5 Lessons Labour should take from the Republicans

I’m carving a niche out for myself as someone who can offer historical parallels to today’s political situation. Finally putting that history degree to good use. I’m on Progress today talking about what Labour should learn from the Republican shambles. Namely:

  1. Don’t Focus on ideological purity.
  2. Have a broad church.
  3. Stay a national party.
  4. The importance of organising.
  5. Be open-minded about policies and ideas.

I’m particularly proud of this one and I hope you enjoy it.

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I’m on the New Statesman website!

One of the reasons I left full-time class teaching was so I had more time to write. I’m therefore very excited that I’m on The Staggers website today, arguing that mass movements do not win elections.

There’s some lively debate on Twitter (if you can face it) which is actually quite good-natured and constructive. Some do not seem to look past the headline and so ignore the points I made about 1983 and 1968, but that seems inevitable I suppose.

Anyway, please read and enjoy it.

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Not Enough Champagne Episode #10: Too many tweets make a what?

Did Facebook win the 2015 election for the Conservatives? Steve analyses the social media strategies of Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems and we discuss the effectiveness of each one.

We then talk about the downsides of social media. Cory discusses academic research about Twitter being an echochamber, and we mention the abuse of MPs online. Could an unintended consequence of social media algorithms be to kill democracy?

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to us on ITunes and share us on Facebook and Twitter.

Not Enough Champagne is a podcast about people, politics and pragmatism.





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Janina Ramirez on Julian of Norwich

We know very little about Julian of Norwich. You can tell this a few minutes into Janina Ramirez’s documentary on the fourteenth-century mystic. She travels to the British Museum to see a crucifix in the style of one Julian might have seen when she had the kind of visions written about in Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written in English by a woman. The link to Julian’s work is just as tenuous as it sounds.

The programme does not discuss much about the contents of the book. There are a couple of interviews with academics who underline the significance and excellence of Julian’s work. Rowan Williams (remember him?) pops up to give a theological perspective. Apparently Julian of Norwich’s work is not naively optimistic; instead she just believes that God will make everything alright in the end. I am guessing that the work is a little bit more sophisticated than this and difficult to summarise for an post-teatime documentary on public broadcasting.

When you get to the rather desperate seeking out of the cross, twenty minutes in, you wonder just how Ramirez is going to stretch this documentary out for an hour. Instead the programme becomes a fascinating study of preserving and recording texts in an oppressive society.

Ramirez does not mention the existence of the shorter fifteenth-century Manuscript edition of Revelation of Divine Love. This is in the British Library and was preserved by a group of Carthusians in the Amherst manuscript. Perhaps mentioning that the text was preserved by a group of boring old men would not fit with the narrative Ramirez wants to put across, of inspirational women keeping this text alive across the centuries in the face of the crueller forces of history.

First, a group of nuns copies the manuscript but this got lost in the dissolution of the monasteries. Then a group of nuns in Cambrai, northern France, preserved the manuscript, but had to flee because of the French Revolution. The modern version which is still printed today comes from Grace Warrack, who spent a month copying from a seventeenth-century edition, which was itself a copy of the medieval version of the text. It’s acts of perseverance from brilliant individuals which have preserved this important book today and which are justly celebrated in this documentary.

The moment Ramirez finds the anonymous graves of 1500 “martyrs”, including some nuns from Cambrai who were killed by the revolutionaries, is one of the best moments in the documentary. It feels like something you would see in one of the genocides of the twentieth century, rather than in France over 200 years ago.

We may think that issues of mass graves or book burning are no longer relevant today. Sadly, the action of Isis in Iraq and Syria show that there are still those who want to destroy the past and obliterate texts which they disagree with. Ramirez’s documentary is definitely worth seeking out on iplayer over the next twelve days. It is a reminder of the importance of not forgetting our past, and ensuring that through private acts of devotion, inspirational messages can be spread to the next generation.

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Keep your friends close, but your enemies abroad

This first appeared on Not Enough Champagne.

For someone who has become Prime Minister because she was seen as a safe pair of hands, Theresa May has made an incredibly bold start to her Premiership.

May has become Prime Minister in large part because she has not done or said anything very interesting this year. In the referendum campaign, she was conspicuous by her absence. In the leadership campaign, May just sat at home whilst her opponents spontaneously combusted. The anti-Francis Urqhart, in other words.

That has all changed now. What to make of these hectic two days? We’ve seen new departments of state created, others abolished entirely, and political careers rise from the dead. Theresa May made a victory speech outside Downing Street which in a different universe could have been given by Ed Miliband a year ago, but for one crucial aspect. More on that later.

