Monitor screen showing email in the inbox

The curious arrival of a ballot paper..

I’m writing this having read a story (probably a conspiracy) that someone only received a Labour leadership ballot paper after they had declared to party officials that they wanted to vote for Owen Smith.

It rang an alarm bell in my head when I read this as a similar experience happened to me. I had never had any problem receiving ballot papers before this leadership election but somehow I had missed the end of August deadline.

In the mornings of 31 August and 1 September I phoned the Labour Party phoneline for the Leadership election and asked when my ballot paper was arriving. I was told on both occasions that it had been reissued and that an email would be arriving in the next day. But nothing happened on either day.

Two emails seemingly in succession

In the afternoon on 2 September, I received an email from Dan Simpson (of London Labour) at 3:52pm asking if I wished to attend a Leadership debate at Sky. This is the email:


I clicked the red box above and it took me through a rather lengthy survey asking me various questions about my age/sex/date of birth/address/membership status and then it asked ‘have you decided who you will be voting for in the leadership election?’ I replied ‘Don’t know’ as I was feeling irked at not having received my ballot paper. ‘How do I know what I will vote if I never get a vote,’ was my thought.

A few minutes after I had completed the survey, I received an email (at 4:30pm) in my inbox. This was it:


I was astonished at how soon one followed the other and thought it was a weird coincidence. It probably was.


Tests, streaming and Grammar schools

I never had to take any tests at my primary school or at Holland Park Comprehensive (I was there in the 1980s, pictured above). There was no streaming either. Children in my class who couldn’t read or write properly would often take lessons outside the class to support them. Some children could sometimes be disruptive but the teachers usually found a way to keep the class in order (and I don’t mean with corporal punishment).
At the end of my time at Holland Park school (with no streaming), I obtained three A grade ‘A’ levels. I only took three ‘A’ Level exams. So 100% success. I’m sure that having an intellectual mum and dad helped as well as having an older brother who gave me lots of old notes, but the experience of being at a Comprehensive without streaming did not stop me achieving the highest grades possible. I applied for Oxford but I didn’t get in mostly because I am terrible at interviews (and I had the wrong kind of trousers on – but that’s a long story). 


About 10 years ago I considered taking up teaching and went back to my Comprehensive school to get classroom experience.
I found that a lot had changed. Streaming had been introduced.
It was depresssing to sit at the back of an English class for 13-14 year olds in the lowest stream. Most of the children were bored and felt like there was no point in learning. To make matters worse, the teacher was obliged to teach a curriculum topic and could not inspire them like something out of ‘The Dead Poets Society’.
The class were given the kind of exercise you get when you learn a foreign language. But these were native English speakers!
They were asked to read a paragraph and then answer questions about it.
The paragraph would read something like: ‘Ben’s alarm did not go off and he was late for school. He ran to school in his trainers and then got in trouble for not having the right shoes on.’
The questions were like:
1) Why was Ben late for school?
2) Why did Ben get in trouble at school?
If anyone were in the position of those children, they would not have any interest in the exercise. Many of the class talked amongst themselves and the teacher ignored this as he knew he was fighting a losing battle.
I decided against going into teaching.

Tests for Primary School children

Two years ago my daughter was tested at her local state primary school. She was only six. For most of the term the teacher tried to drum into the class acronyms that would see them through. Every so often, my daughter would recite acronyms to me about elephants. I got the feeling this was a great waste of time when they could be firing her imagination.
Now she is eight, she is well versed in being tested and has managed to make it to the top or second top steam in her class. She has acronyms with monkeys now.
She tells me which stream everyone is in and I can’t help feeling that those in the lowest stream have already developed an inferiority complex before they are even 10 years old.

Grammar schools

The new Prime Minister wants to reintroduce Grammar schools and has argued that as we already have streaming in schools and test children much younger than 11 there should be no objection to it.

This seems like a logical argument but I think it also signals a need for change in our state schools.

Rather than just opposing Grammars, I would now like to see moves to stop tests and streaming in our primary schools and Comprehensives. My experience has shown me that it is not necessary to have streaming to achieve good grades – and tests do not inspire or fire imagination, but demoralise children.



