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activism economics Housing media Politics Privatisation women

CRISIS!

From “argh, toilet roll!” to “argh, petrol!”

A mild disturbance in the supply of absolutely anything we’re used to buying every day has more political impact than, say, people losing their homes, children going hungry, abused women being locked up with male sex-offenders, asylum seekers drowning in the channel, the govt selling our services and infrastructure to foreign businesses, climate change wrecking our world before our grandchildren can live out their lives – any of the things I’ve ever tried campaigning about, really.

Attention seeking

I don’t think answers like ‘people are stupid’ or ‘people are greedy’ help much. It’s about where most people’s attention is, most of the time. Most of us usually have our heads down, ploughing through ‘what needs doing’ in the face of a huge range of obstacles from lack of funds to people not answering phones to illness and disability. Everything that disrupts the battle is a ****ing nuisance to throw ourselves at in determined fury.

Do you remember all those extraordinary ideas, songs, lectures, meetings and above all community support projects people thought up in response to lockdown?

Time to think

The time people need in order to think reappears when everyday buzz, pressures and demands stop. Those people we briefly learned to call ‘essential workers’ just had to go on working ( some called lockdown ‘where the middle class stay home and the working classes bring them things’ ). Those whose lives were already in extreme difficulty – for example in insecure housing, in prisons and refugee hostels ( not the homeless though – the government briefly made the effort to ‘get people off the streets’ ) – all those people really had their noses rubbed in how bad things are…

… but the salaried classes, the service, financial and what have you workers – all got used to not being able to go where we want or buy anything we want at a moment’s notice, and started THINKING.

So I’ll be getting on with the community organising, the networking and the educating and the production of books, more aware than ever that these are the vital political acts. How about you? Have you thought of any other things we can do….? (comments section below)

Just keep thinking about how this government, the government that does not care one jot about destroying businesses and jobs, or creating poverty, or stranding the old and the sick, was so desperately, desperately keen to avoid another lockdown. What is it they’re scared of?

THINKING.

PS This blog started life as an FB status post, and got the following comment, which struck me as absolutely on the button…

Aaron McConnell wrote:

In an individualistic society, most of the time we’re encouraged to live in our own heads. And on those occasions where the problems of others manage to permeate our thoughts, we’re also encouraged to think “oh well, they must have done something wrong”, and at that point the concerns and suffering of others can be dismissed as fair because they’ve brought it upon themselves. Taken to an extreme, that logic starts to sound like: “everyone on benefits is an undeserving scrounger… except me, when I was made redundant through no fault of my own.” We’ve all heard that kind of thing.

The anger and panic you allude to in this article I think springs from that mindset. When people who think like that find themselves swept up into a crisis that wasn’t of their making – and they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong – the first explanation they reach for is that someone else must have messed up; and the consequences of that mistake are falling unjustly on the people who had no part in making it. That prompts anger, and creates a strong incentive to blame others.

It’s very easy to ignore something when it’s not affecting you directly.

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activism Corbyn economics Election Labour Politics Uncategorized women

Dwellers on the threshold

List A: Things you can do without being a member of a political party

Set up and promote petitions

Go on demos

Organise demos

Organise political education and film nights

Write to your MP

Get up delegations to go and visit MPs for discussions

Write blogs, make videos and pod casts

Join an affiliated union and vote through policies they’ll support for you at party conference

Campaign for decent councillors and, come election time, parliamentary candidates

Go to hustings and question parliamentary candidates

Go to political meetings and lectures that interest you, *whoever* is organising them

Meet with the local branches of political parties, and tell them what you are doing and why

Talk to members of all parties without appearing to be ‘the enemy’

Get up campaign groups of your own from amongst your friends and colleagues, to campaign on topics that matter to you

Contact anyone – *anyone* who has an idea that interests you, and ask for a coffee and a chat

List B: Things you don’t have to do if you’re not a member of a political party

Sit through weekly or monthly meetings that go on for two hours or more even if no-one has anything constructive to say/do

Pay subs, only to receive endless appeals for cash anyway

Stand by policies you don’t really agree with

Try to support the party candidate, even if they are a parachuted-in disaster

Put up with abuse from partisan evangelists just because they are in the same party as you

Avoid being seen with, or being caught talking about, proscribed people and organisations, such as Ken Loach, Jeremy Corbyn, Julie Bindel, Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker, Chris Williamson, Julian Assange (yeah yeah, there are probably people there you don’t agree with but you know, if you’re not a party animal, you’re allowed to question/debate with/learn about *anyone you want to*.)

