Kinder, gentler politics

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Last week I was asked by a journalist from the Huffington Post if I would like to feature in an article he was writing about young voters who voted for Corbyn last year but won’t vote for him again in the coming leadership elections. I agreed to be in the article for one simple reason: I think it’s really important for people to speak out about changing their mind in politics. Because, let’s be honest, the only way elections are won is by convincing a lot of voters to change their mind about the party they’re going to vote for. Accusing those who change their mind of being weak or disloyal will only result in people firmly retreating to their chosen “side”. Politics is a never-ending dialogue. It is the way in which we decide how best to live alongside each other. It’s not a war.

The response to the article was, sadly,  as I could have predicted. I was called: a vile human being, a moron, an ignorant bitch and a “traitor to the Labour Party” by some Corbyn supporters. For me, far worse than the name calling was the, “you’ll understand when you’re older dear” comments which littered my inbox.  Reading some of the comments you would have thought I had attacked these people on a personal level rather than simply expressing an opinion different to their own. I spent last Summer campaigning for Jeremy and trying to convince them to vote for him and at no point did I resort to name calling of abuse. I didn’t call my friend a “heartless Blairite” for voting for Yvette Cooper and I didn’t accuse my Kendall voting colleague of “wanting disabled people to die.” Yet these were comments thrown at me for saying I could no longer support Corbyn.

Wanting a “kinder, gentler politics” is admirable yet seems to only apply to Jeremy himself. He shows great integrity in Prime Minister’s questions and refuses to engage with personal attacks, sadly the same can not be said of some of his supporters. Of course it isn’t all of them. There are plenty of mild-mannered, polite and kind Corbyn supporters but they are being let down by a loud, minority who are behaving appallingly.

I can understand why some Corbyn supporters are angry. They think the challenge put forward by the PLP was vindictive and underhand and they’ve watched with frustration as Corbyn’s message has failed to cut through the media. Some of them joined the Labour Party at the beginning of this year, paid membership fees for 7 months only to be told they don’t have a vote in this leadership election unless they pay a further £25. They have every right to be angry. But I am angry too.

I am angry that we cannot engage in a debate about the future of the party without being shouted down. It’s not just happening online, it’s also happening at meetings.  A women in the last GC Meeting I attended was shouted down whilst speaking against a motion. She was brave and just firmly asked them to stop shouting at her which they eventually did but you’d have thought she was a fascist the way they were attacking her not a long-standing member of the same party.

I don’t want another Blair but I do want someone who can win an election; too many people are suffering as a result of this Government’s policies for winning not at least be a possibility.  Just increasing the support of Corbyn in areas that already vote Labour is not going to be enough. The General Election will not be won on the strength of members’ enthusiasm for their leader it will be won on the number of votes we can win back from people who voted Conservative last year. There is an assumption that there is huge support for Corbyn across the country and we just need to “tap into it”. One Corbyn supporter asked me to explain why I thought he couldn’t win an election “without quoting the polls” which is a bit like asking me to prove to you that my laptop screen is 30cm long without using a ruler. No polls aren’t entirely accurate and need to be taken with a pinch of salt but, even allowing for a large margin of error, this is a pretty bleak picture:

Let’s be honest – if these polls were reversed and it was the Tories falling this far behind we’d be feeling fairly confident at the moment.

The response to this from many Corbyn supporters tends to be either, “Well I meet lots of people who are going to vote for him – look how many members have joined to vote for him.” or, “It’s the fault of the main stream media. They’re working against him.” and not forgetting, “He was doing just fine until the PLP turned on him.” I don’t doubt any of those arguments – they are all true but they also don’t provide evidence that he can win a General Election.

Yes, since Corbyn was elected leader there has been a surge in Labour Party membership. At my last check it was just over 400,000. This is largest membership of any political party in the UK and something to feel proud about. If there were any correlation between the number of members and the likelihood of winning a General Election I would be feeling very optimistic right now. Sadly there isn’t. Last year the Conservative Party won a majority with only 100,000 members. Labour has always been stronger on the ground and at the grassroots but sadly elections are no longer won on the ground – they’re won in the media. Is that fair? Absolutely not. Does it mean we should stop campaigning or delivering leaflets? No but Corbyn and his team need to find a way to work with the media or, the MSM as we have to call them now because they are never going to make it easy for him. They do not portray him fairly, I accept that. However that is never going to change. If anything, if he is still leader in the run up to 2020, that is going to get a whole lot worse. What is Corbyn’s strategy for dealing with this? Last year Rupert Murdoch was able to convince swinging voters that Miliband would be an inept leader because of how he ate a bacon sandwich. “Don’t let him make a pig’s ear of the country” was the headline I seem to recall. The Conservatives won on a promise that they could offer security that Miliband could not. Just imagine what Murdoch and his buddies could do with a Labour leader who has lost the support of 80% of his MPs and refers to Hamas and Hizballuh as “his friends”.

