It’s time to move on and stop fighting old battles, says Stuart McMillan
It’s not often that the words of Eminem can be used to illustrate a political point, but this one presents itself in abundance. The lines go something like this: ‘you don’t know me, you’re too old, let go, it’s over’. More than one ex-Cabinet member has reared their head these last few weeks to attack Ed Miliband’s leadership/policy/style/persona/preference of biscuit, apparently seeking to re-occupy that hallowed ground of someone still with their finger on the pulse and their face in the centre of the Westminster bubble; in other words, someone still on the frontline of British politics.
I mean, you at least expect it from someone like Jacqui Smith whom, after being kicked out of the Cabinet for charging for bath plugs on expenses, failed to hold on to her seat in the last General Election when other, more competent party members clung onto theirs through a mixture of hard work, due diligence, and not messing around with taxpayers’ money. She’s probably feeling shunted, and irrelevant, maybe a little washed up – and she is. But instead of learning from the masters in the field, like Michael Portillo, and becoming a respected commentator on Westminster or Edwardian train almanacs, or William Hague and actually making a profit out of a voice that sounds like an audiotape being chewed up by a dog, she’s decided to hang around on the absolute cornice of public life and have a pop at that bloke who’ll be trying to win an election in two years’ time.
You even expect it from John Reid, who really should have just stuck to being a member of the Communist Party when the Home Office he inherited and described as ‘not fit for purpose’ was described after he had left as ‘the buggers have escaped again. Are you sure we paid the contractors?’
I’m surprised James Purnell hasn’t risen from the embers to wage some manichaean war on the Labour Party’s policy on bus passes for the elderly – but not that surprised, because even he must realise that next to Jacqui Smith he ranks on the level of a political toadstool. The Blue Labourites out for a place in the history books seem to be trying to get there through the back rooms – see Lord Glasman’s recent assertion that Ed was right to ignore Tony Blair’s comments that Labour must return to the centre ground. Maybe he was joking a few years ago when he said all that silly stuff about him being weak or hopeless?
Of course, that was the crowning glory right there: former leader Tony Blair, who evoked another Eminemism (yep, I’m having that): ‘Guess who’s back? Back again. Tony’s back. Tell a friend.’ Yet another foray into an arena from which both the public and the party cheerily ejected him over some talk about an illegal war made the front page of The Times when Blair said that Labour must not become a ‘party of protest’. Funny that, because he certainly had a good go at protesting against the Tories in ’97. But then, maybe the protesting might have sounded better if David Miliband had been the one doing it.
And before people start accusations of this writer’s Blairite-baiting, there were plenty of Brownites wanting to reacquire the sunburn of high public life too. Alastair Darling seems to have made taking swipes at Ed Balls a regular pastime, that is when he’s not trying to get his name atop the bill of the ‘No to Scottish Independence’ campaign. Probably still bitter about not selling as many copies of his memoir as Gordon did.
Politics is nothing if not a cycle; it is a natural occurrence of a group of people coming in to run the country for a period of time and then handing it over to another group of people, and graciously leaving. Granted, the world would be nothing without its elder statesmen and women, whom Blair, Brown, Portillo, Hague and Darling (but not Jacqui) could arguably count themselves among. But attacking your own leader out of spite, or even difference of opinion, doesn’t help anybody. New Labour was big in the 90s, but in the 21st Century they need to learn that ‘new’ Labour is the party currently in opposition, vying for Government. If the old hands don’t have anything useful to say, then they shouldn’t be saying anything at all.
John Reid, Master Sgt. James M. Bowman, U.S. Airforce