JC at number 10

Jeremy Corbyn is Prime Minister, 8 May 2020

Below is a report of how Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots campaign paid off and how the Labour Party established itself as the party of government

‘The people I have to thank most of all for this are those who have worked so tirelessly to campaign to promote a new type of politics in all our communities. This is our victory.’ – Jeremy Corbyn, outside 10 Downing Street, 8 May 2020.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has won a landslide victory at the General Election and the first thing he did was pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of activists who played such a crucial role in campaigning.

Since the Labour leader cemented his place in the party following the leadership election of 2016, the party increased its membership by one million to over 1.5 million. The party had formerly merely mouthed the idea of recruitment as this had not sat comfortably with many MPs elected during the Tony Blair era. While Blair had relied on the support of media moguls like Rupert Murdoch to get elected, Corbyn steered a different course.

In many ways it all started with the trade unions rallying behind Corbyn in 2016. Unions played a significant role in promoting Corbyn’s values with hundreds of thousands of members joining Labour and also taking an active part in local politics.

Rooted in communities

After the party was reorganised so that it was less top-down, local Labour Party branches were encouraged to recruit more people and engage them in campaigning as well as social activity. Labour became part of the community again just as it had been decades before through working men’s clubs. Regular Labour newsletters were delivered to each household, not just asking for votes but keeping local people up to date with the political issues in their community. And people were encouraged to speak about the issues that affected them – public meetings were a regular occurrence.

Labour councils were also part of a shift towards a campaigning party. Councils made sure that the message of what austerity was doing was brought to the public’s attention. The local government rally against austerity in 2017 was a breakthrough with over two million people demonstrating against austerity across the country. Labour councils also made their accounts transparent and easy to read so that all residents could see exactly how little money there was to maintain essential services.

Social media and media platforms were also a vital part of Corbyn’s success. It was now much easier for people to receive information without needing to hear it through the prism of anti-Labour sources. And people were offered a cultural alternative to X Factor and reality TV with exciting shows written and produced by Corbyn supporters from across the arts.

500 activists per seat

What this all meant was that for the past year there have been over 500 activists in each constituency engaging with their community and showing that Corbyn’s straightforward, honest politics was not just a catchphrase, but a new way of doing politics and winning elections.


A phone call from Jeremy Corbyn

On Monday the #JC4PM tour hit Swansea. The date had been planned months ago and tickets had been selling well before the attempted coup on Jeremy Corbyn. But in the week between the coup and the event, sales went through the roof – and the Brangwyn Hall has a very high ceiling!

People wanted to show support for Corbyn. That was clear from the impromptu rally of a few hundred people that assembled outside the venue just before the show. The was already a buzz about the night before it had started.


Mark Serwotka was a fantastic compere. He not only managed to set the political events of the last two weeks in context, but he was skilled at introducing performers and encouraging audience participation. He was also funny. From the perspective of the audience, it was slick (there is a youtube clip here).

However, backstage, I was in a bit of a pickle. At the weekend I had been informed that John McDonnell couldn’t attend as he now had an important speech to make in London. The way out of all this was to skype John and put it on the projector screen. Easy? We rehearsed it a few hours before the event started and it all seemed straightforward, but at 7pm the wifi signal disappeared.

While I was trying to find new wifi codes for it, I got a phone call. I was tempted not to answer as I was so busy, but I’m pleased I did as it was Jeremy Corbyn. He asked if he could do anything for the night. I was a bit taken aback and said we could try skypeing. He said he would see if this was possible and would call me back.

Then I realised that I was already struggling to get John to skype so I could be wasting a great opportunity if skype fell flat. I texted a message to say that we could do a phone call instead. I then tried to work out how this would work while I was I was also hunting for wifi codes.

The only way possible would be for me to put my phone on speaker and hold it next to the microphone on stage.


Jeremy phoned me back. While Grace Petrie was on stage engaging 800 people in a singalong, I explained that I would be going on stage with the phone. Mark was going to introduce him as I came on.