Give up on having any political influence when your party’s not in power

Spend whole days delivering leaflets that, as far as you can see, say nothing useful at all

But here’s the really good bit

You can do all the things on list A even if you *are* a member of a political party – it’s just that you don’t have to do list B, and are not *limited to* working with party members and/or within the limits of party policy if you understand that being kicked out isn’t the end of politics for you.

Don’t fret if you want to leave your political party, don’t fret if they’ve thrown you out or bullied you out, and don’t feel silenced if you’re still in, and they’ve told you what not to say. There is life – and politics enough to change our world – beyond the party meeting.

Solidarity to all the socialists, environmentalists, feminists and others who are worried about being ‘politically homeless’ – it’s a mirage! See you at conferences, on demos, in the pub, all over the place, doing politics. You are not politically homeless. The whole country is your home!

Image by Lily Maynard https://lilymaynard.com/womens-liberation-2020-a-wpuk-conference/
https://www.counterfire.org/
https://filia.org.uk/
https://www.stopwar.org.uk/
https://www.tuc.org.uk/join-a-union
https://climatenetwork.org/
https://www.facebook.com/Keep-Our-NHS-Public-Hastings-Rother-106432804464520

Please feel free to add more ideas in the comments.

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activism Corbyn economics Election Labour NHS Politics Privatisation

You know schools, right?

Sorry for the bar room tone of the title, but it seems to me to match the level of thinking we have been getting from our government.

I have huge sympathy with the people who have been agitating all along to keep/get the schools open.

I have huge sympathy with the people who want the schools shut until we’re sure we’re safe.

I have huge sympathy with the people who think the whole idea of schools should be torn up and re-invented.

Here’s why…

What we have found out

Open the schools, fund the schools

Many communities, especially those that have become pits of social and financial deprivation due to the degradation of local authorities and funding, were depending on schools to keep children fed, healthy and safe. There are horrendous reports now coming out of the dangers and disasters that are befalling children in these areas during lock-down. If we are going to go on like this, we need to provide schools with the funds and the specialist staff to deal with all the community problems that have fallen into their laps because no-one else is dealing with them.

Keep the schools closed, fund everything else

It’s obvious that we need to close schools, and as many other institutions as possible, until the experts in *that* field have worked out how to deal with the virus and related problems so, having learned what our kids are going through, a responsible government would be urgently and actively re-funding and re-staffing the NHS, social services, community police, housing officers and all the other departments (not private contractors please, they have proved to be useless and expensive) – government or local authority departments that would, if they had the resources, be dealing with the problems those children are facing and – obviously – we need legislation to assure that wages and working conditions are functioning in a way that allows young adults to set up home, and find the time and resources necessary to bring up their children properly.

Ian Lavery MP points out why many people are not coping.

But it would appear that the only thing concerning the government is how they handle a cohort of kids who are all in different places on their national education data sheets, kids who are not in the habit of functioning in a group and following orders. Faced with a situation that doesn’t fit on their spread sheets, government ministers flip-flop between micro-management and hand-waving laissez faire in a way tailored to guarantee rage in teachers and parents alike.

Catch up with what?

Or – why school culture is bad for your kids

Closing schools made precious little difference to home-educating families. Those who aren’t familiar with the idea probably formed their notions of what home-schooling is long before it became something desperate parents resorted to when schools could not provide for their children. No longer middle class ‘hippy’ types, most home-schooling parents hauled their lives into a new shape with great difficulty because their children have special needs and their schools were poorly resourced to respond. Many of those who home-school now, whether by choice or because of special needs say the term itself is somewhat outdated. ‘Community education’ would be a more appropriate description. They band together, join local gyms, libraries and arts and science projects, and endeavour to teach their children what they are capable of learning in a way they are capable of learning it.

