Just over a week ago Labour's National Executive Committee stepped in to suspend 5 Labour councillors in County Durham, apparently over some bust up over the failure to get enough women candidates in the Easington area in the recent elections. Included amongst those suspended was Albert Nugent, the then Leader of the County Council. Cllr Nugent is unreconstructed Old Labour, a former miner who seems to have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with coal, as, alas, do many in the North East Labour party. The suspension was interestingly timed for it came the day before the Labour group were due to elect their leader, new group officers and generally share out cabinet places, committee chairs and other treats. So poor Cllr Nugent suddenly found himself locked out of power. The new Leader is ultra-New Labour. Listening to the conversation I heard on Friday and to other conversations by Labour, there is considerable unease about this intervention by Labour's central party bosses in the affairs of Labour's North East Jurassic Park where the dinosaurs have held sway since records began.
What was clearly a stitch up has caused much anger within the Labour party up here. Frankly, had I been in the Labour Party in Durham, I would have wanted rid of Albert Nugent. This coal obsessed dinosaur had been slated by the Audit Commission for his poor political leadership and his comments about his own colleagues (famously calling the "liars") didn't exactly strike me as the words of an inspirational and motivational leader. But instead of finally being allowed to self destruct, Labour's hamfisted intervention has created a bit of a hero (in local Labour eyes) which has masked his considerable failings as the Leader of a major council and of his own group.
There is a further issue arising out of this and also out of the departure of Blair. The language of "class warfare" is raising its very ugly head. I have heard much of this in relation to the sacking of Cllr Nugent. (It was an anti-working class move, it was claimed.) But I am increasingly seeing the language of class warfare where, for years it has been dead. The language of the "toffs" v the "working class" is spouted by many in Labour on a daily basis whereas under Blair, this would never have been heard except from those engaging in empty posturing (my local MP David Anderson springs to mind on this though his voting record in Parliament is one of absolute loyalty to the government.).
This atavistic language can be seen clearly in the Labour campaign in Crewe and Nantwich. Whilst it may be fair to point out that Labour's hamfisted income tax changes do not hurt the millionaire Tory candidate, the attempt to make the core Labour message a claim he is unable to represent the constituency because of his wealthy background is both absurd and frankly unbelievably hypocritical. Quite how Harriet Harman can go to the constituency and not blush when she sees her own party's literature deserves explanation. Her privileged background as the niece of an earl with a private education at an exclusive and exceptionally expensive private girls' school puts the Tory candidate's background into the shade. Yet here she is, deputy Labour Leader, elected by the Labour membership.
I wonder whether the disappearance of Blair marks the end of the New Labour project. Whilst Brown's policy position certainly appears to be to continue with the Blair reforms to public services, is something deeper afoot? Is it that Labour without Blair perceives a vacuum at the top? Do they feel that the purpose of Labour is no longer to be "New"? Is it the case that the ideological stuffing was knocked out of Labour under Blair and now that he has gone, no one any longer knows the purpose of Labour for the simple reason it no longer services any purpose? Could it be that Labour is simply reverting to its comfortable language of yesteryear as a comfort blanket or something to hide under after the decision to tax the poor whilst relieving the rich of inheritance tax, backing off making super rich non doms make a fair contribution and leaving the most wealthy on a rate of tax lower that the poorest? In other words are Labour trying to cover up tax policies which have benfitted the wealthy at the expense of the rest? Is shame driving Labour's posturing and language? I think so.
So watch out for more of this "class warfare" drivel. It did Labour no favours in the past but its re-emergence is a symptom of the malaise now infecting Labour.
And finally, let me bring you the shocking news from the train to London on which I am currently sitting. National Excess have not cancelled my train. I now believe in miracles!
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