Needed: Our own Garibaldi to Trump Trumpism

 

(photocredit – author)

Inauguration Night saw a demonstration of several hundred in St Peter’s Square Manchester, where I happened to be. One of very many, and very understandable:  His election statements were incendiary, explicitly and xenophobic. And yet….

And yet, of course, he won.  “Down with Trump”. Is that what we are saying?  Down with the outcome of an election we lost. Down with the will of the people? Down with democracy?

We are in potentially dangerous territory here. If we are democrats, then we can’t just accept the results we like.

But of course, “we” may not all be democrats.  That shouldn’t be shocking. Didactic politics are not only the preserve of the (extreme) right.  So, fair enough, if you do not believe in democracy, there’s no problem rejecting its unpalatable outcomes.

But that’s not going to account for very many people.  So the rest of us are facing a wrestling match with our principles.

Well, refuge can be sought in a number of places: The election was fixed – most likely by Russian smears and internet interferences.  The electoral system is unfair – Hilary won the popular vote.  Votes were miscounted in key states.

All these positions would lead us to challenge the election – to call for a rerun.  That is a different tack to excoriating the victor.

Even if you accept – as most do – that Trump has torn up just about every precedent and norm in the political playbook and we are in truly exceptional circumstances, do we abandon democracy? States of Emergency and other similar suspensions of the people’s mandate are usually the work of governments under pressure and are either short-lived or a staging post to autocracy. So are we the people really saying democracy no longer applies?

But look again at the poster.  “Oppose Trump and his racism” the emphasis is added but important.  This is not about the man, nor his position as president – it is about the racism that was undeniably evident during his campaign. Other placards and posters proclaim that in the “US, Britain Everywhere, Stand Up to Racism.” That  “Black Lives Matter”. The objection here is to racism. It’s easy at present to see Trump and only Trump on the flip side of the racist coin, and understandable  how the demarcation line  between objecting to his racism and respect for a democratic process, can be blurred.

Roll forward twenty-four hours and across the UK there is a huge response by women motivated by Trump’s unambiguous sexism.

And there, in the space of those 24 hours, we see the ability of race and gender to act as a prism. To provide the common platform on which to hold the powerful to account.  What is missing from that troika is something that unites and motivates people on the basis of our shared economic experience or views about society in general.

You might call it a class-based view of the world, but whatever the label the absence of it is the crucial element in the context of our own politics.

Because with no shared set of experiences or shared view, where is the basis for a wide-ranging inclusive, community based approach?  Where is the basis of a Labour Party revival?

That’s why the NHS is so important – it remains the exemplar of a shared set of views and experiences.  It’s why in London, public transport is such a key concern and touchstone.

And we have a major, almost existential problem here.  Because the UK landscape is so impoverished,   commoditised,  ghettoised, and atomised it is  hard to  identify and sustain  the very shared experiences and  values that are  necessary  for  progressive populism.

Instead, what we have is internet-driven individualism with increasing xenophobia used to explain short-comings and hardships.

Progressives recognise the challenge and necessity of recapturing populist values from the right. But thinking on how this can be achieved is still developing – or is muddled. For example, hostility to “liberal elites”, so visible in Trump’s rhetoric is seeping from the right-wing into the mainstream,  requiring contributions  from  surprising  quarters to  remind us that the left needs to expose reactionary nonsense,  not  ape it.

As talk of a “progressive alliance” gains ground, especially in the run-up to the two Parliamentary by-elections on 23 February, does this provide a hopeful way forward? I am irresistibly drawn to the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland as a loose comparator.  Would it be possible for the centre and left in Britain – or even in England – to set aside deeply established tribalism to the extent necessary to capture power?  Despite the energy and intellectual fire-power of groups like Compass, I am not hopeful.

So step forward Momentum.  Let’s be quite clear – more than half a million people joining or supporting the: Labour party is a big deal.  They didn’t split off to form a UK version of Podemos or Syriza.  There has been a clear reconfiguration of the Labour Party, whether that is to your taste or not. So now comes the crunch time, where the stated aims of this group need to be implemented and hopefully validated.  It will be big ask, even without the current internal “policy debates.”  550,000 party members, sure, but only 20,000 in Momentum (with another 200,000 registered supporters).

