I got caught out badly on Sunday night. I was flicking through Sky TV in that aimless fashion that continues to confirm my worst fears; television may be mostly harmless but it is also mostly grim viewing.
I fell upon a repeat episode from BBC 3’s, “Kill it, Cook it, Eat it” series on one of the channels. The programme concentrates on the lives of farm animals and their short passage from birth to cooking pan.
I became interested almost immediately as this episode concerned veal. I like to cook, and am especially interested in experimenting with a variety of foods.
Veal is a meat I am unfamiliar with and hoped I could learn more about. I had often wondered what it tasted like as, to my knowledge, I have never tried it.
This was to be no tame, culinary education on my part, though. The programme concentrated on the lack of popularity of veal amongst UK consumers, citing that many are put off by the relative short lifespan of each calf, many of which are slaughtered at 6 months of age; as well as the misinformed notion that veal is a tough, tasteless meat.
In fact, if cooked properly, as the programme demonstrated, it is as tender, tasty and nutritious a meat as you could wish to find.
As so often is the case, when the British palate stubbornly refuses to indulge the tremendous variety of locally produced and naturally occurring foodstuffs found within it’s land, and waters, its neighbours in France toast to its ignorance, raise their glasses, and avail of the product themselves.
However, in general, the prospect of rearing veal calves is not an economical one for most farmers in the UK, at least, that is, according to this programme. Farmers tend not to make a good return on their product, due to this lack of popularity.
One farmer complained that it was pointless to raise a calf for any period of time and go to the expense of taking it to market only for it to be sold for a nominal amount; £6 in the case he mentioned.
Up to this point, I had always considered veal to be an expensive meat because I believed it was considered a delicacy and therefore very expensive; hence its scarcity on our supermarket shelves. Now I was being told that it sold for £6 as a whole, live, though still maturing unit.
At this point the theme switched to the farmer’s hired hit-man and executioner. He arrived by lorry dressed in a grey, waterproof raincoat and trousers; and held a handgun, semi-concealed in his left hand.
He climbed over the gate of a straw-floored pen where x2, six-week old calves were casually pacing about in the blissful innocence of their lives. He approached one from the front and aimed the gun directly at the temple of its head; the calf approached the barrel quizzically, briefly touching it with its moist nose. The man took a step back and fired once, the opening of the barrel less than 6 inches from the head of his target.
A dark, vacant hole immediately appeared between the eyes of the calf, like some sort of magic spell had been cast upon it. Its legs buckled and collapsed in an instant as its head bounced on the straw-covered ground upon impact. “The brain is dead but the nervous system will cause the body to convulse for a period of time,” remarked the commentator, as the flawlessly formed body of the young animal shook uncontrollably on the straw floor and bright red blood now flowed from the gaping hole in its head.
The man was already in front of the second calf whose curiosity in the gun was immediately extinguished as a shot rang out and it too collapsed and convulsed in front of the camera.
Death in an instant exacted on 2 helpless, trusting young animals. They were to have no cognizance at all of the fate that was to befall them. That, some would say, is a blessing, at least. Yes, I suppose that’s right.
But normally I can handle these events and attempt to reason them away and subdue any conflict that may arise in my emotional response. I’ve learned to develop a thick skin to cope with the hard reality of life as it serves up one cold, unreasonable outcome on top of another.
But this night I was off-guard, presumably in some vulnerable, emotional place feeling like a reluctant resident yet bound for the time being.
Perhaps it was because I’d left my kid with his mum earlier that evening. Maybe I was missing him and the fact I don’t get to be with him for 3 or 4 nights of the week now when every instinct, thought and emotion persuades me that being with him is where I should and must be and that not being there for him means that I can’t affect what happens to him.
Perhaps I think too much, and worry too much – I’ve certainly inherited a worry-gene.
Or, maybe, what happened to those animals was simply wrong and that life is tough and unpredictable enough without snuffing it out merely because it causes temporary, financial inconvenience and it, for once, genuinely appalled me in a profound way.
Perhaps my usual defences were down and as a consequence the truth seeped through like a blade that pierces between the ribs into the heart.
