Burning down the village to save it


There are all sorts of ethical dilemmas. Like the chap who went to the supermarket, paid for his groceries in cash and as he went out discovered that the cashier had given him a £20 note in his change when she should have given him a £5 note. This presented him with an immediate ethical dilemma. Did he keep it all for himself, or did he share it with his wife.

Which brings us seamlessly on to discussing party politics. Now I don’t discuss party politics. I’m perfectly happy to vote for a party but I draw the line at being expected to believe in them.

Still even those living outside these fair islands may perhaps have noticed that we have been having a general election. It must have been a bit like living next door to a couple having ‘a domestic argument.’ But anyway it’s over and it looks like that there is going to be an even bigger row within the Labour party.
The problem is that the Labour party lost. They didn’t merely lose, they lost spectacularly. Longstanding supporters turned against them, the party which was created to represent ordinary working class people (often the northern industrial working class) has discovered that the northern industrial working class went off and voted for the Conservatives.

There are all sorts of reasons. Picking somebody who is apparently disliked and distrusted by your core voters is never a good move. The Labour policy over Brexit could have been done better. But still. That only explains this election. The problem the Labour party has is that there appears to be a trend.

Let us look at Scotland.


1945 Scotland send 37 Labour MPs to Westminster.

1950  37

1951   35

1955   34

1959   38

1964   43

1966   46

1970   44

1974   40

1974   41

1979   44

1983   41

1987   50

1992   49

1997   56

2001   56

2005   41

2010   41

2015     1

2017     7

2019    1


Currently the Labour party are the fourth party in Scotland, having been the first party since 1959.

Now this matters because Labour has always struggled to defeat the Conservatives in England. In 2017, the dangerously hung parliament, the Conservatives had a 59 majority in England. In 2010, the Conservatives had a 103 majority in England.

Now the Labour problem is that the only leader they had who they could rely upon to win majorities in England was Tony Blair. His policy of reaching out to ‘Middle England’ was genuinely successful. The problem was that this policy didn’t resonate with the Scots. Add to that the fact that the Scots got their own devolved parliament with a different voting system, and suddenly the Scottish Nationalist party became a realistic option to vote for. Given that you have a choice of two left wing parties, one based in London and the other centred around Scotland, why would a Scot vote for the London based one?
The number of Labour seats in Scotland crashed. This means that in crude terms, the Labour party’s best hope of forming a UK wide government is in coalition with the SNP. This does not help with English voters.
It’s interesting to see what Jack McConnell, (the defeated Scottish Labour leader in 2007) said.

“I think there was initially defensiveness that was then added to anger after the SNP won in 2007.  And I have to say defensive anger is not a good starting point for a political party that’s trying to rebuild its levels of support. But that was what was driving much of Labour decision-making and tone from 2007 onwards. That there was this anger that the voters had done the wrong thing, how dare they?”

But then we get the next turn of the downward spiral. The Labour party after 2015 picked Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. We then had the referendum on leaving the EU, and in the eyes of a largely ‘remain’ party leadership, we saw the phenomena that Jack McConnell had noted earlier, “The voters had done the wrong thing, how dare they?” To be fair to Corbyn he’d always been strongly Euro Sceptic and could doubtless have worked with the result, but was trapped by his party. When you look at the referendum vote by region, only London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. All the other regions voted to leave. The problem is that the Labour party, when it kicked out the Blair idea of appealing to Middle England, ended up being a party that appealed mainly to student politicians and London. The party had the problem that its members were probably very strongly in the remain camp. The people who traditionally voted for it were far more divided, and perhaps forty or more percent of them voted Leave.

So we’ve had an election. Whilst the Conservatives have a majority of 80 seats, in England their majority is actually 157. This figure matters because if Scotland does become independent, the Labour party not only doesn’t have a good solid block of forty to fifty Scottish MPs following the party whip, it won’t even have fifty or so SNP MPs to form a coalition with. So in the long term, whatever happens to Scotland, our Labour party has to be able to win in England.
Now this matters. Our democracy works because there is a good strong opposition which is there to challenge things and shine a light onto things the government doesn’t really want to see brought out into the open. We need a strong Labour party, just as we need a strong Conservative party. Other parties seem to exist to put forward ideas for the main parties to steal. Which is fine, it means we keep moving forward. The best thing to keep politicians honest and to keep grubby fingers out of the till is the knowledge that in a couple of years, there will be an election and your political opponents will be going through the books in forensic detail. As Mark Twain said, politicians are like nappies and should be changed frequently for the same reason.

So now we have the Labour Party about to start the process of picking a new leader. I’m not being nasty to Londoners here, but frankly I don’t think a London MP, who lives and works in London, is going to be the person who takes the party back out into the rest of England.

The problem for the country is that the Labour party is at a fork in the road. The easy way would be for it to drift into being a southern, metropolitan, party. The problem with that is that somebody else will become the party of the Northern working class. If the Libdems hadn’t been so committed to remaining in the EU, they might have been able to chase Labour out of its northern seats. Labour has to realise that it isn’t the only alternative to the Conservatives available.
The other fork has the Labour party coming back with a leader and a party machine that is willing to get in touch with voters outside London. A party that will listen to them and take their ideas on board. Not a party that parachutes ‘safe’ candidates, ‘people like us,’ into Northern seats. (One is reminded of when Peter Mandelson, parachuted in as MP for Hartlepool, went into a local fish and chip shop and was pleased to see that they had guacamole. There again, had he ever eaten mushy peas?)
But to take the second fork, something is going to have to be done to get a far broader membership that would vote for somebody who isn’t on the far left, and I suspect the fighting will be vicious.
Hence the title of the blog, burning down the village to save it.


(For those not old enough to remember the origin of the phase, “When the phrase was first published on Feb. 8, 1968, the New York Times buried the dispatch containing it, printing just two paragraphs on the battle of Ben Tre. Almost instantly, however, the line was being misquoted everywhere. On Feb. 10, an Oregon newspaper rendered it “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”)


There again, what do I know about this sort of stuff? Speak to an expert


As a reviewer commented, “and sometimes I just sits.
This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

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9 thoughts on “Burning down the village to save it

  1. cindy knoke December 16, 2019 at 6:37 pm Reply

    The first paragraph is priceless and I loved the entire essay. Once, while swimming in the ocean, my children and I came about tons of money being carried by the current. I quickly sad, “you can keep all the money you can get.”
    I have never seen my children, or myself, work so diligently and with such high motivation. We scored lots of cash. There is nothing like ill gotten gains to build enthusiasm.

    • jwebster2 December 16, 2019 at 6:44 pm Reply

      I suppose the advantage we now have with plastic £5 and £10 notes is that they’ll survive salt water far better than their predecessors 🙂

  2. cindy knoke December 16, 2019 at 6:37 pm Reply

    sorry meant ‘said’

  3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt December 18, 2021 at 10:51 am Reply

    I think you’ve explained very well what happened to Labour – chilling.

    • jwebster2 December 18, 2021 at 11:22 am Reply

      It happens when parties lose touch with their roots. I think the process may have become more rapid with social media as people start living in echo chambers and assume everybody in the party or on the left or on the right thinks like they do.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt December 18, 2021 at 5:02 pm

        It’s a wonder we still exist as a species sometimes.

      • jwebster2 December 19, 2021 at 6:02 am

        Cockroaches nudge each other and tell their children we’re the ones to watch 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt December 19, 2021 at 6:19 am

        Now if they would just learn to type.

      • jwebster2 December 19, 2021 at 6:43 am

        caps lock would be less of a problem on the computer keyboard 🙂

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