Saturday, August 27, 2016

Trying to make head or tail of political schisms

 I have not been a very political animal until this year. I felt - in common, I suspect, with many of the populace - that "all politicians are the same".  I live in a safe Conservative constituency, where an earthquake of Richter-scale 7 proportions would be necessary to unseat our current MP. He's a nice chap, but without exception he votes the Party line in debates. So although I have always dutifully gone to vote I never had much hope that it would change anything.

2015 UK Labour Leadership election

Ed Miliband resigned as leader due to poor Labour results in the 2015 General Election, and a leadership contest ensued.
Following the Collins review, the party's internal electoral system had been revised to a pure "one member, one vote" system:  previously one-third weight was given to the votes of Parliamentary Labour Party members, one-third to individual Labour Party members, and one third to the Unions and Affiliates. (1)
Now, members and registered and affiliated supporters all receive a maximum of one vote and all votes are weighted equally. This gives the grass-roots membership far more influence.
Jeremy Corbyn stood for the leadership at the last minute with the support of 36 MPs. A number of prominent Labour figures, including Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Jack Straw, David Miliband and Alastair Campbell, claimed that Corbyn as leader would leave the party unelectable in another General Election. However, Corbyn was decisively elected by Labour Party members in the first round, with 59.5% of the votes.


What is it about Corbyn's policies which have triggered such a huge response in voters?
Return of the NHS to complete public ownership?
Free education from primary to tertiary level?
Re-nationalisation of the railways and nationalisation of some heavy industries (eg steelmaking)?
I think it is primarily his principle that political decisions need to serve the best interests of "the man or woman in the street" rather than those of large businesses and economic interests.

Party response

This is where it gets dirty. We as a nation have got so used to right-wing policies over the last 30 years (even with "New Labour" in Government) that this shift towards traditional Labour values has been dubbed "Trotskyist". Although I don't think Corbyn's policies are those of communism, but of democratic socialism, clearly the elected Labour MPs don't feel he's got what it takes to win a General Election. A leadership challenge was first discussed in the British press in November 2015 when the PLP was split over Britain's participation in air strikes in Syria.  Another challenge was predicted in April 2016 after Ken Livingstone's allegedly anti-semitic comments led to his suspension; Shadow Cabinet members allegedly held talks with plotters.

The EU Referendum on 23 June

Corbyn spoke to Labour rallies throughout Britain advising that we should remain in Europe. He had previously been critical of the EU, and this didn't change, but he advised remaining in the Union to reform it from within. However, the position he took, and his reasoning, were not susceptible of use in media soundbites - and such a position was easily construed as weakness by both Remainers and Leavers. It was very little reported compared to louder, brasher mouths uttering promises that, immediately after the Leave vote, were admitted to be lies.
Journalists at The Guardian reported that a small group of Labour MPs and advisers had been talking about a 'movement' against Corbyn to take place on 24 June  ie, immediately the Referendum was decided.
On 25 June, a 'Saving Labour' campaign website was created, to encourage members of the public to email MPs to urge them not to back Corbyn. Hilary Benn, Shadow Foreign Secretary, contacted members of the Shadow Cabinet to inform them that he had lost confidence in Corbyn. Corbyn sacked him. At least 20 MPs resigned or were dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet over the next few days. A vote of no confidence in Corbyn was made by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on 28 June, with Corbyn losing the vote by 172 to 40. He however insisted that his mandate came from the party membership, and he refused to stand down. On 8 July he challenged the rebels to put up  candidates against him.
Over 100,000 new members were reported to have joined the Labour Party by that date, taking membership numbers above 500,000.
The party's National Executive Committee (NEC) met on 12 July 2016 to set a timetable and procedure for the election. They decided by secret ballot that the incumbent leader would automatically be on the ballot in any leadership election. They also decided, contrary to usage over the previous 7 years, not to allow the members who had joined the party in the past six months to vote in the leadership election. Approximately 130,000 new members who had joined since the EU referendum would be unable to vote - unless they registered as "Registered supporters" at a fee of £25. This angered me more than the resuscitation of the six-month rule; it looked like a cynical attempt to prevent the poorest of these new members voting, on the assumption that they were the ones likely to support Corbyn.
Angela Eagle (MP for Wallasey since 1992) and Owen Smith (MP for Pontypridd since 2010) stood against Corbyn. Nine other Labour MPs declined to stand. Eagle withdrew from the campaign after a short time leaving a 2-horse race between Corbyn and Smith.
Labour donor Michael Foster brought a High Court legal challenge to contest the NEC's interpretation of the rules that allowed Corbyn to be a candidate without having to secure nominations from Labour MPs/MEPs. On 26 July 2016 the High Court ruled that there was no basis to challenge the NEC's decision.
The Collins Review of leadership elections had concluded that the eligible electorate would include members without qualification; so Christine Evangelou and others brought an English contract law case against its General Secretary, Iain McNicol on behalf of the whole party, concerning the eligibility of members to vote if they joined the party after 12 January 2016 (i.e. less than six months before the start of voting). An initial ruling that these members could vote was overturned by the Court of Appeal a few days later. The "£25 for a vote" arrangement however still stood...
The latest is that the Labour Party appears to be stripping people of the right to vote - in a somewhat selective manner. "The compliance unit is working through applications to check whether the 180,000 new registered supporters who signed up to take part in the vote are eligible, or if some are members of, or public advocates for, other groups."..."[John] McDonnell claimed the party was exercising double standards in suspending [Ronnie] Draper while allowing long-time party donor Lord Sainsbury to remain a member, despite having given more than £2m to the Liberal Democrats." (2)
What the actual F does this political party think it is doing to itself?

