Category Archives: Jeremy Corbyn

McNicol’s ideal replacement

Now that Iain McNicol has resigned as General Secretary of the Labour Party, people are asking who should replace him.

I know the right person.

The new General Secretary would mirror the inclusive politics of Jeremy Corbyn and make the Labour Party into an electoral force.

This would require a change in culture at Labour’s head office and regional offices.

To start with, appointments would not be based on cronyism or on employing someone who does what they are told, but would be on seeking inventive members of staff, excited about being part of the largest party in Western Europe.

With the money and resources at its disposal, the Labour Party could attract talent that would be the envy of many multinational companies.

The General Secretary would encourage people to come up with new ideas and energised, gifted staff would be able to promote the party in such a way that we could stay financially rich as well as phenomenally popular.

Building a mass membership party, with at least one million members would be a priority for the new General Secretary.

And this would necessitate a rethink about how we give value to members.

Like other membership organisations, we would have to be more interactive and would need to have a far larger customer relations department for members.

All members would be sent details about where and when their local meetings are as well as a copy of the party rulebook and a guide to the party structure.

The new General Secretary would not tolerate any violation of the party rulebook and the Compliance Unit would be changed from investigating members to investigating any rule breaking. This would give members more confidence about the party’s procedures and structures.

Raising money

Party fundraising is vital and a mass membership party will go a long way towards that. Crowdfunding with over one million members would prove far more effective than old-fashioned and elitist projects like ‘the Thousand Club’, in which Labour’s richest donors are given exclusive access to meet MPs and party officials.

The new General Secretary will offer groups that campaign within the Labour Party a free stand at the Labour Party Conference. Instead of asking for £2,000 to promote their ideas, the General Secretary will help to strengthen campaigners who we work with.

With this new General Secretary in place, the Labour Party will be in a position to take power and stay there for decades.

  • What do you think about this vision of the new General Secretary? Why not come along to ‘Breaking Naan’ in London next Sunday to put your ideas forward. Members from across the party will be attending so this will be a great discussion. Tickets are available here.

Can the Labour Party come together?

One of the reasons why politics gets a bad name is that politicians will argue about anything. It’s as though they are looking for reasons not to get on, rather than seeking to do the best for their community or the country.

Put simply this is called looking for the differences and not the similarities.

I suppose this wouldn’t be a big issue if we were just talking about Labour politicians disagreeing with Tories. But it does become a problem when it is people from within the Labour Party attacking each other.

Personalities not principles

Factions can be created from votes for positions within the party. Some people become attached to one candidate against another and make this into a matter of principle. This certainly was the case with Jeremy Corbyn standing for leader of the Labour Party and with the second leadership election. Since he was elected, many members of the Labour Party have fallen out – just over a vote for who is the leader of the party.

But it doesn’t just have to be a leadership election, some people have built up resentments against each other for elections for positions in the Labour Party, for council selection or MP selection.

It’s as though every internal election causes more division and, in doing so, makes unity harder.

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Everything goes to a vote

Another reason why there are rifts is that every decision in the Labour Party has to go to a vote. In Labour Party branches and CLPs people will vote on anything from whether the minutes are correct to how much money should be spent on the Christmas Social. This isn’t actually always necessary and can lead to unnecessary divisions.

Consensus decision-making is a method of including the input of all so that decisions may address all potential concerns. This creates a greater cohesion within the group. With this method, because everyone has their voice heard, those who are uncomfortable with a particular decision can be persuaded by the force of the argument of comrades and not by the number of hands in the air (often many are not persuaded that something is right or wrong because they lost a vote).

Divisions built on fear

The consequence of factions being formed on the back of votes – whether for positions of power or for any other issue – is that these factions start to distance themselves from each other. This involves talking negatively about the other faction and finding a solidarity with others solely on the basis of this animosity.

So the rifts start to feel intractable.

This seems to be happening in the Labour Party now with a few groups arguing in public about issues like the composition of the National Executive Committee.

What’s being done to unite the party?

There are a few people saying ‘the party must be united’ if we are to win. But there is nothing being done. And the Labour Party itself isn’t going to admit that there are factions as it is not in its interest to do so.

In fact, many of the factions within the party are actually holding meetings in which they are quite publicly saying they wish to take control of the party or take back control. This is only going to escalate divisions.

Laughing audience

Finding common ground

My experience of Stand up for Labour has shown me that social events are a great way to get people together. At Stand up for Labour,  people from all sides of the party are united in laughter and we find our common cause within the Labour Party family. We are able to see that we are a broad church and that we all want to work towards Labour coming back to government and winning local elections.