What is the answer? Where is our salvation? An under-explored area is the devolution debate. This is seen by some as a last refuge/fertile opportunity to build bespoke, local alliances that engage with voters and can achieve electoral success.  The down side is that devolution, certainly in England, is becoming a case of responsibility being decentralised, without the accompanying power. But I like the idea of the left in Britain almost being reinvented and rejuvenated by this city-statism (but, oh,  who will be our Garibaldi?)

But one thing is undeniable: Those few hundred in Manchester and the several tens, hundreds of thousands in London and elsewhere. These are all expressions of hope.

So let me take you back to St Peter’s Square.  The crowd is bigger now – respectable for a cold-ish Friday night and growing. Someone’s brought a big drum. A smattering of incessant whistles, and a throaty growl of appreciation for each speaker. A harbinger for the even bigger demonstrations to follow.

We the people are entitled to say to elected representatives – especially those who exert influence over our lives – racism, sexism, hatefulness, should be no part of what they say or do.

Bang that drum a bit louder, sister. So everyone can hear and join in.

 

Devolution & PR: The Antidote to Brexit Poison?

It’s strange for something to be both toxic and sterile, but that is what the Brexit debate has surely become.

Toxic because the rancour can and does cause real damage – from hate crime to endemic uncertainty. And sterile because it overshadows every other aspect of political debate.

Sometimes, for progressives, this can have an upside, as I described with the Richmond by-election last week. And sometimes it can be dismal, with voters in the more recent Sleaford by-election apparently unable or unwilling to engage with arguments about health, education and social services.

This conundrum was picked up by Scottish labour leader Kezia Dugdale in remarks to the IPPR, made prior to the Sleaford poll.  She called for a reworking of the 1707 Act of Union to create a new, clarified, strengthened relationship between the four nations of the UK and with the UK.  This was pitched as a means to satisfy the appetite for more devolution whilst offering a way out of apparently unwinnable political arguments – over Brexit and Scottish Independence.

Dugdale is absolutely right to see the need to take politics somewhere in the direction of “sunlit uplands” (Churchill, not Leadsom), and I think her plan has much to commend it. But although the direction of travel is right, the destination is not sufficiently ambitious.

If we want to distract attention away from myopic preoccupation with Brexit, the electorate must feel that real power over things they care about is within their grasp. That means even more radical devolution than Dugdale set out. And, by the way, such devolution may also address some of the causes of people feeling “left behind”, often cited as the explanation of the Brexit vote.

This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. The “Devo Manc” model (wide-ranging devolution to metropolitan areas) has energy and momentum behind it.  Serious political figures are eschewing Westminster for more localised positions. And the serious challenges centre left parties are having on the national political stage could make English devolution look a very attractive means of addressing clear right-wing preponderance.

Yet devolution – even of the nature I propose – can only go so far to address the current malaise of disengagement and disillusionment felt about the political process. So why not take further step in the process of reconnecting politics to the people.

That step should be a change to the voting system in two specific ways. First, enfranchise 16 and 17 year olds. And second, make every vote count more effectively than it does at the moment by introducing proportional representation.

Each of these points could sustain a paper in their own right. The argument for extending the franchise seems to be made given the enthusiasm shown by this demographic when the Independence Referendum gave then a vote. Certainly one suspects Remainers rue the refusal by the Government to adopt the same approach in the EU ballot. And suffice to say a more devolved UK and England would give ample opportunities to test the effect of a change to the way we vote.

With the current UK government elected by  less than 25% of the  electorate, with the centre left arguably firmly shut out of politics, and with the scope to establish the most effective voice at Westminster somewhat stymied  by SNP-reduced Parliamentary airspace,  this could be a perfect storm set to break over the next couple of years.

