Friday, 26 August 2016

A Plea to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party supporters from a well-intentioned, independent, non-party affiliated Lincs voter

Dear Jeremy and Labour Party supporters,

I am very encouraged by the campaign Jeremy is running for re-election as Leader of the Labour Party. Jeremy's 10 point plan to address key concerns of UK constituents is concise, easy to disseminate amongst potential voters and shows how deeply Jeremy and the Labour Party cares about changing the circumstances of ordinary, hard working constituents all across the UK. However I feel there are a few nagging issues that I need resolving in order to allow me to vote with my conscience for Jeremy and the Labour party during the next General Election cycle. Perhaps the points I shall make below shall also be relevant for Jeremy whilst he continues to conduct his Leadership campaign. Naturally I'm sure Jeremy shares my feeling that nobody is above scrutiny, provided it is constructive and well intentioned. So I hope he finds my comments fall into that vein of understanding:
  • Great PR makes or breaks a great leader. As a person in a key position of power it has to be taken as read that there has to be a PR team of some description designed to market Jeremy's  narrative to the nation in an effective manner. I appreciate Jeremy has managed to organise successful rallies, with the support of grassroots groups such as Momentum that are full of passionate, well intentioned supporters who want to change the political narrative of the country for the better. In fact I rather see Jeremy in the same vein as Bernie Sanders, a champion for workers' rights and equality in the US whose tagline "Raise the Minimum Wage to $15 an hour" has enthused young people all across America. However I just feel that the appearances Jeremy and his team have made thus far have focussed on Labour heartlands instead of trying to garner and support potential new Labour and independent Labour leaning voters in rural parts of England. For example, Labour's Lincoln CLP has recently overwhelmingly voted in favour of Jeremy remaining as Labour Leader, which is surprising considering they had not made a recommendation for the Leadership contest last year, yet I am not aware that Jeremy has made an appearance in Lincoln to support the CLP when they wished to highlight issues that affect our area of the country or even to promote the success of our Labour held council. For example, there was a play recently put on by the local large scale community project  Green Fields Beyond to celebrate the centenary of the first tank test near Tritton Road, Lincoln, a pivotal part of the history of defence and innovation, yet there was no recognition by either a senior Tory minister or Labour minister that the event had taken place and had been a great success for the creative community in Lincoln. I'm a pacifist yet even I appreciate the innovation of the designers involved. Any sense of recognition, even on Social Media, will certainly have been warmly received and would have shown independent voters like me that central Labour party members and MPs care about success outside of the major UK Labour dominated cities. 

  • Lincolnshire folk have been ignored for decades by politicians too afraid to fight for local votes by investing in the time and effort needed to put up strong, passionate, local candidates coming from a diverse range backgrounds who want to help their fellow constituents to improve their quality of life and positively promote their local area with gusto and flair. The Tory party should not be allowed to take such a clean sweep of Lincolnshire, especially when there are issues all Labour supporters care about being swept under the carpet in those areas. For example, I'd love to see Jeremy and Ms Diane Abbott attend a demo asking for the reopening of Grantham's A&E department which is vital considering how far patients in Grantham will have to travel in the event of a medical emergency (it takes 47 minutes to travel between Grantham and Lincoln and that's not even in the rush hour!). Equally the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Trust wish to reduce the "number of acute services" available in hospitals in the area from 3 to 2 because they need to make "efficiency savings" as well as review the number of GP surgeries because of a "shortage of funding" (NHS Cuts "Planned Across England" BBC News website, Sarah Bloch-Budzier, 26/08/2016). Yet such a foolhardy emphasis on efficiency savings could potentially put patient lives at risk and increase pressure on the remaining A&E departments across the East Midlands. Now I understand that the primary bases of Labour support are in the old industrial heartlands of Newcastle, Manchester et al and it's important to keep them enthused about the party by attending important events that occur there, such as London Pride. Notwithstanding this, if Labour abandons Lincolnshire rural constituents to yet another half-century of  unopposed Tory control and ignore their valid concerns as the party seemingly continues to do, how does Labour expect to grow their support to levels needed to gain a majority in Parliament without a huge turnaround of support in Scotland and further inroads being made in Wales which appears to be increasingly unlikely within the next 4 years? 

