“Just listen to the music”

Yesterday in Cardiff I enjoyed the truly excellent WNO production of The Magic Flute.

Apart from the story, everything about it (cast, costumes, sets and, of course, the music) was truly wonderful and\or uplifting.

Paul FlynnThis morning I woke to the news that Paul Flynn, my schooldays’ contemporary and later comrade and friend, had succumbed to the rheumatoid arthritis that has afflicted him for decades. I at once recalled a conversation we had had about this farrago of operatic nonsense.

Underlying a simple boy-and-girl-fall-in-love-and-face-tribulations-on-the-way-to-happiness story, there are implicit and occasional explicit racist and sexist and Masonic themes that neither of us were comfortable hearing.

Paul summed up our joint disquiet with – “Best just listen to the music.  That’s what will endure.

The same may be said of today’s defection of seven Labour MPs.  


A very local issue

Some forty years ago our local Councillors were persuaded by a smooth-talking ‘developer’ to hand over ~1100 acres of public land for him to build a hotel, golf course, etc., etc.

He didn’t – and neither did the 10 or so subsequent land speculators who acquired the site making big promises to the local community. Now, at long last, the land is reverting to public ownership, our hope is to have it made safe and improved as a community asset.

With the help of our local Council, I have created this video to inform our next community meeting of the new options before us. Do share.

Jeremy is no “Messiah”

yhie8942143In any election, supporters of a preferred candidate often act as though he/she has no faults – whilst their opponent(s) have no virtues. The tragedy of this Labour leadership election is that both sides have embarked on a damaging personality contest whilst the very real threat to the existence of the Labour Party gets barely a mention.

As well documented elsewhere (for example here), Labour has been losing support ever since 1951 – including during the 1990s when the Tories fell apart over Europe. Having won half the votes in 1951 on an 80% turnout, it currently only achieves around one third on 60-70% turnouts.

When I first became aware of the Labour Party (in 1945), it was a mass party, relying on its members and supporters to canvass for votes at elections. Latterly it has relied primarily on appearances on TV and radio by its leaders and, instead of consolidating its strongholds, it has been appealing to the ‘floating voters in the centre ground’. Sadly (and this is my main point) the downside has been to lose support in Labour’s traditional heartlands (such as South Wales).

This truth has been obvious to me for years, merely from listening to neighbours, on the street, in waiting rooms and on buses. The common complaint, which I hear any time I listen (I am a better listener than talker!), is that Labour is no longer cares about “us”. The votes for UKIP and Brexit result from disillusionment with the entire political process – and Labour in particular.

This decline in Labour’s support would have continued if any of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendal had won the leadership election last year. Perhaps if they had, Labour might by now have accepted these truths. An unfortunate side-effect of Jeremy’s election is that every failure (real and imagined) is blamed on his alleged personal unelectability – whilst the true cause of the decline remains unacknowledged.

Many arguments during this leadership election are quite ludicrous. Both candidates can do nothing right in the eyes of their detractors – and nothing wrong according to the more vociferous of their supporters. I don’t know if anyone will be persuaded by the hyperbole but, for sure, post-election unity is becoming more and more difficult.

I’d like to suggest that neither candidate is wholly good nor bad – and that we all need to be very seriously concerned about what may happen when the result is declared.

Concerning Owen Smith, there are two possibilities. On the one hand, he says he now agrees with Jeremy on major left-wing policies, argues that he is better able to unite the party and would be more electable. But, taking this at face value – that is, Owen Smith would promote most of the same left-wing policies – is there any reason to suppose that the right-wing press and media won’t rubbish Owen in the same way? What then? Would the really diehard right-wing in the CLP rally to his defence? – or perhaps mount a second coup?

Alternatively, whilst I concede that Owen could revert to the policies of the Blair, Brown and Milliband, I think it best to ignore this prospect as, were I to do so, this would question his integrity and not assist in rebuilding party unity if/when Jeremy is re-elected.

Concerning Jeremy, it is clear that – barring industrial-scale disqualifications – he will be re-elected with an even larger majority than last year (the main petition in his support exceeds 270,000). The political challenge then will be to create a credible working relationship between a majority of the PLP and Labour’s newly re-elected leader.