The speech suggested that May, correctly, knows that the referendum result was about more than the European Union. As Steve has suggested on this podcast, in many ways Brexit was a vote against the status quo. Consequently, there could be some very interesting reforms in the next few years. The main policy commitment given in the only leadership campaign speech Theresa May gave was to put workers on company boards. If Jeremy Corbyn had suggested it, the Tory press would have said it was the mad idea of a dangerous communist. (Of course, Corbyn didn’t suggest it, because he doesn’t have any policies.) It’ll be interesting to see whether this policy makes it to law, because it could be a jolly good idea.

Politically, then, Theresa May is able to come in and plant her tanks firmly on the centre ground Labour is retreating from. Especially now Philip Hammond appears to be signalling an end to Osborne’s insane idea of committing to a budget surplus by 2020. The Labour Party would be quaking in its boots, were it not currently tearing itself apart.

I said that Theresa May’s speech could have been given by Ed Miliband, but for one crucial aspect. That aspect is the aftermath of Brexit. Here, she has made the Brexit campaigners clean up their own mess. All the key foreign policy posts in the cabinet – Brexit, International Trade, Development and of course BoJo himself – are taken by Leave campaigners.

It means that Brexit will happen. I have speculated on previous podcasts whether Brexit could be kicked into the long grass. The reshuffle shows that that was possibly just wishful thinking. David Davies has indicated that although the triggering of Article 50 will be delayed, it will probably happen later in the year. Let’s wait for concrete plans to be put forward before we speculate on that.

Leaving foreign affairs to the Brexiters could also turn out to be a masterful piece of party management. I am in two minds as to whether appointing Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary is a stroke of genius, or an example of being too clever-by-half out of the Michael Gove/George Osborne playbook. Leaving Boris on the back benches to plot against May was perhaps too risky an option, especially with many big beasts such as Osborne and Gove already sacked. Where better for him then jetting around embassies, trying to explain his poetry? As my partner in propaganda pithily summarised:

Ceremonial position where he can bombastically wave flag & be a showman.Only role he can do without screwing it up

I would certainly much rather Boris at the Foreign Office, where the main stuff has gone to the PM and the Brexit ministers anyway, then at Health or Education.

And yet. Look at the reaction from across the world. Look at the poor journalists dredging up every single offensive thing Boris has every said about a foreigner. Surely there was a better candidate amongst the 330 Tory MPs for Foreign Secretary? I think I’d choose Rory Stewart, but that’s probably why I’ll never be Prime Minister.

This is a very bold cabinet and I am genuinely intrigued as to whether the sweeping reforms promised by May will amount to anything. Whether they do probably needs some careful party management from a rookie chief whip. The Tories have a majority of six, and there are nine sacked or resigned former Cabinet Ministers with a grudge. Over the past couple of weeks the Tories have shown a ruthless thirst for government by uniting quickly round Theresa May to get her into Downing Street. If they continue to display that ruthlessness in government, Labour could be destroyed.
Read more at http://notenoughchampagne.libsyn.com/#5yZZDVC706AQaFIH.99

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The opening of the Hazlehurst Centre

ImageImageOn August 29th last year my family and I were honoured to attend the opening of the Hazlehurst Centre. This was a project Dad was involved in towards the end of his life, which was very graciously named in his memory. I was asked to say a few words about what Dad was like outside of work, and it seems like an appropriate day to print these words below. On the right is a photo of me speaking, looking for all the world like a Two-Bit Politician. All I need is a red rosette. 

This is what I said:

First of all, there are a few people I would like to thank. Thank you to West Yorkshire Police for suggesting that this centre be named after my Dad. I would also like to thank all the members of Dad’s team in HR who were very welcoming when I came to see them in February. Thanks are finally due to Mike Potts and the communications team we have been liaising with at NHS Calderdale: Eleanor, Sandra and Jane, for giving us the opportunity to attend this opening and for allowing me the opportunity to speak. I stand before you today a very proud son. I am very proud of my Dad today, especially in the knowledge that he was involved in projects of such undoubted benefit as this centre.

First of all, let me give a brief biography of my Dad. He was born in Worksop on March 6th, 1959; the second child of four to Betty and Derrick. Whilst at secondary school at Portland he founded the school’s hockey team, which only lost one game in the three seasons in which he captained them. On leaving school he read Business Studies at the Polytechnic of South Wales and studied for a Personnel qualification at Doncaster, before beginning work for the NHS in 1984. Dad was working for the Health Service in Manchester when he met Sue, my Mum, who both settled in Saddleworth and married in 1988.

