Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sign of the Times

I had just put up my Labour sign for the County Council elections when the General Election was announced; with such a lack of awareness of local democracy amongst my neighbours, I am sure most of them thought I was just very keen to show my colours for June 8th. My hunch was proved correct when one of them asked where my "Labour thing" had gone after I had taken it down following the East Sussex vote for a respectful period ahead of the Westminster poll. In truth, I was glad to take the sign down - I wasn't looking forward to a General Election: the Conservatives' opinion poll lead seemed unassailable, Theresa May was positioning herself as Iron Lady II and they were set to put Jeremy Corbyn's perceived weaknesses front and centre of their campaign.

Against the odds, however, things started to change: Corbyn immediately looked relaxed and popular on the campaign trail in comparison to May's stilted and staged awkwardness; Labour produced a superb manifesto that promised to scrap tuition fees, protect pensioners and put more police on the streets - and it set out how corporations and the richest would pay for these policies; the Tories produced an uncosted dose of medicine born of the arrogance of a massive poll lead. Reaction was bad to their dementia tax, May u-turned and then lied about it: "Nothing's changed," she snapped at the journalists who had dared voice their derision. May looked weak and wobbly and Labour started to narrow the Tories' lead. Even the hiatus prompted by the terrible events in Manchester has not halted Labour's momentum (no pun intended); they have continued to close in on the Tories in the opinion polls with 24 a point lead now whittled down to single digits.

Be assured the Tories will throw everything at Labour in the final 10 days of the campaign - not about their popular policies but about Corbyn's strength to deal with immigration, terrorism and, of course, Brexit. Expect a desperate Tory campaign to focus on what they see as Labour's glass jaw - the manifesto has less to say on Brexit than other issues; but the die has been cast on our membership of the EU and it would have been a brave Labour leader who bucked the prevailing mood in its heartlands and stood on a platform of reversing the, albeit slim, decision of last June. Although the terms under which we separate from Europe are important, what is more important for Labour in power is to stop the dismantling of the welfare state and the assault on those on low and average incomes through poor employment conditions and frozen pay. If the Leave vote was an anguished howl of pain from 'the left behind', and the Conservatives are intent on delivering Brexit to satisfy them, there will be hell to pay in the wake of a Tory victory when ordinary people realise they are still no better off and quitting the world's second largest economy was not the silver bullet they thought it would be. A Labour government will deal with the lack of funding and investment that is the real issue that affects the marginalised. My sign is back up now.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wild Abandon

When Sussex Sedition was a physical fanzine written by people other than just me, we had only one editorial policy: all pieces were to be celebratory; there was enough of the negative written word in the world, we decided, and we strived to only be positive. Continuing on my own with this blog, that has been difficult when it comes to politics but in the case of music it has been easier to toe the line: on the rare occasion I have been to a bad gig, I have simply not reviewed it, despite the still-burning desire to share my thoughts on a Jenny Hval performance in Brighton a couple of years ago. That said, I went to Thee Oh Sees gig at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill last night not expecting to write a review.

I have struggled for the past year to share the enthusiasm of friends, music writers and 6 Music presenters to understand the band’s appeal. I am as one with Marc Riley on most things but when I hear Thee Oh Sees on his radio show it sounds as though it is 1973 all over again – like punk never happened. I am immediately transported back to a time when my sister’s boyfriend lived at our house and would blast out his awful King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator LPs. “You have to see Thee Oh Sees live to fully appreciate them” was the standard response to my complaints and so, when the band’s quickly sold-out Brighton show was transferred to my favourite local venue, I and a couple of other sceptics snapped up some tickets. In truth, I went to bury Thee Oh Sees, not to praise them.

However, even before the Californian band began their set last night, I knew that I was going to have to eat my words. With two drummers front and centre of the stage flanked by leader John Dwyer on guitar and vocals and Tim Hellman on bass, I could feel my sternum weakening when they were only going through their last minute sound level checks. When they began proper, it was an all-out punk rock assault; the energy was ferocious and there was an atmosphere of wild abandon that prompted crowd surfing, the like of which I have never seen before at the De La Warr.

With Dan Rincon and !!!’s Paul Quattrone the dual drummers, this was the line-up that made 2016’s two albums, the band’s 17th and 18th in a 20-year existence, A Weird Exits and An Odd Entrances. What was surprising last night was there was barely a hint of the heavy prog overtones I had heard in their recorded output; instead, it was like Nuggets played by Johnny Moped with a hint of Warsaw and late Stone Roses thrown in. Dwyer used his strapped-high see-through guitar like a machine gun and, in a red and black striped jumper and cut-down jeans, looked like he was menacing the rest of the band to keep up with him.

It was a brilliant no-nonsense performance although, with little between-songs interaction, I have no idea what tracks they played; but as the 75-minutes without encore came to a close, my sympathy was with the drummers who were just showing the faintest signs of fatiguing at the merciless pace. Leaving the venue as converts, we hit the fresh air outside only to realise that the atmosphere and pace had also driven on our drinking at a similarly frenetic tempo.

Monday, May 1, 2017

On the Ballot

"We are now trying to build a Labour Party branch in my village – seven members and counting – with the modest aim of making sure there is always a Labour candidate on ballot papers. More importantly, it is vital that other views are always heard, even in these conservative rural areas."

I wrote the above words in May 2015 in the aftermath of the general and local elections. Labour had lost the former, but had not even managed to put up a candidate in the latter in my area of Herstmonceux. That was when a small group of new, re-joining and established Labour members started to have monthly 'Politics in the Pub' meetings. These informal gatherings were open to newcomers as well and, from this, we managed to dramatically increase membership in the village. Of course, there were one or two high-profile national events in the Labour Party that local membership levels benefited from at the time, too.

Last year, we joined with a neighbouring area and managed to form the Heathfield and Herstmonceux Branch of the Labour Party. And this week, we have one of the original members of the group on the ballot paper in the East Sussex County Council elections in the Wealden East division, which covers Herstmonceux. Our branch also has one of its members standing in the Heathfield and Mayfield division and, across East Sussex, Labour is contesting all bar one of the council divisions. For a largely rural and conservative area, this represents progression.

In reality, chances of success in these elections is confined to electoral divisions in Hastings and Bexhill; but what is important is that we have been able to deliver leaflets, meet people on the doorstep and outside supermarkets, listen to them and communicate Labour's core message of our ambition for a fairer society and the need to protect essential services in health, housing and education.

In two year's time there will be another round of district council elections and, between then and now, we will be moving on from our original modest aim by working hard on the concerns of ordinary people at the most local level so that, next time around, we can represent them.

There are Labour Party candidates in the Wealden East and Heathfield & Mayfield divisions, respectively, for the East Sussex County Council elections on 4th May.