It is self-evident that Labour cannot be a credible opposition whilst a majority of its MPs do not support its elected leader. This impasse cannot be resolved by forcing Labour MPs to cooperate with Jeremy (nor by forcing the leader to resign). It needs a degree of flexibility from both wings of the party.

Although I have heard talk of “deselection” of MPs if/when Jeremy is re-elected, I don’t think such threats are helpful. If an MP has declared his or her intention to obstruct Jeremy resuming office and carrying out his duties as leader then, fair enough, they should resign the Labour whip. But in the immediate aftermath of the leadership election, MPs only need to be encouraged to “de-resign”.

Jeremy is not a Messiah demanding unqualified support from followers. He attempted, after his first election, to field a shadow cabinet from all wings of the party and, after his re-election, I’m quite sure he will again attempt to do so. His demeanour and character is that of a persuader – not a Messiah or dictator.

Rather than raise the spectre of deselection or of votes of no confidence, what CLPs should do is vote motions of support for the renewed opposition front bench and, where relevant, support for their MP resuming his/her rôle in the opposition team. I see no value in confrontation for the sake of it.

In parallel with this, we really do need to tackle the abysmal low level of political discussion in our branches and CLPs. My branch hasn’t had any such discussion in years and, despite my having attended every CLP meeting since becoming a member, I have yet to hear any genuine politics discussed.

Despite Labour’s national membership increasing by tens of thousands, here in Torfaen, most new members are unseen and unheard. As a first step to change the narrative, Torfaen CLP meetings should be open to all members – replacing the archaic delegate-only events where representatives of largely moribund branches are the only ones supposed to vote.

Labour’s current membership has become numerically comparable with its high point during 1945-51 and, if this is converted into active campaigners, we could overcome the problem of having a press and media wholly opposed to our policies (as we did in 1945). That has to be our future as a party.



They can’t be serious !

Over a quarter of a million people have signed the leading petition in support of Jeremy – that’s over half the membership of the Labour Party and so there can be no doubt that he will win a fair election.

That is why his opponents want his name off the ballot paper. Never mind the legalities or the excuse –  if the Labour’s most popular leader ever is prevented from taking part in a re-run of the leadership election, the Labour Party that we have known will not and cannot survive.

What will be left will be a party without enough activists to campaign door-to-door – the writing is on the wall. The Leave vote was high in former Labour strongholds (such as the Welsh valleys) because, for years, there has been little or no political campaigning against Tory policies on the ground by Labour.  

The Remain vote was highest wherever Labour has been visibly active in defence of the poorest in our society. In contrast, interventions in the Westminster bubble – however brilliant from a debating standpoint – do nothing to counter the widespread disillusionment with parliament that has fed the support for UKIP and Brexit.

In sharp contrast, the Remain vote was 75% in Jeremy’s own constituency. If Jeremy is able to continue as party leader, Labour could become a campaigning force again – including in its formerly ‘safe constituencies’. This is a turning point for the Labour Party – and for politics in Britain. 

If you haven’t done so already, please sign this petition to allow Jeremy to continue to lead Labour to victory in 2020.

Jeremy can win

JConBUDGETJeremy can win a fair election.  His speech at a rally outside Parliament (on Monday) was inspiring. Besides the politics, I wholeheartedly support his way of arguing. Here’s a few sentences that supporters and opponents alike should take to heart . 

“I don’t do personal, I don’t do reaction, I don’t do abuse. Life is too short and it devalues the political process. I think we should try and enhance the democratic life of this country, not reduce it to that level”

To date, 252,000 have signed this petition to support Jeremy remaining leader of the Labour Party – and snap polls from several newspapers confirm him to be the peoples’ overwhelming choice.

So why the challenge? and why now? Craig Murray has written this convincing explanation for the timing and motivation. He argues that the impending publication of the Chilcot Report has panicked supporters of the Iraq invasion into trying to remove Jeremy before he can, on behalf of the Labour Party, apologise to Parliament on this matter.

But many other MPs who are currently supporting the coup have a genuine belief that Jeremy is an electoral liability. Each will need to be persuaded by their local party of their mistake – with the same courtesy that Jeremy advocates in his speeches.