The biggest problem I see with such education is that it’s often impossible for people who don’t have the resources, financial or otherwise, or who have to work long hours, to take part.

When the schools closed, the children in those families who were engaged in non-school education carried on their education pretty much as before, except that their group work had to move onto zoom. The problems they do have went right on as before – the difficulty of getting officials who contacted them to understand what education was, the difficulty of securing places and facilities for the kids to sit exams and the complete irrelevance to them of government guidance and directives – but overall, home-schooling proved itself during lockdown to be far, far better adapted to the modern world than most schools were.

Guardian headline about free broadband being needed for schooling, with caption "leave it Jez. They're not worth it."

For one thing, it’s a large part of why the government we weren’t allowed to have had free broadband for all as a headline policy, and it’s another area in which I really wish we had a government with the ability to look and learn.

What ‘home-school’ kids are suffering though, is the same thing all kids are currently suffering. They urgently need the time and the opportunity to rediscover and rebuild their social networks. I seriously hope the government doesn’t pursue that recently mooted idea of extending school hours so kids can ‘catch up’ – what, catch up with an imposed GCSE regime that has little to do with their actual lives? – they, just as much as their home-schooling friends, need time to catch up with their friends, their lives.

Through the portal

If only – If only we had had the government the majority of us did our best to bring in in 2017 (yes, majority – go find out, if you don’t know) we could take away the fines and the social pressures (poverty, overwork, inadequate housing etc) that force parents to send kids to school, and we could completely make over our schools, so that they were our hubs of community education: so that they provided shelter and routine every day to kids who needed those things, but also provided exam resources and sittings, labs, dance and recording studios, IT centres, libraries, orchestra, choir and team sports opportunities and above all, professional teachers, to everyone in the community who needed them (free at the point of use, naturally – because we believe in free education for all, don’t we?) Such schools would of course be staffed by experts on education, child development and safeguarding, but they would not have to be experts in health, social care, housing, social control and all the rest of it because we would have proper local authority departments assessing and doing the necessary in those specialities.

Teachers have been flooding into the NEU and other community-action organisations, seeking help, support and directions forward. In January, the NEU held what proved to be the biggest ever Trades Union meeting and made more sense in a couple of hours than the government has in months.

The biggest lesson

Above all, I think the lesson all of us – parents, teachers, kids, politicians, the voting public – need to take from this is that we won’t get given what we want, we won’t get told the whole truth – unless we take action, take responsibility, and start making the world we want to pass on to our children.

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economics Politics Uncategorized

Is this the worst idea yet?

Curfews are not good

It’s just being talked about at the moment but we need to make sure the reasons why curfew is not a good idea are spread far and wide. We know what works. Back in March, we shut down everything we could, got into the habit of checking on the vulnerable and stayed home as long as it was possible to do so.

The R number went down. Infections went down and, most importantly, deaths went down. It wasn’t all good. Many, many people had a hard time because we have a government that does not see looking after people as its job. It didn’t work as well as it would have done if they’d kept a check on airport arrivals, but we did get control of virus spread and prevent overwhelm of our struggling NHS.

What are they expecting?

Other than limits on civil liberties that have set off a whole range of fears and fight-backs and paranoias, what have the government done in the last six months? The main thing I’ve heard is that they’ve increased the capacity of morgues. Is that enough, in their eyes? Prepare for the dead, and leave your corporate friends to make a fortune running warehouse ‘hospitals’?

If so, it would be obvious they didn’t value human life beyond their own, and that looks bad, so they’d also need to do something relatively cheap that *looked* good. Is that why curfew is on the option-cards now?

Curfew is not a good plan

Tory governments have a consistent history of choosing the option that’s cheap in the short term, and creates an illusion of order. I can see why they’d be tempted by the idea of a curfew.

Curfews are dangerous

They’re a gross infringement of civil liberties, so will create more fightback and more paranoia but they are also directly dangerous.

Curfews create empty streets.

Empty streets are dangerous for those who have to go out – remember those key workers we were going to value above all from now on? Those who’d have to go down those empty streets to get to work, and those who’d have the job of trying to police those empty streets?

