Tag Archives: The Conservative Party

Why, with barely a vote cast, Corbyn’s Labour has already won

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I was getting quite emotional over the last few days thinking of casting my ballot for Corbyn. And make no mistake, it’s for Corbyn, not for Chuka Umunna, my local MP, who I once touted as a potential leader, but no more.

Disclaimer: I have long been a dedicated Corbynista. I barely knew who he was when I saw him interviewed two years ago. I knew after hearing him speak that here was someone who was different, and who saw what needed to be done for the future.

We are living in incredibly interesting political times, and what has happened over the last year is a paradigm shift. So I get that people were sceptical of Corbyn, not convinced, doubtful about his ability to lead the Labour Party. The recalcitrance of the New Labour old guard obfuscated what was necessary for the party to succeed. Their inability to see the shifting sands, the political weathervane moving, cost Labour dear in terms of obstinately promoting Ed Miliband, an abysmally weak leader whose time was over somewhere circa 2013 and the most disastrous Labour election in 30 years in 2015. But obstinately they clung to the echo chamber of neoliberal peers and journalists, and failed to embrace the very real alternative Corbyn offered from the very start.

Better late than never, I guess. While I don’t agree with Corbyn on everything (#Brexit), I admire his singlemindedness, his vision, and just his sheer self-belief. What he has undergone over the last 2 years would have knocked many another politician off their course. My gut instinct (as well as avidly reading newspapers from all political sides over the last two years) is that himself and John McDonnell have a transformational plan for Britain. The manifesto is the layman’s version of this. They, along with their campaign manager (who’s questioning Seumas Milne now?) have run the most brilliant campaign. I would go so far as to say that it is the most brilliant political campaign of modern times, and I include Obama’s 2008 campaign in that, run by David Plouffe. Never has someone had so much thrown at them and risen above it and flourished. He has managed, after years of the harshness of austerity being obvious, to change the tone, the nature, the focus of this argument. And that is why I believe, as I have done for the last two years, that Corbyn would be a transformative PM.

Labour may not win outright tomorrow – in fact, it’s very unlikely they will. Due to either bad advice or Miliband’s own ego, the losses made in 2015 are too hard to claw back. Scotland is lost, not least because of Jim Murphy’s failures there. And then there’s the BluKip factor. That makes the game unfairly skewed in favour of the Tories. However – in a very real sense, before barely a vote being cast, Labour under Corbyn has already won. They have made political discourse the new normal. They have engaged record number of supporters to the PLP. They have used social media in a way it has not been used hithertofore in British elections (more by necessity than by design, given the hostility of Fleet St, but still). They have taken the fight to the Tories, and even if the Tories prevail, it will be as a party battered and bruised, with their weak leadership exposed for what it is under Theresa May. They will not find it so easy to get their mandate through and ultimately it may even be the case that by 2020 we’re looking at a party torn asunder, eating itself alive through infighting and intrigue, and another election.

I never liked voting for New Labour under Tony Blair. I admired Blair’s political acumen up to 2003, but disliked his obvious actorly mannerisms and insincerity. His assuming of the NI Peace Process as his success, when anyone on the other side of the Irish Sea was aware that the success was all Mo Mowlam’s. ‘The people’s this’ ‘The people’s that’. Please. The illusion of allowing democracy, which he himself rent apart by pursuing a foolhardy illegal war. But I will be voting Labour proudly for the first time. Maybe we expect too much of our heroes. Maybe Corbyn will, for many millions of other people, turn out to have feet of clay. But in my opinion, he’s already won. He’s proven, in this campaign, that there is an alternative, there is hope, there is an appetite for a road less travelled, and that it is for the many, not the few. Most of all – he has brought compassion and humanity onto the political agenda. Dignity for those vulnerable in UK society. Pride in public services. The notion that no man or woman is an island. That government is there to work with people, to help them and not to scold or dictate to them. And above all, a question I raised a number of weeks back in my blog on the Huff Post – What type of country do Britons want to live in? I take nothing for granted, and I’m interested to find out the answer.

#VoteLabour #GE2017

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Suits you, sir….

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Before Christmas, I was headed to Newcastle to record an audiobook. It’s a journey I often make, though normally I’ve purchased a ticket in advance. It being a pretty hectic time for me, I hadn’t managed to do so on this occasion. I got to King’s Cross around 8.30am, and rather than queue for a teller, I decided to go the self-service route. I was completely flabbergasted to find that there was not one ticket under £200.

Now let me preface this by saying – I ultimately don’t pay for my tickets when doing audiobook narration. That’s in the hands of the publishing company I work for. Still, an extra £80+ for a ticket, dependent on when you purchase it, is not good business practice to me. I queued for a teller who explained that I needed to wait till after 9am to purchase a ticket for the same journey at a lower cost. This option was not given at that time, and, unless one was intimately well-versed in the vagaries and variances of the British railway system, this is not something that, let’s say, a traveller to these fair isles would necessarily know.