Apocalypse later

Free ChoiceI’ve already (postal) voted “Remain” – but I certainly don’t share the apocalyptic fear of several of my friends if the vote is for “Leave”.

Whatever the result, we’ll still have cuts to (= slaughter of) welfare and living standards. Whether Cameron, Johnson or Gove is Prime Minister, the Tories will still be robbing the poor to enrich the already rich.

The scaremongering of both sides of this dispute means that neither can ‘deliver’ their promises. In contrast, Labour’s campaign to remain in Europe has been far more balanced with, in particular, Jeremy Corbyn being wholly consistent and principled (click for link).  So whatever the outcome of the referendum, it will provide us with many opportunities to remind people of Tory falsehoods.

In reality, a Brexit vote will not mean an immediate exit or that more money is available for the NHS, or that immigration stops or that MEPs return home amidst financial chaos.  Every claim made during the referendum campaigns, whether of doom or joy, will be subjected to renewed scrutiny and will be opportunity to expose the arguments (of both wings of the Conservatives) as unprincipled scaremongering.

Labour, and Jeremy in particular, can reap great political dividends from all this. Whilst I will be saddened for sure if Britain doesn’t vote to remain, I don’t see this as an “Apocalypse”.  That will come later if Labour does not win the 2020 General Election. All our efforts should be directed towards electing a progressive and anti-Tory government.

Definitely not unelectable

Labour was predicted to suffer its greatest-ever election defeat on May 5th – enough, some hoped, to ‘justify’ a coup against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

But these predictions were way out and a coup now seems most unlikely. In reality, Jeremy’s leadership is unassailable (a recent poll has him more popular now than when first elected). A survey of Labour supporters after the election revealed that over 55% thought Labour had done “moderately well” and a further 17% said “very well”.

Although Jeremy himself has warned that Labour is “not yet doing enough” to win the 2020 general election, these election results demonstrate that Labour, under Jeremy’s leadership, is definitely not unelectable.

That much is uncontroversial. But the differing results on May 5th for England, Scotland and Wales suggest further lessons from the voting.


It was predicted that Labour could lose upwards of 200 Councillors compared with its 2012 high point. In the event, Labour lost only 18 Councillors (whilst the Tories lost 48 seats without a squeak from the media). Labour also won every Mayoral election and several Police Commissioner elections.

If 2012 was a great result for Labour, so must be 2016. Compared with the May 2015 General Election this was a huge improvement for the newly Corbyn-led Labour and, based solely on these results, Labour would be on course to win in 2020


Labour’s vote plummeted in 2015 (due to the mistakes of the previous decade and the Independence Referendum) and no-one expected a recovery this soon. In the event, Labour still won more votes than the Tories in Scotland – a fact ignored by the media who, instead, preferred to trumpet that the Tories won more seats.

I’m no expert on Scotland but I would have been astonished if the long-term decline in Labour’s vote had been reversed. Scotland provides no credible evidence that Jeremy’s election as leader affected these results adversely.


Before May 5th pundits predicted that Labour would fare better in Wales than England – because Corbyn is supposedly unpopular here (with Welsh Labour). In the event, Labour did improve on the 2015 General Election results – but it’s constituency votes fell catastrophically from 42% to 35%.

I would not claim – with the complication of UKIP votes to explain – this as a positive rejection of Welsh Labour’s efforts to distance itself from UK Labour – but it is fair to conclude that there is no evidence that this reaped a dividend.

Labour’s campaign

Enough of punditry – my own experience of “campaigning” (in Torfaen) was both heartening and dispiriting. In practice we were we simply checking where our excellent candidate Lynne Neagle had assured support – but we did not campaign to persuade people to vote Labour by discussing issues on the doorstep.

But, if Labour is to win in 2020, the Party has to welcome in the hundreds of thousands of new members inspired by Jeremy’s politics and must campaign for these policies – not simply rely on historic Labour loyalty.

Hopefully the encouraging (English) results of May 5th will see off further attempts to undermine Jeremy’s leadership. What we now need to do is recapture the spirit of 1945 – when hundreds of thousands of Labour supporters argued for Labour’s policies at doorsteps and workplaces. We were not reliant then on a friendly media and there’s no reason suppose than 2020 will be different.