People who are attacked or get into difficulty on empty streets find no help at hand.

Buildings and infrastructure on empty streets get damaged or broken into.

Cars on empty streets get vandalised or stolen.

Please don’t let them get away with presenting curfew as sensible or necessary.

Curfews are dangerous, and if you’re under curfew in the evenings but going to work and school all day in crowded conditions, curfews will not control virus spread.

poster: our key workers support everone. Pay them. Protect them. Respect them.

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activism economics Hastings NHS Politics Uncategorized

Who puts the skill in key jobs?

There isn’t *quite* a poem called sweeping the street by George Herbert, but you don’t have to be religious to grasp the wonderful truth of his idea that you can sweep the street ‘for god’.

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economics Hastings media Politics

All Hart and no Information?

Hastings and Rye MP does not understand Cities of Sanctuary

In a recent interview, MP Sally-Ann Hart said she could ‘count on one hand’ the number of her constituents who wrote to her in support of accepting refugees in Hastings.

Cornered and anxious?

This comes after Hart wrote an inflammatory letter to Priti Patel, claiming Hastings people felt ‘cornered’ and ‘anxious’ about desperate asylum seekers washing up on the beaches in Pett and Camber. She said she was afraid they were bringing the virus to Hastings.

On her publishing her letter, many Hastings people wrote angrily, directly to her and also on social media, saying that she doesn’t understand what it means to be a City of Sanctuary. I don’t know how many fingers Hart has, but I have just counted the number of people I know personally who wrote to her about the many mistakes in her letter.

Virus risk

Asylum seekers washing up on the beaches do not ‘bring the virus’ to Hastings because they do not come to Hastings. They are picked up – usually immediately, on the beach, by police or immigration officers, and taken to processing centres outside our constituency. They do not have the time or the opportunity to mix with local people so cannot possibly spread the virus. Anyway, Hart also said in that same interview that we should stop being scaredy cats and get out there and ‘live with the virus’.

Asylum seekers seek asylum

It is true that Hastings is, and according to many constituents is proud to be, a City of Sanctuary. That does not mean we take in and house anyone who washes up on the beach. It means our council decides, along with government authorities, how many refugees we can take and when. And those refugees have been through the processing system, they have not just arrived so the virus situation is as irrelevant to what happens in Hastings as is everything else she said about new arrivals.

France is a safe place?

Hart also said no-one should be washing up in the UK because asylum seekers should seek asylum in the first safe country they come to. But a very cursory study of what happens to the victims of war and aggressive governments will tell you what is wrong with that idea.

The people who have sought sanctuary all the way across Europe and ended up in camps full of traffickers and pimps, or who have experienced French police setting fire to camps, will tell you what is wrong with that idea.

Sally-Ann, please have a heart, and do some research before you speak.

Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP

What Sally-Ann Hart MP said about hungry children:

So Sally can wait

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activism economics Hastings Politics Uncategorized

The old school

I saw my old school on Derelict in the UK! But the photos didn’t show the thing I really loved about that school, so I went and took some of my own…

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: me and school – we really didn’t get along. I am not nostalgic, I do not dream of the ol’ school days. But I am aware that my secondary school was a far, far pleasanter experience – and in many ways, a better learning environment than that many teenagers have to put up with nowadays.

I went to secondary school in 1972. I was in a bit of a pickle because the changeover from eleven-plus and selective education had happened during the latter half of my junior years and my family managed to compound the confusion by moving house midway through the assessment period from an eleven-plus town to a select-by-school record town (that was a sort of halfway stage before ending selection).

So – Hastings High School (latterly known as Helenswood), and us pretty much the last of the ‘selected by ability’ intake. I got a default place because my Hastings primary school hadn’t had me long enough to do a performance-based assessment, and because my mum made a fuss. I’m not sure which bit did it, but it got done.

So I was at a school with very good facilities, a wide range of subjects to choose from and – this is the thing – superb grounds. The single greatest compensation for all the things I didn’t like about school was the opportunity to just disappear into playgrounds, loll about on lawns or stroll in woods.

