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I was wrong

September 24, 2019

Fortunately this happens so infrequently that it is usually easy to admit. Unfortunately this is rather more serious than “I thought this top would go with that skirt, but I was wrong.”

Tragedy struck the Labour Party 25 years ago when its then leader John Smith died of a massive heart attack. He would have won the next general election and would have been a very fine prime minister, a very fine Labour prime minister.

The day he died, my partner Mike and I arrived in the UK for a two month trip to Europe. We were in London for a week, during which tributes to Smith poured in from all sides. By the time we returned to London following three weeks in France, the contest to replace Smith as Labour leader was in full swing. I’d been living in Canada for a few years and, although I recognised some of the contenders (John Prescott and Margaret Beckett), some of the faces were new to me, including Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. It took me seconds to dismiss Blair as a big wet puddle in the middle of the road. Anyone but him, I thought.

I’m not saying the Labour party was perfect. Far, far from it. By 1979, as I’ve previously written, the Labour party was a mess. And it just got messier.

Jim Callaghan was replaced by Michael Foot as Labour leader. Foot spent pretty much all of the 1983 general election campaign bleating about unilateral disarmament. Now, don’t get me wrong. This was the height of the Cold War. I’d been on CND marches. I wasn’t keen on US nuclear weapons being stored in the UK. Not at all. But I’d also seen The China Syndrome and I was frankly more worried about the dangers posed by all the nuclear power plants dotting the countryside. Why wasn’t anyone talking about that? The only other thing Foot talked about (which I’ve just remembered as I was doing some Googling) was extracting the UK from the EEC. As much as I hated Thatcher, once again I found myself unable to support Labour. Thank heavens for the Gang of Four, who jumped ship and started the Social Democratic Party, for whom I cast my vote.

I had nothing against Neil Kinnock. Unlike Rupert Murdoch, who had plenty against him and used his odious tabloids to keep the Conservatives in power in 1987 and 1992. I think Kinnock would have made a perfectly good prime minister. (Perhaps not fine, but good enough.)

Then came John Smith, a Labour leader I could really support. And the heartbreak of his sudden death.

Then came Tony Blair, who continued to make my flesh crawl, and “New” (as in bears little resemblance to) Labour. Blair was a smarmy git and so, as far as I was concerned, were all his supplicants – especially David Miliband.

During the 2005 election campaign everyone knew that Blair, who was determined to match the length of Thatcher’s reign, would be gone before the next election, replaced by Gordon Brown, so really it was Brown they voted for and Brown they got in 2007.

Unfortunately Brown lost his bottle. He should have called for an early election while he was riding high in the polls. (Unlike Blair who used to swan off to some rich bastard’s villa for his summer hols, Brown spent his in Scotland and was thus on the ground almost immediately when devastating floods hit the west country. Bit more man of the people, know what I mean?) But he didn’t. He waited until the last possible moment in 2010 and he lost.

I said a little prayer for David Miliband’s brother Ed in the ensuing Labour leadership contest. Sadly for Ed, Rupert Murdoch and a bacon sandwich put paid to his ambition to reside in Number 10.

And so in 2015 it was time for another go around. I even threw my hat into the ring from a distance. But I withdrew my offer to be considered a candidate for the Labour Party leadership when Jeremy Corbyn stepped forward.

At last, I thought, an actual Labour leader for the Labour party. During my time back in London during the noughties I’d met Corbyn a couple of times in connection with work I was doing for various non-profits. As far as I was concerned, he was the real deal. Why? Well, for one thing, like Corbyn I truly believe that there are certain enterprises which should be run for the benefit of the public and absolutely not run solely for the profit of shareholders. Things like the public utility companies Thatcher privatised at a loss during her tenure. Corbyn was talking about renationalising these the moment his hat was in the ring. (He still is.)

I booed when the Blairites rose up against him, clapped when he beat them off and cheered when the votes of millions of young people helped to secure Labour more seats in 2017 than they’d had since 2010.

I was wrong. Well, not wrong about young people voting. That was exciting. But wrong about pretty much everything else.

Corbyn ran a stunningly lacklustre Remain campaign in the run up to the EU referendum. (Oh, right, he’s a Eurosceptic at heart.) Whilst there was a nice piece of political brinkmanship involved in putting paid to Boris Johnson’s determination to send the country hurtling off a no deal cliff, his steadfast refusal for so long to demand a second referendum was an outright betrayal of all those young voters.

And as for what has been going on within the Labour party under his leadership, I can only hang my head in shame.

Oh, Jezzer, you do disappoint. I had such high hopes.

If I was back in the UK and there was a general election tomorrow and I was told that I had to choose between Bojo the Clown and magic Grandpa as the next prime minster, what on earth would I do?

Happily no one can tell me that. Happily there are more than two choices and if that election was being held tomorrow I would vote for Jo Swinson. What do I know about her? Admittedly not much, but she is the leader of the LibDems, the only UK (as opposed to Scottish) party completely dedicated to keeping the UK in Europe. And that gets my vote.

Sorry, Jezzer, you had your chance.

From → Columns

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