This piece also appears in The Huffington Post

Time for a Labour-led alliance for Brexit?

I rather think that our Prime Minister is stumped on Europe. She has announced the  main plank in her Brexit programme – a Great Repeal Bill that  will lift-and-shift all EU based legalisation  into UK law at the instant we formally leave the EU.

That actually seems quite sensible to me. Achieve the principle and worry about the practicalities later.

But the problem is that the detail of how that will happen simply isn’t there. And those practicalities are in fact monstrously complex and weighty issues: What access do we need and will we have to the Single Market? What will we do about migration and free movement of labour? How will key public services function if EU nationals are unable to work in them?

Perhaps the reality is that we cannot know what to do about these issues at this stage. Perhaps we really have to wait until Article 50 is triggered or until the day after we leave?

But in any event, negotiators never want to show their hand (especially if there is an element of bluff) so I can understand a small part of the dismay over last week’s court ruling (and I must cite an excellent piece by Will Gore on the virulent press reaction to that as the best analysis I read).

However, to return to the PM. She is truly caught between two titanic forces – the clear court edict compelling Parliamentary scrutiny, and the courting of public opinion which is more animated on this  subject than any other (partly as a result of the irresponsible incitement Gore writes about). Her government currently has a majority of just 10 in the Commons, and she herself seems unwilling or unable to colonise the middle ground – something that in my view would enable her to govern for as long as she wanted.

Into such a dangerous mess, step forward Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Despite some reported wobbles, Labour’s position on Brexit is, in my view, pretty clear: “We respect the vote but want a fair deal.”

The electoral demographics are even clearer. The party needs to win back or retain support amongst many who voted Brexit to have any chance of success in a General Election.

Given that the real issue is the lack of a plan rather than any attempts to rerun or  overturn the EU referendum result, that is surely what  Labour in opposition needs to focus on –  to seize the narrative,  the  initiative and the imagination  of  a British public that  is at best jittery, and at worse downright volatile.  It is a cry from the heart that Labour is at its best when it is boldest.   For both the party and the country, is not being bold now a matter of necessity not choice?

It is right (as Hugo Muir argues) that MPs who profoundly disagree with (he says “fear”)Brexit,  vote against it when the opportunity arises – and accept the electoral consequences.  But that does not trump or detract from the arguments for a Labour-led progressive alliance in support of Brexit with greater focus and vigour than any previously discussed.

This is possibly difficulty territory for Remainers.   But in truth, there may be no other way to douse the flames many are fanning. You need to go to where people are, rather than where you would like them to be.

An edited version of this piece also appears in Labourlist

Clutching at Straws?

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Photocredit: Getty images
Close your eyes and it could well have been Ed Miliband talking on the steps of 10 Downing Street this Wednesday. Apart from the voice, of course. Prime Minister May’s message was decidedly centrist. Given her consistently  right-wing voting record,  was this  just a gimmick, designed to deceive?

I think I’m entitled to be sceptical. But perhaps, just perhaps, we should wait and see. And no – I haven’t gone soft. Here’s why:

Theresa May has possibly read the runes and realises that many centrist votes are simply there for the taking. There seems to be a trend across the last two General Elections  of Labour failing to win back votes lost to the Tories.  Perhaps May is positioning the party to permanently colonise this section of the electorate.

After all, it is not unreasonable to surmise that whatever the outcome of the current internal Labour debates,  there is a realistic prospect of centrist voters looking for a new home.

And May would not be the first politician to embrace Machiavelli’s maxim that what you need to do to get power is different to what you need to do to keep it.

Machiavellian is one apt description for her boldness in cabinet appointments. Who didn’t have an instinctively good reaction  to the fates  of Osborne, Whittingdale, Morgan and Gove? The debate is still, of course, out on our new Foreign Secretary.  Perhaps having created a huge mess, it is only right he is given an opportunity to clear it up.

Policy-wise, Brexit must inevitably dominate the post-referendum period, but there are surely worse people  to have in charge than the pro-human rights  David Davis. I worry at the loss of focus on climate change,  but see potential positives with the emphasis on industrial strategy.