The Other Lot

While all this internal strife was going on in the Labour Party, the Conservatives also fell apart. After the EU Referendum David Cameron resigned because the vote went for Leave rather than Remain. Smartest move he ever made. We had a brief nightmare vision of Boris Johnson (3) as a possible Prime Minister - and woke to the reality of Theresa May. And, despite her support for the Leave vote, she's showing a canny reluctance to invoke Article 50 (4) which would trigger the UK's actual exit from the European Union. But by contrast with Labour, the Conservative party has had no challenge to its basic policies, and so it has rapidly glued itself back together.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Patchwork of Sleep

I think I have cracked it.

I can't sleep for a whole night in a bed at the moment. The hip complains and prods me awake. I've tried toughing it out, but for the last couple of months I have spent the early hours, through the dawn to 6 or 7am, in the recliner in the front room. It's more comfortable there, and I don't keep disturbing my husband's sleep.

I have watched a good deal of nocturnal Olympic TV, most of it with my eyes shut - I missed Mo Farah's fall, but was awake for the interview after he'd won. I have discovered that BBC 2 broadcasts snippets of documentaries and many versions of its between-programmes signature, and that my favourite is the furry 2 that squeaks and does a somersault. I've also been permanently dopey during the daytime and prone to falling asleep while I work at the computer.

However, I think I've found the right balance.

Go to bed at my usual time with the usual bedtime painkillers.
Expect to wake around 2am unable to find a position that doesn't hurt.
Go down to the kitchen, make a hot drink, take another dose of painkillers and set up camp in the recliner with specific cushions and a pillow, and the furry throw which I bought cheap at Poundland and seems to have an extraordinary ability to induce sleep.
Sleep till, usually, 5am.
Go back to bed and sleep till 7.30am.

On this regime I have been awake and normal (well, as normal as I ever get) for a whole two days now.

Still - roll on the pre-op assessment, and a date to have the hip replaced.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Very Grumpy Woman has a very grumpy day

Arthritis is a bugger.

I'm waiting for a hip replacement, agreed in May, surgery date still unknown, but pre-op set for next Thursday. In the meantime I exist on painkillers which put up my blood pressure and make my ankles swell, and blood pressure medication which makes me faint if I stand up too fast. At night I sleep for an hour, wake, turn over, stifle a yelp and try to sleep for another hour, until after five hours I can't stick it any longer and go downstairs to resume the painkillers and try to sleep in an armchair.

