Category Archives: Man In Labour

There are three types of labour, one is natural, the other is to be avoided and other is painful. I’ll let you work it out.

A Perfect Storm

In 2020, I started to write up several essay type blogs on my thoughts on what was happening in North-East politics and in particular the Labour Party.

This in turn was building on a blog I wrote back in 2017 concerning Labour and the North East (here), I got bored, and then Hartlepool came along in 2021. This is the introduction to about 5-6 pieces, depending on editing, which I wrote last year providing a personal assessment as the root cause of Labour’s woes in the North East and what can be done to tackle it.

But before we get started, I’d like to thank Dave Lee, a writer, director, producer, and self-appointed arsehole from Hull (my late Dad’s birth city). While we may disagree on the details, I believe we share the same belief that the interests of working-class people will never be served by the Conservative Party. So thank you, Dave, for the humour, suggestions and candour when starting out on this little project last year.

I was born in Labour’s industrial heartlands, Stockton North, which now neighbours a host of Conservative Party constituencies, Hartlepool, Darlington, Stockon South and Sedgefield. Unthinkable a few years previously. 

As with Hartlepool, Stockton North returned a Labour MP in 2019 mainly due to the pro-Brexit vote split between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party, which allowed Labour to squeeze through. This luxury, of course, will not be available to the incumbent Alex Cunningham next time round.

Alex and I have a little history. We had both campaigned to be nominated as Labour Party candidate for the Stockton North parliamentary seat. The seat had potentially become available when the mandatory reselection process had been triggered against the sitting MP Frank Cook. We failed, of course, and Frank went on to win another term.

I then fled to pastures new (with much relief to all concerned, including myself). Alex stuck around, and in due course, was crowned Frank’s replacement.

The simple point I’m seeking to make here is that I not only know the North East from my heritage, given I was born there. I was educated there. I was brought up in a council. My first job for 7 years was working in a foundry, where I joined a union and participated in strikes and campaigns for better conditions and pay. I also spent a decade as an elected Labour Party councillor on the local authority.

I’m immensely proud of my North East DNA. Something most people have been abundantly aware of as I’ve moved around the country due to work, Lambeth, Greenwich, Salisbury and of course Bristol.

Up until the pandemic, I’ve also been a frequent visitor to my home town and region. Quietly, as an observer, witnessing the subtly changes, the frustrations and undercurrents eroding political foundations.

To suffer an election as Labour did in 2019 hurts. I recall the same feelings during the 1980s and hoped that I would never endure those emotions again. It was not the loss, this time, but its magnitude and manner.

In February 2020, I started to write a series of essays about my personal opinions on how Labour was managing to get it so wrong in the North East amongst mainly white working-class communities. My thoughts, of course, carry no more weight on this subject than anybody else. I guess my frustration, like others, is that we saw what was coming, but nobody was prepared to listen until it was far too late. So I write these words from the heart and personal experience because hearts need to be won back.

The 2019 election in the North-East was a perfect storm. An inadequate campaign, twiddling core vote, a feeling of being forgotten and taken for granted. The region had been in pain since the industrial collapse of the 1980s. It badly needed something different. Something it could believe in, which touched its nerves, its self-doubt and help rebuild its confidence, identity and restore a sense of pride, of power.

Its political class was more than adequate at reflecting its hurt. Though often impotent at constructing a compelling vision offering the economic and social stability enjoyed by other regions. A clear vision passionately advocated by leaders they could believe in.

The 2019 Conservative Party election campaign was specifically designed to correlate with a broad set of concerns, which had been vibrating away in the North East for some time. These concerns may have been packaged around Brexit and the personality of the Labour leader. However, the dark forces at play were changing the Conservative Party too.

The old elitists in the Conservative Party born from traditional capital, wealth and hereditary power declined. Those with new money with greater adherence to radical libertarian principles were in the ascendency in the Party of Wealth.

The traditional Conservative Party, last led by Theresa May, and its Christian traditional value base has been subjugated. It is now led by a new political class with close ties to American right-wing agitators and institutions.

