The isolation of day-to-day life feels harder than ever to beat

Reaching out to other human beings ought to be the easiest thing. Why do I find it so difficult?

It's difficult, writing words for others to read. Not properly difficult in the sense of hard, physical labour, or difficult like learning to play the piano. Just difficult to know how to get your tone of voice right, how much to reveal and how much to admit. When I started writing things down it was a continuation of my childhood bad habit of talking to myself. Then you become aware of the audience and unless you're careful, you end up trying to second guess what the audience wants to hear.

So.

On Saturday we're shopping in The Lanes in Brighton. We are coming to the end of a week's holiday and it's time to buy a present for the good friend who's looking after our cats back in London. What do two middle-class gay men, wealthy by any reasonable standards, buy as a present for a single version of the same? Expensive bath foam, of course, from one of those shops which sell nothing else, shops that are both a delight (because lying in a hot bath, in the dark, listening to a Paul Temple mystery on the radio is a genuine pleasure) and an obscenity (because bath oil is bath oil is bath oil, regardless of the mark-up applied to the tube of sodium lauryl sulphate you buy).

But I'm happy, because the holiday has worked. We are both redeemed from the stress of work, for a time, and have slept well and walked dozens of miles along the coast and over the Downs. Life is good. We are lucky. The gift is purchased. We come back out into the Lanes.

And the sky darkens and the rain starts to fall and in the narrowing light I see my reflection on a plate-glass window, a comfortable well-fed man holding a preposterous bag of bath oil. I feel a warning stab of discomfort.

Because of the rain we head for the nearest cafe. As do dozens of other shoppers but we're lucky, we beat the queue and we get a window seat and blow on our flat whites and laugh at the drenching we received.

A man my age has the table next to us, hunched over a copy of the FT. Everything is neat, down to his used tea-bag, tidily placed on his saucer. But the cafe is filling up. A younger man approaches, balancing his bag and a cup of frothy coffee. He comes to Tidy Man's table.

"Is this chair free?"

Without looking up, Tidy Man grunts assent. Coffee Man slides into the free chair, but of course as he does so, his bag falls from his arm and catches the coffee cup, which slops some of its contents onto the table.

"Sorry mate."

Nothing. Nihil respondit. Coffee Man fetches a paper napkin from the counter. As he comes back I see him more clearly. His brow is furrowed with concentration and he seems to have a slight twitch.

He dabs at his spillage with the napkin. The table -- of course! - - has a wobble, so even as he mops up his own coffee, he causes Tidy's tea to spill. Tidy, who still hasn't acknowledged Coffee's existence beyond the initial grunt, picks up his paper and stands up.

"Bye then", says Coffee Man.

Tidy manages to filter past Coffee Man and exit the cafe as though the only human being in the shop.

I'm not explaining well why this upset me so much. There is a yearning for some form of human interaction from Coffee Man which is tangible. He frowns over his coffee cup. When he looks up I smile at him. But not for long enough, because I'm always hyper-sensitive to not give the wrong signal, and just as Coffee Man begins to return the smile, I break contact and look away.

In the street outside I say to Keith:

"Did you see that boy?"

And Keith says:

"Yes. A poor soul."

"I wanted to hug him, to tell him everything will be alright. But I couldn't even say hello properly."

"Everything won't be alright anyway."

We walk home along the seafront in silence. And I'm thinking: reaching out to other human beings ought to be the easiest thing. Why do I find it so difficult? Yes, I was projecting, but I'm more like Tidy Man in his self-contained space than I like to admit. Don't we all feel pain at isolation? We can see it but it's so hard to overcome, maybe it's always been hard but it seems to have become harder, I think we're more suspicious of the motives of others than we used to be. If I were of the left I'd make some excuse, as I'm on the right I make another, but that's all these explanations are: excuses for not touching. I remember my lonely weekends in Harlow, when I'd visit the supermarket solely in order to hear a human voice that wasn't piped in by Radio 4. I wonder at the effort it took for that young man, to overcome the problems life has thrown at him, to get his act together to come out for a cup of coffee and some social interaction, to end up receiving nothing.

The sun has broken through, I can feel Keith close to me, I remember that I'm not alone, and feel the weight of the preposterous bag of bath stuff in my hand.

"This is a stupid present for a man. We'll give it to your mum. Let's have Simon over for dinner one night instead. To say thank you properly."

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David Osland: “Corbyn is actually Labour’s only chance”

The veteran Labour activist on the release of his new pamphlet, How to Select or Reselect Your MP, which lays out the current Labour party rules for reselecting an MP.

Veteran left-wing Labour activist David Osland, a member of the national committee of the Labour Representation Committee and a former news editor of left magazine Tribune, has written a pamphlet intended for Labour members, explaining how the process of selecting Labour MPs works.

Published by Spokesman Books next week (advance copies are available at Nottingham’s Five Leaves bookshop), the short guide, entitled “How to Select or Reselect Your MP”, is entertaining and well-written, and its introduction, which goes into reasoning for selecting a new MP and some strategy, as well as its historical appendix, make it interesting reading even for those who are not members of the Labour party. Although I am a constituency Labour party secretary (writing here in an expressly personal capacity), I am still learning the Party’s complex rulebook; I passed this new guide to a local rules-boffin member, who is an avowed Owen Smith supporter, to evaluate whether its description of procedures is accurate. “It’s actually quite a useful pamphlet,” he said, although he had a few minor quibbles.