I've snoozed through some extraordinary television in the small hours recently, but this sleeping (correction, non-sleeping) pattern does not make for a sharp and lively brain. I am irritable. Chattering noises become unbearable, whether caused by Classic FM ads at the distant end of the house or unidentified objects in the front footwell of the Honda. A few days ago with this in mind I dug around under the front seat and seized on the locking wheel-nut socket and the spare nuts which were in a rattly moulded-plastic pack and seemed to be the likely culprits. I put them on top of a box in the car shed.

I've managed despite the brain fog to keep on top of my (mostly voluntary) jobs. One of these was to re-write bits of the Fell Pony Society's Display Team script ready for 4 displays over 2 days at Lowther Show this coming weekend. So with the event in mind - and the rainy weather - I decided I'd take the car up to Harold's Tyres and have the front tyres swopped to the back and vice versa for more grip in the inevitable Lowther mud.

It didn't go well.

Mid afternoon on a Wednesday shouldn't look like a busy period on the road, should it? I was quite relaxed following Mark Broadbent's 'Fenix' articulated horsebox down from the motorway to Shap; I knew it was on its way to pitch camp at Lowther, as indeed were many of the big driving-trial competitors. I stopped off at the doctor's surgery to pick up a fresh supply of the prescribed drugs, and so I didn't see the Fenix wagon again. I did however catch up with a tail of traffic behind a tractor and loaded silage trailer, with which I chugged along between second and third gears for several miles until we all reached Bessy Gill and could overtake. At Clifton I caught up with a second slow tractor. And at Gilwilly Industrial Estate, a third.

By this time I was operating on autopilot and kept thinking I had missed my way. I hadn't, fortunately; I reached Harold's to find it conveniently only half full. I drove into an empty bay, and reassured the helpful chap in charge of it that I hadn't "brocken" anything. I explained that I had checked all the tyre tread depths were legal, but I wanted the front tyres exchanged for the less worn back ones and vice versa.

He cast a professional glance over the Honda's alloys and asked me for the locking nut tool.

I searched my memory, discovered the picture of the locking nut socket lying in its packet in the shed, twenty-five minutes away down the motorway; swore; and departed.

On the way home the niggly rattle resumed. I was feeling savage by now. I stopped on the car park of Go Outdoors and stomped through the rain to open the passenger door, wrench out the underseat drawer and leave it in the footwell. When I drove back onto the motorway, I was moderately soothed to find the niggly rattle had disappeared. Pretty much the first good thing that had happened all afternoon.

I was going uphill somewhere around Hackthorpe when I saw a group of three HGVs ahead. I shifted into the middle lane to overtake them, but when I got level with the second wagon's tail, it began to indicate to pull out. I couldn't get out of its way into the outer lane - my mirror showed me a white Transit pickup barrelling up it far too fast and too close for me to risk moving over - but at that point the wagon began to move into mine, the driver evidently determined to keep up his revs and thinking I was just being obstinate.

The middle lane is not meant to contain a Honda CR-V and a 35-tonne artic. Not side by side at the same time. I braked. Hard. Luckily I've just had the back brakes "done" and despite the rain and the speed, they held and the car stayed in a straight line.

The wagon filled the middle lane ahead of me, the Transit whooshed on by. I had time and space a minute later to overtake safely in the third lane. But I will be replaying that gap narrowing in front of me for the rest of the evening. 
And all that, ladies and gents, is why I've got sweet F.A. done this afternoon.

I took my car to our local do-it-all garage man this morning. A former rally driver who was once badly injured as a passenger in someone else's car and so possesses more rebuilt joints than I do, Chris is one of the bright spots of the village. "I don't have a cold. I don't have hay fever. I do have a runny nose." Blows nose on garage cleanup paper. "I am just generally delicate."

When I proffered the locking nut socket in its packet he ignored it. "Your wheels don't have any locking nuts."

Enough said about all participants.