Hitler and “Zionism”

Ken Livingstone’s (ill-advised) references to Hitler and Zionism have led to much (negative) comment – due to ignorance.  So my childhood recollections of debates about, before and shortly after the creation of the state of Israel may have contemporary interest.

Firstly my background: I was born into a committed anti-fascist family whose social circle included numerous Jewish socialists. As a child I presumed that all Jews were anti-racist and socialist (Leo Abse, for example, was a close family friend). It was not until I went to University (1952) that I learnt otherwise.

Prior to the creation of Israel I recall heated discussions about the merits of a “Jewish homeland” and learnt that this “Zionist” vision was controversial. Most Jewish socialists (in our family circle) visualised their future in a socialist Britain and to them “Zionism” was a ‘cop-out’ – a way to avoid struggle against the British ruling class who were using anti-semitism to divide the working class.

As I recall, our circle of Jewish socialist friends was unpersuaded that a Jewish homeland would end anti-semitism – but all sympathised with the concept and, indeed, several of my best friends and comrades in my University years planned for a future in a socialist Israel (and did so later).

At that time no-one that I recall – whether of the right or left – anticipated Israel developing in anything other than a socialist direction – all the talk was of socialist-style kibbutz and cooperatives. We expected that Israel would soon become socialist – and when the Soviet Union recognised the new state of Israel (before Britain and the USA) it seemed that we were not alone.

In 1948 it seemed preposterous to suggest that a Jewish state might ally itself with imperialism (as it did in the joint Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Suez). In my teenage years Jews formed a disproportionately high proportion of the membership of the Labour and Communist Parties (and may well do so even today). We expected that, having faced the worst of fascism and racism, Israel would be a standard-bearer for racial tolerance (as South Africa has been since the ending of apartheid). We were wrong.

But, whilst it is an undeniable fact that successive Israeli governments have favoured Jewish immigrants over Palestinians, there are still many good people and socialists in Israel working for harmony between all the peoples living there. It may be academic now but I still don’t accept that Israel’s subjugation of the indigenous peoples was an inevitable outcome of the creation of Israel. “Zionism” was a response to anti-semitism and I still find it difficult to understand why its politicians behave as they do.

I fear, from my reading of numerous examples of history, that those that achieve power by violence virtually always maintain their power with continued violence. Yes – you can put that as an epitaph on my grave.

We are where we are – but Israel is far from being the safe homeland for the Jewish people envisaged by the 19th Century “Zionists”. Adding to the confusion, we also have people who describe themselves as “Christian Zionists” who support Israel but seem to envisage a mass conversion to Christianity one day! For this and several other reasons I try to avoid using “Zionist” and “anti-Zionist” in anything I say or write.

“Zionist” for some people has become synonymous as a negative encapsulation of Israeli government policy whilst “anti-Zionist” has become synonymous for others as “anti-Jewish”. Personally I think it highly desirable that we confine its use to the meaning universally understood prior to the creation of Israel.




Some years ago, at the height of one of Israel’s bombing raids on Gaza, I visited a cousin who, unlike me, rarely has anything to say on political issues. We share a Jewish ancestry (we are both eligible for Israeli citizenship) but we are not religious (neither Jewish – nor Christian nor Muslim).

So I was astonished to be greeted at her door by: “John – aren’t you ashamed at times to be Jewish?” She, unlike me, through her Jewish ancestry, felt an identification with the state of Israel that I did not. Thinking about this later, I realised that my lifetime of opposition to actions of successive British governments (such as the illegal invasion of Iraq) had freed me from feeling any guilt about what they did. Any “shame” I ever felt has been about our failure to prevent their aggressions.

Although my cousin felt “shame” about the actions of the Israeli government and did identify Israel with her Jewish ancestry, I don’t believe she was expressing anti-semitism by her concern about the bombing of Gaza in this manner. But, the way the news is slanted today, the charge of “anti-semitism” seems to be levelled against anyone voicing concern at the actions of the Israeli government.

It is becoming reminiscent of the McCarthy years. For a more balanced appraisal I commend this statement today from the Jewish Socialists’ Group.