I’m writing this now because there was a time when many schools, not just the posh ones, had great outdoor space for break and lunchtime wanderings and sport for those that liked it (I didn’t!). I’m convinced it vastly reduced the stress of bad times at school and I’m furious that so many schools have lost those spaces.

I’m particularly furious about Helenswood, and I want the people who went there in my time and later on to be furious. I have no idea if the building is rescue-able – it was built in the era of flat roofs, which was never a good idea, and buckets-in-corridors was the norm in winter in all the schools I went to – but it’s the grounds I’m furious about, and here’s why.

Like most of the state schools in this country, Helenswood was handed over to an academy trust some years back. In this case, an outfit called ARK so it became ARKHelenswood. They put ARK before the names of all the schools they take over (any conversation about education in Hastings sounds as though it’s being constantly interrupted by chickens).

A second building was constructed a mile or so up the road, and the school run across two sites. My daughter and her friends told me they didn’t like the new building – it was cramped by comparison with the old one, and seemed to be a very efficient stress-building sound-box. It wasn’t sited so well either, fronting right onto a main road intersection opposite the new hospital –

But that academy trust had more problems than bad school design. People started sending their kids out of town to avoid the trust and that, coupled with a projected reduction in population, apparently led the trust to decide they didn’t need the Helenswood building after all.

I am highly suspicious. They didn’t own it for that long, and the population projection didn’t come out of nowhere – why did they take on that school, with its extensive and highly desirable grounds, and set about building another one when a reduction in uptake was on the cards?

I suspect the Helenswood grounds have been stolen from our town, stolen from the next generation of kids, and I think we should start making a lot more fuss about the loss of school grounds. Please tell me what you think. Links to campaign groups and info about the value of school grounds especially appreciated.

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Extreme blog post

What we’re all gradually realising…

We’ve been warned and warned about extremism … meanwhile, whilst asking teachers and nurses to do the downright impossible, and the rest of us to panic over the day’s headlines – maybe Mr Cummings, or the arrival of a few desperate asylum seekers, the government has had a free reign to take our attempt at a constitution to bits, set up any kind of Brexit it likes, and sell off anything we still own, all the while blaguing their way into one of the worst covid-19 scenarios in the world.

Newspaper headline: 'Cummings draws condemnation from across UK society
Cummings draws condemnation away from the rest of the govt

Now, we’re angry. Now, we know who the real extremists are, and we’re all running in circles (without leaving home) trying to work out what to do about it. As a popular cartoon yesterday asked, is Laura K covering for Cummings, is Cummings covering for the govt? Is the govt covering for Murdoch? … is there another layer, called ‘the deep state’?

Did Cummings go travelling to further this or that scurrilous political or business plan? Yes, quite likely he did but how many years will it take us to work all that out? I’ve wasted a whole week’s thinking on it and now I’m bored with it.

Boris Johnson attempts an apology

Extremism

Was supporting Jeremy Corbyn extremism? Is supporting Boris Johnson extremism? What about supporting XR? Or Julian Assange? Or sex-based rights? What about losing Domestic extremist tea towelpatience with lockdown, or saying there’s no point in sending your kids to school? Is Piers Morgan an extremist? Who cares! What the Cummings story did is push a lot of people over into ‘who cares’ but – would it be extremism to include in that mood not caring about what the media wants us to think?

Maybe real extremism is blaming whoever we’re encouraged to blame, or refusing to work with someone as soon as you find they take a different line to you on party politics, or Brexit, or religion, or one of the other things we’re so good at falling apart over, or maybe it’s spreading the propaganda we read in the less tabloidy papers, or just being noisy and angry because it makes us feel better. Maybe we’d better give all that up right now.

There is another option

If you haven’t already, take some time out to listen to Laura Pidcock and Noam Chomsky.

 

 

Or if you prefer a book, get hold of a copy of ‘The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein. It explains that the government wants a never-ending crisis-scandal-disaster. It wants us running in circles getting angry with people at random. It takes our minds off the real enemy. Come election time, we’ll be back to battling over whether we like the blue cardboard hero or the red cardboard hero, or whether to ignore both if the green one’s in with a chance.

