Martyn Sloman: Frustrations of an activist
PUBLISHED: 16:00 26 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:21 27 February 2018
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Politically active and opposed to Brexit, but marooned in a Labour Party which doesn’t reflect his views, MARTYN SLOMAN’s predicament is one familiar to many. He has some advice to those in a similar position.
Something very odd has happened to our political process – or so it appears to a long-standing political activist of the centre-left.
I need no convincing of the need to fight Brexit but what should we do and how should we go about it? Past experience seems to offer little guidance to the present, let alone the future.
I write as a retired baby-boomer living a life of ease in north Norfolk. Like many others I want my grandchildren to grow up in an open, global country that makes a full contribution to the range of social problems that can only be solved internationally, rather than in an insular third-world state.
Therefore I want to see a clear and unequivocal decision to keep the UK in the single market and the customs union – whether this is achieved through a vote in parliament, a general election, or a fresh referendum.
However as someone who is neither an MP nor a member of the House of Lords, I have very limited influence. The mechanisms that I have adopted over many years – going to meetings, lobbying my MP, participating in demonstrations and marches – are no longer appropriate.
My local Labour Party is firmly in the hands of Momentum and their main priority is to buttress Jeremy Corbyn against anyone who questions his sanctity. There is little point in driving 30 miles across Norfolk on a winter evening to put forward a resolution that is unlikely to find a seconder – though hopefully the mood will change as the flaws in Corbyn’s position of strategic ambiguity become increasingly evident.
Further, we are one of the few constituencies with a Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb. He is the flakiest of the 12: he kept a low profile in the 2016 referendum campaign and was one of two Lib Dems who, just over a year ago, chose to abstain rather than vote against the Article 50 bill.
He will need to be lobbied, but I am an unsuitable person to do so given our history of vigorous exchanges on his party’s betrayal of promises on student fees. There are many national Remain organisations seeking my support, and I have signed up to most of them; they have no local branches and mainly just want more money from me.
Future generations will be amazed at our lack of action and the total impotence that so many progressives feel today. A majority of MPs may indeed know that what is happening is wrong, but the nature of the party system means that they consider themselves powerless to act.
Both major parties have boxed themselves into a position where they appear to be scared of the electorate: their leaders are either unwilling to do the right thing (Theresa May) or are incapable of recognising it (Jeremy Corbyn).
Many politicians fear the charge of elitism above all other considerations and, at this stage at least, are proceeding on the assumption that the ballot of June 23, 2016 must be treated as a considered and definitive decision that cannot be reversed – however powerful the arguments to the contrary.
Such a collapse of parliamentary democracy, let alone social democracy, poses a serious threat in itself. Although my old-style Labour mainstream views may make me a member of a despised and declining species, that is no excuse for doing nothing.
Accordingly I have decided to take two actions. First I will learn from the success of the Corbyn campaign and use social media to promulgate my position and my concerns. I urge others to do the same. Many of my fellow 70-year-olds are averse to these new distribution channels; others use Facebook purely to display jolly family photographs.
If all the grandparents who shared my concerns were to post their views on Facebook and start tweeting it would be a powerful statement; it would demonstrate our willingness to embrace the future, while our opponents are retreating into a nostalgic past. I have established a Twitter account @eugrandparents for this purpose.
If our Parliamentary representatives are to show the requisite courage when the time comes we need to convince them that the national mood is changing and that a lot of us care greatly and will support them.
My second action will be to begin an analysis of the potential economic and social impact of EU withdrawal on the local economy of north Norfolk. I want to have this ready against the possibility of a fresh referendum where every vote will count.
Time is of the essence. The planned withdrawal date looms ever larger. We cannot leave it all to our elected representatives and we all need to do our bit before it is too late.
Martyn Sloman was parliamentary agent for the North Norfolk Constituency Labour Party in 2015; visit martynsloman.co.uk