Tag Archives: The Labour 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

Let’s talk about polls

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Polls. Polls. Let’s talk about polls: Are the Tories really ahead still in them?

I think this is a pertinent question on a number of counts. Firstly – a disclaimer. I used to work in a position (for a fundraising agency) that required me often to analyse data. Analysing data is something that is very subjective – one can skew it in order to get an answer that is favourable to oneself, and/or to a client.

People talk a lot about opinion polls, naturally, in the run-up to a GE. The results of opinion polls are also dependent on the questions being asked. As posted on my Facebook page last week, an utterly biased poll was being sent out by #YouGov, with  some very leading questions. Then one gets on to the people surveyed – how can we be sure that this is genuinely a ‘cross-section’ of society? We only have the polling company’s word for that, and if they are being employed by Conservatives, they will most likely choose the option that appeases their client the most.

Think this doesn’t happen and that this is some conspiracy? Think again. I know that the Tories (for example) at the last election hired at least one telephone fundraising/marketing company to work on their behalf, Return Fundraising. How do I know this? Because they told me so when they attempted to ‘head-hunt’ me (a move motivated by the demise of a former employer). They also told me at the time that they did the canvassing for the MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

When call-centres do this sort of work, their scripts will be scrutinised to the nth degree so that, subliminally, the answer will always favour the client. Of course people have their own opinions; but there is much that can be done, in terms of the language used, the questions asked, to subliminally affect the answers in favour of clients. Anyone who works in fundraising and marketing knows that this is the case, and in a sense, that is ok. As much as politics, it’s about the art of persuasion – but let’s be very clear also that an answer elicited for a survey/charity donation doesn’t always hold once the conversation is over and the phone put down. In fundraising, it’s known as attrition. So: pollsters may have an opinion at the start of a call, they may hold to that opinion or have their minds changed during the course of the call (because one of the curious things I found out when telephone fundraising is that even on the end of the phone, people are social animals that often want to be seen as agreeably nice people to the faceless voice at the other end of the phone), but when that phone is put down, they can often change their minds. In that sense, if one is polling people with semi-formed or wholly uninformed opinions, there is a high probability that those opinions are malleable during the duration of a call, but potentially not beyond that.

As well as all of this: how current is the data we are being presented with? How many thousands of people are being canvassed? Is it a genuine cross-section of society, or targeting areas where the answer is more or less a done deal? Who has commissioned the polls (this is important)? Which media outlets are these polls being distributed to, and what is their editorial agenda? (In the UK, this latter point is crucial) With those papers, would it potentially upset their investors/advertisers if the polls projected an outcome they didn’t want? Who are the polling companies being run by (as in who is their CEO), and what is their political agenda? For example, YouGov has as its CEO Stephan Shakespeare, who formerly ran ConservativeHome – immediately there is cause for scepticism there over political neutrality in their polling.

The media are also key in polling in the UK, perhaps more than in most countries, because they are undoubtedly (on the results of previous elections and the influence of Murdoch) able to sway elections. The Sun and Murdoch are the big beasts here as regards this, because to the best of my knowledge there has been not one PM since 1979 that hasn’t had Murdoch backing. Essentially what we’re looking at there is corporate propaganda filtered through politics at the highest level. Murdoch’s other investments (let’s say, like his investment in Genie Energy, as well as Sky News) would be subject to huge unbiased and potentially unfavourable scrutiny if the potential PM was not a Murdoch acolyte.

And then there’s the public. Up until a few years ago, there was little interest in politics among the British public, and often an embarrassment in saying who they were voting for (especially on the more right-wing side of things). This is in marked contrast to, let’s say, Ireland, where, for better or worse, people are incredibly vocal about their side of any given issue, thus enabling more polling accuracy.

This is not even getting into the increasing influence of organisations like Cambridge Analytica, who collate evidence from social media and target voters accordingly. We’ve seen how successful this was in the #Brexit referendum and in the election of #Trump.

So while not dismissing polls entirely, let’s be aware that they are (a) not unbiased at the source i.e. the company that is commissioning the polls and the company that is working on their behalf (b) dependent on media source and editorial bias (c) open to interpretation (d) time-dependent (a week is a long time in politics, etc) and (e) subject to change. It’s that latter point that the Labour Party and other non-Tory parties have to really make the case for.

The outcome of #GE2017 depends on who Britons are

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Before the manifestos come out, thought we all needed a reminder of what was promised in 2015 by the Conservatives: https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto. I was especially interested in this:

“This Manifesto sets out our plan to do just that. It is a plan for a better future – for you, for your family. It is a plan for every stage of your life. For your new-born baby, there will be the world’s best medical care. For your child, there will be a place at an excellent school. As you look for your first job, we are building a healthy economy that provides a good career for you with a decent income. As you look for that first home, we will make sure the Government is there to help. As you raise your family, we will help you with childcare. And as you grow older, we will ensure that you have dignity in retirement.

Throughout, we will make sure that if you or your family fall ill, you will always be able to depend on our cherished National Health Service to give you the care you need.”

Whatever way you vote, take this as your mantra:

Anyone But Conservative (#ABC)

If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter but in your area the Lib Dem MP has the best chance of beating the Tories – hold your nose and vote for them. If you’re a Lib Dem supporter and the Labour candidate is the best chance of ousting the Tory candidate – hold your nose and vote for them. If you’re a Lib Dem/Labour and a Green candidate has the best chance – you get the picture.

This is beyond #Brexit. #Brexit is a done deal at this point in time. That’s not to say at some point in the future, when the consequences become more apparent, that it won’t be reversible. At this point in time, everything is too raw, and any Bremainers angling to change it are going to skew the situation even further, and perhaps irreparably. The primary objective over the next 7 weeks must be to consign the Tories to the scrapheap of electoral history for a generation.

The 18-24 year olds are key. So are disabled people, who have been affected from the outset by austerity. I did a little rough calculation last night – and with these two groups, you have approximately 34.9% of the voting public. So do what you have to, to get these groups to the polls.

I’m Irish, so not even a British subject – but I’ve lived here for 18 years and it angers me to see the rise in inequality and poverty. I do not pay my hard-earned taxes to subsidise corporations. I don’t pay them so that while some Hooray Henry (or George, or Dave, or Boris, or indeed Theresa) lives it large in Chelsea, 3,900,000 children live in poverty in the UK. There’s roughly 12 million children in the UK, so 1 in 3 of them are living in unsafe housing, with little food. Think about that – that could be your child, or one of their friends. I want those taxes to go to the NHS. I want them to go towards helping people into decent housing. I want every child to have enough food in their belly. I want them to go towards education.

The question is more than tribal now – it’s visceral and it depends on a very simple question:

What do you want to see in 5 years time?

Do you want a nation where the majority are well-fed, well-housed, well-cared for in health terms, well-educated, happy? (For all his talk about happiness, David Cameron seemed to know exactly what to do to create the maximum amount of misery). Well, guess what?

YOU CAN HAVE ALL THAT.

That’s the good news. But it comes down to choice. If the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result, giving any leeway to the Tories to regain power on June 8th, or to give them a bigger mandate, will reveal exactly the type of person you are. Are you the type of person who fixates on someone’s appearance/awkwardness, rather on the substance of their policies? Are you the type of person who needs to hear sweet nothings from your politicians, even if you know they have no notion of keeping their electoral promises to you? Or are you the type of person who can look at themselves in the mirror squarely and say ‘I will do what needs to be done for the greater good?’

In the end, it’s all down to you.

#VoteResponsibly #GeneralElection #GeneralElection2017 #ABC

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?