What happened was incredible. Jeremy was introduced. All that people saw was a phone in my hand, but the idea of the Labour Leader being on the other end generated more noise in the Brangwyn Hall than decades of amped-up Heavy Metal bands. When I actually put the phone to the microphone I realised it wasn’t in speaker mode so I switched it over and then it only took three words from Jeremy to prompt another roar. And then when he finished a few sentences there was more commotion. People started stamping their feet by this time. On a few occasions people didn’t hear what Jeremy was saying as they were making so much noise. It was incredible.

I thought the night was already made but then I had a message saying John had to be skyped within five minutes as soon he had to go and vote in Parliament.


At this point, people were going to get drinks for the interval. I asked the theatre management to get everyone to come back as John was speaking. I then tapped in the wifi code and hooked up my laptop to the projector screen – and John was there! It worked well. People were excited that there was a live transmission and that John was there to explain what was happening in the Labour Party. At one point the picture disappeared, but John’s office called back and the first thing John said was: ‘When we get into power we will make sure we improve Broadband connections’. This got one of the best laughs of the night!

  • At short notice a special #Keep Corbyn night has been arranged for the O2 Forum Kentish Town on Tuesday (12 July). The night is compered by Mark Serwotka and features Jeremy Hardy, Francesca Martinez, Michael Rosen, Rufus Hound, Dane Baptiste, Grace Petrie, She Drew The Gun and guest speakers including Jeremy Corbyn. Tickets cost £5/£10/£10 and can be bought online here.



Stand up for Labour values


The past few days have been upsetting. And I don’t mean that I have ‘a heavy heart’. I mean that my spirit has been tested to its limit by a sinister, co-ordinated attempt to topple the democratically elected leader of the Labour Party. There is no doubt that this was planned for weeks: we’ve had rumours of it since before the local elections and way before the EU referendum.

Some MPs who resigned may have been misled by the situation (ie not aware this was co-ordinated weeks ago) and may think there this is a genuine sudden idea that Jeremy Corbyn must go, but most of these resignations were done according to a plan. There was one every hour or so, just to keep the story running. I’ve also been told by a source close to one of the MPs who resigned that the architect of all this is a well-known bully in the party.

Many of the MPs who resigned were holding responsible positions: on things like the economy (during a financial crisis) and on Northern Ireland and Scotland (during a constitutional crisis). It is inexcusable that they have taken part in this coup at such an important time.

The right spirit

In the past four years I have organised over 180 Stand up for Labour events all over the country in order to support many of these MPs in their campaigns. I’ve travelled thousands of miles and returned in the early hours (and then done my day job) and hardly covered my costs. I’ve worked flat out and I’ve done this out of love for the Labour Party. What I’ve seen at Stand up for Labour has lifted my spirits: people getting together socially and enjoying a night out together in support of the Labour Party. They have all been about unity and a sense of community – nothing like what has been shown in the behaviour of these MPs.

We can’t win an election unless we are united and we are in good spirits. Tony Blair won in 1997 because people were hopeful and united. Getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn through a coup will destroy our spirit and will divide us.

There are still some tickets left for Stand up for Labour in Chiswick tomorrow night (Wednesday 29 June). Speaking on the night will be John McDonnell and Ruth Cadbury (MP for Brentford & Isleworth), with comedy from John Moloney, magic from Ian Saville, poetry from Attila the Stockbroker and music from Grace Petrie. To buy a ticket, click here.

Jeremy Corbyn: Labour’s most popular leader


Despite negative projections from his political foes, Jeremy Corbyn is more popular than he has ever been.

Last week’s #JC4PM date in Bournemouth saw nearly 3,000 people turn up for an evening at the conference centre. At the end, Billy Bragg, John McDonnell, Shappi Khorsandi and others performed an encore with hundreds of people on their feet showing solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign. You can see a clip here. There was nothing staged about the audience response. It was something I have never experienced before at any Labour Party event.

It was all filmed by the CWU as part of their conference programme and over 50,000 people watched the show through live streaming. In the foyets outside the hall, Jeremy Corbyn t-shirts and Jeremy Corbyn pottery (mugs, pots and mugs) sold out. One of the performers, Joe Wells, told me that he’d only been to the venue to watch big stars like Morrissey and Bob Dylan before. I think this shows the scale of Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity – even when he wasn’t there himself.

