24 August 2015

The passing of a mother

My mother moved to Haslemere at the beginning of 1963 and lived in the area for the rest of her life.

On Thursday 19 February 2015, a nondescript winter’s day, I had just stepped onto the pavement outside the cafe where I often had lunch when my mobile rang. It was my mother’s nursing home in Wormley just outside Haslemere. I knew something was wrong because they rarely contacted me about anything. A nurse told me that my mother, eighty-six and having suffered from advanced dementia for several years, was ill. I could not really tell whether she was just unwell, or whether her condition was life threatening.

In a telephone conversation on the Friday, a senior nurse confirmed that my mother would probably die over the weekend. Rushing back to England was an almost impractical possibility. She was unconscious - and even if she regained consciousness she had neither spoken nor acknowledged people or events around her for three years.

I had to work on the Saturday, but finished early around three. I drifted into a shopping centre out of the cold and phoned the nursing home. A nurse told me in heavily accented English that my mother was comfortable and stable, but the home would phone if there were any change in her condition. I went to bed on Saturday slightly comforted, but not knowing that mother was by that time already dead.

Unbeknownst to me, my phone was on silent. The following morning I went out to do some shopping in the nearby shopping centre where I glanced at my phone. I saw several missed calls from the home. It could only mean one thing. I dialled the number, my fingers slightly shaking, and was told by the duty nurse in a matter-of-fact way that my mother had died at around four the previous day, a mere hour after I had called.

I wandered across from outside McDonalds where I had been standing towards Tesco’s. Yes, it was over a decade since Mum and I had enjoyed a sensible conversation, or since she had recognised me. Many would say that the passing a speechless, reactionless person was a blessing. Yes, Mum and I had had our quarrels and differences, but she was my mother and she was now dead. Tears poured down my cheeks, and it was a while before I phoned my wife and older son to tell them the news.

4 August 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: a glimmer of light in the Labour Party

The promising levels of support for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership race indicate that the Labour Party should not be written off too quickly.

I remember watching TV reports of the cliffhanger Labour Conference in 1981 when Denis Healey beat Tony Benn for the deputy leadership of the Party by a fraction of one percent. The cameras flashed briefly onto the conference floor highlighting a young bearded left-wing activist sporting a badge “Benn for Number 10.” It was Jeremy Corbyn.

In the years that followed the Labour Left was defeated and marginalised. The Labour Party swung to the right, and under the label of New Labour became a mere adjunct of capitalist power, while jettisoning any meaningful attempt to reform capitalism or the British state in a progressive direction. By the end of the 1990s, even before the Iraq War, I ceased to identify with Labour, and saw the way forward - if there were one - as outside the Labour Party. Thus in recent years I have welcomed the birth of Left Unity and the growing number of votes for the Greens and the SNP.

Jeremy Corbyn became an MP in 1983, and during the next thirty-two years, ignored by the corporate media, he was one of the isolated few who never abandoned socialist politics. I admit that I thought his cause inside Labour was hopeless. Yet in 2015 for whatever miscalculated Machiavellian reasons, he secured sufficient nominations from MPs to enter the race for the Labour leadership. Initially cast a joke outsider, his appeal to end austerity, militarism and to promote the cause of ordinary working people has won him widespread support. Aided by a new electoral system where party members plus any Tom, Dick or Harry who coughs up three quid can vote, he now, according to opinion polls, leads the pack in the race for Labour Leader.

I still fear that the Labour establishment in alliance with the security services and the corporate media will stymie his election. And even if elected he will head a parliamentary party in which the vast majority oppose him. Nonetheless something is happening here - and I might have been to too quick to write the Labour Party off.