The other acronym causing problems for Corbyn at the moment is the PLP. The week after the referendum they made very public resignations following a vote of no confidence in their leader. I’m told that Corbyn was doing just fine until that point and yet the most positive polling I was able to find had the Tories and Labour neck-and-neck the day that David Cameron resigned. The day the Conservatives were at their weakest for the last 6 years – we were able to scrape a tie. In some ways I hope Corbyn is still leader by the time of the next General Election because I’m desperate for Corbyn supporters to see how detached the majority of the Labour Party membership is from the rest of the country at the moment. John McDonnell has said Corbyn will stand down if he loses an election and I do hope he’s right. Although I can only see that promise from McDonnell as a maneuver to line himself up as Corbyn’s replacement.

“Calling us a cult is hugely offensive” one Corbyn supporter argued, in reference to the headline of the article, and I agree – name calling isn’t helpful or productive. However if you refuse to debate or even acknowledge the evidence, if you cannot accept that there are people who have legitimate doubts about the leader you defend, if you cannot even acknowledge his flaws then you are behaving no differently to a cult. If I were presented with tangible evidence that Corbyn could get the Labour Party back into power he would have my support. I won’t rule out supporting him the future. My question to Corbyn supporters is at what point would you stop supporting him?

It is most likely that Corbyn will win the leadership election in September. I can already picture the memes that will be generated and shared across social media: “They said he was unelectable and then he won an election twice!” He will be more popular than ever with the majority of members but the real fight comes once Jeremy is reelected as leader. Because if Corbyn supporters found it frustrating that people in the same party as them didn’t share their views they’ll be furious when they find out what the rest of the country think. Those members are going to have to find a way to engage with the electorate – they’ll have to convince Conservative voters in swing seats to vote for Labour – because that is the only way we can win an election. Members that shout at other Labour Party members in meetings cannot just shout in the face of people who voted Conservative next year and hope to change their mind. If they’re going to be knocking on doors or making phone calls they are going to be interacting with hundreds of people who do not share their opinion of Corbyn. Calling them names, mocking them and undermining them is not the way to convince them. What these people need more than anything is reassurance. The media are doing an excellent job as portraying Corbyn as extreme, unreliable and untrustworthy. To counteract that the members need tobe  calm, kind and open to reasoned debate.

We are the Labour Party. We sell ourselves on being kind, compassionate and fair. We’re the party that introduced the minimum wage, the NHS, the Civil Partnership Act, the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act. We have fought tirelessly to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in our country and more people are relying on us than ever before. We are tolerant – we accept that not everyone shares the exact same views as us but they are welcome in our party. If you want a fairer, more equal society then there will always be a place for you in the Labour Party.

We are the kinder party – so let’s bloody well start behaving like it.

The Eagle Has Landed. Sort Of.

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Stereotypes are often exaggerated and unfair. Not all British people have a stiff upper lip, not all doctors have terrible handwriting and people with blonde hair don’t necessarily have more fun. The media have a huge part to play in generating these stereotypes and they love nothing more than presenting the Conservative Party and cruel but efficient and the Labour Party as kind but incompetent. Sadly, both parties seem to be embracing their stereotypes with renewed vigour.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the need for a new leader of the Labour Party. I received some criticism from Corbyn fans (yes, fans.) It was the usual stuff: I’m a sell-out and/or a Blairite because I am willing to compromise some of my values for the sake of winning an election. Corbyn was elected on a wave of hope last Summer and in the last few weeks it has come crashing down. It is time to be realistic not idealistic – we need to address the country on their terms, not ours.