  •  I appreciate the passion Jeremy shows for defending workers' rights, especially in those occupations that are racked with low wage inequality and lack of respect, dignity and praise, such as the hospitality, catering, retail and care sectors. I'd love to see Jeremy apply that passion to fighting for agricultural and seaside workers' rights, especially those of foreign seasonal workers who often feel undervalued, unwanted and as evidenced by the recent Brexit campaigns in Boston, demonised as the "scrounging enemy" by casual racists and embittered local residents. Yes we need to improve educational, health and housing services in areas which have experienced high immigration rates from Eastern Europe. Yes local British born workers need to be given more opportunities to enter the workforce and to earn a "decent wage". There needs to be more positive branding of occupations such as agricultural or care work in schools so that teenagers can see the benefits of working as part of a team that employers believe is basic "work ethic" that those teenagers haven't yet seemed to master to their satisfaction, hence locking them out of other occupational fields such as Administration or Finance.  The only way we'll achieve that is by encouraging local companies to stop avoiding paying the Living Wage by using illegal workers to undercut wage levels. Employer practices have got to be improved; full awareness courses must be given to employers who have a large workforce but choose not to employ appropriately qualified HR staff.  Let's stop blaming employees entirely for unscrupulous working practices; if the culture of a company is crooked, the blame lies with owners, shareholders and operational management for openly choosing not to change it. If companies are unproductive, they need to look at their operational strategies such as recruitment and retention practices to see why productivity is low. If a company (such as Byron Burgers) knowingly employees illegal workers and then exposes them in a cruel PR stunt to avoid being fined by the Home Office, that company needs to be fined and exposed for hiring illegal workers in the first place. I can see Labour is beginning to pivot in this direction and it is pleasing but let's make sure the pivot is made across all industries across the UK.

  • As a male to female (MTF) transgender person I feel that the Labour party hasn't always fully addressed the challenges faced by trans people across the UK, both in their personal lives and in the workplace. Trans people continue to be demonised for having the audacity to ask for time off to schedule vital surgical operations that will make them feel they can live their lives fully in their own skin which could make them more productive and valuable to their employers than ever before. Gender neutral bathrooms have not yet been provided by every major company to accommodate gender-fluid, queer and non-binary employees. More importantly, employers and employees remain ignorant on trans, queer and non-binary issues because they lack even a basic awareness of the terminology, let alone how to deal respectfully with situations surrounding bathroom use or clothing styles. I believe the Labour Party has to endorse mandatory Sexual and Relationships Education (SRE) roll-out across the UK for all secondary school students, so that they leave their school fully aware of the "diverse spices of life". SRE has to include lessons on rape and consent and highlight the fact that even if 85,000 people raped annually are women, approximately 12,000 men are raped annually and this is a figure that can be reduced if both men and women are taught what the notion of consent actually entails (both legally and morally).

  • The Labour Party has to increase their appeal with older voters if they wish to win the next GE. However Labour needs to do this without alienating the tens of thousands of voters aged 40 and under who identify as left-leaning. So I asked my father, who is 66 and has never voted what he felt needed to be done to encourage older voters to choose the Labour party on their next ballot paper. For him, there has to be more practical solutions to reduce the cost of gas and electricity for elderly residents who are on Pension Credit, there has to be more activity clubs and groups available for widowed and disabled elderly people to access within their local areas, there has to be more dialogue and cooperation between the elderly and youth groups to understand the issues which affect them, especially with disabled and LGBTQIA people. Equally the issue of social care provision has got to be resolved in England and Wales. This means mandatory full funding of care workers from central Government for those who are unable to care for themselves in their own home so people can decide where they want care to be delivered.

  • Finally, I'd like to address the manic way parts of the Labour Hustings process have been conducted by all members of the party in the past couple of weeks. Being passionate and supportive is one thing but "booing, hissing and cussing" of opponent views just because they do not like what is being said within a debating space is childish, crude and unacceptable. Yes, Owen Smith may come across as a "member of the school debating team" to supporters of Mr Corbyn, too polished and primed for grassroots members' tastes but to allow members to try and disrupt the message he is allowed to give during an election process looks very amateurish and "school debate" style too! The reason why some social media commentators joke that the "Tories are winning the Hustings" is because this jingoistic behaviour is being tolerated without being challenged at its source. It's rather interesting to note that jeering was a regular tactic used by Mr Farage and UKIP supporters during the Brexit campaign and it was an element that put me off voting to Leave during the recent referendum. I hope that it won't put me off choosing to vote Labour at my next opportunity.
If the Labour party can address issues of rural underfunding of services, think about Labour representation in rural areas dominated by the Tories in England, defend rural workers' rights, highlight more effectively the work that still needs to be done on trans acceptance in the workplace, endorse SRE implementation for secondary schools, address older voters' concerns regarding service provision and improve party discipline and behaviour at key events, then Jeremy can gain the votes of independents like me who voted Tory in the 2015 GE. It's not really that much of a tough ask to widen the message just a little bit, surely? Then Labour can increase its chances of winning with a sizeable majority without the unrealistic necessity of winning back all Scottish constituencies from the SNP.

Best wishes and Good Luck in the upcoming Leadership election,

Matti Colley