BBC Conservative Party England English history

Ernest Marples

Ernest Marples (1907-78) was a significant British politician who radically changed three government departments. At the Ministry of Transport, he controversially employed Dr Richard Beeching to analyse the railways and propose their transformation into a modern profitable business. His findings of 27 March 1963 (officially ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ but usually just ‘The Beeching Report’) caused an immediate row, provoking argument even now.

Many viewed Beeching as the butcher of Britain’s railways and his name lives on in opprobrium. But the politician who gave him the job and set his parameters has been curiously neglected.  In Ernest Marples: the shadow behind Beeching, Marples’s life, public and private, is told, drawing on archives only recently available. The development of rail and road transport from the early twentieth century to around 1968 is also depicted. Weak transport policies of successive governments had caused a serious inland transport system crisis by 1959. Before then, the nationalised railways had made huge financial losses leaving roads woefully overstretched, unable to meet increased demand. This crisis required radical action.

     The Marples measures should be viewed in context. By now there had been a major growth in influence of the pro-road lobby. Road haulage had demonstrated its greater convenience over rail. Growing numbers felt it a right – not just a privilege – to enjoy the personal freedom and flexibility of private motoring. Many, however sentimentally attached to the railways, did not use them. A dated public transport image contrasted with the modishness of the private car.

     Rail had been nationalised after World War II, (along with other industries). Rail was run down but necessary for a largely free enterprise economy requiring the bulk transport of producer goods. State ownership seemed anomalous: many wished it to fail. Marples himself had a financial interest in building roads. How could he be an honest broker as Minister of Transport when employing Beeching to sweep away so much of Britain’s railways?                            

     This silence about Marples is surprising given his prominence in the Fifties and Sixties when he helped shape post-war Conservative history. From a humble background, he had by 1939 amassed considerable property wealth. He then enlisted and served in the Army until 1944. First elected in 1945, he became the key figure shaping Opposition housing policy. He also co-founded Marples-Ridgway, the thriving civil engineering contractor. As junior housing minister to Harold Macmillan from 1951 to 1954 he ensured delivery of the incoming Conservative government’s manifesto pledge, then thought rash, to build 300,000 houses a year. After an unhappy spell at the Ministry of National Insurance, he was forced out of the Anthony Eden government, only returning to office as Postmaster-General once Macmillan had succeeded Eden: there, he revolutionised Post Office accounts, launched postcodes and the Subscriber Trunk Dialling system usually known as ‘STD’.

     After his electoral success in 1959, Macmillan brought Marples into Cabinet as Minister of Transport. The railways had lost certain types of traffic and their deficits were serious. Roads clearly were the transport medium of choice for commerce and industry. As the cost of private motoring declined, growing numbers shifted to the car. Marples’s brief was to tackle this shift. He quickly made his mark. The British Transport Commission was dismantled. The loss-making railways were identified for early remedial action which would necessitate the closure of unprofitable services. Marples meanwhile inaugurated Britain’s motorway system and introduced new (often controversial) regulations for motorists. He masterminded Beeching’s appointment as first chairman of a new British Railways Board and championed his plans before a restive Conservative Party.

1963, the year Beeching was published, proved unexpectedly turbulent for the Macmillan Government: as if the Report itself had not aroused enough acrimony, the Profumo scandal precipitated Lord Denning’s famous Inquiry into scandalous and profligate behaviour among Britain’s social and political elite. Marples was fortunate not to be implicated though for a time it was a close call. In Autumn 1963 ill-health forced Macmillan to give up his premiership: a vulgar Conservative leadership contest ensued. Marples continued as Minister of Transport under Macmillan’s successor, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, but his party was clearly losing momentum.

     The October 1964 General Election swept the Conservatives away and Marples never held office again. Beeching, increasingly uncomfortable under Harold Wilson’s Labour government, left without completing his term of office. Labour was not noticeably friendlier to the railways than the Conservatives though it had hinted at ending the closure programme, Wilson eventually made Barbara Castle Minister of Transport. She inaugurated the concept of the ‘Social Railway’, whereby identified lines would be kept open with public subsidy if it was evident that their withdrawal would cause severe hardship. This approach was a marked contrast to the Conservatives’ narrower focus on railway finances. Some viewed her years at Transport as those when perceptions of the railways started to become more positive.     

