Lucky, lazy natives...

Performing for the tourists, bad news about a caddy and ideas for words that rhyme with puffin

A misleading sense of calm has descended upon the isle this weekend. Any visitor lucky enough to be here today, strolling around in the warm sunshine, will be marvelling at the tranquil, trouble-free lifestyles that we islanders appear to lead. Perhaps even a hint of jealousy will cross their minds as they saunter past and wave hello at the lucky, lazy natives. But then they will remember, with a sudden flash of relief, that no, while doing nothing all day is certainly appealing, it really wouldn’t be good to live this far away from Marks and Spencer’s.

It is easy to see how they might come to their conclusion. There is a stillness about everything today. The sea, for once, is pressing gently against the shore, rather than trying to attack it; the sheep and their lambs are lying sleeping, ignoring the discomfort of their thick, winter fleeces; even the windmills have stopped turning now, and stand, motionless, over everything. But what do people expect? It is Sunday, after all.

Our last lamb finally appeared this week, nearly ten days after the penultimate one. We were beginning to wonder if the ewe was simply pretending to be pregnant, but she got it right in the end. The season has been very successful overall, with 44 lambs and only two mortalities. One of the lost lambs was, unfortunately, the first of our two ‘caddies’, who died on Friday night. Bottle-fed lambs are apparently very prone to digestive problems, and this one had been poorly for some time. We tried everything that the vet, our neighbours and we could think of, but she just didn’t quite get through. It was sad to lose such a good-natured caddy, particularly for her companion, who has been moping around the field alone since then, looking bored and lonely.

This morning we planted some of the last few empty rows in the vegetable garden: spring onion seeds went in, as did the red cabbage and curly kale seedlings. Most of the other vegetables have also been planted or transplanted in the past couple of weeks, and not much remains before all the space is filled. Then it’s just a case of weeding, watering and waiting our way through the summer.

This afternoon has provided an opportunity for a brief sigh of relief, before the next sharp intake of breath is required. I felt not a glimmer of guilt as I sat reading in the sunshine, enjoying myself immensely, thank you very much. I am now sunburnt, but satisfied. What more could I wish for on a Sunday afternoon?

On Tuesday the first of this year’s cruise ships will arrive, with just over one hundred people on board, all expecting refreshment, entertainment and suitable things on which to spend their money. Knitwear, crafts and other gifts will be offered for sale; drinks and home-bakes will be provided; music will be played. Even those of us who have no desire to be involved in the tourist industry seem somehow unable to avoid it entirely.

I will be playing and singing, along with some of the island’s other musicians; though I’m sure my songs must be something of a disappointment to people. I imagine that folk want to hear songs about Fair Isle: about birds and cliffs and boats and sheep and things like that. Unfortunately, I don’t know any. If only I could write a song about puffins, I’d be a millionaire by now. But the problem is that puffin doesn’t rhyme with anything; in fact, puffin rhymes with nothing. Well, it nearly does anyway.

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.