Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Watching Britains political scene has always enthralled me. The big characters, the rhetoric, the positioning. All topped with a degree of civility not seen in many other jurisdictions. That last point may be less pertinent these days. Brexit has unleashed emotions and bile that before remained under wraps.
The other startling change is the collapse of the once formidable Labour Party. Growing up in a northern English town in the 1960s/1970s, the Labour Party formed a robust presence. Labour, the bulwark for the ‘working class’ ensured that folks got a fair deal. A party held in high regard with leaders of stature. Ramsey MacDonald, Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson all built and consolidated a strong movement. Attlee sweeping to power in 1945, set up the National Health Service. It remains the sterling achievement of the British nation.
The Wilson government of 1960s/1970s drove social reforms, but the economic tide was turning. Meanwhile, trade union power blocked progress. By 1978, widespread strikes led to the ‘Winter of Discontent’. The Unions pushed for higher wages in the face of a struggling economy. In 1979 the voters made their views known, with Labour out of power. In the face of the transforming Margaret Thatcher, Labour remained in opposition until 1997.
Bitter rivalries led to infighting, splits and a string of party of leaders. This turmoil shackled the party as unelectable. With Thatcher striding across the world stage, the likes of Micheal Foot and Neil Kinnock looked out of touch. Foot a part-time Worzel Gummidge impressionist, dressed and spoke like a dotty RE teacher. Sound familiar.
Only in 1997, did the fresh-faced Tony Blair manage to wrestle control from the Conservatives. This young dynamic chap was ‘New Labour’ with the initial omens looking promising. He had a clear vision, communicated it with panache, whilst hanging out with the cool people. Labour looked relevant and the future bright.
Blair's record is remarkable. He won three elections, sealed the peace in Northern Ireland, secured LGBT rights and implemented the minimum wage. But, his legacy is Iraq. It’s a toxic legacy of over 100,000 dead, a country in ruins that still struggles to keep any sense of order. He led the UK to war in the wake of 9/11 on false information. His unquestioning support of President George Bush II is a stain on his record. It taints everything else. In this terrible enterprise, he was aided and abetted by his press secretary and master deceiver, Alistair Campbell. Both are now reviled, although active public figures.
Labour’s current troubles can be partially laid at the door of Blair and Campbell. Yet, in fairness, other factors have had a significant impact. The rise of UKIP and the Scottish Nationalists ate into Labour's vote. UKIP had an immediate resonance with the white working class in a good part of Britain. Their fear of immigrants and the condescending attitude of the Labour elite came into focus with the 2010 Gillian Duffy incident. Then Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown got caught condemning a 65-year-old Labour supporter. He decried her heartfelt opinions over immigration as ‘bigoted’. The die was cast. Labour leadership, a metropolitan elite, had lost contact with its core vote.
UKIP exploited that narrative. Whilst the neglect and patronising attitude towards Scotland fed into the hands of the nationalists. Thus, in short, Labour’s support collapsed on all fronts. In response, the party elected a London lad who’d never done a real job and who stepped over his brother to get the role. Ed Milliband proved incapable of getting the party re-elected. It swung left with a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
This is a man so unsuited to the role that many argued he is the opposition's best friend. Corbyn, a dogmatic left wing ideologue, is the best thing to happen to the Conservatives in decades. His sheer incompetence guarantees them a majority. Alastair Campbell, a demonic presence, who stained Labour with his deceit, is right about one thing;
“How do you get strategy or vision without leadership?”
Corbyn appears incapable of leading. Thus, a coherent strategy from Labour is wanting. At a time of Brexit, when the country should be having a robust debate, Labour is distracted with an internal struggle. The party is beating itself up over what Ken Livingstone may or may not have said about Hitler. And here’s the thing, the public doesn't give a toss. Yet, that hasn’t stopped Labour tearing itself apart in public.
A strong opposition, holding the incumbent government to account, is a cornerstone of British democracy. Labour is not fulfilling that role. Nor does it appear capable of turning the corner with Corbyn in charge. For what it's worth, the deputy leader Tom Watson looks more promising. But beyond that, the next great Labour leader has not emerged.
Reverting to Campbell again, Labour needs to make itself relevant. Its current insider ideological battles don't get you elected. I’d add that in this image-conscious age the faces of Labour look like throwbacks. Corbyn has the image of a hung-over geography teacher dealing with a difficult class. In a remarkable achievement, he manages to be earnest and condescending in the same moment. Diana Abbott, his main cheerleader, comes across as a shrill hypocrite. She talks down to people. Plus, playing the race card at every opportunity just alienates people from Labour.
Labour looks sets to remain in the wilderness for some time as the UK is going through a fundamental change. It has forfeited the right to influence that change.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.