Johnson is nothing more than a public puppet who initially thought Brexit and exit from the Single Market wrong. Having sold his soul to those who view democracy as a dictatorship of the majority, he is now effectively held hostage. During my near 20 years of working in London local government, including the period Johnson was Mayor. His administrations were viewed with embarrassment, and rumours were frequent of nepotism. However, he does not have a monopoly on this front.

He was good at portraying an interest in people. Often shadowed by a hapless adviser whose sole role seemed to be capturing the endless promises he inadvertently would make. Johnson is not only a serial truth twister. He also has sociopathic tendencies, who enjoys being popular though riddled with self-doubt and confidence when challenged. He gave the impression of being prepared to say absolutely anything to bolster his fragile ego and shore up his endless desire to be liked.

The Jennifer Arcuri incident and the allegations of preferential contracts were no surprise, like the outrageous PPE contracts during the pandemic. As an old colleague who worked in City Hall at the time said to me, “same shit, just a bigger pie.” He is more of a Del Trotter than a cunning mastermind of Black Adder proportion.

A political Del Trotter, wheeler, dealer, laughed at but nonetheless admired by working-class people. The little man struggling against the odds as he dodges a little rule here, giving a cheeky wink there, all rolled up in his bumblingly self-made caricature. It was a caricature able to exploit the fractures in social coalitions increasingly prevalent in North East white working-class communities.

Labour are losing seats in areas where it had once dominated the political landscape. Although recovering in Wales recently, the truth is Labour’s core vote has been in decline throughout its traditional heartlands (Scotland, the North East and the Midlands) for two decades. The dark forces of nationalism, for many years, yes, have been at work. Still, they don’t account for the misfortune the Labour Party is enduring.

During the peak popularity of the Corbyn period (2017), Labour still failed to convince a majority of people to vote the party into power. No amount of belly searching, the suggestion of inner-party sabotage. Having the benefits of being the most extensive political Party in Europe can hide that fact, Labour lost.

They lost against a disastrous Conservative election campaign, appropriately recognised as one of the worst election campaigns in modern history, with a PM losing credibility every single day of the campaign. Still, in 2017, Labour lost in total votes, and the Conservatives still out-performed Labour in many vital constituencies. A large chunk of the 30 seats gained in 2017 was to be lost in 2019.

On the surface, it would also seem the most significant benefit in the collapse of the UKIP vote (down nearly 10.8%) in 2017 was Labour (up 9.5%). The underlining argument being, if Labour had maintained its Brexit policy of respecting the vote to leave the European Union, then it would have fared better in the 2019 election. I’m not convinced.

Between the 2017 and 2019 general elections, Labour had lost almost 10% of its voting base. Looking further back, neither Blair’s (1997) or Corbyn’s (2017) election results have managed to eclipse the level of votes the Labour Party was enjoying 6 decades ago.

The Beast of Bolsover, Denis Skinner, did not lose his seat simply because of Brexit in 2019. His 1997 majority (close to 30,000) had been chipped away bit by bit, and like an eroding coastline, it finally collapsed. Brexit may have been the final straw that pushed matters over the edge.

Bolsover, like Sedgefield, is the very constituency where a set of growing resentments and social changes were taking hold in predominately white working-class communities.

The 2019 Conservative election campaign had no guarantees. It was high risk, although devastatingly designed to breach the mythical red wall. It was a mixture of luck and strategists targeting northern working-class concerns, grievances, albeit with the irony they had been the architects of many of these grievances. More importantly, from the Trump textbook, they began to learn how to exploit these grievances.

It was a campaign confident enough to believe Blyth Valley residents (17,700 Labour majority in 1997) were able to be persuaded to vote Tory for the first time in their lives (712 Tory majority in 2019). However, the Conservatives were safe knowing that Tory marginals would never vote for a Corbyn led Labour Party.

Ultimately, Johnson is an opportunistic shapeshifter. He will be difficult to dislodge in the North. It can be done, but to do so needs an understanding and acceptance of how we got here in the first place. 