Activists with 'broken heart' placards commemorating those killed by DWP austerityOne  conclusion from watching the Pidcock/Chomsky interview is that we ought to give ourselves a break from arguing the toss over establishment figures and ballot boxes. Let’s think about our own, local resources. Many towns did remarkably well setting up local covid-19 help schemes. Generally, they are the same people who’ve been running foodbanks and all the rest of it – they did it no thanks to the govt, or what was said on telly.

Local ACORN team 'taking what's ours'
Properly socially distanced activism

We ought to do this all the time. Local networks coming together, doing their own thinking, doing local activism on issues that matter to them and choosing their own political education – and then doing more thinking, activism and education. And then more – it’s fun and it’s necessary. And let’s make sure the education we choose shows us the big picture, because we’re not just patiently doing the government’s job for them, but building our own way forward (we can still go and vote too, come the time but we don’t have to work ourselves to death over some party or candidate who wouldn’t walk half a mile for our sake).

Healthy extremes

The people’s extremes are about dodging the establishment ‘mainstream’, about focusing on localism and internationalism, instead of the Westminster-generated, big name ‘news’ in its blinding spotlight.

Localism and internationalism – there are real human stories to be found at those two extremes. With real humans in mind, we can leap-frog over what the government, the television and the newspapers think we should be worrying about.

Does it work?

Let’s consider the contrast between Pragna Patel’s speech here, where she cheers on a global rising and the gradual coming together of women’s movements…

 

 

…and Arundhati Roy and Naomi Klein here, where Roy concludes that people just don’t rise up.

 

 

 

Which one do you believe?

Yellow jackets being extreme in FranceMaybe the point is that a massive rising of the people is not necessarily a crowd running down a street. Maybe it’s a tidal wave of new thinking and co-operation that we’re aiming for.

It only takes a few people an hour or so to set up a local action, it only takes a few minutes to set up a pol-ed watch-party – but each time you do it, you’re adding power to the movement – and every time you set one up, ask each of the people who take part to set up another one of their own. And if you remember to take photos, and film speeches, you can get on social media and make each action grow and spread and inspire more people…

Local action

The point Roy missed is – The Tipping Point. People don’t rise up, right up until they do. And what brings us to that point is persistent local activism and political education.

Corbyn addresses a crowd of thousands

Remember the energy and the numbers at the peak of the Corbyn movement? We were nearly there – and although the Corbyn project failed, its gains in the population are not lost. It wasn’t a waste, all that activism and pol ed. We now have many, many more people with experience in taking the initiative and working together – keep going. Keep going until we have enough people, ready enough, willing enough, that the initiative is all ours.

And at the other extreme

Pragna PatelOne of the things Pidcock and Chomsky mention is a plan for a new international. Pragna Patel wasn’t imagining things when she said women’s action is going global. Lockdown does not change what millions of women have learned in the last few years. Keep your eye on the women and also, keep your eye on Sanders, Varoufakis and others. I hope that conference Chomsky mentions (The Progressive International Conference, in Iceland in September) isn’t really in Iceland – no more jet-set politics please! I hope that really, it’s going to be hosted in Iceland and held online, where it can be seen globally – but whatever.

Localism and internationalism are the healthy extremes, they are the people reaching out, and together, we have the widest reach. Have plenty of international stories in your local activism and pol ed. Find out what the people’s movements are doing in South America, in France, in India, communicate with them, learn from them and then act local – let’s learn planet-sized politics because after all, we have a whole planetful of people who need saving from the real extremists.

Dominic Cummings pictured inside a Nato summit he wasn't supposed to be at
Extremely annoying and distracting

 

Some good sources for pol ed until we can get back to real world films and face to face discussions…

The Spirit of '45 by Ken Loach
Well worth a watch

Stories from home and abroad

Socialist pol ed from the Labour Left Alliance

Blogs and podcasts by and about women at FiLiA

… but the choices are endless – just get Googling.

 

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activism economics Hastings Housing Labour media NHS Politics Privatisation Uncategorized

My post-lockdown manifesto

(It’s a work in progress – I want to hear about yours, too.) What do we change, what do we scrap – what can we do?

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activism Corbyn economics Election Hastings Labour Politics Uncategorized

My friends my friends don’t ask me….

… what the fighting all was for