Labour Leadership Hustings 11th July, Part 2 – The Deputies.

Following a twenty minute refreshment break I returned to my seat in anticipation of hearing the nominees for the post of Deputy leader of the Labour Party each make their pitch for the job. I would have expected them to have been on first but not being an organiser of these kind of gatherings myself, I could only assume that this is how they do things in politics. However, it reminded me of the old days when a visit to the cinema meant having to sit through a b movie, some of which were actually better than the a feature, before the “roaring lion” heralded the start of the main attraction. The nearest you get to that these days is with the James Bond movies which always start with an action sequence which bears no relation to the main storyline but is extremely exciting and remains in your head long after you’ve forgotten what the rest of the film was about. However, as I left the hustings event to return home having sat through both features, I could hear more people expressing the view that the Deputy nominees had impressed them more than those vying for the Leadership. It was one of those b movie experiences which I referred to earlier when the thing you expected the least from turned out to be the best thing on offer. However, this does highlight a problem in the selection process. Personally, whilst I have the greatest respect for Ed Miliband, I feel that he should have remained in post long enough to ensure that the very best person to replace him, if that’s what he wanted, came to the surface.

I don’t remember Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich East, being the first Deputy nominee to speak but I will start with him anyway simply because I wasn’t that impressed by what he had to say. However, Tom appears to have a strong following which, I suspect, he gained from his campaign against the media practice of phone hacking and the child sex abuse scandals both of which he should be applauded for. What I don’t like about Tom however, is the fondness he has for resigning whenever things are not going his way. One of my political heroes, Lord David Owen, had a similar habit but things were a lot different in his day but he never shied away from a fight no matter who his opponent was. Incidentally,  I heard Lord Owen in conversation with Peter Hennessey  on Radio 4 today, praising Ed Miliband’s performance as leader of The Labour Party and I was pleased to learn that he continues to support the Labour Party financially. Anyway, back to Tom Watson.  What else is he known for apart from the phone hacking and the child sex abuse scandals?  We know that Watson is highly principled  and even went so far as to suggest that the sale of Gary Glitter L.P.s be outlawed in the UK, not sure if the ban could be extended to the Far East where he remains popular  or if it would also apply to 45 rpm singles which Glitter used to sell shedloads of. In stark contrast to this, Tom voted against an enquiry into the Iraq War although, I’m not sure whether his reasoning was that it would only end in yet another hugely expensive whitewash or that he simply wanted to distance the Labour Party from it. The other thing we know about Tom Watson is that he insists on claiming the maximum food allowance on his expenses and judging by his appearance on Saturday, he could do to lose a few pounds in more ways than one.

Before I comment on Stella Creasy I must have a little moan about the Trade Unions not that I am against them, it’s just that they have always irritated me. My first experience as a Trade Union member was when I entered the wonderful world of work after leaving school back in the sixties. I spent two years as a junior clerk with one of the largest employers in Leeds and during that time I was encouraged by my union rep to do as little work as I could possibly get away with. In fact, I discovered that there was a skiving off rota in place which my comrades adhered to religiously and I, unwillingly, went along with. It wasn’t as if I smoked or gambled on the horses and we couldn’t go for a cup of  tea because we would have been spotted. Skiving off was just a way of scoring points over the bosses. Not surprisingly, I moved on from my unionised employment and went to work for a much larger company but this time as a management trainee. My early work experience however, did not turn me against the Trade Union movement, I fully appreciated the need to protect workers from bad managers and even worse conditions of employment and nothing has changed in that respect. My beef is that so many of today’s young Labour politicians are being groomed and supported by the Trade Unions and why is that? There are those who insist that the Trade Unions gave birth to the Labour Party which they clearly did not, they simply adopted it as a weapon of mass political destruction just as they appropriated whichever philosophical meanderings of Marx and Engels that best suited their particular dogma. Obviously, the way we work has changed dramatically since the beginning of the twentieth century but what really pisses me off about the Trade Union movement is the way that low-paid, non-unionised workers continue to be exploited and no one speaks up for them!

Rant over and back to Ms Creasy, MP for Walthamstow [ another safe Labour seat ]. Again, as with Tom Watson, I wasn’t particularly impressed with Stella not having arrived knowing very much about her. I remembered her getting involved in the Payday Lenders  debate and successfully taking on Wonga – an outfit that should never have been allowed to trade in the first place. I had read somewhere that she has aristocratic family connections but quite frankly, I am not in the least bit interested in knowing who they are. She is a member of the Young Fabians and is supported by the Co-operative Society yeah! That Trade Union connection again, only, I’ve always liked the Co-op so I’m not going to hold that against her. However, Stella did put on a good performance despite not having a lot to say that hadn’t already been said by the nominees for the leadership albeit in a less strident manner. She also deployed that old technique of  answering audience questions with a “and what do you do? Oh I could never do what you do, you are so wonderful and I’m just a pathetic politician with a desire to rule the world answer”. I felt that Stella was genuine though and if she was to win this contest, I wouldn’t be too upset.

