I joined the Labour Party in 1964. I had been moving left since leaving home, and two years at Oxford during the fag-end of the Macmillan
government had convinced me that Britain needed a Labour government. I was outraged
when a run on sterling following Labour’s narrow election victory seemed to me to show that the City was intent on reversing
the decision delivered by the popular vote. I joined up as my own small personal
declaration of defiance.
I suppose I had expected when I joined the Labour
Party to become part of a great movement of principle and social justice, dedicated to improving the lot of the common citizen
– an heir to a great tradition of resistance to privilege, greed and injustice.
It wasn’t quite like that – the primary focus was on a weekly bingo session which raised just enough money
to keep our pathetically small branch alive – but there was no shortage of good people, and plenty of debate about how
a Labour government could reform and improve society.
When I was eventually elected to Parliament, I discovered
that there were many different kinds of people who had become Labour MPs. There
were the usual placemen and time-servers, there were those who craved the supposed fame and glamour or who enjoyed the massaging
of their egos, there were the machine politicians who relished playing the game for its own sake. But there were also, in good numbers, men and women who were genuinely motivated by a desire to do good
(how odd that “do-gooder” is almost now a term of abuse) and who saw their time in Parliament as a chance to improve
the lives of those who had sent them there.
And while MPs, like everyone else, had their share
of character flaws, and some were attracted by the mantra that all was fair in love and politics, most dealt with their colleagues
– from whatever side of the House – with the same courtesy, respect and fairness that they would expect to be
shown in their private lives.
That is why I am distressed at the latest headlines. What have they got to do with Labour values and the true purpose of Labour politics? What relevance do Russian billionaires and Mediterranean yachts have to the lives
of Labour voters who look to the Labour Party to advance and protect their interests? Are
we really to accept that the road to social justice lies through the – literally – “filthy rich”?
What is that sweet fetid odour of putrefaction
that assails our nostrils? What is the satisfaction to be gained from the “high
life” if what it brings is a grubby game of tit-for tat and tittle-tattle? Are
the knife in the back and the poisoned whisper the proper instruments for the achievement of Labour’s noble purpose?
If Gordon Brown wants to save his government, and
more importantly his party, he should eschew the use of these reputed “skills” and “arts”. There are no straits so dire for government or party as to warrant a descent to these depths.