Let us be clear, though, that when Theresa May says “We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives” that can mean massive deregulation and privatization as easily as a supportive and empowering state.

Unfortunately we on the left have to face some uncomfortable  truths – the first  comprehensively educated Education Secretary  is a Conservative. Indeed more of the cabinet went to state schools than any government since  1945.  Both female prime ministers have been Conservative. Why have these achievements not been ours?

So maybe there is the basis for just some, little, super-ultra-cautious optimism. But at the heart of Mrs May’s approach is a contradiction.

You can’t be a One-Nation Prime Minister with Two-Nation economic policies. You can’t be  progressive on social policy  without  the  economic policies to  turn  pledges into  reality. Chris Dillow’s article expands well on this point, and highlights the space this leaves for those on the left (and right).

This week has shown once again that   the Conservative Party is the master above all of keeping power. That has to be admired, and not just because of the travails of the opposition. Another Tory maxim is governing for the few and not the many. If Mrs May is serious about breaking that one, she will have to show more substance than seduction.

A New Settlement for Post-Referendum Britain

 

Whatever the outcome of the EU referendum, the future of UK politics looks more uncertain than at any time in living memory.

The Conservative Party is irreparably split. The bitterness of the campaign has been astonishing.  The fault lines in personal relationships across the party are deep and, I suspect, unbridgeable.

It is hard to see the Prime Minister staying in office for long. But although  we  have become used to  the notion  of  a Johnson/Osborne/May  fight  to be the next  occupant of No 10,  could any of this troika  reunite the Party?  I think not.  Eurosceptic Conservatives have much in common with   UKIP, and could command a healthy vote in any election – possibly around 25%.

But we have seen a resurgence  of  what  we used to call “One Nation” Toryism, – those such as  Sarah Woolaston and Baroness Warsi  who  have  publicly rejected  the  acerbic  traits  of  colleges.  The impressive performance of Ruth Davidson – both in the Scottish elections and the EU campaign could be the catalyst for a move back to the centre, which would itself have a strong electoral pull.

So we have the real prospect of  a  staunchly  right  wing  Conservative/UKIP  block,  and  a  reasserted  One Nation grouping.  But as we look to the left of the political spectrum we see challenges there too.

Jeremy Corbyn is firmly in control of the Party machinery. Labour’s share in recent elections is generally improving.  But the party’s message is struggling to be heard and its core vote is vulnerable, outside of the South East particularly, to UKIP.   The party’s collapse in Scotland and  redrawn  Westminster constituency  boundaries  make  it  much  harder  for the Party  to  win a majority.

In this scenario, for both a fractured Conservative party and a constrained Labour one, constitutional reform makes increasing sense. Would not a “leave”   result would create an unstoppable momentum for Scottish independence and may even loosen English-Welsh ties?  London will surely vote Remain, and is becoming ever more distinctive to other parts of the UK.  But the devolution  of  powers  away  from  central  government (the so-called “Devo Manc”  model)  has been enthusiastically  embraced –  not least by  Labour  who  see it as   an opportunity  to  address the  imbalance of political  forces  at  Westminster.

The level and spread of regional autonomy in the UK could soon cross the Rubicon. So the question  must be  how to  ensure that  the exercise of  devolved power  is  by directly  elected representatives who  reflect  the political views of the  population.  A new constitutional  settlement,  especially one  in which  old political  power blocs  have changed,  could make  proportional representation not only  desirable  but necessary.

The future is of course unwritten. The post-referendum landscape will inevitably be different, and we can’t leave it to others to shape it. The opportunity to shape a new constitutional settlement – that takes the heat from the referendum campaign and produces something effective, enduring and empowering – is one we must take.

This piece also appears in The Huffington Post

 

Time to dig in, not opt out.

Time to dig in not opt out

With wearisome regularity, the weekend brought more despondency from people who feel Labour has lost its way.  I don’t share that view or the pessimism that accompanies it.