I believe that Labour members actually agree about most things.

We all want a society where there is no need for foodbanks, we all want the NHS to be properly funded so that everyone has access to good healthcare, and we all want our education system to provide an opportunity for people from all backgrounds to reach their full potential. We believe that jobs should be available that are well-paid and secure and we also believe that we should have decent, genuinely affordable housing for all.

Issues that are disagreed about, such as defence and foreign policy, fiscal policy, PFI schemes and nationalisation should be discussed openly and the weight of arguments should make the difference not tactical manoeuvres at meetings. I’m sure that if all members felt that their opinions were taken into account then there would be no fallout from policy decision making.

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A unifying event

On Sunday the 4th of March, I am putting on a curry evening that will involve a discussion on how people see the future of the Labour Party. This discussion will include policy matters as well as party campaigns and organisation. I am writing to all of these groups to invite them:

Blue Labour, Chartist, CLPD, Compass, Co-Operative Party, Fabians, Labour First, Labour Future, LRC, Momentum, Open Labour, Progress, Tribune and all the affilliated trade unions.

The rules of the discussion will be that no one is to speak without using the handheld mic, that no one hogs the mic and that there are no personal attacks or heckling. We can then have a proper discussion and not get indigestion from the curry.

My hope is that some headway may be made towards party unity through the act of being in the same room and breaking naan together.

  • Tickets for ‘Breaking Naan’ will be available to all Labour supporters in the next two weeks.

 

 

 

What would you like for Christmas?

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This year has been tough for Labour Party members and supporters. There was no let-up in campaigning from January to September: first, with the local and mayoral elections; second, with the EU Referendum; and, finally, with an unnecessary leadership election. And then, we find that – after all that work – we are left with a post-Brexit culture of xenophobia and economic uncertainty, topped off with the election of Donald Trump as US President. It’s hard to take. Now that winter has arrived, we really need something to cheer us up.

The Jeremy Corbyn Christmas single, ‘JC4PM for me’ was thought up as a means of brightening up the end of the year and also raising money for foodbanks (through the Trussell Trust). Robb Johnson’s original lyrics had been a highlight of the ‘#KeepCorbyn’ tour dates in September. The chorus about voting Jeremy Corbyn was so catchy that I was singing it most of the way home from gigs. And it was at that time that I was thinking how a Christmas single would be a novel way of countering negative media about Jeremy Corbyn. It seemed incredible that Robb Johnson had written this song at a time I was thinking about it.

Robb was enthusiastic about the idea of putting together a Christmas single. I had no idea how this worked but I was willing to help with getting it off the ground. Robb adapted the lyrics to include a Yuletide theme and as many seasonal musical references as were palatable were added (sleigh bells, xylophone, children singing, a big chorus). We decided to make the single overly tacky as that is what the whole Christmas single genre is about. But, having said that, we also wanted to pass on a message of support for Jeremy Corbyn and include some policy references.

The most uplifting aspect of the past year has been Jeremy Corbyn’s courage in the face of the plot against him. He has shown great leadership in keeping the Labour Party together and everyone agrees that he has really found his feet with the media and in the House of Commons. His behaviour throughout has been inspirational. If anyone deserves a tribute single this year, it is the Labour Party leader.

We decided that the Christmas single should centre on Robb Johnson. That he should front it. He didn’t like the idea and he took some persuading as he thought it was a collective effort. That’s what makes Robb such a fantastic focal point: like JC himself, he’s a lovely man with no ego. We also needed to acknowledge the other people who contributed to the single (Attila the Stockbroker, Fae Simon, Joe Solo, Maxine Peake and about ten singers in the chorus) so we needed a band name. The word ‘Corbynista’ is often used as a kind of insult. However, if we adopt it, then it loses its power.

Along with the incredibly methodical graphic designer Jason Harris, I worked on the artwork. We decided we wouldn’t use a real image of Jeremy Corbyn but would show something that represented him instead. The Jeremy Corbyn Doll/Alternative Xmas tree topper by SnorkersImaginarium was perfect. We wanted to make it clear that the tackiness of the single was not related to the real Jeremy Corbyn. Jason also enjoyed finding an outlandish typeface!

