Open letter (2) to Thangam Debbonaire 

Terryl Bacon has written to Thangam following her Facebook post explaining her decision to resign from the shadow front bench.


Dear Thangam,

Thank you for your open letter explaining why you resigned and the unhappy circumstance in which you found yourself as regards Corbyn. I regret the unnecessary stress you have undergone. I respect the values you espouse and I sincerely hope your treatment will be fully successful.

I trust that the poor communications which created your stress were not aimed at you personally but were the result of lack of political nous and the almost inevitable crossed wires which happen far too easily in complex organisations. As a former chair of a large union branch, I understand that, with the best will in the world, mistakes are sometimes made which might feel personal to the recipient.

That said, I would like to address some of the comments you made in your letter.

Unless one is happy to say, “my party right or wrong” or “my leader right or wrong”, it is important to be critical as you have been. However, when I look at what the Labour Party did Not do during its long term in office which started with a large majority in the Commons: The PLP did Not repeal any of the Thatcherite anti-union legislation. The PLP did Not stop the privatisation of the railways or the selling off of other National assets. Although some good things were done with the NHS and with the schools, during the period to which you referred, the gap between the richest and the poorest in this country grew. Meanwhile, a war was started and continued which brought millions of pounds to Britain’s arms manufacturers and made millions of innocent people suffer terribly to this day.

One could characterise the difference between the PLP and the Tories over the last two decades as neo-liberal lite and neo-liberal heavy. This difference has done little to address the real life situation of the most marginalised in our society. Those who blame Corbyn for the disaffection of the working class show a lack of historical understanding. The PLP could have made a huge difference for the good of the people under Blair but instead it largely continued the iniquitous status quo. That is why I have not wanted to be in Labour since Blair.

The PLP which you champion continues to be a figleaf for anti-humanist policies. I, and many other people, were appalled when the majority of the PLP members voted last week to spend £30+ billion on Trident instead of on the NHS. And it is instead. I think austerity is largely a myth in service of the elite but clearly there is a finite budget as we live on a finite planet.

Until Corbyn’s voice was heard, I had despaired of politics. He is different. He does have an agenda which inspires hundreds of thousands of people; especially the young. Yes, Corbyn lacks social graces and he has been clumsy but he has remained calm and steadfast and, as his popularity shows, for those of us who do not want more of the same, Corbyn is definitely electable!

I certainly think he owes you an apology for what you experienced under his leadership and I shall write and tell him. As important as that is, his apology for Labour’s war mongering meant a lot to several million of us.

I know that you have been too unwell to attend Parliament and I regret that you were not allowed to do so via email. Surely, that should be changed? But I wonder if you would publish what you would have voted during your time in office had you been able to do so. I ask, because I have checked Jeremy Corbyn’s voting record over the years and I agree with him; most especially so when he has Not voted the neo-liberal party line.

I am keeping an open mind on the split within the PLP; but I am looking for an honest leader. One who respects people’s ability to think for themselves; not a cheer leader for the PLP establishment.

Yours sincerely,

Terryl Bacon

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Flying to Galway

Recently I was invited to examine a doctoral thesis at the National University in Galway, Ireland. I looked forward to this for weeks as it seemed something of an adventure as well as a duty. I had never been to Galway although I have frequently visited my brother and his family in West Cork: he has painted there for more than thirty years.

While preparing for the viva voce, I found myself preoccupied by the simple logistical task of getting to Galway. Travelling to Ireland, a country very near yet across a turbulent sea, never seems quite straightforward. Moreover, the phrase “flying to Galway” jostled in my brain with “sailing to Byzantium”. I could hardly be described as a tattered coat upon a stick, but Yeats was younger than I when he wrote his poem, and I half hoped that the journey would be somehow transformative.

My previous journeys to Ireland have usually been memorable if only for their discomfort. For many years I used to catch the “express” bus from Bristol bus station that toiled along dark, damp Welsh roads to Fishguard, arriving at 3 a.m. for embarkation onto the Fishguard-Rosslare ferry. Whichever direction one was travelling, concern about migration and terrorism seemed always to be on the British side. Before being allowed to board the ferry, bemused bus passengers were directed into a large, bare security room where we had to walk in a circle while being filmed by a video camera and observed by armed guards.

The advent of affordable flight – Ryanair and easyJet – has much reduced the popularity of the bus journey.  I had no doubt that I was going to fly to Galway, but by which route? There is an airport at Galway itself, but this no longer operates a passenger service. The most direct alternative flight from Bristol was to Knock, about 35 miles north of Galway. There are only two flights a week, but I could arrive a day earlier than necessary, reread the thesis in the hotel, and see something of the area before returning to Britain.

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The 50 minute flight from Bristol to Knock was calm and sunlit above a virtual sea of small white clouds. As we descended, I saw a scattering of buildings across the green landscape. As we got closer to the ground, there seem to be no habitation at all. The plane landed abruptly, hitting the runway hard and slowing to a halt.

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Knock airport was built at the instigation of a priest who wished to encourage pilgrims to visit the shrine of the Virgin Mary, who appeared to the faithful at Knock church in 1873. As I left the plane, I saw an enormous statue of Mary overlooking the runway, which is carved into the encroaching Irish countryside in a way that appears barely finished. A large poster in the terminal building celebrates the airport’s ambition to act as a hub of communications between New York to the west and mainland Europe to the east, Knock apparently being the central point and the Atlantic strikingly foreshortened.

The stopping bus took an hour and forty minutes to Galway. The passenger next to me struck up a conversation and blessed me when he left the bus. My hotel was off the main road, on the outskirts of the city. Spacious and modern, it could have been in London or New York, apart from the same-sex couples who sat holding hands in the lounge. In some respects, social mores in Ireland have changed astonishingly, although not necessarily in ways the priests would have wished.

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I spent much of the next day re-reading the thesis but took time out to walk into town along the main road. In terms of traffic and townscape too, Ireland has joined the modern world. I could have been almost anywhere on the globe as I walked along a four-lane highway of crowded, shuffling traffic surrounded by retail parks. In the town, hoping to buy a coat to protect me from the cold of what was nonetheless a bright day, I made the mistake of entering a subterranean shopping mall where the stores were nearly all national and international chains, the walkways too narrow and the displays too bright.

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My day at the University was delightful. The viva voce examination was delayed because the other examiner had an earlier meeting with a government minister about a history text he had recently published; it was good to hear that government was taking a interest in the scholarly function of the academy. The utilitarian, vocational view of higher learning may not yet have affected Ireland as it has the UK. Over lunch we discussed the Rugby World Cup, which was starting the following weekend, and the Michael Fassbender Macbeth, which I went to see in the local cinema that evening.

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It was the next day – a Saturday, my last day in Ireland – that I felt I understood something of Ireland’s version of modernity. Sheila Gallagher showed me the tiny house that was the childhood home of Nora Barnacle, wife of James Joyce and inspiration for Molly Bloom. Sheila and her sister bought the house in 1987 and have preserved it to convey vividly the life of a large family in two small rooms. The house contains several photographs of Nora Barnacle, Joyce and their companions, some taken on holidays abroad which clearly took Nora well away from her humble Galway origins. Standing in the cramped house, one room above the other and an outside area little larger than a single bed, it was easy to remember that the Irish are no strangers to austerity. Walking with Sheila through the older parts of Galway, I was struck by the combination of traditional street life – performers, buskers, sellers – and non-traditional same-sex couples embracing and holding hands. In Galway, I was at one moment on a Los Angeles highway; at another, in a living museum of the traditional harshness of Irish life; at another, in an embrace of new freedom in relationships. It was an invigorating experience.