In the end though, I’m pleased to report that I’ve since recovered. I’m a normally functioning, fully integrated, meat-eating member of society once more. I shall just have to build up those defences even stronger and less permeable than before.
Heaven forbid that I should become an emotional victim of the utterly pointless and cruel prejudices we sometimes serve on that most valuable of all things, life itself.
The long-running exchange of mutually abusive texts between us reached fever-pitch yesterday, all as a result of the Labour leadership contest. And, there’s no point in disguising the fact, my best friend is right. He, of hardcore Tory mindset, poignantly cut to the chase by sending through a final sermon, “you’re a member of a party that you can’t even vote for and treats you like a 2nd class hanger on….mental case”. Quite – the Northern Ireland dilemma, support UK Labour but vote for who, exactly? I’m utterly gutted tonight and am fleeting between moments of self-ridicule and not a little embarrassment for feeling this way. But I can no more change how I feel about the political ideology of the Labour Party, or the outcome of its leadership contest, than I can change what woman I was born to or what day of the week it is at any given moment. I can forgive myself for how I feel because I feel this way for the right reasons; there is no malice of forethought attached as a penance. David Miliband was my first preference choice for the Labour leadership, his brother Ed, second. The other 3 candidates had no chance. I have admired the abilities of David Miliband for a long time. He was at the heart of constructing the policies that delivered the Labour Party its thumping election victory in 1997 and he continued in that vein by employing his brilliant mind in new, innovative ways by developing ideas which benefitted and enriched our party and served our people through 3 successful and historic terms in Office. His time as this country’s Foreign Secretary was a period when he blossomed into Labour’s obvious successor. It didn’t surprise me to learn that on his visit to Britain in August, Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, was reported to have actively sought out David Miliband, feeling more at home in his company in order to discuss his country’s profound problems, rather than that of our own Prime Minister, David Cameron. That isn’t to say I haven’t had my moments of doubt about David. Doubts that have had more to do with the manner and style he employs to express his ideas rather than the substance behind them. Inexplicably, during the Hustings, he at times looked disinterested, remaining silent when opportunities arose for him to confront the ideas and views of other contestants. At those moments, when you are instinctively motivated to move in for the kill, David Miliband failed to express the ideological passions that reside within and drive him. In contrast, his brother Ed was vocal and passionate throughout. Ed Miliband is, in a tactical, intelligent sense as unashamed an opportunist as you could reasonably expect to encounter. If there is one attribute that I’ve discovered in him in the last 4 months it is that. He recognised that his brother would fall victim to the accusation of being too closely aligned with Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and New Labour – a willing and loyal foot-soldier bound by conditioning and loyalty to remain ever faithful to its cause, regardless of the consequences. Ed Miliband positioned himself as the change candidate, committed to reconnecting the party once more with its core support and renewing the trust between the leader and the party’s grassroots. Secondly, and related to the New Labour issue, he identified a sizeable but frustrated core of support within the party that was not naturally cohering with the overtly left-wing tendencies of Diane Abbott. Ed Miliband duly obliged, looked the gift-horse in the mouth, and won them over. If David Miliband was initially disappointed and a little disconcerted by his brother’s decision to challenge his expected ascendency to Labour leader, he closeted it well. In retrospect, there was a definite Ides of March feel about how Ed went on to despatch his brother to the likely and ignominious fate of chancery on Labour’s back benches. What a tragedy, what an appalling and insufferable waste of outstanding talent. Ed Miliband won this campaign by playing a dangerous game that may come back to bite him and the party he has embarked upon leading. Getting the unions on his side and winning the leadership contest as a result of their votes, provides the Tories with top quality ammunition and charges of “Red Ed” during a time when it is they that should be under the spotlight. The label of “Left-wing Labour” sits perilously alongside a memory that has been plaguing me today – that now infamous Michael Hestletine speech at the Conservative Party Conference in which he won over the faithful with a devastatingly simple military analogy of a marching army, but with a twist, “Left!….Left!