Marples meanwhile was estranged from Edward Heath, Home’s successor. Dismissed from the Shadow cabinet, he left politics. Meanwhile his business affairs grew increasingly tangled: when he fled to Monaco in 1975, the Inland Revenue was in close pursuit. It was an anti-climax for a man of undoubted drive and energy who once looked destined for very high political office, but Conservative snobbery barred his path.










The Batley & Spen by-election is two days away. Few in the Labour camp expect victory. National polling suggests the party is, if anything, falling further behind. Open goals are offered hourly by the corrupt Johnson administration; one after another they are blazed over the bar

Keir Starmer is a giant albatross round the party’s neck. With him as leader there is no prospect of electoral recovery. His plodding delivery, lack of musicality, absence of flair have all been noticed by voters entertained by Johnson. They rewarded Labour appropriately in May. Starmer’s response (after claiming he would take personal responsibility) was to attempt to punish, undeservingly, his deputy Angela Rayner. This petty vindictiveness (also illustrated by the continued exclusion of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn) was an unsuspected character trait. Even Rayner’s treatment, he and his staff amusingly bungled.

When every allowance is made for the mendacity of the Conservative press, the supine servility of a BBC which follows its lead, the scale of the December 2019 rout, Starmer is simply not up to it. He is not a leader, and never was except to the myopic who saw in him a rallying point against Corbyn. If he wants to render a last service to the party he could help by offering his resignation before (not after) the Batley & Spen by-election. Will Rayner find the courage to force him out by precipitating a leadership contest?

We can only hope so.

Labour Party

CORBYN AND STARMER: different politics, same problem

Tony Benn abhorred personal attacks, though in practice he was not above using them. He passed on this unfortunate lesson to Jeremy Corbyn. During the grim years after the 2017 general election, as Corbyn’s promise wilted under bogus smears of antisemitism, he resembled a punchbag, stoically soldiering on despite myriad attacks. One great frustration for Labour members during these years was observing this. However gross the lie, however false the falsehood, he just took it. After 32 months of this, the December 2019 rout was the result.

A curious feature of 21st century British politics is that Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer, so wont as a rule to advertise his differences with Corbyn, has inherited this undesirable trait. Once more we have punchbag syndrome. Starmer may suspect metaphor, dislike rhetoric. Not a man with a way with words, he is, unfortunately, pitched against the supreme wordsmith of the age, a man whose taste for vivid metaphor is unanchored in truth.

It is not as if British politics has been free from rhetoric, Bevin’s cruel jibe that George Lansbury was ‘hawking his conscience about’ expressed a widely felt truth; Denis Healey captured Geoffrey Howe’s comatose way of delivering reactionary politics by suggesting his attacks were akin to being savaged by a dead sheep; Disraeli, another wordsmith frequently outwitted by Gladstone, used metaphor to disguise his political weakness.

From 2017 to 2019 Corbyn’s opponent was the wooden Theresa May, a linguistically constipated woman incapable of projecting warmth. Conservatives MPs woke up to the danger six months ahead of their rendezvous with the polls and resolved not to chance their arm again. Their Brexit message was clear but Boris Johnson, their vehicle newly-chosen to articulate it was also ideal.

Starmer, like Corbyn, is a plodder, one whose language never matches the needs of the hour. There will be no political change in Britain until Labour finds a leader who can make the case for it.



It’s hard to get excited either way about Keir Starmer. He’s just not someone you can get worked up about. One can admire his approach to Prime Minister’s Questions: thorough, careful, meticulously researched. After the generalised statements we had from Jeremy Corbyn this is progress.

No doubt Starmer would have been a marvellous Home Secretary in a reforming Labour government, cleansing the Augean stables of the Home Office. But leaders, specifically prime ministers, are made of different mettle. They need fire, audacity, colour, glamour even. The odious Johnson has all these in spades. Labour could have fielded such a leader; it funked it.

Now worrying signs are accumulating. At the last PMQs before Summer’s ridiculously long recess, Starmer expostulated: ‘…the Labour Party is under different management’, a phrase widely celebrated in the Conservative press. This revealing phrase suggests he sees his job as a managerial position. No doubt it also expresses frustration at being unable to force an acknowledgement from Johnson of the different direction towards which he is leading Labour.

At some point in the coming years, the Tories will tire of Johnson. They will pick a new leader and invite us to believe they are a new government. This chameleon tendency has been rewarded with long periods in office: 1951-64; 1979-97; 2010-20. British voters are disposed to be complicit in their own deception.