We made the video about Robb. So the scenes are all shot in places that he is familiar with in Hove: his house, the roads around it and his local pub. We mobilised a group of Jeremy Corbyn supporters to appear in the final scene, shot in the Laines in Brighton and I was tasked with distributing santa hats and dropping the fake snow. Roland Denning has made an hilarious video that is due for release at the end of the month and Liam Scully filmed a video of the video being made and this was to be our teaser for when we announced that a single was to be released.

The reaction to the short teaser video for the single was unexpected. It had over 50,000 views on Facebook and 500 retweets within only a few days. This was greater than any video I had released for the ‘JC4PM tour’ (including exclusive footage of Jeremy Corbyn himself). Soon enough, BBC Radio 5 Live, The Wright Stuff, and The Daily Politics all asked for an interview with Robb.

The Daily Politics asked Robb to appear to discuss the single with former DJ Mike Read. Robb was against this and wanted to pull out as he wasn’t prepared to share the same studio as a man who had spoken up for the xenophobic policies of UKIP. I told the producer that he wouldn’t appear unless someone else replaced him and they agreed (Telegraph music critic Neil McCormick took his place).

There have been negative comments about the single. I expected that. Mostly it has been from people who don’t support Jeremy Corbyn, but there have also been people who do support him who have said it is a bad idea. There have been comments that it is ’embarrassing’ or ‘cringeworthy’. I’d say this is a response to Christmas itself: a time of the year when people gaudily light up their houses, wear silly jumpers and blow up inflatable snowmen in their front gardens. There have also been comments suggesting ‘this will backfire’. I imagine this is referring to the very pro-Corbyn media, who will suddenly turn on him for a Christmas single released by his own supporters (I’m being sarcastic by the way).

One of the performers on the single, Joe Solo, is also releasing a Christmas single, ‘Merry Christmas from Hatfield Main’, which raises money for independent foodbanks that cover shortages in the Doncaster area. We are working with Joe and the team behind him to push for two Christmas chart toppers and both Robb and Joe will be appearing at a #JC4PM gig in Wakefield next week (tickets are available here).

Some newspapers have said that they think ‘JC4PM for me’ could do well in the Christmas charts. The Guardian wrote: ‘It’s as cheery a political campaign song as you’re likely to find’. And now bookmakers are offering odds of 80/1 on the single becoming the Christmas number one.

Does anyone remember the odds on Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader in 2015?

‘JC4PM for me’ is available for download on 9 December. CD and vinyl versions are also available.

There is a launch party at the Kingsway Banqueting Restaurant in west London on 9 December. Tickets for a three-course curry costing £20/£12 (concessions) can be bought here.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

#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.

 

 

 

 

 

#JC4PM – a celebration of unity

 

I sometimes like to think I was the inspiration behind the choice of the word ‘Momentum’. I sent a message to John McDonnell in the summer suggesting that we put on a big night of comedy, music, poetry and speakers after 12 September in order to ‘maintain the momentum’ of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign. I was worried that if Jeremy didn’t win (as I feared), then all the good feeling and mobilisation of thousands of people would evaporate.

The genesis of the #JC4PM tour was that feeling that we have to keep the excitement going at the grassroots regardless of the result of the Labour leadership election. We want to see more teenagers peeping into windows trying to get a good view of a political speaker and more improvised speeeches on the top of fire engines.

#JC4PM has now put on two shows (in Kentish Town, London and Bristol) and both have felt like celebrations of hope and solidarity. As well as some fantastic performers, over 2,000 people have attended and we have had speakers from a range of progressive social movements: trade unions, Stop the War, The People’s Assembly and Stand up to Racism. We’ve also seen Labour Party members working together with Momentum and the result of all this is that anyone can see that unity is strength.

There were 10 front of house stalls in Bristol. The venue were aghast at the number of tables and drapes that were colouring their foyet; and audience members were greeted with campaign material, petitions and badges galore. It was like a festival of the left.

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Back together

#JC4PM has brought back the spirit of the summer as now we have reassembled all the groups who worked so hard to get Jeremy elected and we are sharing the stage, sitting next to each other and signing each other’s mailing lists.

Those people opposed to Jeremy Corbyn are seeking to divide his supporters: criticising his allies in the party (John McDonnell, Ken Livingstone, Diane Abbott) and all the groups that support him (Stop the War, Momentum, Stand up to Racism, CND). They want those elements to be at each other’s throats so that Jeremy has a weaker defence. The best antidote to this is to all get out together and celebrate our unity.

  • #JC4PM has three more dates before April (Edinburgh, Croydon and Newcastle). To buy tickets or find out more, go to http://jc4pmtour.com