Last week it was Barbara Ellen (http://bit.ly/1LIcaBB)  and Robert Webb (http://huff.to/1Q7ZaeY)  Will Hutton weighed in too, in an otherwise superb article (http://bit.ly/1ScKla5 ).  This week, my good friend Roger Darlington wrote of the” despair of a Labour loyalist” (http://bit.ly/1XCAewK )

Well let’s just hang on a moment.  Let’s look at the facts, the background, and the context.  Is the argument that Labour would be doing better under a different leader?  Few people are explicitly saying that but is it not an inevitable consequence of the concerns being expressed?

But to be blunt here; the other three candidates probably wouldn’t be doing any better.  No disrespect intended, but we have just lost two general elections.  Going into a third with a message of “more of the same” seems to have poor portents.  In any event, it is all somewhat academic.  We have a leader and he won by a huge margin.  Indeed, he won under rules drawn up explicitly to increase the franchise, partly following   a row over how Ed   became leader.

And  although   the Syrian  crisis  seems to  have precipitated the current and  in my view most  serious  of internal  debates,  isn’t Jeremy  Corbyn  actually asking the right  questions?  Is his caution not also backed by The Observer (http://bit.ly/1l1Mnj8, possibly no surprise) but also the Mail (http://dailym.ai/1QOWODb) and the Telegraph (http://bit.ly/1lpt8PW)

Let’s not pretend everything is rosy.  The recent comments of Ken Livingstone and Diane Abbot (on 7/7 and Mao Tse Tung respectively) were at best naive.  But no politician is gaffe-free and no party consists entirely of the virtuous.  Part of the human condition is that we are all – all- capable of improvement.  So I’m sure lessons are being learned on a continual basis. Maybe we won’t see the Little Red Book used as a parliamentary prop again.

But what Corbyn’s Labour is trying to do is to mobilise the previously disengaged.  If  this approach is right,  we can and will harness the support of  literally millions of people  who have never-voted,  or  have  leant  a  “protest vote”  to  a party  other than  our own.  And if we do that, then we will win in 2020. Well Oldham on Thursday will be an early test, but it would be a very brave pundit who set too much store by a winter by-election.

That is of course a very different approach to those who believe that it is the Labour voters who have defected to the Tories who we need to win back.  And it means a different sort of politics.

So here is the dilemma for Labour loyalists: What to do?

It isn’t enough, as I have heard some say, not to oppose but not to support either.  Observing from the sidelines really isn’t an option.

A young councillor in the North West described to me  recently   how  his constituents were devastated by a Tory victory last May  and needed a Labour  Party  that  would stand up for them and win power for them.

Waiting for the perceived storm to pass over before resuming some sort of “business as usual” does not help those we describe as “our people”.  As Will Hutton described, this storm is a hurricane ripping through society. Changing forever what is “usual”.

So this then turns into a debate about how we can be the most effective opposition possible. We have the talent. We have the ideas.  We have the people.  Joining up these three elements has to be an absolutely key criterion for success.  In a world with too many “Sodom and Gomorrah” values, it is never going to be easy – which is why we must try all the harder.   Intemperance and disrespect – from any quarter – have no place in a united effective opposition. Standing back and letting Labour fail means we all fail.

“Walk Right Back” – The labour movement and young people

In the Labour Movement we are all glass-half-full sort of people.  We need to be and usually our optimism is justified.  But what if we are just being too naive too often?

Because  although  we can point to  a succession of positive steps in the  efforts to  re-energise and rejuvenate both  wings of our movement – from 16 and 17  year old voters in the Indyref,  to  hundreds of thousands of  new supporters engaged by  the leadership election – these exist in the bleakest of contexts. The ongoing reactionary revolution makes my generation pine for the benign blight of Thatcherism.

I would argue that the party and trade unions have yet to find the right approach  to engaging with the concerns of  new workers in  our new  SME-dominated, small state economy.