….Left! Left! Left! The greatest trick Ed Miliband pulled in this contest was convincing the disillusioned Labour supporters out there that he was not an inherent believer in New Labour. Now that he has assailed to leader, he has to deliver a left-wing agenda that he does not believe in and therefore simply can’t deliver to the unions and those more broadly who won the leadership for him. Indeed, he will probably spend the next few years facing down Tory and media accusations that he is old, left-wing Labour in both style and substance by feeling it necessary to continually prove by words and deeds otherwise. This dangerous cocktail of accusation and counter-measure will ultimately disappoint those who have supported him and cause untold confusion in the electorate at large. It is bound to undermine the chances of the Labour Party at the next election and beyond. My fear is that it will make Ed Miliband, and the Labour Party, unelectable – that and the fact that he is at times unconvincing. As for the other candidates in the race I got their final position by the end of play today spot on by the end of day one. About 4–6 weeks ago Ed Balls gave up the pretence of running for the leadership and instead set down his claim for Shadow Chancellor. He was extremely convincing in how he set about the Tories dogmatic economic agenda, dissecting it with ruthless efficiency; the inexperienced Tories were left reeling in his wake. Andy Burnham is a nice, down to earth labour Party MP. You’d have him in your Shadow cabinet and government as a safe pair of hands. He is not a leader. Diane Abbott led a cynical campaign which targeted her male contestants, their education and perceived privileged upbringing and that did little to encourage the membership to support her. As well as that, you simply cannot predicate an economic agenda based entirely on the eradication, desirable though it may be, of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. It looks unlikely now that she will be offered a job in the Shadow Cabinet, or at least it should look that way. I knew straight away when David Miliband walked into the conference hall this evening that he had lost. He simply is not the sort of man that would smile from ear to ear upon being told he was the new party leader. It would not be in his nature or style to act so crudely or be so insensitive to the feelings of those whom he had defeated. But tonight belongs to Ed Miliband. Before my personal disappointment this night is misunderstood as an attack on our new leader, let me say this. I’m letting off steam. I’m disappointed. I want to trust, support and fight for Ed Miliband. He is a good and honourable man. In these days of MP claim scandals and public cynicism in politics, Ed Miliband is a damn good alternative. I could enjoy a good pint and a conversation with him and feel right at home. I did, after all, have him as my second preference and for good reason. Ultimately, he will be facing the Tories in the Commons and fighting for the Labour Party and that in itself will intuitively win me over. He can expect my full, unwavering and loyal support from Northern Ireland. That is, except for tonight and for a little while thereafter. Tonight, I am a wounded soldier feeling sorrow for a fallen comrade, and it hurts.
I’m not renowned for my mathematical ability, or rather I am but not in a good way – an admittedly alarming confession from a government Excise officer. I get there eventually you understand, it’s just that you wouldn’t have employed me on any of the trajectory calculations for the Apollo-One mission. Thankfully, the level of ability required to understand the voting entitlement adopted by Labour in order to appoint itself a new leader isn’t quite so complex; except, that is, for me.
There were 150,000 Labour party members during the May 2010 General Election. Following the result, which led to the forming of the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government, this number went up by an astonishing 32,000.
This of course means that there are presently 182,000 Labour party members (even I can get that sum right). And, as a loyal cheer-leader of the democratic process, my logic dictates that all you have to do now is ballot your membership, get someone other than me to tally up the votes for each candidate and then announce the result to an expectant party – yes? Fat chance.
For one thing I discovered that of the 182,000 members, 269 are Labour MP’s or MEP’s (256 + 13) who command a third of the vote. Or, to put it another way, a third of the overall vote is presently allocated to 0.14% of the Labour Party membership. That’s not accurate in absolute terms, because each MP/MEP can vote at least twice. This is because they are members both of the Parliamentary Labour Party, (or European Parliamentary Labour Party), and the main Labour party that I’m also a member of.
So they get 2 votes in the race for the leadership. One of these is equal in all respects to my own vote while the other in all respects overwhelms my own; in much the same way that a falling oak tree would overwhelm me should I be standing beneath it upon impact.
Then there are the Labour Party members. They are also allocated one third of the overall vote, even though they presently outnumber the MP’s by a whopping 677 to 1.
So, do you see where I’m coming from here? My point is proven; my maths has let me down again because none of what I’ve typed logically adds up, does it? How could such an outrageous discrepancy in relation to voting entitlement amongst 2 different groups within the same party be justifiable?