Next up, born and breed.

Big Wheels Keep On Turning: Part 1

Big wheels keep on turning. There is no bigger truth. Those feeling depressed and dispirited by the current state of politics in the U.K. should remember what goes around, ultimately comes around. Many look back with rose filtered glasses to the Conservative-Thatcher decade of the 80s. The decade when the barking dog of unfettered greed was unleashed. Forty years on are there parallels between now and then? Then I was a young man growing up in the North East of England. The heartland of Labour’s so-called red wall, which lazy political commentators get so excited about from their studios in London or garbling hyper-nonsense from the steps of Downing Street.

Right-wing, working-class patriotism has always been a reality behind the ‘red wall’ as it no doubt exists behind the ‘blue-wall’ of Christchurch.

Now and then the Tories manage to select a leader from their most elite ranks, who by birthright attain the Tory crown and their spin doctors, advisors and supporters then mould a persona and finance their chosen one’s adventures behind the red wall.

Back in the 80s, it was Thatcher, and now it’s good old Jolly Johnson who enjoys nothing more than driving dumpster trucks, sharing a jar with his flat-capped buddies down the local and sticking it up those pesky foreigners across the channel.

The late 1970s/1980s in the U.K. were much more than punk, disco, padded shoulders, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Filofaxes, house brick mobile phones and the birth of “loads of money.” For many, it was often a fucking bleak and violent place to exist.

Poverty rates rocketed as the gap between rich and poor escalated beyond anything previously experienced in our modern history.  The Brixton Uprising, followed by civil unrest in Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham.

Blair Peach who campaigned against the rise of fascism was killed by a member of the infamous Special Petrol Group (SPG) within the Met. Police, who were less trusted than a South American paramilitary hit squad. The SPG seemed to operate with impunity under cover of the stop and search law, which permitted a police officer to stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824.

Clause 28: Played on the ignorance, prejudice and fear often felt towards the gay community. As the world mobilised against the apartheid regime of South Africa, Thatcher welcomed its leaders to this country, as friends. Extremist’s in the Conservative Party, including Thatcher’s husband Denis, who happened to have business interests in the racist state, openly applauded denunciations of the ANC as a terrorist organisation at the Conservative Party Conference. Other delegates called for the hanging of the ANC leader Nelson Mandela.  March 1990 and again, towns and cities were subjected to violent riots. This time against the poll tax, introduced by the Conservative government of the day. Then in 2011, under the watch of the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron rioting broke out in London, Birmingham and other cities in the U.K.

The script may change, it may be tailored, dressed up, spun and efficiently targeted through Fakebook ads, but be in no doubt whatsoever the book remains the same.

The Johnson administration is now feeling its way, pushing against barriers it may feel are sensitive, to test the waters and judge the strength of push back they receive. The deportations of Jamaicans by the Johnson administration is straight from the Trump textbook, which is to agitate discontent between communities. Stirring up the pot to see what happens, forming the narrative, and drip-feeding messages to a targeted audience.

Johnson is merely a complicit puppet in the reactionary and populist politics, funded by billionaires and oligarchs whose only interest is to destabilise any sense of oversight or accountability by any government i.e. their war on the EU. Unfettered greed will ultimately consume itself, but in the meantime, a lot of poison is going to be injected into our social fabric, which will take time to rinse out.

When I look back at the 80s, put them into context today, and reflect on what I believe is coming over the next five years. The depth of the damage, in my opinion, will be determined by the level of resistance our young people give to it. Until then, Johnson will continue to push.

My hope is that it does not result in violence, as it did in the 80s, 90s, and 2011, but given the track record of the Conservatives I don’t think they care that much, to be honest. To them, it will only be collateral damage.

Foundations for Walls

Having been a member of the Labour Party since  I was 16 years old it does not come down to who was/is the leader that would not change my reason for being a member, which has more to do with the values I believe in.