I have no patience with this, for a number of reasons. Personally, I’ve had a history of terrible customer service from Virgin Trains, who run this particular route. There was a point in time where, on a Saturday, I took their trains from Euston to Milton Keynes, and, completely dependent on the customer service representative, I would be queried about my ticket (which I normally purchased from Boundary Zone 3). Sometimes I was refused admittance, as I didn’t have a receipt with it stating that I’d a weekly Oyster card. (For a train service to operate in Central London and not to be able to check Oyster cards I would say is particularly remiss). On more than one occasion, their representatives were rude to aggressive. I complained multiple times to Virgin before deciding to travel with their slower, but politer competitors, London Midland. They might not get me there as quickly; but the journey was unfailingly less stressful.

So, going back to my pre-Xmas Newcastle excursion – I tweeted Virgin. They tweeted back telling me I should have booked earlier. I tweeted back that anyone who didn’t know the system would have unwittingly booked at the higher price and that this was unfair. And that given UK rail fares are up to 6 times more than their European counterparts for similar journeys, completely immoral. I didn’t receive any tweets after that.

A couple of weeks ago, I came to Norbury station at 11.05am to see a noticeboard that said 10.38 for the next train. On impulse, and being under time constraints, I looked for someone to query. Upon being told by the ticket office that one had to phone the central call centre in Croydon, I did so. I explained to the customer service representative there that people had been waiting a half-hour to know when their next train would be there; that there had been no announcement; and, to paraphrase the Daily Mash, it wasn’t on that Southern ran their timetable like an avant-garde poem. He then apologised, as is the custom for customer service representatives. I told him that I didn’t want his apology, as it was not necessary coming from him; but I did want him to pass on my comments to his bosses at Southern Rail.

Here’s the thing. In one of my many job incarnations as a performer, I used to coach security officers in their NVQ Level 2 in Customer Service, mainly at the Home Office and Cabinet Office. If I didn’t quite write the book on customer service, I know the man who did; and so being ‘handled’ like this doesn’t quite wash with me. Rather than being taken in the spirit that one gives the consumer the best possible experience, it seems to me that ‘customer service’ has become a way of silencing consumers’ legitimate complaints in the UK. In one of the customer service jobs I’ve held, people talked ad nauseam about ‘objection handling’ rather than working towards there not being an objection to handle in the first place. In the case of trains, customer service representatives are put out on the frontline, on their minimum wage hourly rate, rather than those at the top of the top of the pecking order being held to account to provide a service that reflects the UK’s over-inflated train prices. The statistics also uphold this: UK train prices are 6 times European ticket prices. Southern Rail made £100m in profit last year. According to ASLEF, Virgin Trains made £51m in profit last year, while being subsidised by the public. Train fares have risen by 25% in the last 6 years while wages have remained below their 2008 levels, according to Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary.

Why is this happening? While discussing this with an older friend, she summed it up like this: ‘Passengers have little power, but high interest. Employees have little power, but equally high interest in providing a good service. The bosses of the various rail companies have high power, but in truth, low interest in providing a good, affordable service. The same can be said of shareholders. Ultimately the main priority of the train bosses is to satisfy their shareholders, and their own pockets, not to listen to customers or their employees’.

I think there’s a lot of truth in this. There will not be a better, more affordable service on the rail networks in the UK unless it is the interests of the rail bosses to do so. On Friday last week I was passing through Clapham Junction and a digitised sign board had been erected by Southern. It stated that there would be cancellations because the unions were forbidding their members to work overtime (or words to that effect) and were going on strike. I went to have a word with one of the station managers, to voice my objections on the grounds that (a) workers still have the right to strike in this country (b) to strike is always a last resort, given the financial implications and (c) workers still have the right to refuse overtime – on grounds of safety may be a reason, but even if there is no reason – so what? That is their choice. The issue here, furthermore, is not that workers won’t work overtime, but that bosses are refusing to be realistic with their shareholders about the long-term implications of buying shares in a rail network that needs heavy investment, both structurally and in terms of personnel. Again, rather than shoot the messenger, I asked him to pass on my message.

The bottom line is: something has to change. The government refuses to listen to those who are on the frontline (quelle surprise!), and there is little as a consumer one can do to take action except this:

1. Complain. And to the right people. Ultimately it is not in the best interests of an employee to strike, so if a consensus has been reached that striking is the only option, then we have to accept that decision has not been reached lightly.

2. A company can withstand a certain amount of negative publicity – that’s what PR companies are for. But in the case of highlighting causes/inequities, social media is key. Name and shame.

3. Apply for refunds for every single journey delayed. It’s incredible how quickly a company can change their working practices if their profit margins are affected.

Ultimately something has to change – so why not for the greater good?