Roy Hattersley and the tub of lard
Ever since Have I Got News for You, upon hearing that Roy Hattersley had cancelled an appearance for the latest in a string of times, simply put a tub of lard where Hattersley would have sat if he had appeared on the show, I’ve been wondering whether or not the criticism was justified. Would the tub of lard show the same wit, the same avuncular charm? After reading this article, I found my answer; even suggesting Hattersley might be on a par with a tub of lard is an insult to tubs of lard everywhere.
As with many of Hattersley’s wanderings into the field of British history, in this case Hattersley is trying to diagnose the failure of this Labour government through the timid personality of its leading figures, particularly Gordon Brown who ‘wants to lead a social democratic government,’ and their fear of upsetting middle England. It’s a theme familiar to other commentators such as the Toynbee yet it is a theme which has run out its course and is left, as Andrew Thorpe put it, ‘completely bankrupt.’
Like so many others, Hattersley is forced to pin his hopes on the personalities involved because he has failed at the game of trying to find the mythic sliver of social-democratic ground between outright attack on the welfare state and a Labour Left style retrenchment the likes of which Clement Attlee might have been proud to see. When Hattersley makes statements about how a below inflation wage rate for local government workers is ‘regrettably necessary’ one can see why.
With such dilettante sentiments being expressed in the guise of elder statesman wisdom, it’s tempting to see in Hattersley’s continuing capitulation to wage retardation the full expression of the failure of social-democracy to resolve the contradictions in itself without tilting now in a capitalist direction, now in a vaguely socialist direction. All the rhetoric about 1983 aside for the minute, as a here and now issue are we really comfortable keeping local government workers on these low wages as the cost of living rockets?
I’m not, though Hattersley, with his parliamentary pension and the amount he gets paid for shoddy history books and rather clichéd talks to middle class Waterstones customers, might find it easier to stomach. This hypocrisy has reached such a fever pitch that Hattersley can’t conceive that any of the back bench opposition to Brown is based on principle. It is all about ‘fleeting notoriety’ and a ‘lack of character’ – strong words from someone who cooperated in the emasculation of Labour Party democracy to ensure that the PLP was basically the leader’s whipped poodle.
Hattersley declares that he is ‘still to be convinced’ that this incarnation of the Labour Party has fudged their chance for the 2010 election. It can only mean that Hattersley himself is so far removed from the experience of working class people in this country as to render his thoughts meaningless. Hattersley’s opinions are so obviously shaped by the accepted wisdom of Labour leaders after 1983; class politics are to be shied away from. It’s no accident then that this is exactly where they are failing so badly.
In 1983, the working class deserted Labour in droves – not necessarily because workers didn’t like trade unions or the Labour manifesto so much as Labour was divided by the emergence of the SDP, and was seen as incompetent and faithless following Callaghan and Foot’s decision to screw the unions with their 5% cap on wage rises. Today we’re replaying that situation: the government is screwing the unions and the average working person and it’s going to shelve chances of a Labour government for the next ten years or more.
Right up until 2020 and after, the generation growing into its own at the voting booth will be just those young people who burned so brightly with a desire to halt the war in Iraq and who will remember failure after failure by this government. These are the very people Labour has stuck two fingers up at with its arrogance as regards any form of respect for public opinion. All that will be tempered, no doubt, with the bad experience of living under the Conservatives – but when even the Greens have more active constituency parties than Labour, it’s time to take a long, hard look at ourselves.
Just about the only thing that can be said for Hattersley, as he stands amid the wreckage which he has in part helped to create, is that even though at times one wonders whether Hattersley is walking Buster or vice versa, at least he’s not Roy bloody Jenkins.