I would be upset if Angela Eagle, MP for Wallasey emerged as Deputy Leader and that’s not because she failed to impressed me today. Ms Eagle’s performance was very well received and she made several references to the way in which The Tory campaign assisted by The media had consistently made false claims about the last Labour government’s handling of the economy. It was powerful stuff coming from someone who clearly knows more about the Treasury than any other person here today, having spent most of her time working in that department. What I couldn’t help thinking however, was why wasn’t Angela saying all this prior to the election? I remember her trying to get her point across in the house that time when Cameron responded by asking her to “Calm down dear”. It was a nasty, condescending remark from the Prime Minister but it went on to become the only thing said in that particular exchange that anyone can remember. Angela had and still has, the figures to disprove everything that Cameron and Osborne were saying so why were we not hearing it in the run up to May 7th ? On the one hand, we could blame The Media, saying that it was too biased against Labour but there is a greater alternative nowadays in the form of Social Media. If you have the facts then you can put them out there for everyone to see, end of!

I would bet on Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter knowing a thing or two about Social Media, he was a former journalist after all. However, since 1997, Ben has been a Labour MP in an area that historically, had never had any socialist representation. Bradshaw won the seat of Exeter and not only has he kept it but has increased his majority at each following election. When Ben Bradshaw stepped up to the microphone on Saturday, my first impression was that this is what the leader of the Labour Party should look like and my assessment was bolstered by the confident, measured performance that Ben went on to give. However, I shouldn’t have been surprised by his assured manner having been a former journalist although with respect, I suspect he was more Partridge than Paxman in his day and therefore would be comfortable using a microphone. Nevertheless, Ben certainly looked the part and was well received by the audience. I must apologise however, for my initial thoughts about Ben Bradshaw as they were clearly sexist albeit not intentionally so. He may have presented himself as a serious contender not just for the deputy position but for the leadership too, in my opinion. However, Ben made it very clear and this is where I have a problem with him, that he has no desire to become anything other than the Deputy Leader of The Labour Party. It may have been a false modesty but it reminded me of so many previous Should have beens like Alan Johnson who members still insist would have made an excellent party leader when he was so much better at writing interesting memoirs. And there is Bradshaw’s political record to consider. I have no doubt that his constituents have nothing but the highest regard for Ben but as a government minister, he never performed particularly well in any of the departments he found himself in, including, Health, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

And finally to Caroline Flint, MP for Don Valley since 1997, one of the so-called Blair Babes a term that does no justice to the fact that Caroline is one of the hardest working MPs in the country but yes, she is pleasant to look at as well! I have been a supporter of Ms Flint for some time having been impressed by how well she handles The Media and yet, I sometimes feel that sections of the Labour Party tend to dismiss her as being a little too lightweight. “Flirty Flint” is a phrase often aimed at Caroline and the right wing press never fail to comment on her appearance, always going on about her dark mane and the small gap between her front teeth. Now, any psychologist or sex therapist will tell you that any woman with long dark hair and a slight gap between her two front teeth is a huge sexual turn-on for men of a certain class or women for that matter. However, we have to see beyond all that nonsense and respect the fact that every man and woman is perfectly entitled to make the most of his or her personal appearance. Each of the other candidates here today had made an effort to look good even Jeremy Corbyn who travelled by train and would have had good reason to look dishevelled.  However, what really matters is what lies behind the façade of the individual on display. Caroline’s background is so unlike that of many of her colleagues although, not exactly unique. Very few MPs will have known the same disadvantages that determined Caroline’s early years or will know how it feels to struggle through childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic, single mum and then go on to become a single mum herself. Caroline knows from personal experience what it is like to work long hours in low paid occupations because they were the only jobs she could get and what having very little  money left in your purse really feels like when you have mouths to feed. Ms Flint’s bio could almost read like the Cinderella story except that her Prince Charming came in the form of a University education followed by a successful career with one of the main Trade Unions and then that move into National Politics. Caroline showed today just how quickly she can overcome adversity when after realising that her microphone wasn’t working, simply moved to the centre rostrum and carried on without missing a heartbeat. She then went on to give what I believe was the most powerful presentation of the day. Flirty Flint may have been a Babe eighteen years ago but she very soon outgrew that description and has since proved herself to be one of the most distinctive, intelligent politicians of her generation.

So that was it, the end of the hustings or was it really the beginning of two months of further campaigning? I suspect that each of the nine candidates who presented today will be travelling the country trying to gather support for some time yet and I wish them luck. I enjoyed my day and whilst, I have my favourites, there was very little not to like about the others. The overall feeling I have is that somehow, the Labour Party has to generate enough enthusiasm throughout the non-members to recreate the Labour movement of yesterday. With everything that is going on in the name of Austerity it is not inconceivable to think that sooner or later, the penny will eventually drop and this Tory government will be seen for the sham that it is. Cameron is not interested in supporting hard working people he simply wants people to work harder for less, which is basically, The Tory creed.


About hovisb

Retired socialworker specialising in substance misuse and mental health (Dual Diagnosis). Previously worked in management. Enjoys culture, especially music, literature and art. Animal lover.
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