What is Starmer’s strategy? It does not appear to lie in the field of economics and finance. Anneliese Dodds is certainly capable, but picks bizarre issues to major on. At Home Affairs Nick Thomas-Symonds communicates a sense of injustice. As a result he has made the most headway. At foreign affairs Lisa Nandy mouths vague orthodoxies, gets upset about very little (Lebanon?, Belarus?), asks no questions about the Atlantic alliance. ‘Vote Labour to be confident most things will stay the same’ seems to be the message. Party leaders simply do not convey that Labour can be the change growing numbers yearn for after months of Boris’s bungling.

And there is another danger. The membership, apart from a few loud Corbynophobes, is sullen and resentful. Next year come London mayoral and Scottish elections where it needs to be roused; soon, by-elections will crop up. 2019 might have shown that enthusiasm without strategy is not enough. I dread the electoral prospects if Labour has neither.


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Rebecca Long-Bailey was yesterday sacked from her Shadow Cabinet role as Labour’s Education frontbencher. I have for some time viewed Ms Long-Bailey as an inappropriate standard-bearer for the Left (see earlier blogs). She never impressed as a gifted, or even likeable leader. She had displayed none of the qualities a successful leader needed. I regret the blame lies with Jeremy Corbyn who should have used his five years of leadership to bring forward a younger generation of potential leadership candidates, women ideally.

And Long-Bailey had hardly sparkled in her new role. After all her opposite number was the hapless Gavin Williamson, floundering at Education, once even sacked as a security risk by Theresa May. The government made an utter mess of its attempt to re-open schools this term. Why wasn’t Long-Bailey on our screens nightly during that fiasco putting the Labour case? I must be fair. The Waugh Zone (25 June) reports ‘an insider’ claiming Long-Bailey had impressed the leader with her behind the scenes work on summer free school meals, a campaign picked up by footballer Marcus Rashford to force a memorable government U-turn. Admirably, she also worked closely with the teacher unions but she fluffed a golden opportunity to reach a wider public at a time of raised awareness.

Her offence was to retweet a tweet from actor Maxine Peake which allegedly contained an anti-Semitic trope. This is not the place to discuss anti-Semitism. I yield to no-one in my admiration of Maxine Peake, who combines great talent with fierce political commitment. But surely a prominent Shadow Cabinet member should have checked the claims were accurate? Labour List (26 June) reports Peake retracting her earlier comments, saying in a statement: “I was inaccurate in my assumption of American police training and its sources. I find racism and antisemitism abhorrent and I in no way wished, nor intended, to add fodder to any views of the contrary.” Long-Bailey was signalling support for Peake’s Corbynista position. She was sloppy.

Now there is great danger. Keir Starmer has already made a strategic blunder by supporting the government over easing the lockdown – even though this has been marked by the usual Johnsonian incoherence and lack of thoroughness. Yes, his careful preparation and examination of the prime minister is gaining him ground at PMQs. But he displays little fire or magic, nor any awareness they might be needed: it’s like watching a snail chasing a butterfly.

This sacking, the first from his Shadow Cabinet, has had a predictably polarising effect. The Left is pouring energy into a ‘reinstate Rebecca’ campaign; the Right is dancing on her grave in glee. I don’t believe Starmer is a Blairite-in-Disguise, waiting his moment to gain power by scotching the Left. I admire his thoroughness. Like many on the Left I acknowledge his leadership victory and want to give him a fair wind: who but Labour can lift Johnsonian fog from the land? But he is now thrust into a position where his next moves will be overinterpreted. And all because of someone who should not have had the job in the first place.

german history Identity Uncategorized

LEOPOLDSTADT by Tom Stoppard (directed Patrick Marber)

I grew up as a theatregoer with Tom Stoppard. Arriving in London in 1975 I gorged myself on plays. In that golden age of theatre, he still stood out for his verbal felicity, ingenious plot and literary reference. After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, came The Real Inspector Hound, After Magritte, Jumpers, Travesties. More recently there has been Night and Day, The Real Thing, Hapgood, Arcadia, Indian Ink, The Invention of Love, The Coast of Utopia, Rock ‘n’ Roll and The Hard Problem.

Stoppard’s homage to turn of the century Vienna celebrates its national diversity. An extended family in Leopoldstadt, the Viennese destination of pogrom-fleeing Jews, meets in 1899, 1900, 1924 and 1938 (on the night of Kristallnacht); their survivors gather in 1955. Stoppard assumes a literate, historically aware audience. Why not in your ninth decade? After overhearing the conversation of two young people in neighbouring seats, I was less sure. The play largely assumes this knowledge except for the 1938 scene.