Whilst I agree that the MPs couldn’t have chosen a worse possible moment to make their point, I understand why they did it. They, like I, have reason to believe that the General Election we thought we had years to work towards may now be happening in the next few months. Our country and party are divided in two and we desperately need a leader who can unite us. I like Angela Eagle but she isn’t best placed to challenge Corbyn, in my opinion. However after a week of resignations and infighting I was just relieved that someone had finally stepped up to the plate. Whatever the result of this leadership election Labour need to sort themselves out and they need to do it quickly. Tomorrow afternoon Theresa May will become Prime Minster: the Tories are back in town.

The Conservatives have had no less drama or controversy than Labour have. It’s been a difficult few weeks for the Dark Side. The Prime Minister resigned after he was unable to convince the country to vote with him to stay in the EU. 40% of Conservative MPs voted to Leave compared to 58% of Conservative voters – Labour aren’t the only party that are heading in a different direction to their membership.

The Conservatives have been divided over Europe for decades but the difference is this: the one thing they all agree on is that they want to remain in power. Nothing is more important to them. It was hard to deny that they looked anything other than in control as they stood around steely-eyed Theresa May making her victory speech yesterday. This is a party entirely driven by a desire for power. Does it make them compassionate, or good for the country? No but it makes them bloody efficient when they need to be.

Any hope I had of a challenger being able to convince members of the public to pay £3 and vote for them was lost when Angela Eagle stepped out onto a platform that looked like the set of a Channel 5 chat show.  In case we hadn’t noticed that she’s a women, Eagle mentioned the fact repeatedly whilst sandwiched between two pink screens wearing a bright pink jacket. She may as well have carried a box of tampons on with her. I really wish the Labour Party would get into their heads that painting things pink doesn’t make women more likely to engage with them. It looks patronising, out of touch and shows a terrifying lack of awareness. We should have learnt this after the bus debacle.  It frustrates me that the party that brought in the Equal Pay Act, paid maternity leave and who have more female MPs than any other political party (42.7%) can get this so wrong. Anyway. I digress.

It was unfortunate that Eagle’s announcement came at the exact same time as Andrea Leadsom announced that she was pulling out of the Conservative leadership contest. As the journalists quickly exited, Eagle’s press conference began to look more like an afternoon with Alan Partridge, with special celebrity guest star, Sue Cook Harriet Harman, as she awkwardly called out for questions. I’m not sure who is managing her campaign but they definitely want Jeremy Corbyn to win.

Angela Eagle is unlikely to win this leadership election. And sadly, Labour is unlikely to win the next General Election even though the country desperately needs them to. As someone who voted for Corbyn there is a part of me that thinks we should give him the chance to fight a General Election although I’ve seen nothing to indicate we could win it and I worry that, with the rise of UKIP, we could face wipe out.

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The day after the Prime Minister resigned having split the country with a divisive, unnecessary and ugly referendum a poll showed Labour to be neck-and-neck. If we weren’t leading in polls when the Conservatives were at their weakest then something is very wrong.

Five Reasons why these Test Results Tell us Precisely Nothing.

Tim Paramour

In the aftermath of the publication of Key Stage 2 assessment results on Tuesday, much of the criticism by unions and other teaching organisations has, quite reasonably, been that the government’s new tests are too hard, that they are setting children up to fail and that the content is not relevant to children’s lives. While valid, all of these criticisms are merely components of a much broader concern: that the all-important performance data the test results create no longer tells us anything useful. Educational policy, Ofsted judgements and funding decisions will no doubt continue to be made on the basis of this data and yet, for the five reasons outlined below, that data is not worth the paper it’s written on. 

1. The reading test doesn’t assess the National Curriculum. Or reading. Or anything.

The level of vocabulary required to access the reading test (example: “rehabilitating the image of the…

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You Can’t Always Get What You Want

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One would assume that the week that the Prime Minister resigns is, on balance, quite a good week for the opposition. Sadly the Labour Party appear to have decided to compete with the Conservatives to win the: “Which party can self-destruct the fastest” competition and for once Labour are winning hands-down.