I have been asked to speak about what Dad was like as a person outside of work.  Dad always tried to keep his home life and work life separate, so talked very little about work to us. But I do remember when I was most proud of Dad at work. He once asked to see my copy of Private Eye, which as a precocious teenager I had subscribed to at the time. When I asked Dad why he wanted to borrow the magazine, he replied that there was a story in it about decisions which a committee had made that he was a part of. Now although I did not know much about the incident in question, for me to know that Dad was responsible for decisions important enough to be ridiculed in the pages of Private Eye was a very proud moment indeed.

Outside of work, Dad was a keen runner until an ankle injury forced him to retire in 1996. After that he exercised by taking power walks around the hills of Saddleworth. Mum and Dad combined their love of walking and their love of the coast by taking holidays to coastal walks in Cornwall and Anglesey over the last few years. They also partnered each other at Oakfield and Huddersfield bridge clubs, and together they won teams competitions at both clubs last season.

I would like to finish by talking about what Dad was like as a person. I am sure that the personality traits he showed at home would also have been obvious to those who came into contact with him at work.

The first of these was Dad’s impish sense of humour. This is perhaps best shown by what he was looking forward to about me and Liam growing up. He made this remark to Mum when Liam and I were a lot more immature and babyish than we are now – so it was made about two or three years ago! Dad said that one of the things he was looking forward to most was coming to our houses when we were older, so he could be sick on our floors for a change. I do have to say that the fact Dad never realised his ambition to vomit in my living room is something that I have decidedly mixed regrets about.

The second quality was his terrible handwriting. This is something that I definitely have in common with Dad, especially his very idiosyncratic way of signing his name. This has led to him receiving letters from companies addressed to a “Mr Hut” or my personal favourite, “Mr Z. Kazlemhurst”.

I think that perhaps what all of us will remember Dad for was his kind and generous nature. He was always generous with his time: he would ferry me all over the country to various chess tournaments, and spend hours building Lego pirate ships for me and Liam despite knowing that we would end up destroying them in minutes. I know from the many messages of condolence we received that Dad was equally generous with his time at work, helping work colleagues.

What I find most comforting is that Dad’s spirit will live on. His name shall live on in this marvellous centre. It is to be hoped his example at work can be continued by the students which he mentored at NHS Calderdale. And his example shall live on with me. If I can paraphrase a song by one of Dad’s favourite artists, Martin Simpson, he taught me how to love a song, the joys of reading, of watching cricket, and the art of conversation. These are the greatest gifts that I have known, and I use them every day.

Thank you very much.

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A song for Father’s Day

John Hiatt – Your Dad Did

This song is on Hiatt’s Bring the Family album, which is one of my favourites. It’s an album cut in four days by Hiatt on a showstring budget, after he had finally gotten sober following the suicide of his first wife. It’s got some truly wonderful songs on it and a great backing band, including Nick Lowe on bass. What more do you want?

My favourite song on the album is this one. For a more more in-depth look at this song, I recommend this neat blog by Holly Hughes. Basically, this song is about all those times you end up saying something, or doing something, that reminds you of your parents:

The bridge is such a hoot: “You’re a chip off the old block / Why does it come as such a shock / That every road up which you rock / Your dad already did?” I feel the same way whenever I blurt out the exact sentences I hated hearing my mom say. For all the whomping drums, the fuzzy guitar, this is an earth-shaking epiphany: “Yeah, you’ve seen the old man’s ghost / Come back as creamed chipped beef on toast / Now if you don’t get your slice of the roast / You’re gonna flip your lid / Just like your dad did.” In one flash of insight he understands himself, his father, and the world – and accepts it.

Below is a live version, with a home made video accompaniment:


Well the sun comes up and you stare your cup of coffee, yup
Right through the kitchen floor
You feel like hell so you might as well get out and sell
Your smart ass door to door 

And the Mrs. wears her robe slightly undone
As your daughter dumps her oatmeal on your son
And you keep it hid
Just like your did 

So you go to work just to watch some jerk
Pick up the perks
You were in line to get
And the guy that hired you just got fired,
Your job’s expired
They just ain’t told you yet 

So you go and buy a brand new set of wheels
To show your family just how great you feel
Acting like a kid
Just like your dad did

You’re a chip off the old block
Why does it come as such a shock
That every road up which you rock
Your dad already did 

Yeah you’ve seen the old man’s ghost
Come back as creamed chipped beef on toast
Now if you dont get your slice of the roast
You’re gonna flip your lid
Just like your dad did, just like your dad did 

Well the day was long now, supper’s on
The thrill is gone
But something’s taking place
Yeah the food is cold and your wife feels old
But all hands fold
As the two year old says grace
She says help the starving children to get well
But let my brother’s hamster burn in hell
You love your wife and kids
Just like your dad did


Happy Father’s Day, everyone.

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