In a key 1899 exchange two patriarchs juxtapose the merits of Herzl’s proposed homeland to the promise of the alternative: full acceptance of Jews at the highest cultural and political levels of the empire. After this the action slowly reveals the increasingly ghastly reality; 1938 shows us the post-Anschluss version of Herzl as strutting Nazis strip the family of all their goods. The 1955 scene powerfully evokes memory and the lost identity of the diaspora now submerged in Englishness and Americana. Structurally these shifts are not satisfying but how else can one produce the sheer sweep of historical explanation?

It has been argued that art cannot comprehend the Holocaust, that the language does not exist to express its scale and horror. Stoppard gives us something else: the early stirrings of the racist beast in Europe’s most sophisticated capital; the destruction of Old Austria; Nazi triumphalism – ‘that is all over now’, a Nazi gloats at a woman concert pianist to whom an assumed name has allowed success.  Europe has eviscerated itself in one war; now, thanks to the Nazis and their global fellow-travellers, it will repeat the experience.  It is like watching Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday dramatized on stage.


Mr Jones (2020)

Leaving out the politics?

Image result for agnieszka holland
Agnieszka Holland

The new Agnieszka Holland film Mr Jones is oddly dissatisfying. On the face of it this story of a brave spad exposing the Holodomor (the appalling 1930s famine in the Ukraine, then part of the USSR) ought to have instant grip. The acting cannot be faulted. James Norton makes a credibly naive Jones, blundering impulsively and insensitively through Stalin’s USSR. In Moscow and in the Ukraine he disregards his own life and the risk he poses to the lives of others. From Peter Sarsgaard comes a devastating portrait of the odious Walter Duranty, New York Times reporter who suppressed the truth about the famine and (later) the Moscow Trials.  Jones crashes into 1930s Moscow, giving the impression he is making enquiries for former boss David Lloyd George, a fish Stalin’s admirers would certainly love to have netted. (The ever-reliable Kenneth Cranham convinces entirely as the Welsh Wizard.) Jones follows the path of a friend murdered by one of Stalin’s thugs to reach the Ukraine and there observes the famine, fortunately escaping to report the truth via the violently anti-communist Hearst Press. Joseph Mawle is persuasive, if minimal, as a pre-war George Orwell, feeling his political way through the snake-pit of the 1930s.  The film suggests Jones’s experiences inspired Animal Farm.  It may be so.

The chronology stumbles. Lloyd George certainly remained a potent force in British politics through the 1930s. He was gulled by Hitler and might easily have been by Stalin. But neither his international prestige (‘the man who won the war’) nor the fear he inspired among Conservative politicians is explained in the film. No dates are offered until the postscript.  The drama is concentrated on the life (and early death, surely on Stalin’s orders) of Jones.

We also yearn for more about Soviet politics and the global context. Why did the vile Duranty matter?  Why did Lloyd George’s name unlock doors? What was happening in Moscow on the eve of the Kirov assassination?  The famine is persuasively – horribly – presented but as a personal odyssey. 



The battle lines seem to be clearing in Labour’s dispiriting leadership contest. Jess Phillips, an open Right-wing candidate, has withdrawn. Emily Thornberry’s path to the required number of nominations is obscure. As the smoke of the early skirmishes clears, we seem to face a choice between three candidates.  This is written ahead of the first televised leadership debates.

Lisa Nandy ( as of 11 February, 57 nominations (+ NUM, GMB, Chinese for Labour)

Lisa Nandy is promising to ‘give power and resources back to people in every town, city, region and nation in the UK’. That’s a start and it’s a good one: this specific point was a clear omission from Labour’s 2019 general election campaign. Her only substantial policy pronouncement thus far was on anti-Semitism. Here she promises zero tolerance, culture change, membership education & training, transparency, staff training, and an independent procedure. The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) whose disgraceful role should be punished, not rewarded, will have a place in the procedure. Nothing is said about the calculated confection of anti-Semitic charges against Corbyn himself.  Nandy’s problem is not her campaign commitments but her persistently disloyal approach to the Corbyn leadership and incredulity about key planks in its platform.  Fairly clearly a vote for her is a vote to drop public ownership.