I wish I could say that this was the end of the matter. I’d really like to sit down, put my feet up and reach for a glass of wine having satisfied myself with the entire process while managing to avoid falling pieces of woodland in the process. Alas, no.
I also learn that trade unions and socialist societies affiliated to the Labour Party are themselves allocated a third of the overall vote. To you and me that means 4.6 million votes. Well, not quite. A word of caution here; and that word is potentially. My limited research suggests that only those union members who pay a political levy to the Labour Party get to vote but I have no idea what percentage of that 4.6 million figure actually pay this. And this is great news for me in one respect – it negates the necessity for me to attempt another calculation.
I discover that union and socialist society members pay a nominal fee to achieve affiliated status within the Labour Party and can vote on certain matters including who leads us.
I can just about handle this revelation but am required to take a sharp intake of breath while simultaneously leaning against the nearest oak tree for support. After all, I’ve just learned that the Labour Party, that I’d understood to have a manageable membership of 182,000, has suddenly exploded into a colossal, unruly beast with a potential leadership electorate of some 4.8 million people.
I checked the TUC website to confirm the affiliated union membership numbers to be certain that I wasn’t imagining the figure. I didn’t do similar, exploratory work on socialist societies except that I learned that the Fabians have the largest membership of these, approximately 7,000.
Suddenly, the penny dropped and I remembered what Diane Abbott had said but that I had not fully grasped at the time, “Labour is not just a party, it’s a Movement”. We love you, Diane.
Whereas before I was looking at a ratio of 1 MP vote equating to 677 party member votes, It’s now potentially looking more like 1 MP vote equating to 23,791 of the combined Labour party member and affiliated member votes; with MP’s now representing 0.0042% of the overall leadership electorate.
Then I learn of an aspect to all of this that has me on the ropes. If you are a full party member; a member of one of the affiliated unions; as well as a member of any number of the socialist societies affiliated to the party, you are entitled to cast a vote in the leadership contest for each membership that you hold simply by virtue of the fact. Are you taking this in there at the back? You, yes – you! Stay with me because we’re almost done.
Now, I can understand the logic behind having a third of the vote attributed to MP’s. They have to work with the new leader in Parliament and if the Parliamentary Labour Party is going to be a confident, focused and motivated force that is driven by the need to defeat the coalition government and return to power, it makes sense to me that it must have trust in, and support for, the Labour leader. One of the ways to ensure this is to provide our MPs with a significant voice to determine who that leader should be.
But it is in relation to a third of the vote being allocated to the unions and socialist societies, and specifically this ability to have multiple votes by being members of more than one of these, that I personally have great difficulty accepting.
The unions are an intrinsic part of the Labour party and its history; this is simply a matter of fact. The Labour Party was borne out of the trade unions. Many of their rank-and-file form the fundamental core of our grassroots support as well as membership, and historically this has always been the case. The unions also provide much needed funds for the labour party to fight elections with as well as provide ideas for the party to consider in relation to a whole host of issues from working hours and general working conditions to fair levels of pay and the rights of employees in the workplace. Socialist societies bring much needed intellectual debate leading to possible policy adoption as well as a number of election candidates.
But I struggle to accept individuals having more than one vote in any election. Instinctively this doesn’t feel right or democratic. In my mind there can be only one vote per person and no more. I’d keep the MP’s right to exercise a third of the overall vote for the reasons given above, but the remaining two-thirds I’d allocate entirely to Labour Party members.
If you’re in a union or socialist society join the Labour party as a full member and exercise your right to vote for the leader like the rest of us, instead of it being the wrong way round. If the party has to feel your wrath in terms of financial support or in other ways as a consequence then so be it, do you support the Labour party and its values or do you not?
So, what have I missed here? Explain to me where I’m going wrong. I’m looking at a system for the first time and questioning the logic that created it as well as trying to determine whether the reasons that formed the logic remain valid or relevant today and whether there remains an argument for maintaining the present system. And I am of course open to persuasion, you may just add a seed of doubt in my mind or, to put it another way, from small acorns……