Sorry to  put a downer on proceedings,  but look at the facts: As Hendy and Ewing(1) reported  coverage  of collective bargaining – surely the driver and barometer of union  strength – now stands at  around 25%,  down  from  82%  in  scarcely a generation. Private sector union density is now below 25%. Union membership is concentrated in older workers on full time contracts, whereas younger members have less secure employment, work fewer hours and pay less in subscriptions.

Union density in SMEs and in the hospitality and related services sector is really low, yet that is where a disproportionate number of young people will be working (2).

TUC research showed  that there were enough politically  disengaged young voters to determine the  General Election  result in almost every  constituency (3) – but the party’s policies on  jobs and training,  or on  macro- economic and foreign policy,  clearly didn’t  motivate  very large numbers of younger  voters  to  support us. Nor did the truly impressive efforts of Bite the Ballot deliver the decisive turnout in young people that was hoped and needed (4). In fact turnout amongst the young was lower in 2015 than five years previously.

So what do we do?  Not give up. Not emigrate.  But not by just doing the same thing and hope that the political pendulum will swing back to us.

I think we start with the objective of creating a bedrock of collectivist ideas on which to base policies that offer the promise of individual economic fulfilment. (And just so we are all clear, individual economic fulfilment is, in my view, impossible, without a surrounding framework of progressive economic and social policies)

So easy to say – but what does it mean in practice?  Amongst ourselves, I suggest that we need clarity and consistency around not just what we mean but how we think. How do we create this collectivism?

The role of the National Curriculum is, I think often overlooked.  Employers have told me that they do not find teenagers “work ready”. Yet we now have compulsory schooling until 18. These two extra years seem to me to  represent a huge opportunity to address the concerns of employers  but in a way that  supports  key  collective ideas –  like  respect,  tolerance, diversity, equality, fairness, reasonableness,  rationality,  rights and responsibilities.

These are all the things needed for a successful economy.  They’re also a part of personal fulfilment.  But for us, crucially, they are the key values of the labour movement.  The pieces of this jig-saw are already in place.  We need a recharged Citizenship Foundation (5) to put the pieces together.

But are we now in a position where we can have this necessary debate like never before? Given the preoccupation with  such matters – from the “English Votes”  debate (7)  to DevoManc (8),  constitutional  reform  is  now a major  issue and  opportunity  for us to engage and  energise young people. Do the Scottish Constitutional convention (8) and other constitutional conventions that followed it (9) show us a way to engage key young stakeholders?

And what should “individual economic fulfilment” consist of?

Building a narrative on individual economic fulfilment is, I believe, an essential ingredient to the hope that characterises successful youth engagement strategies. We need to recognise and embrace ambition, but key into what young people are saying about housing, health and employment. Listen – really listen – to what young people are saying.

The housing crisis – and it is a crisis – offers a hopeful illustration of how young people can become engaged, and how politicians need to outbid each other to offer the most positive and popular policy.  This is surely the key issue for the London Mayoral election next year, so it is an opportunity to see if the levels of engagement and activity are maintained.

Given the importance attached to  housing   by all of Labour’s  large affiliates, all of whose policies  have been driven  by  motions  from  youth structures  within those unions (10), this issue  also shows that  campaigning  on the “right”  issue  not only brings  the  two wings of the movement  together,  but  provides the rejuvenation essential for organisations to  survive.

But all of this must feed through to something deliverable – engagement must translate to a real shift in policy, and that policy must be one that is actioned. Get this right and we create a virtuous cycle of hope, trust and innovation.  Get it wrong and it becomes a vicious cycle of just the opposite.

So the key criteria in all this is how any does any given action, policy or decision either increase capacity or influence or both.  How will this bring us together? If it doesn’t do any of these things, then my advice is simply to stop.(11)

To paraphrase a deservedly acclaimed speech – young people haven’t left the organised labour movement,  perhaps we have left them (12). Even if following the Labour leadership election, some of them have started to return, the achievable challenge now is to bring the next generation close to our heart.