Keir Starmer (295 nominations (+ UNISON, USDAW, SERA, Community, Labour Movement for Europe, Labour Business, Socialist Health Association, Labour Campaign for International Development)

Starmer has the lion’s share of nominations so far which makes the hacking charges against his campaign implausible.  Last weekend my constituency Labour Party (easily the largest in the country) preferred Starmer to Long-Bailey by 250 to 155. His pledges include: higher income tax for the top 5%; abolition of universal credit; a green new deal; a Prevention of Military Intervention Act; common ownership of rail, mail, energy & water; voting rights for EU nationals & freedom of movement; Trade Union Act repeal; a federal system and Lords abolition; removal of obstacles to equal opportunities; “forensic” opposition to the government and ‘robust action’ against antisemitism.

Rebecca Long-Bailey (136 nominations (+ Unite, BFAWU, FBU, CWU, Socialist Educational Association, Disability Labour, ASLEF)

It is hard to summarise the themes of the Long-Bailey campaign because there don’t seem to be any. Her most distinctive contribution is the ‘green industrial revolution’, reflecting her time as frontbench Business speaker. But this seems derivative. Her Winter 2020 Tribune interview is thin gruel: we learn that she’s a unionist (‘I’ll always fight for the union’); that 2019 was ‘a Brexit election’ where people ‘didn’t trust us’; that she seeks better messaging and ‘professionalism’ for Labour campaigns;  that there should be a ‘democratic reset’.  As so often with the present generation of Labour leaders, Long-Bailey is more able to explain what she is against than what she is for. Clichés and slogans are fine but Labour needs someone who can articulate how socialism in practice will benefit people. Her colleague and (I’m told) flatmate Angela Rayner is a far more fluent and persuasive advocate whose failure to put herself forward has baffled many.

It’s harder and harder to talk sensibly to Long-Bailey or Starmer advocates. The former retreat into purity tests; the latter scorn anyone associated with Corbyn (though their man proposes policy continuity). Perhaps televised hustings will provide much-needed clarity.



On 14 August 2019 I wrote this article in some despair at Labour’s prospects for the coming general election. As this was the moment for a renewed series of personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn from within the Labour Party as well as outside I thought it best not to publish.

I now wish I had.

Here it is with nothing altered.

I drifted out of the Labour Party in the 1990s. It was not New Labour, but the membership endorsing dropping Clause IV which was the last straw. I had spent 25 years trying to keep the party on track, even losing a job (with a union) by believing in public ownership. Why should I give time (and money) to a rootless party?

The next years upheld this view. The 1997-2010 Labour government was more decent than the tainted Tories but never intended to establish a new political and social settlement.  It was a feeble echo of 1945-51.  So when Jeremy Corbyn declared himself in the 2015 leadership contest, I now seemed wrong.  Here was a lifelong socialist, uncowed by New Labour, whom I knew had never stopped believing in radical change. I could not stand aside and, like other grizzled veterans plus thousands of the young, I threw myself back into campaigning. In the years that followed, spanning the 2016 European Union referendum and London mayoral campaigns, the 2017 general election, the 2018 council elections and the 2019 European elections I worked my socks off along with hundreds of others in the country’s largest Constituency Labour Party.

Now the Labour Party and the UK face a mortal threat. Boris Johnson as prime minister has cheered and energised the Tories. But when I look at our side, my comrades on the Left, I see not enthusiasm but dread. Jeremy no longer seems to embody change: radicalism now dwells with the Johnson/Farage axis. The voters who swelled our vote by one-third are now bewildered, even hostile. We cannot speak clearly on the central issue, and this cuts us off from the rejuvenating springs of our support.  Yes, a bitter establishment campaign has vastly exaggerated the numbers and influence of Labour’s anti-Semites; there should be none. Yes, we have faced a hostile press; who expected anything else? We are victims of our own errors and it threatens to cost us dear.

At this moment of maximum peril, we need urgent change before the looming general election that could return the most reactionary Conservative government since Lord Salisbury.  But we are not helpless: there is still time to change.  We must begin by honestly examining our own mistakes.

