Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Labour deputy leadership promises of renewal founder in politics as usual

A day late, I have just watched the Newsnight special on the Labour Party’s deputy leadership contest. What a depressing experience!

Every single one of them stressed their desire to “Restore trust in politics” (Benn) and “renew the party” (Blears). Yet by-and-large they all committed the same sins that make politicians so contemptible.

Asked to give a “yes or no answer” to four policy questions, only Alan Johnson was prepared to say what he believed without either hedging or explaining. When pushed about replacing Trident, new nuclear power, ending the charitable status of independent schools and an amnesty for illegal immigrants, their answers were:

Cruddas: No Yes Yes (failed to answer)
Hain: Yes Yes No No
Johnson: Yes Yes No Yes
Harman: (failed to answer) Yes No Yes
Blears: Yes Yes No No
Benn: Yes Yes No No

When asked who they would vote for if they were not themselves standing, all five of the front bench candidates refused to answer, insisting that they were “in it to win it” (Blears). Only John Cruddas was honest enough to answer – perhaps because he was asked first and did not know that the others were so spineless; he said he would vote for Harriet Harman “because of her gender activism” (he might as well have said because she was a woman).

In fact, the straightest answer came when asked if they would have voted for the Iraq war (they all did) if they knew then what they know now. Both Cruddas and Harman said they would not and added that Labour ought to apologise for its mistake; Hain said he could not wriggle off the hook with the benefit of hindsight (which I thought was an honourable answer); while Johnson and Hilary Benn said they were glad Saddam was gone. Blears still fudged; she wanted to look forward, not back (having clearly not moved on since 2005*).

On one issue they all agreed, however. None supported caps on the size of donations to political parties (though most supported caps on spending) and the Trades Unions ought to be exempted from any ban on large donations. Some things, it seems, have not changed in the Labour Party.


*Interestingly, I tried to link to Britain: forward not back, Labour's 2005 election manifesto, but it has mysteriously disappeared!

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