I was disappointed not to have been able to make the Jeremy Corbyn rally in Ramsgate last Saturday. I‘ve seen pictures and video of the rally and spoke to several people who there who said it was inspirational and that there was a great atmosphere. Sadly child-care came first on Saturday. But that didn’t stop me thinking about the phenomena which has become Jeremy Corbyn.
When was the last time someone was able to pack out the Wellington Crescent bandstand with 3,000 or more people eager to listen to an unashamedly socialist message. I doubt its ever happened before and this says a lot about what is happening in the Labour Party and the country as whole. People are, without doubt, looking for something new in politics and Corbyn seems to be the lighting rod which is beginning to attract them in their thousands to more than 40 rallies held across the country by Corbyn since the Labour leadership contest began in July.
For me, as a lifelong socialist and trade unionist, these are exciting times and, like many people, I’m watching events unfold in the Labour Party with an almost addictive fascination. For the first time in my life, I feel that the movement and the hope unleashed by Corbyn may lead to a fundamental re-alignment of socialist forces in our country. Whether that realignment will be focused on the Labour Party, or a broader coalition or association between a re-invigorated Labour Party and other groups such the Greens and the Socialist Party, trade unions etc who knows. All I know is that I have never experienced political times like these before.
But before I get too carried away I need to ground myself with a reality check. Because although inspirational speeches about grand ideas at mass rallies are part and parcel of politics, it’s also about hard work. And here in Thanet if socialism is ever to regain political support in the community there’s an awful lot of work to do. And perhaps the biggest task of all is to deal with the massively toxic legacy of the 2011-15 Labour Council. But sadly my experience is that rather confront the issues which led to Labour being humiliated in 2015 and at the recent Newington and Northwood by-elections, many people are in denial and adopting a tribalistic, circle the wagons mentality.
This is the worst thing which could happen. Being in denial and defensive about Labour’s recent history at Thanet Council provides an open goal for UKIP Leader Chris Wells to discredit socialism in Thanet. Not a week goes by without Chris Wells referring to the £14.5million debt he inherited from the Labour Party in 2015 and how appallingly bad the last Labour administration was at managing Thanet Council. Now I’m a vehement opponent of UKIP policies, but I must say this, Chris Wells’ assessment of the last Labour administration at Thanet Council is spot on. My only criticism is that he didn’t go far enough in exposing just how rubbish they really were and I should know because I was on the council at the time.
Not only did the Labour administration waste £14.5 million of tax payers money on the secret TransEuropa Ferries fee-deferral deal (cost £3.4 million); £5.1 million on compensation to live exporters for unlawfully halting the trade when they had high level legal opinion warning them not to so; at least £3.5 million overspend and compensation payments related to Dreamland; an unpaid £2.7 million bill for the construction of the New Haine Road, but they also messed up big time on many other fronts.
The 2011-15 Labour administration back-tracked massively on their manifesto commitments to protect the environment in Thanet. Instead of safeguarding our open spaces, greenfield sites and agricultural land as they promised they would do – they did entirely the opposite – supporting the building of 750 houses next to the New Haine Road when they said they would not; supporting the environmentally damaging Ramsgate Parkway station when they said they would not. Supporting the O’Regan plans for a polluting concrete factory at the port of Ramsgate etc etc. The Labour administration also, in my view, deliberately delayed the development of the Thanet Local Plan, so as to allow greedy developers and speculators free reign to secure planning permission on massive areas of prime agricultural land such as the 800 home Manston Green development. I think its safe to say that under the 2011-15 more green field open space was lost to developers than at any other time in the past 30 years. Quite an achievement for a party which said in it’s manifesto it would protect open spaces.
And it doesn’t end there. The Labour administration did nowhere near enough to facilitate the building of desperately needed affordable social rented housing in Thanet. The number of completions of social rented housing on their watch was pathetically poor. They also failed miserably to resolve the problems with the derelict Ramsgate Pleasurama development site which has blighted the seafront for 2 decades. In fact they have made the situation much worse and more uncertain by striking a deal which has resulted in the sale of the freehold of this prime seafront site to a company which may end up passing the site over to an offshore Panamanian outfit linked to land speculators. Last but least the Labour administration was possibly one of the most secretive council leaderships I have ever encountered. Labour run Thanet was one of the few councils in England to prohibit the filming of its meetings by the public, until they were literally forced to do so by a change of law. And of course Labour run Thanet council, with the express approval of some its political leaders is the only council in legal history to have secured a High Court gagging injunction against once of its democratically elected councillors and imposed charges upon that councillor (me) which are punishing unfairly his wife and children – all for trying to expose the secrecy and maladministration of the Labour Cabinet.
I could go on at length and in great detail about the misdemeanours of the so-called socialists running Thanet Council between 2011-15 but I won’t because I have already written about them on this blog and if you have the time you can read all about it in my earlier posts. The important thing is how to deal with the toxic legacy of a bunch of ego driven incompetents, who fucked things up big time for local people.
To simply deny these wrongdoings and massive incompetence will consign Labour and socialism to the margins of Thanet politics for a generation. To defend the indefensible will perpetuate the coverups and lies that characterised the culture of Labour’s 2011-15 administration. To regain credibility and to begin rebuilding support in the community the answer is clear. Labour in Thanet has no choice but to admit its failures and apologise for mess caused by its 2011-15 administration. And it also needs to clearly disassociate itself from the actions of those councillors responsible for making the wrong decisions, especially those who were Cabinet members in 2011-15. To be brutally frank if Labour is serious about regaining influence in Thanet and implementing much needed social change in housing, regeneration, jobs, transport, health, education the environmental and open and transparent democracy it needs to purge the wankers who let the people down in 2011-15 and who still occupy positions of influence to this day. Thankfully the re-election of Corbyn as Party Leader in September and the hundreds of new socialist recruits in Thanet make this entirely possible and it wont be a day too soon.