Last summer I voted for Jeremy Corbyn to be the leader of the Labour Party. There were a number of factors that influenced my decision. The worst being I was still reeling from the result of the General Election which I knew would lead to the country becoming more unequal. Broadly speaking, I would describe myself, like Corbyn, as a democratic socialist, and just like the Brexiteers say of the referendum, last Summer was the first time I saw an option that closely reflected my political views on a ballot paper. Most significantly, I didn’t see a strong enough alternative being put forward. I would have been more than happy to vote for the candidate I saw winning a general election over the person that shared my own personal views but I wasn’t convinced that any of them could.  I’ve got a lot of time for Yvettte Cooper, I think she’s great but for a significant percentage of the country she (unfairly) represents the Blair years. Andy Burnham seemed unable to decide what he stood for although in hindsight would have perhaps risen to the task and  Liz Kendall had plenty of sensible things to say but an unfortunate patronising way of saying them.  I don’t speak to 6-year-olds the way she addressed those hustings audiences.  So Corbyn it was.  Had there been a Stella Creasy, or Dan Jarvis on the ballot paper then things may have been different; it was a self-indulgent way to vote but it felt like the right thing to do at the time. Above all I’m an optimist (yes, really) and genuinely believed if we could just get people to hear what was on offer they couldn’t not agree with it. I was wrong.

I live in Haringey which is as close as a teacher can get to living in Corbyn’s Islington constituency whilst still affording to eat. I am a member of the Labour party, I attend ward meetings and represent my ward at General Committee meetings. It’s clear that amongst the members in those meetings the support for Corbyn is still strong. I wish I could share their confidence. It is all too easy to sit in a room and shake our heads at the state of country and curse those terrible Tories but unless we are able to gain the power needed to change things we may as well  be the WI tutting about the way of the world.

It’s no secret that the decision the country made in the referendum shocked me – it was a real wake-up call and we all need to learn what we can from it. I am now less certain about things I was previously confident about. The only thing one can be sure of is that in the next 6 – 12 months it is likely that there will be a General Election and I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn can win in.

In the referendum the country voted with Nigel Farage: the most right-wing politician with such a high level of exposure since Enoch Powell, if not Oswald Mosley . They are not exactly crying out for socialism. We need to address the country on their terms not ours and we need to accept them as they are not as what we hope they are deep down “if we can just convince them.” I know that it is normal for the opposition to pull further left when facing a right-wing government but that would be a mistake. We need to find the midpoint position ourselves between our members and the PLP and we need to do it soon. For the poorest people in our country, life is getting harder at an exponential rate. Wanting to win an election so we can actually start improving life for the people we claim to represent does not make me a Blairite, despite the insistence of Corbyn’s supporters on describing anyone who opposes him in this way.

I’m not saying we should abandon our values altogether but they need to be packaged correctly. The public say they hate spin and soundbite politicians but just over a week ago, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage convinced over 17 million people to vote to leave the EU by repeating three little words: “Take Back Control”. Similarly last year, Obsorne’s “long-term economic plan” helped seal the Conservative majority. The public feel comforted by a well-dressed politician with a reassuring soundbite.“I know appearance is superficial, but people judge people by their appearances and when you see politicians in their smart suits, and then Jeremy Corbyn is there, he looks like he has just come off his allotment, and people aren’t drawn to him.” said one ex. Labour voter in response to the question “Do you like Jeremy Corbyn?

Nationalism is back in a big way and it comes hand in hand with its close friend Royalism. The country wants to see their Prime Minister singing the National Anthem. Personally I think the Royal Family are a waste of tax-payers’ money and it’s a shame they weren’t one of the victims of austerity cuts instead of funding for hospitals and schools. However I know that my view is not the view of the majority – a YouGov poll last September found that 71% of adults believe that the monarchy should remain. I also know that just shouting louder and louder that the monarchy are a waste of money will not change people’s minds.

The country also do not want to talk about reopening coal mines, scrapping trident or quantitative easing. Once again my opinion on some of these issues is at odds with the majority and for most people those ideas are scary – they appear risky and radical. We lost the election last year because Rupert Murdoch and Lynton Crosby managed to convince voters that the Labour Party could not be trusted with the economy. One year on and our economy is increasing unstable as a result of the referendum result: the Conservative Party line that Labour can’t be trusted with our economy has been shot to pieces. Now is the time for a strong leader offering a clear vision that the public can relate to. Now is NOT the time for the Shadow Chancellor to be quoting from Mao’s Little Red Book or to talk about printing more money. People want shorter hospital waiting lists, school places for their children and a better quality of life but more than anything they want to feel secure. We have to discuss the issues the general public want addressed and not just keep banging on about Trident. That is another argument for another time.

Corbyn is a good man and, by all accounts, an excellent local MP. I wanted him to be the leader of the Labour Party. But to quote Sir Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”