As a party, which seeks to be in government, we only win when we think of ourselves as a family of 12 million forging alliances with like-minded people beyond our family rather than focussing in on what our membership thinks, regardless if its 100,000 or 500,000 members. As far as the north goes it’s not simply about building political alliances but social networks. It’s also not just about rebuilding a red wall but understanding the foundations, which that wall needs to be built upon.

To be in government Labour needs to win in Scotland, the North, Midlands, as well as further afield.  So my fellow Labour Party friends, think very carefully when choosing our next leader because we will determine if Labour is in our out of power for 5 or decades.

This can be done if we once again think of ourselves as that wider family forging those alliances with like-minded people. BUT after such a devastating defeat, it is often best to show humility, listen, reflect, learn. Then come back stronger. More determined. Hurling abuse, blaming others, taking no accountability are symptoms as to why we lost in the first place.

Anger is an energy. Please use it wisely.

12.12.19: GIVE A SH*T

An emotionally conflicted day, yesterday. General election and during the day helping the campaign to hopefully elect a more compassionate government. By the evening attending a fundraising event called Give a Sh*t for local homeless charities. Then leaving the gig after storming performances from Idles, Beak> and Billy No Mates to realise things might not be getting better soon for those much more vulnerable than the most of us. I managed to survive the Thatcher years, and I empathise with those, especially younger people who may be feeling dejected today. It’s exhausting, but remember anything worth struggling for never comes easy.


Reflecting echoes of oneself

The Sandringham Pub is a no-nonsense pub located on Sandy Park Road, Brislington, Bristol.  Amongst the struggling shoots of cafe life its stands definitely, tired, but proud. The clientele in the downstairs bar sit, chat, exchange stories from the day while upstairs political candidates prepare themselves for a ‘husting’ where would-be candidates set out their case for election or re-election.

Having arrived early into a near-empty room with an abandoned father Christmas costume, a well-worn skittle alley to one side, a Banksy print ominously hanging in the background and the intermitting flushing of the toilets conveniently located so audience members need to navigate themselves over the skittle lane and behind the speakers.

The fun of watching the organiser’s deliberations on the location of the top table, various angles are tried, varying sizes of gaps between the tables attempted, each attempt 6 glasses of water are moved from one table to the other enabling tables to be moved, then move back, and then moved again. Until reluctant resignation is accepted that no amount of reconfiguration is going to deny the spacial reality that either the person chairing the meeting or indeed one of the speakers will need to be seated on the skittle alley.

The evening had all the hallmarks of an Armando Iannucci script in the writing while reflecting all the ingredients of what makes British politics, so quintessentially British at this grassroots level. A mixture of pantomime, personalities, amateur dramatics, serious concerns, barrackers, political tribes with a fixed position and the occasionally bemused observer, who has mistakenly taken the wrong turn on route to the bingo.

In the world of spin, social media isolation and soundbites there is something rudimentary and honest about these types of meetings. One which cajoles people from different positions and opinions into a room, to meet people, listen and confront the stark reality that this much more that unites us in common concern than divides us in frustrated anger. The issue, in many cases, is the journey rather than the destination.

Yes, Brexit dominates, like a stroke victim jerking and increasingly struggling with their words any other subject no matter how big and small are drawn back to the B-word. It is depressing but equally fascinating, but like the audience, the eyes of each speaker tells the same story. We are all in a collective ditch, we have set symbolic dates and deadlines for “getting Brexit done,” but nobody has a clue about healing the self-inflicted wounds we have perpetrated upon ourselves, within families, neighbourhoods and communities. Some politicians seem to be pushing for that knock out blow, to be the victor, but a victor over who? In life total victory does not exist, nor is it practical or desirable. The art of compromise may be wanting at the moment, but she will be knocking shortly I just hope we have the commonsense to answer the door.

Diddly Squat

There is something quite telling about the Liberal Democrats economic plans for the 2019 election. The cornerstone of their plans seems to be the Treasury running a permanent surplus. A sound bite some may feel attracted too, although running a national economy is not the same as running a household budget. Any serious government seeking to hold a permanent surplus as its central economic plan is either going to tax like it’s 1977 or deliver austerity like its 2010.

