Manifesto: How Labour Party activists fought for Socialism in Liverpool and the bitter sweet results that followed

Poster for the new film

Manifesto is a new film out this week that explores in depth local Labour Party activists and their fight to get a Labour government elected in the December 2019 general election.

It is an unusual film as it covers a constituency – Liverpool, Walton – ignored by the national media -concentrating on the passion of grass roots activists in one of the poorest parts in Britain. It is also Labour’s safest seat.

The film conveys the idealism of the campaigners and how the last Labour manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn would have meant real change for the people of Walton – many relying on free school meals and food banks – by providing better schools, a better NHS, more worker’s rights and better wages. But it was not to be. Instead Labour lost the general election in the fog of the Brexit row where unknown bureaucrats in Brussels were scapegoated as holding the working class back and depriving them of their ” freedoms”.

A street in Walton. Still from the film

The prism the director Daniel Draper ( who was born and grew up in Walton) uses is to tell the tale through the eyes and voices of local activists -a group that are normally completely ignored.

He intersperses their views with quotes from Robert Tressell’s work The Ragged -Trousered Philanthropists – regarded by George Orwell as a ” book everyone should read”. This tells a semi autobiographical story of a house painter’s struggle to get work in Edwardian England. He died from TB in Liverpool Royal Infirmary and was buried in a pauper’s grave in the city. The link between today’s activists and his legacy is vividly portrayed in one scene in the film.

He also intersperses the dialogue with stills of part of the constituency showing the poverty and both neat and neglected streets.

A thoughtful Ian Byrne during the 2019 election count. Still from the film

The result is a bitter sweet documentary. The campaigning in Liverpool was a great success – with both Parliamentary candidates who are on the left of the party, Dan Carden ( Liverpool Walton) and Ian Byrne (Liverpool West Derby) returned with thumping majorities.

But in the rest of the country Labour lost badly -including two seats Walton activists were sent to help the party in Blackpool and Crewe.

Since then internal struggles in the Labour Party -including in Liverpool – have divided Labour activists and I am pretty certain Liverpool Walton is not a priority for the new leader Sir Keir Starmer – precisely because it is such a safe seat where Labour voters are taken for granted.

But in my view this would be a mistake. Labour has always been a broad church and the hopes, aspirations and frankly, eternal optimism to create a better society from the people portrayed in this film should not be ignored or squandered by party bosses in London.. The present mess and chaos we are in under this Tory government is too bitter a pill to swallow not only for the voters of Liverpool Walton but for everyone else. As Dan Carden, the MP for Walton said on the film before the result: “We can’t afford another five years of Tory government.”

Dan Carden during the campaign Still from the film

Initial screenings:

16 June: Picturehouse At FACT, Liverpool (Q&A: MP Ian Byrne, activist Alan Gibbons, director Daniel Draper, hosted by Ross Quinn)

16 June: Glasgow Film Theatre (Q&A: MSP Paul Sweeney & former MSP Neil Findlay, hosted by Ruth Gilbert)

17 June: Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle (Q&A: MP Ian Lavery, Laura Pidcock from People’s Assembly, activist Ben Sellers, director Daniel Draper)

30 June: Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds (Q&A: MP Richard Burgon & director Daniel Draper)

DATE TBC: Savoy Cinema, Nottingham (Q&A: MP Nadia Whittome & director Daniel Draper)

3 August: Duke’s At Komedia, Brighton (Q&A: MP Lloyd Russell Moyle & director Daniel Draper)

Further details of other venues including two in London will be on this link

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Hillsborough Families:Patronised to death by the disdain of the powerful

hillsborough.pic credit ITV

A Liverpool football shirt commemorating Hillsboough. pic Credit:


While Westminster was yesterday swirling with tales of sexual harassment by powerful ministers and MPs and the arrogance of a government that won’t tell us what will be the real effects of Brexit, a calm but hard hitting report was published on what had happened since the revelations of the Hillsborough disaster.

The scandal of the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans who went to watch a football match 27 years ago is well known and now well documented following the Hillsborough Independent Panel which  exhaustively looked at what happened.

Since there are now criminal proceedings against people following the disaster I am not going to rerun  who was to blame for these needless deaths but concentrate on what yesterday’s report was about – what should be done.

There are many reports exposing what goes wrong. There are fewer reports proposing how to remedy serious shortcomings. There are even fewer that  demand a cultural change in British society.

This is one of them. The gruesome testimony in this report of the families who lost loved ones well before their time demands nothing less than a radical change in the way the ruling elite view ordinary people.

People caught up in a tragedy are confused, distraught. angry and suffer lifelong angst   and the last thing they want are people in power who frustrate, ignore, belittle or patronise them for wanting to know what happened to their loved ones. The Hillsborough families also had to put up with  very public denigrating coverage from the Sun  which has never been forgiven in Liverpool.

This report shows a way  change can come and outlines the legislation needed to get it done. The recommendations – if implemented in the right spirit – would make a radical change in the way society coped with  the aftermath of disasters – whether it is Hillsborough or the Grenfell tower fire tragedy.

The proposals go from introducing a ” duty of candour” for police officers to tell the truth, providing proper legal aid for ordinary people attending inquests so they can really participate in the proceedings and a special charter for families who suffer bereavement in a major tragedy like Hillsborough.

It also wants to make sure authorities don’t destroy vital documents to avoid public scrutiny, better training and evaluation for coroners, a review of the  effectiveness of  the pathology services and the way death certificates are issued. Nor should public bodies use public money to their advantage to outspend ordinary people trying to get to the truth.