Osland, who calls himself a “strong, but not uncritical” Corbyn supporter, carefully admonishes readers not to embark on a campaign of mass deselections, but to get involved and active in their local branches, and to think carefully about Labour’s election fortunes; safe seats might be better candidates for a reselection campaign than Labour marginals. After a weak performance by Owen Smith in last night’s Glasgow debate and a call for Jeremy Corbyn to toughen up against opponents by ex Norwich MP Ian Gibson, an old ally, this pamphlet – named after a 1981 work by ex-Tribune editor Chris Mullin, who would later go on to be a junior minister under Blai – seems incredibly timely.

I spoke to Osland on the telephone yesterday.

Why did you decide to put this pamphlet together now?

I think it’s certainly an idea that’s circulating in the Labour left, after the experience with Corbyn as leader, and the reaction of the right. It’s a debate that people have hinted at; people like Rhea Wolfson have said that we need to be having a conversation about it, and I’d like to kickstart that conversation here.

For me personally it’s been a lifelong fascination – I was politically formed in the early Eighties, when mandatory reselection was Bennite orthodoxy and I’ve never personally altered my belief in that. I accept that the situation has changed, so what the Labour left is calling for at the moment, so I see this as a sensible contribution to the debate.

I wonder why selection and reselection are such an important focus? One could ask, isn’t it better to meet with sitting MPs and see if one can persuade them?

I’m not calling for the “deselect this person, deselect that person” rhetoric that you sometimes see on Twitter; you shouldn’t deselect an MP purely because they disagree with Corbyn, in a fair-minded way, but it’s fair to ask what are guys who are found to be be beating their wives or crossing picket lines doing sitting as our MPs? Where Labour MPs publicly have threatened to leave the party, as some have been doing, perhaps they don’t value their Labour involvement.

So to you it’s very much not a broad tool, but a tool to be used a specific way, such as when an MP has engaged in misconduct?

I think you do have to take it case by case. It would be silly to deselect the lot, as some people argue.

In terms of bringing the party to the left, or reforming party democracy, what role do you think reselection plays?

It’s a basic matter of accountability, isn’t it? People are standing as Labour candidates – they should have the confidence and backing of their constituency parties.

Do you think what it means to be a Labour member has changed since Corbyn?

Of course the Labour party has changed in the past year, as anyone who was around in the Blair, Brown, Miliband era will tell you. It’s a completely transformed party.

Will there be a strong reaction to the release of this pamphlet from Corbyn’s opponents?

Because the main aim is to set out the rules as they stand, I don’t see how there can be – if you want to use the rules, this is how to go about it. I explicitly spelled out that it’s a level playing field – if your Corbyn supporting MP doesn’t meet the expectations of the constituency party, then she or he is just as subject to a challenge.

What do you think of the new spate of suspensions and exclusions of some people who have just joined the party, and of other people, including Ronnie Draper, the General Secretary of the Bakers’ Union, who have been around for many years?

It’s clear that the Labour party machinery is playing hardball in this election, right from the start, with the freeze date and in the way they set up the registered supporters scheme, with the £25 buy in – they’re doing everything they can to influence this election unfairly. Whether they will succeed is an open question – they will if they can get away with it.

I’ve been seeing comments on social media from people who seem quite disheartened on the Corbyn side, who feel that there’s a chance that Smith might win through a war of attrition.

Looks like a Corbyn win to me, but the gerrymandering is so extensive that a Smith win isn’t ruled out.

You’ve been in the party for quite a few years, do you think there are echoes of past events, like the push for Bennite candidates and the takeover from Foot by Kinnock?

I was around last time – it was dirty and nasty at times. Despite the narrative being put out by the Labour right that it was all about Militant bully boys and intimidation by the left, my experience as a young Bennite in Tower Hamlets Labour Party, a very old traditional right wing Labour party, the intimidation was going the other way. It was an ugly time – physical threats, people shaping up to each other at meetings. It was nasty. Its nasty in a different way now, in a social media way. Can you compare the two? Some foul things happened in that time – perhaps worse in terms of physical intimidation – but you didn’t have the social media.

There are people who say the Labour Party is poised for a split – here in Plymouth (where we don’t have a Labour MP), I’m seeing comments from both sides that emphasise that after this leadership election we need to unite to fight the Tories. What do you think will happen?

I really hope a split can be avoided, but we’re a long way down the road towards a split. The sheer extent of the bad blood – the fact that the right have been openly talking about it – a number of newspaper articles about them lining up backing from wealthy donors, operating separately as a parliamentary group, then they pretend that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, and that they’re not talking about a split. Of course they are. Can we stop the kamikazes from doing what they’re plotting to do? I don’t know, I hope so.

How would we stop them?

We can’t, can we? If they have the financial backing, if they lose this leadership contest, there’s no doubt that some will try. I’m old enough to remember the launch of the SDP, let’s not rule it out happening again.

We’ve talked mostly about the membership. But is Corbynism a strategy to win elections?

With the new electoral registration rules already introduced, the coming boundary changes, and the loss of Scotland thanks to decades of New Labour neglect, it will be uphill struggle for Labour to win in 2020 or whenever the next election is, under any leadership.

I still think Corbyn is Labour’s best chance. Any form of continuity leadership from the past would see the Midlands and north fall to Ukip in the same way Scotland fell to the SNP. Corbyn is actually Labour’s only chance.

Margaret Corvid is a writer, activist and professional dominatrix living in the south west.