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Progress bemoan the plight of men: why we still need privilege checks

A Labour Men's Network?This article originally appeared at Left Futures, 31st July 2013

For those who needed further confirmation that Blairite party-within-a-party Progress has fallen into the realm of self-parody, you need only look to one of the latest gems to appear on the website of the “magazine”. Labour is not listening to rural England, writes Chris Calland. And how better to start the reparations by maximising the voice of that infamously-underrepresented group: men.

Oh yes – “a Labour Men’s Network? How about it?” And how about a White History Month too, I wonder. Three words came into my mind: check your privilege.

But hang on a minute. Surely no-one says that phrase anymore unless in an act of parody? After all there was no mention of CYP from Bex Bailey, who rightly slammed the article, when it would have been the first phrase to spring to mind in the responses of yestermonth. Austin Mitchell and Andrew Pakes are among those who have been on the receiving end of the phrase, quite literally. Yet recently I’ve heard it said that this simple imperative is now jaded and meaningless.

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Lowry: crowds, class and purpose

The Pond, 1950, by L.S. Lowry

This article originally appeared on Left Futures, 18th July 2013

For at least five years, I’ve had a large LS Lowry print hanging on my wall. It’s mounted on a battered old bit of chipboard, and bought at a market, and the scene depicted is fairly typical: a snowy industrial landscape, a lake covered in ice-skaters.

When I was given the print, I had never consciously viewed the artist’s work, but the landscape was nonetheless familiar. It is not the case, as Brian Sewell argues, that Lowry painted a landscape which cannot be uncoupled from the 1920s. To some extent, this was the backdrop that shaped my mother’s childhood, vividly described again and again, its remnants and horizon still visible on numerous trips to visit family in Oldham. True, it was not the same without the crowds – on one trip I remember killing several hours in the completely deserted town centre filled with derelict buildings that had once been Oldham’s municipal pride. Watch Ken Russell’s Monitor on Shelagh Delaney’s Salford – incidentally the town, along with Pendlebury, that is the subject of most of Lowry’s paintings – and you’ll see the same spirit there too, even though this was 1960, not 1920.

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“State-school” Clegg, and when did selfishness become the norm?

Moral agony for NickFirst published on Left Futures, 21st March 2013

“Nick Clegg to send son to state school”, muttered the headline in the “most viewed” column on the BBC News website. This was a not-unpleasant surprise for me – for when a public figure says they are “considering” going private, it usually means the decision has already been made.

It is of course a relief that at least one politician will not go for full-fronted individualism and shamelessly buy into the notion that privilege in our society is bought. Not that privilege needs to be bought for the son of the deputy prime minister, who was himself educated at top private school Westminster. Not that the London Oratory is not a school filled with people whose parents have bought them privilege in another way.

But despite it being treated as the norm for public figures, I’ve found myself asking over and over again: what sort of society do we live in where selfishness can be considered honourable behaviour?

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HMV, and who is Young Labour for anyway?

First published on Left Futures, March 18th 2013

Fifteen months ago, I was one of hundreds of young workers taken on by the once-thriving HMV at Christmas time. On Christmas eve, just after it first emerged that their business model was in deep water, most of us were told our contracts would be amended to an earlier finishing date.

I was given a week’s notice, which is more than can be said for some of my colleagues. A young French woman was told by our sneering line manager that she could have an “extended holiday”, as he informed her that she needn’t bother coming to work on Boxing Day or any day after.

Many of those who faced the brunt of the swift hand of management were foreign nationals or from ethnic minorities. But there were two universal traits among temporary workers and many of the permanent staff too: all young, and we had all been presented with an employment contract that was the stuff of nightmares for any trade union member.

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Exploitation, solidarity – and a tale of two films

First published on Left Futures, 17th March 2013

Seeing two films dealing with exploitation in the developing world made me think of the trajectory of British documentary maker Nick Broomfield. His first film –Who Cares? – focused on the slum clearances. We never see Broomfield’s face in the feature – back then he used cinéma vérité – interspersing the comments and narratives of his subjects.

Yet since 1988, his films have taken on a contrasting form, with director as the centrepiece. As the Guardian put it, “His search for answers provides the narrative backbone to issues which may remain unresolved, usually laced with his gently sly comedy.” (more…)

Private school Clegg: have our politicians no shame?

This article first appeared Left Futures, on 25th January 2013

Surprise, surprise. Nick Clegg, the man who once said the attainment gap between state and private schools was “corrosive for our society and damaging to our economy”, is considering going private for his own son.

“I’ve never, ever, ever sought to make my children’s education or my children a political football,” he told radio station LBC, before adding that he would not seek to contradict wife Miriam Gonzalez-Durantez on the matter.

He is not the first to make such a statement – politicians are frequently made to squirm on the issue, while in contrast it has become a media fetish for journalists to publicly wring their guilt and dilemmas on the school-choice issue. Nor is he the first one to publicly pass the buck to women. As much as I condemn Diane Abbott for her school choice, it is plain that there are plenty of white men in parliament who have got away with worse.

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Next Generation Labour endorse my campaign – ballots now open!

Next Generation LabourI’m delighted to announce that the steering committee of Next Generation Labour has voted to back my campaign to be East of England rep on the Young Labour National Committee.

NGL is a national network of younger party activists which has argued that Labour must take a tougher line against austerity if we are to convince the electorate that we are ready to govern. It was set up by members of Compass Youth after their organisation re-orienated to become a cross-party body.

I’ve been proud to be involved in NGL from fairly early on – I firmly believe that we lost a lot of trust during the New Labour years in spite of our proud record of investment in health and education. Without acknowledging the mistakes we have made, as Ed Miliband has rightly done on issues such as the Iraq war, we will remain tarnished in the view of voters, and we’ll be unable to move on.

If you’re a Labour party member under the age of 27, you should have received an email with details of how to vote for the national committee. It’s all taking place online, but you need two security codes, which should both be in the email.

Thanks to all of those who have pledged their support already. I’m really excited about the next few weeks – when I’ll be trying to speak to as many young members as possible about my plans for setting up a new regional network of young members and trade unionists.

You can see a list of endorsements from Eastern region comrades here. If you do vote for me, please let me know on Twitter (@conradlandin) to help me keep up! And if you want to have a chat about anything, drop me a line on Twitter or email and I’m always happy to get back, online or by phone.

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