Senior Odd Job Person. But there were some definite plus points to working at Head Office. Margaret in full flow asking a cold caller where they got her contact details was guaranteed to bring the office to a silent standstill in quiet admiration of her skilful technique. Brutal. But skilful.

And that brings me on to the rest of the Governance and Legal team. When people ask me what do I do for the Labour Party, I simply tell them all I do is appoint great people. And this team that now makes the Governance and Legal Unit in London and in Newcastle is the best. And I include in that those members of staff who have recently left the team to retire or take on new challenges.

I couldn’t wish to leave the Party in better hands. And hopefully spending less time in court.

Let me finish with one more election story. It’s a Tony Blair visit to Hove in the run-up to 2005 GE. It’s a visit to a Sure Start Centre. Any organiser who has worked for the Labour Party for more than about five minutes has organised a visit to a Sure Start Centre. Parents, kids, colourful toys.

What can go wrong?

Well, of course, when you are in the middle of a war there will be people who want to protest, and when I arrived with colleagues well in advance a small band of protesters were beginning to assemble.

Being Hove rather than Orgreave, they were neatly assembled behind the barriers the police had put out. On the other side of the road. And, if I remember rightly, they were singing. It was Hove, after all.

There didn’t appear to be any particular threat to the event or even to our arrival shots. But there were two young women sat on the wall leading to the entrance to the library building which housed the Sure Start. I thought I should see why they were waiting. If this was the first step toward the anti-war protestors crossing over the road, I wanted to stop it before it started.

They told me that they had heard Blair might be visiting and they wanted to see him. I asked if they were wanting to join the protest – but no. They wanted to see him because they were both mums, victims of abusive partners and now single parents. They had been trapped in a squalid accommodation trying to bring up children, literally on the bread line. Living on handouts from friends.

Until Sure Start changed their lives. Now in work, in decent homes, they were rebuilding their lives. They wanted to say thank you to Tony Blair and to the Labour Party. And that reinforced the lesson that I’d first learnt in 79 when I joined the Labour Party.

That I relearnt in 83 and in 87 as a volunteer.

And as a staff member in 92 and 97.

And each and every time the Labour Party contests an election.

We can be a Party of Protest. On the other side of the road. On the other side of the barriers. Or we can be a party of power, this side of the road, this side of the barriers.

Changing hearts; Changing minds; Changing lives.

I know which side I have tried to be on.

Thank you.


Lend me your ears

We’ve all had that problem of people in the office, at home, down the pub mouthing words at you and they just don’t register. Haven’t we?

Today that was definitely a thing. The clog and clutter in my ears, which I’d been attempting to shift with olive oil and other stuff, shifted. Unfortunately inwards rather than out and the world went largely muffled. My normal hearing is moderate to rubbish but it was getting noticeably worse last weekend when, on a short walk, the birds were clearly justing miming at me rather than singing.

Anyhow, tomorrow – the nurse, the syringe and hopefully birdsong beckon.

Just in time to listen to the great debate – where Ed Miliband will be centre stage and Cameron will once again show why he did everything possible to avoid a head to head with the Labour Leader. After last week’s shuttle diplomacy that passed for a debate-lite, there was a significant, potentially game changing, shift in people’s perception of Ed Miliband as the next PM. When on the same stage – albeit separated by the supporting cast – it will become even more apparent who has the ability and vision to lead the country and who, well, has run out of steam.


It’s time to choose

Normally this blog – when I can rouse myself to post something – is about birding, natural history, football. The theatre. Photography. Stuff.

Stuff happens.

But it doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because people like you make it happen. And because a government that we elect can help make it happen. Whatever stuff you care about, make sure you:

  1. Register to vote. You have until 20 April – visit
  2. Vote.
  3. Vote Labour.