Regulation No. 2257/94

Bananas should be firm and intact, fit for human consumption, not “affected by rotting”, clean, free of pests and damage from pests, free from deformation or free from bruising, free of any foreign smell or taste.

No definition or guidance was given about the degree of curvature.

Summer Holidaze

Stanely stands upright at the edge of the curb with his wife Doris besides him. A driverless bus hurtles down the hill, inches from where he and his beloved stand. Passengers arguing and fighting, fellow onlookers from the village look on angst.

Sitting immediately behind the vacant driver’s seat fingers in ears sits Theresa oblivious to the chaos around her. Jeremy sits immediately opposite hands over eyes, peeping through a narrow gap of his fingers to the vacant driver’s chair muttering a mantra of solidarity and hope to himself. Behind them, stands Nigel pointing his long, twisted accusing finger at the last passengers to get on the bus, “sabotage” he shouts.

A small group of irate passengers spit obscenities at the rest of the passengers and occasionally at each other. As the bus jumps headlong over traffic calming bumps Ariaf loses grip of this Mcdonald’s vanilla shake, which doses Tommy who burst into tears and places his pet snail Bernard back in its dark cardboard box. “How am I going to explain this to mum?” He sobs as he looks down on his new and ruined school uniform, but he already knows who to blame.

Vince jumps up and down seeking attention, after being sent to the back of the bus for helping David, the driver, escape through the emergency exit. Meanwhile, a small group of ideological puritans from left and right of the “spectrum” exchange admiration for the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

Caroline sits patiently by herself, knitting a jumper, waiting. On seeing the large brick wall coming at them with growing speed Chuka, Anna and Heidi form a circle with a handful of other devotees to sing hymns from the old book.

Meanwhile, Nicola demands a show of hands for those interested in joining her on the roof. Ariene screams “no surrender” at the wall.

The vast majority of the nation sits at home listening to BBC Radio 1 playing Cliff Richards singing summer holiday on an endless loop. Young people look at each other in despair.

Stanley turns to Doris with loving eyes, “ah Doris, Brexit, means Brexit.” Doris takes a lick of her ice cream, turns to the button on the pelican crossing, the rapid beeping, cars come to a halt and hands in hand they stroll aimlessly across the road to the bus station.

End Games

Realisation can be slow and often it comes surprisingly wrapped neatly, with a bow, in a large package of commonsense. Mine was delivered towards the end of 2018 when I took the conscious decision to disengage from groups on social media platforms, namely on, Facebook, initially set up by people to encourage ‘free-speech’ dialogue between those with differing views and opinions. This weekend I re-engaged.

The calmness, which I had got to know over the past few months had vanished into the mist. Within hours I had been caught up in “arguments” of intolerable attitudes. One such platform on Facebook was nothing more than an echo chamber of sad, angry, dull and yes mostly white men hurling abuse at one another through manufactured meme’s. Those photos, generally of a famous person with imposed comments to ridicule. It was nothing more than finding yourself in the middle of a room with children throwing custard pies at one another. I guess this is what has become of the UK.

We no longer talk and more importantly listen to one another. We seem to shout, ridicule or seek to physically harm each another. A nation divided, at each other’s throats, a union on the brink of falling apart. An identity being fought over by extremes while the majority have turned their backs ashamed and embarrassed as the rest of the world looks on bewildered. On Saturday, I disengaged completely from these platforms of ‘free-speech’ and said hello to a complete stranger when out walking with my dog.

We need to talk about Peter

I want to share an experience I had quite recently and in doing so shine a small light on the discourse, which is happening in communities and neighbourhoods across the UK, in the US, and further afield. It’s about perception, personal accountability and the duplicity that some people choose to live. It’s about how we communicate and engage with one another as we flip between our real day to day lives and the virtual world we increasingly inhabit via social media platforms. Moreover, it’s about how a person you think you know in one world is not the person you know in another world.