An edited version of this article appears in the September 2015 edition of the Young Fabians’ magazine Anticipations www.youngfabians.org.uk

  1. Hendy and Ewing: Reconstruction after the crisis: a manifesto for collective bargaining,  IER 2013
  2. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/trade-union-statistics-2014
  3. http://www.readyrentals.co.uk/news/article/1137/four-million-missing-votes-from-younger-generation-could-decide-election-tuc
  4. https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3575/How-Britain-voted-in-2015.aspx?view=wide
  5. http://www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk/index.php
  6. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/02/english-votes-english-laws-what-are-tories-proposing
  7. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/devolution-to-the-greater-manchester-combined-authority-and-transition-to-a-directly-elected-mayor
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Constitutional_Convention
  9. http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/constitutional-convention
  10. For example see http://www.cwuyouth.org/unscrupulous-landlords-amp-the-housing-crisis.html, http://www.gmbyounglondon.org/howl-for-housing/,
  11. Weil , A Strategic Choice Framework for Union decision making, Working-USA; Journal of Labor and Society, 2005
  12. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2015-07-14b.754.0&s=speaker%3A25269#g774.0

Labour leadership – the unanswered question

As the ballot papers for the labour leadership start going out, I thought it was time to say a few things about the contest. And no, I’m not going to suggest who you should vote for. My view is that’s your business, not mine.

Like everyone who has a vote, I’ve been deluged by emails and letters. No phone calls so far, thank goodness. I’ve even had letters to “The Sapper Family” which is presumptive in the extreme when the sender cannot possibly know the political attitudes of at least half the voters in my household. It is one thing to lobby me, but quite another to spam my family! Entirely counter-productive too as Sophie Heawood pointed out in her recent column (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/18/labour-party-emails-texts-post-election-sophie-heawood ) . Have the campaign teams learned nothing from previous bruising campaigns where the desired messages simply weren’t getting through?

Alas it appears not – contact, contact, contact seems to be the maxim, irrespective of the quality of that contact.

Part of the problem is that this way of working sets up an illusion of communication. Yes, candidates can push their messages out, but it is much harder for the electorate to get questions answered. Not impossible, by any means – but certainly not as easy. There is nothing unique in this unevenness – it is one of the pitfalls of social media (as I have observed before – http://www.unionhome.org.uk/?p=2191 )

But another part of the problem is that the proverbial penny still has not dropped – the electorate is tired and even distrustful of “the establishment” – I am sure that in part explains the apparent popularity of Jeremy Corbyn. It also absolutely explains why exhortations of even a proven election-winner such as Tony Blair will have the directly opposite effect to that which is intended.

There are many reasons for this, but one is surely that the leadership campaign has engaged a lot of people who simply haven’t been involved before. It would be fascinating to see a demographic breakdown of the hundreds of thousands of new labour members or supporters. I bet a majority will be young people – people for whom perhaps the labour government of 2005-10 was   part of the establishment to rail against (however unfair that may be)?

I think Martin Kettle makes an interesting argument in his well-worth-reading article “The strange death of Labour Britain” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/14/strange-death-labour-britain-liberal-britain), namely that society has moved on from the model of politics exhibited by the Labour Party. But this analysis misses something critical in my view.

What it misses is that hundreds of thousands of people have chosen the Labour Party as the vehicle to which to try and make the journey to a better society. Podemos and Syrisa were movements that grew outside of the established political structures – indeed, they would argue in some cases that they were antithetical to those structures. But here is it not encouraging that people feel able to trust the Labour Party as a whole to be the agent for change, even if those self-same people may not feel it has achieved this is in the recent past?

But therein lies the trickiest problem of all – epitomised by the sharp differences that have emerged during the campaign. The difficulty of adopting very robust, strident views, albeit sincerely held and expressed,   is that it makes reconciliation more difficult.

I suspect that once that analysis of new members is done, it will confirm that we are seeing, literally, a rejuvenation of the Labour Party. That has to be good. But how do you keep that process going once the election campaign is over? That is surely the key but as yet unanswered challenge – irrespective of the outcome on 12 September.