  1. We haven’t offered a narrative nor shown any appreciation we need one. I’m tired of hearing from BBC and Channel 4 newscasters that they ‘asked the Labour Party for comment, but no-one was available’. What else have our leaders got to do? Yes, the media – especially the BBC – are organically hostile to socialism. That won’t change. And it’s no excuse for not developing a counter-narrative to Johnsonism, one which tirelessly, repetitively, puts the case for a radical shift, giving context to our key demands for renationalisation and redistribution. Our spokespeople should be popping up all the time in all media to insist there’s another way. The Tory leader contest was a gift we flunked. Why wasn’t Alexei Sayle given a budget to make a daily commentary of appalling rudeness on its horrors? Nature abhors a vacuum: our voice must be heard and heard all the time.
  2. Where is our second line leadership? I’ve yet to meet a Labour member who doubts our next leader must be a woman.  As it happens there are up to five women to whom we might turn to replace Jeremy.  But here’s the thing: we never see them. Tonight (14 August) I saw an extended interview with one. But why isn’t the public bored rigid with the sight of Diane Abbott trouncing the odious Patel, Rebecca Long-Bailey deploring the crucifying of British industry by Brexit, Angela Rayner defending state education, Emily Thornberry deploring Raab grovelling to Trump, and Laura Pidcock on just about anything?  Where are they? If they are to be leaders the public needs to get to know them and their foibles. Even without a change at the top we need to show strength in depth: they will all be Cabinet ministers after all. That’s how democratic politics works.
  3. Tactics are elevated above strategy. I’m tired of having to defend stupid things. Which political genius thought it a good idea for Jeremy to appeal to Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill as arbiter of the British constitution last week?  The Cabinet Secretary – the entire civil service – exists to serve the government of the day; like leopards they don’t change their spots.  Why help them? The person we should be looking to as constitutional arbiter is the Speaker. John Bercow certainly has major faults but he is brave and on the side of change. We should be building him up not implying that supreme constitutional authority lies elsewhere.  This was no cunning plan. It just reveals we have no strategy for gaining power.
  4. Insufficient appreciation of English, Scots and Welsh identity. Scotland is a disaster area for Labour, despite a minor revival in 2017. There’ll be no revival there until Scots voters are convinced that Scottish Labour is truly independent. That means letting them go their own way, even if they come out for independence. This malign heritage of New Labour can’t be finessed any other way.  The SNP has demonstrated Scotland can be governed from Left of Centre which the devolution generation thought impossible; Labour cannot revive without demonstrating they are as Scottish as the Nats.  Richard Leonard’s furious denunciation of John McDonnell for stating the obvious at the Edinburgh Festival was a farce: being more unionist than the Tories is as daft as being more Catholic than the Pope. In Wales, for complex reasons, nationalism is weaker. But I detect a growing interest in independence. I also observe, as in 1990s Scotland, trade unionists – hitherto the most unionist of all – are beginning to change their minds.  And then there is England. The phoney British patriotism of Johnson (who, like Trump, privately believes in America First) is English patriotism. But how have we allowed him to make this his own?  England’s history is a history of struggle. An 1819Johnson would have ridden down women and children at Peterloo along with the militia. Why isn’t the Labour Party culturally engaged on this front? Where are our plans to redraw the county and city map of England?  Where are our plans to reinvigorate sclerotic British democracy?
  5. Social media is not enough. Please don’t tell me we can bypass the mainstream media. We can’t. Every day the agenda is being set by the Sun and the Mail and their faithful echo-chamber the BBC. Then it radiates outwards. This essentially defensive approach will not set the tone of public discourse. We need clear ideas, simply expressed in Blairite soundbites, expounded by articulate people who don’t speak in clichés.
  6. When problems arise, we must fix them fast. Anti-Semitism was allowed to fester, to the dismay of all members.  Other issues that have damaged us have not been finessed. We have been marking time since 2017.

2017 showed moving Left builds the Labour vote. Now, entering my fifth year of resumed activity, I can’t avoid the difficult question. I’m back in Labour only because of Jeremy Corbyn – or rather because Labour was willing to choose him. But now we must ask: is Jeremy the right person to lead us into this climactic battle?  He took us from the bitterness of the 2015 defeat to the point where people believe a Labour victory is possible. He faced non-co-operation and outright sabotage within the PLP on an unprecedented scale, but this has had an impact. He should now openly and honestly acknowledge that the British people do not see him as a potential prime minister and offer to stand down.  It is a personal sacrifice quite beyond the unelectable Neil Kinnock, but we on the Left are playing for higher stakes. We need a new face and a new story. 

For me this will be a wrench. I don’t know his likely successors or their commitment to socialist change.  The general election may be close but no one (even Boris Johnson) knows when it will be: it may yet be in the Spring. Whenever it is we need a new face for Labour. We should hold, now, an open competition that interests people across the land, as even the Tory contest did. Candidates will have to convince our huge membership (thank you Jeremy!) of their socialism as well as their personal gifts.  It would be fought out in public – and billed – as a contest to be the next prime minister. And let the best woman win.