Two other things should be said. Theresa May, whom I may  disagree politically, should be commended for commissioning this. She could easily have walked away once the Hillsborough Panel had done its work. Liverpool football fans are not her natural constituency. She will be even more commended if she decides to implement its findings.

There is also an remarkable passage in the introduction from the  report’s author, the Right Reverend James Jones, the former bishop of Liverpool and chair of the Hillsborough Inquiry which sums up the spirit of the report and what the families have suffered. It is worth quoting in full :

“I also wanted to set on record a recurrent theme that has been present, either implicitly or explicitly, in many personal conversations that I have had with families and survivors over the past 20 years.

“It is one that they have often been reluctant to raise not least because of public and political indifference to the subject and perhaps out of fear that it would add
to the lack of empathy that they experienced. The disaster, the aftermath, and the struggle to be heard for over quarter of a century have had an adverse effect on the mental and physical well being of both families and survivors.

“Depression, marital breakdown, family division, mental illness, unemployment, premature death and even suicide have featured in the Hillsborough narrative. Hopefully society’s increasing awareness of the issues of mental health will lead to a more sympathetic understanding of what they have endured.

“People talk too loosely about closure. They fail to realise that there can be no closure to love, nor should there be for someone you have loved and lost. Furthermore, grief is a journey without a destination. The bereaved travel through a landscape of memories and thoughts of what might have been. It is a journey marked by milestones, some you seek, some you stumble on. For the families and survivors of Hillsborough these milestones have included the search for truth, accountability and justice. But even these are not the end of the road.They are still travelling. And this report is another step along the way.”

You can read the report for yourselves here .






Cunard’s 175th anniversary cruise: How the Yanks rebranded Rule Britannia

QM 2 at Liverpool at start of historic transatlantic crossing

QM 2 at Liverpool at start of historic transatlantic crossing

Last weekend  Margaret and I returned from a transatlantic cruise  on the Queen Mary 2 celebrating the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Cunard line. Most of it retraced the original route from Liverpool to Boston via Halifax, Nova Scotia with the addition of extra stops at Hamburg, Southampton and New York.

The voyage was epic with events at every port to celebrate the founding father Samuel Cunard and everything that is quintessentially British from serving cream teas to numerous renderings of Rule Britannia.. There were fireworks in two cities, a 21 gun salute, a Canadian warship joining a flotilla, a Red Arrows fly past in Liverpool and massed bands in every port.

This included a concert at Liverpool’s magnificent Anglican cathedral to celebrate the anniversary with Britain’s national treasure’s mixed with proud descendants of the Cunard family telling the story of the shipping line.

Concert at Liverpool Cathedral

Concert at Liverpool Cathedral

We had Carol Thatcher talking of the Mum’s sleepless nights in case the Argies sunk the QE II on its way to the Falklands; John, now Lord Prescott being surprisingly emollient about his former employer even though they kept him on their second league of liners because of his union activities as a bar steward. We had the former BBC’s Michael Buerk on the newsworthy side of the line and Jennie Bond, the BBC’s former Royal Correspondent on the Royals who used the Cunard liners.

The event ended with the cathedral being turned into the Last Night of the Proms with a union jack flag waving audience singing Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia. A bit OTT on the jingoistic side for us.

Fireworks  in Liverpool

Fireworks in Liverpool

But here’s the rub. As the voyage progressed it became clear that we were not celebrating some brilliant British  entrepreneur that had created these iconic ships. Samuel Cunard was the son of a Quaker German immigrant who fled his native land to avoid persecution.. His father settled in the US only to move to  Canada as one of the Empire loyalists who were defeated in the 1776 War of Independence..

His son bought up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, quickly became an entrepreneur running ferry services and mining operations. He spotted that steamships could replace sail and bid for the first British Royal Mail service between Liverpool and Halifax. He won the contract.It was an amazing success, because his ships were not prone to sink, and by providing a service to Boston as well made merchants rich in the US both goods and mail reached their destinations. The grateful merchants gave him the ” Boston Cup ” as a present  in return.

He wouldn’t have necessarily approved of the present luxury liners – his Quaker upbringing led him to build ships that were austere and practical not  comfortable and luxurious. That came later.. You certainly couldn’t eat for 22 hours out of 24 every day on his ships as you can on Queen Mary 2..

Sunset in Halifax

Sunset in Halifax

We are also celebrating a line now run by an American company, Carnival, based in Florida with a sales office in Southampton and a ship not flying  the British flag but registered ( I suspect for tax reasons) under a flag of convenience in Bermuda.

And we are also buying nostalgia. They may in the past have carried monarchs, film stars and multi millionaires but you are not going to bump into Tom Cruise or Keira Knightly jogging on Deck 7 on the Queen Mary 2  or even Lord Ashcroft or Roman Abramovich in the dining room. They now have their own private jet or yacht..

Food:175th anniversary chocolate feast and ice scupltures

Food:175th anniversary chocolate feast and ice sculptures

Yet in a very clever sense Carnival has rebranded Britain to create an unique atmosphere.Even the Americans I talked to on the boat ( they are the second largest contingent) described sailing with Cunard “part of the British experience.”. For marketing Carnival deserve top marks, they rock you to sleep on an ocean of desire with sweet nostalgic dreams. Bon voyage!

Fireworks in Boston

Fireworks in Boston


Journey's End

Journey’s End