However, mostly it’s about preying on ignorance to deliberately fuel hate and toxicity between people something that has seeped into our cultures, reflected and used by politicians. In his classic novel 1984, George Orwell introduced us to the concept of “doublespeak.” When Big Brother says, “Love”, he means to hate. When Big Brother says, “Peace”, he means war.

When my family and I left Salisbury after seven happy years and returned to Bristol, we left behind a network of friends whom we value to this day. People who have enriched our lives and sincerely hope will continue to do so. I must stress at this point that our neighbours and vast majority of  Salisbury people whom we came to know did nothing but show us kindness and make us feel welcome.

During our time living in Salisbury Peter would become a regular and welcome visitor to our home, he undertook paid house repairs and socialised with our families. Even Poppy, our pet dog, would dance a merry dance on hearing his voice. He was ‘just there’ when we needed a helping hand. In our interactions with him, we believed there was not a bad bone in his body, which was vital given we were new to the city with a diverse family (immediate and extended).

When we finally settled in Bristol and started to hook up with our friends back in Salisbury via Facebook a startling and unpleasant realism dawned on us. As if from nowhere hateful articles and images began to appear on our Facebook updates from extreme rightwing groups. Often this was beyond the shock-jock humour and rubbish we have sadly become accustomed too and occasionally, this would include images from groups with known violence towards people.

The source of these posts was Peter.

After a run of rather ugly posts, including Peter’s obsession with wanting to reinstate the Golliwog as a reflection of his Britishness, my wife parted ways with him by writing a considered and heartfelt message to him concerning his behaviour. Peter simply liked the message with a thumbs up, no replay and carried on regardless.

After discussing this, I decided to stay the course and challenge his behaviour. I was under no illusion I could ever change his bitter and offensive stupidity I could at least plant a seed of doubt into his followers and family who must have been watching the on-going war of attrition taking place between the both of us.

It’s was not surprising to discover that when directly and calmly challenged hateful people quickly run away, tails between their legs, but then reemerge when they believe the coast is clear to carry on with their vile, ugly and horrid behaviour. This was our experience of Peter’s behaviour.

A few weeks ago he must have started to realise the dwindling number of likes he was receiving for his posts, so he went on the offensive by starting to post his views on my page. It has been said before, and I’ll repeat here again. Not all people who voted for Brexit are racists, but an am very confident that all racists voted for Brexit. Peter is, of course, a passionate advocate of Brexit, UKIP and Trump style politics and watching him stumble, clunk and pathetically wallow around when challenged by my friends on Facebook has become one of my moments of the year.

Things took a further turn recently. Upset by the recent poor news coverage concerning Brexit we went on a somewhat bitter sad and bitter ranting episode during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony trying to score cheap and nasty political points. I merely asked him to show some respect and not use the memory and the commemoration of brave people who have paid the ultimate price to further his hatred of people.

Then shortly afterwards he returned to his old obsession with his beloved Golliwog. I rechallenged him on the Golliwog and why it’s us both offensive and ugly. In true 1970s sitcom style Peter replied that he had none white friends with children, so this proved he was not racist. To which I merely replied, “So you would have no problem in buying them a Golliwogg’s for Christmas then?” An implosion occurred. The results of which I am unable to report given Peter blocked me.

Peter is what George Orwell describes as practising doublespeak. What he says and what he does are two completely different things. The articles and images he decides to publish via Facebook are products of rightwing groups who feed them to him, and he shares them. He chooses to associate with these groups, and so they become part of him, a reflection of him and he a representation of them.

So why am I posting this? Firstly, I’m genuinely relieved that Peter is no longer a part of our lives. Secondly and far more critical. We live in dangerous times when decency and moderation seem out of fashion as some seek answers in the shadow of reactionary, nationalist and racist politics.

They are not the mainstream and never will be, but those who know better need to stick together, calmly resist these people and push them back under the rocks they have scrambled from underneath. Have the confidence to challenge those who ultimately mean you harm regardless of who they are and remember the words of Bill Hicks would say, “Love all the people all the time.”