2016 12 – Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier

Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier (No 7)

by Michael Murray

In this month’s Diary:

  1. “Oh come all ye faithful…”
  2. “No room at the Inn…”
  3. “All the complaints of the season..”


“Oh come all ye faithful”

Aah. That time of the year already: the Brownswood Labour Party social. I make my way to the first engagement of the season of goodwill. Our Secretary, Clare, called it a “Winter Party,” more politically correct, perhaps.  But the music and words of “Oh come all ye faithful (Adeste Fideles)” trickle through the neural pathways of that part of the brain where childhood memories of a Catholic atheist are hard-wired. “Bring a dish and a bottle,” the Secretary emailed us. I’ve brought two dishes.

I once heard the Irish writer Edna O’Brien say in a radio interview, that cooking for people is a mix of ego and generosity: so true. Both dishes are dips: the first is “Dukkah,” a crushed mixture of seeds, nuts and spices in which warmed bread, lightly soaked in olive oil, is dipped to form a nutritious and tasty crust.  The second is “Imam Bayildi,” a middle eastern staple, a dish of roasted garlic, tomatoes and aubergines.  Both fit in nicely with other comrades’ offerings, and, with the drinks brought along, provide a centrepiece for a very pleasant, sociable, evening.  A tumultuous year in the life of the Brownswood Labour Party is brought to a harmonious end by the expedient: don’t talk about the war.

I’m not going to talk about the war here, either. The February issue of Labour Affairs is the place for that, I think  And, with one whole year of “foot soldiering” behind me, since rejoining the Party, and after all that’s happened at national as well as local level, it’s time for a re-cap. The unreflected life is not worth living, etc.

On the foot-soldiering front, I’ll mention only one thing:  in the role of Ward Organiser, I’ve been joined by another comrade, in the laudable local Labour Party practice of “job sharing” where possible, as a way of extending “active inclusiveness.” So, in the midst of all the peace and goodwill of our social night, we drink to the idea of taking on the challenge of developing the Ward Organiser role. We see this being achieved by attempting to energize the largely passive membership through increasing the number of targeted policy campaigns with which we’ve already had local success.  Beyond that, we feel there’s scope for developing a cadre which could work with other Labour Parties in the marginal constituencies, where members are thinner on the ground, as happens now in a more informal way.


“No room at the Inn” 

One of the positives of the internet is the growing accessibility of the likes of the archived videoed account of John McDonnell’s fight in Parliament against the Tory legislation that led in large part to the tragedy so brilliantly captured by Ken Loach’s film, “I, Daniel Blake.”  (John McDonell: Jobseekers  (Back to Work Schemes) Bill, 2013, YouTube).  Both the film and the parliamentary video are a reminder of where the Corbyn-Mc Donnell leadership of the Labour Party came from and why it is so necessary to its survival. Loach’s film is a fictional account of the experience of a 59 year old joiner attempting to access the Welfare State’s support system, after being declared unfit for work due to a severe heart attack. A second, interconnected “sub-plot” introduces a young, single mother of two and her struggles to survive and pass on some sort of a life to her children.

Only 40-odd Labour Party members could bring themselves to vote against the 2013 Bill.  Over a 100 Labour MPs abstained, effectively giving the Tory Bill a clear run through the House of Commons (though that wasn’t the end of the story). At 13minutes into the 18 minute video, Corbyn speaks in support of John McDonnell.

Ed Balls later explained the PLP’s refusal to vote the Bill down as due to a fear of loss of Labour “fiscal credibility” going into the 2015 election. Austerity was still official policy, part of, as George Osborne, Chancellor, said in his 2013 Autumn Statement, “a recovery plan for all.”  But to Kerry-Ann Mendoza it was “..planned hunger, planned poverty and planned homelessness,” Austerity, 2016 edition.  Krugman has written: “Since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity.”   Ken Loach calls austerity “conscious cruelty.”

The Guardian reported, 15 November, 2016, that there were more than 7 million people in “precarious employment,” that is, could lose their jobs at short, or no, notice.  One of the most thought-provoking comments on Loach’s film was in the “Ham and High.” newspaper: “Previously a middle class audience could watch a Ken Loach film with disgust at what was going on below them.  Now they watch with a fear that one redundancy or rationalization could leave them in the same situation.” (Hampstead and Highgate Express, London, 21 October, 2016


“All the complaints of the season…

This was the Christmas message of worldly-wise trade union officials in Ireland: not “compliments” but “complaints.”  The same officials could tell you that, as during the summer, the flood of grievances seemed to reduce to a trickle, just as they increased after holiday periods. The same union officials might be heard saying, over their mince pies and hot toddies: “this would be a great union if it wasn’t for the members.”  Like some people in the… No. I’m not going to talk about the war.