Thursday, 6 September 2018

This week

I very rarely use this column to comment on another political party. Generally, I prefer to focus on topical issues whether they be local or national. In addition, there is no doubt that every political party has its share of problems from time to time, I don't pretend otherwise so I tend not to point the finger. 
However, the resignation this week of the respected Labour MP Frank Field is a sad moment for our politics and a poor reflection on current events in the Labour Party. I have known Frank Field for almost twenty years. He was briefly a Minister under Tony Blair but was too independent minded so he got moved out. In the time since, he has carved out a position as a highly respected and, yes, independent minded, MP. While he has always been a passionate Labour politician, he was also always willing to work with MPs from other parties to try to deliver on issues. I first worked with him when he was one of a group of fifty Labour MPs who refused to toe the party line on joining the euro and he campaigned to keep the pound. Years later, he campaigned alongside many of us to leave the EU too. He has also been a passionate campaigner on issues such as poverty and has led some respected work on policies to help food banks. He has met representatives from the local food bank here in Camborne. 
Frank Field cited a culture of "nastiness, bullying and intimidation" that had taken hold in the Labour Party in recent times. He is not the first to raise the alarm at these tribal and aggressive tactics. Earlier this summer, in Cornwall, two leading Labour members, Anna Gillett and Penny West resigned from the party after saying that some activists in the local party had been using bullying tactics. In March, Tim Dwelly, the former Leader of the Labour Party in Cornwall also quit the party over bullying. The same story is being played out across the country. Lifetime Labour supporters and activists who have given years to helping in elections have been forced out and made to feel unwelcome as a new culture of factionalism, intolerance and aggression has taken hold. 
We had a glimpse of this in the 2017 General Election. The local hustings that took place were often hijacked by orchestrated heckling and shouting. Often local residents were made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable at such events and left early. The Labour Party has had to continue wrestling with these factions ever since. 
The tone of the debate in the 2017 election has caused a parliamentary committee to recommend new laws to try to stop bullying and intimidation of candidates. We live in a difficult time when politics is very polarised and divided and when we are trying to unite the country behind the decision to leave the EU, while putting in place a new partnership based on friendship and cooperation. I have always had great respect for the volunteers of all political parties who go out to knock on doors and deliver leaflets during elections to try to advance the cause they believe in. Our democracy could not function without them. However, whatever our political views, whatever party we vote for at elections and whether we voted to leave or voted to remain, we must always cherish free speech and treat one another with respect, even as we disagree and engage in vigorous debate. That applies within parties as well as the debate that takes place between parties. 

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