The next #JC4PM date, in Sheffield on Wednesday, also looks like selling out. And Manchester on 19 May only has 20 tickets left.

Curry for Corbyn

It is not only #JC4PM events that have proved Jeremy’s popularity. A curry in the West Midlands last month (pictured below) attracted over 500 people. I thought my ‘Curry for Corbyn’ during the leadership election was a success when over 150 turned up, but this has taken the concept to a new level.


No Labour Party leader in my lifetime has attracted as many people to join the Labour Party and there is another phenomenon that some in the media are unable to get their heads around: people who support Jeremy but are not Labour loyalists.

Charlotte Church announced on social media that she was voting Plaid Cymru despite having appeared at two #JC4PM events. This is not something I agree with or endorse but I think it comes from a feeling that Jeremy Corbyn is not the embodiment of the Labour Party. Or that he is only a temporary leader. This perception comes from constant attacks on him by some within the party and the party bureaucracy does not seem to be doing much to stop this.

It’s time we channel this wave of support for Jeremy Corbyn into creating a movement that will defeat the Conservatives in 2020. This can only happen if the public – and JC supporters – believe Jeremy has the backing of the whole party. For this reason I think it would be a good idea for Jeremy to call a fresh leadership election to clear up – once and for all – who is at the helm. As John Major once said, it’s time to ‘put up or shut up’.

#JC4PM Forum Kentish Town-Jeremy-Corbyn-on-stage

#JC4PM in the firing line

I was unable to go to #JC4PM in Edinburgh last night as I have responsibilities as a parent at home in west London. I had toyed with the idea of going to Scotland and coming back on the sleeper train (arriving at 7am in Euston), but it takes a heck of a long time to get my daughter ready for school (tights are a particular difficulty at the moment).

It was unfortunate I couldn’t be there as I was hoping to meet Charlotte Church to thank her for supporting the tour and also to get a chance to chat to Jim Monaghan, who is not only a great poet but a community campaigner in Glasgow. I also would have liked to watch Mark Steel, as he was making his first appearance on the tour and is undoubtedly one of the funniest political satirists in the country. The line up was – without hyperbole – one of the best you could possibly see in Edinburgh before August: Jeremy Hardy, Jo Caulfield, Mark Nelson and Barbara Nice were also on the bill.

We (the #JC4PM team) were optimistic that tickets would sell well with such a line up but we found it hard to book a venue and ended up with one of the largest theatres in Scotland. Seeing as we had just started the tour – and we don’t have a massive advertising budget – this was an unrealistic expectation.

It was also unfortunate for us that one of the acts we had booked, Janey Godley, decided to make publicity about being a supporter of the SNP and a JC supporter. We don’t require acts to show a Labour Party membership card or study their views on TTIP to find out if they are suitable, but it was never going to go down well with proud and loyal Labour Party folk who would be a large part of our target audience.

Phone call

One reporter (who appeared friendly) spoke to me before the event to ask me for a preview and I said that we were not expecting to fill the venue as it was so large. Within hours, he had written that the night was ‘hit by poor sales’ – before it had even started. The same reporter turned up to the event and quoted comedians out of context and alleged that the event was pro-SNP.

It’s clear there are people in the media who oppose Jeremy Corbyn and attack any groups that support his ideas on peace, anti-austerity and an end to top-down politics. It was inevitable that #JC4PM would find itself in the firing line, but despite the opinion of one reporter, most people enjoyed it and it brought progressive-minded people together in a way that no other political rallies do. We also raised money for MND Scotland in the process.

The idea behind #JC4PM was spontaneous. A number of comedians, singers and poets wanted to express support for Jeremy Corbyn. We had no agenda other than to put on gigs to allow people to show their solidarity with Jeremy and all the causes he has spoken up for so courageously for decades. It is in the spirit of Jeremy that we will continue to seek to inspire more people to get engaged in politics – whatever the media says.

Lessons learned from #JC4PM in Edinburgh

  • Book venues that seat fewer than 25,000 people.
  • Don’t talk to journalists I don’t know on the phone (my brother and his wife are journalists so they’re not all bad).
  • Prepare for more anti-Corbyn media and develop a thick skin.